An optimist’s perspective: the party system in the US works!

January 25, 2008

I had the pleasure of attending yet another one of Mark Gerson’s phenomenal Shabbos dinners two weeks ago and the guest speaker made a very interesting point.

He argued that while it is easy to be cynical and disappointed by the current political process and environment, the reason we see such diversity and conflict within the two parties right now and the reason that the fights have become bitter and personal between the two parties is that they are no longer about the issues.

He argued that the two party system works. If you asked a Democrat in the early 1970s what their top three issues were, they would have answered:

  • Entrench the civil rights movement
  • Women in the workplace
  • Environmental protection

Much progress remains to be done in all three areas, but no one questions their merit.

Likewise, if you had asked a Republican what he wanted for the US, he would have said:

  • Win the cold war
  • Reform welfare
  • Lower marginal tax rates

Again, those things have happened and are not questioned anymore. The issues of both parties have been largely successfully addressed and accepted – far beyond the wildest imagination of the most optimistic person in the early 1970s.

Because of that success, the parties no longer stand for something clear and you can see the battles being fought within them right now to find the issues that they will define them for the coming decade. The Republicans especially are searching for their identity as the somewhat un-natural alliance between the Christian conservatives and the socially liberal/fiscally conservative libertarian types is fraying.

For all its flaws the nomination and election process is actually letting us understand better what the candidates and parties stand for or hope to stand for.

This is going to be interesting to watch in the years to come!

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