- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 28, 2010


When President Obama stood before Congress Wednesday night, he was less the president and more a European-style prime minister who has just lost a no-confidence vote.

American politics and governance have entered a new paradigm, essentially evolving into a European-style parliamentary system.

With the near-complete polarization of the two major parties and gerrymandering practiced to perfection by both as well - resulting in just a handful of truly competitive House seats - all elections are federalized or seen as such, as in the case of New Jersey and Virginia late last year and the Senate special election in Massachusetts last week. Late last year, a special election for the state senate in Kentucky was turned into a referendum on President Obama and, as a result, a Republican won in a district that had been held by the Democrats for years.

There are no more liberal Republicans in the guise of a Jacob Javits, nor are there conservative Democrats in the persona of a Strom Thurmond.

The two parties represent competing and argumentative philosophies, as in the case of Great Britain or other Cabinet governments.

“Freedom” has been more or less the organizing viewpoint of the Republican Party from the time of its first nominee, the great explorer John C. Freemont, who ran on the slogan “Free men, free soil, Freemont” in 1856. The party deviated from time to time but saw this philosophy reintroduced by Ronald Reagan and the populist conservatives he led in the late 1970s.

Of late, “security” replaced freedom for a time as the essential philosophy of Republicans, but with the departure of George W. Bush a year ago, a struggle took place inside the party. Did it stand for Reaganism or Bushism?

Did it stand for the top-down conservatism of Edmund Burke or the bottom-up conservatism of Thomas Paine?

The results were never really in doubt, helped by Mr. Obama’s unexpected headlong rush toward big-government liberalism.

Reaganism won out, and the Republican Party is moving back toward becoming a pro-freedom, anti-Washington party once again.

In the first decade of the 21st century, America had, in essence, two big-government parties in America, but this could not hold, as the rise of the Tea Party movement gives evidence.

So, too, has the Democratic Party deviated over the years, although its trajectory has been more consistent, especially since the New Deal. Its philosophy - at least on the surface - has been “justice.” Casual observers would say justice and freedom can coexist, and this is more or less true, but freedom to some means the ability to trample over others, while justice to those of differing political viewpoints means taking freedoms away from some and giving them to others in the name of that justice.

That said, this means there can be little accommodation between the two beliefs. Power cannot be diffused and concentrated all at the same time. It can only be moved around.

Thus, each election is more or less in the parliamentary style, seen and conducted as a national vote of confidence/no confidence in the ruling party and the presidency it controls, which will result in wildly shifting control, probably for a long time to come.

Indeed, Mr. Obama is sometimes criticized for being a “figurehead” while Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has been accused often over the past year of being the head of the government. Moreover, we have seen opponents from the opposition party, as in the case of Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, openly challenge the leader of the other party, again akin to parliamentary systems.

The rise of governmental “czars” also gives evidence to our new form of government, responsible to no one except their own political party.

Deviation from the orthodoxy is little tolerated, as the much ballyhooed “litmus test” over which the Republican Party is about to argue at its Hawaii cavalcade underscores.

It will be unlikely from here on out that America will see one party or the other dominate for more than a limited time, as did the Republicans from 1860 to 1912 or the Democrats from 1932 to 1980. Inevitably, the ruling party will disappoint some of the citizenry at the middle and they will turn to the out-of-power party to become the “in party.” In turn, the newly dominant party inevitably will fail to meet expectations, and the whole process will begin anew.

The elections of 2006 and 2008 were more a vote of no confidence in Mr. Bush and the ruling Republicans than they were a positive affirmation of the choice of Democratic rule. All things being equal, the elections of 2010 will be a rejection of Democratic rule rather than the voters all of a sudden falling for the homely Republicans.

The seasons for both parties will come with increasing rapidity; that will make both very uncomfortable.

Craig Shirley is the president of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs and the author of the newly released “Rendezvous with Destiny”(Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2009), the first ever detailed accounting of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign.

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