In various elections–presidential, senatorial, state, or local–powerful politicos frequently offer national endorsements. They use national media and their sway within their national party to show support for candidates across state lines. This practice, although common, has never been subjected to much scrutiny.
So let us now to ask: are national endorsements–which are, essentially, a small experiment in politics without borders–justified? Should we exert our influence and spend our prestige to help friends of the party?
The correct answer is not entirely clear.
Explaining The Rise In Centralization
It could be that Senators feel morally compelled to rely on national media and their national party affiliation to back other candidates. They might fear losing the attention of their best and most reliable voters. Many of them might be attached, in some form, to national media outlets.
That much is reasonable.
But on the other hand, the practice of continually vying for national attention–via social media or other means–is equally hard to justify.
Why? Because candidates shouldn’t be directly selected by a nationwide party apparatus. That’s a recipe for partisan collectivism. It helps centralize power in the hands of a few outspoken and clever politicians.
This scenario is dangerous. It endangers the long term well-being of our nation, of humanity at large, and our individual selves. When a few are in power, the less popular majority is naturally inclined to relax the few’s grip on society through flattery.
But the United States is not a nation of flatterers.
Our republic was designed to decentralize power and prevent permanent authorities from arising. That’s why the separation of powers grants governing authority both to the people and to the states.
To help maintain a system of decentralized power, however, this system also requires decentralized speech.
Restoring The Local
So how then should politicians–specifically candidates for Senate–be elected in a world without national politics?
The Federalist Papers, the primary arguments justifying the existence of our Constitution, gives us two options.
First, politicians–specifically Senators–could be elected by each state’s legislature. Unfortunately, this original American practice (which was well justified by Federalist No. 27) was undone by the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution. This transformation of the Senate massively shifted power away from the local towards the national. Many modern conservatives still oppose it.
The second option is for candidates to appeal directly to their state’s voter base. There’s no justification in The Federalist Papers (or the Constitution itself, for that matter) for a state’s voter base being drawn up according to a national partisan agenda. On the contrary, local and state politics exist to keep people involved in the political process.
However, when the importance of state and local politics is eroded by national endorsements, national media, and national politics, some members of local communities feel disenfranchised and disconnected. That’s not healthy or beneficial to the well-being of our body politic.
Changing America’s Course
To correct this disturbing trend, both parties should build their coalitions from the local level up. Politicians should rely on what is typically referred to as their “ground game,” and not orchestrate things from the national level down.
Both major parties can ground this shift in focus in philosophical terms. For example, Republicans and conservatives still claim to value the constitutional nature of the separation of powers. From that perspective, involvement in state and local politics are best seen as societal goods that should be conserved.
Similarly, Democrats and progressives of late have prioritized diversity as a driving force of policy. They might reject national endorsements and politics in order to get more diverse groups of people involved in America’s political process through the proper and most efficient channels.
Until this happens, towns and counties will not be sufficiently protected against the eroding influence of the national media. Without a sea change, we’ll all be stuck in this partisan abyss for long into the foreseeable future.