Many political scientists use the term "political realignment" to describe a single election with a major upset.
However, in the context of a political movement, it is something much bigger. The term means a calculated attempt to realign political parties, to change the ethos of an entire nation.
In the case of the United States, the idea was that instead of moderate Republicans and right-wing Democrats, all moderates would belong to the "liberal" class and all right-wing would be "conservative".
There would be no middle, only two clear choices: right or left.
But to accomplish this would take time and a lot of political turmoil.
To Party or Not to Party
Clarence E. Manion was one of the men committed to reshaping American politics, to fight FDR's New Deal and what he saw as a communist threat. Originally a Democrat from Kentucky, he worried that FDR was establishing such a large government, with so many tenets, that it would be easily taken over by the Soviets, with all the necessary offices already in place.
While still a Democrat, he campaigned for Dwight D. Eisenhower, bringing many fellow Democrats into the Eisenhower camp. He expected to be rewarded with a major cabinet position, but instead was named chairman of President Eisenhower's Commission on Intergovernmental (federal-state) Relations, a job he took very seriously.
During the war he had been a leader of the America First Committee that had agitated against U.S. involvement in the conflict. " You didn't pay your taxes so that Washington could fight England's quarrels" (1). Now in his position as an authority in federal-state relations, he would be the prime advocate for the Bricker Amendment (John Bricker R-Ohio), that sought to limit the powers of the President.
Manion believed in the proposed amendment in its purest form, with the requirement of a referendum in all forty-eight states before any treaty could go into effect. Of concern was the United Nations' Genocide Convention, which conservatives feared "would allow Communist countries to punish the United States for segregation, or the pending treaty to establish a UN World Court, which they feared the Communists would use to shut down every line of resistance against them" (2).
Eisenhower would say that the Bricker Amendment was the biggest threat he faced during his presidency, and with Manion boasting "that he has spoken for the Bricker amendment in all the 48 states" (3), on his return he was promptly fired. Something many felt that Eisenhower should have done long before.
But Manion supporters saw things differently. The Fort Wayne Sentinel suggested that: "President Eisenhower finally yielded to the insistent clamor of a vicious internationalist cabal, spearheaded by the New York Times and the Henry Luce Time-Life smear brigade ... " In a television interview immediately after, Manion said: "Some of the left-wing Communists, who have had an unfortunate effectiveness in this administration, served notice on me that I would be fired because of my advocacy of the Bricker Amendment." (2)
However, he saw this not as the end but as the beginning. Without the constraints of the establishment he could now work "to break the Wall Street boys' hammerlock on the Democrats and the Republicans once and for all".
He decided that what was needed was a new party, and came up with a plan. First he created yet another group: "For America" which was co-chaired by himself and and another arch anti-communist, General Robert E. Wood. Its manifesto promised to fight for an "enlightened nationalism" to replace "our costly, imperialistic foreign policy of tragic super-interventionism and policing this world single-handed with American blood and treasure." (4)
They met with several senators, including John Bricker and Barry Goldwater, and even solicited the support of Vice President Nixon, hoping to establish a "conclave of 25 to 50 leading Republicans and Democrats to discuss the whole idea of realignment off the record." (5)
In the meantime, Manion laid the groundwork with a weekly radio broadcast, The Manion Forum, where he warned. "The leftwing, please remember, is strong, well-organized and well-financed. Many gigantic fortunes, built by virtue of private enterprise under the Constitution, have fallen under the direction of Internationalists, One-Worlders, Socialists and Communists. Much of this vast horde of money is being used to 'socialize' the United States."
Manion also came up with an idea for launching a new party of like-minded "conservatives", before the next election. For America would present a controversial leader at both the Republican and Democrat national conventions, ones he was sure that the delegates would reject. He could then convince supporters of both, to choose one, and that candidate would run for the new party.
As a Republican he chose Orval Faubus, Governor of Arkansas, who is best remembered for his 1957 stand against the desegregation of Little Rock public schools during the infamous Little Rock Crisis. Challenging for the nod from the Democrats, would be General Wood himself.
The idea never got off the ground. The most that For America could raise was $1,667, not nearly enough for their grandiose plan.
Clarence "Pat" Manion never gave up. He became a member of the John Birch Society, who helped to select Barry Goldwater as a presidential candidate, was on the advisory board of the American Enterprise Institute and was instrumental in the creation of Young Americans for Freedom.
Meanwhile North of the Border
Canada was not immune to the anti-communist sentiment, and at the same time that Manion was trying to realign American politics, there was a similar movement afoot here. According to Alberta's long-serving Social Credit MPP, Alf Hooke.
On at least two occasions Mr. Manning told me in his office that he had been approached by several very influential and wealthy Canadians and that they wanted him to head up a party of the right with a view to preventing the onslaught of socialism these men could see developing in Canada. They had apparently indicated to him that money was no object and they were prepared to spend any amount of money to stop the socialistic tide ... Mr. Manning indicated to me also that he was working on a book which he would hope to publish ... in which he would endeavour to outline the views these men represented and recommendations he would make in keeping with their views. (6)It would appear that most of the money would come from the oil patch, not unlike the money that went into Movement Conservatism in the U.S.
The book that Mr. Hooke alluded was Political Realignment. In it Manning laments that the lines had been erased that once separated Conservatives and Liberals, in much the same way that Manion bemoaned the "moderate Republicans" and "right-wing Democrats".
Manning called for a realignment, similar to the one proposed by his American counterpart, nixing the idea of another federal party.
In the case of Canada's two traditional parties, a number of factors have caused the policies and actions of both to become increasingly divorced from philosophical foundations. The distinctions between the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties are rapidly being reduced to the superficial distinctions of party image, party labels, and party personalities. Many Canadians are convinced, rightly or wrongly, that "there is no real difference between them". The citizen who wishes to cast his ballot on the basis of principles clearly defined and embodied in practical policy finds himself virtually disenfranchised. The fact that voters are thus denied the opportunity to choose between meaningful alternatives relative to the management of their public affairs, represents a serious restriction on the effective exercise of political freedom. (7)When John Diefenbaker was in office, he was approached by Social Credit, with an interest in a merger. Diefenbaker toyed with the idea until a member of his caucus, Jim MacDonnell, whose father was a friend of Sir John A.'s; exclaimed that MacDonald "would now turn over in his grave!" (9)
Manning tried again in 1967 at the PC leadership convention, but Robert Stanfield, a Red Tory, won, and again he was rebuffed. Instead he had his SC colleague Robert N. Thompson run for the PCs, hoping he could exact some change from within, but while Thompson won his seat, he did little else for the cause.
Manning would have to wait it out.
A Realignment of Another Sort
One issue pressing Ernest Manning was the rise of the CCF under the capable leadership of Tommy Douglas. Douglas embodied everything that movement conservatives feared, but worse, Douglas was not a "Godless communist" but an evangelical socialist.
And the CCF was going through their own realignment. Pairing up with the Canadian Labour Congress, they formed the New Democrat Party (NDP), with their own agenda. According to Nelson Wiseman, the sentiment for a new political alignment was common among those on the fringe of the CCF, but was now more realistic.
Suddenly there was a great deal of enthusiasm for a "formal political realignment".
...the aftermath of the federal Conservative victory of 1958 was an opportunity for Canada's socialists to achieve major party status. A social democratic party, in this view, would gain at the expense of one of the older parties, as had occurred earlier in the century in Britain. "If there is any logic in Canadian affairs ... now is the time when there should be a good chance for a third party to slip in and take the place formerly occupied by the Liberals against the older Conservatives." (9)After the results of the most recent federal election were announced, Paul Wells reminded Canadians of a piece he had written soon after Stephen Harper was named prime minister, in 2006. " ... the contours of the emerging parliamentary battlefield became clearer. It quickly became almost as interesting to watch the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois as to watch the two larger parties. Something big is afoot." (10)
He suspected then that Harper and Jack Layton had teamed up to destroy the Liberals. Later it was revealed that they had actually formed a coalition in 2004, to take down Paul Martin at the throne speech, as confirmed by a letter released to the public by Gilles Duceppe, who was part of the team. (11)
This should not have been a surprise to anyone, since it was the realization of two plans, set in motion a half century ago.
What we need now is re-realignment, because this one clearly isn't working. As promised, when Harper bought out the rights to the federal PC party, he purged the moderates.
"Red Tories must be jettisoned from the party", he said, "and alliances forged with ethnic and immigrant communities who currently vote Liberal but espouse traditional family values. This was the successful strategy counselled by the neocons under Ronald Reagan to pull conservative Democrats into the Republican tent."13)Just as the middle class is being erased, so to is a place for centrists like myself. I don't want to choose right or left. It makes for polarized politics. We need to pull in all moderates from both the NDP and Liberals, to present a challenge to Harper's American style conservatism.
Whether that's a new party or just a new direction for existing parties, I don't care. We need to rebuild the middle, which was not "mushy" but served our country well. A party that can work with big business, not against it, but demand that they play by our rules.
And we need to do it soon.
1. Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, By Rick Perlstein, Nation Books, 2001, ISBN: 0-8090-2858-1, p. 4
2. Perlstein, 2001, p. 9-10
3. National Affairs: The Gold-Bricker, Time Magazine, February 08, 1954
4. Perlstein, 2001, p. 11
6. 30+5 I know, I was There, A first-hand account of the workings and history of the Social Credit Government in Alberta, Canada 1935-68, by Alfred J Hooke, Douglas Social Credit Secretariat, Chapter 19
7. Political Realignment: Challenge to Thoughtful Canadians, By Ernest Manning, McLelland and Stewart, 1967, 226195, p. 11
8. One Canada: Memoirs of the Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker, 1956 to 1962, By John G' Diefenbaker, the MacMillan Company of Canada, ISBN: 0-7705-1443-X, p. 3-4
9. Social democracy in Manitoba: a history of the CCF-NDP, By Nelson Wiseman, University of Manitoba Press, 1985, ISBN: 978-0-8875-5615-9, p. 90
10. From the archive: The secret plot to destroy the Liberals, By Paul Wells, Macleans, May 5, 2011
11. Harper's coalition attacks come back to haunt him, By: Bruce Campion-Smith, Toronto Star, March 27, 2011
12. Harper, Bush Share Roots in Controversial Philosophy: Close advisers schooled in 'the noble lie' and 'regime change.', By Donald Gutstein, The Tyee, November 29, 2005