Mommy Party, Daddy Party
Peter Signorelli
August 17, 2000


To: Letters Editor Weekly Standard
From Peter Signorelli
Re: Political “Yin” and “Yang”

David Brooks in "Pablum with a Purpose," 8-14-00, favorably cites Chris Matthews's observation that the Democratic party is the mommy party and the Republican party is the daddy. This formulation provides an analytical advance over the obsolete left-right political characterizations.

The mommy/daddy formulation was originally developed by the political economist Jude Wanniski of Polyconomics, Inc. in the early 1990s. He hit upon the fact that in the post-Cold War Era, with the emergence of a vertical unipolar world, the traditional left-right axis could no longer dominate analysis. A vertical analysis would have to govern a study of a single pyramid world, to produce further depth and dimension. The new conceptual tool he chose was the mother/father relationship, the yin and yang of political economy. It was an extension of the idea he developed in his 1978 book, The Way the World Works, which is that the family unit is the basic building block of the nation-state -- the family unit writ large. He then wrote: "We begin learning the basic rules of political economy in our infancy, in the cradle, through our
interaction with our parents."

While he began writing about the concept in 1994, it was not until 1995-96 that he discussed it on a Chris Matthews television interview. It also was picked up and favorably employed by Maureen Dowd of the NYTimes, after Jude introduced the concept to her, Howell Raines, and to USA Today's Walter Shapiro at the GOP convention in 1996.

In his 8-14 commentary, Brooks uses the concept but does not get it quite right, as is evidenced by his suggestion that "the Democrats may emerge as the daddy party, the party that lectures us about fiscal rectitude and the imprudence of a large tax cut." This is backward. It is the “mommy party” that worries about “risky schemes.” The “yin” of Taoist cosmology is the feminine, the dark and the negative -- in the sense that the female’s role is to avoid risk to hearth and home and promote equality and security. “Yang” is masculine, light and positive, in that the male’s role is to accept the challenges of risk to advance the family interests. He must be optimistic of his chances of success or shrink from his mandate. Individual initiative takes precedence over collective needs.

It is when these two opposing forces are in balance that there is harmony in the family. When one party overpowers the other, there is discord and ultimately failure. (Wanniski has written that in the extremes, the “daddy state” becomes Hitler-like, fascistic while the “mommy state” becomes Maoist, communist.) In not seeing these distinctions, Brooks bristles that Colin Powell in his address to the GOP convention sounded similar to Mario Cuomo in a Democratic Party convention speech, in which Cuomo said America should be a family. While coming from different directions, though, both hit upon the central truth of our two-party system, that it works best when the forces are in bipartisan balance and complementary. The concept was best summarized by Ronald Reagan in his 1980 acceptance speech at the Republican national convention in Detroit, when he said we had to get America moving again, but would not leave anyone behind. It is no coincidence that Wanniski wrote that line and that it is now being used by both Democrats and Republicans as they attempt to find balance in the national political family.