Thursday, July 24, 2008

The New Democratic Party

The American political landscape is continually changing. Even the most casual observer can see how the current trend favors the Democratic Party.

Joel Kotkin, an “internationally-recognized authority on global, economic, political and social trends” writes here about the ascendancy of the Democratic Party. He only mentions in passing that the Republican Party is far weaker than it was in the 1990s. He says this is partially “a reaction to the Bush years,” but asserts that a bigger reason is a societal shift that began in the 1960s.

Today’s Democratic Party is no longer the party of the “middle class, of shopkeepers, skilled industrial workers, and small farmers.” The groups that brought the presidency to Bill Clinton twice have declined to the point that they were no longer sufficient to do the same for Sen. Hillary Clinton this year.

The “reformulated Democratic Party” of 2008, says Kotekin, “has four critical constituencies: the post-industrial new class, African-Americans, young “net-roots” activists, and, finally, the elites of the information age.”

In case you’re wondering, “the post-industrial new class” consists of affluent professionals that are mostly college educated. This group has grown substantially as the working class has declined.

To explain “elites of the information age,” think Silicone Valley. Think Microsoft and Google. And think Wall Street. Yes, Wall Street has significantly shifted from being a GOP stronghold to being Democratic. These new wealth elites “are as likely to dress in blue jeans as expensive blue suits, belong to the Sierra Club instead of the country club, or believe in holistic medicine more than the Holy Gospels.”

I’m not sure why Kotekin does not include Hispanics as one of the party’s significant constituencies. It is no secret that outside of Cuban ex-pat enclaves, Hispanics are now squarely in the Democrat’s corner. And this group is growing faster than any other demographic.

Please note that the need for the party to appeal to middle class America is gone — at least on the national level. There are definitely some regions where this is still necessary to win congressional and local races.

It would seem from what Kotkin says and from the results of recent WSJ polling, that the only reason Sen. John McCain can even be considered somewhat viable as a presidential contender at this point is because he is a “lone-wolf” Republican that has issues with toeing the party line.

While the Democrats are ascendant at present, Kotkin warns that they and Sen. Barack Obama could be undone by the excesses of the party’s core constituencies, becoming “the mirror image of Rove’s Republicans.” He opines, “Republicans are often far too willing to repress individual rights for security reasons but generally have proved less eager in reality to tell people how to live on a day-to-day basis.”

Kotkin worries that — as is currently happening in California — Democrats in complete control of national government will cheerfully employ public policy and law in “telling people where to live, what kind of house to buy, which store to patronize, and who should be preferred for a job” much more than is done today.

Democrats should “follow a broad winning strategy based on traditional middle class-oriented policies” rather than “adopt[ing] the ideological and economic predilections of [the party’s] core base,” per Kotkin’s prescription. What are the chances that anyone will follow this advice?


Charles D said...

As you might imagine, I think Kotkin is dead wrong. The Republicans succeeded in 5 of the last 7 Presidential elections because they energized their base. Even though many more Americans identify as Democrats than Republicans, they were able to win because they got extremely high turnout rates from their core constituencies.

Democrats, however, have adopted a completely different (and losing) tactic - one which Kotkin supports. The Democratic tactic is to ignore your base, even insult them, totally take them for granted knowing that they will always prefer you to the Republican. When Election Day rolls around, the party base is not energized, they aren't excited. The turn out is lower than it could be and that is often fatal.

It would perhaps help if the Democrats employed more Republican tactics. Maybe some voter caging lists for NASCAR suburbs, or make sure they are plenty of voting machines in the ghetto but suburban whites will have to wait hours to cast a ballot. Maybe they could tweak a few voting machines here and there as well, or maybe setup their own news network.


The Democratic party is simply taking advantage of, yes the societal shifts in the 1960s but more importantly the realigning of constituencies within the Democratic and Republican parties.

From post civil war to the mid 1960s the devout southern democrats were in charge of much of congress due to the seniority of those Southern Dems on important committees. By the time the 1950s and 1960s rolled around these Southern Dems were out of step with the other constituencies within the party (blacks, labor, college educated) and eventually they retired or found a new home in the Republican party.

Strom Thurmond (R) SC was a Democrat and bolted to the Republican party in 1964....Wonder why?

Charles D said...

Thurmond became a Republican because the Democrat Party became hostile to racism. Once they passed the Civil Rights Act, they lost most of their seats in the South and Nixon's "Southern Strategy" (emphasizing States Rights and law and order - little more than code words for keeping blacks in their place).

The Republicans were only too willing to accept long-time racists and bigots into their ranks if it would get them back in the majority. Worked well for them.

Scott Hinrichs said...

And what about Sen. Byrd (D-WV), the only member of the Senate who has been a registered member of the KKK?

Charles D said...

Senator Byrd repented and apologized for this earlier positions. Thurmond did not.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Anything for pork.

Charles D said...

Thurmond loved pork too. Even porked his maid. He just wasn't gonna give up his bigotry no matter what.

Unknown said...

Regarding Democracy Lover's comment:

"The Democratic tactic is to ignore your base, even insult them, totally take them for granted knowing that they will always prefer you to the Republican. When Election Day rolls around, the party base is not energized, they aren't excited. The turn out is lower than it could be and that is often fatal."

This is, or rather, was, completely true. But such tactics are over and it doesn't bode well for Republicans.

The Republican party needs strong, young leadership to supplant the ugliness of Rove. The old-school Republicans have an image problem with their devotion to social hierarchy and winner-take-all-ness. The upcoming generation lives in a different world from this, where social responsibility (and, yes, I mean vibrant, open, accountable government as a partner in improving life for all citizens) doesn't have the ugly stigma attached to it that it once did. The "corporate responsibility" movement which was meant to facilitate limited government has fallen flat. This leaves Republicans with fewer options.

One observation, though, which tempers my optimism for the Democrats: Republicans have always done a good job in the latter half of the campaign season - they're typically good closers. I would expect Obama's current lead to narrow in October. The question is will Obama have the ability to hold on? Will McCain have the money and the will to catch up in the face of a failed Bush administration, overcoming the "Obama factor" and its accompanying idealism (whether founded or naive it doesn't really matter at this point)? In this sense the race is similar to Reagan/Carter. Reagan made people feel good to be Americans. Obama's campaign is winning this battle.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Craigj, thanks for your observations. Polls show that people trust McCain far more than they trust Obama. But Obama makes them feel better.

Please note that to most observers, the Carter-Reagan campaign looked pretty close until very late in the election. People hated Carter, but they didn't know if they could trust Reagan. A single debate seems to have changed all of that. After that, everything broke Reagan's way, allowing him a landslide victory.

It's possible that something like that could happen again, but it would have to happen in a different way. Media is so much different than what it was in 1980. People's exposure to the candidates is far different than it was back then.

On the other hand, most of the voters that will actually decide this election won't even really start paying attention until late September or even October. So an event may occur that allows people to trust the new guy in that time frame. I'm sure the Obama campaign is already working on a strategy to make that happen. Unfortunately for them, I doubt an event like this can be successfully engineered. It is one of those things that just has to happen naturally.