That debbil GOP

Scratchings linked to our post about Lieberman the other day. I was interested to read one of his commentators accuse me of being a Republican.

I have been accused of many things, but this is a new one for me. Yet, in one way, it is a very just accusation. Lately, from my point of view (that of an extinct beast, much like the mastodon), I have been trying to sort out the relationship between the sense that this decade has seen the great American failure and the sense that the two party system here is broken. That sorting out begins with the premise that the parties are secondary to the real political life of the Republic. This premise is a hypothesis – I’m not going to defend it as the ultimate truth of the matter, but I think there’s a strong case to be made for constructing an analysis from it.

That analysis would trespass on the current verities of political analysis on my side, the liberal side. Given my premise, the question I want to put is: why did liberalism become so attached to one of the parties? I think there are good reasons for thinking that that attachment was devoutly wished by academic political scientists in the fifties and sixties, who felt that American political parties weren’t following the more rational European pattern – a pattern that sorted out the conservatives into a Conservative party, the Socialists into a Socialist party, etc. Rather, the American pattern was rather a jigsaw puzzle, in which populists would pop up as Republicans and segregationists would pop up as Democrats, etc. The rationalization of politics, according to the school prevailing in the fifties and sixties, would create parties as monopolists of ideologies.

This idea so sank into the framework of official political discourse that it is now presupposed. So when, for instance, a “radical” analysis of politics appears – for instance, Thomas Franks “what’s the matter with Kansas” – the problem goes something like: why don’t Kansans vote for their economic self interest, i.e. Democrats?

Myself, I think the process of this rationalization has been a disaster. The real question, to me, is: why have Kansas Republicans deviated from the old Progressive Republican norm? I think the answer is: the monopolization of ideologies by the parties has destroyed the machinery that made progressive politics possible in this country.

Take, for instance, Texas, where I live at the moment. The next Senatorial election here is going to be utterly predictable. The Republican candidate will be a rightwinger from hell. The liberal element in the state will concentrate exclusively on finding a Democrat of acceptable views to lose to him or her. The liberal element will devote an incredible amount of creativity and passion in a project that, intellectually, they know is doomed to failure. The Democrat they pick will, in the campaign, veer farther to the right than any New York State Republican. And that will be that.

Lefties will proceed to bitch and moan about the rightwing Dem, and propose that we all rush into the Green party. The right, which will have no competition whatsoever within the Republican party, will use its leverage to make its reactionary candidate even more reactionary – while at the same time guaranteeing that the freerider politics of borrowing and siphoning money disproportionately from the Federal government to Red states continues. This money will, in truth, be less than the money siphoned from the primary products extracted in the Red states which profit the investors living in New York City and the surrounding wealthy states.

Now, a fair question for a liberal to ask is: what is the weak link in this chain? To me, the obvious answer is: continuing to support the Democratic party unilaterally. By refusing to contact the Republican party, liberalism loses any of the leverage it used to have. Period. Instead of searching for Republican Yarboroughs, the liberal element will continue to stick with promoting losers at the statewide level. Instead of seeing that the Republican base is avid to exploit the government, as rational economic agents, the liberals will continue to affirm that the Republicans stand for small government – under the cover of which delusion Republicans will continue to maintain an expanded government. The reality is that this is a non-issue – in the Keynesian world system, the GDP taken up by a modern industrial state will probably range about the same percentage, regardless of the party in power. The last thirty years should have taught us that much, at least.


Alain said…
LI, I like your argument except for the conclusion: Why don't liberals approach the Republican party? There are clearly "moderate voices" in the party - Christine Whitman, Swartzenegger, etc... but they are "moderate" only in a relative sense. Can one imagine a group of "liberals" having any influence at all, even at the grass roots level, when the party is dominated by not only "free market fundamentalists," but also religious fundamentalists. Would an open secularist be aloud in? Perhaps I am missing the point?
roger said…
Alain, different circumstances, different strategies. You don't have to settle for Schwarzenegger in California, but he'd be a leaping light year ahead of Perry in Texas.

The deal is: by giving up one party entirely to its worst characters, you increase the chances that those worst characters exert undue power. Partly this is because parties are adept at playing multiple games. So my point is: as a liberal, one needs to analyze what the real chances are, vis a vis the political situation, for advancing by means of one party or the other. Just as Clintons and Carters could emerge from a fundamentally conservative Democratic party in the South because they could play both to the right (as, for instance, Carter's days as governor of Georgia, which included him declaring a day for Lt. Calley -- remember that mass murdering son of a bitch?) and to the left, in terms of state support for the social net and other bits and pieces of the old New Deal deal.
roger said…
ps -- I should say that I think it is foolish to JOIN any party -- support, here, is merely a tactic having to do with elections and trying to select the least unpalatable candidates to elevate to office. There are, of course, multiple other ways to press the governing class.