Past Event

Café Society: What Defines a Democrat and a Republican?

During the months leading up to Illinois primary elections, some candidates running as democrats seem to have adopted what would normally be a Republican platform on various issues, and vice versa. Some Democrats have put up a pro-life stance, and a number of Republicans are anti-war.

People on both sides have crossed over on the issues of stem-cell research, genetically modified food, health care, social security, and corporate regulation. How have the current ideologies of each party evolved to what they are now? What events have created significant shifts? To what extent do simple demographics or the way your parents voted influence party allegiance?

Additionally, this week we have a guest narrative author, Christopher Hayes, Senior Editor for In These Times . Below he shares some of his thoughts on the evolution of party ideology:

“Until, basically, the 1960s, the parties weren’t ideological coalitions so much as demographic, geographical and class-based coalitions. Both parties could be said to have had liberal and conservative wings: George Wallace was a Democrat, John Lindsay was a Republican. The rise of the post-Goldwater Right Wing succeeded not just in seizing the reigns of the Republican party but in reconfiguring both parties along ideological lines. The most dramatic example of this is the success of Nixon’s ‘southern strategy’ in moving the entire white south into the Republican party and thereby doing away with a certain kind of southern politician who was at once viciously reactionary on race and other ‘social matters’ but downright socialist in his views of government management of the economy.

So, the post-Goldwater, post-McGovern parties are more ideologically drawn than in the past. And yet at the same time it seems like there is so very little difference between them, particularly on economic issues. That’s, I think, largely attributable to the rise of what might be called the Free Market Consensus. It’s very difficult to find people in the upper strata of the American power-elite who believe in democratizing capitalism through government management. Instead you have Clinton pushing NAFTA as the very first thing he does in office. Jeff Faux describes this in his latest book ‘Global Class War’ as the agenda of the Party of Davos, that is the socio-educational elite whose views of the bottomless benevolence of markets is indistinguishable from the views of Rockerfeller and Carnegie during the height of the Gilded Age. The presence of this consensus means the issues that really divide are identity-based, rights-based disagreements. What we now call ‘The Culture War.’

As a last thought, one thing that I think I perhaps got wrong or overstated in the Red State/Blue is the degree to which ideology plays a factor in people’s voting behavior. The evidence on this point is mixed. Party affiliation is the single strongest predictor of voting behavior, but, that said, party ID seems to be as dependent on demographic categories as it does on what we might call ideology. A lot of people are Democrats that same way I’m a Cubs fan. I don’t think the Cubs are philosophically more deserving of my loyalty, but I was raised a Cubs fan, my Dad is a cubs fan, I live in Chicago and that’s my team.

There’s contradictory data about all these related issues, but those are some thoughts. I still think the central part of Red State/Blue is correct, in that the only hopes in building a movement (as distinct from a party) is some systematic infrastructure that introduces people to your worldview.”

Join us at Café Society this week and tell us what you think are the issues that make one a Democrat or a Republican these days.

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For more informaiton, please contact Kristin Millikan at 312.422.5580.