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4.8.02

GOP, Democrats Locked In Race Toward Decline

"Party allegiance is nothing with people my age. Party stuff is silly," says Dan Davila, 29, an easygoing college student. Like a lot of Minnesotans from around the Twin Cities, Davila comes from a long line of Democrats. But now he says with a shrug: "Who the hell cares who Grandma voted for?"

Davila is sitting behind a table at the Anoka County Fair. It is a summer evening; a light breeze stirs the aroma of grilled pork chops and live cows. Somewhere nearby, an Elvis impersonator is braying. On Davila's table are buttons and pamphlets extolling former representative Tim Penny for governor. Penny recently bolted from the Democratic Party to campaign as an independent -- a move that certainly hasn't hurt him, and in fact might account for his instant front-runner status.


This article explains why the Green Party, despite all the hopes of campus radical leftists, is probably not going to become a major force in American politics (and neither are the Libertarians, though it's possible that they could adapt).

The basic argument of the article is that cultural partisanship -- voting for candidate X because he's a Democrat (and your family or region has always voted Democrat), rather than because he's a competent leader or because his stands on issues make sense -- is on the decline. Candidates are increasingly appealing to their committed interest groups -- for example, evangelical Christians for the Republicans, and organized labor for the Democrats -- and leaving nonpartisan (and generally centrist) voters out of it. The loss of these voters shifts power into the hands of extremists, leading to even more extreme candidates being selected, which further alienates centrists. Races become more about getting turnout from your interest groups than appealing to a broad selection of voters.

The Green Party is not set up to take advantage of this phenomenon. In fact, it premises its existence on the opposite idea -- that the Democrats aren't radical enough. While this may prove true in the presidential race, when candidates follow the "go extreme to get the nomination, then go center to win the race" game plan, most other races never have that second stage. And if the vicious cycle of alienation and radicalization continues, the Democrats could co-opt the Green agenda (certainly not completely, but enough to prevent the Greens from ever becoming a major force). And it would be very difficult for the Green Party to recast itself as the centrist alternative to the corrupt (or just disconnected, as the nonpartisan center is more disappointed than angry) party machines. The Green agenda is based on radical social change and a dependence on government intervention, while most nonpartisans are culturally moderate and skeptical of politcs.

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