One of the numerous big stories to emerge from Florida yesterday was Charlie Crist's endorsement of Obama. Crist, of course, is a lifelong Republican and former Florida governor, who lost the 2010 Senate primary to Marco Rubio, ran as an independent gaining Obama's tacit (never explicit) support, and lost nonetheless. With this endorsement, Crist appears to have completed a transition to Democrat-in-all-but-name. Democrats are playing this story as a huge success. Republicans are shrugging it off.
The Democrats are right--and the Republicans wrong--about the importance of this story. As in most cases, however, the competing partisan spins serve to mask the real story. That story, as I have been saying for eight-plus years now, is that both of our major parties are undergoing significant transformations.
What do today's Democrats believe? For several years, I used a formulation based in foreign policy--for the simple reason that the Democratic opposition to Bush foreign policy was clear, while its stances on substantive matters of domestic policy was less so until it came to power. But actions speak louder than words, and the party's small-d democratic tendencies notwithstanding, the priorities of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi define the party, while those of Cindy Sheehan and Michael Moore do not.
Today's Democratic Party begins its analysis with a focus on societal obligation. Surely, it contends, a society as rich, powerful, and successful as ours should be able to provide for all of its members. Furthermore, the richer we become, the more we can provide. In our current state, the list should certainly include food, shelter, health care, and a modicum of discretionary disposable income.
This obligation is particularly clear when it comes to members of selected ethnic groups, but it extends more broadly to encompass all those in need. The needy, in turn, owe nothing particular to society in return--their complacency in the face of a system that has marked them as losers is sufficient.
And as for the world at large? Well, there we are relatively fortunate. For the first time in history, we have developed an international systems and international organizations that keep the world functioning at an acceptable level. We should certainly do our share to preserve, maintain, and contribute to this system--but not more than our share.
Many people find this formulation--a light footprint abroad and a heavy helping hand at home--to be quite attractive. In fact, enough people find it attractive to keep a major political party in power. And its not surprising that some of the folks it attracts--like Charlie Crist or Chuck Hagel--did not identify with earlier incarnations of the Democratic Party.
So it goes.
But it also goes in the other direction. Folks like Joe Lieberman and Artur Davis have gone in the other direction. Why? Because the Republican Party is also changing. Of course, much like the Democrats of a few years ago, a shortage of power blurs the new Republican vision. Many voices are vying to define it; events will drown out most of them. Here is where I see things going, though:
The Republican Party begins with a focus on individual empowerment. The key to a successful society is a nation of individuals freed to improve their own lives. We are all best positioned to understand the needs and constraints of our own lives, and thus best positioned to make our own choices. What's more, it's only through the experience we gain as we watch those choices unfold that we can learn enough to improve our lives--or those of the folks around us. Government has an important role to play in providing infrastructure--meaning rules of the road as well as the road--and in establishing a safety net to help mitigate catastrophic failure. But the keys to success lie with the individual.
As to the rest of the world, it is a chaotic place with as many actors seeking to overturn the emerging order as to improve it. Withou strong American leadership, the weak existing organizations will become increasingly corrupt, more part of the problem than of the solution.
Many of us find this message compelling. That's why it too can support a major political party.
More to the point though, the clarity and coherence of these differing views is new. A consequential resorting of the electorate is expected. So by all means, let Charlie Crist and his bedfellows endorse Obama. I stand with the Party that moved in the direction of my own values and beliefs--rather than the one that ran hard against them.