Should the U.S. try to make its parties stronger?
What is the relationship between parties, money and campaign finance reform?
How did parties perform in the 2012 presidential election?
How are the parties performing in governing in congress?
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The "U.S." should not make its parties stronger if by "U.S." the question suggests governmental action. Political parties are the product of a democratic process and provide the public organized entities that represent their personal beliefs and views on a myriad of issues. Political parties are obviously intertwined with the government, as the top officials in all federal agencies are political appointees nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, but they are nevertheless private organizations that operate from private donations. Consequently, their "strength" is entirely a result their ability to appeal to large segments of the public and their ability to convince members of the public to donate money to help run elections and coordinate activities. If a political party in a democratic system fails and is abolished, it is because it failed in its mission and has probably become politically and culturally obsolete.
The two main political parties in the United States, the Democrats and the Republicans, are already very strong, and very influential. The Republican Party, however, has entered a stage in which its viability as a representative political organization is increasingly in question due to the rise of the so-called Tea Party. That very deep and very contentious split in the right side of the political spectrum has seen moderate and harder-line conservatives increasingly at-odds, with a newly-ascendent libertarian faction represented in the Tea Party. To answer the question, however, the U.S. should not strengthen its political parties. The parties either become stronger by virtue of their public appeal and financial resources or they atrophy and become marginalized in the electoral process. Either way, they live or die on their merits.
The relationship between political parties, campaign donations, and campaign finance reform efforts has been a dynamic arrangement over the past twenty years. There is no question that money is a major component of the political process, with both major parties beneficiaries of enormous sums of money from well-healed donors. That money is fully intended to influence public policy; that is the whole purpose of contributing to political campaigns and organizations. Repeated U.S. Supreme Court decisions, however, including the 2010 Citizens United case and the very recent decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission have reaffirmed the legality of virtually unlimited donations as representing a legitimate form of political expression. Having personally viewed the morally and politically corrosive influence of money in politics, such decisions by the nation's highest court are discouraging, but many disagree and argue that campaign donations are, as the court reaffirmed, constitutionally-protected rights under the First Amendment.
The 2012 Presidential Election witnessed a markedly superior organizational performance by the National Democratic Party and the campaign of President Barack Obama, as had been the case four years earlier when Senator John McCain ran against then-Senator Obama. As the above discussion regarding problems within the Republican Party indicated, Republicans have been experiencing an existential crisis regarding their future as a unified party, and the disarray and bitterness among many in the Tea Party has seriously undermined the ability of the Republican Party to mount and sustain an effective nationwide campaign. In contrast, the Democratic Party performed quite well, maintaining control of the U.S. Senate as well as the White House.
How well the parties are performing in Congress is, obviously, a matter of perspective. In my opinion, the parties are functioning far worse than in recent history. The levels of acrimony between the parties has reached alarmingly high levels -- higher than this educator witnessed in my 20 years on Capitol Hill. The extent of antipathy between the parties was bad in the early 1990s, when then-President George H.W. Bush was forced to retreat from his campaign promise of "no new taxes" amid the most politically contentious budget negotiations imaginable. Since then, it has only gotten worse. The increasing polarization between parties in Congress has made it much more difficult for the kinds of compromises essential for the smooth and productive functioning of the institution. In short, the situation in Congress is bad and getting worse.
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