You're The Base
- If you're a member of a labor union or of the NRA, you have a political party.
- If you're dogmatically pro or anti-abortion, you have a political party.
- If you're the CEO of a major corporation, the kind with lobbyists in Washington, you've hit the jackpot; you have two political parties!
- If you're you or me, you probably don't have a party.
A curious expression has emerged in the rhetoric of politics in recent years. The expression is "the base," and its usage creates a disturbing, destructive implication.
The typical usage goes something like this, "The candidate will run a more conservative (or liberal) race during the primary, because he has to appeal to his base." And the disturbing implication is that the foundation of a political party is its extreme elements. In other words, the foundation of the Republican Party is a bunch of bigots who favor war over statesmanship, who believe that the world is only 6000 years old, and think their Armageddon rapture will be hastened by an Arab-Israeli war—or conversely that the base of the Democratic Party is a band of abortion loving, tree hugging, atheistic socialists, who work in secret for the end of the United States.
It's hard to know whether these ideas reflect reality or drive it, but unfortunately they've begun to seem more true in recent years. Our perception may be that the Republican Party is run by big business or the religious right, and that the Democratic is run by unions or abortionists. But this perception relates to who controls the parties, not to the foundational principles of the organizations.
I don't think cigar smoking political operatives ever sat in back rooms and chose labor unions or the NRA as the rocks on which to build their parties. Rather, I think those factions chose the parties. In the 1930s, as labor unions began to build political power, they probably had only two choices for political organization in the United States: the socialist or communist-leaning parties, and the Democratic Party. Socialism and Communism weren't faring too well in Europe, and had only marginal support in the U.S. But the Democratic Party was established, and at least not hostile to trade unionism. So unionists became Democrats. The same had happened after the Civil War with white-supremacist elements in the South, who until the mid-twentieth century made a home for themselves in the Democratic Party. Similarly, the NRA and the religious right chose the Republican Party in order to project political power.
But these elements are not the parties, and they don't reflect the reality of the American political landscape. As Americans, relatively few of us are far-right or far-left. We may not be in the middle, either. Many people have very strong feelings about a few political issues. But we are not extremists.
Peeling unions or the religious right away from the respective parties would peel away more money than votes. Unfortunately, both parties seem to have the perception that extremist elements are vital to political success.
They're wrong. The real power is still in the vote, and we have the vote.
And who are we? We're patriots; we love our country. Which means we love its constitution. We're tired of seeing it ignored. We believe in democracy—for ourselves and our nation first. We believe the cornerstone of democracy is that all citizens actually have a voice in their government—and we're tired of not being heard. We believe in capitalism—democratic capitalism—that works best for the greatest number of citizens—and we're tired of having no personal economic power.
Oh, and we actually believe in government—the old-fashioned kind—of the people, by the people, and for the people—government that serves its citizens—that does for citizens what they could not do by themselves. We're tired of wandering in the wilderness alone.
We're not in the middle, straddling some imaginary double-yellow line between reactionary and radical abuse of our principles. We stand directly upon our principles. We are the base. We're the foundation of the democracy in which we want to live, and to raise our children and their children. We are the people in "We the people."
So let's quit listening to pundits spouting nonsense about the base of our political parties. Let's begin to force those parties to listen to the real base—the one with the vote—you and me. And if they're reluctant to listen, let's leave them. Let them serve the narrow interests that control them. Let's take the power of our votes elsewhere, either hold it independently, or take it to new parties.
We are the base.