The Death of the Democratic Party

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Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peal...

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By the “death” of the Democratic Party I don’t mean its literal demise, but its death, which occurred many years ago, as a party of Jeffersonian democracy. Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic Party was the party of states’ rights, farmers, small town businesses. The Whigs, and later the Republicans, were the party of the new industrialists, and under Lincoln became the party that combined big business with government subsidies. The Republicans also repudiated states’ rights and supported returning the southern Confederate States to the United States by force, resulting in 600,000 unnecessary deaths. To those who bring up slavery, my response is that slavery would have ended soon without a war. It had ended in most European countries by the time of the War between the States. There was a great deal of moral criticism of slavery in the South. In any case, the war was primarily about the right of succession and the sovereignty of states.

Several Supreme Court rulings in the 1870s saved the United States from becoming the ultra-centralized business-government state of which the Republicans dreamed, and Democrats such as Grover Cleveland kept the original vision of the Democratic Party. Even with the rise of the urban, more liberal, Democrats in the twentienth century, the tradition of Jeffersonianism was kept alive in the South. Liberals bring up civil rights, and I realize the risk of alternative history, but if the federal government had allowed the grassroots Civil Rights movement to work within the states to change their laws, the consciousness of enough good people would have been raised to force political and social change. Instead, the use of federal troops in Arkansas, the use of federally mandated forced busing, and federally mandated redistricting did a great deal to worsen what may have been a more peaceful and harmonious change to a more just society.

For all his faults, George Wallace was a significant spokesman for the old Jeffersonian view of states’ rights in 1972. With his shooting and with the extreme liberal George McGovern winning the Democratic nomination, the loss of the Democratic Party to Jeffersonianism was guaranteed. There are a few moderate Southern Democrats left, even after Tuesday’s shellacking of the “Blue Dogs,” but even the Blue Dogs were not traditional Jeffersonians. Neither are the conservative Republicans who now dominate Southern politics (with the exception of Ron Paul and perhaps Walter Jones), but at least they have a sense of the proper limitations of federal power. It is a good sign that some of the “Tea Party Movement” leaders are seriously discussing the Tenth Amendment, something that Republicans ignored from 1861 onward and Democrats run roughshod over now. The Democratic Party is dead. It is no longer what Jefferson had in mind when he founded it so long ago. Perhaps it should change its name. “Socialist Party” isn’t quite accurate; “Liberal Party” is an insult to old-fashioned Classical Liberals and Libertarians. I have thought “Whiners Party” might fit, since the Democrats so often take advantage of grievances in order to gain more federal power. How about “Centralized Government Party?” That is functionally accurate, at least, but isn’t really a catchy title. I’m open to suggestions.