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There's been a lot of pessimism on here recently, especially since it became almost certain that a Healthcare Reform Bill won't be passed before the Recess, and it has attracted those who are becoming sceptical of the Public Option as presented, those for whom only Single Payer would do, and those who feel that their wishlists are being neglected (LGBT rights comes to mind).

I think some of the pessimism is overplayed, but the doommongers do have a point: a much-loved new President with a mandate (at least in Electoral College Votes), a decent majority (recently increased) in the House, and a full 60 Democratic Senators in the US Senate. Most American Governors and State Legislators are Democrats, the party has bigger and better names on the bench than the GOP, and that party is tearing itself apart whilst having the least coherent policy platform for any time since Goldwater: why isn't this easier?!?!

And therein lies the problem. The GOP is wrong, categorically, on most of the contentious policy issues of the day. They are weak politically and electorally - at their lowest legislative ebb in decades. And yet still they are able to derail the centrepiece of what should be this Adminsitration's Legacy: universal healthcare.

Why? Well I've got a suggestion for you beneath the fold.

In 1997, the UK Labour Party took office in a Landslide after 18 long years of Conservative rule. The level of dissarray in the Tory Party was unparallelled in recent political history, with several of their most senior MPs being ousted, and their great hopes for future success (Michael Portillo) cruelly dumped on live television.

It took quite some getting used to the change - the words 'Conservative' and 'Tory' had been synonymous with 'Government' for so long, and the words 'Labour' synonymous with 'Opposition' for so long, that it took a while for it to seem..."normal" to have Labour MPs running the country.

The phenomenon, this shift in sense of normalcy, was hard for Labour, but harder still for the Conservatives. They flailed and thrashed around for 8 years trying to work out how to return to power. What underwrote that determination was the oft-quoted phrase in right-wing circles, that "the Conservatives were the natural party of Government".

I'm fascinated by this phrase, because it seems so counter-intuitive and so true. In theory, there is no reason why any party should have a claim to be the government, except a democratic victory and mandate. But this phrase wasn't anti-democratic (in that it opposed government by others), it simply described a view that - whilst allowing for other parties to rule, and for the Conservatives to serve penance in Opposition - that "aesthetically", all was right in the world when the popular will accorded with the natural order of things.

It would be easy to characterise this as some sort of 'divine right' and denounce the arrogance and the monarchic overtones, but the phrase was used begrudgingly by many on the Left as well, who saw their own side as natural insurgants  and the prevailing orthodoxy of the Establishment. They, in error I believe, conceded that the Conservative Party was the natural party of government.

(Trying to explain this to an American friend, we were at an impasse, until he said - "Oh, you mean like the Yankees with the World Series". Other teams play, other teams win, but there is an aesthetic "rightness" about the Yankees being World Series Champions, and other teams share in that mythologising, independent of the Yankees' recent results. Apparently.)

This isn't a pre-ordained feature, of course. No party is launched, and can claim this crown. It is the result of history and sociology, and geography and demography. The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan can claim this, having ruled almost continuously since 1955, and the term has been used by the National Party in New Zealand as well.

My argument is two-fold:

Firstly, that the GOP is still (in spite of its recent losses in 2006 and 2008) perceived as the Natural Party of Government, even by those who disagree with it and vote against it.

Secondly, that in order for the Democratic Party to remain being politically successful, and to avoid defeats in 2010 and 2012, it needs to kill off this ethereal claim - which will take more than winning elections: the path to destroying this reputation and "becoming" 'the Natural Party of Government' might actually be to be bolder, and more daring in its legislative agenda: even where traditional psephology would indicate that loses you votes in the centre - I think that becoming the Natural Party of Government will bring more votes from the centre, even if the policy is more stridently left-wing.

Argument Number One

So - is the GOP the Natural Party of Government? I'd say probably so. It held possession of the White House for the majority of the post-WW II period, and 28 years of the last 40. Even when a Democrat was in the White House, it retained a stranglehold on one or both Houses of Congress. It enjoyed holding both Houses and the Presidency for 6 of the last 9 years, and had no qualms about imposing its agenda (usually legally, sometimes not). It waged war, it tinkered with Constitutional Rights, it threatened the Nuclear Option in the Senate, it ignored the Democratic Party wherever possible.

In short, it acted like a Government. There were excesses, there was a unity of purpose, there was no quarter given to the losing party, and there was a sense of swagger (or as they call it in Texas, walking).

That has an impact on the American psyche. The Democrats who did manage to win power since Nixon were  cast as weak - Clinton's presidency strangled by HillaryCare and the Lewinsky Impeachment, and essentially over as soon as 1994's Contract with America was elected to run Congress. Carter's Presidency was bold in vision, but never projected power and control in the way that a Reagan or a Nixon did.

The 'Mommy' and 'Daddy' issues is common parlance in the US, but I think it goes further than that - there is a danger that the time and mode of government under Democrats has given the impression that they are less comfortable wielding power, and it means that even when the GOP is unelectable, has no stars, and is in its worst shape since FDR, it is still in a position to claim that this is a temporary abhorration, and that they are simply the Natural Party of Government in exile (see William Hague as Conservative Leader in the UK, 1997-2001).

Argument Number Two

So Obama won a decent majority in the Electoral College, Democrats increased their majority in the House, the Senate now has 60 Democrats (ish), and Governors' mansions and stte-houses are trending blue. The country is becoming more progressive, partly because of demography, partly because Democratic policy is better. But that isn't enough.

Just winning elections means that you are the preferred option at the time of voting. But to become the 'Natural Party of Government' and consign the GOP to natural opposition status, Democrats need to be bolder and to look more comfortable wielding governmental power and influence than the GOP.

Healthcare (policy aside): the GOP will revolt at any public option. Cut them off - bipartisanship should be a TV-only word. Behind closed doors, draw up the most radical (eg Single Payer) bill you can imgine. Press Gang any new Democrats  - they will be one term wonders if they don't support in silence. Get 50 votes in the Senate (you can afford 10 defections) - don't seek any more, declare you'll use the nuclear option to get it through if necessary. JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN.

I'd like to see Democratic Leaders striding the nation like Colossi, with GOP obstructionists hiding in barns. No-one is saying Warren Harding was a good President just because he looked the part, but making the American People believe that your election wasn't just good timing and PR, but it is the very image of world as it should be: that is powerful.

And the bolder the action, the more plausible this is - pretenders to the throne will not dare act to boldly for fear of being discovered and usurped. Those who consider the throne their natural setting will dare to do that which a pretender never would. And that is how political parties are seem, independent of the election cycle - those that "belong" in power, and those who pretend when it is their turn.

Radical progressive action scares lots of Democrats - those in the Centre, those who are Blue Dogs, or secret progressives in Red States. They needn't fear. For every voter in the centre who ideologically opposes a piece of Radical Progressive legislation, two voters will support you for looking like the sort of person who gets big things done.

Average Voters don't read manifestos, they don't pore over policy arguments, and they don't hold strong and coherent ideological positions much of the time. Particularly voters in the centre ground, who are the target, and those whom  Blue Dogs are scared will abandon a progressive party. So much of voting behaviour is aesthetically-driven, based on perception of character, and an ethereal sense of 'how things should be'.

Appeal to that sense. Dare to be bold and radical and more progressive than can be believed by your opponent. By leaving the GOP breathless, the Democrats can, over the next 8 years, slowly prize away the claim to being 'the Natural Party of Government', and in stealing that crown, electoral success will itself become easier.

The description of 'the Natural Party of Government' is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Let's make it a radical, progressive, and Democratic one. No more hand-wringing, no more timidity - power is won to be wielded, and should be wielded in order that Democrats win.

Until this is realised, the GOP will be (even in their deserved exile) the Natural Party of Government.

Originally posted to Morus on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 05:46 AM PDT.


I think...

42%15 votes
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| 35 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (9+ / 0-)

    "Gambling is a principle inherent in nature" Edmund Burke

    by Morus on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 05:46:23 AM PDT

  •  Because governing is not easy. (0+ / 0-)

    Especially when you've had four decades of mismanagement.  Setting up a dictator/royal/unitary executive is easy.  That's why lazy people prefer it.  And when the nation falls into disarray, it's just fate.  Who could have known?  

    How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

    by hannah on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 05:53:46 AM PDT

    •  Disagree (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      happy camper

      If you've been in Opposition for 10 years, you should know exactly what you want to do on day one. Being an effective Opposition should crystalise your plans for when you get into government.

      When Labour won in 1997, within the first week, Gordon Brown (as Chancellor) had granted the Bank of England independence from the Treasury.

      1998 saw the Good Friday Agreement, the Human Rights Act, and the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly inaugurated.

      1999-2000 - Freedom of Information (their best Act) and getting rid of most Hereditary Peers from the House of Lords. Mayor of London reinstated and gay soldiers allowed to serve openly in the British Armed Forces.

      Whether you agreed with all of these or not, the first term was a bold whirlwind, which combined with the prudence of keeping to Tory spending plans convinced people that they weren't an abhorration - this Labour PArty was different, and was every bit as 'natural a party of government' as the Conservatives.

      The Democrats have that type of majority this time - they should have had their legislation ready to pass. Some of it has been, but healthcare and LGBT rights have been handled with kid gloves, when what was needed was a bludgeon.

      "Gambling is a principle inherent in nature" Edmund Burke

      by Morus on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 06:34:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  American Republicans consider that (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        CA Nana

        to govern is to rule the unruly--i.e. make people behave themselves--and dole out rewards to those who comply and punish those who don't.  That's the law and order agenda.  Other than that they prefer not to do anything.  George W. Bush was a perfect exemplar, not an exception.
        In their understanding, the Congress and the Judiciary are supposed to be supportive of the executive--let him do what he wants, which, when he doesn't want to do anything is not that drastic.  At least not on the home front.
        That crooks flourish under this regimen is unfortunate, but crooks do serve to validate that people are unruly.  It's sort of like stolen plans for the bomb serve to validate that more and newer weapons have to be built.
        Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you want.

        How do you tell a predator from a protector? The predator will eat you sooner rather than later.

        by hannah on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 06:44:00 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Parties are different in the USA. (0+ / 0-)

        A parliamentary party gets into power by presenting a platform.
        Obama presented a platform, but no congressman was elected on it. So noe consider himself bound by it.

        "I'm not opposed to all wars; I'm opposed to dumb wars." -- Obama in 2002

        by Frank Palmer on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 09:08:00 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Republicans do what's necessary to win (4+ / 0-)

    They get rid of their wavering legislators even at the risk of losing a seat.  They enforce party discipline.  They impugn the patriotism of their opponents.  And of course, they make stuff up.

    The Democratic Party's experiment with winning the (somewhat more) right way hasn't gone very well, in general.  

    Al que no le guste el caldo, le dan dos tazas.

    by Rich in PA on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 05:58:35 AM PDT

  •  The Democratic Party has reached out ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Now they need to pull that hand back and just walk right over the opposition.

    Lead, follow, or get out of the way! Don't get out of the way fast enough and good leadership will just walk right over you. The 'NPoG' that you talk about is perceived that way because they get things done. No party that waffles and compromises will ever be  designated as the 'NPoG'. The reason for that is that the party out of power still has the appearance of running things every time they are perceived as influencing the agenda of party in power.

    Win an issue. Let everyone know you won thee issue. Point out the ineffectiveness of the opposition and move on to the next issue. Its worked against us for 20 of the last 29 years. Time to make it work for us.

    We don't need to go down to their level and grind their noses in every defeat - we just need to walk on by and possibly point a little.

    Thanks for the Diary. I certainly enjoyed it.

    "Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state." Avram Noam Chomsky

    by zooecium on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 06:18:56 AM PDT

  •  Maintaining an exploitive relationship (0+ / 0-)

    Maintaining an exploitive relationship over a long period is easiest if the exploited participants believe that it's normal to be exploited, that it's natural, to use your term.

    I'd say the GOP has tapped into that belief.

    The belief system that perpetuates exploitation goes back ... well, it goes back pretty far. It predates the current incarnation of the GOP. But yeah, the modern GOP has tapped into that belief as a source of political power.

    Our challenge, it seems to me, is to assist more folks in seeing the exploitive nature of the relationship and then to assist in ending that relationship.

    Thanks for contributing your perspective.


  •  interesting musings (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Morus, etbnc

    You've put a lot of thinking into this.

    I'll point out that the media biased liberal and against the Republican Party for a couple of years after the last big realignment, i.e. Nixon's victory and the Dixiecrat defection in 1968-1970.  Watergate was its vindication.  But it generally collapsed in the direction of public opinion, i.e. conservative, between 1970 and 1979- Jimmy Carter never quite understood why they still talked him up in 1976 and then eviscerated him so crudely in 1978 to 1980.  We're seeing something like that in the continued Republican bias in the Beltway media and political TV shows.

    A year or two ago you could hear some interesting things on Charlie Rose's talk show.  He'd humor liberals but was always much more comfortable with conservatives.  He had two Republicans on one night after the 2006 elections and they were saying things were getting a lot less predictable than in the past.  Charlie leaned over and said something like this: "But we all know this is a center-Right country, basically, and that's why Democrats are always in trouble."  That was basically his admission of what he considered the bottom line of all the contention.

    He's right in a way.  It's been a century of a lot of change and a lot of different public issues, and the realignment of 1968 was that a lot of people had gone as far as they could manage, psychologically.  And they wanted the train to stop and American society to stay in one place for a while.

    The other thought is that our Parties are natural ruling parties for particular situations.  The hierarchy, ad hoc management, crudeness, and disregard for legal niceties of the Republicans makes them the natural ruling party in war times.  Democrats are the natural ruling party in peacetimes.

    The deal on healthcare is that we're still living in a time defined by completing and closing out an earlier political agenda, the Bush agenda.  For example, we have a recession- a usual phenomenon at the end of the active fighting phase of a war- because Bush and Greenspan managed to defer it from 2004 or 2005 to 2008-09 with a couple of gimmicks and tricks.  Which happened also to worsen the hit when it came.  And because the Bush agenda isn't done yet, neither is his version of the Republican Party- they're the representatives of The People that keep Obama tied to the terms of that agenda.

    Obama has finish off Al Qaeda in Pakistan/Afghanistan.  He has to withdraw American troops from Iraq and let the last phase of Iraq's civil war take place.  He has to allow the collapse of the predatory 'Coalition of the Willing' (which has already taken place) and assemble its parts to something else.  (Which seems also in evidence.)  He has to realign the Supreme Court and fix immigration law.  He has to deal with the Bush era's tax cut regimen and its absurdities.  Obama's DoJ has to expose and deal with all the Texas Republican "ethics" perpetrated during the Bush era.

    When that's done, there isn't much left for the Bush era Republican Party to stand on.  And that's when their current blowhards will run out of relevance.

    That's my two cents' worth.  :-)

  •  The GOP is the party (0+ / 0-)

    that does not believe government works. Then they get elected and prove it.

    The GOP interregnum of the last 8-15 years has been an abnormality if you consider Democratic dominance since the 30's.

    However, there are 3 other historical things to keep in mind.

    First, there is no natural party of government unless you look wider than the 2 parties and consider it to be the oligarchs that get their mitts (and money) into both parties and bend government to their will regardless of who is "officially" in power.

    Second, these things go in swings. I could say that in my lifetime Democrats are clearly the party of government but looking longer you see that this is all cyclical.

    Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we are still battling out the Civil War. Not just the north-south divide of the party bases but the various issues that existed in America from before the revolution that eventually evolved into the Civil War (race, role of government, capitalism, which part of the oligarchy has the upper hand, etc).

    These things underlie and dominate our politics even to this day and will continue to.




  •  I agree with your second point... (0+ / 0-)

    ...that the Dems need to become the "Natural Party of Government," but that would require them to grow a spine, which seems unlikely.  Also, whereas the GOP march in lock-step, dems have never been this way.  We are by our very nature, a more independantly-thinking lot.

    "Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight." - Albert Schweitzer

    by Apost8 on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 07:40:42 AM PDT

  •  Press contacts. (0+ / 0-)

    Reporters are human, thus lazy.
    Each oif them has a rolodex of the guys to contact about what's going on in government. When the majority changes or the administration changes, they are slow to update their rolodexes.

    So, they keep asking their questions of the outs. They certainly keep taking the phone calls from those outs.

    "I'm not opposed to all wars; I'm opposed to dumb wars." -- Obama in 2002

    by Frank Palmer on Thu Jul 30, 2009 at 09:05:46 AM PDT

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