Friday, November 7, 2008

Is it Time for a New Party?

Predictably, the Wall Street Journal is projecting disaster for President-elect Obama. ("Review and Outlook: Obama's Real Opposition," WSJ, 11/06/08, A18.) In this instance, however, it does not appear to be the sort of automatic gainsaying that generally passes for argument these days. Mr. Obama faces a very serious challenge from the entrenched interests in Congress, which the Wall Street Journal, probably with a high degree of accuracy, likens to the great feudal magnates who (contrary to popular historical myths) in many cases managed to subvert or derail the policies and programs of the executives of the day, then known as "kings" and "princes." It wasn't until the early modern age and the rise of the nation state that kings were able in many cases to centralize authority, often at the expense of local autonomy and by means of concentration of power, both economic and political, in the hands of a few.

Mr. Obama performed a near-miracle in bringing together the Democratic Party and getting it behind him. In the process, he had to make promises to a large number of special interest groups, especially the powerful "barons" in Congress. Like the magnates of old, however, all of these have their own agendas, many of which may be at odds with each other, and some of which may even be contrary to Mr. Obama's overall proposal to unify the country around something other than fear or detestation of President Bush.

Somewhat ironically, Mr. Obama may find that salvaging success from his victory may be a much harder task than the victory itself. The Democratic Party managed to pull itself together for the election, but it remains to be seen whether it can stay together long enough for the president-elect to reconcile what at this point seem to be some very irreconcilable interests, any one of which could throw a serious monkey wrench into the works.

If the Democratic Party is on shaky ground, however, the Republican Party is in a shambles. The buzz on the internet yesterday was whether Sarah Palin can pull the Grand Old Party together. With all due respect, Mrs. Palin is probably not the person to do any such thing. Frankly, it may be time for the Republican Party to dissolve itself, and for another party to take its place, one with a more coherent vision and sound strategy.

We realize that this is a touchy subject, especially when the Republican Party is involved. No good Republican (and we have yet to hear anyone describe him- or herself as a bad one) could possibly forget the example of the ill-fated "Bull Moose Party" (officially, the "National Republican Progressive League"), formed by Senator Robert La Follette in 1911. The new party ran Theodore Roosevelt for president in 1912. Roosevelt got 25% of the popular vote, which split the Republican Party, and brought Woodrow Wilson into power on the Democratic ticket.

With the example of the Bull Moose Party in front of them, Republicans are going to be very leery of any such proposal. They are going to have to keep in mind, however, that the Bull Moose Party was formed in opposition to what was perceived as the dinosaur conservatism of the Republican Party controlled by President Taft, but also to oppose the "radicalism" of the Democratic Party; it was construed as a progressive alternative to outdated conservatism and unthinking liberalism.

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats of today are as unified as those of nearly a century ago. There need be no fear of splitting a party — that's already been done. The Democrats have managed a temporary internal truce in the face of a common "enemy" (who, if precedent is any indication, will be judged much more kindly by history), while the Republicans appear to have dissolved. A truly progressive alternative along the lines of the "American Revolutionary Party" may be just the thing to bring together moderates in both parties. Frankly, neither party has anything to lose by taking a look at the platform.

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