Are the Dems doomed?
Probably not, but the party seems far less prepared than the GOP to cope with the coming era of austerity.

Pete Souza / White House

President Barack Obama prays following a meeting with religious leaders in the Oval Office.

Article Highlights

  • Is it time to start talking about the inevitable demise of the Democratic Party? @JonahNRO

    Tweet This

  • The problem for the Democratic Party is that its core philosophy and mechanisms are increasingly ill-suited to our times

    Tweet This

  • The way politics is done has to change for the simple reason we cannot afford it. @JonahNRO

    Tweet This

Is it time to start talking about the inevitable demise of the Democratic Party?

Since the 1990s there's been a thriving cottage industry of doomsaying about the Republican Party. The gold standard of the genre is undoubtedly 2002's "The Emerging Democratic Majority" by Ruy Teixeira and John Judis, which argued that the Democrats were destined to become a majority party because demographic and cultural trends were on their side. The increasing cultural liberalism of professionals, the dramatic growth of Latinos and the increasingly liberal attitudes of (single) women were celebrated by Teixeira and Judis as proof that time was on the Democrats' side.

And they may have been right, had all the trends they identified or took for granted continued to move in a straight line.

But that pretty much never happens, as Sean Trende brilliantly argues in his book, "The Lost Majority: Why the Future of Government Is Up for Grabs - and Who Will Take It." For instance, Trende recounts how the late Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote in the summer of 1972 that George McGovern was "the leader of a coalition of citizen participation, a coalition for change, as broad as FDR's in 1932."

McGovern lost in a massive landslide (61% to 38%).

The problem for the Democratic Party is that its core philosophy and mechanisms are increasingly ill-suited to our times.

In an essay for National Affairs titled "The Politics of Loss," Jay Cost recounts how the entire edifice of post-World War II politics is starting to crumble under the weight of debt and impending austerity. "The days when lawmakers could give to some Americans without shortchanging others are over; the politics of deciding who loses what, and when and how, is upon us," Cost writes. He's undoubtedly right when he adds, "Neither party yet fully understands the implications of this shift, which means both parties risk being caught unprepared when the economic slowdown forces profound changes in American politics."

But there's a key difference between the parties. The Democrats tend to be more traditionally coalitional: If everyone sticks together, everyone gets paid. In the age of austerity, however, zero-sum politics become more of the norm. When one constituency's victory is another's loss, the payoff for solidarity diminishes.

Already, across the country, there's a growing rift between unions in the public sector and the private sector, perhaps not in official statements but clearly in terms of rank-and-file voters and popular perceptions. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker got 37% of the vote from union households in his recall fight, in part because private sector union members understood how much the private sector needed a healthy state economy.

More broadly, the old system of rewarding liberal elites on cultural and environmental issues while paying off the working class with economic spoils will be increasingly hard to sustain. Obama's positions on gay marriage and the Keystone XL pipeline fuel donations from celebrity millionaires but they don't help with middle- and lower-class voters. And if those voters get no payoff from voting Democratic, what's the point?

Consider Obama's decision to grant work permits to perhaps 1 million young illegal immigrants. In a booming economy that would be a lot easier. Instead, the White House must tell millions of unemployed blacks that the competition for jobs has just gotten tougher because Obama needs more Latino votes.

Ironically, the last time America experienced the politics of austerity, it was a great boon for the Democratic Party.Franklin D. Rooseveltcobbled together his great coalition in the 1930s by doling out patronage and spoils to various constituencies.

But here's the difference. Roosevelt could target his pandering without too much fear of spillover. He could tell blacks he was on their side and Southern racists he was on theirs. In Oval Office meetings, he would mollify members of his coalition by blaming other members for holding up progress.

I don't actually think the Democratic Party is doomed (nor did I ever believe the GOP was). But the way politics is done has to change for the simple reason we cannot afford it. Maybe I'm wrong, but the Democrats seem far less prepared to deal with that reality than the Republicans.

Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Jonah
Goldberg

  •  


    A bestselling author and columnist, Jonah Goldberg's nationally syndicated column appears regularly in scores of newspapers across the United States. He is also a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a member of the board of contributors to USA Today, a contributor to Fox News, a contributing editor to National Review, and the founding editor of National Review Online. He was named by the Atlantic magazine as one of the top 50 political commentators in America. In 2011 he was named the Robert J. Novak Journalist of the Year at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). He has written on politics, media, and culture for a wide variety of publications and has appeared on numerous television and radio programs. Prior to joining National Review, he was a founding producer for Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg on PBS and wrote and produced several other PBS documentaries. He is the recipient of the prestigious Lowell Thomas Award. He is the author of two New York Times bestsellers, The Tyranny of Clichés (Sentinel HC, 2012) and Liberal Fascism (Doubleday, 2008).  At AEI, Mr. Goldberg writes about political and cultural issues for American.com and the Enterprise Blog.

    Follow Jonah Goldberg on Twitter.


  • Phone: 202-862-7165
    Email: jonah.goldberg@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image The Census Bureau and Obamacare: Dumb decision? Yes. Conspiracy? No.
image A 'three-state solution' for Middle East peace
image Give the CBO long-range tools
image The coming collapse of India's communists
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.