In 1932 the baton passed to the Democratic Party. Over time the Republicans regenerated, and in 1968 we returned to a two-party system. In 1980 it passed to the Republican Party. Over time the Democratic Party rebuilt itself, and in 1992 we returned to a two-party system. Now the Democratic Party prepares to take the baton, with the prospect in November of gaining the Presidency and an iron-clad majority in both houses of Congress.
With the South returning to the Democratic Party and so many of the moderates in Congress retiring (from both parties), President Obama and Congress will have the most liberal Administration in American history. Even they do not know what they can accomplish. After years of divided rule, their ambitions are modest.
- Some evolution toward national health care, increasing government influence over one-tenth of our economy.
- Increased regulation of the financial service industry, increasing government influence over almost one-tenth of our economy.
- Far greater regulation of the environment, esp. carbon emissions, increasing government influence over all aspects of our economy.
No one can see what will result. Interestingly, few even attempt to do so.
Peggy Noonan, one the most acute observers of America’s political trends, describes this key moment in history: “Pity Party“, Wall Street Journal (16 May 2008) — Excerpt:
The Democrats aren’t the ones falling apart, the Republicans are. The Democrats can see daylight ahead. For all their fractious fighting, they’re finally resolving their central drama. Hillary Clinton will leave, and Barack Obama will deliver a stirring acceptance speech. Then hand-to-hand in the general, where they see their guy triumphing. You see it when you talk to them: They’re busy being born.
The Republicans? Busy dying. The brightest of them see no immediate light. They’re frozen, not like a deer in the headlights but a deer in the darkness, his ears stiff at the sound. “Crunch. Twig. Hunting party.”
But this week a House Republican said publicly what many say privately, that there is another truth. “Members and pundits . . . fail to understand the deep seated antipathy toward the president, the war, gas prices, the economy, foreclosures,” said Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia in a 20-page memo to House GOP leaders. The party, Mr. Davis told me, is “an airplane flying right into a mountain.”
What happens to the Republicans in 2008 will likely be dictated by what didn’t happen in 2005, and ’06, and ’07. The moment when the party could have broken, on principle, with the administration – over the thinking behind and the carrying out of the war, over immigration, spending and the size of government – has passed. What two years ago would have been honorable and wise will now look craven. They’re stuck.
Mr. Bush has squandered the hard-built paternity of 40 years. But so has the party, and so have its leaders. If they had pushed away for serious reasons, they could have separated the party’s fortunes from the president’s. This would have left a painfully broken party, but they wouldn’t be left with a ruined “brand,” as they all say, speaking the language of marketing. And they speak that language because they are marketers, not thinkers. Not serious about policy. Not serious about ideas. And not serious about leadership, only followership.
Please share your comments by posting below, relevant and brief please (max 250 words). Too long comments will be edited down (very long ones might be deleted). Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
Other posts about this topic
How the Iraq and Vietnam wars are mirror images of each other (7 February 2008) — Now we have McCain, the leading Republican Presidential candidate, talking of an open-ended commitment to victory in Iraq.
What do blogs do for America? (26 February 2008) — As our problems reach critical dimensions and our economy sinks into what is (at best) a severe recession, our national leadership will likely move into the hands of someone with astonishingly little capacity to govern.
A look at the next phase of the Iraq War: 2009-2012 (1 March 2008) — What is next in Iraq? None of the leading candidates have expressed any intention of leaving Iraq – except in the distant and vague future. McCain intends to fight so long as (or until) we suffer few casualties, then stay for a long time (perhaps a hundred years, as McCain said here and here) ). On the other hand, Obama has been quite explicit…
Our metastable Empire, built on a foundation of clay (3 March 2008) — We can elect leaders with vast ambitions (foreign for McCain, domestic for Obama), but can no longer afford them.
How long will all American Presidents be War Presidents? (21 March 2008) — The Presidential campaign rolls on in the seventh year since 9/11, with the only debate about the Long War being in which nations America should fight. We see this even the speeches of the most “liberal” candidate, Senator Barack Obama.
More recommended reading (4 April 2008) — About the story ”Obama Adviser Calls for Troops To Stay in Iraq Through 2010“, New York Sun (4 April 2008)
For the full archive, see About the candidates for President of the United States.
8 thoughts on “American history changes direction as the baton passes between our political parties”
I agree that we are witnessing the collapse of the Republican Party. Unfortunately – and speaking as a lifelong Democrat – it does not follow that the Democrats are therefore rising. ( Although I think they will do well this fall. )
Reason: the decline of the state. And I need point no further than some of your recent posts about Mexico to assert that this decline is a great deal more advanced and a great deal closer to our doorsteps than is generally recognized.
Fabius Maximus replies: I agree that in some senses the state likely reached its apogee in America during the 1970’s — such as our love for it in our hearts — that does mean that its bureaucratic power has reached its peak. That might expland until we begin to actively resist, to push-back. I see few signs of that today. As evidence I cite our passive acceptance of the Patriot Act, militarization of the police (e.g., no-knock SWAT team raiders killing inocent people), and a thousand small erosions of our freedoms.
It’ll be a funny anecdote of history that Ron Paul is probably right when he says the Republican party is off its tracks and needs to be reformed to its old standards.
A funny, marginalized old guy – probably their only, wasted, hope.
Another funny detail; if McCain suddenly couldn’t ‘run’ for presidency anymore because of health problems, Paul would be the only one left in the race. He might even become endorsed by McCain in that case, as they respect each other. Funny times.
While a strong Democratic majority in both houses looks likely, it may not reach the level of “the most liberal administration in American history.” The country isn’t so much moving left as the Dems are moving right. Jim Webb, for example, who calls himself a “Reagan Democrat” and was Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy in the late 1980s, is why the Dems have a majority in the Senate today (his late night victory over George Allen gave the Dems 49 plus 2 independents who caucus with them).
The last two Democrats to win election in the South, Dan Cazayoux of Louisiana and Travis Childers of Mississippi, would be conservatives even by Republican standards (e.g., pro-defense/pro-gun/anti-abortion), which accurately describes their districts.
Fabius Maximus replies: Not only do I disagree, I consider the two examples you cite as evidence of structural shift in power from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. Both those Congressional districts were considered safe seats for the Republicans. Their replacements — even if by people with identical views — moves the House to the left.
Party majorities determine ownership of leadership positions (the Speaker, Senat President, and Committee Chairmanships), control of legislative budgets and the legislative process. Also, voting patterns have a significant (not perfect) correlation with party membership. These and many other similar factors make such races important — which is, of course, why the Democrats & Republicans spent so much money and effort on them.
No, dear Fabius. It shows that the Democratic Party itself is moving to the right, or at least expanding to include the right. If the (Democratic) committee chairs want to keep their seats and influence, they will have to accommodate the view of such members, or risk not having any more elected or, as happened in the 1980s, having them switch to a more congenial party.
The result will likely be a congress with more Democrats, and it may even produce a congress that is more liberal on some issues than the previous editions, but it’s a little early to start labeling it “the most liberal in the country’s history.”
All of this brings up the question: What is a liberal?. I have been asking this question for the last 25 years. I have yet to get a decent answer. Conservatives hate liberals but few, if any, can tell me what a liberal is. I wrote a small piece about it and came up with 4 different types of liberal, but then, what do I know? I make it a point not to use the word “liberal” in my communications. I don’t know what it means anymore.
Fabius Maximus replies: The term “liberal” has many meanings, and has greatly changed over time.
I use it in the American political sense. We have two broad coalitions, unlike Europe’s system with a large number of more idiologically pure parties. Our voters choose a governing coalitio. Euro-voters choose a party; the coalition is assembled in the back rooms.
So liberal and conservative are the “ideologies” of the parties, their animating spirit. As such, they are vague and evolve quite rapidly. The liberals value government solutions to domestic problems and individual rights. Conservatives value individual autonomy and responsibity, and private sector solutions. Both parties beliefs have been rapidly changing in the past decade, as the post-WWII era fades into something else — something quite different, but whose outlines are not yet clear.
One of the basic problems with the whole liberal/conservative debate is that it skews the issue. Politics is not a line with liberals at one end and conservatives at the other.
Politics is a box. The left side is liberal, the bottom is libertarian, the right side is conservative and the top is authoritarian. Everyone falls somewhere inside the box. See http://politicalcompass.org/ . By focusing on the liberal/conservative debate, we cave into those who are binary thinkers, and they are mostly conservative. The authoritarian/libertarian debate is never brought to light, thus playing into the hands of the conservatives.
Fabius Maximus replies: I strongly agree. The lib/cons linear dimension is just one, useful because there are two parties — but of course not complete!
nothing wrong conceptually with the notion of referring to a republican “brand” insofar as that term refers to an identifiable set of ideas, issues, policies, etc. the problem is that the brand has become nothing more than an empty slogan intended to garner votes. these folks don’t know what to do with the power once they have it. the ideas which the branding represents have proven to be empty, unwise, unworkable, or impossible. or perhaps requiring of too much actual dedication and sacrifice for the people who would be required to abide by them.
we americans have become a rather disconnected lot. self-involvement, self-indulgence, and obliviousness to the effects of our behavior on others, always a habit in this land of abundance and space, have too often become fetishes which have grown to seem normal.
nevertheless, in a democracy, ideas need to be sold to a populace who don’t care to pay much attention, hence we have a republican brand.
there’s a democratic brand too, but it was concocted by the same geniuses in the GOP. but if you’re gonna sell a product, it needs eventually to bear some resemblance to positive results. otherwise we start looking for the new and improved product out there. here comes november…
Thank GOD for your voice of clarity and sanity in these confusing times. Thank you, Fabius Maximus. Indeed, let’s hope the Dems are moving toward the right, as we see many actions of the Obamaniacs seeming to be much less liberal than the usual rhetoric they used to get elected suggested. And please let the Republican party die on its own toxic waste of arrogant self-righteousness and rad-retro-conservatism. Who was it that said, “I didn’t leave the Republican Party, it left me”? My complaint too. I’m desperate for a conservative voice free of any GOP taint to emerge and give the future of America a chance. Ron Paul is our only voice of sanity?… very nice fellow and very right-minded too, but hardly a Delivering Saint. It’s true that we’re becoming like France, and it ain’t all bad, but we so often seem to overdo on the parts of liberalism that ARE bad. F’rinstance, Universal Health hasn’t got a chance of meeting its promise without fixing our insane court system first, and the woeful inefficiency of ‘managed care’. Thanks again for your voice of sanity, Fabium Maximus…. it’s wonderful to hear the conservative’s argument presented so logically and palatably. Could you be encouraged into speechwriting for Ron Paul? — Brian Vedder