Many people I respect think it is insane or irresponsible to take the position I take: I’ll vote for whoever seems the best candidate to me with little respect for their party affiliation, and on other ballot measures without regard to what the various parties have to say about it.
By not supporting the GOP, for example, it is assumed that I’m somehow succoring the enemy, that, whatever the evils of the Evil Stupid Party, it’s still much to be preferred to the Stupid Evil Party. Further, any time I don’t vote for a Republican for Congress, it is said that I’m helping the Democrats in their quest to appoint even more goofball judges and officials unencumbered by the law of the land.
However, it is abundantly clear that factions wed to political parties get screwed at the drop of a hat. Take labor, for example. For decades, organized labor was a huge part of the Democratic Party, and there was no chance Democrats were going to pass anything that labor wasn’t OK with.
Then a funny thing happened. Union membership *outside of government jobs* declined to the point where non-government union members were just another faction – they weren’t running things anymore, but were merely one of a number of groups within the Democratic Party. And – critical – all those years of identifying with the Democrats left them no where to go – the Socialist parties that had arisen in the ’30s had been subsumed into the Democratic Party under FDR so completely to have effectively disappeared, and the Republicans had been so long portrayed as irredeemably evil that switching to *them* was not an option. The loyalty and support of labor for the Democrats had reduced them to slaves: they feel they must vote Democrat, even when the party betrays them. The options – going Republican or forming a third party – just aren’t viable – yet. So, they live on the scraps that fall from the master’s table as labor relations at a national level devolves to the government ‘negotiating’ with itself in the form of government unions. The one thing the government and the government unions agree on is that more government (and therefore more government jobs) is the single most important thing, the sine qua non underlying any government proposals at all. That some manufacturing jobs might get shipped overseas as a result is beneath irrelevant. What matters is that government jobs be protected, and that there continue to be more of them.
Clinton got NAFTA passed in 1994 over the strenuous objections of labor. Yet labor voted and continues to vote strongly Democrat. Would this have ever happened had the unions played more coy with their loyalties? If they had cultivated relationships with the Republicans, and thrown a few elections to the Republicans once in a while just to make sure the Democrats knew what’s what? This seems ridiculous – unions organizing behind a Republican! What drugs am I on? – but only because the idea of party loyalty, an idea condemned by Washington, Adams and other founding fathers, has so thoroughly corrupted our political thinking as to have rendered us effectively insane.
Another, worse example, from a recent essay in Crisis, concerning the decision by the USCCB to continue their support of the Democratic Party despite its complicity in the legalization of abortion:
The bishops’ conference staff provided two conflicting recommendations. As their pro-life lobbyist, I recommended that the bishops conduct a major campaign to educate and correctly form the consciences of American Catholics to their responsibility to elect candidates who support the Common Good, which is protecting the human life and respecting the human dignity of every person created by God (including the unborn). And those candidates who refused to support the Common Good would be morally unacceptable for public office. The laity’s responsibility included being involved in their political party so that Common Good candidates would be recruited and nominated for office.
The Social Development and World Peace staff at the bishops’ conference disagreed with this approach. They dealt with the economy, poverty, food policy, housing, human rights, military expenditures, and U.S. foreign policy, and felt their goals and prudential judgments were more reflected by the Democrats in Congress. I was told sometime later of their concern that Roe v. Wade would cause Catholics to seek the protection of the unborn by voting for Republicans (most were pro-life [90+ percent]) instead of Democrats (about 2/3rds were pro-abortion then [94 percent now]). This shift in the Catholic vote would necessarily hurt their legislative agenda. So a campaign should be undertaken to convince Catholics that there was justification to vote for pro-abortion candidates. Their view prevailed and they pursued with the relevant bishops’ committees the first-ever Catholic voters guide published in 1976, called the “Political Responsibility Statement” (now called Faithful Citizenship). It would be the primary tool to achieve their objective.
See how that works? The lobbyists on the bishops’ staff were more concerned with passing (what history has amply shown to be dubious at best) social legislation than with upholding the truth. At the time, huge numbers of Catholics, the vast majority, were reflexive, congenital Democrats due to a history where immigrants had been courted and cared for by Democratic party programs and institutions.(1) The Irish, the Italians, the Germans, the Poles in places like Chicago and New York could be counted on to be the most loyal Democrats one could hope for – after all, they had been given the police, construction and garbage collection jobs by the likes of Tammany Hall and the Chicago Machine in their darkest moments. Their undying loyalty was the least they could do.
Imagine, again, that the USCCB had gone with Recommendation A, launched that massive education campaign and made it abundantly clear that Catholic support of programs and policies was a case-by-case issue, that there was no way they were letting pro-abortion candidates off the hook. Imagine that a few elections had even been thrown to the Republicans early on, in the mid ’70s. Now what?
It is beautiful to speculate: all the sudden, 70 million voters are in play – and the parties must compete for them election by election! Do the Democrats move pro-life? Is there any doubt? BUT – and this is wildly under-appreciated by those who cannot imagine supporting Republicans – the Republicans move toward policies more palatable to Catholics as well. Each party is struggling, fighting, polling the living daylights out of Catholics to see what they need to do to get and keep power.
In this fantasy scenario, *both* parties must take the concerns of Catholics into account at every election, because they cannot count on the zombie-like consistency of their easy-to-neglect bases, bases which have been maneuvered into a ‘where else can we go?’ corner.
My considered opinion: for a Catholic to identify as a Republican has been just as disastrous to our social and moral interests as has been the Catholics who identified as Democrats in the past. Pro-Life Republican Catholics get bamboozled Every. Freakin’. Time. by political shell games – how often have we been promised action on pro-life issues, only to get another law delayed, another cipher appointed to the courts, another bunch of congressmen sitting on their hands?
The point: they know they can get away with it. They know, because we’ve allowed ourselves to get backed into the corner from which we have no choice – what, we’re going to vote Democrat?
Well, maybe. Imagine if there were 30-40 million voters (2) – enough to decide any national election – who simple refuse to embrace party loyalty, voters who had to be courted each election, and who show a real willingness to throw the bum out if he lets them down? What if the polls showed a Democrat that he would get those votes if he were pro-life? He might have to do the math: I lose support from the DNC, I lose some of my base – but I win! Hmmm.
I would like to throw doubt and confusion into the minds of our politicians. I want them not to be thinking how far they can go against the interests of loyal factions and still get their votes, but rather fear that they’ll be looking for a job next election if they don’t deliver, no matter what the policies and planks of the national committees of their party.
The key first step? A pox upon both parties.
1. That many of these Democratic Party programs and institutions involved graft, bribery and intimidation was, possibly, less obvious and objectionable to people just off the boat from countries where the political system was far worse.
2. As Mr. Magundi pointed out here, both parties spend the bulk of their efforts courting such independent voters. Why would we not want to be in that place?
2 thoughts on “A Pox Upon Both Parties: What I Mean By That”
Very well said. Thank you for this, it is encouraging to read!
I grew up libertarian-Republican, but after entering the Church a couple of years ago I have had to come to grips with this–that neither party is the answer, or deserves any concrete loyalty from me… though few other Catholics I meet would agree.
This could also be a pitch for getting back to federalism and having Catholics go create their own state (hey it worked out great for the mormons).
It’s just a big problem with democracy. Imagine that there are 3 groups: A, B and C. Now there are 3 issues out there (issue 1, issue 2, issue 3). Each group has 2 issues it favors, and 1 it absolutely abhors. So how can any group get anything accomplished?
A can work with B on issue 1. But C opposes 1, and if B helps with 1, then C won’t help out with issue 2 (and A is definitely opposed to 2). Of course A also wants to accomplish 3, but B opposes it, and C probably will have trouble working with A after A pushed through 1, meaning 3 is unlikely to get traction. Now start multiplying the groups and the issues and how nothing is accomplished in Washington is obvious (if not grateful). We’ve spent hundreds, thousands of years trying to work out a solution and we’ll probably still be trying to until the sun burns out and the night lands fall.