Sixteen years ago, Bill Galston and Elaine Kamarck wrote a paper called "The Politics of Evasion," arguing that Democrats were pursuing the wrong strategy and could not win the presidency without taking more-moderate stands and emphasizing different issues. It made the case for the kind of politics Bill Clinton brought to the 1992 campaign and, to a considerable extent, to his presidency. Galston and Kamarck both served in the Clinton White House, and with distinction. They are two of the smartest and most intellectually honest Democratic thinkers I know of.
Now they have written a paper called "The Politics of Polarization," which makes many of the same points. It is one of the interesting things about today's politics that most Democrats seem to have forgotten the lessons that Bill Clinton taught. Clinton's brand of Democratic governance was not as successful as some Democrats like to think: He was re-elected with just 49 percent of the vote in 1996 and his vice president won just 48 percent of the vote in 2000. And during the Clinton years, the Democratic percentages of the popular vote for the House of Representatives fell to 45 percent in 1994, 48.5 percent in 1996, and 49 percent in 1998 and 2000. The Democratic vote for president and House converged, at levels just below 50 percent. But Clinton and Gore did win popular vote pluralities in three straight presidential electionssomething it was by no means clear in 1989 that Democratic nominees would do. And they did it because they followed much of Galston's and Kamarck's advice. So it is worthwhile, for Democrats and all of us, to pay attention to what they have to say now.
"The Politics of Polarization" is more a diagnosis than a prescription. The authors start off with a basic observation, which Democrats too often ignore: There are more conservatives than liberals. Over the past 25 years the proportions in exit polls have been about the same: about one third of voters call themselves conservatives and about one fifth call themselves liberals. This means that Democrats have to win far larger percentages of moderates than do Republicans to prevail. Moreover, the Republican and Democratic constituencies have become ideologically more polarized. There has been a sorting out of Americans voting on ideological lines. In 1976 more than one quarter of liberals voted for Gerald Ford and more than one quarter of conservatives voted for Jimmy Carter. In 2004, 84 percent of conservatives voted for George W. Bush and 85 percent of liberals voted for John Kerry.
Galston and Kamarck identify four "myths" that Democratic strategists believemyths that ignore this basic arithmetic.
The myth of mobilization: that if you bring out the base in large enough numbers, you win. The Kerry campaign was based on this strategy, and it did an excellent job of bringing out the base. Kerry's popular vote was 16 percent higher than Al Gore's. Unfortunately for Kerry, the Republicans did a better job of bringing out their (larger) base: George W. Bush's 2004 popular vote was 23 percent higher than his popular vote in 2000. Maximizing turnout in black neighborhoods in central cities and in university towns is not enough to win. Black turnout as a percentage of eligibles in 2004 was nearly as high as white turnout: There is not much room for further gains.
The myth of demography. Here the authors' target is Ruy Texeira's and John Judis's interesting book The Emerging Democratic Majority. Texeira and Judis argued that expanding numbers of Hispanics, professional women, and other Democratic-leaning groups would produce Democratic majorities. But Bush won over 40 percent of Hispanics' votes and, as Galston and Kamarck point out, improved his standing with married women and Catholics. Blacks and graduate students in the humanities may vote 90 percent Democratic, but these other groups don't. Most married women voted for Bill Clinton in 1996, but in 2004 a larger majority of them voted for George W. Bush.
The myth of language, Berkeley Prof. George Lakoff's argument that Democrats need to present their positions in more-attractive language. No, say Galston and Kamarck, substance is the problem.
"Democrats are in trouble today, not only because their candidates have lacked compelling 'narratives' that resonate with voters but because they lack a coherent approach to foreign policy, espouse positions on key social issues that strong majorities of the electorate reject, and lack compelling economic proposals that speak to the new economic challenges of the 21st century." Whew.
The myth of prescription drugs, the idea that Democrats can win by changing the subject from national security to domestic issues and promising voters some economic goodies. Rather, national security issues have become the drivers of party preference. "Attitudes on the efficacy of force and diplomacy, and on the obligations of Americans to fight for their country, are now by far the strongest predictors of whether a person is a Republican or a Democrat." There has been a Great Sorting Out, with many people changing party identification, and the winners from this process have been the Republicans: Galston and Kamarck show that 38 percent of Republicans say they used to think of themselves as Democrats, while 22 percenta substantially smaller numberof Democrats say they used to think of themselves as Republicans.
Galston and Kamarck seem to believe that the Democrats' chief problem is that too large a part of their constituency, and their primary electorate, is made up of liberals who reject values and positions held by large majorities of Americans. This is a problem I have mentioned in the past.
"Along a number of dimensions, liberals differ not only from other Democrats but from the country as a whole. Not only are they younger, better educated, and more prosperous; they are less likely ever to have been married or to have children in their home. They are more likely to be secular in their orientation, only half as likely as other Americans to have attended religious services weekly, and only one third as likely to have participated in Bible study or prayer groups; 61 percent of liberals oppose displaying the Ten Commandments, versus only 22 percent of all Americans. A remarkable 80 percent of liberals favor gay marriage; less than one third of their fellow Americans agree.
"In the area of defense and foreign policy, 67 percent of liberals believe that the pre-emptive use of military force is rarely or ever justified, 65 percent favor reducing the federal budget to cut the deficit; again, only 35 percent of the electorate would go along with them. Liberals are only half as likely to be military veterans as are Americans as a whole. [Note: Galston, as well as being a political science Ph.D. who uses his own translations of ancient Greek, served in the Marine Corps.] Only two fifths report that they regularly display the U.S. flag, versus two thirds of their fellow citizens.
"While social issues and defense dominate today's political terrain, it is in these areas that liberals espouse views diverging not only from those of other Democrats but from Americans as a whole. To the extent that liberals now comprise the largest bloc within the Democratic coalition and the public face of the party, Democratic candidates for national office will be running uphill. Whatever their personal views, these candidates will be vulnerable to the kinds of negative campaigns that Republicans have been adept at running since 1988. In current circumstances, it is hard to see how Democrats can overcome this disadvantageunless candidates are willing and able to carry out their own suitably updated version of the strategy that Bill Clinton so successfully employed in his 1992 primary and general election campaigns."
And who could do that? Galston and Kamarck name no names. But one obvious one is Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose positions, as I have noted, are in some tension with those of the liberal base of her party. Another possibility is Mark Warner, who was elected governor of Virginia in 2001 by appealing to NASCAR fans, among others. Currently there appears to be no viable candidate of the Democratic left. John Kerry and Al Gore may be interested in running again, but Democrats don't seem interested in them any more. John Edwards is out of office and not running particularly well in the polls. Howard Dean said when he was running, successfully, for Democratic National Chairman, that he would not run for president in 2008.
But the Democratic left does not need a celebrity candidate; it is large enough to give a lead in the polls to an unknown with minimal credentials, as it did to Dean in the spring and summer of 2003. Dean's success, in turn, prompted all but one of the serious candidates to take a harshly critical line against Bush, and Kerry and Edwards voted against the $87 billion supplemental appropriation for Iraq. Only Joseph Lieberman resisted the siren call of the left, and he won minimal support among primary voters. Hillary Clinton, as popular as she is with rank and file Democrats, will beisunder pressure from the Democratic left to take positions and adopt a tone which, Galston and Kamarck argue, are likely to be liabilities in the general election.
Samuel Huntington notes in his book Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity the emergence of "denationalized elites" in this and other countrieshighly educated people who feel a loyalty more to secular liberal principles than to their own country. Such elites and their nonelite counterparts now constitute a large and, in 2004 at least, dominant segment of one of our political parties. Powerlineblog Tuesday morning contained a letter from its Iraq correspondent Major E., who reports that after he returned to his home in northern California he contacted local organizations and offered to speak to them about what he had observed in Iraq.
I contacted county leadership for both Democrats and Republicans, along with non-partisan church and civic groups, and have received numerous requests from churches, non-partisan groups, and Republican organizations but zero from Democrats, despite following up with them several times.
I hope it is an anomaly, but I wonder if the fact that Democratic leaders in my county would rather accuse the troops at Gitmo of running a "gulag" than hear about the experiences of a service member who just returned from Iraq might be driving some folks away from their tent of "tolerance," not just here in Northern California but around the country.
After a talk to a Republican group the other night, one couple came up to me and explained that they grew up in strongly Democratic families, joking that they knew about both God and FDR, but were unsure about who came first. But today's Democratic party, they said, had strayed so far from their beliefs that they can no longer vote Democratic. . . .
That is unfortunate because our nation needs two parties that believe in America as a great country, even if each has a different strategy for making it better. Two parties are needed so that a healthy balance can become at risk in any society if there is only one perspective. Yet, until the rank-and-file Democrats start choosing leaders who represent America's values and genuinely support American troops, I fear they may continue to be a party that even die-hard Democrats from the Greatest Generation will find themselves unable to support.
As far as the situation in Iraq is concerned, suffice it to say that things are going much better over there than is being reported, and I am confident that the voter participation in the upcoming constitutional referendum and in December's elections will confirm that.
The anti-Iraqi forces seem to win the battle for daily headlines, but we win on the big eventsbecause, as on January 30th, the victory was so big as to be undeniable. More important that scoring PR points, though, is the fact that life of the average Iraqi is improving and the legitimacy of the new government is growing.
The phrase that stuck out for me: "Our nation needs two parties that believe in America as a great country." I think Galston and Kamarck would agree. I certainly do.