The Changing Democratic Demographic
What ever happened to my Democratic Party? Why doesn’t the donkey love me anymore?
BDBlue asked a question that touches on many of the themes being discussed during this primary, here at Corrente and elsewhere, in what are increasingly emotional tones. Nothing wrong with emotion, passion is a wonderful thing, but sometimes the heat of the moment can cause us to reach conclusions that might emerge differently if we take a deep breath and look at the situation from other angles.
BDB: “BIO, since you seem to have actual sources, does this crap that Brazile, Axelrod, et al, spew about white working class voters upset any of the Dem. leaders or do they agree and want to try to build some sort of ‘new Democratic’ party.”
BDBlue, you probably expected a short answer. Hah!
[“Sources” is kind of a flexible term. From time to time I hear from people I’ve known for a long while, whom I respect and trust, about various topics. It isn't a regular thing, and I don’t pick up the phone and press them for the latest dope because the rumor du jour is hardly ever worth knowing; I let it come to me as it will because if I pester then pretty soon they’d get annoyed and not return my calls. Plus, and perhaps most importantly, I’m the goofy-looking kid way down at the end of the row in a game of telephone; whatever the message seems to be I take it with a grain of salt; you should probably put a tablespoon on anything I have to say.]
Out here in California we have what may be a slightly different view of where the Democratic Party is headed, a view we see as prescient and forward-looking; others may see it as delusional. The future of the Democratic Party is multiculturalism, rather than bi-racialism. Instead of an uneasy partnership of minority black and majority white, it will be an uneasy coalition of multiple minorities including whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians.
I am coming to terms with my minority status as a white male. I believe that the change in demographics is a good thing, and an opportunity, but like all change there are problems. Phrasing it as a denigration of the white voter, as a diminishment of white influence, is a tactical error but this is coming from the mouth of Donna Brazile so no big shock there; she is if nothing else a consistent source of irritation. Other, saner people are trying to find way to discuss this without reveling in alienation. (For what it may be worth, she did backtrack; I still don't like her.)
There are a lot of different viewpoints to organizing, a lot of different approaches to coalition building, but economics persists as the most consistent, most reliable driver of voter interest. For the Democrats, the challenge is in how to bring together and align the economic interests as well as the sociological aspirations of four racial/cultural groups that have an established distrust of one another.
The downside of not doing so can manifest rapidly, as we learned here in 2003 when a large segment of Hispanic voters supported the recall of Gray Davis and the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger. That was a huge shock to the Democratic Party, and a lot of soul-searching has gone on ever since over what to do to keep Hispanics from shifting away. Fortunately, George Bush has helped, but relying on the antagonism of Republican policies is no long-term strategy. The Republican Pete Wilson pushed particularly repugnant anti-immigrant policies here in 1994 and the rightful backlash did not last a decade.
The realization has dawned that appealing specifically to Hispanics or any single-interest-group focus is a limited strategy, a goal that does not effectively address the larger issue of keeping the Democratic Party together and in the majority. The people I talk to are pushing for a Democratic Party that embraces broad populist/progressive economic positions as the key to binding together these disparate cultural groups. Bringing everyone together - including enough of the business community to make them partners rather than oppositional - will require a nuanced approach to economic arguments.
The key terminology is that of business, and the key metric is Return on Investment. The strategic argument is that tax dollars are not a burden on today’s profitability but rather an investment in the future – education, infrastructure, health care, small business growth, innovative technology – that will provide a return in better jobs, healthier, more capable, more reliable, more productive employees, sustainable profits, and greater economic security for all. For instance: “welfare” won’t appeal any longer, but “job retraining” with “forgivable sustenance loans” will; "global warming" is too nebulous and passive, while "energy independence" is an active, definable winner.
(Most people, given a clear description of what is being proposed, want to do the right thing for the future of the country and the world; when we feel like it is all slipping away, it is important to remember that.)
What won’t work any longer is much of the rhetoric of the 60’s, words like welfare and rights campaigns based on the claims of narrow interest groups. This is part of the basis for what Obama is trying, awkwardly, to talk about; he’s not completely wrong about “leaving behind” the “struggles of the past”, he just doesn’t have a vocabulary with which to effectively communicate the struggles of the future.
This transition in language and tactics is a great philosophical challenge, as no one – repeat, no one – in the Democratic Party wants to abandon or even be seen as abandoning core liberties such as gay rights or freedom of reproductive choice. But to keep the gains that have been made and achieve even greater equality a different framing needs to be found, one that will allow everyone from economically disadvantaged religious conservatives to the affected interest groups themselves to feel included.
The key is in the words, in finding a meaningful and clear terminology, and it may be that we can do better for everyone by using “human rights” in an all-inclusive way rather than a long litany of individual interest groups as we have in the past. For instance, gay rights; all human beings should enjoy freedom from overt, institutionalized discrimination regardless of sexual preference. Defining it as a human right, a right that should be protected for all of us, lets us argue the point while avoiding the GLBTetc alphabet soup approach that inevitably offends too many people and prevents the building of a majority coalition. This is true across the board; we don’t need gay rights or black rights or women’s rights or Latino rights; we need human rights, rights that are the same for all of us.
This emerging multifaceted coalition will require whites to accept for the first time a truly co-equal status with other racial/cultural groups. That should be a positive thing, not a negative; it must be a positive thing, or the Democratic Party will fracture in ways that will probably be irretrievable and not at all favorable for building any sort of progressive movement. We will have one chance here to get this right, or suffer the consequences of failure for another generation. It is a topic very much on the minds of the Democratic Party leadership, both here in California and across the country.
With either Clinton or Obama in the White House, these greater issues will determine the future of the Democratic Party and, to a large extent, the future of the country. I feel reasonably calm and confident, almost irrespective of which of the two candidates wins the nomination, because I think these larger forces, the dominant need to pull together this multipartite coalition, will determine what either of them is able to do rather than one of them driving any independent agenda.
There is in this transformation an enormous, almost irresistible opportunity for a sustained progressive advancement, just waiting to organize. I believe it will happen, and I believe that the election of either a black man or a white woman will be such a transformative occurrence that it will act as a significant seed crystal in that organizing event.
We have a future to build, evil to conquer and demons to slay; sitting out the election because the Democratic candidate is flawed, voting for a throw-away or not voting at all, will not help. Democracy is a pot-luck event; if you want a seat at the table, you have to show up and bring something worthwhile to share.
In sharp contrast, the plans being laid by major anti-war groups to disrupt the Democratic National Convention will, like 1968, serve only to raise doubts in voters minds about the reliability and managerial capability of the Democratic Party; disorder in Denver is counterproductive, will only serve to strengthen the Republicans and so prolong the war. This tactic is a great foolishness, and I condemn it; forty years of all but unbroken Republican domination as a direct, predictable result of the excesses of Chicago and still, nothing has been learned. This summer is a time for coming together, not for tearing asunder.
All you little dark clouds need to reorganize yourselves, find your happy place (said with both understanding and affection, but sternly) and focus on the real enemy – the Republican Party.
Positive Mental Attitude, Eyes On The Prize. Please.