Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tracking the Presidential Election Part VI. The wobbly Democratic Party.

In part III of this series, I address the sad situation in the Republican party, a scene so bad that some people believe the party is on the verge of death and, in spite of an effort to unify the party behind the "presumptive  nominee", we are actually still seeing an effort to find an acceptable third party candidate by some Republicans who are big names.

First the tell of the tape:

Democrats:  Needed to win, 2,383.

Clinton: 2,293 (525 of which are Superdelegates)
Sanders:  1,533 (40 of which are Superdelegates)

Republicans:  Needed to win, 1,237.

Trump:  1,161 (of which 58 are unpledged delegates).
Cruz:  567   Cruz has suspended his campaign. (of which 18 are unpledged delegates)
Rubio:  168.  Rubio has suspended his campaign.
Kasich:  159.  Kasich has suspended his campaign
Carson:  8  Carson has suspended his campaign.
Bush:  4  Carson has suspended his campaign.
Fiorina:  1  Fiorina has dropped out of the race.
Paul:  1  Paul has dropped out of the race.


Well, if the GOP is in ICU, laying right there in the bed next to it is the Democratic Party, something that's become increasingly obvious as the Sanders campaign and its supporters have finally managed to get some press, late in the election, and as they start to become increasingly vocal about their discontent about the coronation of Hillary Clinton as the 2016 Democratic nominee, a move that reflects just how ossified the Democrats are.  Indeed, the insurgent Sanders wing of the party is now actually in full revolt.

A notable feature of this election is that, even though the country has more Democrats than Republicans, the Democrats would have been blown out of the saddle this year but for the fact that the GOP apparent nominee is even more unpopular than Hillary Clinton.  It's an amazing feat that the Republicans have pulled off, managing to find a candidate that actually is throwing voters to a candidate who is really unpopular, maybe.

I say maybe, as its still possible, although extremely unlikely, for Sanders to win. With a campaign that the press has treated as dead right from the onset, he has continued to win state after state and would be within striking distance of Clinton but for the Superdelegates, those delegates that the Democratic establishment have established to prevent the nomination of anyone who isn't solidly Democratic mainstream.  If the Republicans are facing an internal revolt, they at least have a democratic method of letting the steam off and the party adjust.  The Democrats, however, have built in a structural roadblock that's actually designed to prevent that, and for that reason, the fact that the party is nearly as ill as the GOP hasn't been apparent.  But the Democrats are a house of cards, held up right now only by the lack of a strong wind from the Republican Party.

How did the second American political party enter the same state of advance decay that the GOP did, and how can it address it?

Well, its where it is largely for the same reason that the GOP is where it is.

And to do that, we need to take a look at its history, to see how it got to where it is.  More particularly, how did the Democratic Party become a working class liberal party in the 20th Century, only to devolve to an effete, East Coast, upper class white WASP lite party?

As with the GOP, we find that story starting once again with the election of 1912.  It's amazing how pivotal that election really was, and the extent to which its defined the evolution of the parties for over a century.

 More Trump than Clinton, Andrew Jackson was the first Democrat to be elected President.  Even up until fairly recently Jackson was celebrated by Democrats in an annual "Jefferson Jackson Day" in most places, including in Wyoming. Recently, they've started omitting Jackson's name, cognizant that he wasn't exactly a modern liberal.

The Democratic Party is the oldest political party in the world.  It hasn't always been anything like the party it is today, however.  Prior to 1912 it was basically a conservative party with a strong secondary base in ethnic immigrants.  It was steeped in racism (which it didn't overcome in 1912) and it was the party that basically had come down on the wrong side of the Civil War.  Prior to the war the Democrats were strong supporters of Manifest Destiny, while the GOP opposed it, two positions that have oddly sort of lived on in the parties in spite of themselves, as the Democrats have always been more strongly associated with the violent maintenance of American ideals overseas, while the Republicans have not.

That the party survived the Civil War at all is stunning, in that the Democrats opposed the war for the most part and the Democrats had a strong Southern base, which the war did not disrupt.  Following the Civil War it retained its basic conservative base and it remained the party of Southern whites, which meant that after Reconstruction was defeated that it was the party of the South.  Only blacks provided a base for the GOP in the South at the time.  Still the war meant that the Democrats were out of the Oval Office for a 20 year period.

Running up to the 20th Century an aspect of the Democratic Party in the North that was already there became cemented as the Democrats also strongly came to be associated with ethnic minorities, and often Catholic ethnic minorities, such as the Irish.  The machine system in politics was extremely strongly expressed at the time and that strongly favored Democratic recruitment of disfavored minority voters in a region where the Democrats were otherwise not very strong.  With patronage being the basis of the effort, and successfully, in the North the party came in some ways to be partially defined by this, while ironically in the South its membership was much different.

 William Jennings Bryan, populist, and Presidential candidate at age 36.

The evolution of the modern party oddly began with an odd issue, coinage.  The Depression of 1893 threw monetary policy into focus and populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan ran on the platform of free coinage of silver, as ridiculous idea that would in no way have served to end the depression.  This makes Bryan recognizable, in some ways, to our modern era in that he was campaigning on an easy fix to a complicated problem that really had no hope of offering a solution to it.  The party nearly split in half as the conservatives in the North and the South united in a breakaway party, the National Democratic Party, which was started by Grover Cleveland and saw the recruitment of Woodrow Wilson.  Bryan took the nomination, in a manner that's somewhat reminiscent of Donald Trump today, and he saw huge crowed in the rural Midwest and South before he went down in epic defeat in 1896.  The result was a disaster, but it did start to bring into focus a populist movement that was brewing in both parties at the time, much as the same is occurring in both parties now.

What started in 1896 developed in 1912, and the upper class elements that had been the National Democrats united with populists and progressives to basically swipe the progressive movement from the GOP. The GOP was clearly split on progressivism at hte time, and the Democrats had their chance, which they took with Woodrow Wilson.  From that moment on the Democrats have been the liberal, or as it is sometimes said, the progressive, American political party, solidly to the left of the Republicans.

 Woodrow Wilson, of whom we've been seeing a lot here recently.

That 1912 liberal party wasn't what we see today, however, and its not really quite how the Democrats define themselves today. For one thing, Wilson was highly racist, but this didn't really matter to a party that didn't count on black or minority votes anywhere, and which could and did count on Southern whites, who really remained more reflective of the old conservative Democratic Party.  But the roots of the current party were there. They really came forth into bloom into what Democrats imagine themselves to be, however, with the 1932 election.

 Considered by some to be a "traitor to his class", Franklin Roosevelt as President.

In 1932 the Democrats elected the most liberal, by default, President the nation has ever seen, Franklin Roosevelt.  Coming up when he did, he came up in a party that had developed since 1912 in an era of increasing radical politics in the United States. The GOP remained solidly conservative during this time period, and the Democrats solidly liberal, except in the South, but the Socialist Party and even the Communist Party were serious parties from about that point until World War Two.  Angling for the votes of blue collar laborers, the Democrats found themselves contesting with really radical parties which saw some success.  The Great Depression brought that battle into sharp focus and the Democrats, seeking to address he nation's ills, went sharply to the left, basically taking the wind out of the hard left's sails, but also becoming a much more liberal party itself.  This continued to develop throughout the Great Depression and World War Two, during which the Democrats became solidly party nearly defined by support for working class laborers.  It became the part of the "working man".  Consistent with the general policy of progressives, it also became the party that favored expansion and protection of American ideals beyond our shores.

Coming out of World War Two, the Democrats were a solidly working class party that also had a strong base of ethnic Catholics and nearly the entire white Southern population.  It was very pro labor, and by that we mean pro organized labor.  It was in favor of big government and it also was in favor of a very active foreign policy designed to counter threats to American interest and in favor of American values.  Having been in favor of entering World War Two long before the Republicans, who only came to that opinion on December 7, 1941, the party tended to see, and often correctly, analogies with Hitler in Communist movements all over the globe.  The party was also strongly anti-colonial in terms of its foreign policy.  A recognition on its part that its support of the working class everywhere meant that its hostility to blacks in the South started to force the reform of the party on civil rights as well and blacks in the South started to join the party for the first time, following blacks in the North that had started to do so while FDR was President.

Following World War Two that Democratic Party remained the party up until the late 1960s.  It was the party's interventionist foreign policy that undid it.  The Democrats lead the nation into two wars following World War Two, neither of which was wildly popular.  Intervention in the Korean War in 1950 came first, obviously, and had the impact of finally ending GOP isolationism as the majority platform of the GOP.  The election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 saw the party take a "go anywhere" view towards intervention which shortly lead the country into a conflict in Vietnam.  It's interesting to note that during Eisenhower's Republican administration, the first GOP administration in over 20 years, the country eschewed intervention in foreign campaigns, leading in part to the Communist takeover in Cuba, while this changed rapidly with Kennedy coming into office.
 U.S. soldier in the Korean War and . . . 

Vietnam.  Two post World War Two wars which started for the US with intervention under Democratic Presidents, and not featuring Declarations of War, and which ended during the administration of Republican Presidents.

Vietnam would turn out to be a hugely unpopular war and that saw its reflection strongly in the Democratic Party. At the same time, the old hard hat blue collar base of the party really began to age out of politics.  Economic changes brought about by World War Two put the sons and daughters of blue collar workers into university where they remained in their parents party but lost their connection to the strong, often ethnic, working class societies their parents had been in.  As this occurred the union between theory (the Democrats had incorporated a lot of hard left economic theorist during the Great Depression) and practicality began to break down in the party.  The Democrats had been, because of their strong blue collar and ethnic base, surprisingly conservative on many domestic issues while practical liberal on economic ones, with the hard hat element of the base tempering strong leftist instincts that were otherwise there.  Staring in the late 1960s, however, with the economy doing well and younger members of the party divorced from industrial labor, while becoming increasingly radicalized in universities, the party began to transform into what it currently is.

The battle lines became sharply drawn in 1968s when Democrats literally fought each other at the Democratic Convention.  Hard Hat Democrats and the police, in a solidly Democratic city, rioted against war protestors, who were also Democrats, assuming that they were not in a party further to the left, over the war. The war, of course, had been brought about and maintained under two Democratic Presidents.  The result was the loss of the 1968 Presidential campaign and enduring memory on the part of the party insiders that its hard left elements had to be controlled or they'd bring the party down.

It didn't happen immediately at first, of course, but the impact was real and last to the current day.  Starting in 1968 the more conservative working class elements of the party became marginalized and began to leave it.  In the north the party increasingly became an upper class liberal party with little connection to working men or even to the ethnicities that had been strongly part of the part, although that process can be dated back to 1960 when John F. Kennedy started that process by suppressing any suggestion that his religious roots, strongly associated with an Irish base in the party in many cities, would not mean much.  The party really remained a separate party in the South, a legacy of the Civil War, but that would soon change too, but not before two Southern Democrats would in fact be elected President.

 Jimmy Carter, sometimes considered the first post Civil War Democrat to be elected to the Presidency since the Civil War, he was actually the second as Woodrow Wilson was as well, although his academic career had placed him in New Jersey at the time he ran for office.  Carter was an unsuccessful President, but reflected the best of the Southern Democrats.

The first of those was Jimmy Carter, a Georgian with strong rural roots, who reflected in many ways the Southern aspect of the party in the best way.  His Presidency failed however and he was replaced by Ronald Reagan, the first Republican President to separate southern Democrats from their party.  In fairness, while that strategy (often denied to exist by Republicans) was effective, the Democrats themselves started it in 1968.  The Southern party was largely conservative and the Northern party was increasingly liberal and highly urban.  By the 1980s the Southern Democrats were dying off, with that base defecting to the GOP in droves.

These factors, however, weakened the Democratic Party and it realized it.  In spite of being a liberal urban party in terms of its "establishment", it realized that the country was not as liberal, nor as urban, as it was, and starting with the election of its last Southern President, Bill Clinton, it worked to appeal to a broader base, hoping to retain Democrats who were not as left wing in the areas that it could.  The strategy has been very effective and the Democrats remain the largest American political party.  They've even gained since 2012 in some demographics, such as Catholics for example, where their social policies had been causing them to loose members.

And then came this election, the 2016 election.

But we need to look first at the election of 2008.

The election of 2008 and the election of 2012, for the Democrats, repeats what the Republicans  experienced, but have forgotten,in 1980 and 1988.  In 1980, the Republicans elected a new type of conservative with Ronald Reagan. In 1988 the old party mainstream seized the Presidency, and the party, back with the election of George Bush I.  The party is paying for hat now.

But that's what the Democrats have sort of experienced as well, and might, or might not, depending upon the rebellion going on in the Democratic Party.

President Barack Obama.  Like him or hate him, he's a point of departure for American politics, but perhaps the Democrats haven't realized that as of yet, a this year's choices show.  The first President to have come into his adult years without the Vietnam War and the 1960s as a point of reference, he's also the first President who is ethnically ambiguous, thereby reflecting the younger base of the party, rather than the older, whiter, and 1960s dominated nature of the party's elite.

Like him or hate him, Barack Obama was a different type of Democrat from those that came up in the party post 1968.  He is a true liberal, but a post 1968 liberal.  Not truly grounded in the hard core upper class effete branch of the Democratic Party, he has been a clever politician, and even if truly liberal on many things, he's held off in many areas and even declared what amounts to a truce in others.  He's been pretty ineffective in many areas, due to a professorial confusion of speech with action, but he's not a 1968 Democrat.  He's the first American President who has no 1960s frame of reference and the first who is really ethnically ambiguous.  He's not a 1960s, member of NOW, ERA, type of Democrat.

Hillary Clinton, however, is.

Clinton has a long history in the Democratic Party and came up in the party very much during its hyper liberal stage.  She represents the Boomer Party, which Obama does not.  If elected, she'll be the triumph of that wing of the party.  While Barack Obama has been regarded as highly liberal, and in his last year of office is indeed proving to be highly liberal and is actually remaking, to the distress of much of the country, the nation in a more liberal mold, perhaps temporarily, there's no doubt that Clinton retains a view of the world that can be found in the annals of the history of 1970s liberals, like most of the leadership of her party's elite, whether they've effected those views or not.

Which is the wing of the past.

And which is why there's a full scale revolt going on in the party.

The old fights that so concern the 1968-1978 liberals are largely ones that are either past concern, or are ones that society actually has caused to highly evolve and which are much different than those in the past.  The 1968 party still believes in "firsts", which the rest of American society put to bed with the election of Barack Obama.  Old causes, such as "women's issues", are largely unrecognizable to younger voters who have moved past those long ago, which explains why younger Democratic women are almost insulted by the suggestion that they are somehow required to vote for Clinton just because they are women.  Democratic base voters, moreover, who saw it as a matter of human justice to struggle for the rights of minorities and women do not necessarily equate those fights with ones that are based on social theory, such as re-identification of a person's gender or attacks on traditional marriage.  People who would have gone to jail to allow a black and white couple to marry are baffled in some instances by the suggestion that allowing people of the same gender to marry is the same fight, or that people are okay not to marry at all and are defined as "partners".  Indeed, to some there seems to be some retreat involved.  Rural voters who stayed in the party since the 1930s for support to rural populations are now baffled by why the Democratic Party seems so eager to disarm them.  Union members are baffled why the Democrats stood by and seemingly did nothing as the rich of both parties exported factories overseas.  To some extent, the natural base of the Democratic party has moved to the center or into lethargy on social issues that the party leadership, now that the gloves are off and they feel that they can surely win in the fall, has gone far to the left on.

The old Hard Hat Democrats in the Midwest and East, where they still exist, have produced a younger generation that is, moreover, nearly completely divorced from the upper class liberal wing of the party.  Their focus is economic, and on social issues they are may be or are far to the right of the leadership of the party.  The party's ethnic base is likely paper thin as those voters who still identify themselves as Democrats due to ethnicity are increasingly forced into a position in which their values are starkly in opposition to those espoused by the party.  A group such as Hispanics, for example, who are constantly presumed to be natural Democrats, are only Democrats on labor  and immigration issues.  On social issues their views are much more closely aligned to the Republicans.  In some areas of the country, such as the Rocky Mountain West, the Democrats became so disaffected with their own party that the majority of them left it and joined the Republicans or became independents, with t his move not being closely analogous to what occurred in the South.

But for the extremely strange GOP fight, caused by its ignoring its base, the Democrats would be dead in the water this year.  The Democrats seem set to chose Clinton against an insurgent Sanders in part because Sanders was ignored by the Press and because Democratic control over the party membership has proven to be more effective, although frankly only barely so, than Republican control over its base.  If Sanders, who has campaigned almost exclusively on populist economics issues, had been receiving the same level of attention that Trump did, he likely would be the front runner in actual "pledged" delegates.  Clinton's large margin is attributable only to the Superdelegates.

All of this reflects a party breakdown and the party is in fact breaking down. Sanders' supporters are now crying "foul" on a lot of the process and Democrats are starting to call for the head of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a spokesmen that only the upper class East Coast Democrats could love.  The Democrats, however, are in danger of massively misinterpreting what is going on at the establishment level, however, as the insurgency is being lead by a candidate that is economically on the extreme left of the party.  They better think twice about what they are seeing.

Looked at carefully, the successful Trump insurrection and the struggling Sanders insurrection share certain common traits, which is not to say that they are identical by any means, and which is not to say that the two personalities are the same.  Rather, what's seems to be motivating core elements on both sides is similar or identical, and that's disaffection with American Corporate Capitalism. Beyond that, the  Trump voters are reacting to forced social change and being repeatedly ignored by their own party.  The Democrats are mostly reacting to the same economic factors the GOP insurgents are, but they are also reacting to the ossified leadership of their party as well, but not really over the same set of issues, if any issue in particular.

At the voting both level both Democratic and Republican insurgents have a significant number of what I've referred to as "Hard Hat" voters.  Voters who live in regions that were once industrially strong but now are shadows of their former selves.  Ironically, when the boomers moved on and left their parents in the rust belt, they left a lot of their fellows there as well. Not everyone went on to university.  The "60s" that formed the backdrop for the boomers controlling the Democratic Party was not one single experience, but several. For many in the rust belt the 1960s saw the last era in which American industry was really strong in the steel, coke and automobile sense.  Those Democrats and their children were left behind and they know it.  Now forced into college academics by the dissolution of t he meaning of university and with no solid place to go, and even facing a  future in which the traditional blue collar escape careers, such as the law, no longer mean anything near what they once did, they feel themselves to be in a box.  Hence the demands for the concern for the working men and for "free" university for their children.  They have to do something, they know, and feel betrayed by a party that claims to have the rights of the working class at heart, but hasn't shown it, because it no longer really does in the same way it once did.  Sanders voters suspect that the Democratic Party is comfortable with the new economy that shipped their jobs overseas.  They want those jobs back or, if they can't get them back, they want to be allowed to be trained for the new world they didn't want.

That makes those voters much more conservative than Democrats like Clinton or Wasserman-Schultz, and even where they are liberal, they aren't the same kind of liberal.  Clinton looks and sounds like she's staring in a guest episode of Maud!, which doesn't mean much to a group of people who think The Big Bang Theory is funny.  She sounds like an artifact of the 1970s, because she is.  Sanders, who is older, doesn't.  Because he's an artifact of the 1930s, which now seems oddly fresh again.  When Clinton up talks the end of her sentences in her harsh voice about what is going to be achieved, it sounds oddly like a cry from 1974 more than 2016.  Sanders rhetoric may read like Huey Long, but it sounds fresh in 2016.

Looked at that way, the Democrats would be wise to reconsider the hard slide to the general left they are taking right now, although that frankly means accommodating themselves to flexibility which they do not seem inclined now to do.  Democrats don't seem to trust any state to make its own laws, and they tend to come across, on the national level, as a party headquartered in Greenwich Village that thinks everyone, everywhere else, is stupid.  No matter what they declare their policies to be, deep down they give the strong impression that they thought their platform up in a Vegan Deli where only graduates of East Coast universities with trust funds were admitted. That is, they sound like snots and they don't seem to realize what matters to a lot of voters, including their own party members.  They need to get over that.

For one thing Democrats need to realize that in a lot of areas, for example the knee jerk side of an argument, and lurching to the left, isn't how people think on things.  In the rural ares of the country, for example, tacking to the left on gun control is not appealing to Democrats, not actually relevant to that region, and it wipes out any chance that local Democrats have on anything.  That's partially the reason that Democrats are nearly dead in Wyoming. Democrats would be wise to leave that as a state issue, which basically has been the approach of Sanders who is to the right of Clinton on this issue.  On social issues involving life, death, and marriage, the Democrats should realize that they're driving away ethnic groups and religious groups that have traditionally supported them and they don't need to for any reason.  They've been driving them away since the 1970s, and have lost a lot of ground in some areas here, and they really cannot afford to continue on this path long term.  This points to the Democratic support of statism, that is control from the top, which is anti-democratic and something the Democrats should learn to reverse themselves on.  Democrats nearly everywhere tend to be lock step in line with the Greenwich Village Vegan Party while most of the country isn't.

The Party, however, as a party that doesn't dislike government and which is in favor of an active role for government shouldn't be afraid of actually addressing modern problems on a state or local level, but it has to have some flexibility to do that.  Taking my state as an example again, the field should be wide open for Democrats this year as the GOP has become hostile to much of what the state stands for in terms of open spaces. And some Democrats have taken advantage of that this year. But with a party that can't resist campaigning in opposition to the views of the majority of residents on social views, it's not going to do well.

And they shouldn't ignore economics which is their actual natural defining point.  Economics, more than anything else, is what put them in power in 1932 and which has defined them since.  Democratic insurgents who accuse the Democrats of selling out to Wall Street put their argument well.  There's really no difference between the Democratic Party and the GOP on economic matters.  The Democrats need to rediscover that its the voter in urban Detroit that maters to them, not the voter in Manhattan.

In other words, the Democrats shouldn't lurch to the left on everything, and they shouldn't use 1973 as their defining moment in the world.  And they ought to pick up their copies of Keynes and maybe even find Belloc and Chesterton.

More than anything, the Democrats have got to let the party leadership that's stuck in the 1970s go.  Claiming to be the party of diversity, the Democrats this year ran two elderly candidates who were both white.  Sanders is Jewish, of course, but post Obama that hardly matters.  He seems to be an elderly white man, which is odd for a candidate who is the hippest and coolest of the year.  Hillary Clinton seems to have been transported, Star Trek style, right out of 1974.

A good example of what I mean here might be given, again, by Wyoming.  This year there is a Congressional race going on in Wyoming. The GOP field has quite a few candidates, but because of the nature of the last couple of legislative sessions, right now the field is being dragged to the far right.  The field is open for the Democrats to try to challenge, and they are.  One of their announced candidates is a young man from the coal industry.  He's clearly a liberal, but he's also a liberal in a fashion that addresses some issues that are deeply appealing to Wyoming voters, such as access to public lands.  Well, of course, just yesterday Charles Hardy announced. Hardy symbolizes what's wrong with the Democratic Party.  He's 75 years old, a 1970s type liberal, announced right away that he was concerned with equality issues based on gender identification, and he's notable for having been a Catholic Priest that left his vocation to get married.  He may be, and probably is, a very admirable, deeply Christian man, but he calls to mind, in this sort of thing, the Berrigans of the 1960s and 1970s, and that ship sailed and sank long ago, for the US and for the Catholic Church for that matter.  That Hardy would feel he'd need to run, with a young more vigorous working class man actually running, says volumes about what the Democratic Party is, and what it needs to become.


Tracking the Presidential Election, 2016
Tracking the Presidential Election, 2016, Part II
Tracking the Presidential Election, 2016, Part III Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.
Tracking the Presidential Election Part IV
Tracking the Presidential Election Part V

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