Omar H. Ali: “Those Who Make the Rules, Rule”


Richard Moore

Delivered-To: •••@••.•••
From: "Rex Barger" <•••@••.•••>
To: "Richard K. Moore" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Recent, cogent article: "Those who make the rules, rule."
Date: Fri, 6 Sep 2002 18:17:09 -0400

Those Who Make
the Rules, Rule
by Omar H. Ali

September 4, 2002

Political parties are corrupt, and Americans know it.
Over 40% of us do not identify with any party,
increasing numbers of us distrust parties, and 71% of
college-age students want more political options and

Political parties are anti-democratic. Throughout
American history, independents - those of us not
affiliated with the major parties - have been the
driving force behind the expansion of democracy. It's
the independents that have changed the rules of
American politics, taking them in a more democratic and
inclusive direction. Today, independents are the
fastest growing group of voters in the country. The
demographic trends and statistics pointing towards
independence are staggering, yet we exert little
political leverage in proportion to our numbers. Our
democracy has become dull and lifeless with record
numbers of Americans not participating.

How did this come to be?

Political parties have taken over our government.
Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution is there even mention
of political parties. And yet, the major parties make
the rules through which all levels of policy are
decided - from who gets on the ballot in elections, to
who is included in candidate debates, to what issues
are addressed, how they get discussed, to what laws are
enacted, and therefore what policy Americans are
ultimately left with. The Democratic and Republican
parties make those rules to suit their - not the
American people's - interests. Corporate special
interests? They don't compare to the power of the
parties. The two major parties are by far the most
powerful of all special interests and therefore the
most corrosive element of our democracy.

By creating explicitly bipartisan laws and regulatory
bodies, i.e. rules geared to a bipartisan system, the
major parties artificially keep themselves in power. We
are given no choice but to sustain the two parties.
There are virtually no other options, except to "opt
out" - which half the country has done by not voting.
The parties have done far more than exert their control
over legislatures to enact laws that protect their
interests in the election process. In many ways, the
Democratic and Republican parties have become virtually
synonymous with government. They should not be.
Political parties and government, like Church and
State, should be separate. But they've been
institutionally conflated.

It's important to understand that the conflation of the
major parties and government, so deeply entrenched in
our culture and in our political institutions, was
systematically crafted. It didn't just happen overnight
and it certainly wasn't inevitable.

It's up to us, particularly the younger generation of
Americans, to help redirect the country towards a
participatory, citizen-driven, populist democracy which
includes and activates all Americans. That means we
have to change the rules. Self-declared independents,
along with the millions of others around the country
who support having more choices in the political arena,
must work to dismantle the ironclad control political
parties have as we build the independent political

How political parties have taken over our government,
how they stifle the flow of democracy, and what is
being done to change this, is what every independent
needs to know.

Bipartisan Structural Control

Bipartisan control of our government has become so
embedded in the structure of government, so engrained
in our political culture, that it's difficult for us to
even see. Let's begin by asking some questions.

* Why is it that the Federal Election Commission,
created by Congress to oversee elections, is itself
structured to be overseen by three Democrats and three
Republicans? Shouldn't a body that regulates elections
be nonpartisan, rather than bipartisan?

* Why is it that independent candidates running for
office are often legally required to gather at least
tenfold the number of signatures as Democrats or
Republicans simply to have their name appear on the
ballot? Shouldn't all candidates, regardless of party
affiliation, be required to meet the same obligations?

* Why is it that the presidential debates - the
single-most important venue for the American people to
assess who they will choose as their chief executive -
are organized through a bipartisan group called the
Commission on Presidential Debates headed up by none
other than the former chairmen of the Democratic and
Republican parties? Shouldn't debates be a civic rather
than a partisan activity?

* Why should Congress be structurally organized along
partisan lines, and why should the Democratic and
Republican Congressional caucuses, along with the
majority and minority members of committees, have
partisan staff funded by the taxpayers? Aren't
political parties supposed to be non-governmental

* Why should state election boards and commissions
around the country be comprised of appointees of the
Democratic and Republican parties? Remember Florida
2000? Election boards and commissions should be
neutral, nonpartisan bodies to facilitate elections for
all Americans.

* How such distortions of democracy are permitted and
how the electoral playing field has become tilted such
that the major parties insidiously dominate the
political arena is a history of great importance for
all Americans. Substantial gains have been made by
independent movements to expand democracy - first, with
the enfranchisement of poor white men, followed by
black men, then women, and then the lowering of the
voting age from 21 to 18. But despite the expansion of
who can vote in our country, political parties have
rigged the game so that no matter the outcome of a
particular election, they remain in control. They make
the rules. And as Douglas Muzzio, a professor at the
School of Public Affairs at Baruch College in New York
recently observed, "He who determines the rules,

That's why the independents must be rule breakers!

We have to break the rules of traditional politics and
bring the American people into the process of creating
new ones. When the people become the rule makers, the
people - not the parties, not the special interests -
will rule. That's what independent politics, or
populism, is all about.

Special Interests

There's been a lot of talk these days about
corporations and their power in shaping government
policy. We've all heard how Enron has deep ties to the
Bush Administration, how under the Clinton
Administration corporations were given unprecedented
liberties - and how millions of Americans have had
their pensions wiped out and their livelihoods taken

Everyone's been affected by these abuses on some level.

But for all the power individual corporations wield -
be they the oil, energy, telecommunications, tobacco,
insurance, or pharmaceutical companies or industries -
no matter how wealthy these corporate entities are,
their control over public policy relies on the
pervasive power of the political parties.

The Washington, DC-based Center for Responsive Politics
recently concluded that while the one and a half
billion dollars spent every year in corporate lobbying
may seem high, these are "paltry sums compared to the
amount of money that hinges on congressional
decisions." The Telecommunications Act passed by
Congress, for instance, alone gave existing
broadcasters some $70 billion in rights for digital
television on public airwaves. Exorbitant subsidies
continue to be given to corporations, such as when
defense contractors Lockheed merged with Martin
Marietta and taxpayers ended up paying $30 million in
bonuses to company executives.

But perhaps more insidious than the subsidies is the
distortion of public policy to suit the needs of the
corporate sector. Giving the President "fast track"
authority to negotiate trade deals and having Congress
vote those agreements up or down, without amendment,
was an antidemocratic restructuring of the highest
order. Incredibly, Congress voted to reduce its own
power - to deny itself the right to intervene on the
most significant unleashing of global corporate power -
which they did at the behest of the political parties.

So let's not be fooled. The parties, not the
corporations are the ones in control of government. Ask
yourself: Who is more powerful - the lobbyists or the
lobbied? If the American people want to bring the
corporations to heel - and they do - we're going to
have to first bring the party system to heel.

Expanding Democracy

Historically, it's taken social and political movements
independent of the major parties to expand democracy in
the United States. These independent movements include
the Abolitionists beginning in the 1830s, culminating
in Reconstruction with the 13th, 14th, and 15th
Amendments (abolishing slavery, providing citizenship
for all African-Americans, and the right to vote for
black men). There were the women's rights advocates of
the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, whose
work collectively culminated in the 19th Amendment -
bringing women into the franchise. And then there were
the many young and courageous independents of the Civil
Rights and Antiwar movements, whose work led to the
passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of
1964 and 1965 and the eventual pressures to end the
Vietnam War (or, as the Vietnamese called it, the
"American War").

However, even as the franchise was being expanded by
these independent movements, the two party system was
evolving to constrain and limit democratic

The History of Party Takeover

Our nation, which gained its independence from a
constitutional monarchy, was founded upon the basic
tenets of republicanism and a relatively new form of
representative, or popular government. In the midst of
the Revolutionary War, Americans adopted the Articles
of Confederation. The Articles assembled a loose
confederacy of the former colonies into state
governments where power resided firmly in elected state

These legislatures reformed property and voting laws,
bringing a broader cross-section of the population into
electoral participation and governance. It installed a
form of terms limits, known then as "rotation of
service," to guard against legislative incumbency and
the despotism they feared would follow. These
legislatures also began to take action to relieve
farmers, small merchants, and others less propertied of
the massive amounts of debt accumulated during and
following the war. A number of state legislatures
stripped their governors of many powers and gave
themselves the right to suspend or even override the
court systems when necessary. Local power by local
people was paramount in governing.

The efforts by some state legislatures to expand
citizen participation and cancel debts to create a
stable economic footing for small businesses and
farmers - in opposition to bankers, large merchants,
and the landed gentry who held the debt - provoked the
campaign for the US Constitution. The Constitution's
principal advocates were "Federalists," such as James
Madison and Alexander Hamilton, who argued that a
strong constitution would keep the new nation from
descending into the chaos and anarchy that, as they
believed, came with the expansion of democracy.

A powerful centralized authority that could tax,
regulate trade, form a national army, and govern
powerfully from atop was what the Federalists called
for in the implementation of a constitution.
"Anti-Federalists," such as Thomas Jefferson or Tom
Paine, were wary of such centralized power, and fought
against such a formation, which they saw as a violation
of republican government, with power residing
principally at the local level, with local legislative

In 1787 a constitutional convention was held in
Philadelphia, which led to the drafting of the US
Constitution. Ratification of the Constitution would
take two years, and often only by narrow margins in
many states where conventions had been created to
bypass state legislatures which, Federalists feared,
would most likely vote to reject it. Despite the number
of compromises that were reached, namely over core
issues of freedom, such as slavery, a Bill of Rights
(the first ten Amendments to the US Constitution) was
also ratified. Since 1791, the Bill of Rights has
served as a protection of citizens from our own
government with regard to free speech, free assembly,
and all the basic freedoms of critical importance that
have helped independents advance democracy over time.

It was in this period of our nation that two major
political factions emerged: The Federalists and the
Anti-Federalists (or Democratic-Republicans).

George Washington in his Farewell Address warned
against such factions or the "spirit of the parties,"
because of their potential divisiveness to the
Republic. Americans weren't alone in their caution
against parties. Half a century earlier, Robert
Walpole, the British Prime Minister, argued that
parties were the malign result of "gratifying Š private
passion by public means." Scholars, by and large, agree
on this point. Robert Dahl, Yale Professor Emeritus,
wrote in his latest book On Democracy that "Political
'factions' and partisan organizations were generally
viewed [in the 18th century] as dangerous, divisive, Š
and injurious to the public good."

The function of political parties was not merely to
express and advocate support on any particular issue or
position of the day. Their primary function almost
immediately became to mediate between the people and
government, and in so doing to limit direct
participation by the American people in the political

Politics became less and less the active and direct
participation of the citizenry in making the decisions
which impacted their lives, as had been the case in the
decisions to break away from England, to carry out the
War for Independence, and to establish the nation's
earliest institutions of governance. Instead, politics
came more and more to mean wheeling and dealing between
and within the parties, which set themselves up as
vehicles to government, jobs, influence, and as the
mediators of government policy. Slowly the parties were
taking over, though the process would take some time to
complete. But by the end of Washington's term as
President, the Federalists and Anti-Federalists had
formed into powerful and discernible factions.

The revolutionary character of our government in its
early years had experienced a virtual coup d'etat by
the political parties. The popular revolution of 1776,
with mass participation of colonists, was compromised
in what was a second, more conservative revolution of
1789. What to some, as Tom Paine believed, was the most
important feature of the American Revolution - that it
be an ongoing revolution towards democracy - was shut
down. The political parties further compounded the
problem by distancing the American people from the
government they had themselves just created. Within a
generation these proto-parties would be supplanted by
the Democrats and the Whigs, and since the Civil War,
we've been under the rule of the Democrats and the
Republicans. That's 150 years of bipartisan rule! More
than the life span of many dynasties in world history.

The system of political parties, which inserted itself
into our government so early in our nation's existence,
would create the basis for the corruption of our
political process that is at the heart of America's
crisis today.

During the late 19th century and early 20th century,
independents in the Populist and Progressive movements
attempted to wrest control over the economy and reform
politics through the formation of independent parties.
The 1890s had, for instance, witnessed the coming
together of black and white farmers and laborers in the
formation of the People's Party. The party posed a
considerable threat to the Democratic Party in the
South until it was co-opted by the Democrats, using the
issue of silver coinage to blunt the edge of its
independent sword. The co-optation of independent
movements by the Democrats would continue into and
throughout the 20th century - most notably in the
1930s, with the rise of the labor movement, and then in
the 1960s, with the rise of the Civil Rights movement.

The Emergence of the Beltway

A fundamental restructuring was affected in the early
20th century, which further entrenched the power of the
major parties as they became increasingly corporate and
centralized in both their structure and character.

In the 1930s, faced with massive economic collapse
following the stock market crash and the ensuing
Depression, the government intervened to create a
safety net - not just for the poor, but for the free
enterprise system itself. The Democrats and Republicans
transformed the federal government from a kind of
coordinating body to an extremely centralized
regulatory body that provided welfare for impoverished
Americans and for corporate America. During this time
the federal government became far more extensive,
invasive and powerful than even the staunchest
Federalists could have imagined.

This change to a highly regulated system of government
also created significant changes in the political
economy of the country. With regulation becoming a key
avenue for businesses to improve their competitive
edge, corporate boards began to transform from groups
of manufacturing and industrial magnates to pools of
lawyers expert in navigating government regulations for
the maximum profitability of their companies.

Political influence over the two major parties became
more important than ever, since elected officials
(invariably from the two major parties) were the ones
who enforced the regulations. Tragically, the
legislature, which had in the earliest stages of
American history been the most populist, democratic and
responsive to the people, was becoming one of the most
partisan, most corrupt and top-down controlled
institutions of American government.

Throughout the rise of these regulatory trends, and in
the throes of the Great Depression, independent mass
movements were organized - which took the
organizational form of unemployed councils, the
Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and the
black Sharecroppers Union, all of which fueled support
for a flurry of independent parties. The Democratic
Party and President Franklin Roosevelt moved
effectively to capture that political ferment and
convert it into an electoral base which allowed them to
dominate the Republicans at the national level for some
time and gave them the imprimatur of being the "party
of the people."

Still, both the Democrats and the Republicans kept
close guard on protecting their two party system. They
took serious measures to ensure its stability and their
shared control of the governmental process. Ballot
access regulations, designed to protect incumbency and
favor the two parties, restricting and discouraging
independents, were quickly enacted in state
legislatures across the country. (Where once voters
simply wrote the names of candidates or brought their
own ballots on the day of the election, a highly
discriminatory set of ballot access regulations -
documented by Ballot Access News editor Richard Winger
- were written by major party legislators to remove any
independent threat to their bipartisan monopoly).

Over the course of the century, campaign finance laws
were written and rewritten, largely as a function of
two party rivalry, but always with an eye toward
repressing the rise of independents. Reapportionment
and redistricting were implemented by bipartisan
legislatures. Bipartisanism, as opposed to
nonpartisanism - in the conduct of elections was
institutionalized, for example with the Federal
Election Commission in 1975, and then with the
pseudo-governmental Commission on Presidential Debates
in 1987. Thus, the two parties took more direct control
of the election process, the legislative process, and
thereby the policy-making process, all of which have
been customized by the two parties over the last
seventy years to suit their interests.

As independents were being systematically rooted out of
the electoral sphere, along with the advent of
television in politics (which, in part, necessitated
the centralization of parties since the cost and access
to such technology requires a strong national party
fundraising effort in order to be competitive) a
distance grew between the major parties and their rank
and file supporters. Costly television-based media
campaigns became increasingly important in deciding
election outcomes. As a consequence, the grassroots
organization that was once the foundation of, for
instance, the Democratic Party structure,
disintegrated, leaving those who constituted its
political base with less and less of a direct
connection to their own party.

The union movement - or more accurately the union
bureaucrats - played their mediating role between the
party and their members, rallying them as troops and
voters on Election Day (although unionized workers
comprise only 13% of the workforce today). Black
elected officials, primarily of the Democratic Party,
came to play that role within African-American
communities. Layers of bureaucrats mediate the
Democrats' relationship to their base, while the
so-called "party of the people" enhances its own
political power largely at the expense of the people.

Is it any wonder then, that when Ross Perot announced
his independent run for the presidency, and tens of
millions of Americans answered his call to take back
our government, that the two party establishment

The independent movement exploded onto the national
political scene in 1992, unearthing a sleeping giant of
popular discontent with the political status quo. By
the spring of 1992, Perot was at 40% in the
presidential polls. The 'American independent' was the
country's most coveted and enigmatic voter. Where that
movement would go was anybody's guess. The Democrats
and Republicans began immediately to work to stifle and
co-opt it, absorbing significant aspects of its agenda
into their own political matrix.

Newly elected President Bill Clinton, together with a
chastened Congress, balanced the federal budget - the
clarion call of the Perot movement's demand for fiscal
responsibility. And the Republicans captured control of
Congress in 1994, skillfully - if disingenuously -
embroidering the Perot movement's demand for massive
anti-incumbent, pro-democracy political reforms into
its "Contract with America."

Meanwhile the independents - including the progressive
African-American Dr. Lenora Fulani who had herself run
for the presidency, twice as a New Alliance
independent, and Jim Mangia, a California independent
active in gay and community causes - both of whom were
pioneering the building of left/center/right populist
coalitions - joined with leaders of the Perot movement
to lobby Perot to run again and build a new national
party in the process. That party became the Reform
Party, which briefly entered the national political
stage offering an extraordinary opportunity to affix
onto the political scene a populist independent party
oriented to "changing the rules" of American elections
and governance. Unfortunately, however, the Reform
Party began to lose its populist moorings - its
connection to the base of Americans from which it came
- and became vulnerable to co-optation and
manipulation. Shortly, it - and the opportunity it
presented for America - died down.

But there were important lessons learned and new models
created off of and during that experience, models for
movement and party-building where the organizing is
bottom-up, the politic is based on creating
left/center/right coalitions and the focal point is on
political reform, i.e. changing the rules through which
the two parties cling to their massive power. Built
along these lines, the independents cannot be co-opted
by the Democratic and Republican parties because
changing the rules involves undercutting their power.

When Professor Muzzio observed,

"He who determines the rules, rules," he was commenting
on the activities and influence of the Independence
Party of New York, which has been effectively
challenging the rules that govern traditional partisan
politics. The New York Times piece on the Independence
Party, in which Muzzio was quoted, captures some of the
party's populist and unique character:

Despite its associations with eccentric, controversial
and wildly divergent public figures, the party has
maneuvered itself into positions of influence in both
the governor's race and on the city's Charter Revision

And that, political analysts say, is something of a
trick, given that the party, an amalgam of Reform
refugees, New Alliance converts and a host of others
frustrated with conventional politics, is not really a
party in the traditional sense.

It does not exactly lean to the right or left. It does
not take positions on issues like education, housing,
crime or taxes. Indeed, its own literature acknowledges
that many of its members sign up believing they are
registering as unaffiliated with any party.

Even that phenomenon sits just fine with Independence
leaders, who have worked to create a tent so big, in
their description, that it verges on the metaphysical.

"The people who wanted to be independent are as much
our constituency as the people who wanted to be in the
Independence Party, because we're kind of an anti-party
party," said Jacqueline Salit, a city party

Nevertheless, of late it has been acting every inch the
political player. A longtime supporter of nonpartisan
elections, the party endorsed the candidacy of Mayor
Michael R. Bloomberg, after he committed himself to
their position, and brought him more than 50,000 votes
in last November's election - well over his margin of

The process of building a populist independent movement
is well underway. The fact is, in New York we ran
people for office for years, where we got ten votes;
for years we lobbied, with little success. But our
years of work of immersing ourselves in politics as
independents, reaching out to other independents, and
learning the rules that keep us out by challenging them
on the ground, has created new coalitions and has
uniquely and potently positioned independents, and
specifically the Independence Party, in the state of
New York. We do have "fusion" in New York - which
permits cross-endorsement allowing independent parties
to endorse candidates running in other, including major
party-lines, which the Independence Party has used
effectively to bolster the power of independents. But
in any state - indeed, in every state - we can organize
and build and participate as independents. We can all
build local clubs and immerse ourselves in local
elections as independents.

That process of building locally, which is hard work,
but important work, is exactly what we need to be doing
all over the country to grow our movement. Independents
must become activists across the country - forming
independent clubs, getting involved in local elections
as independents; running in campaigns as independents,
or supporting candidates in other parties, including
major parties - depending on what the conditions are;
participating in government in various ways, including
in public hearings and testifying at local events;
meeting other independents and meeting elected
officials. We can make independents a part of the
process with a strong and distinct voice; we can
champion the cause of reform by challenging the
existing rules of the political game to make it fair
and democratic.

What do we want? We want a substantial increase in
democracy. The major parties have clearly written the
rules to keep most of us out. That's their edge. Just
imagine a situation where 90% of Americans participated
in elections. It's hard to do so, since the change
would be so radical, so dramatic, that the political
landscape would be virtually unrecognizable. Our
political culture, our economic culture, our
international culture, and all the policies that are
created within these spheres, are simply determined by
who participates. That's why the major parties work so
hard to keep us "outsiders" to the best extent that
they can.

At this point in our movement's development it's not
enough to simply talk about taking on the special
interests, to talk in populist language, as Ralph Nader
has been doing. On the one hand, I agree with what
Nader and the Green Party have been saying about
corporate special interests. But while their rhetoric
is populist, their organizing has been exclusive and
ideologically driven. In doing so they've effectively
abandoned the tens of millions of Americans who are not
leftist in their political orientation, but are
independents nonetheless. Such populist rhetoric
renders itself politically irrelevant, whether from
Nader or from Al Gore, if it's not connected to broadly
organizing Americans, free from ideological
categorization. That's populism in practice! Most
people aren't interested in just switching parties, as
the Perot phenomena should have taught us, they're
rejecting "partyism" and all the constraints that come
with it. At the end of the day, any political direction
that narrows the organizing of independents to
party-building as an end in itself misses what
Americans are looking for.

As independents, what we must be concerned with is the
overall movement, not any single party, or any single
issue as such. Democracy, the participation of ordinary
people in the decisions that shape their lives,
underlies all issues. It's the issue of issues! Without
meaningful participation in our political system by
Americans, America will not be for its citizens but for
the special interests that govern it - the most
powerful of all special interests being the major

Towards growing the independent movement as a whole,
the Committee for a Unified Independent Party is
holding a national conference for all independents on
January 19th where delegates of organized local groups
will come together to dialogue and discuss what is in
the best interest of our total movement. We're looking
to bring together a body of people who report on what
they're doing locally. We don't just want people with
ideas, but people who are working and building their
presence as independents locally, which undoubtedly
looks different from place to place and from person to

The context for independent politics has never been so
ripe. The responses thus far to my national lecture
tour have been but one small indication of the
potential for the growth of our movement around the
country. The desire for new options, new choices, new
ways of doing politics, has only grown over the last
decade, not diminished. A decade ago independent
politics was hardly known, but now it's in the air.
We've been through a process, a history - rough at
times as it has been. We're better known as
independents now than ever before. But we can't bypass
the critical step of building locally and participating
in local politics as independents to further our

So come join me, and the millions of independents in
America ready, willing, and able to organize our


Generation Independent

Read CUIP Notes,
CUIP's Newsletter

Copyright ©
The Committee for a
Unified Independent Party
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