Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Three Party System No Good? How About Four? 

A rather lengthy comment chain to a Roger Simon post addressing same-sex marriage veered off (as comment chains are wont to do) into a tangent on the viability of third parties in the American political landscape. The general consensus was that third parties have, traditionally, either died on the vine or supplanted an existing party, leaving us with, for better or worse, a generally bicameral system. This was certainly the story seen by the Reform Party that bounded on the stage just long enough to monkey wrench the GOP’s efforts in 1992 and complicate things a bit in 1996 before fading into relative obscurity. This discussion, however, revitalized a thought that has been swimming about in my head for some time and about which I wanted to write.

While politics in the US is generally viewed as consisting primarily of two parties, I feel that it is perhaps more accurate to think of this as two coalitions of two parties each. This election year, especially, has helped to highlight the internal divides within the parties and I feel that amplified internal stress within the parties is the most likely catalyst of significant change on the political landscape. Additionally, the perceived strengths of each element may also serve as motivation among other dissatisfied elements to drive toward schism as a means to assert their own ascendancy.

The Republican Party is generally equated with conservatism, but that actually represents but a part of its makeup. In this regard, I would define the Conservative branch as that group that believes in traditional moral and societal norms and believes that the government should do what is appropriate to either preserve or promote those values. This group, of course, includes the so-called Religious Right as well as other not so religious but less well organized individuals for whom traditional morality is important. Unfortunately for the Republicans, though, this also sometimes includes those who may wish to preserve old societal traditions that are not morally based (most notably racist and other bigoted groups). The second major constituency of the Republican Party I would call the Libertarianism branch. While not exactly the same as the big-L Libertarians we all know and love(?), the same ideals of smaller, less intrusive government and greater personal liberty (and responsibility) are common. While there are many in the Republican Party that share both Conservative and Libertarianism beliefs, there are also Conservatives that believe in a stronger government role in protecting morals and values as well as Libertarianists who are uncomfortable with "legislated morality" but who none-the-less make their home in the Party as a mater of practicality.

A similar duality is evident in the Democrats, where the semantic opposition to the Conservatives would be logically termed Liberals, but which I think is more properly identified by the nomenclature Activists. The Activists are really more of a coalition among themselves of specific causes (Feminism, Gay Rights, Animal Rights, Environmentalism, etc.) that originally banded together for strength in numbers. Over the years the Activist agenda has become more a package deal in that today one can almost count on a certain base level of support for all causes from any in this group. As with the Republicans, the Democrats also have an economic-based component, which I call Socialism. Now, before anyone gets offended or thinks I’m tossing out insults or whatever, let me be clear that I use this term to represent what I generally see in the Democrat Party as an emphasis in economic matters on the government supporting the society in which we live. Many traditional Democrat initiatives (New Deal, Great Society) are largely concerned with strengthening the social structures of America and ensuring the oft-referred to "social safety net."

What I think we are seeing in this election, though, is an amplification of a trend in the Democrat Party that began in the '60s: the rise of the Activists as the dominant force in the Democrat Party. With this shift, though, we are also seeing more and more disaffected Democrats that share Zell Miler's traditional values who are looking for other allies. This was also the motivation behind the infamous Neo-Con movement that began in the '80s. As a side effect, the stronger influx of Socialists Democrats into the Republican Party has helped strengthen the Conservative branch. This is seen more and more by the disaffected Libertarianists Republicans feeling betrayed by a party that seems to be embracing more and more big-government solutions. For the time being, these Libertarianists still feel they have no real alternative as the Democrats, by and large, are still more Socialist than the Republicans, but that may change.

This highlights the importance of perception of political viability as it relates to the various parties and groups. If the Activist Democrats unintentionally succeed in driving enough Conservative-Socialists into the Republican camp it may create a de facto Republican hegemony. It seems we are close to that now, and the unique pressures placed on the voting public to reconcile party loyalty with either support or opposition to the war only helps to exacerbate the dynamic. The only real question is if the Conservative-Socialists will find a comfortable home in the Republican Party and if the Activists realize what is happening in time to try and woo them back. If this hegemony does grow and is recognized, though, a new dynamic comes into play. For if the Libertarianists believe that their support and strength is no longer essential to Republican Party success there will no longer be any reason for them not to separate and work toward their own agenda. It is my belief that separated from big-government allies and united with big-L Libertarians this bloc will not be insubstantial. While they certainly have a degree of power in some isolated locations (San Francisco, Seattle, some parts of NYC), I do not think the Activists by themselves could ever be more than a minority interest. The question then in this possible future political landscape is if the Activists stay outside the larger picture and degenerate into a fringe party or if they will recast themselves outside the current model of relying on government largess to join with the Libertarianists.

GEEK ALERT: If you don't want to wallow in my misplaced youth and joutney deep into the heart of geekness, you can stop reading.

A recent link from Glenn Reynolds reminded me of the vast amount of time in my teenage years spent with graph paper and dice playing Dungeons and Dragons, and I saw in that game a parallel with some of the political ideas expressed above. In D&D, a characters' (and even creatures') general nature was expressed as alignment. In the original game, alignment was defined as Lawful, Neutral or Chaotic. While most people tended to treat this as equivalent to Good/Evil, it really was meant on a more metaphysical level and came from Michael Moorcock's Elric saga (known today as part of the Eternal Champion), in which a cosmic struggle between Law (or Order) and Chaos (or Entropy) was ongoing and the role of great heroes in that war was important. With the release of Advanced D&D (or AD&D), though, alignment became more complex. Rather than just a one-dimensional number-line sort of scale, it had been transformed into a two dimensional grid where Law/Order (or Chaos/Entropy) was still relevant but with less metaphysical undertones, and into which Good and Evil had been introduced along the second axis. This then allowed a spectrum in which to define one’s nature. I think you can see where I’m going with this, and the obvious identification of Law with Socialism and Chaos with Libertarianism. I will leave it to the individual reader to decide how the Good/Evil and Conservative/Activism correlation is to be made. By thinking of this as a graph on which one’s individual tendencies toward the different extremes can be represented it is quite easy to see how a Conservative-Socialist can easily find more in common with a Conservative-Neutral than an increasingly marginalized and extreme Activist-Socialist party. I find thinking of individual groups in this way helps to identify some of the clearly labeled sub-groups (for example, Libertarians can be considered Libertarianism-Neutrals while true Anarchists are clearly Libertarianism-Activists). This isn’t really anything new, but thought I’d just put a geek-twist on it.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?