Developments within the Democratic Party are threatening the traditional American political system,
Unlike Western Europe, the U.S. system has differed from the older parliaments, when democracy has been in the ascendancy, as in Great Britain. The Europeans have always been governed by a balance among sectarian parties. Those relatively well organized political clubs have been defined relatively ideologically, whether by the moderate socialism of the British Labor Party with its strong dependence on the more conservative trade union movement, or its conservatives bound to English traditions of church and monarchy, often united with the representatives of the proprietors of landed estates.
In the United States, although the founders had not anticipated it, a new political class formed early in the Republic, only nominally affiliated with the merchants and small landowners [in New England] and larger slave-holdings states [of the Deep South].
But given the relatively vast numbers and geographic dispersion of the new 13 colonies and their successors, these parties were less homogenous. When the old division between those who favored the new federal government and those – like Thomas Jefferson – who opposed the new strong federal state metamorphosed into the two current national parties in the late 1820s, they attained something like their current form.
In the modern era, both have been loosely organized – despite their often stronger constituent “machines” such as existed in New York City. In fact, they have often been composed a entirely contradictory ideologies.
The most dramatic example was, of course,was the Democratic Party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the 1930s. Headed by a charismatic figure with presentations as a country squire on the Hudson River plantations, FDR’s coalition could hardly have been more disparate. It counted for its majority in Congress on the so-called “Solid South” – representatives of a largely rural and strongly segregationist constituency bound to the segregation of the large Negro population. But its northern representatives, and a large part of FDR’s executive, counted the trade union movement as well as growing industrial owners with a small sprinkling of European-style Social Democrats and Communists trailing.
Those coalitions have formed and reformed in the post-World War II years. But the two parties ultimately represented within their respective borders differences grearter than the differences between them. The main political battles have largely been fought within the parties, rather than between them, at the local and regional levels. But the successful candidates for president which they have sponsored have often differed as much within the same party as between the two parties’ candidates. Thus a relative conservative like Harry S. Truman could assume the FDR presidency [because FDR no longer wanted or needed for his electoral success a vice president on the left like Henry Wallace, a product of a family of Midwest agrarian radicals.] Had Wallace succeeded in his third party ticket in 1948, he would have tried to initiate policies as different as those of Truman as his Republican opponent.
What is happening today is the growing ascendancy within the minority Democratic Party of its leftwing. No more evidence is necessary than the near riot set off when Democratic House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a scion of a Baltimore, Md., political family but a product of San Francisco, CA, leftwing politics, was attacked on camera by Democratic activitists. Their growing influence in what has been a dwindling party, apparently determined not to incorporate the broad spectrum that insures the life of the two-party system, is now a danger for a system that with all its faults has worked relatively well. One could, indeed, make the case it has worked better than the more fractured and ideological European configuration.
If the trend continues, the U.S. will be facing and new, unknown, and very different political equation.