Michael Barone is a bit provocative today when he writes that Democrats are abnormal. That should fill up his comment box. Jonathan Chait raises some of the same issues in TNR this week. Chait writes:
The last Democrat who held the White House, Bill Clinton, saw the core of his domestic agenda come to ruin, his political support collapse, and his failure spawn a massive Republican resurgence that made progressive reform impossible for a decade to come. The Democrat who last held the White House before that, Jimmy Carter, saw the exact same thing happen to him.
Barone sees a fundamental difference:
the Republican Party is the party of people who are considered, by themselves and by others, as normal Americans—Northern white Protestants in the 19th century, married white Christians more recently—while the Democratic Party is the party of the out groups who are in some sense seen, by themselves and by others, as not normal—white Southerners and Catholic immigrants in the 19th century, blacks and white seculars more recently.
I disagree with both of them. The parties have evolved the past 40 years and do not resemble the parties of the 1930s and 40s. I have read quite a bit about Wendell Willkie and his nomination as the GOP presidential candidate in 1940. My review of one biography of him is here. Willkie was a modern figure who was very reluctantly nominated by a deeply isolationist Republican Party in 1940. He came within 600,000 votes of defeating Roosevelt and probably only the war kept Roosevelt in office. In 1944, he was denied the nomination and Dewey, an immature and unseasoned politician, was defeated handily by the dying Roosevelt. The Republican Party of today is nothing like the party of 1940, or even of 1948.
Eisenhower made an enormous change in the party and the Civil Rights struggle split the Democrats, ending their domination of the presidency for the next 50 years. Carter was elected because of the Watergate scandal and lasted only one term. Clinton benefited from the third party candidacy of Ross Perot and never did get a majority in spite of being re-elected. Obama has now been elected because of the financial collapse and the weak candidacy of John McCain.
The Democrats have become the party of a cluster of self interested entities whose concern is less in governing than in accomplishing the goals of the interest group. The Teachers unions are determined to keep vouchers suppressed and to keep the money coming in education funding. Their interest in results with students is minimal. The great industrial unions are a thing of the past or, as in the case of the auto industry, an albatross around the neck of dying industries. The steel industries restructured themselves in bankruptcy but the auto companies have been diverted by the lure of government money. It will be a poor bargain, losing billions of taxpayer funds and probably failing completely in the hands of politicians.
The growth of unions is limited to public employees and here is where the other great power of the Democrats is lodged. These unions have used political power to obtain salaries that exceed the same levels of compensation in private industry. Secondly, they have obtained promises of lavish pension and health benefits that previously only existed in the dying industrial unions. There are no layoffs and, even in bankrupt California, the numbers of employees grow steadily. Unfortunately for the public employees, just as in housing prices, trees do not grow to the sky. Everything comes to an end when the laws of gravity are exceeded. The first harbinger was the city of Vallejo, which declared bankruptcy last year. The cause ?
The city of 117,000 is facing ballooning labor costs and declining housing-related tax revenue that have left it with a $16 million deficit forecast for the year starting in July. In bankruptcy, creditors will be kept at bay while officials devise a plan to balance the books. City services would still operate.
The Democrats have also attracted a prosperous segment of the population which may not agree wth all the economic nostrums of the Democrats but are attracted by issues like global warming, gay rights abortion and other social causes that transcend economics and are fashionable right now. The global warming thing has taken on some of the characteristics of a cult. Children are taught recycling even though it has been shown to be ineffective in conserving resources. Wealthy people buy Priuses and “green” coffee and organic vegetables as a social class statement. The economic policies of Obama may shake the faith of some of these people who are more libertarian than true blue Democrats.
What about the Republicans ? Tradition has it that the GOP is the party of big business. Is that true ? Most of the political contributions from Wall Street were going to Democrats. Now, in fairness I should say that business men tend to support whoever is in office. Incumbents get the larger share of contributions as businesses buy protection from Congress. In the 2008 election Wall Street backed Obama with millions.
Illinois Sen. Obama, who captured the Democratic presidential nomination on Tuesday after a lengthy primary battle against New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, has received $7.9 million (4.1 million pounds) in contributions from the securities and investment industries, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
His opponent, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, banked a little under $4.2 million, putting him behind fellow Republicans Rudolph Giuliani and Mitt Romney, who have long since dropped out of the race.
And that was just the primaries.
Who are Republicans ? Barone has some theories.
that the Republican Party is the party of people who are considered, by themselves and by others, as normal Americans—Northern white Protestants in the 19th century, married white Christians more recently.
There is more to it than this. Cuban exiles and Vietnamese exiles have been loyal GOP supporters since they attributed the loss of their homelands to Democrats’ policies. Small business owners are probably the most firm Republican supporters just as lawyers tend to support Democrats. They are acting in the best interests of their occupation, as big businessmen once did 50 years ago. Many of those small business owners are minorities and that may mitigate the effects of racial politics, which favors Democrats even though blacks obtained their Civil Rights through Republicans. Hispanics tend to have families, although illegitimate birth rates are rising.
The Christian conservatives have been credited with far more power than I believe they have in the party. Republicans, since the 1960s when cultural radicalism was adopted by the Democrats, have attracted those who are mostly concerned with children and families, and that includes the Christian conservatives. Many of them are not particularly conservative economically, although many have small businesses. The central theme seems to be a conservative outlook on economics and family life. That includes self reliance and independence. Abortion is a major issue with these voters.
Democrats have trended to communitarian beliefs in which individualism, including such topics as gun ownership and the military, is to be suppressed in favor of group rights. It comes down in the end to individualism versus group rights.
communitarianism emphasizes the need to balance individual rights and interests with that of the community as a whole
This includes “spreading the wealth” around and punishing individual achievement with high taxes, even taxes that total more than 100% when state and city taxes are included.