The Identity Crisis of the Democrats

The Identity Crisis of the Democrats

The problem is, the problem isn’t just Bill Clinton. Fault the president for his timing and tactics on health care, for subordinating his investment agenda to deficit-reduction mania. But it was hardly Clinton’s doing that Kathleen Brown changed identities every week; that Mario Cuomo had no rationale for serving one more term; that Tom Foley, Dan Rostenkowski, and Jack Brooks, with 110 years of congressional seniority, couldn’t coax more than a handful of foot soldiers to walk their districts; that Democrats across the land last November drifted themelessly toward oblivion. The Democrats’ identity crisis is every bit as profound at the bottom as at the top, maybe more so. How many Democratic-run states or cities can liberals point to with pride?

Even before November’s landslide, the economic and political terrain was becoming unrecognizable—though for some, it may have had a ghostly familiarity. For in several crucial aspects, America has reverted to a pre-New Deal condition. Economic growth is concentrated within the wealthiest fifth of the nation. The Democrats preside over a recovery in which average household income continues to decline. Most critically, they no longer seem able (or in some cases, willing) to use government to spread the growth more equitably. Accordingly, hard times no longer mean that voters turn to the Democrats for solutions. The Democrats have precious few solutions; the Republicans have none, but they’re masters at exploiting the resentments that simmer in a solutionless world.

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Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima