Monday, January 28, 2008

Your Two Party System At Work

In a way that I haven't seen in any prior presidential election during my voting years, this year we are seeing the two-party system played out before our eyes. The "big tent" theory of each party is that the parties will form coalitions, long before the election. Then the election will be between two parties, making the formation of a government easier. Contrast that to the parliamentary system in many countries, where each party has a fairly small tent, the general election often does not result in a plurality, and before a government can be formed, coalitions must be worked out. These coalitions often result in strange bedfellows sharing the government, with stability not resulting.

We've done it differently in America.

Based on the differences in the candidates who announced for the presidency, and on who have survived the fund raising and early endorsement wars to be able to continue to this point, the Republicans have a bigger tent than the Democrats. I base that on the relative sameness of the positions of the three surviving Democratic candidates, and the distance between the surviving Republican candidates. As I mentioned before, in terms of how what policies they would promote, who they would nominate for their cabinets and to the SCOTUS, and how they would handle issues of terrorism, war, and peace, there is essentially no difference between Clinton, Obama, and Edwards. So the Democratic contest has come down to a beauty contest based on perceived experience, eloquence, and endorsements.

But the Republican candidates are much more diverse in their stated positions and in their established records. Giuliani is probably the most liberal--but not on the war in Iraq. McCain is next most liberal--but not on social issues. Romney is next most conservative (note the shift in general description), but is untested on terrorism and a little uncertain on social issues. Huckabee is the hardest to place. On social issues he is clearly the most conservative, while on economics he is closer to Giuliani than any of the others. Ron Paul, while appearing whacko sometimes, if the most conservative of the five left standing, and might have earned more support except for his loony stand on Iraq. The fact that Thompson and Brownback could not get any traction indicates either a shift in the average feelings of those in the big tent, or that the party is not yet ready for or has not yet found Reagan-2.

It appears the Democrats are doing nothing to enlarge their tent. Joe Lieberman is kicked out, telling all that pro-Iraq war positions can leave the tent. The former pro-life governor of Pennsylvania (was it Casey?) was run out of office. Even the strange but somewhat conservative Traficant of Ohio was ruthlessly herded to prison thanks to his fellow Democrats. The rhetoric of the Democratic blogs seems to reinforce this.

The Republicans have not been perfect at enlarging their tent. Jumping Jim Jeffords was not much courted to stay with his party. A few others have changed here and there. Of course the establishment did its best to keep Chaffey-lite viable in RI, as the other team members know only so well. But Giuliani is welcome, despite his social issue positions, because he is right on the war, right on terrorism, and acceptable on economics and taxes. Paul is not driven off because he is right on so many things and is definitely for less government interference in everyday life. Romney and Huckabee are accepted because...well, need I go on?

The question is: Is the Democratic tent too small to give them victory in November, and is the Republican tent too large to generate enough excitement to get people to the polls? I guess another question is: Is either tent too large or too small to result in a fringe, third party candidate this year? I have no answers; this is just food for thought. But I find it fascinating.

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