The conventions are over, and the national level campaigns are pushing hard. We in Texas are not considered a “battleground” state, so we have a little less of the pressure than some others. While that is probably good for those of us watching and reading, it is not as good for the owners of media. That said, the impression that they try to leave with us is that any candidate of their party should be our choice. The higher the office sought, the more likely the candidate is to embrace the platform of a particular party. The lower the office, the less likely the candidate is to be a devotee of the party.
Political parties have been part of American history almost from the beginning. When the Articles of Confederation proved ineffective, a few individuals decided that a new constitution needed to be written. They drafted (basically) the one we have today. As most are aware, what we now call the Bill of Rights was not a part of the document as approved by the states. Rather, at the insistence of a group of individuals – the Anti-Federalists, as opposed to the Federalists, these amendments were added. (The Bill of Rights as we know it today is actually a compromise document, as two proposed amendments were not (and have never been) included – but that’s a topic for another day!). President Washington warned us against political parties when he said:
However (political parties) may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
Nonetheless, we have become a nation dependent on having at least two political parties.
A negative title for a group, like “anti-federalist” tends to drive people away, so the party of Madison and Jefferson soon became the Republican party. They stood for minimal central government, limited commerce, and reliance on agriculture to keep the economy moving. The term “Democrat” was not heard until the mid-1800s, when Andrew Jackson ran in the “Democratic Republican Party”. By then, the party of Jefferson had become enamored of a stronger central government and had replaced the Federalist party in philosophy. The Democrats held the first convention in 1832. The Republicans disbanded about that time, giving way to the Whig party. Shortly before the Civil War, the Whigs and the remnants of the Republicans came together to form a “new” Republican Party. Since Reconstruction, the parties have at least retained their names, although their philosophies have migrated based on public opinion and the presence of third parties.
The first time I ran for public office, I did so on the Democratic ticket. The decision was not so much an endorsement of the national party platform as a feeling that my political leanings were more toward social consciousness issues than big industry and government. At that time, a fair portion of the state leaned that direction with me. Times change, and, as they have through the decades, so do the parties. Many of my peers have chosen to change parties. I have not. Neither party’s national platform fits my personal views and beliefs particularly well, and certainly not well enough for me to verbalize a reason to change. As long as I cannot offer a good reason to change, I see no honor in doing so.
Each election cycle, I hear of people presuming a candidate will act in accordance with their views based on party affiliation. Especially on the local level, that is not necessarily a reason to vote for or against an individual. In thirty years of serving the people of Nolan County, I have not seen a decision made in the courthouse that was based on party politics; the philosophies of the parties just don’t trickle down this far. Rather, I have seen individuals make decisions – and many are not easy – based on their perception of what is best for Nolan County.
If you look far enough back, even those of us who run as Democrats were Republicans…back when Jefferson ran the party! And – given both that and President Washington’s statement – it would behoove those planning to vote to consider the candidate more than the letter beside the name.
Lisa Peterson is the County Attorney for Nolan County. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org .