After LBJ's landslide in 1964, the Democratic consensus, according to Hunter S. Thompson in Songs of the Doomed, was that "The GOP was doomed, like the Whigs, to a cheap and meaningless fate."
Today we hear many of the same predictions concerning the Republicans demographic problems in the Washington Post, New Republic, NY Times and all over the political blogs.
The consensus is that all the Democrats have to do is wait, and the electoral victories will roll in. Even Paul Krugman is on board with this thinking.
And yet no one is predicting the Democrats will take back the House this fall, or even gain seats in the Senate. Something is wrong with the consensus again.
For forty years the Democrats have made a fundamental mistake, and there doesn't appear to be any effort to fix this problem.
Yesterday Thomas Frank, author of What's the matter with Kansas?, explained it in no uncertain terms.
As I tried to make plain back in 2004, the big political change of the last 40 years didn’t happen solely because conservatives invented catchy conspiracy theories, but also because Democrats let it happen. Democrats essentially did nothing while their pals in organized labor were clubbed to the ground; they leaped enthusiastically into action, however, when it was time to pass NAFTA and repeal Glass-Steagall. Working-class voters had nowhere else to go, they seem to have calculated, and — whoops! — they were wrong.White voters, loyal New Deal Democrats for decades, abandoned the Democratic Party when the Democrats abandoned them.
It simply isn't enough to occupy the "center" while the GOP moves further and further to the right. It's not enough to simply be "not Republican". Many Democrats predicted that the Republicans had gone too far to the right back in 1994, and would thus doom their party to defeat.
It turned out that the Republicans could move much further to the right and still win elections.
Too often Democrats fail to appreciate the anger of the conservative voter. Sure, it is misdirected and often illogical, but that doesn't make it any less real. There is real fear behind that anger, and the source of that fear is similar to the source of our fear.
For the Democrats to win they must provide a vision of the future that resonates with working class people. Democrats can't count on Republican crazies to bail them out at election time because eventually they will nominate someone that isn't crazy.
The good news is that it isn't hard to figure out what that vision of the future must involve. All you have to do is look at each and every nationwide poll. The economy is always on top of the list.
It was fun to mock the culture-war fantasies of the right but in doing so I also meant to challenge Clintonism. Yes, it had worked wonders in fundraising terms, but in forswearing the economic liberalism that appealed to working-class voters, it brought them electoral disaster. Again, the proof was all around us, in all the embarrassing defeats of those years, not to mention the needless capitulations like Al Gore’s in 2000. The bland centrist style that Democrats held so dear was political poison. To beat the right, I argued, they needed to move left.The problem is that the neoliberals are still firmly in control of the Democratic Party. No Democratic leader is willing to admit the idea of having free-trade agreements with 3rd world nations means a race to the bottom with wages. No Democratic leader is incline to propose rolling back 40 years of disastrous deregulation.
Instead Democrats push things like legalized gay marriage, which while being a positive development for civil rights, is exactly what the "culture warriors" of the Republican Party want. It continues to distact people away from the item that the vast majority of people are most concerned with - jobs and wages.
Before anything else, the Democrats need to challenge the most basic premise of the far-right -market fundamentalism.
They need to stand up and proudly say that the market is not the same as freedom. The market is amoral and is not a substitution for human values. What's more, they need to say the market is not efficient and that if left unchecked wealth will concentrate and poison our democracy. They need to say that single-payer health care works everywhere, and everytime, so we need it here. Democrats need to point out that the institutions the far-right want to tear down now were created for good reasons.
Unless the Democrats start moving to the left, liberals will be wondering decades from now why the Republican Party can continue to get poor whites to vote against their own economic interests and win elections