29 May 2006


Democracy in Progress takes on the big question of the evolving coalitions behind the Democratic and Republican parties respectively, seeing the Democrats trending towards "maximizing the power and opportunity of the individual" like libertarians infused with an anti-corporate impluse, while Republicans buy into "ideologies are consistent with valuing large, powerful, centralized organizations that simplify the world for us."

The think piece is worth reading, although I'm not sure that it is descriptive of what is going on in the parties. While the Republican coalition is showing fault lines, largely between Christian conservatives (who are concerned with abortion, God and gays) and economic conservatives (i.e. the tax-cut, no regulation, no liability crowd), the big government trend among Republicans is more a product of our current President and an intense focus on defense and homeland security, than it is a product of a change in Republican ideology. The rank and file Republican opposition to Referenda C and D is proof as good as any of continuing Republican skepticism of big institutions, and while Christian conservativism does call upon a sort of "group think", conservative Christianity is institutionally far more decentralized than mainline and liberal Christianity.

Meanwhile, Democrats have certainly not rejected large, powerful centralized organizations that simplify the world for us. Democrats remain the champions of the existing welfare state, having stopped President Bush's attempt to privatize social security cold, and a large subset of Democrats champion the replacement of our existing health care system with a single payer system which is the eptiome of a large, powerful centralized organization that simplifies the world for us.

This isn't to say that there isn't realignment going on in both parties.

Republicans are deeply divided between a law and order, hawkish, xenophobic wing that opposes immigration, and the free market and pro-small business wings of the party that favor a more open immigration policy. The gun lovers in the Republican party have reached the point where the often Republican leaning forces of law enforcement are uncomfortable with them. The banner of strong property rights doesn't sit well with country club Republicans who believe that they have a God given right to end blight, at least in their own backyards. The same Republicans who decry "unpatriotic speech" find themselves rushing back to the protections of the First Amendment for their own hateful threats, sometimes only thinly veiled.

Democrats also aren't entirely at peace within their own coalition. While Southern Democrats and Republicans are deeply divided on class lines, outside the South, the Democratic party has received an infusion of support from the professional and big business classes, while support from unions has waned with the unions themselves.

Blue collar Reagan Democrats have long been uncomfortable with gay rights, pro-immigration policies, abortion rights and much of the social liberal agenda. This reached a boiling point when Democrats mostly supported NAFTA and the WTO. Free trade and immigration are divisive within the Democratic party as well as the GOP, even though the Democrats have managed the conflict better.

While Democrats remain concerned about the environment, public health and public safety, the single minded regulatory orientation that drove the party in the 1970s, back when Ralph Nader was one of the parties young Turks, rather than a spoiler of party ambitions, has ebbed. Democratics have gone from being ideological on the economy, to being pragmatists who are united mostly in their desire to end giveaways to the superrich whether they take a regulatory form, or the form of tax cuts.

By 2000, Democrats had virtually lost the farm vote entirely. Blue blodded Bostonian Presidential candidate John Kerry was lucky to get one vote out of six in rural American counties. But, the brothers Ken and John Salazar in Colorado, and our neighbors to the North in Montana have showed us that this piece of the New Deal Democratic Party coalition is not irredeemably lost. Democrats lost a Senator in South Dakota, but gained a Congresswoman. Neo-conservatives have gained the upper hand in the Republican party to end farm subsidies, and the religious right is finding that its return on its political investment in the GOP has been meager.

Where we're going nobody knows, but the trip is turning out to be an interesting one.


Sotosoroto said...

Wow. Your first paragraph describes Democrats and Republicans almost entirely reversed from how I think of them. In my mind, it's the Republicans who are for the "opportunity of the invidiual" and it's the Democrats who value "large, powerful, centralized organizations."

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Just for clarity's sake, please note that my first paragraph is quoting someone else (the blog "Democracy in Progress").