For My Republican Readers: Why Do We Need a Party? And How Are We Going To Win Elections In the Future?

All of us are familiar with the story that the Founders were opposed to political parties, and those of you who have gone through the previous posts on faction and equality can see deep arguments for why parties are a problem. The two I’m thinking of right now are:

  1. Parties may increase the chance that a majority faction imposes its will (the safer argument is that parties are composed of various factions).
  2. Parties make it hard for us to relate to each other as citizens; we think of each other as means to an end (pro-choicers ally with leftist evangelicals to get what they want), or we attack each other for similarly artificial reasons.

Right now, though, we’re seeing a classic case of why parties are absolutely necessary. Poor Senator McCain, in this age of candidate centered elections, doesn’t have a media fawning over him or anywhere near the slick marketing Senator Obama has. What Senator McCain could use is a Republican party that was halfway decent.

1. Problem: the Republican party is in shambles. Congress is most certainly lost for several cycles now. Most observers are placing blame at President Bush, but truth be told, everyone blames President Bush for everything. I actually think he was the last great hope for saving this party, and it was the structure of the political landscape that was too big an obstacle.

Consider – in 2000, when Vice President Gore was whining, Republicans were furious. Those “Sore Loserman” buttons were hilarious; there wasn’t DailyKos with the sort of leverage it had but there were plenty of right-wing media outlets online with almost similar power. It didn’t look like this party had anywhere near a dour mood. In 2002 and 2004 again elections were delivered and it looked like the Republican party was a force to be reckoned with for some time.

People underestimate just how good a campaigner President Bush is – we might never have seen anyone as good at campaign strategy as he is. Consistently the base was energized and new voters were being pitched to, for a time. Furthermore, he and Rove had a strategy to bring in Latino voters: he had (has) real concern for the future of the party, knowing that a party that’s growing old and with an active but small Evangelical component can’t win elections forever.

The deepest problem with this story – the reason why the Republican party has fallen apart now – is that President Bush was too good, and up against too much. Could any one person really build the Republican party for the future?

We, who were Republicans, took too much for granted.

I’ll prove it to you – go onto right-wing websites and ask how many people on those sites are younger than 40. It’s hilarious talking to other conservatives: numbers of them I’ve talked to dismiss younger people, the ones sometimes paying their Social Security now, as “dumb” and “ignorant” (I’m not going to humiliate the person who said this. I don’t talk to her anymore anyway). It’s really clear most people on the Right are older, much much older. And they’re doing their best to keep younger people away from the party, by setting a tone that makes it sound like young people have no concerns besides drugs and getting laid.

Case in point: I should vote Democrat. I know very few on the Republican side right now who could care less for what I teach. Why don’t I just vote for the party that will give federal dollars via a blank check to universities and give me more opportunites for a cush tenured job? Where does the Republican party cater to my self-interest, given the fact I do have qualifications and make something of them every single day?

Not once in these last 8 years of Republican rule was a serious attempt made by the party to build the party.

People want to blame Republican candidates for this. But that’s utter nonsense: the issue is larger than any given candidate. The young/old divide has occurred because the party has no common ground other than a vague appeal to values.

The same thing holds for the Democrats, btw: Senator Obama has so little experience that he might turn out to be one of our most conservative presidents. Who knows how the reality of holding power and being in charge of the military will shape him? And it’s not like he keeps his promises. What motivates Democrats right now is a vague sense that he’s Progressive. But there’s a big difference between catering to the Samantha Power crowd and actually endorsing their views because you believe them.

When we lost sight of the particular interests that should make us partisan, we became susceptible to how a campaign makes us feel. That inability to be specific, I submit, occurred with candidate-centered elections. Stripping the parties of their power actually alienated us from the electoral process more. Now we can choose what candidate we like, sure, but we have no clue what he stands for.

Whereas if the parties meant something, you would have to be able to articulate reasons for why you liked the party, as opposed to saying “I’m afraid of the other guy.” And if you have areas where you and the party disagree, you have to be vocal and make it clear that your voice matters. (Notice that I’m dodging any idea that there was a golden age of American democracy: I submit the process before this was probably too corrupt and insider. This process, though, might border on meaningless.)

So what you’re seeing in the Republican young/old problem is an appeal to values so vague that it is the mere tone which causes friction. The older elements just can’t stand hearing the younger ones, and that’s the divorce in a nutshell. Notice that the older elements drive the mindlessness of conservative media: How many times do Malkin and LGF and Rush and the rest have to repeat the same story? Isn’t there something a bit different to talk about? No? We’re gonna talk about the same thing for 8 years? Alright…

2. Solution: The Left has it halfway correct online. They’ve got people talking and creating, they’re active. They moved to increase participation here, and that alone won them midterms and will probably win them the Presidency. Even though the Obama campaign uses the Internet more than it uses him, there’s no doubt in my mind we would even be talking about Obama if it weren’t for the Internet.

Where they have it wrong is that none of this is building a party. Kos can preach “winnerism” and talk in terms of taking the party back, but I don’t think the wins are the same thing as having a party.

What a party does is plan for the future: forget Obama. Forget these Congressional elections. What do you want America to look like 10, 20 years from now? And what sorts of citizens will it have and how will it involve you?

The party takes the present concerns and makes them a platform. It gives a vision for America. Statesmen then determine what’s feasible and proper and work from there. But that looking ahead is critical: without it, all people do is attack each other over the pettiest of issues. Politics loses any sense of nobility.

I realize some of you probably remember C.S. Lewis saying the problem with Communism is that it believes in the future. That sort of applies to what I’m talking about: in a sense, this is an instantiation of the general will I’m working with here. But on a very real level, making pronouncements like “no one is allowed to think of the future” is simply idiotic. Of course you’re thinking of the future. You have hopes. And you should have a place to invest those hopes and deliberate with others, and you should be allowed to look ahead and ask for the country you want. It’s a free country.

You don’t have that option nowadays. All you’re allowed to do is ask for very specific things, like gasoline. To ask for those specific things, you need to embrace “change” and “hope,” or conversely the “maverick” who stood up to “special interests.” You must make a moral choice based on the tone of the candidate in order to get gas to drop a few pennies. The specific policy doesn’t originate from a genuine partisanship, or a real concern on the part of citizens. It only exists because the abstract appeals are so vacuous there’s nothing else to say in our media-obsessed world.

You already know the solution. I want to turn as much of the Internet as possible into a real teaching tool. And I want parties to take the lead.

I want the Democrats to help their members learn about John Dewey and the history of American labor and Margaret Sanger and Marx and Rousseau. I want them to be able to talk about Keynes and not have to go to Paul Krugman for quick and dirty talking points. I want to see Democrats that have an awareness of their party and country historically, and where progressivism fits into a larger scheme of ideas. I also want them to know what the other party’s ideas are and where they come from. Maybe Ayn Rand and Hayek should be on Democrat reading lists, at the least.

Maybe there should be a Democratic reading list.

I want Republicans to sponsor classes for anyone willing to learn, and yes, I volunteer to teach them. I will gladly teach Lincoln, Jefferson, the Federalist and go back to Locke and Blackstone and all that stuff if need be. I’ll even throw in a Bible reading seminar of an interfaith sort – we’ll read the Bible as literature.

This sounds ridiculous – the parties as educative – but think about what I’m asking. All I’m saying is that people should know why they believe what they believe. In the absence of formal education caring to do this, and instead only teaching specialized skills for making money, the party that embraced this would do a civic duty of the highest magnitude. It wouldn’t just inform its members politically: it would banish the utter chaos and vapidness of what we call politics today and bring back politics simply. We’d be better as people for being citizens, and I see nothing wrong with that.

12 Thoughts.

  1. ahh, my friend, yet another post that shows why i appreciate you so much. yes, you’re way more to the right than i but who cares. you are so right with needing to take a long-range view, with pointing out that everyone thinks of the future, with the need (NEED! N-E-E-D!!!) for people to get a sense for their political history.

    also, sections of your post could easily be translated into an article about what’s going on with a lot of churches. dear lord, please let’s not have anyone under 50 open their mouths! rampant, suicidal protectionism.

  2. want the Democrats to help their members learn about John Dewey and the history of American labor and Margaret Sanger and Marx and Rousseau. I want them to be able to talk about Keynes and not have to go to Paul Krugman for quick and dirty talking points. I want to see Democrats that have an awareness of their party and country historically, and where progressivism fits into a larger scheme of ideas. I also want them to know what the other party’s ideas are and where they come from. Maybe Ayn Rand and Hayek should be on Democrat reading lists, at the least.

    Maybe there should be a Democratic reading list.

    Well said My Friend

  3. This is a good post. I’ve been thinking very similar things. We need both parties (or more than two preferably) but we need those parties to be principled. I don’t think we do well with no opposition party (and actually I think that’s the state we’re currently in). I’d probably be considered “liberal” by most (because those terms are nearly meaningless these days) but I’m actually a small government states rights conservative. The federalist papers and the founding documents are I think the keys to getting people back on track but we need to make them accessible. The educational task is the biggest need. So at least to me I think you hit the nail on the head.

    I’m working with another computer programmer right now (he’d be considered more conservative, though like I said neither of us think those terms are doing us any good right now) to organize specific on line educational projects in this regard. Centered around some of the texts you mentioned. If you want I can keep you updated.

  4. If we knew our history and honored and upheld our founding principals, this would not be neccessary. However we don’t.

    If ignorance was money – most voters could bail out wall street by themselves.

    Religion is why 9/11 happened and oil is why we attacked.

  5. @ Dvader (are you named after Darth Vader?): Thank you! What specifically do you think the European press could learn?

  6. I would expect someone involved in education to say we can fix the problems with politics with education. I would also expect a banker to say the problems can be fixed with better monetary policy, a lawyer to try and fix things through laws and courts,……

    CS Lewis’s complaint about communism looking towards the future was intended as an insult to communists and progressive. He was saying what ever you strive for today will be what you strive to leave in the future. At the same time he is also encouraging people to embrace our traditions for they have reason and purpose built into them. The traditions are our forefathers telling us what they saw in the future. When he talked about forefathers he include statesmen, and the historical and religious figures (read Christian) of Western civilization.

    So if you want to rebuild or unshamble the Republican party or the country, the effort should be around that of keeping our historical and moral foundation and traditions intact. Funny thing, this is one really radical idea out there, and we need a real radical to be its champion. A champion will do more to move people then the academic, banker, lawyer,……

  7. Something else that needs attention is the liberal infiltrating CHURCHES of all places. Appointing openly gay bishops and pastors?!?!?! Say it ain’t so!!!

    In years past, the first place the community tuirned in time of need was the church. Churches were the focal point of every community. Churches actually did more to help in the community than anything else. The liberals realized much of their potential voting block voted based on religious ideology. Enter the ACLU to get prayer thrown out of public school, Roe v. Wade, and a host of other shams. They achieved it by reinterpreting the Constitution itself. Of course, they took great liberty in the redefinement, greatly ignoring multitudes of available text and misrepresenting the very few that could be beneficial to their cause.

    Courts are a 50/50 proposition though. Schools are quite another matter. Infiltrate schools with the liberal agenda, brain-wash children in liberal ideology and Presto, in a generation or two, the liberal agenda is main stream! In the process church membership declines as the perception now is churches are behind the times.

    Churches can and must counter that. Churches need to begin retaking the lead in their community. Unfortunately, not every church understands the importance of this. I was attending a church that sat on thousands in the bank. I kept trying to tell these people that they needed to be using that money in the community. When I lived in Louisiana, I attended a non-denominational church. This particular church was one of the most blessed I have ever been a part of. They started out with a group of 10 to 15 people that broke from a major denomination. Within three years, their membership was over 300. The pastor had been in the missionary field, helping the needy in soup kitchens, etc. Using that experience, he propelled the church into doing similar things. Each Thanksgiving, they went to the local welfare/food stamp office and found where the poorest area of town was. They then received permission from the local school in that area to prepare and serve Thanksgiving meals in the school gym. They started out sending invitations to the 10 most needy families in the area. By the time I left Louisiana, it was over 30 families every Thanksgiving. They also started a Christmas gift drive for needy families just before I left there. These are but two examples of how a church can get into people’s lives and make a huge difference. They also maintained a non-perishable goods locker. Needy peopl ecould come to the office at any time a get just about anything non-perishable that they needed.

    In the other church that sat on their money, I tried to get them to do similar things., But, they maintained the mentality that if you build it they will come. The church is almost dead today. I expect in the very near future, it will be gone completely.

    Churches cannot afford to sist on the sidelines and hope peopl ewill get involved. Churches must make people want to get involved these days. If the church is out there in the trenches making a difference, you will be able to see it. The town in Louisiana was so impressed with the way our church took care of business, they turned their entire food bank operations over to our church.

    Once a church starts making a very positive difference in its community and membership expands enough, the church can then confront the education aspect. The church can open a church school. Start out with maybe grades Pre K – 4th. WHen that program is flowing smoothly you can expand to 12th. Obviously, the downside is tuition costs. If your church is lucky, it can garner support from conservative philanthropists. These are things that have to be scoped out and requested beforehand. Obviously, the more support you have the better. That is a primary reason I fully support a voucher program. That will give me the ability to choose where I send my children to school. Right now, I have them in home school. The costs associated with hoeschool are approximately the costs I would be paying in public school. As it was, public schools were only verifying the teaching I was giving my children. If I am the one doing the teaching, why don’t I just do it all? That is why I went to home school. Home school is certainly a viable option. Many schools will allow you to finance the course on your terms. They best thing is, you know exactly what your children are being taught.

    Ultimately, churches need to regain the focus in their communities. In addition, they need to invest in educating our children as the public school system is only going to undermine what they learn in church. Talk about a stage for confusion.

  8. “The deepest problem with this story – the reason why the Republican party has fallen apart now – is that President Bush was too good, and up against too much.”

    Are you out of your mind? Bush had some of the greatest opportunities of any president (9/11 could have brought this country together in an unprecedented way, the economy was in good shape, etc.) Instead, he trampled on our civil liberties, borrowed, taxed and spent us into oblivion and destroyed our international reputation. How the hell is he “too good?” This is such an outrageous statement from anyone who considers themselves a conservative. I’m just baffled, stymied, aghast and mortified. This from someone who mentions Rand and Hayek. How much of the US does China own now? How much did it own 8 years ago?

    The neocons and the religious right can have this party. I’m going Independent or Libertarian.

  9. @ Georgia: Let me remind you that on December 8th, 1941, 90% of Americans did not want to go to war. By day 12 (TWELVE!) of Iraq, a New York Times columnist referred to the conflict as a “quagmire.”

    I don’t know what liberties of yours were trampled on, but if you mean you had to take off your shoes at the airport, I guess you’re right? The rules of asymmetrical war call for a traditional republic to (albeit temporarily) compromise. These measures were intended as a short-term shield, not a snubbing of the Constitution.

    The mere prospect that China “owns” America is hilarious. Sure, they have t-bills and gov’t bonds, but ask yourself how many assets we have there and the answer is an exactly balanced amount. Didn’t you ever learn the Circular Flow Model???

    I actually find it uplifting that you say our international reputation has been tarnished. If you wish to align yourself with the socialist bastions of Europe, or the dubious Middle East, perhaps the Republican Party was not your place to begin with. That we had to do things unilaterally and be bold affirms our moral clarity. The protocol for international conflict of ‘not taking sides’ Europe employs only empowered the likes of Mr. Arafat, et al. Have some moral clarity!

  10. This is a prescient post considering the Republican party still suffers the same problems now, three years later. Like some of the others here, I think the GOP needs to “get back to its roots” as opposed to clinging to the Christian/Big Business/Libertarian coalition ushered in by Reagan in the 80s. This seems unlikely any time soon, evidenced by the party’s unwillingness to embrace Ron Paul. I do like Christy’s chances in 2016 however…

  11. I am with you 100% on this one I too am a young republican and I too have seen how there is definite line drawn in the sand when it comes to building the party with both young and old votes. I was lucky and grew up in an area where my friends fathers were basically who i learned from and whom I feel gave me the stance I have today. The republican party needs to close the gap in regards to age and try to make it more open to values that are more current this day in age.

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