Political Change

Walk the walk (DNC 2016) screenshot by Susan Barsy
A return to ‘normalcy’ after the US presidential election is unlikely.  Many of us are tired of the campaign, tired of the endless opining, poll numbers, and tweets.  Tired of the candidates and the unpleasant prospects they embody, we long for the closure of election day.  Election Day!  What then?

Underneath the candidates is an undeniable weakness in both parties.  Over a hundred GOP leaders have said they will not support their party’s nominee.  Yet Mr Trump was chosen through a much-contested primary, in which voters failed to coalesce around any of Mr Trump’s numerous challengers, rejecting both moderates and conservatives.  Moreover, disgruntled Republicans subsequently failed to rally around an alternative, despite a protracted explicit attempt that Mitt Romney led.  Leading Republicans know what they’re against.  But what are they for?

The Republican problem isn’t a lack of talent.  It is a lack of a unifying, majoritarian ideology.  This is why disaffected Republicans have proved unable to bolt (as they did, for example, in 1912, when the Progressives, disaffected with President Taft, broke away to support Teddy Roosevelt’s effort to retake the presidency).  Republicans as a group don’t agree on what they stand for, having honed their identity as the party of ‘no.’  Should leaders who can’t govern their party govern the country?  I don’t think so.

Less remarked on is the disturbing weakness of the Democratic party.  In an election cycle playing out as an epic battle of personality, the idea that the Democrats are just as beleaguered as the Republicans is inadmissible.  Yet the Democrats are arguably as benighted.  They bank too much on identity politics, while relying on a concept of the role of government that has scarcely been updated since the 1960s.

Besides the staleness of their ideology, Democrats are turning people off with their record of poor governance in some cities and states.  Here in Chicago, corruption and egregious mismanagement are synonymous with Democratic rule.  I personally have grown disaffected with the state’s Democrats, who as a group have not come out in favor of reform and government efficiency.

At the national level, Democratic leaders like Donna Brazile want citizens to think that the practices of the DNC and the Clinton Foundation are nothing to be concerned about; yet this is the very attitude that voters find unacceptable and disillusioning.  Who believes that, if elected, Hillary Clinton would ‘run a tight ship’?  The Obama Administration has been a model of probity; but a Hillary Clinton White House?  Hardly.

Besides winking at corruption and coasting along on a raft of outdated and expensive ideas, the Democrats suffer from a striking dearth of junior leadership and grass-roots organization.  When will their next generation of leaders appear?  It’s appalling to consider that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Rahm Emanuel were, until lately, their brightest stars.  The most admirable and powerful figures in the party are all senior citizens, which augurs well from the point of view of experience but augurs a bumpy leaderless period ahead.

Thus, despite the all-but-extinguished condition of the Republican party, it is doubtful whether the Democrats will win control of the Senate, let alone the House.

The systematic weaknesses plaguing both major parties indicate that the nation is heading into, but scarcely concluding, a period of partisan re-alignment.  The ugly factionalism that is so distressing for citizens to witness and that poses a grave threat to stable federal governance is likely to continue for some time.  When major parties die, it can take a while.  In the short-term, the parties’ problems will cause widespread anxiety and confusion.  Ultimately, reorganization awaits the emergence of clean new leaders with viable modern ideas.

Image: “Walk the Walk” (DNC 2016).
Screenshot by Susan Barsy.

Note: this post has been modified from its original version.

6 responses

  1. Susan — excellent article. What a sad, and scary, state of affairs. Look forward to seeing you next week. Cheers and love, Janet

    • Thanks, Janet! The catalyst for political innovation is great leadership–perhaps there is a greater measure of that in the offing than I can see.
      Looking forward to seeing you next week, too!

  2. Your statement about Obama’s administration is on the mark and almost always missed: there have been no serious allegations of financial or other corruption, which is amazing in any human organization. HRC’s blindness about conflicts of interest, as you suggest, does not bode well, although comparison to the Grant administration seems overwrought to me; even the sloppiest administrations today are much cleaner than 19th century governments, for minimum legal standards are much, much tighter. Actually, the GOP does not have a talent problem. Of the seventeen in the field, only Kasich has high skills and any potential for winning a general election. Rubio is an empty suit; Cruz is a nut. The Democrats’s larger problem is a failure to compete successfully at the state legislative level, where Koch and friends have helped the GOP to become dominant. Still and all, the smart money now is slightly in favor a Democratic takeover of the Senate.

    • Hi Greg–I did not edit your comment, but I take it from context that your view is that the GOP *does* have a talent problem.

      I guess I see the GOP as being more rich in visible mid-career figures who are nationally known–this is quite independent of whether they ‘play well with others’ or ‘espouse a winning ideology.’ Figures like Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, even Rand Paul: their problem was not, in my view, a lack of experience or competence but a failure to discover a set of ‘new Republican’ ideas to espouse that would resonate with unaligned and traditionally Republican voters now. Even the despicable Cruz has abundant talent of a sort that reminds me of the dread Calhoun.

      It will be fascinating to see if the Democrats do actually win back the Senate. I have modified the original version of my post in light of your comment–I see some ‘weathermen’ (like the NYT) have the Dems favored to win.

      I appreciate your comments–thanks!

  3. A wonderful article and most poignant given the current political situation. You clearly described the weaknesses and disorganization of both parties which has given rise to Hillary and Trump. . . . When I talk to my friends all of them still find it absolutely amazing that Trump has come as far as he has: also all of them are truly worried that he will win the election. Me, I strongly believe that a Trump victory will be disastrous for the U.S.A. . . . Anyway, just to mention a bright spot for Hillary, I saw in the news today that the Dallas Star (newspaper) has endorsed Hillary! Texas has not voted Dem for the last nine elections.

    • Since you wrote in, the ‘anti-endorsements’ from Republican-leaning papers have continued to grow. Many papers are disavowing and decrying Trump. These ad hominem attacks are quite remarkable–will they influence voters?

      The public liked Hillary’s debate performance. Now the race is hers to lose. Trump will have to do miraculously well in the two remaining debates if he is to turn the tables.