Both Political Parties Have Abandoned Principle

The 2016 election was a low point in our politics, with each party totally abandoning principle. Donald Trump ignored key ideas of the conservative movement, while Hillary Clinton became the establishment neocon candidate, running for George W. Bush’s third term. Newspaper columnists have noted this, with each party vulnerable to criticism for a lack of principles.

At Politico, Bruce Bartlett wrote Trump Is What Happens When a Political Party Abandons Ideas:

…conservatives—who, after all, believe in liberty and a system of checks and balances to restrain the government to its proper role—have plenty of reason to be upset by those actions Trump has taken that transcend our traditional right-left ideological divide. He’s voiced not only skepticism of NATO, but outright hostility to it. He’s pulled America back from its role as an international advocate for human rights. He’s attacked the notion of an independent judiciary. He personally intervened to request the FBI to ease up on its investigation of a former adviser of his, then fired FBI Director James Comey and freely admitted he did so to alleviate the pressure he felt from Comey’s investigation. For those conservatives who were tempted to embrace a “wait-and-see” approach to Trump, what they’ve seen, time and again, is almost unimaginable.

And yet as surprising as this all has been, it’s also the natural outgrowth of 30 years of Republican pandering to the lowest common denominator in American politics. Trump is what happens when a political party abandons ideas, demonizes intellectuals, degrades politics and simply pursues power for the sake of power…

One real-world result of the lobotomizing of conservative intellectualism is that when forced to produce a replacement for Obamacare—something Republican leaders had sworn they had in their pocket for eight years—there was nothing. Not just no legislation—no workable concept that adhered to the many promises Republicans had made, like coverage for pre-existing conditions and the assurance that nobody would lose their coverage. You’d think that House Speaker Ryan could have found a staff slot for one person to be working on an actual Obamacare replacement all these years, just in case.

With hindsight, it’s no surprise that the glorification of anti-elitism and anti-intellectualism that has been rampant on the right at least since the election of Barack Obama would give rise to someone like Trump. Anyone who ever read Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here,” which imagined a fascist dictator taking power in 1930s America, recognizes that Trump is the real-life embodiment of Senator Buzz Windrip—a know-nothing populist who becomes president by promising something for everyone, with no clue or concern for how to actually accomplish it. Windrip was“vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his ‘ideas’ almost idiotic,” Lewis wrote. “Certainly there was nothing exhilarating in the actual words of his speeches, nor anything convincing in his

While  I might not agree in all of his goals, Bruce Bartlett did express ideas as to what he wants the Republican Party to represent. The Democratic establishment lacks such a vision. Hillary Clinton’s campaign suffered from never being able to express a good reason why she should be present beyond the mistaken view that it was her turn. Democrats have lost every special election, most recently in Georgia with a centrist campaign which failed to stand for anything. Their strategy is limited to attacks on Trump, and raising hysteria about Russia which has gained no political traction.

Dan Baltz wrote in The Washington Post that Beyond opposing Trump, Democrats keep searching for a message:

The loss in last week’s special congressional election in Georgia produced predictable hand-wringing and finger-pointing inside the Democratic Party. It also raised anew a question that has troubled the party through a period in which they have lost ground political. Simply put: Do Democrats have a message?

Right now, the one discernible message is opposition to President Trump. That might be enough to get through next year’s midterm elections, though some savvy Democratic elected officials doubt it. What’s needed is a message that attracts voters beyond the blue-state base of the party…

History says a president with approval ratings as low as Trump’s usually sustain substantial midterm losses. That could be the case in 2018, particularly if the Republicans end up passing a health-care bill that, right now, is far more unpopular than Obamacare. But Trump has beaten the odds many times in his short political career. What beyond denunciations of the Republicans as heartless will the Democrats have to say to voters?

Though united in vehement opposition to the president, Democrats do not speak with one voice. Fault lines and fissures exist between the ascendant progressive wing at the grass roots and those Democrats who remain more business-friendly. While these differences are not as deep as those seen in Trump’s Republican Party, that hasn’t yet generated a compelling or fresh message to take to voters who aren’t already sold on the party.

Hillary Clinton, whose rhetoric often sounded more poll-tested than authentic, never found that compelling message during her 2016 campaign. She preferred to run a campaign by demonizing Trump and, as a result, drowned out her economic platform. This was a strategic gamble for which she paid a high price…

The long-running debate over the Democrats’ message probably will intensify as the party looks to 2018 and especially to 2020. It is a debate that the party needs. Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, writing in the American Prospect, sees a problem that goes beyond white working-class voters to those within the Democratic base who also were left behind by the post-2008 economic gains. He argues that the party’s problem is with working-class voters of all types, not just whites.

Greenberg has long been critical of the tepidness of the party’s economic message and puts some of the blame on Obama. He believes the former president’s economic message in 2012 and 2016 focused on progress in the recovery largely to the exclusion of the widespread pain that still existed. “That mix of heralding ‘progress’ while bailing out those responsible for the crisis and the real crash in incomes for working Americans was a fatal brew for Democrats,” he argues.

For progressives, the answer to this problem is clear: a boldly liberal message that attacks big corporations and Wall Street and calls for a significant increase in government’s role in reducing income and wealth inequality. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been aggressive in promoting exactly that, as he did during the 2016 campaign, with calls for a big investment in infrastructure and free college tuition at public colleges and universities. He has said he intends to introduce legislation he calls “Medicare for All.”

Unfortunately, as has been the case in many articles of this nature which point out the lack of a message from the Democrats, Baltz ignored some key matters. Americans have become so accustomed to the wars started under George Bush and continued under Barack Obama that this was barely mentioned during the campaign. Even worse, Hillary Clinton has backed far further military interventionism than has been supported by Barack Obama–or George Bush and Dick Cheney.

It is sad that Reaganite Bruce Bartlett wrote that conservatives “believe in liberty and a system of checks and balances to restrain the government to its proper role,” but we see little concern among Democrats regarding these matters. Democrats don’t even think of opposing the increase in government surveillance and restrictions of civil liberties in the name of supposedly fighting terrorism. Neither major party candidate had any respect for First Amendment liberties, and Clinton has a far right record in backing restrictions.

With neither party standing for anything, we are seeing an unprecedented degree in dissatisfaction with both major parties, with a recent icitizen poll showing that, “seven in 10 Americans believe the two major parties do not represent them well and that a third party is necessary.” While Hillary Clinton calls third party voters crazy, showing a disdain for democracy in attacking voters for being unwilling to vote for her, this might be the only principled option unless the major political parties are reformed. One of the most vile arguments from establishment Democrats is that we must vote for the Democrats as lesser of two evils to stop Republicans while ignoring the evil promoted by their own party. This is a sick argument to say that we should have voted for a corrupt war monger like Clinton, endorsing her wars, right wing views on the First Amendment, and economic policies, while ignoring how she has used government positions to amass a fortune through influence peddling. Voting for the lesser of two evils over the years has only led to increasing how evil the nominees of both parties are.

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5 Comments

  1. 1
    Janet Clarke says:

    Ron Chusid is right.  Remember, if one factors in the percentage that Hillary (or Trump) received in the general out of all registered voters, NEITHER obtained more than 28% of the mandate.

    Hillary Clinton lost to one of the easiest to beat idiots to ever run for POTUS.  And the reason why she lost is 100% her fault: she represented the establishment status quo to a population that's been economically suffering now for decades.  Whereas Trump ran as a faux-populist.

    Remember – in all match up polls, HRC and Trump were neck and neck.  Sanders consistently beat Trump by 10-15 points.  Speaking as one of the 125,000+ people who had their primary vote blatantly "purged" in NYC, I can speak with experience to state that Clinton stole the primary outright from the more popular and better positioned candidate, because she considered her "Legacy" more important than the nation's future.

    And speaking as a female: if Gorsuch helps to overturn Roe v. Wade, the blood of every woman forced into a back alley abortion will be on Hillary's hands.  And guess what?  She won't care.

  2. 2
    Robert J Kolker says:

    Is it time for a third party?

  3. 3
    Robert J Kolker says:

    I voted for Trump because I considered him the greater of two evils. I wanted to disrupt government (which I dislike a great deal) in such a way that I would not break any law.  And behold!  There was Donald Trump, my own personal political IED.  The only way to fix our government is to wreck it first. 

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    It might be time for a third party. There are arguments either way. On the one hand, both parties now appear hopeless, and forming a new party might be easier than taking over and reforming the establishment parties. On the other hand, the establishment parties have set things up to give themselves a huge advantage.

    Chances for a new party succeeding are better than in the past with the decreased party affiliation, especially among the young. Plus the internet changes the game both in terms of messaging and fund raising, making it easier than before for a third party to become established.

    Imagine if Trump had run third party rather than in the Republican primaries. He already managed to beat all the establishment Republican candidates, and then Clinton. He just might have pulled this off third party too.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    While I would never have considered voting for Trump, there is some logic to that. Clinton would have further institutionalized the warfare/surveillance state if elected, and she would have made influence meddling and government secrecy more of a norm. On the other hand, Trump’s faults are widely known, and it is doubtful that his actions will have lasting impact on the government other than for disrupting the status quo. I had hoped for no Clintons or Bushes going into the 2016 cycle. We certainly wound up with that goal accomplished, even though I’m also not happy with what we wound up with.

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