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Saturday, December 11, 2004
WHY NO SOCIALISM OR MARXISM IN AMERICAN POLITICAL LIFE: 1st of 2 Articles
A few days ago, a buggy article appeared that analyzed the nature and range of political ideologies around the world. Its main point? To show that the US is unique among industrial countries, lacking either an influential left-wing socialist tradition, Marxist or otherwise, or anything equivalent to the statist-conservatism that flourishes in Japan and everywhere on the Continent of West Europe these days. In particular, on the American right . . .
. . . The Republican Party Is Unique
With few exceptions, American conservatism has always been generally opposed to paternalistic big government, on any grounds --- not that Republican politicians, hypocritically to be sure, won't dish out benefits on a grand scale to their constituencies or provide subsidies or protection to certain manufacturing or agricultural firms . . . usually big corporations, generous with their campaign contributions for their patrons. companies. All politicians, everywhere --- whether on the left or right --- do this. It's a professional hazard. What alone differs is the PR-fluff used as rationalizations.
Still, the Republican party remains unique in the industrial democratic world with its suspicions of big government and partisan preferences for free markets.
These days, the only other major conservative party that has strong leanings toward smaller government and freer markets similar to the Republican Party is the British Conservative Party; and even then --- until Margaret Thatcher routed it with her powerful anti-welfare measures in the 1980s --- it had a strong Tory paternalistic wing, with roots in pre-industrial, pre-democratic British life extending back to the 17th century, that had no trouble managing the advanced welfare-state that the Labour Party established in Britain after 1945. And come to think of it, not only managing that rapidly growing welfare-and-regulatory state, but extending it during the 1950s, 1960s, and most of the 1970s. Elsewhere, since the 1980s too, Australia's Liberal Party has emulated Thatcher-like and Reagan-like economic and social programs; and under various shifting guises and coalitions, so have the motley number of conservative and liberal parties in New Zealand.
Well, the next article in this series will try to pin down and clarify the various reasons why American conservatives continue to differ from Japan's Liberal Democratic Party --- in power for the last half century (except a 9-month flurry early in the 1990s) --- or the EU's numerous Conservative parties whatever they're called, whether Christian Democrats, Gaullists in France, or those in Scandinavia and Holland . . . their names and fortunes varying over the last few decades. For instance, Italy's Christian Democrats were that country's biggest political party until the end of the 1980s, after which, as one scandal after another was uncovered by some courageous magistrates and journalists, it disappeared . . . as did, come to think of it, the country's second or third biggest party, the Socialists who were found to be no less corrupt. Remember, too, as several buggy articles have shown --- most recently in mid-November 2004 --- to the right of these mainstream statist-conservative parties there has emerged, with jolting force, several populist right-wing breakthrough parties.
No Less Unique: The Democratic Party's Heritage
All of which brings us to our main topic in today's article, which requires a shift of focus back toward the left-side of the political spectrum: the lack of an influential socialist or Marxist tradition in American politics, historically or otherwise. The argument, you'll note, unfolds in three steps:
1. Some introductory comments about the uniqueness of the left-wing side of the ideological spectrum in the US.
2. A more focused if brief survey of the Democratic party's radical heritage --- always eventually modified --- in the 19th and 20th century, and right down through the Clinton era.
3. Most important of all, a sustained analysis that pins down the reasons for the absence of any socialist appeal to the vast majority of American workers --- whether in manufacturing, agriculture, mining, or the service industries --- in the past and even less so in the present. It will range widely, this analysis: it will look at a variety of economic, political, social, and cultural influences that have shaped the left-side of the American ideological spectrum for over two centuries now.
THE ABSENCE OF A LEFT-WING SOCIALIST OR MARXIST TRADITION IN AMERICAN POLITICS: SOME INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS
Is the Democratic Party Really Unique in the Industrial Democratic World
Yes, strikingly so. Historically, it has eschewed even the paternalistic, but clearly non-Marxist statist-heritage of the British Labour Party . . . at any rate until the last decade, since which time to stay in power and compete effectively with the Conservatives it has shifted to the more free-market orientation initiated on the right by Margaret Thatcher. Labour, it's true, officially renounced in the late 1950s its historical platform to nationalize all industry; but then, more or less at the same time except in France, so did all the other West European Socialist or Social-Democratic Parties with their influential Marxist heritage, including a theoretical commitment to class-warfare.
A clarifying sidebar comment or two: When the British Labour Party was formed in 1900, a good three decades or so after the British working class could vote, it applied to join the Marxist Second Socialist International. The Continental socialists were puzzled. They were committed, in the German phrase, to Klassenkrieg . . . class warfare, something the Labour Party's founders never espoused or wouldn't. Eventually, in typically hair-splitting German fashion, Labour was given an OK when it was said to at least support Klassenkampf: class struggle.
As for the French Socialists, it finally achieved dominant influence in French politics in the 1980s, winning the presidency for the first time and governing in a coalition with radical Greens and Communists --- at one time, until the end of the 1950s, the country's largest political party after 1945. The faithful on the French left were joyful. Socialism --- a big breakthrough past the huge statist welfare-and-regulatory state the French left and right had already constructed after 1945 --- was looming just on the horizon. What happened quickly disillusioned the left. The few radical economic programs the Mitterand-dominated government toyed with quickly sputtered or backfired amid vast unpopularity, and essentially the socialist Prime Ministers and others in the executive ended up administering welfare policies scarcely different from those in Germany or Northern Europe.
US Trade Union Leaders Less Concerned With Income Equality Than Swedish Industrialists
To make sure you grasp just how different the Democratic Party has been in its ideological heritage, note something especially revealing about American attitudes --- even on the political left here --- towards income redistribution. In an unusually stimulating book on ideas of equality in Sweden, Japan, and the United States, a Harvard team of political scientists combined with a team of Swedish and Japanese scholars and found, to their surprise, that even American trade union leaders were willing to tolerate a much larger range of income inequality as something desirable, a goal to achieve, than were the owners and managers of Swedish corporate industry. The same was true, interestingly enough, of the leaders of American civil rights movements. (See Sidney Verba, Steve Kelman, and others, Elites and the Idea of Equality: A Comparison of Japan, Sweden, and the United States (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987)
And Yet Note Quickly:
American wage-earners (as we'll see with good statistical evidence alter) were not only always richer than Europeans after 1800 or so, but --- contrary to left-wing mythology here --- the income distribution was also more equal than anywhere in Europe . . . as late, believe it or not, as 1970.
Was this actually so? How was it possible?
Or at least students in the buggy prof's classes, full of wonder, would always query when the relevant stats were supplied.
No surprise for their confusion; not really. After 1968, you see, they had grown up in a school and university system --- reinforced by lots of liberal media hype --- in which politically correct arbiter dicta prevailed; and so they naturally came to believe that, whatever virtues American capitalism had, the rich and affluent had clawed their way to the top on the sweat-and-brows of half-downtrodden workers and minorities. So here are the stats, taken from UN studies of income distribution in the mid- and late-1960s, compiled by a noted left-wing sociologist in the mid-1970s, S.M. Miller . . . a committed egalitarian.
Percentage of the National Mean Income Received by Quintiles; and Spread Between the
Mean of the Top and the Mean of the Bottom Quintiles (Mean = 100)
In The 1960s
Sources: 1) Adapted From Dr. Paul Stevenson, Globalization and Inequality
|Country ||Year ||Income quintiles ||Income range |
of the top
and bottom quintiles
| || ||Bottom 20% ||Middle 60% ||Top 20%|
| || || || |
| || || || |
|United States ||1964 ||26.0 ||89.0 ||205.5 ||1:7.9 |
|Denmark ||1963 ||25.0 ||86.0 ||216.0 ||1:8.6 |
|United Kingdom ||1969 ||25.5 ||84.0 ||221.0 ||1: 8.7 |
|Norway ||1968 ||22.0 ||93.0 ||197.0 ||1: 8.9 |
|Sweden ||1969 ||23.8 ||87.0 ||214.5 ||1:9.0 |
|West Germany ||1964 ||26.5 ||69.0 ||265.0 ||1:10.0 |
|Holland ||1967 ||21.4 ||83.0 ||227.3 ||1:10.6 |
|Finland ||1962 ||12.0 ||80.0 ||246.5 ||1:20.8 |
|France ||1962 ||9.5 ||74.0 ||268.5 ||1:28.3 |
2) Stevenson, in turn, has based his table on the work of S.M. Miller and Martin Rein. "Can Income Redistribution Work?"
Social Policy, May/June 1975, Table 1, p.4.
A Quartet of Sidebar Clarifications:
(i.) For the time being, note simply that the US had the most "equitable" distribution of pre-tax income as late as the 1960s, something --- to repeat --- that was not new. What would be new would be the huge expansion of the EU welfare state, taxes, and transfer-payments after 1970 --- even as per capita income growth slowed down markedly --- to compensate for the pre-tax inequality that historically marked West European economic development, right through the industrial age of the 19th and most of the 20th century.
Nor is this all. Another noticeable trend has been at work since 1965, the year when immigrant legislation was changed in this country and national quotas favoring West Europe were abolished. Since then, the US has absorbed 50 million immigrants --- 40 million legal, and 8-12 million illegal (according to the Federal Government), mostly low- and semi-skilled workers. In the upshot, the supply of low-skilled workers in the US has dramatically increased; in particular, it has reduced the wage increase in the bottom quintile for the next generation, while adding markedly to the wage-premium that higher-skilled workers received . . . a trend that was only reversed when the economy boomed after 1995 and low-wage income actually rose faster than that of income in the top quintile, at any rate until the end of 2000. Most recent scholarly work, it should be added, finds that this impact of immigration tends to overwhelm other influences here, such as globalization of the US economy and the big shift to an information-based economic system.
(ii.) As we'll also see in the next article, a similar influx of immigrants to the USA in the late 19th century held back the wages of low-skilled workers in those days too, just as it reinforced higher-wage premium of skilled labor in the US. Even so, unskilled labor in the US in 1914 was still 59% higher than the equivalent in Great Britain . . . still the richest country in the West Europe at the time --- Britain's wages for unskilled labor about 20% higher than Germany's and 40-45% higher than France's. The two European countries closest to Britain on the eve of WWI were tiny Denmark and tiny Sweden, their wages for unskilled workers only about 10% lower than the British on this score.
About the only other rival influence is the demographic shift, particularly marked in the US --- especially among poorer Americans and above all African-Americans: the dramatic decline in marriage even as single-parent mother-headed families soared. In the early 1950s, two-parent families were almost as common among African-Americans as among whites: roughly 85% vs. 89% of any family with children. By the late 1990s, about 70% of African-American babies were born to unwed mothers with no father present. The result? Whereas two-parent black families earn virtually the same income as two-parent white families --- the difference trivial, especially when you control for age levels (African-Americans are younger) --- the income of African Americans overall averages only about 62% of white income. Note that by the end of the 1990s, too, about 28% of white babies were born to unwed mothers too.
(iii.) Later on, we'll update these income comparisons across countries to the end of the 1990s. The final point to note here is something else.
In particular, these comparisons of income distribution --- whether in a country for any one year (or brief period) or across countries for similar periods --- are misleading, and for a clear-cut reason: at best, they produce a picture of a static income distribution when in fact there is a large movement up-and-down the quintiles over time, a matter of income or social mobility. The movement, as we'll see, is especially big in the US.
Both in the US and with others, recent studies show that there is and has been far more individual income mobility than in West Europe . . . contrary to some earlier studies of the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, and largely for conceptual confusion that --- even when charitably viewed --- seems ideologically tainted.
Among the recent European publications is an excellent study carried out by a Belgian economist found far more income mobility in Germany than in Belgium, and far more in the US than in Germany itself. Philippe Van Kerm, "What Lies Behind Income Mobility? Reranking and Distributional Change in Belgium, West Germany and the USA" IRISS Working Paper Series, No. 20003-03. He notes, as a few others have recently, that the huge bulk of work in West Europe over the previous generation confused two things when measuring mobility among EU countries and between them and the US. Specifically, they didn't distinguish between two very different things: 1) the increased income that a German worker would get 10 or 15 years after the initial year of a statistical study --- say, 1975 compared to 1985 or 1990 --- and 2) changes in the movements up or down across income quintiles of that German worker and others. The former --- increased income without looking in which quintile that German worker started and where he or she was 10 or 15 years later --- could be entirely due to the overall gain in the living standards of the German economy. The individual himself might not have moved up or down at all from one quintile to another. It has nothing to do per se with upward income mobility or downward mobility.
Only by looking at the flow upward and downward of individuals in the same 10-15 year period --- or 20 or 30 if a study could track individuals for that length of time --- would you be able to pin down how much upward mobility there might be in a national economy. Kerm and others refer to this kind of income movement as positional. Needless to say, it is more or less what the man-in-the-street thinks social mobility is. It and some other recent work by West European specialists will be cited and discussed at length in the next article here.
(iv.) Fortunately, we have some very good recent studies in the US, that track such mobility.
For instance, a good study by the US Treasury showed that between the late 1970s and late 1980s --- which tracked household tax returns --- found that 86% of Americans I the bottom quintile in 1979 had moved into a higher category by 1988. No less revealing, someone who had been in the bottom quintile in 1979 --- say, a law student, business student, grad student, or medical student among many others --- was more likely in 1988 to place in the top quintile than in the bottom quintile.
That study was then extended back to 1975 and into the 1990s by two economists working for the Federal Reserve Bank of Houston, Cox and Alm, who found that only 5.1% of those in the lowest income quintile remained there sixteen years later (1991), while 29% had moved into the highest income quintile. (The study would have found even more upward mobility had they looked at individuals who were under 32 years of age in 1975 . . . either students or those early in their work careers.)
To repeat, we'll flesh out all these points in the next article in this series on ideology.
A BRIEF HISTORICAL SURVEY OF RADICALISM AND THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY FOR MORE PERSPECTIVE HERE
Are there any exceptions here to the Democratic Party's aversion to socialism? Only tangentially so.
Off-and-on, there have been recurring period of radical politics in American life, frequently --- not always --- to the good: Jeffersonian and Jacksonian mass-democracy in the early 19th century; agrarian populism and middle-class progressive movements of the late 19th and early 20th century; the efforts in the same period right through the 1930s to organize industrial workers, often in militant if peaceful ways by the CIO and the especially the miners; the New Deal days of the first Frankly D. Roosevelt administration in the 1930s too; and the overlap between the mass-based civil-rights movement led by Martin Luther King and the Great Society programs of the Lyndon B. Johnson period in the 1960s.
And yet, no socialism ever emerged . . . nothing like the advanced welfare-and-regulatory states that emerged all over West Europe starting with Sweden in the early 1930s and spreading elsewhere after WWII, Britain no exception.
The Closest Approximation?
Beginning in the 1930s, the Federal government under FDR initiated the New Deal programs of social insurance for unemployment, injury, and retirement, all of which became mainstream in the US by the 1950s and were embraced strongly by Ronald Reagan as necessary and desirable for a complex industrial and urban society. The high-point of regulations and redistributive ambitions came in the mid-1960s Great Society initiatives: a big extension of welfare to low-income people; other poverty programs like food-stamps, rent subsidies, and Medicaid; and Medicare for the retired. Presidential Johnson, you'll recall, also introduced several new programs, regulatory and otherwise, like environmental protection, occupational-and-safety measures for workers, affirmative action, and school busing (the latter implemented vigorously in the Nixon era after 1969) . . . all fanfared, you might also recall, with promises of a better, more just America.
Some of the programs from that era remain: for the environment, for occupational and safety hazards, and for medicine and health like Medicaid and Medicare, the latter now extended considerably by George W. Bush. Those that remain, it's important to add, have generally been successful and made the US a better place, just as Roosevelt's New Deal programs did. But, inspite of that, the era of the Great Society's ambitions --- which would, if implemented over the decades, have moved more toward a EU welfare-and-regulatory state --- lasted only about 15 years, ending in the 1980 victory of Ronald Reagan in the presidential election that year.
Quite Simply: What Happened Was Widespread Disillusion with Liberalism's Over-reaching and Excesses
By 1980, as both survey data and electoral outcomes showed, the American people had had enough of the Great Society and Big Government, scarcely any of whose fanfared ambitions for redistribution and egalitarian purposes were fully realized. Just the opposite, many backfired. Instead of uplifting inner city African-Americans and others into solid, middle class citizens, increased welfare spending and related programs coincided --- and played a clear role --- in initiating a dismal period of bursting illegitimacy, bursting drug-usage, surging street crime, and frightening violent crime. Simultaneously, the new ambitious regulatory apparatus coincided with an increasingly poor economic performance: a major slow-down in productivity growth; double-digit inflation by the end of the 1970s; and growing unemployment.
But note. Not all the Great Society programs for relieving poverty and redistributing income would be contested by Republican Presidents or Congressmen. Medicaid, food-stamps, and welfare transfers remain in place for those defined as being in poverty, around 12% of Americans these days . . . though the ability to receive these benefits now depend on a commitment to find work and take a job for those who aren't disabled or in retirement. Medicare for those over 65 years of age not only wasn't reduced, it's been extended considerably by our current president and a Republican Congress. And social security's extensions --- including inflation-adjusted benefits --- have practically wiped out poverty among the elderly, the biggest group in that category as late as the mid-1960s.
Still, there was no gainsaying the growing disillusion with liberal ambitions across the country by the late 1980s.
Consider the record here. Not for nothing were Democrats more and more stigmatized as Tax-and-Spend Liberals by Republicans . . . a tag, you'll remember, that was repeatedly invoked by President Bush in the unusually informative presidential debates during October and that put John Kerry, not always accurately, on the defensive. Not for nothing were they vulnerable to the charge that they were mainly concerned with providing benefits, financial or otherwise, for their constituencies irrespective of the costs or harm to general well-being: --- unions, organized groups among minorities, feminists, gays, and others that, it was said, neglected the general well-being of the country. And it wasn't just partisan rhetoric to claim that far too many Democrats --- national and especially on the local levels --- were more concerned with criminals if they were non-white minorities than with crime-victims and unsafe streets. Not to mention siding with cultural changes that more and more Americans came to dislike or recoil from.
The Clinton Era: The End of Big Government>
Against this background --- 24 years after 1968 in which Democrats won only one of five presidential elections --- what happened was probably inevitable: the 1990s saw a marked retreat by new Democratic leaders in the Clinton White House and Congress from many of the Great Society programs or promises, not to mention the thumping defeat of liberal candidates like George McGovern in 1972, Jimmy Carter in 1980, Walter Mondale in 1984, and George Dukakis 1988. The era of Big Government, the president began saying repeatedly, was now over. Democrats would have to be concerned with economic efficiency and streamlining Great Society programs that more and more social science worked showed were causing big harm: among other things, every 10% increase in welfare entailed an 11% increase in illegitimacy; single-parent families, especially mother-headed ones, were producing children with far more problems in school and in relations with others --- this, note, at all levels of income; families without responsible fathers around were producing young boys, especially in the inner cities, with no clear role-models of a socially beneficial sort even as they increased, for psychological reasons, resentments and even hostility toward women.
What happened was then inevitable. With strong bipartisan support, Bill Clinton's first term saw a huge overhaul of welfare spending and qualifications . . . all generally successful, far more so even than some of its supporters had assumed, not to mention the alarmist voices on the left. The reform was passed in 1996. By 2000 the welfare rolls had been reduced by 58%. The large majority of those now working who had been on welfare had found jobs that paid more than all the benefits they had been receiving. Most also were found in surveys to sense greater satisfaction and self-dignity in their lives.
Nor was that all. There was a marked turnaround and retreat in violent crime.
Partly by coincidence, a get-tough policy of policing and jail-sentences --- zero-tolerance in cities like New York --- had begun in the late 1980s, and since then violent crime has steadily fallen, with the US the only industrial country that is true of. You are 6 times more likely to be mugged on the streets of London these days than in those of New York. Among all industrial countries, Americans are found in UN Surveys of crime-victims to have the most confidence in their police and to feel the most secure in going out into public spaces. And as a topper, not just coincidentally, huge productivity gains in information-and-communication technologies combined with more deregulation and good quality monetary management by the Federal Reserve to start the longest boom in US history after 1991, ten years in the making . . . during which period after 1993, contrary to common wisdom --- never mind radical vitriol --- there was a strong upsurge of income-advance on the part of the poorest 20% of American wage-earners. From 1996 until 2001, their incomes were actually rising faster than those of the top quintile of wage-earners, those in the 6 figure income or higher bracket.
Not surprisingly, the effort to run a well-known liberal Senator for president this year --- however articulate and reasonable his campaign positions seemed (even in foreign policy) --- still run into the big resistance to liberalism among the majority of American voters. At the same time, Republicans have consolidated their hold of Congress and in state legislatures and among state governors. Whatever happens in the future, it's doubtful if Democrats will be able to return to the ambitions and hopes of the Great Society days. Even demographic developments don't favor those liberal programs. Forty-five percent of Hispanics, the fastest growing minority in the country, voted for President Bush; twenty-five percent of Jews, a big change from the past, voted Republican too; and women in general, who usually vote with a clear preference for Democratic presidential candidates, came close to splitting their vote this time.
All of which leads to a pivotal question, our central expository task here: what influences --- economic, political, social, and cultural --- explain this unique
WHAT EXPLAINS THIS RECORD OF NO SOCIALISM OR MARXISM:
THE KEY SHAPING INFLUENCES, HISTORICALLY AND RIGHT NOW
Well, given the length of the argument so far --- with the pivotal parts to follow, the explanatory thrusts --- it seems better to end this article here and note that it will be continued in the next article in this mini-series on the unique of the US ideological spectrum . . . and its implications for the American lead in wealth and innovation, now 120 years old, a good half the time since the industrial revolution began.
Replies: 2 comments
In light of your post, Tim's comment, and your reply, I'm curious as to whether you had a chance to read Peter Beinart's call to ressurect Trumanesque Liberalism, and what you think its chances are.
I think it would be a good thing but the problem might be that the activist base of the Democratic Party is more radical than its politicians are, and won't stand for it.
I also disagree with you about Kerry. Awhile back, during the Democratic primaries, I read an astute observation that stuck with me because it seened so true: that Howard Dean was a moderate Democrat masquerading as a Left-Democrat, while Kerry was a Left-Democrat masquerading as a centerist. IMO Kerry's lifetime political record does not represent centrism - not only on foreign policy, as Tim points out, but across a range of issues. It is telling that a politician like Kerry, with his experience, felt the need to run as a moderate Democrat and would probably have had moderate ambitions in governing, if he was elected. That is, he knew where the majority of the electorate was, and that the best he could hope for is try to move things incrementally towards liberal goals - radical change was not going to be acceptable to a majority of the electorate.
However, the activist base of the Democratic Party does not accept this analysis. Even now, in the wake of the election, many of them argue that he lost because he simply wasn't bold enough in differentiating himself from Bush Republicanism. That is, that he didn't run to the Left enough, wasn't anti-war enough. Which brings me full circle back to Beinart's article and what chance you think there is of returning the Democratic Party to its Trumanesque traditions in light of the ideological position of its activist & donor base.
Posted by James Ruhland @ 12/21/2004 03:50 PM PST
Dr. Dr. Gordon:
I enjoyed reading your last two articles concerning the ideological slits among political parties worldwide and where the two main American political parties, Democrat and Republican, fall within that spectrum. While a focus of your articles is on the differences among the American political parties as related to domestic social issues, the main division between the Democratic and Republican parties since the Vietnam War and especially today is on foreign policy and national security issues.
On most domestic issues today, there is not really much difference substantively between the two parties. The political rhetoric during the campaigns and media spin may appear diverse, but if you closely exam the actual domestic policies pursued by both parties over the last ten years, the differences are minimal. For example, Republicans campaign on the issues of low taxes and less government domestic spending. However, the last Bush administration pursued and passed a major new social spending programs in the form of prescription drug coverage for seniors and the "no child left behind" educational program to name a couple. President Bush may have successfully obtained major tax cuts over Democratic congressional opposition, but in the last campaign John Kerry promised additional tax cuts, except for "rich". There are very few democrats calling for tax increases these day. On other domestic issues, immigration reform, tort reform, social security, environmental protection, the differences between the two parties are in the details and not significant in terms of overall goals of the various domestic programs.
The main divide between the Republican and Democratic parties is on foreign policy and national security policy. The Democratic party since the Vietnam War and especially in recent years leans leftward into the realm of US guilt and defeatism on American foreign policy. The root of this leftward tilt on foreign policy and national security issues can be traced to emerging the "elites" who now dominate the Democratic party. Most of these current elites formed their political attitudes and culture during the turmoil of the Vietnam protest era. The Democrat's latest presidential candidate, John Kerry, provides a perfect example of the current Democratic ideological core. Kerry was one of the main leaders of the anti-war movement in the early 1970's. His record as a Senator reflected stances against most of Reagan's military build up, pro-nuclear freeze, his support for the Sandinitas in Niagara, a vote against the first Gulf War after Iraq invaded Kuwait etc. Despite Kerry's so call support for the current "Iraq War", his position quickly changed during the campaign in response from pressure from Howard Dean supporters and the general anti-war crowd. The Kerry candidacy really reflects the core supporters of the current Democratic party, MoveOn.org, Howard Dean, Michael Moore, the Hollywood elites and thousands of other who believe that US. foreign policy is at the root of most current world problems. These current Democratic elites believe that US power is excessive and needs to be contained by international institutions such as the UN. The Democratic party of FDR, Truman and Kennedy is long gone. The big question now is whether the few remaining moderates in the Democratic party, Lieberman etc., will be able to pull the Democratic party back to a more central stance on foreign policy issues. This will be hard to accomplish with allot of the new money coming in from leftist 527 groups and with some traditional democratic groups donating more to the Republican party. Frankly, I think it is likely that Lieberman will be appointed a foreign policy position in the new Bush administration, possibly Homeland security, Secretary of Defense, or the new Intelligence Czar position.
Meanwhile, the Republican party, which before WWII was very isolationist and to a certain extent the "peace party" of the 1930's, has reversed roles. Today the Republican party is dominated by "elites" who believe that US military and economic hegemony is the best policy for US security and international geopolitical stability. The terrorist attacks of 911, re-enforced those beliefs that the non-engagement of the Clinton era only appeased terrorist and their state supporters. Republican beliefs in US preeminence is further based on the collapse of the Soviet Union after the Reagan military build up and Reagan's more aggressive engagement in proxy wars than mere containment. Thus, despite the problems with the Iraq occupation, it is likely that Republican elites will continue to push for aggressive U.S. foreign policy on Iran, North Korea and possibly Syria.
Overall, the main political divide among core Democrats and Republicans is not who should get a tax cut, gay marriage, moral issues etc. The real division is what role the US should play on the world stage. Should the US. maintain its position as the world hegemonic military power and "preempt" potential security threats with unilateral military action or should the US. wait until their is international consensus - the "global test"? Currently, in the 911 age of potential mass terror casualties, the Democrats have lost the debate with the American public as reflected in the latest election. (Also see Dec. 14, 2004 Gallup poll placing voter identification at 37% Republican and 32% Democrat. See http://www.gallup.com/poll/content/login.aspx?ci=14347)
Until the Democratic party reject the positions of Michael Moore, Howard Dean and other on the far left, they will likely remain in the minority party. However, that does not mean the Republican national security position is all veracious. The Republican foreign policy positions may become too aggressive leading to an overextension of American power and formation of anti - US alliances. This could open the door for the Democrats to once again find a pro-American middle ground on foreign policy. Only time will tell.
THE BUGGY REPLY:
I think your points are very well made --- and very well written, also convincing except for the social-cultural issues. The differences here between Republicans and Democrats aren't, it's true, as great in public opinion polls as in political rhetoric (except for gay marriage as opposed to a general live-and-let-live attitude of tolerance), but they are still clearly brought out in polls and electoral behavior in close elections.
As for foreign policy, there is a fairly large gulf among grass-roots activists --- but not nearly as large among Democratic or Republican voters, never mind Congressmen and Senators. On Iraq, for instance, at one point in early 2003, 40% or so of Democrats were found in surveys to favor the war to topple Saddam initially. That figure did fall off, and fairly quickly, when the occupation and transformation of Iraq turned out to be arduous and bloody and the Bush administration approached post-Saddamite life there with the rosiest of expectations; still, even I --- a strong supporter of the war who still thinks the occupation could be salvaged --- voted to criticize Bush and Rumsfeld and a handful of other top advisers for so many botched mistakes. (You might find a good article on the Republican neo-cons who are highly dissatisfied with Rumsfeld in today's NY Times, December 16, 2004).
On specific issues of the sort you mention in domestic politics, I think you're generally right --- and not only think this, but said so (there are little differences in concrete domestic policies, except for taxes and who bears the burden) in the only buggy article on the topic that dealt with buggy views of the presidential election before it was held in early November. Possibly, come to think of it, the gulf in proposals to deal with medical services in this country --- witness Senator Kerry's scheme --- was fairly large too, though what a Kerry administration would have actually presented to Congress, never mind what Congress would have done, is another matter.
Anyway, I thank you for your kind and astute comments. If I get some time in the future --- I'm knee-deep trying to get comparative stats on real wages, property ownership, poverty rates, mobility rates etc here and in Europe, now and in the past --- I'll try to come up with a more thoughtful reply
Posted by Tim McNulty @ 12/14/2004 06:16 PM PST