Magazine article The International Economy

Whither the Democrats? John B. Judis, Who Co-Authored the Important New Book the Emerging Democratic Majority, Confronts the Recent U.S. Election Outcome. GOP Political Strategist Jeffrey Bell Offers an Important Alternative Explanation

Magazine article The International Economy

Whither the Democrats? John B. Judis, Who Co-Authored the Important New Book the Emerging Democratic Majority, Confronts the Recent U.S. Election Outcome. GOP Political Strategist Jeffrey Bell Offers an Important Alternative Explanation

Article excerpt

It's National Security, Stupid!

In the 1996, 1998, and 2000 elections, Democrats increased their margin in Congress, and in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 presidential elections, Democrats increased their presidential vote. Al Gore lost the presidency in 2000, but won the popular vote. It looked like a new Democratic majority would replace the conservative Republican majority that had taken hold in the 1980s and had reached its peak in November 1994. But this trend was clearly set back by the November 2002 election, which handed control over both houses of Congress back to the Republicans. The question is whether, and under what circumstances, the trend toward a Democratic majority could resume.

There is one major factor that contributed toward a Democratic shift in the 1990s. Over the past fifty years, the United States has been moving from an industrial society to a post-industrial society characterized by a new workforce devoted primarily to the production of ideas rather than things, a transformed geography centered in new postindustrial metropolises, and a new understanding of the role of government, family, religion, sex, work, leisure, nature, and the market. The conservative Republicans of the 1980s were a backlash to the first stirrings of this social revolution. They stood for old-time fundamentalist religion and laissez-faire economics in opposition to women's rights, civil rights, immigration, and environmental and consumer protection.

But the old Democratic party was also tone-deaf to this historical transformation. Before the 1960s, the Democrats were based in the unionized blue-collar working class, the urban ethnic North, and in the white rural South. They were the party of redistributing income rather than creating wealth. But in the past three decades, the Democrats have become the party of post-industrial America, led by professionals (from teachers and nurses to fashion designers and actors), women (who have become disproportionately Democratic), and minorities. They are concentrated in new metropolitan areas such as California's Silicon Valley; and they stand for a progressive centrist politics that grew out of the Clinton-Gore Administration of the 1990s. This progressive centrism--which is characterized by support for government regulation, but also sensitivity to the conditions of economic growth--continues to define the terrain of domestic politics in the United States. Outside of a few states in the deep South, Republicans have been forced to mimic Democrats' commitment to a positive role for government in regulating market capitalism.

But the conservative Republicans of the 1980s also came to power in the wake of Democratic divisions over the Vietnam War, Soviet advances into Africa, and the Iranian hostage crisis. Republicans became the party of national security to whom Americans looked when they believed the country was in danger. As long as the Cold War continued in the 1980s, the Republicans were able to win elections as the party of national security, but when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Republicans lost their most important source of political popularity. By 1992, the party had split over foreign policy, and Democrats under Clinton argued successfully that the country should turn its attention to the economy and away from what seemed like the ghosts of Cold War conflict.

That's how matters stood in American politics until the attack on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon on September 11. That event--and Bush's energetic response to Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan--revived the Republicans' reputation as the party of national security and contributed to Bush's soaring popularity. The shadow of September 11, lengthened by the profile of Saddam Hussein, continues to fall over American politics. Bush's approach to foreign affairs and the war against terror enjoys wide support among Americans voters.

Democrats had hoped to contest these elections over domestic rather than foreign policy. …

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