Obama's 'tenuous' political dynasty
December 6, 2012By Dick Polman
It's typically a waste of time to read the post-election analyses written by people on the winning side, because they tend to spike the ball and dance in the end zone. But I'll make a rare exception for veteran think tank scholar Ruy Teixeira, because he predicted the outcome of the 2012 election way back in 2002, when he foresaw today's demographic realities in his book The Emerging Democratic Majority; and, more importantly, because he's smart enough to know that today's Democratic majority could vanish tomorrow.
There's a lot of loose talk right now about how President Obama's winning coalition — most notably comprising women, professionals, young people, and minorities - foretells a long period of Democratic dominance. But, as always, these talkers are infected with that peculiarly American disease, amnesia. As recently as seven years ago, Karl Rove was being hailed by the mainstream press as a guru-genius whose plans for an era of Republican dominance were at the cusp of fruition. If you'd read The Way To Win (2006), an extended mash note to Rove, or One Party Country (2009), which argued that the GOP's "fortress" could render the Democrats powerless for decades, you would likely have concluded that Teixeira's 2002 predictions were nuts. But today those two books are in the remainder bin, Rove is so toxic that Fox News has decided to limit his on-air gigs ... and Teixeira looks like a seer.
At first glance, it would appear that Teixeira is splking the ball. In his long analysis of the '12 election, he does ballyhoo the emergence of a "progressive coalition ... made up of African Americans, Latinos, women, young people, professionsals, and economically populist blue-collar whites" — the same kind of coalition that Robert F. Kennedy sought in 1968, in support of "an activist government agenda." He highlights all the demographic trends that Mitt Romney's bubble-encased strategists failed to spot. And he demonstrates that "the Republican party's coalition of older, whiter, more rural, and evangelical voters is shrinking and becoming more geographically concentrated and less important to the overall political landscape of the country." (His observations about the GOP are self-evident. Bill O'Reilly said much the same thing on election night: "The demographics are changing. It's not a traditional America anymore.")
But Teixeira knows that such victories are often ephemeral.
He rightly warns that the progressive coalition is "early and tenuous." He writes that "politics is never predetermined, and demographics alone will not deliver more progressive gains and achievements. Although President Obama's electoral victories in 2008 and 2012 were historic, these victories will not ensure large-scale shifts toward more progressive policy." And if those policies don't happen, the coalition could break apart.
And therein lies the Republican opportunity. Teixeira's two key paragraphs:
"The fragmented American constitutional system — coupled with the ideological unity of congressional Republicans - gives conservative forces multiple veto points over progressive legislation and the ability to thwart a more expansive set of policies on the economy, jobs and growth, and fairer taxation. Conservatives control many state houses and governor's mansions, increasing their ability to block federal action on matters such as health care, and encouraging further attacks on public employees and benefits for the poor, and punitive social policies aimed at communities of color and gays and lesbians. Likewise, Americans remain deeply skeptical of the federal government and the capacity of politics to deliver necessary change.
"These trends makes it harder for progressives to govern in a way that improves people’s lives in a concrete manner. President Obama got a reprieve from the poor economy in 2012, as voters chose to give him more time to overcome the failed policies of the Bush era and to help move the economy onto surer footing. But now the president and progressives must deliver on their promises on jobs and the economy, or the public could quickly sour on the progressive policy vision."
Exactly. And I'd question how potent this "progressive coalition" really is, given the fact — as Teixeira himself noted in passing — that "conservatives control many state houses and governor's mansions." In truth, it's not many. It's most. Yes, Obama stitched together a winning coalition at the national level, but down at the grassroots, there is (as yet) no such progressivism. Republican legislatures continue to draw the congressional district lines to the advantage of Republican congressmen, and that's a big reason why the House remains Republican despite having lost the aggregated national popular vote by one million. Which in turn is why the GOP is still well positioned to take full advantage of what Teixeira calls "the fragmened American constitutional system."
So what can Obama do to lock in the nascent coalition for future Democratic candidates? This is where Teixeria gets a little hazy: "(A) coherent and compelling way must be found to harness the rising electorate of communities of color, young people, women, and professionals, along with economically populist white working class voters .... (P)rogressives must find ways to become a more permanent social movement .... Gearing up for highly expensive elections every four years is wholly insufficient for achieving real social change .... The money and energy spent winning elections will be for naught if it is not followed by the resources and strategies necessary to keep the Obama coalition in permanent motion ..."
Teixeira rightly says that Obama and the Democrats "must find ways to permanently engage" the voters who comprised his '12 coalition — um, what "ways?" — but I'd go further. If they fail to engage these voters in the ongoing battle against Republican obstructionism, it's bye bye coalition. And Teixeria would wind up with Rove in the remainder bin reserved for yesteryear's seers.
My friend Gail Collins, the New York Times columnist, has a witty smackdown of Rick Santorum today, chronicling his latest fact-challenged crackpot crusade (which I mentioned on Tuesday). A paragraph near the bottom sums up why Senate Republicans killed ratification of the U.N. treaty that seeks to promote American disability rights worldwide: They're terrified of being challenged in 2014 primaries by wingnut candidates who are paranoid about the U.N.
I suppose what happened on the Senate floor Tuesday was just another manifestation of our "fragmented American constitutional system," but I'll boil it down to one word: Pathetic.
This should be fun: Next Monday night, on stage at the Philadelphia Free Library, I'm doing a one-on-one conversation with Bob Woodward. The auditorium is reportedly sold out, but there's a simulcast room upstairs, for anyone interested in tickets.
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