Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Democrats and the Election

Although three Senate races remain technically undecided, it seems overwhelmingly likely that the Republicans have won in Alaska and will probably win in the Louisiana run-off, while the Democrats have barely won in Virginia.  That will give the Republicans a 54-46 margin in the Senate.   The final House totals remain more obscure, but it looks to me as if the Republicans will have about 247 seats when all the races are done, leaving 188 for the Democrats--a Republican majority of 29 seats.  The Democratic Party was virtually wiped out among white Southerners and West Virginia has completed its transformation from one of the most Democratic states in the union under the New Deal to one of the most Republican ones now.  While most (though not all) of the new Republican Senators are not affiliated with the Tea Party, many of their new Congressmen are.

It seems to me that this election has largely pulled the rug out from under the demographic-based model upon which the Democrats have been counting to win elections.  In the short run, that will be disastrous for the country, since it means the Republicans will probably control both the legislature and the executive branch in two years.  In the long run, it may be a good thing.

I cannot resist making the connection between the Democratic Party's recent electoral approach and the ethos of contemporary academia.  Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson won elections by appealing to all Americans as citizens.  Jimmy Carter won because he was a white Southerner (check the electoral map from 1976 if you don't believe me), and Bill Clinton was helped by his southern origins as well, although he also drew heavily on the votes of his fellow Boomers.  Barack Obama won his first election handily thanks largely to the incredible unpopularity of the Republicans at that moment.  He won last time by focusing relentlessly on black and Hispanic Americans, women, young people in general, and gays--the only groups which humanities departments now regard as worthy of serious study.  The majority of all those groups voted Democratic, but Hispanics seem to have given more votes to Republicans than last time, and the turnout among young people was pathetically low.  The result was a Democratic debacle worse than that of 2010.  According to the CNN exit polls, a majority of voters seems to have voted for Republican Congressional candidates this year, a sharp contrast from 2012.

Now divisions based upon race, gender, sexual orientation and age are in my opinion a serious threat to our political life, and I have never been comfortable with campaigns that try to exploit them, as the Democrats this year certainly did.  (The Republicans didn't have to do much to exploit them, since the presence of Barack Obama in the White House was, sadly, all they needed.)  But politics is about winning, and I suppose that I wouldn't be complaining so loudly if the strategy had been successful.  But it wasn't.  Those issues weren't big enough to get people to the polls in sufficient numbers, not only in red states but even here in Massachusetts, where Republican Charlie Baker will indeed be our new governor.  Gay rights are making such rapid advances that they won't be much of a rallying cry for much longer, and the anti-abortion movement is increasing its strength in the red states, where Democrats are nearing extinction in any case, without making any inroads in blue ones.  It has just occurred to me that there is also an interesting paradox on the racial front.  Republicans keep coming up with young black candidates, the latest of which, Tim Scott, won election to the Senate in South Carolina.  But Democrats have no obvious successor to Barack Obama, partly because so many of their black office-holders are Congressmen from totally safe districts who have been in Washington for many years. 

The fall-off in the youth movement is both serious and entirely predictable.  Young people tend to turn away from their parents' favorite issues, and today's young people need debt relief and good jobs.  These the Obama Administration has not been able to provide.  For the whole of my adult lifetime the Democratic Party, to say nothing of Democratic media outlets, has been dominated by people who regarded the principles of the New Deal as self-evident truths, even though they did a great deal to help undermine them in practice.  Today's young voters have no memory of the New Deal or Great Society and learned virtually nothing about them in school.  I will always believe that they could have been mobilized behind a real jobs agenda in the first two years of the Obama generation, but that did not happen.  In short, they have no compelling reason to vote Democratic.

The Republicans need only one more election to ratify the supremacy of their economic ideas and turn them into the new national consensus.  That isn't as easy as it sounds, since they will need an acceptable national candidate.  Perhaps this was always likely.  Republican Boomers on campus and elsewhere felt like an embattled minority in the 1960s and 1970s, and they tried harder while their Democratic counterparts forgot about our parents' legacy.  The Republicans, as I noted on Monday (see below), have waged an unrelenting struggle for their ideas on many fronts at least since the 1980s.   This is their latest success.  It may not be their last one.

No comments: