DeLay, Demographics, and Democrats

Saturday, May 07, 2005

"Soul-Searching" Out, Soul Collecting In

Several news articles I encountered yesterday all reminded me of a theme I used to blog about more often: soul-searching by the Democrats after their 2004 electoral defeat. But I merely said that the stories "reminded me" of this. On the whole, the Democrats showed essentially no soul-searching. No fundamental questioning of premises has occurred. The only change since the election seems to be that the Democrats took the "soul" in that phrase literally and decided to search for "souls" who would vote for them among the religious right.

This is very bad. It means that the Democrats have failed to question the worst part of their agenda, socialism, and have abandoned the best part, secularism. They have decided not to offer an alternative to the social conservatives to voters in general, but to take everyone but the religionists for granted and compete fiercely for their votes. Aside from the actions of Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean I mention in the above link, the actions of Ralph Nader and Jesse Jackson during the Schiavo soap opera offer us concrete examples of this change among the Democrats. (I feel quite safe counting Nader as one of them.)

So the Democrats have not fundamentally changed. Socialism is merely a secular application of Christian (read: altruistic) morality and the Dems have merely become more philosophically consistent. The question is no longer, "Will the Democrats change." Rather , it is, "What are the electoral prospects of the Democrats?" I no longer recall the source of this assessment, but I like it. It went something like this, "Either the Greens or the Democrats will become a marginalized hard left party." I see why, philosophically and politically, the Democrats have chosen the path they have, but I think the odds of it helping them win too many elections are very low due in the short term to a historical accident: The religionists will see this appeal as insincere.

The Democrats as a Coalition

What happens afterwards is anyone's guess, and depends greatly on what the Republicans do as well. But we might get a clue by examining just what, exactly, the "Democrats" really are as a party. And to do this, we must first ask what a "party" really is in our self-perpetuating two-party system. Steven den Beste, one of my favorite former political bloggers, explains this very well.

So the US has pretty much always had only two significant parties, and the last time one of them was replaced by another was when the Republican Party was formed, achieving its first presidential win in 1860 with the election of Abraham Lincoln. On the other hand, the parties themselves have changed over time, and these days each party is de facto a coalition [emphasis mine].Those who in other nations would try to create new parties, in the US try to create strong and influential factions within our two existing parties. In the European Parliamentary system, they hope to gain influence by becoming part of a ruling coalition. In the US they hope to gain influence during the primary process.

Those factions compete with each other in the primaries, and then unite (in theory) during the general election behind the candidate they selected against the evil enemies in the other party. And that's why each party is such a mixed bag, full of contradictions, and not really very easily characterized.

Right now the Democratic coalition [emphasis mine] includes environmentalists, the labor movement, minority groups, radical feminists, and people who think of themselves as being compassionate and who want to use tax money to help out the less fortunate. It includes most of America's Wilsonians and Jeffersonians, and most of America's socialists and Marxists. It includes those who are part of what Fonte calls "transnational progressivism". It doesn't include all of any of those groups, of course.

The fact that the Democrats are a coalition of certain groups can be used to gain some kind of an understanding of how they will do, electorally, in the short-term and (less reliably) in the long-term if we look at their constituent groups as well as how socialism and secularism play with those groups.

Prospect for Sending DeLay Home Good

In the short-term, there may be some very good news for Democrats. They have a much better shot at defeating Tom DeLay in the next congressional election than I thought. Although some polls showed DeLay hurting shortly after Terri Schiavo, I thought DeLay was running in a district more Republican than it is.
[T]he fact that this group is from New England (and is headed by "Howard the Scream" besides) is going to be easy for DeLay and the Republicans to turn against them. But that obstacle would not be insurmountable if they had something substantive to say. True: Texans won't listen to a bunch of busybodies from New England telling them what to do in exchange for telling them something they already know. However, blue-state provincialism to the contrary, Texans can comprehend a decent argument. This does not appear to be what they will get from the Democrats. DeLay's corrupt? And we should vote in a Democrat to replace him? Democrats are still seen as corrupt and beholden to lobbyists down here. Lampson won't even be seen as a real alternative and DeLay's district will stick with the devil they know.
Apparently, the demographic makeup has been changing very rapidly in his district. Texans in general might need more convincing to vote Democrat, but those subgroups of Texans who might normally vote Democrat anyway will be easier to win over.
And, while DeLay's district--and particularly Fort Bend County--may still have a majority of registered Republicans, it has quietly become more centrist and less tolerant of his ideological excesses, as Asians and other new groups of voters have moved in during the last decade. DeLay can still win reelection, but he will not have an easy time. And he could find himself in a downward spiral as he has to devote more resources to fending off charges in Washington while his popularity wanes at home.
Let's first look at the dwindling demographic, white Republicans, who form DeLay's power base. Can he count on them? Apparently not.
DeLay, who was first elected to Congress in 1984, drew his initial support from the upper-middle-class white professionals and managers who had begun migrating to Fort Bend in search of large houses and good schools. They applauded DeLay's opposition to government regulation and came to identify the Republican Party with personal success. As DeLay experienced a religious awakening in the late '80s, he also found support in the ranks of the Christian right, which he himself helped to organize. ... Put these professionals and evangelicals together with those white working-class voters in the southeast suburbs who abandoned the Democrats over civil rights [This racist slur is irrelevant to the argument. -- ed] , and you have the basis for DeLay's two-to-one victories from 1984 through 2002. ... Many of these voters have turned against DeLay in the last year. A poll conducted this month by SurveyUSA found that 51 percent of the district's residents disapproved of the job DeLay was doing in Washington.
Translation: DeLay is losing support among fiscal conservatives. But wait! There's more.

Extrapolating from the census would put the African American population at about 10 percent, Latinos at over 20 percent, and the Asian population at close to 15 percent. The results in Fort Bend County are even more dramatic. In 1980, the area's public schools, which attract all the area's children, were 64 percent white, 16 percent black, 17 percent Latino, and 3 percent Asian. Today, they are 29 percent white, 31 percent black, 21 percent Latino, and 19 percent Asian.

Most of the black and Latino voters are Democrats. A black Democrat, Rodney Ellis, represents Missouri City in the state Senate, and Latino Democrat Dora Olivo represents the same area in the House of Representatives. But the Asian vote is more complex. The Indians are the most Democratic. The Pakistanis used to be Republican, but, along with other American Muslims, turned to the Democrats in the face of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment after [the atrocities of] September 11 [, 2001].

In addition, the growing middle-class Asian demographic may be nominally Republican-leaning, but is not reliably so. Near DeLay's district, for example, they recently catapulted an Asian Democrat to victory over a Republican incumbent in an election for a state office. (In addition, the part of Fort Bend County within Houston voted overwhelmingly against conservative Orlando Sanchez in our last, nominally non-partisan, mayoral race.) Given how these minority groups have voted in the recent past, the article is correct that a candidate "who will not scare away the district's registered Republican majority" by being too leftist can win.

Blacks Less Reliably Democrat?

But what of the long-term prospects for the Democrats? These aren't so rosy. The second article (via TIA Daily) I want to bring to your attention discusses how members of the
Congressional Black Caucus have become less reliably liberal and how part of the underlying cause is that the black electorate is changing. (As an aside, some black congressmen are having to become less leftist in order to keep winning their seats as their areas become less racially and economically homogeneous.)
[A]s the American social climate has changed and more blacks have moved out of poverty — only a quarter of blacks are at the poverty level today, compared to more than half in 1965 — the politics have changed, as well. More blacks are interested in lower taxes and pro-business policies that will lead to job growth. [I believe school vouchers are also popular among blacks. --ed]

The changes have played out on a series of votes this year, such as passage of the Republican-led bankruptcy bill, which 10 members of the caucus voted for, and elimination of the estate tax, which drew eight votes from the 41-member caucus.

Five members, all Democrats, voted for both measures...
While the increase in black support for Bush was not as dramatic in the last election as some predicted it would be, the positions discussed in the first paragraph above are not exactly planks in the Democratic platform. With blacks becoming more prosperous, the welfare state agenda of the Democrats not only has less to offer, but the taxes required to support it will drive off some black support. Also, as racism continues dying as a major social force in this country, the debatable perception that Democrats are the only friends of the black man is going to do that party less good if it survives at all. Might blacks soon stop bloc voting and acquire actual power -- the power of unpredictability -- at the polls? As the Asian example above shows, that is possible.

But America is a great melting pot, and the truth about the increasing unreliability of bloc voting by a minority group is it that it reflects how well-assimilated that group is in American society as a whole. Do the individuals of a group feel isolated from the rest of society (and perhaps see their group as being at odds in some way with that society), or do they feel a part of that society? Do they feel at ease enough in that society that their ethnic background has little bearing on how they vote? In a society crippling itself with racism, there can certainly be good reasons for a minority to bloc vote. Conversely, in a society crippling itself with a welfare state, there can be bad reasons for bloc voting. I think that in the case of blacks, both the good reasons and the bad for bloc voting for Democrats are going away for the same fundamental reason. Blacks can make it in America, and when they do, they have a stake in a freer economy.

Democratic Ideology

As a coalition depending heavily on minority support, then, I think the Democrats are in serious trouble over the long haul. Members of minoritie groups are going to act less out of concerns related to their differences with the rest of America and more out of their concerns as individual human beings. Furthermore, as members of these groups become more prosperous, the welfare state programs of the Democrats will have little, if any, appeal. Minority voters will become just like everyone else, which is as it should be. If the Democrats can appeal to nonminority voters, then, so what? So how do the Democrats fare with Americans overall?

According to this last article, not so hot. And here, we move beyond the aspects of the Democratic coalition that depend on demographics to those that depend on their leftist ideology. Victor Davis Hanson explores -- and finds wanting -- Democratic stands on class, race, and age, and defense. I have many problems with this article, not the least of which is that it package-deals religion with "American values," but it makes a few interesting points. (I've added the headings for the respective quotes. My comments follow each in italics.)

The old class warfare was effective for two reasons: Americans did not have unemployment insurance, disability protection, minimum wages, social security, or health coverage. Much less were they awash in cheap material goods from China that offer the less well off the semblance of consumer parity with those far wealthier. Second, the advocates of such rights looked authentic, like they came off the docks, the union hall, the farm, or the shop, primed to battle those in pin-stripes and coiffed hair.

This is the worst part of the article because it seems to credit Democratic welfare programs and Communism (via China) with our prosperity. (Leave it to a social conservative to do that.) But what is true that in our prosperity, the Democrats can't demagogue socialism as a solution for human misery.


The Democrats, at least in the north, were right on the great civil-rights debate of 1960s. Yet ever since, they have lost credibility as they turned to the harder task of trying to legislate an equality of result — something that transcends government prejudice and guarantying [sic] a fair playing field, and hinges on contemporary culture, behavior, values, and disciple. ...

A Democratic "minority" appointment to a cabinet post at education or housing is one thing; a Republican belief that the best candidates for secretary of state, national security advisor, and attorney general are incidentally minorities is quite another.

This is better, but fails to condemn the attempt to legislate equality of result. Better would have been to say that the Democrats had been right to push for equal rights, but were wrong to then push for socialist programs that violated the rights of those whose money was needed to finance them, and wrong for pushing such measures as quotas, which differed from Jim Crow only in which race was being discriminated against.


[D]espite the rhetoric of Washington lobbying groups, those over 65 are now the most affluent and secure in our society, and are on the verge of appearing grasping rather than indigent. ...

George Bush is appealing to a new group that really is threatened — the under-35's who cannot afford a house, have student loans, high car and health insurance, and are concerned that their poor therapeutic education will leave them impoverished as China and the rest of Asia race ahead.

Something about the insolvency of Social "Security" would have been nice here. I leave aside the immorality of taking money for the purpose of redistributing it.


Would Al Gore have invaded Afghanistan less than a month after 9/11? If John Kerry were President and China invaded Taiwan, what would he do?

'Nuff said. They do make even Bush look good.
V.D. Hanson then goes on to make this statement:
When we see Democrats speaking and living like normal folks — expressing worry that the United States must return to basic education and values to ensure its shaky preeminence in a cutthroat world, talking of one multiracial society united by a rare exceptional culture of the West rather than a salad bowl of competing races and tribes, and apprising the world that we are principled abroad in our support of democratic nations and quite dangerous when attacked — they will be competitive again.
This is mostly true, but notice how much Hanson accepts many of the same premises as the Democrats. He appears to have no understanding of economics or, more importantly, of its connection to individual rights. He does not see legislation for "equality of result" as fundamentally different than guaranteeing "a fair playing field." He is aware, barely, that our nation's culture is Western. In fact, he shares many of the same basic premises as the Democrats do. (Recall his tacit acceptance of the welfare state in the "class" section.)

What our nation really needs is a government that will protect individual rights consistently. However, our culture has become out of touch with many of the ideas that would make it even remotely possible for a party that somehow advocated all the right ideas to win. Look at how easily Bush got his drug "benefit" plan through, for example. And this is why I included Hanson's article at all. I think it does a good job of showing two things. (1) It shows what someone with typical mixed philosophical premises -- but good political acumen -- (i.e., someone like Dick Morris) thinks of the Democrats. In examining their prospects from this perspective, we see just how unsafe our current political climate really is, because.... (2) When both sides of the great political stalemate in our country share many of the same premises, it is the side that can appeal to the greatest number of voters, by appearing more "like them" that will win: "[T]he Democrats need a little more humility ... and at least one spokesman who either didn't go to prep school or isn't a lawyer." If the Democrats get nothing else, I think that they are dimly aware of this, and I think that this awareness, coupled with their general intellectual bankruptcy is what makes them so susceptible to the nostrums of George "Repackage the Snake Oil" Lakoff.

No Soul-Searching if Only False Dichotomy Seen

Since both "sides" of the political debate fundamentally agree, who wins elections is nearly arbitrary. Perhaps, because the Democrats have grasped this fact, they have, overall, not realized that they should ask more fundamental questions with regards to their political philosophy. If this is true, the same may apply to the Republicans. Worse, positions that happen to be correct will tend to receive lip-service. For example, Hillary Clinton has been sounding much more hawkish since the Bush victory. But does she really understand what a war is? And, if elected, would she wage the war even more poorly than Bush, discrediting the whole idea of fighting back, if something doesn't happen in the meantime on Bush's watch to do the same?

For now, the Democrats are on their deathbed, but since they are not, fundamentally, much different from the Republicans, this might change fairly easily. This unfortunate situation should serve as notice that it is vitally important to get better ideas out there.

-- CAV


Today: Fixed typos. HT: Adrian Hester.
5-10-05: Fixed some confusing wording.
4-4-06: Added hypertext anchors.

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