I’m still waiting for a breakout Democrat to cast the party along new lines. I’m tired of the old Democratic party, which still plays identity politics, makes bad bargains with public resources, and is generally very loose with money. I’m tired of big government that’s inefficient and behind the times. I want a small powerful government that does things well.
I’m waiting for a new Democratic party to come along, that’s resolutely focused not on unions but on all who work. Most workers are not, and may never be, organized. For their sake, the party needs to demand corporate responsibility and corporate investment in our citizens and our native economy. I’m waiting for a new party that cares about industry and sustainability, that’s ardent and uncompromising about making high-quality, next-generation goods here in the States, and that believes in the collective capacities of the citizenry to take the US economy higher.
I’m waiting for a party that’s proud of universal health coverage, that insists on quality public education, and favors everything local and green. I want a party that’s candid about globalism’s dark side. That wants to curtail immigration sharply for a while, in order to take into account all who are here, strengthen our civic fabric, and restore American citizenship’s prestige.
I’m waiting for Democrats who will demand peace: who will foreswear the siren song, the illusory notion that we can ever really “protect American interests abroad.” I’m waiting for a party that will respect the sovereignty of other nations and that’s clear-eyed enough to refrain from unending militarism abroad.
I’m waiting, and I’m sure that a large population waits with me.
The nauseating staleness of partisan politics is a disgrace to the American intellect and a nation fond of thinking it’s great.
Whether one ponders the intransigence gripping the Capitol or the never-ending corruption strangling government at every level in Illinois, one sees the evils of a too-entrenched party system—a system that can only be shaken up by innovative third parties, bringing with them new ideological visions and the threat of competition.
Much of what appears on Our Polity springs from the conviction that our political parties are poorly positioned for the challenges the US faces. The parties are entrenched bureaucracies, most concerned about their own futures as institutions, with the fate of the Republican Party, in particular, now overshadowing its members’ patriotism and concern for the country.
Our political system need not remain in this state. Throughout time, the electorate’s loyalties have been organized around many other platforms, goals, and ideas. In the early part of our history, firm party loyalties didn’t even exist. Instead, coalitions of voters formed and re-formed dynamically around the most promising ideas and leaders. In the seventy-some years before the Civil War, many political parties and factions came to life, fluidly combining and recombining with others to advance some vital cause or interest, catapulting their standard-bearers to prominence before they died.
Many of our greatest statesmen, including such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson, Henry Clay, Charles Sumner, and Abraham Lincoln, rose to power as the stars of parties that no longer exist. Instead, parties of adherents amassed around their far-seeing talent and ideas, giving them the political power and authority that they needed.
When I’m despondent about the state of American politics today, I think back to these other by-gone parties, which bespeak other ideological visions around which American politics could be organized.
What about the short-lived Whig Party, for example, which flourished in the early 19th century and was a bridge between the too-aristocratic Federalist party (d. circa 1820) and the anti-federal Republican Party (b. circa 1860) we have today? The Whigs were a progressive party: they were pro-business, but they saw federalism as a positive force necessary to bind up the wayward states into a nation that was both powerful and refined. Whigs were sophisticated and cosmopolitan. They stood in opposition to the Democrats, who were the states-rights, laissez-faire proponents of the time. The Whigs championed independence and personal prosperity, but they thought that individual opportunity could be best safeguarded and maximized through the agency of an active federalism. Yet they differed from present-day Democrats in being the foes of corruption and a patronage state.
The constellation of ideas that animated the Whigs is only one instance of a different ideology that Americans could be using to reorganize their politics now. The purpose of political parties is to organize large masses of voters around constructive and unifying national goals. Since both the Democrats and Republicans have lost their power to thrill, rising talents would be wise to conjure up new partiesnow.
Image: Friedrich Graetz’s 1882 lithograph, “The Political Sodom and Gomorrah Are Doomed to Destruction,” shows the angel of a new party leading political honesty and wisdom out of the fires of public condemnation consuming the Republican and Democratic parties.
From this source.
The results of Tuesday’s election, in which Republicans failed of their two principal goals, and indeed lost ground even in the House, indicate that the GOP is in danger of becoming a minority party.
The cartogram above, one of a series of maps created by Mark Newman of the University of Michigan to show the real strength and distribution of the popular vote, depicts the limits of the GOP’s popular appeal.
While the Republican party continues to command the allegiance of bands of Americans in southern and land-locked western states, these states are not particularly populous. In the more heavily populated and cosmopolitan areas of the United States, the Democratic Party under Barack Obama is consolidating its hold.
Moreover, many of the counties that the Republicans managed to win Tuesday are actually divided and could readily swing back the other way. In the county-level map above, only the streaks that are pure red and reddish can be regarded as Republican strongholds.
The Republicans in denial
Interestingly, the Republican leadership seems incapable of grasping the fact that its positions and values are increasingly out of step with those of the nation. John Dickerson of Slate, appearing on Washington Week on Friday, described the Romney-Ryan campaign’s illusory anticipation of victory: it simply couldn’t imagine there being enough Americans to support the President, though numerous polls had shown that support for him was holding and building. A contempt for the whole of the electorate, and an inability to embrace its diversity, spelled doom for Republicans in the 2012 campaign.
Look for Republicans to continue to grasp at procedural, legal, monetized, and PR-based tactics to sustain the illusion that they remain a formidable party. In fact, unless the Republican Party dramatically transforms itself, renounces extremism, and embraces diversity and moderation, its showing will be even weaker next time.
Click here to view all of Mark Newman’s maps and learn more about what they mean.
We may not have reached the turning point in the 2012 campaign, but Mitt Romney‘s impolitic behavior has got me thinking about what it might mean for the Republican Party if it fails to take the presidency this time around.
The party wars raging these days are much like real wars in which a few goals are recognized as being of overwhelming importance. In military conflict, taking or holding a capital is often paramount to victory. The force that fights to take a capital but never succeeds condemns itself to a war without end. It never gains sway.
The outlook for the GOP
Despite the Republicans’ emphasis on unity, theirs is a badly divided party, composed of two parts, ideologically riven, and in real danger of breaking apart. Throughout the campaign, moderates within the party have been hoping that its two wings can be welded together sufficiently to secure a presidential victory. Should the Republican party fail of this goal, it will have difficulty convincing us that it remains a dominant political force.
The Republican Party still has vast resources and an impressive organization; it has some intelligent personnel and many, many backers and devotees. Despite all this, it could go into decline, if the presidential contest suggests that it is no longer organized around ideas and policies that have national appeal, that can command the assent of a voting majority.
A party shy of the presidency
Is winning the presidency all that important to the life of a party? It is when the party has been struggling for several presidential election cycles to demonstrate that its candidates truly represent the will of the people. Historically, when a party cannot win the White House, that party fades. It happened with the Federalist party to which the Founders belonged. It happened to the Whig Party in the 1850s. It happens when a perfectly good party lack leaders capable of reshaping the party’s ideology for changing times.
A party that cannot win the presidency risks the loss of its adherents and its leadership, too. Without the presidency, a party cannot initiate and bring legislation to fruition without cooperation from the other side. The Republican Party has set itself in opposition to the Democratic Party. Instead of building the goodwill that has historically proved the salvation of a minority party, it has shown open and increasing enmity toward the other side.
Emphasis on controlling the electoral process
Anxiety pervades the Republican Party, which since the year 2000 has concentrated more and more, not on recasting itself ideologically, but on controlling the electoral process in hope of achieving a favorable return. Ever since George W. Bush’s contested win that year, which came down to interpreting a bunch of chads clinging to physical ballots in Florida, the Republicans have become obsessed with state-level control of the election rolls.
G. W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 occurred amid controversies over voter suppression in states like Ohio, where Republicans had succeeded in removing voters from the rolls through aggressive challenges. In the current election cycle, we have seen concerted efforts in several Republican-controlled states to tighten up voting requirements and to make it more difficult for certain classes of voters to gain representation or vote early.
Only respect for the electorate can save the GOP
It’s a shame, because intelligent leadership and constructive ideas are what the GOP needs. In the end, only better ideas and a genuine respect of the electorate can save the Republican Party from the minority status that threatens it now.
Image: H. H. Green, “Bird’s eye view of Washington, DC” (1916), from this source.
Other wonderful old maps and views of the nation’s capital are here.
‘Be careful what you wish for’ is an old saying. For nearly a generation, social conservatives have been pushing to reorganize American life around their strict vision of the world, an effort that has received a boost in recent years when the kindred Tea Party emerged. The two movements, which could never have achieved majority status on their own, are poised to score a significant victory in their quest by seizing control of the Republican Party. Moderate Republicans, who have chosen a strategy of accommodation and appeasement, are facing the destruction of their party from inside.
A minority grows bold
Conservatives are betting that their views are a majority: that’s why they are uninterested in compromise. That’s why they’ve conducted vigorous state-level efforts to dislodge moderate Republicans from Congress, a dreaded process moderates refer to as being “primaried from the right.” Conservatives have ousted moderates because they believe they don’t need them. Now, with the Republican convention going on, the moderates’ position is growing more embarrassing, as their status as captives of the right becomes clearer every day.
Romney’s success in the presidential primaries should have been a caution to conservatives: a reminder that moderation is still a more more marketable quality than any of the varieties of conservatism that Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, or Rick Santorum were peddling. Despite the vast media attention these conservatives received, their pull at the polls proved paltry. Yet the pull to the right is so inexorable that Romney, once nominated, felt compelled to choose a conservative running mate, when he might have been better served by choosing a seasoned moderate Republican who knows something about foreign policy.
Moderate Republicans lack a leader who can demonstrate control
There is no moderate Republican strong enough to restrain the conservative wing and demonstrate that moderates remain firmly in control. Figures like House Speaker John Boehner have struggled unsuccessfully to marshal conservative forces and yoke them to an efficacious national agenda. But conservatives, enjoying their power, won’t compromise. The Republicans have become the party of ‘No.’
The party platform is a humiliation for moderates
The Republican party platform is the new humiliation—a socially retrograde document that moderates must attempt to explain away. Virginia governor Bob McDonnell took a stab at it last night, when he tried to convince Judy Woodruff of the PBS Newshour that the party’s platform represented only ‘the grassroots’ but wasn’t really a binding statement of what all Republicans believed. Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers also appeared on the show, disavowing Todd Akin’s comments on ‘legitimate rape’ as ‘unacceptable’ and ‘wrong’ while trying to minimize the implications of such views and the fact that many in her party harbor them. McDonnell also tried to dismiss the objectionable planks by claiming they were ‘small issues’ and just a ‘small part’ of what Republicans believe.
As moderates’ influence wanes, chances increase that the right will destroy the GOP
Yet if these opinions are not representative of the Party, why couldn’t party leaders keep them out of the platform? Signs of ideological strain within the GOP are mounting, again raising the question, “Should leaders who can’t govern their party govern the country?”—a question I explored here several months ago.
The November election represents a moment of truth for conservatives and the GOP. At that moment, we will discover whether conservatives’ assumptions are right: whether the backward-looking vision they espouse is one that a national majority cherishes, too. And if they are wrong? They will have destroyed the Grand Old Party in pursuit of their dreams.