Saturday, December 2, 2023

Party animals

The Chamber of Commerce is an organization of businesses. The leaders of those businesses have decided to come together in common cause for mutual benefit. They pay dues into the organization so that it might have a robust infrastructure, usually including an office for central operations and a dedicated staff to carry out its stated mission. 

The leadership of the Chamber, elected by the members, decides what the organization’s priorities are, including those policies which would best benefit their respective businesses. They then advocate for those positions. Of course, most of these priorities are relatively predictable, given the mission of the organization. Some policies would be obvious; others would be obviously against the goals of the group.

In many cases, policy advocacy includes deciding which candidates for political offices would best represent the members’ positions, then endorsing and supporting those candidates. Support may be financial. It may also include providing logistical structure or publishing the message to members.

Likewise, labor unions are organizations of workers. Those workers have decided to come together in common cause for mutual benefit. They pay dues into the organization so that it has a robust infrastructure, centralized operations and staff to carry out its stated mission.

The leadership is elected by the members, decides the organization’s priorities, then advocates for those positions. Again, most of these are obvious, given the mission of the organization. And policy advocacy often includes endorsing and supporting candidates in various ways.

Come together

You can apply the same idea to pretty much any organization of people. It exists around common cause for mutual benefit, stated explicitly in a mission. It has members that elect its leaders. Those leaders decide policies and work to enact them. If the organization is large enough, this often includes establishing infrastructure, paid through dues from members and other donations to support the organization. In many cases policy advocacy includes being involved in politics.

The United States can even be thought of this way. Citizens are the members, the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, along with other founding documents, are its original mission statement. We pay dues, called taxes, to support public infrastructure. We elect leaders who steer the policies within the guidelines of our mission.

Of course, membership in any such organization is optional. If an individual member decides the organization isn’t representing their interests commensurate with their investment, they can quit. This shouldn’t be done in a fit over transient causes, though, since the former members may lose much of the benefits of membership, including having the opportunity to choose leadership and affect policy.

Most of that should make pretty good sense. And that’s what completely baffles us. Why can smart and good people understand how organizations work, yet have little clue about the continuing need for political parties?

Here’s the scoop. The Republican Party is an organization of people who come together in common cause for mutual benefit. It has a stated mission. The members pay dues and give donations to support an infrastructure. The members elect leadership. That leadership in turn decides on policy priorities that further the stated mission, called a party platform. They decide which candidates properly represent those policies, endorse them, and provide financial and other support.

Membership is voluntary, based on an expectation that the member’s interests are represented commensurate with their investment. Leaving the GOP means no longer having a voice in leadership and priorities. One unique feature of a political party is that you declare membership publicly, because choosing leadership happens in a public election, at the party primary. When you declare as a Republican at the polling place you are then allowed to vote for leadership and decide who the candidate standard bearers for the GOP will be.

Likewise the Democratic Party, Green Party, Libertarian Party, and so on. We have to ask, why is this so hard to understand?

Leaving the party

We’re looking at you, Kevin Haddad. And you, Theresa Gabriel, and Marcia Helman, and Chris Varwig, and Sandy Spang and Jack Ford

That is a list of recent local candidates who had declared themselves to be members of one or another political party before running for office, then switching or becoming “independent” once the political ambition kicked in. Or, in the case of Haddad, being an R as an elected official, then declaring the GOP had moved too far to the right, losing re-election as an independent, then re-declaring as an R to run for another office.

Flip-flopping for selfish political reasons cuts across the political spectrum. Gabriel, Varwig and Spang were long-time members of the GOP who decided to run as independents, presumably because they knew it would be tough to win in Toledo with that baggage, especially when courting labor support. Helman was a long-time D who had to become “independent” to garner support from R Rob Ludeman. And Jack Ford was a lifelong and oft-elected D who called himself an I to get on the ballot after the primary deadline had passed.

All this fuzzy affiliation would look pretty silly in other organizations. No one would think of flopping in and out of membership of the National Rifle Association as if you didn’t know what it stood for. Why do we tolerate it in politics? 

If they don’t know what they stand for, how can we?

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