Thursday, November 13, 2008


Following up on my post that no country is center right by definition, I have been thinking further about the claim.

One counter argument made by a friend over lunch is that US institutions are center-right. There is no universal health care, welfare is considerably less generous than in other advanced industrial nations, militarism is tolerated in the political discourse. But using the fact that the US government has adopted policies that are distinctly to the right of the people as an argument to continue to pursue policies to the right of the people makes no sense either.

From 1994 through to 2006 the Republican party has managed to scrape together narrow electoral majorities by fusing Nixon's 'Southern' strategy of pandering to racial hatred, supply side economics and militarism. But throughout this period the GOP has only once managed to win the popular vote in the past five Presidential elections and have only won a majority of the house vote twice.

The GOP really consists of four separate factions, three of which only really care about one single issue and the fourth which only cares about power and is willing to agree to any demands from the other three, to the extent that they are not incompatible.

If the US had a direct democracy rather than a representative democracy, this strategy would simply not work.

Let us accept for the sake of argument that there might have been a national consensus in favor of the supply-side, market fundamentalism that has had the GOP in its grip. In the wake of the sub-prime meltdown that consensus is 100% inoperative. McCain was forced to campaign on 'social issues' and 'national security' as the country simply cannot be convinced that the GOP is credible on economic issues.

The National Security issue was used successfully by the GOP in 2002 and 2004. In 2006 the electorate rejected the Iraq war and the National Security was framed in the 2008 campaign as which candidate could best clean up the mess created by the Republican party.

That leaves 'social issues'. Here the religious right has for years been led on with the promise of a ban on abortion and the overturning of Roe vs Wade. At this point there is very clearly a strong national consensus in favor of abortion rights.

That leaves only same-sex marriage as an issue on which the GOP could credibly claim their party view represents a national consensus. But even there it is a distinctly fragile one. The issue only reached national attention for the first time in 1997 and first legal same sex marriage only took place in 2002.

The first plebiscite to ban gay marriage passed by 67 to 33 in Hawaii in 1998. Ten years later, prop 8 only managed to pass by 52.5% to 47.5% in California, a state with a considerably larger conservative population. During the campaign both sides recognized the fact that should the proposition fail in California, same sex marriage would inevitably be legalized across the whole country.

None of the three wings of the GOP commands a majority of popular support and probably never did. The only reason the coalition worked is that each wing of the party only cared about their particular issue and were willing to sacrifice everything else to get it. The activities of the neo-cons certainly offended the civil libertarian sensibilities of the likes of Grover Norquist but they were prepared to accept a national security state as the necessary price to get lower taxes.

Now that the party has completely lost two branches of government and must expect the third to be put out of reach for a generation, there is little reason for the factions to stick together. Apart from the social conservatives, they can all achieve far more by working with Obama than they can achieve within the GOP.

1 comment:

Evan Ravitz said...

Checks and balances are good. So most people want direct AND representative democracy. Except politicians, the people who buy them, and the lobbyists between.

The most evolved project for a hybrid direct/representative democracy is led by former Sen. Mike Gravel. Registered voters can now vote to ratify the National Initiative for Democracy at, much as citizens ratified the Constitution at the Conventions when the Legislatures wouldn't!