Many foreigners criticize our two-party system, and likely for good reason. Many Democracies overseas - most in fact - have more Parliamentary-style governments, with more than two political parties - sometimes many. To form a government, these parties have to form coalitions and oftentimes the coalitions morph, depending on which parties gather the most votes.
Our system is a bit odd, as each part is a coalition - and a changing one - of different political interests. It is harder and hard to say what each party "stands for" anymore, as each party has a disparate group of followers - who are often at odds with each other over various policies. And of course, these policies and coalitions change over time.
Probably the biggest swing in recent decades - at least in my lifetime - has been the change the Democratic Party away from its "Dixiecrat" wing and the movement of the GOP into this area. Odd as it may sound, the "Solid South" was once a solid blue, as late as 1968.
And the history behind that goes back 100 years earlier, when Southerners held slaves, and no one trusted the Republicans, as they were the party of Abraham Lincoln and and abolitionism. Yes, as odd as it may seem, at one time Southern Rednecks were all Democrats and Black folks were all Republicans.
My, how times have changed!
Today, both parties are a mish-mash coalition of a number of disparate groups. And each party tries to paint the other as "beholden" to its most extreme elements.
What does it mean to be a Republican anymore? Once upon a time, the GOP was the party of abolitionism. But that was 1865, not 1965. In 100 years, the party went from freeing the slaves to trying to block civil-rights legislation.
The GOP used to be a party of smaller government and less regulation - of sound finances and no deficit spending. But during the Reagan and Bush (I & II) years, we rarely saw any balanced budgets or lack of restraint in the spending department, particularly when it came to wasteful billion-dollar defense contracts that produced pretty-to-look-at, but largely useless defense hardware.
And of course, "Faith-based initiatives" became a sop to send government money to church-based groups, a direct payback for getting out the evangelical vote.
And in terms of "less regulation" the GOP has dropped the ball here, too. While they are all for decreasing regulations on dumping pollution in groundwater or into the air (in contrast to even the majority opinion of their own party followers), they have no trouble socking business owners, landlords, and farmers with odious regulations and hefty fines, if they hire undocumented workers.
Yes, it was the Republican Party that has instituted some of the most difficult regulations for employers in recent years - requiring employers to obtain proof of citizenship of employees and to do a background check on a national database.
And speaking of which, the GOP used to be the party of personal freedom - unshackling the masses from "Big Brother" - which was characterized usually as intrusions into your personal life by well-meaning but misdirected Democratic proposals. Even Social Security numbers were decried as the "mark of the beast".
But today, we have more regulations than ever, with regard to your personal identification. Getting a driver's license now requires several forms of ID, including a birth certificate, passport, social security card, and a utility bill. And if you do not have "your papers, please" you can be thrown into a cell until you can phone a friend to produce them - particularly if you look foreign.
The GOP has become this wild mish-mash of competing vales. Grover Norquist "drown the government in a bathtub" minimalists on the one hand, and fanatic anti-immigrationalists on the other - the latter of whom want more government and more police than ever before.
Toss into this mix, the religious right, who really has no opinion on efficiency in government (so long as their "faith-based initiatives" check don't bounce) but want more regulations and laws about abortion and Gay marriage.
Then there are the gun nuts, who just want every law abolished, period, and open-season declared on humans. They have become so loud and obnoxious that no one dares question them anymore. And you can understand why - they might be armed and ready to "go off" at any instant.
Of course, the real power in the GOP is where the money comes from - the very rich. And what they want are lower taxes for the wealthy (which they have gotten) as well as lower corporate income tax rates, and lower Capital gains rates (which they have gotten) or perhaps abolishing the Captial Gains tax altogether.
And it is interesting how the GOP leadership has cobbled together these disparate interest groups. For example, take a typical Georgia farmer. Granted, one of our most liberal Presidents was a Georgia Peanut Farmer. But most are fairly conservative. They are risking millions of dollars of their own money, based on the vagaries of the weather, which lately, has not been so great.
They want lower taxes, sure. And less regulation from the government. And likely they are Southern Baptist and "social issues" are important to them.
But, on the other hand, they use immigrant labor to harvest the crops in their fields. And when our Republican Governor was elected, he promised to make life hell in Georgia for non-documented workers, and anyone transporting, hiring, housing, or otherwise assisting them. And he followed through with that promise, and as a result, many of these farmers are having crops rot in the fields, for lack of people to harvest them.
While they might like the other parts of the GOP platform, this "we hate immigrants" bit is hitting them where they live - in their pocketbook.
The immigration thing is like any other social issue - it is an emotional hook used to get people to vote for a party, even if their economic interests are opposite to what the party stands for.
So we have this Schizophrenia in the GOP. Poor people who are against abortion are voting for a party who promises to cut the taxes on people making $350,000 a year or more, or eliminate the "Death Tax". These poor folks living in a trailer will never make that much money or inherit more than a few thousand dollars. But by bundling the "social issues" in with the economic ones, they can garner their votes.
And they sell this in a number of ways. For example, the "trickle down" theory - if we let rich people keep more of their money, they might hire you to clean their pool, and you'll get a nice minimum-wage job out of the deal. What's not to like?
Or you argue that tax cuts "create jobs" - as though employers would decide not to hire someone who could make them money simply because their personal income tax rate went up 3%.
But again, these sorts of folks aren't terribly bright, so they don't get this. In fact, most people have only a vague idea of how taxes work, and taxes sort of scare them. So it is not hard to convince someone living in a trailer making $30,000 a year that Republicans "lowered my taxes!" as one fellow in such a situation once put it to me.
So what is the point of all this? Well, there is no point in being a "fan" of a political party, as these parties really have no "core ideology" and this ideology can change over time. Vote for the candidate, not the party. Maybe if more people did this, more would get done.
Now, I have talked a lot about the GOP here. What about the Democrats? Same deal, coming up next...