Posts Tagged ‘Democratic Party’

Thumbnail Sketches of Democrats and Republicans

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

David Brooks, yesterday, in the New York Times:

For the past 90 years or so, the Republican Party has, at its best, come to embody the cause of personal freedom and economic dynamism. For a similar period, the Democratic Party has, at its best, come to embody the cause of fairness and family security. Over the past century, they have built a welfare system, brick by brick, to guard against the injuries of fate.

As usual, Brooks’s column was thoughtful. But I had a bit of a problem with his summary of each party, even acknowledging he means each party at its best.

It’s always hard to come up with a thumbnail sketch of each party – because there are always things which contradict what you say. Each party can be said to contain multitudes, even though a casual glance almost always reveals just enough to confirm whatever stereotypes you might have.

To my mind though, the real difference between the Republican Party and Democratic Party, even only on domestic matters and with each party taken at it’s best, is not fairness versus freedom and economic dynamism versus economic (or family) security. The difference between the parties is not primarily determined by what positive things they seek to provide: I wouldn’t say that Republicans value fairness less or freedom more for example. Rather, the difference can best be summed up by either looking at what each party views as a more legitimate way of achieving social ends or by looking at what each party sees as the bigger threat to citizens.

There are going to be counterexamples and such to this summary, but I think it reveals deeper truths than Brooks’s.

Legitimacy: Republicans attack the idea that government can legitimately be used as a tool to achieve broadly agreed upon ends. They look to private institutions to guide the course of society – the invisible hand even; this means private capital markets, private corporations, and religious organizations. Democrats accept these institutions, but they see the government as legitimate tool as well.

Threats to Citizens. In area of domestic policy, Republicans see the biggest threat to citizens as the government – which they blame primarily for impinging on citizens’ freedoms, creating unfair results, and undermining family security. In the area of domestic policy, Democrats see the biggest threat to citizens coming from corporations, unchecked by the government – which they blame primarily for impinging on citizens’ freedoms, creating unfair results, and undermining family security.

Alternatively, the version of Republicanism becoming more dominant today sees the biggest threat to citizens as coming from an ideology called liberalism – which brainwashes citizens through the media and seeks power anywhere it can – churches, corporations, the media, the government. This view sees politics as a cultural battle.

I’ve tried to make these non-judgmental and descriptive – and I think it is evident which approach makes more sense. Neither political party seems to me to have a very different view of what they want America to look like: They both support personal freedom and fairness, economic dynamism and family security. America has established a complex system of tradeoffs between these values – and few in either party seek to overturn that. They seek slight modifications this way or that – it’s just a matter of rather small degrees of difference. The bigger difference is in how each party sees the path forward – what is sees as the legitimate ends to achieve the necessary changes, and how it diagnoses the problems that need to be changed.

Any alternate sketches of this difference – along the same lines – attempting to be non-judgmental and descriptive – are welcome in comments of elsewhere.

For what it’s worth, I would say the Tea Party and much of the energy on the left comes from those rejecting each of these frameworks – and who see both corporations and government as the problem. I’m not sure what countervailing force they propose though.

Check out an older post of mine for my view of the basic principles of liberalism.

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Stopping the Democrats from Descending to Sarah Palin’s Level

Monday, August 10th, 2009

By using the phrase “un-American,” Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer are undermining the Democratic brand – threatening to bringing themselves down to the level of Sarah Palin, Karl Rove, George W. Bush, and Ann Coulter.

If you read the op-ed currently being misrepresented/hyped by Matt Drudge – “Pelosi/Hoyer op-ed in Monday USATODAY calls townhall protesters ‘un-American’…” he says – you can see they only use the phrase “un-American” once. They write:

Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American.

This statement is uncontroversial. Yet it also is clearly designed to generate attention and it is making news because Democrats so rarely engage in this type of demagoguery – and because Drudge and his allies are trying to create an impression of a thuggish White House pushing its agenda using tactics adopted from the worst Republican politicians (identifying opponents as “un-American,” compiling an “enemies list,” declaring things justified by “national security” when they are really power grabs.) Democrats, liberals, and progressives have largely refained though from calling their opponents “un-American” or “terrorists” – even as matters grow extremely heated. Political attacks and populism are part of politics. Accusing the other side of representing the entrenched interests who their side’s agenda benefits (organized labor, environmental groups, abortion rights groups, etcetera for Democrats; big corporations, the wealthy, pro-life groups, the NRA, etcetera for Republicans) will always be part of the game.

But there are clear lines – and Democrats have largely respected them. John Kerry could have accused George W. Bush of negligently being responsible for September 11 – and he would have won had he done so. But it would have damaged the country. Karl Rove, knowing this is what he would have done, saw this vulnerability and did what he could to counteract it – but he still saw it was Bush’s weakness. Democrats could have made a concerted push to demagogue every policy Bush instituted after September 11 as “un-American” and “giving in to the terrorists.” But instead, they did not cross this line – despite the fact that Karl Rove and George W. Bush and those Republicans running against them equated the Democrats with “therapy for terrorists” and sympathy for the terrorists’ aims. Sarah Palin infamously inflamed crowds talking about Obama’s sympathy for terrorists and asserted that there were anti-American parts of America that wouldn’t vote for her. There are some who claim that these demagogic tactics are equaled by the Democrats who have claimed that Republicans are representing the rich at the expense of the poor and similar claims – but there is a clear difference between the approaches.

But as Democrats are becoming increasingly frustrated with the hardball politics of the opponents of health care reform, they are clearly tempted to try to tap into the Rovian playbook. For example, even mild-mannered Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein wrote (in what was overall an extraordinarly good column) that:

[Republicans have] become political terrorists, willing to say or do anything to prevent the country from reaching a consensus on one of its most serious domestic problems.

The level of frustration on the part of the Democrats – aware that what they are actually proposing is popular – but seeing the public debate beginning to turn against their attempts to put into law these popular measures is growing exponentially. Neither Pelosi nor Hoyer nor Pearlstein have descended to the level of Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, or Ann Coulter.  But by pushing the line – they threaten to undermine the Democratic Party.

Hardball politics is one thing. Calling your opponents “terrorists” or “un-American” is another.