Political representatives do not impose solutions on society; representatives reflect solutions as seen by the society. A leader’s task is to assist society in developing a consensus and build a program around society’s consensus. The largely immature behavior demonstrated by modern politics is past its sell date. The bickering, the low level of dialogue, the grievances, the false classification of politicians as liberal/conservative, right/left, are outdated for a world which requires new thinking and informed debate on future programs and outcomes.
Political parties differ from interest groups in that they generally are more formally organized, they are reasonably permanent, are concerned with a wide range of interests and have as their ultimate goal to gain political power. Interest groups have narrower focus and are not so much interested in gaining power but in ensuring that their primary concerns are met. Currently, especially in Europe, there is a proliferation of minority election results requiring coalitions in the formation of a ruling government. Some members from each party are placed in the governing Cabinet. Accordingly, the mandate of the initial political party has been eroded and a new set of “coalition” principals guide the governing coalition until the next election. These new principals tend to be benign compromises between platforms of the underlying parties. Leadership on the crucial and especially the non-populist issues has now been reduced to compromises.
Excessive democracy is often characterized in the USA, for example, by a political dilemma reflecting the inability of competing parties to agree on anything, especially when their individual ideologies are based on seeing the other party fail just to prove a point. As well, excessive opposition just for the sake of opposition is also a damaging story for parliamentary democracies. Too often democracy has come to mean the ascension of a multitude of minorities becoming the major political force in the society. This “disproportionate” democracy can be seen around the world such that organized minorities and interest groups in various democratic states have come to dominate the debate and direction of public policy.
Demise of Political Parties
Political parties, as we know them today, are destined for demise over the next few generations. Discussion in democratic legislatures and throughout the governing term is in many ways designed to be divisive and rhetorical. It divides people into opposing camps and presupposes that strategic policy discussion is characterized in a win/loss situation for one party over the other rather than a win/win situation for the overall society. It renders the parliament stagnate by overt displays of pompousness, chest beating, rancor, opposition for the sake of opposition. It assumes that people cannot be on the same side of the table to resolve issues. And it does not permit the great oratory and policy debate by each elected representative necessary for a full discussion and elaboration of ideas leading to an enhanced policy decision rather than the more frequent compromise decisions in current debate.
A political party structure wastes significant resources – time, people, money - to orchestrate the divide, communicate the opposing sides, arm twist the population to one side or the other and to rationalize the point of view of each side however uninformed the arguments are for the position. It divides the population into at least two camps so that the party in power cannot be seen to be cooperating with the other side or offering opportunities to the other. This in turn has a debilitating effect on the members of the losing side that have to await opportunities for another four year possibility. Thus the society is operating on only four of eight cylinders and is weaker for the effort.
Accordingly, the greater the level of political consideration, the less is the will to solve society’s problems or indeed experience personal development by a significant portion of the population. While it is true that the alternating of political stripes in power gives hope to each side every 8-10 years, society is not able to function at its full capacity with what has come to be only a fifty percent maximum plurality in full communion with opportunities at any one time. It’s like playing a key sports game with half of your players in the penalty box for a significant portion of the game.
Fear of Opposition
What’s more, for those who are aligned with the ruling political group there is significant adherence to policies in fear that to oppose would be considered to be disloyal or worse, sympathy with the other political stripe. It allows the freewheeling of paid lobbyists and interest groups to exploit this divide and promote their pet projects in deference to the majority of the population. Exceptional people in the society who are perceived to belong to the opposition are largely ignored by the government of the day, resulting in less than adequate reflection and resources being brought to enhance the necessary growth of society’s functions.
Putting off unpleasant decisions, highlighting narrow differences in policy needs to be rooted out and replaced with the devotion of each individual elected official coming together to build a consensus within the larger society to resolve long term inherent challenges and pursue interesting opportunities for the society. Only when this effort occurs will there be a restoration of the essential trust that people have in their government. The values that bind people together and have been successful over the ages – hard work and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, honesty and courage, loyalty and patriotism need to be strengthened.
(c) 2020, Harry O'Connell