THE FRENCH HAVE CHANGED THE MAKEUP OF THEIR POLITICAL PARTIES AND FORMED ALLIANCES AMONG ENEMIES MANY TIMES. DEMOCRATS SHOULD MERGE WITH ANTI-TRUMP REPUBLICANS TODAY AND CLINTON SHOULD OFFER THE VEEP SPOT TO RYAN. THAT’LL TEACH THE TEA PARTY THE MEANING OF MAJORITY RULE.
By Steve Silkin
WHILE EXAMINING the past week in U.S. politics, I realized that many people in both major parties are ready for a dramatic, monumental overhaul. Most people think a change of the proportion I’m suggesting can’t be done. But look at France.
The French do not get mired down in their history, even though they’re so proud of it. They have had five constitutions, unencumbered by any phobias about tearing one up and starting over. Then doing it again—and again. (As in: “Mon dieu, the last one was bad, but this one is even worse.” Plus, after the Nov. 13 Islamic terrorist attacks, they went into a back room and rewrote two paragraphs of the current one. The changes were ratified a few days later. The little controversy that erupted over that died out within a week.)
French political parties have formed, split, merged, unmerged, died and come back to life more times than I can count during the past 40 years. On the right, Jacques Chirac and Valery Giscard d’Estaing split into the RPR and the UDF in 1976. Francois Mitterrand in 1981 co-opted the Communists by merging them into his Socialist government. The country had been riddled by strikes. He named Communist ministers to the departments where the labor unrest was most crippling—transportation, health care, industry. Who were they going to strike against? Themselves?
The anti-immigrant National Front’s Jean-Marie Le Pen surpassed the Socialists to make it to the final round of the vote in 2000 against conservative Chirac; the left then supported Chirac and he won with 80 percent. In 2007, Nicholas Sarkozy was elected president of France as the leader of the UMP, which was a merger among more conservative groups than I can list here and is now called the Republican Party. The Socialists have been declared dead three times in the past three decades, yet their guy Francois Hollande is president of the country today. The Communists have long been defunct, but in the face of Angela Merkel’s tendency toward totalitarianism they may be rising like zombies from the grave as we speak.
What can we learn from the French—besides wine, food, music and painting? Maybe we should allow their politics to influence us, too.
I’ve tried to put our American events in a French context, I know how the French got through their transformation to modern society, so now I see the future. It will only take a few bold leaders to bring us there. Because American divisions are not as deep or severe as have been portrayed. It’s an optical illusion.
The two parties have achieved a real rapprochement on taxing and spending.
Our biggest division is not between the Democrats and the traditional Republicans. Our biggest division is between the Democrats and the sane Republicans on one side and the insane tea party philosophers on the other, as they’ve hijacked some very reasonable positions of the GOP and turned them into psychotic manias.
How can that be addressed? The way the French did.
Let’s first note where our two traditional parties appear closer than ever before. In the historically lunatic budget debates of recent years, a deal was on the table: Democrats asked for one dollar of new taxation in exchange for every 10 dollars of spending cuts. A true conservative, just a few years earlier, would have celebrated a one-for-three deal. A one-for-ten deal had been unheard of, beyond the wildest dreams of the scissors-wielders. But the tea party wouldn’t budge on the platform of “no new taxes” and blocked the Republicans from getting this historic bargain.
Please don’t think I’m ignoring the very real differences between Republicans and Democrats in regard to other issues. More on those later. Please focus for just this moment on this phenomenal rapprochement on taxing and spending.
Now shift that focus to the events of this past week. Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee and traditional Republicans are horrified. The Bush family won’t back him; Laura Bush has come within a half-syllable of saying she will vote for Hillary. Karl Rove won’t back Trump. Speaker Paul Ryan, himself a former tea party associate, is at this moment withholding his judgment as to whether he will back Donald. If you’re older than me, you may be personally familiar with some precedent for this; I’m not. There may be one in the history books, but alas, it probably preceded television and perhaps even radio so couldn’t be comparable. Hence my proposal a la Francaise:
It is time for the Democrats and the Republicans to merge, and run against the so-called tea party. We could brand this party, as the French often do, with a name that evokes unification or a transformation … how about the New Americans? That implies a fresh start. Maybe it’s what we need. Along with teaching the tea party people the meaning of majority rule.
I know, Democrats and traditional Republicans are still divided on abortion, gay marriage, the rest-room use of transvestites, etc. But this is bigger than that. And that’s my bumper sticker. “New Americans: Bigger Than That.” And any variation thereof: “Bigger Than Health Insurance;” “Bigger Than Embryos;” “Bigger Than Bathrooms for Trannies” …
I know we can set aside our differences on health insurance, abortion, gay marriage and toilet visits by the gender-ambiguous for the next four years. Surely our new conservative friends, the Mitt Romneys of the world (remember that Obamacare was modeled on a health insurance program that he implemented in Massachussetts – we really are more alike than different, n’est-ce pas?), can call a truce and accept the status quo on the culture wars until 2020? Once the tea party has been removed from the debate, four years from now American politicians can go back to fighting about abortions and bathrooms and gay weddings and taking their bribes and kickbacks in backroom deals the way they used to. But we the people won’t have to fear a vocal minority that has lost faith in the system and wants to burn it down, taking our economy into the flames along with it. And they the politicians won’t have to fear a victory by the next Bernie Sanders, who would take big money out of politics or die trying. (Hey, congress people: try living on donations of $27 at a time. Good luck paying the tab at a restaurant, whether the place is with or without third-sex bathrooms.)
Ryan is going to meet with Trump this week. Hillary should meet with him first and ask him to be her running mate leading a coalition government of the New American Party. Let’s take Donald Trump, Sarah Palin and their ilk to the proverbial ash heap of history, where they belong, as dead as the French Communists. Learn a little from Mitterrand (the only president of a modern industrialized country that once faked his own death, but that’s a story for another day). Let Clinton and Ryan name conservatives to cabinet positions: John Boehner as treasury secretary, for example. Who are they going to declare war against? Themselves? And Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham as secretary of Homeland Security. I’m a liberal democrat, but I cheered when he said that we don’t have to solve all our immigration problems at once in one massive reform law, we can tackle them one at a time.
Everybody wins! Vive la Revolution! Vive la France! I mean vive Karl Rove! Karl, next time you’re in Los Angeles, stop by please: I owe you lunch. French restaurant, of course. I got the idea for this proposal when I saw you on TV saying you wouldn’t support Trump. If you and I can have lunch, Karl, Hillary and Paul can run the country together. I tell you in all seriousness (well, maybe 49 percent seriousness) we have more in common than you might think.
Steve Silkin studied French political institutions and the history of French literature at La Sorbonne.