The God That FailedPosted: November 16, 2016
Progressive centrism was never thoroughly fleshed out, but the basic idea was to combine the goals of populism—harnessing the power of government to do good for the ‘little guy’—with the New Democrats’ recognition of markets as a powerful tool for achieving those goals. Combined with an incrementalist approach, Judis and Teixeira argued, Democrats would form a new majority coalition. Oops.
Sean Trende writes: The 2000 election left a Democratic Party that was simultaneously angry, dispirited and divided. Populists believed that Al Gore made a terrible mistake by embracing the “New Democrats”—what we then called a group of socially moderate, culturally cosmopolitan, fiscally cautious Democrats in the ’90s—thereby failing to excite working-class whites. New Democrats, by contrast, thought Gore’s late adoption of heavily populist rhetoric had needlessly alienated whites with college degrees, costing him the election.
As this fight wore on, two important left-of-center thinkers, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, wrote a book called “The Emerging Democratic Majority.” Although the book is known as a demographic work, the demographics discussed so extensively in it are, in fact, subordinate to the larger goal of the book: to find a way for the two factions in the Democratic Party described above to live together, and to win. Their framework was explicitly Hegelian/Fichtean: They described the “thesis” and “antithesis” as being the populist Democrats and the “New Democrats.” Their proposed synthesis: what they called “progressive centrism.”
Progressive centrism was never thoroughly fleshed out, but the basic idea was to combine the goals of populism—harnessing the power of government to do good for the “little guy”—with the New Democrats’ recognition of markets as a powerful tool for achieving those goals. Combined with an incrementalist approach, Judis and Teixeira argued, Democrats would form a new majority coalition. This coalition would be an expansion of the old “McGovern” coalition, and would consist of working-class whites, women, African-Americans and Hispanics, as well as professional whites living in what they called “ideopolises” – high-tech areas filled with state employees and professional workers.
In keeping with the progressive view that history is something with an arc that can be predicted and even bent to our will, “The Emerging Democratic Majority” was expressly grounded in realignment theory. This view of elections holds that the arc of history moves in roughly 30-year epicycles, where the country progresses through stages where different parties hold a position as the dominant “sun” party, or the pale “moon” party (to borrow the terminology of Samuel Lubell). The Democratic majority, we were told, would emerge fully in the 2000s.
This was mostly sensible, and certainly all very defensible. If this “soft” view of the Emerging Democratic Majority had prevailed, I probably would not have spent a good portion of the past eight years arguing against it. Changing demographics are absolutely an issue for Republicans to contend with, and if Democrats had stuck to the “progressive centrism” playbook, they could have built a powerful coalition indeed.
But the “hard” version of the theory that prevailed bore little resemblance to the nuanced view promoted by Judis and Teixeira…(read more)
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