Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Whig Manuever

Is the Democratic Party becoming increasingly likely to pull a Whig Maneuver and disappear into history?

If so, what replaces it?The Democrats certainly seem to be trying pretty hard to self-destruct. But this is not a new story; it’s been going on ever since the New Left captured the party apparat in the early 1970s. My first experience of political activism was standing athwart that particular tide of history, yelling “stop!”, as a campaign worker for centrist Democrat Scoop Jackson in 1975. I think I already half-understood that he was doomed. What I didn’t foresee was the completeness with which the Democrats would abandon their southern and rural wings to become a party run exclusively by Brie-nibbling urban elites. Call it the NPRization of the party.Recently they’ve abandoned the private-sector labor unions as well. Just before 2000, a key Democratic strategist noted that party’s demographic power base consisted solely of blacks and the public-employee unions. Bill Clinton, charming sociopath and perfect acme of the American political creature that he was, had managed to paper over that problem for a while. But it keeps getting worse. The liberal-Democrat lock on the national media is crumbling under pressure from talk radio, Fox News, and the bloggers. They’re losing their ability to control the terms of political debate.Finally, there is the notorious fractiousness of the smaller Democratic interest groups. While the black establishment has largely settled into the role of party wheelhorse and the trial lawyers play financial sugar daddy without demanding much except a complete block on tort reform, feminists and gays and the hard left continue to cause the party problems out of all proportion to their voting strength. The structural problem is that the small factions are disproprtionately strong in the Democrats’ grass-roots organization; they therefore exert a big influence on party primaries and tend to pull the candidate list and the platform to the left.Ever since the early 1990s, there’s been a tug-of-war going on within the urban elites that now run the party; the Democratic Leadership Council versus the inheritors of the New Left.

What happened with the Dean campaign demonstrates that the DLC has lost its grip. The left is winning. The trend that has taken the Democrats from solid majority status in my childhood to the point where it needs a Bill Clinton to win elections, if it continues, might very well result in it disappearing into history.The DLC’s most recent effort to reverse this tend — to stop talking about gun control — only highlights the depth of the problem. They know, because their own analysts and Bill Clinton have told them, that gun owners are the swing vote that cost them the 1994 and 2000 elections. And yet, the left, for whom hatred of civilian firearms is a religious absolute, has such a lock on the party machine that the DLC can only talk about spin, not about a substantive change in platform.I expect the Democrats to lose heavily in today’s elections. Like VodkaPundit, I expect the loss to change not a damn thing. The DLC will continue to wring its hands, and the New Lefties, comforted by convenient rationalizations in the major media, will continue to march the Democratic Party towards a cliff’s edge.Suppose they do succeed in self-destructing. What then?No crystal ball is required to answer that question, just a look at the minor-party voting statistics.

If the Democrats crumble, the big winners have to be the Greens and the ibertarians. The New Lefties who run most levels of the modern Democratic apparat would run to the Greens en masse; in fact, whatever organization emerges would probably view itself (with some justification) as the Democratic Party’s successor. They’d probably take the public-employee unions with them.The interesting question is whether the black establishment would follow. Blacks, as a voting group, are more conservative on social issues than Democrats as a whole — heavily opposed to gay marriage, for example, and more in favor of school vouchers. The strain between general opinion among blacks and the strident leftism of many of their public figures has been growing. If the party of Lyndon Johnson were to disintegrate, it would become acute. I think the most likely scenario is that the Al Sharptons. Cynthia McKinneys and Carol Moseley-Brauns would run to the Greens, lose their popular base, and the black vote would fragment. Blacks would become a normal ethnic group, not tied to any one party.

The second-order effects on the Republicans would be just as interesting. The youth demographic Andrew Sullivan and others call “South ParkRepublicans” would bolt the GOP in a second if the Libertarian Partyilooked like a credible alternative. So, albeit more slowly and partially, would more traditional (and older) small-government/classical-liberal/free-trade types.

The big question, given current pressures, is whether the Libs would remain isolationist or reluctantly slide into the pro-war camp and start behaving a bit more like a European party of the center or center-right.In either scenario, the effect on the Republicans would be to resove their split-personality problem in favor of cultural conservatives and the hard right. They’d become a lot more like a Tory party. The really entertaining part comes when you look at how this change would tie in with regional demographics — in this future, the Republicans would become the party of the old South!

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