Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Another kind of fallout from the disappearance of our unifying civic institutions: the diminishing role of political parties

Great Jonah Goldberg piece at NRO this morning. He invites us to take a look at the effect technological and cultural developments have had on our politics at various stages of our history, including the present:

Outside groups — the National Rifle Association, Planned Parenthood, unions, etc. — often do more to effectively organize voters around single issues or personalities than the parties do. The Kochs, Tom Steyer, George Soros, and Sheldon Adelson serve as party bosses, only outside the parties.
Technology is another, less obvious force siphoning power from the parties. For instance, as political historian Michael Barone has noted, the telephone dealt a grievous blow to political conventions, where insiders have outsize power.
Until the 1960s, the national convention was a communications medium,” Barone writes. “Political leaders in the various states seldom met each other, outside of sessions of Congress, during the four years between presidential elections.”

The telephone eliminated the need for the face-to-face negotiations. Today, political conventions are little more than infomercials for presidential candidates.
The Internet and cable TV have accelerated the eclipsing of parties. Opinion websites and TV and radio hosts now do more to shape issues and select candidates than the parties do. It’s a bit like comic books. Readership of comics has been in steady decline, but movie studios and toy manufacturers still feed off the brands created generations ago.

The weird thing is that the American people didn’t seem to notice. The largest voting bloc in America today call themselves independents, but most of them tend to be as partisan as everybody else, while “pure independents” are less likely to vote at all.
And yet, Americans keep talking about partisan politics as if the parties are in charge, and base voters on the left and the right keep railing against the party establishments like mobs unaware that they’re kicking dead horses. 
Factor in the fact that we now bowl alone and we can see that we're asking way more of politics than it can deliver:

Among the many problems with the rotting out of the parties is that the rot spreads. The parties are supposed to be where politics happens. McConnell’s point about money in politics is analogous to the larger trend. When you take political power out of the parties, other actors seize it.
When wielded by people who aren’t supposed to be in the politics business, that power corrupts. This is why every Academy Awards ceremony is peppered with asinine political jeremiads, and why late-night-comedy hosts serve as de facto Democratic-party organizers.
It’s why people such as Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, act like social-gospel ward heelers. It’s why the cable-news networks spend so much of their time rallying voters in one direction or another. And it’s why countless pundits and allegedly objective reporters serve as unofficial political consultants.
It’s also why Donald Trump could leverage his celebrity to seize the GOP nomination, and why someone like Oprah Winfrey could be next.
There are other, larger forces at work. The decline of strong independent institutions — religious, civic, and familial — has people searching for other outlets to find a sense of meaning and belonging. Identity politics, populism, and nationalism are filling that void.
Unless there's a mass turning to God, it's not going to get better.


  1. Close finishes in many locales, particularly our 2nd and 3rd most populous states FL & TX, mean more rancor in Congress and the statehouses, because, can Rick Scott and Ted Cruz, for example, claim a mandate for running the country the way their constituents apparently want by such a small margin? And if we all turn to God does that mean we all become conservative and all live happily ever after?

  2. Thought so. Oh well, supposedly a lot more than half the country will not make it through the needle's eye.

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  4. All theocracies use pretty much the same operating system...