Party Realignment

Jude Wanniski
July 24, 1996


To: Clients, Poly fans and Web browsers
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Washington Times op-ed

[The following op-ed was written in June for consideration by The New York Times, but was rejected on the grounds that it was quixotic. It ran in the Washington Times commentary section on July 14. My thanks to Editor Mary Lou Forbes, who decided to run it on the grounds that it seemed both insightful and quixotic.]

July 14, 1996
The Washington Times
By Jude Wanniski

There is no permanent need for a third major political party in the United States. The two-party system provides exactly the right tension between the interests of the individual and the interests of the community. Most of the time. The reason why the electorate at this time in our history seems attracted at least to the idea of a third party is that it could provide the needed catalyst for a realignment of the Republican and Democratic parties, fading away only after its job is finished.

Former Democratic Gov. Richard Lamm of Colorado, who this week announced his candidacy for the Reform Party presidential nomination, is probably not the man to do this job and will probably not be the nominee. Unless the field is broadened, Ross Perot himself will likely be the nominee. Still, Lamiris entry has spotlighted the possibilities of this option available to an electorate that clearly is unhappy with the major party choices it has.

Political theorists have been discussing party realignment for at least 25 years, but without a paradigm that made much sense. The last realignment, which occurred as a result of the 1929 Wall Street crash and the Great Depression, established the dominance of the Democratic Party on the left as the party of more government. Its success followed from the necessity of serving a community in distress, which reduced the interests of the individual. The most visible shift was among black voters, who had established their rights as individuals in the party of Lincoln, but whose collective distress in the Great Depression propelled them toward the New Deal and into the Democratic Party.

The Republican Party on the right, as the party of less government, played the subordinate role for most of this period, gaining strength only in this last generation as the electorate saw the need for more individual expression and accountability and less need to put community interests in the forefront of the national agenda. The electorate continues to be wary of turning both the White House and the Congress over to the GOP, fearing that as it is constituted it will swing too sharply away from the interests of the community.

Only with the end of the Cold War does a new paradigm appear. This is because democratic capitalism has now demonstrated its superiority to both fascism and communism, the former representing the individual in extreme, the latter representing the community in extreme. In the next epoch, history will want to know what kind of democratic capitalism?

To answer the question, we need one of the two major parties to represent entrepreneurial capitalism, attuned to individualism and risk-taking in the quest of capital gains. We need the other party to represent corporate capitalism, attuned to the bedrock interests of the nation and the preservation of capital gains already attained. Both goals are legitimate.

It now is clear which of our two major parties belongs where. Our political leaders all know that government must be reorganized, including a new tax system built from scratch, a fixing of our money and public finances, a devolution of power from the center to the perimeters, and a thorough revision of the way we deal with the rest of the world.

Yet both parties are so thoroughly divided within themselves on all of these issues that they cannot find common ground to work with each other on any of them. Instead of a successful completion of the people's business in these fundamental areas, the gridlock spreads every year. Individual leaders such as Bill Clinton and Bob Dole would, of course, like to work with each other to solve the nation's problems, but as Ross Perot correctly points out they are handcuffed by the partisan institutions that have evolved over the past several decades since the last realignment.

They cannot realign without the help of a Third Party, such as the Reform Party being constructed by Mr. Perot. This is because the forces of corporate capitalism have come to control both major parties because of their influence over the federal tax codes and campaign finance. They represent the forces of inertia, the status quo, fearful of what reorganization will bring. Their wealth and social influence are sufficient to immobilize both parties while the forces of entrepreneurial capitalism remain smothered by the encrustations of the status quo.

Perot himself is the most successful entrepreneurial capitalist of his generation, which is why history has drawn him forward at this time. But while he has the drive, determination and funds to build the catalyst of change, he may not be the right man to direct the reforms from the Oval Office. To me and to John Sears, another political theorist who has been pondering the problem, the likeliest ticket for the Reform Party would seem to come from some combination of Jack Kemp, Bill Bradley, and General Colin Powell. The three have demurred to suggestions along these lines, but under the right circumstances they might reconsider. Mr. Perot insists the nominating process is still open to draft movements for such men.

The logic is that, as in the last realignment of 1932-36, black Americans as a class have the greatest need for realignment. As long as the two major parties are dominated by old wealth, the opportunities for new wealth will be subordinated. Republican Kemp and Democrat Bradley, both of whom are frustrated by our political paralysis, are the two most respected white political leaders in the black community. General Powell is easily the most respected black political leader in the white community. Two of the three belong on the Reform Party ticket and all three belong in the Reform government that would win in November.

In four or eight years, once the Gordian knot of the tax system has been severed, the flow of voters between the two major parties would adjust and the Reform Party could dissolve. Black Americans, no longer forced to bundle their votes together for self-protection as a community, could divide more or less equally in the reconstituted Democratic and Republican parties depending upon their individual preferences for youthful initiative or mature security.

The idea of the Reform Party ticket winning in November has not been part of mainstream thinking. Yet it may be the only way to get from where we are to where we want to go. With men the nation can trust on the ticket, it could prove irresistible.