One of the things that is going to make things difficult for the two “major parties” going forward is the conflation problem.
The conflation problem is an idea popularized by Roderick T. Long: it is when people conflate two disparate or conflicting ideas as a “package deal” and argue for or against the whole package on the grounds of being for or against one piece of the package. The context he usually uses this in is that of free-markets being conflated with the sort of “pro-business ” intervention of modern capitalism, but it applies most to democratic/republican politics. Especially in the US where we have such a strict two-party electoral system, rather than a parliamentary system.
Political parties are agglomerations of disparate demographic groups with their own outlook and agendas. The job of the party is to tie all these groups together with some sort of mythos that makes them feel united ideologically. There’s no reason for the “fiscal conservatives”, the “gun nuts” and the Christian fundamentalists to be united in one package. Nor is there any reason for civil liberties, “nanny-statism” and “welfare statism” to be united necessarily. The Democratic party has come up with a better story tying their demographics together, but that story is also a lie. Groups that don’t absorb the whole inconsistent “package deal” are portrayed as “kooks” or “radical fringe” because their very existence threatens the gossamer web of the party’s mythology.
What the two parties either don’t realize, or are afraid to acknowledge, is that the kooks are becoming the largest demographic. The Republican strategy so far has been to “double down” on their rhetoric. What this does is force the Democrats to shift rightward, in order to capture people who are marginally Democrats but don’t buy the traditional democratic package deal.
Where this has gone wrong for the Republicans is that most people who aren’t Christian fundamentalists can’t stand them anymore and are not willing to swallow that bitter pill in order to get the rest. So the Democrat’s “rightward shift” has actually destroyed the Republican party for now. What it’s also done is alienate the part of the Democratic party that think things like civil liberties and peace are actually important. There is a gap to exploit, but neither the Republican or Democratic party, at this point, can fill the gap without abandoning a ruling class agenda.
That gap will continue to grow as more people lose faith in “the story” and start to develop their own opinions about various issues. One thing for sure, the 2012 election was a referendum against Christian fundamentalism. The short-lived return of theocracy in the USA has come to an end.
As for “fiscal conservatism”, that’s an idea that needs a lot of unpacking. Given a certain level of government spending, it has to be paid for either with visible taxation or with deficit spending. Yes, higher taxes overall are bad, but all spending is essentially covered by one tax or another. Deficit spending is a regressive tax, first off because it’s initially covered by inflation, regardless of how that debt eventually gets paid. And the interest goes largely into the hands of the wealthy and the banks (i.e. the wealthy), who are the ones who buy huge amounts of t-bills to hedge their investment portfolios. In a sense it’s a form of “reverse robin-hood” redistribution. One interesting feature of the Democratic “rightward shift” is that they have pointed out that the Republicans seem to always rack up massive deficits. As for cutting spending, the Republicans always seem to go after social services and “welfare” as the first, sometimes only, areas to cut. Those add up to a tiny sliver of overall spending. So what’s the story demographically? There’s not much in the Republican program for the average middle class person. They personally won’t see much in the way of a tax break, and they’ll end up paying more in “hidden taxes” because of the deficits. It’s great for the wealthy, for a few reasons. They pay less taxes, they profit off the eventual interest on the t-bills, and having less people on welfare also drives average wages down, given a significant enough level of unemployment. The wealthy are a tiny voting bloc. However the wealthy also spend a lot more on campaign propaganda. And who is this propaganda targeting? The segments of the middle class that will vote against their economic interests. This tends to be racists/xenophobes and Christian fundamentalists. Even though to the middle class, welfare doesn’t put a noticeable dent in their income, and more white people than black people are on welfare, the anti-welfare rhetoric portrays a myth of inner cities full of unemployed “minorities” buying gold chains and lobsters with their “welfare checks”, then going down to the club to take drugs and have unprotected sex, after which they will abort the fetuses at taxpayer funded clinics, presumably.
Neither party, at least lately, has shown any interest in seriously cutting the largest segments of the budget. To their credit, the Democrats are at least a bit more willing to let the major beneficiaries of our current government pay for it themselves. That is to say, if anything, they are more fiscally responsible than the Republicans. Their overall strategy is an ancient and hallowed one: Panem et Circenses. Bread and circuses for the masses, and let the rich at least partially fund their own interests. The republican strategy seems to be: We’re going to send you to die, we’re not going to let you enjoy your spare time, and we’re going to make you pay the bills for it too. Because we’re better than you, and you couldn’t even tie your shoelaces without someone like us showing you how. Wow, how surprising that message isn’t resonating with the population at large.
In some sense the myth of the Republican party as relatively pro-big-business is correct, in that they are against everyone else. And the Democratic party is the moderate Republican party of 1976.
For everyone else, there’s Nobody. Nobody stands for the person who doesn’t want the government in their bedroom, kitchen or living room. Nobody is for the person who is compassionate for the poor, but doesn’t want to pay for war. Nobody is for the person that doesn’t want to support the rich but wants to become rich from his own efforts. Nobody is for the person who realizes that if we get rid of big business, big government and big agriculture, environmental destruction wouldn’t be a big problem. Nobody is for the person that wants to live simply, and simply live, without someone trying to prevent him or her “for their own good.” And, like it or not, more and more people are becoming nobodies.