O ver the centuries, Americans have built themselves a great engine for political change. We cannot understand our present situation without understanding how this machinery was built, how it has been transformed, and how it threatens to catapult us to disaster in the twenty-first century.
The engine contains three moving parts. The first consists of political movements that have repeatedly catalyzed sweeping transformations over the course of American history. From the days of George Washington to those of Martin Luther King, Jr., Americans have regularly mobilized themselves for fundamental change, sometimes propelling government in radically new directions. Reconstruction, the New Deal, and the civil rights revolution are obvious examples.
The second part of the machine links popular movements to political parties. During the nineteenth century, rising movements consistently transformed themselves into new parties. From Jefferson's Democrats to Bryan's Populists, these movement-parties became the engines of basic change, sweeping away previous coalitions and compromises in the process.
The rise of movement-parties created conditions for the construction of the third piece of machinery: the plebiscitarian presidency. Above all else, the Founders feared that presidential demagogues might destroy the republic by making populist appeals in the manner of Caesar or Cromwell. But movement-parties promised to transform the presidency into a more controllable vehicle for the expression of the popular will. By the end of the nineteenth century, Americans had created the movement-party-presidency as their central mechanism for political transformation.
In the twentieth century this machinery has been transformed again. As parties have grown weaker, the change engine has worked mainly with two parts—movements and presidents. Today only conservatives seem capable of recreating the classic movement-party-presidency. Progressives will continue to lack a comparable engine for change unless they learn how to put movement, party, and presidency back together again.
THE FOUNDERS' TRANSFORMATION
The Founding Fathers did not rely on the mechanics of a political party to project themselves onto the center of the political stage. Rather, they established a connection to their fellow Americans by organizing the first successful colonial revolution of modern times. George Washington was a guerrilla leader, Alexander Hamilton his clever adjutant. Each developed roles that have been reenacted in countless revolutionary enterprises of the past two centuries—as did Thomas Jefferson in writing rabble-rousing pronunciamentos, and John Adams, in rising to fame as a radical lawyer.
Many of these men turned in exemplary performances. Washington refused the temptations of military despotism, though Hamilton was more equivocal; Jefferson was peculiarly brilliant as philosopher-ideologue; Adams, particularly sober for a revolutionary lawyer. But their exercises in Enlightenment statesmanship should not disguise the revolutionary basis of their political standing. If there was a central institution in their popular movement, it was the Revolutionary Army—and the willingness of patriots to fight and die for their country.
This background helps explain how the Founders had the chutzpah to speak in the name of "We the People" at Philadelphia in 1787. After all, the convention was an illegal assembly and called for another round of illegal conventions sitting in each of the states to ratify the new Constitution. Such actions could seem plausible only because of the precedents that Washington and his friends had established during years of revolutionary agitation—when they had repeatedly violated fundamental laws in the course of their extraordinary campaign of popular mobilization.
In claiming the authority to speak for the People at Philadelphia, the revolutionary elite urged their movement-followers to make one last effort to complete their generational struggle for political self-definition. But the men of Philadelphia had achieved their positions without the help of a political party, and in their eyes, "party" was a synonym for faction—and faction conjured up images of selfish lack of concern for the public good. The founding equation of party with faction and faction with evil has turned out to be typical of many other revolutionary movements of national liberation. For the first generation of leaders, faction means weakness before the imperial foe, and borders on betrayal: we will all hang separately if we do not hang together.
This attitude is hard to transcend, and Washington did not try. He included both Hamilton and Jefferson in his first cabinet and desperately hoped to keep these factional leaders in common harness. When the split came, the old revolutionary's fears seemed justified: Federalists prosecuted Republican editors, and the Republicans fired back with manifestos from Virginia and Kentucky denouncing the Federalists' efforts to stamp out sedition. As in so many other cases, the fracture of the revolutionary elite threatened a cycle of incivility more easily started than stopped.
THE RISE OF MOVEMENT-PARTIES
The real constitutional miracle did not happen in Philadelphia in 1787 but in Washington in 1801. Both sides had used the presidential election of 1800 to demonize one another with remarkable energy. The Federalists were English stooges bent on tyranny; the Republicans were French atheists threatening a reign of terror. It would have been easy for John Adams to exploit these passions and reject the legitimacy of his narrow defeat at the polls, but instead he handed the presidency peacefully over to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson and his followers understood their victory in movement terms. They had, like the Founders, appealed to the People, and once again their appeal had been successful. But this time, their movement had taken the form of a party.
To be sure, Jefferson understood his party as a party that would end all parties. Now that his Democratic Republicans had won their titanic struggle against the fiendish Hamiltonians, there was no need for further party contest: we are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. The government was now in good hands, and would remain so until that dread day when yeoman agrarians were overwhelmed by urban corruption.
But alas, the devil would not down. As a movement-party settles into power, it suffers predictable problems of success. New problems arise, generating new ideological splits; new party politicians come to the fore, more interested in patronage than ideas. Over the years, an opening emerges for a new movement-party to challenge the political establishment.
And, in fact, each generation of the nineteenth century created such a party to fill the void. Jackson and his Democrats, Lincoln and his Republicans, followed the Jeffersonian script. In each case, the new party called the People to take control of their government away from the depredations of a corrupt and malign center. And in each case, the People answered by returning the new party with a mandate to renew and redefine the foundations of the republic.
After the Civil War, the pattern almost repeated itself. The new challenge came from the rise of industrial capitalism. Like their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, anxious Americans sought relief in the formation of a new party, the Populists, in an effort to sweep away the corruptions of the entrenched elites of a previous age. But this time the rising movement-party lost, and with the defeat of William Jennings Bryan, America came to a watershed.
The relationship between movement and party would change in the twentieth century. But to understand this shift, we must take a detour into constitutional structure. The rise of movement-parties in the nineteenth century had a profound impact upon founding institutions that had not been designed with them in mind. These constitutional changes, in turn, would help reshape the relationship between party and movement in the twentieth century.
While the Founders did not anticipate the rise of parties, they fully expected the People to amend the original Constitution. Unsurprisingly, they supposed these future exercises of popular sovereignty would proceed along the same lines the Founders themselves had pursued. Just as Madison & Co. despaired of constructive action by the do-nothing Congress meeting under the Articles of Confederation, the drafters of the 1787 Constitution anticipated that future movement-leaders might despair at the do-nothing Congress meeting under the Constitution. Just as the old revolutionaries had convinced state legislatures to send them to the Philadelphia convention, Article V of the new Constitution authorized future activists to convince state legislatures that another federal convention was necessary. Article V then allowed another end run around state legislatures by permitting ratification by special constitutional conventions.
But Thomas Jefferson had been in Paris, not Philadelphia, in 1787, and he did not feel bound by this part of the deal. His new party of Democratic Republicans could have organized its campaign around a set of constitutional amendments that would, if enacted, have placed firm limits on the centralizing aspirations of the Federalists. After all, the 1790s had seen successful campaigns for 11 amendments that aimed to restrict the powers of the federal government. Why not campaign for more, abolishing the Bank of the United States and other nefarious aspects of the Hamiltonian program?
Jefferson had other ideas. Rather than focusing on constitutional amendments, he aimed for the presidency, and in so doing, revolutionized the Founders' understanding of the office. The last thing the Framers wanted was a populist demagogue gaining the chief magistracy on the basis of some rip-roaring program. Their electoral college was a clever device to remove the presidency from such dangerous promises. It tried to encourage the electors to pick men like Washington whose past service to the republic suggested that they would not succumb to Caesarist ambitions.
But so much the worse for the Founders. Unsurprisingly, Jefferson's transformation of the presidency into a plebiscitarian institution caused a constitutional crisis. The party takeover of the electoral college threw the election of 1800 into the House of Representatives, which threatened to deprive Jefferson of his partisan victory. After the party leader survived this ordeal, he won the enactment of the 12th Amendment, which linked the election of the vice president to the president. This managed, however ineptly, to make the electoral college more responsive to the dictates of party rule.
Jefferson was perfectly aware of the anomalous use he was making of the presidency. He tried to respect previous constitutional understandings by modulating his rhetoric. Rather than trumpeting his role as tribune of the People, he preferred to use his congressional leaders as tools for his programmatic designs. Nonetheless, when John Marshall's Supreme Court put the presidency in its place in Marbury v. Madison, Jefferson launched a furious counterattack that aimed for nothing less than the impeachment of all the Federalist justices. The assault narrowly failed, but it foreshadowed future combats between movement-party presidents and Supreme Courts skeptical of large claims of transformative mandates from the People.
POWER TO THE PRESIDENCY
The pattern repeated itself during the next movement-cycle. The electoral college misfired in 1824, depriving Andrew Jackson of his popular victory. But the People's tribune was not to be denied; he was elected in 1828, and the movement-party-presidency was in full swing by the end of his administration. What is more, Jackson was louder about his plebiscitarian ambitions than was Jefferson.
And he was more successful in his struggle with the Supreme Court. His veto of the Bank of the United States challenged Marshall's Federalist vision of the Union in the 1819 decision of McCulloch v. Maryland; and by 1837, Jackson and his party successor Van Buren succeeded in packing the Court with justices who elaborated the basic principles of the Jacksonian Constitution in opinions that would have driven John Marshall to despair.
During all this time, no political movement managed to amend the Constitution by traveling the route described by the Founders in Article V. This fact helps us understand Lincoln's victory in 1860. If the presidency had remained as a nonpartisan chief magistracy, southern secession might have seemed an extravagant overreaction. The South, after all, still controlled the Supreme Court, and the Republicans would have been a minority in both houses of Congress after the election of 1860. But the movement-party-presidency had already demonstrated its constituent power twice. If Jefferson and Jackson had so powerfully played the part of People's tribune, what might be fairly expected from Lincoln?
Southern secession paradoxically provided the Republicans with the congressional majority they otherwise lacked. As time moved on, we might have seen a replay of the Jacksonian triumph over the Supreme Court. Under this scenario, the Lincoln administration would have appointed a series of justices who undertook to overrule Dred Scott and declare that free blacks were full citizens of the United States. Another opinion might have upheld the constitutionality of the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet another might have given a rich definition to the rights of national citizenship. During the war, there was movement in this direction, as Congress expanded the Court to ten justices, and Lincoln nominated Salmon Chase chiefly be cause, in his words, "we wish for a Chief Justice who will sustain what has been done in regard to emancipation."
But John Wilkes Booth put an end to this development. By placing Andrew Johnson in the White House, Booth managed to loosen the Republicans' control over the presidency at a critical constitutional juncture. When Johnson defected from the movement-party, Congress deprived him of the power to make Supreme Court appointments by shrinking the Court whenever any justice died or resigned. This prevented Johnson from packing it with conservatives, but Republicans also lost the opportunity to pack it with reformers who could have overruled Dred Scott.
As a consequence, the Republicans had little choice but to fall back on the higher lawmaking resources provided them by Article V, which gave Congress power to propose constitutional amendments. Still in control of Congress, the Republicans sought to overrule Dred Scott by proposing the 14th Amendment and took drastic action to assure its ratification over the protest of southern whites.
But the fact that Johnson's defection forced Republicans to rely on the Federalist forms of Article V should not disguise the importance of the movement-party-presidency pattern in gaining credibility for the Republicans' claim to higher lawmaking authority in the name of the People.
And the same is true of the next generational cycle of movement-party politics. The Populists ultimately failed to gain the support of a majority of Americans for their call for constitutional redefinition and renewal. But once again, the decisive test came in a contest for the presidency. The defeat of the movement was only evident in the aftermath of the Bryan-McKinley contests of 1896 and 1900.
By the turn of the century, generations of political practice had not only established the movement-party as an enduring aspect of popular self-rule in America; movement-parties had endowed the presidency with a plebiscitarian potential that mocked the Founders' institutional expectations. Both in victory and in defeat, the presidency had become the central focus of movement-party efforts to win a popular mandate for fundamental change.
The Founders were not opposed to such transformative mandates. But, as children of the Radical Whig tradition, they supposed that the People would express their will in popular assemblies, not through the presidency. In the nineteenth century, however, this founding pattern had come into play only during Reconstruction, and especially when the movement-party-presidency pattern had been disrupted by an assassin's bullet.
Looking back over the twentieth century, different patterns emerge. Movements begin to detach themselves from parties. So do presidents. But by the end of the century, the reemergence of the movement-party-presidency has become a real possibility. Before considering whether it is a desirable one, consider how we got to where we are.
The defeat of populism began the unraveling of the nineteenth-century pattern. Given the Republican Party's massive victories for the status quo during the 1890s, movements for change began to despair of victory through the party system. Some, like labor under Samuel Gompers, took an antipolitical turn. Others sustained political projects but achieved them through nonparty means.
Consider women's suffrage. The first generation of women activists had great hopes for the Republican Party, only to see them betrayed during Reconstruction—leading the disappointed '48ers, and their successors, to organize an independent movement for the franchise. A victory of the Populist-Democrats might have reoriented this movement. But once this movement-party was defeated, the suffragists had no realistic choice but to go their own way. As a consequence, the countless rallies and marches organized by the movement did not help build a party that could easily outlive the ratification of the 19th Amendment. And the same is true of the Anti-Saloon League. A great deal of the moral energy of early-twentieth-century politics dissipated into nonparty channels.
The nineteenth-century pattern was also being undermined by the presidency. While movement-parties struggled to put the likes of Jackson and Lincoln into the White House, nineteenth-century presidents had remarkably modest rhetorical pretensions. They largely sat on the sidelines during campaigns and let the party do the talking; and when in office, they contented themselves with innocuous remarks, rising to the plebiscitarian occasion only at rare moments of high constitutional drama.
Theodore Roosevelt, in contrast, began to liberate the modern presidency from party by constructing direct links to the People. Self-consciously shaping public opinion, he met regularly with the press and went on speaking tours throughout the nation, appealing for popular support for his program over the heads of party leaders. If Roosevelt had regained the presidency in 1912 on the Progressive Party ticket, he might have revived the movement-party pattern, with the Progressives displacing the Republicans.
But, paradoxically, Roosevelt's effort only discredited the movement-party model by allowing Woodrow Wilson to squeak into the White House on 36 percent of the vote. Thanks to the Bull Moosers, the president was now a college professor seized with the power of an idea—that the presidency must become the seat of a popular tribune, towering over the petty provincialisms of nineteenth-century party politics. For the first time since 1800, the president went in person to Capitol Hill to present his State of the Union address. Congress would learn to hear the voice of the People, as spoken by the president.
Not that Wilson's political practice accorded with his lofty vision. On the contrary, his successful initiatives owed a great deal to old-fashioned party politics, and his greatest adventure in the new presidentialism ended in tragic failure. Returning in triumph from Versailles, Wilson saw his treaty to end all wars defeated at the hands of a Senate curiously indifferent to his claim to speak for We the People not just of the United States, but of the Western world.
By the 1920s, the party-based political engine of the nineteenth century had already been disrupted. Movements unaffiliated with parties had succeeded in putting their mark on the Constitution with the income tax, direct election of the Senate, Prohibition, and women's suffrage. And the presidency had been making ostentatious claims to speak for the People without the encumbrance of party. The old movement-party-presidency pattern had begun to drift out of the lived experience of Americans. In the 1920s the last Americans who had seen a successful movement-party make its mark on the Constitution—the generation that had lived through the Civil War and Reconstruction—were hurtling toward the grave. The future patterns of popular sovereignty were becoming unhinged from the past.
THE MAKING OF THE MOVEMENT-PRESIDENCY
And then came Franklin Roosevelt, and the construction of what I will call the movement-presidency. Building on the precedents of the Progressive Era, Roosevelt used the media to speak directly for the leading movements of his time: the farmers, industrial workers, and liberal intelligentsia and professions. Fulfilling Wilson's dream, he reached out beyond the narrowness of party politics to construct an image as spokesman for the People in a way that tens of millions found compelling (and others detested, but recognized as the central political reality of their age). What is more, he used this authority to preside over a constitutional revolution similar to, but more massive than, the one achieved by the movement-party-presidency of Jackson. As in 1837, so in 1937, a plebiscitarian presidency was successful in inducing a reluctant Supreme Court to recognize that the People were demanding a fundamental change in constitutional doctrine; by the early 1940s, a reconstructed Court was elaborating fundamental principles of New Deal constitutionalism that endure to the present day.
But in one key respect, Roosevelt was a failure. Rather than leading a new movement-party to power, Roosevelt sought to reconstruct an old one. The climax came in his remarkable effort to purge the Democratic Party of leading conservatives in 1938. Roosevelt publicly threw his weight behind a set of challengers to conservative Democrats in Congress, urging his followers to heed the voice of New Deal liberalism and repudiate the provincial politics of the past. But this appeal failed, especially in the South, and as the Roosevelt years came to an end both parties were split: the Democrats, between northern liberals and southern conservatives; the Republicans, between their party's progressive and laissez-faire traditions.
The confusion was compounded by the next generation's constitutional agenda. The civil rights movement exposed the ideological fault lines of the Roosevelt regime but did not try to form a new movement-party on the nineteenth-century model. Instead, it pursued its transformative objectives with the aid of a cross-party coalition of Republican progressives and Democratic liberals: Earl Warren and Lyndon Johnson, Everett Dirksen and John F. Kennedy were all crucial to the enterprise. But at its core was a replay of the movement-presidency pattern. Before Kennedy's assassination, the prospects of a constitutional revolution remained uncertain. The balance shifted when Lyndon Johnson placed the presidency squarely behind the movement-politics of Martin Luther King, gained the bipartisan support needed for crucial legislation, decisively defeated Goldwater in the 1964 election, and consolidated the achievement with more landmark legislation, administrative decisions, and liberal judicial appointments. By 1968, the status of Brown v. Board of Education had been transformed—from a profoundly contestable interpretation of the Reconstruction amendments to the foundational decision of modern constitutional law.
But in leading the People to a new constitutional solution on behalf of civil rights, Johnson was also destroying the uneasy alliance between southern conservatives and northern liberals that Roosevelt had left behind as the Democratic Party. The movement-presidency had become a party killer. During the next generation, much of the white South realigned itself with the Goldwater wing of the Republican Party—adding a new strand of religious moralism in the process.
In the meantime, the new liberalism of the 1960s was replicating the fate of the Populists at the turn of the century. After the Democrats' debacle at the Chicago convention in 1968, the party rewrote its rules to allow greater inclusion of the insurgents swirling around the periphery. For a moment, the liberals' success in nominating George McGovern in 1972 promised a new integration of movement, party, and presidency into an engine of sweeping political change.
But it quickly became apparent that this prospect appalled a majority of Americans, for whom even Richard Nixon's transparent cynicism was a welcome relief to McGovern's intense moralism. To be sure, the devastating defeat of 1972 did not stop the new liberalism dead in its tracks. As in the aftermath of Populism, more moderate politicians successfully steered some of the insurgents' themes into important legislative achievements. Just as turn-of-the-century politicians mined Populist themes in enacting the progressive income tax and the Clayton Act, the same thing happened during the 1970s, especially in civil rights and environmental law. Indeed, this process of moderating adaptation is visible as late as George Bush's sponsorship of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But the new liberals' larger ambition of using the Democratic Party as a vehicle for a sweeping regime change was defeated in the same manner as the Populists'; just as Bryan was overwhelmed in 1896 and 1900, so was McGovern in 1972.
This set the stage for the next round of presidential leadership. In many ways, the election of Ronald Reagan served as an ironic commentary on Franklin Roosevelt's ambitions. Like Roosevelt, he wanted to use his movement-presidency as a springboard for creating an ideologically purified party that would repeatedly triumph over a disorganized and dispirited opposition. And once again, the result fell far short of his ambitions. Just as Roosevelt failed to expel southern conservatives from positions of congressional leadership, Reaganites were obliged to accept George Bush as their new leader—a man who, for all his symbolic gestures to the new right, devoted himself largely to an old-fashioned agenda of internationalism, fiscal responsibility, and cautious fine-tuning of economic regulation.
Despite this setback during the Bush years, it has been the modern Republicans, not the Democrats, who have increasingly become a movement-party, though one that has yet to show it can win consistent majorities for its mixture of laissez-faire economics and traditionalist morality. This success in relinking movement to party is attributable, in part, to a variation on an old theme. The great movements of the nineteenth century established new parties and did not try to conquer and reorganize old ones. But the Republican Party is largely a new party. Its current southern leaders built the party from scratch and display the ideological intensity of most first-generation movement elites. Another part of the story should focus on the effort by activists from the religious right to take over the state and local party apparatus. This eagerness to merge movement into party is owing, I suspect, to the calculation that blatantly religious politics has limited appeal in American life.
At the same time, the Democrats find themselves reeling at the hands of a president from their own party. Like Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton is turning into a party-killer. But the logic of his intervention is quite different. Johnson followed in Roosevelt's footsteps—taking aim at southern Democracy in an effort to expel this conservative faction from a triumphant liberal party that could sustain itself in power indefinitely. While Roosevelt failed, Johnson's assault on the party's base in the conservative South ultimately succeeded—just as liberalism was losing its ideological grip on mainstream America. After a vain effort to use the presidency to revive New Deal liberalism in his campaign for universal health coverage, Bill Clinton is spending his final six years in office seeking to undo the Roosevelt-Johnson achievement. The obstacle is northern liberals who resist a pragmatic reorientation of the party to embrace such leading Republican ideas as cutting taxes for the rich, cutting welfare for the poor, and spending vast sums on prisons. Of course, the Democratic policy mix retains enough liberal themes to distinguish it from its increasingly extreme Republican competitor. But the days of the movement-party-presidency on the Democratic side are past, at least for now. The party is increasingly dominated by professionals interested in adapting their message to maximize their chances of victory in the next election, without the sense that they are engaged in any longer-run project.
As a consequence, the conduct of activists on the left contrasts sharply with those on the right. While such Christian leaders as Ralph Reed seek to build a deeper organizational base at all levels of the Republican Party, progressives pursue a different strategy. Leaders of the feminist movement, the environmental movement, the civil rights movement, and the labor movement are all concerned with building up their own organizational bases. They use the Democratic Party only as a useful instrument for achieving particular goals. Since so much liberal energy is displaced onto nonparty movements, it is all the easier for a president like Bill Clinton to reposition the party into a more pragmatic stance.
To put these differences in a slogan: Republicans are becoming a movement-party while Democrats have become a party of professionals, interested in doing what it takes to win the next election.
THE RIGHT'S EDGE
The historical foundations for these emerging realities are worth a lot more study. I have tried to do my share in a new book, We the People: Transformations. But for now, it is more important to reflect on the potential implications for the future.
Begin with the good news for the right. The movement-party-presidency pattern has proved itself, time and again, to be the great engine of constitutional transformation in American history. There is every reason to suppose that eight years of a team like Kemp-Gingrich-Lott would revolutionize the landscape of American law on both the statutory and constitutional levels. The Republican movement-party, however, does not seem capable of gaining repeated shows of majority support for its transformative program. Ronald Reagan's movement-presidency failed to sweep the Democrats out of power in Congress; Newt Gingrich's movement-Congress only served to reinvigorate a Clinton presidency that had seemed in terminal decline.
This is, of course, good news for liberals, who were preparing themselves for a thorough-going dismantling of the welfare state and the liberal constitutionalism inherited from the Warren Court. The new Democrats will be more or less a party of the status quo in the important areas of internationalism, Social Security, environmentalism, and tolerance.
But there is lots of bad news as well. There will be no serious effort to deepen the promise of social justice. It would take a movement-party to accomplish this, and there is no such party in sight, only a proliferating number of movements for labor, the environment, women, blacks, gays, and the disabled—each trying to wheel and deal with a cadre of professional politicians for marginal gains.
Similarly, Brown v. Board of Education will remain the great paradigm for liberal lawyers, who seek to gain a similar degree of protection for women and gays and other victims of discrimination. They fail to appreciate, however, the special political circumstances that allowed the NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to win bipartisan support for their great victories from the courts and ultimately from the president and Congress. While repeated victories of a professional Democratic Party might allow the Supreme Court to elaborate the Brown paradigm a bit further—as the Court did recently in striking down Colorado's anti-gay ordinance—there is absolutely no reason to expect any fundamental advances.
Consider, for example, the possibility that our Constitution may one day contain a guarantee of a minimum standard of living like those found in the constitutions of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and other civilized nations. There was a time, not so long ago, when such leading scholars as Frank Michelman and Charles Black imagined that American courts might lead a similar constitutional development. Such a project is now utopian, not because the constitutional text has changed, but because only a liberal movement-party-presidency would seek to nominate Supreme Court justices who would seriously redeem the promise of "equal protection" for those millions of Americans deprived of a fair starting point in life by the free market.
The Constitution, in short, will not protect us against the most serious challenge to American democracy in the next generation: the increasing gap between the rich and the poor in our country. If progressives are to confront this aching problem, they will have to move beyond movement to party. They cannot afford to remain labor activists, or black activists, or feminists or environmentalists or philosophically detached liberals. They must work together for a generation before the Democrats can be transformed into a movement-party—or before some new entity is formed that could discharge a similar function.
At present, there is no sign of anything like this happening. Even if a majority of Americans ultimately reject the diagnosis of the nation's problems proffered to it by the movement-party of the right, the party system seems singularly unprepared to meet the challenges of rising inequality generated by the emerging world economy. As the gulf between the rich and poor widens, the very notion of common citizenship will begin to seem an idle illusion. As America confronts a new century, the future is grim.
Although the Republic's Founders dreaded the divisiveness of "facton," political parties have proved essential to the promise of American democracy. See "Party Decline: A Primer", by Amy D. Burke
In the mid-1970s, the founding fathers of the New Right almost walked away from the Republican party, but they realized it was too valuable to be junked. There's a lesson for liberals here. See "Old Party, New Energy," by Jason Zengerle