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Are Political Parties Necessary To American Democracy?11:31
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks with members of the media during a news conference Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Milford, N.H. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks with members of the media during a news conference Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Milford, N.H. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
This article is more than 3 years old.

At one point in time or another, just about every politician seeking higher office — or the highest office — claims to be an outsider. This year is, of course, no different.

"They know that I'm a smart guy that gets things done," businessman Donald Trump told CNN's Chris Cuomo last year. "I want things done properly, and I don't want them done for myself. I made a lot of money, I don't want money. I don't want people giving me money. I want to do something great. And great is to make our country great again. I'm not a politician. Politicians are all talk and no action, Chris, and I'm the opposite."

But Trump isn't the only candidate claiming to be an outsider.

"The media has missed the secret," Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders told MSNBC's Kasie Hunt. "The middle class of this country is disappearing, and I know it's not something that's on TV every night, that's the reality."

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took issue with the fact that her opponent frequently characterizes her as an establishment candidate at a Democratic debate in February.

"Sen. Sanders is the only person who would characterize me — a woman running to the be the first woman president — as exemplifying the establishment," said Clinton. "I gotta tell you, it is really quite amusing."

But Princeton historian Sean Wilentz says outsiders almost never make lasting political change in this country. That hard, messy work is done by politicians and political parties and, in fact, partisanship is essential to the well-being of American democracy.

Sean Wilentz will be speaking at the Harvard Book Store Wednesday.

Guest

Sean Wilentz, professor of history at Princeton University and author of the new book, "The Politicians and the Egalitarians: The Hidden History of American Politics." He tweets @seanwilentz.

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The New York Times: ‘The Politicians And The Egalitarians,’ By Sean Wilentz

  • "In the four years before his marriage to Mary Todd, Abraham Lincoln lived, and even shared a bed, with a friend named Joshua Speed. There exists no evidence of a sexual bond between the two men, but in deference to the identity politics raging in today’s university, the Harvard English professor John Stauffer has suggested otherwise."

The Boston Globe: Partisan Politics May Be Price We Pay For Egalitarian Society

  • "Political parties, like the poor, have always been with us, or almost always. The framers of the Constitution feared them; modern commentators describe them as obstacles to political progress. Barack Obama won his first real national acclaim at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston for criticizing partisanship."

This segment aired on June 1, 2016.

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