US,UN,Intervention: Political Parties

Defining the Political Parties

What do the Democrats, Republicans, Old Labour Party, New Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative parties actually do? This is has been a point I have been stressing for years: Don’t tell me what that organization or party says it stands for, what does it actually do?

Finally, after I have been carping about this for years, people are starting to listen to me and follow this approach of mine in defining political movements and organizations. See for example the introduction to Anatomy of Fascism, Robert Paxton’s latest book. Even he has finally started listening to me and is on board with this concept.

If you post here, say what party you belong too and then sort of follow this template (as soon as Peter or I post a template *G*).

If anyone is from countries other than the US/UK chime in. What is the real core thing one gets when the RPR is in power in France? Nationalism and national pride but less stridently than M. Le Pen? What? We would love to hear from you.


Easy. All political parties make it possible to avoid the unpleasant and time-consuming effort of actually looking at the voting record of individual candidates. Parties allow the whole election thing to keep functioning in the face of crushing voter apathy, and during times of actual interest in the political process, parties provide something to polarize around (i.e. you're a Republican, so you must be an evil, oil-loving Nazi who hates brown people).

So, don't look at me. I just vote Republican because the GOP is the most likely to act in a conservative manner but still move in groups large for actions to take effect as laws, political appointments, etc, despite outliers like... oh, say, Aaron Specter. Or many of Prez Bush's domestic policies. Geh.

As to what they actually do, a lot of the things (at least to me) the centrists are doing are indistinguishable from what the Dems want-- in my eyes, at least. I guess I should vote Libertarian, except that I'm really not a fan of their ideas either. I need to start a, "Nuke people who aren't the US" platform. Or maybe prevail upon Frank J to start a "Nuke the Moon" party. I don't know.

Posted by: Flakbait | 04/12/2004 - 10:50 PM

1) The Parties and the Voters


Rich bastard. (“Rich” meaning “has at least 1 more dollar than I do”). Not “Concerned” (see Democrat). Wears a baby fur seal coat to a ribbon cutting ceremony where he opens his new Oil Drilling Facility in the middle of a Baby Fur Seal Habitat. Hates children and the environment. Wants to poison both. Usually by putting mercury in school lunches. Old. Religious. Not religious in an acceptable Eastern-mysticism-you-can-claim-without-actually-knowing-nothing-about-it way but goes to church and stuff. Homophobic. Listens to “talk radio”, (i.e. not the government broadcasts on NPR).

Likes taxing everything. Sees Big Government Programs as the Solution To Any Problem (unless the program is run by the military in which case the military progam it _is_ the problem). Is Caring and Concerned. Concerned about the environment, homelessness, unemployment, second hand smoke, and lots of other things he his concerned he is not Informed enough to be Concerned about yet.

Has lot of bumper stickers to show his concern. “Stop Drilling for Oil” for example. Usually has one of those on _each_ of his 5 ton SUVs. Concerned about the Homeless and the Unemployed to almost the same degree he is Concerned about keeping new housing projects, new stores and new businesses Damaging the Environment (“The Environment” meaning “the amount of traffic I encounter while commuting in my SUV”). Hates religion almost as much as he hates second hand smoke. (Black Baptist Churches being an acception, of course, since he is extremely guilty about slavery. His ancestors were Italian peasants who didn’t come to America until 59 years after slavery ended, but he is guilty about slavery anyhow, just to be sure). Loves all cultures except Western Civilization (it is “Imperialistic” which has something to do with the Queen and Kaiser Wilhelm).

Is Concerned about Racism. Keeps a small note book to be sure he calls Native Americans (no, that was last week, uh, “First Peoples”, no, you only say that when translating for Canadian-Americans, “First Postal Codes!” that’s it) by the politically correct label. Worries that America might become some sort of “melting pot” where all sorts of different people and cultures blend into a swirled amalgam of combined shared traits. Because if we all mixed together and shared traits it would be hard to demonstrate you are not racist.

If you ask a Democrat a question, like “Tell me about Global Warming” he will say “I feel . . .”
If you ask a Republicans he will start “I think . . .”

(Try it as an experiment but don’t tell the people they are in an experiment).

More as things really are:

Republicans _used_ to be older, richer.while the poor and the youths were Democrats. Youth seem to be swinging to the Republicans now, though. I am not sure if this is rebelling against their Democrat parents or the rising terror they feel when calculate the cost pensions and medical care for the Baby Boomers. The Republican Party gets most of its support from business people and small business people, suburban and small town residents (a “small town” is a suburb you actually work in, rather than driving from to your job in New York or LA. There are a few “small towns” left in Iowa I am told).

The company owner would likely be Republican and hate all the government regulations, while the company workers likely be Democrats and want the government to make the work place safer. We have almost _no_ trade union members in the US any more save only the government workers unions (teachers, clerical workers for government etc.) I think we may have about 10-13% union membership. Mostly the people behind the desk at the Motor Vehicles Office when you go to renew your Illegal Alien Driver's License.

The Democratic Party gets most of its support from big cities, the North East and California. For those of you in Europe there is a part of the United States that is not New York, Harvard or Los Angeles. It is called “fly-over country”. But you can just ignore it. We all do.) The Democratic Party is very much the party of Government Employees. It works for them as its main constituency and they support it almost uniformly. The Democratic Party is also supported, exclusively, by the Lawyers organizations (the American Trial Lawyers Association). Black voters are almost entirely Democrat. Other non-white races much more split.

As an aside, there is a huge battle going on now for the Latino (Latin American) voter's support. Latin America (and Asia) are the big sources of immigration here, particularly in California and Texas, states with already huge and rapidly growing populations. Latinos have become the "biggest minority." That is Politically Correct Speech for “largest group that isn’t of European-ancestry. Although if you ever learned anything in school (other than sex-education and how to write letters to Congress saying your teacher wants a raise) you know might remember that Latin America has people in it whose ancestors came from Europe.

The struggle for the Latino vote shows a Big Schizophrenia of the two parties. The Latinos want more immigration, more government support for workers with entry level jobs, but they tend to be family oriented and religious. So being told (by the Democrats) "We love you. Join our party and we guarantee free health care for illegal aliens. Including mandatory abortions for all your devout Catholic daughters on their 13th birthdays" This makes them uneasy. They are not so uniformly committed to either party.

(I will get to “Social Conservative” and “Fiscal Conservative” in a bit. But as a clue, 98% of America (everyone but Al Franken and Rush Limbaugh) will say “I am Socially Liberal but Fiscally Conservative”.)

Did you know that _both_ Gore and Bush are fluent in Spanish and campaigned (in Latino areas) giving speeches in Spanish in the 2000 elections? John Kerry, on the other hand, is fluent in French. As you would expect.

And there are LOTS of Asian immigres from all over the pacific rim. The main thing (I will keep coming back to this) that makes the character of us so different from the character of Europeans is that we are a nation of continuous immigration.

Posted by: Drew | 04/13/2004 - 01:07 PM

2) The Parties and the Government:

Europeans probably think of our government as “The President”. We are lots more decentralized than that (intentionally). Bill Clinton himself said (after about 1 year in office), “I was amazed to find how much power Congress actually has.” Congress and the Supreme Court have a lot of clout. And the States are semi-autonomous in many things (but slowly the power is sliding to the Federal government).

Clinton and the Big Change:

For 50 years or so Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, was continuously in the hands of the Democrats. The Presidency went back and forth from Republican to Democrat (Johnson-Nixon-Ford-Carter-Reagan-Bush-Clinton) but no one seemed to pay much attention to Congress. Voters would think carefully about the people running for President and vote for the individual they liked best, but then just vote for their same old incumbent representative year after year.

Then Clinton came along and woke everyone up. He was a remarkably polarizing person (you loved him or despised him) and, after he had been in office 2 years at the 1994 mid term election the US voters were so panicked at what he was trying to do they actually paid attention to the candidates running for Congress (Clinton wasn’t up for re-election yet in 1994). They voted in new guys, mostly Republicans, and for the first time since before WW II the Republicans controlled the legislative branch. (The other thing Clinton did, indirectly, was make Bush president. If the Dems had had the wit to just convict him of perjury and be rid of him, then Gore, not Clinton would have been president, Gore would have run for re-election in 2000 as an incumbent and would surely have one. Clinton basically consumed the Democratic Party’s power and future to feed his own career and the Democrats love him for doing that. I guess that is what “charisma” means).

This loss of control of Congress was a huge cataclysm. Without going in to all the technical details a) the Republicans changes the structure of how the legislature worked. 2) Being in power tends to keep you in power. Take this “Campaign Finance Reform Bill” for example (please take it). It limits the amount of money an individual can give to a political campaign. But the amount you can give is higher if the candidate is already in Congress than if he is a challenger (you don’t think either party’s representatives would vote for any law that might make it easy for somebody else to get their job, do you?)

And we “redistrict.” Because the US population is rapidly growing and because it is very mobile internally we periodically re-adjust how many seats in Congress different states get. The people in power (both parties) being nobody’s fools, design the voting districts such that _their own_ seat is pretty sure to re-elect them. Since the balance shifted from Democrat majority to Republican majority not just in Congress but in most of the State governments this “make things safe for the people already in office” activity tends to perpetuate that Republican majority.

So the Presidency will likely fluctuate back and forth some in coming decades based on the individual candidates and their charisma, but I don’t see the Congress going back to Democratic control any time soon.

Now that they are in power, the Republicans are fragmenting and becoming more centrist. That is probably a natural effect of actually running things, and of the fact that, being in power, they attract a lot of people who want to be on the winning side but are not ideologues. Note for example the “We-love-small-government” Republican Congressmen are voting for all the government programs they can find, then making up new programs.

The Democrats, being out of power are becoming more ideologically pure and uniform (ie farther left). This is in part because a lot have thrown in the towel and quit (it is no fun being in Congress if you can’t accomplish much) but if you burn with True Fervor you will stick it out. The “New Democrat” thing seems dead.

John Kerry (the Democrat candidate for President) has the furthest left voting record of any of the 100 US Senators, for example (if you count “vote higher taxes/lower taxes, vote for military spending/against military spending, vote for/against new environmental rule. That sort of stuff.)

Nancy Pelosi (Party leader of House Democrats) is _way_ to the left of Tip O’Neal (who led the House Democrats while Reagan was President).

Posted by: Drew | 04/13/2004 - 01:12 PM

3) Minor Parties

We do have minor parties (Parties other than Democrat or Republican) in the US. They are not very interesting. A more interesting subject is why we have only 2 parties while other representative democracies have many parties.

We have the Peace and Freedom Party (whose platform is that the US should end the Vietnam War), the American Independent Party (a white racist party founded by George Wallace before Wallace found he could get more votes as a moderate liberal and joined the Democrats), an American Socialist Party and LOTS of other parties. In wierd places (mostly in California - Berkeley, Santa Cruz and San Francisco, and in Seattle) there are lots more. Berkeley (where the University of California is) has a Trotskyite Party. As I am sure you are aware they favor going directly to a world wide revolution to bring on the Worker’s Paradise and they particularly hate the mainstream (Leninist-Stalinist) Communist Party which preaches bringing on the revolution one country at a time. Berkeley town council meetings are well worth attending if you ever visit California.

Most of these parties are of absolutely no import. They have a few thousand members in a country of 300 million. And those members tend to be the people who worry about flying saucer conspiracies. Berkeley, Santa Cruz and San Francisco aside I don’t think any of them have ever even produced a mayor of a small city, and never a member of Congress (the one Vermont Socialist in Congress is a shill, see below).

There are two exceptions which did have an effect on US politics, however. That effect had more to do with the time and situation (“Set and Setting” as we say in California *G*) than the parties: the Green Party and the Reform Party.

The last presidential election was, as a fluke, incredibly close. You may have heard about this. The election turned on a tiny fraction of the votes, and, because we do not elect a president as a nation, but elect the president state by state (who ever wins the majority in that state gets a number of votes proportional to the state’s population) the election turned on an even smaller number of votes than the percent difference in the nation as a whole. The Green Party got a tiny portion of the popular vote. I think it was 6% (somebody can look that up, I won’t bother). This is actually a huge percentage for a third party in the US, probably reflecting how closely the population was divided between backing Bush or backing Gore (i.e. not only was the population divided 50-50 but some individuals were divided 50-50 and chose “other”.) Because the election was so close that 6% had a disproportionate effect on the outcome.

The Democrats are convinced “Bush is the Green Party’s fault” and are furious at the Greens. They are assuming that the people who voted Green would have predominantly voted Democrat instead (the Greens obviously being on the political left). But a lot of the Green voters were voting Green because they didn’t like either Bush or Gore. We will never know what would have happened if the Democrats could have outlawed the Green Party the day before the election but the 2000 election was so close the Democrats may be right. If you can ever be “right” about a hypothetical future.

The 1992 election (Bush 41, the current President’s father, vs Clinton) was similar. In 1993 there was a new party, the Reform Party which had a larger following that any minor party in a long time. That was Ross Perot’s party. Perot got a larger percent of the vote than the Green’s did in 2000. But it is not so clear the Reform voters would have all gone one way or the other had Perot never existed. Anyhow, Clinton won with more votes than Bush 41 but way less than half the popular vote. And maybe the Reform Party gave Clinton the election, maybe not (see hypothetical future above). But the Reform party did not carry a single state.

The Reform Party was the party for people who were unified in their dislike of both mainstream parties. They seemed to have almost nothing else in common. They produced Jesse Ventura (the Wrestler/Actor) who did win an office -- Governor of Minnesota (Governor of a state is a big deal although that may not be apparent to Europeans. Much bigger than being a Senator or Congressman). Jesse won in large part on his personality and not on any “Reform Party Principles” (Jesse Ventura has very little in common with Arnold Schwarzennegger although the two may seem similar. After all, both acted in “Predator.” (So did Carl Weathers. I am waiting for him to run for office.) I will get to Arnie (my governor and a rather a special case) later). Jesse has since faded from the political scene back into the sports/entertainment industries whence he came. Actually our Founding Fathers thought that was how things should be. Leave your day job, be in political office a few years, go back to the community. They didn’t want career politicians) and the Reform Party fell apart in part due to Perot’s charming personality (ask me if you don’t know) but in large part because there was never anything there other than “I don’t like the mainstream right nor mainstream left parties.”

So we have had only two minor parties that made any difference at all recently (vide infra - that is a little Latin to keep Cassie and Khobrah awake) and their “influence” was mostly to bollocks up an election where the other two parties were very evenly divided, not to actually win.

What is the last time a “minor third party” ever came to the fore (‘Anyone, anyone? Beuhler? Anyone’) and why does the US have only two parties where France or Italy have many? In my opinon (which is all these posts of mine are *G*) the answer is in large part “inertia”. In one of those countries where there are 37 parties and the government is parliamentary and always a coalition, it is possible to get 10% of the vote and be a player. In the US, where there are mostly two parties, if you get 10% of the vote then the election to the House Seat you are trying to grab comes out Repulican 48%, Democrat 42% and YourParty 10%. You came in third. And if you DO get a single member of congress elected then what? There are a couple of “sham third party” people in Congress (one “socialist” and a couple of “independent”s) but actually they are Democrats. They caucus with the Democrats, vote on leadership and committee positions with the Democrats, and generally follow what the Democratic whip tells them to do. What else should they do? Form their own caucus? How would they ever get on a Committee? “For chairmanship of the House Transportation Committee the vote is: Repbulican Lackey 253 votes, Democrat Lackey 200 Votes, American National Niceness to Everyone Party nominee 1 Vote.” Terrific.

There is a money problem too. This is a big country and you need a big organization to get on the ballot nationwide. Getting on the ballot only in Ohio and Nebraska is unlikely to get you propelled to national office. The Reform Party got around that by virtue of Ross Perot pumping gazillions of dollars of his own money into the party, and even he couldn’t get elected. (It is not only money that counts, in spite of what John McCain tells you). (As an extra credit question, where did Ross Perot’s gazillions come from? Hint: NOT oil).

If a third party does come along with a hot new idea what traditionally happens is one of the two other parties looks that idea over and if it seems likely to get votes from some reasonable fraction of the electorate they absorb that policy into their own policy. The last time a new party got started, it was only because the idea they proposed was SO repellant to the two existing parties neither would touch it. The idea was “abolish slavery” and the third party were called “Republicans”. But the idea caught on and they managed to get their man (Lincoln) elected president, finally.

Posted by: Drew | 04/13/2004 - 11:04 PM

You heard it here first:

I had said about Jessie Ventura the sometime actor, sometime wrestler, sometime governor of Minnesota:

"Jesse has since faded from the political scene back into the sports/entertainment industries whence he came."

Today he announced he "may" run for president of the US in 2008. He also said he thinks the office of President is "too confining," said that if elected he will move the White House to Minnesota because his wife prefers to live there. He also put out the political position statement that he won't have a political affiliation or, to quote Mr. Ventura: "No party, no nothing," he said.

See, as I said. He has gone back to the entertainment industry where he has considerable talent.

Posted by: Drew | 04/16/2004 - 06:46 PM

UK Mainstream Political Parties
Parties and their factions. How they see themselves and how others see them.

Social - Tories
Self: Family, community, class system, place, safety, Monarchy. Civilisation is going to the dogs due to: socialism, blacks, liberals, rock music, long hair, dope.
Other: Party of pensioners wishing the 1950s would come back. Hate Europe with vengence, out of touch, rant endlessly on TV, NIMBY.

Economic - Neo-Libs - Turbo Capitalists
Self: Absolute freedom subject to contract, de-regulate everything, America is the future, Europe is tired, why speak French?
Other: Red braces, designer lager, flats in London and NY, destroy Health System, loud, money mad, sell burgers to your kids in school, sleazy.

Old - Classic - Real - Socialist
Self: defend working men, big state payroll, unions, dignity of labour, projects, International Solidarity, sing the Red Flag.
Other: look, socialism died in 1989. OK? Grow up.

New - 3rd way - Blairism - The Project
Self: steal moderate Ec-Con policies, mix with 'communitarianism', sucker Lib Dems, form broad alliance - like 60s US Democrats -, befriend USA
Other: Conservatives with a red banner, use PFI financing for 'off-book' Enron style financing public projects, spin doctors, pagers, PDAs.

Self: the one party not bought by Big biz/unions, slowly built a real party after half a century in the wilderness, why do we never get on TV? community politics, build from grass roots up, costed policies, grow new talent, previous leader now runs Bosnia as UN High Representative.
Other: men in sandals dreaming of David Lloyd-George, unprepared for government, I can't remember their policies just now, never on the TV (apart from their leader who did a quiz show once), quiet lot, don't they run the local council? One of them got me a new bus stop once, I think?

There are other, smaller parties. Wales and Scotland have Nationalists. There are Greens. However the power is in Westminster and MPs are elected by First Past The Post. Like good racehorses their owners must feed and groom them expensively.

Posted by: Cobden | 04/17/2004 - 06:55 AM

Democrats ... Mostly the people behind the desk at the Motor Vehicles Office when you go to renew your Illegal Alien Driver's License.
Is this License a new "stealth tax" levied by the Califronia State Government to plug the hole in their finances?

I heard things were getting bad there...

Posted by: Cobden | 04/17/2004 - 07:03 AM

Thank you for the perspective on the UK parties. I thought they were concise, interesting, and humorous.

Posted by: Don Quixote | 04/17/2004 - 08:46 AM
Send this Post
Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):