Republocrats? Sort of.

The Current Moment, with lucid commentary as always, has this to say about the Obama vs. Romney/Ryan race:

When Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running-mate the collective effervescence among various liberals was difficult not to notice.


There is just one problem with this, everybody is dancing around the same fire. The ‘issues,’ whatever exactly that means, are a narrow set of disagreements over one resounding consensus: how to reduce the deficit.


The Democrats and Republicans are disputatious members of the same tribe. The collective effervescence of the election is, above all, the reconstitution of elite consensus around a very limited set of differences on political economy.

My only problem is with this last bit, which seems to be yet another incarnation of the notion that there’s really no difference between Democrats and Republicans.  This isn’t true, but it’s also false that there’s a world of difference between the two parties.  For me, what it comes down to is this: there are many issues that, generally speaking, the Democratic and Republican parties and their voters disagree over.  Abortion rights, tax policy, and, roughly speaking, levels of economic or environmental regulation and same-sex marriage.  Yes, there is greater diversity of politics among the Democrats than the Republicans, and opinions and actions of the national parties don’t necessarily correspond exactly to the opinions of their constituents, but as generalizations I think these hold up pretty well.

The problem, as TCM points out with the deficit reduction issue, is that these differences of opinion coalesce around a very limited set of issues, and they’re only two among many possible opinions.  Our current version of two-party politics means that there are many issues on which there is bipartisan consensus and many that are just never addressed at all by either party.  And there are many other policy positions and possible solutions to social and political issues that are never raised because they lie outside the very limited realm of our two-party universe.  (My friend Jacob has discussed problems with the two-party system at greater length here and here.)

Another way to look at this is to think about to whom these parties are responsive.  Increasingly, both are gearing their platforms and their actions toward voters and organizations with money.  There is some overlap in party support–many corporations, for instance, donate to both Republican and Democratic legislators in hopes of getting favorable laws passed either way–but there are definitely distinct groups of people who support one party or the other.  But neither the Dems nor the Republicans are going to be responsive to the interests and preferences of a majority of Americans.  (I don’t know how to put a number on this “majority,” but I will say that the median household income in the United States is somewhere between $45,000 and $50,000–i.e., half of all Americans make this amount or less–and the parties are generally not going to give a whiff about what any of these people want when it comes down to it.)  Historically, politics, even nominally democratic politics, has almost always been an elite affair, excluding large chunks of the population from the process and the benefits thereof.  So while there may be substantive differences between both main parties, these differences may not mean much to a majority, even a large majority, of Americans, to whom these differences mean relatively little.

Basically, I think discussions of the differences between the parties could use both a little more nuance and some perspective.  Yes, there are substantive differences between the two parties, but would these differences, if implemented in policy, mean a lot to most Americans?  In most cases and in general, probably not.

Image by Bearman2007

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