Monday, May 21, 2012
They just don't like us
This article by Tom Edsall is enough to make me want to throw in the towel. And not because I think he's wrong, but because I think he's probably right:
The difficulty for the Democratic Party and its candidates arises when voters perceive that elected officials are granting special, non-universal privileges or preferences for political gain. With some regularity over the past four and a half decades, many voters — moderates and conservatives in particular — have demonstrated an aversion to contemporary liberal public policy that provides benefits and protections to groups defined by race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.
Ellis and Stimson write that from 1963 to 1967, “the ranks of self-identified liberals fell by 10.5 points – about one fourth – and never recovered.” They argue that the shift resulted from “the new clientele of liberalism”:
The New Deal had for clients the working people of America. In one phrase it was “the common man.” Thus liberalism was conjoined with pictures of workers, often unionized, hard-working people, playing by the rules, and trying to get ahead…. With the coming of the Great Society there was a new clientele of liberalism, the poor – and the nonwhite. The focus of Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty was the underclass of people whose usual defining characteristic was that they did not work. And although there were – and are – more poor white people than black people, the image of poverty from the very beginning was black.
Successful Democratic presidential candidates – especially Bill Clinton and Obama – have been acutely aware of these liabilities.
Many of the strategies undergirding the campaigns of 1992, 1996 and 2008 were explicitly designed to mute or eliminate perceived liberal vulnerabilities. Clinton famously promised to “end welfare as we know it,” to reward those “who work hard and play by the rules.” He also went out of his way to demonstrate his support for the death penalty as Arkansas Governor by rejecting clemency for convicted killer Ricky Ray Rector, who was executed in Arkansas during the 1992 campaign despite serious brain damage resulting from a self-inflicted wound.
In 2008, Obama confounded liberal supporters when he praised a Supreme Court ruling overturning a Washington, D.C. ban on handguns, endorsed a proposed wiretap law and spoke favorably about applying the death penalty to those convicted of raping a child.
A second interesting political development in recent decades is that Democrats have paid a higher price for policies favoring their constituencies, especially the poor and minorities, than Republicans have paid for doing the same thing on behalf of the rich.
Both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush won approval, soon after winning election, of tax policies decisively favoring the affluent, and both went on to win re-election.
The relative invulnerability of the Republican Party in recent years to backlash after pushing through regressive tax policies is even more surprising because a plurality of the public, 46 percent, believes the rich are rich as a result of their connections, not their hard work, according to Pew surveys. In other words, while voters are hostile to policies benefiting those seen as the “undeserving” poor, they are more tolerant of policies benefiting the undeserving rich...
Part of this difference is rooted in the power of race in American politics. Some of the most controversial policies supported by Democrats, including civil rights generally, affirmative action and busing, have alienated a portion of white voters, especially those in the South and in northern working-class communities.
At the same time, part of the tolerance of policies that favor the rich comes from the fact that voters place a much higher value on increasing opportunity than they do on decreasing inequality.
Gallup reported in December that 70 percent of survey respondents said it was “extremely” (29 percent) or “very” important to increase the equality of opportunity for people to get ahead,” while 46 percent said it was “extremely” (17 percent) or “very” (29 percent) important to “reduce the income and wealth gap between the rich and the poor.”
In the same survey, Gallup found that 52 percent described “the fact that some people in the United States are rich and others are poor” as acceptable, while 45 percent said it is “a problem that needs to be fixed.” The percentage answering “acceptable” actually grew seven points, up from 45 percent in 1998, despite the efforts of the Obama administration and the Occupy Wall Street movement to make inequality a more salient issue.
As the 2012 election progresses, there is every sign that Republicans will seek to strengthen the perception of the Obama administration as dependent on constituencies that are often disadvantaged or that have been previously marginalized. They will gleefully label their advocates “special interests.”
The conservative columnist Jay Cost wrote last week:
You, me, and almost everybody else in this country wants to talk about jobs, the deficit, national security, but the Democratic party simply does not listen to us. It is not responsive to what we want, but rather only to the special interests that now dominate it. Organized labor, the environmentalist left, the feminists, big city machine politicos, and all the rest – they hum the tune to which the party dances. If you are lucky enough to be in one of those groups, then the Democrats will be happy to hear what you have to say. If you aren’t, then you’ll be lucky if they don’t hang up on you!
The campaign will require Obama to reinvigorate support among core constituencies – minorities, single women, the young, “knowledge workers” and “creatives”– without antagonizing moderates. It will not be easy.
Well, maybe he can come out for executing somebody. That's apparently the way to appeal to "moderates."
It's depressing, but I think liberals probably need to at least think about the fact that a majority of Americans apparently believe that the poor, the vulnerable and yes, the racial minorities, should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps or STFU. And women and workers just need to stop whining and make sandwiches.
There are a lot of reasons why this happened beyond just retrograde individualism, not the least of which was a very successful propaganda campaign to demonize the word liberal. But I think it's basically a fair reflection of America and it's foolish to pretend otherwise. They are certainly willing to accept government largesse for themselves because they truly believe they are deserving while others aren't, but most of our fellow Americans just don't hold liberal values and a liberal philosophy overall.
Update: We should go to Europe:
digby 5/21/2012 10:45:00 AM