As the media and pundits begin to process the results of last night’s election, the consensus is that the Republican Party is in crisis. It pandered too far to white people and religious conservatives. It alienated Hispanics with it’s hardline anti-immigration stance. It failed to connect with African-American voters and a rapidly diversifying electorate.
But despite those failures, the Republican Party presented a fairly coherent ideological platform – free market economic policies coupled with social conservatism. The same ideas it’s presented since Reagan. And while it’s true, as Corey Robin noted, that “it’s safe to say that The Real America, The Heartland, The Silent Majority…no longer governs the land,” the Republican Party remains a distinct, ideological entity. The Republicans aren’t the party in crisis, the Democrats are.
The Democrats, it seems, won mainly by not being Republicans. They avoided making insensitive comments about rape and catered to the electorate’s increasingly liberal views on gay marriage, marijuana, and reproductive rights. But this is a challenge to the continuity of Democratic Party: the time will come when the issues of gay marriage, marijuana, and reproductive rights are no longer election-defining issues. In a more progressive and ethnically diverse country, and in the near future, the current disagreements regarding the above-mentioned issues will be resolved.
Until now, the Democratic Party distinguished itself from the Republican Party as the party of minorities and social progress. But when the minorities become the majority, as they will soon, and the increasingly progressive attitudes of Americans translate into legislative changes, the Democratic Party will no longer be different from its previously more sinister counterpart. I say this partially in jest but also to make a serious point: how will the Democratic Party continue to justify its existence? Instead of being presented with a choice between two ostensibly different political parties (as we have up until now), we will be presented with the choice between two parties that clearly agree on fundamental ideological issues. It will no longer be possible to pretend that voting for the Democrats is progressive and voting for the Republican is regressive while both parties promote austerity measures, sustain economic inequality, receive support from the same millionaires and billionaires, and continue US military intervention abroad. We’ve lived for so long with the illusion that we make a choice when we vote. What will happen when there obviously is no alternative to the parties that sustain the status quo?
For the next couple of days, weeks, and even months, liberals will celebrate the results of last night’s elections and the future they foretell – a future of a more diverse and socially progressive country. But from an economic perspective, the future remains grim. Obama will likely implement austerity measures in order to stave off a major crisis as the fiscal cliff approaches. Severe economic inequality will persist as policies that favor the very wealthy go unchallenged. Drone warfare and military adventurism will continue to take the lives of innocent people.
For those of us on the left, the crisis of the Democratic party is an opportunity to build viable alternatives to the current political monolith – to fight corporate interests and the wealthy’s stranglehold on the political system. The time may come when the Progressive caucus and Democrats concerned with economic justice, like Elizabeth Warren, abandon the failing organs of the Democratic party to create a new, ideologically distinct political body. But that would require widespread disillusionment and frustration with the lack of a real choice at the polling booth. Until then, we must agitate, organize, and wait.