September 17, 2010
The state of the nation's party politics
Now that the primary season for the 2010 mid-term elections is over, it might be good to revisit the question of where the Democratic and Republican parties are. While the basic pro-war/pro-business one-party oligarchic nature of politics is still intact, there have been some interesting developments in how the two factions have evolved.
The Democrats are still pretty much where they have always been, trying to faithfully serve the interests of the oligarchy while pretending to be concerned about the rest of us. As I warned a couple of months ago, it is the Democrats that the oligarchy use to really stick it to the poor. In this case, we see that Obama has stacked his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform with people determined to reduce social security benefits. The commission will deliver its report on December 1, conveniently after the elections. The plan seems to be that the Democrats can campaign on 'protecting social security' and then cut the benefits after the election is done.
Republican Party politics has been more turbulent. Immediately after the 2008 election I wrote a series of posts about what its future might look like. In December of that year, I wrote that there were four groups vying for leadership in the wake of their election debacle.
One group consists of the old-style conservatives, people who want smaller government and fiscal restraint, balanced budgets, rule of law, respect for personal liberties, and a non-interventionist foreign policy.
The second group is the rank-and-file social values base for whom guns, gays, abortion, stem-cell research, flag, the Bible, and immigration are the main concerns. Many of these people belong to the lower and middle economic classes.
The third group is the Christianist leadership, people like Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and John Hagee, who claim to speak for the social values base but, as I argued in the previous post in this series, whose overriding allegiance is to a low-tax ideology (especially for the rich) and who vehemently oppose any government programs that provide assistance to the poor.
The fourth group is the neoconservatives. The neoconservatives are the wild card in American politics, wreaking havoc wherever they go. Their interests lie less in domestic policies and more in creating a muscular foreign policy. They dream of America exercising hegemony over the world, using its might to destroy its enemies. They are firmly convinced that America is a force for good in the world and should not be shy about using its military, political, and economic muscle to dominate it.
In particular they want to remake the Middle East, to secure its oil supplies and change the governments of those countries that they perceive as threats to Israel, since they view the interests of America as identical with those of Israel (especially the hard-right spectrum of Israeli politics), and that what is good for one country is good for the other.
The second and third groups were always the ones that brought passion and enthusiasm to the party, who could be counted on to vote in large numbers. They really are the modern Republican Party. For a long time the first group was able to use that energy to win elections while effectively shutting them out from actual leadership. But this group has been steadily driven out of the party, hounded out as not being true believers in the cause, with the last few years seeing the process accelerating dramatically. The neoconservatives, while not driven out, seem to be lying low, waiting to see what is going to emerge from the infighting before tipping their hand.
The new leadership of the party seems to be coming in the form of the so-called 'Tea Party' activists that has seized control of the agenda of the Republican party. This consists of a vague coalition of the second and third groups in an uneasy alliance. The reason for the shakiness of the alliance is that while each group needs the other, they are not quite in sync in their goals. What unites them is an anti-government/anti-tax focus but the original Tea Party faithful seem to have a libertarian focus that puts them somewhat at odds with the ardent social conservatives who want to impose their narrow, intolerant, and sex-obsessed social agenda on everyone. The social conservatives want their social agenda front and center of this new movement but the libertarian faction fears that such issues will be divisive.
The Tea Party is using the Republican party to further its goals but it does not see its role as mainly electing Republicans at any cost. As can be seen in the primary challenges they mounted against the party establishment's candidates, they see having candidates who are 'one of them' as more important than being electable, though their candidates are doing surprisingly well in the polls despite their extreme, and sometimes even nutty, views.
Nowhere has this tension surfaced more than in Delaware where the Republicans selected as its senatorial nominee Christine O'Donnell. While she is well within the mainstream of the party in terms of her views, a few years ago she would not have made it to so far since she is an outsider. What makes her win so striking is that she won in the face of active opposition from within the leadership of the Republican Party. This particular race has truly alarmed the party leadership for that very reason but there is nothing they can do now. Having pandered to the Tea Partiers and the memberships of the second and third groups for so many years because of the energy and votes they bring in, they find they cannot control them anymore. Over time, the leadership have fed this group red meat in the form of a belligerent anti-intellectualism that scorned serious policies and campaigned on inflammatory slogans that appealed to visceral emotions but were empty of any serious content. And their fellow Villagers in the media of course, loved this, since it made for good theater. But their followers took these slogans as serious policy options and the perceived lack of commitment of the Republican party leadership to actually implementing these slogans has caused this revolt. The tiger has escaped and is turning on its masters.
The tension between the Republican leadership and the Tea Party is already clearly visible. The Tea Party is currently a loose federation of local groups, although there is one faction called the Tea Party Express based in California that seems to be well-funded and centralized and is seeking to dominate the agenda of the movement. You can see the tensions within the Tea Party begin to surface between the libertarian faction and the social conservative faction, as this interview yesterday on NPR demonstrates.
How will this all play out? It is hard to say. Historically groups that suddenly sprout up like this have ended up either withering away as their initial energy dissipates and they start infighting or they become absorbed into existing parties or they become unified and institutionalized under a single umbrella as a special interest group that hangs around for some time, like the Moral Majority.
But stepping back and looking at the big picture, what is clear is that there has been a steady shift in US politics over the last few decades so that, comparing the situation now to what it was like during the 1960s, the Democratic Party has become the Republican Party, while the Republican Party has gone nuts.
POST SCRIPT: The Daily Show's take on the primary results
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Tea Party Primaries - Beyond the Palin|