The future of the Democratic Party

This Franklin Foer feature in the new issue of The Atlantic is really, really, really good.  There’s a dozen different parts I wanted to excerpt, but here’s a few of the best:

That blue wall, of course, turned out to be less sound than Democrats allowed themselves to understand. In an election so close, any number of explanations for defeat are plausible. Hillary Clinton didn’t battle just a demagogue, but also the adroit meddling of Vladimir Putin, the pious intervention of James Comey, and widespread misogyny. Still, the nagging question remains: If the Democrats couldn’t muster a coalition of the cosmopolitan to take out Donald Trump, can they ever count on that coalition? Clinton’s defeat reflects badly on her candidacy, but also exposes the limits of the Democratic Party, which has sustained failures at nearly every tier of government over the past eight years.

Demography’s long arc may yet favor the Democrats, but in the meantime the U.S. electoral system penalizes a party with support concentrated within and around metropolises. White voters without college educations remain a vast voting bloc—especially important to Democrats in Senate races and in contests to control state governments. As the Democrats seek to recover, they need a deeper understanding of the forces that have driven these voters beyond the party’s reach…

At the core of Warren’s populism is a phobia of concentrated economic power, an anger over how big banks and big businesses exploit Washington to further their own interests at the expense of ordinary people. This fear of gigantism is a storied American tradition, descended from Thomas Jefferson, even if it hasn’t recently gotten much airtime within the Democratic Party. It justifies itself in the language of individualism—rights, liberty, freedom—not communal obligation.

There’s a growing consensus among center-left economists that the dominance of entire industries by a few enormous companies is one of the defining economic problems of the era…

To win again, the Democrats don’t need to adopt an alien agenda or back away from policies aimed at racial justice. But their leaders would be well advised to change their rhetorical priorities and more directly address the country’s bastions of gloom. The party has been crushed—not just in the recent presidential election, but in countless down-ballot elections—by its failure to develop a message that can resonate with people beyond the core members of the Obama coalition, and by its unwillingness to blare its hostility to crony capitalism. Polling by the group Priorities USA Action shows that a stunning percentage of the voters who switched their allegiance from Obama to Trump believe that Democratic economic policies favor the rich—42 percent, nearly twice the number who consider that to be true of Trump’s agenda.

The makings of a Democratic majority are real. Demographic advantages will continue to accrue to the left. The party needs only to add to its coalition on the margins and in the right patches on the map. Doing that does not require the abandonment of any moral principles; persuasion is a different category of political activity from pandering. (On page 60 in this issue, Peter Beinart describes how Democrats might alter their language and policies regarding immigration to broaden appeal without sacrificing their principles.) A decent liberalism, not to mention a savvy party, shouldn’t struggle to accord dignity and respect to citizens, even if it believes some of them hold abhorrent views.

Victories in the culture wars of the past decade seemed to come so easily to liberals that they created a measure of complacency, as if those wars had been won with little cost. In actuality, the losers seethed. If the Democrats intend to win elections in 2018, 2020, and beyond, they require a hardheaded realism about the country that they have recently lacked—about the perils of income stagnation, the difficulties of moving the country to a multicultural future, the prevalence of unreason and ire. For a Democratic majority to ultimately emerge, the party needs to come to terms with the fact that it hasn’t yet arrived.

Now, find some time to read the whole thing.  Seriously.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to The future of the Democratic Party

  1. rgbact says:

    The article about Democrats and immigration by Reinart was far more interesting. Demographics does not favor Democrats btw.

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