Whether you watch the news, read the paper, or spend any time online, you will be made well aware of the great American political debate. It is not one centered on any specific issue in and of itself. Instead, it is a constructive argument that is based on an ideological divide between the two very different parties that make up the current political system. They are the Democrats and the Republicans. For over one hundred and fifty years, these two political parties have had a place at the table in American politics. However, it is only more recently that these two particular parties have reined supreme. Listening to the conversations in congress or watching the debates between members of each party, one is reminded of Machiavelli, a man who centuries before laid the groundwork for a level of political behavior we see today in our own system. Taking Udemy’s course on Machiavelli’s political and leadership philosophy is a great way to get a strong handle on the behavior of our current government.
Politicians and the People
It is not only politicians who find themselves in debates on the issues facing America. That back and forth between lawmakers in the parties has spilled over into those that support them as well. Following along with the political tides, America itself has become a two-party society. States tend to swing in one direction or the other, creating what has been called the ‘Red State, Blue State’ mentality of the country. This title is based on the colors associated with the parties, – red for Republican and blue for Democrat. Political beliefs can divide friends and families, but also unite them. The call for political dialogue does not have to be derisive. Learning how to present a clear and logical argument when discussing politics can lead to better understanding can help any individual to become better at expressing their ideals, and is crucial for every individual looking to become involved in the Great American Debate, whether they want to become a journalist or they want to enter the political arena themselves.
A brief history: The Democrats
The Democratic Party of today is actually quite different than when it was founded in 1828. The party evolved out of Jeffersonian Republicanism, a political ideology committed to avoiding a large and powerful centralized government. Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren (both of whom would become Presidents) led the charge of the new wing of the party. Their belief in an agrarian society stood at the center of their party, and the goal of individual liberty through states rights was their focus.
During the Civil War, most democrats were from Southern States, the central area of America’s Agrarian society. Over time, the idea of a Southern Democrat was formed. The great split in ideology of that surrounded the Civil War was a time when the fight between Democrats and Republicans was at its most vicious. Democrats remained focused on individual liberty and a less powerful federal government. The outcome of The Civil War changed America’s trajectory greatly, and the Democratic Party had to rebuild itself for years to come.
It wasn’t until The Great Depression that The Democratic Party took on the personality we currently associate with it. Herbert Hoover was a Republican, and his party received much of the blame for the greatest economic crisis the country faced. Franklin Roosevelt was a Northern Democrat (a few remained, usually linked to big old money families) who enacted several more socialist policies to pull America from the depths of poverty. Since then, the Democratic party has been a party focused on federal government and social welfare policy.
A Brief History: The Republicans
The Republican party was founded in 1854 in direct opposition to the Democrat party’s attitude towards slavery, agrarian rule, and more. The breaking of the Missouri Compromise, which allowed Kansas to become a slave state, was the catalyst that got the ball rolling. The basic principles of early Republicanism were mostly anti-slavery and anti-plantation. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president, and his policies during the war shaped much of the federal power the government still has today.
After the war and during the American Reconstruction, the party began to split from the inside. Many Republicans believed the purpose of reconstruction was to usher in business and growth in the nation. The party’s focus on supporting big business, hard money (such as gold), high tariffs, and high wages and profits was the beginning of a more enterprise-focused mission for the party. This mission angered Southern Democrats who felt that Republicans were pushing northern industrialization onto them.
The Republicans remained popular as a party of business until The Great Depression, when many of their laws and policies were blamed for the travesty. They did not return to power until after the term of Harry Truman, who had continued Roosevelt’s long working New Deal to help the country out of hardship. When Dwight Eisenhower was elected as a Republican President the party began to include strong military perspective into its core values.
The party has remained one of big business and military investment since that time. It was only in the 1960s, after Nixon’s loss to JFK, that a conservative social agenda took place. The grassroots movement that began then worked slowly, but can be seen in the general conservative stance the party takes on some of the more debated social issues.
It is very easy to see in their histories, even though their belief structures changed over time, that the Democrats and Republicans have always been at odds with each other.
The Current Political Divide
At its most basic, the ideological divide that pits Democrats versus Republicans is based on their respective liberal and conservative identities. Generally, The Republicans are a conservative party. Their focus is primarily on traditional family values, promoting strong business from the top down (a more conservative way of stimulating growth), and investing in military defense. The Democrats are a more liberal party. Their policies are focused on social welfare, broadening the terms of traditional family values, and investing in social policy such as education, healthcare, social security, and more. Of course, there is a lot of diversity within each party, and not every party member agrees with all the ideals of the party they choose to support.
This is beneficial to the system and detrimental to it as well. Having two political parties so evenly split on most of the topics the government faces helps keep a strong balance on all issues. There have been times when one party or the other has had larger political control. In those periods the checks and balances of the American political system can tilt unevenly. This allows one party to push an agenda forward without the compromise necessary for it to reflect a true cross section of America’s needs. On the contrary, because the viewpoints of each party has become cemented over time, an even split of power in Congress can cause an abrupt end for laws. This is due to the fact that both parties disagree so intensely.
Compromise Between Parties
The American political system is one designed with checks and balances. This is the method used so that the centralization of power within the system does not fall too greatly on one person or within one section of the government. There are three branches of government. Each has the ability to affect the work of the other.
Traditionally, Democrats and Republicans hold office in the Legislative branch (which is made of the Senate and the House of Representatives) and in the Executive Office (which is the office of the President). When a law is created in America, it must be voted upon in both houses of Congress for it to succeed. In order for it to become a law, the President must also approve it. Without compromise between political parties the process of creating the laws that govern American Society can never begin to function.
The third branch of the Government is the Judicial Branch. In the past judges tend to relinquish their political beliefs. However, because Presidents nominate judges, and presidents are aligned with one or the other party, the Judicial Branch has become more greatly politicized over the years.
Health Care Reform
Taking a look at the recent Health Care Reform debate is a great way to understand the process and see how the oppositional natures of the two parties affect the outcome of America governance. The President, a Democrat, submitted a new health care reform act, hoping to change the way American choose and receive their health care. The Act was socially focused, designed to help the people through regulation of the insurance industry. Clearly this is a democratic-based proposal. The Republicans had grave concerns with the bill and worried that its affect on business would injure economic stability of the country. Clearly this is a Republican-based ideological response.
The two parties then spent a lot of time, talk, and money arguing, debating, and re-imagining the health care law. The Democrats were slow to bring the law to a vote because without enough votes it would not pass through the House or Senate and would most like end with a stalled result. Eventually, a few Republicans voted with The Democratic Majority in order to pass the bill. When the President signed it, it became part of our governing laws.
The health care debate was brought before the Supreme Court, who mostly ruled along Party lines (the judges voted with the belief most in tune with the party of the President that made them a judge). However, one Judge voted ‘out of character.’ Chief Justice Roberts’ surprising decision proves how even in the ongoing Republican Vs. Democrat battle compromise is possible between parties.
When thinking about the split between Republicans and Democrats, the beliefs each party has, and the choices made to implement those beliefs, it is important to remember that there are many different factors that come into play. If you would like to learn more about these factors, check out Udemy’s course like this introduction to the world of economics. In fact, If you have an interest in politics and the process of government that runs America, or you’re interested in the world of political science, there are lots of great courses you can take at Udemy. Getting the knowledge you need is the first step to getting involved!