I’ve lived through and studied enough politics to know that — even as individual voters like me abandon the Republican Party — the chances of the GOP eventually turning itself around are still quite good.
Think about it: Who could have imagined darker days for the Republicans than those between Nixon’s exit and Carter’s triumph? And yet, a few short years later, a generation of Republican dominance began.
It could happen again, and if I were still inclined to contribute to the GOP’s future, I’d rely on that history to energize my flagging spirit. But as it stands now, I hope history cycles in a much different direction this time; that the GOP continues its rendezvous with atrophy. I hope this not because I wish to see the Democratic Party dominate, but because I wish both major parties to wither away until they are as marginalized and worthless as the Green, Libertarian, and Constitution parties.
And how, you ask, could the GOP’s demise lead to the Democrats’ demise? Easy: Without an equally well-heeled opponent, what fuel is there to fire up interest in the Democratic Party? If every viable candidate is a Democrat, why would anyone give money to the DNC or its offshoots? Today’s party boosters are motivated by a well-organized, well-funded opposition. If organization and funding abandon the opposition, then there’s no reason to counter-organize and counter-fund. And if there’s no reason to counter-organize and counter-fund, parties falter — leaving our politics to individual candidates or, at most, diverse caucuses.
That, in my estimation, would be a beautiful accomplishment because it would allow some of the purity of our competing branches of government to be restored, without the interloping and often corruptive influence of parties — a point on which we were long ago sermonized by none less than our first president, and more recently by former Republican Congressman Mickey Edwards.
Now, before you mock my naiveté — as I know you will, because you did so the last time I raised these questions — know this: I have anticipated at least two categories of potential guffaws: The first will be uttered by those who believe the modern cost of campaigning makes it impossible for everyone except the wealthiest candidates to run without party mechanics behind them. And the second will be uttered by those, apparently in the minority, who fret about one-party control of government.
To those uttering the first guffaw, remember that political parties aren’t the only species of campaign mechanics. Consider what Obama just accomplished. When the so-called party apparatus favored Hillary, Obama and his advisers leveraged technology and messaging — and yes, a spectacular candidate — to build their own apparatus. Even after they vanquished Hillary, with all of her party-derived advantages, I saw evidence that the triumph over McCain might have had more to do with Obama’s organization than with the DNC or its state or local arms. During the last couple weeks of the campaign, as I continued to canvass for Obama on Saturday afternoons, the Obama volunteers were consistently better organized, more on top of things, than the Missouri Democratic Party and West (St. Louis) County Democrats. Granted, that’s rather slim, qualitative evidence, but the impression stuck with me, nonetheless.
Moving on to the issuers of the second guffaw: Frankly, your worries about one-party control fail to appreciate the unique construction of our federal government. In Russia and elsewhere, party equals government because power can be concentrated in a few hands. In the U.S. — thanks to the intricate beauty of our Constitution, the genius of its authors, and the innately dissenting nature of the American people — there’s so much competition and conflict that attempts to concentrate power for sustained periods of time are all-but-impossible. Consider what we saw happen earlier this month and two years prior: One party managed to control virtually all of government for a mere six years before several of their own members revolted and the unwashed masses started handing out pink slips. I don’t believe that’s an aberration. If the Democrats are stupid enough to make the same mistakes the Republicans did, a similar revolt will surely commence and a similar thrashing ensue. Of course, if the Democrats are not that stupid, they will continue to win the White House and seats in Congress — in which case we return to my original premise: With no organized or funded opposition, there is no motivation to keep parties alive.
Ironic, isn’t it? Fail to govern wisely and your party loses. Govern wisely and the need for your party dissipates.
Even in the face of these arguments, I realize doubts will persist. Many analysts will point once again to history’s cyclical nature — and the cockroach-like survival skills of the two major parties — and thus argue that my vision of a day when we move beyond parties is nothing more than that, a vision.
Seriously, do we have any reason to believe the Republicans will not repeat history; that they will fail in their pursuit of an eventual revival? Actually, we have several reasons to believe things might be different this time around.
— TO BE CONTINUED —