Sunday, May 22nd, 2016
By Reed Galen
Quote by a Smart Person: “Undermine their pompous authority, reject their moral standards, and disorder your trademarks. Cause as much chaos and disruption as possible but don’t let them take you alive.” Sid Vicious
Welcome to the American Singularity.
Bernie Sanders stands up and rails against two enemies: Donald Trump and the Democratic Party. Donald Trump disdains his own (newly found) GOP and the entire political system and is forging ahead to the Republican nomination, dashing the hopes of 16 competitors in the process. Gary Johnson and other Libertarian candidates want to make their case for being true alternatives. These are not the vital signs of a healthy two-party system. For many of us old enough to remember a time before the Internet and when the Soviets were still Public Enemy #1, 2016’s political upheaval and schizophrenia is confusing at best, but more likely deeply unsettling.
As I’ve discussed previously in this column, whether it was after 9/11 or after the Great Recession of ’08/’09, the United States has experienced tectonic shocks to every part of its being: political, economic, technological and spiritual. Given the “fight the last war” nature of our two-party system, it should be no surprise that today labels like Republican and Democrat are less and less applicable to individual Americans every year. The question before us is whether the two major parties can hang on for dear lifeor if we’re set for a political disruption the likes of which Silicon Valley has foisted upon the rest of our daily existence.
The idea of political parties evolving into and out of existence is not an unknown phenomenon in American history. However, it has been more than 150 years since the Whigs disappeared and in their ashes arose the Republicans arose as the party of the Northeast and the West and most importantly, as the new coalition vehemently opposed to slavery. Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose progressives couldn’t survive without him. Ross Perot’s Reform Party, likewise, was based too much on an individual personality than a broad and encompassing set of principles.
But 2016 has sliced deep into the DNA of both the Republicans and the Democrats. Sanders’ revolution will fall short electorally but he has energized and mobilized millions and millions of millenials to his cause - one that is distinctly Democratic Socialist in nature. Secretary Hillary Clinton can call herself “progressive” all she likes, but that’s not who or what she is. She is, at her core, a center-left Democrat brought up in Establishment politics and whose husband formulated the New American left in the 1990s. Probably too many forget that then-President Clinton once declared from the rostrum of the US House that “the era of big government is over.”
But neither party has kept pace with the changing faces of its voters or what they really care about. The Democrats are beholden to labor and big business. The Republicans beholden to social conservatives and big business. Within the Democratic fold there is a major and likely-nasty fight brewing over education reform. You’re either with the teachers unions or you’re not. Republicans must contend with factions of their party that won’t even speak to one another as the rift between social conservatives and so-called conservatarians battle it out for the true role of government in peoples’ lives.
The party organs themselves are fighting to keep up with how quickly voters are shifting and how loose campaign finance laws have become - rendering much of what they do to data collection and analysis as super PACs and other third-party groups can raise money faster and often deploy it more effectively and efficiently. The old parties are legacy analog systems in a political environment that has gone fully-digital in the span of less than decade. Rather than accepting this evolution and adapting, they’re determined to change their arcane and out of date rules to prevent bad things from happening in the future.
I Asked for Two Parties and Here are Four (or Five)
A look at the US House of Representatives, both its electoral make-up and how it functions today shows that we’ve already de facto embarked on a four-party system. Speaker Paul Ryan, for all his efforts to keep the GOP Conference united, sometimes must resort to using Democratic votes to get legislation off the floor. The Hastert Rule? A condition that should be left forgotten and in the past as much as the man it was named for.
Although emulating anything resembling European politics is a generally bad idea, America seems headed toward some sort of quasi-parliamentary system. So who should we really be?
• The Greens: Bernie Sanders would be their standard-bearer. They are the far-left of American politics; against big corporations, they have a distinctly socialist bent and believe in sky-high tax rates, more regulation of industry and are likely in-line with public employee unions and looking to bolster organs of the state; with the distinct exception of the military, which they believe should be dismantled. They see a minimum living wage for all Americans, working or not, as a key of their platform. A highly inclusive social safety net would be their bread and butter.
• The New Democrats: They’re the Bill and Hillary Clinton party. They’re center-left. They’re willing to make deals of the good of the country. They’re still pro-choice, pro-environment and would prefer a smaller military but getting the business of the country accomplished would be their stated goal. Unlike the greens, the New Democrats would be willing to challenge labor on issues like trade and education reform.
• The Tories: Like their would-be brethren across the pond, the Tories are conservatives you’d actually invite to dinner. They are not going to participate in the culture wars unless there is an absolutely compelling need. Like the New Democrats, they see themselves as the true keepers of the country’s good and feel they know what is in its best interests. Big business, finance and the military-industrial complex would be their main standard-bearers. They may not have the most voters but they’ll have a ton of money.
• The National Front: Made up mostly of today’s Tea Party members with a significant mix of social conservatives, the National Front doesn’t really even like government. They’re Libertarians with a bad attitude. Like Ted Cruz they believe in strict adherence to the Constitution as written. Like Donald Trump, they’re nativists, nationalists and would just as soon let the rest of the world figure out its problems. Like the Greens, they don’t care for a lot of military intervention and see free trade as a betrayal of American workers. They’re populists and they’re angry. There are a ton of them and they’re willing to fight for what they believe in.
• The Independents: While the Greens may pick up a great deal of support from young voters, many millennials won’t want to be labeled at all; thereby labeling themselves in the process. Like traditional Libertarians, they’re for small government, but they probably also believe in a healthy safety net for those Americans left behind. They likely believe in de-criminalization of drugs and major criminal justice reform. However, there will be things they disagree with the Greens and everyone else on vehemently, like over-regulation and government over-reach as they believe government has a place - but a well-defined and specific role.
Of course the lines between these five entities are blurred today and would likely be blurred if they ever came to fruition. No political party, despite its efforts can be all things to all people or even all things to one person. But the construct I’ve laid out above more realistically resembles where the factions of the two major parties appear to be this year.
What Happens If???
On a trip back to Washington, DC last week I had the chance to visit with a number of long-time colleagues in Republican campaigns. While there was a fair amount of head shaking and self-flagellation (we ignored everyone too long and Trump is our penance) one brought up an Electoral College question when I raised the four party option: What if we went to that political makeup and no one ever got to 270 electoral votes? What if every president was chosen by the US House of Representatives?
Only twice in the history of the Republic - 1800 and 1824 (in ’24 all four candidates were from the same party) has the House been required to determine the presidency. In only a half dozen races or so since then have third or fourth party candidates even garnered electoral votes - and the last two of those, 1948 and 1968, were Southern Bloc revolts led by Strom Thurmond and George Wallace respectively. At the Presidential level, in the 50 state campaigns that comprise the contest, voters should have more than two legitimate choices for the White House. This doesn’t mean however the far left or far right will necessarily sweep to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But after nearly 300 years in existence, the American political system seems more ripe and ready for political disruption. And that may be just what we need.