parties: they mean something now

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Wednesday, 17 August 2005

On pitw, Bruce Barry wonders why party leadership in Congresses past was more accommodating of the other side.  Bruce is right about there being greater party division than in the past.  The 1964 Civil Rights Act, after all, would never have been passed were it not for Republican Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen’s rallying of Democrats to President Johnson’s side. 

Anyway, below is my edited response to Bruce’s lament that Republicans are so much more "onerous" today than Democrats were before:

What changed beginning in the 1980s, was that the national parties realigned from a regional basis to a philosophical basis.

Go back 40 years. The two main contenders for the ’64 Republican nomination, Goldwater and Rockefeller, had nothing in common philosophically. A third of a century later, the two main contenders, Bush and McCain were far closer ideologically. The same philosophical realignment has also occurred on the Democratic side.

You want more evidence that party by regionalism is dead? The last four elections have been won by a pres/veep combo from the same region. Clinton/Gore was a South/South combo and Bush/Cheney are a West/West combo. That kind of thinking was taboo before, but since parties mean something now, regionalism means less.

Read McCullough’s history of Truman. Truman didn’t "know" he was a Democrat. He chose the Democratic party because, in his part of the world, that was the path to political power. (One could reasonably argue that by today’s rules, he’d have chosen the other party.)

Today, you pick party by philosophy–and actually, I find that a better alternative than what came before it.

My point is that party division is more pronounced today, and more meaningful than it once was. So, yes, party leadership is far less accommodating of the other party than it once was. But that’s because there is far less in common between the parties than there once was.

And you know that Democrats are secretly glad to be rid of Zell Miller, even if it means he was replaced by a Republican.

For the first time since the late 19th century, party identification actually means something now.

Is that a bad thing?

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