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THE DIRECT PRIMARY AND PARTY
It is contended that the practical operation of the direct primary has been disappointing. Here we may schedule, however, two classes of disappointments. It may be said that the direct primary is disappointing in that the boss and the machine have not been overthrown; or it may be said that the direct primary is disappointing in that it makes responsible party leadership difficult or impossible. But of course these two disappoint
ments cannot be simultaneous. If the boss and the machine continue to control as before, then it cannot be contended that there is any less leadership than there was before. If the same persons control the direct primary who controlled the convention, then these same persons must be in the same position of leadership in both cases. And it is interesting to observe that, generally speaking, although by no means in all cases, those who are most vigorously opposing the direct primary on the ground that it makes impossible concentrated leadership, are also found in opposition to measures designed to alter the structure of state or county government in such manner as to insure really responsible and effective leadership.
The significance and value of party leadership must not be ignored, but the lack of it can by no means be attributed to the direct primary system. After one hundred years of operation under the convention system, we may ask how well organized was the party leadership in the average state? How definitely and consistently established was it in actual practice? Was party leadership in the state found in the governor or in the half dozen elective officers associated with him? Or was it found in the House of Representatives? Or was it found in the state
central committee? Or was it found in the numerous county leaders scattered throughout the state, whose number often runs into the hundreds? Or was it found in the congressmen of the state; or much more probably was party leadership found in the United States senator? Or was it perhaps to be discovered in some political boss who was neither governor nor senator?
It is entirely evident that the political party in the states and that the state government itself is now and has been for many years badly organized on the side of responsible public leadership, and is in woeful need of rehabilitation in order to keep pace with the progressive movement of organization elsewhere. As an effective organization for the expression of political opinion, the party is hard-pressed by many other agencies, whose efforts are potent in the making and enforcing of law, and are sharply challenging party prestige. But this situation was not caused by the direct primary, nor is it easy to see how the direct primary interferes with any legitimate function of party leadership.
When it is said that the direct primary stands in the way of more adequate leadership, it is pertinent to ask just what is meant by such leadership, and what stands in the way of developing party leadership at the present time either by party rule or custom? Evidently the direct primary did not prevent the leadership of Cummins in Iowa, or Lowden in Illinois, or Johnston in California, or Wilson in New Jersey, or LaFollette in Wisconsin, or McKelvie in Nebraska, or Cox in Ohio, within the limits set by the form of the state government. My observation is that the prevalence of spoils politics, the lack of state issues, the form of the state government stand in the way of leadership, rather than the way in which the nominations are made.
The direct primary cannot guarantee the uniform choice of competent men any more than the elective system itself can ensure such selections. opens an easier avenue of approach, but cannot carry us through to the goal. The primary will not automatically overthrow the boss or machine, but it provides a way of approving or rejecting selections, or of introducing new ones. The rank and file of the voters unquestionably act more readily and effectively through the direct nominating system, and the effectiveness of popular control is thereby increased.
The selection of Pinchot in Pennsylvania, of Brookhart in Iowa, of Howell in Nebraska, of Beveridge in Indiana, are conspicuous illustrations of the effectiveness of the direct nominating system in enabling the sentiment of the voters to find expression in opposition to the party machine. In none of these cases is it probable that the successful candidate would have been victorious under the delegate system. The margin that spelled success came from groups of voters who would not have elected delegates, but who gave votes enough to Beveridge or Pinchot to turn the scale. If the party organization fairly represents party sentiment, it will win whether the nominations are made directly or indirectly; but in case of serious conflict, the direct vote seems to give a better opportunity for popular success than the delegate method.
Mr. Secretary Hughes says of the direct primary system, summarizing its advantages:
(1) It places a weapon in the hands of the party which they can use with effect in
The Direct Primary in Two States (Indiana and Iowa) in NATIONAL MUNICIPAL REVIEW, Sept., 1922; Gifford Pinchot and the Direct Primary, Ibid., Oct., 1922.
case of need. They are no longer helpless. This fact puts party leaders on their best behavior. It is a safeguard to the astute and unselfish leader who is endeavoring to maintain good standards in line with sound public sentiment. It favors a disposition not to create situations which are likely to challenge and test.
(2) The fact of this control gives to the voters a consciousness of power and responsibility. If things do not go right, they know that the trouble lies with them. The
importance of this should not be overlooked in any discussion of the apathy of the electorate.
The return to the convention system would not help the political party. On the contrary, it would probably injure the party by causing still further loss of public confidence in its organization and methods. The parties have already suffered heavily in public confidence and can ill afford additional losses. Wise and far-seeing leaders would move forward rather than backward. They would endeavor to attract public interest and support by improvements in methods of transacting party affairs. Men and women are beginning to discover that they can influence governmental action without the agency of parties. The associations of commerce, the labor unions, the farmers' organizations, vocational and professional groups of all kinds, are tending to pass the party by. Party managers might well attempt to secure the sympathy and interest of these voters instead of closing the door of party activity to them, and making their effective participation in party counsels still more difficult.
SUGGESTIONS FOR POLITICAL ADVANCES The direct primary is a step in the evolution of the electoral system, just as the convention was an evolution from the legislative or congressional caucus. But there is still room for
in the way of governmental direction. In state and county governments
political advances. These, it seems to me, may follow three lines:
1. Non-partisan ballot for local with which we are now concerned,
officials and judges.
2. The short ballot.
3. The development of party leadership through the party conference.
1. NON-PARTISAN BALLOT The direct primary has not been demanded by municipal representatives, but the system of nomination by petition, or some form of double election system, or some type of preferential voting. Local elections do not follow national party lines closely, and the non-party ballot is more effective. The change to this system is being rapidly made in our cities, although much less developed in counties and other local agencies of government. National party influences and even party domination are not automatically excluded by these laws, but broadly speaking their significance is minimized and local issues and divisions are given wider scope for consideration. No one supposes, however, that the mere change in form of ballot or of nominating mechanism will eliminate national party influences from the domain of local politics.
2. THE SHORT BALLOT
In a discussion of nominating methods in 1909, I expressed the belief that neither the direct primary nor the convention system would work well in situations where a large number of minor administrative offices were elective. I still believe that we will not make progress in the better nomination of coroners and surveyors and county clerks and state auditors under any system that the combined ingenuity of the elder and junior statesmen together may devise. The main road is the short ballot with what it involves
there is manifest a slow but strong tendency toward fundamental reorganization, somewhat resembling that which has been seen in the more progressive city governments during the last generation. Vigorous and effective state and local governments are needed to offset the centralizing tendencies of the Federal government and are desired even by the most ardent nationalists. A more modern organization of these governments would do much to clear up the difficulties surrounding the nominating system, and might change the whole character of the problem, as has happened in cities where non-partisan elections and proportional representation are now the chief centers of electoral interest. If counties were to adopt a commission or council-manager plan, how would nominations be made? Or if, as some day may happen, a state adopts a simple form of government, such as the council-manager, or one in which executive responsibility is more strongly organized, how then will nominations be made?
The short ballot will tend to concentrate power and responsibility, and to focus attention upon the significant offices to be filled. If only the governor and members of the legislature, together with one or two county officials were chosen at one time, it would be far easier for the voters to concentrate their attention upon these key officials and to exercise their powers of discrimination more effectively than at present. With the short ballot, the task of the primary will be made much lighter, while the degree of popular control will tend to be greater.
Precisely here it must be recognized that with the development of greater
power in fewer officials, it will be all the more necessary to exercise effective popular control over over them. The larger authority conferred upon officials through the process of consolidation and through the gradually increasing authority exercised by the government over social and industrial affairs, will be likely to require a balance in more direct control. The counterpart to the short ballot may be the direct primary.
But the short ballot is no more a panacea than is the direct primary, and we delude ourselves if we assume that the mechanical device of shortening the list of candidates will of itself cure all the ills the body-politic is heir to. Government is not more a matter of mechanisms than it is of values and attitudes, of intelligent discrimination, of sound sense and practical judgment on the part of the community. The fundamental attitudes of the people go deeper down than either the direct or the indirect primary, important as these are. We shall be drawn aside from the main purpose and needs of our time unless we recognize the vital importance of technical administration, applying the best results of intelligence and science to common affairs, unless we recognize the fundamental need of the broadest possible social and civic training, unless we recognize the significance of the spirit of justice which the state must strive to realize in the lives of men and women.
It is important to consider other possibilities that may arise in the course of governmental development. It may be that in the reorganization of county and state government proportional or preferential representation will play a larger rôle than in the past. If this proves to be the case, the methods of nomination would be materially affected, as is now seen in cities using proportional representation.
Here again, of course, the question may arise as to how the primary or original selection of candidates will be made.
3. PARTY CONFERENCE
It is not only possible but desirable to improve the organization of party leadership. There is nothing to prevent the holding of informal party conferences or conventions now, and in fact much might be accomplished by them in the way of developing party leadership. On another occasion I suggested the possibility of the formation of a national conference, meeting annually. The same sort of a conference might be held on a state-wide scale, if desired. Such a conference might include the state governor, or last candidate of the minority party and their primary or convention opponents; state officials elected at large, or minority candidates; members of the state central committee or executive committee if this is deemed too large; party members of the state legislature and minority candidates; representative party members appointed by the governor, the state central committee, and various party leagues, clubs, societies-say a total of 100. This would make a total of perhaps 200 to 300 members.
Such a body might meet for the purpose of considering and recommending candidates for office, subject to approval in a subsequent primary. In fact a conference might do much more than that. It might consider questions of party policy, listen to party speakers, hear reports of party committees
matters of party importance, consider problems of party management. Its members, representing different sections and elements of the state, might consult and confer on a wide variety of party problems. Al
See my American Party System, 298.
most every other social grouping in a state, whether political, religious, commercial, agricultural, industrial, educational, holds such sessions with great pleasure and profit to its members. What association is there in the state that does not hold such periodical conferences of its leaders?
And why are they not held within the party? And why does even the suggestion of such a party conference seem a little, shall we say, impractical? Certainly there is nothing in the law to prevent them. In some cases they are held, but often privately and not in the open air of publicity, as Senator Platt's Sunday School, or Mr. Lundin's Heartto-Heart talks.
as is sometimes supposed. But it is impossible to enter into this larger field on this occasion."
In conclusion, it appears to me that the Old Guard is now, as it was originally, against the direct nominating system, and would gladly return to the old delegate plan, which they controlled more readily. The mass of voters, however, while often disappointed in the results achieved under the new system and sometimes bored by the multiplicity of elections and candidates, are not ready to abandon the direct primary as an instrument of control, and are not likely to do so if given the opportunity to express themselves directly in a referendum vote. The memory of the old conventions fades with time, but a little reflection recalls vividly the lurid pictures of misrepresentation and unblushing bosscontrol under it and gives us pause when we consider the return to the ancien régime. Many voters will conclude that instead of going back to the earlier A local earlier delegate system, they will endeavor to make more effective use of the primary system, and go forward to further improvements.
One difficulty is that parties do not often stand for definite issues in state elections; indeed they seldom do. Again, considerations of patronage are often regarded by party managers as more important than those of policy, and conferences might tend to emphasize the latter. The party organization does not always care to encourage real leadership in contrast to jobbrokerage and log-rolling. A local boss having discontinued a very flourishing ward club where issues were wont to be discussed, said, when asked why: "Because I have too d-d many statesmen on my hands now. Nor can the mass of the party voters escape responsibility for their frequent lack of continuing and persistent interest in party affairs, and lack of effective
cohesion in crises.
Responsible leadership in the party is of the very greatest importance, but it is necessary to study with care the nature and function of the party, in order to see just what leadership develops or is required in state situations. Broadly speaking, the party leadership is national rather than state, and even in the national field the party does not do as much leading
There is likely to be much experimenting with various forms of pre-primary designation by party committees or conventions, and perhaps some form of party conference may be developed in the course of the process of trial and error. It is not unlikely that the party organization and process will be subjected to as severe analysis and extensive reorganization as are other forms of social and industrial groupings in our day. The existing party system does not hold by divine
5 See my article on Nominating of Presidential Candidates in Journal American Bar Association