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{Published in the Colorado Springs Gazette, March 2, 2011}

I’ve had this theory about political parties for a long time. It’s so obvious, someone must have thought of it, but that won’t stop me from putting my name on it. I call it the Fagin Theory of Parental Political Parties.

This theory predicts that in a democracy, two parties eventually dominate: The Mommy Party and the Daddy Party. This doesn’t mean that the marriage is a happy one. Far from it. It just means that party platforms are split across biological sex roles.

One party takes on the maternal role of nurturer, caregiver, and peacemaker. She makes sure everyone shares, and promises to love you even when you mess up. She emphasizes that we’re all a family and should love and support one another.

The other stands outside the door with a big stick and promises to keep everyone safe. He rules with a stern hand, and tells you that if you don’t toe the line you’ll be in big trouble. He preaches tough love; it’s his way or the highway. Can you guess in America which party is which? It’s an exercise for the reader.

A true theory is testable, so let’s look at some examples. England has the Labor Party and the Conservative Party. Israel: Kadima and Likkud. Germany: Social Democrats and Christian Democrats. France: The Socialist Party and the Union for a Popular Movement. Russia: Well, you’ve got me there. But Russia isn’t a real multiparty democracy. Everybody just does what Putin tells them to.

I’m sure if you looked hard enough you could find counterexamples. But I still think the idea is interesting. We don’t typically see political parties that support both capital punishment and a social welfare system, or gay rights and increased military spending. Why not?

If I had to guess, I’d say that traditional gender roles are familiar and comforting. We love our parents, so political organizations that remind us of Mom and Dad are more likely to get our vote. A mother and father are two things all people have in common, and politics are all what we have in common.

There are also deep psychological reasons to view authority figures as parents. Celibate clergy are still referred to as “Father” and “Mother”. Kings and queens are “father” and “mother” to the nation. We like to think we leave such trappings behind when we move from monarchy to democracy, but they seem to be quite persistent.

If political parties are the parents, what are we voters? We are, of course, the children. We need to be told to share our toys. We need reminding that the world is a cruel and dangerous place where everyone is out to get us. We are too immature and inexperienced to be trusted to live our own lives. This, essentially, is what the platforms of the major parties boil down to.

As insulting as I find this, I wonder if it isn’t what we deserve. What’s the difference between the protests in Wisconsin and a child’s tantrum over confiscated candy? What’s the difference between a rally to “Restore Honor” and a toddler’s instinctive craving for limits on his behavior? Ultimately, I think it’s just a question of degree.

This wasn’t what America was originally about. America was founded as a unique experiment in individual freedom, on the idea that citizens were adults, capable of self-restraint, civic virtue, and responsible self-government. And no, I haven’t forgotten about the shame of slavery. We were a unique experiment, not a perfect one.

It has taken a couple of centuries for the forces of human nature to turn us from adults in a self-governing republic into children begging politicians for help. That it took so long says a great deal for the fortunate circumstances of our nation’s founding. Whether our noble experiment will last, however, is still in doubt. It depends on our ability to grow up, act like adults, and fight the animalistic urges that cause us to run to Mommy and Daddy Politician whenever we think there’s a monster in the closet.

They will treat us like grownups, I suspect, only when we stop acting like children.

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