“Political parties are like poets, born, not made,” automobile visionary Henry Ford once observed.
Ford was right of course — about political parties, too. They’re born of necessity and can die of irrelevance.
Neither the Democratic Party, America’s oldest, nor the Republican Party, no spring chicken itself, are in danger of imminent demise. But both are looking rather peaked and frayed.
The GOP is dominant on paper: It holds the Oval Office, both houses of Congress and it controls a record 32 state legislatures and 33 governorships. Yet the future the Republican Party never felt so tenuous.
The Democratic Party has everything going for it statistically. The “browning-of-America” dynamic should give it a prohibitive demographic electoral advantage. Virtually every classroom, late-night talk show host, liberal newsroom, television sitcom and celebrity award extravaganza is pushing out its progressive doctrine. So what gives? Why are Democrats failing?
A long-dead Englishman offers a plausible explanation: “A party of order or stability and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life,” John Stuart Mill wrote just prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, perhaps ironically. Today we have neither.
No organization casting its lot with a president as erratic as Donald Trump can claim a mantle of sobriety. And a viable reform party has to have a modicum of seriousness to remain relevant. Today’s Democratic Party is but a bucket of grievances, with some tiresome slogans tossed in.
There is no plan moving forward from Democrats or Republicans to address the $20 trillion national debt or the $3 trillion in combined state liabilities. Both ignore the impending collapse of Social Security, and neither is discussing a reasonable legislative solution to the 12 million people living in the country unlawfully.
We shouldn’t hold our breath: The crazy alt-right has become the vanguard of the Party of Lincoln and the Party of Jefferson and Jackson now refuses to identify with its homophobic, white, male, racist, misogynistic plutocrat founders. (Have I left anything out?)
The ostensible party of free trade is today led by a man threatening a 30 percent tariff on Mexico, America’s second-largest trading partner after Canada, and the party that once fought for free expression now refers to dissenting opinion as “hate speech.” It has erased the word “illegal,” or any other identifying adjective, from all discussions about American immigration. That’s a platform based on a lie every bit as bogus as Trump’s ridiculous claims of voter fraud.
Gallup has for years published a running survey of how Americans self-identify politically. In its January survey, 44 percent of Americans call themselves political independents; 28 percent identify as Republicans and just 25 as Democrats. I’d be shocked if the percentage of independents doesn’t climb to near 50 by the 2018 midterm elections.
The Republican Party was America’s grown-up party just a generation ago. The Democrats were for the working man. The same can’t be said today for either. Our once great political parties have inexplicably rooted themselves in a quicksand of nonsense. They need to be reborn, lest they be replaced.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.