Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Can Darwinism Rescue Dems?

Dems, Liberals and those left of both, head to American Prospect to consider whether Dems can grab the hearts and ballots of the new every-man-for-himself America. A fascinating Remapping the Culture Debate by Garance Franke-Ruta states, "Yes."

Among the key concepts are:
  • Dem appeals to workers and for helping the underclass are unappealing.
  • The vast majority makes enough that it does not qualify for government help and resents those who get it.
  • Since 1992, a nominally religious America has adopted a survivalist mentality.
  • To be successful, Dem programs must have "a coherent program that culturally reinforces what (voters) want their future to be."
Much of the evidence in the long piece come from American Environics' research and analysis. Dem and other lefty decision makers have already seen the results, which will be public in a few months.

Among the findings are some that could explain why Americans tell pollsters they want Democratic Party aims, like universal health care, yet elect George the Lesser and his minions who act in opposition to such goals. They suggest "a darker, more nuanced vision of what the nation actually believes."

As we have seen and repeated written, most Americans are increasingly authoritarian. They want simple answers from assured leaders and support those even when repeatedly proven wrong. The American Environics data from 1992 through 2004 led them to conclude that our nation is "feeling evermore adrift, isolated, and nihilistic." Together, those shifts would account for our backslide in social equity.

In the period, American went:
  • From 42% to 52% agreeing that "the father of the family must be the master in his own house."
  • From 30% to 40% agreeing that "men are naturally superior to women."
  • From 66% to 29% saying that they discussed local problems with friends, neighbors and coworkers.
  • Even before 9/11, doubling the attitude that "violence is a normal part of life."
Other pollsters found dovetailing trends. For example, Karl Agne and Stanley Greenberg found that "concerns about a stagnant economy, job security, health-care costs, and the war in Iraq were consistently trumped by questions of values." They compared concerns over economic issues with such cultural ones as same-sex marriage, religion in public life and abortion. They concluded, "Particularity among non-college educations voters, cultural issues not only superseded other concerns, they served as a proxy for many voters on those other issues."

That can all seem pretty discouraging to Dems. Consider that the traditional party voter would be a blue-collar union member. That fits only 8% of Americans now. Many of the other have the I-want-to-get-and-keep-mine attitude. Most say they will take the appearance over substance.

What's a Dem to do?

The answer may have manifested itself in Virginia in 2005. Tim Kaine won the Governor's office despite being 1) a Democrat is a right-leaning state, 2) a Roman Catholic in a state that had never had an RC governor, and 3) anti-death penalty in a hang-'em-high area.

He did it by presenting himself in ways that this new, more insular America could understand. He came off as a deeply religious man, whose God and Bible told him execution is wrong. Triple whammy! Suddenly, voters could transcend his alleged shortcomings and see him as a cultural ideal.

A wild card that Dems must take into account is the seeming incongruity of an America that favors simultaneously tradition/religion with consumption/xenophobia/hedonism. In American Backlash, the founder of Environics (Canadian HQ), Michael Adams wrote, "While American politics becomes increasingly committed to a brand of conservatism that favors traditionalism, religiosity, and authority, the culture at large [is] becoming ever more attached to hedonism, thrill-seeking, and a ruthless, Darwinist understanding of human competition."

That trend has coupled unfortunately for unobservant Dems in the past 15 years. A key factor is that financial one. With the huge majority being white-collar or comparable workers, enough do okay so that they don't let their Bible's commands to be charitable interfere with their self-interest. As Stephen Rose, former advisor to Labor Secretary Robert Reich, puts it "...the majority of people do not have basic economic interests to vote Democratic."

So even as Republican administration policies clearly favor the wealthy and connected, the GOP is hitting the chords for most Americans. In their current frame of mind, "voters have increasingly flocked to politicians who recognize the combination of relative affluence and relative isolation has created an opening for cultural appeals."

That may be both wrong-hearted and wrong-headed, but it's real, real enough to win national and state elections.

So, at first glance, one would suppose that the poor and near poor would be a Dem bloc. That doesn't happen for good reason, wrote Thomas Frank in What's the Matter with Kansas? He contends convincingly that "traditional values have become aspirational."

Those with less money and fewer prospects are stuck with the accessories of single-parent (mom) families, violent neighborhoods, more abortion and more divorce – more of what we don't want and less of what we do. Yet, as Franke-Ruta recaps it, "People in states like Massachusetts, for example, which has very high per capita incomes and the lowest divorce rate in the country, are relatively unconcerned about gay marriage, while those in Southern states with much higher poverty, divorce, and single-parenthood rates feel the family to be threatened because family life is, in fact, much less stable in their communities. In such environments, where there are few paths to social solidarity and a great deal of social disruption, the church frequently steps into the breach, further exacerbating the fight."

Dems clearly need to get over their pretense that they own the middle and lower class vote. They need to earn it. They also need to accept that appeals to what's good for society in general aren't going to cut it right now.

The great news is that Dems don't have to pander or pretend to package. They aren't the party of death, huge government, Big Brother, and corruption. Now they need to tell Americans what they are.

1 comment:

Uncle said...

Let's pretend its 1/31/1990, not 1/31/2006.

Who, outside of Arkansas, has heard of Bill Clinton?

Back to today, besides Tim Kaine, there's John Lynch in NH, another Dem governor in a very Republican state, also getting excellent traction. How many others are there, flying beneath the radar of our fatuous DC media?

This is one of many reasons governors do better than Senators as Presidential candidates. Governors are on the ground. Senators are by definition unobservant.

One crucial weakness of Republicans is that they are still fighting the New Deal. Unfortunately, Washington Democrats serve it up to be shot at. Another is that Republicans take religiosity seriously. We need Democrats who can see it for the window dressing it really is, without letting on that they see it.