Political Parties Exist For Power Or to Serve?
Sometimes I worry that my columns present too negative a picture of politics and government.
I'm concerned that my writing might suggest that I don't admire public servants or believe that many of the elected officials are well-meaning, committed people who care and do good.
I believe in the system and I believe in many of the elected officials.
I believe politics is a wonderful sport and in the end, does more good than bad.
I also believe that things could be better.
But please don't let my frequent criticism of government, politics and politicians be anything more than a statement that we should collectively strive to do better and encourage our elected officials to do better. They are imperfect - as are we.
By way of explanation, the difference I have with many of the elected officials comes with the turf. The press has an obligation to keep government honest. Political columnists have an obligation to point out the pitfalls and shortcomings of those in power.
And so, with great frequency, I criticize the job being done while believing in (many of) those who are serving.
I've explained previously that I was raised in a Democratic home by active Democrats - dad was a state committeeman and my uncle a player in the party in Queens. I was on the periphery or pretty close to the middle for much of my life.
Politics is a tough game.
And I understand how the party leaders have to exert control and protect their turf.
However, I also believe there is an overriding obligation to first serve the people and democracy. The two are not antithetical.
Preserving and building party power is much more effective if providing good government is the primary mission. I think it is not only possible but the true duty of the party. I understand however, in the craziness of election-time and taking care of party insiders, how easy it is to lose sight of the mission of serving the people and providing for quality government.
Bringing new and quality people into government may be riskier from a power point of view for party insiders, than promoting the old from within, but certainly the preferable way to build future government. I dare say, it also builds future party leaders. In Queens, the Democrats almost always fall in line behind the party leaders. There is really no threat to leadership by allowing the Primary process to be competitive and permitting the people to pick the candidates.
However, with great frequency, we witness the party's heavy-handed tactics to protect insiders or hand-picked loyalists from having elections. We wonder if these hand-picked folks are more competent than other aspiring office seekers. We wonder if party members - Democratic voters - would choose the hand-picked candidates if given a real choice. And seriously wonder whether government or the party for that matter, is better off by avoiding a fair election.
Tactics like concealing the fact that Ivan Lafayette was not seeking reelection to the Assembly and allowing him to circulate petitions, deceive the people, then have a tiny group of party insiders name the new candidate is antithetical to democratic government. Then turning around and bringing the impressive force of the party and the law firm, which is part and parcel of the operation, to knock the opposition off the ballot and exhaust her resources, adds insult to injury.
The party insiders have given the people Michael Den Dekker. He has not had to meet the people, make his case and win an election. Yet, come the next term, he will be Assemblyman Den Dekker. Sadly, the party will need to be there again in two years because their questionable tactics have assured him of a primary in a dynamic and changing district. As a matter of fact, the likelihood for Den Dekker to keep winning this seat is dependent totally on someone using up an awful lot of favors in redistricting to prevent this seat from going to a minority.
Why would the party want to do that?
What was accomplished by putting Den Dekker in office and and knocking Marlene Tapper off the ballot?
A show of strength and the election of a one or maybe two term Assemblymember.
Not so long ago, the party maneuvered to send Barry Grodenchik - a good guy - to the Assembly. They were successful but Barry couldn't hold a seat whose population was overwhelmingly of Asian ethnicity.
I suggest it is about to happen again and Mike Den Dekker is another square peg in a very large and diverse ethnic round hole. The Assemblymember and the party candidtate should be chosen by the people not the insiders.
The ultimate victor would be a good party member and the ultimate winner would be the people.
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HENRY J. STERN
A political issue which never seems to go away is term limits for executives and legislators. We will discuss the question in detail over the next month or so. We start by going to the earliest democracies.
The practice of limiting the length of time that a public official can serve dates back to ancient Greece. Wikipedia tells the story:
"Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, two early civilizations which had elected offices, both imposed limits on some positions. In ancient Athenian democracy, no citizen could serve on the council of 500, or boule, for two consecutive annual terms, nor for more than two terms in his lifetime, nor be head of the boule more than once.
"In the Roman Republic, a law was passed imposing a limit of a single term on the office of censor. The annual magistrates-tribune of the plebs, aedile, quaestor, praetor, and consul-were forbidden reelection until a number of years had passed."
In the United States, presidents have been limited to two terms since the passage of the 22nd amendment to the Constitution in 1951.The change in the Constitution was a reaction to the four-term president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died 82 days into his fourth term. There is no sentiment today for repealing that Amendment; it is viewed as a safeguard against dictatorship.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia, facing a two-term limit, avoided the restriction by switching to Prime Minister and took the power of the presidency along with him. The rules are different over there. BTW, there are no term limits for vice presidents of the United States. Nor is there any barrier to the election of spouses or children of presidents, provided they receive the necessary electoral votes. The 22nd Amendment applies for life, prohibiting, for example, a third nonconsecutive term for any president. Some state term limits are more lenient, allowing comebacks by pols whose service was interrupted by the voters or by themselves.
There have been a number of quibbles over the Constitutional requirement that the president be native born. Clearly Arnold Schwarzenegger, an immigrant from Austria, cannot serve as president without a highly unlikely constitutional amendment. Whether he should be allowed to run is a different question.
Time and Place
Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, (Republican who ran against LBJ in 1964) was born in Arizona in 1909, while it was still a territory. It became a state, along with New Mexico, in 1912. It is hard to believe that that was less than a century ago.
John McCain was born in 1936, but not in any of the fifty states that comprise the U.S. His place of birth was the Panama Canal Zone, which was under American control until 1999. McCain was in the zone because his father, John S. McCain Jr., was stationed there at the time. McCain Jr. retired as a four-star admiral in 1972, the same rank his father (McCain Sr.) attained as a Naval officer through a posthumous promotion in 1945. Senator McCain retired from the Navy in 1981 as a captain. No fair minded person can dispute his American nativity.
Bringing these Arizona families together is the fact that McCain was elected to Congress in 1982, and then to the Senate in 1986, where he succeeded Goldwater, the senator born three years before Arizona became the nation's 48th state.
BTW, the first seven presidents were born while the United States were British colonies. The first to be born after independence was Martin Van Buren of New York (1782). The last of George III's former subjects to become president was William Henry Harrison (1773), who is chiefly known for having served only a month before he died and being the Tippecanoe in the 1846 campaign slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler too."
Harrison won his military reputation by ethnic cleansing, removing Native Americans from the Northwest Territory (Indiana, Illinois, et al.). Tippecanoe is a river in north Indiana, which flows into the Wabash, which in turn joins the Ohio on its way to the Mississippi. Harrison won a major battle there in 1811 with Indians led by Tecumseh. His grandson, Benjamin Harrison, was the 23rd President (interrupting Cleveland's two terms). He is not the reason that $100 bills are called Benjamins, the man honored on C-notes is Benjamin Franklin.
Enjoy the dog days of summer. Try to stay cool.
Not4Publication.com by Dom Nunziato