What’s happened to the two parties?


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Identity politics. Back in the 1990s, the phrase meant one thing – people voting in the interests of their group. Today it’s a question of party identity. What is a Democrat, what is a Republican? 

Before the 1990s, it was clearer. Republicans were moderate to conservative, the party of business and fewer regulations. Democrats were the party of FDR, arguably the greatest president of the 20th century.

Roosevelt clearly defined his party in a speech right before Election Day 1936, when he laid out his party’s identity in opposition to those powers that “had begun to consider the government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”

Today those same interests that Roosevelt railed against have their candidate. And it is the alleged frontrunner of the same political party FDR then headed. It’s an amazing turnaround.

That same party, the Democratic Party, squashes actual democracy as it gifts unearned delegates to one candidate, casting aside win after win by the popular insurgent, whom the party bosses did not pick, but who happens to powerfully and clearly carry on the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt. And the challenges of wealth inequality are far more daunting today. Millions are being disenfranchised. 

As for the Republican Party of 2016, it sure is not the same party I worked with in the NH Senate from 1990 until 2004.

Back then, they were genuinely conservative, whereas today their identity is anything but conservatism. It is right-wing disregard for tradition and for our principles as spelled out in our Constitution.

One leading candidate, Ted Cruz, would wipe away freedom of religion and transform America into a religious, intolerant state. The Republican leader of the Senate abrogates the mandate of the Constitution by obstructing the process of confirmation of a Supreme Court justice. Racism, once the province of secret groups like the Klan, is now out in the open, a thing celebrated in the candidacy of that other leading contender, dictatorial Donald Trump.

This is the new Republican Party, and decent old Republican friends of mine are understandably freaked out

What has happened to our two parties? Are they both in the process of self-destructing? 

Of course, there is great anger out there, one which transcends party and left and right. Most Americans recognize this government is not our government. 

Populist anger can be channeled for good or bad (often a bit of both). The fear- and hate-driven creed of Trumpism has and may further manifest itself in violence. That seriously degrades the GOP. The divergence from the traditions of the Democratic Party: the DLC-driven cozying up to big-money givers, likewise degrades our party. It is actively alienating the very people we need: the battered middle class. 

Call me old-fashioned, but I suggest that a resurrection of both parties’ traditional values and principles would greatly benefit our democracy. In a republic, citizens need organized voices – that is what the parties are supposed to be. 

As John Kasich said recently: “the party is not our master; it is our vehicle.” Good people in both parties are struggling to make that identity a reality. 

Burt Cohen, a former state senator, lives in New Castle.

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