Tuesday, April 21, 2009

RFP (Rules For Patriots): The Case for Independent Conservative Activism

In frustration at the inability of the Republicans to fight back, some conservatives (or 'Right-wing extremists') call for 'building a new party' or going third party, as this comment: "Some would argue that its already finished and anything OTHER than building a new party and movement is a waste of time, money and effort." Thoughts on that:

One of the most important principles of success in democratic politics is unity. For conservatives, a key imperative to gaining power is to UNITE THE RIGHT. So long as we are divided, we will fail. Alas, third parties are inherently dividable entities whose main flaw as political strategy is that it violates coalition-building principles in winner-take-all democratic. Unless the party immediately replaces or displaces the main party, it would end up dividing those parts of the coalition along the lines dictated by the third party emphasis. precisely on those issues to which it most appeals.

The bulk of Republicans are conservative and the bulk of conservatives are Republicans. Thus the natural home for conservatives is the Republican party at this time. Such party/ideological connections are long, deep, and unlikely to change soon, as history of the political parties in the U.S. can attest.

The Republican party was in many ways the more 'progressive' party compared with the Democrats from its inception up until the 1896 election, but then the Democrats nominated populist fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan, who co-opted the Populist and Progressive agendas for the Democrats, fighting against the gold standard and for easy money. Teddy Roosevelt, the Republicans also were progressives. In 1912, liberal Woodrow Wilson, an academic, faced conservatives Republican Taft. Teddy Roosevelt split with Taft and the Republican Party over both personal and political differences, forming the Bull Moose third party. In many respects he ran to the left of Wilson even. After Wilson's election came the income tax, Federal reserve and more Government intervention in the economy than ever before (especially during World War I) - it was dry run for the New Deal. In the election of 1928, the Democrats nominated a northern, wet, catholic candidate. It flipped formerly Republican Massachusetts, which hasn't looked back since.

We see those trends persist to this day: The Republican Party is the party of main street, middle class, Protestant voters; it is more conservative, more free-market, more moral values-based. It has a remnant of progressivism. The Democrat Party is the party of the urban cores, working and underclass, non-Protestant; more Government interventionist, less moral values-based and more class and group-interest-based. It has a remnant of rural populism. The largest change in the past generation has been the Republican rise in the South, counterbalanced by further retreat from urban areas and also from the liberal Northeast. This was in mnay ways a reaction to the complete decapitation of the non-liberal wing of the Democrat party. The liberal Democrats have risen in new, small, urban University towns, like Madison, WI, Boulder, CO and yes, Austin, TX.

It's hard to imagine a third party displacing the whole Republican or Democrat coalition, unless a key driving issue would break a party apart. The two parties are durable, despite their flaws for precisely the reason that the coalitions they represent are durable demographic and ideological configurations. The Republicans face a long-term challenge on two levels: The demographic trend of increasing numbers of Hispanic voters (and other minority immigrant voters); the small but influential academic elites shifting sharply left.

Third parties in the U.S. today tend to be ideologically-driven, not coalition-driven, and so are in many cases precisely ill-adapted to replace the parties precisely because they are formed to shed the flaws of political compromise that are inherent in large national coalition parties. Two examples that exhibit this are the Libertarian and Green Parties. Both have an arguably large overlap in agendas with the main political parties (Republicans and Democrats respectively), but both have a more 'pure' ideological agenda (liberty and environmentalism respectively) that both unifies and limits the party.

If there were to be another party replacing the Republican Party, what would it stand for? What the Republican Party tried to stand for, but failed because the human beings in the party in office didn't live up the party agenda? To avoid repeating that failure would require understanding the cause of that failure and fixing it directly. Creating a new party under a new name with the same goals without fixing the problem of political power corrupting, an inherent systemic problem, will fail. However, if the problem is curable, it would surely be just as curable with the existing party as with a new one.

The ultimate problem is that the 'problems' people see in the party - elected politicians bending to political pressure - are not curable. One problem is the inevitable pandering to democratic masses, which causes politicians to fail to adhere to the organized political agenda of the party. Yet when it comes to democracy, it is expected that the politicians will to some extent follow the 'will of the people'. To use technical parlance: "It's a feature, not a bug." The question is: If so, why bother with party platforms? Some politicians might want to dispense with them, but party platforms and agendas are vital to getting Why are there political parties at all and not a single unity? In truth, part of the party duopoly's limitation is that when both parties are in agreement, in effect there is no space for dissent. An example is in the area of drug laws. Without serious movement in either party to legalize drugs, some go to third parties to express support for the notion.

The only cure for politicians who bend in ways we don't like to fire them. In short, to cure having a politician bend in one direction, push in the opposite direction. Term limits can reduce the level of careerism and opportunism, but that doesn't cure political pressures, which are inherent in democracy.

If there were to be a reason to replace the Republican Party, it would be if the party itself failed to take a stand or took the wrong stand on a serious issue of the day - one so vital it would change most people's votes. The Whig Party is an example of what happens when a party is unable to take a stand. The Whig party was split down the middle on slavery in the early 1850s and took no serious position. As a result, it became defunct, replaced by the Republican party in 1854 which took an anti-slavery stand. Slavery became the central political division of the 1850s, prior to the civil war, and the political earthquake shifted political parties. Yet today, there is no central issue like that, and the Republican Party suffers less from the lack of party positioning, but from a failure to communicate, market and execute on the core agenda and principles.

Thus, we are left with the dilemma: The Republican Party as a majority or wannabe majority party, will inevitably become compromised. At the same time, attempts to rebuild the GOP in a new umbrella are futile, as are third parties. None can overcome the central dilemma of democracy: The only way to win is to get the most votes.

That leaves another approach - of standing outside the party per se, but as a pressure group to change Republicans and the wider culture as well.

One problem we face is media bias. Republicans and conservatives are mocked by the media - "the media and pop culture long ago branded the party that freed the slaves a the party of slavery and racism. Somehow with our tendency to stoic silence we allowed that to happen." This has to do with the inherent inability of political parties, fighting for a majority, to fight and win culture wars. The biased media will stoke flames of division by picking and choosing cultural reference points.

What we need to do is liberate the GOP from the burden of carrying the cultural wars on its back, and fight the culture wars through other means. Successful groups have followed this model. The ACLU, the NAACP, others. The last time a putatively non-partisan group had such influence on the right side, it was the Christian coalition.

In the false dichotomy between '3rd party or GOP', neither of which is satisfactory, is the real answer: Independent conservative activism focussed on advancing the agenda through any legitimate means possible, and standing alongside the GOP without being swallowed up in it.

UPDATE: Redstate's Swamp Yankee has more on this concept, saying: "Liberals Know How to Separate Themselves from the Democratic Party".

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