Well… okay, actually they may… because you pretty much have no shot of wining an election as anything aside from a self-professed Republican or Democrat (regardless of the fact there are dozens of registered parties in the US.) Other than that? Who is to say. Change ’em like your undies I say, no one really checks to see if your ideologies match the party line anyhow, much like no one will ever really check to see if your undies match your bra or if they are clean after you have been in an accident. [I still advocate for matching and clean at all times though, and funny enough, I also have spent a life time trying to find a political affiliation that matches my ideology. It has been a difficult search requiring a lot of compromise. At least my bra and panties always match, no compromises there.]
Recently, Arlen Specter chose to leave the GOP and join the Dem’s, who are on their way to the filibuster-proof super-majority as soon as that imbecile in Minnesota admits that he got beat by a Saturday Night Live alum and lets Al Franken get to work (I would suggest we not underestimate Al Franken, btw, regardless of our feelings about the super-majority.) Specter was very up front about his switch, explaining that he was feeling distance from the extreme right-leaning tendencies of the Neo-cons, but more to the point, he did not feel confident he would be able to win against a hard-line GOP opponent in the primaries. I am not sure how I feel about this. Should I be happy that Specter was honest about why he changed? Or should I feel like the guy just switched cheap suits?
In order to work it out I took a look at his voting record in the Senate. I mean, let’s check and see if his bra and panties match after all. Specter has a record I feel good about on social issues… which means Neo-Cons will have issues because he has been an advocate of gay rights and choice for a long time. He seems pretty reasonable in his approach to immigration and the environment as well, he voted against drilling in ANWAR, so that is reassuring. He is a bit more conservative when it comes to all this protecting-the-homeland-hyperbole and gun rights, the latter a bit more consistent with his position about the government not legislating things that are personal choice issues. So, I am not totally bummed to have him switch, but just to win re-election? Do we give him props for a bullshit free explanation and let it go? I mean, he does stand to lose a whole lot of sway in all the committees he sits on or chairs (most notably Appropriations and Judiciary) as those are all positions determined by party rank and seniority. So, what do you think? Do his underwear match?
And all this came on Day 99 of Obama’s first 100 Days, which has become some sort of important bench mark for reasons unimportant to me. The people who know more than me say that is shows the 100 days have been worse for the GOP than they have been good for Obama. More than anything I think it suggests that the GOP had better take a good hard look at their attitudes about issues that may end up alienating a country made up of of a constituency much more diverse than they seem to want to admit. With the subsequent announcement that Justice Souter will be retiring, I imagine some people are really shaking in their Neo-Con boots when they consider the process for approving the Presiential nomiees to the USSC.
At the end of the day, I still find myself wondering about the point of the political parties and affiliations anymore. Remember old GW warned against them with fervor:
In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection…
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty…
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another…
A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.
Ok, so George seemed fairly clear about how he felt. Which is nice, because since then people have been positively schizoid about political parties. No where does this become more evident than when one tries to teach political parties and explain differences and party affiliations through the ages. Imagine trying to explain why Reagan was not exactly being accurate when he described himself as a Republican in the vein of Abraham Lincoln… when it is sort of conventional wisdom that the Lincoln Republicans (who supported equal rights and taxing the rich more than the other classes) are more like the Dems of modern times. And don’t even get me started on trying to explain the Whigs, the Know-Nothings, Teddy’s Bull-Moose Crew, how Dixiecrats are different than Northern Democrats and why, and what exactly is the difference between the mainstream Donkeys and Elephants… The whole thing is a bloody mess.
One group that seems to have a handle on this is the group over at The Political Compass. They take into consideration that a simple left-right spectrum is simply no longer adequate (if it ever was.) They offer this graphic representation:
And then my students take the quiz and see which quadrant they fall into. It is pretty interesting stuff. The website also provides this one for some comparison to people that my students may be more familiar with than strictly US candidates:
I am constantly amazed at how deeply ingrained politics are into my idea of what it means to be American. I have no idea if everyone thinks this… but I do know that my Hong Kong students have no innate understanding of the nuances of US political parties at all, so when news like Specter’s switch of party affiliation is all over the news they wonder. They certainly understand the power of a super-majority (hello Beijing!) but so far the best metaphor has been the matching bra and panties one – so I am sticking with that and reminding everyone that it is always better to match.