The Washington Times
John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira have written a book that is certain to galvanize and energize their fellow Democrats. In “The Emerging Democratic Majority,” they argue that the cycle of Republican electoral dominance first announced by Kevin Phillips in 1969 in “The Emerging Republican Majority” is at an end. If Democrats play the demographic and ideological hand they have been dealt with sufficient skill, the authors argue, the party should have little difficulty regaining and keeping the upper hand through the next long cycle of American politics.
The argument, in a nutshell, is that the “McGovern constituencies” of 1972 – consisting of women, professionals [as distinct from managers] and minorities – though sufficiently small that year to produce a Richard Nixon landslide against George McGovern, since then have grown in electoral consequence into the makings of a new national majority.
First of all, the nascent feminist movement circa 1972 has now worked its way through American society, with vast pro-Democratic consequences in terms of voting patterns, especially among working women. Professionals, meanwhile, have become more numerous in the post-industrial economy and less inclined to see their fortunes as linked to those of the pro-GOP entrepreneurial class. Finally, ethnic minorities in all categories [except Cuban Americans] have both grown more numerous and “converged on the Democratic Party.” The electoral landscape is increasingly dominated by the “ideopolises” of the post-industrial economy, territories where people’s priorities are very different from those of the conservative GOP.
Extensively surveying recent election results, the authors point to the consolidation of Democratic gains, ranging from the West Coast across the upper Midwest on to the Eastern Seaboard and down the Mid-Atlantic. And they point to a number of formerly solidly Republican states, such as North Carolina and Florida, that are becoming increasingly Democratic. Indeed, Messrs. Judis and Teixeira argue that in the coming decades, “Democrats could suffer from an embarrassment of political riches.”
The authors also review and find wanting a number of analyses proffered in behalf of continued GOP dominance. For example, while it is true that population is growing fastest in states that have been GOP strongholds, it is not necessarily the GOP population that is growing. Also, the theorized pro-GOP politics of the expanding “investor class” has yet to assert itself. And enthusiasm for the free market, the authors argue, has been waning in favor of what they call “regulatory capitalism.”
“The Emerging Democratic Majority” is actually two things in one: a substantive analysis and a call to arms. As for the former, there is enough here to shake the complacency of Republicans still harboring that sentiment [not that I think there are too many who do]. Republicans cannot stand pat. They need new constituencies.
Still, the analysis here suffers, in my view, from a common problem, namely, the tendency to read secular trends into sequential election results. If you take 1992, 1996 and 2000 as indicators of core Democratic strength, then you are apt to conclude that Democrats possess an “electoral lock” every bit as unpickable as the one the GOP was said to have based on 1980, 1984, and 1988. The real question, though, is whether something “out there” causes the electoral results – or whether the results don’t shape the sense of what is out there.
When Ronald Reagan wins, GOP positions necessarily look popular; when Bill Clinton wins, Democratic positions necessarily do. But neither, I submit, tells you all that much about the next election. An election is not a referendum on positions, but a contest in which positions are embodied in particular candidates, with real-world strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, parties and candidates try to neutralize their weaknesses on positions. This, after all, is where both “New Democrats” and “compassionate conservatives” came from.
The claim Messrs. Judis and Teixeira make to an “embarrassment of political riches” out there waiting for Democrats to tap turns out to mean this: If Democrats frame their issues properly with likeable candidates while Republicans put forward poor candidates with little to say, Democrats will win big. This is true, but its predictive power is limited.
“The Emerging Democratic Majority” is at its most effective, though, as a call to arms. If I were a young Democrat, I think this book would hit me like a shot of adrenaline. [I say this as someone who was once a young Republican and experienced such political shots from time to time.] Its message is this: The world’s your oyster.
There is, in the Judis-Teixeira telling, absolutely nothing standing in the way of the Democratic Party’s long-term dominance of the American political scene. This is a tantalizing, indeed transfiguring, idea. It will drive a certain kind of political animal near-mad with desire, the urgent need to make this idea into something real.
The Democratic Party is in a period of pre-“revolutionary” foment. Soon, its establishment is going to face a challenge for supremacy from a new activist wing. “The Emerging Democratic Majority” provides the activists their theoretical underpinning. It says simply: There is no excuse for not winning.