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August 22, 2004
The Emerging Democratic Majority (Judis & Teixeira)

The Emerging Democratic Majority (John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira)

In the Introduction (the Politics of Postindustrial America), the authors begin by discussing post-9/11 politics, making it clear that far from strengthening the Republican party, the November 2001 elections resulted in significant Democratic Party wins in local and state races.

There's also a discussion of the cyclical natures of politics in this country, how power has shifted between the Left and the Right at definable intervals. Based on their material, it's clear that the "transition" intervals when neither party has clear dominance are getting longer. (They pause to attribute these transitions to "Keynesian business policies" that "reduce the downward trajectory of the business cycles." Depressions used to precede political sea-changes.) When you combine that trend with what seems to be the increasing partisan divide (largely attributable to the failure of the "responsible center" of the Republican Party to get out and vote, leaving the choice of candidates and platforms to the wingnuts*) and the increasing difficulty of passing substantive bipartisan legislation in Congress, it seems to be you have a recipe for disaster, but I suppose that was outside the scope of the book.

(* I hate to be unpleasantly partisan, but you'd be hard-pressed to gather up all of the Democratic Congressional representatives and identify a substantial percentage as holding compatible fringe beliefs.

On the other hand, it's quite easy to identify a significant percentage of Republicans with strongly held fringe beliefs. For the sake of simplicity, we'll just refer to these as the neocons.)

Where was I?

Oh, yes. The Introduction to the book also offers some valuable consideration of the "coalition" nature of our political system. Since our system ("winner take all") discourages the long-term existence of strong second-tier political parties, major interest groups find themselves sometimes uneasy bedfellows with other groups whose aims they don't necessarily support. (Abortion, gay rights.) The shifting of emphasis on different issues is what causes political realignments as the country's population and perception of the future shifts.

In the three presidential elections from 1992 to 2000, the Democrats won twenty states and the District of Columbia all three times. These represented a total of 267 electoral votes, just three short of a majority.

The authors contend that this is a base upon which the Democrats can build a new majority, when the demographics of the votes are considered. Their point is that the "metropolitan" areas are increasing and tend to vote Democrat. The Republican voter base is shrinking, based as it is in rural or agrarian areas, which constitute a smaller and smaller portion of the electorate.

(I think it's worth pointing out that the Republican affection for Big Business is a major contributor to the demise if its own majority. Their policies, which have encouraged consolidation of agrarian business to the detriment of the small farmer have created a handful of Right-leaning "business owners" but an ever-growing "labor" pool that's going to vote Democrat. The party that discusses wages, job security, and workplace safety is going to capture these votes.)

More than that, though, the growing "professional class" in the country identifies itself with the Left, although the authors (and I) think it's important to point out that this group doesn't see itself as being on the Left politically.

They could best be described as "progressive centrists."

The Democrats' progressive outlook is most apparent in their view of government. Unlike Republican conservatives, they do not subscribe to the gospel of deregulation and privatization. They want to supplement the market's invisible hand with the visible hand of government to ensure that the public interest is served. They favor government regulation of business to protect the environment, ensure the safety and quality of consumer goods, prevent investor and stock market fraud, and protect workers from dangers tot heir health and safety. They want to strengthen social insurance programs, including Medicare and social security, and to widen the availability of health insurance. They up hold the freedom of companies to expand or contract as the market requires, but they also want to shield workers from the insecurities created by global trade and economic downturns. They want a larger and stronger social safety net and generous spending on education and worker training.

The new Democrats also reflect the outlook of the social movements that first arose during the sixties. They support equality for women in the workplace and their right to have an abortion. They oppose government interference in people's private lives--from censorship to antisodmy laws. They reject government imposition of sectarian religious standards on both personal behavior and on scientific research. They envision America as a multiethnic and multiracial democracy, and they support targeted programs to help minorities that trail the rest of the population in education and income.

But they also see themselves as centrists. They favor government intervention, but not, except in very special circumstances, the government's supplanting and replacing the operation of the market. They want government, in David Osborne's phrase, "to steer, not to row." They want government to equip Americans with the tools to be effective workers in a high-tech society, but they don't want government to guarantee everyone a job through public spending. They worry about budget deficits and are wary of large tax cuts. They want incremental, careful reforms that will substantially increase health-care coverage and perhaps eventually universalize it, but not a large new bureaucracy that will replace the entire private health-care market. They want aid to minorities, but they oppose the large-scale imposition of quotas or the enactment of racial reparations.

Like the old progressive Republican majority, the emerging Democratic majority reflects deep-seated social and economic trends that are changing the face of the country. At the beginning of the last century, the progressive Republicans oversaw the transition from an Anglo-Saxon Protestant society of farms and small manufacturers to an urban, ethic, industrial capitalism. Today's Democrats are the party of the transition from urban industrialism to a new postindustrial metropolitan order in which men and women play equal roles and in which white America is supplanted by multiracial, multiethnic America. This transition is occurring in the three critical realms of work, values, and geography.

The authors go on to discuss the three realms in detail, explaining how they have changed over the last century.

Chapter One talks about the rise of the most recent Republican majority and the forces that are now dismantling it.

If you decide to skim the book at your local library instead of checking it out and reading all of it, don't miss the discussion of the role of third parties on page 16.

One indication that a realignment is imminent has been the rise of third parties that defy the existing political consensus.

If Nader is correct in his claim that he pulls votes from both parties, then his Green Party may well be the harbinger of the realignment to come. An analysis of his voter base will tell you where the emerging majority's interests lie.

His claim is, however, unlikely. The authors suggest that an analysis of Ross Perot's failed but astonishingly strong (18.9% of the vote) bid for the presidency is a more typical third party-realignment indicator.

The chapter also discusses how Clinton and the sometimes-reviled DLC are actually representative of the growing "progressive centrism," They talk about the missteps of the Clinton Administration (the effect of misreading their public support during his first term) and then touch on how the subsequent hysteria (my word) of the witch hunts (my words) of Newt Gingrich's wingnuts (my word) in Congress contributed to the difficulty of overseeing a "transitional" presidency when one party is moving out and the other in.

I do have to say that as I waded through the mass of Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 statistics about changes in voting patterns for different demographics (88 educational but dry pages), I sometimes wondered about the emphasis placed on a majority of 2% or 3% or 5% of votes here and there. Those seem like very small percentages to me and yet I'm familiary with the political phenomenon of hailing a 4% vote spread as a "significant majority."

Still the discussion of changing demographics and economic job shifts was interesting and educational. The authors have, at least, proven that in the absence of (legitimate) war or economic disaster, the issues close to my heard personally will remain prominent on the political state for the foreseeable futures. Concerns for civil rights, equal rights, healthcare benefits, and the environment have become majority issues.

Understand that the authors are discussing voters inclined to vote Democrat. Individual elections still depend on the strength of the individual candidates running.

And on the media. (Keep reading.)

Unless you're a nut on stats, 88 pages of discussion of percentile changes in voting patterns in Chapters Three and Four, well, they aren't lively reading. (There's some anecdotal discussion of specific races or interest groups as well, of course.)

Interestingly, it was Chapter 5, the one dealing with some Republicans' belief that a new conservative era is dawning, that was most convincing in the argument otherwise. The "Religious Right" may be loud, but it's a rapidly shrinking percentage of the voting population. (I hadn't actually been aware that they view the Department of Education as the spawn of Satan. That was pretty funny.)

Racism is alive and well in some parts of the country but as we shift toward an economy ever-more based on the production of ideas, the creative freedom and ambiance those ideas need to flourish will continue erasing those pockets of bigotry. Today's generations are largely intolerant of intolerance and won't support what they see as unjust suppression of a legitimate group. Being face-to-face with homosexuality may still make some of them uncomfortable, but that's a long way from saying they'll support legislative bigotry.

It's also interesting that it isn't until this chapter that any sense of the authors' own politics begins to appear. In earlier chapters, they had blandly quoted things like Reagan's much-debunked "welfare queen in Chicago" story or the Willie Horton lies purely as examples of campaign rhetoric, with no explanation of the actual dishonesty behind such stories.

Well, okay, I can accept that. Outside the scope of their book and stuff, I guess. (A footnote would have killed them?)

But in Chapter Five they actually mention, after quoting Bush on a debate topic, a national patients' bill of rights, when he claimed to have brought, "Republicans and Democrats together to do just that in the state of Texas, to get a patients' bill of rights through." They actually mention that that's not true, that the Texas bill was actually passed over Bush's opposition.

From that point on, they do debunk some of the Republican Party's current beliefs about "what people want" and point out that these are based on bad polling and wishful thinking.

Since the book was published in 2002, there are some fairly amusing references to Bush's "successful war on terrorism" that are no longer valid (this was before the invasion of Iraq). This shift further reduces Bush's already limited chance for (legitimate) victory in 2004. (They point out that; even in the middle of making "war on terror," Bush's anti-environmental policies were losing him support.)

Actually, on pages 159-160, they offer a fairly scathing indictment of most of Bush's policies, describing how he's been moving farther and farther right all the time. (The authors in no way even hinted at this, but I have to say those two pages read to me like a description of a six year-old on an extended temper tantrum. He didn't get...something, whatever it was he wanted, and now he's trashing all the toys so no one can have them.)

The authors also did something I found very irritating. Discussing the 2000 Presidential election and the post-election discussions of what went wrong. Why didn't Gore win? Which part of the message was it that didn't work? Or was it Clinton's fault? (No, they weren't Republican pollsters, but that just shows you how widely the fallout from the smear campaign against the Clintons had spread.)

[...] an extensive postelection poll conducted among 2,036 respondents. When he asked respondents the three main reasons for not voting for Al Gore, 29 percent cited his "exaggerations and untruthfulness." 20 percent his "support for legalizing the union of gay couples." 19 percent his "pro-abortion position," and 17 percent his "being too close to Bill Clinton." Among white, non-college-educated male voters, 31 percent cited Gore's untruthfulness, 29 percent cited his "antigun positions," and 21 percent cited his being too close to Clinton. In other words, their doubts stemmed from the Clinton scandals and Gore's position on gun control."

Let's recap those results:

29 percent - exaggerations and untruthfulness
20 percent - support for gay marriage/union
19 percent - support for abortion
17 percent - "too close to Bill Clingon."

Second group:

31 percent - untruthfulness
29 percent - antigun positions
21 percent - too close to Clinton

Note that the authors entirely ignore the media-fueled inventions about Gore's "untruthfulness," even though those stories had a significant impact on the election.

The authors pretend, instead, that the #1 reason for not voting for Gore ("exaggerations and untruthfulness") was the legacy of the Clinton scandals, even though the results they quote clearly divide the issue of Gore's "truthfulness" into a separate issue than his relationship with Clinton.

They also blame Gore's anti-gun position for losing him a lot of votes, a question that doesn't even appear on the first set of results as they've quoted them.

While I understand that the media's contribution to the 2000 election was outside the scope of their book, this is still just dishonest analysis. (A footnote would have killed them?)

Anyhow. The book was interesting, but less conclusive than I'd hoped.

The Introduction was good with its brief coverage of how political issues shift around over the years. Chapters 2 and 3, as I said before, were slow wading. What a country in Ohio is doing is probably of critical importance, but the immediate interest value to me personally is fairly limited. Chapter 5 was really just an extension of chapter of Chapter 1, except that it extended the discussion of the dwindling Republican voter base out into the future, speculating on how it will continue to shrink.

You will want to read the 14 pages at the end of the book (Conclusion: "The Progressive Center") where they discuss why Progressive issues are the new "middle ground" for UsofA politics. It's their case (and they make it well) that the just-passed Republican Majority was a necessary and useful "corrective" to the radical economic and social upheaval in this country over recent decades. It's that "pendulum" theory again.

(There are bits that seem to be a digression into a discussion of, "Republican dirty tricks") but if you read them carefully, these are actually cautionary tales about what happens when one party stays in power for too long without change and ideals harden into dogma.)

The book was worth reading. In some ways it wasn't as interesting as I'd hoped (statistics do not fascinate me), but there was a lot of good stuff in it.

On the other hand, there were frustrating gaps in the issues they considered.

For instance, the neocon emphasis on remaking the world in our image combined with their contempt for and ineptitude at "nation-building" is eroding the perception of the Republican Party as superior at "defense" issues. But that's my perception. The authors didn't discuss this at all.

In fact, there's surprisingly little discussion of international affairs. Their analysis focuses on domestic issues, already viewed as an area of expertise for the Democrats. Because of this, I value the contribution of their ideas to the debate but didn't find the book itself entirely conclusive.

Posted by AnneZook at 11:36 AM


Excellent review!

It does sound like their taking their own reading of their statistics way too seriously, instead of allowing for reasonable margins of error.

You might be surprised to learn, after reading them, that I've heard religious conservatives cite the demographic argument in their favor. Yes, abortion is an issue, but there's also higher average family size, and immigration from heavily Catholic Mexico and other countries with strong religious traditions and less urbanized cultures. Also rising membership in certain classes of churches, if memory serves.

Personally, I think the whole 'pendulum' theory is a crock, as the issues and parties change too much over the course of the three decades usually cited as a 'cycle' to be meaningfully the same.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at August 22, 2004 02:10 PM

I did consider mentioning that statistics can be interpreted to "prove" almost anything you want them to prove, but I figured everyone reading here knows that already.

(That's also why I didn't spend much time discussing their statistics. Insofar as the authors translated statistics into demographics, I found the trends they claim to have identified worth considering, but I didn't want to give the impression I was going overboard to fall in with their every theory.)

While I do think that in today's world it's a mistake to think you can identify future trends without considering the entire world among your factors, I should also say that I did agree with their conclusion that issues about the environment, women's rights, and other "60s movements" have largely become part of the country's mainstream and that the party struggling to turn the clock back on these issues is fighting a losing battle.

I'm not particularly concerned by statistics quoted about religion. There may be an odd number of people who claim they're regular church-goers in this country, but a count taken standing outside a church on a Sunday showed that people were rashly inflating their church attendance.

You also have to consider that "religious" covers a lot of ground. This country's Jewish and Catholic populations have both suffered organized oppression in this country and, in spite of the flap over "communion for abortion supporters" I doubt that they'd be wholeheartedly behind a move by Protestants to start pushing a Protestant religious agenda*.)

(* It's very clumsy talking about a "Protestant agenda" as though all sects had identical beliefs.)

Posted by: Anne at August 22, 2004 06:30 PM

For clarification if you please.

What is your definition of "fringe?" (besides neocon) in the context of your post?

What is your threshold for "signficant"?

Since you list neocons as a significant fringe and they (in Congress) are quite easy to identify, would you mind doing so? Thanks.

Posted by: Col Steve at August 23, 2004 11:46 AM

"They pause to attribute these transitions to "Keynesian business policies" that "reduce the downward trajectory of the business cycles." Depressions used to precede political sea-changes."

Or, as Joseph Schumpeter said, "the social process is really one indivisible whole" and "the business cycle is mis-named" and should really be thought of as a social cycle, or a cultural cycle. Maybe moderating it financially means also moderating its cultural effects as well. I suspect that Immanuel Wallerstein would like that explanation (I suspect he has probably argued it in some book), maybe Fernand Braudel would have agreed.

[Col Steve - thanks for kind words of concern on my weblog.]

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at August 24, 2004 02:14 AM

"It's their case (and they make it well) that the just-passed Republican Majority was a necessary and useful "corrective" to the radical economic and social upheaval in this country over recent decades."

Oh come on, we all know what nonsense that is. The just-ending Republican majority was based on pure racism, and nothing else. After the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights bill the South slowly changed from Democratic to Republican alliegience. For as long as the Republicans could hold onto their old power bases in the SouthWest and mid-West while gaining the South, they had the advantage. Its the end of the Republican hold on places like California, New Mexico and Arizona that's bringing an end to the Republican era.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at August 24, 2004 02:19 AM

Col Steve -

1) In the context of the post, the neocons are actuallly the only fringe group I was thinking about at the moment.

2) "Significant" is a group large enough to sway public policy.

3) Probably not, no. I'm guilty of sloppy wording at that point. I typed "in Congress" when I should have typed "in power" since, as I'm sure you suspect, it was appointees of the Bush Administration I was thinking of.

Posted by: Anne at August 25, 2004 07:48 AM

Lawrence, I think you're being short-sighted. The just-passed Republican Majority wasn't all about racism by any means. It was about power and money, like all politics in this country.

The Republican Party merely used the card of racism to help build a base of support, the same way they used the religion card.

(I'm not arguing that there wasn't a lot of racism, just that it wasn't, in and of itself, the end. It was just the means.)

Posted by: Anne at August 25, 2004 07:50 AM

Sorry if I'm nit-picking, but the Republican majority was based on pure racism. I mean the status of holding a majority. I should have made some distinction between Republican politics in general (greed, money, power) and the ability of the Republicans to build a coalition big enough to include the majority of Americans. The Republicans would not have held the upper hand 1968-1996 if it had not been for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Southern Strategy which capitalized on white reaction to the Civil Rights Act. The Republicans would have continued to hold the minority status they'd held since 1932, were it not for the race card.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at August 25, 2004 02:13 PM

Sorry, Lawrence. I misinterpreted how you were using "based on." You were talking about the "appeal" to the individuals being coaxed into the majority. I was thinking of the actual end aims of those leading it.

You're right. It was a "based on" racism.

Posted by: Anne at August 27, 2004 11:04 AM