Splits in the Political Parties

By Gizzi, John | The World and I, October 1998 | Go to article overview

Splits in the Political Parties


Gizzi, John, The World and I


Just imagine four Republican Parties and a dozen or more issue-based splinters of the Democratic Party. That's the way it seems to be in this election season.

In the absence of Ronald Reagan's unifying influence, GOP factions have in recent years proliferated and strengthened.

Pat Buchanan's insurgent challenge to George Bush's renomination in 1992 was proof positive of this. So was the difficulty Bob Dole had in nailing down a party platform of his choice during the Republican National Convention that nominated him for president two years ago.

And now, with barely two years to go before he leaves office, President Clinton finds his party's factions growing increasingly restive and taking an increasingly hard line.

This is illustrated by the very fact that Vice President Al Gore--whom Clinton has all but crowned as his successor--is likely to face a nomination battle in 2000 with House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Missouri). The two will most likely have sharp clashes over issues ranging from China to the environment.

With that, here's an examination of the outlook for both major parties in an era of boiling, issue-based factionalism--an era in which it almost seems there could be a crack-up of the two longtime political powerhouses in America.

FOUR GOP FACTIONS AND COUNTING

"It seems as though the social conservatives are getting the short shrift here," remarked Texas' Republican National Committeeman Tim Lambert during the June 25-26 conclave of the Republican National Committee (RNC) in New York City.

"Look, the major speakers were [New York City Mayor] Rudy Giuliani, [New York Gov.] George Pataki, and [New Jersey Gov.] Christine Todd Whitman, all three of whom think that fiscal issues are the end-all, and all of whom are terrible on the social issues.

"Quite frankly," Lambert continued, "you're not bringing the social and economic factions together when the only speaker who touches on social issues at this meeting is [former New York congressman and African Methodist Episcopal minister] Floyd Flake, who is still a Democrat."

Lambert is probably the best-known cultural conservative on the RNC. A leader of the home-school movement in the Lone Star State and an ardent foe of abortion, Lambert leaped into the national headlines and newscasts early this year by leading the unsuccessful fight to have the RNC deny support to candidates who fail to support a ban on so called partial-birth abortions.

While the "Lambert Resolution" drew only 43 votes in the 165-person RNC, it was subsequently adopted by six state parties. It made its soft-spoken sponsor a political spokesman frequently sought out by the national media.

Lambert's background, the issues he champions, and his pique over the attention given those in his party who emphasize the fiscal agenda to the exclusion of social issues make him almost emblematic of cultural conservatives. And the latter is by far the fastest-growing group in the GOP.

Most members of the party's cultural wing were initially spurred to enter politics in the late 1970s by the Rev. Jerry Falwell's now-defunct Moral Majority.

The wing was sustained and enhanced by Pat Robertson's presidential bid in 1988 and by contemporary groups such as Gary Bauer's Family Research Council and the Christian Coalition (founded by Robertson and given luster and respectability by its high-profile former operating head, Ralph Reed).

The typical culturally motivated Republican is concerned with moral decay in America. He feels his party must champion causes such as the right to life, school prayer, the rights of parents to teach their children at home, and an end to what he sees as special rights for homosexuals. He also vigorously supports an end to government agencies he sees as agents of secular humanism, notably the National Endowment for the Arts. …

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