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Thursday, January 26, 2006

The political defenestration of the white working-class  

There are increasing indications that white ethnics may not have simply left the Democratic party, but also have been deliberately pushed.

Mark Stricherz wrote last fall in Commonweal, in a piece subtitled How One Man Reshaped the Democratic Party:
Fred Dutton['s] goal was nothing less than to end the New Deal coalition, the electoral alliance that had supported the party since 1932 around a broad working-class agenda. In its place, Dutton sought to build a "loose peace constituency," a collection of groups opposed to the Vietnam War and more generally the military-industrial complex. To this end, Dutton recognized that Democrats would need to appeal to three new constituencies-young people, college-educated suburbanites, and feminists-while ceasing to woo two old ones-Catholics and working-class whites. As it turned out, the McGovern Commission became Dutton’s unlikely vehicle for renovating the party’s coalition
In part this was an aspirational reconfiguration, but in part it was an attempt to make a revolutionary virtue of necessity in changing circumstances. As Dutton wrote in 1969,
[W]inning elections and giving expression to ... insurgent impulses reinforce each other in the better educated, more affluent, and activist society. That is especially true among younger voters, black citizens, and college-educated suburbanites-three constituencies on which the Democratic Party must build as the lower-middle-class, blue-collar vote erodes.
As the populists left the party, Progressives reached out to other groups – which accelerated their departure.
[I]n much the same way that blacks replaced Southern whites as a key Democratic constituency in the 1960s, feminists overtook Catholics in the 1970s.
But each of these base-group replacements was a demographic downsizing. Even in '68, there were fewer blacks than Southern whites, and (thanks in part to Roe), their numbers have grown at a lower rate since. Feminists turned out to be at best a subset of all women: largely the unmarried and/or childless ones, who despite ongoing assaults on the nuclear family norm remain outnumbered by their more traditional (and, increasingly, Republican-voting) sisters. And young people, who have the lowest voter participation of any age group, have an unanticipated tendency to grow older and get jobs and families and responsibilities and less-radical politics. (Except for the neutered, that is.)

Only one substitution was a demographic step-up -
college-educated whites have replaced working-class whites as a key Democratic constituency
but that too is problematic. College attendance numbers are up since the 60s (despite falling for men since the mid-80s), but Democrats don't show a voting advantage at any level below graduate school - and that may very well be skewed by a preponderance of education students.

So by following the lead of the Progressives and the McGovern Commission, Democrats have replaced a larger base with a smaller one, and elected two Presidents in almost forty years. Sometimes, the only place the vanguard leads is into an evolutionary dead-end.

Like so many other things that came out of the '60s, this seemed like such a good idea at the time.

posted by Kelly | 8:12 PM link