Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What do the major parties stand for again?

It's no secret that the Republican Party needs to retool its brand in a big way. But Democrats may face a need to repackage their own product, and that effort could be more difficult for an ascendant political party looking to hold on to its advantage than for one looking to recover from disaster.

After two consecutive ballot-box wipeouts, in 2006 and 2008, even the densest GOP apparatchik must suspect that a heady mix of militarism, nativism, enthusiasm for big government, abuse of civil liberties, neglect of free markets and contempt for anybody with a college degree may not provide a roadmap to a viable future role in American political life.

Republicans have a couple of options, The most obvious ones are:

  • a retreat to social conservatism combined with economic populism. This would take advantage of the current rush to blame free markets for the financial mess that politicians actually wrought without having to think too hard about the existing rural-exurban base of the GOP. Such a move would be relatively easy and advantageous in the short term, but it probably has a limited future in a country growing increasingly heterogeneous and tolerant, and in need of a free economy. Call this the Mike Huckabee alternative.
  • A return to an emphasis on free markets and small government while repudiating the nativism and intolerance that have marked the GOP in recent years. An explicitly libertarian approach is probably out of the question, but a willingness to set the culture war aside could make the party at least inoffensive to some groups that have found it repugnant in recent years. While probably a tougher sell in the short term, and one that could alienate some of the existing base, such a move might make the party once again viable in urban areas, on the coasts, and among the growing ranks of Latino voters. Call this the Barry Goldwater alternative.

How Republicans will position themselves in the months and years to come is up to them, and the ultimate decision will, no doubt, be hashed out in the post-debacle infighting to come. It will be fun to watch, at least.

Democrats, on the other hand are sitting pretty, enjoying the fruits of a hard-won victor--

Whoops. No, the Democratic Party faces challenges too, though its problems may come from its success.

Even as Barack Obama was rolling up a big win in California, gaining a 61% to 37% advantage over John McCain, Proposition 8, banning gay marriage, was simultaneously chugging along to a narrow victory. That win was almost certainly attributable to African-American voters who, while giving 94% of their vote to Barack Obama, were also giving 70% of their votes to Prop. 8. Latino voters also favored the measure, but only by 53% to 47%.

The fact of the matter is that the newly energized African-American base of the Democratic Party, and the party's growing Latino constituency, are more socially conservative than the party has positioned itself to be in the past. It's not just gay marriage; a 2004 Zogby survey found that 78% of Hispanic voters and 62% of African-American voters hold pro-life positions on abortion. The number for the general population is 56%.

The Democratic Party has traditionally sold itself as supportive of gay rights and reproductive freedom -- positions which seem unlikely to be compatible with the values of a large and growing number of its adherents. But its base includes gay and lesbian voters and socially liberal voters who like those traditional positions. To please one constituency may mean alienating the other.

To a certain extent, the woes of the Republican and Democratic parties are inevitable for broad-based political organizations in a diverse society. Trying to hold together a large coalition means engaging in a massive case of cognitive dissonance that inevitably causes conflicts when contradictory promises try to occupy the same politicians' attention at the same time.

The degree to which the parties successfully address those conflicts will determine their viability in the future.

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Blogger Mark_McNally said...

"The degree to which the parties successfully address those conflicts will determine their viability in the future."

just means we need a realignment.

November 7, 2008 10:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe you seriously mis-characterize when you call it "nativism".

Almost nobody is opposed to ongoing controlled LEGAL immigration.

The opposition is 95% in regards to UNcontrolled ILLEGAL immigration in waves of millions; many of them criminals and other dregs.

Tito the Builder: "Born in Columbia but Made in America!"

Couldn't have said it better myself.

November 7, 2008 1:00 PM  
Blogger Omaha Greg said...

Who would be an example in modern politics of the 2nd example, in your opinion? I noticed that while option 1 was called the "huckabee route", option 2 had to harken back to a 1964 candidate. So, any more current politicians embodying this approach and, perhaps you could elaborate? I'm assuming it would be a more federalist, states' rights approach to the social questions rather than an outright liberal stance?

November 9, 2008 7:02 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

Omaha Greg,

Ron Paul would be a fair example -- I didn't use his name because he's Kryptonite to so many Republicans. Jeff Flake might get close too.

I think they'd be better off with a more socially tolerant/liberal approach than a federalist approach, but I'm trying to be realistic. Getting Republicans to simply back off a bit on the gay-bashing and nativism would be something of a victory considering their record of recent years.

November 9, 2008 7:07 PM  
Anonymous Charles Kinney said...

"Getting Republicans to simply back off a bit on the gay-bashing and nativism would be something of a victory considering their record of recent years."

Republicans have many closet cases in their ranks, all gay-bashing aside, so they only make fools of themselves when they do it.

As for nativism, Bush spent his two terms of office agitating for wars that only benefited Israel, so I'm not sure what you're getting at. I certainly don't equate Republican neoconservatism with anything other than Zionism (Christian or Jewish). "Nativism" implies white supremacy, which prominent neocons like David Frum have attacked ferociously.

Tim McVeigh was a "nativist". The Republicans are Zionists. The Democrats are Zionists Lite, but that's another story for another day.

April 22, 2009 1:12 PM  

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