Saturday, February 12, 2005

Does Party Chairmanship Matter in the U.S.?

Today the Democrats selected Howard Dean to be party chairman. The first question that comes to mind is: Who cares? I mean is this really such a big event that merits our attention? Does party chairmanship, Democrat or Republican, in this country really matter? Everyone who has paid the slightest attention to the evolution of the political system in the United States will tell you that political parties in this country are designed to be weak. The party chairman does not have any institutional power to transform a party or significantly impact its political agenda. That has been and always will be the job of presidents and charismatic leaders vying for the presidency.

Political parties in the United States can not even impose a party line on their own members. Proof is that a Democratic Senator, Zell Miller, supported a Republican president, George W. Bush, and there was nothing the Democratic Party can do about it. It is after all the way the farmers of the U.S. constitution intended it. They intended for politicians to be responsive to their local constituents and not to centralized party politics. As we say, in America all politics are local. So, what is really the job of a party chairman? It is and will always be to coordinate national party strategy and dispatch resources to support the party’s political campaigns.

However, let us at least recognize that the reason we are talking about the DNC chairmanship is because the Democratic Party is currently in trouble and that Governor Dean has made himself a name in the last primaries through innovative fund-raising and grass root campaigning. The Democrats are looking for ways to reverse their recent political fortune and create some excitement around new party leadership. Nonetheless, although the Democrats should be concerned about their political future, they should not panic or oversell. If history teaches us anything it would be that America is traditionally in the Middle. It swings left and right but always manages to come back into balance. The good news is that the overall trend in American politics has been progressive. That is, most constitutional reform that has taken place in this country has been in the direction of expanding human rights and freedoms.


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