The Diffusion of Responsibility: An Alternative Perspective
Political party analysts, both academic and journalistic, cling to a responsible party model in describing and analyzing national politics in the United States. James L. Sundquist outlines his own devotion to the dominant model by explaining that "the parties . . . live to win elections in order to advance their philosophies and programs." 1 Devotees of the model seek to join what the Founding Fathers separated. Parties compete electorally on the basis of "their philosophies and programs." The winner is awarded a mandate to govern--to fulfill the policy promises of the campaign. Presidents propose programs; his majorities in Congress react, modify, then enact these programs. A two-year electoral test of policy support is taken by his congressional party. And a four-year test is taken by both branches.
I join Sundquist in asking that greater attention be paid to the realities of post-World War II politics. Divided government has been common, and such a condition, according to Sundquist "invalidates the entire theory of party government and presidential leadership":
Competition is the very essence of democratic politics. It gives democracy its meaning and its vitality. The parties are the instruments of that competition. They are and should be organized for combat, not for collaboration and compromise. They live to win elections in order to advance their philosophies and programs. Therefore, each party strives and must strive to defeat the opposing party. But in a divided government, this healthy competition is translated into an unhealthy, debilitating conflict between the institutions of government themselves. 2