Oswald Clark

Where Have All the Democrats Gone: The Soul of the Party in the Age of Extremes
by John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira (Holt, $38.99, 325 pages)

More than two decades ago, John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira wrote The Emerging Democratic Majority, predicting demographic changes would result in presidential and congressional victories for the Democrats for the foreseeable future. Using polling and demographic data, they determined that the growing number of visible-minority, youth, college-educated, and single-women voters would join the working class to create an unstoppable electoral force. For the past two decades, the Democrats monopolized the growing demographics, although since 2020 the percentage of black male and Hispanic male support for the party has declined. At  the same time they hemorrhaged the support of white working class and lower-middle class voters, making elections much more competitive than Judis and Teixeira originally predicted.

In Where Have All the Democrats Gone: The Soul of the Party in the Age of Extremes Judis and Teixeira explore the rapid decline in support for the Democratic Party among working class whites – where have all the lifelong or natural Democrats gone. As has been standard since Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, the authors correctly note the current American economic model, sometimes called neoliberalism – trade policies and innovation that lead to factory closures, de-unionization, deficit spending to pay for programs for the poor and tax cuts for the rich – has harmed the working class and lower middle class the most by shipping jobs overseas or south of the border, and depressing wages in the U.S.

Some political commentators have added to this economic explanation some degree of resentment or racism to explain the rise of a populist right within the Republican Party. What is unusual from these two left-wing writers is that they acknowledge that social issues are understandably driving voters away from the Democratic Party, issues such as invasive immigration, legal gun ownership, high crime, abortion, and identity politics (race, sex, gender). As Judis and Teixeira argue, these values do not align with many voters in Middle America, the former industrial Midwest, and in fact may seem a bit weird to many.

The authors note that a long list of left-wing activist groups such as the National Organization of Women, National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, the Environmental Defense Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union, Friends of the Earth, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and many more, that moved the party leftward, not on economic issues (of which there is broad support) but on divisive social and environmental causes. These activist groups, along with think tanks and donor class, form what the authors call the “shadow party.” The Democrats chose the wish-lists of these constituent groups over the interests and values of their own constituents. To some extent this is not a new phenomenon – Ronald Reagan attracted a huge number of blue collar voters with his brand of patriotism and moral conservatism – but it has been torqued over the past 20 years. The gap between Democratic stakeholders and Democratic voters grew and grew until states like Missouri, Ohio, and West Virginia became solidly Republican and states such a Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania became bellwethers. Meanwhile California, New England, and New York became more Democratic.

The authors call for a return to New Deal liberalism with a focus on creating jobs for Americans, universal programs to address affordability, fair taxation, rejuvenation of private sector unions, immigration that doesn’t disrupt housing or labour markets, and other policies that would revitalize the economic prospects of the working and lower middle classes. But Judis and Teixeira know that is not enough and in fact a shift in economic priorities will be for naught if Democrats do not also reject “cultural extremism.” (They advise Republicans to do the same, arguing the “harsh differences in cultural outlook” between the parties does not represent the middle position occupied by the majority of Americans, but the book is about Democrats.) Among the culturally moderate positions they advise for Democrats and the Left is that “America is not perfect, but it is good to be patriotic and proud of the country,” “discrimination and racism are bad, but they are not the cause of all disparities,” “America benefits from the presence of immigrants … but border security is still important,” “Language policing has gone too far,” and others. According to Public Policy Voting, a polling firm, even most Democrats take these positions although you would never know it from the words and actions of Democratic politicians.

Polling shows that most Americans believe there are two genders, “that those who want to live as a gender different from their biological sex should have that right and not be discriminated against,” but that the public policy questions on issues like children transitioning or biological men competing against women in sports is much more divisive. The authors dedicate an entire chapter to the left-wing weirdness of what they call “Sexual Creationism” which teaches that both sex and gender are social constructs. The authors assume goodwill on the part of some activists to merely want decency displayed toward gender confused individuals, but are critical of what they take as extreme manifestations of the transgender ideology such as calling women “birthing people,” “vagina owners,” and “people with a cervix” or a tampon company courting “all people who bleed.”

Although not part of their list of necessary moderation, throughout the book the authors observe that feminists and radicals have called the tune on abortion and that Democrats are ignoring the vast majority of voters who believe there should be at least some restrictions on abortion.

Judis and Teixeira say that Democrats have lost the votes of workers or small business owners who keep guns, fly the American flag, go to church, oppose abortion and “may be leery of gay marriage” or “have no idea what most of the initials in LFBTQIA+ stand for.” Most of these voters are now Republicans. A return to “Democratic Pluralism” – tolerance for a wide variety views and different shades within those views – is necessary for the Democrats to win back working class voters. Judis and Teixeira marshal copious survey data to show that voters care about more than pocket book issues and that a party that can get the right mix of economic and social policy would be an electoral behemoth. Neither party currently has the correct constellation of policies to achieve that at this time.

Oswald Clark is the Washington correspondent for The Interim.