Reviving the Nonpartisan Party

I don’t know if you noticed, but my brother Jimmy finally read my blog and commented on the State Bank post a few days ago (a topic that he alerted me to). Here is what he said:

The history of the Bank of North Dakota is very interesting. It is a product of a populist political organization known as the Nonpartisan League, which was formed in 1915 by a former socialist. It soon took over the Republican party in North Dakota and even elected a governor, Lynn Frazier. In 1921, he became the first governor to be recalled after an investigation of the bank showed it to be insolvent.

(Which goes to show you that any institution can become corrupted by incompetent or dishonest executives, but at least with a state owned bank you have the ability to have them removed. What can we do to the CEO’s of privately owned companies that do the same? I believe that most of them are still in charge and doing quite well with their generous bonuses.)

In 1956, the Nonpartisan League broke away from Republican party and merged with the democratic party.

Despite these early problems, the Bank of North Dakota survived. I think it would be a good model for the rest of the country. I don’t think that a state owned bank needs to replace large commercial lenders or the federal reserve, but would be kind of like a “public option” for individuals and small businesses who want a low interest real estate loan, student loan or small business loan. the growth of state owned banks would provide a certain amount of stability in the economy and would also benefit the states that have them.

However, the “establishment” would certainly resist having to compete with a state owned bank that did not have to give dividends to its stockholders. I can hear Glen Beck now, standing in front of his chalkboard decrying the “socialist” origins of state owned banks.

It would take a true populist movement to establish state owned banks, not the tea party types that are too ideological and anti-government. Power to the People!

See, he is an example of what I had posted about earlier, the old-school populist Democrat. He raises at least two points worth discussing:

(1) Can a genuinely populist movement be too ideological and anti-government?

(2) I think we should revive the third party he refers to: the Nonpartisan Party. It only ceased to exist because it first merged with the Republican Party and then merged with the Democratic Party.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com Pr Mark Henderson

    Oops, there’s a typo in your heading, Dr Veith – you have ‘pary’ instead of ‘party’.

  • http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com Pr Mark Henderson

    Oops, there’s a typo in your heading, Dr Veith – you have ‘pary’ instead of ‘party’.

  • Porcell

    1. No, the federal government is a complex necessity that requires cool, knowledgeable, and sophisticated men like George Bush and Hank Paulson to run it well. Just now we have a left populist fellow involved in making a colossal mess of the government. A rightist populist would be just as bad.

    2. A non-partisan party is a contradiction of terms.

  • Porcell

    1. No, the federal government is a complex necessity that requires cool, knowledgeable, and sophisticated men like George Bush and Hank Paulson to run it well. Just now we have a left populist fellow involved in making a colossal mess of the government. A rightist populist would be just as bad.

    2. A non-partisan party is a contradiction of terms.

  • trotk

    Porcell, I think that you misunderstood question #1.

    1. What is too ideological? Nothing more than someone else saying that he doesn’t like your ideology. Anti-government? Theoretically, an anarchist populist movement could be anti-government, but I wouldn’t be bothered by their existence, because the larger the spectrum of ideas available during election season the better.

    2. A non-partisan party would be beautiful. If members could vote according to their constituents and their consciences, rather than the party platform, you would have the same wondrous effect as having no parties. The only thing that would be needed for membership is a commitment to following the voice of the people in one’s own district.
    Certainly there could be such a party (in theory), but in practice, breaking the back of the two-party system, which needs to be done, seems impossible.

  • trotk

    Porcell, I think that you misunderstood question #1.

    1. What is too ideological? Nothing more than someone else saying that he doesn’t like your ideology. Anti-government? Theoretically, an anarchist populist movement could be anti-government, but I wouldn’t be bothered by their existence, because the larger the spectrum of ideas available during election season the better.

    2. A non-partisan party would be beautiful. If members could vote according to their constituents and their consciences, rather than the party platform, you would have the same wondrous effect as having no parties. The only thing that would be needed for membership is a commitment to following the voice of the people in one’s own district.
    Certainly there could be such a party (in theory), but in practice, breaking the back of the two-party system, which needs to be done, seems impossible.

  • Porcell

    Trotk, you’re right, on #1 I misread the question. I’ll take another crack at it.

    Ideological populist bandwagons such as the Tea Party have their uses, though in the long run they tend to lose their way in a miasma of fevered rhetoric.

    Personally, I’m delighted that many of the Tea Party candidates have been elected as Republicans and trust that at least some of them will not be sucked into the Beltway mentality and will be grown up enough to analyze rather than emote on the issues.

  • Porcell

    Trotk, you’re right, on #1 I misread the question. I’ll take another crack at it.

    Ideological populist bandwagons such as the Tea Party have their uses, though in the long run they tend to lose their way in a miasma of fevered rhetoric.

    Personally, I’m delighted that many of the Tea Party candidates have been elected as Republicans and trust that at least some of them will not be sucked into the Beltway mentality and will be grown up enough to analyze rather than emote on the issues.

  • DonS

    (1) By definition, a populist movement promotes the welfare of the common citizen against whatever forces are deemed to be arrayed against that citizen. So, whether that movement is anti-government depends on the times, and which forces are considered to be enemies of the people. You can see this swing in the very history of the so-called Non-partisan party — founded by a former soci@list, became the de-facto Republican party, then ultimately merged with the Democrat party. Right now, populist impulses are on the political right because it is big government which is perceived to be destroying the way of life of the common citizen by destroying the economic base through excessive regulation, taxation, and spending. Big government is also perceived to have largely destroyed the middle class by making much of the country unpalatable and uneconomic for industry, thus eliminating the best middle class jobs (will the last machinist in California please turn out the lights on your way out?). In other eras, such as the turn of the last century 100 years ago, the enemy was perceived as big business, leading to the Sherman Anti-trust Act and other trust-busting efforts. I actually believe the current enemy of the people is the unholy alliance of big government with big business. As far as the issue of being “too ideological”, how is populism not an ideology? It may not neatly fall within the concept of a two-party system, but it is certainly a philosophy of life which governs political action. Hence, an ideology.

    (2) I don’t think a “Nonpartisan Party” is viable long term. We have two prevalent political philosophies in play in this country — one that sees government as an equalizer for those who have been historically downtrodden, and the other that sees government as a guarantor of individual rights and liberties (I’m speaking economically here — national security and law & order issues line up differently). As noted above, populists tend to swing between these two points of view, depending on the circumstances of the day and reacting against whichever of the two prevalent philosophies has recently held sway in the country, and making alliances with whichever party conforms more closely to their current views. They are, essentially, our independent voters. Historically, they haven’t had the numbers or organizational abilities to create a serious third party threat to the two dominant, committed parties and philosophies, so I think they will continue to exert their political power through alliances with both of those parties, depending upon the issue and the era.

  • DonS

    (1) By definition, a populist movement promotes the welfare of the common citizen against whatever forces are deemed to be arrayed against that citizen. So, whether that movement is anti-government depends on the times, and which forces are considered to be enemies of the people. You can see this swing in the very history of the so-called Non-partisan party — founded by a former soci@list, became the de-facto Republican party, then ultimately merged with the Democrat party. Right now, populist impulses are on the political right because it is big government which is perceived to be destroying the way of life of the common citizen by destroying the economic base through excessive regulation, taxation, and spending. Big government is also perceived to have largely destroyed the middle class by making much of the country unpalatable and uneconomic for industry, thus eliminating the best middle class jobs (will the last machinist in California please turn out the lights on your way out?). In other eras, such as the turn of the last century 100 years ago, the enemy was perceived as big business, leading to the Sherman Anti-trust Act and other trust-busting efforts. I actually believe the current enemy of the people is the unholy alliance of big government with big business. As far as the issue of being “too ideological”, how is populism not an ideology? It may not neatly fall within the concept of a two-party system, but it is certainly a philosophy of life which governs political action. Hence, an ideology.

    (2) I don’t think a “Nonpartisan Party” is viable long term. We have two prevalent political philosophies in play in this country — one that sees government as an equalizer for those who have been historically downtrodden, and the other that sees government as a guarantor of individual rights and liberties (I’m speaking economically here — national security and law & order issues line up differently). As noted above, populists tend to swing between these two points of view, depending on the circumstances of the day and reacting against whichever of the two prevalent philosophies has recently held sway in the country, and making alliances with whichever party conforms more closely to their current views. They are, essentially, our independent voters. Historically, they haven’t had the numbers or organizational abilities to create a serious third party threat to the two dominant, committed parties and philosophies, so I think they will continue to exert their political power through alliances with both of those parties, depending upon the issue and the era.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X