Political Parties

A pair of weeks ago a Al, Paul, and I struck up a conversation involving how & why one begins to identify with one political party over another.  What makes someone a Democrat?  What makes someone a Republican?

 The topic is a giant in the field of political science, with hundreds of tomes having been written on the question over the last few decades.  

In general, it is often very easy to determine which party a specific individual will classify themselves based on a few key demographic variables:  age, gender, education, income, and living location.  The strongest indicator of all, however, is the party ID of one’s father.  Much more likely than not, an individual will ID with the political party of their father by the age of 35.  

But, I’m rambling.  The real question I’ve been weighing is how should someone determine which party to identify with?  For simplicity’s sake, I’m sidestepping the entire idea of never identifying with a party and forever labeling oneself an independent.  Most of us would do that, if we could.

What is the ideal way to end the sentence: I am a Democrat/Republican because…..?  What is the reason that we should cite for picking a party?  

The typical process of determining party ID includes three steps:  (1) List the handful of ‘issues’ that one considers most important; (2) Find out where the ‘typical’ party member stands on those issues; (3) Select a party based on that evaluation.

Voila.  Works well for most.  But I’ve never bought into that method myself.  I don’t buy it, because the method is so unstable.  What ‘issues’ are important change over time…both for each individual and for the parties.  Also,  It is very tough to label a ‘typical’ member of any party.  It may work for one specific moment in time, but I prefer a method that is all-encompassing…grounded in a larger ideals of political theory.

In other words, when pressed to pick a party, I rely on the classic interpretations of liberal and conservative.  I do not agree with either mold universally (I’m a moderate to the end), but as a general guide I lean conservative.  

That, of course, has nothing to do with the so called ‘conservatives’ of today.

Today’s conservatives make moral judgements on society.  A classic conservative has no interest in judging society, only government.  A classic conservative’s only concern is limiting the role of government, allowing society as much freedom as possible to develop however its member see fit.

In reality, today’s ‘conservatives’ are more like classic liberals.  The guiding framework for both is the idea: “We know what is best for society.  The government should have the power it needs to make this as close to a reality as possible.”  What one defines as the ‘best for society’ differs from person to person, but there is a shared belief that the government’s role in creating the ‘best’ is expansive.  This logic is behind such divergent issues as massive income redistribution and opposition to gay marriage.  We know what is right, just give us the power to enact it.

The classic conservative, however, is leery of that role of government.  He is scared by it.  The conservative doesn’t think the government ever truly knows what the ‘best’ is.  No one does, because it differs from person to person.    Sure, I may personally like the direction of things right now, but what happens when the people in power change and their idea of what is ‘best’ changes too?

Instead, I prefer a limit on the role of government.  Small government.  Local government.  I do not think we have governments to solve all of the problems of the world and to push our planet toward a utopia.  On the contrary, more misery, suffering, and death have come at the hands of over-acting governments than anything else.  That’s the big, general view of government that I support right now.  That is why, when pressed, I call myself a conservative.  It has nothing to do with the issues and specific politics of today.


I have a thousand other thoughts to clarify, but I’ll save those for later.  No one reads these long political posts anyway.  🙂

3 thoughts on “Political Parties

  1. I can see how someone running for office may approach choosing a political party differently than someone like myself. It’s almost as if we have a luxury someone who must pick a side doesn’t have.

    (Random interjection – You should post on more conversations you have with people, awesome)

    I think I tried to touch on two points in that convo: 1) If classical conservatism is dead, why align yourself with a party that no longer directly represents what you believe most in? If modern conservatism doesn’t believe in what you do, why not look to other issues that are important to you? 2) To what extent do you stick to the side that favors small government; when do other issues become more important?

    I may believe in a small government is best, but I also believe “X,Y, and Z” must happen. I chose to align myself with the party that is trying to make X,Y and Z happen, because XYZ is more important to me than small government.

    I understand how someone running for office doesn’t have that luxury – you cant rely on “hear and now” type issues and must think longer term (as far as party choosing goes, not necessarily running for office)…but it sounds like your classical conservative view point isn’t represented by either party, so why not let other issues that are important to you have some more weight?

    P.S. No time for typo checking, Sawray

  2. I think I understand where you are coming from here. Your two points seem perfectly valid. They make complete sense considering the thoughts that I’ve presented.

    (I admit, the alcohol that was involved in our convo clouded my ability to accurately perceive your argument)

    My response to your concerns:

    1) I’ve struggled with that for awhile. Am I correct to assume that you are asking, Why would I ever call myself a Republican when many Republicans today have veered way off the classic conservative course?

    I have two responses. The first is that I truly haven’t committed to the Republican Party. I call myself one, when pressed, because throughout history they have held the banner for true conservatism (starting with the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln). The Democrats have not, and today they are hit and miss on it. Second, it is hard to classify what is “Republican” and what is not. In other words, being a Republican in Washington D.C. means something fundamentally different than being a Republican from Springfield, IL. As you know, state and local politics is my area of focus. I am disgusted with the way the Democratic Party has run this state (controlling every branch of government). For that reason mostly, I am comfortable aligning myself with the Republican Party.

    2) On to your second point. For me, I don’t consider supporting small government to be an ‘issue’ on par with others. What I mean is, my support for small government specifically influences what opinions I have of each major issue. I believe in limited government, and so I think it is absurd for the state to legally discriminate against me because of my sexual orientation. I believe in limited government, so I rally against any issue in which the government would make a certain religious belief influence what is taught in our schools. My belief in small government is the broader umbrella under which everything else falls.

  3. BTW, you and I always seem to have some solid conversations. If I post on more of my real-life chats, then you will be very well represented.

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