Thursday, November 04, 2010

Dance With Them Who Brung Ya

The saying goes that you should "dance with them who brung ya," a colloquial way of pointing out that you have substantive obligations towards those who brought you to whatever festive occasion you are attending.

The Democrats faced the penalty of failing to follow this advice in two ways in the midterms. The people who the Dems didn't want to be seen with in the last electoral round and who have been treated as expendable for the last two years, most crucially white, relatively affluent women, declined the invitation, either by outright defection to the opposition (notably those who are married) or by not voting at all (unmarried women). The party was also rejected by those who they courted assiduously two years ago - independent men and the "youth" vote - who decided to find another dance partner this time around.

From the LA Times, "Blacks, Latinos stick with shrinking Democratic base" (my emphasis throughout):
Democrats searching for good news amid the rubble of Tuesday's midterm election results can look to Latinos and African Americans, two groups of voters that stayed with the party in large numbers.

But that, in a sense, is like taking comfort in that fact that as your house is falling down around you, it isn't also on fire.

The Democratic Party was overwhelmingly rejected by whites, independents and seniors. Perhaps most troubling to Democrats was that increasing numbers of women also turned toward the Republican Party.

Young voters, so crucial to President Obama's historic victories two years ago, showed up in lower numbers Tuesday, and many more voted Republican than before.

To make matters worse, while black and Latino voters remained relatively loyal to the Democratic Party, they voted in far fewer numbers than in 2008. And even in those groups, 3% to 5% defected from Democrats to Republicans.

Geographically, Democrats were largely pushed out of states where the party believed it had made lasting inroads, such as Indiana, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. The result is a national electoral map that more closely resembles that of the early 2000s, with the Democrats by and large confined to the East and West coasts, with the GOP dominating the heartland and the South. ...

Meanwhile, African Americans remained one of the Democrats' most reliable voting blocs, and their turnout on Tuesday appears to have matched that in 2006, the midterm election that brought Democrats to power in the House. But there was still evidence of those voters' deflated hopes in the president and his party.

Blacks made up 13% of the electorate in 2008, but only 10% Tuesday night. While just 4% of black voters cast ballots for Republican John McCain two years ago, 9% said in exit polls that they voted for GOP House candidates on Tuesday.

Latino voters may have supplied Democrats with the biggest reason for optimism Tuesday, particularly in states where they were needed most. Although their support for Democrats declined slightly from elections in 2008 and 2006, their turnout appeared to hold steady or even increase.
Earlier today I read an article but cannot find the link now (can anyone help me locate it?) that pointed out the worst off congressional districts that had voted Democratic remained solidly Democratic, while the most affluent districts that had supported Dems last time had one of the highest defection rates. I'd like to see statistics that track defection rates by income levels. I'd also like to see the turnout levels for these districts over three years - 2006 midterms, 2008 general, and 2010 midterms. We've already seen that the more conservative a Democrat was, the more likely that person would lose, though I'd like some numbers and not just speculation based on high profile losses.

I think we'd see different  kinds of resistance to the Democratic failure to seize the historical opportunity and roll back the Reagan assault on America. So who are these voters who came out two years ago and aren't here now? I think it falls into three broad groups.

We can see that people who probably tepidly voted for Republicans in 2006, who swung Dem as protest against the Republican handling of the financial collapse and in the midst of excitement over voting for the popular guy in 2008, are now reverting back to the previous voting pattern. You'll find a lot of Independents in this crowd (or as I call them, impulse voters), people who like to vote with what's popular in the moment. Lots of young white males in this camp, especially those who fancy themselves rugged individualists.

Next, we see the people who are relatively well off and who expected to see the economy dramatically improve under the Dems. I'm in this group. It is going to skew white and either very liberal or determinedly moderate. Liberal poseurs are most often to be found here. This group split by either voting an alternative party or withholding strategic votes, or else going back to the Republicans, especially in affluent districts where the trend would have been Republican-leaning-Democratic in 2006.

The chief marker of each of these groups is that they did come to the polls. The bulk of your defection voting will happen among these groups.

The third group will be those who did not show up at all, and who will be disproportionately female, minority and less affluent. What you can see in the discussion of women and African American voter is that both turnout and party loyalty was measurably down from the last electoral cycle. I suspect that it is down from the last two cycles for women voters. The Latino constituency has motivation to go to the polls apart from regular party activities due to the Republican agitation against them (Thank you Pete Wilson, the gift that keeps on giving!) in the Southwest.

The demographics are returning to the mean as well, as the less affluent white voters of fly-over land see that the Obamacans really don't think they are worth anything and delivered jack-shit to them in the last 24 months. Clinton Democrats who were willing to come back to the party (in Ohio, most crucially) in 2008 are now in full rejection mode.

An argument being put forward by the most left-leaning of the blogosphere is that this is what you get for abandoning strongly progressive goals and objectives. At an ideological and policy level, this is right, but at a rhetorical and practical level, the emphasis is wrong. Voters who would never vote for "socialism" (Rethuglican coinage for anything that is even a frail shadow of the New Deal) will happily support the individual programs that make them better off. The Shrill One was right that no one gives a damn about the process or their own ideology, only about results. Make someone better off and they will rationalize it into something ideologically palatable; leave someone hanging and they will label it "Socialist" to indicate that they hate the outcome, not because they have a frakking clue what is or isn't Socialist.

The point of having power is to be able to implement an ideological vision over time, which is what Democrats did through LBJ and what the Republicans have done since Reagan. The Clinton interregnum almost tipped the balance back over, but the cultural elite bonded with the monied class (noting that the two overlap far more than the liberal elite is willing to admit) to keep those yahoos (Yes, we'll allow them their novel, as The Incomparable One terms it, and not belabor the point that they were projecting their own intellectual insecurities outwards) out of the parlors and away from the revenue streams, all breathing a sigh of relief when the moral and cultural barbarian W was ensconced. However, the ideological and policy vision is worthless without a constituency who will put you in office long enough to enact institutional change. The wonk work needs to be served up meat and potatoes fashion with a big ladle of "And here is your economic gain, thanks for playing!" generously poured over the top.

That is what Wall Street got and now Wall Street (the affluent voters who put the Unity Dems into power) wants to cement its gains by voting for the openly plutocratic instead of those clandestinely inclined.

The claim that we shouldn't be ideologically forward is being used to avoid the need to be ideologically driven. "We can't be too extreme!" doesn't hold weight when the nation knows that you haven't been extreme enough for their personal material benefit. If you can find money for the Merry Banksters, you can find it for Joe Six-Pack. Joe will cost you less and is more likely to keep voting for you, and thus is the better investment.

If you want electoral support, you have to offer one of two things, preferably both. You have to offer up something the voter can take to the bank or put on the table and/or you have to conjure up bogey monsters that the other guys want to take those things away from you. When neither side can offer material benefits, then the biggest bogey monster wins. And the hardest thing the Democratic party is going to have to do if it wants to have any relevancy and be something other than the impotent opposition, it must confront and dismiss its own bogey man of Bunker and the Bubba who won't relinquish racism, as well as their contempt for the stupid trashy bitches who support them.

The attempt at coalition building in 2008 has fallen flat because the reasons for the support are either circumstantial (people vote against the guys in power when times are bad) and ephemeral (Whoo hoo, I get to do something world historic, look at me, ain't I cool, whoo hoo!). Consolidating coalitions takes rewarding the constituents in tangible ways. Only the financiers of the election saw those rewards and they don't seem to eager to have you as a date any more.

If you want to remain in power, you're going to have to learn some new dance steps.



Koshem Bos said...

Obama is not an aberration; he is a perfect reflection of the current Democratic party. This includes the dysfunction and the arrogance. Since LBJ, there really is no coherent body called Democrats (even multi faceted coherence).

First we had the brutal clownish Carter whose ideology is unclear. Clinton was treated as a virus the Democratic party must expel. We had spells of Dukakis, Kerry, Bradley all amorphic upper classmen.

This gang has no core, no real drive and very little fight in them. Krug language - no audacity.

Joe six-pack is an animal they see in the movies. Even the SF lefty and daughter of Baltimore, the labor city, was talking "middle class" only. Sorry gang, we make six figures (not starting with 1) and need help less than Joe who makes zilch (unemployed).

That's also the reason that the Howler is howling against the fake lefties of the blogs and MSNBC. They are as iffy and confused as the rest of the party.

Anonymous said...

Again, great stuff. This doesn't have to be complicated. Politics is about who gets what. The financial elites have a lot of tangible benefits to point to for the last two years, while the rest of us don't. So, when election time rolls around and we realize that, then politics and voting for the people who delivered us nothing doesn't make a lot of sense. Correct that and deliver something tangible that people can literally take to the bank, and things will change. Don't, and they won't.