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Spencers R. Smith’s “The Future of Political Parties in America” is an important paper that will continue to shape the policy debate regarding elections in the United States. Smith provides the most exhaustive survey of the party problem (his chapter is “Why the Party Problem?” in the first chapter), with his conclusions, which are the subject of a forthcoming book, The Future of Political Parties, edited by Joseph Stiglitz, Steven J. Ellis, and David W. Kelley.
One could easily miss the most important message of Smith’s article, but it’s worth reading anyway, as he lays stress on the dangers of party dominance and its effects on public discourse and politics. As a result, his analysis is, on the surface, reasonable, and seems to me to be in tune with empirical evidence, as he uses various statistical data (and, for that matter, his own reading of the data) to analyze the impact of party domination and the effects of ideological persuasion on American political discourse. In an essay entitled “The Case for the American Republic,” he takes a more theoretical and historical look at the question of how modern democracies like the United States are affected by party dominance.
But one would have to be in the mood for academic analysis of this sort to read the entire paper or even to make it out of its first chapter, which provides a valuable insight into the extent to which party domination has spread to American politics and has changed the kind of thinking that underlies American electoral processes. Smith’s paper is not without flaws–in particular, he is unclear on how party dominance has affected the kinds of political debates we are having about economics and politics right now. But it is a valuable contribution to political science’s understanding of the political problem. Its conclusion–that it is a “new era” in American politics–should spur further research on this question.
Smith looks specifically at the “Republican Party’s monopoly of control of local government” that has made it the dominant political force. “In this monopoly of national government authority,” he writes, “the Republicans have exercised significant influence over the nation’s institutions, policies, and
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