The political system of the US hast often been criticized, especially during the past few months, because of the obvious problems with the presidential elections. It is said to be too old fashioned and not represantative for the modern democracy America would like to be. Today I want to tell you about the party system and the different political parties in the US to give you al little overview of the American political society.
The most striking aspect of the American political party concept is certainly the two- party system. The two leading parties in this system are traditionally the Democratic and the Republican Party and there have never been other parties in ths leading position. Whenever there are elections there’s the so called „first past the post“ system, which means that the candidate or the party with the most votes wins and all the votes for the losing parties fall away. This favours the two big parties, for all the smaller parties don’t get the majority of all the votes. All American parties don’t have fixed members (and membership fees) or a fixed programm. They simply try to attract as much voters as possible without wanting to integrate them into the party machinery. Nevertheless they are registered and before elections they are asked to vote for „their“ party again. American parties only get money from the government before presidential elections to finance the campaigns. The two big parties also get, accoring to the Act of Congress in 1966 a small amount of money from the Federal Governments. Most of the money the parties need comes from voluntary donations. Another possibility: Each American can decide wether one dollar of his monthly income is used to support the parties and many people agree with it. Especially the Democratic and the Republican party cover a wide spectrum of interests, so there are many people who don’t favour a certain party but make a new choice before every election. It often happens that traditionally Republican voters suddenly give their votes to a Democratic candidate and the other way round.
The first organisations comparable to political parties came into being in the 1770s even before the Constitution was accepted.
The so called „Federalists“, merely farmers of the North and businessmen were supporters of the Constitution. Their leader was Alexander Hamilton.
The „Anti- Federalists“, giuded by Thomas Jefferson, were against the Constitution. They were poor farmers, most of them were living in the newly founded states in the west. These people supported decentralisation and cheap, simple state governments. Jefferson unified the Anti- Federalists and called the new organisation „The Republican Party“. But already in 1828 the party- leaders decided to change the name into „Democratic Party“. The Democratic Party was always very strong in big cities, along the East coast and among the foreign- born population and intellectuals.
At the beginning oft the 20th century the Democrats began to get the reputation they still have today. Responsible for this developement were especially presidents like F. D. Roosevelt, Truman and L.B. Johnson.
In the 1960s the Democrats started to play an important role in the civil- rights movement. Especially Kennedy supported a modern civil- rights- policy. According to the party’s Reform Guide of 1972 women, blacks and young people have to be represented on a local as well as a national level.
The party organisation ist very simple and similar to the structure of the US government. So there’s the local, the county, the state and the national level. The local units play the most important part. The national party organisation is only a loose federation of state and local bodies.
The National Convention is only active and important before elections and to fix the partie’s position on various issues.
The Democratic Party was always regarded as the party which „looks more to the people“. It is said to be more liberal than the Republican Party. The democratic leaders want the government to provide social and economic welfare programms for poor, unemployed, old and disabled people. In the past few years the Democrats started to pay more attention to economic issues. They want to secure jobs and the prosperity and peace of the American society. Social equality and justice is very important for them. There are many under- organisations like e.g. the College Democrats of America, the Women’s Leadership Forum and the Democrats Abroad. (It’s the same with the Republican Party)
The most famous democratic presidents were Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.
The Democratic party symbol is the donkey and as well as the Republican elephant it is used to help illiterate voters to identify their candidates.
The origin of the party mascots: They were both invented by Thomas Nast, a cartoonist in 1874 and two events lead to their creation. The first one was that President Ulysses S. Grant was said to have demanded for a thrid term as president which was unconstitutional. In fact he never had, it was just a fake. The second event was also a mere rumor, the so called Central Park Menagerie Scare. The New York Herald, a newspaper, claimed that dangerous animals of the New York zoo had broken loose and were running around in Central Park now.
Both events scared the Americans very much, altjough they were absolutely not true. Thomas Nast put them together and drawed a cartoon ehich showed a bunch of animals running away from a donkey wearing a lion’s skin. One of these animals was an elephant representing the Republican voters being scared away by the prospect of having the same president for three terms. The donkey was a symbol for the Democrats. Because Nast kept on using them in various cartoons they soon became the mascots of both parties.
The Republican Party, or the Grand Old Party (it’s nickname), was founded in 1854. It was an alliance of the Whig Party, the Free- Soil Party and a part of the Northern Democrats. The reason for the unification was a simple but important matter: the fight against slavery. The first Republican President was Abraham Lincoln who was elected in 1860 and because of him slavery was finally abolished after the American Civil War. The supporters of the Republican Party are traditionally the farmers of the Middle West, parts of the middle class and members of the WASP culture. In 1964 Barry Goldman a presidential candidate gave out a party programm which was very radical. Some people even said it was fascist and so he had to take it back (he didn’t become president). Today the Republicans emphasize that they are in the middle of the road and that the Democrats are much too far left. It is ceartainly true that the Republicans ideas are far more conservative than those of the Democrats. They always supported industry and economy. Besides they think social welfare programmes are too expensive and that goverment shouldn’t meddle into people’s private affaires. They support an individual way of living.
The party organisation is similar to the one of the Democrats.
The most famous Republican presidents were Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon.
In the past few years the differences between the Democrats and the Republicans began to fade away and both party’s interests started to mix. Tody there’s no big difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, and maybe that’s one of reasons why it was so hard for the voters to decide for one party in the elections last year. The most stirking similarities: Both parties are non- ideological and not religious, they officially don’t represent social classes and they have the same party structure.
Of course there are also a lot of smaller parties in the US but they have never been strong enough to be of real importance. Yet sometimes people vote for candidates of the small parties in local elections. Another possibility for small parties to gain influence is to unify with the bigger parties. Some of their ideas e.g. the direct election of US Senators even became so popular that they were finally accepted by the Democrats and the Republicans. Examples of past and present minority parties are: The Communist Party, The People’s Party, The Prohibition Party and the America First Party. Now I’ll present you four of these small parties, the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Reform Party and the Democratic Socialists:
The so called Libertarian Party is America’s third largest party and it’s very fast growing. It was founded in 1971 and the main issue of the founders was the personal freedom of every individual being. They want all Americans to have the possibility of following their own dreams and opportunities without being restricted or influenced by the government. The government should encourage people to live their dreams and build up the kind of life they want to have. It doesn’t have the right to control the different opinion’s of every citizen, its only function is to care for the security of all people living in society so that they can develop their full potential. The Libertarian motto is: live and let live.
The next party I want to talk about is the Green Party of America, which is very similar to our German Green Party. Their main goals are: Grassroots Democracy i.e. that every citizen should have the right to take part actively in the decision- making process. Social justice, economic justice and the equality of both sexes is also avery important matter to them. They don’t think that anybody should be discriminated against just because of his race, his gender etc. Everybody should have the same chances in society as well as in economy. Another very important thing is the protection of our environment. The Greens think that we must preserve the world for future generations and that we have to avoid wars and conflicts that could destroy nature. Therefor they want the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction. Every individual should feel responsible for our environment and his decisions should be guided by long- term goals. The Greens often emphasize that their final goal is to reach a certain quality of everyone’s life. Especially in the past few years they attracted a lot of left wing Democrats and their candidate for the presidential elections, Ralph Nader is said to have taken away many important votes that should have belonged to Mr. Gore.
Another more conservative party in the US is the American Reform Party. Like the Libertarian Party they demand the radical individual freedom of each human being. They want decentralisation and another special goal of these party is the reduce of taxes, for they, as the party leaders say, only support the government in Washington. They also want the government to pay back all the debts of the US (5.7 trillion dollars). Nevertheless they want the USA to stay involved in world politics, because they think the US have strong international obligations. They support international trade, but they don’t want American companies to leave the country, because the production elsewhere would be cheaper. They also demands more governmental aid for farmers.
The Reform Party is one of the strongest critics of the two party system and they think that American elections are no free elections.
The last party I want to talk about are the Democratic Socialists of America, a party which is a descendant of the Socialist Party of America (founded in 1901) and that has been existing since 1937. They are the largest socialist organisation in the US. They want to build up an openly socialist presence in American governments. But they don’t want to introduce pure socialism, they support democracy, they only want to introduce socialist elements. They call themeselves socialists because they don’t respect a social or economic order based on profit and the staturs of birth. Their interests reming of the Green ones: protection of the invironment, a constant fight against discrimination and violence, economic justice and social welfare programms.
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