American Splinters

We’re different, or exceptional as we like to tell everyone else in the world, even if they roll their eyes or seethe in resentment – and one part of our American Exceptionalism, other than being exempt from all the rules other nations have to follow, is that we alone have a two-party system. Other western democracies, and those in the Far East like Japan and India, have many parties – one generally conservative and aligned with the perpetually wealthy, one generally liberal and populist, aligned with the workers and with families, and then a Green Party or two, and perhaps a party of ultra-nationalists, and maybe one or two religious parties, urging a return to their particular flavor of religion, and maybe a party whose sole issue is the legalization of this drug or that, or prostitution, or euthanasia, or banning refined sugar and speed limits on all major highways. Elsewhere it’s a bit of a free-for-all where the ruling majority turns out to be an uneasy coalition of ether conservative or liberals with whichever other smaller parties they can convince to join them, at the moment, to create an actual ruling majority. And of course that’s pretty messy.

We keep things simple. We have Republicans and Democrats, our two political parties which have absorbed groups with specific issues, sometimes rather uneasily. Each of our parties likes to talk about their Big Tent – all are welcome if they get the general idea – fiscal responsibility or equality for all – but things have been closing down. Republicans now have little use for pro-choice Republicans, or anyone with live-and-let-live attitudes about those with different cultural backgrounds, or those who think keeping guns out of the hands of madmen might be useful, or those who like clean air and clean water too much, or those who think contraception and family planning are useful and not morally evil at all, and those who obstinately persist in being gay. The Log Cabin Republicans are mighty lonely these days and GOProud folded this month – there was no room under the big Republican tent for fiscally conservative free-market Ayn Rand gay folks.

In fact, the Texas Republican Party just adopted a party platform for 2014 that includes support for “reparative therapy” – because gayness (or perhaps gaiety) can be cured. No, really. Christen psychologists can change the sexual orientation of adults, from gay to straight, even if the American Psychiatric Association has long said that’s nuts – but Rick Perry says it isn’t, and he wants to be president. He says homosexuality is just like alcoholism – it can be cured.

That’s his story, and he’s sticking to it, so that Republican Big Tent thing is just happy talk. Gays aren’t welcome, or anyone vaguely Hispanic, in the wrong way, or uppity blacks, or women who want equal pay for equal work even if everyone knows that would drive most businesses in America into bankruptcy, or perhaps women on birth control, or who dress immodestly, and so on. The list could go on and on, but then Democrats don’t exactly welcome state’s-rights folks who think that the South was on the right side of things in the Civil War.

Our two political parties have narrowed. There are no Rockefeller Republicans any longer. There are no Wall Street Democrats who argue that the banks and financial services industry are full of fine folks doing wonderful things for America, except for Hillary Clinton. Yeah, yeah – she’s on the side of America’s workers, but from 1986 to 1992 she was on the board of Wal-Mart as they demolished any effort by workers to unionize, keeping those workers at minimum wage, or less, and on welfare even if they were working full time. That was her Mitt Romney phase, but Hillary Clinton, who also voted wholeheartedly for the Iraq war when she was a senator, is the exception here. She gets a pass because of her big-hearted husband. The Democratic tent is slightly bigger than the Republican tent, but only slightly.

We really do need a few more political parties to house these folks who don’t quite fit into our two parties, now that each has narrowed – or at least a third party, as a place to start – but that never seems to work. George Wallace ran for President in 1968 as the American Independent Party candidate, but that went nowhere – he got shot – and John Anderson was a Republican but ran as an independent candidate in the 1980 presidential election. No one remembers Anderson at all, probably because he said that lowering taxes, increasing defense spending, and balancing the budget, was an impossible combination – it would never work. No one wanted to hear that, and then there was 1992 – the prudent technocrat with the tin ear, George H. W. Bush, running for a second term against the gregarious wonk, Bill Clinton, and against that odd little man, Ross Perot. All that managed to do was screw the Republicans – Bill Clinton won with only forty-three percent of the vote. Perot wasn’t going to be president. He was a spoiler, the role that Ralph Nader played on the Democratic side for years. Nader is one of the reasons Al Gore would never be president.

It seems we’ll never have a real third party. Those who feel outside our two parties never reach what might be called a critical mass – our politics may be splintered, but you can’t make a viable political party out of splinters. You need the whole tree, perhaps, growing from deep roots so to speak, but things may be changing. The Tea Party has taken root in the last several years, and now they’re pretty damned angry because of this:

Sen. Thad Cochran (R) narrowly survived the toughest election of his four-decade political career, holding off an insurgent tea party challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel in Tuesday night’s runoff after one of the most expensive and nasty primary campaigns of the year.

Cochran outperformed his vote totals from the primary election three weeks ago in many parts of Mississippi and he held a lead throughout the night. With 99.9 percent of precincts reporting, Cochran beat McDaniel 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent. They were separated by about 6,300 votes out of more than 375,000 cast.

Cochran relied heavily on boosting voter turnout in the runoff among not only mainstream Republicans but also black Democrats, whom his campaign and its allies aggressively courted in the final days of the campaign.

The contest between the entrenched Cochran and the more combative and youthful McDaniel divided the Republican Party here in one of the nation’s most conservative states and delivered a stinging blow to the tea party movement.

They’re not happy about that:

Many tea party types are openly speculating foul play, and that Democrats and black voters were involved. Take Rush Limbaugh who wondered if Cochran’s campaign slogan in Mississippi over the last few days was “Uncle Toms for Thad.”

“I wonder what the campaign slogan was in Mississippi the past few days, ‘Uncle Toms for Thad’? Because I thought it was the worst thing you could do as an African American, vote for a Republican. The worst thing you could do,” Limbaugh said on Wednesday. “But somehow they were made to believe that voting for old Thad would be fine and dandy. And why? Because they were told Thad’s done a lot for black people in Mississippi. Must be the first time they were told that.”

Cochran’s turnaround victory in the race on Tuesday was immediately met with criticism by McDaniel and tea partiers over his strategy of reaching out to not only Republicans but also Democrats and African-Americans, a move that dismayed tea partiers but isn’t illegal under Mississippi’s open primary laws.

When Cochran was named the winner, McDaniel himself openly questioned the results, and said “there is something a bit strange, there is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary that’s decided by liberal Democrats.”

“Before this race ends we have to be absolutely certain that the Republican primary was won by Republican voters,” McDaniel also said.

Damn, those black voters should not be allowed to vote in a white election! Or else it’s that Cochran fellow:

Matt Drudge, for instance, posted a link to a New York Times story with the line “Black vote used.” Another link on Drudge said “The flier ‘that got Cochran elected’…” and linked to a National Review blog post on Wednesday reporting that a flyer that had allegedly been circulated in heavily black precincts of Mississippi that was titled: “The Tea Party intends to prevent blacks from voting on Tuesday.”

Similarly, Sarah Palin on Wednesday said there should be some kind of investigation of voting behavior because something clearly was fishy.

“When an election is questionable, with potential legal violations, politics MUST be put aside and the irregularities MUST be fully investigated,” Palin wrote on Facebook. “Regardless of party, we owe it to voters and to democracy within our Republic. The integrity of the vote speaks directly to the integrity of those who serve and the trust we ask the American public to put in our institutions.”

And now there’s serious talk of a third party:

Amy Kremer, a conservative political operative who formerly led the Tea Party Express warned that if Cochran won, the GOP would be “done.” … Redstate’s Erick Erickson’s snap response to Cochran’s loss was to throw out the idea of leaving the GOP and starting a third major political party. Palin made a similar statement.

“Having been an elected Republican and someone who routinely takes the position of supporting conservatives in primaries and Republicans in general elections, the Mississippi race does crystalize for me the desires of many to start a third party,” Erickson wrote. “In essence, tea party activists are the RINOs. A Republican Party campaigning on making the Senate “conservative,” used liberal Democrats to preserve an incumbent Republican and defeat a conservative. The actual conservatives are the outsiders with the GOP establishment doing all it could to preserve its power at the expense of its principles.”

And then there’s this:

Glenn Beck got so frustrated with Republicans over Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel’s (R) loss to incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) in the primary runoff election for U.S. Senate that he got up in the middle of his radio program and walked outside to shoot a rifle.

Beck, who was broadcasting his radio show from his ranch on Wednesday, posted a video of his little break on Instagram.

“Stress release on the ranch. That’s how we do it out west!” Beck said as he hands his rifle to somebody off camera and walks back inside.

On his radio broadcast, Beck went on a long rant about how establishment Republicans didn’t want McDaniel to get elected.

“They are more comfortable with the president’s policies than they are with Chris McDaniel!” Beck said. “That doesn’t make any sense!”

Yeah, well, Slate Jamelle Bouie says that Thad Cochran had to do what he had to do:

With his intense grass-roots support and wide backing from national Tea Party groups, McDaniel was the favorite. Cochran had a choice: He could play the game the way it’s always been played and lose his seat, or he could bend the rules to his favor. He went with the latter. “His campaign,” wrote the New York Times last week, “is taking the unlikely step of trying to entice black voters to help decide the most high-profile Republican contest in the country.”

Between open primaries (anyone can vote in any primary, as long as he or she didn’t vote in a previous one), low turnout in the Democratic Senate primary, and racially polarized voting (the vast majority of whites are Republicans and the vast majority of blacks are Democrats), Mississippi contained a huge number of eligible black voters who could turn the tide if persuaded to vote for Cochran. Yes, by backing Cochran, blacks would guarantee a GOP win in the fall – Democratic candidate Rep. Travis Childers probably had a better chance of defeating McDaniel, with his extremist views, than of defeating Cochran. But Mississippi is the most Republican state in the union; the difference between Cochran and McDaniel is the difference between likely-Republican and leans-Republican. Either way, Republicans were favored.

In which case, black voters had to choose between the man they knew – a relative moderate who deals in earmarks and largess – and a new man. If you know anything about Chris McDaniel, this wasn’t a hard choice. For as much as he’s described as a generic Tea Partier – an angry, abrasive conservative extremist – the truth is a little more complicated. Remember, the “Tea Party” isn’t a single ideology as much as it’s a collection of related ideologies under a single banner. The civil libertarianism of Sen. Rand Paul, for instance, is distinct from the compassionate conservatism of Utah Sen. Mike Lee, which is distinct from the Goldwater libertarianism of Sen. Ted Cruz.

So, let’s get to know the guy:

If McDaniel resembles anything, it’s not a libertarian – although he swims in the current of right-wing libertarianism – as much as it’s a Southern reactionary whose appeal is built on resentment of assorted others, which in Mississippi, inevitably includes black Americans. Take these clips from his radio show, circa 2006, where he mocked complaints of racism, railed against hip-hop as a “morally bankrupt” culture that “values prison more than college,” and promised to stop paying taxes if reparations were ever passed: “How you gonna make me pay for something that I had nothing to do with? How you gonna do that to me? I don’t get it.”

As a state senator, McDaniel has spoken to gatherings of the Sons of Confederate Veterans – a neo-Confederate group that promotes present-day secessionists – and delivered the keynote to a SCV event last fall. Indeed, his rhetoric decries the rise of a “new America” and pines for days of old. “There are millions of us who feel like strangers in this land, an older America passing away, a new America rising to take its place,” he said in a speech after the June 3 election. “We recoil from that culture. It’s foreign to us. It’s alien to us. … It’s time to stand and fight. It’s time to defend our way of life again.”

Actually, one thinks of the title card as Gone with the Wind opens:

There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South… Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow… Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave… Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind….

Bouie sees how that couldn’t quite work now:

Cochran’s appeal to black voters was simple. We may not agree on much, but at least you can work with me. It succeeded. While turnout increased everywhere on Tuesday, it jumped highest in Cochran’s strongest counties, Jefferson and Humphreys, which also stand as the blackest areas in the state. “Black pastors here organized their congregations to back Cochran as if he were a Democrat,” reports Perry Bacon Jr. for NBC News, “noting that the incumbent had helped fund historically black colleges and other initiatives that appeal to African-Americans and linking McDaniel to the Tea Party, which black voters feel is unduly harsh to President Obama.”

We’re talking about a different civilization, which the Tea Party right will never recognize:

Cochran won “through a combination of race-baiting attacks on McDaniel, and touting his ability to make government larger and bring home more goodies from Washington,” wrote John Hayward for Human Events. Following his lead, more than a few bloggers – and a whole lot of tweeters – have accused Cochran of “race-baiting” for making active appeals to black voters. “GOP primary voters in Miss wanted Cochran out. GOP establishment wanted him in. So they turned to Dems & race baiting. But I repeat myself,” said one conservative on Twitter.

It’s all bullshit:

I think we can agree this is ridiculous. Cochran was well in his rights, and the law, to expand the map of the electorate. To appeal to new groups of voters – to ask them to consider your policies and their impact on their communities – is to play politics in its purest form. Cochran didn’t cheat, he changed the game. And because of his views and his rhetoric, McDaniel couldn’t play.

Some folks know that:

National Republican leaders trying to appeal to non-white voters are cringing over Senate candidate Chris McDaniel’s complaints that Democrats – most of whom are black in Mississippi – voted in the state’s GOP Senate runoff and helped six-term incumbent Thad Cochran capture the party nomination.

“The more the tea party complains about how black voters vote for Republicans, I think they look racist and stupid,” said John Feehery, a GOP consultant in Washington. “We’re trying to get black voters. Now that one of our candidates got black voters, we should be happy about it.”

He was not alone:

When reporters in Washington asked Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., if Cochran’s appeal to Democratic voters might have a negative impact on the GOP, Wicker responded with a laugh.

“Broadening the base of the party? Asking more Mississippians to participate in the ballot that’s going to determine the next senator? No, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that,” he said. …

Republicans in Washington distanced themselves from a candidate’s complaint about drawing black voters for a white candidate in racially polarized Mississippi.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who recently defeated several tea party challengers in a Republican primary, told reporters: “If Thad did get a bump from African-American participation in the Republican primary, that’s probably the best news I’ve heard in a long time.”

Wait! This means the Republicans might actually do that big-tent thing, finally, for real. That could be really bad for Democrats, but Michael Tomasky tells them to calm down:

Boring as it may seem, be glad that Cochran eked out his win. Be happy that sane won. Here’s a little political truism for you: Sane is better than insane. We don’t need more Ted Cruzes in the Senate. We don’t need more candidates endorsed by Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum. We just. Don’t. Need. Them. We don’t need one more extremist GOP candidate who is going to make those cowardly Republicans in the Senate conclude that they have to live in fear of losing to some certifiable, fact-bending jelly-head of the extreme right. We really don’t.

Cochran will never vote for anything Obama wants. No minimum wage hike, no carbon tax, no nothing. I understand that. But he’ll be in there, assuming he wins and stays alive, until January 2021. That is, through what might be Hillary Clinton’s first term. If the GOP intra-bloodbath happens in 2017 after she’s won, Cochran, who won’t be running again and just won’t give a shit, might actually vote for one or two things Clinton asks for. McDaniel, obviously, would not.

And consider this. The Tea Party people are furious about this outcome.

Be happy with that:

So there we are. Be for sanity. Be against insanity. Chris McDaniel belongs where he belongs – chasing ambulances in Pascagoula, or wherever it is he’s from. And his election would not hasten the Republican apocalypse. If anything, Cochran’s would. More Tea Party losses in races like this are what are needed.

And if you’re not for sanity, there’s always this:

Sarah Palin joined Sean Hannity to weigh in on the latest election news, and Palin told Hannity that it would be hard for her to stay with the Republicans and get excited about them if they continue acting like Democrats and rolling over.

She took a shot at the “status quo” politics of people like Senator Thad Cochran and said the Eric Cantor upset shows people want strong constitutionalists in power who don’t represent “the man [or] the establishment” in Washington.

Hannity asked Palin if she would actually follow through on her previous hints she’d go third party. Palin replied, “If Republicans are gonna act like Democrats, then what’s the use?” She said the GOP needs to thrive and stand strong against the president’s policies, otherwise “it does no good to get all enthused about them anymore.”

Yep, that really is third-party talk, and it sounds like she might follow through with it – creating a third party of her and Donald Trump and Ted Nugent and Ted Cruz and maybe that Bachmann woman. But that would be a splinter group, and a political party should be like a slow-growing tree, with deep roots. Maybe that metaphor is stupid, but all we get is splinters these days, and like all splinters, they’re just irritating. Our two political parties have narrowed, but they’ll have to do – and those who feel left out will just have to force their way in.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to American Splinters

  1. Rick says:

    Actually, although most of us don’t think about it, America probably does have about as many parties as other countries do. For example, here’s a partial list of parties that fielded candidates for the presidency in 2012:

    Party: Candidate (Ballot Access in how many states) — Electors won

    * Democratic Party: Barack Obama (50 states + DC) — 332 Electors
    * Republican Party: Mitt Romney (50 states + DC) — 206 Electors
    * Libertarian Party: Gary Johnson (48 states + DC) — 0 Electors
    * Green Party: Jill Stein (37 states + DC) — 0 Electors
    * Constitution Party: Virgil Goode (21 states) — 0 Electors
    * Justice Party: Rocky Anderson (15 states) — 0 Electors
    * Party for Socialism and Liberation: Peta Lindsay (13 states) — 0 Electors
    * Socialist Workers Party: James Harris (6 states) — 0 Electors
    * America’s Party: Tom Hoefling (3 states) — 0 Electors
    * American Third Position: Merlin Miller (3 states) — 0 Electors
    * Peace & Freedom Party: Roseanne Barr (3 states) — 0 Electors
    * Socialist Party: Stewart Alexander (3 states) — 0 Electors
    * Reform Party: Andre Barnett (2 states) — 0 Electors
    * Socialist Equality Party: Jerry White (2 states) — 0 Electors
    * American Independent Party: Ed Noonan (0 states) — 0 Electors

    It’s just that only those who don’t care whether their party wins or loses end up voting for anybody past the first two on the list, due to this country being much more ruthless than other democracies in enforcing who actually gets into power. Unlike in lands with a parliamentary system, anyone wanting to be part of the ruling coalition here can’t just wait in hopes of striking some deal after the election. We’re all forced to choose our coalitions beforehand, and as you can see from the elector count above, the choices are going to be just two.

    It’s a risk, but that’s the way we developed, eventually settling on an rigid two-party system. In fact, these days, we go out of our way to enforce rules to make it almost impossible for other groups to crash the two-party party. Nationally-televised presidential debates were, from 1976 through 1984, conducted objectively and fairly by the League of Women Voters, but in 1988, that group was pushed out of the debate business by the two major parties. Here’s what the League said while dropping out:

    “The League of Women Voters is withdrawing sponsorship of the presidential debates … because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public. —League President Nancy M. Neuman, LWV October 03, 1988″

    The two parties, in what should have been a scandal but barely caused an eye to bat, formed their own little cartel which they called the Commission on Presidential Debates, that would not only help them maintain control on their own images — for example, by enforcing which reporters could ask what questions — but (and they shamelessly made no secret of this) could also lock out competitors. At the news conference, announcing the formation of the Commission:

    “…[former head of the Republican National Committee and co-chair Frank] Fahrenkopf said that the commission was not likely to include third-party candidates in debates, and Paul G. Kirk, Democratic national chairman, said he personally believed they should be excluded from the debates.”

    Another hint of the system being rigged in favor of the two-party system was that media at both the Democratic and Republican conventions was (and, I think, still is) managed by the Director of the Radio-TV Gallery of the U.S. House of Representatives, a service of the United States government I’m pretty sure never offered to the Libertarians or Greens, much less the “Party for Socialism and Liberation”.

    And it should be noted that, while you might think a third party could theoretically suddenly shoot to power in this country to rival the Democrats and Republicans, we rarely see any of those other parties making a serious play for all the county commission posts, state agricultural commissioner positions, or even U.S. congressmen or senator seats, even the Libertarians, the most likely suspect to do so these days — and until we see a party make those sort of inroads, the U.S. will remain a two-party country.

    And speaking of a two-party system, in regards to Thad Cochran scoring a victory because of liberal Democratic blacks crossing over to vote in the primary, we need to remember that Mississippi is essentially a one-party state, so that any Democrat not wanting to waste his vote voting for the Democratic candidate, who is bound to lose, might just as well treat the GOP primary as if it were the general election, since it’s about the only way his vote will count. And Democratic votes certainly counted in Mississippi this time around. But isn’t that more like the system we want, one that represents all voters?

    And when you think about it, this was not really about Democrats causing mischief. If they had wanted to do that, they would have all voted for Chris McDaniel, since, as the widely-acknowledged Wackadoodle candidate, he was the one most likely of the two to lose to the Democrat.

    Rick

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