As the Republican Party continues to eat itself tail first, I wonder if we’re on the verge of something that may be positive for the country. I’m not naive enough to think that what might be in store is a “permanent Democratic majority” or a prolonged era of liberal relief to the conservative oppression we’ve suffered under for so long. But perhaps we’re in the process of exorcising a demon or two from the center stage of our politics.
If you go back to the sixties and before, Northern Democrats suffered with the unholy alliance that Republicans now suffer with. They achieved their goals for labor and the middle class only with the support of the demographically overlapping racist and evangelical Dixiecrats of the deep South. The successful civil rights movement of the 1960’s and Roe v. Wade in 1972 was a one-two punch that deeply alienated the racist, evangelical Dixiecrats from the Democratic Party. Richard Nixon saw them in play and courted them with both coded and not so coded racist themes and talk of the “silent majority” of religious people with no political voice.
The Democratic party is lucky to have survived the disintegration of that coalition, given the numbers involved, and in fact the conversion of Southern racists and evangelicals from Democrats to Republicans set the stage for Ronald Reagan’s stalking horse inventions of “welfare queens” and “family values”, to say nothing of Newt Gingrich’s successful courting of the uneducated and paranoid.
While politically disastrous for the Democratic Party, as the intervening decades have been a political and cultural bloodbath for them, the racist, evangelical Dixiecrats were a cancer anyway and ultimately the party has gained enormous intellectual integrity for having lost them. What is interesting now is that the cancer has completely consumed its new Republican host to the point that it has not only lost its liberal wing, but it no longer has even a functioning moderate element. The Republican party of our parents, that rode to victory with the power it got from the cancerous Dixiecrats… has now become all cancer.
As a result, the Democratic Party has been gathering Republican defectors for decades; people who had been traditional Republicans along with people who came of age later and would have been Republicans had it not been for the racist, evangelical tilt.
But now the liberal / progressive Democratic party once again finds itself powerful because of awkward alliances with people who do not really understand each others’ world view. The two most obvious examples of this are probably recent convert Arlan Spector and Joe Lieberman, who has seemingly made a career out of defecating where he eats. But there are a lot more. The entire contingent of “Blue Dog Democrats” are really traditional Republicans. They have found themselves unwelcome in the extreme conservatism of what is left of the Republican Party, but they are uncomfortable around liberal and progressive Democrats, and we are uncomfortable around them.
Ultimately, it seems that the Democratic party will have to split, yet again, because over the long haul, the alliance of traditional Democrats and homeless Republicans is not going to work. Our ideals and philosophies are too far apart, even if we agree in principle that we don’t want anything to do with the racists and evangelicals of the old South. The question is, what then? Without a majority capable of gaining power will the old Dixiecrats end up a tie-breaker that both parties court, to the peril of us all? Will the purely conservative Republican party collapse in on itself sending its one again disenfranchised cancer cells to invade one of the new parties? Or will traditional Democrats and traditional Republicans get back to fighting our policy in the halls of government with the racists and evangelicals safely isolated, unwelcome and unwilling at anyone’s table?
That is what I hope for. A robust debate between old style Democrats, less the racists, and old style Republicans less the overly evangelicals, to lead the country forward with intellectual integrity on both sides and, perhaps, one day, even a little respect.