Friday, June 06, 2008

Fragile Coalitions

Even in our two-party political system there is a need to forge coalitions. It is a clear process in parliamentary systems where multiple parties are the norm. No one can create a majority on their own, so parties with similar agendas band together against those that are viewed as opposing them in common. The coalition may not even need to agree on some agenda items as long as the shared opponent is suitably abhorrent. A Shared Proverb

In the US, it is all too easy to view the two parties as each being homogeneous and many Americans extend the view to equate the parties themselves as indistinct and undifferentiated. That is a long way from the truth, as the current state of the Democratic Party demonstrates.

To get elected in our pluralistic society you have to appeal to a broad range of people in a culturally diverse country with regional histories, economic distinctions, educational disparities and often conflicting goals. You can’t achieve an Electoral College majority without a coalition. In the process a key element is to never, repeat never, give the voter a reason to not vote for you. The result, on the one hand, is candidates that seem squishy in their policy pronouncements; unclear on whether they are for or against immigration control or farm subsidies or abortion. On the other hand, it offers us the common accusation that one candidate or the other is flip-flopping. Let’s ignore for the moment that modifying one’s opinion over time based on new experience, learning, facts, or a changed situation might not be a bad thing.

Franklin Roosevelt forged an unholy alliance in the early ‘30s of states-rights Southerners, industrial state unions, liberal elitists and urban minorities to build a monolithic Democratic coalition that prevailed for a couple of decades. Ronald Reagan mobilized fundamentalist Christians on a moral quest and merged them with traditional free-market capitalists and welfare society resistors to wield a similar political power for nearly as long. Vestiges of both coalitions remain, if not in power, at least in potential to influence the elections.

That is why the events of the current political campaign are so noteworthy. You’ve got two precedent-setting candidates in the Democratic Party. A woman, with all of the support of the feminist movement and a long-term liberal record, on one side of the equation; and an African-American, the product of a socially-liberated white woman and a Black Nationalist almost-immigrant father, raised with the career privileges of affirmative action programs that provided him with the opportunity for his immense rhetorical talents to flourish and be recognized. Wow, you’ve got the ultimate liberal woman role-model and simultaneously an African-American race-primed success story. Either one would be the culmination of every American liberal’s deepest fantasy.

The problem is an embarrassment of riches. Too much of a good thing can really screw it up! Therein lays the rub. As we hit the end-game, which isn’t promising a clean end, we’ve got women seeking the first female president (admittedly with that as the singular governing criterion) and vociferously outraged that the world has not beaten a path to her door. But, we’ve got the historically subservient and dependable American Black community equally committed to their (a nod here to Rush Limbaugh’s highlighting of this terminology,) “Magic Negro” without much similar regard to any other qualification to be the leader of the free world. Without Barack, it would have been a virtual anointing of Ms Clinton as President-in-Waiting. Without Hillary, there would have been little challenge to the ascendency of the awaited Black Messiah as liberal savior of downtrodden American society. With the pair, it’s a clash of Titans.

The coalition of the Democrats is shattered. Black women are torn. White liberals are torn. Hispanics display animosity toward Blacks and anticipated antipathy toward a woman in November. Academia is disgruntled. Socialists wish for Solomon to decide about the future of the economic baby. Landslide victory in the fall begins to look like slippery gravel spill on the road to government.

Meanwhile on the broader political front, the required national coalition needed to win the presidency looks to be McCain’s by default. Hillary retains ownership of a huge segment of the population that simply despises her. Obama activates a demographic of Kloseted Klansmen who may have never cared much about voting in the past.

This is going to be good.

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