Are Political Parties Important and Necessary for American Democracy?

John Aldrich begins Why Parties? with a bold statement from E. E. Schattschneider which states that “political parties created democracy, and…democracy is unthinkable save in terms of parties” (Aldrich 3).  He goes on to add that “it is necessary to have a party system, an ongoing competition between two or more durable parties” (Aldrich 12).   Throughout his first chapter, he illustrates several key concepts of democratic elections.  One important feature of democracy includes free and fair competition between actors seeking elected office.  Strong parties, Aldrich argues aids ambitious politicians and having two or more of them serve the public interest of preventing one faction controlling the government unchecked. (Aldrich 15-16).  But are these viewpoints actually reflected in the American political system?

As the author mentions, George Washington’s addresses the issue of parties in his farewell presidential address.  “I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations.  Let me now take a more comprehensive view and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally…The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.  The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty” (Washington).  It is a concern that troubled Madison as well when he wrote Federalist No. 10 nine years earlier.

Aldrich points out in his third chapter that although there was considerable instability in voting coalitions in the First Congress, the body operated without the assistance of a party system.  Along these same lines, in V.O. Key’s study of the South in the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, the region was dominated by a single party, the Democratic Party.  “Two-party competition would have meant the destruction of southern solidarity in national politics-in presidential elections and in the halls of Congress” (Key 8-9).  In some southern states, such as Virginia, a political machine, in this case, the Byrd Organization, more or less dominated politics and thus elections were not a competitive affair nor, one could argue, democratic.  This idea conjures up the idea of party bosses gathering in smoke-filled rooms in order to determine who ran the state.  Elections were merely a formality, window-dressing presenting the façade of democracy.   However, other southern states were a different matter.  As Key illustrates in his chapter regarding Alabama, although the Democratic Party nominee for any office easily bested his opponent or opponents in the general election, Republican or otherwise, the race for the Democratic primary was often a lively affair.  He shows in Table 3 that 7 candidates sought the nomination for Alabama’s 8th Congressional District in 1946.  The state was divided not on the basis of party, but regionalism, with candidates typically receiving a high percentage of the vote in either their home counties, neighboring counties, and counties with which they or their campaign has some association (Key 38-43).  To quote Aldrich, “until recently being a Republican in the South provided a reputation, but one that made winning all but impossible” (Aldrich 49).

Returning to the beginning of Aldrich, he writes, “the political party as a collective enterprise…provides the only means for holding elected officials accountable” (Aldrich 3).  But is this statement necessarily true?  Consider the case of Representative Eric Cantor (VA-7).  Over time his district voters were growing dissatisfied with him. Normally re-elected with at least 63% of the vote in his previous elections, his vote percentage dropped to the high 50s in the 2010 and 2012 contests.  Nevertheless, the district was a safe Republican (Sabato) and, given his influence as the House Majority Leader, the party leadership had no incentive to replace him.  With Downs’ median voter theorem, parties will seek to converge toward the ideology of the largest segment of segment of the population (Downs) but Cook rated the 7th as Solid Republican (Ballotpedia) so it would be difficult for a Democratic candidate to position him or herself so far right on the ideological spectrum to mount a serious challenge, especially against a powerful incumbent like Cantor.  Therefore, citizens had little chance to hold him accountable in a general election given the makeup of the district due, in part, to gerrymandering by the Republican-controlled legislature.  In 2014, an unknown college professor named David Brat shocked the nation when he successfully defeated Cantor for the Republican nomination by challenging him as a more strident conservative.  With this Brat/Cantor illustration, it isn’t really the two-party system holding elected officials accountable, but rather an opportune candidate seizing the right moment within a single party.  Updating this example with recent data, in 2016 the courts ruled that Virginia’s 3rd district was unconstitutionally gerrymandered, therefore the surrounding districts, including the 7th, were redrawn making it more competitive.  Thus, what was a safe Republican district several years ago ended up switching to the Democratic Party by a narrow margin in the 2018 elections (New York Times).

Although Aldrich might decry it as undemocratic, I would argue that this sort of state and regionalism that Alabama experienced in the early 1900s was what the writers of the Constitution expected would happen in American politics…at least before the advent of national political parties.  After all, in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution the writers seek to safeguard against states simply voting for their favored sons for both president and vice president by stating, “The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves.” (U.S. Constitution).  We see this Alabama situation play out in the presidential election of 1824 with four candidates from the Democratic-Republican Party each winning his respective home state. As no candidate received a majority of the Electoral College vote, the decision fell to the House of Representatives.  Rewinding to the previous election, known as the Era of Good Feelings, the collapse of the Federalist Party led James Monroe to an easy reelection with no serious opposition.  As Aldrich writes, “the birth of party politics in a form recognizable even today can be fairly be dated to 1828” (Aldrich 102).  Setting aside the issue that only a small fraction of the population was eligible to vote, despite the lack of a stable two-party system prior to 1828, I have not found much literature to suggest that the United States was not considered democratic from its founding to 1828 nor much support for the claim that political parties created democracy given that the United States government predates the party system.  As another example, in the city of Staunton, Virginia, the birthplace of President Woodrow Wilson, both city council and school board elections are nonpartisan affairs.  Even without the lack of party labels and cues, competitive elections are common in Staunton, and as far as I’ve found no one has declared that democracy is dead in the Queen City of the Shenandoah Valley.

Even though most elections feature candidates nominated by one or more major political parties, to argue, as Schattschenider does, that “political parties created democracy, and…democracy is unthinkable save in terms of parties” (Aldrich 3), does not appear have much supporting evidence in the history of the American political system.  After all, political parties didn’t begin to take shape until many years after the founding of the present government.  In addition, two-party competition was and is still absent in some regions and localities.  Nevertheless, spirited competition can still persist in its absence.  Democracies do not necessarily require a multitude of political parties or any parties at all, and, in the case of gerrymandering, strong parties can mute elections’ ability to reflect the peoples’ will through the redrawing district lines to make them safe or uncompetitive.

If parties are not necessary for democracy, are they still important?  Here scholars disagree as well.  Using data from ANES surveys, Aldrich displays a chart on page 265 which shows that as of late parties have become less important as apathy toward the parties has increased stating, “parties had become increasingly irrelevant but became at least as relevant to voters by 2008 as in the 1950s” (Aldrich 264).  He goes on to add that “voting thus became candidate centered and parties as mechanisms for understanding candidates, campaigns, and elections became less relevant” (Aldrich 268).   However, other scholars debate the theory of party decline.  Exploring data from NES surveys and DW-Nominate scores, Hetherington reaches a different conclusion stating, “Although parties in the 1990s are not as central to Americans as they were in the 1950s, they are far more important today than in the 1970s and 1980s.” (Hetherington 619).  Then, we have Krehbiel who looks at the partisan composition of Congress in committees and suggests, quoting David Broder, that “’the party’s over’ in the United States and perhaps winding down in Great Britain” (Kreibel 260).

Lastly, when considering their importance, how should one go about defining partisanship?  Is it simply the number of voters who register to vote under the banner of a particular party?  But what if these citizens don’t actually show up to vote?  If they have no level of civic engagement, should they still be counted as partisans?  And what about states which do not have registration by political party?  Should partisanship be measured, as Hetherington does, through respondent thermometer scores of the respective parties or through straight ticket voting?  However, then we run into the matter of whether feeling scores accurately reflect partisanship or could they simply be a lesser of two evils mentality?  What about environments, such as Key’s observations about the solid South, where a viable candidate from a party outside of the Democratic wasn’t viable?  Or how about the fact that some states offer their voters a straight ticket voting option at the very beginning of their ballots while others do not?  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a single universal answer to the question of how one ought to define partisanship and the answer one selects likely plays a heavy role in determining how important partisanship is in American politics.

Returning to the question posed in the title of this paper, are political parties important and necessary for American democracy, I would argue, for the reasons mentioned, that they are not a necessity.  Then are they important?  They are, but their exact value is difficult to measure.  Whether you love or hate them, parties provide a host of cues for voters who do not wish to expend the effort necessary to learn the details about each of the candidates running for office.  And, at the end of the day, candidates who seek to win or maintain office without the support of one of the two major parties usually fail.  But, as Aldrich claims in his 2nd chapter of Why Parties? political parties exist, not for the public interest, but primarily to serve the desires of ambitious politicians who seek to gain and maintain power for themselves.  It is interesting to speculate what would happen in American politics if parties were to disappear overnight.  If history provides an accurate guide, democracy would not be destroyed, and the causes of factions would still remain, of course, but, like the First Congress, it would be difficult to maintain two solid camps with an “us vs. them mentality”.  Who can say?  We might just see a more civil political environment as compared to our present state of hyperpolarization.

 

Resources

Aldrich, John H. 2011. Why Parties?: a Second Look. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: HarperCollins.

Hetherington, Marc J. 2001. “Resurgent Mass Partisanship: The Role of Elite Polarization.” American Political Science Review95(03): 619–31.

Key, V. O. [1949] 1984. Southern Politics in State and Nation. New ed. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Krehbiel, Keith. 1993. “Where’s the Party?” British Journal of Political Science23(2): 235–66.

“Sabato’s Crystal Ball.” Larry J Sabato’s Crystal Ball RSS. http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/2014-house/ (November 5, 2018).

U.S. Constitution. Art. II, Sec.1

“Virginia’s 7th Congressional District Elections, 2014.” Ballotpediahttps://ballotpedia.org/Virginia’s_7th_Congressional_District_elections,_2014 (November 6, 2018).

“Virginia’s 7th House District Election Results: Dave Brat vs. Abigail Spanberger.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/virginia-house-district-7 (November 7, 2018).

Washington, George. Avalon Project – Washington’s Farewell Address 1796. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/washing.asp (November 5, 2018).

Curious Events in the 7th

Rep. Eric Cantor's official photo from his website
Rep. Eric Cantor’s official photo from his website

Today, Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA-7) announced that he will be resigning his seat before the November election.  As such, he has asked the governor to hold a special election.  Cantor, as you likely know, was beaten in a fairly surprising upset by Dave Brat.

Reactions to this news have been mixed.  Some praise Cantor as doing so would allow whoever won the seat to take office immediately thus having a leg up in seniority over others elected on November 4th.  Others speak harshly of the former majority leader claiming that he is abandoning his constituents and “taking his ball and going home”.  And then there is the response from the Carr campaign.

James Carr is the Libertarian candidate for the House of Representatives in Cantor’s district.  His press release from a few moments ago reads, “There are few maneuvers in politics so blatantly contrary to the best interest of the voters as election manipulation.  I hope the public will take notice of and respond appropriately to this attempt to control their votes in November.” 

But why does Carr make such a claim?  Well, he adds, “The request for a special election to be held clearly is intended to remove me from that ballot.  If the governor grants a special election, not only will the winner be placed in office immediately and gain many of the benefits associated with Mr. Cantor’s seniority in congress, but the ballot qualification process will be reset as this would be a separate election which means I would have to qualify for this one as well.  This is intended to limit the likelihood of a voter choosing one candidate in the special election (which only applies to the remainder of 2014) and another in the general.”

If Carr’s statement is true, switching to a special election would certainly have a negative affect on our electoral process as it could exclude one of the qualified candidates.  To seek out the answer, I called the Virginia State Board of Elections.  They confirmed that if a special election is called, the previous signatures will be ignored for this race and Mr. Carr will have to go through the signature collection process again.

So what do you think?  Is Cantor’s resignation a positive, a negative, or something else?

Looking Back On the Tea Party

img_1330This morning, fellow Shenandoah Valley blogger Lynn Mitchell asked the question, “Why did the tea party (and libertarians) decide to take over the Republican Party instead of the Democratic Party whose policies they were supposedly against?” Well, as a person who has been involved in tea party politics for a number of years, I wanted to offer my take on the situation.

First off, let me begin by saying that no group is a monolithic unit.  Yes, it is easy to lump people together, to assume that their history, motivations, and goals are unified, but that simply would not be the case.  Anyway, like a number of folks, I joined the tea party while also a member of the Republican Party.  At that time, I had been growing increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of the GOP.  I recall saying at the time that the tea party would never have come into being if the GOP held firm to its supposed principles.

Although Republican politicians seemed to employ inspiring rhetoric when it came to limiting the power of the government, their actual track record was pretty poor.  It is tempting to say that the tea party had its start with the election of Barack Obama, but the truth is that for many of us its roots are earlier, the presidency of George W. Bush.

Let’s look back at George W. Bush, shall we?  What do we find?  An exploding national debt, increased federal government control in areas where it had no defined constitutional authority such as education and healthcare, and a troubling and expensive foreign policy based upon misinformation and a neoconservative philosophy.  Only in recent years have Republican officials finally begun to admit what many people in the tea party have known for years, that a lot of things went wrong in the eight years of the George W. Bush presidency.

So why did the tea party try to push the Republican Party harder instead of the Democratic?  Well, the GOP was seen as having closer ideological ties, especially given that many of us were disaffected Republicans.  Economically, there was supposedly a closer link between the tea party and what the Republican claimed to stand for.  Has that always been the case?  No.  Perhaps the last, best example of what might be considered a “tea party Democrat” (at least in my mind) is the Bourbon Democrats.  As Wikipedia states:

Bourbon Democrats were promoters of a form of laissez-fairecapitalism which included opposition to the protectionism that the Republicans were then advocating as well as fiscal discipline. They represented business interests, generally supporting the goals of banking and railroads but opposed to subsidies for them and were unwilling to protect them from competition. They opposed imperialism and U.S. overseas expansion, fought for the gold standard, and opposed bimetallism and promoted hard and sound money. Strong supporters of reform movements such as the Civil Service Reform and opponents of the corrupt city bosses, Bourbons led the fight against the Tweed Ring. The anti-corruption theme earned the votes of many Republican Mugwumps in 1884.”

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party has not held to these principles in about a century.  Given how much time has passed and the great partisan divide which presently exists, a lot of folks see the Democratic Party as irredeemable.

In order to make a greater impact in politics, some candidates tried running under the unofficial tea party label.  Here in Virginia, one could argue that Jamie Radtke was the first statewide tea party candidate.  In 2012, she challenged former Republican governor and senator George Allen for the Republican nod for U.S. Senate.  In the June primary, she won 23.05% of the vote to Allen’s 65.45%.  However, given Allen’s massive advantage in name ID and fundraising, it wasn’t a particularly shocking a result.

However, after that election, the tea party had changed.  Rather than standing strictly on principle, it had somehow begun to morph into a wing of the GOP.  Originally, the local group disdained both President Barack Obama and Senator John McCain.  In the November election that followed, however, we were told that we must rally behind the Republican candidates to defeat Obama and his allies.

In the 2013 contest, the Republican Party of Virginia switched their nomination process from a primary to a convention, presumably to aid gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli.  However, that change had a very profound down-ticket result.  E.W. Jackson, who finished last in the 2012 GOP senate primary, began to gain momentum.  In this part of the state, he saw in upsurge in popularity with the tea party, although I would argue he was far more concerned with social issues than the traditional fiscal matters that drove the tea party.  As a result, the regional tea party priorities began to shift again, adopting many of the same principles of groups such as the Valley Family Forum.  Again, prior to this Virginia Republican convention, local tea party goers were informed by the head of the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party that the group would support whichever candidates won the GOP nod.

So, to return to Lynn Mitchell’s question, I would say that the reason that the tea party is trying to take over the Republican Party is that it has now become one of a multitude of factions within the GOP.  It no longer stands outside of party politics as originally envisioned.  As such, that fight for control exploded over the weekend in Virginia’s 7th congressional district where Eric Cantor’s ally, Linwood Cobb, was booted for the tea party choice.  A major goal of the tea party these days seems to be to purge the Republican Party of what are seen as big government leaders and politicians.

There is very much an ongoing civil war for the heart of the Virginia Republican Party between those who are primarily motivated to win and those who are motivated by principle (although what that principle happens to be can be a variety of things).  Saturday’s battle is only a continuation of this conflict.

The RLC Scorecard

Today, the Republican Liberty Caucus released their scorecard for members of Congress.  Not surprisingly, Republicans generally fared much better than their Democratic counterparts.

Over all, according to the RLC, the Virginia delegation performed well in matters of economic liberty, but not as well in personal liberty.  Representative Morgan Griffith (VA-9), claimed the top overall score in the state with 84%, while Robert Hurt (VA-5) and Scott Rigell (VA-2) both were rated 100% on issues of economic liberty.

Ratings for VA legislators are as follows:

Representatives

Name              Economic        Personal         Liberty Index

Cantor             95                   25                   61

Connolly         20                   35                   28

Forbes            80                   40                   60

Goodlatte        95                   50                   73

Griffith            90                   79                   84

Hurt                100                 53                   76

Moran             0                      55                   28

Rigell               100                 53                   76

Scott                10                   68                   39

Wittman         95                   40                   68

Wolf                85                   47                   66

 

Senators

Name              Economic        Personal         Liberty Index

Kaine              15                   5                      10

Warner           15                   24                   19

 

You may agree or disagree with the RLC and their scoring system, but it seems to me that Virginia is in need of more liberty-minded legislators in Washington D.C.  2014 will provide that opportunity as the state will be electing a senator and all eleven members to the House of Representatives.  Will Virginia voters support more liberty or less in the primaries and in November?  We shall see.

The Republican (Feudalism) Plan

Image from nobility.org
Image from nobility.org

Ask the average Republican voter or even activist if he or she is familiar with the party plan of the Republican Party of Virginia and I’d wager you’re likely to get a blank stare in response.  Much like a constitution or a set of bylaws, the party plan is the governing document for the state party.  Well, as Craig Orndorff, who runs the Race to Richmond, This Time, Roanoke, recently highlighted, the RPV has made several changes to their party plan.  You can read the entire document here.

Perhaps the most important modification deals with participation in party activities.  Point 2 in section A of Article 1 reads, “A voter who, subsequent to making a statement of intent, publicly supports a candidate in opposition to a Republican nominee shall not be qualified for participation in party actions as defined in Article I for a period of four (4) years.”

Now what difference does this change make?  Well, if it were in effect prior to the 2011 elections, Ken Cuccinelli would not have been the Republican Party nominee for governor in 2013.  Both Ken Cuccinelli and Bill Bolling broke party ranks to support independent Bill Janis for commonwealth attorney of Henrico over the GOP nominee.  As such, under this change not only would neither of the two men would have been eligible to run for any office under the Republican Party last year, but in addition they would have been excluded from all party functions until 2015.  Even Eric Cantor, the U.S. House Majority Leader, backed Janis and would not be eligible to be a Republican, much less hold his current post.

Although not changed in the latest round of revisions, there are other troubling aspects of the party plan.  For example, who can participate in Republican primaries and conventions?  According to the plan, “all legal and qualified voters…who are in accord with the principles of the Republican Party, and who, if requested, express in open meeting either orally or in writing as may be required their intent to support all of its nominees for public office in the ensuing election may participate as members of the Republican Party of Virginia in its mass meetings, party canvasses, conventions, or primaries encompassing their respective election districts.”

Several years ago the RPV attempted to use a loyalty oath as a condition to vote in a primary.  Although legally unenforceable, the effort generated considerable backlash and it was withdrawn.  The whole idea is rather concerning.  In order to select a Republican nominee a voter has to pledge in advance to support the eventual Republican candidate whomever he or she happens to be and regardless of what positions he or she happens to hold.  Imagine, if you will, a single issue voter.  Let’s say she is a pro-life Republican.  On primary day she goes to the polls to support a pro-life candidate over a pro-choice one.  Regardless of the outcome, according to the party plan by voting in that primary she is honor-bound to support the Republican even if that candidate holds a position which is in stark contrast to her own.  Does that seem right to you?  What will be the effect assuming it is attempted to be enforced?  It seems that the loyalty oath is alive and well.

Now, this position is not unique to the Republican Party as the Democratic Party of Virginia included a similar statement in their 2010 party Plan.  “No person shall participate in a Democratic primary, convention or caucus who intends to support a candidate opposed to any Democratic nominee in that general or special election.”  Many of the locals know that it is very unlikely (but not impossible) for me to vote Democratic.  Will some party official stand at the door of the polling place on primary day, like George Wallace, denying me entrance?

In point three, the party seems to call for voter registration by political party, an idea I firmly oppose.

Moving through the RPV party plan, we reach point four.  It reads, “In addition to the foregoing, to be in accord with the principles of the Republican Party, unless otherwise stipulated by the appropriate Official Committee, a person otherwise qualified hereunder shall not have participated in Virginia in the nomination process of a party other than the Republican Party within the last five years.”

In plain English, this means that if you vote in the Democratic primaries, you are booted from the GOP.  It doesn’t matter that your tax dollars fund these primaries, you cannot voice your opinion in these contests…according to the Virginia Republican Party.  As someone who faithfully votes in as many primaries as he can, this plank is exceedingly worrisome.  I can think of at least three Democratic primaries in which I’ve voted; 2006 U.S. Senate, 2009 Statewide Virginia, and 2013 Statewide Virginia.  In addition, although I could not vote, I was a witness to the 2013 Libertarian state convention.  Does that count as participation too?  What if you live in an area of the state where only Democratic candidates can win?  Would voicing your opinion to select the best Democratic option exclude you from later expressing your opinion in Republican circles too?  Can a party forbid you to take part in a political process funded by your own tax dollars?  Although there is a clause to avoid this issue…as a one-time exception…being required to craft a written statement denouncing the other party very much seems over the top.

I find these issues worrisome and would expect that many of my conservative brothers and sisters would as well.  Why is it that the Republican Party is so concerned with making vassals of their base?  Shouldn’t they instead promote the Republican principles found in the Republican creed and make sure that Republican elected officials actually honor and uphold these values?  If the GOP wants to make a principled statement, why not strip party membership from delegates and state senators who supported the transportation tax hike last year…or work to remove them from leadership positions…or, at the very least, publicly chastise them?

With these rules, one has to ponder why the party just doesn’t force all primary voters, convention goers, and potential candidates to declare, “I will to my party be true and faithful, and love all which it loves and shun all which it shuns”?  In case you are wondering, that declaration is a modification of the Anglo-Saxon Oath of Fealty.  I wonder if the RPV wishes to reduce us to serfdom.  Is political feudalism alive and well within the Commonwealth?  Are we being transformed into red and blue vassals, stripped of any semblance of political free will?

Shouldn’t the RPV do a better job reaching out to voters and actually reducing the size of government rather than promoting restrictive regulations?  Rather than expanding the Republican Party, these rules (especially if actually enforced) will only serve to shrink involvement, which, in turn, will further reduce any chances of future Republican statewide victories.

As so many Virginia elections are either uncontested or one party has a virtual lock on a seat, participation in party nominating contests is an important tool for voters to have at least some voice in determining their representation.  Demanding loyalty or forbidding cross party voting in order to take part in party politics is a violation of a free and open political process and weakens the strength of our democratic process.  No group or individual should ever unquestioningly own your vote or your support.  We haven’t lived in the middle ages for centuries, so why should our partisan politics be so mired in the past?

If the Republican Party of Virginia desires to enact an oath I can get behind, it ought to sound something like this: “I will to my principles be true and faithful.  As long as the party and her candidates uphold these shared principles, I will support them.”

Tea Across the State

Although I’ve likely been to more tea party meetings that most people who read this article, all of these meetings have taken place within the Shenandoah Valley.  Last week, however, I had the opportunity to meet with two groups outside the region.

The Montross Tea Party

The first gathering took place in the town of Montross, Virginia on May 15th.  For those unfamiliar with Virginia geography, Montross is in the Northern Neck, the northern most peninsula of the state.  As you might imagine, it is a pretty rural area.  This tea party mainly draws from the citizens of Westmoreland County, a county comprised of 17,454 people as of the 2010 census.  Despite this relatively small population base, the tea party still boasted a turnout of 25 people.

The Mechanicsville Tea Party

The second meeting was the Mechanicsville Tea Party on May 17th.  49 people attended this assembly.  Mechanicsville, for those who don’t know, is an unincorporated community of 34,648 folks in Hanover County, a few miles north of the city of Richmond.  Apparently, there are a whole host of tea party organizations in and around the city of Richmond including several in Hanover County itself.

Parke West of We rVirginia

The featured speaker at these two events was Parke West of We rVirginia.  We rVirginia is a relatively new group; their purpose is to educate, activate, and inspire conservatives throughout the Commonwealth in order to elect likeminded legislators in the 2012 election cycle.  Part of their technology includes the rVotes system, a database and program similar to the Republican Party’s Voter Vault.

One common thread I noticed between the two tea parties was the high level of support for Jamie Radtke for Senate.  Although Jamie Radtke won the most recent straw poll in the Harrisonburg and Staunton Tea Parties, apparently, she has an even stronger following in other regions of the state.  For example, approximately one out of every three of members of both the Montross and Mechanicsville Tea Party meetings self-identified as an active volunteer with the Radtke campaign. How will the efforts of this multitude of volunteers impact the June 12th Republican Senate primary?

Another interesting tidbit to note was the complete lack of Cantor materials at the Mechanicsville Tea Party.  Although I would argue that Karen Kwiatkowski is the tea party favorite in the June 12th Republican primary for the 6th district, Representative Bob Goodlatte still makes an attempt to reach out to the Shenandoah Valley Tea Parties.  However, at the Mechanicsville meeting, there were neither Cantor campaign signs nor his literature.  By contrast, I could easily find brochures for his opponent, Floyd Bayne.  I have to wonder, is this situation an anomaly?  Do many of the grassroots organization in the 7th congressional district oppose majority leader Eric Cantor?  Or has his campaign simply chosen to ignore tea party groups like Mechanicsville?

Although it is easy to assume that all tea party groups are the same given that each presumably adhere to the Constitution and the ideals of limited government, it is also true each are comprised of a variety members who each hold a multitude of beliefs, have differing levels of political experience, and view the world through their own personal lenses.  I look forward to learning about other tea party organizations as we strive to promote our shared principles in 2012 and beyond.

Our Libyan Nightmare

Is anyone else troubled by the recent developments regarding Libya?  Now I’m not talking about the clashes between pro-Gaddafi forces and the rebels who seek to overthrow him.  I assume we can agree that Gaddafi is an unjust despot, as are many of the leaders of non-democratic countries around the world.  We can freely disagree concerning whether or not the U.S. should intervene in this conflict.

Instead, the most disturbing element of current events was President Obama’s unilateral decision to launch a military strike against the nation.  Be they no-fly zones, missile attacks, or a ground force invasion, any violation of Libyan sovereign territory puts us at war with the nation.  However, according our Constitution, if you read Article One, Section Eight, only Congress has the power to declare war.  Did Obama seek and was he granted such authorization? No.

On this topic, I present to you today’s (March 21, 2011) thoughts of Democrat Dennis Kucinich (OH-10).

Isn’t President Obama’s actions a clear violation of the Constitution?  Now some people erroneously believe that the War Powers Resolution supercedes the Constitution and transfers this authority to declare war away from the Congress and to the President.   Although I don’t believe the War Powers Resolution is constitutional, that issue is a matter for another day.  To be clear, assuming the War Powers Resolution is valid, it reads:

The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to
(1) a declaration of war,
(2) specific statutory authorization, or
(3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.
So was there a declaration of war?  No.  Was there a specific statutory authorization?  Not that I can find.  How about a national emergency?  With Gaddafi desperately struggling to control his own nation, I sincerely doubt anyone can make the claim that he currently possesses either the will or the military forces necessary to pose any sort of threat to our country.

Now I want you to compare Kucinich’s words to Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (VA-7) from Hardball on February 8, 2007.

Scary isn’t it?  I certainly hope that Representative Cantor has changed his opinion in the four years since this recording.  Unfortunately his website and blog are silent on these recent developments.  Granting one man the ability to declare war without any real oversight or approval marches the nation toward the spectre of endless conflict and a totalitarian state.

At the end of the day, whichever party happens to be in power, they all must obey the Constitution.  Clearly with this action in Libya, Obama has grossly overstepped his authority.  I would not support an executively created war whether it happens under a Republican or a Democrat.  You know what is destroying this country?  This event serves as a prime example. Outside the rule of law we have given one man far too much power.  And what we do not give him willingly, he takes in the name of our own best interest, in our supposed national security, or for international peacekeeping efforts.

We must not look at this matter through the lens of whether you support or oppose the use of military force in Libya.  After all, history may judge this intervention to be a great idea or a horrid mistake.  Nevertheless, it is clear that our President has blatantly disregarded our Constitution.

You may already realize that this matter is not a partisan issue but one where pitting those who defend our laws against those who ignore them.  As Republican Representative Justin Amash (MI-3) wrote on Sunday:

It’s not enough for the President simply to explain military actions in Libya to the American people, after the fact, as though we are serfs. When there is no imminent threat to our country, he cannot launch strikes without authorization from the American people, through our elected Representatives in Congress. No United Nations resolution or congressional act permits the President to circumvent the Constitution.

Perhaps you remember the words of Democrat Rep. Steve Israel (NY-2) in which he stated in the second video, “Congress has a constitutional responsibility to decide whether we are going to war or not.”

So what will be the end result of this affair?  Looking back, will this moment be the defining time in which Congress stands up for the Constitution and rule of law or will it surrender to the executive branch?  Do you want to know why our country is heading toward oblivion?  You need look no further than Obama’s response in Libya.

The High Cost to Advance

On this coming Friday and Saturday, Republicans across the state will be gathering in McLean, Virginia, to celebrate the 27th Donald Huffman Advance.  For those who don’t know, Donald Huffman is a former chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia.  This year should an interesting event as many high name conservatives have reserved hospitality suites for Friday night.  For example, the three potential 2012 Senate candidates, former Governor George Allen, Delegate Bob Marshall of Manassas, and Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart all will be currying support.  To name a few more, my State Senator Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg and Representative Eric Cantor of Richmond will each have a suite too.  Then on Saturday, after breakfast, attendees will have the opportunity to attend numerous workshops followed by lunch and then additional workshops.  That evening, activists can also enjoy a dinner and a VIP reception for an additional cost.  Sounds like an interesting experience, no?  So what do you expect an event like this one to cost?  $25?  $50?  $100?  Regrettably, these two days cost a staggering $165 per person!

Until last year, I never attended the annual Advance.  Although I have been to two conventions, I couldn’t justify the price tag.  After all, besides the cost of the Advance itself, you also have to take into account the travel costs as well as the hotel.  If you caught the early bird special for lodging this year, that means tacking on another $85.  In late 2009, I decided to make the trek down to Williamsburg to see what the fuss was all about.  The Friday night hospitality suites were sort of like a family reunion as I was able to speak to many politicians and activists that I had met over the years.  Unfortunately, by the late evening, I grew increasingly unwell.  By the morning, I felt sick and it was difficult to concentrate so by the time I got over to the Advance I was feeling pretty miserable.  Therefore, due to my worsening condition and desire to not contaminate my fellow activists, I planned to leave.  While pondering my options, I asked if I was able get some sort of refund if I left.  The folks at the RPV said that I could and so I exited the convention hall to return to Harrisonburg.  Later however, I was told that my promise of a full refund was reduced to just a partial refund.  A few weeks after that, the idea of even a minor refund was completely rejected.  Obviously, this episode has soured my impression of the Advance.

I would expect that many Republicans will gather in Tysons Corner this weekend to celebrate this year’s Advance.  However, you will not find me there.  Even if I could afford to go, I believe the charge is far too high for what you get and, especially in these tough economic times, the average Republican activist will be repulsed by the fees associated.  I have no problem with a fundraising dinner and a VIP reception in order to raise cash from the high rollers among us, but $250 (including hotel) to attend a handful of workshops?  If you are looking to learn more about politics, given their lower outlay, I think the Leadership Institute provides far more bang for your buck.  Shouldn’t the Advance be more about celebrating our victories and working for the future rather than squeezing the faithful for funds?  Sure, I’d love to join you at the RPV’s Advance, but the costs are simply too high.

Cantor Can…And Did!

This evening, while working at the store, a customer mentioned to me that the cosponsors to HR 1207 (Audit the Fed) had now reached 245. Therefore, once I got home, (and remembered) I scanned the list to see the new names. Ok, ok…most of them I didn’t recognize. After all, there are 435 of them. Who can keep them all straight? Anyway, I was both surprised and pleased to see Rep. Eric Cantor’s name on the list. I guess that your all’s hard work has paid off. Thank you Representative Cantor for doing the right thing! If you live in his district, let him know that you appreciate it when he works to reduce the size and scope of Washington.

But the work is far from over. Assuming that it passes through committee and all of the supposed cosponsors actually for it, we still have the Senate. Therefore, we must stress the importance of this bill to our Senators. Three have already signed on: Crapo (ID), DeMint (SC), and Vitter (LA), with Senator Jim DeMint being the very first. If you are a Virginian, Senator Webb’s Washington number is 202-224-4024 and Senator Warner’s number is 202-224-2023. You know the drill.