You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd
May 25, 2016 1 Comment
With politics this year, all seems in flux, doesn’t it? The GOP is in Public disarray, and the Democrats aren’t all that far behind. Why is that so? I suspect we are seeing a major realignment in the parties, neither of the Washington establishments seem to have much in common with their voters anymore, and like Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.” True then, true now.
So what’s going to happen? Nobody knows, but some people have enough guts to tell us what they see, although it is truly through a glass darkly. Here’s what Michael Lind sees.
For political observers, 2016 feels like an earthquake — a once-in-a-generation event that will remake American politics. The Republican party is fracturing around support for Donald Trump. An avowed socialist has made an insurgent challenge for the Democratic Party’s nomination. On left and right, it feels as though a new era is beginning.
And a new era is beginning, but not in the way most people think. Though this election feels like the beginning of a partisan realignment, it’s actually the end of one. The partisan coalitions that defined the Democratic and Republican parties for decades in the middle of the twentieth century broke apart long ago; over the past half century, their component voting blocs — ideological, demographic, economic, geographic, cultural — have reshuffled. The reassembling of new Democratic and Republican coalitions is nearly finished.
What we’re seeing this year is the beginning of a policy realignment, when those new partisan coalitions decide which ideas and beliefs they stand for — when, in essence, the party platforms catch up to the shift in party voters that has already happened. The type of conservatism long championed by the Republican Party was destined to fall as soon as a candidate came along who could rally its voters without being beholden to its donors, experts and pundits. The future is being built before our eyes, with far-reaching consequences for every facet of American politics.
The 2016 race is a sign that American politics is changing in profound and lasting ways; by the 2020s and 2030s, partisan platforms will have changed drastically. You may find yourself voting for a party you could never imagine supporting right now. What will that political future look like?
Today’s Republican Party is predominantly a Midwestern, white, working-class party with its geographic epicenter in the South and interior West. Today’s Democratic Party is a coalition of relatively upscale whites with racial and ethnic minorities, concentrated in an archipelago of densely populated blue cities.
In both parties, there’s a gap between the inherited orthodoxy of a decade or two ago and the real interests of today’s electoral coalition. And in both parties, that gap between voters and policies is being closed in favor of the voters — a slight transition in the case of Hillary Clinton, but a dramatic one in the case of Donald Trump.
During the Democratic primary, pundits who focused on the clash between Clinton and Sanders missed a story that illuminated this shift: The failure of Jim Webb’s brief campaign for the presidential nomination. Webb was the only candidate who represented the old-style Democratic Party of the mid-20th century — the party whose central appeal was among white Southerners and Northern white “ethnics.” Even during the “New Democrat” era of Bill Clinton, white working-class remnants of that coalition were still important in the party. But by 2016, Webb lacked a constituency, and he was out of place among the politicians seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, which included one lifelong socialist (Bernie Sanders) and two candidates who had been raised as Republicans (Hillary Clinton and, briefly, Lincoln Chafee).
On the Republican side, the exemplary living fossil was Jeb Bush. Like his brother, Jeb pushed a neo-Reaganite synthesis of support for a hawkish foreign policy, social conservatism, and cuts in middle-class entitlements to finance further tax cuts for the rich. From the Reagan era until recently, the GOP’s economic policies have been formulated by libertarians, whose views are at odds with those of most Republican voters. In March of this year, a Pew Research Center poll showed that 68 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters opposed future reductions in Social Security benefits — almost the same amount of support found among Democrats and Dem-leaning voters (73 percent). Republicans who supported Trump were even more opposed to Social Security benefit cuts, at 73 percent. And even among those who supported Kasich, 62 percent opposed cuts in Social Security benefits — even though Kasich, himself, is in favor of cutting entitlements.
As country-and-western Republicans have gradually replaced country-club Republicans, the gap between the party’s economic orthodoxy and the economic interests of white working-class voters in the GOP base has increased. House Republicans repeatedly have passed versions of Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which is based on cutting Social Security and replacing Medicare with vouchers.
I don’t agree, or maybe I just don’t want to, with all he says, but I do think he’s on to something here. The gaps between base and party, on both sides, have simply become too big to bridge. Will it happen as he says? Probably not, bet he may well be at least partially right,and if we care about the future, we need to be thinking about this.
The title? Here you go!