Friday, April 24, 2009
The Pendulum Swing
Unfortunately, experience does not hold to theory. The reason for this is that the parties are continuously realigning and changing the weight of the pendulum.
For example, let us examine the important issue of the overall size of government. There are some people who think bigger government is the answer to our problems, and those who opt for greater personal liberty. For want of better terms, I will call the group wanting more government "progressive" and those wanting more freedom "liberal."
As it happens, neither of the parties have a purely progressive or liberal agenda. There are progressives in the Republican Party (including Theodore Roosevelt, Hoover, GW Bush) as well as those championing liberty such as Reagan or Ron Paul. Likewise, the Democratic Party encompasses a broad spectrum of beliefs.
Politics is not a simple matter of parties holding to set beliefs. It is a complex system in which both parties have internal pendulums.
What seems to happen is that when a party is out of power, the liberal elements of the party come to the fore. These liberal voices are quick to point out the abuse of power of the opposition. They fill the airwaves with a lot of freedom centric rhetoric.
The progressive side of each party take a different tact. Progressives often lie low when their party is out of favor. In some cases, when progressives sense a change in the balance of power, they simply switch party and attach their fortune to the winds of change.
The Bush Administration was punctuated with a large number of neo-cons. Many of these were progressives who simply realized that moving from the Democratic to Republican party was a better path for pursuing their political objectives.
The inner party pendulum swings create a perverse system where the small government forces within each party hold sway when the party is in the minority, while the big government forces within the party come to the fore as the party moves into the majority.
This synchronized swing of policy positions within the two party system creates a system that works more like a screw than a pendulum.
Rather than having a pendulum that swings from more government to less government, we end up with cycles where the big-government elements come to the fore when parties are in the majority.
Rather than a pendulum swinging between more and less liberty, we have a system that ratchets down on liberties with each election cycle while notching up the size of government.
Only on the rarest of occasions does one find situations (such as the Clinton administration) where both parties were on a swing toward greater liberty. Even then, the nation did not see a decrease in the size of the government. We simply saw a temporary decrease in the rate of increase.
More common are situations like the Bush administration where the public rhetoric becomes detached from actions. During the Bush years, the small government advocates of the Repbulican party were yelling slow down, but the administration increased the size of government. This gave the illusion that it was the small government advocates who created the big government mess.
During the Bush years, the Republicans took a jump to the left. The Democrats took a bounding leap to the left. Meanwhile, the groups advocating greater liberty are simply left out in the snow.
I penned this piece on the pendulum as I think the Tax Day Tea Parties were not simply a rightwing effort, but an effort to kick both parties off the track of seeing bigger government as the answer, and on to the track where one values the freedom of the people.
Regardless, the two party system creates a political structure where partisans rule and the average person is cut out of the process.