Crippled Candidacies Augur Change


Republican politics, a centrifuge of sludge, has now slung out all but the most virulent extremists of the right, leaving the GOP a party without a base. The old-line Northeastern Republicans, few in number, have no sway. The “Christian” right has grown weary of unfulfilled promises and roots around a barren field, sniffing first at Mike Huckabee, then Ted Cruz, and finally even Donald Trump. The libertarians have their own party, and the small-government, strict-constructionist brand of ideologues run what is left, preaching fiscal restraint and practicing fiscal madness.

On the Democratic side, the base is divided, and the crowd who have run things for 45 years, having nominated a candidate who could win only against a Trump, are fast losing their grip – on reality as well as on party mechanics.

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What’s next? Who knows? It is possible, though, that the coming change is bigger, far bigger, than ordinary. Let’s assume things rock along pretty much as they are through November, and Hillary Clinton becomes president. Among the possibilities:

  • The Republican Party, strong though it is at state and local levels, simply collapses as its operatives understand the demographic problem: an increasingly white, male, Southern, and reactionary party cannot win at the national level. Emerging from the chaos are several new parties. Most wither quickly, giving way to one that looks a lot like the GOP of 1975. Call them the New Federalists.
  • All of the above happens except that the dominant party looks, God forbid, like today’s Tea Party.
  • If Hillary wins, what are the possibilities?

    The Democratic Party continues to champion the neoliberal status quo (read Wall Street) for the four years of a Hillary Clinton administration. Halfway through, a progressive movement headed by, say, Nina Turner, seizes control of the party structure and turns it over to its increasingly young, black, brown, and liberal base. They are aided by hundreds of new officeholders spawned by the Bernie Sanders campaign and the movement it generates. Prospects of a second Clinton term are doomed.
  • The progressive wing of the Democratic Party leaves, forming a reasonably potent coalition with the Green Party and various elements of the environmentalist, peace, labor, education, feminist, and LBGT movements. Up for grabs between the new party and the old Democrats are the blocs represented by black and Latino voters.
  • The progressive movement withers again, its members gravitating to the Greens or settling for the thin gruel of Clinton-Obama policy.
  • Both parties right themselves — a long shot. The Democrats consent to a wholesale overhaul of their rules, yet again, doing away with superdelegates and forswearing superPACs. The Tea Party toddles off to become its own, actual party, and the GOP returns to a semblance of sanity.
Trump and Clintons in earlier times.

There must be other possibilities, but the status quo is an unattractive option. Nominating only two major candidates, each with polling negatives hovering around 60 per cent, as has happened in 2016, looks neither much like democracy nor like a satisfactory way to proceed into a dangerous future.

Starting a new party from the shards of an old one is not exactly an ordinary occurrence. It last happened in 1854 in Ripon, Wisconsin, when a bunch of former Whigs formed the new Republican Party. The issue was slavery, specifically, opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which would have spread the peculiar institution into Kansas. Underlying that, of course, was money. Stephen Douglas wanted to facilitate construction of a railroad, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act was the political price he had to pay.

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No issue today – not trade agreements, not social issues, not taxation or global warming – approaches the divisive and decisive force of the slavery question in the 1850s. Still, dissatisfaction with the political status quo may be high enough to cause a political disruption at least as great as the dissolution of the Whigs. Why? An educated guess would be simple: expectations of the political system exceed its performance. This is true in many areas, but particularly so in economic matters.

incomeThe government, which is heavily involved in management of the national economy routinely proclaims victory in the face of abject failure. The official unemployment rate continues to fall, profits rise, and the federal budget deficit is the lowest in a decade. So the Obama administration proclaims success. Well, big whoop, says the public. These traditional measures of economic performance simply fail to measure enough. They don’t measure where the growth is going. This does: Economic assessments that pay attention only to a numerical mean, and fail to address the situations of a majority of people, are worse than useless. They are not dishonest in context, but they are badly misleading.

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People feel left out of economic progress, because they are, but they haven’t coalesced behind an idea or an ideology to redress their grievances. The balance of opposing forces – a Congress dominated by Republicans and a White House held by Democrats, trying to govern a country split just about 50-50 on ideological lines – cannot go on indefinitely. The question, then, is whether we lurch right or left when, finally, we do lurch.

Both sides seem to be doing their best, in some ways, to dodge the responsibility of winning the fight. At the People’s Summit, the June 17-19 gathering in Chicago of groups that had supported Bernie Sanders, the one thing that apparently attendees could agree on was that they weren’t liberal. It’s the old disdain of the left for mere liberalism, and the refusal to recognize that political ideology is a continuum. So they’ve already fallen into the hole the Republicans dug for themselves years ago: the purists hate the people most who only agree with them most of the time.

Meantime, Hillary Clinton, who combines some liberal ideas with a lot of conservative action, stands a chance of becoming, not just president, but an actual leader, if she can be elected. That, though, is fodder for the next column in this space.