Sunday, January 14, 2024

Democrat, Republican or Independent? Friendly Debate


I have some friends who are frustrated with party politics. Here is what they and I write to each other:

Friend One

It’s remarkable that 43% of Americans identify as independent, while only 27% identify with R’s and another 27% for D’s – a new low for D’s.  As a card-carrying independent, I applaud the steady growth of rejection of both these miserable parties whose time has long gone. The Republicans have lost all semblance of conservative principle and are held hostage by neanderthal nihilists on the right; the Dems are awash in identity politics and woke insanity, and still absurdly believe – despite all evidence to the contrary – that government can offer effective solutions to all our social ills. Both parties are craven and amoral, self-absorbed liars who wallow in a broken system.

And yet, when nearly half of America is ready to reject them and vote independent, who do we get to vote for? RFK Jr.


Friend Two

Thank you for the realistic view of our parties today. And it ain’t no party!

I am still a registered Democrat although I have identified as an independent for >20 years. I share your views. I too am waiting for an independent candidate that I can support.

But I feel differently, so here is what I wrote back to them:


I don't feel the same way.  I'm a Democrat and always have been.

It's useless to talk about the Republican Party.  I never liked them, even when they were a decent party.  They have always been the rich man's party, the country club party, the penny-pinching party, and in the past the anti-Semitic party, and they may be still, those of the old party that are left.  I like the old Mort Sahl line, What's a liberal Republican?  They're for change, just not now.  And now, those old me-first Republican stick in the muds, the help yourself don't look to me to help Republicans, are far too liberal for the party that has essentially been body-snatched.  It's like when SBC bought ATT and took the name, because SBC had a bad reputation.

The Democratic Party has a much better heritage, especially since FDR.  FDR - tripling down on his cousin TR - thought that government should help people, not call balls and strikes.  His Four Freedoms rang true.  One or two of you might remember my paeon to the Four Freedoms --  In the great questions of the day,the Democratic party has generally been on the right side.  They get a bad rap on defense -- they are not willing to kowtow to the generals, but they have always been strong.  I could go on about the virtues of their heritage.

Has the extreme Left bodysnatiched the Dems?  No.  It's a varied party, as you have to be in a two party system, and putting together alliances is always tough.  I admire AOC, but not so much her chosen lefties, some of which are horrible.  The Black caucus is a problem, whose anti-Semitism is beyond criticism.  I find some of them really irritating, and the identity politics that Rick cites is awful, just awful.  But the bulk of the party has the right attitude and the right tilt.

Have government programs failed?  Not really.  The best ones are those that write checks -- social security, Medicare, Medicaid.  Where would we be without them?  What about nutrition programs for the poor?  So many others.  Government can't offer solutions for all social ills, of course that's true.  I don't know who believes that it can.  But it already does so much, and could do so much more if given a chance.  If you look at the social welfare democracies of Europe, especially Scandinavia, you can see how a government can lift up a whole country over time.  Sweden was known as Poor Sweden, until the Social Democrats took over about 100 years ago.  Now they are world leaders in a country not blessed with many natural resources.

Is bureaucracy a failure?  Often, in this country.  Can it be stupid and stultifying and frustrating?  In spades.  The trick is to devise programs and policies that avoid large bureaucracies, or that decentralize enough so that there can be competition within government.   I think, for instance, that Medicare should split up into smaller units to administer the program, and compete against each other.  That's a question of design, and there are many others.

In a two-party system, in many ways it makes more sense to choose the party instead of the individual candidate.  We all love the great legislators, but when push comes to shove, would you rather have a pretty good Republican or an average Democrat?  It's the vote that counts.  There will always be leaders and followers in organizations, and the House and the Senate are organizations.  Overall, much as I detest her personally (can't say why, exactly) and vote against her in every election, it's better to have Barbara Lee in the House than any Republican that runs against her, no matter how great, because it's their votes that count.  Want a great Republican thinker (there must be some) who votes with Marjory Taylor Green on every vote?  What good is that?  Unless the Republican you elect is leading a group to a new Republican party and is willing to vote independently, a vote for any Republican is a vote for the body-snatched party, a vote for Trump and his acolytes. 

Parties serve a function in our democracy.  I find much to criticize in the Democratic party, and not just on the radical left (which, given the conservative structure and function of politics in this country, would be center or center left abroad).  I decry their gerontocracy, their suppression of competitive primary elections, etc.  But without them, we would live in chaos.  If there were more parties than two, we would soon be subject to the same woes of other countries like Israel, where a small swing faction gets to have its way.

And that's the way it is.


Friend One

As always, it’s a delight to read your thoughts, Budd. Much of what you say is persuasive, and all of it is so forcefully and mellifluously presented!

Just a few points in reply, please.

First, it’s telling to me that, when you talk about the Democratic party, you’re somewhat forced to look way into history, rightfully extolling the pedigree that FDR (and TR before him) laid down. I share your deep admiration for both of them, but that’s almost a century ago. It has limited relevance, in my view, to those who populate the party today. Yes, the Dems have long been the party of compassion, but I see woke culture – which permeates not only politics, but almost every aspect of modern life – to be the antithesis of respect, tolerance, inclusion and the celebration of diversity (in all its aspects). Today’s Democratic Party is awash in identity politics, and you acknowledge all the baggage that comes with it: racism/anti-racism, antisemitism, character assassination, mob rule, the dumbing down of academic standards, the polarization of our society.  I know you see all that’s wrong with this party today – you say so – so I won’t go on and on.

Ironically, the best argument for the Democratic Party right now, in my view, is the job Joe Biden has done as President. He gets little credit for it, and the overwhelming view – of all Americans – is that he should not run again. But his presidency has been remarkably strong, in both domestic and foreign policy.

The real question is, where are the visionary, talented Democrats who are leading the party to a better future, post-Biden? I submit that they are nowhere: not my pal Cory Booker, who has about as much support within the party as my dog, Ollie; not Gretchen Whitmer, who ought to be their candidate for President, but no one in the party had the balls to try to make that happen. Not Pete Buttigieg, who has disappeared altogether within the Biden Administration. And certainly not Kamala Harris, the heir apparent who is rightfully loathed and disrespected by everyone in the United States, in both parties.

So I don’t hold the brief for the Democrats that you do. (Being an independent in Maryland is pretty comfortable: we have plenty of good Republicans to vote for on occasion, like former Senator Mac Mathias, former Governor Larry Hogan, former Congresswoman Connie Morella, along with many great Democrats like current Governor Wes Moore, both our US Senators and Rep. Jamie Raskin.)  

In general, we agree completely about the Republican Party. No discussion needed there.


Thanks, as always, for the compliment!!  Warms my heart and my figurative pen.

The greatest sin of the Democratic party is not to provide for the future.  The best companies identify, recruit, nurture, and promote talent, and meld all the talent into teams that produce and provide for the future.  The Democratic party hardly does this at all.  There's lots of work we don't see -- candidate recruitment, for instance.  But the talent that's there gets crushed under committee chairs who stay forever -- in contrast to the Republicans, by the way, who term out chairs.  And they don't sunset.  And they don't have ways to bring governors into national spotlight, as they could by having commissions to approach problems, for instance, composed of governors, cabinet officials, leading legislators.  It's a severe organizational problem.

Our era has been conservative, ever since 1980.  Even the Clinton presidency championed neoliberalism, conferring further impetus to inequality.  The lack of caring for the middle, working, and lower classes has been a hallmark of these YOYO years, even with Clinton.  Instead of real programs and tax policies to help those classes, we have devolved into minority care, with Hillary nearly running out of breath as she listed the minority groups her administration would help.  It's a mark of progress that Biden talks more about helping ordinary people in general.  One idea he took up, but which the Republicans have let lapse, was Rosa DeLauro's child tax allowance, which lifted about half the children in poverty out of it.  He also has been trying to revivify anti-trust, as Bork and the Chicago School and the Republicans have allowed concentration of business entities to run rampant, even giving them the rights of citizens in elections, as we know.

So, given that conservative environment, we can't point to big wins as in the previous era.  In fact, just look at tax policy, and we can point to big losses.  But I have confidence, perhaps misplaced, that eras change, and given enough time in power, the Democrats would regain their senses and concentrate on lifting all boats.  After all, it's their legacy, and enough believe in it that I think it would reassert itself, given the right environment.  And as in the late 1930's, a major obstacle would be a recalcitrant SCOTUS, that will have to be neutered somehow, someway.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that it is even possible, given some longevity of Democratic governance, that Modern Monetary Theory will be given a good test!  And that we will find governmental policies to help us transition to a new society where increased productivity is translated into increased leisure and security for all.  And where climate becomes a #1 priority.

Dreams are the salvation of life.



Talking with friends is one of the great pleasures of life.


Budd Shenkin

No comments:

Post a Comment