Friday, 17 September 2010

What has happened to the party of Lincoln?

I have at times bemoaned the duality of British party politics (I think it is looking every day even more of a duality despite a third ‘force’ arriving in the shape of the LibDems) and have wondered whether a primary system to elect party candidates for general elections would help bring fresh thinking and new blood into parliament.

Then I look at the American system and conclude we are much better off with what we’ve got. Tuesday’s primary election results demonstrate what can happen when a major political party is hijacked by one of its wings, in this case the American Tea Party movement, spearheaded by Sarah Palin.

Christine O’Donnell who beat the establishment Republican candidate in Delaware is the new poster girl for ‘Tea Party-ists’. She is a product of the Christian Right who believes the Bible should be interpreted literally and is anti-masturbation, pro-guns and pro-torture (I’m not kidding!). She is widely regarded as being unelectable in the general election when she will face a Democrat on the first Tuesday in November.

Personally, I can’t wait to read her manifesto. Presumably the American public will be told that they can sell their youngest daughters into slavery (Exodus 21:7) and put to death any shop workers who defy the Sabbath and turn in for work (Exodus 35:2).

I’m being facetious, but there is a wider point here. Moderate Republicans, who are willing to reach ‘across the aisle’ and look for bi-partisan agreement in Congress on key legislation which could help lift the US economy out of recession and put people back into work, fear being branded collaborators or even worse ‘liberal’ by the Tea Party Movement who have no qualms about putting up one of their own candidates in a primary to face them.

How long will this go on for? There have been ‘movements’ in American politics before, notably the Bull Moose Party, the Progressives, the Populists and even Ross Perot. All have shone brightly for a time and then flamed out. It is likely that the Tea Party Movement will go the same way, but it could cause unbelievable damage in the meantime. It is difficult to believe at times that this Republican Party is the same party that Abraham Lincoln belonged to.

For Obama, the Tea Party movement is good news. He was looking at a whitewash in November but can now brand the Republicans as extremist. There is every chance now that the Democrats can hang onto the Senate even if they lose the House.

However, the Democrats have a long history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory or in this case catastrophe from the jaws of a setback. As British comedian John Oliver said last night on the satirical news programme The Daily Show, he fully expects a leading Democrat to be photographed battering to death the American Eagle with a copy of the Koran any day now.


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