David “Spoony” Atkins at Hullabaloney:
It’s hard to understand why the issue of disappearing bipartisanship is so baffling for most people. There are many structural reasons for it including increased transparency, coordination of interest groups, communications technology that allows for more effective and aggressive lobbying, and an ever-increasing influence of money in politics.
But by far the biggest is that the bipartisanship of the mid-20th century was a special artifact of the uneasy alliance between traditional urban liberal tribes and religious Dixiecratic populists in the South and Midwest. As I’ve written before, FDR was quite able to aggressively take on the financial and corporate interests of his time with a broad coalition. But he couldn’t pass an anti-lynching law without destroying his support base, and he was all too willing to institute the Japanese internment camps. In other words, FDR could take on the power of big money with ease, but he couldn’t take on the power of Big Racism.
The result of this dynamic was an uneasy bipartisanship between otherwise competing interests. Men like Strom Thurmond would vote for “socialist” policies as long as only whites got the benefits.
The advent of the Civil Rights movement marked the beginning of the end of bipartisanship. As tax dollars were increasingly seen as going toward non-whites, Dixiecrats became Republicans and allies of big business interests. Similar dynamics occurred with anti-Hispanic sentiment in the West. All the religious fervor that had been reserved for progressive social justice issues by the “Progressive” movement in the late 19th century (which included, by the way, quite conservative ideas like the prohibition of alcohol: late 19th century progressives would have strongly opposed modern liberals on issues like marijuana legalization alone…) flipped to socially conservative issues. The women’s equality movement only added further fuel to the socially conservative patriarchal fire.
At this point it was easy and natural for the racist culture warriors to align completely with the corporatists. The need for uneasy alliances disappeared. The rationale for men like Strom Thurmond to support New Deal policies and chat about them at cozy cocktail parties disappeared. The battle lines were set. The competing interest groups became neatly and sharply aligned, with only Ron Paul style libertarians having issues that cross party lines. If there’s any hope for bipartisan coalitions, it lies in Ron Paul voters. But there’s frankly not enough of them, and their ideas make the Washington cocktail crowd deeply uncomfortable.
Ironically, insofar as “bipartisanship” exists, it lies within the Democratic coalition itself. With the entire South and much of the Midwest lost for generations, Democrats were forced to turn to the traditional Republican base of financial elites like the Rockefellers in New York. Neither FDR nor Obama Democrats have been able to stand up to Wall Street money and the racist South simultaneously. FDR’s choice was to hold the South while taking on the power of big money. With America making the proper moral choice to begin the end of racial and sex-based discrimination in the 1960s Democrats lost the racist and sexist vote, leaving them little choice but to stand up to the racists while creating a compromise coalition with the power of big money (particularly in a post-Powell Memo world.)
See how simple it is?
The Democrats used to be the urban liberals and southern racists. And that created bipartisanship between the Republicans and Democrats. Then the Democrats dumped the racists so there isn’t any bipartisanship anymore.
Now the Democrats are the party of big money and liberals and the Republicans are the party of southern racists. The big racists who used to share a party with the liberals while being bipartisan with big money now don’t get along with anybody. Got it?
So Spoony explains why the racists left the Democratic party. But why did big money leave the Republicans? If the Democrats can stand up to either big money or big racism but not both, wouldn’t they be unbeatable together?
BTW – Isn’t Strom Thurmond dead? Cuz that would explain why he quit going to cocktail parties.