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Hullabaloo


Friday, October 31, 2008

 
The Hillary Cluster

by digby

I was doing some research and came upon this article from 1998 by Christopher Caldwell, which I've blogged about before, but which now has a different set of implications from the one's I've drawn over the past few years. Before, it always seemed that it felt right in theory, but had played itself out completely differently in fact. Now it seems as though it might have been ahead of its time. I'll have to revisit in in another year and see what I think.

But in the meantime, there is a piece of this analysis that I found intriguing:

THERE is an ideological component to Clinton's success and the Republicans' failure. The end of the Cold War, the increasing significance of information technology, and the growth of identity politics have caused a social revolution since the badly misunderstood 1980s. It's difficult to tell exactly what is going on, but in today's politics such subjects for discussion as Communist imperialism and welfare queens have been replaced by gay rights, women in the workplace, environmentalism, and smoking. On those issues the country has moved leftward. In 1984 the Republicans held a convention that was at times cheerily anti-homosexual, and triumphed at the polls. In 1992 the party was punished for a Houston convention at which Pat Buchanan made his ostensibly less controversial remarks about culture war. Reagan's Interior Secretary James Watt once teasingly drew a distinction between "liberals" and "Americans" while discussing water use, and pushed a plan to allow oil drilling on national wildlife refuges. By 1997 the New Jersey Republican Party was begging its leaders to improve the party's image by joining the Sierra Club.

This is in part a story of how successful parties create their own monsters. Just as Roosevelt's and Truman's labor legislation helped Irish and Polish and Italian members of the working class move to the suburbs (where they became Republicans), Reaganomics helped to create a mass upper-middle class, a national culture of yuppies who want gay rights, bike trails, and smoke-free restaurants. One top Republican consultant estimates that 35 to 40 percent of the electorate now votes on a cluster of issues created by "New Class" professionals -- abortion rights, women's rights, the environment, health care, and education. He calls it the "Hillary cluster." The political theorist Jean Bethke Elshtain calls it, more revealingly, "real politics."

And with this new landscape of issues Republicans aren't even on the map. Because of the Reagan victory, the Democrats went through the period of globalization and the end of communism amid self-doubt and soul-searching. The experience left them a supple party that quickly became familiar with the Hillary cluster.


I don't buy for a moment that it was Reaganomics that built the mass upper-middle class, but the mass upper-middle class certainly did become Democrats who care about those issues. (In fact, the concerns of Caldwell's Hillary cluster are what used to be called "women's issues" Don't tell anyone.) The irony, of course, is that this Hillary cluster is what turned into a large portion of Obama's base ten years later --- upper middle class professionals.

It would seem, looking back, that the Democrats were building their party around them --- while keeping African Americans on board and enticing the hispanic Goliath.I would guess that if it weren't for 9/11, it would have emerged sooner. As it stands, we are in uncharted financial waters and there's no knowing what will happen to some of these upper middle class workers if things go south. But it's as true today as it was then that the Republicans simply have no answers for their questions and no solutions to their problems --- Bush won by first blurring the lines and then running as a warrior leader. It was all papered over for eight years. These people aren't going anywhere. The question is, is what they want, what the country needs?


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