The Readings for Democracy in America unit
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Unit 12 Readings, Political Parties: Mobilizing Agents
- IntroductionPolitical Parties: Mobilizing Agents
- Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Parties in the United
- Washington, Letter to Thomas Jefferson
- Roosevelt, Bull Moose Speech
- Piroth, Selecting Presidential Nominees: The Evolution
of the Current System and Prospects for Reform
- What was it that made Tocqueville consider some parties
to be great? What distinguished the minor parties?
- What did Roosevelt believe was the immediate impetus to his
- What did Roosevelt assert were the goals of the progressives?
- What did Washington believe was useful to plant in a wheat field
in the years before wheat was planted? What does his attention
to the management of land suggest about the importance of self-government
in work as well as politics?
- What was President Washingtons opinion of parties?
IntroductionPolitical Parties: Mobilizing Agents
Political parties have provided people with a wide range of servicessupport,
education, employment, and identification, in particularin addition
to their use in maintaining government. While contemporary commentators
may not agree with Tocquevilles claim that, America has
had great parties, but has them no longer; and if her happiness is
thereby considerably increased, her morality has suffered. Everyone
can agree that, regardless of how happy or moral political parties
have made Americans, parties have performed an important list of functions.
The Democratic Party and Republican Party are the two most important
parties in the United States. There are, however, many other parties,
such as the American Independent Party, the Libertarian Party, the
Green Party, and the Communist Party. Support and funding of candidates
for political office are some of the most important and powerful functions
of political parties. The most important aspect of support for candidates
that parties provide is their nomination parties. Support also includes
money to conduct political campaigns. Even when the money does not
come directly from the party, parties are important sources of information
and organization that makes funding possible. They also organize funding,
distributing it across the nation and across states. Parties also
provide workers for the candidate, and monitor the opposition party
for any election irregularities, helping their candidate to be confident
of a fair election.
In their role as political educators, political parties inform voters
of issues about which they may be concerned, they mobilize candidates,
and they get out the vote. The party must inform candidates of their
possibilities for election. Furthermore, parties provide information
for voters concerning the stand of the party and the candidates on
issues. Parties also remind voters, their members, that they have
to get to the polls and vote. Getting out the vote is a very important
and powerful role of partiesif members do not make it to the
polls on voting day, then their candidates lose. Parties also educate
through classes for membersparticularly English-language classes
for recent immigrants. Historically, the American Communist Party,
for example, also routinely supported classes for people who may not
have otherwise been able to receive much education.
American political parties have performed very important employment
services. They have provided, obviously, or hoped to provide, employment
opportunities for their candidates and, by employing their candidates,
they also employed a wide range of political appointees. The number
of appointees that the winner in any election gets to appoint or participate
in their appointment varies considerably. City council members may
only appoint their own staffs directly but even they will participate
in filling many of the political positions within city government.
The president of the United States has an abundance of positions to
fill, though even here there are important limitationsmany of
the most significant positions are confirmed by Congress. The assassination
of President Garfield by a spurned party member who wanted a political
appointment, however, led to significant strengthening of the non-partisan
professional government bureaucracy. But the employment roles of parties
extend beyond these measures. Parties, particularly in the early twentieth
century, would often secure jobs for recent immigrants in order to
ensure their party loyalty. While this role faded in the last half
of the twentieth century, it does reveal some of the elements in familiar
allegiance to political parties.
When most politically interested individuals speak of parties, they
are also referring to a group of citizens (typically within a nation-state)
who are united in vague agreement concerning basic rules and behaviors
of social governance. Membership in a party usually speaks to abstract
opinions as well as specific concernsmembers generally identify
with their fellow members even if their fellows are interested in
different specific issues, as long as those specific issues are oriented
in a generally agreed-upon ideological way. In this manner, parties
provide a location for national identification.
Parties are a necessary evil in free government, explained
Tocqueville, but they have not at all time the same character
and the same propensities. Not having the same propensities,
it should be said that they are also a probable goodif not exactly
a moral goodin free government. Generally an organization of
voters, officeholders, and candidates for office who act in general
agreement concerning the aims and purposes of government, modern political
parties probably date from the growth of popular governments in the
eighteenth-century in England, France, and the United States. The
American system of winner-take-all has constrained to some degrees
the numbers of partiestwo consistently dominatebut those
parties tend to have quite broad propensities and characteristics.