The Unmaking of the Democratic Party

There have been comments here (and elsewhere) in recent days/weeks, that the Democratic Party as we know it is slipping away, unraveling and disappearing before our very eyes. Among the issues that are being cited, is as Sean Wilentz articulates in the HuffPo, that “the Barack Obama campaign and its sympathizers have begun to articulate much more clearly what they mean by their vague slogan of “change” – nothing less than usurping the historic Democratic Party, dating back to the age of Andrew Jackson, by rejecting its historic electoral core: white workers and rural dwellers in the Middle Atlantic and border states.”

Wilentz says, “Without a majority of those voters, the Democrats have, since the party’s inception in the 1820s, been incapable of winning the presidency.”

Yet, “the Obama advocates declare,” Wilentz notes, “that we have entered an entirely new political era,” and they claim that “it is not only possible but also desirable” for Democrats to win in November “by turning away from those whom “progressive” pundits and bloggers disdain variously as “Nascar man,” “uneducated,” “low information” whites, “rubes, fools, and hate-mongers” who live in the nation’s “shitholes.””

Having attempted, with the aid of a complicit news media, to brand Hillary Clinton as a racist — by flinging charges that, as the historian Michael Lind has shown, belong “in black helicopter/grassy knoll territory,” Obama’s supporters now fiercely claim that Clinton’s white working class following is also essentially racist. Favoring the buzzword language of the academic left, tinged by persistent, discredited New Left and black nationalist theories about working-class “white skin privilege,” a vote against Obama has become, according to his fervent followers, “a vote for whiteness.”

Talk about transformative post-racial politics.

Wilentz goes on to note that “In fact, all of the evidence demonstrates that white racism has not been a principal or even secondary motivation in any of this year’s Democratic primaries.” And indeed, he says, “Every poll shows that economics, health care, and national security are the leading issues for white working class voters – and for Latino working class voters as well. These constituencies have cast positive ballots for Hillary Clinton not because she is white, but because they regard her as better on these issues.”

Obama’s campaign and its passionate supporters refuse to acknowledge that these voters consider him weaker — and that Clinton’s positions, different from his, as well as her experience actually attract support. Instead they impute racism to working class Democrats who, the polls also show, happen to be liberal on every leading issue. The effort to taint anyone who does not support Obama as motivated by racism has now become a major factor in alienating core Democrats from Obama’s campaign. Out with the Democratic Party of Jefferson, Jackson, F.D.R., Truman, Kennedy and Johnson, and in with the bright, shiny party of Obama – or what the formally “undeclared” Donna Brazile, a member of the Democratic National Committee and of the party’s rules committee, has hailed as a “new Democratic coalition” swelled by affluent white leftists and liberals, college students, and African-Americans.

History shows that “the Democratic Party, as a modern political party, dates back to 1828, when Andrew Jackson crushed John Quincy Adams to win the presidency,” and without “the votes of workers and small farmers in Pennsylvania and Ohio, as well as a strong Democratic turnout in New York City, Jackson would have lost the Electoral College in a landslide.”

Over the 180 years since then, only one Democrat has gained the presidency without winning either Ohio or Pennsylvania, with their large white working-class vote. (The exception, Grover Cleveland, managed the feat in 1892, and only barely lost Ohio – but he was dependent on the post-Reconstruction solid South.) Beginning in 1964, when the Democratic solid South dissolved, every successful Democratic presidential candidate has had to carry both Ohio and Pennsylvania, even when Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton picked up southern states.

Readers, should read the entire piece from Wilentz, however, I will note that he concludes:

In every presidential election they have won, the Democrats have solidified their historic link to white workers, not dismissed them. Obama and the champions of a new party coalition appear to think that everything has suddenly changed, simply because of the force of their own desires. In any event, Obama had shown no ability thus far to attract the one constituency that has always spelled the difference between victory and defeat for the Democratic Party. The party must now decide whether to go along with Obama and renounce its own heritage — and tempt the political fates.

Can we really afford to alienate these voters who have long been the core of our party? Many believe we can not.

Wilentz is correct in saying that Hillary Clinton attracts the very voters that the Obama camp and his supporters treat with disdain, because she is stronger on those issues. I’ve said here many times, that Clinton has the knack of actually listening to the concerns of those voters, a knack that Barack Obama seems to lack. We all want to win in November, and truly we can not afford to alienate one segment of our base. Obama supporters should take heed.

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8 Responses to The Unmaking of the Democratic Party

  1. Frenchdoc says:

    There are a couple of other points to be made here, in addition to what you summarize from the article.

    Not only has Barack Obama a narrow base but, as Paul Lukasiak shows, he has not managed to make a dent in Hillary’s base, but she has increased her margins into his (Paul has the part on social class and education coming up).

    This is very significant that even BTD, a self-described tepid Obama supporter, is concerned that Obama has not broken the 40% margin with white working class voters.

    This should be something that party leadership and SDs should pay attention to.

  2. coldH2Owi says:

    Paul Lukasiak — now there is an objective analyst if I ever saw one.

  3. DeanOR says:

    One definition of a “low information” voter is anyone who actually believes that Change, Hope, and Unity (and “something different”) are wonderful, new, progressive ideas in American political campaigns.

  4. Diane says:

    One definition of a “low information” voter is anyone who actually believes that Change, Hope, and Unity (and “something different”) are wonderful, new, progressive ideas in American political campaigns.

    And another definition is anyone who believes that Change, Hope, and Unity do not apply to women and the LGBT community.

  5. PanMetron says:

    Wilentz has been the most astute observer of this year’s Democratic drama I’ve seen anywhere in the media or blogosphere.

    There is, in naive leftism, a sense that progressives are smarter than everyone else, that changing appearances can magically change substance, and that when this happens people like cousin Al who works for the oil refinery or Aunt Maybell who’s anti-abortion will somehow cease to exist or have any economic or political bearing. In short: there is, in naive leftism, a contempt for a broad spectrum of American human beings and a quasi-magical, quasi-pop-cultural collective power fantasy. Somehow, with the right slogan and beautiful candidate, humanity will change and all those people we don’t like will just go away.

    The Kennedies were perhaps the first traditional Democratic (esp. east-coast establishment) power center to start tapping into this McCluhan/Warhol-era energy; if nothing else it is a great source of funding, press, and sympathetic protesters. Certainly the Axelrod/Ayers/Wright background of Obama’s is in this line as well.

    However, there has always been one thing that has bothered me, not as a Democrat, but as a humanist and person who aspires to a truly open-minded view of others: the contempt. I’ve lived in small towns. I’ve worked among people of all education levels, social outlooks, and ideologies (or lack thereof). You either have compassion for all people – for real people, in their wide spectrum of ideas and experiences and attempts to make sense of their lives – or you have contempt for anyone who doesn’t agree with you. And progressive elites – including Dean, Obama, and the like – are firmly in this latter camp.

    I’ll have none of it, not just because it will lose elections, but because it is morally and intellectually wrong. And it’s why I’ve decided that, as strongly as I support the Democratic party, I will not vindicate this elistist resurgence by voting for Obama should he be the nominee in November.

    Like Jane’s Addiction sang – “ain’t nobody leavin’.”

  6. Is this a plea for The Dream Ticket? How does either win without the constituency of the other.

    (Actually, independents now far out number members of either party, and Obama seems to do real well with them.)

  7. Kendall Johnson says:


    If you haven’t heard, Clinton’s not interested in the VP position. Obama will fall on his face alone!!!! Clinton is the stronger candidate and should be the nominee.

    These new democrats have abandoned many democratic voters, not just the white working class. They have totally alianated women, the key constituancy to winning the general election. Remember more women are democrats than men. They have abandoned the LGBT comminity, seniors and latinos. Obama has made no headway with these core constituancies.

    Obama’s supporters and his campaign have clearly insulted us all and continue to on a regular basis. They appear to have no interest in uniting the party. There is no compromise with them and for all the bull shit about them being progressive, it just isn’t so!!!!! The only “ism” they acknowledge is racism, they little regard for the poor, unless they are black and they openly engaged in sexist tactics against clinton. There insults to her supporters will not be forgotten, because the exhibit the truth that they are not progressive by any measure, but are rather elitist and bigotted.

    Supporting Obama who will not commit to universal healthcare, and who voted for the 2005 Bush/Chaney energy bill, is far from supporting a progressive agenda . Its not clear why they support him and most of them couldn’t tell you themself, but its not his progressive agenda, because he doesn’t have one.

  8. Kendall

    Both Clinton and Obama have a wide base of voters supporting them — that is in fact one of the key reasons this primary race has gone on so long. The demographics of voter constituency has been split in many ways and with many factors.

    Quite frankly I am interested in uniting the party, and perhaps should aks are you? I certainly know also that Darrell is interested in uniting the party too. He like I, sees the importance of rising above the petty primary battles and working together to win the White House in November. So too does Hillary Clinton.

    Hillary Clinton has said repeatedly that there is more in common between her stance on the issues and Obama’s stance, than that of John McCain. Barack Obama, as I have noted here in the past, has a voting record in the Senate that is nearly indentical to Hillary’s.

    I’m with Hillary all the way, but I also firmly believe there will come a time in the near future when personal favoritism for a candidate will need to be cast aside to win back the White House. I hope you will keep that in mind.