A little-known report — written in 1950 for the American Political Science Association, or APSA — keeps popping up in commentary on the state of American politics. Yascha Mounk, a Harvard University political scientist, mentioned the report in the New Yorker recently. Lee Drutman referred to it in Vox this past spring.
Why is an old report still garnering such interest? It’s because the report called for political parties that are more cohesive and nationalized. That has finally come true — but many people don’t like what they see.
Why a report on political parties?
It was 1946 when APSA established its Committee on Political Parties. After the Franklin Delano Roosevelt presidency, many people — political scientists among them — had the feeling that U.S. political parties were not as effective as they might be. As the federal government became larger and more complex, the two major parties were not adjusting to changing economic, social and political times. They remained localized and disorganized, lacking either enough centralized staff or a clear identity.
Both Roosevelt and his successor, Harry Truman, struggled to get their domestic programs through Congress, partly because of opposition from within their own party. One concern was the manner in which Democrats in the House helped to water down the Full Employment Bill of 1945. They finally passed it, much amended, as the Employment Act of 1946. Many drew a sharp contrast with the United Kingdom. In July 1945, the British Labour Party won a crushing electoral victory with a mandate to implement a radical program — something it subsequently did.
In 1950, the committee published its 99-page report, “Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System,” packed with sweeping recommendations. The report urged political parties to become much more tightly organized, nationally oriented and disciplined — which is what we see today.