Recent history demonstrates that progressives maintain a self-satisfied sense of accomplishment in the aftermath of any successful presidential election, the glowing aura of which lasts just long enough that the subsequent midterm election becomes a disaster for Democrats and a triumph for Republicans. The changing demographics of the United States presents an amazing opportunity for the Democratic Party to control the political agenda for the next generation. Just because the gift will fall into the lap of progressives does not, however, mean the gift cannot be stolen. More history, some observations, and an invitation to prevent history repeating itself falls beyond the orange Flying Spaghetti Monster
NOTE: Thanks to commentors for suggested title change.
There has been a lot of talk that the Republicans are doomed by the demographic shift of this country. Progressives listen with glee as Bill O'Reilly indignantly proclaims, “The white establishment is now the minority” and Lindsey Graham declares, ““We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”
Progressives must not conclude that the truth behind these conservative laments is therefore destiny. In 1969 Kevin Phillips wrote The Emerging Republican Majority, an analysis of demographics and other trends portending the post-New Deal coalition, long loyal to Democrats as the foundation of their control of the policy agenda, was on the verge of collapse. In 2004, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira responded with The Emerging Democratic Majority similarly predicting the crumbling of the coalition that combined Nixon's Southern Strategy with Reagan Democrats to bring Republicans to the center of establishing the policy agenda.
The difference between the publication of Phillips book and that of Judis/Teixeira is that Republicans developed a plan to take advantage of the shifts. Richard Viguerie developed a sophisticated system for fund-raising and political activism via direct mail. Frank Luntz began a system of linguistic programming used by politicians to frame issues and debates giving Republican politicians a type of home field advantage in almost every political discussion. Newt Gingrich popularized a method of demonizing political opponents by aggressively labeling not only their policies as un-American or immoral but the politicians themselves (See "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control"). The successful destruction of The Fairness Doctrine created a virtual conservative network of radio stations allowed to disseminate Gingrich's vitriol and Luntz's talking points. Topic specific points were distributed to conservative politicians on a daily basis so the talking points of the day could be repeated on mainstream media as well as conservative friendly outlets creating a wall of consistency in media coverage on the given topic. Successful dismantling of monopoly restrictions lead to the consolidation of media to the extent that just a handful of companies control a majority of everything we read, hear or view via media. As media companies gobble up other media companies via leveraged buyouts, expenses are cut by decrease in newsroom staff. The highest salaries often went to the most experienced reporters with the most established source networks. Rote J-School repetition of talking points in point-counterpoint format leads to the famous false equivalency of argument in news coverage because the overworked and often under-qualified reporters remaining in the downsized newsrooms do not have time to verify facts behind talking point misdirection.
For Democrats to take advantage of the changing face of America, they must, as the Republicans did in previous years, create the institutional, policy, and intellectual infrastructure to leverage these changes into practical political control. Some of that infrastructure is visible in the amazing OFA GOTV program and stellar use of social media. Clearly, these were useful, but they failed miserably in the 2010 midterm.
One of the first problems confronting Democrats and progressives explaining the 2010 failure is complacency. The historical trend is always for the party controlling the White House to lose ground in the midterm election. Satisfying Dem wins in 1992 and 2008 lead to progressive disillusionment and general public disinterest, which, combined with a highly angry and motivated conservative base yielded devastating electoral outcomes two years later. In 1994 Republicans gained complete control of the US Congress for the first time since the 1940s, and in 2010 Rs recaptured control of the House but also ,more importantly, enough state legislatures to assure a redistricting advantage in holding control of the House and those same state legislatures for the next decade.
The most visible manifestation of this complacency by progressives is the misguided satisfaction that Republicans, in order to woo the valued non-white demographic groups, are warring with each other over whether to change actual policy proposals or keep the same policies and change the tone of their rhetoric. Some progressives believe that the demographic trends are too insurmountable for a change in tone to make a difference.
As stated above, Republicans have been masters of "framing the debate" for a couple of decades and should be feared if they go down that hallway again. That Romney was such a robocandidate with a generally incompetent campaign organization goes a long way to explain why his etch-a-sketch approach subsequent to the first debate ultimately did not pay off in electoral success. His failure should not be construed as Destiny for future '
Republicans. George Bush 41's "1000 Points of Light" and George Bush 43's "Compassionate Conservative" shtick worked well enough to get them elected. However, when Compassionate Conservative types nominate Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts to the Supreme Court (we can cut 41 a little slack for Souter even if it might have been considered an "error" subsequently), when they gut consumer protection and environmental law, when they cut taxes for the wealthiest but also safety net programs, we know the rhetoric is more language than conviction. Progressives do not buy the snake oil, but enough people do to give the Rs their success.
Yes, the demographics will not be kind to the Republicans in the long run. They will need to alter policy approaches in order to attain electoral viability (future tense emphasized). However, using the current sales pitch and can maintain their success longer with a well-crafted message of moderation disguising the same fact-challenged policy agenda, they can still eke out numerous victories, if not nationally, certainly locally for a long time to come. Remember the 2010 message of "Jobs Jobs Jobs" followed by the policy of "Who cares about jobs? Let's cut more taxes, make abortion and contraception harder to get, and block anything that will make Obama look good." That approach gave the Rs control over numerous state legislatures and post census redistricting. The bonus was control of voter registration rules to make vote suppression a snap. Breaking Republican control of the House in the next 4-6 years will be hard enough as is. Give Frank Luntz enough focus groups, and the Republican sales pitch will be honed very effectively, enough to convince a sizable portion of people once again to vote against their rational best interests.
If you take solace that the voter suppression efforts did not work this time around, just remember three things: Some of those voter ID laws were not thrown out but merely postponed; e.g., Pennsylvania. Republican controlled state legislatures have two more years to fine tune their laws. Dems always lose their mojo after the big win.
Democrats' intensity must at least match that of the conservatives, preferably even more so. Democrats cannot rely on the Rs to shoot themselves in the foot in 2014. Dems must, at the very least, be focused enough to hold the gun steady so that when the Rs, like Todd Akin, pull the trigger, the bullet will hit a fat metatarsal inside those Gucci wingtips.
The main reason for this post is to invite readers to suggest:
1) Methods for maintaining the emotional momentum of the Democratic victories in the short term. (Remember that the Republican controlled House hobbled Clinton's policy agenda for nearly two years in his second term)
2) Ideas for an institutional, intellectual, and policy infrastructure that will facilitate progressive success for the coming generation and beyond.
One of the obvious infrastructure advantages of progressives is Daily Kos. Within its pages can emerge the ideas that can lead to a promising future. The conversation about the path to that future is a "comment" link ahead.