In little more than a month, the presidential caucuses and primary elections will begin. These are basically state-by-state competitions designed to narrow the field of candidates down to one from each party who will then run head-to-head for the presidency.
For the last 150 years there have been two major political parties in this country, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. People often identify with one party or another, and vote accordingly, but they may not actually be members of either party. Others vote only a candidate’s stand on the issues, without regard to party affiliation.
What does it mean to be a democrat or a republican?
To understand what the two major parties represent, it might be helpful to take a broader look at the entire political spectrum. It might help to visualize a long stick, like a yardstick, that is balanced in the middle by your finger. Everything to the right of your finger represents the "Right Wing" of the political spectrum, and everything on the left of your finger represents the "Left Wing."
Starting on the far right would be political parties such as the Nazi Party. Far Right-Wing ideology is generally termed fascism. Fascism, as it is typically defined, is marked by extreme nationalism, with a tendency toward a desire to create ethnic purity. However, it is also marked by varying degrees of capitalism, but not democracy.
On the opposite end of the stick - the far left - there is socialism, and its more extreme incarnation, communism. Communism is the philosophy that the community (or nation) is central, and that individuals are not so important. It contains the premise that each individual should labor according to his abilities and be paid according to his needs.
Even though fascism and communism are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, they both require an authoritarian form of government. Both forms of government repress the individual in favor of a centralized and all-powerful state.
Closer to the middle of the yardstick you will find the radicals on the left and the reactionaries on the right. These are the typical "left-wing" or "right-wing" fanatics. Those attached firmly to the left are often called liberals. Those on the right are conservatives. But it’s close to the center of the yardstick where one finds the more moderate forms of government that most Western nations enjoy.
But everybody in America is not exactly dead-center on the yardstick. Those that tend toward the right wing are republicans, and those that tip the balance slightly to the left are democrats.
Although this is an over-generalization, democrats tend to be more liberal. They tend to favor equality of status. And to achieve this goal, they vote in favor of laws that create social programs such as welfare, Medicaid, and affirmative action.
Democrats tend to favor less government and greater individual freedoms, at least in theory. Most minorities tend to be democrats.
Republicans are more conservative. They generally believe in equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of status. They are more capitalistic. They believe that everyone should have an equal chance to succeed, but that government has no place helping them out.
Republicans also tend to restrict certain freedoms that democrats tend to grant. These include things such as abortion rights and freedom to make certain personal choices.
And republicans tend to have less tolerance for religious differences, being more dogmatic. Most conservative Christians are republicans. And far-right republicans like George W. Bush believe it is their God-given imperative to intertwine their conservative Christianity with government programs.
The most thoughtful among us tend to take the best characteristics of both parties and meld them into a third option, that of being politically independent. Being independent doesn’t mean you have no opinions, it just means your opinions are strictly your own.
Independents never play party-line politics. Of course, they seldom get elected to office, either.