Sunday, April 24, 2011

... be a Democrat OR a Republican?

The following is an extract from my book, How Can You Possibly be a Mormon and a Democrat?

A friend of mine once remarked that “a political party is merely a public relations firm for political ideologies.” This is a useful way of viewing political parties. Like a PR firm, a political party has clients: special interest groups driven by need or ideology.

Like any business firm, their clients change over time. Some clients lose their power or motivation and fade or lose influence. Some clients go out of business altogether, while other clients win their case and simply retire (abolitionists, for example). Sometimes a client will leave one firm and go to the other, like the southern Democrats who flocked to the Republican Party in the late 1960s.

The stated goals of a political party do not originate from one client alone but from multiple clients. They do not espouse a single ideology but several. So, many of these ideologies (and their subsequent goals) have nothing to do with each other. Consequently, the stated goals of a firm are never consistent. Why should they be? Still, it is frustrating when your firm represents and advocates other agendas that you downright oppose. In the “real world” of business, you have plenty of options; the choice of several public relations firms. But in the world of contemporary American politics, there are only two big shots. And most people feel they need to cling to one or the other if they expect to have any chance of representation.

Many Republicans and Democrats continue to believe that their party has a relatively consistent ideology compared to that “other party.” However, a serious look at the history of political parties tells us that many contradictory political positions are often a matter of incidental history and pure circumstance. I quote Orson Scott Card, from an editorial column called “The Insanity of Parties”:
Let’s say you think abortion should be restricted to only those cases where the fetus is nonviable, and only when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake. That would be my position, too.
     So what rule of logic, what great universal principle then requires you also to think it’s a great idea for assault weapons to be available to the general public, or for any clown to carry a handgun concealed on his person? How do these topics overlap?
Likewise, consider the words of P.J. O’Rourke:
Consider how much you’d have to hate free will to come up with a political platform that advocates killing unborn babies but not convicted murderers. A callous pragmatist might favor abortion and capital punishment. A devout Christian would sanction neither. But it takes years of therapy to arrive at the liberal view.
That’s the price we pay for a two-party system, so it is said. But, think for a moment if there really were several major political parties. These political parties, like any group of people, could never avoid ideological hypocrisy because it is so difficult even for individuals to do so, as expressed by C.S. Lewis:
Humans are very seldom either totally sincere or totally hypocritical. Their moods change, their motives are mixed, and they are often themselves quite mistaken as to what their motives are.
If individual people find it difficult to remain consistent, why on earth should anyone expect groups of people to remain consistent?

Also, the language used to describe people, parties and ideologies change over time and context. Yes, terms like “conservative” and “liberal” have different political meanings today than they did 100 years ago, not to mention terms like “gay” or “straight.” And one could say that a “true conservative” is one who believes in conserving the environment, and so on and so on. I quote economist Thomas Sowell:
If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 50 years ago, a liberal 25 years ago, and a racist today.

Note: This post is an extract from my book, How Can You Possibly be a Mormon and a Democrat? It's fun and not what you expect.