Friday, June 18, 2010

Thoughts on Prop 14

Post by Elena Fanjul-Debnam

Big ideas started on the ground in California often grow roots and spread across the country. Prop 14 could be one of those.

California just passed a proposition that consolidates primaries. The two candidates with the most votes in the primary election will enter into the general election. The idea is to end partisanship. But is moderation what we want? And is it what we’ll get?

During primaries is when parties are able to sort out their identity and platform. It allows for nuanced debate about particular issues and many diverse voices to be heard within the party. One might recall the laborious debates over health care during the Democratic Presidential primary—the health care bill was undoubtedly shaped by the ideas articulated during those debates. Obama was forced to adopt many of the other candidates’ ideas as he moved on to the general election and into the presidency.

Primaries are essential events and components to political parties. It is when the average voter gets to have his or her say about the direction of the party. Without primaries parties could lose their base, be less organized and out of date. We may lose the ability to sort out our differences and hear the other’s opinions within the party. Often aspects of minority opinion are adopted on a party level allowing more voices to be heard on as the party’s candidate advances.

Moreover the end of the primary could threaten realignments. Traditionally realignments have occurred through party primaries where candidates are forced to work out the details of the party platform. As a platform and message is molded, voters who disagree break away. If the fraction is large and united enough then they could form another party. As time goes on other parties are forced to readjust their platform in response to the new party. Eventually—in American politics, a system that favors a bicameral system—two parties emerge.

I am not convinced this is possible without primaries. It is very unlikely that a Tea Party candidate or any other third party candidate would be able to rise out of a general election pool, especially when the general election is limited to two candidates. It is more likely that a Tea Party candidate would emerge out of a Republican primary or at the very least some of the Tea Party ideals would be adopted, as we have seen happen across the country.

In a critical time in our political history—when a realignment is very possibly on the horizon—Prop 14 effectively stunts the growth of a third political party.

Is moderation what we’ll get? As candidates enter the primary they will immediately attempt to appeal to the masses, not a smaller subset. We will see the rise of moderation. Candidates who make it to the general election will be hard to differentiate. Will unique candidates make it out of the primary? I’d put my money where the money is—candidates with the most cash from start to end will win the election. Don’t get me wrong, capital has always been a prerequisite for candidates but the price tag will exponentially increase and the candidate field widens.

Is moderation what we want? Underdogs and outliers are not only good but essential in politics. They force politicians to think outside the box, to be more creative and to work harder. Parties are important they hold each other accountable. Moderation is dangerous.

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