Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Are we in a Republican realignment?

Fred Barnes insists on saying yes. Although his article is worth reading because it lays out a number of GOP gains over the last few years and even deeper trends over the last few decades (including the California recall vote, and Arnold’s election), he is wrong is claiming that this is a realignment. The guys over at Powerline are right in arguing that Barnes is wrong. They point to a pregnant paragraph from Charles Kesler arguing that even the 1984 election did not lead to realingment (he wrote it in ’85). Here is the paragraph: "[T]he truth is that a sufficient cause for realigment -- a clear purpose or end that would organize and inform a new majority -- has not yet been articulated. To align, after all, means both to put something in a straight line and to take sides. Putting the definitions together, one might say that in American politics a realignment means that the voters take or switch sides in order to put the country back into line with its fundamental principles, or at least with what they regard as its fundamental principles. Hence realigning elections are sometimes called ’critical’ elections because ’critical’ implies a ’crisis,’ a turning point in the fortunes of the parties and the destiny of the country....[In the years of previous critical elections], the voters truly were presented with a ’choice, not an echo’; and based on that choice -- presented by a critical issue that cut across existing party lines or coalitions -- an enduring majority party was formed that dominated American national politics for the next 30 to 40 years."

It would have been better for Fred Barnes to note Kesler rather than Walter Dean Burnham, who claims that there is a "creeping mode of realignment, election by election." A realignment is not the same as marginalizing the opposition. FDR in the 1930’s not only marginalized the opposition, but build a new Democratic Party that cut across existing party lines or coalitions (as Kesler says) and thereby formed an enduring majority both electorally and ideologically. That realignment reigns--I’m sorry to say--to this day. Although Reagan took good shots at the New Deal ideology, he was never able to transform his thinking into a movement that became the basis of a political party (in the 1984 election he didn’t even try, hence his last-minute stop in Minnesota just to try to prevent Mondale from getting his home states’ electoral votes, rather than spending that time campaigning for Republican Congressional condidates); a re-invigorated political party according to the new principles is necessary for a realignment. Reagan failed, albeit he has come as close as anyone thus far in making a dent in the New Deal realignment.

This is not to say that (in theory) it can never be done. It is true as Barnes says (hence the usefulness of Barnes’ facts and figures) that the Republicans have made many gains over the last couple of decades, and even the last few years. But this is not yet enough. Yet, there are some signs that the thing may break. Here they are, quickly. The Democrats, in part because of Florida, and in part because of their extraordinary positions that they’re taking on the "war-on-terror-Iraq" (note which ones of them voted against the $87 Billion supplemental), and because of their over-the-top criticism of not only Bush’s policy in Iraq, but even questioning Dubya’s integrity, are putting themselves in a political cul de sac. The war on terror (I include Iraq in that) may end up breaking the realignment issue wide open. But it’s a big "maybe." The Republicans will have to take advantage of this by arguing (at some point) divisivelly that the Democrats have turned into a party that can no longer be trusted on certain issues, like national security because they no longer understand American principles. This argument would look and smell like the argument that FDR made against the GOP in the ’30’s: They are reactionaries, the party of the Tories, not to be trusted with articulating and putting into practice the things for which we stand (never mind for a moment that FDR mislead the people about what those principles meant, etc.). At the moment I don’t see any other basis for putting something in a straight line and taking sides (as Kesler puts it); the centralized welfare state that FDR used to separate the parties is no longer--at least for now--being questioned at its heart, as it seemed to be during the Reagan years.

All this doesn’t mean that Barnes’ isn’t partly right that the Demos are in a very weak position. They are. But it’s not a realignment because the Republicans have not yet made the disagreement with the Demos a matter of principle and a matter of party.

Discussions - 1 Comment

At the moment I don see any other basis for putting something in a straight line and taking sides as Kesler puts it.

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