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
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.