The Dilemmas of Party Politics

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.

2 comments… add one
  • The challenges to a viable third party are indeed significant, but I think that is a poor reason not to support and advocate for one. Throwing up ones hands and calling it a “suckers” game is just what the two parties want you to think and it’s all by their own design. One of several main reasons for low participation in the political process is because of the frustration with the two-party system and the lack of alternatives – something else the Democrats and Republicans are all too eager to maintain.

    A viable third party cannot suddenly “appear” and win the Presidency, but should, like all parties, be built from the local level up. If the two main parties continue on their recent course away from being “big tent” parties, then an opening for alternatives will appear.

    As for 2009, it looks like Bloomberg may be a spoiler candidate.

  • The reason I’m so critical of third party movements and even more so of independent voter movements is that, as I noted, under the present circumstances (particularly here in Illinois) the most you can hope for is getting the candidate you like less elected. Sounds counter-productive to me.

    Change needs to come within the present parties. I don’t believe outside challenges will get it done.

    Now, in terms of having programmatic effects on the existing parties, yes, that’s something third parties and independent movements can achieve.

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