Friday, October 15, 2010

Still thinking like a national party?

It didn't take the early political partisans in America all that long to realize the country was growing too large for local parties to have much influence on the national stage.  In fact, it was about one generation after the first official United States Congress that parties in the north began to actively recruit likeminded politicians in the south to become their allies in Congress (same story as now, just two hundred years earlier).  They were pretty clumsy about it at first, so a lot of parties sprang into existence only to disappear shortly thereafter.  Eventually, around the time of the Civil War, we were left with just Republicans and Democrats (though neither really resembles their namesakes today).

On the other hand, they still act an awful lot like the parties of the 1800's.  Disregarding local issues and even the question of just how loyal a particular politician is to the platform, parties aggressively recruit anyone who wears their label, as long as they can win the election and tip the balance of power to one side or the other.  Of course, that gives you a lot of candidates like Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, who changed parties not once but twice in his political career, which ultimately led to his losing his Senate seat.  It also gives you candidates like Mike Castle in Delaware who was recruited by national Republicans to run for Senate but rejected by Delawarean Republicans in the primary in favor of Christine O'Donnell.  As the axiom goes, "all politics are local".

Some don't think so.  The New York Times actually took O'Donnell's nomination as an example of politics being national, since she was supported by the Tea Party.  However, it was Castle who was recruited specifically because he was seen as the Republican candidate most likely to succeed in Democratic Delaware.  While he may have easily won the general election, the question of whether he would have legislated as a "Republican" or not is certainly debatable.  The GOP primary voters didn't think so, and they responded by nominating O'Donnell, who was clearly the more conservative candidate.

Some see it as a "disaster" for the national GOP, as Castle could very well have flipped control of the Senate into Republican hands.  However, if you're like me and are tired of seeing national politics take the form of a two-way chess (or shouting) match with the occasional brave third player poking his head out of the crowd, then this is fantastic.  National parties focus on national politics.  They claim to have the "big picture" in mind.  That doesn't leave much room for the "small" pictures, though, which our representatives in Congress are supposed to address.

So, again, it comes down to which candidate the Republicans in Delaware (not the national Republicans) think would better represent their interests in Congress.  O'Donnell apparently fit that description.  Whether she'll win or not is irrelevant.  She's not required to win in order to be the nominee.

National parties don't care about local issues; not entirely.  They have their own agenda, as they always have:  to oppose the other side.  No matter how altruistic they may be, they're prepared to sacrifice whatever local issues they must in order to win.  That's why people don't trust Republicans and Democrats; that's why a majority of Americans don't belong to either party; and that's why candidates like Christine O'Donnell have been winning nomination fights across the country.  This is no longer a two-player game.  Local candidates (and voters) are joining the party of no, as in no, we don't care about your national agenda; no, we don't care about your long-term strategy for controlling Congress; no, we don't care who you think can win; and no, we don't care if we lose.  They've chosen the candidates they prefer, and come November 2nd, they'll vote, many of them for the first time.  Win or lose, it's going to be a sight to see.

Update:  16 October 2010

Though some have done so for months, as the elections draw near more Democrats have begun to distance themselves from Speaker Pelosi.  It is another example of national politics versus local politics.  The Democratic Party recruits not on ideology but on brand.  However, while the national party may consider itself a big tent with a diverse membership, if your members can't even agree on who should lead or what your agenda should be, then you'll be much worse for the trouble.  That's why Republicans have been "purging" themselves for months now.  Is there any doubt as to which approach has been more successful?  Those doubts will be dispelled on November 2nd.

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