Democrats are the real con­ser­va­tives of 2016

Business Mirror - - OPINION - By Sam Ta­nen­haus

AS the con­test be­tween Hil­lary Clin­ton and Bernie San­ders moves into its next phase —pri­maries in South Carolina and other South­ern states— the ques­tion of who is the more “pro­gres­sive” can­di­date still seems to pre­oc­cupy many Democrats.

On the is­sues, it’s be­side the point. Clin­ton and San­ders broadly agree on most things, and when they dif­fer, one or the other may end up fur­ther to the left: San­ders in his at­tacks on Wall Street and call for free col­lege tu­ition, Clin­ton in her ad­vo­cacy of stricter gun laws and pleas for more gen­er­ous treat­ment of im­mi­grants.

But th­ese map­pings have lately ob­scured the more im­por­tant, if some­times over­sim­pli­fied, dis­tinc­tion be­tween the two can­di­dates: their con­trast­ing re­la­tion to the pol­i­tics of the 1960s, in par­tic­u­lar, the Democrats’ tu­mul­tuous nom­i­na­tion bat­tle of 1968 that ended with ri­ots on the streets of Chicago.

The anal­ogy seemed es­pe­cially sug­ges­tive in the first stages of the 2016 elec­tion, when San­ders’s sur­pris­ing con­nec­tion with young vot­ers re­called the anti­estab­lish­ment cam­paign of Sen. Eu­gene McCarthy, while Clin­ton was cast as the heir to Hu­bert Humphrey, the long­time lib­eral, with a ster­ling record in ar­eas like health and education, but who sounded like the tired voice of the es­tab­lish­ment.

But there was an­other legacy of 1968, and it is the one that mat­ters now.

Coiled within the political drama that year was the col­lapse of the New Deal coali­tion that, for more than 30 years, held to­gether the dif­fer­ent fac­tions of the Demo­cratic Party.

That coali­tion had be­gun to fray in the mid-1960s, when many workingand middle-class white Democrats be­gan to fear the party’s lead­er­ship was de­sert­ing them. Not at first: Those vot­ers gen­er­ally agreed with new laws, en­acted un­der Lyn­don John­son, that ended le­gal seg­re­ga­tion and voter dis­crim­i­na­tion in the South. The change came when John­son in­tro­duced poli­cies that re­dressed in­equities in em­ploy­ment and hous­ing that ex­isted through­out Amer­i­can so­ci­ety.

The 1968 elec­tion was the first ref­er­en­dum on th­ese changes. White vot­ers left the party in droves. Some were at­tracted to Richard Nixon’s ap­peal to the “silent ma­jor­ity,” oth­ers to the pop­ulist, racially in­flected cam­paign of the Alabama politi­cian Ge­orge Wal­lace.

Humphrey’s loss to Nixon be­gan a new phase in which the Repub­li­can Party seized the political cen­ter. Mean­while, the Democrats de­vel­oped a new iden­tity: The party of the New Deal be­came the party of the Great So­ci­ety. Over time, its base grew to con­sist of African-Amer­i­cans, who be­came the most de­pend­able and also in­flu­en­tial Demo­cratic bloc. They were in­stru­men­tal in giv­ing Democrats vic­to­ries in the 1990s (Bill Clin­ton) and then again in 2008. To­day those vot­ers ap­pear to fa­vor Hil­lary Clin­ton by sub­stan­tial mar­gins in the South­ern states, an edge that could de­cide who will win the nom­i­na­tion.

Why the at­trac­tion to Clin­ton? To be­gin with, she re­mains true to the ideals and vi­sion of the Great So­ci­ety. This was clear in her speech af­ter her vic­tory in the Ne­vada cau­cus last Satur­day. Her as­ser­tion that Amer­ica is not a “sin­gle-is­sue coun­try” sent the mes­sage so­cial and cul­tural val­ues mat­ter as much as eco­nomic ones. And her vow to “build lad­ders of op­por­tu­nity” echoed John­son’s prom­ise in 1965 that African-Amer­i­cans would re­ceive “the same chance as ev­ery other Amer­i­can to learn and grow, to work and share in so­ci­ety.”

To­day that lan­guage sounds old­fash­ioned—its as­pi­ra­tional out­look is steeped in “im­ages from the 1990s,” as the New Yorker writer Ben­jamin Wal­lace-Wells has writ­ten. But those same im­ages may be re­as­sur­ing to Great So­ci­ety Democrats, who to­day rep­re­sent their party’s con­ser­va­tive base—con­ser­va­tive in its cau­tion and in its pref­er­ence for tried-and-tested ap­proaches to pol­icy and gov­ern­ing.

In other words, Great So­ci­ety Democrats, like the New Deal Democrats they re­placed, are keen to hold on their gains and ad­vances—which in­clude twice elect­ing Barack Obama. They also dis­trust nov­elty.

This has been the case for some years now. And there is more in­volved than race. At the out­set of 2008 elec­tion, African-Amer­i­can vot­ers fa­vored Clin­ton over the up­start Obama by as much as 25 per­cent. The shift to­ward Obama came only af­ter he proved his vi­a­bil­ity and showed Great So­ci­ety Democrats he re­ally was one of them.

As we might ex­pect of con­ser­va­tive vot­ers, th­ese Democrats turn out in high num­bers in pres­i­den­tial elec­tion years. A big­ger per­cent­age of African-Amer­i­cans than whites voted in the 2012 elec­tion. They are also ex­pected to vote at a higher rate than ei­ther Lati­nos or Asians in 2016.

All this leaves San­ders in a para­dox­i­cal po­si­tion. His bold agenda of eco­nomic “rev­o­lu­tion” seems geared to this Demo­cratic base. Yet, it seems skep­ti­cal of him. This frus­trates many of his sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing some in­flu­en­tial African-Amer­i­can ac­tivists and in­tel­lec­tu­als.

“You can go down San­ders’s plat­form is­sue by is­sue and ask, ‘so how is this not a black is­sue?’” the political sci­en­tist Adolph Reed, a prom­i­nent so­cial­ist, told an in­ter­viewer in Jan­uary. “How is a $15 min­i­mum wage not a black is­sue? How is mas­sive publicworks em­ploy­ment not a black is­sue? How is free pub­lic col­lege higher education not a black is­sue?” Cor­nel West, Ta- Ne­hisi Coates and Spike Lee have said much the same thing.

They have a point. In the­ory, San­ders’s pro­gram should res­onate with African-Amer­i­cans since they, as a group, were hit es­pe­cially hard by the Great Re­ces­sion and have not reaped many ben­e­fits from the re­cov­ery. The ob­sta­cle is their con­ser­vatism. They are “val­ues vot­ers,” many of them church­go­ers, and may feel a stronger bond with Clin­ton, their fel­low Great So­ci­ety Demo­crat, who talks of­ten of her Methodist up­bring­ing and faith.

Ide­ol­ogy is im­por­tant, too. San­ders, the avowed “demo­cratic so­cial­ist,” con­nects eas­ily on cam­puses, with their his­tory of “grass­roots” ac­tivism and “par­tic­i­pa­tory democ­racy” that took root in univer­si­ties, like Michi­gan and Berke­ley, in the 1960s. But “the chil­dren of tur­bu­lence,” as the his­to­rian Arthur Sch­lesinger Jr. called them, also look like chil­dren of priv­i­lege.

This was cer­tainly the case in 1968. In New York State, for in­stance, Gene McCarthy’s strength was “con­cen­trated not in poor precincts but in the most fash­ion­able neigh­bor­hoods [Man­hat­tan’s East Side] and sub­urbs [Great Neck],” Kevin Phillips wrote in his clas­sic elec­tion book, The Emerg­ing Repub­li­can Ma­jor­ity.

It hap­pened again with the prairie pop­ulist Sen. Ge­orge McGovern in 1972. Though he had a strong pro­la­bor record, his cam­paign res­onated most pow­er­fully on cam­puses and among in­tel­lec­tu­als.

And so again with Bernie San­ders. Even as his sup­port sur­passed ex­pec­ta­tions, its lim­its be­gan to show. He per­formed well in over­whelm­ingly white Iowa and New Hamp­shire, which have two of the low­est un­em­ploy­ment rates in the coun­try.

But in the South, eco­nomic and so­cial con­di­tions are very dif­fer­ent. San­ders has been bit­ingly crit­i­cal of Wal-Mart, which in South Carolina em­ploys some 30,000 peo­ple, many of them black. Na­tion­wide, blacks make up al­most 20 per­cent of Wal-Mart’s 1.3 mil­lion work­ers.

To the per­son who holds such a job, Clin­ton’s plea that “the middle class needs a raise” sounds more prac­ti­cal and also more re­spect­ful than San­ders’s ob­ser­va­tion in the last de­bate that “no one thinks that work­ing in the fac­tory is the great­est job in the world.” And San­ders’s mar­tial at­tacks on “the 1 per­cent” in some cases in­clude those who own or fi­nance fac­to­ries and busi­nesses that em­ploy many work­ing- class peo­ple.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Philippines

© PressReader. All rights reserved.