21 October 2007

The Republican Party Begins to Fracture

Historians will look back on this 2008 election as the point at which the Republican Party began to fracture. The Republicans inability to get strongly behind any one candidate for president seems proof of an inability to get strongly behind any one definition of conservative.

The Republicans problem is one of an unstable coalition. For all their overlap, political, religious, and business conservatives have some very real differences in opinion about the world and how it works. As issues like immigration, abortion, and trade are becoming more important, so are the differnces between these conservatives.

Commentators and analysts commonly use the term "conservative" as if its meaning is clear. The real question is, "Conserve what?" Are we talking about preserving a particular notion of church, state, or business? For the most part, these three types of conservatives - religious,political, and business conservatives - have voted as a block in presidential elections. It is becoming harder for them to do so.

Religious conservatives might want regulations limiting stem cell research, whereas business conservatives might not. Political conservatives might see gay rights and abortion as rights to be protected like the right to bear arms - a stance that gets them into conflicts with religious conservatives. Political conservatives might want to protect national industries and local jobs, feeling keenly about American products, whereas business conservatives might see such moves as obstructing progress. Political and business conservatives might also have very different opinions about the degree to which we should welcome immigration.

Business, political, and religious conservatives don't have the same goals - they simply have had overlapping goals. As the degree of overlap shifts, so will the definition and power of the Republican Party.

Illegal immigration and free trade is one area where the rift between political and business conservatives is threatening to fracture support for the Republican Party. Business conservatives want easy immigration and free trade policies that will keep down labor costs. Political conservatives, by contrast, want protection from foreign workers who make a fraction of what it takes to live comfortably in the U.S. For political conservatives, the notion of a national economy is important; for business conservatives, the notion of a national economy is quaint.

Abortion and gay rights are areas where a rift between political conservatives and religious conservatives has grown more pronounced. Rudy Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ron Paul have a libertarian bent towards rights that offends religious conservatives. If Rudy wins the presidential nomination, his support from James Dobson-style conservatives is likely to be lukewarm at best. By contrast, if Mike Huckabee wins the nomination, he's likely to get less support from those political conservatives who don't mind the Enlightenment-era philosophers' penchant for supporting science that didn't always accord with church teachings.

It's not clear that these three types of conservatives will be able to reconcile their very different views of the world - at least not to the point of alignment they had during the last part of the 20th century. If they don't find a way to create a new, coherent vision of what it means to be conservative, the Republican Party could look back at the beginning of the 21st century as the beginning of their end.


cxx_guy said...

What does "supremacy of capital" mean? It sounds like it might mean "investors get a larger slice of the production pie than labor", but if so, that would be a self-liquidating situation. As profits rise, more people invest. As more people invest, demand for labor shifts left (increases). As demand for labor shifts left, the price of labor rises. As the price of labor rises, labor gets a bigger slice of the pie. This is very basic economics.

Labor would be much better remunerated today, if so much capital had not been confiscated from the American people via taxation and inflation, or forced into inefficient avenues or overseas by regulation.

Life Hiker said...

The fallacy in the above argument is that "investment" would be in the United States. Capital always flows toward the low cost supplier at each quality/service level. Most investment is now outside the U.S., where labor and other costs are lower and profit potentials are higher.

Although American productivity is good, labor costs in old line unionized industries are way out of line, making them non-competitive.

It's not taxation, or inflation, or regulation that has sent American jobs packing. It is global competition, which over time tends to level the playing fields of wages, taxation, inflation, and regulation. At this point in the cycle, America is at a significant disadvantage.

Unfortunately, we will have to adjust. It will be painful.

Ron Davison said...

Hello cxx_guy,
thanks for stopping by R World. At its simplest, I'm using the term of the supremacy of capital to refer to a pre-Keynesian, pre-ban on child labor, pre-supremacy of corporation and the knowledge worker stage of economic development. Capital is still important at this stage, just as natural resources are still important once a community adopts capitialism. (This is probably as confusing as it helpful - feel free to read http://rwrld.blogspot.com/2007/08/4th-economy.html
for more on this.)

What you've touched on deserves its own post - trade, international capital flows, and its impact on the progress corporations and communities have made to improve conditions for labor.

exskindiver said...

Hi mr. davison,
by now you must realize that I know nothing about american politics.
So this is my question, how different is the republican fracturing from the democratic fracturing happening with Obama and Hillary?
Is that not the same?
I am not being a smart-ass, I just want to learn.

exskindiver said...

i just discovered that Life hiker lives in Pittsford, where my parents live! (isn't that wild?)
perhaps I've bumped into him at the canal at some point and not even known it.

Ron Davison said...

yours is a hard question to answer in the comments section. Perhaps the brief answer is to say that there is no gap between Barak and Hillary as big as the gap between, say, Huckabee and Rudy (different answers to the questions about whether abortion is okay or not? is evolution real? is global warming real?). There are some real differences in world view among the different republican candidates.

cxx_guy said...

Capital will tend to flow toward cheap labor, all things being equal, but you have to remember that this labor is cheap because all things are not equal. India and China, for example, are much freer and less regulated than they were, so they are gaining capital and labor is becoming more valuable there. They are still much less free than we are, though they are gaining freedom, and we are losing freedom.

Even if you look at this from a global point of view, however, there is a finite (though much larger) pool of unemployed workers. The analysis is unchanged, though clearly it will take time. The good news is that as the less free / more socialist countries loosen up, and start to attract foreign capital, it also stimulates local industry to provide for the needs of their workers. Even if they had no foreign trade, they would become wealthy through a free market. Foreign trade just speeds things along.

So all we have to do in order to eliminate poverty globally is embrace capitalism globally. It would be a huge job, were it to be done by some organization. The power of capitalism is that it requires no single organizing force, so rather than 1 huge effort, it becomes 1 billion tiny efforts.

cce said...

"The Republican Party could look back at the beginning of the 21st Century as the beginning of their end..." I have few words to say on this one except these: (said very facetiously, with a wicked grin), 'What a shame, the end of the Republican Party. Such a pity.'

Ron Davison said...

I agree that the spread of capitalism is generally a good thing but it's rather like the spread of democracy. There are stages that have to precede this and there are development stages that follow it. Capitalism is not a panacea anymore than a combustion engine solves one's transportation problems.

I understand your feeling, but it would actually be sad to lose the Republican Party. Of late they've been hijacked by morons, but ... well, what good is a shopping cart that only pulls to the left? Voters need a choice between two parties that are clearly different in regards to their idea about the amount of taxes, government programs, and regulations. I rather like the idea of being able to steer left AND right however much I've become disgusted by the Republican Party.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the Republican party will fracture, because those people have no place else to go. Someone who is stridently anti-abortion, for example, will never vote Democratic; if they vote at all, it will be Republican.

Anti-war Democrats are in the same boat. They can't vote Republican, so if they vote, it will have to be for the Democrat.

I look for Apathy to be the big winner this election cycle.

Ron Davison said...

Good point - but I wonder if the voters lost to apathy from each party might not count as a fracture?