For the moment, forget about right and wrong, or honesty, or fair play. Just think about who you would like to have on your side in a critical battle. In this spirit, consider the aftermath of the 2006 congressional elections. How did the Bush administration react to the defeat based largely on public opposition to the Iraq war?
Rather than backing down, the defeated Republicans attacked. In response to pleas by the Democrats that some sort of schedule be set for withdrawing US forces from Iraq, President Bush deployed an additional 25,000 troops. What did the victorious Democrats do?
The Republicans sent an army of lawyers and organizers into the state, filing a barrage of law suits and motions in various courts. They organized crowds of supporters to demonstrate vociferously at various key sites, actually succeeding in stopping a recount in at least one place (Miami-Dade County). By comparison, the Democrats essentially rolled over and played dead.
Is there any doubt as to which party really cares about the issues it espouses, and is willing to fight for them, and which party starts out each battle by retreating and ends by surrendering? The Democrats actually boast about how Bill Clinton attained political success by triangulation (an ugly use of a technical term), adopting many Republican positions. I greatly envy Republicans, who doubtless derive much pleasure from having their views promulgated by people who always put up a good fight and who usually win. Of course there is no law preventing me from becoming a Republican, so why don't I just do it? Why not join the strong side and get the added benefit of having a weak enemy?
The reasons I am reluctant to make this switch is that I disagree with the Republicans on most issues, and that I feel they are corrupt and fight dirty. (Note that I am referring here, not to ordinary people who vote Democratic or Republican, but to the party leaders.) But there is a solution to this problem.
Half the job is easy. When you look at the issues it is already hard to distinguish most Democrats from Republicans. As mentioned above, Bill Clinton already moved a good part of the way in the right direction. Most Democrats are financially supported by the same interests that support the Republicans and have only minor differences with Republicans on the issues--and--this is the important point--they aren't willing to fight over these differences. I realize that there would be a few problems. There are a handful of Democrats who might not be so easy to shift over in this way. They actually have beliefs they are willing to stand up for! But the answer is simple--oddball Democrats such as Dennis Kucinich, John Conyers, and John Lewis can simply switch parties.
Getting the Republicans to change their views will be a more formidable task. The key to accomplishing this is an appeal to history. We could urge Republicans, who generally respect tradition, to revert to the roots of their own party. We can point to Abraham Lincoln, a founder of the modern Republican party, as one important role model. Then there is Teddy Roosevelt, the progressive trust buster (we'd have to be careful to avoid mentioning his racist and imperialist views.) It might be cheating a bit, but we could also mention Thomas Jefferson, the very first Republican, altho his party was not really a precursor of what is now called the Republican party. There are plenty of twentieth century Republicans that could used as examples. These include the Little Flower (Fiorello La Guardia) and Fighting Bob La Follette, both Republicans with guts who fought for progressive causes. With respect to specific issues, we could point to Eisenhower (opposition to the military-industrial complex) and even to Richard Nixon (who established the EPA).
Finally, we could remind Republicans that after this switching of issues, they would still have the Democrats as opponents that they could continue to kick around, even if we were also urging them to go easy on the dirty tricks.
I admit that converting Republicans won't be easy, but it won't be nearly as hard as the almost impossible task of backbone transplants for Wimpocrats.
Comments can be sent to me at unger(at)cs(dot)columbia(dot)edu
Return to Ends and Means