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Talk of Permanent Majority for Dems is Premature

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The Democrats have been in control of both the legislative and executive branches of government only since last November. Yet there are already pundits predicting a new, permanent Democratic majority in American politics.

Proponents of this idea think that changing demographics portend a new political reality. They point to the seemingly Democratic tilt of young voters, as evidenced by their strong support of Barack Obama last year. Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for Obama as well. Young voters and Hispanics will make up an increasing share of the electorate.

Moreover, we are in the midst of a financial crisis that happened on the watch of a Republican administration. There is widespread belief that the conservative philosophy of deregulation helped cause the chaos.

There is logic then, in thinking that a new political era has arrived. But that assumes that the current state of affairs will persist forever, which it will not. Young voters may seem liberal now, but events could change them. Once they start paying taxes, and worrying about terrorism for example, they could be more receptive to the Republican Party. Many Hispanics are socially conservative, and if the Republicans ever get around to embracing comprehensive immigration reform, perhaps more Hispanics can be won on social issues.

The idea that there could be some sort of permanent majority is of course not new. Ironically, pundits were making the very same arguments after George W. Bush was reelected in 2004. Hispanics had delivered a high percentage of votes to Bush that year, and so called security moms worried about terrorism voted for him. More than anything, 2004 was supposedly the year when “values voters” showed what a force they would be in American politics. Referenda banning gay marriage passed in several states and helped draw voters to the polls who ultimately backed Bush.

Democrats were scrambling to get religion and find a way to appeal to these voters. But these values issues have little relevance today. True, a gay marriage ban passed in California in November. But it obviously didn’t affect results at the congressional or Presidential levels. Abortion failed to gain any traction during the last cycle as well. Even President Obama’s opposition to the Born Alive Infant Protection Act as a state senator failed to help McCain.

If the last few years haven’t taught us to be cynical about talk of permanent majorities, then a look at a greater span of American history should. Politics can change in an instant. After the first President Bush successfully prosecuted the Persian Gulf War, his approval ratings were through the roof. Everyone assumed that he was a lock to win reelection. Yet when the ballots were counted in 1992, Bill Clinton, not George H.W Bush, was the victor.

The Republican Party after Watergate was in even more dire straits than it is now. Democrats were thoroughly in control of the legislative and executive branches after the 1976 election. But events intruded on any dreams of a permanent majority Democrats may have had. The Iran hostage crisis and stagflation sent voters into the arms of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

I could go on and on providing examples of times when hopes for a permanent majority for one party were quashed almost as quickly as such hopes had arisen. Even FDR’s vaunted New Deal coalition didn’t last forever. Politics is and will remain cyclical. I’ve heard nothing that has persuaded me otherwise in the new wave of punditry detailing how the Democrats can govern forever.

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About Marcus Alexander Gadson

  • zingzing

    “True as far as it goes, El Bicho, but the aphorism still makes an excellent point.”

    yes, that people get old, bitter, greedy and selfish. frankly, i’m glad to be on the right (left) side of this faulty equation.

  • Clavos
  • Clavos

    It reveals a mind not concerned with the facts because they might contradict their opinion.

    True as far as it goes, El Bicho, but the aphorism still makes an excellent point, even if it was Mephistopheles who first said. The author is unimportant, though I’ll grant you the intellectual laziness in not confirming the source.

    In the course of doing so, I found the following from Fred Shapiro, the Freakonomis guy, published in the NYT:

    Three weeks ago, I invited readers to submit quotations for which they wanted me to try to trace the origins, using The Yale Book of Quotations and more recent research by me. Dozens responded via comments or e-mails. I am responding as best I can, a couple per week.

    TRad writes:

    “Any 20-year-old who isn’t a liberal doesn’t have a heart, and any 40-year-old who isn’t a conservative doesn’t have a brain.” I’ve seen it attributed to several persons, most often to Bismarck or Churchill.

    I wrote about this in my column in the Yale Alumni Magazine:

    One of the pleasures of compiling The Yale Book of Quotations was tracing and cross-referencing different versions and precursors of famous quotes. This one is usually credited to Georges Clemenceau, but W. Gurney Benham’s Book of Quotations cites French premier and historian Francois Guizot (1787 to 1874), translating his statement as “Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.” Benham asserts that “Clemenceau adopted this saying, substituting socialiste for republicain.”

    But I was delighted to find that John Adams had expressed a similar idea well before Guizot entered adulthood. Thomas Jefferson preserved this quip, writing in a 1799 journal that Adams had said: “A boy of 15 who is not a democrat is good for nothing, and he is no better who is a democrat at 20.”

  • Thanks, CR. I shouldn’t be, but find myself surprised how often people use incorrectly attributed quotes to support their arguments. It reveals a mind not concerned with the facts because they might contradict their opinion.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Marcus –

    I find several errors in your argument:

    1 – “Once [the youth] start paying taxes, and worrying about terrorism for example, they could be more receptive to the Republican Party.”

    I’m sure that will be the case for some. But the youth of today are turned off by homophobia and rabid anti-abortionists. If you’ll check the trends over the past ten, twenty, fifty years, you’ll see a steady progression of greater acceptance of liberal values by the youth. Sure, there peaks and valleys in that trend – witness the popularity of drugs in the 60’s which went down somewhat in the 80’s but there is much more support now for legalization of marijuana – but overall, the youth (IMO thanks to the media and especially the internet) are continuing in the long term to progress ever further to liberal values.

    2 – “Many Hispanics are socially conservative, and if the Republicans ever get around to embracing comprehensive immigration reform, perhaps more Hispanics can be won on social issues.”

    ‘Comprehensive immigration reform’. Reagan did that with the amnesty – and won the hearts of millions of Hispanics. Problem is, until you find another ‘great communicator’, conservative pundits AND politicians are helping by word and deed to reinforce the perception that conservatives are racist. Yes, Hispanics are socially conservative – but so are African-Americans (witness the passage of Prop 8 in CA with the support of the African-American community). While the Hispanics may agree with the conservatives on social values, they – like the African-Americans – will leave conservatives in the cold if their community has the perception that many powerful conservatives are racist. The Asian community may still give roughly equal support to both sides…but in terms of votes, they don’t make that great of a difference.

    3 – “The Republican Party after Watergate was in even more dire straits than it is now.”

    Not so. Watergate was the result of the actions by a few within the party – and the people understood that because the impeachment was done on a bipartisan basis.

    Why the conservatives are in far worse straits today is not so much because of Bush’s war crimes (yes, that’s what they are) and not so much because of the economy (though history shows massive tax cuts and ubiquitous deregulation are a BAD thing). No, these factors are but small fry in the ocean of history.

    The much greater threat of marginalization of the Republican party comes from demographics. After Watergate, African-Americans were still not powerful politically. Neither were Hispanics. Neither were women, who made those 18 million cracks in the political glass ceiling this past election cycle. Neither was the LGBT community, which is finally gaining the social acceptance (and equal rights, if ever so slowly) – and in the past election, 4% of respondents to CNN exit pollingCNN exit polling said they were homosexual…though you must agree that these were only the ones who would admit it, which makes the true numbers likely significantly higher.

    The African-Americans are firmly within the Democratic camp. The majority of the Hispanics are, too, and both are due mostly to the perception of racism within the Republican party. Women historically lean to the left. Add all these together, and what do you have left for the Republicans? Mostly white men.

    Add to all of these the historical trend of the youth gravitating further and further to liberal and progressive values, and what do you have left? Mostly older white men.

    Marcus, it’s not what the Bush administration did, because crimes and missteps fade into history. What it IS, is the perception now generally held among Blacks, Hispanics, women, LGBT’s, and the youth of all races that many conservatives are racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and unwelcoming.

    It’s not what the Bush admin did. It’s the shifts in political demography.

    So YES, politics is by nature cyclical. Of course it is. But any conservative party that takes power in the future is only going to do so if they are able to change the perception of Blacks/Hispanics/LGBT’s/women/youth that they are not the party of anti-everybody-who-doesn’t-look-or-act-like-us.

    P.S. I know better than most that Democrats were once as racist (and MORE racist) than Republicans – but we grew out of it and left the Republicans behind.

  • Silas,

    I find your thinking interesting. First off, you’re right discounting the religious right. It’s definitely on the way out, eventually never to return to American political scene in any meaningful way. It’s only a matter of time, a generation, two perhaps, and we shall never hear from it again. That’s in the cards.

    Which calls for a different reconfiguration. If the libertarians and the true conservatives, as you say, or the conservatives of the future, who is the opposition? The Progressives?

    Care to address this in some length? You appear to have a better feel for the subject than anyone here. Perhaps you should write an exploratory essay.

  • Very good argument, Marcus. Politics is cyclical, and events and public perception of events can affect a change on the dot.

    Perhaps the only counter-argument one could launch is to say, after MLK, that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it sways toward justice.” Which is to say, there is a steady progression towards liberal rather than conservative values (with in turn places real limits on the voices of the reaction).

    See Horace Mungin’s “It Sways Towards Justice.”

  • El B: correcting all Archie’s erroneous “knowledge” would be a full time job, but well done on nailing this particular wrong un.

  • I think we really need to put things in perspective. Those who claim to be conservatives while raising the Christian flag are NOT conservatives — they are Zealots. Libertarians are conservative and that is the movement which shall appeal to our nation’s young the most after they realize what a sham we have in Congress with the Republicrats.

  • Arch Conservative

    “Young voters may seem liberal now, but events could change them.”

    Yeah like having to let go of the mommy daddy teat, move out into the real world and have to pay a mortgage or rent only to realize Obama’s hand is one of thier pocket’s and Frau Pelosi’s is in the other.

    It’s like Winston Churchill said Any 20 year-old who isn’t a liberal doesn’t have a heart, and any 40 year-old who isn’t a conservative doesn’t have a brain.” But then again what does he know……..it’s not like he was a community organizer, he just played a key role in defeating Hitler and the Nazis.