My brother sparked up an interesting conversation with me last night, based on the post two below this one, and my back and forth with Satiric Phenomenologist in the comments section of the next most recent post. His—pretty straightforward—comment was that one mustn't discount how close we may be to a major realignment of the parties. I certainly had no intention of doing any such thing. I think that we are very close on teh verge of just such a realignment, and I've thought so for quite a while now.
Longtime readers of this blog—hah! As if there are any of you left—may remember in October 2004, when I was quoted by a journalist for Le Monde saying something pretty much along those lines.
In conversation, my brother and I both agreed that there's a lot of room for the isolationist, big government social conservatives on the right to merge with the pacifist, protectionist left. At the same time, there's a lot of overlap between the small government, fiscal conservatives (who, in my experience can range from very socially liberal to socially moderate—very few are severely conservative on the social scale) and the social liberals on the left. The former group, then, would pretty much become socialists—though I imagine they'd choose a different name—relying on government to fix the problems of the world while the latter would basically reflect moderately libertarian views.
My brother's one question was "which party will move in which direction?" Mine is a bit less practical, I think. I want to know what it's going to take to trigger this.
Though the conversation started there, I genuinely don't believe the internet will be the impetus for this—maybe it will become the link for those of us who are disaffected with our current party's plaform to communicate. At best it will become an online meeting hall. It will NOT serve as la raison d'etre for either of the new parties.
I think this in part because we are not looking at a situation where a third party rises up from nothing. You'll notice above that I linked the two new parties to existing party names—socialists and libertarians. Yet the Libertarian Party polls at 4% on a good day in this country (stat from this article, which I also suggest you read), and the socialists are even weaker than that. Why? Well. There are very few strict libertarians or socialists in the U.S. Those with moderately socialist and libertarian views can currently be found under the umbrella of both parties (see diagram at left). There are pot-smoking hippies on the left who think the goverment should stay out of drug laws, and nominally conservative law professors on the right who think the government should stay out of drug laws (forgive me if I've mischaracterized the professor, but I'm pretty sure he's supported marijuana legalization before—either way, there are those for drug legalization on the right, too); there are feminists who want to federalize abortion law on the left, and homophobes who want to federalize marriage law on the right.
The point here is not that gay marriage opponents and abortion advocates (I just realized something—Democrats are getting better at the nomenclature war. We may have the "death tax," but Republicans are now opposed to everything. Anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, etc. Dems on the other hand have managed to get themselves classified as "advocates." How did that happen?) are going to get together and decide to mandate gay marriage so that no new abortions will be necessary due to a lack of heterosexual intercourse—the point is simply that both libertarians and socialists exist in both parties at the moment. What does that have to do with the internet failing to serve as the genesis for these new parties? If libertarians and socialists exist in both parties, then they are already at war with one another over internal party policy. At best, the internet may serve for, say, libertarians in the Republican party to better coordinate (remember this suggestion, as I'll come back to it in a bit) and take some better control of their party—but it is not going to draw them out of both parties and unite them. Instead, it is more likely that one of these sub-groups will (again, i.e. Republican liberatarians) will rise up to seize the reins of one of the existing parties—which will force that change.
I also think this because we have had major political realignments in the history of this country, with no such new communication medium. If anything, the new medium will make it tougher for the entrenched parties to fall apart, and more likely that any change must come within. How can any new party really hope to compete with the structure of the existing parties? Even since McCain-Feingold has weakened the party structure, they are still the only ones getting any attention. Third party candidates are ridiculously unviable in nearly every circumstance, and that isn't going to change.
So what we have to look for is movement within either party towards a particular direction. Are the parties favoring their socialist or libertarian sides? Well, currently both are trending pretty socialist. Republican libertarians are frustrated by pork-barrel spending and abandonment of traditional GOP values like, oh, I don't know, federalism (can you tell I consider myself a part of this group?) while doing little to rein it in. There are a few, of course, who are working to fight this—and seeing any indication of their ascendancy within the party would be something to note. I think this is a likely outcome, particularly when you look at the Democrats.
The Republicans may be trending socialist, but the Dems make them look like anarchists. Every day the extreme left coordinates to flex more muscle and exert more pressure on the existing Democratic apparatus. Just look at last week's YearlyKos event last week if you don't believe me. These nutcases are slowly mainstreaming as they scare major elected officials into paying attention (just look at any list of the big names that attended the event). Movements to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan come from the left, as does the effort to circumvent the Electoral College via interstate compacts, for example. At some point, I think this is going to reach the action potential for a feedback loop. The Republicans will react violently and realign to the more libertarian side of things. There will be a lot of inter-party membership swapping as there have been at other times in the past (take a look at the South in the 80s), and we'll come out with two new parties under the same names.
So I've guessed, I think, at an answer to my brother's question. But I haven't really answered my own. I'm not realy sure I can, to be perfectly honest. I do NOT think it will be the internet that causes this, as I've made clear. But I don't know what the spark will be, or when it will come. I do think that it's a few years off yet, maybe as much as 15, probably closer to ten, but certainly no sooner than 2012.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006