Skip to comments.2005: The Splintering of the Democratic Party
Posted on 02/03/2005 9:04:20 AM PST by Publius
The year 2005 will mark the 72nd anniversary of the New Deal, the seminal event of the modern Democratic Party. Democratic policies and rhetoric all hail from that era of Big Government protecting the American people from Big Business. As long as the party held to its roots in economic equality, it prospered. When it marched boldly into the quicksand of social change, it alienated the Great Middle of American politics and lost its way.
Now the signs are all in place for another great Democratic debacle, but with one major difference. This time, the Democrats are headed for the ash heap of American political history.
New England is where American political parties go to die. In 1814 Alexander Hamilton, guiding light of the Federalist Party, had been dead for a decade. While Hamilton would have argued vehemently against a new war with Britain, preferring instead to resolve differences through diplomacy, he was astute enough to understand that certain arguments stop at the waters edge. When the ragtag remnants of the Federalist Party, then holed up in New England, organized the Hartford Convention to discuss secession, Hamilton must have turned somersaults in his grave. Once Andrew Jackson routed a British invasion at New Orleans, the Federalist position smacked of treason, and the ragtag remnant was annihilated in the next election.
In the 1850's, with founder Henry Clay dead, the Whigs lost their way over slavery. While even the Great Compromiser might have found it impossible to square this particular political circle, the temporizing of the Whigs made them toothless in the face of people who were absolutely sure of what they believed. It took only a few electoral cycles for the Whigs to be replaced by the Republicans.
The Roots of the Democrats Dilemma
In 1964 Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater in a popular and electoral vote blowout. One thing that can be disastrous for a political party is for it to get everything it wants. Following the election, the Democrats felt they had decisively won the argument, and Goldwaters defeat cleared the way for the enactment of Johnsons Great Society programs. Medicare and the war on poverty quickly became law, although poverty clearly won over time. The Democrats had achieved the goals set during the Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy years. What was left?
In the late Sixties the Democrats made the error of turning to social change in that era it meant race and promptly alienated a key group of voters later to be known as Reagan Democrats. Ethnic blue collar Democrats were liberal on economic issues and had agreed that the situation in the South was intolerable, but there was no such consensus on de facto segregation in the North. When the courts went beyond the law and ordered busing to promote racial balance, the future Reagan Democrats became angry. Thanks to the rising tide of Black Nationalism and the violence of urban insurrections, sympathy with the problems of black America began to wane.
In the Seventies the Democrats invested their energy in promoting social change via the courts, this time in the area of sexual liberation. At bottom, liberals were trying to change the social attitudes of Americans by judicial fiat to infuse them with the proper revolutionary fervor and they failed to see that the resistance of the Great Middle was but a desire to de-politicize the affairs of daily life. As a rule, social attitudes change at their own natural speed and do not require a political party to push them along. The Democrats forgot this and ceded the Great Middle to others.
As Reagan shifted the Great Middle to the right, the Democrats spent the Eighties in a state of shock and denial. Looking at the Democratic Party, Americans saw a collective of Americas misfits and malcontents, and the result was disastrous. The Democrats had jumped on the bandwagon of social change and had forgotten the economic issues that had made them the majority party. The institutional party had become totally disorganized and obsessed with process while the nominating electorate was dominated by left-wing ideologues. Upset and bewildered, the Reagan Democrats made a new home in the Republican Party.
After the Dukakis debacle in 1988, Mark Russell posed the question, "Why do we expect our generals to be serious men and our brain surgeons to be serious men, but we expect our presidents to be game show hosts?" In 1992 the Great Game Show Host slouched onto the scene. Bill Clinton emphasized economic issues and fudged the social foolishness that had gotten his party into so much trouble in the past. Clintons pitch was simple: Guys, we can take a stand for our beliefs and go down in flames, or we can go back to basics and win.
Once elected, however, Clinton discovered that in running for office from the center, he lacked the political capital to enact any genuine liberal programs. His first major expenditure of political capital was NAFTA, a Republican initiative. A few months into his presidency, Clinton realized with horror that he had become an Eisenhower Democrat. Having sold the party to the lobbyists of K Street to raise enough money to compete with the Republicans, Clinton had robbed his party of its soul. The left wing ideologues took note but kept silent lest they lose the perks and privileges of power. Their day would come, they thought.
Congressional Democrats, ideologically at odds with the president, felt they had the luxury of not marching in step with Clinton and didn't fear him the way they would have feared an experienced operator like Lyndon Johnson. Thus, his health insurance initiative crashed and burned, and Republicans went in for the kill. The post-Watergate reforms had the effect of locking the Congress of 1974 in place for twenty years, but Clinton's failure to produce the promised changes brought in a Republican Congress for the first time in forty years.
Internally, the two parties are very different. The Democrats function like a federation of state parties while the Republicans have always been a top-down organization. This gives the Democrats an edge when they don't control the Executive. Republicans, without the Executive, seem lost. They need a leader to snap them to attention and send them marching in step. Newt Gingrich took that role and made his troops the force of change in the Nineties, but in provoking a government shutdown Gingrich failed to understand the role of entitlements in the American psyche. People had come to expect certain things from their government, and they didn't want anything to get between them and their government checks.
Having lurched too far to the left with Hillary Care, Clinton positioned himself as close to the Great Middle as he could. Unwilling to show the ruthlessness required in politics, the Republicans nominated Bob Dole even when it was obvious months before the convention that he couldn't win. Frustrated by their inability to defeat the slickest president in modern times, the Republicans grasped at a straw held in the mouth of a White House intern.
In retrospect Rush Limbaugh was right. Neither Congress nor the American people would countenance the removal of a president for offenses related to illicit sex. To most Americans in the Nineties, Bill Clintons behavior was not outside the mainstream. By couching the 1998 election as a referendum on impeachment, Gingrich misread the situation.
Talk to ardent partisans about the 2000 election, and youll get two very different versions of reality.
A Republican will tell you that the networks called Florida early and suppressed Republican turnout not only in Florida, but nationwide. Some will accuse the networks of collusion with the DNC in attempting to steal the election for Al Gore. A partisan Florida Supreme Court attempted to keep the theft in motion, but the US Supreme Court honored the Constitution and stopped it in its tracks.
A Democrat will tell you that Al Gore won the national popular vote and the vote in Florida. Bush was selected illegally by a partisan US Supreme Court when his father called in some IOUs. The election was stolen, plain and simple. Bush lost and took up residence in Al Gores big white house.
But the events of September 11, 2001 changed everything.
War, Disconnection and Marginalization
The Republicans were now in power in time of war. With Afghanistan out of the way and Iraq on the table, the Democrats found themselves in a quandary.
The Democratic Party had played a key role in the creation of the United Nations, and there was a strong belief that being a responsible player on the world stage meant not engaging in unilateral action, but working through the UN to gain the support of world opinion. This is the origin of the global test. Had not Jack Kennedy gone to the UN first during the Cuban Missile Crisis? With most of our traditional European allies opposing regime change in Iraq, Democrats were split on whether to authorize an invasion. The initial success of that invasion coupled with the guerilla war that followed furthered splits in the party. The perception of lukewarm support of the war effort on the part of Democrats led to losses in the election of 2002, and the partys left-wing nominating electorate was on the warpath for peace.
At the center of this difficulty is a problem unique to liberals a willingness to accept the adversarys viewpoint if it puts their country in a bad light. Liberals call it being objective, but it is really a lack of faith in America and a lack of faith in traditional American ideals. While fine in peacetime, it is deadly in war.
At their core, these ideals are not American, but UNeesian, to invent a word. To UNeesians, patriotism is a vice. To UNeesians, America doesnt have the right to lead because its hands are dirty, courtesy of slavery, Vietnam or some other flaw in its past. To UNeesians, America, like Israel, is a source of evil in the world.
In time of war, social issues take a backseat. One of the key UNeesian objections to the war in the Middle East is the belief that the money should be spent on something else. Spend it on government-run health insurance, government-run schools or government-run Amtrak, but dont spend it on war. Thats immoral. Spend it on social change. But there comes a time when people become weary of social change and want stability, particularly freedom from attack by foreign religious fanatics.
Nothing bothers UNeesians more than a muscular United States working to mold the world into a place reflective of its traditional values. To UNeesians, these traditional American values are suspect. They remember Vietnam, but not World War II. And when they root for the enemy, as many of them did in the case of Iraq, they step over the line crossed by the ragtag remnants of the Federalist Party in 1814.
Trapped by Ideology
In 2004 the Democratic Party could have run against the Republicans from the right, a technique used successfully by Jack Kennedy. This would have meant taking the war against terrorism to a new level, to include racial profiling and securing our borders. Ordinary Americans not associated with Big Business would have jumped to join a party willing to militarize and seal the borders. This would have led to a stand in favor of economic nationalism, which would have brought many of Patrick Buchanans troops into the party.
But the Democrats instead argued that terrorism was a nuisance and that the US should apply a global test to military action, thus giving Europe and the UN a veto over Americas defense. From its Democratic wing came a hint that America got what it deserved on September 11. Economic nationalism, racial profiling and sealing the borders went against the grain of the partys UNessian values. Further, without that vast army of illegal immigrants in the nations workforce, the declining birthrate would put the sacred programs of the welfare state in actuarial jeopardy.
Socially, the Democrats pushed for a continuation of the sexual revolution when people were tired of being confronted by sex every time they turned on the TV. After forty years of sexual liberation, people wanted a break from overt sex, particularly from the same sex variety. A key issue for Democrats in 2004 was the recognition of gay marriage by fiat via the courts which is not a priority for the vast majority of Americans who are not gay. This has led to the beginnings of an exodus from the party by Hispanics and blacks.
For an economic program, the party has not changed its stance in forty years, arguing for programs that even Lyndon Johnson could not push through Congress. When looking at an economic platform, the Democratic Party can suggest only more socialism. They succeeded in getting a new entitlement prescription drugs for the elderly and they still hope for some form of government-run health insurance, but the party has failed to answer the question, Do you want the people who run Amtrak to take out your appendix? When it comes to economic ideas, even the Mainstream Media admitted 25 years ago that it was the Republicans who had all the good ideas.
The Future of the Democrats
The New Deal coalition has been fraying ever since George Wallace cracked the Democratic Party in 1968 over race. Failure to defend the country and manage the economy has haunted the party at each election. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton defeated Republican incumbents only because of a failing economy.
In 2004, the Democrats nominated a New Englander who was deep in his partys mainstream but was out of step with the rest of the country. In reporting for duty, John Kerry hoped to elide his partys ideological marginalization, but since his defeat the rest of the party has stridently spoken out, raising disturbing questions:
Much of this conflict has played out in the race for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, soon to be Howard Dean, another New Englander. Clintons decision to sell his party out to the Grifters of K Street still rankles. But Deans belief in going directly to the people via the Internet would have credence only if the Deaniacs were more connected to the mainstream. Deans supporters on the Internet, however, are among the most radical people in the Democratic Party. This will only exacerbate the differences between the partys factions.
Todays Democratic Party is made up of K Street Grifters, government workers, the remnants of the union movement, UNeesians, political correctness fanatics, Greens, homosexuals, liberal women and blacks. As Michael Barone has pointed out, blacks are the glue that holds the party together. But as they join the Great Middle, make some money and move into a nicer neighborhood, black Americans start thinking like Republicans, even if they cant say so publicly. Bill Cosby speaks for many middle class blacks who are tired of the antics of their poorer brethren in the cities.
This hodgepodge of factions is not geared to occupying the same political party.
These factions have only one thing in common an insatiable appetite for more government, an appetite not shared by the majority of the American people.
On occasion in American history, concepts like Left and Right become blurred, parties run out of steam and ideas, and a wing of one party wraps around a wing of the other party. Sometimes one party will even splinter. Then the two parties re-form when a new issue arises. The Nineties, like the 1850s, represents a time when one party ran out of steam and ideas, and everybody noticed it.
The Democratic Party is now restricted to Americas cities and to the suburbs of certain states. It is almost absent from Americas heartland. Its values are out of step with the Great Middle. It has forgotten its economic roots and become lost in the swamps of social change once again, vehement in its insistence on forcing that change down the throats of a reluctant nation.
The center cannot hold.
The Democratic Party will splinter like the Whigs. Soon there will be at least three parties on the left: the Green Party, the Labor Party and the Reparations Party. The Grifters of K Street will merely change their spots, as many of them have done since the 2002 election, and switch allegiance to the Republicans now that they control the federal faucet. Americans once represented reasonably well by the old Democratic Party, like Zell Miller, will reluctantly pull up stakes and find a new political home.
It will be another twenty years before a new set of issues emerges that permits a true second party to coalesce. The Republicans may well be running the store for decades.
Bump to me.
Publius, I commend you for a job well done. It actually held my interest and would spark all sorts of side commentaries by my liberal friends.
Great insight here
Are Democrats Americans or UNeesians?
Are they citizens of America or citizens of the world?
Do they truly believe that Bush is Hitler and that this country is no better than Nazi Germany?
Are they seriously considering emigrating to Canada? Or France?
Whose side are they on, anyway?
The answer to these questions is straightforward:
Their words are poison and their actions are treasonous. They are not merely betrayers of America and all that it stands for, they are also traitors to humanity.
It's time we started treating them as such.
Print it off and pass it on to your liberal friends. Here in Seattle, we can't seem to run out of liberals!
Excellent and on point.
Is it time yet for that "stout, hempen rope" you've talked about in the past? (At least it's a useful way of using hemp.)
Not according to "Time". I just read an article predicting, yet again, the fall of the GOP.
Bump for lunchtime read...
I hang out on a couple of liberal sites. I will be posting it there. Thanks.
"Time" is just whistling past the graveyard. The last time the party on top splintered was 1912, when TR took the early progressives out of the party. We have nothing like that movement going on now.
Post it at DU. That will get their bile flowing -- along with their drool.
Thanks, many of my thoughts have been in the same direction, now they have been written.
Stiff hempen is needing some use.
I also think that leftist democrats have taken over the party and alienated mainstream America; from gay marraiage to reparations.