This exercise is not exactly going as I hoped since I really don’t want to write today. It’s supposed to be getting easier, not harder!
I’ve got all these things mixed up in my head and I’m not really sure I want to talk about any of them.
About a decade ago, I had a boyfriend from France. He said to me one day, “I can’t figure out which party in the U.S. represents the working people.” I said, “Neither.”
From the time of FDR until the era when Bill Clinton was running for office, the Democratic Party was more closely associated with the working class. Bill Clinton, however, courted Wall Street and financial interests in a way the Democrats hadn’t until then. Some segments of the working class had already notoriously broken with the Democrats when Reagan ran for office. The would become known as Reagan Democrats. However, Reagan was a union buster and many of the unions, and their members, continued to back the Democrats. The unions backed Clinton, too. Still, he had made an important change. I’m working from memory, by the way. If this was a regular post rather than one of my experimental days, I’d want to look up that and check it. That would take a lot of time… and then this would become yet another abandoned post.Still, that is how I remember it. Before Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party could be said to be the party of the working class and after Clinton it was not.
The working class, broadly defined, is inevitably the largest group of people in a given society. So, for twenty years a significant sector of society has lacked any real political voice. You know what they say: “Nature abhors a vacuum.”
I only have a typical high school education regarding U.S. History and none at all regarding U.S. Political History specifically. There was an article today on Politico, “Why Hasn’t the Republican Party Collapsed?” which had the subtitle, “We shouldn’t be asking whether the GOP is falling apart. We ought to be wondering why it isn’t.”
The writer has one truly terrifying suggestion:
Geography and state representation still play a role in the American political system. But when the first conventions were held, New York had a population of about 200,000. A system developed today might do even more to represent Americans by age, gender or ethnic background (the parties have adopted reforms to ensure delegate representation along some of these lines), and to take into account the differences between Americans who live in urban and rural areas.
Wow, that would turn politics in the U.S. into a Hobbesian nightmare. The idea that you band together with your concitoyens to work for the common good would be entirely blown to bits. The vision that springs to my mind of collectivities with no motive for compromise. What the French call “communautarisme.”
So, basically what the writer is saying is that the two political parties in the U.S. have been around for a long time and that they struggle to put new ideas in with the old alliances. She calls the Democratic Party “party of process.”
The early party included members who disagreed on slavery, westward expansion and tariffs. Yes, they had policy commitments—originally centered around limiting the federal government’s influence—but they were more a pragmatic alliance than an ideological crusade.
From another source:
Yet by the 1850s, the issue of slavery divided the party even further. Northern Democrats, like Stephen Douglas, believed the slavery issue should be decided by popular sovereignty. The more conservative Southern Democrats like John C. Calhoun, however, insisted that slavery was and must remain a national institution. Many Northern, antislavery Democrats flocked to the Free Soilers coalition and joined Northern Whigs to form the Republican Party, whereas Southern, pro-slavery Democrats coalesced to form the Southern Democratic Party. As a result, the Democrats became almost entirely a Southern party platform, alienating any existing Northern supporters who were largely antislavery.
The Republican Party, meanwhile, has long been a party of ideology, created in the 1850s with a much more specific guiding principle in mind: stopping the expansion of slavery. Ever since, that difference—one party, a pragmatic alliance; the other, an ideological one—has meant that the Republican Party is more prone to ideological fights blowing up into potential existential crises.
As long as all Americans were becoming better off, few cared that some Americans were becoming better off than others. But since 2000, something has changed. Incomes at the middle have ceased to rise. The mood of the country has soured. Conservatives who disregard the mood of unease may forfeit their power to defend the more open and productive American economy they did so much to build.
It’s widely understood that abundant low-skilled immigration hurts lower America by reducing wages. As the National Research Council noted in its comprehensive 1997 report: “If the wage of domestic unskilled workers did not fall, no domestic worker (unskilled or skilled) would gain or lose, and there would be no net domestic gain from immigration.” In other words, immigration is good for America as a whole only because — and only to the extent that — it is bad for the poorest Americans. Conversely, low-skilled immigration enriches upper America, lowering the price of personal services like landscaping and restaurant meals. And by holding down wages, immigration makes the business investments of upper America more profitable.
Middle-class Americans surely share in the cost-lowering benefits of immigration. But the middle class also pays the higher local tax bills that can result from immigration. Immigrants do not qualify for many federal benefits, but they do use the roads, schools, hospitals and prisons supported by state and local property taxes — the taxes that fall most disproportionately on the middle class.
Equality in itself never can be or should be a conservative goal. But inequality taken to extremes can overwhelm conservative ideals of self-reliance, limited government and national unity. It can delegitimize commerce and business and invite destructive protectionism and overregulation. Inequality, in short, is a conservative issue too. We must develop a positive agenda that integrates the right kind of egalitarianism with our conservative principles of liberty. If we neglect this task and this opportunity, we won’t lose just the northern Virginia suburbs. We will lose America.
In 2008, the Republican Party was not ready to hear Frum’s advice. Perhaps they’re ready now.