Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The "Big Tent" Shell Game

A good op-ed from E.J. Dionne today asking a question you may have pondered yourself: Can the GOP find its Center?

Dionne says there are two reasons why not:
The first is obvious: The party's credibility on national security has been shattered by the failure of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq. Many Republicans know this, which is why President Bush's biggest problem in his last two years will be not the Democratic opposition to the war but the growing ranks of Republican political pragmatists who want to separate themselves from Bush's Middle East venture.

The second is less obvious but no less important: Pro-market libertarians and pro-family social conservatives are more aware than ever that their respective values and interests do not coincide.

In an article in the latest issue of the conservative Weekly Standard, Yuval Levin, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, explains the tension between the market and the family as clearly as anyone has:

"The market values risk-taking and creative destruction that can be very bad for family life, and rewards the lowest common cultural denominator in ways that can undermine traditional morality. Traditional values, on the other hand, discourage the spirit of competition and self-interested ambition essential for free markets to work, and their adherents sometimes seek to enforce codes of conduct that constrain individual freedom. The libertarian and the traditionalist are not natural allies."
Of course, it should be noted that the Democrats have major problems with their "big tent" too - and in both cases, the problems are the same in form if not content - certain elements of the party are mutually incompatible on some issues.

For me, this one is interesting because both Democrats and Republicans try to build their "big tents" on the basis, either explicitly or implicitly said, that you can't get your agenda any attention unless you belong to one or the other tent. Then you join a party and find you still can't get your agenda moved forward because other powerful members of your chosen tent are opposed to that agenda. And, of course, both parties conspire to ensure that there remain no other viable tents to belong to - you can't easily get elected to national power(Sanders excepted) unless you have a D or R after your name. So vast segments of the populace go un-represented on the very issues that matter most to them. It's the perfect reason for electoral and campaign finance reform that would allow smaller parties a fair chance...except that the two hegemonic parties will never allow that to happen. What a fun shell game.

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