One of the least discussed big stories in American politics has been the transformation of one party into a purely ideological party. Anglo-Saxon politics has generally resisted ideological parties entirely. The few that have turned up have been short lived. The pattern has been coalition parties with an ideological wing.
We tend to focus on the ideological wing of parties and define them as such, but the people running the parties have always sought to broaden their appeal. The result has been that the major parties differ very little ideologically. That’s not to say there is no difference. It’s just that the difference are much smaller than the hooting and hollering would suggest.
The most obvious example of this is in Britain. Up until the last election, the Tories, supposedly an extreme right-wing party of the most right-wing kind were in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, allegedly a collection of Marxist hippies. If the things said about these parties were anything resembling the truth, there’s no way they could cooperate on anything.
In the US, the two-party system has always been between two coalition parties with just a blush of ideology. Democrats were the home of Progressives, but included blacks, Jews, urban ethnics and rural whites. Up into the 80’s there were plenty of pro-life Democrats, socially conservative hawks, along with the liberal urban voters. I’m fond of pointing out that Ted Cruz would have been a typical Democrat in the 1980’s.
The Republicans have always been the party of business, traditional Americans and monied interests. Even today there are very liberal Republicans who are pro-abortion and homosexual marriage. Despite the rhetoric, Mitch McConnell has done more in six months to advance Obama’s legislative items than Harry Reid has done in six years.
That changed in the 1990’s. One of those quirks of history, where attempts to stem a great sea change ended up advancing it, was the election of Bill Clinton. He was heralded by Progressives as their generations JFK, but he was also the leader of the DLC, a group trying the free the party from the ideologues.
Instead of re-centering the party, the Clinton years saw the Progressive wing take full control of the party and transform it into an ideological party. The election of 1994 wiped out the moderates from the South and Midwest. That left the field clear for howling fanatics like Pelosi, Reid, Schumer et al. Inevitably, anyone not fully committed to the one true faith was purged making the Democrats the first purely ideological party in American history.
I guess because the American media is universally Progressive this transformation has not been noticed. Instead it was cast as a triumph of the light over the darkness. It’s easy to forget that Obama said at his inauguration that physical reality would be altered now that he was on the throne. The natural world, according to him, would suddenly change in response to the triumph of the one true faith.
Ideological parties have a problem, which is why they tend not to have long lives. That problem is narrowness. Piety is defined relatively speaking. One is pious in relation to others. Imagine a herd of zebra all competing to be in the center. Those at the fringe are sloughed off after every reshuffling. Before long, you run out of zebra.
That’s what happens to ideological parties and what appears to be happening with the Democrats.
One of the most underappreciated stories in recent years is the deterioration of the Democratic bench under President Obama’s tenure in office. The party has become much more ideologically homogenous, losing most of its moderate wing as a result of the last two disastrous midterm elections. By one new catch-all measure, a party-strength index introduced by RealClearPolitics analysts Sean Trende and David Byler, Democrats are in their worst position since 1928. That dynamic has manifested itself in the Democratic presidential contest, where the bench is so barren that a flawed Hillary Clinton is barreling to an uncontested nomination.
The trend, of course, dates back much further but 1994 was like so long ago and stuff. The ’94 election wiped out most of the Southern Democrats. The 2000 election solidified the Democrats as the party of coastal urban areas. The 2006 election was one last attempt by Rahm Emmanuel to bring authentic populists back into the party, but that collapsed in 2010 and 2014.
But less attention has been paid to how the shrinking number of Democratic officeholders in the House and in statewide offices is affecting the party’s Senate races. It’s awfully unusual to see how dependent Democrats are in relying on former losing candidates as their standard-bearers in 2016. Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold, Pennsylvania’s Joe Sestak, Indiana’s Baron Hill, and Ohio’s Ted Strickland all ran underwhelming campaigns in losing office in 2010—and are looking to return to politics six years later. Party officials are courting former Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina to make a comeback bid, despite mediocre favorability ratings and the fact that she lost a race just months ago that most had expected her to win. All told, more than half of the Democrats’ Senate challengers in 2016 are comeback candidates.
The irony missed here is that Progressives like to pitch themselves as the young hip party fighting the old squares, but take a look at the presidential candidates. The favorite is an old white dinosaur from the 60’s and the dream candidate is an old white dinosaur from the 70’s.
The rest of the piece is worth reading. What is not discussed is that demographic collapse is what looms around the corner for Progressives if they don’t quickly arrest this trend. A lack of qualified candidates means a surplus of unqualified candidates. The result is an increasing number of people representing the one true faith who are viewed as crazy or stupid.
I’m fond of comparing Progressives with Islamists, but in this regard they are opposites. Islam is surging because they have a surplus of young people. The Cult of Modern Liberalism has a dearth of young people and as a result is hollowing out as the boomers begin to age off.
Nothing lasts forever so even if this version of the one true faith fades, something will replace it. Most likely the Democrats revert back to being a coalition party of some sort once the GOP detonates itself in the coming decade. The new religion will evolve once again into something less toxic. What seems to be clear is this Great Progressive Awakening is reaching its end and a return to normalcy is upon us.