05 November 2014

The Democrats' (partly) hidden majority

If many Republicans believe in a hidden majority -- on the assumption that there must be a critical mass of Americans inhabiting their ideal version of the nation -- so do many Democrats. Democrats may protest that their majority isn't hidden at all, but elected Barack Obama president twice over. But Obama's majority of the popular vote in 2008 and 2012 is still a minority of the overall voting-age population. After 2012, Democrats grew more convinced that the country's changing demographics would make victories, at least on the presidential level, more of a cinch in the future. Writing the weekend before the congressional elections, David Brooks warns that such a complacent approach may be a mistake. He didn't single Democrats out for criticism, but he did complain about campaigns across the country that seem to be shaped more by demographic analysis with "generic" or "data-driven" appeals that lacked personality. These campaigns, Brooks assumes, are based on the belief that different demographic groups respond automatically to particular hot-button issues. They pander to the perceived prejudices and fears of their constituents instead of introducing new ideas to the debate. They fail to offer answers to problems of the here and now, reverting instead -- though Brooks avoids saying so -- to old-school identity politics. During crisis times, this is an especially dangerous mistake.

In the midst of this scuffling economy, voters are thinking as Americans and not as members of a niche. They’re asking: What can be done to kick-start America? They’re not asking: How can I guarantee affordable contraception? People who are building campaigns on micro-targeting are simply operating on the wrong level of consciousness.

While Democrats cling to their faith in their hidden or imminent majority,  Republicans hope Mia Love will tell a different story. She has become the first black woman elected as a Republican to the House of Representatives, defeating the last Democratic member of Utah's congressional delegation. The daughter of Haitian immigrants and a convert to Mormonism, Love touts a personal narrative of faith and hard work. For her party, she stands as proof against the Democratic argument that Republicans remain hostile to the aspirations of blacks and women. Republicans want to believe that the only reason blacks and women vote against them is the Democrats "big lie" that the angry white male Republicans hate them and want them to remain subordinate. That many Democrats, black and white, male and female, do believe this is indisputable. The question for the future is whether this is the belief of the Democrats' hidden majority -- whether Democrats depend on this belief alone to keep women, gays and ethnic minorities voting their way. What Republicans don't want to believe is that these groups lean toward liberalism for cultural or experiential reasons of their own that don't depend on a narrative of WASP (White Angry Straight Patriarch) hatred -- that the experiences of blacks, gays, women, Hispanics encourage a sense of solidarity contrary to the Republicans' personal-responsibility ideology, or a suspicion of employers contrary to the GOP idolization of them and the Market from which all blessings flow. Republicans believe that there should be no natural antipathy toward Republican values in any American demographic, but that's because their hidden majority naturally has no such antipathy. Democrats would be just as naive if they define their hidden majority by fear of the WASP -- but it's not so clear that they do. Predictions of a long-term Democratic majority are based not just upon whites becoming a minority of the population, but on an assumption that social and cultural changes are shaping the next generation of all races and sexual preferences -- on a belief that whites themselves will grow less receptive to traditional Republican appeals even as other demographic groups remain more or less impervious to them.  However, there probably is more complacency about the inevitability of these changes than is helpful for Democrats in the short term. The argument to be made against Republicans was not that they were going to take away birth control but that their own record proves them unqualified to restore the American economy to real health. But Democrats themselves have done far too little toward that end, their protests against GOP obstruction notwithstanding, to inspire much confidence among voters this year. The economic and social program that will inspire the real hidden majority to vote remains hidden itself -- at least to the mainstream in media and politics. The major parties have done all they can to lure out the hidden majority, but it will finally show itself only when it finally finds its own voice and its own leaders. We'd like to think we'll know them when we see them and hear them, but such a faith is probably too presumptuous for anyone right now.


Anonymous said...

And yet, only recently (relatively speaking) was the Mormon religion changed so that black mormons go to the same heaven as white mormons. The accepted belief, until then, was that blacks (being presumed inferior) went to an inferior heaven.

Samuel Wilson said...

Presumably Rep.-elect Love knows this and doesn't care. To her it might be like holding the hanging of witches or burning of heretics against the older denominations, even though they aren't like that any more. In any event, Mormonism has something some blacks want despite its exclusionary past. Don't ask me what that might be.

Anonymous said...

I have to wonder just how many morons have ever objectively looked into the history of their chosen religion and realized 1) how much every single religion changes or "evolves" over time and 2) if they change that much, they couldn't have been the "true" religion to begin with or there would be no reason to change.