THE FRACKING OF AMERICAN POLITICS

Richard Reeves

LOS ANGELES -- In the 1980s, I lectured on American politics at Sciences Po (l'Institute d'Etudes Politique) in Paris, the elite French school of political science. When the time came for questions, the first one from students was always the same: "How can you tell the difference between Democrats and Republicans in the United States?"

I would answer that Republicans smell better.

A joke, rather than an answer.

To the French students it was barely possible for them to see the difference. For most of my lifetime, the two major American parties agreed on most issues, particularly during the Cold War, and on what might be called a capitalist welfare system. I'd say then that if you could question President Ronald Reagan and Sen. Edward Kennedy on the fundamental political issues of those days, the most celebrated men of the two parties would agree on almost every question. They agreed on goals, even if they might disagree on methods of reaching those goals.

The question was natural from students in a country whose two major parties were the Socialists, led by Francois Mitterrand, and the conservatives led by Valery Giscard d'Estaing and then Jacques Chirac. There really was a difference in France then (still is), even if French conservatives were generally to the left of American Democrats, to say nothing of American Republicans. The best example of that is that both of the French parties considered health care a right rather than a product. Other significant French parties ranged from Communists to racists (still strong) to monarchists (not so strong).

That was then. I think French students aren't asking that question anymore. Now there are real differences between American Democrats and Republicans. As an intellectual competition, the parties are essentially debating the proper role of government. Many on the right have taken as gospel President Reagan's basically dishonest campaign line that government is not the solution, it is the problem. The fact is that American political factions, including the tea party, are not really arguing about the size of government, but are divided on what the power of "big" government should be used to do.

The Republican Party is breaking down or up over that question. Obviously, many conservative Republican voters, as indicated by primary votes and exit polls, believe that the front-runner, Mitt Romney, judging by his record as governor of Massachusetts, is not one of them. He may be the party's most likely prospect to defeat President Obama, but as in 1964 with Barry Goldwater, many Republicans would rather go down in flames than choose a guy they don't trust to impose their value system on the rest of the country.

Romney may be a Mormon, which could become a campaign issue in the fall, but that does not pass the God question for many fundamentalist Christians. It is astounding that in some exit polls in Alabama and Mississippi, more than 70 percent of primary voters said the most important issue in an American presidential candidate was that he or she reflect their religious beliefs. That, to me, sounds more like the Middle Ages than the 21st century.

Where will this end? The "values" voters are going to be disappointed in how this turns out, perhaps enraged, if President Obama is re-elected or if he is replaced by Mitt Romney. Their next move then will be to try to change the electoral system -- to make it easier for third parties to get on the ballot in all of the 50 states. As things are now, the election rules in this country are a contract between the two major parties to protect each other from outsiders.

View Comments (0)

Recommended for You

  • Luggage piece found on French island near possible MH370 debris

    Part of a bag was found Thursday on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion not far from plane debris which has fuelled speculation it may be from missing flight MH370. "The piece of luggage was here since yesterday but nobody really paid attention," said Johnny Begue, a member of a local…

    AFP
  • Russia reassures Israel over Iran nuclear deal

    Russian President Vladimir Putin told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday that the deal on Iran's nuclear program would improve security in the Middle East and guaranteed that Tehran would not acquire nuclear arms. Israel plans to lobby the U.S. Congress not to approve the…

    Reuters49 mins ago
  • Chicago man cleared after 17 years in prison shot dead

    CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago man who served 17 years in prison for murder before being cleared of the crime has been shot and killed almost three years after being released from prison, police said Wednesday.

    Associated Press
  • View

    Creeping vines, abandoned village (20 photos)

    Just a handful of people still live in a village on Shengshan Island east of Shanghai that was once home to more than 2,000 fishermen. Every day hundreds of tourists visit Houtouwan, making their way on narrow footpaths past tumbledown houses overtaken by vegetation. The remote village, on one of…

    Yahoo News
  • Family Pet-Sitter Helps Herself To Homeowner's Possessions

    DEAR ABBY: A trusted and beloved family member who takes care of my cats -- and therefore has a key to my house -- has been stealing things like cleaning supplies, knickknacks, family pictures, etc. Most of them have little monetary value. But imagine my surprise when I spotted some of my missing…

    Dear Abby
  • Eight family members decapitated in north Mexico

    Eight people from the same family, including two minors, were kidnapped by masked gunmen and their decapitated bodies were found days later in northern Mexico, authorities said Wednesday. The bodies were found after a ninth member of the Martinez family escaped Sunday's abduction near Casa Quemada,…

    AFP
  • An American Dentist Killed Zimbabwe’s Famous Lion

    Cecil the lion, a famous black-maned resident of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, died at the hands of an American dentist, conservationists claim. “Mr. Palmer shot Cecil with a bow and arrow but this shot didn't kill him,” Johnny Rodrigues, chairman of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, said in…

    TakePart.com
  • Dashcam catches off-duty cop threatening to put 'hole in head' of driver

    Technically Incorrect: A Massachusetts driver makes a wrong turn. What happens next, all filmed on his dashcam, has led to an investigation. And yes, it's now on YouTube.

    CNET
  • Taliban disavows Afghan peace talks after leader declared dead

    By Kay Johnson KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban's official spokesman disavowed peace talks with the Afghan government on Thursday, throwing fledgling efforts to negotiate an end to 14 years of war into disarray. The statement came a day after the Afghan government said that Mullah Omar, the elusive…

    Reuters
  • Trump leads Republicans, but Democrats thump him: poll

    Bombastic US billionaire Donald Trump handily leads all fellow Republicans in the 2016 presidential race, though Hillary Clinton and other Democrats trump him in head-to-head matchups, a poll said Thursday. Trump plunged into the crowded Republican nomination battle last month, and has since…

    AFP
  • View

    Photos of the day - July 29, 2015 (20 photos)

    The full moon rises over the illuminated Kazan Kremlin with the Qol Sharif mosque illuminated in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, Indian dancers paint their body like tigers as they perform a Tiger dance during the International day of the Tiger in Calcutta and a diver performs with fish as part of…

    Yahoo News
  • Jon Stewart signing off 'Daily Show' fake newscast for real

    NEW YORK (AP) — After more than 16 years and nearly 2,600 telecasts, Jon Stewart can feel proud of his scads of Emmys and his pair of Peabody Awards, his cultural gravitas (he hung with the Prez, both on and off the air!), even his reprobate status at Fox News.

    Associated Press18 mins ago
  • Hidden Security Cameras Are Shocking Surprise For Daughter

    DEAR ABBY: I'm a 19-year-old woman in college who still lives with my parents. I found out something several weeks ago that's bothering me, and I need advice badly. Years ago, after a robbery, my parents installed security cameras outside our house. I knew about them because they were visible. But…

    Dear Abby
  • Police Officer Involved in Deadly Cincinnati Shooting of Samuel DuBose Indicted for Murder, Dismissed from Force

    "I'm treating him like a murderer," prosecutor Joseph Deters said during a news conference when describing the warrant out for a police officer who killed Samuel DuBose, 43, earlier this month. Footage released today from a police officer's body cam lasts about 10 minutes and shows the shooting.…

    ABC News
  • Boko Haram 'slits throats of 10 fishermen' near Lake Chad

    Boko Haram Islamists slit the throats of 10 fishermen in villages near Baga on the shores of the Lake Chad in northeastern Nigeria, a leading fisherman and a resident said Thursday. "On Monday around 4 pm (1500 GMT), Boko Haram attacked three villages on the shores of Lake Chad where they…

    AFP
  • Internet mauls dentist accused of illegal kill of popular lion

    Technically Incorrect: Walter Palmer, a dentist in Minnesota, has his Yelp entry attacked by those not fond of his allegedly illegal killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.

    CNET
  • Independent media battle on in Putin's Russia

    By Timothy Heritage MOSCOW (Reuters) - Alexei Venediktov, one of Russia's most prominent journalists, does not go out without a bodyguard and does not answer mobile phone calls for fear of being tracked. Such precautions do not seem out of place in a country where at least 17 journalists have been…

    Reuters
  • Kurdish rebels attack Turkish security forces, killing 5

    ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Kurdish rebels have attacked Turkish security forces in two separate assaults in southeast Turkey, killing five people, officials said. One rebel was also killed.

    Associated Press