I am going to make a bold, wild prediction. After a couple of more election cycles (I would not be surprised if in four years, as things are moving fast these days, but more likely in eight or twelve), we will still have a two-party system. And one of those parties will still be the Democrats. But the other party will not be GOP. We will have to choose between the conservative party (Dems) and a liberal party (some kind of Progressives, not Greens). GOP will be relegated to the small, third parties, trying to get enough signatures to get on ballots in various states, being ignored by media, shunned from debates, just like Libertarians, Greens, etc.
Let me explain:
When media pundits spout out that this is a “center-right” country, they are actually right. But this does not mean what they think it means, that GOP should be a party of preference for most people. It is the Democrats who are center-right, which is why they win elections. Socialists? Let me tell you something: I was born and grew up and spent about half of my life in a socialist country. I may have some ideas about what socialism is. And this ain’t it.
GOP is not even a political party any more. A political party is something that has to have policy proposals addressing real-world problems. They don’t. They have fear and hatred and jingoism. And, as many have already written (and I have as far back as 2004), they live in their own world, their own facts that have nothing to do with the world as it really is. And reality has a nasty habit of biting you in the ass. See: Tuesday.
I always liked Obama as a person. I never liked his conservatism, caution, willingness to compromise with obviously obstructionist GOP in Congress. I voted for him in 2008 primaries, but decided at the last moment. I like Hillary as a person as well. It was already May, only Obama and Clinton were still in the race at the time. And I did not want to see Bill Clinton foreign policy hawks back in power (they bombed my hometown after a decade of mishandling the Balkans, so it’s personal with me). I also predicted he’d win, because it is much easier to be openly sexist than racist in mainstream media, in advertising, etc. A racist slur, and you’re off the air. A sexist slur, and you get a laugh and a pat on the back (I am looking at you, Chris Matthews).
And of course I voted for Obama for President in 2008 and 2012. And I think his Tuesday speech was his best, much better than his 2004 convention speech that people say is his best. But I still think that he, and the Dems as a party, are far too right-of-center for my taste. Dems used to be on the Left decades ago, but by letting GOP force the media to move the Overton Window, by constantly compromising, by being over-cautious, they allowed themselves to be dragged across the center line into the Right side of the spectrum.
Yes, they are moving in the right direction on many issues. But slowly. Much slower than the rest of the world, e.g., Europe. And much slower than even the American culture. The strong statements supporting women’s autonomy issues are largely in response to the GOP attacks on the same - and to get women voters.
The support for LGBT is only a few months old. Remember the so-called “Biden gaffe” that supposedly forced Obama’s hand in the direction of support of gay marriage? That was no gaffe. They are carefully nurturing the stereotype of Biden The Gaffer. Biden is a pro (did you watch his debates, against Ryan, Palin, others before?). Every “gaffe” of his is carefully orchestrated and planned. He says something, and Dems crunch the data on who responded how, and what to do with that information. This was a way to get LBGT (and young) voters to the polls last week. Strategy.
But strategy for winning elections is not the same as moving to the Left, or even tracking the evolution of the society. If the Dems’ gradual adoption of these policies is slower than the actual evolution of the society, i.e., if the society is moving into the future faster than the Dems, they will forever remain behind the curve and forever remain right of center.
These kinds of policies, about women and LGBT community, were considered extreme left 50 years ago. They are dead center today. They are “normal”, the “of course” positions. The default. Support for gay marriage is the norm, not the extreme. Opposition to it is now extreme. World is changing for the better.
Obamacare is just a first step toward catching up with the world (and catching up with what Americans really want), not a 100% there yet. Still behind the curve. Climate? Not even mentioned during the campaign, though probably the single most important issue facing humanity today. Though the forceful way Obama mentioned it on Tuesday gives me hope he’ll start (finally!) tackling it in the second term, I still doubt it will be fast enough, or big enough to be considered anything but very cautiously centrist.
So, Dems are hogging the center and are unlikely to move away from it. Why should they? They will always appear to be sane compared to anyone else. They will look reasonable. They will be attractive to a huge proportion of the electorate. As the demographics shift, they will be attractive to more and more of the electorate. Which is why they have always completely ignored their progressive base. They know how to position themselves to win elections, and being dead-center, or slightly right-center, is the best place to be.
Now let’s look at the GOP. The media coverage of their current implosion, internecine wars, and finger-pointing are framing it wrong. It is not “extreme vs. moderate”, or “center-right vs. extreme-right”, or “truly conservative vs. RINO”. It is “reality-based vs. unhinged”. The GOP problem is that they have been taken over by the nutcases. The reality-based conservatives have been all but excommunicated (see: Frum, also Bloomberg). Nobody with a brain has any power in the party. For years, nay decades, the Right has indulged in the cycles of mutual misinformation. Right-wing media (Fox, Limbaugh, Breitbart, etc) invents and spouts lies. Their audiences lap those up, as they feed their fears and paranoia.
Those same audiences then require the candidates to repeat those lies, and pick, in the primaries, those candidates who lie the best (and they picked a real winner in that department this time around - at least Santorum really believes in the crap he talks about, while Huntsman, the only reasonable conservative, got nothing). This year, they finally completely closed the circle - they all (media, primary voters, candidates) actually fell for all of their lies and believed them for real. And reality bit their asses. Remember the Suskind interview? The “we make reality now”? Yup, that’s how it ends up when hubris is your party platform.
And worshiping Nate Silver is part of the reaction to this. People are sick of alternate universes of alternate truth, and are yearning for a return to reality. As media pundits are all in the “gut feeling” and “experience” territory, unreliable and untrustworthy (and a big reason why media is losing trust really fast), people turned to the guy who does numbers. The extreme of empiricism as a backlash. (I am planning on writing a post (on my blog), focusing less on politics, more on the media, and the role of Nate Silver in this moment.)
Many reality-based conservatives left the GOP. They switched the registration from Republican to Independent because they are disgusted with the current GOP. The most idiotic assumption Romney team made was that these people would vote GOP after leaving it behind, making life/identity-changing decision about NOT being Republicans any more. Bad psychology there.
So, what is left of GOP is the party of God, Guns and Money, the party of a fast-shrinking pool of angry white men and some of their wives. Party of fear, cowardice, anger, hatred, bigotry and femiphobia (google it). No policy at all. Unattractive to anyone normal.
What can reality-based conservatives do?
They can realize that Democrats are now center-left and become reliable Democratic voters. Some of those new ex-Republican Independents will probably go this way.
Or, they can try to take back the GOP and kick out the nutcases from power (force those to make their own Tea Party or whatnot). Good luck with that! And good luck electorally even if you succeed. Dems are hogging the center. A reality-based conservative party would be extremely similar to the Democrats (remember that Obama and Eisenhower economic and foreign policy platforms are essentially indistinguishable, though society has moved on since then on social issues, reflected in a more modern platform in those areas today). Why would anyone vote for a party with a GOP history and reputation of bigotry, if it’s not any different from Dems who are not pretending anything? Why vote for suspicious copycats when you can vote for the Real McCoy? Of course, even if reality-based conservatives somehow, through magic and mystery, manage to take over the GOP again, their “base”, the primary voters who choose candidates, are the same cowardly extremists as ever….hard to persuade them to go for a Huntsman or ilk. So the candidates will be Santorums…
Or, they can try to take over the Libertarian party. This year’s candidate, Johnston, was surprisingly sane and attractive compared to the years of their past candidates. I guess all the Ayn Randian, immature, selfish, sexually deprived, online-aggressive, greedy pricks left the party following Ron Paul into the GOP, leaving saner people in the Libertarian party. Again, the party’s history is something it has to overcome. People remember the nutcase candidates from the past and will be cautious about joining in. Some places where Libertarians usually do well, like here in NC, may see this movement more than others, as we had reasonable, reality-based candidates here (e.g., Mike Munger running for governor four years ago). Still, the homeless conservatives would probably prefer to have their own party, their own people running the show, than joining a party that already has its own people in positions of power.
Or they can try to restart the Reform Party. After all, Ross Perot got a LOT of votes back when he ran. And that wrestler got a governorship for a little while soon after.
So, on the right of center there will be a smorgasbord of parties. Nutcase GOP. Libertarians with inside battles for the soul of the party (as Ron Paulians start coming back). Perhaps Reformists. And the Democrats. In such a field, Democrats are the most palatable to most people.
Seeing this situation, the progressive left will see an opening. Instead of grudgingly aligning with the Democrats in the shared goal of preventing GOP from instituting theocracy, they will now feel that this danger is much smaller. They will feel it’s time to speed up the movement of the country into the future, something for which Dems are too slow. They resent the years of not being listened to by the Democrats, and will start exploring other options, how to challenge the Dems from the left, and institute a two-party system in which Dems are on the Right and something else is on the Left.
And for similar reasons that conservatives will be very cautious about joining the Libertarians, the left will be very cautious about joining the Greens. The Greens have their own checkered history, their own people in the positions of power, their own platform which, in some cases, is not as reality-based or science-based as the progressives would like (especially on food). Greens are, rightfully or not, the embodiment of the anti-science left. The progressive are looking for a pro-science, reality-based party that will push the Democrats to the left and the country to the left, by challenging the Democrats in a big way.
Forming a new party seems like the only way. It is hard. But it is possible. It is easier now (Internet, Occupy movement) than it was in the past. Reformists got temporarily powerful due to Perot’s money, but today, one can become powerful due to ability to galvanize a lot of people very fast, much faster than it was possible in the past. No guarantee, or even expectation, that such a party would do great in their first election, but can gradually build steam over a few cycles.
We’ll see what happens. Those are just some of my post-election musings. Let’s now hear the criticisms.