Parties Don’t Have Ideologies
It’s stories like this (via Balko)- in which a Dem-affiliated PAC attacks Rand Paul for being “soft on crime” – that make me roll my eyes whenever someone tries to tell me that the two parties have any actual relationship to conservatism or liberalism. They don’t.
A theme I used to try to hit with some regularity, but haven’t for quite some time, is the seemingly self-evident point that – at least on the national level – political parties in the United States exist for the sole purpose of electing candidates. They do not exist to promote a particular agenda or to stand for a particular set of principles. To be sure, they may well try to pretend that they stand for a set of principles when it’s convenient for them to do so, but that’s about all they are doing: pretending.
To be sure, parties are also fundamentally coalitions that will include plenty of people, and perhaps even some politicians, with a real agenda. But the parties themselves are nothing more than tools for those politicians and people to gain access to the halls of power. Those people and politicians care nothing about whether someone in another area of the country, under the same party banner, actively opposes or undermines their agenda. All they care about, instead, is whether that particular someone will give them greater access to power if elected. As such, when a fellow-party member finds himself against a politician with an actual agenda (and, whether one agrees with it or not, Rand Paul quite clearly has an actual agenda he’d like to advance), the actual ideology at the root of political parties comes to the forefront: the ideology of opposition to any agenda whatsoever.
None of this, by the way, should be interpreted as a jeremiad or a complaint – instead, it’s just to serve as a reminder that there is nothing that makes Democrats inherently more liberal than Republicans or Republicans inherently more conservative than Democrats. As long as we have a two-party system, the differences between the two parties will be, as it has ever been, limited to the entirely arbitrary differences between the coalitions that make up the two parties. The core groups that make up the bread-and-butter of those coalitions, meaning the grassroots movement activists and the elite party leadership, far from being the purveyors of a consistent ideology that they claim to be, are instead simply naked partisans whose ideology amounts to little more than opposition to whatever someone in the other coalition might wish to do or not do. Such is the nature of the political party.