Yesterday, in comments, one of the long-time commenters here made this remark:
We have a minority party absolutely devoted to a completely outdated notion of governance.
going on to castigate the manifest failings of the Republican Party. What struck me about the comment was how well it characterized both of our major political parties.
Both of our major parties are minority parties. According to the most recent Gallup poll on party affiliation, neither party commands the membership of a majority of the electorate (Republicans 29%; Democrats 31%). Indeed, even if you include those who “lean Republican” or “lean Democratic”, neither party commands an outright majority (Repubicans 44%; Democrats 46%).
That may even overstate the actual party support. 37% of those polled identified themselves as independents and there’s no category for “leans independent”.
If we had a parliamentary system, neither Republicans nor Democrats would be able to form a government. Either party would need to make common cause with other parties including some who disagreed pretty vehemently with their programs. There’s really no way to tell what sort of government would result.
But it’s not just in their mutual minority status that the two parties are lacking. The Republicans, as has been pointed out, are divided between reformers and rejectionists (the Tea Party supporters). The rejectionists do not yet recognize and may never recognize that most Americans simply don’t want the sort of country they’re proposing. Most want the catastrophic and inherently conflicted status quo: a superpower military combined with social spending that we either can’t or won’t pay for.
However, Democrats are similarly divided. Divisions include the one between the Clintonians and the Deaniacs or the technocrats and the progressives. From my vantage point many but not all Democrats envision policies along the lines of those of European social democrats. The problems with this are pretty obvious—European countries are backing off from their social programs even as we’re embracing them. Sweden’s social insurance program, for example, is less munificent than ours. Most American progressives would probably reject it if it were proposed without the “Swedish” label. The Swedes are moving towards a “fee for service” system in their healthcare system even as we begin to move away from ours. France has recently constrained its own healthcare system. Under the parcours de soins coordonné there is an attempt at constraining visits to specialists in an effort to control costs. The long and the short of it is that healthcare costs are rising everywhere and the French don’t find their system any more affordable than we do ours. Their system would be completely unworkable if they were paying American prices.
Thinking that Americans will accept the very high levels of taxation that would be required for a French-style healthcare system (particularly one with American prices) is just as lunatic as believing that we can afford an ever-growing military along with our present social safety net while keeping taxes at their 2012 levels.
In my view European social programs depend upon European levels of social cohesion and we just don’t have them. Can we get them? Should we? I have no idea.
When I stand back and look at our political parties I don’t see a sane party and a crazy party. I see two crazy, dysfunctional parties. One holds the White House, the other one doesn’t.