Saturday, June 22, 2013

Optimism

I heard Markos Moulitsas twice today explain his theory that because of demographic changes, and because Democrats  better reflect most Americans' positions on the issues, Democrats are headed for something that might approach permanent majority status in politics--so long as Democrats continue to strongly advocate progressive positions. He made this argument at a panel this morning on immigration reform, and again in an entertaining slide show at the closing session of Netroots Nation.

This theory makes a lot of sense, but I would probably be a little more cautious in predicting some kind of permanent shift in the electorate. History tells us that the pendulum of public opinion is more likely to swing back and forth a few times in the coming decades, and that it can swing back in a reactionary direction a lot quicker than people might think. A number of things could happen that would throw cold water on progressives' hopes of a permanent majority. First, you can't take the support of ethnic minorities for granted permanently. Sure, Latinos and Asians and African-Americans and recent immigrants from all over are more likely to favor Democrats now, but as they move up the economic ladder a strange thing happens. Lots of them adopt more conservative values. Not all of them, but more than now perhaps. It's ironic that the very policies that Democrats support (education, building a stronger middle class, infrastructure improvements, etc.) sometimes have the effect over time of creating more Republicans! It has happened before.

Second, you can't predict what kinds of wars or outbreaks of violence or other disasters and emergencies will happen in the coming years that could affect public opinion, and not always in a positive way.

People thought in the mid-1960's, especially after the LBJ landslide of 1964, that we were headed for a permanent Democratic majority. Then came Vietnam, riots in major cities, student protests, and the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and we ended up with Richard Nixon in 1968, who went on to his own landslide victory in 1972. People also thought (I thought!) after Watergate caused Nixon and seemingly his whole party to reveal their corruption and fall into disgrace, that we were moving toward another permanent Democratic majority. Then came a bad economy and the Iranian revolution and instead of a progressive consensus, we ended up with the Reagan revolution of 1980, and a seemingly permanent reactionary consensus. It took another 28 years before the pendulum swung strongly in the other direction.

Nobody can predict what future problems or cataclysms might cause another political shift to the right. And nobody can assume that the people who currently support the progressive agenda will continue to do so. Nobody should take any ethnic group or women or young people or gays or any other demographic for granted. I hope Markos is right that what we are seeing now are the death throes of the politics of fear and resentment, but I worry that that kind of politics always has a chance for a comeback.

All that leads me to treasure and support the Obama administration as strongly as I can, but others can draw their own conclusions. Just don't take anything for granted.

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