Parties in Action and Interest Groups
Political parties have always been part of American society from the earliest times of the Republic, but since the Civil War, it has been the Republican and the Democratic parties who have ruled the roost. The Democratic Party has always been known as the party of the downtrodden and the poor, but for over a century it was also known as the party of white racial supremacy. The Republicans on the other hand grew out of the emancipation movement but eventually steered to the right of the political spectrum ever since the Democrats took up the mantle of civil rights in the early 1960’s (Dodd, Bruce, (2009), p. 15). Special interest groups such as big business have always had their lobbyists and personages who influence laws and decisions made by Congress, and this has grown in recent years especially with ever greater stakes in the financial world.
How Do Parties Change Politics?
Political parties are the heart and soul of politics and this cannot function without them. Laws are made through their influence and the people who have access to their representative, obviously have more chance of getting what they want. The electoral landscape has also changed considerably in the past 60 years with the 1956 Election a typical example of political ideology. On one side you had Dwight D Eisenhower, a famous general decorated with every conceivable award and just fresh from four years in the Presidency, whilst on the other side, you had Adlai Stevenson who was running for the second time on a liberal Democratic Party ticket (Jacobsen 2010, p 67). America decided to return Eisenhower since it felt a greater affinity with the conservative Republican policies than the liberal agenda espoused by Stevenson.
In their seminal book, ‘The 2008 Elections and Their Implications’, Dodd and Oppenheimer explain that the 2008 General Election was a watershed for liberal values since with the election of a first black President, the country could begin to forget its dark past. Although the Presidency of Bill Clinton brought forward certain economic prosperity, it was a known fact that interest groups continued to rise substantially, with the result that several economic policies and political decisions were taken according to these group’s whims. The conclusion to be learnt here is that political parties do change politics, but interest groups are continually acquiring more influence in the decision making process.
Are Parties good for America?
Democracy is based upon the premise of a multi-party political system so this question is rather innocuous. You cannot do without political parties if you want to have a stable democracy, so the main premise is to ensure that the parties are stable and do not resort to extend their influence unduly. In some cases, the two party system, has proved harmful to America – a case in point is the aftermath of the 1972 Presidential Election when the Republican incumbent, Richard Nixon thrashed the Democratic challenger George McGovern by winning over 500 electoral votes. This sense of unalloyed power resulted in Nixon going for dangerous hubris that resulted in his downfall just two years later in the Watergate scandal. Ironically, the former President was pardoned by a Democratic President several years later, making one believe that there is collusion in a two party system with special interest groups achieving ascendancy and unchecked influence. Bartels in ‘Partisanship and Voting Behaviour’ dwells upon the changing voting patterns of the electorate as time goes by with those entrenched into conservatism favouring the Republican Party while those flying the liberal camp seated with the Democrats (Bartels, 1998, p 230). Interest Groups
How do interest groups arise? What leads to their formation? What impact do they exert on the policy process? What is the nature of their influence?
Interest groups are those groups who forward their own agenda at the expense of others. Social issues such as abortion, divorce, same sex marriage and capital punishment mobilize hundreds of interest groups who are constantly lobbying legislators for their own means. The anti-abortion lobby is a particularly strong interest group and this is very active on the far right of the Republican spectrum with activists constantly petitioning their elected members, be it Congressmen or Senators for a repeal of the Roe vs Wade bill (Bartels, 1998, p. 120). Elected members have to be careful on how their vote is perceived in their state since this could often lead to their losing their seat so one cannot deny the immense power that these interest groups have.
However, the most powerful interest groups are undoubtedly those dealing with financial or health issues. The ferocious opposition to the universally funded healthcare insurance proposal is a case in point where several hundred lobby groups are working tirelessly to have this law repealed – mostly this effort is backed by the powerful insurance companies who stand to lose billions if the law goes ahead. These interest groups have exerted considerable pressure on the political process since most legislation can be passed according to their whims. Financial legislation after the 2008 Wall Street crisis has also been held up considerably due to the powerful bankers lobby obstructing it at every turn.
Lawrence C. Dodd and Bruce I. Oppenheimer (2009): Congressional Politics in a Time of Crisis: The 2008 Elections and Their Implications, New York, Simon and SchusterSchickler and Pearson (2009), “The House Leadership in an Era of Partisan Warfare”, Alfred A Knopf, New YorkGary C. Jacobson (2010), “Party Polarization in National Politics and The Electoral Connection.”Larry M. Bartels (1998), “Partisanship and Voting Behavior, 1952-1996.”