May 26, 2004

More on the 70-Year Cycle...

In one of my posts on the subject of party realignment, and the theory of 70-year cycles of realignments in American politics, Lance Jonn Romanoff posted a comment and suggested the book Nemesis of Reform by Clyde Weed. I'm reading it with great interest. Thanks! (and thanks to Zev for suggesting Grand Old Party. Also very good.)

The book is about how the Republicans reacted to the realignment that made the Democrats the majority party in the 1930's, after Republican dominance since the Civil War. I probably won't find time to write about the book in any way that does it justice. But I've encountered a number of interesting items that seem to parallel things that are happening now.

One is that the Republicans reacted to the move leftward of the country and the Dems by moving further right! The polarization of politics increased. This was disastrous for the Republicans electorally. It seems to have happened because the most energetic Republican interest groups were those who felt most threatened by the New Deal. The energy of the party was in the "antis." And because many centrist or Progressive Republicans were supporting Roosevelt.

There was also an enormous failure of perception. Republican leaders couldn't really see or grasp what was happening. They failed to see that the sectional politics they knew were being replaced by class-based politics. And after their heavy defeat in 1932 they began to imagine things were getting better. Contributions were up, as bankers and industrialists reacted to Roosevelt's policies. Republicans felt energized, (and polling hardly existed then, so their data was poor.) They were utterly wrong.

I don't think the 1930's Republicans had any good short-term options. And I don't think the Democrats have any today. We are in a WAR, and Kerry and company can't fake being strong on defense. It's like Kerry trying to be a regular guy but blowing the details of eating cheesesteaks or pizza. No dice. You can't fake it. And even if there were no war, the long Democrat dominance means there is a huge and pressing backlog of reforms that haven't been done because they conflict with Democrat interest groups. Clinton tried to fudge this by being a "New Democrat." But his heart really wasn't in it, and if it had been he would have lacked the necessary support in his party.

Posted by John Weidner at May 26, 2004 5:18 PM
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