Thursday, October 27, 2005


Republicans vs. Democrats

A lot of questioning has been going on in the blogosphere, both left and right, about the conservative credentials of those in power in the Republican party.

It's all very simple really. As the old saw says, the Republicans are the party of "Main Street" and "Wall Street" and the Democrats are the party of everyone else. That is the Republicans have been, since their inception, a conservative party.

But the thing with conservatives is that, depending on what they want to conserve, they can have very different ideologies and even be at different points on the political spectrum. Teddy Roosevelt was as conservative, in his own way, as Robert Taft, but what they wanted to conserve was so different as to place them on very different points in the political spectrum. As the interests of Main Street and Wall Street often diverge from each other, the Republican party is, by neccesity, a "big tent" with many conservative views represented.

On the other hand, the conservativism of Main Street and Wall Street changes through time. The Wall Street conservativism of a century ago looks somewhat like the Silicon Valley "liberalism" of today. The Main Street conservativism of what is now the Upper Midwest in Lincoln's time wanted to conserve a very different lifestyle (free land and free soil) than did the conservativism of the ranchers leading the sage-brush revolution or the Religious Right of today. So even as the Republican party is no less or more conservative than it was in Reagan's day or in Goldwater's day or even in Lincoln's day, as it wants to conserve something different, it may have abandoned the Hollywood conservativism, fiscal conservativism and the platform of Lincoln.

But what happens to the conservatives who do not fit into whatever the conservative coalition is among the Republicans at any given moment? They become Democrats. The Democrats have long been a party with both conservatives and liberals. The Democratic-Republicans of the early Republic had Madisonian liberals, Jeffersonian agrarian conservatives and Patrick Henry style cavalier conservatives. The Democrats of a later era had both Northern Urban liberals, machine conservatives and Southern conservatives. Even before the Southern Strategy, many progressive conservatives found a home in the Democratic party of FDR and afterwards many other classes of conservatives have joined them. Thus, the Democrats are too diverse to even form a big tent.

So presumably, at some point, the Republicans will loose the fiscal conservatives to the Democrats as they continue to focus their support as being from specific other sorts of conservatives. But the Republicans will gain whatever conservatives from the Democratic party who decide they fit in more with the Republicans than the Democrats. In the past, the Democrats have said "good riddance" as when the Republicans picked up the Southern Conservatives and northern Copperheads (aka Reagan Democrats) from the Democrats via the "Southern Strategy". So why cannot we say this today as the rest of the social conservatives jump ship? If we have the confidence to build a coherent policy around our current coalition of Paul Simon-esque fiscal conservatives, liberals, progressive conservatives and techie-conservatives -- a policy framework providing a clear alternative to the Republican party, we don't have to win every social conservative vote to win elections ... we just need to show that we are a viable alternative for Joe and Jane Sixpack so they can vote for us even if they disagree with some aspects of our policies.

The Republicans will always be conservative: but as what they want to conserve changes, their approaches to specific conservative issues will change. We Democrats have to take advantage of this, not by moving to the right, but by providing a brand of leftism which is distinct and left-wing enough to be a distinguishable brand, but with which conservatives (some of whom are actually left wing) can be comfortable. Pandering to social conservatives will not work. A coherent economically left of center policy framework along the lines of a less improvised version of the New Deal will.

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