Jewish World Review Dec. 14, 2004 / 2 Teves, 5765
Peter A. Brown
Minority party still ducks basic problem
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | In 1991, I wrote a book that suggested unless most white, middle-class Americans once again decided Democrats cared about them, the party was heading toward minority status, absent a strongly favorable political environment or a spectacularly gifted candidate.
"Minority Party, Why Democrats Face Defeat in 1992 and Beyond'' admittedly was poorly titled. It went out of print after the election of Bill Clinton, who so understood its message that he had written a back-cover blurb lauding it.
Yet Democrats still duck their basic problem. The election of Clinton, a rare political talent, was the exception that proved the rule. Even with 2004's favorable environment of an unpopular war and questionable economy, they still lost.
Democrats continue to bank on a demographic fix - a declining white population as a share of the electorate - as their salvation. They find that easier than dealing with the reasons their message doesn't resonate with the nation's largest voting bloc.
In 2004, whites were 77 percent of the electorate, and Bush won 58 percent of them. Since World War II, Lyndon Johnson in 1964 was the only Democratic presidential candidate to win a majority of white votes.
Reversing that trend would require that Democrats re-examine their premises. Instead, they try to knit together enough aggrieved constituencies to make a majority.
But the math doesn't work.
When they fall short, Democrats argue that changing census numbers will eventually put them over the top.
That day remains far off, and there are serious questions whether the strategy is viable even as the U.S. electorate becomes more diverse. The white share of the population is projected to decline, but most of that reduced market share will go to Asian-Americans and Hispanics. Neither votes as heavily Democratic as do blacks, who usually give 90 percent of their votes to party candidates.
Hispanics were 8 percent and Asians 2 percent of the 2004 electorate. Exit polls showed Bush won 44 percent of both groups. Historically, except for blacks and Jews, immigrants' Democratic allegiance lessens the longer they are in the United States.
Democrats see themselves as standing up for the victims of capitalism's excesses. They back organized labor (union members were 14 percent of the electorate) against business and racial minorities (blacks were 11 percent) against alleged discrimination.
They fight for the poor against the rich, but they wrongly assume how much smaller that group is than the middle class. In 2004, 55 percent of voters had incomes above $50,000; another 22 percent from $30,000 to $50,000. Median U.S. family income is about $42,000, and the poverty line for a family of four is $18,850.
Democrats oppose what they see as rising U.S. militarism and unilaterialism, yet Americans see Republicans as much stronger on defense, even if a narrow majority does not think the president's Iraq invasion made us more secure.
Democrats may argue they are following their moral compass, but large chunks of the middle class view that mentality as arrogance. They think Democrats see some voters as more important than others.
Joe and Jill Six-pack believe they rank too far down on the Democratic Party's priority list. When it comes to dealing with societal problems, they believe, Democrats instinctively opt for policies that help the most obvious victims of social Darwinism over the ones that help the largest number of people - the middle class.
That is the Democratic rationale for larger domestic-spending programs and their mantra that everyone must pay his or her fair share through taxes. Of course, middle-class Americans often have a different view about what constitutes their fair share.
Election returns don't lie. Those charting the party's future need to have a serious talk with themselves. The see a different world than their neighbors do.
Nothing illustrates this gap than the signature speech of their recent vice-presidential candidate, John Edwards. He stirred the faithful with his "Two Americas" stump speech, which described a country where the few powerful Republicans victimize the vast number of the powerless, who, if they knew what was good for them, would flock to the Democratic Party.
But the middle class sees a different world and has other priorities.
Democrats can continue to believe they are on the side of angels and hope time validates their hope that demography will become destiny. That day may come. But they'll be waiting a while to regain power unless they deal with America's here and now.
12/07/04: U.S., Canada: Joined at hip if not heart