A couple of weeks ago, David Horowitz wrote on NRO that progressives unite around the ideal of equality and see anyone who disagrees with them as not just wrong but evil. This shared belief helps the Democratic party stick together, because regardless of the particular issue or the tactics being used, siding with the Democrats means striking a blow for equality. The best response for fissiparous conservatives, Horowitz says, is to unify in similar fashion around the ideal of freedom.
It’s an excellent suggestion, and in combination with Jonah Goldberg’s column in the Week section of the latest issue of National Review (here, but you’ll have to fork over two bits to read the whole thing), it helps explain why, in contrast with Obama’s “y’all thinkin’ for yourselves” flattery, Democrats have a much easier time falling into line for the good of the party. (In the 1920s, Will Rogers used to say: “I don’t belong to any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” Today that line works much better for the Republicans.)
Jonah’s column distinguishes between Republicans — who work primarily for the party, and indirectly for its principles — and conservatives, for whom principle is paramount. His point is that the RINO acronym is mistaken, since a faithful party stalwart is by definition the true Republican, whereas the stickler for integrity who defies the leadership is the “Republican in name only” — regardless of which one you think is right.
We see the same sort of thing on the Democratic side — go-alongers coexisting with true believers. Horowitz describes how progressives view Republicans as willing evildoers whose every policy, indeed every utterance, is consciously designed to entrench inequality and bolster privilege. But rank-and-file Democrats don’t think that way. Rank-and-file Democrats understand that Republicans may be (in their view) misguided, but are not evil and cruel and greedy; they know this because they actually know some Republicans. It’s like, say, Alabama and Auburn fans — they bust on each other but also are best friends, business partners, and fellow church members.
Only academics and other philosophical liberals swallow the spawn-of-Satan line whole. Regular Democrats, as opposed to progressives, act (and know they are acting) out of self-interest, as members of one of the Democrats’ client groups (unions, “minorities,” immigrants, government workers, etc.) who support each other’s wish lists. They borrow the progressives’ apocalyptic rhetoric simply because it works. In other words, Democrats say Republicans are evil; progressives believe it.
Try to translate all this into Republican terms and you’ll see the main structural weakness of the GOP: Since our principles are opposed to identity politics, we don’t have any powerful, well-defined identity groups to logroll for each other. There’s only one group that benefits strongly and directly from Republican policies, and its members won’t be able to vote for 18 years.
Our policies are broad-based ones designed to help everyone: tax cuts, deregulation, fidelity to constitutional principles, school choice, and so forth. It’s hard to create party unity when the rebels can’t be bought off with a government program because they’re against the whole idea of government programs.
To be sure, there are strains on the Democratic coalition: Unions vs. Obamacare, immigrants vs. unemployed, Jews vs. blacks, to name a few. But Democrats understand that there’s no internal fissure that can’t be plastered over with more government money — at least, until the money runs dry.
When that happens, the GOP will hold the upper hand, and Democrats will scratch each other’s eyes out over the few remaining morsels of pie. But until then, the GOP has to keep waiting for Democrats to mess up by letting the progressives run the show — which, fortunately for the GOP, happens rather often.