Before interest in the article in today’s New York Times on the search for the meaning of liberalism today fades completely I wanted to make a few minor observations. First, on the significance of political parties today.
Much as my blogfriend Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice longs for a vibrant, influential nonpartisan or third party movement to take root it ain’t gonna happen. The barriers in place are too substantial. In terms of electoral politics the most that independents or a third party movement can hope for is to be spoilers, the perverse desire to see the candidate you prefer least succeed. Consequently, working outside the present Democratic and Republican Parties, flawed as they are, is a sucker’s game.
Second, the two political parties are each faced with an impossible dilemma. Just as it’s impossible for the Republican Party to be simultaneously libertarian/small government and socially conservative, it’s impossible for the Democratic Party to be simultaneously Fordist and populist liberal. IMO these intra-party contradictions form the roots of the deepening animosity between the two parties.
It’s inevitable that the social conservatives in the Republican Party will form the core of the institutional party—libertarians just don’t like government enough for it to be otherwise. Simillarly, it’s inevitable that the Democratic Party’s Fordists will hold the reins there. And it’s hard to imagine two groups at greater odds than the populist, sometimes nativist social conservatives on the Republican side and the elitist Fordists on the Democratic side. It’s like oil and water.
Just a thought.