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The Fading Democratic Delusion

 

The Emerging Democratic Majority by John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira Scribner, 2002. 213 pages. $24.00

Judis and Teixeira have argued before that emerging demographics all but assure a solid Democratic party majority in the early twenty-first century. Professionals, single and working women, and minorities already share the social values that the Democratic party espouses, and it is only a matter of time–probably during the first decade of the twenty-first century–that a major new realignment will be completed. In this view, the election of 2000 was a fluke–just as the election of Jimmy Carter was a fluke in the middle of a Republican realignment–and the Democrats will soon regain the upper hand by strengthening their core in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and Far West. (Judis and Teixeira dismiss the 1994 Southern gains of the Republican party as merely the long-delayed completion of the Goldwater-Reagan realignment, not the formation of a new one.) Since the Democratic Leadership Council’s takeover of the party, Judis and Teixeira’s strategy has already been enshrined in the party’s vision. It constitutes a massive delusion to think that voters will choose the Democratic party if it peddles the Republican party’s essential message, only more softly and geared to a different demographic. Besides, if the Democrats become soft Republicans, what point is there to be a different party at all? Judis and Teixeira are cynics of the highest order. They are interested purely in winning electoral strategies, and even there–as November 5, 2002 amply demonstrated–they are dead wrong. The deluded notion is that the Democrats don’t actually have to do anything–they need not come up with an appealing message, reconfigure their vision to accord with the conditions of the economy, or anything as stressful–no, sheer changes in demography will make the electorate lean heavily toward non-threatening Democrats. Do nothing, and sow the harvest in elections.

Judis and Teixeira’s argument is deeply flawed from the historical perspective. They argue for a Democratic party that would be a weaker version of the new Republican party–in their words, “progressive centrism,” or a return to the “progressive Republicanism” of the early twentieth-century. If their manifesto for the Democratic party’s future is followed, it would consign the Democratic party to oblivion, as the 2002 elections have already showed, and as future elections will no doubt continue to prove. More than a refutation of the Judis and Teixeira thesis is at stake here: for more than a decade, the Democratic party has relied on some version of “progressive centrism,” which has led to electoral evisceration. There simply isn’t enough of an electoral base to consolidate the kind of majority Judis and Teixeira envision, and the Republicans can always outmaneuver the Democrats’ attempt to co-opt their message. If there needed to be any proof, the 2002 elections have shown that if the Democratic party follows any part of Judis and Teixeira’s strategy, it will face even greater debacles until it reaches a point of complete irrelevancy. This book’s message should go out the door, along with discredited Daschle, Gephardt, Edwards, Lieberman, Kerry, Gore, and the party’s entire “centrist” wing. It is as irrelevant as Terry McAuliffe’s chairmanship of the party, and Clinton’s appearances on behalf of Democratic candidates. There is no way to play a double game with the Republicans on values and hope to come away winners–the Republicans will ratchet up the rhetoric one more notch each time and leave you in the dust. A war-scarred veteran like Max Cleland has little chance in the end when the Republicans go for the jugular with the ultra-nationalist spiel of Saxby Chambliss. If there isn’t a “values” crisis (and that includes values pertaining to war), it can always be manufactured, and that process can now occur endlessly for the duration of the new global hot war against terror.

Judis and Teixeira derive great hope from the closeness of the 2000 election, and the victories of Democrats Mark Warner in Virginia and Jim McGreevey in New Jersey in November 2001. They disregard a whole raft of dynamics suggesting the Democratic party’s inherent weakness due to the softness of their message or its indistinguishability from that of the Republicans’, which was shown in the tepidness of support for them during the 2000, 2001, and definitely in the 2002 elections. Judis and Teixeira construct their argument on insufficient evidence that a major realignment, such as occurred in 1828, 1860-64, 1896, 1932-36, and 1968, is occurring. Did any previous realignment occur simply because the blurring of ideology made it possible for a party to appeal to disaffected voters, rather than explicit repositioning to defeat the other party’s ideological vision? Simply because professional workers of the kind that Judis and Teixeira obsess about–those in San Jose’s Silicon Valley, Seattle’s King County, Boston’s Route 128, and North Carolina’s research corridor–have a soft spot for some of the social rhetoric of the Democratic party, doesn’t mean that a new Democratic majority is in the offing. Besides, as the 2002 election showed, even when there is some expressed sympathy on the part of professionals for the Democrats’ message on abortion, guns, and gay rights, as soon as the slightest recommitment of the government’s resources to alleviate some of the worst injustices is demanded, voters decamp for the real Republicans. It is notable that there is no real economic component to Judis and Teixeira’s book; it is all about deploying certain kinds of social messages that will keep the professional workers, single women, and newly rising minorities in the fold. In other words, their argument is: Let’s be Republicans in disguise, and fool the electorate with the right scare words on abortion, guns, and gays.

When Kevin Phillips wrote The Emerging Republican Majority in 1969, he set the model for future Democrats to be obsessed with penning similarly prescient books–and certainly Judis and Teixeira have tried in recent years. Teixeira and Joel Rogers’s America’s Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters (Basic Books, 2000) was all but the unofficial manifesto for the Democratic party’s losing campaign in 2000, and remained so in the year and a half of Tom Daschle’s accidental reign as Senate majority leader. America’s Forgotten Majority was misleadingly advertised: the working class of the title was mostly ignored in favor of the concerns of professional workers Teixeira talks about in his new book with Judis; at least, now he’s stopped talking about the working class and aligned his advertisement with his convictions. This is good, because now we can see a new level of exposure of “centrist” Democratic thinking, stripped of even rhetorical concessions to the working class or any of the constituencies that used to matter to the Democrats since the New Deal. It enormously simplifies the task of analysis. The New Republic and The American Prospect brand of advocacy of “centrism” has nothing useful to say about the revival of the Democratic party’s fortunes.

Judis and Teixeira’s false confidence knows no bounds. They believe that the Republican era Phillips forecast in 1969 is decisively over. The first signs of the end of Republican hegemony were Clinton’s win in 1992 and Ross Perot’s independent bid. The Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 was nothing but a fluke, as was Gore’s 2000 defeat. Moreover, Bush’s popularity after September 11, 2001 won’t last. Soon the demographic changes will reassert themselves and by the end of the decade the transition to Democratic majority will be completed. Judis and Teixeira have a difficult time explaining why this transition is taking so long, and why it’s proceeding in such fits and starts; but they’re sanguine about it. Their belief seems to be that it’s just going to take a while for the professionals, women, and new minorities to realign themselves completely with the Democrats. Patience–of the Daschle and Gephardt kind–will be justly rewarded by 2010 at the latest. The thing to look for is a Republican collapse of monumental proportions–in fact, of course, exactly the reverse has been happening. In the new globalized economy–with old-fashioned commitments to economic security all but ended–it is possible to manage away economic misfortune in whole new ways that form no part of Judis and Teixeira’s analysis. Before Clinton made the full commitment to globalization in the nineties, it was still possible to bring forth passionate voters looking for New Deal social justice commitments. There is nothing similar on the horizon, and the disaffected, including the young, mostly don’t vote at all. Unionized and manufacturing workers are a small minority, even if the ranks of unionized workers in the professions might be on the uptick. So how is it possible to take electoral advantage of economic inequality after the age of Clinton, when voters no longer distinguish between the Democrats and the Republicans on fundamental economic issues? And marginal economic differences are all that Judis and Teixeira even peripherally refer to, a recipe for disaster as we have seen in the continued erosion of the Democratic majority at all levels of government (apart from the Clinton executive interlude of the nineties).

Why is the current realignment taking so long? Judis and Teixeira say that unlike the previous realignments of 1860-64, 1896, and 1932-36, which went along with cataclysms, there is no similar cataclysm now. So it will take from 1992 “until sometime in this decade for the conservative Republican majority to disintegrate and for a new Democratic majority to emerge.” But the authors never probe how in this age of spectacle artificial cataclysms may be engineered by the party in power to consolidate majorities in its favor, to the extent that perception of crisis and the kind of leadership called forth to deal with it becomes all but established reality. Judis and Teixeira, building on Walter Dean Burnham’s thought, take realignments to be surrogates for revolution in this country. In this view, the country dealt with industrialization not by falling into a socialist revolution but by progressive reforms, and with the Great Depression not by falling into fascism but by forming the New Deal compact. They say that “realignments take place because a dominant political coalition fails to adapt to or to contain a growing social and political conflict.” If their own premise that the times are unusually quiet in terms of a social or political crisis is correct, then one fails to see where the call for a new political response might come from as long as the electorate doesn’t perceive a sense of calamity. Actually, an economic collapse of monumental proportions has been in the works (the stock market alone has lost $5 trillion) for the last few years, but this has failed to have any apparent effect on eroding the Republican majority. Imagine what Bush should be able to do electorally with a reviving economy. Judis and Teixeira are peculiarly old Democratic in their hope that the electorate will rally to the Democrats in old-fashioned allegiance even as they claim to propound a new Democratic philosophy. The Jacksonian Democrats in 1828, the Lincoln Republicans in 1860-64, the McKinley Republicans in 1896, the New Deal Democrats in 1932-36, and the Conservative Republicans of 1980 had bold new ideologies to offer. Is there anything parallel on offer by the Democrats today? And certainly, one won’t find any vision on this level in this book.

To justify their assumption that the Democratic majority is emerging but taking a while to do so, they draw a parallel between the kind of change prefigured by the 1964 Goldwater candidacy which took a full sixteen years to translate into electoral victory, and the equally quixotic 1972 McGovern candidacy which will finally materialize into electoral majorities in this decade. Yes, you heard that right, these new Democrats evoke McGovern! Not because of any apparent ideological affinity with him, but to appropriate certain parts of the McGovernite counterculture vocabulary and to squeeze the actual pattern of voting into their fantastic realignment paradigm. Judis and Teixeira tie themselves in knots to explain away why realignments supposedly take so long now (in fact, of course, a contrary argument could be that under more postmodern conditions they occur suddenly, abruptly, without even much warning), and they resort to all sorts of reasons–economic depressions are more contained today, business cycles can alter the predicted trajectory, and so on–but ultimately remain confident that the Republicans won’t be able to muster up a counter-strategy to defeat the imminent forces of realignment.

Why should they be so confident? To understand this, we need to go back to David Brooks’s book of “comic sociology” (this designation might apply to Judis and Teixeira’s book as well, except that unlike Brooks they make no such self-deprecating move and there is nothing but the bleakest technical calculation informing their manifesto). In Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (Simon and Schuster, 2000) Brooks spoke favorably of the new meritocracy–Bourgeois plus Bohemians equals Bobos–which is similar to Judis and Teixeira’s conceptualization of the new professional class (note that in Brooks’s version they are the “upper class” while Judis and Teixeira mistakenly think of them as the class bulwark for the new Democratic party). Today’s professional class, according to Brooks, has reconciled the bohemian or counterculture values of the 1960s, and lives and spends accordingly. But not a single reviewer noted about Brooks’s book that the new professional class only has a shallow, or mostly verbal, commitment to counterculture values. Yes, you may not tolerate racial or anti-gay slurs as people used to thirty years ago, but these “values” do not in any way interfere with your pursuit of material success fully in accord with the new rules of capitalism. Every reviewer of Brooks’s book took it for granted that the Silicon Valley or Wall Street professional’s commitment to bohemian values was real and substantive. Judis and Teixeira make the same mistake, but with more profound consequences since their book, unfortunately, is not meant as a work of comic sociology but serious political analysis.

Judis and Teixeira assume that old-fashioned racist (or nationalist) appeals won’t work anymore. Clearly, they still do. Nixon and Wallace decried busing, and Reagan fetishized “state’s rights” (the code word for racism), as well as “law and order,” “welfare cheating,” and support for capital punishment. Bush and his band have their own code words, which their constituents understand clearly enough. Judis and Teixeira want to argue that such crass racist appeals have no chance of working with the white working-class anymore. But part of their reasoning is that the Republicans were able to explain the economic difficulties of the seventies and early eighties by attaching blame to blacks. If economic times get hard again, could such racist appeals not be revived again? (One of the first things that Republican strategists started taking about after election 2002 was shutting down the immigration doors completely.) Moreover, Judis and Teixeira evade a larger question in reciting how the white working-class (Reagan Democrats) left the Democratic party because of racial resentment. Could it be that whites–both middle- and working-class–no longer have the concern about the economic conditions of non-whites that made the New Deal coalition possible? Is white–both middle- and working-class–support for imperialist and nationalist ventures a suggestion of racial resentment, deflected onto the global stage?

Surely Judis and Teixeira don’t mean to argue that racism is no longer a force mobilizable by the Republican party for electoral gain, but they certainly seem to be doing so. They’re making the Democratic party’s task sound easier than it really is. Along with racism, “voters’ discomfort with the counterculture of the sixties, including feminism, gay rights, abortion rights, decriminalization of drugs, and sexual freedom,” which Reagan so skillfully exploited, also no longer seem to be potent fears for Judis and Teixeira. Note first that their litany of sixties progressivism is all in the cultural arena, none in the economic one. But it’s not even true that fear of the counterculture is pass?. This was the single biggest reason Bush won in 2000, successfully attaching counterculture values to Clinton and Gore. Certainly, the white Southern electorate remains resolutely anti-countercultural. This is not even to take account of Southern evangelicals who make up a large proportion of the voting population. If Reagan drew on “Midwestern blue-collar Democrats,” “traditional farm-state Republicans,” and “Northeastern moderates,” a new coalition of voters with implicit racist, nationalist, and inegalitarian feelings can surely be brought together by Bush and his successors.

If anything, we may be entering the final phase of consolidation of the Republican majority–that is, unless the Democratic party shapes up–where a decisive shift in favor of state sovereignty, dismantling of the regulated economy (the final shredding of “environmental, labor, and labor regulations”), and privatization of Social Security and Medicare, in fact occurs, supported by extreme right-wing judicial appointments at all levels to make the shift last for at least a generation. Consider the broad base of the New Deal coalition: “Northern blacks and Southern whites, Wall Street investment bankers and Detroit autoworkers, Protestant small farmers from the Midwest and Catholic machine politicians from the Northeast.” In contrast, the new Democratic coalition, according to our authors, would have to rest on what seems to be some of the professionals some of the time, some of the women some of the time, and some of the minorities some of the time.

The gap between white male support for Bush against Gore was big, and the Democrats simply cannot put together winning coalitions unless they have a new economic message (not simply defensive postures towards Social Security and Medicare) for this group of voters. Although Clinton oversaw the nineties boom, voters in 2000 and 2002 don’t seem to be willing to give the Democrats credit for the economy. The Republicans used to have a monopoly on credibility on foreign policy; now they seem to have claimed monopoly on economic issues as well, even if the economy is precipitously declining on their watch, as it has for the last two years. The business scandals of the last year, combined with possible double-dip recession, were not only not enough for the Democrats to gain seats in Congress, but worked against them by letting the party in power reverse the historic trend in midterm elections. And it is not that the Iraq or sniper distractions were one-time events. What’s to prevent future distractions during similar downtowns during the election cycle? Republican economic growth is always uneven (we should say, more uneven than Democratic economic growth), but nothing in Judis and Teixeira’s political language suggests capitalization on this source of resentment among voters (that would be “class warfare” to them, and certainly wouldn’t appeal to professionals, suburban housewives, and upwardly mobile minority workers). Judis and Teixeira speak approvingly of Clinton’s neoliberal focus, shifting attention to economic growth rather than redistribution. Nothing in their book suggests that the Democrats should bring back any part of their previous emphasis on redistribution. Clinton came to power by signaling to white Southerners that he was willing to play the racist game, if it made them feel better, and that he no longer stood for New Deal redistribution to bring the poor into the fold of the economy. As one of their 1992 commercials ran:

They are a new generation of Democrats, Bill Clinton and Al Gore. And they don’t think the way the old Democratic Party did. They’ve called for an end to welfare as we know it, so welfare can be a second chance, not a way of life. They’ve sent a strong signal to criminals by supporting the death penalty. And they’ve rejected the old tax-and-spend politics.

What is left of the New Deal in this message? There is overt racist appeal (welfare and the death penalty). The Democrats of 2002 were plying the same message, but by now voters have decided to support the real racists and imperialists (the Republicans) rather than their pale imitators.

The authors of this book admit that the old New Deal majority is definitely gone; but they offer no real case for a Democratic coalition of interests that might take its place, although they try hard to find it among professionals and white working-class voters who might share the professionals’ social values. If major realignments are made possible by major shifts in worldviews, then what such shift is on offer from these authors, or any of the Democrats who will soon be clamoring to replace the discredited Clinton/Gore/Gephardt/Daschle strategy? We’ve been hearing for a long time now that the Reagan coalition has broken up, but why are the eighties Reagan Democrats not lining up behind the Democrats in numbers large enough to return the party to electoral majority? To an unprecedented extent, economic facts are now irrelevant to successful electoral strategies–the subject can simply be changed too easily, with the assistance of the media, and kept there for as long as is convenient for the ruling party. In the absence of the power of economic reality to shift electoral patterns, where do the Democrats get the necessary boost? These are all questions for–one hopes the new–Democratic leadership to answer. Judis and Teixeira, and their brand of “centrist” thinking, offer no clues in that direction. Not a single time during their book do they mention national health insurance, security for workers in the age of globalization (the word globalization probably doesn’t even occur in an ambiguous sense), or governmental intervention to alleviate almost unprecedented economic inequality. Whether the Democrats talk about their commitment to gun control and abortions (“judicial appointments” is now the code word for this perennial bugaboo) or whether they soft-pedal these issues to appeal to rural and Midwestern swing voters, in either case they will be easily outmaneuvered by Republicans. The entire Democratic party strategy for the last decade has been based on the notion of narrowing their differences on economics with the Republicans, and hoping to scare professionals on what they hope is their commitment to tolerant social values.

Judis and Teixeira’s hopes for a new Democratic majority rest on “professionals, working, single, and highly educated women, and minorities” who will be the “products of a new postindustrial capitalism, rooted in diversity and social equality, and emphasizing the production of ideas and services rather than goods.” Note that there is zero economic or class content to this new configuration. Even environmentalism, when it is listed along with cultural values, is more a feel-good cultural expression rather than a transformation of basic economics. McGovernite counterculturalism is Judis and Teixeira’s precedent for the appeal to professionals, minorities, and educated women. For Judis and Teixeira, America’s gradual transformation into a postindustrial society dealing in services rather than goods began as long ago as the twenties. But why should this new professional class (Bobos, whether they are white males or females, or minorities) necessarily support enlightenment values or economic justice? That’s not even Judis and Teixeira’s concern. What if Bush and his successors in the Republican party soften their cultural rhetoric? Actually, they have shown that even if they use harsh cultural rhetoric, they can always get more votes from those who appreciate someone standing for something rather than fuzzy liberal tolerance.

Judis and Teixeira’s whole argument is based on the transformation supposedly wrought by the “new economy.” To the extent that we question the reality of the new economy for the majority of people in the country, their argument is discredited. Moreover, is it true to assume that as people get more educated, they become more liberal? Professionals may be the fastest growing in numbers of “any major occupational group” but they are outnumbered by managers, not to mention workers, who don’t necessarily share Judis and Teixeira’s social values. Professionals, as Judis and Teixeira recognize, were conservative during the first phase of transition to postindustrial society (between 1900 to 1960), disdaining unions, opposing the New Deal, and believing in individual success rather than collective action. Why couldn’t they just as well go in this direction again? Why shouldn’t the final phase of the postindustrial society usher in a barbaric, neo-medievalist order, with an absolute split among the ruling class of highly educated professionals no longer relying on government for basic services and all the rest who can no longer count on government? Why couldn’t the future Republican majority be consolidated around professionals preferring gated communities to a shared commons? In the chart of values Judis and Teixeira use to show what professionals value, “making a contribution” (a reprise of the slavish, conformist organization man of the fifties?) ranks as high as 68 percent among teachers, 54 percent among nurses, 47 percent among engineers, and 37 percent among information technology workers, while “professional autonomy” gets only 10 percent among teachers, 16 percent among nurses, 11 percent among engineers, and 16 percent among information technology workers. What Judis and Teixeira are doing is constructing a mythic constituency for the already rigid demographic view of the DLC–professionals with verbal commitment to civil rights, abortion, gay rights, and gun control, who mildly, but not radically, question market values. To gain the new majority, Democrats only need marginally distinguish themselves from the “unequivocally pro-market Republican party.”

Judis and Teixeira write that during the sixties, “many future professionals, while attending college, became supporters and leaders of the civil rights, women’s, antiwar, consumer, and environmental movements.” But as many, if not more, future professionals never committed themselves to these cultural values. It is these to whom the Republican party speaks directly and persuasively. Judis and Teixeira want to rope in the professional class with the kind of failing appeal the Democrats have been using, counting on their commitment to “clean air and water, physical and mental well-being, and safe and reliable products.” There is absolutely nothing about economic redistribution here that can excite a majority of voters. In not wanting to change the professional class’s interest in fiscal conservatism and social liberalism, Judis and Teixeira are resorting to some of the worst sins of pre-Keynesian economics, which the Democratic party has upheld for the last decade. Just as managers and administrators are excluded by Judis and Teixeira as natural Democratic voters, not all women qualify either. The Republican party has already shown that it has vast appeal to married women, not only in the South but in the entire country. When Democrats rest their entire program on some mythic new economy that only leaves marginal cultural values to be satisfied, that’s the natural result. Since there is no mention in this book of a higher minimum, let alone a living, wage, women voters are supposed to be pulled in by appeal to affirmative action and breast cancer research.

As for the final component of the new Democratic majority, Judis and Teixeira seem content on the Republican party’s false steps on immigration and similar issues. The Democrats don’t need to offer a compelling economic program; they can just count on the Republicans self-destructing. First of all, this ignores the continuing potent appeal of racism, even within minorities themselves (Asians versus blacks, blacks versus Jews, Hispanics versus blacks). Also, an event like September 11 can rally nationalist spirit in a way that fine points of racial discrimination go by the wayside (we escalate to a radical, all-encompassing racism). It is also too much to expect that Hispanics and Asians will fall obediently in line with McGovernite cultural values, especially when there is nothing at stake for them economically. If anything, the Republicans’ conservative family values spiel appeals naturally to many Hispanics and Asians. Asian-Americans are still only 2 percent of the voting electorate. The whole strategy, then, seems to be to count on enough people not on the margins to be scared into voting for the Democrats (because the fearsome Republicans will take away the right to abortion or do overtly racist things against minorities), while building the core of the appeal around presently small components of the electorate. As Judis and Teixeira wax nostalgic over Clinton’s symbolic gestures toward Chinese-Americans, they seem to have strayed very far from any notion of appealing to the white male. Should the Democratic party give up altogether on white males with non-McGovernite cultural views? Republicans can still cede much of the minority vote and put together enough of a coalition to win, as long as the Democrats have no forceful economic program. What happened among Mark Green, Al Sharpton and other Democratic party leaders in 2001 is something that Judis and Teixeira dismiss as “turf” or “intraparty” battles that can be avoided if only “demagogues” like Sharpton were squeezed out of the picture altogether. That is not going to happen, nor should it.

Many among the white working-class remain as offended by McGovernite counterculture values, especially abortion and gun control, as they ever were. Ultimately, Judis and Teixeira’s program boils down to a symbolic cultural makeover, while reassuring the business class (let’s just call it that, instead of higher professionals) that none of their goodies will be taken away. At one point, they do say that in 2000 “Gore actually lost white working-class voters in rural areas by almost 20 points more than Dukakis did,” but white working-class voters, rural or urban, are hardly their foremost concern. They seem to believe that white working-class voters who work alongside professionals in such high-tech enclaves as Seattle’s King County or Portland’s Multnomah County are more likely to vote Democratic, because they somehow share the professionals’ cultural values. There is no explanation in the book of this voting confluence by osmosis, although it is one of their crucial arguments.

Geographically, too, this book seems to want to be a retroactive justification of what actually happened in the 2000 election, rather than a prescient program based on ability to change the shape of the electorate. So Judis and Teixeira are mostly content for the Democrats to build their majority “in the Northeast, the upper Midwest through Minnesota, and over to the Pacific Northwest.” An alternative way to look at this geographical grouping is as a rump, the last holdovers for whom some of the scare tactics of the Clinton-Gore era resonated. And even within this geographical area, Judis and Teixeira discount the vast territories that voted solidly Republican. Because population growth–particularly in terms of professionals, single, educated women, and minorities–is expected to be mostly within the postindustrial centers of large urban areas, the Democrats need not worry about the apparently vast geographical territory where they have no sway. There simply aren’t enough electoral votes there. But ideas people will always only be a small minority. Judis and Teixeira are sanguine that “waiters, hospital orderlies, salesclerks, janitors and teacher’s aides” who work in Austin (Texas), Raleigh-Durham, Boston, or San Francisco will echo the libertarian and bohemian values of the Bobos. For one thing, many of these downscale workers don’t vote at all. For another, the concentration of professionals and support personnel in certain urban areas minimizes their electoral impact, because of the perverse workings of the electoral college.

Judis and Teixeira call these metropolitan postindustrial areas “ideopolises.” But aren’t places like St. Louis, Cleveland, and Detroit, where politics remain “marked by familiar race and class cleavages,” more typical of the country? Centrist Democrats have wanted to erase, or not even acknowledge, these perennial cleavages, in favor of faux libertarian ideas (even as they commit themselves to a culture of incarceration for the poor) meant to appeal to the ideopolises. When Judis and Teixeira describe the rising number of motion picture (new economy) versus aerospace (old economy) workers in Los Angeles County, one notices the small minority of voters these constitute (about 150,000 in 2000). Judis and Teixeira discount the presence of religion among professionals in Orange and San Diego Counties, and the continued commitment of the nation to global military dominance which leads to the kinds of professionals who vote Republican. Regardless, even if the Democrats won 90 percent of Asians, Hispanics, minorities, and single women in Los Angeles and New York, the electoral college’s unfairness guarantees that on the presidential level it won’t make much difference.

Oregon and Washington too are states that “typify the new progressive centrist politics” where “voters back regulatory capitalism, but are wary of ambitious social engineering.” For Judis and Teixeira, and the new Democrats who have been ruling the roost for the last decade, to speak of regulatory capitalism is another thing altogether than for a New Deal Democrat to speak of the same thing. They assume that voters are not interested in “ambitious social engineering”–isn’t another name for this brand of politics “compassionate conservatism?” Minus, of course, some of the religious overlay, but this can easily be moderated in the future. The thinness of the bohemian libertarian culture Judis and Teixeira talk so much about was evident in New Jersey in the nineties, where, as soon as Governor Jim Florio, after winning office with his “moderate, pro-choice, pro-gun-control” views, raised taxes and championed “an unpopular plan to redistribute school funds from predominantly white to predominately black districts,” he was booted out of office. Anything that the New Deal Democrats ever stood for scares the Bobos into running toward Republicans like Christie Todd Whitman who will reassure them culturally while not ask them to recommit economic resources. An alternative to Judis and Teixeira’s favored trajectory of professionals’ voting preferences is the pattern of Texas’s ideopolises in Dallas and Houston, where Republicans rule.

Even if there were enough high-tech corridors in the country to sustain Judis and Teixeira’s strategy–and there aren’t and never will be–there remains the paradox that voters in ideopolis and non-ideopolis areas are motivated by the opposite cultural spectrum. When Gore softened his views on “guns, abortion, and the Clinton scandals” he lost the enthusiasm of the ideopolis voters, while not even being sure of gaining the non-ideopolis voters. And that will remain the dilemma of the future, as long as Democrats harp on patients’ bill of rights and prescription drug coverage instead of real redistribution in the form of universal health coverage. And one could say the same of regressive taxation, the incarceration epidemic, the rise of poverty, or any such real issue, none of which figures in this book. Judis and Teixeira don’t see that what “united the white Southern Bourbon and the Northern black who voted for Roosevelt in 1940, or the upscale suburbanite from Bergen County and the white working-class evangelical from Greenville who voted for Reagan in 1984” was in each case an economic plan that cut across race and class. Like the current Democratic party leadership, they offer no equivalent broad, heterogeneous economic plan. Even cultural politics–such as Clinton’s support for gays in the military–cannot really be practiced, except at the purely verbal level. The contentless politics of Clinton in 1996 and Gore in 2000 is the direct explanation for the Democrats’ flat-out defeat in 2002. It’s not that scandals derailed centrism–scandals and trumped-up crises are how the media work now. A winning strategy ought to be able to take control of that situation.

Judis and Teixeira’s lack of sophistication is evident in their appraisal of Pat Caddell as a visionary when he was working for Carter. Caddell wrote then that “younger voters are more likely to be social liberals and economic conservatives. More importantly, they perceive a new cluster of issues–the ‘counterculture’ and issues such as growth versus the environment–where the old definitions don’t apply. . .We must devise a context that is neither traditionally liberal nor traditionally conservative, one that cuts across traditional ideology.” No such new compact is possible, given the terms of the process, unless the Democratic identity is given up altogether. Everything not conducive to the shallow liberalism of the professional class is too easily dismissed as ambitious social engineering. Judis and Teixeira may not want to call their strategy the same as the one formulated by the old Atari Democrats, or admit the exact parallels to the appeal to “wired workers” postulated by Mark Penn, but the idea is the same–make the new professionals comfortable and hope that they make the difference.

In fact, when Bill Galston, Elaine Kamarck and the DLC advocated “fiscal conservatism, welfare reform, increased spending on crime prevention through the development of a police corps, tougher mandatory sentences, support for capital punishment, and . . .traditional families” they offered racist policies that pretended to be the opposite. The Democrats under Clinton became so good at “inoculating” themselves against race-based criticism from the Republicans that they ceased to be Democrats. It was not inoculation but taking on the disease as market incentives were promoted rather than environmental regulation, managed competition rather than single-payer coverage, charter schools and public school choice rather than a new commitment to public education, and growth rather than redistribution. The communitarian, “national interest” approach currently favored by the Democrats will fail to win back a majority for the Democrats, except at the cost of becoming a subset of the Republican party. Of course, Judis and Teixeira are quite comfortable with that notion. Gore in 2000, and Democrats broadly in 2002, already fully practiced the Galston, Kamarck, From and Marshall prescription, and it failed. The illusionary Democratic electoral victories of the nineties were only a reaction to, or a component of, the continuing Republican revolution.

In The New Republic of October 28, Judis wrote in “Poll Vault,” his forecast for the election, that although the Democrats “don’t deserve to do well in November’s elections” they probably will anyway. He wrote that “if voters focus on the economy rather than national security in the remaining weeks, the Democrats may well increase their edge in the Senate, recapture the House, and dramatically reverse the Republican advantage in governorships.” He knew that the Democrats didn’t have a distinctive message, but he trusted–as he does in his book with Teixeira–that the voters would perceive the Democrats’ “timid agenda” as “surprisingly effective in today’s peculiar economic climate,” and that Republicans would not be able to exploit social wedge issues as in the past. Wrong on both counts. While one awaits Judis’s probable rationalization of his utterly failed forecast, his bosses, editor-in-chief Martin Peretz and editor Peter Beinart, have already spoken in the most predictable terms. For them, the Democratic party lost so badly on November 5 because it didn’t hew to the center enough. Democrat Martin Frost, the House Democratic Caucus Chairman, reiterated this line on November 7, in his aggressive drive to become minority leader. He trashed House Democratic Whip Nancy Pelosi, saying that the party needs to appeal to the “vast center,” not turn to the left, appeal to moderate swing voters in swing states, and not come across as weak on war and national security. But that’s exactly the losing strategy the Democrats have been following. There is no more center to move to, there is only the extreme right.

More than likely, the Democrats will continue to follow the Judis and Teixeira plan until they are utterly humiliated. If Frost becomes minority leader, if the party nominates another centrist like Gore, Kerry, or Edwards in 2004, it will be utterly wiped out. But it will probably only be after such complete humiliation–greater in magnitude than the loss of 2002–that the Clinton-McAuliffe era will finally be over. Gore already finessed his cultural message to appeal to the thin-skinned Bobos in 2000–on gun control, abortion, and capital punishment–with disastrous results. This sleight-of-hand has been taken as far as it can. Should the Democratic party continue to speak in terms of civil rights (with its minority appeal) rather than civil liberties (with broad appeal to all Americans), the Republicans will keep on making heavy inroads among the white working-class.

It was revealing to watch Mondale debate Coleman the day before the election. Mondale was willing to take on Coleman on all the fuzzy logic that has made Democrats indistinguishable from Republicans, in an exposure of Orwellian doublespeak that no Democrat–not even the mythical Wellstone–has been able to manage in recent years. In debating Coleman, Wellstone kept coming back to heavy corporate contributions to Coleman’s campaign, but then Wellstone was running as a pure candidate, not necessarily one likely to accomplish legislative change. There was something empowering about Mondale’s pre-DLC language: the Democratic party needs its central leadership, not people on the margins like Wellstone whose main function seems to be to validate the betrayal at the center by serving as an outlet for frustration, to be unafraid to speak as liberals. And finally, also, perhaps Ralph Nader can be absolved for the Democrats’ defeat in 2000, which can be claimed to be a fluke only in an act of denial. Gore’s centrist strategy couldn’t even win him Arkansas and Tennessee. So much for emerging electoral majorities. Democrats, how about appealing to downscale workers for a change? And factor in the idea that postindustrial transitional disorder can more easily lead to extreme conservatism or outright fascism than a pleasant McGovernite counterculturalism based on market values.

ANIS SHIVANI studied economics at Harvard, and is the author of two novels, The Age of Critics and Memoirs of a Terrorist. He welcomes comments at: Anis_Shivani_ab92@post.harvard.edu

 

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