Party Trumps Person

By Mike Rosen, Rocky Mountain Newsmike rosen photo

A superficial cliche goes something like this: “I’m an independent thinker; I vote the person, not the party.” This pronouncement is supposed to demonstrate open-mindedness and political sophistication on the part of the pronouncer. Hey, it’s your vote; cast it any way you like – or not at all. But idealism and naivete about the way our electoral process, government and politics work shouldn’t be mistaken for wisdom.

For better or worse, we have a two-party system. Either a Republican, John McCain, or a Democrat, Barack Obama, is going to be our next president. No one else has a chance. Not Ralph Nader, not the Libertarian candidate, the Communist or the Green. Minor-party candidates are sometimes spoilers – like Nader costing Al Gore the presidency in 2000 – but they don’t win presidential elections. Ross Perot got 20 million popular votes in 1992, and exactly zero Electoral College votes.

In Europe’s multiparty, parliamentary democracies, governing coalitions are formed after an election. In our constitutional republic, the coalitions are already in place.

The Republican coalition is an alliance of conservatives, middle- and upper-income taxpayers (but not leftist Hollywood millionaires and George Soros), individualists who prefer limited government, those who are pro-market and pro-business, believers in American exceptionalism and a strong national defense, social issues conservatives and supporters of traditional American values.

The Democratic coalition includes guilt-ridden liberals, collectivists, labor unions (especially the teachers’ unions), government workers, academics, plaintiffs-lawyers, lower- and middle-income net tax-receivers, identity-politics minorities, feminists, gays, enviros, nannyists and activists for assorted anti-gun, anti-capitalist, anti-business, anti-military, and world-government causes.

I say party trumps person because regardless of the individual occupying the White House, his party’s coalition will be served. A Democratic president, for example, whether liberal or moderate (conservative Democrats, if any still exist, can’t survive the nominating process), can only operate within the political boundaries of his party’s coalition. The party that wins the presidency will fill Cabinet and sub-Cabinet discretionary positions in the executive branch with members of its coalition. Likewise, the coalition will be the dominant source of nominees to the federal courts, ambassadorships, appointments to boards and commissions, and a host of plum jobs handed out to those with political IOUs to cash in.

It works the same way in the legislative branch. After the individual members of a new Congress have been seated, a nose count is taken and the party with the most noses wins control of all committee and subcommittee chairmanships, the locus of legislative power.

Let’s say you’re a registered Republican who prefers that party’s philosophy of governance. And you’re a fair-minded, well-intentioned person who happens to like a certain moderately conservative Democrat running for U.S. Senate. So you decide to cross party lines and vote for him. As it turns out, he wins, giving Democrats a one-vote majority, 51-49. Congratulations! You just got Charles Schumer, Patrick Leahy, Diane Feinstein and Hillary Clinton as key committee chairs and a guarantee that your Republican legislative agenda will be stymied.

That’s the way the process works. Does this mean that in our two-party system it comes down to choosing between the lesser of evils? Exactly! If we had 300 million custom-tailored minor parties, everyone could find his perfect match. But that’s not practical. You can be a purist and cast your vote symbolically with a fringe party, or be a player and settle for the least imperfect of the Republican or Democrat alternatives.

A vote for McCain is a vote for the party of constitutionalist judges, Adam Smith, the NRA, Gen. David Petraeus and Ronald Reagan. A vote for Obama is a vote for judicial activism, Karl Marx, the ACLU, the NEA, the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, Al Gore, Cindy Sheehan, Keith Olbermann and Rosie O’Donnell.

Your vote; your choice.

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