Sunday, March 24, 2013

What We Learn about Our Parties When We Turn Abroad

I know that I’ve heard of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) in the past, but I don’t know if I ever really looked into them. When reading Mike Lofgren’s The Party is Over, I learned—as should be obvious from their names—that they have ties to the two major parties in this country:

"Although organized as nonprofit entities legally separate from their parent parties, they carry those parent parties’ ideological baggage much as the Comintern was the cat’s paw of the Soviet Communist Party. And they are funded by your tax dollars: Both NDI and IRI are categorized as 501(c)3 ‘charitable’ organizations by the International Revenue Services, but they receive the vast bulk of their money not from private donors…but from federal funds appropriated to official government entities such as the State Department, the United States Agency for International Development, and the National Endowment for Democracy" (p. 17).

A quick look at the advisory Boards of Directors and Senior Advisory Committees for NDI and IRI will confirm their partisan ties—despite their official “nonpartisan” tax status. On the Board of Directors for NDI, we find Madeleine Albright, Tom Daschle, Donna Brazile, Howard Dean, among other Democratic politicians, strategists, and donors. Over at IRI, chaired by the “most mavericky maverick of them all” John McCain, we find folks like former RNC chairman Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr., U.S. Rep Kay Granger (R-TX), former Rumsfeld advisor Randy Scheunemann, among others.

What I found most revealing were the institutional ties of the two organizations. The Wikipedia page for NDI (not the most reliable of all sources, but always useful for general facts and organizational info—rather than analysis or details) notes that NDI has ties to Liberal International, Socialist International, and Centrist Democrat International.

Liberal International is the international federation of liberal parties. It is home to the UK’s Liberal Democrats, Germany’s Free Democrats, Canada’s Liberal Party, and many others. You can read their principles here.

Socialist International is the international federation of social democratic parties. It is home to the UK’s Labour Party, Germany’s Social Democrats, Canada’s New Democratic Party, France’s Socialist Party, and many others. You can read their principles and charter here.

Centrist Democrat International is the international federation of Christian Democratic parties. It is home to France’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), Germany’s Christian Democratic Union, and others. You can read their principles here.  (Fun and utterly irrelevant fact:  Their site has music!)

Now, if you read carefully, you’ll notice that several countries have separate political parties that fit in the political span in which the Democratic Party finds allegiance. We see both Labourites and Lib Dems from the UK, both Socialists and UMP from France, and all three major parties from Germany.

The following countries, like Germany, have a member party in each federation: Andorra, Angola, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, Norway, Spain, and Sweden.

Germany, though, is the best example because ALL THREE of its major parties fall in the group of federations with ties to the NDI. These parties—the Christian Democrats, Free Democrats, and Social Democrats—represent quite different ideologies but would probably all find somewhat of a home in the U.S. Democratic Party because of its “big tent” status. I’ve often criticized the Democratic Party for being heavily partisan but weakly ideological, and the ability to span the full spectrum of major German parties—from the center-right to the center-left— exemplifies such an analysis. Although this comparison isn’t perfect, you could probably say that the Progressive Caucus matches with the Social Democrats, the New Dems with the Free Democrats, and the Blue Dogs with the Christian Democrats.

Now, let’s turn to the International Republican Institute. Who are its international partners? We don’t see the grand worldwide federations embraced by the NDI, but we do find the European People’s Party, the federation of European center-right/conservative/Christian Democratic parties. In what worldwide federation does the EPP fall? Centrist Democrat International—one of the friends of the NDI. Reflect on that for a second, and realize what it says about our political parties here at home.

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