The Political Party in the United States: A Candidate for Disintermediation? Part 2
“The political party, as currently defined in America, feels like an out of date, anachronistic apparatus whose value is in the past, not the present and certainly not something aligned with the future. If it is to survive, it must reconstitute itself or crumble under its own dead weight.” -www.evolutionshift.com 5/31/06
When I set aside any personal and political points of view and look at the state of electoral politics and the two party structure in the United States, I absolutely believe the above statement to be true. As mentioned in earlier posts, we are in one of those historically infrequent periods of transformative change. As someone who has taken on disintermediation as a subject to explore, I can’t help but see that dynamic force taking place to some degree in American politics. As a futurist who looks at the larger dynamics affecting the world today to help see with some clarity as to what lies ahead, I think that the next 10 years could be a time of true historic change as far as the state of politics and political parties in America are concerned. I cannot predict exactly what will happen but I do think there are some interesting possibilities to consider.
It’s not working.
That is the first thing to see and accept. As written in a post last week, members and voters of both the parties are less than excited about the state of their respective parties. Substantial numbers of people feel disconnected with the direction, or lack thereof, of the Democratic and Republican parties. The number of people who say they are Independents goes up each year. The amount of voter apathy seems to be going up. People have not been given candidates that excite them with leadership and vision. People no longer believe or trust the leaders of their parties to speak the truth, or have a concern for the larger non-moral issues of the day. The phrase “He/she is just a politician” is a statement of derision and distain. All this describes a situation ripe for change or large scale restructuring.
The Internet is one of the greatest forces of disintermediation in history. I cannot help but think that it will have a profound structural effect on the political process and on political parties in America and other countries around the world. In 2004 it started to take center stage as a vehicle for voters to organize around candidates and issues. It became a new force in campaign contributions and financing. That function will only continue to grow in magnitude.
The Internet has the inherent power to quickly situate itself between voter polling at one end and actual elections at the other and play a real role in providing voter direction to political leaders. The fraud detection technology is in place for on-line commerce; it can serve the same function for voting and polling. Along with wireless technology, the net provides easy ‘frictionless voting’; it is easy to make a couple of clicks or dial a toll-free number without leaving home, going to a polling place, and waiting in line to vote. Just look at the more than 64 million votes cast via phone in several hours for the two finalists on “American Idol”.
As mentioned earlier in the broadband post, in the coming year the number of households with broadband Internet will pass the 50% mark. In the workplace it is over 70%. This could open the door for each candidate in every election in the country to have a web platform where, on a daily or weekly basis they could speak to the camera about their positions on major issues, speak their vision and make their promises (that will be archived as historical record). While the presidential debates make it to national television, the Internet would allow a forum for candidates at all levels to have broadband televised debates. All of this could be available whenever the voter may want to see it, which should increase viewing. We increasingly live in an on-demand world. Why have the candidates for the most powerful office in the world compete live with sports or entertainment programming?
The Internet could also help disintermediate one of the road blocks to fundamental electoral change: the fact that the two governing parties have institutionalized themselves in the electoral process making it extremely difficult for third parties to take root. In this digital age, why do third parties have to stand on street corners gathering signatures and jumping through other real time real world hoops? Any state could open up for registered voters to decide on-line as to how many parties can field a presidential, senatorial or congressional candidates in any election year.
The current two parties, the Democrats and the Republicans seem to have lost their way, if recent polls are to be believed. Clearly that means that they have to get back in touch with the people they lead, or the people will sooner or later lead them. Politicians are very easy to persuade if political survival is at stake. The ‘Dubai Ports Deal’ is a bellwether event in this regard. Within days of it becoming public that the Bush Administration was about ready to sell operational control of America’s ports to a Middle Eastern Islamic country, America rose up in such a manner that even the most docile of Republicans were thumping their chest about the stupidity of the idea. It didn’t matter that the US has been selling off control to ports in years past. Nothing mattered except that seemingly as one, America rose up and said: “What, you have got to be kidding! No way!” Somehow, through the connectivity of cyberspace and the electronic airwaves, Americans rose up and said “No!” That was it, end of story.
The power, authority and possibility of voters rising up with the amplification of electronic media and wireless technology is real and palpable. Currently there is a lot of similar voter volatility simmering below the surface. What are the issues in America that are capable of causing an eruption like the ‘Dubai Ports Deal’? Immigration, the war in Iraq, energy and environmental policies, and the deficit would be ones at the top of my list. All of these issues are large, divisive and essential to face.
Now let us take the next step. Historically third – and fourth – parties in the United States have taken hold around specific issues. Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 ran on the issue of progressive government intervention to protect the people from ‘selfish interests’. Strom Thurmond ran on the issue ‘States Rights’ (read segregation) in 1948. Henry Wallace also in 1948 ran on an integration and universal health care platform (hmmmm). George Wallace ran in 1964, 1968 and 1972 on law and order. John Anderson, a centrist, ran in 1980 suggesting that there be a gas tax to lower consumption and use those revenues to fund social security ( a great idea for 2008), and H. Ross Perot ran in 1992 and 1996 on the platform of a balanced budget and the rejection of NAFTA.
Now, think ahead to 2008. It is not far fetched to have one or two additional candidates/parties on firm issue platforms in the presidential race. There could be a conservative candidate running on the platform of strict immigration enforcement and balancing the budget. There could be a centrist-liberal candidate running on the environmental and alternative energy platform. The Republicans would be left with running on the legacy of the Iraq War, anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage and record deficits. The Democrats would be running on the ‘we are not Republicans’ platform. If all four parties got on the ballot, it could be an interesting and close race.
What do I really think might be brewing for the 2008 campaign? I sense that there could be a real opportunity for a charismatic, populist candidate that rises up and runs on the platform of ‘truth-telling, anti-corruption and vested interests, spending tax dollars on America’s problems and a real need for visionary leadership and a new agenda’.
When a system is locked, exclusionary, perceived to be non-functional and non-responsive and unable to serve those it represent, anger and urgency combined with new, powerful technologies could become a transformative force that will re-order the political landscape. The disintermediation of the American political party system might be at hand.