Knowing which coalition you're in - Tucson Local Media: Editorials

Knowing which coalition you're in

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Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 11:00 pm

The major difference between our form of representative government and most parliamentary systems is here the coalitions are formed before the election. In most multi-party systems, that happens afterwards. Coalitions are often temporary alliances against a common enemy. In the American political system, they last much longer.

In support of some utopian world, we often hear partisanship decried and the admonitions of some Founding Fathers are brought out to justify nebulous attempts to “transcend partisanship.” Sorry, that’s hooey.

Partisanship makes things work. Without it, agendas are hazy, contradictory, or often never formed. We are, have been, and will continue to be governed by coalitions called political parties. So will the rest of the world that allows elections, and even some that don’t.

The classic 20th Century coalition was the Democratic Party, particularly in the 1930s. People like to talk about the “Big Tent.” Try a tent so big it included urban blacks and rural racists. The political miracle the Democrats achieved was having Jack Kennedy idolized in black households while he was running for President in states that had not the donkey as their emblem but the rooster wrapped in a banner reading “white supremacy.”

Democrats understand coalitions now, and have built from the center-left. Their fundamental constituencies are those same urban blacks, bound to the ghetto by their leaders as they were once bound to plantations; unions, particularly those involving public employees such as teachers; trial lawyers; and the far side of the environmental movement bolstered by much of the mainstream media and academia. Was and is a potent combination.

Republicans often seem clueless when it comes to recognizing that they too are supposedly a coalition. Even though they held Congressional majorities for 12 years and the White House for eight, the GOP has never quite grasped the need for long-term alliances.

Case in point — guns. President Clinton publicly credited the NRA and allied groups for the 1994 GOP takeover of Congress. While the NRA is scrupulously non-partisan and simply supports candidates who are pro-gun rights, most Democrats didn’t. Two things occurred since. Republicans have continued to display general cluelessness, while Democrats have begun running pro-gun candidates in districts where they are viable, as shown by their recent victories in once solid GOP districts in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Despite Senator Obama’s anti-gun ownership record, don’t expect Sarah Brady in prime time at the Democrat Convention.

Meantime, the old “assault rifle” ban has been re-introduced in the House — by four clueless Republicans. Part of grasping “coalition” is to not dump on those you share the tent with.

Locally, that defines the District 26 race. The GOP primary is a classic confrontation between conservative Al Melvin and liberal Pete Hershberger. This district may well determine which party controls the Arizona Senate. Both GOP candidates have avoided a direct answer to the question “will you support the winner of the primary,” violating the first rule of partisan politics, loyalty to the brand you chose to run under.

Many GOP voters are concerned that electability is important and candidates closer to the center or even beyond it like Hershberger will do better in November. A recent letter to The Explorer from my old friend and former Republican Rex Scott puts that theory to rest. School teacher Scott advocates the election of Democrat Cheryl Page for one reason. He wants Democrats to control the State Senate.

Republicans that act like Democrats are expendable to the coalition making up that party. Scott understands which coalition he is now part of. Too many Republicans don’t.

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