Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Beyond Party

Political parties, once an essential link in elections and governing, find themselves struggling to maintain their role in our political process. True, parties at the local, state, and nation levels still control the nominating processes, recruit candidates, raise money, and (try to) energize voters. Increasingly candidates, while jumping through various party hoops, raise their own money and run their campaigns largely separate from party direction. Sure, a prudent candidate will nurture a relationship with party activists, but it is often the candidate, not the party, who determines the nature of that relationship. What will the future hold for political parties? Hard to read the crystal ball, but current national trends may foretell further disconnect from voters, more independent candidates, and perhaps the rise of a viable third party.
Like elsewhere, Shenandoah Valley political activists seem to be turning to extra-party groups and interest groups as the best way to impact government, policy, their community, and the parties. For example, the SWAC Conservative Roundtable Breakfast attracts right wingers that find much of the Republican Party establishment too liberal for their tastes. Some of the breakfast leaders were booted during intra-party battles over the past several years. Perhaps the breakfast is a first step mounting a coup of the local GOP or maybe they'll nurture potential conservative candidates to run as independents. Time will tell.
On the progressive side there are a couple of groups that get together on a regular basis to talk politics, issues, and books. Progress Augusta attracts folks from Augusta County, Staunton and Waynesboro. A local chapter of the national organization, Drinking Liberally, this informal progressive social group is passionate about politics, building friendships, and having fun in the political process. Most meetings attract 15 to 20 people who enjoy the fellowship and good food while tipping a glass. Progress Augusta meets the first Tuesday of each month from 6:00 to 9:00 PM at Irish Alley Pub in Staunton. A related group, Reading Liberally - Staunton, is a progressive book group that held its first meeting on April 15. They meet next on May 27 at 6:30 PM at Darjeeling Cafe, for a discussion on Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization.
It is premature to assess the exact impact these groups will have on campaigns, elections, and the parties themselves. Once thing seems sure... political parties will be shaped by these informal groups. How the parties react - pushing these groups out, welcoming them in, absorbing the group, or being taken over by it - will likely chart the future of the local Republican and Democratic committees themselves.

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