A while ago, I listened to a fascinating talk by Erik Olin Wright about Envisioning Real Utopias, on which we held a book event a while back.1 He mentioned the Port Huron Statement, published by Students for a Democratic Society in 1962. I looked it up, and was struck by the fact that it envisaged, and welcomed, the political realignment later implemented by Richard Nixon as the Southern Strategy, and which still dominates US politics.
A most alarming fact is that few, if any, politicians are calling for changes in these conditions. Only a handful even are calling on the President to “live up to” platform pledges; no one is demanding structural changes, such as the shuttling of Southern Democrats out of the Democratic Party…. super-patriotic groups have become a politically influential force within the Republican Party, at a national level through Senator Goldwater, and at a local level through their important social and economic roles. Their political views are defined generally as the opposite of the supposed views of communists: complete individual freedom in the economic sphere, non-participation by the government in the machinery of production. But actually “anticommunism” becomes an umbrella by which to protest liberalism, internationalism, welfarism, the active civil rights and labor movements. It is to the disgrace of the United States that such a movement should become a prominent kind of public participation in the modern world — but, ironically, it is somewhat to the interests of the United States that such a movement should be a public constituency pointed toward realignment of the political parties, demanding a conservative Republican Party in the South and an exclusion of the “leftist” elements of the national GOP.
I don’t suppose the SDS activists thought that the combination of the Goldwater right and the Southern Democrats would form a majority coalition strong enough to dominate US politics for decades. Still it’s far from obvious that they were wrong in wishing for the emergence of a clear partisan division to replace the coalition politics of the time.2
Any assessment of the realignment is complicated by the shift to the right that took place throughout the developed from the 1970s onwards. The fact that this shift seems to be going into reverse in the US.3, while it is accelerating in Europe, may be in part the product of the great realignment. Oddly enough, precisely because partisan politics is so new in the US, the Dems seem to be more willing to engage in it than their Social Democratic counterparts in Europe (of course, they’ve been schooled in it by the Repubs for twenty years or so). And while the objective position of the Dems is still well to the right of European SocDems, they seem to be breaking with neoliberal ideas like the Grand Bargain at precisely the time the SocDems are (for the most part) capitulating to austerity.
BTW, it seems bizarre to me, and to other non-US people I’ve talked to that the acryonym GOP is used to describe the Repubs, even by a group as hostile as the SDS. There’s no corresponding acronym for the Democrats – it would seem that DP and RP or just D’s and R’s would serve much better. Any thoughts on this? ↩
As evidenced both by the renewed electoral success of the Democrats, and more tenuously, by a shift away from the idea of a market liberal “Grand Bargain” and towards a reassertion of support for the institutions of the New Deal (minus the accommodation with Southern racism). ↩