Both the democrats and republicans are starting to feel pressure from divided constituencies inside their own tent. The split seems to be along moral/money lines. Conservative/liberal is a pretty good label for social values, but a pretty terrible one for fiscal ones. When you call someone liberal or conservative, what does that mean? Are gay members of the military conservative or liberal? What about a pro-life democrat? Should black millionaires vote for Obama or Romney? Clearly, the liberal/conservative label is almost as useless as the republican/democrat label. Practically speaking, those are the only two parties we have though. What if that changed?
For a while now, democrats have generally been for broader use of government power in social programs than republicans. More recently, both parties have been hijacked by moral platforms that significant parts of the party do not approve of. Conservative Christians have a lot of control over the republican party moral platform and this makes a lot of the more tolerant/liberal people inside the party uneasy (see Ron Paul and his supporters). In the same vein, the democratic party is also the party of minorities. Black and Latino voters tend to be more socially conservative than the typical white democrat. Close to 40% of democrats don’t approve of Obama’s support for gay marriage.
Clearly, as long as the government is in charge of both money matters as well as values, both the democratic and republican parties are going to confuse and come up short for a lot of people. If parties have to align along two axes (only… I’ll get to a third one in a bit), 2 isn’t going to cut it, we need four. Here’s how I’d break the current parties down:
1) A group that wants less government money spent on social programs and is socially conservative. This is the current popular view of republicans.
2) A group that wants less government money spent on social programs and is socially liberal. This includes gay republicans and republicans that are just tolerant of different kinds of people.
3) A group that wants a lot of money to be spent on government programs and is socially liberal. This is the stereotypical white democrat.
4) A group that wants a lot of money to be spent on government programs and is socially conservative. This is going to include a lot of religious democrats and that includes a large number of blacks and latinos.
You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the military or foreign policy. That’s because both parties are so similar in that regard that I have trouble telling them apart nowadays. There are of course more than two axes, things like abortion, immigration, and the drug war are all possible single issue voter concerns. Currently, groups 1,2 and 3,4 are supposed to come together at their conventions and hammer out platforms that they will agree to. We then have two parties in DC that do battle. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that a lot gets lost in that process. I would much rather have all 4 groups present in DC. It can be argued that they already are, different states, and different congressional districts have different breakdowns on the social/liberal continuum. The problem is that all of them are still beholden to the machinations of the main parties political influence. The RNC and DNC hold big purse strings and make people they support toe the company line. I think it would be much more useful and representative if these groups could be on their own and form floating coalitions on a bill by bill basis. The current atmosphere of having to score points against the other team is marginalizing too many people’s interests.
There is another axis that isn’t discussed nearly as much as it should be and that is the idea of how much control you are comfortable giving the government. This is the axis that libertarians get screwed on. While self described libertarians obsess over this, republicans take it as ancillary to how much they get taxed and democrats typically don’t notice until it gets to a ridiculous point. Many libertarians point out that a lot of the culture wars would go away if the government didn’t try to legislate morals or be involved in people’s personal affairs. The two core things about libertarians that are routinely glossed over are peace and tolerance. Tolerance doesn’t mean you have to approve of what other people do in their own lives, but it does mean that you allow them to do it. If the parties adopted a live and let live attitude instead of legislating values, we could then concentrate on money matters.
All of this is pie in the sky thinking of course. I do think that if this split came about and caused distinct parties that more or less shared power, we would have a much more representative government. The two party system tends to flatten differences out between people that happen to have a loose connection on fiscal matters. My more libertarian suggestion is to simply remove the moral aspect out of laws, but the 4 party system would be a step in the right direction.