Assuming arguendo that there are no bad guys, why is America in such awful disarray?

Our country is in political disarray because political parties control the selection of candidates for public office. Candidates are not chosen for their integrity. Quite the contrary, they are chosen after they demonstrate their willingness and ability to dissemble, to obfuscate and to mislead the electorate. They are chosen when they prove they will renounce principle and sacrifice honor for the benefit
of their party.

The result is a circular process that intensifies over time:

* Candidates for public office cannot mount a viable campaign without party sponsorship, so they obtain sponsorship by agreeing to the party's terms.

* The party, assured of the loyalty of its candidates, attracts donors because it can promise that its candidates will support the objectives set by the party, i.e., the goals of the donors.

* From the donors, the party obtains the resources it needs to attract appealing candidates and bind them to the party's will.

This cycle makes political parties conduits for corruption. Businesses, labor unions and other vested interests give immense amounts of money and logistical support to political parties to push their agenda and to secure the passage of laws that benefit the donors. The political parties meet their commitment to the donors by picking politicians who can be relied upon to enact the laws and implement the policies the donors' desire. The politicians so selected are the least principled of our citizens, but are the only choices available to the American people in our "free" elections.

The result is a system that renounces virtue and is ruled by cynicism.

None of this is a secret. The parties conduct their business with our knowledge and tacit approval. We know, full well, how they operate. We know about the 'party bosses', 'pork barrels', 'party loyalty', 'slush funds', 'party whips', 'soft money' and the whole lexicon of political manipulation. Since we know these things exist and do not prevent them, we are party to the very corruption we decry.

Some people say we cannot remove corruption from our political systems because humans are corruptible. Why should we believe such a canard?

We are misled by the high visibility of deceit and corruption in our culture. The idea that it is inescapable leads to the self-defeating notion that trying to correct it is futile.

The reality is that the vast majority of humans are honorable, law-abiding people. They have to be, for society could not exist otherwise. By far, the greater percentage of our friends, our relatives, our co-workers and our neighbors are trustworthy people.

The reason our political leaders are corrupt is that party politics elevates unscrupulous people by design. It does so by heeding the notion attributed to B. F. Skinner: "The bad do bad because the bad is rewarded". Since the goal of a party is to advance its own interest, it rewards those who do so unfettered by the restraints of honor. Once these unprincipled people achieve leadership they infect our society because morality is a top-down phenomenon.

The idea that we can't remove corruption from our political systems because we are corruptible is nonsense. It is a myth. The problem is not the people; it is a political system that lets vested interests empower subservient politicians at the expense of integrity. The vast majority of our peers are honest, principled people. When we make probity a primary concern in our electoral process, the pervasiveness of dishonesty in our society will diminish.

Political parties appeal to emotion by applying the principles of behavioral science to manipulate the public. They mount, finance and staff campaigns designed to inflame the passions of the electorate. Communication during election campaigns is one-way. There is no genuine attempt to consult the public interest and the serious issues are seldom those raised during a campaign. Surveys are conducted to find 'hot buttons' which generate a desired response and professionals use the information to mold 'messages' which the candidates and the parties feed the public in a flood of misinformation. It is a rabble-rousing technique.

Intelligent decisions require dialogue; assertions must be examined, not in the sterile environment of a televised debate, but in depth. The electorate must be able to examine candidates and discuss matters of public concern, and, with the knowledge so gained, make decisions. They have no opportunity to do so.

Carefully reasoned decisions are anathema to political parties. They will do everything in their power to prevent the ascendance of reason as a basis for political decisions. Their strength is based on their ability to inflame the passions of their constituents. They are expert at doing so.

The current process is a farce ... but what is the alternative?

Political parties, in their omnivorous quest for power have, during my lifetime, gone a long way toward destroying the greatness of my homeland. Unrestrained, they will succeed.

It need not be so.

Those who seek good government need not tolerate the corruption of party politics. We do not need partisanship, which sets one person against another; we need to select our representatives by agreeing among ourselves on the issues we want addressed and the individuals we think best able to resolve them. In other words, to improve our government, we must change the way we select our representatives.

We have the technological ability to support a more democratic method; the big hurdle is to get people to acknowledge the problem. Many fall victim to the common malady of believing our press clippings. We've been told so many times through so many years that our political system is the best in the world, some of us can't admit it is a cesspool of corruption, funded by special interests that buy the laws we endure.

Most Americans assume political parties are legitimate centers of power under our Constitution. That is untrue. Nothing in our Constitution authorizes, institutes or enables political parties. \

The difficulty lies, not in our Constitution, but in our will. We must want to build a political system that puts public interest above partisanship, a method that responds to vested interests but is not controlled by them. We can only do so if we mind the words of the perceptive cartoonist who wrote:

"I have met the enemy and he is US."

Political systems are always an embodiment of human nature. Until we learn to harness our own nature, we can improve neither our politics nor our society. There is no Constitutional bar to devising a more democratic process; the only impediment is ourselves. Since we can not divorce our political institutions from our own nature, we must make virtue a desirable attribute in those who seek political advancement. That may be difficult, but it is not impossible.

Fred Gohlke