For many of us, an awareness of politics first arose in a high school civics classroom. Among the topics typically covered in that curriculum was “the loyal opposition.” This concept originated in the British Parliament to support bipartisanship in a two-party governing system in which the minority party could disagree with the majority without being considered disloyal or treasonous.
It spread throughout the British Empire and was adopted in the United States during the Presidential campaign of Jefferson and Hamilton. Under this concept, the President’s party controls the executive branch and the legislative branch (Congress) is divided between the parties according to the votes of local elections.
Although it may seem paradoxical or counterintuitive for opposition to be a unifying tool, that was nevertheless the idea.
Under this concept, each party recognizes the legitimacy of the other party as well as its equal commitment to country, Constitution, and the common good. Each party, however, is free to promote its own vision of government, and differences between the two are to be debated.
The opposition of the minority party is to be accepted as loyal (not seen as treason or sedition) when it proposes a reasonable alternative for debate. Ultimately, whatever the outcome of a debate, both parties are supposed to support the decision.
This concept and process worked for a long time in American government because both parties recognized the need for compromise to resolve contentious issues—but eventually, in the 1970s, decay set in.
Like an invasion of pathogens, lobbyists and special-interest groups contaminated the body politic through campaign contributions. Various power-seeking individuals, corporations, and institutions became excessively invested, financially and emotionally, in the outcome of legislative debates.
As the contamination of money spread further into both parties, they began to view each other as “not like me” and therefore dangerous, echoing an ancient survival mechanism used to identify predators or prey.
Politicians, increasingly indebted to special-interest groups for campaign contributions, more often used “back-room deals” to avoid open debates. These led to the end of compromise, because secrecy allowed the risk of public exposure of selfishness or inequity to be avoided. Self-serving individuals in both parties began to demonize their opponents.
Eventually, the unifying concept of loyal opposition was replaced by destructive partisanship, damaging the country and the common good.
A revival of the loyal opposition concept and its practice would require the elimination, or at least limitation, of money’s contamination in public elections. The ultimate, though presently impossible, solution would be public financing of elections.
But meanwhile, an excellent beginning would be an amendment to the Constitution that’s been proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont (see www.berniesanders.com), which would overturn the deplorable decision of the Supreme Court that currently allows corporations and individuals to make unlimited, anonymous campaign contributions.
Quick Blog Takeaways:
- “The loyal opposition” supports bipartisanship.
- The deterioration of the loyal opposition began in the 1970s.
- The loyal opposition was killed by the infection of money.
- Resurrection of the loyal opposition requires a Constitutional amendment.
- The people have the power to pass such an amendment.
Oliver & Barbara