The Democratic Party’s Identity Crises
America has a colorful political history when it comes to political parties. From the Mugwumps and Anti-Masonic parties to the Free-Soilers and Dixiecrats, diverse factions have always found like minded representation. Whether major or minor in their influence, each shares a common definition of an association that promotes certain political objectives.
The two-party system has been a political fixture virtually since the founding of the Republic. During the process of the ratification of the Constitution from 1787 to 1790, there emerged partisan struggles and personality conflicts that ultimately divided themselves into two camps, the Federalists and Anti-federalists. This was the seed of an emerging party structure that would define American politics.
Even though the two-party system entrenched itself into the American political landscape, it has not always been an equal contest. At times one major party has dominated the other. This is evident on a regional level as well as in areas of the national government. For example, the Democratic party held the House of Representatives from 1954 until 1994, and the Senate until 1980. Yet during the period of Democratic party dominance in Congress, they only occupied the White House in 1960, 1964, and 1976.
The rivalry between the two parties is even more clearly recognized when you look at history of their dominance in certain States. Since the Republican party was the party of Lincoln and the party of radical Reconstruction, the Democrats dominated the post-Civil War South. However, the conservative platform of the Republican party eventually made significant inroads into the South, where Republican presidential candidates have relied on a strong and important base. This shift in Southern politics in characteristic of the competitiveness between the two major parties.
Some states could be described as having a one-party system because of the dominance of the Democratic or Republican party over their politics.
Historically, the ideologies which separated the Democrat and Republican parties could be boiled down to two terms, liberal and conservative. Democrats proposed a liberal agenda characterized by higher taxes, more government regulations on business, increased spending for welfare programs, more protection for the environment, and an emphasis on diversity. The Republican’s supported lower taxes, less government regulations of business, decreased spending for welfare programs, harsher penalties on crime and traditional social values.
It is not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work — work with us, not over us; stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it. — President Ronald Reagan, first inaugural address on January 20, 1981.
However, today, these decisive lines have been blurred with ideologies crossing back and forth across party aisles. Between the two parties, the Republicans have done a better job holding onto their platform, maintaining enough conservative rhetoric to appease their base. The tides for the Republican party is definitely changing. Only time will tell if the party will be able to maintain its historic identity.
The modern Democratic party has fallen on hard times. The party that once championed the cause for minorities, immigrants, and the progressive left is presently having an identity crises. It’s an island of misfit toys, composed of the neurotic and insecure, unmarried and childless, dissatisfied and discontented souls. It’s core voters are jumping ship. After the Obama era, the Democrats lost and lost big. The party lost 10% of their Senate Seats from the 111th Congress, and 19% of their House seats. On the state level, they fared worse, losing 20% of their seats in state legislatures and over a ⅓ of their gubernatorial seats.
As a party, the Democrats have lost their way and the current rage against the Trump presidency isn’t helping restore numbers or order to the party. “I hate Trump”, should not be the first answer to the question, “what does the Democratic Party stand for?” Believe it or not, substance still matters in America, at least for a little while longer. Your Rome is burning, so put down the violin and grab a bucket of water.