Patterico's Pontifications


The emerging Democratic majority vs. the oncoming train

Filed under: General — Karl @ 9:05 pm

[Posted by Karl]

One of the nice things about the 2010 midterm election was that we were largely spared triumphalist punditry about political “realignment.” After all, sentiment among conservatives and Tea Partiers was consistent with the polling data suggesting that the 2010 results were much more about stopping Pres. Obama and the Democrats than any great enthusiasm for or trust in the Congressional GOP.

Nevertheless, there have been some Dems bitterly clinging to the “emerging Democratic majority” thesis, i.e., that demographic changes in the electorate will soon put the Dems back in the dominant position they enjoyed for much of the 20th century. It shows up in this recent post-census Slate piece by Christopher Beam. The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost does a nice job exposing one major weakness with the thesis — and if you read the whole thing, Jay links back to his prior dissections of the “emerging Democratic majority” thesis, all of which are pretty darn good.

However, there is a major problem with the “emerging Democratic majority” thesis that Jay adresses only obliquely. Those propagating or buying this thesis rely heavily on demographics because they are at least somewhat predictable. Yet discussions of realignment frequently leave out the role of historical events.

Anyone looking US history would surmise that events like the Civil War, the Great Depression and the capture of the liberal establishment by the New Left in the late 1960s to mid-1970s had a little something to do with major political realignments. It is understandable that people are loath to discuss “unknown unknowns.” Pundits and analysts cannot foretell the future, but it is foolish to invest in theories based on demographics without recognizing that historic unknowns are likely to significantly influence the outcome.

Indeed, the “emerging Democratic majority” thesis does not even account for at least one major “known unknown.” Given the current political environment, it is a very fair bet that in the US will ignore its debt problems until they mushroom into a crisis. We may not know exactly when this will occur, but it will be all the more shocking the longer it is downplayed by the governing and chattering classes.

The debt crisis has a potentially profound effect on political alignment in this country. It will almost certainly result in a downsizing and restructuring of the government in its current form at all levels. It will likely weaken the public employee unions that provide the funds and the footwork for the Democratic Party.

These more obvious speculations do not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the GOP will achieve the sort of dominance the Dems had in the last century. For example, if the Democrats are forced by history into becoming more fiscally responsible, perhaps they will become a more attractive option for libertarians and swing voters. On the other hand, if the Dems lose much of the ability to expand government directly by taxing and spending, perhaps they will double down on regulations and unfunded mandates and thereby remain less attractive to libertarians and swing voters. These are the unknown unknowns heaped on the known unknown.

If I had to guess, it would be that the Democrats take the latter path. Why? Because ever since Marx, the left has held as a central premise that capitalism will collapse and statism is inevitable. The “emerging Democratic majority” thesis is itself a variation on the sort of political determinism ingrained in leftist thinking. Thus, it seems likely that Democrats will still be looking for ways to impose some sort of statism, even as statism runs out of other people’s money.


45 Responses to “The emerging Democratic majority vs. the oncoming train”

  1. For example, if the Democrats are forced by history into becoming more fiscally responsible, perhaps they will become a more attractive option for libertarians and swing voters.

    As usual, astute analysis Karl. If I were in the business of advising Democrats, I would make the point to them that without seriously addressing the coming debt tsunami, the future of liberalism may very well be a bleak one. If our entire budget goes to servicing debt and spending on health and retirement entitlements, where will liberals find money for schools, the arts, youth programs, identity group mollification, and all the dozens and dozens of other things that they hold dear to their hearts? The GOP ought to lay it on the line and tell them, look, if we can spend the next decade (or two?) getting a handle on this budget mess, we can then go back to our usual battles over what programs government ought to fund and where the money should come from.

    As you posit, though, perhaps too large a faction of the American left really believes that plunging us into financial crisis is the best way to bring about the Washington command-and-control economy that they have wanted ever since the first one of them stumbled upon Marx.

    JVW (4463d3)

  2. We need to significantly cut the military and its entitlements.

    Jim (8de501)

  3. Well, Jim, just which commitments do you intend for the US to abandon?

    Note that the defense budget currently takes up a small fraction of the total Federal budget including social security/medicare.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  4. The military and defense are core responsibilities of our government (granted, possibly not the way they are being done now). 98% of everything else the gov. is doing is NOT in the core responsibilities and should be abolished. Then we can afford all the defense we need.

    It’s just like a lefty to want gummint to do everything EXCEPT its job. It’s the Nanny Bloomers method of governing.

    Peg C. (130616)

  5. It’s just like a lefty to want gummint to do everything EXCEPT its job.

    NYC Mayor Bloomberg would be exhibit A. He’s trying to control what NY’ers eat but can’t get the streets plowed.

    Gerald A (138c50)

  6. Maybe jim was kidding. Everybody knows better, right?
    I know that starving obese minority kids who can’t get a good education because they keep knifing the teachers is a situation requiring those special dollars only found in the Dod. Seen that for decades.
    Even those promoting it don’t actually believe it, do they?
    Do they?

    Richard Aubrery (59fa91)

  7. As a retired US military officer and a 25 year executive in aerospace and defense, I agree that the military can significantly reduce spending provided Congress cooperates.

    Procurement costs are driven by the Federal Acquisition Regulations. Since the US DoD has no profit motive to control costs, it micromanages purchasing with a web of rules and certifications, enforced by an army of civil servant bureaucrats playing gotcha. Buy American! Gold and silver reclamation! Mandated circuit board washing! These rules were written as corrective action for problems that have disappeared. We could cut procurement costs by 10% by eliminating certified cost and pricing data.

    Military personnel costs could be cut by eliminating non-combat and combat support requirements. For example, why should Air Combat Command have a full time interior decorator? What value does a social actions officer add to combat readiness? I don’t care if my infantry soldiers are sensitive; I want them to be lethal. Just cutting the above mentioned civil servants would be significant personnel reduction.

    Finally, Congress has inflated defense costs by forcing the services to buy things they neither need nor want and by influencing procurements. If you look at the supplemental appropriations bills that fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you will find 20% pork, some of it with zero value to anyone but the Congressman who put it there and his constituents (read: campaign contributors).

    Take nothing off the table.

    Arch (24f4f2)

  8. BTW, I would expect all department budgets rolled back to FY2008 levels and a close examination of why we need the Departments of Education, Homeland Security, Commerce and Energy and the elimination of the EPA, and the FCC.

    Arch (24f4f2)

  9. I generally agree with Arch that defense spending has to be on the table. However, it’s telling that Jim immediately went there. We could eliminate DoD and still be nowhere near solving the US debt problem. The mentality that cutting defense and raising taxes can solve the problem is the sort of denial that led me to conclude the Dems won’t get it, and pass up realignment opportunities in the process.

    Karl (928df3)

  10. Karl

    btw, i want to say i appreciate you helpng to fill this site with content and this is a good example.

    but this is how the game is played. the first thing they propose cutting is the most vital and most visible things. it gives everyone the impression that they are putting their belts tight, and if people scream “don’t cut that” then they can say, “ah, well, then i guess we can’t cut anything.” Its a trick, a head fake.

    appropos of that, i have a post of the claim that the slow snow removal in NYC is the result of intentional work slowdown.

    Aaron Worthing (e7d72e)

  11. Karl:

    My point is that as an insider, I can see ways to reduce defense spending without impacting our combat capability.

    Health care should be the biggest target.

    Imagine that the US Military asked to buy a weapon system, but the functional requirements, the annual cost of the program (in hundreds of billions) and performance of the weapon itself were in serious doubt. It would be designed, procured and fielded at the direction by the Secretary of Defense.

    Would the Congress fund the system fully or defer the program until the questions could be answered? Obviously Congress would want the program delayed or eliminated.

    Now, apply that same logic to ObamaCare. At best, implementation would be pushed out two years.

    Arch (24f4f2)

  12. AW:

    Inside the beltway, the tactic is called the “Washington Monument” argument.

    Arch (24f4f2)

  13. Karl, James Carville came out with a book, shortly after the 2008 elections, I believe, that showed how the Democrats were going to control both Houses for the next forty years. He was wrong.

    And I think the thing that we ignore is the American people themselves. They (many of them, at least) have gone from being the silent majority, to the informed masses. They looked up and saw that we were careering over a financial cliff, Thelma and Louise style, and it was happening rapidly and they realized that the people with the keys, in the driver’s seat, were not putting on the brakes but were hitting the excelerator.

    The Democrats, choosing not to listen to the American people, who knew that you don’t need a Ph.D. in mathamatics to understand you can’t spend your way out of debt, started screaming for the driver to put the brakes on and to start backing up away from the financial cliff.

    But the problem with the “emerging Democratic majority” theory is that Americans now have references to go back to that shows far left political financial policy doesn’t work. And left, right or center, they intend to hold their elected official’s feet to the fire.

    I agree with your last paragraph. I think that the Saul Alinsky, Cloward & Piven tactics are so ingrained in the current crop of left wing pols, they cannot sway from that path. You see, the current crop of Dems believe that you have to first tear down the system in order to “transform” it into the socialist utopia they have believed all their adult lives is possible. They have to make Americans dependent on government, and government only, for their very existance.

    But that is to ignore our basic DNA. Americans, as a people, are independent. They don’t want the government to get in their way of crossing the Rockies, taming the West, farming the great plains or becoming the industrial leader of the world. It will be that spirit that will dash the hopes of the left to impose their statism on the “informed masses.”

    The internet has allowed us Americans to finally be able to read the monstrosities the Democrats call “bills”. They know what it in them. They understand that we can form an entire nation on less than 25 pages, and object to the 2,000 pages of bills that steal our freedom by stealth. I believe that Americans are waking up and they don’t like what they see. And that, Karl, will prevent the Dems from realizing their hopes of “emerging majorities” unless they change their stripes. You see, you can’t continue to tell the people paying the bills (the productive among us) but continue to tell them to shut up about those who don’t.

    retire05 (e0b7e7)

  14. Because ever since Marx, the left has held as a central premise that capitalism will collapse and statism is inevitable.

    How come I’m a leftist and I know tons of leftists and went to undergrad and law school with tons of leftists and I read plenty of leftist websites and I have NEVER heard any leftist say that? I had a Communist professor in undergrad who believed something similar, but she was a moron and I hated her.

    I’ll just go ahead and believe you pulled that out of your rear end, Karl, mainly because the rest of this Jay Cost fanboy column is also made up. First, there is no debt crisis. Secondly, if we can keep Republican hands off the public till for another few years, debt will be controlled (much like it was the last time a Democratic President raised taxes and the economy flourished). Thirdly, the American people (unless the lesson of 1995 has been forgotten) like a certain amount of government. The Republican solution to balancing the wants of little people who elect them and the demands of the rich people they work for, is to provide the services and borrow the money. The Democratic position has been better, but not much better (they have their money masters too, after all, no one is a cheaper whore for Wall Street than Chuck Shumer. It’s one more benefit of income equality! The rich can now buy BOTH parties! yay).

    This leftist’s position is that the more people in the Republican party demagogue “illegal immigration” and serve the interests of white, conservative Southerners, then the demographic changes in the country will regulate them to the minority, no matter what Cost, the high priest of Republican polling believes. I use these things called elections to ask how many popular vote majorities Republicans have won since 1984? Two, and the one in 2004 was 50.7%) You can barely win a majority now in a national election; why would you imagine the declining numbers of “Republican” voters would enable success in the future?

    Still, it is distracting that the stupid line about leftists almost distracts the reader from the stupider thesis. It’s almost like wjhen you referred to Health insurance reform as “the takeover of healthcare.” (Politfact’s lie of the year for 2010!) So, please stop doing that. Stop throwing in ridiculous right wing cant into your posts to distract smart people from the even sillier theses. It’s just not fair, since by nature and brief writing, I want to deal with the stupidest line first.

    timb (449046)

  15. I’m sorry, did timmah have a point, or was it just more screeching and incoherent blabbering? Don’t have the time to wade through all that feces – throwing.

    BTW, I would expect all department budgets rolled back to FY2008 levels and a close examination of why we need the Departments of Education, Homeland Security, Commerce and Energy and the elimination of the EPA, and the FCC.

    Bingo – but I don’t think this GOP majority is really willing to take on the actual elimination of entire departments, but hope springs eternal. I do think if Ryan gets a free rein in his new position he’ll make a few moves in that direction – starting with the FCC and PBS/NPR.

    Dmac (498ece)

  16. That spittle flecked hate filled angry rant was as predictable as the sun rising.

    JD (306f5d)

  17. First, there is no debt crisis.

    I decided I didn’t have to read any more of Tim’s rant. Do you see where Pelosi is coming from now ? This is what we will have to deal with to get the debt under control.

    Mike K (568408)

  18. No. I wasn’t kidding about cutting the military. Look at the cuts that the Deficit Commission proposed.

    Jim (8de501)

  19. Jim, the deficit commission’s suggestions on defense were trivial in comparison to all the spending needed.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  20. Powerline posted (sometime this month) an extensive interview conducted by Peter Robinson of Milton Friedman where MF thought that the size and scope of the Federal Government could be reduced to its core, Constitutional duties:
    State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, and IIRC Interior.
    All other Departments could either be completely eliminated, or have their useful parts incorporated into one of the five listed above
    (ie: put atomic energy development and the VA back into Defense).
    And, Interior should be greatly reduced by transferring control of the vast swaths of land controlled by the Feds to the respective States, or sold on the private market
    (you do realize that there are virtually no Federal Land holdings in the original 13-States, and damn few in the States east of the Mississippi River;
    whereas upwards of 70% of States such as NV and AK are held by the Feds?).

    AD-RtR/OS! (1acacf)

  21. That’s fine, SPQR, but why not implement all of the Deficit Commissions suggestions, starting with defense.

    Jim (8de501)

  22. I think starting with things that are not causing the problems is always the best way to fix the problem.

    JD (6e25b4)

  23. Jim:
    One- Because we’re currently involved in a foreign conflcit;
    Two- Defense is a Constitutionally Mandated duty of the Federal Government;
    Three- There is a lot more low-hanging fruit to pick;
    Four- As per “One”, we can always come back to Defense after a non-war status is attained.
    Five- How about we defund all NGO’s, and Agency’s/Administrations/Bureau’s of quasi-independent status such as the FCC/EPA/CPB/etc which seem to be able to needlessly intrude themselves into the day-to-day lives of people much like flies (all the do is eat, shit, and bother people)?

    AD-RtR/OS! (1acacf)

  24. #20 What does IIRC mean?

    Charlie Davis (ab4712)

  25. Timmah DOES have a point, Dmac.

    It’s topped with a way neato propeller that he sits and spins all day. Whee!!!

    Icy Texan (26f046)

  26. IIRC is “if I recall/remember correctly”, IIRC.

    JD (822109)

  27. #24 – IIRC – If I Recall Correctly …

    Alasdair (8e2400)

  28. Jim, as JD said, starting with “fixing” the part that isn’t causing the budget to fail is not a plan for success. Its leftist feel-good nonsense.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  29. Every liberal who argues for defense cuts should be required to suggest a military base in their home district (or state, at least) that ought to be closed. Failing that, they should target the reduction or elimination of a weapon or other item that is manufactured locally. Defense spending is frankly a hell of a lot more stimulative than anything the Obama Administration has come up with.

    JVW (4463d3)

  30. Timb, you ignorant slut!

    The people who voted in 63 new republicans Congressmen and 6 new republican Senators in the midterm were not racists or white conservative Southerners. They were Americans from places such as Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin and Kentucky who were dissatisfied with Obama’s agenda and the methods by which it was (and still is) being achieved.

    65% of Americans want less government than the democrats are providing. We don’t want the government to bail out AIG, the auto industry, Wall Street, the labour unions, people who default on their mortgages or the states. We want everyone to have an equal opportunity to succeed or fail without a subsidy from taxpayers. We don’t want to have the nanny state. We don’t want open borders, not because we hate Latinos or foreigners, but because we do not need more unemployed workers.

    If you think takeover of health care wasn’t an issue, you might look at the incumbents of both parties who voted for it and lost their seats.

    Arch (24f4f2)

  31. Timb:

    Your popular vote rouse is hilarious. Why not look at the number of democrat administrations elected by pluralities – Truman, Kennedy, Carter and Clinton. Reagan and Bush 41 both received larger percentages of the popular vote than did Obama. Third parties ran in 1948, 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1992 and 1996. National elections in the US aren’t won by popular vote any more than the World Series is won by the most runs.

    If you think the American People are actually still supporting the democrats, look at the states. I’ll wait through two years of stalemate if we can be rid of this POS administration in 2012, czars and all.

    Arch (24f4f2)

  32. Arch,

    I didn’t take you to mean that defense should be first, which is why I mentioned Jim specifically in the second sentence of my comment.


    For example:

    Marx’s numerous theses, in particular the three volumes of Capital, theorise why and how the demise of capitalism was inevitable.

    You must travel with some really uneducated leftists. But more likely the ones in your age cohort aren’t told about it because the collapse of the USSR made it so frickin’ embarrassing. The emerging Dem majority thesis is the same determinsitic thinking, repurposed for the identity politics of the New Left.

    Also, had you bothered to read Cost’s piece before attacking it, you would see that he wrote:

    [I]n particular conservatives really need to get their minds around three simple facts: (a) the Hispanic bloc is growing in this country; (b) Republicans can win Hispanic voters, but they need to be thoughtful in their appeals to them; (c) sooner rather than later Republicans will need Hispanic voters for victory. I am sure the details of the Census report will confirm all three points.

    As for a few of your historical points, it’s typical that you give Clinton the credit for reducing the deficit and leave out the electon of first GOP Congress in decades, not to mention the tech bubble. As for the GOP’s history in securing a majority of the presidential popular vote, you overlook that Dems have only done it twice since 1984, and only three times since 1964.

    Your anger is really a function of the sort of denial I’ve identified here. The left can and should spend their time more productively, planning for the debt crisis, instead of fueling it.

    Karl (928df3)

  33. JD, SPQR, and AD–Every part of our spending is causing the problem. And, yes, the common defense is mentioned in the Consititution. But the Constitution doesn’t say anything about the amount that should be spent on defense.

    And Karl, it’s quite telling that you mention Timb’s anger (and insult him) without mentioning the anger of some of the commenters who have debated Timb and me. Typical rightist double standards, apparently.

    Jim (8de501)

  34. I should have added that timb’s implicit comparison of Obamanomics to Clintonomics is faulty as a matter of math as well as history.

    Karl (928df3)

  35. Jim

    Timb has a long history with this site, and with me before I started blogging here. Perhaps you noticed that his tone is a lot ruder than yours — and typically so. He does his thing; other commenters do theirs. I’m not criticizing his anger per se, but noting that it demonstrates my point in real-time.

    Karl (928df3)

  36. Karl:

    Good point about Clinton accepting credit for the work a republican congress actually did.

    In 1996, I was en route from Buffalo to DWI when I noticed Congressmen John Paxton, Vin Webber and John Kasich were on the same puddle jumper. In Baltimore, I introduced myself to Kasich and told him that I was a defense contractor and that I thought his budget cuts were absolutely necessary and that he should not listen to the special interest groups including defense who told him otherwise.

    Ohio Governor Elect Kasich proceeded with his aggressive cost reductions and was, in my view, largely responsible for the economic turn around in the 1980s. It certainly wasn’t Clinton’s fault.

    Arch (24f4f2)

  37. Arch,

    Actually, I don’t mean to give all the credit for the 90s deficit reduction to the GOP Congress either. I think it can be argued that divided gov’t and resulting gridlock on spending priorities helped reduce spending, as evidenced by the degree to which a GOP Congress tended to go along with W’s big spending items. Plus, as I noted, the tech boom — and bubble — had much to do with increased tax revenues, but little to do with either political party (though there was a bipartisan reduction in cap gains taxes that helped capture that revenue).

    Karl (928df3)

  38. There was more than a bit on Enron (or shall I say) Fannie Mae accounting, that made the budget deal
    really seem substantial, most of the cuts were in intelligence and the military. Back then, neither the stimulus, nor the health plan, passed, and probably we were better of for it.

    narciso (6075d0)

  39. Jim, defense spending isn’t growing at the rates of other spending such as entitlements, so no, claiming that it should be where we start cutting is simply a prescription for failure.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  40. Karl, the left has injected the language of Marxian class warfare into all ideology. Liberals echo it in complete ignorance of its origin or even its substance. It feeds, reinforces and provides pseudo-intellectual justification for their anger. And then they deny it vehemently out of that same ignorance.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  41. Jim,

    Medicare/Medicaid have gone from 1% to over 25% of all Federal monies spent since 1964. Their combine costs are the biggest drain/costs on both Federal & State level budgets. Regardless of what the Debt Commission suggested, a 100% reduction in military spending won’t even slow that kind of growth.

    Now combine that w/ the influx of people that will be forced to go to those programs because of the changes made by Obamacare & you have some serious economic issues.

    Also, don’t forget that Social Security is no longer solvent & will require more Federal funding & the greatest expansion of costs will be entitlement programs, not the military.

    Start cutting the programs that cost the most & produce the least, namely the entitlement programs of Government based healthcare.

    PMain (8b6363)

  42. And Karl, it’s quite telling that you mention Timb’s anger (and insult him) without mentioning the anger of some of the commenters who have debated Timb and me.

    While you’re sitting up so high there on your horse, it may be helpful for you to do a search on the history of posts involving the immortal Timmah. Compared to some of the incredibly awful and nasty things he’s called many of us here, we come off like members of the local HS debate club. Until then, please keep your moral preening to a minimum until you have better knowledge of the situation at hand.

    Oh, I’m sorry – how angry of me to say that (feh).

    Dmac (498ece)

  43. You may have a point, Dmac. On the other hand, I’ve been on one conservative blog where the main activity of a majority of the posters seems to be to insult as many RINOs/liberals/moderates as possible.

    Jim (8de501)

  44. OK, but you’re insinuating the same behavior at this blog – comparing apples to oranges.

    Dmac (498ece)

  45. But the Constitution doesn’t say anything about the amount that should be spent on defense.

    When you lose your Liberty & Freedom, you’ve spent too little.

    Also, the Constitution says nothing about how much, if any, should be spent on “promote(ing) the general welfare”.

    AD-RtR/OS! (1acacf)

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