Andrew at ObWings wont break any ground for originality, but he does set up a useful basis for discussion:
A simple thought experiment for the Democrats in the audience: suppose (again, this is a thought experiment, so we can be very farfetched here) that 20 years from now the Democratic Party, having taken power in 2008 after the disasters of the Bush administration and the Republican Party became common knowledge, has become disturbingly corrupt. The Republican Party, while not obviously corrupt, appears to generally espouse the same beliefs you always hated: trimming government aid to the poor, cutting taxes, helping business, etc. But the Democrats have reached a point where they’re no longer doing what you like, either: they’re selling legislation to favored constituencies, and their sole goal appears to be to retain power rather than to accomplish their stated goals as a party. How difficult would it be for you to cross the aisle and vote Republican? Could you do it?
That isn’t a very hard question for me. In 1999 a truly awful Democrat, Cyril Wecht, ran for the Allegheney County Executive. Not a minor race when the prize is the third most important office in a large state like PA after Governor and mayor of Philly. To give a sense of Cyril Wecht’s awfulness, he was in a technical sense the incumbent since he had last held the job years back when County Council fired him and eliminated the position over charges of, among other things, embezzlement. Wecht pretty much fit Andrew’s hypothetical to a T. For that matter so did the Republican Jim Roddey, a Marine veteran, scarcely partisan (in this county a wingnut wouldn’t stand a chance in hell) and a generally likable guy with decent ideas for government.
Considering my practically tribal liberalism it might shock Andrew that I jumped into the Roddey camp with both feet. Amusingly enough I spent most of my time at Roddey HQ reassuring Dem callers who wanted somebody to tell them that Roddey wouldn’t overturn Roe v. Wade. Fortunately for Jim the County Executive has precisely zero impact on that debate, a factoid that had no small impact on my decision as well.
In fact I think that Andrew has hit on less of a defining character trait than a sad testament of the times. Predicting behavior twenty years in the future, after all, implies deep-rooted convictions that practically nothing in the outside world can dislodge. In fact contrary to Andrew’s point I hardly think that my example is less an exception than the rule. Even among the combatants at this site I know of a surprisingly small number who can say that they have followed a straight tribal ticket for any significant period. As they say, all politics is local and local politics is messy.
However, while Andrew misdiagnoses tribalism when simple passion will do, he perfectly well points out that an amazing number of people today wouldn’t vote for the opposing party if you held a gun to their heads. No accident there, as I pointed out before a relatively small number of people decided to make that happen. These folks, Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay and, later and most effectively, Karl Rove, calculated that their political fortunes would be improved by poisoning the partisan atmosphere in America. Split the nation, as the theory goes, and make sure that you end up with the slightly larger half. At this point, looking around at the Washington that they created, you have to say that they look pretty smart. Not exactly role models, but a smart person doesn’t look to politics for those.
Anyhow it looks today like the people who sowed the wind, so to speak, won’t be around to sow much longer. Let’s see whether the poisonous environment that they created long survives them. Maybe it will, but honestly I think that the second Gingrich Revolution (counting the Contract With America as the first) is more or less spent.