Response to David Brooks’ article "Time for Realignment"

In David Brooks’ recent commentary in The New York Times, “Time For Realignment,” he suggests to his readers that “there’s a good chance many of you will be switching political parties over the next 15 years.”  Brooks backs this prediction with a cursory view of American party affiliation and his evaluation that “Over American history there’s been a general pattern: a period of party stability; then some new issue comes to the fore that divides the country in new ways; old party coalitions fall apart and new ones emerge.”

For Brooks, the political fault line will ultimately lie between “a well-educated America that is marked by economic openness, traditional family structures, high social capital and high trust in institutions, and a less-educated America that is marked by economic insecurity, anarchic family structures, fraying community bonds and a pervasive sense of betrayal and distrust.”

In developing his theory, Brooks also defers to Ronald Brownstein’s 2012 article in The Atlantic that describes “the Coalition of Transformation versus the Coalition of Restoration.”

While I find the arguments and theories of Brooks and Brownstein compelling in many respects regarding the shifting sands of American political parties, their respective essays are flawed because they remain captive to the two party system.  Given the level of dysfunction and polarization in the American politics, the path to change will require at least four political parties for an extended period of time and at least three parties for the foreseeable future.

The logic of the four party system results as much from the “problem” as from the “solution”.  As voting classes transition along Brooks’ analogy of town v. gown, they are also transitioning consistent with Brownstein’s transformation v. restoration.  The progressives on the left and the tea partiers on the right will inevitably stake out new turf under new names, but their significantly differing view of solution sets will prevent any merging of interests. 

While this occurs, the “establishment” will remain organized along the current Republican v. Democrat paradigm, if for no other reason than the inertia of two behemoths with entrenched bureaucracies that can survive within the existing system of incumbency protection for at least 2 more cycles of redistricting.  Even then, it is more likely than not that one party representing the establishment, whatever that means at the time, emerges from the residual of the current duopoly.

Brooks also fails to acknowledge that the world of social media that produced the Arab Spring and other rapidly evolving political dynamics is not bound by the two party system.  If anything, it is more likely that there will be six or seven effective, competitive political parties in the near future than two.  And it is likely that, given the “Diversity Explosion” identified by William Frey in his ground-breaking book, we will also see the development of strong regional parties.

By Steve Nemerovski



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