The problem with vote-shaming elected officials

Anytime an office-holding politician expresses doubt in some other member of their party or an individual seeking to become a member of the party, the floodgates of rationalism instantly crumble and a deluge of outrage pours forth.

In some regards, this is understandable. Party officials do cede some of their individual autonomy when they gain office as their power is contingent on the party’s resources and credibility with its constituents; it is only fair that, in return, they constrain their attitudes to those that benefit the party’s position in the government and the electorate.

But how far can this claim go before it becomes less a stake on elected officials as representatives of the party brand and more a declaration of ownership over the individual’s whole existence?

Intra-party loyalty has its own limits, which must be enforced lest ideological fascism seize hold of partisan politics. But this is something else entirely.

The attempt to shame officials who express a desire to exercise their private conscience in the voting booth flies in the face of the First Amendment. When politicians go to vote, they are not doing so as party officials; they are doing so as private citizens.

For the party to stake a claim to the exercising of the voting rights of its members is to assert its absolute dominance over its members. Its discretion, not that of the individual, is the sole arbiter of the conduct of its members, both in public and private. This is a perverse form of hard despotism which should not be excused simply because the parties are private organizations with which individuals choose to align themselves.

The enervation of life in party organizations, which is exactly what this is, in part explains the degradation of the political class. Who could possibly want to enter such a system of their own volition? Only the individual whose concern is power for its own ends, for this is a system of masters and slaves. The intellectual visionaries who pursue politics as an existential need, who are driven by a vision of idealism which they would dedicate their life to pursuing, are choked out like so many weeds in an obsessively cultivated ornamental garden.

Parties must operate like the polity they represent. They must be federalistic and allow change to occur organically from the bottom up. For, as in broader society, the nature of the party is entirely dependent on the sum of its parts. Its core identity obviously remains relatively stable, but the way it directs its energies must change with the needs of its voting base if it is to stay relevant.

The modern push for absolute control which modern parties demand in unquestioning obedience to their supreme will, as evidenced by the demand of politicians to toe the party line even in matters of personal conscience, is an attempt to cheat the system.  It should be repulsed with the same fervency as a military coup against a legitimate government.

Also published on Medium.

All content protected by copyright. The Politics of Discretion, 2016.
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