A Democratic victory in 2008 is not inevitable, Mark Stricherz argues.
In his new book, Why the Democrats are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People’s Party, Stricherz maps the recent history of a party that has lost the allegiance of the working class and Catholic voters that once constituted its base. Stricherz talks to National Review Online Editor Kathryn Lopez about what went wrong and how they can fix it.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What’s “shortsighted” about democratic inevitability predictions for 2008?
Mark Stricherz: In almost every general election since 1972, the Democratic party’s association with abortion and homosexuality has damaged its nominee politically. George McGovern was tagged, famously, as the candidate of the three A’s — acid, amnesty, and abortion. Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Walter Mondale in 1984 were seen as captives of the feminists. Michael Dukakis in 1988 got killed on the abortion issue, according to a little-noticed ABC poll at the time. Bill Clinton acknowledged that the party’s cultural liberalism hurt him in many states.
Sure, a Democratic nominee can win despite his or her secular liberalism. Three quarters to four fifths of Americans don’t vote on cultural issues. But of those who do, 75- to 80-percent vote against the more culturally liberal presidential candidate, the Democrat.
I advise those skeptical of my thesis to read or reread Richard Scammon and Ben Wattenberg’s 1970 classic The Real Majority. That book warned Democrats to finesse what they called the Social Issue, one component of which was values issues. I am not saying anything new here.
Lopez: Why are pro-abortion feminists so influential in the Democratic party?
Stricherz: Now I am saying something new. If the national parties in the late 1960s and early ‘70s had stayed the same, feminists likely would have aligned with the Republican party, which seemed to be their natural home. President Nixon in 1969 had signed an executive order allowing military hospitals overseas to perform abortions, while the Democratic party seemed to be run by male Catholic bosses.
But in 1969 the Democratic party was in the midst of an internal coup d’etat. Antiwar Democrats were enraged that at the 1968 convention not only had McCarthy been denied the party’s nomination, but also that the peace plank had been defeated. So a group of New Politics leaders used a reform commission, which was chaired by Senator George McGovern, to hijack the national party.
They had a major insight: to change the party’s support for the Vietnam War, you had to change the way delegates are selected. After all, delegates vote not only on the party’s presidential nominee, but also its platform. They also figured out that besides young people, the group most likely to oppose the war was women. So in 1969 this group succeeded in passing a proposal that required all 50 state Democratic parties to do the following: a “reasonable” percentage of your presidential delegates must be female. This mandate, as well as a few others, took the delegate selection process out of the hands of the bosses and into those of the New Politics activists.
In 1971, the National Women’s Political Caucus was founded. Its leaders found out about the McGovern Commission’s implied quotas, and they told their members to run as Democratic delegates. (By contrast, the GOP had no delegate quotas.) At the 1972 Democratic convention, 43 percent of all delegates in the hall were women, while in 1968 only 13 percent had been female. In 1978, the DNC, acting at the behest of feminists, required that 50 percent of each state party’s delegates must be female, which is the requirement that endures to this day.
Besides being antiwar, most of these female delegates supported abortion rights. And at the 1980 convention, they had sufficient numbers to approve a plank endorsing taxpayer funding abortions. The revolution in delegate selection had transformed its ideology, just as the handful of leaders on the McGovern Commission predicted.
Lopez: What’s a Caseycrat and how many are there?
Stricherz: Caseycrats are a subset of Reagan Democrats. They are culturally conservative and fiscally populist or liberal. They support the government’s role in helping the vulnerable, the poor, and the working classes. They favor extending legal protection to unborn children, few gun-control laws, making health care universal or more affordable, and improving the public schools and job training. Demographically, Caseycrats usually are Catholic or religious working-class whites.
The important point about Caseycrats is not so much the number of them as where they live. Caseycrats are a major constituency in Rust Belt states — Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. They were a key reason why in 2000 George W. Bush came out for steel tariffs, while Al Gore stopped talking about gun control.
Lopez: Even smart-politician Bill Clinton who would later end welfare as we know it would not let Casey speak. Casey, of course, is no longer with us. But, given the same or similar chance, would his wife let the pro-life Dem speak?