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classical theoretical model of political parties and point out the differences between this model and the two principal American political parties.
The classical theoretical model of political parties in the United States parties holds that these parties exist primarily to control government and to gain power rather than to promote a given ideology. The classical model maintains that in order to prosper and retain viability, political parties must adjust to the changing demographic, economic, and social conditions in American society. To the extent that the two principal American political parties achieve these goals is likely the extent to which they will be able to remain responsive and sustain their constituencies over time as discussed further below, followed by a summary of the research in the conclusion.
Review and Discussion
The United States has historically used a two-party political system since organized political parties first began to take shape during the early 1800s (Heffern 10). The modest delay in forming political parties following the approval of the U.S. Constitution was the result of political parties not being mentioned. According to O'Neill (1996), "It is hard to imagine our government functioning without a strong two-party system. Yet the Continental Congress and the Articles of Confederation Congress existed without parties. The idea of political parties apparently never arose at the Constitutional Convention, either" (35). Since the 1860s, the Democratic and Republican parties have clearly dominated American politics and all presidents since 1852 have been Republicans or Democrats (Heffern 10). The responsiveness of these two parties to their constituency does not appear to depend on the emergence of a third-party that might diminish membership sufficiently to threaten their viability. For instance, according to Heffern, "The Electoral College, with its 'winner take all' award of electors, has contributed to locking in the two parties, as does the division of government into three branches" (Heffern 10).
Consistent with the classical theoretical model of political systems, controlling and government and adjusting to changes in the social and economic climate has been the business of the two major parties. As noted in the introduction, though, the primary business of the main political parties has not been the promotion of ideologies. This assertion is congruent with O'Neill's observation that, "Men and women are elected to the House without having previously held elective office. They can get elected because they raise the money and hire a media consultant and get on television. Some of them do not care about what party they belong to, and they feel as if they owe the party nothing when they take office" (O'Neill 36). The harsh realities of the political party system today mean that the labels "Democrats" and "Republicans" do not have the same meanings for constituents; rather, Americans are voting how they feel about things. In this regard, Lucier (2001) suggests that, "Labels such as 'Republican' and 'Democrat' are meaningless to describe fundamental instincts that are pre-political. Even the words 'conservative' and 'liberal' are too slippery to get a firm grasp on the problem" (48). More accurate labels for American voters today, Lucier argues, would be the "Party of Feelings" and the "Party of Rules," with American voters divided right down the middle. According to Lucier, "The Party of Feelings believes that government should guarantee the happiness of citizens, no matter how the citizens pursue it; the Party of Rules believes that happiness is the result of honest pursuit. Having lined up on the one side or the other, Americans seek out institutions that will support the one platform or the other" (Lucier 48). Other analysts argue that even these nomenclatures fail to capture the real shift in thought that has taken place in the United States in recent years. For example, according to Moore, "But the cold, bitter truth and the best kept political secret of our time is that Americans are more liberal than ever when it comes to both the lifestyles they lead and the positions they take on the great social and political issues of the day" (167).
The research showed that the classical theoretical model of U.S. political parties holds the purpose for the major political parties is to control the government and ensure checks and balances are in place to avoid the accumulation of too much power in one branch of government. In sharp contrast to this model, though, the research also showed that the two major political parties have overlapped in their platforms to the extent they have both become indistinguishable with respect to the major issues of the day. The study of the political process in American history is not a crystal ball, but careful analysis of the manner in which political parties respond to changes in the marketplace and in the international community can help researchers better understand the dynamic forces that were at play during various points in history.
Heffern, Rich. (2008, October 3). "They Rarely Win but They Have Influence." National
Catholic Reporter 44(29): 10.
Lucier, James P. (2001, January 15). "Party of Rules vs. Party of Feelings." Insight on the News
Moore, Michael. Dude, Where's My Country? New York: Warner Books, 2004.
O'Neill, Thomas P., Jr. (1996, Fall). "The First 200 Years." National Forum 76(4): 35-41.
Explain five lessons that can be learned from a study of the history of American political parties and cite at least two elections or periods of time that illustrate each of the five lessons.
The history of American political parties provides a mirror into the workings of the political system that has supported the country since its inception. Although a number of lessons can be learned from this history, five lessons in particular stand out in particular, including the ability to determine what most people are thinking about the major issues of the day, the ability to gauge American political will, the ability to identify substantive changes from previous elections, the extent to which the two main political parties represent their constituents, and the ability to discern fresh insights concerning America's role in the world as discussed further below, followed by a summary of the research in the conclusion.
Review and Discussion
The sixties were a turbulent period in the history of U.S. political parties, with the Democratic party gaining strength in response to growing resentment over the draft and Vietnam, as well the Civil Rights and Women's Movements that were redefining American society. Growing perceptions of "cigar-smoking Republicans" and an evil military-industrial complex that unjustly enriched a few at the expense of American lives were also influencing popular thought. For instance, Goertzel (2008) reports that, "During the 1960's the political climate changed radically as a result of the black revolt and American intervention in Vietnam. The dominance of pluralism came under strong attack as it became clear that power was concentrated in elite groups which were not always responsive to the pressures of groups seeking social change" (3). Likewise, following Ronald Reagan's drubbing of the Soviet Union to the point of collapse in the early 1990s, the country wavered between Republicans and Democrats presidents. For instance, Kuttner (1999) advises that, "During Bill Clinton's first term, Democrats nominally controlled Congress, though with weak discipline. Clinton himself practiced bipartisan 'triangulation,' which further weakened the Democrats. Bush's presidency, by contrast, has produced a near parliamentary government, based on intense party discipline both within Congress and between Congress and the White House" (19).
Studying the history of American politics provides rich ground for lessons learned, and these lessons include the ability to determine what most people are thinking about the major issues of the day, the ability to gauge American political will, the ability to identify substantive changes from previous elections, the extent to which the two main political parties represent their constituents, and the ability to gauge the country's changing role in global affairs.
Goertzel, Ted. (2008). "Theoretical Models in Political Sociology." Rutgers University. [online]
Kuttner, R. (2004, February). America as a one-party state: Today's hard right seeks total dominion. The American Prospect 15(2): 18-20.
Write a detailed essay in which you describe and analyze the reasons that we have a two-party system in the United States.
Although the United States has traditionally used a two-party political system, there is nothing in the Constitution about these issues and the opportunities for new political parties to participate in the process are always available. In reality, independent and third parties have challenged the major two political parties since the end of the Civil War, but never to the extent that the Republican and Democratic parties have been threatened as discussed further below, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.
Review and Discussion
Today the two major political parties in the United States are the Democratic and Republican parties, but membership in both of these parties has grown weaker in recent years, but there has not been a sufficient coalescence of third-party membership to seriously threaten either…[continue]
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