Politics & Policy

From Houston, Signs of How the Democratic Party Is Bound to Fracture

(Photo Illustration: NRO)

There is an ugly and seldom-acknowledged racial dynamic animating the politics of the Left: The ranks of the Democratic party swell with black, Hispanic, and immigrant voters, but the party is run by wealthy liberal white ladies: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Randi Weingarten, Bernie Sanders (honorary liberal white lady), Nancy Pelosi, etc. The message: “You people provide the votes, we’ll make the decisions.” The Democrats are a kind of perverse Master Blaster, with Debbie Wasserman Schultz mounted piggyback upon the shoulders of millions of black and Hispanic families.

This has occurred to, among others, the Black Lives Matter protesters who have been bedeviling the uniformly well-off uniformly white liberals who make up the current Democratic presidential field. Senator Sanders’s initial reaction was shock — Don’t these people know who I am? Don’t they know their place? — followed by abjection. Herself is, as is Herself’s habit, simply brazening through, making that face she makes when she wants to communicate “I’m listening” when she’s really thinking about the new tasting menu at BlackSalt. It may eventually occur to the Black Lives Matter folks that Herself has not been so much as downwind from a poor neighborhood in 30 years for any purpose other than political theater, and that the White House has a tall fence.

RELATED: With Its Bathroom Ordinance, Houston Takes Leave of Its Municipal Senses

The liberal white lady du jour is Houston mayor Annise Parker, who has just failed — spectacularly — in her tireless and ruthless campaign to bring Houstonians’ private opinions under political discipline through a so-called civil-rights ordinance that would have made the abolition of penis-bearing persons (we used to call them “men”) from the ladies’ locker room an official offense in the same category of wrongdoing as shoving Rosa Parks to the back of the bus. But the voters in this overwhelmingly non-Anglo city saw things differently: 61 percent of Houston’s largely progressive voters opposed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO, naturally). This was a reversal of recent polling, which had found more support of HERO than opposition to it. Interesting, that.

Harris County is not exactly rural Oklahoma when it come to politics: The Anglo population is heavily Republican (68 percent) but it is small, representing less than a third of the population. Among non-Anglos, Hispanic voters are 62 percent Democratic, and black voters are 89 percent Democratic. The city of Houston is not entirely contiguous with Harris County, and, like most cities, it is well to the left of its suburbs, with its white residents less likely to be Republican than their suburban counterparts and representing an even smaller share of the population, just 25 percent. Rick Perry won 55 percent of the statewide vote in 2010, but he lost Harris County. Even so, half again as many Houston voters — the suburbanites had no say in the matter — opposed the enshrining of transsexual toilet regulations into the city’s civil-rights code.

RELATED: The Lesson of Kentucky and Houston: Social-Justice Bullies Lose

As I reported earlier, Houston is a city with some serious challenges: roads and transit infrastructure of a distinctly dystopian flavor, heavy debt and enormous deficits projected for the next several years, and billions of dollars in unfunded pension promises for the coddled government workers who make up the backbone of the Democratic party’s governing coalition in the cities. Mayor Parker is a lesbian and therefore a mascot for all things progressive, and her campaign for HERO — a law already thrown out by the state supreme court for having been improperly imposed — brought in millions of dollars of donations from progressive groups nationwide, along with the mouth power of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama. None of that was sufficient.

White liberals simply care a great deal more about some things — the social condition of so-called transsexuals, climate change — than do non-white voters.

Black voters’ attitudes, or at least what they tell pollsters, have undergone a radical change on the question of homosexuals in recent years. In 2008, a majority of black voters in California backed a ballot measure reinstating the state’s law defining marriage as a male–female union. And while the number of African Americans who tell pollsters they support gay marriage has nearly doubled in recent years, it remains a minority taste: Only 39 percent of African Americans support it, according to Pew. Compare that with Democrats as a group, two-thirds of whom support gay marriage, and to self-identified liberals, who support gay marriage at almost exactly twice the rate of African Americans.

Of course it is true that African Americans and Hispanics, like any other demographic group, entertain a variety of opinions on the subject, from opposition rooted in religion and cultural traditionalism to indifference to support. But in a very general sense, the research suggests that even among the non-white voters who support gay marriage, the issue typically is a relatively low-ranking one. White liberals simply care a great deal more about some things — the social condition of so-called transsexuals, climate change — than do non-white voters who nonetheless lean heavily toward the Democrats. And try as the clipboard people might, black Americans do not seem to be very impressed by arguments that barring biologically male persons from the ladies’ room is pretty much exactly the same thing as what Bull Connor and other Democrats were up to in the 1950s. The stand in the ladies’ room door isn’t the stand in the schoolhouse door.

#share#The challenge for the Left is that while the Republican party is mainly a coalition of ideologies, the Democratic party is mainly a coalition of interest groups, and the current model of Democratic politics — poor and largely non-white people providing the muscle and rich white liberals calling the shots — is unsustainable. The social attitudes of non-white voters are pretty plainly not those of white liberals, and, at the same time — and probably more significant — the economic interests of white liberals are pulling away from those of the people in whose interest they purport to act. Hispanic immigrants and urban blacks make below-average wages; public-school administrators and other government employees make wages that are well above average. There aren’t a lot of people in Cleveland’s Glenville who give a fat furry rat’s patootie how much interest Caitlyn from Bryn Mawr is paying on the student loans that financed her women’s-studies degree. If you’re wondering why Democrats lean so deeply into the racial rhetoric — Joe Biden’s shameful “They want to put y’all back in chains!” etc. — that’s a big part of your answer.

RELATED: Yes, Republicans Can Win Black Voters

Democrats gleefully predict that demographic changes are going to give their party a permanent majority. The unspoken corollary to that is that white liberals think they’re going to remain in charge of it.

Houston showed the fissure in the Democratic coalition. The state of the cities, of the schools, of urban public finances, of the black family, of unassimilated immigrant communities, of the criminal-justice system — all point to an opportunity and a political duty for Republicans — not conservatives, but Republicans, the ones looking to be elected to public office — to step in with the offer of something better. Black and Hispanic voters — and single women and gays, for that matter — do not have a mystical attachment to the party of Anthony Weiner and Chuck Schumer. But it isn’t reading Hayek essays that’s going to get them to climb over the fence. What Republicans have to offer is a better deal. Everybody knows what the Democrats are putting on the table.

What are the Republicans offering?

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