No matter what Clinton says on Obama’s behalf in Charlotte, the gentrification of the Democratic Party has gone too far to be reversed in this election, writes Joel Kotkin.
While the Democratic convention this week celebrates the party’s new coalition, Bill Clinton will no doubt try to recapture the white middle class that’s largely deserted the Democrats since his presidency ended. But it’s likely his efforts will be a case of too little, too late for Barack Obama—who will have to look elsewhere for his electoral majority.
The gentrification of the Democratic Party has gone too far to be reversed in this election. After decades of fighting to win over white working- and middle-class families, Democrats under Obama have set them aside in favor of a new top-bottom coalition dominated by urban professionals—notably academics and members of the media—single women, and childless couples, along with ethnic minorities.
Rather than representing, as Chris Christie and others on the right suggest, the old, corrupt Chicago machine, Obama in fact epitomizes the city’s new political culture, as described by the University of Chicago’s Terry Nichols Clark, that greatly deemphasizes white, largely Catholic working-class voters, the self-employed, and people involved in blue-collar industries.
The Chicago that Obama represents is more Hyde Park or the Gold Coast than the Daley family base in blue-collar Bridgeport; more faculty club, media shop or Art Institute than the factory culture of “the city of Big Shoulders”.
The traditional machine provided him with critical backing early in his political career, but Obama owes his success to new groups that have taken center stage in the increasingly liberal post-Clinton Democratic party: the urban “creative class” made up mostly of highly-educated professionals, academics, gays, single people, and childless couples. It’s a group Clark once called “the slimmer family.” Such people were barely acknowledged and even mistreated by the old machine; now they are primary players in the “the post-materialistic” party. The only holdovers from the old coalition are ethnic minorities and government workers. ...
I think this is a fascinating analysis. There is one thing I'm curious about. Bill Clinton seemed to me to be a left of center Democrat. Obama seems to me to be a much more liberal Democrat. Yet I repeatedly read or hear Obama enthusiasts categorize Obama as a moderate Democrat. It is always a needle-across-the-record moment for me. I see him as easily the most liberal president we have ever had.
Let me be clear. Gregg Easterbrook, in his book The Progress Paradox, notes that no president governs as ideologically as they campaign. Pragmatism tends to dominate. Consequently, pointing a given act that is not in accord with an ideological position doesn't necessarily negate that position. It may simply mean that in a given context that the act was the best that could be done.
How is Obama moderate and not liberal? Do you think he is as moderate or more so than Clinton? I'm particularly interested in hearing from folks who hold this view. (And while I realize we are in the middle of a campaign, could all sides keep the snarkiness to a minimum.)