There is not a dime's worth of difference between the Democratic and Republican Parties!": Alabama Governor George Wallace, candidate for President, 1968.
Ralph Nader, holding far different political views, said about the same thing in 2000 and 2004, when he also ran for President on a minor-party ticket.
There is only one independent member of each house of Congress (both from Vermont, which is known to produce quirky officials). The last time a President was elected by any party but the Democrats and Republicans was 1848, when the last Whig (Zachary Taylor) won. Only once since then has a nominee of another party even come in second; former President Theodore Roosevelt, running on the Progressive (aka Bull Moose) ticket in 1912. Are the two major parties too similar, and could we use one or more major parties? Here is where things stand:
1. What is the difference between the Democratic and Republican Parties?
The Democratic Party champions the interests of the working class, the unemployed, immigrants, racial and other minorities, and the feminists. The Republicans, on the other hand, represent the interests of the wealthy, suburbanites, employers, and devout Christians. The differences should be measured in billions of dollars, not in dimes.
2. Do people vote primarily on the basis of their economic interests?
Although the main difference between the parties is economic, many voters consider social issues and foreign policy more important than their own financial situation. For example, I've heard that rich Jews are even more liberal and more Democratic than middle-class Jews, unlike any other demographic group. They also tend to put friendship toward Israel above other issues. On the other hand, devout white Christians tend to vote Republican nowadays, regardless of their social-economic status, which is fairly accurate.
3. What has been the role of race in America's political alignment?
The Republican Party was organized primarily to oppose slavery, and the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, emancipated the slaves by executive order in 1863. Most Southern Democrats supported the Confederacy during the Civil War, and northerners sympathetic to secession were Democrats too. Blacks who could vote in the decades following the Civil War were solidly Republican, for good reason. However, after federal troops were withdrawn from the South by Republican President Rutherford Hayes in 1877, white supremacists took over and blacks were denied the right to vote in that region. Until major black migration to the Northern cities during World War I, the black vote was too small to have national signficance.
4. When and why did blacks become Democrats?
The Great Depression (1929-1939) hit blacks even harder than whites, given their lack of financial assets and marginal place in the labor market. President Franklin Roosevelt, who took office in early 1933, initiated a number of steps by the federal government to alleviate poverty, such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC or welfare), Social Security, and so forth. Although none of these programs were specifically aimed at blacks, all poor people benefited from them, and blacks were (and still are) the poorest of all. Wherever blacks were permitted to vote,(that is, outside the Deep South) they flocked to Roosevelt and the Democratic Party.
5. When and why did the Deep South become solidly Republican in Presidential elections?
For nearly a hundred years after the Civil War, southern whites identified the Republican Party with the Union Army and Lincoln, and so continued to vote Democratic. Until 1948, the Democratic Party managed to keep the allegiance of both northern blacks and southern whites by ignoring the issue of racial equality. When the 1948 Democratic platform supported a federal civil rights bill, the southern delegations walked out and formed a splinter party, nominating South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond who ran as a Dixiecrat for President. Thurmond carried the Deep South, but Truman won. In 1964, after Republican Senator voted against President Johnson's Civil Rights Bill, he won the Republican nomination and carried the same states as Thurmond. Alabama Governor George Wallace, who had resisted court-ordered school integration, ran as an independent for President in 1968, carrying about the same group of states. Most white southerners have voted Republican in the Presidential elections since then.
We currently have the Green, Reform & Libertarian Party as minor parties (alternates) to the current two party system. The first national party convention was held by the Anti-Masonic Party in 1840. Although the little Prohibition Party never won any elections, Prohibition became law around 1919. A number of leftist parties (Populist, Socialist, Progressive, etc) won some local and congressional elections, and some of their ideas were enacted into law by the major parties.
The Libertarian Party has contested every Presidential election since 1976, with little to show for its efforts. The Party opposes most taxes, most laws, foreign aid and government in general. Like a stopped clock that is right twice a day, the Libertarian Party would let you do any kind of drug you want, opposes any kind of censorship, supports the legalization of prostitution. How good does it get?
The Reform Party, created by Ross Perot, elected former wrestler Jesse Ventura Governor of Minnesota in 1998 and nominated Patrick Buchanan for President in 2000. The party, without Perot's money and Ventura's fame, seems to have collapsed
And there's the Green Party (which nominated Nader in 2000) takes a position distinctly to the left of the Democratic Party, which most people think is left enough already. It is also the only party with an anti-Israel foreign policy plank.
It maybe 20 years before a real third party rises from the ashes & challenge both the democratic & republican parties.
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