Friday, May 16, 2008

1968 or 1976?

There's a lot of memage zipping around the InterTubz on how Obama's run for the White House is or is not going to be "another 1968." I've done some analysis on that point myself, and as far as Democratic Party history goes, the parallels are not good. There is even a group (no I won't link to them or give them more publicity) that intends to protest at the Democratic convention in mimicry of the protests of 1968.

There is another election parallel going on here that the spousal unit and me have been discussing since the Drexel debate, which is 1976. And I don't mean the Democrats. As we've been watching the ebb and flow of the campaign, who is aligning with whom, where support is coming from, how the rhetoric is deployed, we're seeing a tectonic shift in the organization of the party that resembles nothing so much as Reagan and the Movement Conservatives' capture of the Republican Party.

This post is going to be willfully misunderstood by a lot of people because they will think I am comparing policy when I am comparing structure. I'm also going to say things neither Obama nor Clinton supporters will want to hear, but which need attention and thought. What I am seeing over the course of the campaign is that a disdained and mocked politician backed by a somewhat patchwork coalition has consolidated message and support to become the insurgent opponent to the establishment, business-as-usual candidate.

Yes, you heard me right. Hillary is to the current Democratic Party as Reagan was to the Republicans in 1976. Which puts Obama in the position of Gerry Ford, the person who was supposed to present a change for the Republicans, but who ended up being the muddled choice of unsatisfied party regulars who had nothing new to offer and who could see the danger presented by the Movement Conservatives. OK, I can hear Paul Krugman passing out in the back row, but stay with me on this. Remember, I'm talking about the structure of party power relationships, not the content of policy. While there are key points on which this breaks down (mostly with the money machine backing the conservatives), I want to draw attention to the party electoral dynamics.

People talk about Reagan in the 80s, but they tend to forget his much longer build up to that point. This is someone who was the butt of jokes (Tom Lehrer "Hollywood's often to tried to mix/Show business with politics/From Helen Gahagan/to...Ronald Reagan?") part of general amusement in pop culture (I remember a Monster Squad episode where someone used a "Ronald Ray Gun"), but who was also an unrelenting party stalwart and workhorse (never speak ill of another Republican). His governorship of California tended to get dismissed by his critics as somehow not quite a real position though it was a major coup for the Republicans after Pat Brown's tenure.

In 1976, Reagan ran against Ford and it was a highly competitive contest. It went all the way to the convention and Reagan very nearly pulled off the nomination. His campaign was condemned by the party leaders as divisive, though Ford was little more than an accidental incumbent. Ford had the backing of the east coast party power brokers, had the money people behind him, and was seen as a moderate and centrist who would not polarize the electorate. Except, he had pardoned Nixon and this pissed off so many people that he simply could not summon an electoral majority. The party split and the Republicans lost. Four years later, the insurgent of 1976 swept the field, buoyed by a voter coalition based in the South and West, but which tapped into deep pools of political dissatisfaction and economic anxiety in the opposing party. Whether or not you like the cultural mix represented by that coalition, it was a winning one and completely reorganized the traditional sources of power in the Republican Party.

Reagan was not an outsider to the party, though he was not taken seriously by the party leaders or by the press. He knew how to campaign and he built his support the hard way. You can detest what he appealed to in voters and loathe what he did when he gained power, but people need to recognize that he built a very effective coalition that is only now losing steam nearly thirty years later.

On the Left, people want to identify what Obama is doing with the 1980s Reagan (not the least Obama himself), both to praise Obama's strategy and to condemn it, but the comparison doesn't hold water, because Reagan's realignment work was done in the 70s, laying the foundation for the success of 1980. Obama may have the rhetoric down pat, but he is not restructuring the electoral map. His backers are part of the usual coalition the northeast liberal elite has relied on since, well, Hubert Humphrey to try to gain power - AAs, Stevensonians, and a contracting pool of New Deal style working class party loyalists. There is no new message or new promise being delivered, just the same abstract, reform the system, clean up bad government, the know-it-alls will manage the machine, yadda-yadda, that's been around since Adlai bombed in 1952. It appeals to the intellectual part of progressivism, but arguments about process just don't move people. He is running a priestly campaign complete with exhortations to have a politico-religious conversion. Under the hood, we can see it’s mostly about the Benjamins, and I will have a post on that topic soon enough.

Wherever these two candidates began their campaigns, they have ended up in very different places. The Conventional Wisdom was that HRC was the Establishment candidate, the ultimate insider, but those who have been watching the cracks in the party since Big Dog battled the Village in the 90s knew this wasn't so. Obama is completely the choice of the party power elite.

Over the course of the campaign, as much from the defeats as from the victories, Hillary has taken on the mantle of the progressive warrior in a way that Edwards never managed to secure. Hers is not progressivism in the mode of the saints; it is of the Jacksonian persuasion. Regardless of her starting point, which I think exists more in the minds of her detractors than anywhere else, Hillary has become the candidate of concrete progressivism, just as Obama has become the ultimate establishment insider. She is building on the base that is under-represented in practical policy terms though necessary for electoral success, working class voters (And, yes, she would have the Black working class in there, too, save for Obama.), and then she has both realigned and expanded that base - women voters are more radicalized, Hispanic voters are looking to her and not to the right, Asian voters are entering the electorate for her, pocketbook voters are lining up behind her. Geographically, she is bringing out a new set of voters in the Southern tier, replacements for the well-off white voters who used to vote Democratic and who used to be the electoral majorities in those areas. Latin@s gave her Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California, and contributed to the Florida win, for example. Best of all, she is reclaiming the "Reagan Democrats" as specifically Clinton Democrats. They are not transferrable to the old Democratic school of Kennedy, Kerry and Daschle.

Of course, the comparison to Reagan in 1976 holds a bitter pill - he lost the nomination. My point here is that even with that loss, Reagan ended the electoral cycle with a stronger base than the old guard Republicans which set him up for the final transformation of the party in 1980. Key to the transformation was the conversion of voters into partisans. The blogosphere amplifies and distorts things, but it is not my imagination that more people are explaining that they have been won over by her in a way that other candidates have not done. (I also remind readers of a poll - can't find link - done by Gallup late last year that shows her supporters were already more likely to be strongly partisan in her favor than those of other candidates.) They want the kind of champion who will not surrender, who will defend the party and the voters from all assaults, who is dedicated to ensuring that the needs of individuals are placed above the abstract theories of procedural reform. Why reform procedure if you can deliver the goods directly? Of course, since Hillary, like Bill, is equal parts Stevenson and Truman, she will do both. Her partisans see a savvy political actor who is squarely on their side, speaks their language, and will never stop fighting because she is in it precisely to fight. She does not have the technocratic aversion to political battle.

Thus, the fear of the old guard Democrats, just like their Republican counterparts of 1976, is that she can complete consolidation of her new coalition in time to take the nomination. The juxtaposition of the low-turnout red state caucuses versus the over whelming turnouts of the blue state primaries shows how weak the establishment candidate is this round, the delegate margins due to depressing Democratic votes rather than bringing in new people.

The key to creating Democratic dominance is breaking the hold Republicans have on the Southern tier, which you will get through direct appeals to concrete issues by a candidate who is dedicated to the interests of those voters.

Her name is Hillary Rodham Clinton.



Redstar said...

This is an excellent, very compelling post.

orionATL said...

i like this analysis.

i think it is quite valid, more so now, of course, than in december, but quite valid nonetheless.

your post, anglachel, gives me the excuse to say something about clinton i have been wanting to say for some time:

i think clinton will be a VERY active, VERY progressive president,

very liberal (i refuse to give up that fine word which describes the best in the american political spirit).

i think she understands extremely well how american national and state executive departments work, how the congress and state legislatures work,

how the national parties work.

she has such a wealth of experience it is almost physically painful for me to see this national talent be mocked and demeaned

and to think that she not only was not awarded the democratic nomination on merit, but she may not even be able to win it in contest.

that this is the case, speaks volumes against national democratic party leaders.

but back to my conviction, and prediction, that clinton will be the most liberal president we have had since roosevelt, far more so than her husband or carter or senator obama.

she will be this way because of her extraordinary experience

and because of who she is, her personality. that personality i take to be very analytical, very caring, and willing to work extremely hard to achieve things for needy others, for a healthy society and economic growth, and for a major role in world affairs that does not depend on killing people to be effective.

Ivory Bill Woodpecker said...

"Under the hood, it's mostly about the Benjamins"

Damn straight, and I wanna know where he's getting all those Benjamins, because I do NOT believe the official story about the "netroots network of small donors".

The Fabulous Kitty Glendower said...

Obama as Ford, you got that right. How many accidents did Ford cause/survive? LOL!

Joseph Cannon said...

I'm not convinced.

I know that you stipulated that the comparison is based on structure rather than content, but it is impossible for me to see Ford and think of the bizarre Messianism which is at the heart of the Obama movement.

It is true that neither Clinton has been the darling of either the party elders or of the corporations. (Even though the progs repeatedly call her a "corporate whore.") But if either Clinton had the ability to restructure the party, surely that would have occurred in the 1990s?

Bill Clinton was successful but not transformative. He was able to impede but not to reverse the march to Libertarianism/Friedmanism.

Hillary cannot do it either.

Obama's purpose is to make the Democratic Party to new motive force for Libertarianism. That IS transformative, although it's a transformation I will oppose to the bitter end.

Chinaberry Turtle said...


Do you think Hillary could have consolidated the working class vote behind her without Obama acting as an effective foil? Sometimes I think that the contrast of Hillary against elite Obama North-Eastern entitlement is what gave her the working class support she enjoys. Without this contrast, it would have been more difficult to see her.

So, basically, I'm asking - is Obama the best thing to ever happen to Hillary?

Anglachel said...

Hi Turtle,

Very good question.

I think the best thing that ever happened to Hillary is Chelsea. ;-)

It's a little bigger than Obama, though he has turned into the perfect foil for her campaign. I don't think anyone expected the campaign to be this personal and savage. Of all the other competitors, none would have received the kid gloves treatment that The Precious has enjoyed, and none of them are empty suits the way he is. Put it all together and you have something that is incredibly unfair.

So, who is going to recognize and empathize with relentless unfairness, especially when she does not aks for relief but just redoubles her efforts? People who know when they're in a system stacked against them, and that's the ordinary schmoe. That and the way she really does just go anywhere and talk to anyone on the level and with her best attention.

I'm reminded of the New Yorker cartoon where the coal miners in the mine look up and one exclaims "Look, it's Mrs. Rooseveldt!" because Elanor would go anywhere to hear the concerns of ordinary people.


CMike said...

Joseph writes:
But if either Clinton had the ability to restructure the party, surely that would have occurred in the 1990s?

To be fair to the Clintons, they were up against a conservative public relations Juggernaut during those years with very weak bases of support of their own to rely on for pushback. The Democratic congressional majorities, themselves, were wiped out in 1994 and not because of Travelgate or Hillarycare or Vince Foster. The Democrats on the Hill had plenty of PR problems of their own making and an inability to develop and deliver a message.

The Limbaugh/Gingrich/Arkansas Project/NY Times/Washington Post/ABC News This Week with David Brinkley crowd et al. spent the nineties engaged in "The Hunting of the President." There was no effective push back from the Democratic side except when Bill Clinton, himself, stood before the cameras.

Things are quite a bit different now due to the rise of the internet and to the understanding activists on the Left -and the general public- now have of the Right Wing message machine. Should she become President, I think Hillary Clinton would be in a much stronger position than Bill Clinton was during his White House years.

I supported John Edwards earlier in the process but now I think, of the two, Hillary Clinton is the stronger, shrewder, better prepared political force and that makes me think she likely would be more effective as president than Edwards in moving the country to the left.

My respect for Clinton grew during 2007, these days I'm a big supporter of hers. I think Clinton is capable of achieving great things as a president provided she serves with solid Democratic majorities in both Houses of Congress.

(Over the years, I have become a big Al Gore booster too. Guess I didn't realize how well I had it in the nineties.)

show me said...

I find this post to be very hopeful. I so much appreciate your analysis and find that you articulate so well what I have been thinking.I have been with Hillary from the start but have grown to really understand how much this country needs her, not to mention how much the Democratic Party needs her. I wish she could just start a third party but it seems that the structural restrictions would make that implausable.With some exceptions the Democratic National leadership is so weak and coopted it would be good if they could just be cut out somehow.

People like myself who have been radicalized by this primary process and have no intention of voting for Obama need to channel their energy toward 2012. I really hope some avenues develope to do that.

CMike said...

June 3, 1933 (ninety-one days after the March 4 inaugural)

Ivory Bill Woodpecker said...

I apologize, Kitty. I thought several weeks ago you were being too harsh on Snob-ama over at Shakesville, but you were right about the sumbitch.

Unknown said...

Very sound argument for what possibly is ahead if Obamano gets anywhere near the White House.

I've attended a Hillary ralley and afterwards spouted off that she was the best candidate ever!

Could someone explain why we push forward these "empty suits"? Along with Obamano, Bush ("W") comes to mind.

Pat Johnson said...

God, your analysis just blows me away! Thoughts that I have but you express them so such clarity.

I will never vote for Obama should he wrestle the nomination from Hillary. They both were invited to attend a Town Hall meeting tonight someplace in Oregon. They were each offered a half hour apiece. She accepted, he couldn't be bothered. They went ahead and gave her the full hour instead. The gathering was aimed at undecided voters. Right now she is closing in on him with a 5 point difference where at one time led with 12.

Either his arrogance permits him to snub those appearances and he feels he has already captured the vote outright or his handlers are making a big mistake. This imperiousness is not winning many of us over. He is a poor selection for the general and hopefully, though I am a lifelong Dem who has voted in local, state and national elections, I prefer to see us go down in defeat than to cast a vote for him. Sad but true.

Ivory Bill Woodpecker said...

*dons tinfoil hat*

If, as I have postulated on another thread, Obama, rather than McCain, is the choice of the economic elite this time, then maybe Dean, Brazile, et al. have been told that THIS time, the crooked voting machines will be rigged to favor the Democrat--and that would explain why they're so confident they don't need us.

Denise said...

Very interesting analysis as always.

Anglachel, I can't help but be curious about you since I've started reading you daily. Are you willing to disclose anything about yourself?

alibe said...

I have to agree with Ivory Bill. Obama is the "Chosen One" by the powers that be. And just because I always knew that Bush always governed as if he knew he would win. He knew he didn't have to take anything into account. The fix was in. And of course it was. And the DNC and Obama is doing the same thing. The fix is in and we know it. Maybe we can't stop what they are doing, but we can sure as hell try. Howard Dean, Axelrod, Brazile, Obama..they are worse than Bush. Who is really behind this? This is bigger than Axelrod and Dean. That is the scary thing. Only Hillary stands against these maniacs and the abyss.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the post. I have heard Joe Scarborough say something similar for several months now. I think it makes sense.

Anonymous said...

The model is perfect. I have to admit that it takes me awhile to understand the details; I was not even an American or living in the US in 1976 and in 1980 I was just getting my feet wet. (To understand the term Bejamins I had to walk through several googlized paths and about 10 minutes of agony.)

The model is excellent and the comment by Turtle illuminates an important point that the model didn't elaborate on. Hillary "learned" progressiveness slowly starting from Nevada. Before Super Tuesday I constantly shared with my spousal unit my dismay with the inevitability strategy Hillary was running on.

Ford had no designs; he was a decent, hardworking American who could have been a much better president than the useless Carter turned out to be. Ford and Obama couldn't be more different.

I raise this point to claim that Obama doesn't intend to be part of the party establishment. He wants to THE party. In other word, the structural analysis is perfect from today and backwards to the beginning of the campaign, but simple extrapolation of the model to the future doesn't seem to fit the events on the gound.

Once Obama becomes the nominee he'll destroy the current Kennedy/Kerry/Dean establishment and replace it with his own machine. The new coalition of AA and the creative class(as laughable as it is), the abandonment of the party network and replacing it with the Obama infrastructure (which already shows weaknesses) and finally the throwing overboard of organization such as the Center for American Progress (centralize everything in Obama's hands while democracy is inherently decentralized) are strong signs that Obama wants to be the party's Saddam.

I wonder whether, with a much better understanding of American politics than I possess, it is possible to extend the model to cover both the past and the future.

Anglachel said...


Good criticisms all the way around. Sorry that my pop culture reference caused you such a headache!

The model isn't perfect; then again, that's not what I'm aiming for now. This is a very exciting political season for someone like myself who studies political theory and history precisely because it is breaking models in interesting ways. Thus, much theorizing.

Obama does and doesn't want to be part of the Establishment. He wants to call the shots, but does not have the temperament to run such an operation. He gets bored too easily. He also wants very much to belong and to be lauded as the best of a class of people. Mostly, he is a seriously screwed up individual, and I mean George W Bush level of screwed up.

He doesn't *have* a machine, which is why he keeps having to borrow other people's organizations.

I agree that what he wants is to be king, but the longer we go along, the less I see of an operation that can pull it off.


Other Lisa said...

Mostly, he is a seriously screwed up individual, and I mean George W Bush level of screwed up.

I've come to the same conclusion. The "Sweetie" thing pretty much sealed the deal.

Oh, and apparently he called Barbara Boxer a "cutie."

Anna Belle said...


Good one. Here's less than one month after the 1993 inauguration.

I will never forget it. As soon as I saw it (I was just 21 at the time) I knew that she'd be vilified for as long as she was in the spotlight. And I knew it would be sexist crap the entire way. In a way, that cover created the first layer of armor for me as a Hillary Clinton fan.

Also, great post as usual, Anglachel.

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