Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Seventh Party System And Bad Solidarity

The theory is that American political parties have realigned five or six times in our country's history, with the fifth realignment coming after the political fallout of the New Deal, which handed the White House to the same president in four separate elections, and re-elected his VP when he died in office (side note: if you do a Washington, DC tour soon, do not miss the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial). Arguments continue as to whether a sixth realignment occurred in the 60s or during the Reagan Administration, though personally I believe that sixth realignment occurred due to the effects of the Southern Strategy of Nixon's and Goldwater's presidential campaigns. (And should you choose to believe the "Suburban Strategy" variant of this historical narrative, it doesn't matter: it has the same result.) We are now clearly witnessing the beginning of another party realignment, which should be called the Seventh Party System when it's complete, in fairness to the debate as to the existence of the Sixth.

This realignment is coming to both parties, but unequally. The Republicans have it in the most serious way, with two outsiders (Trump and Cruz) dominating the 2016 landscape after the base rejected the establishment candidates, possibly as a reaction to Mitt Romney's failure in 2012. If the Sixth Party Realignment was a change in party values with regard to civil rights (the Democrats finished their long arc from their anti-abolition stance in the Third Party System to supporting the Civil Rights Movement, while the GOP picked up a large bloc of voters who were opposed to it), the Seventh Party System will be a result of the cognitive dissonance distilling upon the cloud grain of misplaced solidarity.

The anti-Obama strategy of the GOP from 2008 to present, and the grassroots efforts that accompanied it, in the form of the Tea Party Movement aligned the establishment with a mobile, reactionary base. The wing was now folded in. The values and tactics of what was once the fringe were now the domain of the base. Mobilizing the base meant moving to the right, not the center. Solidarity was intra-party, rather than among members of similar views, and moderate Republicans tended to leave the scene after ideological purity requirements became obvious to all involved.

On the other side of the fence, Democrats tended to open the tent doors wide after the Great Shellacking of 2010, and, unable to move the needle on anything significant after Obamacare, #UniteBlue became the watchword, weak as it was. The great grassroots movements of the left during this realignment phase have been Occupy Wall Street and the populist leftist rumblings of people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. These movements have tended to divide, rather than solidify the Democratic Party, and indeed we see a relatively bitter (for Dems that is) primary race between the establishment and the somewhat disenfranchised left wing because of it.

Both, if you think about it, have been cases of solidarity gone awry, and both cases have shown that party solidarity in the US is a drug with a serious risk of overdose.

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