Martys of Ideology

I was reading an op-ed in the NYT on Saturday, and this particular piece argues that a Michael Bloomberg run would have the Nader-effect, namely, steal votes away from the Dems and install another Republican in the White House. The argument goes like this, and I’m quoting here:

“If you closed your eyes and you were told that someone was pro-public education, pro-choice, pro-immigration rights, pro-gun control, pro-civil rights, pro-gay rights and pro-women’s rights — you would be pretty happy if you were a Democrat.”

The logic goes that because Bloomberg sides with the Democrats on traditionally Democratic platforms, some Democrats, moderate Republicans, and Independents will vote for Bloomberg, thus robbing whatever candidate the Dems eventually end up nominating.

What struck me was not this particular argument, since it’s been well re-hashed time and again. Rather, it’s the way that the statement quoted bunches together a various host of issues under the “Democratic” banner. But let’s ask ourselves: what exactly about those issues, and one’s position on them, that makes a voter “Democratic”? Is there any coherent, underlying foundation?

The answer is no, because there’s no compelling reason why one must take the same position on all of these issues. Is there a compelling reason, or underlying coherent philosophy, that says that one must be pro-civil rights AND pro-choice? What if someone’s Catholic and believes that civil rights should be protected, but who, because of his religion, does not believe in pro-choice?

My point is this: these so-called traditional party platforms do not, in any way, constitute a coherent political philosophy. They are marriages of convenience, created and designed to appeal to the broadest demographic possible. In other words, they are cobbled together. As such, they are only instrumental in nature, whose only purpose is to create an electoral coalition. But because they lack any inherent coherence and consistency, such a coalition is not designed to last. This is why every twenty years or so, we have a major electoral shake-up. The Democratic coalition, built upon northern industrialists, pro-civil rights African Americans, and agrarian Southerners during FDR’s administrations in the Great Depression, collapsed under its own contradiction in the 1970s. After all, what unites these very disparate groups with very different and often opposing political agendas? Nothing.

But because the system is set up this way, all politicians seeking viability must inevitably play by its rules. And those who do not pay the price, like John McCain is paying now. McCain has managed to piss off two of the largest demographics in the current Republican coalition: big business and the South. He pissed off big business by pushing for much stricter campaign-finance laws, and he pissed off the South by pushing for immigration reform that would legalize immigrants currently living in the US. McCain was for banning torture way before it became popular, and he still supports the troop surge even as America wants troops pulled out of Iraq.

Is this a man of contradictions? It would be if you assume that the Republican platform is coherent to BEGIN WITH. Since I argue that it is not, I see no problem with McCain being pro-war on one hand but pro-immigration reform on the other. In fact, I might venture to say that this is how politics OUGHT to be conducted: examining each issue carefully and taking a position that is consistent with one’s own political philosophy, instead of blind obedience to the party platform, which is not a political philosophy to begin with.

But he pays the price, because his ratings have fell among the Republicans. Is John McCain a martyr to ideology? I would say yes.


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