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Salena Zito


Democrat Coalition Showing Strain

by Salena Zito
 

After winning the presidency, Andrew Jackson sent a message to Congress suggesting that the office be extended to six years but limited to one term.
His message caused wild speculation that the first "people's president" would not seek a second term. That led to a dramatic Jackson proclamation, in a letter to Pennsylvania Democrats, that the "call of the people" trumped his "personal inclination" and he could "not refuse to serve them."
The truth is, he was never not going to run.

Jackson may have been the first Democrat to be elected as president. But his secretary of State and eventual vice president, Martin Van Buren, really should be credited as the party's founder, as well as the founder of America's two-party system, its party caucuses, nominating conventions and the whole process of successfully marketing a candidate.

Van Buren did all of that for a reason: He wanted to be president, too.
The Democratic Party holding power in Washington today is under intense scrutiny as the country heads into the midterm elections; its coalition shows signs of not being fired up and ready to go to the polls, as it did in the 2008 and 2012 elections.

The coalition underlying the party has significantly changed since Van Buren put it together to support Jackson's 1828 presidential bid, according to Baylor University political scientist Curt Nichols. "Indeed, today's Democratic coalition is appreciably different than the one Franklin D. Roosevelt assembled to advance his New Deal in 1932," he said.

Gone are most Southern whites and many blue-collar workers, Catholics and rural Americans, Nichols explained: "These groups have drifted into Republican ranks, largely in response to what they perceive as the Democratic Party's abandonment of traditional values."

That shift puts those groups in coalition with free-market conservatives, who still hold power as the "establishment" of the Grand Old Party.

Today's Democrat coalition includes most blacks and Latinos, unmarried white women and many urban and suburban professionals; they are attracted to that coalition largely for economic reasons, while the elites share the "cosmopolitan values" of the party's progressive base.

"Both of today's parties are thus based on coalition foundations that combine disparate parts – groups that can be thought of as potential enemies," said Nichols, a Kinder Research Fellow at the University of Missouri this year.

He said two potential fault lines exist for future conflict between the Democrats' coalition groups.

First, some of those from groups still holding traditional values (including minorities and middle-class whites) may be driven from the party by zealous efforts to impose cosmopolitan values on all.

Second, professional-class converts to the Democrats may be driven from the coalition by zealous efforts to relieve them of their considerable wealth.

Outside of the elites – the Wall-Street 1-percenter types, who have flourished under this administration – the Democrats' coalition is not particularly inspired to vote in November. Black and youth unemployment is through the roof, single women are adversely impacted by Obamacare's effects on their family budgets and employment, and everyone is uneasy over the renewed threat of terrorism and how the president is handling it.

Republicans may benefit over Democrats in this election cycle – but not because people love them more; they have done almost nothing to demonstrate how their conservative principles can be reformulated to effectively serve the material interests or the value interests of today's poorer, traditionalist Democrats. Instead, they will benefit only because they do not have a big "D" after their names.

Republicans continue to run the Reagan playbook without reflection, acting as if it is always 1980 in America and neither the problems nor the opportunities of 2014 ever appeared.

Big political parties today are suffering the same fate that all "big" things have in the eyes of Americans. Big banks, big government, big brands, all are vulnerable.

Big political parties were created, not to fix things, but to get people elected and to raise the money needed to do that. And there is a history lesson here that people tend to forget: We have eliminated big parties before. We can do it again.

Just ask any Whig, Federalist, Anti-Mason or Nullifier Party member how that's working out.


Salena Zito
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Political Reporter
412-965-9094
@SalenaZitoTrib
@OffRoadPolitics


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