There are some who say the the two main political parties are no different, that both have been captured by the capitalistic forces of business enterprise. (Never mind that capitalism is the economic system we’ve chosen to compliment our political system of republican democracy, or that capitalism itself is the most liberal economic system there is.) In this you have the disaffected Democrats of the Obamacrat years, and the Paulbots of the GOP, as well as a scattered group in the middle. Folks who subscribe to this point of view, however, miss the entire point of our republican democracy as it was envisioned by the founders, who laid out our values in the Declaration of Independence, and set the rules in our Constitution. The purpose of our government is to meet the compromise of the mainstream, to deliver what it is the middle wants while accommodating the extremes on both sides. This argument that the parties are the same does not resonate more broadly because it is false.
Recently, the parties have been subject to a realignment process. Democrats have adopted a New Conservatism, while Republicans have adopted a New Liberalism. The Democrats’ change has centered around the development of orthodoxy and dogma, as I outlined here. The Republican’s changes are of a more dynamic variety, bringing a much needed opening up of the stale Republican focus of the past. Once a staunch Democrat myself who was poised, like so many, to buy into the orthodoxy and dogma of the Democratic Party, I have spent four years evolving my thinking and having a series of revelations about the nature of politics and the changes happening within it.
But what has changed? Is it me, or is it Republicans?
The short answer is both. Yes, I’ve had many “click moment” in the last four years, moments where I questioned my own assumptions as all critical thinkers must do. While others have returned to the progressive borg, effectively unseeing what they once saw (so much for that theory), I have continued to forge ahead with clear eyes and more thinking, leading to those continuing revelations. And what I have seen coming from the Republican Party in those years has been a radical shift from what they were about in the 1980s, 90s, and much of the first decade of the new century. The adjective “radical” is employed deliberately, for it is the nature of this action that allows me to ascribe the other adjective, “liberal,” to their side. In their case, and in contrast with Democrats, it is both the ideas and the methodology that have changed. Before we start, let’s get a couple of definitions down on this one, too.
The broad definition of liberalism, according to Wikipedia, is as follows:
Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis) is a broad political ideology or worldview founded on the ideas of liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally liberals support ideas such as capitalism (either regulated or not), constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free press, free and fair elections, human rights and the free exercise of religion.
The first things likely to jump out at you as you read that is that capitalism is the first idea in the constellation of ideas, and free exercise of religion is last, and that neither of these are tenets of what we today call progressivism. So again we’re getting a look at how the leading forces within the Democratic Party are abandoning liberalism in the broad sense. But there are other, more defined definitions of liberalism, and since I will be referring to them, it’s important to get an understanding of them.
Classical liberalism is a political ideology, a branch of liberalism which advocates individual liberties and limited government under the rule of law and stresses economic freedom. (Source: Wiki)
Modern American liberalism is a form of liberalism. It includes Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism, Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier, and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. It combines social liberalism with support for social justice and a mixed economy. (Source: Wiki)
Neoliberalism is a label for economic liberalizations, free trade, and open markets. Neoliberalism supports privatization of state-owned enterprises, deregulation of markets, and promotion of the private sector’s role in society. In the 1980s, much of neoliberal theory was incorporated into mainstream economics. (Source: Wiki)
It is in the employment of these more specific definitions that things get tricky. It is the first, Classical Liberalism, that defines much of the shift happening in the Republican Party. But there are roots of the third definition as well, as suggested by the last line. These ideas about deregulation and free markets were espoused throughout the second half of the 20th century and gained a full head of steam during the Reagan years in the 1980s. They penetrated so deeply that by the time the 1990s rolled around, even President Clinton was willing to sign a bill like The Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act of 1999, which effectively repealed The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933.
The second definitions is particularly intriguing to me, because of what it suggests about the modern Democratic Party. Here we clearly see a couple of things. One is that Teddy Roosevelt pops out as the bridge between the subordination of the old Republican Party, the one that fought and won the Civil War, and that the ascendency of the Democratic Party that has been shaped by the formulaic foundations laid by Franklin D. Roosevelt, which he himself learned from his distant cousin, Teddy. It was then codified by the forces of marketing, as suggested by the related rolling names of various Democratic presidents’ “New” and “Great” programs. These are akin to the heraldry of the ascendant Democratic ideas of the 20th century.
What I see happening with the Republican Party, then, is a hybrid shift of liberalism and libertarianism taking hold. Continue reading