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Waelti: Shifting parties filled with contradictions
John Waelti

As with the shifting, drifting desert sands, political winds are constantly shifting, producing scenarios rife with contradictions.

Democrats were once seen as the party of working people. Republicans were the Party of Wall Street, Main Street and college-educated professionals and managers. They still are to some extent. But during the Reagan era, they picked up relatively well off union members who became known as “Reagan Democrats.”

The Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln was once the logical home of African Americans. This was reinforced by President Eisenhower’s deployment of Army Airborne units to Little Rock, Arkansas to integrate its high school during the 1950s.

If Republicans had an incongruous relationship between Wall Street’s wealthy and socially conservative working poor voters, the Democrat Party hosted a strained relationship between liberal northern Democrats and socially conservative, segregationist southern Democrats. 

During the election of 1960, JFK reached out to Coretta Scott King when her husband, Martin Luther King, Jr., was incarcerated. If this was the initiation of southern antipathy toward Democrats, it was LBJ’s muscling through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that hastened the conversion of the once Democratic “Solid South” to the Republicans. The increasingly hard right drive of the Republican Party during the latter decades of the 20th century caused many northern voters to identify with Democrats. Republican New England states became more Democratic. Pacific Coast states of California, Oregon and Washington are reliably Democratic. Five upper Midwestern states, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan became reliably Democratic, and produced their share of influential Democrats on the national scene. 

Even though some union members became “Reagan Democrats,” many working people remained with the Democratic Party, especially during presidential elections. In the industrial belt, and even in the Mid-South that was majority Republican, many voters retained loyalty to the Democratic Party.

Then along comes Donald Trump. Voters in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Appalachia, who had twice voted for President Obama, were captured by Donald Trump. Minnesota and Illinois stayed with Democrats and Ms. Clinton, but only on the urban democratic strength of the Twin cities and Chicago, respectively.

A result of the shifting political winds is the increasing partisanship of national politics. In the past, the uneasy division within parties required serious negotiation and compromise. The Democratic Party was composed of northern liberals and southern conservative Democrats. The Republican Party had its combination of Wall Street wealthy, Main Street moderates and socially conservative Republicans.  A further division was the so-called eastern establishment, internationally oriented Republicans, in contrast to the more conservative heartland Republicans, the wing once led by Ohio’s Senator Taft.

Since each Party had its collection of conservatives, moderates, and liberals, neither Party could be counted on to predictably vote on legislation of substance. Coalitions of the more conservative Democrats and Republicans, vs. liberal Democrats and the more moderate Republicans, were far more the norm. Today, as Democrats are moderate to liberal, and Republicans have become exclusively conservative — moderate Republicans in the Congress are essentially extinct — such coalitions no longer exist. Both Democrats and Republicans predictably fall into line.

Along with shifting party loyalties, party philosophies have shifted, creating interesting contradictions. In the past, college-educated voters tended to vote Republican. Recent polling shows that a majority of Republicans consider academia in general to be a negative force on the country. This apparent contradiction might be partially explained by the shrinking number of Americans who identify as Republicans, and more college-educated voters considering themselves as independents, and some, especially college-educated women, identifying as Democrats.

Veterans of the armed forces are generally seen to lean Republican. This is surely true of the professional officer corps. However, aided by the usual “economy of thought” typical of media pundits, this is a simplification, not necessarily true for the rest of us.

The Trump administration wants us to believe that it is dedicated to welfare of veterans. But its actions prove otherwise. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is charged with enforcing the Military Lending Act that is designed to protect service members from unscrupulous, predatory lenders. Trump recently named Budget Chief, Mick Mulvaney, for the dual role of administering the CFPB. Mulvaney has been an enemy of the CFPB. To add insult to injury, Mulvaney now claims that authority for overseeing the Military Lending Act does not come under the CFPB. Service members will no longer be protected from predatory lenders under the guise of “rolling back the agency’s overly aggressive practices.”

I’m sure that most veterans will agree that military discipline instilled in teenage enlistees does not carry over to discipline and knowledge of money management. Young men and women away from home for the first time can become easy prey for unscrupulous lenders. If the Trump administration really had the interests of young enlistees at heart, it would find a way to enforce the Military Lending Act.

Republicans once portrayed themselves, and still do, as the Party of fiscal responsibility. This has long been transparent fiction, enabled by electronic media pundits repeating Republican talking points. Never do they remind us that the last federal budget surpluses were under Democrat Bill Clinton. But that’s another story.

Recent Republican-sponsored expansionary fiscal policy during full employment coupled with the tax bill that blows up the deficit, clearly shows that Republicans use deficit spending only as a stick with which to beat the Democrats, preventing needed spending on education, infrastructure, and health care. Republicans portray themselves as the “law and order” party. Democrats were more likely to criticize the CIA and the FBI. Now, since Trump has been criticizing those agencies, even repealing security clearances to punish critics, a wave of reputable high-level ex-security officials — surely no bleeding heart liberals — are harshly criticizing the self-proclaimed “law and order” president. Democrats are defending agencies that they have previously criticized.

Not only do politics create strange bedfellows, but shifting party loyalties do strange things.

— John Waelti of Monroe, a retired professor of economics, can be reached at His column appears Saturdays in the Monroe Times.