An older man smiling in front of a brick wall.

Jack’s Angle: The Ossification of American political parties – John J. “Jack” Partridge

by John J. “Jack” Partridge, contributing writer, commentary

THE Ossification of American political parties and Presidential politics

The recent presidential debate was revealing and troublesome. It was a case of two elderly men who, for very personal reasons, have contrived to lead their parties into partisan canyons, as one periodical called it. “the infirm vs. egocentric”.

Over 51 million Americans were tuned in to watch the expected carnage of the debate and they were not disappointed. “How was it that these two became the leaders of their respective national political parties,” viewers asked themselves. Has it ever happened before?

Yes, it has, and with dramatic results – when the Democrats were taken over by the oratory and inflationary politics of William Jennings Bryant at the turn of the nineteenth century. And how did that work out?  

And the GOP had to live through Theodore Roosevelt’s  rebellion and third party candidacy. Roosevelt gave Woodrow Wilson and the Democrats the presidency in 1912, and eight years in power until the enfeebled Wilson and a bitterly divided Democratic party gave up power to the Republicans in 1920.  Remember the “return” to  normalcy slogan?  

Voters back then asked similar questions. They often looked to third parties for directions, and were frustrated when there were not credible answers from the splinters emerging from what were the leading parties.  In fact, the major parties were as ossified in terms of new ideas and people as those of today. Yet they managed to get through the tough years and find new leaders.

As the two debate participants  jeered at each other in their confrontation of last week, and both claimed to have been a better president on no discernible or consistent basis, one wonders where is it all heading.

In fact history tells us we will have to wait for a politician like a Roosevelt or Reagan who can galvanize support from the generally middle of the road voting Americans, again. While the bench appears to be weak at the moment, I believe there will be someone, hopefully sooner rather than later.

He or she will have to suffer through years of battling the poohbahs and strictures of the parties, old loyalties, and unnecessary road blocks that frustrate ambitions, and learn how to raise awareness, to organize, use social media, and find important funding. The traditional process seems to be broken at this moment, with these two elderly men presented by the parties as leaders.  

One wonders if these parties will still be around when new leadership with ideas arrives; or will the parties break apart by then, because they have become too rigid to ever be led by someone fresh and thoughtful, with allegiance as to American values that deserve to be refreshed by and with the consent of the people through the electoral process.

The Republican party was founded in 1858 at such a  moment, when Democrats were captured by southern slave holding constituents and the Whigs couldn’t get their policies  and personalities, like Lincoln, in alignment. It is possible a new party could develop, despite the odds, given new candidates with ideas and personalities, and issues that appeal to voters.

For my part, I feel certain Biden will continue the campaign, as he appears to have turned for advice only from those who want him to continue. Isn’t it a wonder that we have not had him seek, at least publicly, medical advice? And it is also a wonder “the Donald” seems to have been relatively quiet, leaving surrogates to question Biden’s advisors and to chortle at the apostasy of the New York Times and similar “bed wetters”. That is a minor marvel.


Readers: You may comment at the end of this article – it will take a short time before it appears.


To read more columns by Jack Partridge, go to:

John J. ‘Jack’ Partridge, is a retired lawyer and Senior Counsel to the firm of Partridge Snow & Hahn LLP, with four offices in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.A Pawtucket native, Jack graduated from St. Raphael Academy and summa cum laude of Providence College, where he majored in history. After Harvard Law School, he served in the United States Army in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal. In 1967, he joined the firm of Tillinghast Collins & Tanner. In 1988, he became a founding partner of Partridge Snow & Hahn LLP.

Jack has been engaged in many civic, political, governmental, and business organizations, serving as legal counsel to the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce for 27 years and was chairman of the Old Slater Mill Association, Common Cause Rhode Island, and Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island.

He is the co-founder of The Pawtucket Foundation and an officer and director of innumerable not-for-profit entities. He served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Pawtucket Boys & Girls Club and was Treasurer of the Ocean State Charities Trust.

Jack has a long history of leadership involvement with Providence College, which recognized him in 1999 with the Providence College Alumni Association Recognition Award for Public and Community Service, and in 2011, with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

He is married to the former Regina McDonald and has three children: Sarah, Gregory and David.

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  1. Herb Weiss on July 5, 2024 at 8:53 pm

    Great insightful article

  2. David Shallcross on July 5, 2024 at 4:12 pm

    The debate was an American disaster when it comes to choosing a political leader. No doubt, as an attorney, you are familiar with the term ‘GISH GALLOP’, although it is not a typical courtroom tactic. It might be except no judge would tolerate it in the courtroom from either side. GISH GALLOP is a debating tactic used to overwhelm an opponent almost to the point of speechlessness. Briefly, GISH GALLOP involves, for your readers, from Wikipedia, ……

    The Gish gallop (/ˈɡɪʃ ˈɡæləp/) is a rhetorical technique in which a person in a debate attempts to overwhelm an opponent by abandoning formal debating principles, providing an excessive number of arguments with no regard for the accuracy or strength of those arguments and that are impossible to address adequately in the time alloted to the opponent. Gish galloping prioritizes the quantity of the galloper’s arguments at the expense of their quality.

    During a Gish gallop, in a short space of time the galloper confronts an opponent with a rapid series of specious arguments, half-truths, misrepresentations, and outright lies that makes it impossible for the opponent to refute all of them within the format of the debate. Each point raised by the Gish galloper takes considerably more time to refute or to fact-check than the amount of time taken to state each one in the series.

    This technique is known online as Brandolini’s law and frequently is referred to as “the b… …t asymmetry principle”. That element of the technique also is referred to as spewing a firehose of falsehoods.
    The technique wastes an opponent’s time and may cast doubt on the opponent’s debating ability for an audience unfamiliar with the technique, especially if no independent fact-checking is involved or, if the audience has limited knowledge of the topics.

    Generally, it is more difficult to use the Gish gallop in a structured debate than a free-form one. If a debater is familiar with an opponent who is known to use the Gish gallop, the technique may be countered by pre-empting and refuting the opponent’s commonly used arguments before the opponent has an opportunity to launch into a Gish gallop.

    Going back to my first sentence, it would be an American disaster if important decisions were made by a single person in the Oval Office of White House under duress and without the assistance of expert advisors. It may be a successful debate tactic to render an opponent’s immediate response somewhat incomprehensible but it is hardly appropriate to judge anyone’s problem solving ability or qualifications for office based on a ‘gotcha’ stumped during a 90 minute debate. Effectively, one must assume each candidate gets equal and ample time to respond to debatable questions. The GISH GALLOP is designed to thwart that. Imagine what a debate would look like to a viewer if all the parties in a debate utilized the Gish Gallop as a strategy.

  3. Nancy Thomas on July 5, 2024 at 2:05 pm

    TY, Jack!

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