Tuesday, April 25, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Two Aging Political Parties

The Democratic Party and the Republican Party, the two U.S.
major political parties, are both showing signs of old age.

In Spain and France, both nations with parliamentary systems,
two-major party systems arose in their post-World War II
governments and until very recently, a party of the left and a
party of the right dominated their national political life.

Last year, there was a mitosis of the two parties in Spain, and
now the nation has four parties, two on the left and two on the
right. As of this week in France, there are now also four major
parties, two on the right and two on the left. Neither of the two
traditional parties were able to place a candidate in the
presidential election run-off. The next president of France will
probably be a former Socialist minister who has created a new
party of the center-left. The Socialist candidate came in a very
distant last --- this in spite of his party currently being in power.

After the 2016 U.S. election, the Democratic Party, shocked by the
upset defeat of their presidential candidate, a loss again of both
houses of Congress, and clear minority status in governorships
and state legislatures, was shattered. Democratic nominee
Hillary Clinton, representing the party establishment and its
liberal voters, ran an historically inept campaign, after a bitter
nomination battle in which she bested the insurgent leftist
wing of the party and its candidate Bernie Sanders. In the wake
of her defeat, the radical wing has moved quickly to replace the
liberal wing, but the views and programs of this wing are not
likely to appeal to independent voters, much less more moderate
Democrats. After years of holding their party together, the
Democrats are now aggressively divided.

This should be good news for the conservative Republican
Party, but the GOP has its own profound divisions, and they are
on flagrant display as its populist wing obstructs promised
legislation of the new administration of President Donald Trump
and the congressional leadership on behalf of the traditional
conservative wing of the party.

The incipient formation of four U.S. political parties might be
underway, as it has happened in France and Spain. In Germany
and United Kingdom, similar party tensions and transformations
are also taking place, albeit with different issues. In Germany,
for example, the political pull is to the left, as Chancellor Angela
Merkel, leader of the relatively conservative party, is facing an
unexpectedly challenging re-election from one party on her left.
In the United Kingdom, Conservative Party Prime Minister
Theresa May is flourishing because her Labor Party opposition
on her left  is divided and now led by the radical Jeremy Corbyn
who had taken his party into a nosedive, rejecting the direction
of former prime minister Tony Blair. The third British party,
the Liberals, has also faded, and the separatist Scottish National
Party now controls almost all the seats in Scotland (at the expense
primarily of the Labour Party).

In short, traditional major political parties in leading Western
democratic nations seem to be breaking apart.

Where this might lead in the U.S. is unclear. The new majority
party, the Republicans, faces likely angry voters next year in the
national mid-term elections if they don’t produce more results
and keep their campaign promises. The problem for GOP leaders
in the house and senate is that individual members and small
blocs on both the center right and far right are not compromising
on key legislation.

The problem for Democrats is the heady pull to the left threatens
to disappoint more moderate Democrats not only in the Congress,
but in the liberal electorate. The party of Bernie Sanders, Maxine
Waters and Elizabeth Warren is not the same as the party of
Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp and Jason Kander.

The wild card in the U.S. political equation is Donald Trump. A
former Democrat, with no history as a conservative, he has
adopted most of his new party’s program, but he is no ideologue.
If  ideological disputes thwart his political goals, he could reach
out to moderate Democrats and independent voters to pass
legislation. This is what President Bill Clinton did with
Speaker New Gingrich to conclude his second term successfully.
That was formally divided government, but the bottom line is
that, if the voters sent any message in 2016, it is that they wanted
action on the nation’s problems.

Before you know it, November, 2018 will be here. This is no country
for old political parties.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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