There is reason for pessimism about the future of the Democratic Party.
That’s unfortunate because the alternative right now is a Republican Party that has abandoned any shred of loyalty to liberal democracy. It might be overstating the case, but it’s not entirely implausible that the future of American democracy depends on the Democrats getting their act together. God help us.
Here’s the problem to be solved. Democrats are popular with a minority of voters: urban liberals with college degrees. But two-thirds of Americans do not have a four year college degree and, to make matters worse, Democrats are even losing support among blue collar and male Hispanics and Blacks.
To make matters still worse, even if you run up numbers in big urban areas, that only means that it gives you a shot at winning statewide elections. But because of the way people distribute themselves spatially there’s no way Democrats can win and maintain legislative or Congressional majorities by ignoring small town, suburban and rural voters.
Is that as bad as it gets? Why, no. Add to all this the advantages for small states and rural areas that are built in to our system. The Senate, the filibuster, the Electoral College, gerrymandering that is weighted to Republicans because they control twice as many state legislatures, and a Supreme Court stacked with young conservatives all tip the playing field away from urban liberals. Let’s be realistic. We’re not going to change any of that. We have to play the hand we’re dealt.
So, what can be done?
Well, there are three broad categories of Democratic Party strategies with regard to blue collar voters: give up on them, persuade them that wokism is for them, or tailor Dem Party policies and message to win them back.
Only the last strategy has any hope of working, and it has virtually no chance of being implemented, but let’s go through them one by one.
Give Up on Blue Collar Voters. This has long been the favored policy of Democratic activists. They hold blue collar voters in contempt anyway. They see them as too dense to understand their own best interests. And they were banking on a demographic wave that would make white, blue collar voters irrelevant. But the wave isn’t coming. The Dem’s biggest problem is that they’re steadily losing support among the fastest growing part of that wave: Hispanics.
Persuade them. This strategy is best summed up by Anat Shenker-Osorio, the founder of the progressive firm ASO Communications and a principal on the Race-Class Narrative Project: “The job of a good message isn’t to say what’s popular but to make popular what needs to be said.” The problem here is that some Democratic ideas will not be popular no matter how much explaining or massaging of the message you do. “Defund the police” is a terrible slogan and a worse public policy. The reverse discrimination ideas imbedded in Critical Race Theory run directly counter to the America creed. They’re unpopular because they deserve to be. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to live in country where these ideas were popular, but there’s not much danger of that.
Tailor the Message. This is the one potentially winning strategy. Democratic number cruncher and strategist David Shor describes it as “popularism.” In a must read piece last week in the New York Times, Ezra Klein summed it up this way: Democrats should do a lot of polling to figure out which of their views are popular and which are not popular, and then they should talk about the popular stuff and shut up about the unpopular stuff.
Makes sense. Sounds like good politics to me. But here’s why I’m so pessimistic: there is almost zero chance this will happen. That’s because Democratic activists, donors, consultants, staffers and those who live in deep blue echo chambers (like my own near west side Madison neighborhood) cannot possibly discipline themselves to shut up about “white privilege” or “the patriarchy” or “Latinx” or “systemic racism” or “implicit bias” or “intersectionality” or the new word to describe a new offense to be invented next week.
So, while there is a clear path to recovery (if not prosperity) the party simply cannot take it because, to its most active and influential members, that path ignores or downplays ideas that are at the very core of their beliefs. Finding new ways to take offense (as opposed to effectively going on the offensive) is in the very DNA of the left and they will not give it up. Maybe they can’t.
But, hey, that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. After all, what’s the alternative? The very reason for the existence of this website is to promote a practical, successful politics that protects liberal democracy and advances left-center incremental policies that improve the lives of average people.
It’s a worthy endeavor, no matter how steeply the odds are stacked against us.
Welcome to the 239th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!