I first posed this question in a column seven months ago, on May 23rd, 2020. Now, I’ll presume to answer the rhetorical question raised in that column. Yes, I think the time, perhaps, has come to consider giving new thought to old political paradigms.
Let’s give Thomas Jefferson a nod and call a new political Party the Republican-Democratic Commons Party (RDC for short). Or, maybe, the Democratic-Republican Commons Party (DRC for short). The Republican and Democratic emphasis could be alternated for each election cycle, for Commons will be the operative term. In this new and modern context, Commons is simply to acknowledge that the new Commons Party is for the People. It doesn’t connote common possessorship in the old context, but instead, common purpose, that is, to seriously conduct the people’s business.
The new Party would be Centrist in nature because the center is where things get done, where serious, patriotic men and women throughout the great American spectrum temper their differences. Little that is constructive happens at the extremes– mostly noise, rancor, divisiveness, and stalemate.
Today, both political parties in our country suffer from extreme influences that are inimical to progress, collegiality, the American body politic’s best interests, and the great American experiment in Democracy. There is room to fear that this malady of Party enmity is terminal and that the great American experiment cries out for rebirth and renewal. Yes, I think, maybe, the time has come.
The Republican Party isn’t even a shell of its original self. The Republican Party replaced the Whig Party in 1854 by taking a strong and principled stand against slavery, which the Whigs were reluctant to do, and the pro-slavery Jacksonian Democrats refused to do. To call today’s Republican Party the Party of Lincoln is, well, just plain silly. Lincoln would have been disgusted with many of today’s Republicans.
When, nearly five years ago, on January 23, 2016, President Trump bragged that he could shoot and kill someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose a single vote, he was engaging in metaphor to make a point. The point? I am so popular; I can get away with anything. As it turns out, getting away with shooting an anonymous, rhetorical straw person known to no one may not have been that far-fetched a metaphor.
But now we can understand Trump’s thinking a bit clearer. What he seemed to believe then, and is doubling down on now, is that he could shoot a bullet into the heart of American Democracy, and few in the Republican Party would care. He thinks he is just that popular. In that supposition, he is dead wrong. While many Republicans would, indeed, follow Trump into the abyss, many, I believe most, would not—not once they understood the extreme depths to which he would drag the nation to stay in power.
While millions of Republicans are in sycophantic thrall to President Trump and who embrace QAnon and the histrionics of Sidney Powell and Rudi Giuliani, I believe many Trump voters do know where to draw a line in the sand. I believe that line is that metaphoric shot into the heart of Lady liberty—American Democracy itself.
That is why Republican judge after Republican judge, Republican governor after Republican governor, many other Republican elected officials, appointed Republican election-security officials, Republican Attorney General William Barr, and even a Republican-majority Supreme Court have dug in their collective heels and said “No!” to Trump’s blatant and unfounded attacks on an American election, indeed, on American Democracy itself.
Traditional Republican principles such as fiscal responsibility, a loathing of chronic budget deficits and resulting runaway debt, support of free trade, and a market-driven, anti-tariff economy still matter to many Republicans, even if today’s Republican Party has jettisoned those principles in deference to President Trump
The Democrats have evolved from the old Jacksonian pro-slavery party. In the old Solid South of the first half of the 20th century, the Party was a bastion of Jim Crow and a fierce force for segregation. However, for nearly a century, and to its credit, it has morphed into the robust progressive-leaning political party it is today. Many Democratic organizations no longer celebrate Jefferson-Jackson Day fundraising dinners, having jettisoned the old ties to the Party’s slavery-promoting beginnings.
Today’s Democrats and millions of independent and first-time voters (over 80 million in total) have elected a decent, party stalwart, Joe Biden, to be the 46th President of the United States of America. Yes, he really won. No, he is not addled, corrupt, a Trojan horse for Marxism, nor the head of a crime family.
Whether or not he will be a great or noteworthy President remains to be seen, but he will be the 46th President of the United States when the 45th President’s term expires in twenty-four days. The incessant, over-the-top attacks directed at Biden by Trump are beyond the pale of acceptable political behavior. However, that having been said doesn’t negate the lasting damage a large and radical fringe within the Democratic Party is doing to drive away millions of voters.
The Defund-the-Police movement, the soft-peddling, if not tolerance by too many, of urban looting and arson, the woke movement to expunge long-standing pronouns such as him and her and he and she from the American lexicon is an enormous turn-off to millions of Americans. These movements drive millions of Americans to vote for, well, the other political party. Understand this: that reality is partially why Donald Trump captured as many votes as he did as a losing candidate.
So, maybe, we need to rethink our political alignments in America. Maybe centrist Republicans who are not in the thrall of President Trump and the type of political corrosiveness he represents, and centrist Democrats who aren’t as woke as that combative, bellicose fringe in their Party can, together, pursue constructive progress under a new centrist banner.
RDC or DRC anyone?
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Brilliant essay, Hal. Agree 100% with every point you made. My only fear is that most of the Republicans who consider themselves to be moderate, STILL won’t speak out against Trump — for fear they will be threatened with death (as Gov. Whitmer) or have their families threatened ( as Michigan Secy of State Benson) – or because they just don’t have the courage to put their careers on the line. To paraphrase Andrew Weissmann in a recent TV interview, this is what happens when you elect a mob boss as President. Horrific.
So what do we do if, God forbid, this happens again –what can we expect of the former Republican moderates in the new RCD party? Will they shrivel into a melted mess as every one of them, (save Romney) did in the impeachment hearing, and continues to do as Trump screams and kicks and perpetuates the BIG LIE by threatening everyone in his path?
I love the idea of your DRC or RDC. But the concept requires allegiance to the separation of powers and to our Constitution rather than to one man – to a President. It requires a Cabinet and Congress willing to invoke the 25th Amendment or impeachment of the President and removal from office. It requires that Senators and Congresspersons be willing to sacrifice their careers for the sake of our democracy, rather than quake in their shoes and fold at the threat of being primaried. Can we ever trust these former Republicans again to stand up for our country, for our Constitution in the face of a quasi-fascist demagogue who would destroy it all?
I agree that your concept of a new political party is the only thing that makes sense at this point. But do we have the spine to create this new political party and make it work?
Sheila- Excellent commentary on an excellent essay
Let me respond simply to the question with which you concluded even though it may be rhetorical ….
Another thoughtful commentary. I agree the time has come to give ‘centrists’ a platform for constructive legislation addressing the country’s needs in almost every area of endeavor. ‘We the people’ have been held hostage to the political extremes of both both current parties resulting in our collective injury caused by legislative impasse or deconstruction. We deserve better & your suggestions might provide a way forward.
I can only say DITTO to the intelligent responses to today’s essay.
Very thoughtful….as always
Politics has nothing to do with politics, it’s all about economics. Republicans are basically hired to represent the financial interests who provided the money for their campaigns. Their reward is not a better or more just America. goals that are irrelevant to the GOP, but to make sure that their donors make as much as they can with as little government interference as possible, interests who will make sure that their political hires share in the bounty. Democracy died the day elections became monetized. The Democrats are not much better although they passed the ACA and just about every other helping legislation on the books. Trump is a sick dude who would support cannibalism if it kept him in office.
Hal, thanks for the thoughtful elucidation. I’ve been thinking something similar. Seeing it through a religious prism, the name “The Moral Middle” came to mind once…
Hal your attempt to forge a new reasonable party is for naught when I read the child like anti trump statements from some of your readers. Very sad,very sad.
To quote last Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, “Congress’s latest Covid relief and omnibus spending bills are a mash-up of special favors for teacher unions, the booze industry, wind power, racehorses, and so much more.” This is what you will get a lot more of with a government run by centrist politicians eager to spend other people’s money. I vote for gridlock, which keeps these busybodies out of our wallets and our lives.
Why not term limits for Congress? Maybe 5 terms in Congress and 2 terms in the Senate.
Why not have them on Social Security and Medicare like us, rather than their huge pensions , big vacations, and their health plans?
How about spending limits for each Congressional race, like $5 million for a House seat, $25 million for a Senate seat, and $100 million for the Presidency?
How about no lobbying for at least 5 years after you left office in Washington?
Neither party seems to be working for the health and welfare of their constituents.
Response to Stuart Goldfine: In the interest of accuracy — since 1984, all Members of Congress have paid into and been covered under Social Security just like everyone else. The same is true for the President and Vice President, Federal judges, and most political appointees. All Members pay Social Security payroll taxes equal to 6.2% of the Social Security taxable wage base. Members of Congress contribute to Medicare just like every other working American as well. They are eligible to receive benefits for which they qualify – again, just like every other person paying into the system.
Stuart Goldfine I don’t know you but you have my vote!
Stuart Goldfine, Citizens United is a major roadblock to your suggestion — Citizens United, in my opinion, is one of the worst Supreme Court decisions handed down in my lifetime. It is this decision that allows an unlimited flow of money from corporations into the huge PACs and doesn’t require disclosure of the money sources — this decision not only weighted the scales heavily in favor of the candidates who promise the most to corporate entities and lobbies, but it paved the way for all the dark money flowing in from foreign sources — i.e., from Russia to the NRA to the Republican Party (Trump).
Repeal the Citizens United ruling along with a 1976 predecessor, Buckley v. Valeo which allowed that non-donation election expenditures, such as ads, are constitutional, and we will have a start toward campaign finance reform. Unfortunately, repeal of these decisions requires a new ruling by the Supreme Court or a constitutional amendment and neither of these things will happen anytime soon in the current congressional profile.
Maybe a new constitutional amendment or some type of campaign finance reform that nullifies Citizens United and Buckley can be on the agenda for Hal’s new RDC political party — that would rock our country to its core! It would be really interesting to see which Congresspersons would be in favor of making this legislation a priority.
Less flack for this one, I note.
I am a fan of the “Commons” concept – especially in the sense you mean – that our elected officials would make their decisions based on a North Star of “for the People. A common purpose – to seriously conduct the people’s business”.
And frankly, Gridlock, like on streets, doesn’t get anyone anywhere.
Call me Pollyana, or maybe just a Patriotic Person, but to me that’s what it was supposed to be about. And our job was to all protect the concept of this nation – put the Whole of us above the Single. That is what we ask of our Military every day.
I agree that Defund the Police is quite possibly the worst marketing slogan ever created.
When one looks into what it’s about, it is simply a plan to defer some of the money allocated to police to shrink the scope of their responsibilities – redistributing some of those funds towards essential social services that are often underfunded, such as housing, education, employment, mental health care, and youth services- to entities that are better equipped to meet those needs.
I write from a major city – and I can say firsthand that our police are often thrown into situations that really are not part of their job – Dealing with those in the middle of a mental health crisis, Hustling the homeless away from public areas (only for them to land in other public areas), Standing all day in schools in hopes their presence will ward off the actions of mentally disturbed youth that have gone undetected -because there is only 1 social worker for a school of 2,000 students.
These things keep them from doing the jobs they were trained to do, and I feel bad for them as I see them confronted with these other types of calls.
So, a good idea on the whole – marred by a disastrous misleading extreme slogan.
And that is a good example of why what you suggest – a Commons Party focused on real work, a balanced perspective looking at all the facts and sides of a thing, and an understanding that they work for the common good of all Americans – is an idea that would indeed be of great use.
If we could pull it off.
First, our country’s citizens need to start seeing themselves as part of one common group: Americans.
Again, Gridlock never has gotten anyone anywhere.