The Third Party

William Galston, writing in the Wall Street Journal warns that the institutional Republican Party -- the political equivalent of the Washington Generals -- may have lost its  audience after the longest losing streak in history.   A large part of the GOP base is walking out -- led by an "aroused, angry and above all fearful [Jacksonian America] in full revolt against a new elite". They're no longer entertained, no longer spellbound by suspense after finally being convinced that the Washington General's secret job is to lose every exhibition match against the Democratic Party Hokum Globetrotters.

Galston has impeccable liberal credentials. "A former policy advisor to President Clinton ... his current research focuses on ... the implications of political polarization", he should be celebrating the crackup of the Republican Party. But instead he is worried because the Mighty Wurlitzer is broken. Galston writes, "it's hard to see how the U.S. can govern itself unless corporate America pushes the Republican establishment to fight back against the tea party—or switches sides."

Translation: who's going to keep the gravy train running if people stop making gravy? His immediate concern is that "defeating" John Boehner in the showdown over Obamacare may have put consensus out of reach. 'Persuading' the GOP establishment to turn on its base destroyed the mechanism the establishment used to bring skeptical parts of the electorate into the fold. Those skeptics are now out the door, having finally figured out the game is fixed.

This is more than a columnist's speculation. Stan Greenberg, a Democratic survey researcher whose focus groups with Macomb County Reagan Democrats in Michigan transformed political discourse in the 1980s, has recently released a similar study of the tea party. Supporters of the tea party, he finds, see President Obama as anti-Christian, and the president's expansive use of executive authority evokes charges of "tyranny." Mr. Obama, they believe, is pursuing a conscious strategy of building political support by increasing Americans' dependence on government. A vast expansion of food stamps and disability programs and the push for immigration reform are key steps down that road.

But ObamaCare is the tipping point, the tea party believes. Unless the law is defunded, the land of limited government, individual liberty and personal responsibility will be gone forever, and the new America, dominated by dependent minorities who assert their "rights" without accepting their responsibilities, will have no place for people like them.

For the tea party, ObamaCare is much more than a policy dispute; it is an existential struggle.

Galston is running ahead to warn his bretheren about the new threat, the better to defeat them. He can see the torches and pitchforks in the distance coming closer and closer. Nor is he alone in noticing the trend. Gallup reports that "60% of Americans say the Democratic and Republicans parties do such a poor job of representing the American people that a third major party is needed. That is the highest Gallup has measured in the 10-year history of this question. A new low of 26% believe the two major parties adequately represent Americans."

The results are consistent with Gallup's finding of more negative opinions of both parties since the shutdown began, including a new low favorable rating for the Republican Party, and Americans' widespread dissatisfaction with the way the nation is being governed.

The prior highs in perceived need for a third party came in August 2010, shortly before that year's midterm elections, when Americans were dissatisfied with government and the Tea Party movement was emerging as a political force; and in 2007, when the newly elected Democratic congressional majority was clashing with then-President George W. Bush.

Taken together they suggest that the old consensus model may be collapsing. Why then should only the conservatives be in revolt? For at the heart of the crisis is money. The system of hitting up The Man in order to buy votes from a captive electorate dependent on the federal government,  so successful during the postwar boom, has finally stopped working.

The very issues over which the shutdown was bitterly fought underscore this. The establishment "won" not because it was rich and powerful but because it was so poor it resorted to hair-pulling, eye-gouging and and ear-biting. The elite can only continue to sustain itself by borrowing.  That was what the crisis was about, borrowing. Obama's basic demand was simple: let me borrow and borrow without limit. His 'victory', if so it can be called, is the victory of a bankrupt who has compelled his relatives to mortgage the farm so he can return to his losing streak at the casino.

But the assumption that Third Party must only come from conservative ranks bears closer examination. For the Democrats need money too.  In fact they need it more than anyone else, a fact underscored by their obsession to lift every limit on their credit cards.  The truth is they are only one step ahead of disaster; for if once the EBT system stops working, even momentarily,  there is a drastic disturbance in the force.

Nor is this surprising. It has been argued and proved by natural disasters that the entire fabric of civilization is but nine meals from anarchy. After 3 days without food most people are willing to do anything to anybody to get a meal. The hard reality is that the current deficit system will inexorably create a situation when the grub literally runs out.

Alexis de Tocqueville's argued that slavery should be abolished because it was a money loser. "The colonies in which there were no slaves became more populous and richer than those in which slavery flourished". That fading system was not only bad, but bad for business. Similarly it can be said wide sections of the Democratic Party have an interest in rising against The Plantation in order to survive.

In the same way that Tocqueville maintained that slavery could be condemned "in the name of the master", so it can be said that the members of Democratic Party should also rise in the 'name of their pensions, jobs and other expected benefits'. Without reform those 'gains' are toast. Lincoln Steffens once said of Soviet Russia, "I have seen the future and it works." People with pensions should visit Detroit. That is the future and it doesn't work.

Galston's argues that the conservative insurgency is rooted in some kind of atavism; that it arises from a nostalgic hankering after an America long past in the face of new demography. Nothing could be further from the truth. The hell with demography. People would be just fine with changes in demography if only times were good. When times are bad homogeneity is irrelevant. Rats of the exact same breed will fight to the death over the last piece of cheese.

It's the cheese that matters. The conservative insurgency is rooted in a lack of money. And so will the coming liberal one. The unrest is not driven by a desire to return to the past. On the contrary it is propelled almost entirely by the growing belief that there is no future.

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