Wednesday, June 14, 2006

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.

Your thoughts?


The Man said...

Jack Bauer has the answer. Welcome back!

Kobayashi Maru said...

Interesting theory, however it will take a specific (credible) candidate to spark such change.

In the meantime, your post here sounds similiar to Virgina Postrel's thesis in "The Future and It's Enemies" (TFAIE) - that there are those on both 'left' and 'right' who acknowledge that the world evolves in messy, unpredictable and often very useful innovative ways and those who want to freeze time (e.g., environmentally or economically). She calls them 'stasisists' and 'dynamists' (the latter are the good guys - and gals).

The thin spot in her argument is along the social dimension, where rational calculation and market forces are far less of an issue than one's religious tradition.

The highly evolved conservative position (for which Thomas Sowell is a fantastically good spokesman) views social constraints as absolutely critical to ensuring that the government doesn't have to intervene in other ways. E.g., take an extreme position on abortion (essentially what we have noe): anytime, anywhere until we can see the baby's whole body and he's screaming and kicking and saying "don't kill me!" One could argue that constraining that 'right' (particularly in combination with a drastically reduced or eliminated welfare system) actually puts more responsibility on individuals to weigh the consequences of their decisions and then live with them. By contrast, I suspect what many who label themselves libertarians really want is the freedom to create havoc with society in all kinds of ways for which they cannot be held directly responsible and then ask for help when the costs come due. Very few put together the whole picture.

Nice post. Welcome back.

Dave Justus said...

Our political system is structually designed to have two parties. There will not be more than two large parties competing for any length of time.

Because of that, the only way a 'third party' can arrise is if one party is so weak (and the other so strong) that there is room for a third to arise and then one of the two weaker ones will quickly go away. When, or if, this will happen is impossible to predict. If the Dems continue further leftwards they could cause this to happen, but it seems that there could well be a point when they realize this and reverse course.

The Parties themselves do move around a bit, the reallignment of the south over the past 30 years represents that sort of thing.

As for your specific match-ups. I have my doubts that the social conservatives will be able to merge with the pacifictic left. While there are some areas of agreement, the divisions are great and at the core of both groups identity. Abortion being #1 on that list. Generally speaking, the social conservatives arn't very pacifistic either. I see more potential with the blue collar union left (protectionist, but not so much the other things) merging with the social conservatives. Of course, that has already happened to a large degree.

Also I see issues with the fiscal conservatives getting with the social liberals. While both have some areas of agreement, social liberals tend to be redistributionist in outlook, which is a deal breaker for the fiscal conservatives. Basically, they would rather have social conservatism than redistributionism which is where we are now. Ironically, the social conservatives are not really oppossed to redistributionism, but won't of course go with the other liberal agendas.

I see the current configuration being fairly static if the Dems can resist leftward pressure. If they can't some of their ideas will become politically discredited and a new order will arrise, but that is probably at least a decade off. What it will look like is impossible to predict.

Beth said...

david brooks has a column today that might interest you.

Johnny Carcinogen said...

An alignment of the parties will never come. It can't. The parties themselves are having enough trouble forming a consensus on issues, third parties are getting more say AND coverage than they've ever had, and you've also got people who think they're more intelligent, and the rest of the party (and/or the country) is as dumb as a bag of hammers.
For a nation like ours to be unified under one party, it would take force, and it would crack under the force itself.

Jenn of the Jungle said...

WHAT'S UP!!!! See, I still haven't forgotten you.

Stop by sometime.