May 14, 2003

Klein on the Dems

Joe Klein's piece in Time, although (as usual) containing some annoying stuff (see below) is on target here:

There are futility metaphors aplenty here: The contrast between the swaggering President and the squabbling Dems. The nonargument over periphera. The absence of an audience. But then, the Democrats have excelled at futility for more than 30 years. They have elected two Presidents during that time, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Both were Governors of Southern states. Neither was a well-known party leader. Neither ran on what many Democrats would consider a traditional—that is, liberal—agenda. Carter was the first born-again Christian President; Clinton once owned a pickup truck with AstroTurf carpeting in the back. Carter won because he seemed a simple, honorable antidote to the excessive dishonesty of the Nixon era. Clinton won because he was far more talented than his opponents—George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole—but also because he rejected his party's orthodoxy on crime (especially the death penalty), welfare reform, free trade and fiscal conservatism. One could argue that the only winning strategy for Democrats in the past nine presidential campaigns has been camouflage.

And, indeed:

And the Democrats enter the fray with all the shape and substance of fog. "People have no idea what we stand for," says Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster. "They have a vague sense that we were against the war in Iraq and a vaguer sense that things were somehow better economically when we were in power. Beyond that, nothing."
And his three recommendations are accurate, as is his conclusion:
If the world stays quiet and the economy picks up, the Democrats may face an unbeatable incumbent in 2004, no matter how hard they try. All the more reason to act as Democrats haven't in quite a while: Speak your minds, dream a little, tell people some truths they don't want to hear. Get angry. Be funny. But, above all, provide a real alternative.

It does always come down to the need for economic disaster to give the Dems hope, doesn't it?

Now, on to the annoying part: I so tire of this meme:

The last transformational election was not 1936 but 1968--the year that Richard Nixon created a new political reality by exploiting Southern white resentment of the civil rights movement (and of Vietnam War protesters). The solid Democratic South became the solid Republican South, a truly momentous event in American political history, and the pendulum has been swinging right ever since.

For one thing, the Republican party in the 1960s was the Party primarily responsible for passing the Civil Rights Bills, given the obstructionism of many Southern Democrats. Now, racial politics are part of the reason for the realignment in the South, but to focus solely on that issue to wholly miss the point. The bottom line is that conservative Southern Democrats were actually a better fit in the Republican Party, but Reconstruction-linked resentment had made it impossible to be a Republican in the South. However, over time it became clear that Southern states favored the Republicans in national elections for ideological reaasons (not racism) and a slow transformation began that really only recently has been complete (as the Texas story that I discussed this morning illustrates).

And I hate to tell Klein, but the following does not follow logically. This is like what my stats prof in college used to call the "Howard Cossell Law of Averages"--the idea that because a good batter has been on a cold streak he is "due". There is nothing in politics that says all ideological shifts in a country have to swing like a pendulum:

The laws of politics, to say nothing of physics, would indicate that a second conservative transformation, an election that moves the center of gravity even further to the right, is unlikely.

Source: TIME Magazine: How to Build a Better Democrat

Posted by Steven Taylor at May 14, 2003 12:51 PM | TrackBack
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