Back in those days, decisions on who ran for a Congressional Seat, the Governor's Mansion, the White House or for Mayor where normally made by a group of old, out of shape, cigar smoking and balding men; Party insiders, big wigs or fat cats they were sometimes called, but they were also known as the bosses. The system left a lot of good people on the outside looking in and was inherently unfair to females and minorities. It was a blot on democracy.
But back in those days (while I was in Junior and Senior High School) Liberal New York State found a way to elect two Republican Senators: Kenneth Keating and Jacob Javits (and Governor Nelson Rockefeller). Both Keating and Javits were more moderate and very much more Liberal than just about any Democratic Senator from the South (which is why much to my mother's chagrin, I was a Republican at first) and both Senators were probably more moderate than any of today's Republican Senators, including the two ladies from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. But more important than their moderation in voting was their moderation in legislating. They could compromise and they would debate civilly, not resorting to filibusters at every excuse to avoid passage of a bill favored by the Democrats.
But it was not only Keating and Javits who were more moderate than the majority of today's Congressmen, both Representatives and Senators, it was most Congressmen. The Congressmen of that era were more civil and they reached compromise (on most issues) more easily. Why?
My opinion for the change in civility is that not too long after I graduated High School, the push to make politics more democratic gained steam. Some saw it as just progress in the evolution of democracy, some saw it as a way to get rid of the system of bosses with it's inherent cronyism, nepotism, corruption, bribery and payoffs. The method for ending the reign of the bosses was the increased usage of primary voting. It sounded like a wonderful idea, until it was in practice for a while.
Voter apathy and a system of choosing general election candidates by primary, go together like oil and water. And the more primaries we had, the more apathetic the voting public became. That in itself is not harmful. As you probably know, any good polling company can inquire the opinions of a few thousand people and tell you who is going to win an election in which millions of people are going to vote. But that poll makes the assumption that the few thousand people are as random as the millions of voters are. For example if you had asked 3,000 Republicans who was going to win the 2008 Presidential Election, you would have predicted John McCain in the biggest landslide in American Electoral History. But 3,000 Republicans out of a poll of 3,000 perspective voters is not a random sample or an appropriate sample because it does not reflect the diversity of the electorate accurately.
If the inclinations of the low number of voters who turned out for the primary reflected the general election's voter's propensities, then the low number of primary voters would not have caused any problems, but because of apathy and longer and longer campaigns, the only voters who turn out for primary elections tend to be the people furthest from the ideological center. So what actually happens is the Democratic Primary is a primary controlled by Liberals (or Progressives) and the Republican Primary is controlled by Conservatives, effectively shutting out the moderate views of both parties. This is referred to as primaries controlled by the fringe element.
Some states don't allow Independents to vote in primaries, while some states allow them to vote in either the Democrats' or Republicans' primary. Some states, allegedly to neutralize the fringe element voting in the primaries, allow Republicans to vote in the Democratic primary and vice versa, as long as each voter only votes once. But cynically, Republicans will vote for the weaker Democratic primary candidate to make it easier for the Republican candidate in the general election to win as I am sure also happens in reverse. So instead of diluting the affect of the fringe of each party, cross-party primaries may actually exacerbate the problem.
So today, Arlen Specter switched back to the Democratic Party. His reason was because he didn't think he could win his Republican Primary because Republicans now make up a small but extremely focused part of the electorate. Senator Specter could not stand to face the specter of being a 5 term incumbent Senator and losing to a more conservative primary challenger. He admitted as much, but he also claimed that the Republican party had moved away from him. I don't think that the Republican party has moved that much to the Right, just the people who make themselves heard. But effectively that is the same thing. Yes, the party has moved to the Right, but it seems more to the Right than actual because the spokesmen for the party, the elected officials and the media types from FOX, Clear-Channel, "talk radio"- and Rupert Murdoch's newspaper empire all speak with one voice.
The Democrats being a party made up of people of nuance don't channel each other. Barack Obama has been a major unifying force, or maybe it was George W. Bush who was the unifying force. The cynical question that may go down in American Presidential Election History is, "Could a Black man have been elected President in 2008 if Al Gore had won the 2000 Presidential election?"- But I digress. I firmly believe that our system of primaries has caused the great rift between the parties and the large amount of polarization in our nation.
I might have to plead guilty in advance. Some people will say, "Typical Democrat! Pinpoints a problem, but offers no solution."- I will have to plead "no contest"- at best. I can not see reviving the system of bosses, although baldness and cigar smoking would not be as prevalent today, especially for the Democrats with their much higher female registration. Outside of bribing people to vote in primaries or fining them for not voting, I see no way out of the mess we are in. Of course teaching civics from K through 12, might be a good start, but one party would never come up with the tax money to teach our children more about our system of Democracy.