Peel away all the advertising and you can think about the difference between the two parties, and the way that gap has changed, by envisioning a simple allegory.
Imagine that the public needs a box moved from point A to point B. Nothing more politically or culturally interesting than that, just a basic challenge of execution. Now ask yourself this question: Which party would I choose to complete that task?
Take the scenario back in time just a generation or so and the answer would be nearly unanimous. If all you cared about was getting a particular task accomplished, you would pick Republicans to do it. Sure, if left to complete the project without supervision they might pave the Everglades, build an eight-lane freeway through Yellowstone, and hire thousands of Malaysian 8-year-olds for the labor, but you could count on them to complete it, on time, under-budget, without a lot of fuss.
And the Democrats? They would get it done, maybe, mostly, after taking care of more important matters. First there would be eight years of environmental studies to assess the impact of moving the box on all the sensitive creatures along the route. Each effort to reach a decision on the project would be delayed by a three-hour speech from Sheila Jackson Lee, reminding us that America never moved a box for black people.
The box could only be moved by union labor, at an absurd markup, with appropriate "donations" to the "leaders" of underprivileged communities along the route. The move would be halted multiple times as possible historical artifacts were discovered or a new species of beetle was found.
Before any work could begin, we would have to wrestle with the basic fairness of moving the box. Why do we move a box for some, but not for others? We would pause to remember the poor who each day must move their own boxes. The actual work might be temporarily interrupted by anti-globalization protesters who ask why the box has to be moved at all. Why can't all our boxes remain local and sustainable?
Only green energy could be used for the move, meaning work could only be conducted in the daytime. The green technology required would be purchased from a major political donor and its pollution-laden manufacture would ruin a pristine coastal habitat.
By the time the public gave up on having the box moved, the project would have cost billions and the box would be 87% of the way to its destination. It would be covered in anti-capitalist graffiti and a portion of its contents would be missing.
Though the Democrats are still pretty much the same, changes in the Republican Party have made that old characterization less accurate. Despite all the partisan rhetoric, the gap between them has narrowed dramatically in terms of their ability to actually accomplish something. Perhaps that's why the angry bickering has become so important.
Today's Republicans would start the whole effort with a prayer...to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ himself, not some namby-pamby "Creator" or "Father in Heaven." The project would be outsourced to Halliburton and insured with a suite of complex derivatives issued by Goldman Sachs based loosely on the value of the box, along with a basket of currencies, two tranches of mortgage CDO's, and a peg to the price of a human kidney on the Chinese market.
Approval would be delayed for months while Ron Paul demands to see the Constitutional authority for moving the box. Once work begins, the first sub-contractor would be fired after right-wing bloggers uncover that the company's insurance covered domestic partners. Work would stall again when Sarah Palin suggests that the box may have been painted by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Crowds would demand the destruction of the box after Glenn Beck implies that it was constructed by our first Communist President, Woodrow Wilson, and that it contains both communism and fascism living together miraculously in harmony. Several Congressmen would demand to see the original bill of sale for the box... the real one.
Michele Bachmann would claim to have proof that the box was in fact being moved to a socialist re-education camp. Overnight she would receive a million dollars in campaign contributions.
Republicans would launch preemptive wars with three "rogue" states that could potentially threaten the box. The box could only be secured by the use of enhanced interrogation techniques and the indefinite detention of evildoers who hate our way of life. Nothing you need to concern yourself with.
Once Republicans, at long last, transport the box to its destination, a block of Tea Party freshman in Congress would block it from being released. The box would only be wrested back from government hands after abortion was outlawed and funding for NPR was cut off. All of the undocumented workers they had quietly hired to do the work would then be rounded up and deported.
By then, the derivatives issued by Goldman to insure the project would have collapsed, threatening a global financial meltdown which could only be halted by a trillion-dollar relief package to the bank. Goldman partners would then claim the government forced them to engage in the deal in the first place, while retaining the bonuses which were due to them under the original contract. Republicans would defend Goldman from irresponsible leftist "class warfare," and blame the whole mess on liberals.
Under a representative government you always get the leadership that you deserve. Pick your poison.