Party politics: Two small tents, with most Americans on the outside

April 5, 2015
Reid stands with Schumer as he addresses reporters in Washington

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) (R) stands with Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) after a White House meeting in Washington, October 10, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The big tents are shrinking. Republicans and Democrats used to take pride in calling their respective parties “big tents” with room for a diversity of views. That tradition has ended for Republicans. It may be on its way out for Democrats as well.

Some liberals are celebrating the fact that retiring Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada will soon be replaced by Senator Charles Schumer of New York. That’s because Nevada is a swing state. “By choosing leaders outside the party’s home turf,” Ari Melber wrote for Politico in 2010, “Senate Democrats up the odds that their standard-bearers will be distracted by close races — caught between the politics of their constituents and the national party.” Reid squeaked by in his 2010 reelection race with 50.3 percent of the vote.

That’s not likely to be a problem for Schumer. New York is a deep-blue state. Schumer won with 67 percent of the vote in 2010.

The main reason the tents are shrinking is that the number of swing states is diminishing. Congressional Republicans increasingly represent red states and congressional Democrats blue states. Thirty percent of Democrats in the House of Representatives now come from just two states — New York and California.

Newly elected House Majority Whip Scalise speaks to the media as Speaker of the House Boehner listens on Capitol Hill in Washington

Newly elected House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) speaks as House Speaker John Boehner (R) listens after House Republican leadership elections on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 19, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

At the same time, there is pressure to “purify” the party leadership by making sure it represents reliable party supporters and won’t face pressure to make deals – that is, “sell out.” This has already happened to Republicans. Representative Steve Scalise (R-La.) got elected House Republican Whip in 2014 largely because conservatives demanded a Southern Republican in a leadership position.

Scalise explained his role in an interview with Politico: “My goal is to get leadership to bring more conservative policies to the floor. It’s not . . . to get conservatives to vote for something they don’t like.”

The shutdown of the Republicans’ big tent occurred in three stages. First, conservatives demanded a place at the table. They got one when Arizona Senator Barry M. Goldwater won the Republican Party nomination in 1964 by offering “a choice, not an echo.”

Goldwater lost big time to Lyndon B. Johnson, but conservatives gained influence in the Republican Party. Second, conservatives won control of the Republican agenda. That happened when Ronald Reagan got elected president in 1980.


Senator Barry M. Goldwater, 1962. Wikipedia/Commons.

In the third and final stage, conservatives banished dissenters from the table. That happened with the rise of the Tea Party in 2009 and 2010. Tea Party Republicans refuse to tolerate moderates — or even conservatives willing to make deals. They’re party poopers. The Tea Party brought down former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) last year, and the long knives are now out for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio.).

The Democratic Party went through stage one when South Dakota Senator George McGovern won the nomination in 1972. McGovern, too, lost the election big time, but liberals gained a seat at the Democratic Party table. It wasn’t until the election of Barack Obama in 2008 as president that liberals gained control of the Democratic agenda. The 2010 and 2014 midterms saw a massive purge of conservative and moderate Democrats. But it was not at the hands of liberals. Moderate and conservative voters threw Democrats out.

Now liberal groups are trying to “purify” the Democratic Party’s message, mostly by pulling likely nominee Hillary Clinton to the left. Liberal activists are urging Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to challenge Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Their argument? A letter just released by a pro-Warren group warns, “If we end up with a single Democratic candidate — and little or no debate in the primaries — those of us unlikely to support a Republican nominee will be left voting for a Democrat who may be opposed to the Republican agenda but is not necessarily a champion of the vision of change that millions of us seek.”

US Senator Warren speaks at the Center for American Progress' 2014 Policy Conference  in Washington

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks at a Center for American Progress conference in Washington, November 19, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

What’s wrong with offering voters a clear choice? Nothing, really, except that the Constitution makes it difficult for one party to govern on its own. It’s not like a parliamentary system, where one party can take over the government and simply pass its program.

To do that in the United States, a party has to control the White House, the House of Representatives and at least 60 votes in the Senate. That rarely happens.

Democrats did control everything for a year when Obama took the Oval Office in 2009. But they still had trouble passing healthcare reform.

Normally, the only way Washington can work is through compromise and deal-making. President Bill Clinton once said, “If you read the Constitution, it ought to be subtitled, ‘Let’s make a deal.’”

As the party tents shrink, the distance between them gets bigger. And it gets harder to make deals. The likely result? Perpetual gridlock, which can be resolved only by the least democratic institution of government — the federal courts.


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Neither the democrats or republicans accurately understand the world, country, or the issues, nor do they put forth policy that would truly solve problems. They both have found follower tendencies and misconceptions that allow them to get into power. This is the only goal. There is no one among the democrats and republicans who is not either disingenuous in their intent or not bright enough to view reality accurately.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Partisan politics supersede the common a result..we have the current conditions. I hope I am around when the electorate gets wise.

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

The House is far more partisan than the Senate. In the Senate most fights are confined to the chamber. In the bar and the swimming pool the atmosphere quickly becomes more relaxed and collegial.

Posted by pbgd | Report as abusive

Time to break this country up. No point in over 150,000,000, on either side, getting a raw deal. Have a Tea Party country and a Liberal country.

Posted by MoCam | Report as abusive

McGovern may well have been the LAST true liberal to run for President under the Democratic Party. Since then, when not saddled with Republicans, the White House has been held by pols pushing Big Agriculture, Big Pharma/Insurance, and Big Banking, along with the Defense Industry. Take away what has been given to those behemoths BY DEMOCRATS, and we could actually address some of the crying needs of our citizenry.

Currently, we have a Dem President who, while a Constitutional Scholar, has overseen the shredding of our Constitutional Rights, targeted whistleblowers, is leading a 3rd go-round of war in Iraq, and simply not addressing the greatest income inequity since the Gilded Age. That is NOT Liberal, IMHO. I see the “Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party” as a targeted patsy group – the Party wants our $, but does not want/cannot dare to offend the big-$ interests that truly control politics in this century.

Posted by LynnJ | Report as abusive

A correction. The article reads:
“To do that in the United States, a party has to control the White House, the House of Representatives and at least 60 votes in the Senate. That rarely happens.

Democrats did control everything for a year when Obama took the Oval Office in 2009. But they still had trouble passing healthcare reform.”

Actually the Democrats controlled everything (including 60 Senate seats) for all of FOUR months in late 2009 and early 2010.. NOT for a year. And this is one of the big reasons they had trouble passing ACA.

I wrote this in 2012: “The Democrats had a kind of super-majority for all of four months, from September 24, 2009, until February 4, 2010… but that was ONLY if the Blue Dog Democrats and the two independents all voted as a block. And that was only about 24 Congressional working days. Also, the Blue Dogs are simply not an easy bunch to deal with; negotiations and deals needed to be made to get that 60 vote block to vote as one.”

I also wrote this timeline of that Super-majority:

“1. Al Franken represented the 60th Democratic vote and he did not take his seat until July 2009 due to challenges and recounts.
By that time, Ted Kennedy was too sick to attend the Senate.
2. Ted Kennedy died in August 2009.
Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts, appointed an interim senator who would only serve until whoever was elected in the Massachusetts special election would be seated. The interim senator, Paul Kirk, was a Democrat, and he was sworn into office September 25, 2009. At this point, the Democrats HAD A SUPER-MAJORITY.. but ONLY if the two independents and all of the Blue Dog Democrats voted as a block.
3. The special election to fill Kennedy’s seat was held in mid-January 2010, and resulted in the election of Republican Scott Brown. Brown was sworn into office February 4, 2010, after which time the Democrats NO LONGER had a super-majority.”

Posted by MiddleMolly | Report as abusive

Well its about time the GOP and the DNC got back to their respective ethnic roots and stop pandering to the riffraff of life. Protestants vs. Catholics is what its all about: Businessmen vs. Factory workers; Brains vs brawn; Those who build businesses vs those who are employed by businesses. Now is that not clear?

Posted by reed1v | Report as abusive

Two critical Information Theory rules are always at work, regardless of party discipline:

1) Information breaks down hierarchies
2) The most adaptive node in a network becomes the controlling node in the network.

Posted by ARJTurgot2 | Report as abusive

Is this North vs. South all over again?.. Well, with an “outsourced” slave labor in China, South might win this time around, but at the cost of losing the entire country though.

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive

“Red Team versus Blue Team,” “Republicans versus Democrats,” “(neo)conservatives versus liberals” — this is all a charade. The truth is that BOTH major parties serve a single ruling class.

Who is that ruling class? If you want to know, just look at the issues that both major parties always agree upon. Neither party questions the need for (let alone the morality of) a perpetual “War on Terror” that kills and terrorizes far more innocent people than terrorists ever could. Neither party questions the “War on Drugs,” which has ruined far more innocent lives than drugs alone ever could. Neither party dares to upset the Israel lobby, e.g., by questioning whether America should be continually fighting wars in the Middle East at Israel’s direction. It’s apparent that both parties are controlled by the “defense” industry lobby, the private prisons lobby, the “Israel uber alles” lobby, and others.

One thing you won’t see is our so-called representatives standing up for the Constitution. The last member of Congress to do that was Ron Paul. His efforts were valiant, but he was only one man fighting against a deeply entrenched power structure and an ignorant, brainwashed, apathetic public.

National elections in America are a joke. They’re only held to make you THINK you have a say in the direction the country takes. The candidates you are permitted to choose from are carefully vetted for allegiance to the System long before they ever appear on a ballot. Your vote does nothing more than help decide who will represent the oligarchs for a few years.

Posted by Heretic50 | Report as abusive

“It’s not like a parliamentary system, where one party can take over the government and simply pass its program. To do that in the United States, a party has to control the White House, the House of Representatives and at least 60 votes in the Senate. That rarely happens.”

It doesn’t happen because there is no general consensus on what such a program should be.

Posted by kpop | Report as abusive