The Point of Politics

Politics is about advancing the common good and serving all the people



Good politics calls for building bridges and forming coalitions. The American Solidarity Party gets it. Here in California, as elsewhere, the powerbrokers, whether Democrat or Republican, have a vested interest in blocking new parties from getting ballot access. The “duopoly” has an effective strategy for shoring up the status quo. It requires a super high number of voters to register a new party before granting it the ballot access that brings name recognition. Case in point: the American Solidarity Party needs in the neighborhood of 70,000 registered voters for its candidates to have ballot access. Lacking that, they have to run under the “No Party Preference” label.

So what to do? The answer, of course, it to build bridges and form coalitions. Enter the ProRep Coalition. It advocates for proportional representation, which means new parties able to secure a modest proportion of voter support should have some representation in the legislature. They should also have a clear path to ballot access. It’s a sensible policy and common practice in many countries.

Sadly, the ProRep Coalition is off to a rocky start. It suffers from the duopoly’s wrongheaded understanding of politics. How so? The Coalition suggests a definition of politics that invites new players to play the same old game of poisonous power politics. Here’s their pitch: “If politics is defined as who gets what, when, and how, what we’re really talking about is power. When power is not concentrated in one group of people at the expense of another, but shared between groups of people and manifested through the formation of coalition governments, we can transition from a culture of domination to cooperation.”

That won’t do. Politics is about advancing the common good. It is about serving the people, all of them. Power struggles and realpolitik, and how they divide the spoils of combat, don’t lead to cooperation. Together they constitute a flesh-eating virus that consumes the body politic.

One way the virus does so is by introducing a deep incoherence into our political discourse. Consider the following bizarre passage taken from ProRep’s statement of its core principles:

“The kind of government that would command our respect is a robust, inclusive multi-party democracy. What informs this preference is an unwavering commitment to the larger theory of democracy. That is, the belief that the best form of government is one that acknowledges there exists a diversity of thought, that each of those thoughts is valued equally, with neither a right nor wrong, but the ongoing pursuit of compromise for the sake of progress” (emphasis added).

Oh, my. This passage suggests that ProRep values as equal to its own principles the very negation of those same principles; it also suggests that neither its principles nor their negation are right or wrong. A further implication is that conflict about matters of principle should be resolved by compromise for the sake of progress and that we should equally value the rejection of any such compromise.

Perish the thought that there is any clear idea of what counts as progress. Given ProRep’s principles, whatever someone takes progress to be, well, we should equally value its opposite.

Ah, well. It’s early days yet in the adventures of the American Solidarity Party. Wish us well, gentle reader. We’re already developing a keen eye for snakes in the grass!


Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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