.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Cracker Squire

THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

My Photo
Name:
Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Democrats’ Biggest Problem Is Cultural Since 1968, the party has been alienating working-class voters. President Trump is the latest result.

Ted Van Kyk writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Six months into the Trump presidency, congressional Democrats have begun to frame an alternative agenda. Recognizing their abandonment in 2016 by so-called working-class voters, they have unveiled a handful of spending and tax-policy benefits targeted to that constituency.

A much larger, comprehensive policy package is needed. Beyond that, Democrats need to recognize a profound voter shift that has been under way since 1968 and is centered on cultural issues.

Three statements in recent years illustrate why former Democratic voters have abandoned their party. First, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign remark that small-town Americans “cling to guns and religion.” Second, Michelle Obama’s statement, also in 2008, that “for the first time in my adult lifetime I am proud of my country.” Third, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 characterization of Trump supporters as “deplorables”: “They are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”

None of these statements had anything to do with national security or economics. They revealed a mind-set that many voters find offensive—a huge cultural chasm that cannot be bridged by offering voters economic goodies.

The Democratic voter exodus began in 1968 when millions of traditional blue-collar and middle-income voters moved to Republican Richard Nixon or third-party candidate George Wallace, a Democratic former governor of Alabama. Alienated by street and campus riots and disorder, these voters bought into the Nixon/Wallace law-and-order themes. Some also were attracted to their message that Great Society programs had overreached.

As Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s assistant, I stood with him on election night when we learned that he had lost both Ohio and New Jersey, and the national election, because old-style Democrats had defected in those key states. I recalled visiting Democratic Rep. Pete Rodino’s campaign headquarters weeks earlier in New Jersey and seeing posters of Rodino and Wallace but none of Humphrey.

The shift, and the margin of Democratic loss, became far more dramatic in 1972. I was policy and platform director for George McGovern’s campaign. Our organizers and convention delegates were mostly from the generation that had come of age during the 1968 protests. They opposed the Vietnam War. But they were mostly interested in cultural and lifestyle issues—“acid, amnesty and abortion,” as Republicans called them, picking up a line that turned out to have originated with McGovern’s first running mate, Sen. Thomas Eagleton. Those Democrats gave short shrift to jobs, economic growth, public safety and other traditional voter concerns.

Their successors in the party have continued to focus on cultural issues with limited appeal. Their focus on political correctness and conformity has left an impression on traditional Democrats that their party leaders care more about transgender bathroom access than employment, the cost of living, education or public safety. Mrs. Clinton’s “deplorables” reference struck home with these voters.

The Democrats’ post-1972 evolution also has turned upside down the party’s approaches to racial and economic justice. The Great Society approach was to enact laws, such as the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, removing legal obstacles to justice. Medicare and Medicaid provided a health-care safety net to the elderly and poor. Job training, early education, nutrition, health and other War on Poverty programs were provided to the poor and only incidentally benefited minorities disproportionately. They were designed to help lift disadvantaged Americans to an equal place at the starting line—never to guarantee equality at the finish line. We also talked of “equal law enforcement,” which would protect citizens in minority neighborhoods while at the same time assuring race-blind treatment of offenders and suspects.

Decades later, urban black communities in particular are in crisis. School dropout and incarceration rates, high black-on-black murder and other crime rates, births out of wedlock far outnumbering intact families, pervasive drug dealing and use, and a disgraceful poverty rate should shame all of us.

The answer to this crisis does not lie in cries of black victimization by police or other authorities. It lies instead with tangible, practical programs like those we launched in the 1960s. We purposely sought bipartisan sponsorship in Congress and enlisted labor, business, academic and other support in society more broadly. We did it that way because we believed we were all in it together and had to address priorities together. Most Americans today would agree this is the way to go, but their leaders are offering mainly partisanship and polarization.

Political scientist V.O. Key famously observed that “the voters are not fools.” Millions of them, including traditional Democrats, driven by anger and frustration, abandoned their political roots last November to make Donald Trump president. Many probably sensed that chaos and fumbling would follow. By their lights, it was an acceptable price to pay to rid themselves of leaders who had forgotten them.

Congressional Democrats are right to begin construction of an alternative agenda. But as they do so, they must recognize that most Americans are not racist, sexist, ignorant or opposed to alternative lifestyles. Most largely accept the cultural and social changes of the past half-century. To recapture traditional Democratic voters, and attract new ones, Democrats must learn empathy for those who believe they are being mocked for working hard, going to church, serving in the military, and trying to instill moral standards in their children.

Back in the day we spoke admiringly of officeholders and candidates who were “for the people.” Those same people now must come to feel again that there are Democrats who understand them, their values and their aspirations and do not view them as cultural inferiors to be manipulated in campaign years. President Trump is not our problem.

Mr. Van Dyk was active for more than 40 years in Democratic administrations and campaigns.

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home