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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Reassessing the Constituency of the Democratic Party

Editorial, The Week in Review – Analysis, Commentary, Opinion

For nearly the entire twentieth century the Democratic Party has been identified with labor unions, farmers, the working class, the marginalized and the poor.
In my home state, Minnesota, the Democratic Party is known as the DFL, Democratic Farmer Laborer Party, just to make this more connection with its constituency more explicit.
For the last fifty to sixty years the Democratic Party has also been known for its commitment to human rights, civil rights, the rights of minorities, and the rights of women.
Just about thirty years ago, with the election of Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party began to shift. It developed favorable relationships with banking, promoting big business and multi-nationalism, democrats became “free-traders.”
The Democratic party has, for the most part, retained the loyalty of Labor unions through this transformation, even though some of those trading policies significantly hurt the American manufacturing sector. As free trade expanded, many jobs left the United States for Foreign markets. Whole communities dissolved, and faded away.
On the macro scale, our trade policies have been good for the United States. We are exporting more goods. Jobs have been created in other sectors to make up for the jobs we lost. Employment is up, inflation is down, wealth is up…but the wealth gap has grown.
Most economists, those without an axe to grind, will tell you that those policies have been neutral, but that is small comfort to those who have had to rearrange their lives because their jobs and their homes and their town disappeared.
In the last couple of election cycles many democrats have suffered at the poles. One thing you hear from the critics is that democrats no longer know how to speak to their constituency, they need to re-establish their relationship with the unions, the laborers, and the farmers. The Democrats need to recover their ability to speak to the working class, to rural Americans.
I am calling this logic into question.
Democrats need to be the party of the majority/minorities, whether there are laborers, chefs, farmers, servers, artists, doctors, lawyers, or bankers.
Democrats need to be the party of women, no matter where they live.
Democrats need to be the party of science, of criminal justice reform, of civil rights.
Democrats can forget about the white rural factory worker, the white rural factory farmer, the protectionist, English language only, NRA member.
We do not need them, we do not need to twist ourselves into knots trying to speak their language.
Republicans began to master the art of getting that constituency to vote against their self interest in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. Through the Christian right, and now the Tea Party, that group is lost to us.
I watched my own father, a Republican, become the president of his union, just so that he could tear it apart, weaken it, and make it ineffectual. There are many unions that remain the natural allies of the democrat party, but there are many other unions who have been co-opted by the right, and actually work against the interests of their membership.
All of these relationships need to be run through a gamut of discernment.
Teachers unions, nurses unions, hospitality sector unions, the unions of educated para-professionals, skilled labor, and artists, these are the unions we need to support. We need to support the unions with higher concentrations, of women and the majority/minorities that is the future of America.
The Democratic Party must give up the prospect of trying to bring in the no-nothings of the right wing, the climate change deniers, the evolutionary science deniers, those who believe that America is a Christian nation, those who want to control the bodies of women.
That constituency is lost to us.
Our new constituency is urban, intellectual, artistic, technological, and professional.
Embrace it.


  1. Just two quick points- "Most economists, those without an axe to grind, will tell you that those policies have been neutral.." Let's forget about what most economists and axe grinders think for a minute, the statement "the policies have been neutral" is patently false. You have it backwards, you are uncritically accepting a right wing axe grinder view of economics. Please see these left of center, but mainstream economists: Most economists, those without an axe to grind, will tell you that those policies have been neutral (Or don't, your inflexible position means you will always be right)

    The last point I want to make is about "That constituency is lost to us", and, the democratic party's new constituency should be "urban, intellectual, artistic, technological, and professional.

    You seem very extreme in your thinking about people that don't happen to fall into these 4 categories. This conclusion is a recipe for permanently losing elections. You were supposed to be the pragmatic one, the reason you backed Hillary. The rust belt didn't vote for her in large part because they viewed her as an elitist snob. Now you want to double down on being exclusionary. Good luck to any democratic presidential candidate who doesn't carry the rust belt. You are ignoring geography- the important electoral college votes are in places where you should doubt that many would self identify as those 4 things.

  2. I wrote this on a phone and I saw my first paragraph got chopped up. Hope you can make sense of it.

  3. To your first point John, pertaining to you estimation of view trade policy, you will have to provide more of an argument than merely stating that my view is false. Presenting a list of articles does not accomplish the same end.

    The story on the effects of NAFTA and GATT is in the numbers, While trade deficits have gone up, so have exports from the United States, and so has the Gross Domestic Product. The rest of the analysis is spin. Those policies have been terrible for many communities. There is no running away from that. Those policies also gave us the trade environment that has fostered the development and distribution of the Smart Phone, and other related technologies, and all of the industries they support. The picture is mixed, there are winners and there are losers, I am going to call it neutral.

    The second point in your comments, and the thrust of this opinion piece is related to the, who knows. You may be right, I may have it wrong.

    I contend that the future of the democratic party is to be the party of the majority of ethnic minorities, a true democratic coalition. It is must also be the party of the urban, artistic, technological and professional class. Democrats cannot afford to pander in coal country any longer, or the rust belt, or whatever you want to call it. Democrats need to be the party of voting rights, electoral reform, access to polls, criminal justice reform, education, national security, and health care. Democrats turn more people in the urban core off, than they win favor with those middle class rural/suburban white voters when they go pandering. The greater pool of votes to be had is not from those people who voted for Trump (against Hillary), but among those people who did not vote.

  4. I am not an economist so I pointed you to highly credible sources for you to review. You may wish to not read them but their existence demonstrate the subject is not as neat and simply as you portray. You are simply making things up when you say there is consensus on NAFTA, especially when you refer to numbers and don't detail your sources- a very dubious way of arguing your point. I think you are deeply ignorant when you talk about "axe grinders", and since you made this highly inflammatory statement the onus ought to lie with you to justify it, including refuting the arguments of influential and respected economists who hold a contrary view, people with PhD's. Honestly, this subject matter lies far out of the range of your expertise and your educational background, and it is obvious you are getting your information from opinion pieces and not serious economic journals. However, this is no sin- as a matter of fact I'm in the same boat as you, having only studied two economics courses in college. If you are expressing an opinion on how you believe the world works, fine. But please don't pass off bad economic theory as truth.

    1. I am not a big fan of Frank Rich. I can think of many times when he got it wrong. ANd I am not saying that he agrees with my NAFTA arguments, but this.

  5. I appreciate your feedback Sonny. I always do. You are correct, I am not an economist, and formulating economic theory is beyond my expertise. However, parsing economic data is not.

    Please allow me to orient you to my methods, I write a weekly opinion piece that is purely opinion. I do not pretend to have expertise that I do not have. I synthesize data from the public sphere, I synthesize a lot of data. I am not writing a college paper, I rarely give references. If your experience is different from mine, that is okay, If you want to share those differences with me that is okay too.

    I would prefer engage my readers, who are, like you, friends of mine, based on what they have synthesized from their experience, rather than have conversations through the thoughts of others. It does not matter to me that you are not an economist, what matters to me is how you see the world based on your deep experience of it, and your rigorous intellect.

    Because you have asked for it I will provide you with an article from a respectable organization the treats the question of NAFTA from what I consider to be a balanced perspective. From the Council on Foreign Relations:

    Dean Baker, one of the authors you site is a member, though he did not contribute to this article.

    I want to be clear with you, when I speak of the fact, and it is a fact that their is broad consensus that the economic impact of NAFTA has been neutral, I am not speaking of the cultural impact of NAFTA, I am talking dollars and cents, money in and money out. Under NAFTA trade has expanded with our North American neighbors, it has gone up and stayed up dramatically. Our trade deficit has also gone up. We used to have a trade surplus with Mexico, now we have a deficit, but the level of outstrips that. Those are facts and they do not require a degree in economics, or any expertise in economic theory to understand them to understand them.

    And now to the point, I am ignorant of many things, but I am not ignorant about this, the term axe-grinder is not inflammatory, it is the way I characterization people who repeatedly and consistently interpret data to meet a predetermined social or political objective. I am an axe grinder, as are you. It is nothing to be ashamed of.

  6. I am not a huge fan of Frank Rich, and by posting this article I am not saying he agrees with my economic point of view re: NAFTA and free trade... but he is making the same point as me.


I am very interested in your commentary, please respond to anything that interests you.