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The Democratic Party Is Dying

Joe Biden. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Joe Biden was the featured guest for the Tom Johnson Lectureship at the LBJ Presidential Library on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. The conversation was moderated by Mark Updegrove, former director of the LBJ Library.

The future of the Democratic Party is bleak.

Up until recently in possession of the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives, the Democrats have failed to accomplish anything meaningful, anything that improves the quality of our lives.

Voters tend to notice that sort of thing. 

However, the DNC’s problem isn’t merely about contemporary underperformance; it’s not about Joe Manchin or Kristin Sinema’s moderate-conservative disruption of the liberal agenda.

No, the DNC’s problem is much deeper and more profound; the Democrat’s problem is the culmination of a four-decade ethos shift that has left what was once the party of the people a shriveled, impotent shell of its former self.

What Happened to the Democratic Party

The Democratic Party is supposed to protect the middle class. And through the middle of the twentieth century, the Dems did just that.

Middle-class voters (i.e. the majority of Americans) responded favorably, and the results were politically prosperous – the Dems dominated federal elections; The Dems held the White House from 1933 until 1953 and then again from 1961 until 1969 – and once more from 1977 until 1981. Liberals also dominated the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Warren led a nearly two-decade run of consistently progressive case rulings.

More importantly, during this time period of Dem vitality, America prospered. The American middle class was the envy of the world; long overdue reforms regarding race and gender were implemented; the American dream was a tangible thing – rather than just a campaign slogan – available to an ever-increasing swath of the U.S. population. The GOP had a powerful counterpoint in a righteous, convicted Democratic Party that knew how to win elections and knew how to govern. Professor Mark Lilla called this era the “Roosevelt Dispensation,” which “pictured an America where citizens were involved in a collective enterprise to guard one another against risk, hardship, and the denial of fundamental rights.”

Obviously – and unfathomably – the Democrats have deviated from their mid-century magic formula, from the Roosevelt Dispensation.

Today’s Democratic Party is bloated and festering, nearly unrecognizable from the party that once appealed so widely to everyday Americans.

The ethos-shift – a rightward drift economically, a leftward-drift socially – began in the early 1980s, hit full stride with the Clinton administration but perhaps didn’t register fully with the people until the Obama administration, when the man who said “Yes We Can” demonstrated that he could, or would, not. 

The Democratic Party’s Shift

The shift occurred slowly but unmistakably; Gradually, the Dems relinquished their sacred role as protector of the middle class – and instead began to accommodate the type of person that, increasingly, the party itself was composed of: educated, coastal, managerial elites.

The results have been disastrous, namely, the decimation of the American working class, which has resulted from a consensus on economic issues that coagulated between the GOP and Democrats.

Intuitively, middle-class voters abandoned the Dems. Ironically, many of them flocked to the GOP, positioning the party to enact the pro-business, labor-busting policies with the potential to condemn the middle class to the rims of poverty.

But remember, many of the watershed policies, those which ruined the middle class, didn’t occur on the GOP’s watch. It wasn’t Reagan who enacted the 1994 crime bill, sending our working class to prison en masse.

It wasn’t Bush 41 who signed NAFTA, sending their jobs abroad. It wasn’t Bush 43 who gutted the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). And it wasn’t Trump who campaigned on the premise of “Hope” and then let Wall Street off the hook for tanking the economy. No, that was Bill Clinton, and that was Barack Obama. 

The Dems, rather than course correct for, or acknowledge, their abandonment of the middle class, have doubled down on an institutional ethos – and a corresponding platform – that is nearly incoherent concerning forming unity and winning elections. The Democrats, which functions at reduced strength thanks to a strategy of dividing along arbitrary identity-based lines, have prioritized non-economic issues – no doubt because the Harvard-Yale crowd running the party is doing just fine.

So instead of prioritizing income inequality or the disappearance of the middle class, the Dems have taken a tact so sanctimonious, so substantively discreet it leaves many Americans feeling they have nowhere to turn but the GOP. You know the tact.

And that’s not all. It fixates on Trump. It frames allowing trans women to play women’s sports as the social justice fight of our time (but can’t really articulate why). It advocates legal access to abortion (even though It had 50 years to codify Roe and failed to do so). And It demonizes anyone who doesn’t agree, anyone who votes red – even those voting GOP in the desperate hope it will result in a sliver of financial relief. Instead of courting disenfranchised middle-American voters, the Dems vilify them as racists and bigots.

Naturally, vilified (white) voters, unable to differentiate between the GOP and DNC on economic policy, will side with the party that does not call them racist. Remarkably, non-white voters are increasingly choosing the GOP, too, demonstrating that even the Dems target audience is not receptive to the Dems flat message.   

The future of the Democratic Party is bleak, indeed. 

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Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.