Politics Re: The Blue West
posted by November 20 at 15:15 PMon
The New Republic had a good article on all this West Coast Democratic renaissance stuff last week. In the article, titled “Democratic Saviors: West Wing,” they argued that politicians like Jon Tester are the necessary ingredient for the Democrats to finally make good on their twin program of social reform (civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights) and economic justice (protecting workers and guaranteeing security for the working and middle class).
TNR argues that those two agendas have been at odds because D victories on the social front (minority rights, womens rights, gay rights, for example) alienated white working class voters from the Democratic Party—and so, Dems with economic justice agendas haven’t been able to tap or even speak to the working class constituents they need to push that populist agenda.
Western Dems, they say, link the Democrats to the working class by finally (finally) mainlining some West coast Libertarianism into the Dem party—so that voters see the GOP is really the big government party (the PATRIOT Act, wiretapping, regulating our bedrooms). This, the TNR, predicts, has begun luring Reagan Democrats back home.
The Democratic winners this week in the Mountain West include adamant partisans of Second Amendment rights as well as supporters of abortion rights—stances that fit well with the region’s libertarian ethos. “In the United States, we have a culture and a tradition of choice, freedom, and personal responsibility,” argued pro-choice candidate Patricia Madrid of New Mexico, who narrowly lost to Republican incumbent Heather Wilson in what was previously a safe GOP district. About one-third of the credible Western Democratic candidates for major office this election cycle received “A” ratings from the National Rifle Association. Many spoke out against the Patriot Act on privacy grounds. Few are proponents of gay marriage, but many opposed state constitutional amendments banning the practice. They are free to take these pragmatic positions because the districts and states they represent contain no liberal-interest-group infrastructure comparable to, say, the California district represented by Nancy Pelosi or the New York district represented by Charles Rangel.
As someone who dissented on the whole Urban Arhcipelago as political platform back in 2004 (yes, I was one of the authors, but ask anyone who was in on the discussion, I dissented and wrote it under duress), I’m encouraged by things like Tester’s win.
If the link above didn’t work, I’ve pasted excerpts from the TNR article below the jump.
by Thomas B. Edsall
Post date 11.10.06 | Issue date 11.20.06
Tester's victory, combined with Democratic advances across the Mountain West this week, signals a major shift in American politics. Support for Democratic candidates in the region has surged in the past four years. Prior to the 2002 election, Democrats controlled no governorships in the band of states that stretch along the spine of the Rockies from Mexico to Canada. But, by this year, they controlled four; and, on Tuesday, they added one more. In addition, over the past four years, Democrats have taken over legislatures in Colorado and Montana.
This shift can be partly explained by demographics: An influx of Latino immigrants, high-tech professionals, and upscale refugees from both coasts certainly has boosted Democratic prospects in the region. But the more important explanation is ideological. The "leave us alone" agenda that once worked so well for Republicans in the Mountain West is now benefiting Democrats like Tester. Western voters--always wary of government intrusion--have grown increasingly distrustful of a GOP identified with deficit spending, the religious right, and humanitarian intervention abroad. Democrats have responded by fielding candidates like Tester who support gun rights, oppose gay marriage, and attack the Bush administration for expanding the reach of government.
In short, the rough outline of a new Democratic ideology--pragmatic, culturally conservative, libertarian--has begun to emerge in the Mountain West. This week, that ideology proved useful for winning elections, but its real benefit could go well beyond the addition of a few House or Senate seats to the Democratic column. More significantly, Western Democrats like Tester have the potential to intellectually reinvigorate the Democratic Party as a whole. Indeed, they may be the only thing that can save a party flush with victory from heading down a road that will lead to future defeats.
For the past generation, Democrats have essentially been locked in a two-front battle with Republicans. The first battle was to secure the gains of the civil rights and sexual revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s, which sought equality for women, blacks, Latinos, and gays. The second battle was for government action to protect workers and the poor from the untrammeled economic competition brought on by deregulated markets.
Democrats have, in effect, won the first battle; the only question now is how quickly and cooperatively the country will come to terms with the changes this victory has set in motion. No one is going to force women out of the workplace. Civil rights for blacks are firmly entrenched. Even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, most states would elect to keep abortion legal. (Indeed, voters in conservative South Dakota overturned that state's heavily restrictive abortion law on Tuesday.) Many companies now provide benefits to same-sex couples, and tolerance of homosexuality is steadily increasing. And so on.
But, if Democrats have triumphed on the social front, Republicans have, so far, won the economic fight. The government's ability to protect Americans from the vicissitudes of capitalism has been badly undermined by globalization. Intensified domestic and foreign competition is now a fact of life. The beneficent corporation, muscular trade unionism, and high-paying manufacturing jobs for the working class are quickly becoming relics of the past.
The problem for Democrats is that the lingering effects of the first battle are undermining their ability to wage the second. Democrats have lost white working-class voters--their natural allies on economic issues--because those voters are turned off by the party's cultural liberalism. And that is exactly where the new breed of Western Democrat could help. These politicians come from states where the social left's interest groups are relatively weak and where defiance of Democratic cultural orthodoxies is therefore a virtue, not a liability. As a result, they are untainted by the polarizing debate over cultural issues that has engulfed the country for decades. And they represent a brand of pragmatic libertarianism that cuts a strategic path between the values of social liberals and white working-class voters--and may just prove acceptable to both.