Vox Populi
A Letter to the Editor

Our Political Parties are NOT Democratic Institutions
Friday, August 19, 2016

by John S

I've been trying to get a full read of Mr. Berg-Andersson's piece on the Presidential Primary Process. Now there's Javier Anderson's response to it.

My response here is to both and not necessarily in the details but more of a '50,000 foot above the ground' perspective.

I'll start with the punchline: Our political Parties are NOT democratic institutions within a democratic political system and this is for good reason. A different term for "Party" is "community".

In 2016, more than most recent cycles, the concept of outsiders became real again. It begs the question, "why do communities allow this?" Do people in New York City want Bostonian's to have a say in the New York mayoral elections? Would a book club want a local soccer club picking the books it reads and discusses? The simple answer is 'no'.

A political Party (or community) has good times and bad times. Outsiders seem to arrive either when good times are strong and the Party/Community is deep enough to divide and fracture in order to siphon off a subgroup; but they also show up when times are tough, when anger and frustration can splinter a fractious group.

But what is even more clear: they also duck and hide when when times become tough. In the 2016 cycle, this view represents both the supporterts of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. In fact, Sanders actually admitted as much, in effect, in the first Democratic debate.

Leaders of a Party (or community) need to have the best LONG TERM interests at heart for the group. Outsiders, generally, are in it for themselves and their own (narrow) political perspectives.

I do understand the frustration that our political system is seemingly designed to support only/mainly two Parties. But to those who are frustrated by this: there are plenty of Democracies across the globe with many political Parties and these systems typically require coalitions built to form electoral, and then governing, majorities. In the end, however these coalitions tend to organize to the same Left/Right divide as in a Two-Party system.

Now, having said all that: the idea of a national Primary is intriguing. But I'll one-up you: how about a seamless election process over multiple national elections combining Primaries and the General election [GASP]?

This is where technology can come into play. Let's say it's a six month process (6 elections) plus debates. All candidates, all Parties, are listed in a single ballot. Those passing a certain threshold move to the next month's election; the threshold gets higher each month.

There would obviously be requirements to be listed as a presidential candidate here. Parties could put forward candidates and unaffiliated candidates (passing certain requirements for ballot access) could enter as well. This would be systematically biased towards those candidates interested in governing principles who speak to many viewpoints: meanwhile, our current Primary process (especially caucuses) focuses on "purity" over governing principles.

Meanwhile, technology could be used to help voters cast a ballot in addition to doing so in physical voting booths.

OK... enough words from me. Just a random viewpoint from the Internets tubes.

Well, one more thought, if you will: I do worry about smaller locations and voters there feeling their votes get overwhelmed by densely populated cities. The Electoral Vote process within the General Election weights a bit for this... more to think about, though.

John S

Mr. Berg-Andersson responds:

I will herein discuss two major aspects within that which John S has written above:


John S is correct where he writes that [a] different term for "Party" is "community": after all, I myself noted in my own piece on the subject: political Parties [are] private associations of at least generally like-minded individuals (regardless of the level of governance: local or County, State or national).

The problem within such a concept of 'Political Party as "community"' is best stated as this question: just how 'private' is just such a "community", really? As I have written (and more than once) elsewhere on this website, the primary purpose of a political Party is to contest and (hopefully for the Party itself) win elections-- general elections, that is: those in which those who are not members of the given "community"-as political Party (whether members of another such "community" or, perhaps, holding themselves outside of any such "community") are permitted to vote. Put another way: the 'private' "community"- in John S's formulation- that is permitted (nay, maybe even obligated) to protect its own long-term interests and agenda against the influences, from time to time, of outsiders who have only short-term goals in mind is, nonetheless, putting forth its own candidates to eventually be chosen (or, perhaps, not) for various and sundry public offices by a larger 'public' than is the Party itself. In such a case, does not the otherwise 'private' Party-as-"community" itself come under all due 'public' scutiny?

We here run into the paradox (and, if only at times, perhaps the word 'conundrum' might even be much better [as well as more accurate] a descriptive here than the term 'paradox') of the 'private' mixing itself up with the 'public', a paradox/conundrum (and one that evinces itself in many aspects of American culture, including American political culture) that forces one to ask yet another question: how much, if at all, should the public have input [whether direct (that is: through formal regulation) or indirect (i.e., via permission to participate)] into something that itself reflects primarily private ends [in the instant case, the nomination of candidates for public office by a private association/"community" known as a political Party?...

and this is, at base, a conundrum (or, if you will, paradox)- a dilemma, if you might prefer- as old as the American Republic itself!

One good example of this conundrum/paradox can be found within the Universal Militia System (if it could, in fact, even have been called a "system"- just as, later in its history, its very "universality" was questionable!) in place during the first few to several decades of the very existence of the United States of America. This was a system of homeland defense put together (perhaps, "cobbled together" might be more accurate, if only in retrospect) in response to the fears of the American People (for the vastest part, politically made up of white male Americans at the time) over the creation- and, more to the point, maintenance- of a standing army (even though the United States did have, and maintain, a so-called 'regular Army' of- more or less- brigade size [that is: a few to several thousand soldiers at most] scattered, for the most part, across the Frontier for purposes of defense against both foreign Powers still with holdings on the North American continent, as well as those who might potentially be hostile (to those same American People, as already defined) among the Native American Indian population (both within and without U.S. territory).

Despite the existence of a rather thinly-spread 'United States Army' back then, however, the principal (first line) military force intended to repel invasions (and/or, perhaps restore order internally whenever [rarely] necessary) was the local militia made up of ordinary (generally, again, white and male- as well as able-bodied) citizens grabbing (and thereafter potentially using) their own 'kept and borne' weapons from home. Indeed, the very language found within the text of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution- A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed- itself well harks back to this original concept of homeland defense and security.

The iconic image here is that of, for one, the famous statue of the Minuteman at Ralph Waldo Emerson's "rude bridge that arched the flood" just outside the center of Concord, Massachusetts- his left hand holding his plow behind him, his musket held at the ready in his right hand. The aforementioned 'private' vs. 'public' conundrum/paradox, however, came into play within this context come the ever-present question: when is a militaman merely but a citizen (and, conversely, when does a citizen actually become a militiaman)? When is that Minuteman carved forever in stone at Concord Bridge but a plowing farmer happening to be carrying his musket and when is he truly leaving his plow behind as he heads off to defend his (and others') Liberty and Property?...

is he in militia service only when he is on active duty (say, if actually in uniform during 'Muster Day' on the town common, green or square)? Or, indeed, might his conduct, even after having been dismissed from duty (or not even being on duty), still be subject to military discipline and punishment (instead of, say, being adjudicated in an ordinary civil court or, perhaps, even handled merely socially [through the possibly negative reaction of his fellow townsfolk to any and all "conduct detrimental" while merely "out on the street"])? If one is a farmer who, at any moment (where not also unexpectedly, especially on the Frontier), might well have to discharge his musket, then when is the farmer not a militiaman, really? In any case, when does the veneer of "private citizen" come off to be replaced by the coloring of "public servant" (which, if only in [both State and Federal] constitutional theory, a militiaman was himself supposed to be whilst so serving)?

Where a plaintiff farmer of the early 19th Century who, say, just lost a small-claims case to a neighbor (likely one merely involving the legal question of just whose livestock might have actually been responsible for the fence between their properties having been knocked down [and, thereby, a dispute thereafter ensued over just which one was "out of pocket" for the necessary repairs]), one heard before the local Justice of the Peace, thereafter publicly curses out the defendant neighbor as, for instance, a "damnable liar, cheat and scoundrel", what should then happen if the plaintiff happens to be a private in the local militia and the defendant happens to also be his sergeant (in which case the plaintiff's gut reaction to what is, in fact, a civil verdict could well be construed as military insubordination)? What if, in addition, the losing plaintiff/part-time private also curses out the Justice of the Peace (who happens to also be the captain of the town militia, the plaintiff's own sometime-commanding officer)? In such a case, what might otherwise have simply been a Contempt of Court citation could have been- and, as historical records show, all too often was- handled as a matter calling for military punishment before a court-martial!

In a late 18th into early 19th Century American society very much dependent upon the readiness (often more in mere name than in reality, however, as the years and decades wore on) of citizen-soldiers along with their own willingness (far too often, however, not necessarily forthcoming [as the country "matured" and, in many places, militia rolls languished]) to fight for community and county, perhaps even being called upon ("drafted" via order of either Governor or President) to fight to defend State or even Nation, as well as merely for one's own home and hearth, the line between mere 'citizen' and warrior 'soldier' was ever rather blurred; thereby, a polity made up of people averse to all too much (if any) government intrusion into their private lives (the very root of that 'anti-Statism' that is at the beating heart of American political culture to this very day) might, nonetheless, cause many within its citizenry to be treated as if defiant of that same government on as simple a ground as that the citizen is also militiaman, with potentially dire consequences for the person who had to so juggle both roles.

This "citizen vs. militiaman" analogy within the 'private' versus 'public' dilemma- as this last might, nowadays, be applied (or not) to political Party relationships with the State- is particularly apt because such local militias (whether organized on the town[ship] level, as in New England and parts of the Mid-Atlantic regions, or that of the county [as was more the case in the South], or a combination of both) were, in the main, voluntary associations of neighbors and fellow townsmen- in a sense, the very prototypes of the local-county-State-National Party hierarchies that would first emerge throughout the United States during the middle third of the 19th Century (a "system" in which the local "foundation"- that of the precinct- was [and, indeed, still is] the most important [sub-county or sub-township precincts, in fact, were- in many States- as much geographical militia organizing units as they were also election districts]).

Yes, indeed, voluntary (much in the manner of a voluntary Fire Department today): as at least one historian of the American Revolution has told us, even on Lexington (Mass.) Green that fateful pre-dawn in mid-April 1775, the town militiamen met with their captain, John Parker, "to consult what might be done" later that same morning (it was already expected, or at least assumed- thanks to Paul Revere's warning- that British 'regulars' out of Boston would soon enough appear as they marched up the 'Great Road' on their way towards more distant Concord): and, yes, "consult" (where the militiamen themselves were not so much taking their orders from Capt. Parker as working with him- as a team, albeit Parker's "team"- in helping formulate such orders [as if John Parker himself were but the equivalent of an American Football head coach whose "team" was, nonetheless, free to 'audible' (change the play already called in the huddle) on the field just before the snap of the ball if, come to the line of scrimmage, they happened to not much like their own "read" of the opposing defense (or, for that matter, Jack Parker, long-time head coach of the Ice Hockey team of my own alma mater, Boston University, who- obviously- had no direct control over just how his players actually performed on the ice)]).

In essence, the local militia of the era was very much that which social scientists, in various such fields, term a "segment" (credit for this term, itself intended to refer to any self-contained social unit, goes to the late 19th Century sociologist Émile Durkheim). Anthropologists, for one, use this term in relation to the sociopolitical arrangement within tribal-level societies, in which a(n extended) family is but a potential "segment" of a larger unit made up of more distantly related families (the 'clan')- several such "segments" forming a larger "segment"- which, in turn, can become an even larger unit (itself an even larger "segment" of scale) of such 'clan's joined together as the 'tribe' when necessary. But such "segmentary" 'lineages' of scale were themselves only temporary (clans joined together for only a relatively short time for defense of the tribe as a whole might, not all that much later, end up fighting amongst themselves): whether consciously so conceived or not, the Universal Militia System of early America was itself but a 'republican' form of what was, in fact, a more primitive military arrangement...

local militias drilling on the town(ship) green could quite easily become "segments" of a larger, county-based 'regiment' which, in turn, could itself become (all or part of) a larger "segment" within an even larger State militia, perhaps even called into the service of the Nation- as the United States Constitution itself permits [Article I, Section 8, clause 15]. Yet, despite the clause 16 (that which authorizes Congress to oversee the "organization, arming and disciplining" of the militia) that immediately follows on, once his own services as a militiaman were no longer needed (whether on the national, State, county- or even local- level), the quintessential iconic "citizen-soldier" simply went back to his home and hearth, his own farm and his plow: thus, the smaller "segments" once joined together as a larger military force were, once again, disbanded until they might, perhaps, be needed in future (and all in the name of mitigating the necessity for a standing army, itself seen as a direct threat to republicanism itself)...

and, in addition, the ever-present question of just how much 'public' regulation still applied to the now-'private' part-time soldier tending his farmstead remained hanging in the balance: this apart from the issue of just what such a voluntary local militia (the smallest "segment") would agree (or not) to defend (regardless of the wishes [or even the orders!] of those, however theoretically, potentially in command above them- whether on the county, State, or even Federal, level).

Thus, for instance, one ended up with such as the essential paradox within the so-called 'Whisky Rebellion' of 1794 (about which I myself have written for this website): citizens-sometime soldiers (on grounds of protecting the Rights to Liberty and Property of themselves, as well as their own local communities) openly challenging the then-still relatively new Federal Government's authority to collect tax revenue (tax collection itself already authorized by a statute of Congress signed into law by the then-President: George Washington himself, no less!) and, thereby, facing the potential threat of other, similar citizens-sometime soldiers called into Federal service and thereafter possibly marching into the locality in order to quell said 'Rebellion'-- Rule of Law imposed by force of violence, if necessary (although it never quite came to that: for, as things turned out, the threat of countervailing militia action [along with a promised presidential pardon for those who had not committed serious crimes in the course of their so "rebelling"] was enough to disperse the vast majority of the 'Whisky Rebel's and encourage them to simply go back to home and hearth).

I bring this all up here, ancillary to a discussion of the rather different context of political Party nominations for public office, only to make clear that the conundrum/paradox of the otherwise seemingly 'private' possibly becoming subject to scutiny by the 'public' (where not also public oversight, or even control) is not solely (or, for that matter, primarily) an issue within such Politics but, in truth, can be discerned within many other fields of endeavor throughout American society, as well as for a long time stretching well back within American History. Even in our Free Society, there is- often as not, if not even more often- not necessarily the proverbial "bright line" between 'private' conduct and 'public' effect (which, in turn, might thereafter allow for potential public regulation and enforcement of what is otherwise seen to be a private matter, such as the manner and method through which a freely-associated political Party puts forth its candidates for public office for eventual consideration, come General Election time, by those both inside and outside said political Party).

For a local political Party in modern America is also, in the main, but a social "segment" (as defined by Durkheim): one in which, as was the case within the local militia of the early American Republic, association therein is wholly voluntary (therefore, it is- as I've already said- a private association of at least generally like-minded individuals). As with the early American militia, such local "segments" can themselves join together (either as a body of [theoretically] its entire membership [as in a so-called 'Mass Meeting' or (where generally the more organized ahead of time) "caucus"] or through representation [say, a Convention made up of delegates chosen by those at the next-lower tier]) to form larger "segments" at ever higher levels (or, if you will, 'tiers')-- that is: at the county, (legislative or congressional) district, State and even national levels (the respective quadrennial National Party Conventions- made up of delegates from the States [or equivalent]- themselves being a rather obvious case in point).

What is, perhaps, most interesting (where not also even ironic) is that this very "segmentation" of American Politics most began to come to the fore just as the Universal Militia System (as already described above) was itself waning as the principal vehicle for basic homeland defense! The main difference between the local militias of the early American Republic and the mass political Parties that would emerge just as the original, voluntary nature of the "citizen's militia" was being found wanting is that the larger and larger "segments" into which said Parties were organized would themselves become permanent (through the creation of Party committees at each level/tier of governance: committees that would govern the Party between local caucus or higher-tier Conventions [much in the same manner a New England 'Selectboard' (or equivalent) governs the Town(ship) in between 'Town Meetings' consisting of (possibly) all the registered voters in town]).

As is described elsewhere on this website, the very root of the American 'Two-Party' "System" is to be found within the overall division between cosmopolitans (principally the Seaboard interests: those of merchants and shippers in and around port cities, as well as coastal gentry-- those who wanted a well regulated politicoeconomic system rooted in Rule of Law) and the localists (Upland interests: those of small farmers and local artisans in the hills, valleys and mountains upriver and on the frontier [as well as of the piedmont gentry]-- those who wanted an unobtrusive government, with little direct regulation of both private and public economic activity [although at least local regulation of one's public social- and even (especially) private sexual- activity might well be another matter!] yet, at the same time, also a government more amenable to at least republican [where not also democratic] Accountability): semi-permanent "factions" which (as was demonstrated, now more than four decades ago, by the historian Jackson Turner Main) were certainly already quite discernable within the State governments in operation immediately after Independence (and, as has been shown by other historians following in J.T. Main's wake, even can be seen in the 'court' Party ["tory"- which tended to be 'cosmopolitan'] versus 'country' Party ["whig"- which tended to be 'localist'] "factions" in many, if not most, of the "original 13" going back at least into the late Colonial Period before even the American Revolution itself [as well as within the Continental Congress made up of 'deputies' chosen by each colony-to soon become State beginning not long before the first "shots heard 'round the world" were fired in that very Revolution]!)

Rather obviously, the 'cosmopolitan' elements within this basic political makeup all up and down the United States made up the bulk of the pro-ratification "federalists", while the 'localist' elements were themselves no small part of the anti-ratification "antifederalists", during the debates and voting- on the original United States Constitution reported out of Philadelphia in 1787- in individual ratifying conventions held in each State of the proposed new "more perfect Union" (although, to be most accurate, there was also a large 'middle way' "antifederalist" group made up of 'moderates' from both such "factions" and, in truth, only in Virginia [as famously led by Patrick Henry against those led by "federalist" James Madison] had the most hard core 'localist' "antifederalists" any very serious political impact upon the ensuing debate over Ratification [even though- in the Old Dominion, too- the "antifederalists" lost]).

As is well known, the Framers of the new United States Constitution (along with those who most strongly agitated for its Ratification as "federalists") wanted no part of "faction"-become-political Party in their new Federal system: indeed, the original workings of what would later come to be called the 'Electoral College' (although the Framers themselves never used this term)- as described (via an italicized quote from my earlier self) within my latest Commentary- was itself a vain attempt to prevent the 'scourge' of "faction" from infecting, as well as adversely affecting, the method of election of the President of the United States (that is: once George Washington himself was 'out of the picture') by effectively "vetting" potential candidates for the Nation's Highest Office through mathematical, where not also mechanical, means. Nearly a decade later, as- despite such constitutional machinations- the specter of "faction"-become-Party so clearly was rearing its ugly head toward the end of his own Administration, Washington himself decried the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally in his own Farewell Address (about which I have also written for this website).

Nonetheless, Party won out- in so doing, knocking out the very underpinnings of the seemingly rational system of Presidential Election set up by the Framers met in Convention in Philadelphia almost a decade before the 1796 Election. Instead, there were now to be, for the first time, two truly national "factions"-become-Parties: the once-"cosmopolitan" (by now, more 'nationalist') 'Federalists' behind the presidential candidacy of Vice President John Adams and the ex-"localist" (nascent 'State's-Rights') 'Republicans' backing the presidential candidacy of former Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.

These, however, were not really mass political Parties in the sense that we Americans have come to understand them over the course of nearly (but not quite) two centuries now: for the last decade of the 18th Century into the first decades of the 19th was still the so-called 'Age of Deference' in which how the elite in a local community themselves voted (especially in much of the Mid-Atlantic region and throughout the South) still had great influence over electoral outcomes (as there was as yet no 'Australian' [secret, state-issued] ballot); in any event, even virtual Universal (white) Manhood Suffrage was then still quite unusual (property-ownership requirements disenfranchising many white men over 21 years of age throughout the country, albeit less so in New England [with its relatively small farmsteads allowing many more men to own their own land, along with concomitant participation in the region's 'Town Meeting' system]).

Although- over this same period- more and more persons ran as candidates, and were elected as members, of these first two Major Parties (to seats in either Congress or their own State's legislature, or to Statewide or county elective office), the Federalists and the "old" Republicans primarily existed- on the whole- as vehicles through which to "game" The Framers' own "machine that would go of itself" (as the United States came to establish its own 'plebiscitary Presidency', especially once the votes of each of the "appointed" Electors for President and Vice-President were cast via separate balloting per the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution from 1804 on). The disappearance of the Federalist Party from the American political scene and the contemporaneous breaking up of the "old" Republicans over the contests between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson for the Presidency during the 1820s, however, brought this era well to a close.

The mass political Party thereafter emerged during the ensuing so-called 'Jacksonian Revolution': in State after State, Universal Manhood Suffrage was instituted as property-ownership qualifications for voting and holding elective office were (both constitutionally and statutorily) done away with. As time went on, men would more likely voluntarily join their local political Party rather than (if not still in addition to) their local militia (and these things were not entirely unrelated: as a general, for instance, Andy Jackson himself had overseen courts-martial of militiamen serving under him tried [and, in at least a few cases, even executed] for "desertion" [where these militiamen had simply acted as if their own voluntary enlistment period being up thereafter entitled them to simply leave the Army on their own volition]; where George Washington- during the American Revolution- had once fretted about how to keep the Continental Army intact as State/local militia enlistment periods expired, Jackson- a generation thereafter- would have no such qualms! For, just as the 'Age of Deference' which had been George Washington's own 'world' was coming to an end, so was the age of purely voluntary militia service in America).

The emergence of the Caucus/Convention system (while the "old" Republican Party itself split into pro-Jackson 'Democrats' and anti-Jackson 'Whigs') both facilitated, and was itself facilitated by, the new-fangled mass political Parties that the Democrats and Whigs, come the 1830s, themselves were. The old congressional and legislative caucuses of elected politicians of a given Party meeting amongst themselves in order to nominate their Party's candidates for elective office (including the Presidency itself) rather quickly gave way to a "segmented" system in which caucuses (or mass meetings) of local Party members- colloquially referred to as "primaries" (the original meaning of that term) because these were the first, or primary, step in the political/electoral process of a given election cycle- chose delegates to higher-level Conventions ("segments" of the Party ever joining together to form ever larger "segments" of the Party from the precinct up through the municipal/township and county, State and national levels) which, besides nominating the Party's candidates for elective offices at their own level/tier, would also elect delegates to the Party Convention for the next tier up the chain-- all the way up to the National Convention that, every four years, would adopt the Party's national Platform as well as nominate the Party's candidates for President and Vice-President of the United States.

But it was a system also quite easily abused by the newly emergent "professional" political operatives (whether, at the time, also serving in elective office or not) who could just as easily manipulate this Caucus/Convention system (one originally intended to allow for the greatest possible participation by the masses loyal to the Party) through such devices as the so-called "snap primary" (in which, with but a snap of the fingers by a local Party chairman=boss, the local Party committee meeting [closed to all but previously chosen committemen=ward heelers] would immediately become the local caucus, before any outsiders [or- Heaven forfend- reformers!] could even have a chance to attend): a new form of "gaming" the political system that well fueled both Party bossism and the Party "machine".

As I've already written elsewhere on this website: the process was completely unregulated by law [thus] [a]n ambitious boss might, should his ward or election precinct or township provide a larger share of his party's vote in a local election, come to control the party apparatus of an entire city or county; if that city or county was dominated by the voters who regularly supported his party, the boss might come to have a major influence upon the decisions of the officeholders in that city or county. If, in addition, that city or county provided a much more than average percentage of the party's vote in statewide elections, that same ambitious boss might come to dominate the state party and, with it, the elected state officers of that party- even a state's Governor! Furthermore, should his state provide a large number of Electoral Votes (especially once the Electoral College became "winner-take-all", in which the presidential candidate with the highest number of votes- regardless of his percentage of that vote- would be given all a state's Electors) which regularly would find their way into the column of his party's presidential candidates, the now-state party boss might well find himself elevated to the status of "kingmaker", actually choosing Presidents in the proverbial "smoke-filled room" during a deadlocked National Convention; this kingmaker was now a far cry from the "big fish in a small pond" he had once been at some local caucus many years- and election cycles- earlier.

It was for this very reason that the Populist and, later, Progressive movements (in both Major Parties) sought to at least somewhat regulate the nominating process by State law (yes: public oversight, despite the political Parties themselves still being, as ever, those private associations of at least generally like-minded individuals). Detractors of the "primary"=caucus as but the tool of ward-heeling pols within the party boss's "machine" (even without such things as the so-called "snap primary", having to so publicly declare one's choice for nominee in a boss-dominated caucus could prove rather intimidating) began referring to the caucus as an "indirect primary" while, at the same time, pushing for the adoption- in State after State- of "direct primaries" (that is: Primary Elections- what we today more usually mean when we use the term "Primary") aided and abetted by the concomitant spread of the 'Australian' ballot (again, one State-issued [in place of the older 'tickets' handed out, just outside (or even, in many cases, inside!) the polling place, to voters by the Parties themselves] and secretly filled out, come Primary or General Election time, in the privacy of a voting booth).

Obviously, it was not all that great a leap of reason for these Turn of the Last Century-era reformers to also push to have States mandate "direct" Presidential Primaries, in which the 'rank-and-file' Party voter could also have at least some input into/impact upon the Party's presidential nominating process (either through thereby directly selecting his State's delegates to a National Party Convention or, instead, thereby "advising" whom his State's National Convention delegation should support for his Party's presidential nomination, where not both). But it was here- with the advent of regulation of the presidential nomination process in a given State via State election codes- that these reforms ran (as they continue to run) headlong into the very 'Private' versus 'Public' Paradox already outlined above.

Thus we ever come back to one of the questions I myself asked early on herein: in cases where a political Party (the private "community" of which John S himself wrote) is putting forth its own candidates to eventually be chosen (or, perhaps, not) for various and sundry public offices by a larger 'public' than is the Party itself, does not the otherwise 'private' Party-as-"community" itself come under all due 'public' scutiny?

Beyond a simple "Yes" or "No" (or even "well, at times, yes-- but otherwise no") in answer to that very question, there is also the issue of just what might actually constitute such "all due public scrutiny" through governmental regulation of (at least aspects of) the process (as opposed to the "self-government" of same by the political Parties themselves). This is pretty much what I was writing about 8 1/2 years ago now (as well as, admittedly, in a somewhat different context) in a series of three interrelated Commentaries of mine for this website.

It was in the last of those three Commentaries that I summarized the very issues involved herein: for I noted that, in the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Smith v. Allwright [321 U.S. 649 (1944)], it was stated [t]he privilege of membership in a party may be, as this Court said in Grovey v. Townsend [294 U.S. 699 (1935)], no concern of the state. But when, as here, that privilege is also the essential qualification for voting in a primary to select nominees for a general election, the state makes the action of the party the action of the state. and also noted that Justice Thurgood Marshall, in his dissent in O'Brien v. Brown [409 U.S. 1 (1972)], followed this on with his own claim that so long as the State recognizes and adopts the fruits of the [presidential] primary as it was actually conducted [through its own recogniz[ing] on its ballot in the general election the nominee of the (national) convention], the State has made that primary an integral part of the election process, and infused the primary with state action.

I also pointed out how Justice Marshall had neatly summarized where the decision in United States v. Classic [313 U.S. 299 (1941)] stated that [w]here a state law has made the primary an integral part of the procedure of choice, or where in fact the primary effectively controls the choice, the right of the elector to have his ballot counted at the primary, is likewise included in the right [to otherwise vote in a General Election] where, in that same dissent, he wrote that [w]here the primary is by law made an integral part of the election machinery, then the right to vote at that primary is protected just as is the right to vote at the election; just before this, in fact, Marshall himself had noted that [t]he primary process was, by State law, the first step in a process designed to select a [Party's] candidate for President; the State will include [presidential] electors pledged to that candidate on the ballot in the general election; the State is intertwined in the process at every step, not only authorizing the primary but conducting it, and adopting its result for use in the general election. In these circumstances, the primary must be regarded as an integral part of the general election.

Therefore, by Justice Marshall's own reasoning, we here have a situation in which the 'public' entity- the State- is (to again quote him) "intertwined in the process at every step" through "[t]he primary process [being], by State law, the first step in a process designed to select a ['private' "community"'s (to again use John S's own definition of a political Party)] candidate for President"; therefore, "the primary" [in this case, a presidential primary] "must be regarded as an integral part of the general election": in just such a case, just how 'private' can the decisions and actions of that "community" (the Party) then remain? Just how much can the Party thereafter evade what I myself termed "all due public scrutiny"?

Yet the barest truth is that Justice Marshall was writing a dissenting opinion and, therefore, his words are not at all part and parcel of 'the supreme Law of the Land' that is the U.S. Constitution (along with Federal Law and Treaties) per its own Article VI, clause 2: thus, we are still left- now, in 2016- with the same 'Private' versus 'Public' Paradox in the case of Party nominations for President and Vice-President of the United States as always.


I'm not going to spend much time here considering/discussing the most obvious pitfalls of his proposal (one of which would be the very cost of several such elections throughout all 50 States of the Union and the District of Columbia- even where technologically aided; another issue would be the very real danger of "Election Fatigue" as election after election across the country were held [it is one thing for voters in State after State, week after week, voting in a sequence of Presidential Primaries- for, once they have so voted, they don't vote again for President until the General Election in November: what John S proposes is quite another!])

I might also here add that having all presidential candidates run "all up"- regardless of Party (or lack thereof)- in each such election in series might itself weaken the very notion of "community" John S himself evidently sees as the very essence of political Party (or, conversely, allowing the Party itself to propose presidential candidates for such a process would, more likely, tend to lead the Party to only put forth one candidate [and we are here back to the question that necessitates the current presidential nominating process in the first place: how does the Party then come up with just that one candidate?]).

However, regardless of the very merits (or not) of John S's proposal, there is still this nagging problem: just what entity would oversee the implementation, as well as regulation, of just such a plan? The most obvious answer would be 'the Congress of the United States': yet, once again, Congress currently has no constitutional power to so implement, let alone regulate, such a thing!

Therefore, we are here brought back full circle to the need for a Constitutional Amendment (one containing at least elements of that which I myself have already put forth- twice now [and more than a dozen years apart]- on this very website) in order to effect any consistent, nationwide presidential nominating process.

But, hey... all good Food for Thought!


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