Recently, a reader of the The Beacon observed to me that he feels that little progress will be made in American politics until we break the stranglehold that the Democratic and Republican Parties have on our democracy. As a Republican myself, I find this analysis pessimistic, but not necessarily wrong. I have noted before that I look forward to a Republican tidal wave next week – but I also expect little to come of it in terms of fixing our country’s most ingrained problems. To put it simply, even I, as a Republican, don’t believe my party is up to the job.
Today, I bring good news to those of you who are skeptical of the merits of our two-party system: it may be on the way out. I would direct your attention to this article in The Economist:
It reveals that recently, in a Pew survey, 37% of Americans identified themselves as “independents,” which is more than identified themselves as Democrats or Republicans. What is more interesting, though, is that the article reveals that, in the West as a whole, political party membership has declined by about 40% since the 1970s. In Britain, the decline of the two major parties has been even more pronounced: Conservatives and Labourites got only 65% of the votes cast in the most recent Parliamentary election, and the current government is (by necessity) a coalition between Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats. It seems, therefore, that party membership, and party identification, are in decline on a very broad basis.
This conclusion will naturally confuse many Americans, because, to us, it often appears that our country is poised on a knife’s edge, and is more or less evenly divided between “red” and “blue” states, not to mention red and blue voters. Moreover, any objective perusal of the media will reveal a perverse trend towards increasing partisanship. Indeed, these days it is hard to find any form of “journalism” that does not wear its ideological inclinations, and its party preferences, on its sleeve. Nevertheless, while this does prove that a minority of Americans are intensely partisan, and while these zealots may dominate their parties’ primaries and caucuses, there is still a great mass of Americans who are frankly disgusted by the partisan tone of our current system. Arguably, therefore, the loss of faith in our major political parties is a more meaningful long-term trend than the apparent rise in partisanship. Anyone who doubts this fact should frankly ask themselves: if Republicans win big next Tuesday, will it prove that America loves Republicans, or simply that America is lurching from one major party to another, to demonstrate its ire at the status quo? The answer is obvious.
The decline of major political parties ought not to surprise us. Parties first formed in the 19th Century. They were essentially a rearguard action by elite politicians to maintain their dominance, even in an age when increasing numbers of common folk were enfranchised. In a nutshell, parties were meant to enlist and motivate ill-educated proles, and frankly at the time this may have been necessary, since otherwise the sudden and dramatic expansion of the franchise could have produced unsettling results. Today, though, the organizational and propaganda functions of the major parties are increasingly irrelevant, given that Americans are bombarded by appeals from interest groups and media personalities. If parties were to be redesigned from scratch, today they might well coalesce around a few key constituencies, like Social Security recipients, or around journalistic blowhards, like Rush Limbaugh, rather than around tired labels like “Democrat” and “Republican.” In truth, therefore, most Americans vote for the two major parties out of habit, and not out of conviction. The same observation seems to hold true in Europe as well.
What this means, of course, is that, while the interests that work the puppet-strings in our Western democracies are not likely to change, the partisan texture of the political landscape may well evolve in the years ahead. The Ross Perot phenomenon indicated almost 20 years ago that a single vacuous do-gooder, well-endowed with cash, can, if he plays his cards right (which Perot decidedly did not), make a strong play even for the Presidency of the United States. Today, the success of the Tea Party is proving, similarly, that the failure of the Republican Party to address the needs and wants of conservatives is creating an opening for a more populist, activist right-wing movement. What this means to me, then, is that the domination of the two major parties in America, which seems secure, is in reality more precarious that at any time in recent memory. A strong wind is blowing in America against the status quo, and all it would take is sound, consistent, and inspired leadership of an insurgent movement (which frankly I have not yet seen in the Tea Party) to direct this wind towards the complete destruction of one or both major parties. Mark my words: 20 years hence, Democrats and Republicans will not rule the roost in Washington, as they do today.
The more interesting question, of course, is what sort of political party or movement will arise to replace the ossified partisan structures of the here and now? It is hard even to hazard a guess, though, as I have said, labels will probably change much more readily than policies. One thing I know, however: Anthroconservatism, because of its full-throated advocacy of the timeless ideals of individual freedom, and family and community empowerment, is uniquely positioned to inspire the next generation of political thinkers and statesmen. While a retreat from bureaucratic-plutocratic domination may seem implausible, stranger things have happened, my friends, and thus we must hold out hope that the coming partisan apocalypse will leave us, the partisans of human nature, on top.