Political Parties: The Professionalization of the Party System?

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While enjoying my Thanksgiving vacation with my family to San Diego, I was caught by a very strange thought that has been percolating within my brain since the election results. At first it seemed so comical that I was going to dismiss it as a random thought, but as I tried to sleep tonight the argument seemed to become more prevalent. It seems that the idea of the Political Party is becoming more of a professional Brand-name, and less of an embodiment of an ideal.

Now, I have to preface this with the comment that I am not affiliated with any political party, as no single party covers all the positions that I support, or for the reasons that I support the positions that they support. I do have my biases, but they are generally non-party specific.

I have written before about the political atmosphere in the United States, and the public arena that allows Americans to declare their beliefs, biases, and personal thoughts. Generally this can be aligned with a party in one way or another, as each party will have a "for" or "against" position on something. For instance, if you are pro-environment, then generally you are expected to vote with the Democrats. If you are for traditional family values, then it's generally expected you would vote for the Republican party. This is because these parties have been a focus of one postition or another since their inception, even as those positions have fundamentally changed over the 230 years the United States has been a country. But, to my amazement, I have seen that change.

Within this last year, when partisan bickering has been at it's worst since I can remember, there was a fundamental shift in American thinking, as well as how this political race was run. It was ever so subtle that I couldn't seem to catch it while in the political fervor, and yet it seems as plain as day to me now. Politics has become less a race of ideals, but rather a race of the Party. No longer are the Americans voting for their ideals when they vote for the party, they are voting for their favorite "team" to win.

This opens another discussion altogether with regards to the American's need to "win" at everything. Competition was taken to heart in America, building a desire to win at all costs for the sake of winning. But for the interests of time, I would be happy to outline this discussion. Perhaps in a future post.

Anyway, back to the point. In this last election the Democrats won back the House and the Senate. We all know the score, the people were sending a referendum to President George W. Bush regarding his handling of Iraq, the scandals that were proliferating within Congress, and so on.

The Democrats are treating this victory as a "Mandate" to carry on their policies to Washington. Nevermind that the "victory" was little more than a majority (I believe it was Nancy Pelosi herself that warned Pres. Bush that his victory of a similar percentage was not a Mandate), and nevermind that they haven't seem to be able to agree on a policy other than the popular voting policies. "We Need Change" is not a policy, as outlined in a "Murphy Brown" episode cronicling the Republican takeover under Pres. Clinton. But I don't think the "party" has the same idea on all the issues. This is because of the introduction of the true winning party: The Blue Dog Democrats.

Yes, every single Democratic seat that was won from a Republican was won by a Blue Dog Democrat. What is a Blue Dog Democrat? Well, as I'm fond of saying, a Blue Dog Democrat would be considered a Coastal (East or West coast) Republican. This means that they are a very conservative group within the Democratic party, who were just "liberal" enough to run for the Democrats instead of the Republicans. Many of their positions on key issues (such as Abortion, Family Safety, fiscal responsibility, etc.) are in line with Republican ideals. In fact, these are many of the "family values" that so many political commentators have been trying to identify. They represent the majority of the new congressmen, and from what I can read the new Senators as well.

So how dose this make the party "professional"? Well, I see it in this manner. The Democrats had a lot of things going for them in this election if they didn't blow it. They knew that the Republicans had made a number of mistakes, and appeared to be turning a blind eye to the events taking place (with a few exceptions). But the majority of the Democratic Party didn't have a cohesive platform that was strong enough to seem viable (again, "I'm Not Bush" didn't work for Kerry). So they needed to get some faces in that seemed to know what to do, appeal to the moderate base on multiple layers, and they would have the win they wanted.

Enter the Blue Dogs. Everyone of them seem to have much the same position on government as Republicans do (or did under Reagan, or arguably unified the party). Any one of them could have ran for the Republican party and fit right in. But instead they ran for the Democrats, giving them the edge that they needed. Essentially, the Democrats "recruited" the best people to give them a victory, regardless of their more conservative leanings. One could even argue that they sold out to get down the field.

This same strategy is common in business, sports, or even in military objectives. The goal is the objective, not the method in getting there. As long as the minimum requirement has been met in the rules and the objective is met, it's considered a win. It's called "Thinking outside the box" in the business world. It's called "building the winning team" in Sports. But within a political arena with the personal belief built in, it's flirting dangerously with "selling out".

But there is also another way you can look at it: it's a chance for change. Yes, political parties change their positions quite often. For too long the Democratic Party has been labeled the "Looney Left", and has actually tried to live up to it's name. That's how more radical conservatives get into power, by using people who are too dedicated to a position to realize that compromise is possible as their lightning rod. A good example is Sen. John Kerry. He definitely didn't help the Democratic Party within this last election with his attempted joke and delayed apology.

Now, I want to let the Democratic Party know that I support many of their announced changes. I think the Minimum Wage should be raised, and I think that Big Business needs to be closely monitored. I also think that healthcare needs to be available to everyone, regardless of their financial situation. I also feel that the environment needs to be protected, starting with a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, and the increased utility of renewable energy options.

I would also like to let those that automatically equate religious devotion to the Republican Party know that such a view is stereotypical at best. Most religious organizations themselves are apolitical, and openly profess their neutrality. Just because the Republican Party has utilized many of the religious beliefs of various religious organizations out there (not just Christians, I would like to note), it doesn't mean that all religous people are Republicans. That's that same as saying all Democrats are Atheists, which would anger a number of Democratic leaders currently serving, as well as many that were elected. Remember, religious beliefs and positions have been out there for thousands of years before the United States was created, and deserves a bit more respect than an off-hand association.

I would also like to point out that various Republicans have been doing the same thing, and would be easily labeled the "Radical Right" on their positions. I'm only focusing on the Democratic Party because of their recent decision to become more centrist in order to come into power.

So in the end has the system become "professional" in that they recruit members in order to be the "top dog", or has the Democratic Party just taken a long look at themselves, and realized that their ideology is too far to the left to ever get back in the majority, and that they need to make some adjustments to be more mainstream? And I suppose the bigger question is: Can their followers accept the change, since the "radical right" has practically equated political agenda as almost religious in nature.

At any rate, that is the observation of a tired Utahn, sitting up in the night in San Diego.