This Too Shall Pass: Reflections on the Repositioning of Political Parties

In This Too Shall Pass: Reflections on the Repositioning of Political Parties, Pietro Nivola argues that those who fret that the political parties will never evolve to meet half-way on policy or ideology need only to look to American history to see that this view is wrong-headed. 

From the era of the Federalists to Lincoln Republicanism to the emergence of the Reagan GOP, the leading American political parties have changed their policy positions, sometimes startlingly, writes Nivola.

In surveying the history and evolutions of various political parties since the founding of the republic, Nivola offers lessons for contemporary critics who await, often with considerable frustration, one party or the other to turn a new leaf.

  • Cases of an abrupt about-face are uncommon in U.S. politics; because events so jarring are not routine, the evolution of partisan positions ordinarily is a more sluggish process.
  • Like it or not, patience is required.
  • Whatever a party’s posture at any given point in time, eventually it too will pass.
  • Do not underestimate the mutability, or adaptability, of the parties. They may seem generally ponderous and cumbrous, but peer at them more carefully and at times you may detect surprising political kinetics on at least some particular issues of significance.
  • Elections matter: The results of elections tend to make impressions on the parties because, however imperfectly, the verdicts ultimately express the people’s choices.
  • Never underestimate the force of public opinion in American party politics. In the end, it usually rules.
  • The important role of ideas. Powerful new ideas tend to be ones that represent plausible policy innovations (at least at their inception) and that also happen to have political appeal.