Written by Stephen Iovino.
We have a party problem in the United States – and not just in fraternity basements and at after-prom soirées. Legislation is being halted in its tracks, Supreme Court confirmation hearings have devolved into trench warfare, and “compromise” has become the dirtiest of words in Washington. The talking heads on cable news networks all bemoan the corrosiveness of excessive partisanship, and many politicians themselves are quick to acknowledge it. So why is the problem only getting worse? Who are America’s political parties? And do we even need them?
By far the two most popular political parties in the United States are the Democrats and Republicans. The Democratic Party is the nation’s oldest party, having come to form under President Andrew Jackson. Much of its modern ideology dates back to the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his flagship New Deal program. The Democrats believe in using the power of government to protect workers and consumers. For this reason, it is also known as the party of “big government.” The party is pro-union and progressive on social issues. The current Democratic majority in the House of Representatives has passed legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour (the Raise the Wage Act) and to extend civil rights to LGBTQ Americans (the Equality Act). The Democrats are generally pro-choice and favor gun-control measures.
The Republican Party is sometimes called the Grand Old Party (GOP), the Party of Lincoln (for its first president), or the Party of Reagan (for the president who helped set its modern political ideology). Republicans support tax cuts and deregulation as a way of getting the government out of the way so the free market can grow the economy organically. For this reason, the Republican Party is generally known as the part of “small” or “limited” government. In 2017, the Republican Congress passed, and President Trump signed into law, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Republicans tend to favor defense spending and Second Amendment protections and are more conservative on social issues like gay rights and abortion.
The next two biggest parties are dwarfed by these juggernauts. The Libertarians are staunch supporters of small government and limited spending, and the Greens prioritize environmental protection.
Political parties definitely do some good. They give people an avenue to get involved in politics, meet likeminded individuals, and run for office. But their negative aspects are front and center these days – and they’re only getting uglier. State legislatures controlled by both parties gerrymander congressional districts for political gain and produce more ideologically extreme candidates in the process. Perhaps electoral reforms that protect against gerrymandering and limit the power of lobbyists to influence candidates could go a long way in reducing partisan rancor.
So do we need these parties? In a word, yes. They’re far too ensconced in our political life to just do away with. But can we work to make them a whole lot better? Absolutely.
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