You think of Roger Ebert as a film critic, and one of the best and most readable. But he’s also a serious watcher of the scene outside the reality window, the movie that we call our lives.
As witness, there’s this from his blog at the Sun Times — “The Republicans exit history”. The death of political parties isn’t common, but it does happen — witness the Whig Party in the U.S., which lived from 1833 to 1856 and elected two presidents. (They even had Lincoln as a member for a while.)
Ebert seems to suggest that a similar process may be at work here. As usual with Ebert, the piece is a model of clear prose (a click won’t lead you to the swamp that most of us produce). And there’s far more to it than this quote suggests (my emphasis):
What I read [in the news, on the net] is that the Republican Party is abandoning its hopes of speaking for a majority of Americans. It will still win elections. It controls the House. Perhaps it will elect the next President. But steadily and fatally it is moving out of history.
There are trigger issues in which the GOP no longer reflects the thinking of mainstream Americans of either party. In Tuesday’s charade as the House put the Tea Party debt legislation to a vote, what we saw was an example of the kind of coalition voting common in Europe, where separate parties arrive at an agreement to govern. There are now essentially three parties in Congress: Democrats, Republicans, and the Tea Party. Reasonable Republicans with a sense of the possible do not subscribe to the Tea Party’s implacable ideology, but they feel they must deal with it to placate its zealots. They are essentially in a coalition with a third party.
The article continues by identifying eight issues in which this GOP coalition no longer reflects the thinking of mainstream Americans, issues like debt & taxes, health care, church & state, gay rights, even nutrition.
But the implication in the part I quoted is that we may be seeing a moment in history, the death of a political party.
About those Whigs, here’s how they pulled it off (my paragraphing):
The party was ultimately destroyed by the question of whether to allow the expansion of slavery to the territories. With deep fissures in the party on this question, the anti-slavery faction successfully prevented the renomination of its own incumbent President Fillmore in the 1852 presidential election; instead, the party nominated General Winfield Scott.
Most Whig party leaders thereupon quit politics (as Lincoln did temporarily) or changed parties. The northern voter base mostly joined the new Republican Party. By the 1856 presidential election, the party was virtually defunct. In the South, the party vanished, but as Thomas Alexander has shown, Whiggery as a policy orientation persisted for decades and played a major role in shaping the modernizing policies of the state governments during Reconstruction after 1865
I would argue that there are four political parties in the U.S. — the Progressive Party, the NeoLiberal Party (mainly but not exclusively Dems), Traditional Republicans (including NeoLibs and traditional Movement Conservatives), and the Tea Party (“new-right” Movement Conservatives). The boundaries between the middle two parties isn’t clear, since they often vote alike.
If I’m right, the two strongest parties at the moment are the NeoLiberal Party, which has pulled off a coup of the Democratic Party control structure, and the Tea Party, which is attempting a coup on the Republican side.
If the middle two parties start to merge (NeoLiberals and Traditional Republicans), we could see a battle for control of the country between NeoLib–financing billionaires (NY hedge funders, for example) and Tea Party–financing billionaires (Coors-crazy and Koch-addled types). I’m serious.
Progressives? If they ever grow a spine (or move to a state-based strategy), we’ll see where they stand. They certainly have potential, if they choose to accept it, and could marshal the actual voting humans.
But right now Progressives are the Table Scraps Wing of the NeoLiberal Party, and a little conflicted about staying there. Or, as Sam Seder noted on his Majority Report program today (paraphrasing): It’s odd how the Obama administration starts showing up on one of the progressive social issues, just when it’s screwing them on an economic one.
Funny how that works. Mes centimes, of course.