Democrats, Republicans and the history of partisanship

Traditionally, the differences between Republicans and Democrats hasn't been one of Photo: Associated Press

OCALA, Fla., December 3, 2013 — America now begins its transition to a new year, one with midterm congressional elections and numerous state races. Partisan politics run more rampant at this time than any other in modern history. 

In spite of that, very few understand the true nature of our nation’s leading political parties.

SEE RELATED: The inconvenient truth about abortion and American politics

Today’s partisan alignment of “conservatives” and “liberals” only came about after Richard Nixon’s presidency. Prior to that, both the Democratic and Republican parties boasted a healthy variety of governing philosophies.

Conformism was for small minds back then.

Since the Civil War Era, the Democratic Party has represented folks who harbor politically-relevant grievances. The GOP, meanwhile, stood for and still champions the preservation of socioeconomic norms.

This does not mean that the Democrats were progressives, and the Republicans reactionaries. Far from it.

Many Democrats, who were either of Scots-Irish, Irish Catholic, or some other ethnic European heritage, had fiercely conservative ideas on social policy. Because of their relative material poverty, however, most were sympathetic to fiscal leftism.

Republicans, on the other hand, were mainly capitalistic Anglo-Saxon Protestants and, though they were small in number, Reform Jews.

Both WASPs and Reform Jews tended to be on the wealthier side, and valued intellectual inquiry.  Secularism came with the territory, as did libertarian ideas regarding social issues. The society which they created in places like New York City, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and San Francisco, among others, was a continuation of the high European tradition.

Democrats, who also included WASPs and virtually all others from the Civil War-ravaged South, were resentful of the GOP establishment. Eventually, a building block set of ethnic groups formed under the guise of making friends the enemy of one’s enemy.

Though Democratic constituencies usually had little in common with one another, they all wanted a slice of America’s storied apple pie. Many also planned on enshrining the values of their ancestral homeland into this country’s public policy. Such a thing was the forerunner to present-day multiculturalism.

While the years passed and alliances shifted, sometimes radically, one thing never failed to remain the same. The Democratic Party is backed by individuals who want change, and the Republican Party is supported by folks who long for things to remain the same. 

Right and left — much less conservatism, liberalism, progressivism or libertarianism — are irrelevant to this.

So, in a comprehensive sense, neither of America’s major political parties can be deemed left or right. They sure do have a record of despising one another, though.

That never fails to shine through, unfortunately.

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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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