Party movement deserves our attention

by Taylor Daily

For the most part, the stance of our political parties on issues changes incrementally. Positions shift slowly, if at all. Yet, in less than a decade, we have seen remarkable movement on an issue dramatically illustrated by Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) recent filibuster: civil rights vis-a-vis what was formerly named the War on Terror.

One could imagine a scenario only a few years ago in which a liberal Democrat might have delivered a similar filibuster against former President George W. Bush’s decisions in this area. We can all remember the voracity with which Democrats cried foul about civil rights violations (valid or not) in the 2004, 2006, and even 2008 elections, and the equal strength with which Republicans defended Bush’s tactics.

Regardless of one’s positions on these issues, the fact that Democrats would support the continuation of some of Bush’s controversial national security polices, and that a Republican senator would be the leading voice of opposition, is astounding to anyone who experienced the political dialog of the Bush era.

Perhaps the reason behind the transition on this issue is not due to facts, reason, or even ideology, but the basic principle of trust in a president. Maybe the members of each party only trust a president of their party enough to support an expansion of presidential power and distrust the president of another party enough that they seek to limit that power.

During the Cold War, only former President Richard Nixon could extend relations to China without being accused of having communist sympathies. President Barack Obama could be an equivalent for liberals on national security policy.

Yet we still have liberals and conservatives in each party on either side of this issue. In an era of sharp partisan divide, we have an area of grey. The opposing positions on Guantanamo Bay, drones, and the rights of enemy combatants reside for the most part outside traditional party structure. We see a situation more reminiscent of the postwar era when the two major political parties as a whole differed on most issues by very little, with the wings of each party taking the stronger ideological stances.

For our generation, the platform positions of each party might as well have been carved into stone. Republicans and Democrats stand on the same side of issues that, from our perspective, they have always stood. Yet, on this rare issue, we see remarkable movement, one that we should continue to observe with great interest.


photo of Rand Paul by Gage Skidmore: