Magazine article The American Prospect

Two More Years

Magazine article The American Prospect

Two More Years

Article excerpt

Karl Rove, George W. Bush's chief campaign strategist, has compared this year's election to that of 1896 and Bush himself to victorious Republican presidential candidate William McKinley. Rove argued that just as McKinley's election created a new political alignment that reflected the industrial revolution of the late nineteenth century, Bush's election in 2000 would create a new political alignment that reflected the new high-tech economy of the twenty-first century. "We're at a unique moment where the governing philosophy and government model that we choose in this election is likely to be the philosophy and model for the next 20 years," Rove said. These were splendid words, but if you look at the tortured results of this year's election, they are very far from the truth.

If the vote in Florida holds up, George Bush will have won the presidency. But Vice President Al Gore should have won fairly easily. He didn't because he is a horrific politician, the worst since 1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis; because he was burdened by the Clinton administration's legacy of scandal; because he had to share the Democratic vote with Green Party candidate Ralph Nader; and, finally, because of the anomaly of the electoral college. Together, Gore and Nader got a majority of votes--and with even a modicum of Nader's votes, Gore would have won the electoral college tally. In the Congress, Democrats continued to eat away at the majority that the Republicans established in 1994. If the pattern of by-elections holds, Democrats should be able to win back the Congress in 2002.

On a deeper level, the election revealed the outlines of an emerging Democratic rather than Republican majority. Ironically, this Democratic majority most closely resembles the old McKinley Republican majority that Rove cited. In 1896 McKinley and the Republicans brought the industrial Northeast and Midwest--the most dynamic areas of the country--into an electoral coalition with their older base among midwestern and prairie farmers and businessmen. The Democrats were saddled with the South, the most backward part of the country, and the sparsely populated Rocky Mountain states. This Republican coalition dominated American politics from 1896 to 1912 and from 1920 to 1930.

During the past decade, Democrats have begun to build a new majority coalition along the fault lines of the new economy, one that links the college-educated suburban voters with the party's traditional base of minorities and unionized workers. Geographically, this emerging Democratic majority stretches from Maryland to Maine, across the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and upper Midwest, and over to the Pacific Coast. But it also coincides with the spread of high-tech firms and includes states like North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Colorado.

By contrast, the Republicans are uniting the more retrograde business classes with downscale white workers in the rural and small-town South and Midwest who are opposed to gun control, abortion, and affirmative action. Like the old Democratic coalition of William Jennings Bryan, this conservative-Republican coalition is rooted in the least dynamic sectors of the economy and is committed to an increasingly unpopular social and religious outlook.

The outlines of these coalitions can be glimpsed in this year's presidential returns and exit polls, and they're not just about geography. The Milken Institute publishes an index of high-technology concentration among states. Of the 20 states with the highest percentage of college graduates, Gore took 14. Of the states with the highest percentage of doctoral scientists and engineers, Gore won 15. According to national polls, Gore got 90 percent of African Americans, 62 percent of Hispanics, and 63 percent of union members, but he also got 55 percent of Americans who identify themselves as "upper class" and 53 percent of voters with postgraduate degrees. He won the cities and split the suburbs, while Bush did best in rural areas. …

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