Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Nastiness of Politics

Question: Why is Modern American Politics so Vicious?

1. Before 1964, politics was about geographic and group alliances, not ideological purity. So FDR and southern racists worked together, as did Eastern Republicans and the midwestern farmers. In the 1970s and 1990s, the southern racists allied with northern republicans, while Democrats tended toward liberal ideological purity. Problem was that the "boll weevil" dems existed the "conservative dems" of the south. These "moderates" made policy and politics was "nicer." `1994 was really the watershed year that made southern conservatives vote republican. So the Republicans gained control of both houses with an alliance of southerners, northern conservatives, and northern moderates (in particular New England Republicans). Then in the late late 1990s and early 2000s (see Jim Jeffords, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Lincoln Chafee, William Weld) the Northeastern urban moderate republicans began to bolt the party. The tenuous hold of Republicans in congress has to do with the last few "moderates" in the party. The rest of the politics is: urban liberal vs. rural conservative. Battleground suburbia. It is, as Pat buchanan said, a culture war.

2. The other source of change is the end of the Cold War. Before 1990, the constant state of war moderated politics. "Politics stops at the water's edge" was a constant refrain. That consensus collapsed after the cold war. Republicans assailed Clinton's Kosovo operations. The reaction of Democratic base to the Iraq adventure surprised even Democratic legislators.

I think these two events, the re-alignment of American politics around ideology and the end of the cold war, have led to the modern contest. But there's a third issue:

3. The rise of radical right wing politics. What nobody could have foreseen in the 1980s was that Reagan would come to be viewed nostalgically by liberals as a moderate. The right-wing mix of religion and politics has poured venom on our political fights. The Economist (and Karen Armstrong a few years back) properly observed that the liberals of all religions (reform Jews, Episcopalians, "cafeteria Catholics") and the conservatives of all religions (fundamentalist "christians", mormons, Mel Gibson "Catholics", orthodox Israel-is-always-right Jews, Islamic extremists) have more in common with each other in terms of liberal or conservative world-view than they do with their own co-religionists.


Raised By Republicans said...

Yes, there has been so much talk about "Reagan Democrats" but little talk about what might be called, "Clinton Republicans." Clinton Republicans live in the suburbs and are pro-NAFTA/Free Trade, pro-balanced budget, socially progressive and in favor of a cooperative foreign policy that involves a lot of allies "sharing the burden."

US West said...

Law Guy makes in interesting point. In the last part of his post, he mentioned the volatile mix of religion and politics. The thing to remember is that has always been the case in the US. But, Reagan fired this up. He ushered in the era of "Family Values" and he made abortion a moral vs. legal issue using it as a litmus test. And from this point forward the "moral majority" gave rise to things like the Christian Coalition. With the cooling and then the end of the Cold War, the ideological paradigm shifted from emphasizing the political to the moral. We had won the political battle- the USSR fell. So what’s left?