The current debate about whether or not President Obama and the Senate Democrats have won a political mandate raises an interesting - and even more profound - question: Does the 2012 election signal the beginning of a major political realignment in the U.S. ?
Although right-wing pundits have scornfully dismissed the idea of a 2012 Presidential mandate, as House Speaker Boehner has shown snide contempt for the idea, there are also strong signs of fear, confusion, and even hopelessness from major right-wing media figures such as Limbaugh and Coulter. Their own sense of frustration and failure indicates that the 2012 election has to be considered more than just a mandate.
What the election signals is not just 4-year mandate to Obama, but something much larger than that. This election may signal the end of one era in American politics and the beginning of another. Limbaugh and Coulter are not profoundly upset by the loss of one political election in itself, but rather because they sense that their movement itself may be facing a decline. As Bill Reilly put it, hyperbolically and with sadness and near-indignation, traditional (for him, "white christian") America is no more.
Nate Silver has brought this to our attention in his early election analysis, in which he states that "As Nation and Parties Change, Republicans Are at an Electoral College Disadvantage." Importantly, Silver states that the 2012 election suggests that a structural disadvantage may be building - indicating that the next Democratic nominee (perhaps Hillary Clinton) will start out with a large block of northeastern, pacific, mountain, midwestern, and southeastern states that lean Democratic. Further, the trends are long-term trends. Virginia and North Carolina are likely to be more Democratic, as are Colorado and Florida. States such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin remain blue in presidential elections, and States such as Iowa and Nevada and New Mexico are a deep blue shade of purple, if indeed they can still be called purple.
It is generally recognized that the U.S. has gone through a number of major political realignments throughout its history. As in the quotation below regarding words of Marjorie Hershey, there have been at least six major "party systems" in American History (the last of which is the Republican-dominated era that began with the realignment of the old southern bloc in the Nixon election of 1968).
If Hershey is correct in identifying "six party systems," then we may now be seeing evidence that a "seventh party system" is in its early stages of development.
Similarly, the historian Arthur Schlessinger Jr. wrote a well-known book "The Cycles of American History" in which he extended his Father's historical analyses indicating that there have been a series of cycles between what we have come to know as conservatism and liberalism (i.e., between capitalist focus on individual wealth vs. emphasis on caring for the needs of the community). In the Schlessinger analysis, the average cycle of American history has lasted approximately 30 years, ranging in length from approximately 15 to 50 years. Schlessinger notes, there are also smaller epicycles (e.g., the Eisenhower, Carter, Clinton years) that take place within the larger historical cycles.
Given that the "sixth party system" in American history began when the deep southern states began to flip to the Republicans in 1968, this system or "cycle" has been 44 years in duration, putting it at the high end of the Schlessinger range (15 to 50 years). It has been getting long in the tooth for some time and is running on empty, ideologically, offering fewer new ideas to the nation.
So, it should not come as a surprise to us that the words of the right-wing pundits ring hollow when they deny the significance of President Obama's re-election mandate. In this case, we may be starting to understand why it is that, to paraphrase the Bard, "(we)-thinks (they) doth protest too much."
November 8, 2012, 4:15 pm
As Nation and Parties Change, Republicans Are at an Electoral College Disadvantage
By NATE SILVER
Two more presidential elections, 2016 and 2020, will be contested under the current Electoral College configuration, which gave Barack Obama a second term on Tuesday. This year’s results suggest that this could put Republicans at a structural disadvantage.
"According to Marjorie Hershey, there have been at least six different party systems throughout the history of the United States:
First Party System: This system can be considered to have developed as a result of the factions in the George Washington administration. The two factions were Alexander Hamilton and the Federalists and Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republican Party. The Federalists argued for a strong national government with a national bank and a strong economic and industry system. The Democratic-Republicans argued for a limited government, with a more emphasis on farmers and states' rights. After the 1800 Presidential election, the Democratic-Republicans gained major dominance for the next twenty years, and the Federalists slowly died off.
Second Party System: This system developed as a result of the one party rule of the Democratic-Republicans not being able to contain some of the most pressing issues of the time, namely slavery. Out of this system came the Whig Party and Henry Clay's American System. Wealthier people tended to support the Whigs, and the poorer tended to support the Democrats. During the Jacksonian era, his Democrat Party evolved from Democratic-Republicans. The Whig party began to break apart into factions, mainly over the issue of slavery. This period lasted until 1860.
Third Party System: Beginning around the time of the start of the Civil War, this system was defined by bitter conflict and striking party differences and coalitions. These coalitions were most evidently defined by geography. The South was dominated by the Democrats who opposed the ending of slavery, and the North, with the exception of some major political machines, was dominated by the Republicans, who supported ending slavery. This era was a time of extreme industrial and economic expansion. The Third Party System lasted until 1896.
Fourth Party System: This era was defined by Progressivism and immigration, as well as the political aftermath of the American Civil War. Northeastern business supported the Republicans while the South and West supported the Democrats. Immigrant groups were courted by both parties. The Fourth Party System came to an end around 1932.
Fifth Party System: This system was defined by the creation of the New Deal Coalition by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression. This coalition supporting new social welfare programs brought together many under-privileged, working class, and minority groups including unions, Catholics, and Jews. It also attracted African-Americans, who had previously largely supported the Republican Party due to Lincoln's freeing of the slaves. This era lasted approximately until 1968.
Sixth Party System: This system is currently developing. It appears to have begun with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the Democrat's subsequently losing their long dominance of the South in the late 1960s, leading to a Republican dominance as evidenced by election results."