Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Loss of Party

The impact of tech on politics cannot be denied in spite of the disastrous decision of the supremes regarding unfettered money flowing into the bloated carcass of American Politics. At long last, the long desired demise of the two party system in the US is happening because the net allows for finer grained political views than Democrat or Republican to be disseminated into the world at little or no cost, a result which causes strategists of both parties to lose sleep at night worrying about lost revenues and influence, a situation yours truly finds to be most beneficial in a political system mired in corruption and incompetence.

"A year after George W. Bush’s chopper swung away from the Capitol and disappeared from sight, voters seem to have put his presidency behind them; they’re no longer willing to blame Republicans alone for high unemployment and rising gas prices, for home foreclosures and tuition hikes. The crises that Bush bequeathed to Democrats have now officially become theirs, and the notion of a great liberal realignment seems as retro as Friendster. A string of Democratic lawmakers, largely from rural and contested states, the kind of places that were supposed to now be more hospitable to Democrats than they were before, recently decided to pursue other careers rather than risk being turned out by wrathful voters. Party leaders who had once hoped to expand their majorities in November are now showing signs of panic as they scramble to stave off the prospect of crippling losses.

Having stormed the Democratic garrison in Massachusetts, Republicans might find this turn of events amusing — if it weren’t for the fact that it has nothing to do with even a hint of a resurgence on their part. The entire story line seems awfully familiar. It was only five years ago that Karl Rove, praised in Washington as a clairvoyant, was predicting his own conservative realignment, premised on a near-biblical exodus from the Democratic Party: a decisive number of black, Latino and elderly voters, persuaded by Bush’s re-forms of Social Security and immigration, were going to abandon the Democrats and enable Republicans to rule Washington for decades to come. That hallelujah chorus lasted for the few months it took for a Republican-dominated Congress to scrap Bush’s second-term agenda, leading to one of the more astonishing political collapses in history. Historians of the last century will note that one party — the Democrats — solidly controlled Congress, with only passing interruptions, for more than six decades, through recessions and wars and other challenges. The Gingrich-Bush-era Republicans, by contrast, managed to hold onto power for only 12 years; should Democrats lose their majorities in 2012 or even 2014, let alone this year, they will have ruled Washington for even less time than that.

The lesson here for strategists in both parties isn’t simply that making self-aggrandizing predictions is a sure way to make yourself look silly (though that wouldn’t be a bad one to take away, either). It’s more that this entire concept of Rooseveltian realignment is a wishful conceit that should be retired. The realigning swing of the pendulum is almost certainly a relic of another age, never to be replicated, or at least not in our lifetimes. One reason is that politics in the television (and now Internet) age are less transactional and more ideological than they were in the long period between the Civil War and civil rights. The old question of what a party can do for you, through patronage or populist economics, has largely been eclipsed by the question of whether a party shares your convictions — about the role of government, the use of force, abortion and stem cells. It’s probably harder to build an enduring majority based on, say, gun rights than it was to do so by doling out local jobs.

Even more consequential, though, is the fast-growing swath of voters who can summon no affinity for either party. As in other aspects of modern American life, brand allegiance in politics is at an all-time low; more than a third of Americans (and more than half of all Massachusetts voters) identify themselves as independents rather than as members of the blue team or the red. The most prevalent ideology of the era seems to be not liberalism nor conservatism so much as anti-incumbency, a reflexive distrust of whoever has power and a constant rallying cry for systemic reform."

It's only a matter of time where the majority of people running for office will run as generic independents with viewpoints nuanced to real personal beliefs and not to party line, a trend seen by Brown winning as a "token" Republican yet did not utter that term on his acceptance speech. Hopefully this independent movement will make it more difficult for the monied interests to funnel cash into campaigns but I am not too sanguine about this desired effect as he who has the cash rules and the supremes made sure that edict is written in stone.
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