Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Social Issues and the Midterm Elections

One of the more interesting developments of the Tea Party wave that crested yesterday was the potential for realignment among the two parties.

Cultural issues have traditionally been a significant dividing line between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats are largely pro-choice and more pro-gay rights while Republicans are pro-life and anti-gay rights. The tea party however stands for the decentralization of government power. Will people who want the government to stop spending their money tolerate it in their bedrooms? I doubt it.

The new dividing line could well be public finances. One party will advocate for a robust welfare state and an important role for the state while the other will argue for the opposite. People who believe in certain stands on social issues might not have to choose a party based on those stances. A pro-choice woman with a libertarian bent need no longer be a Democrat solely to preserve her right to an abortion. A pro-lifer who supports universal healthcare may need no longer vote Republican to voice his opposition to abortion.

It has not always been the case that the parties were so polarized by ideology. The progressive era found both Democrats and Republicans who wanted to regulate trusts and expand the power of government to solve social problems. On a more negative note, both the Democratic and Republican parties had plenty of members who supported segregation during the great civil rights battles of the 1960s.

Of course, one can argue that fiscal differences ultimately come down to culture. Fiscal conservatism can have a moral strain: the welfare state breaks down people’s character, and big government robs people of their freedom, which is the desired state of man. And there will always be overlap as well. Evangelical conservatives believe government providing entitlements ultimately makes traditional families less necessary since the government can play the role of a father.

I will have more to say on this as we see the results of the tea party wave unfold.

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