Commentary

Martin: The Democratic Party’s Civil War

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There has been much discussion in the media in recent years of a “GOP civil war.” Pundits describe an internal struggle between so-called establishment Republicans, and their Tea Party counterparts. Many claim this inter-party struggle for the power to control the party’s agenda has the potential to divide the GOP, eventually leading to the party’s dissolution as competing political philosophies attempt to independently advance their agenda through the creation of separate conservatively-based parties.

While the internal struggle in the GOP is very much a real event, the same seems to hold true for the Democratic Party. The only difference seems to be that very few media outlets are bringing attention to it. Before addressing this, some historical context is necessary to understand the significance of this phenomenon.

The Democratic Party in the U.S. is the oldest voter-based political party in the world today. Although their policy positions on matters like the power and scope of government, laisseze faire economic policies, and individual liberties have taken a one hundred and eighty degree spin since the party’s inception in the 1830’s, the party itself has remained largely intact. It has persisted through periods in which changes in its electoral base have put it on the verge of disbanding.

In the 1940’s, the Democratic Party approached a fork in the road. The progressive movement had gained major traction, infiltrating the party’s base and pushing for a pro-civil rights agenda. However, the still staunchly democratic south hosted a different breed of democrat, many of whom supported the regions deep-seated culture of discrimination. The rift culminated into a schism within the party, marked by the 1948 decision by Governor Strom Thurmond to break away from the Democratic Party to form the Dixiecrat movement. This left the Democratic Party free to finally add a pro-civil rights agenda to their party platform, and the rest is history.

Today, the Democratic Party faces a significantly different challenge, one that threatens to tear the party apart once and for all. Much like the progressives of the early twentieth century, a new breed of left-wing factionists is subtly beginning to divide the party between establishment Democrats, and an ‘outsider’ faction pusing to see socialism brought to America.

Epitomized by Bernie Sanders’ surprising success in the Democratic Primary polls, the ugly truth about a sizeable portion of the Democratic electorate has finally surfaced. America’s oldest party is now home to a growing socialist movement, something that was unconscionable just half a century ago.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, a rise in socialist parties was witnessed throughout many European democracies. Today, in the parliamentary systems of Europe, these parties have become a mainstream with significant political clout. Many have wondered if this socialist trend would seep into American politics, and for many years it did not. However, something seems to have spurned out an unsettling rise in pro-socialist Americans, and the results are now reflected in Sander’s continuing success in the primaries.

For the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders symbolizes a very real problem the party must deal with. Historically a consensus has always existed amongst America’s political parties in support of the laissez faire, free market economic policies that allowed our nation to prosper and become leader of the free world. This previous consensus has evidently ceased within the Democratic Party, as those ignorant to the historical failures of Communist and Socialist experiments in foreign governments have become swept into this naïve political philosophy.

So what does this entail for the future of the Democratic Party? Given the sizeable following Bernie Sander’s has accumulated in the primaries; ‘establishment’ Democrats will not have the luxury of ignoring these fundamental shifts in their electorate much longer. Soon they will be confronted with two choices. They could either compromise with this radical sect within the party, adopting a platform with sufficient socialistic aspects to appease their entire constituency. Or, preferably, they can denounce this display of arrogant populism, thus forcing this sect to form a third party if it hopes to influence American politics.

Given the electoral strategy of Democrats, which heavily rests on gaining as large a voter turnout as possible, it seems the former option is the likelier of the two. Rather than stand up for laissez faire economics, one of America’s most crucial founding principles, it seems more probable they will slowly begin to cater to this new electorate to advance their own self interest. The Democratic Party is a home to career politicians due to its pro-government agenda, and appealing to this base would further both their electoral interests. What else would one expect from a party with politicians that love spending public money and growing government? This Democratic civil war will simply end in a sell-out.

About Michael Martin

Michael Martin is currently an intern for The Maine Heritage Policy Center. A native of Kennebunkport Maine, he graduated cum laude from Northeastern University with a B.S. in Political Science with a concentration in public policy and a minor in law and public policy.

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