I worry about the future of the Democratic party. It has been out of office more than in office during the last 50 years, failing to win the Presidency, and only Bill Clinton has managed a second term since Truman in the 40s. Yet it should have a natural majority, if it were seen as solidly representing the 99% of the population, who are not wealthy. But it has steadily lost ground in the core Roosevelt group: white working class with jobs, but no college degree, for whom it no longer seems to offer anything. Of course, this partly reflects the loss of the South with Nixon’s Southern Strategy but even in the North the Democrats struggle with this group. And it reflects the redistribution of political say away from this group within the Democratic Party.
To understand this a bit, let me resort to a personal story told by a friend of mine. She was one of 12 life long Republican voters, whom I knew from my corporate days, who in 2008, disgusted by the choice of Sarah Palin as Vice President candidate, not only switched to vote for Obama, but actively campaigned on his behalf to ‘stop Palin’. Since then my friend, who has always been a strong environmentalist, has become active in her county Democratic party organization. She goes to meetings and what she describes cuts to the core of the problem for the Democrats. There are interest groups there, but in the meetings, the African Americans only want to talk about African American issues, the Hispanics, Hispanic issues, the Gay group, Gay issues, Womens groups, women’s issues, and by the time it comes to the environment attention has waned. And no one talks about the problems of white working class with jobs and no college degree. They are just not present….
Now my friend Bill Ury talks about interests, and points out that in any conflict, there are shared interests, even between two opponents, some things they both want. There are different interests, where the two sides want different things, but they are not exclusive of each other; they are non-rival as economists now call things like shared information on the internet. And there are conflicting interests, where one side can only meet its interests at the expense of the other side.
The Republicans are brilliant at creating coalitions of interest groups that bond around shared interests, figure out and agree to meet different interests, and cut deals on conflicting interests or simply ignore the latter to defeat the Democrats. The Democrats are hopeless at this process. A process they were once masters of.
What do I suggest? Well it might be a start to realize that unless the economy recovers, no one’s interests are met. African Americans, Hispanics, Gays, Women, Environmental groups all need a thriving, sustainable economy that provides jobs and incomes to sustain whatever different lifestyle folk want. Identity politics divides the Democratic Party alliance, and allows divide and rule by well funded Republican politicians. Nothing wrong with identity politics and folk wanting to be respected for who they are, but alliances need to build around common interests. And of course, the day the Democratic Party goes back to the FDR coalition approach: guess what? They may find that the interests the identity groups have in common around jobs and a sustainable planet are also shared by the white working class with jobs and no college degree. Hmmm….or is this too hard?
The last real alliance builder on the left: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945): see