Around 1968 there was a shift in the political paradigm from organized people to organized money. This change was a key difficulty for the New Deal coalition; it affected many aspects of American life; it has created a political world from which many democratic and un-democratic features have emerged; and it defines the sixth party system.
The New Deal coalition was based on organized people. During their reign, 25% of the population was part of a union family, and 80% of that 25% voted for the New Deal coalition. Thus, they worked for the collective. They took responsibility for the economy and the market; and they made sure Americans had socio-economic rights such as housing, healthcare, and pensions. In short, the New Deal coalition ensured collective social rights. They organized people, and organized people supported them.
Then, around 1968, shifts in society and the economy started to occur that disorganized people. Socially, anti-communist sentiment became wide-spread, racial tension thickened, and culture movements grew. The slogan of the anti-communist sentiment was “fight it everywhere,” yet the New Deal coalition split on the Vietnam War. Half were for it, and half against it. This disenchanted many typical New Deal voters, as can still be seen in the majority of Cuban immigrants supporting Republicans. At the same time, the civil rights movement was reaching its pinnacle. This divided the nation between social progressives and conservatives. Under Johnson, the New Deal coalition sided with the social progressives, passing the Civil Rights Act and the Voter’s Rights Act. This caused “white fear” in the south, and the New Deal coalition lost that section of the country. “White fear” also swept across the country because of various cultural movements of the time. As black militant movements, radical feminist movements, and leftist schools prospered, old union men began to question the authority that they previously supported.
A collapse in New Deal economics also occurred around 1968, hurting the New Deal coalition further. New Deal economics was strongest when they distributed collective economic growth to all classes. This strength was weakened around 1968 as industrialized business progressed. Jobs were lost because of outsourcing and cheap foreign steel and automobiles The jobs that remained went from unionized work to modern, separated jobs.
The sixth party system of 1968 emerged from this de-alignment of the New Deal coalition: it capitalized on the anti-communist sentiment, becoming the system of neo-
imperialism; seeing the failings of taking sides on cultural and race issues, it tried to make them invisible again; and it supported the corporation as the means of America’s economy.
All of these changes created nothing collective. They have de-aligned collective voting blocs, such as workers, and created collages of individual voters. The organized people of the New Deal coalition were divided and organized money emerged as the driving force of American politics. The salient characteristic of the sixth party system is an elite realignment based on money. Thus, most of the characteristics of the sixth party system can be seen as un-democratic to a popular democrat, and democratic to an elite democrat. This difference is something to explore. It was a point of debate about the constitution, it contributes to non-voting, and it is a difference between the two parties today.
A split in the definition of “democratic” began with a split over the constitution between the federalists and anti-federalists. The anti-federalists were popular democrats. They believed, as one of their major writers, pin-named Brutus, said, “The people must give their assent to the laws by which they are governed. ” The popular democrats believed this because they thought that people were self-serving, but that they could gain the ability to extend this to the larger society when they were often in public settings. The implications of this are that the government should be a mirror of the people, reflecting the masses ideals and desires; the population should have the right to vote; and the government’s job is to preserve public rights, such as health care, education, and housing.
The federalists were elite democrats. They believed that the fewer people involved in politics, the more effective government would be. This can be seen in Federalist Paper 49, where James Madison wrote that, “Occasional appeals to the people would be neither a proper nor effectual provision to (restrain the several departments within their legal rights). ” Madison, Hamilton, and Jay thought this because they thought humans were self-serving, and would undermine popular good. The implications of this are that the government should be a siphon of the people, bringing out their most noble qualities; that the population has no right to vote (as is the case in the U.S.); that freedom means the freedom to accumulate property; that democracy is confined to the government alone, not the economic or personal realms; and that the government’s job is to preserve personal rights, such as justly earned inequalities.
There are five key features of the sixth party system, and they all reflect an elite democracy:
1. “Think Tanks.” “Think Tanks” are organizations funded by corporations that put intellectual stardom behind ideas like supply-side economics and global markets. By presenting something as intellectually superior, these “Think Tanks” take the side of elite democracy by focusing the power of choice and decision into one organization.
2. New campaign technologies, such as centralized party operations. Political parties now train, fund, and run all of their candidates and grass roots organizations. In Matt Bai’s article, “The Multi-Level Marketing of the President,” he argues that this organizing has now gone as far as pyramid schemes, where every member of a party is controlled and restricted by those at the very top. This obviously reflects an elite democracy by creating a class of decision makers and a class of followers.
3. Deregulation. Deregulation is inherently democratically elite, as it focuses power in few hands. It is most obviously so in the case of media deregulation. With fewer media sources, the sixth party system has achieved an elite democracy in which people can be further removed from the workings of the government.
4. Corporate issue advertisements. These capitalizing on deregulated media. With few news sources, and over 3 billion dollars a year spent on them, corporate issue advertisements convince people corporations stand for something they do not. This is another perfect case of elite democracy, as these corporations can operate without true consent of the people.
5. This same trend has been seen through commodity groups in the sixth party system. Commodity groups from farmers organizations to silicon valley organization all have pollsters in Washington D.C. stopping anti-trust suits. These groups work very effectively to progress elite democracy by keeping power in few hands.
In short, America was transformed by the corporation into an elite democracy. The republicans grasped onto this change and are now a modern form of elite democrats, but the Democrats did not oppose them by holding with their New Deal predecessors. Instead, they synthesized the anti-federalists argument with an accommodation for corporations and are now a modern form popular democrats. The center of the elite-popular democratic debate has become non-voting.
One of elite democracy’s goals is removing power from the people and their vote. All the features of the sixth party system reflect an elite democracy. Therefore, it is not surprising that the sixth party system has brought about very low voter turnout. To an elite democrat, such as John Mueller, this is not a bad thing. After all, elite democrats believe that the less people involved in politics, the better off a nation will be, “It may be more useful to reshape democratic theories and ideals to take notice of the elemental fact that democracy works even though it often fails to inspire very much in the way of participation from it’s citizenry” (Miroff, Seidelman, Swanstrom, 23) says Mueller. Republicans, as modern elite democrats, believe that bickering citizens will stop their leaders from doing what they need to.
Democrats, as modern popular democrats, hold true with Brutus’ anti-federalist sentiment. In the current state of this debate, that rhetoric has turned into the argument that an active citizenry is necessary for democracy. Modern popular democrats like Paul Loeb believe that the dominant features of the sixth party system have led to a skeptical view of public involvement, causing lower voter turnout. He believes that this has hurt the country:
The importance of citizens’ direct participation in a democracy was expressed thousands of years ago, by the ancient Greeks. In fact, they used to use the word “idiot” for people incapable of involving themselves in civic life. Now, the very word “political” has become so debased in our culture that we use it to describe either trivial office power plays or the inherently corrupt world of elected leaders. We’ve lost sight of its original roots in the Greek notion of polis: the democratic sphere in which citizens, acting in concert, determine the character and direction of their society. “All persons alike,” wrote Aristotle, should share “in the government to the utmost. (Miroff, Seidelman, Swanstrom, 45)
Democrats, as modern popular democrats, believe that an active citizenry will benefit the country.
The New Deal coalition was a government of organized people. It was a popular democracy in the sense that it worked as a mirror of the population. It represented the masses and the masses supported it. The sixth party system brought about an elite realignment. Government has become a siphon of the people, deciding what is best for the population on its own measures. Features of this are “Think Tanks,” new campaign technologies, corporate issue advertisements, and commodity groups. Modern popular democrats view these features as undemocratic. Modern elite democrats view them as democratic. Democratic or undemocratic, the sixth party system is a system of organized money.