The Democratic party is dying. That may be hard to believe since Democrats control both houses of Congress and won the last presidential election with a record 81 million votes. But the exiguous margins of their hold on the House and Senate, with fewer than 51 per cent of the seats in either chamber, tell another story, as does the desperation of their struggle to abolish the filibuster and federalise election law.
Those policy aims are of a piece with dreams of ‘packing’ the Supreme Court with left-liberal justices — and packing the Senate too, by turning tiny Democratic bastions into new states. The left wing of the party even assails the constitutional principle behind the Senate itself, the idea of equal representation of the states.
Simply put, Democrats know they can no longer win by the old agreed-upon rules, constitutional or otherwise. As recently as the Obama years, they were content with a system of 50 states represented by two senators each — because the party still had a wide enough base of support to win the Senate with an outright majority. They had taken control after 2006, amid the wreckage of George W. Bush’s forever wars, and kept it until 2014. Barack Obama’s coat-tails in 2008 were strong enough for him to take off with 57 Democrats in the Senate and a majority of nearly 80 seats in the House.
Joe Biden had no coat-tails in 2020, even though he won 12 million more votes than Obama did in 2008. The 81 million who voted for him — or against Donald Trump — didn’t give Democrats a majority in the Senate, and Republicans actually made gains in the House. Do Puerto Rico or Washington, DC have a better case for statehood today than they had in 2009? What changed? Nothing about PR or DC, but everything for the Democrats.
The party is dying because it has a demographic problem. Long after the culturally revolutionary New Left had carved its way into what was once a working-class party, bringing not only acid, amnesty and abortion but yuppie economics and new strains of identity politics, voters in what are now red states could still feel a connection to the party of FDR or JFK. Bill Clinton looked a little Kennedy-esque, didn’t he? And Joe Biden is some sort of Irish Catholic, right? How bad could they be? Very bad indeed, to judge by the long-term cultural and economic effects of the Clinton years, and the early moves of the Biden administration. Clinton signed Nafta into law and exported American jobs while importing low-skilled labour, the illegal variety included.
The prosperity resulting from a short technology boom disguised just how much damage Clinton had done to middle America’s livelihood. In retrospect, the telecom-internet technological burst of the 1990s and 2000s looks like the last wave of the 20th century’s great tide of innovation, which had brought transistor radios, TVs, VCRs, the Walkman, personal computers and so much more. The flood has not ebbed completely, as iPhones and smart speakers attest, but these too may be residues of a truly Promethean century past, rather than intimations of a more promising future.
Irish American men are not going to be diverse enough for the Democratic party of tomorrow. Really they aren’t diverse enough for the Democratic party of today, but in 2020 Biden was the only candidate who seemed to stand a chance. Bernie Sanders, the runner-up, would have exposed how economically hard-left the party could be. And the party’s own black voters preferred Biden to Kamala Harris or Cory Booker. The party’s leadership problem isn’t about race: it’s that the Kennedy-esque image and ideology have had their last dance.
Yet demographics was supposed to save the Democratic party: a less white America, eventually a majority-minority America, would be a more Democratic America, maybe even a one-party America. This myth still drives the mostly white liberals who lead the Democratic party and the panoply of elite institutions — the mainstream media, the academy, corporate America — that keep the failing patient on his feet.
This is why race-baiting has become not only the most important stratagem but practically the only one that Democrats and their allies resort to in their public messaging. They try to terrify Asian Americans with insinuations that white Americans are targeting them with violence, when the reality is that whites, Asians, Hispanics, blacks and everyone else is most at risk from the lawlessness that Democrats have tolerated (and more than tolerated) in the cities under their control. As they make abundantly clear with every riot, the rising left wing of the Democratic party simply considers law enforcement the enemy. When their publicists write that they really and literally mean ‘Defund the police’, Americans of all races must believe them.
Despite the police shootings, the riots and the media’s constant racial hype, last year’s presidential election was less racially polarised than any since at least 2004. Trump, a man who Democrats and their allies perceive as the embodiment of white diabolism, actually won a greater percentage of votes from Hispanics and blacks than liberal-sensitive Republicans such as John McCain and Mitt Romney. And Trump achieved that amid a record-high turnout.
For well over two decades Republicans listened as the top pundits and political consultants told them that the only way to win more minority votes was to sound exactly like the Democrats: maybe talk about religion and inner-city empowerment zones a little, but whatever you do, don’t mention immigration or crime. Trump defied that conventional wisdom and made gains by doing so. Now Republicans may for the first time try a right-wing message to minorities, even as Democrats are devoured by the left.
Republicans have a long way to go before making any progress in the cities, of course, even as the cities suffer. Political machines aren’t dismantled easily. But if the GOP can make little headway in Democratic cities, the Democrats face the more serious problem of losing ground in the states. Hence the sudden panic about political arrangements they were content with until the day before yesterday. Biden is alive, but his party is dead. And the newborn radical Democrats can’t win — not without rewriting the rules to get around competition at the state level, where elections are closer to the people.
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