Individualism vs. Collectivism

By: Abby Bedore
James Thurber discusses Obama's second term.

James Thurber discusses Obama’s second term. Photo by Noelle Smith.

Today Dr. James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, spoke at The Washington Center. Thurber discussed his predictions for Obama’s second term and highlighted policies the President will try to pass through Congress.

As we’ve seen over the past couple years, leadership in Congress has been weak. Thurber noted four reasons to explain this, one of which was the idea of individualism versus centralization in candidates, elected officials and political parties. Party caucuses, committee chairs, party leaders and the president were some of Thurber’s suggestions for this divide.

I think politicians running for office face this issue of whether to promote themselves as their own candidate or as a member of their party. In presidential races, multiple members of the Democratic or Republican parties first seek to win their party’s nomination. Sticking out as the most prominent member of any party first requires a candidate to establish him or herself as an individual. But after winning the nomination, the candidate must transform to fit society’s idea of a Democratic or Republican. However, while the candidate moves to fit the party platform and appeal to a wider range of voters, he/she still needs to maintain his/her image as a distinct member within the party.

I’ve only (briefly) addressed how individualism and centralization play out in presidential elections, but if a politician faces these challenges in a race, I can only imagine how much more work goes into maintaining both of these images to constituents and fellow members of Congress or the party. Is there a happy medium between individualism and centralization? Or should is one better than the other?

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