The New Jersey Democratic Party is controlled by a few powerful, unelected individuals who make all the important decisions concerning who runs and who gets funded and you don’t get a vote.
By David Todd McCarty | Monday, October 7, 2019
Like most cliches, the image of the smoke-filled, back room where powerful men make important decisions for the good of the whole, is a well-worn cliche for a reason. That’s because it has a long, storied history that continues to exist even till today, even if it’s less likely to be smoke-filled, and more likely to take place on a golf course or in a fancy restaurant.
Political parties have always been exclusive, private clubs where the powerful came together to pick a candidate of their choosing to run in elections. This is our guy. Vote for him. We’ll pay the bills and get out the vote.
It wasn’t until the contentious election of 1968 that we began the modern practice of political primaries as we know them today. Voters didn’t vote for candidates. State party delegates at the convention voted for the candidates. Voters didn’t even get to choose the delegates. They were chosen by the party members.
Today we have this misconception that the political process is some form of pure democracy but it’s not and never has been. The founders created a Republic where voters voted for officials that would represent them in government. There was never any intention that voters would be allowed to make decisions for themselves. That was always intended to be left up to those who knew best.
But once they opened the floodgates of some form of direct representation by holding primary elections and allowing voters to choose for themselves who they wanted to represent them, there was no putting the genie back in the bottle. Or so you would be led to believe.
You can’t vote for a candidate that doesn’t appear on the ticket, and so party bosses have long put their heads together to decide which candidate they were going to back with power and money. It might be true that anyone can get on the ballot, but the candidate chosen by the party gets top billing if you will. Quite literally, right there on the ballot at the top. Not to mention that modern politics are expensive endeavors that are bound by the ability to raise massive amounts of money in order to compete. Even voter drives were often controlled by powerful interests such as unions or church leadership.
Most people have no problem believing all this exists, in fact many people dismiss elections altogether as a waste of time; that the elections are decided before they begin. While that’s not entirely true, it’s truer than most ardent supporters of democracy want to admit. As I say, you can’t vote for a candidate who was told not to run, and you mostly likely won’t vote for a candidate you’ve never heard of.
Even in retail politics, at a very local level, Party bosses make decisions behind closed doors and committee votes are nothing more than a rubber stamp.
In Cape May County, for instance, decisions about which candidates will fill which seats, are announced not discussed. There is no debate allowed, let alone encouraged. Committee meetings aren’t for discussion. They are for voting for what has already been determined by someone else, somewhere else.
Technically, anyone can nominate anyone as a candidate. You can even nominate yourself if you wish. No one is stopping you. But most of the people in the room have just been told who the party wants to nominate and most of the people are going to vote with the group. To stand up and say you want to buck the party leadership is to make everyone uncomfortable. People like simple. They like uncomplicated. They will question why the leadership doesn’t want you to run in the first place. Why do they think this other person is best? They must know something you don’t.
It’s also worth noting, you can’t just walk in off the street either. You have to become part of the party officially. You have to be voted in and approved. Only party members are allowed to vote on party matters. They are small groups, chaired by individuals that report to the county chair, whose power rests with finding favor with powerful party bosses at the state level. This way, no one really knows what anyone else is doing and a few people control the party while making it appear democratic. If you think that political parties aren’t very well organized, you’re mistaken.
If you really wanted to change things, you’d have to be organized enough to take over the local party with enough votes to overturn the leadership. In essence, you’d need your own back room, where you can enlist enough people to make different decisions and take the party in a new direction. This would look very much a like a mutiny, in that you would need to secretly convince enough people to vote with you without anyone else knowing or it getting back to the current leadership. It’s basically a hostile takeover and most people don’t want to rock the boat that hard.
No one in power is interested in opening up the decision making to a committee. Committees are horrible. They can make dreadful decisions based on a few loud voices. It’s understandable why political parties are structured the way they are. From a purely political strategy point of view, it would seem critical to be able to control the members and provide sound direction. This is how businesses are run. This is how militaries are run.
But that hasn’t been working very well for most people, and maybe it’s time we tried something new. Corporations have no interest in democracy. It’s too unreliable and unpredictable. Anyone who goes to the trouble to rise to a position of power, has no interest in opening up the floor to discussion. It’s chaos. Everyone has an opinion. It’s painful.
But real democracy is messy. It takes compromise, and entails winning people over with better ideas. It means everyone not getting what they want all the time. There are winners and losers, majority wins, and everyone gets a voice—a chance to be heard. Real democracy is messy.
Maybe it’s time we gave it a try.