November 17, 2010
Why the Democratic Party Cannot SurviveBy Monty Pelerin
After the election two years ago, Time Magazine questioned whether the Elephant had become an extinct political animal. The most recent election raised questions as to whether the Donkey should be deemed an endangered species. Questioning either party's ability to survive is reasonable, and it helps sell magazines. However one or two elections are not sufficient to life-death assessments.
Political parties are not immortal. They are born and eventually die. Survivability is dependent upon Darwinian adaptations rather than a genetically determined lifespan. Actuarial analyses can be reasonably attempted if they are based on longer periods.
Enormous change in the American landscape is coming. The "pendulum theory" of politics -- one party disappoints, is removed, and then is returned when the other party disappoints -- is too simplistic to capture major trends. Peggy Noonan's recent take is an example of such analysis.
The Democratic Party is unlikely to survive. This outcome is effected by Obama, but not directly caused by him. Likewise, the latest election results are confirming rather than causal. The party's amazing success since the 1930s contained the seed of its demise.
The Meaning of the Recent Elections
In the two most recent elections, each political party was soundly, sequentially rejected, but for different reasons. Simply and bluntly:
One party lost because it misbehaved; the other because it revealed itself.
Obama's election was erroneously interpreted as a mandate for radical change by left-wing loonies. In spite of his uniqueness, Obama's election was more a vote against Republican spending, hypocrisy, and general misbehavior than a vote for Democrats. Socialist Obama unwisely tried to impose his vision on the country.
His overreach scared many and unleashed the coerciveness that George Washington warned about: "Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."
Government arrogance and arbitrariness initiated a groundswell of concern that coalesced into the Tea Party movement. Ridiculed by the elites in both major parties, the Tea Party provided an outlet for voter rage, a point still not grasped by either party.
The last election was a referendum on Obama and his extremist policies. The Democrat raw grasp for power ensures that they will not do well in the next several elections. This is troubling, but not enough to destroy the Party.
The alleged principles of both major parties need to be understood. "Alleged" is a necessary modifier because these principles are little more than marketing props that appear when useful and disappear otherwise. Groucho Marx probably best captured the flexibility of both parties when he said, "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
Republican principles are closer to George Washington's view of government -- government is necessary but dangerous. Hence, it is best kept small and weak. Republicans claim to stand for limited government because it allows for maximum individual freedom. These principles require a governing model that focuses on less tax, less spending, and less regulation. The keyword is "less," as in less government.
Democrat principles are based on government being a force for good. Government is presumed necessary to help individuals and ensure "social justice" (a term impossible to reasonably define). This philosophy leads to bigger government, as in more spending, more taxes, and more regulatory control. For Democrats, the keyword is "more," as in more government.
Getting elected (and then reelected) is the primary political motivation. But getting elected and governing are two different activities. Party principles have to serve both functions. Often they serve one better than the other. Content from an e-mail cleverly illustrates the difference:
Johnny's election campaign is similar to Republicans', while Mary's is similar to Democrats'. Republican principles are not as effective in an election campaign when competing against free ice cream. Sacrifice, abstinence, and/or self-reliance are a form of political "root canal" when compared to "freebies."
In the 66 years from 1945 forward, Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress and the presidency for twenty years, and Republicans six years. Democrats controlled both Houses for 44 years, and Republicans fourteen years, with ten of those since 1995." [Thanks to reader SBVOR of http://sbvor.blogspot.com/ for the correction]
The ice cream strategy was implemented by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. Arguably, this strategy created the modern Democratic Party. It rescued a floundering party and enabled it to become dominant. From a political standpoint, the strategy was pure genius. From an economic standpoint, it produced a slower growth path for the country.
Flaws in the Democrat Strategy
One problem with the "ice cream" strategy is that you cannot promise ice cream to everyone. As a result, the political base for Democrats developed as a motley collection of beneficiaries "bought" at various times. These include minorities, government employees, big labor, trial lawyers, teachers' unions, gays, radical women's groups, and environmentalists, among others.
Another problem is the lack of commonality. Whatever is provided to one group demands that less be available for another. An underlying tension between groups must always be managed. This surfaced when Dems tried to attract Hispanics. Blacks looked at this as a threat to their importance.
Governing presents another problem. Interest group politics, while perhaps a good election strategy, is not conducive to effective governing.
The fatal flaw in the strategy, however, is the dependence on the continuing flow of goodies. Once you run out of ice cream, you can no longer buy or maintain your "clients." As Margaret Thatcher famously said, "The trouble with Socialism is, sooner or later, you run out of other people's money."
Thatcher's end point has arrived. For eighty years, government grew, as did the welfare state. The Democrat strategy was dependent upon this flow of largesse. Funds are no longer there, and the Democrat strategy is now bankrupt.
The Ice Cream Is Gone
Welfare states around the world are insolvent. Welfare State R.I.P. discusses the debt burdens. Governments will begin defaulting on promises and obligations. It is mathematically impossible to honor all promises. The ice cream is gone, and so is the key to eighty years of Democrat success.
Voters know government is insolvent. That knowledge was the driving force behind the Tea Party movement. While no one wants his or her goodies reduced or removed, a majority recognizes the problems and is willing to vote to at least stop the growth in government.
This new reality is devastating for Democrats. They are dependent upon a diverse, disjointed collection of groups pieced together over the years by ad hoc, quid pro quo tactics. Holding a disparate coalition together was tenuous when benefits were available. Holding them together when benefits are being cut is unlikely.
The Democrats have no coherent message other than bigger government and more benefits. Both parts of that message are now obsolete. Is it possible for them to develop a meaningful strategy that can keep them alive? I think not. Their coalition is too fragmented to hold under a governing rather than electing strategy. Furthermore, the groups are so conditioned to "more" that it is unlikely that they can be maintained under the "less" strategy in store for the country.
It is not impossible for the Democratic Party to survive, but only unlikely. If there is a strategy that they might successfully adopt, it is apt to be that we will give you less than you got before but more than the other guys will. With so many voters sucking on the government teat, it is possible that such a strategy could be implemented with some success.
My guess is that the Republicans will become the party of the left, although not much left of where they are today. A new party will evolve to the right of the Republicans, probably based on an original interpretation of the Constitution. Many Democrats will migrate to the Republican Party, while many Republicans will migrate to the newly formed party.
This realignment, which will take place over a decade or two, will formalize a major shift rightward in the politics and policies of the country. Similar adjustments will occur in other social welfare states.