The Whig Maneuver

VodkaPundit asks: Is the Democratic Party becoming increasingly
likely to pull a Whig Maneuver and disappear into history? If so, what
replaces it?

The Democrats certainly seem to be trying pretty hard to
self-destruct. But this is not a new story; it’s been going on ever
since the New Left captured the party apparat in the early 1970s. My
first experience of political activism was standing athwart that
particular tide of history, yelling “stop!”, as a campaign worker for
centrist Democrat Scoop Jackson in 1975. I think I already
half-understood that he was doomed. What I didn’t foresee was the
completeness with which the Democrats would abandon their southern and
rural wings to become a party run exclusively by Brie-nibbling urban
elites. Call it the NPRization of the party.

Recently they’ve abandoned the private-sector labor unions as well.
Just before 2000, a key Democratic strategist noted that party’s
demographic power base consisted solely of blacks and the
public-employee unions. Bill Clinton, charming sociopath and perfect
acme of the American political creature that he was, had managed to
paper over that problem for a while. But it keeps getting worse. The
liberal-Democrat lock on the national media is crumbling under
pressure from talk radio, Fox News, and the bloggers. They’re losing
their ability to control the terms of political debate.

Finally, there is the notorious fractiousness of the smaller
Democratic interest groups. While the black establishment has largely
settled into the role of party wheelhorse and the trial lawyers play
financial sugar daddy without demanding much except a complete block on
tort reform, feminists and gays and the hard left continue to cause
the party problems out of all proportion to their voting strength. The
structural problem is that the small factions are disproprtionately
strong in the Democrats’ grass-roots organization; they therefore
exert a big influence on party primaries and tend to pull the
candidate list and the platform to the left.

Ever since the early 1990s, there’s been a tug-of-war going on
within the urban elites that now run the party; the Democratic
Leadership Council versus the inheritors of the New Left. What’s
happening now with the Dean campaign demonstrates that the DLC has
lost its grip. The left is winning. The trend that has taken the
Democrats from solid majority status in my childhood to the point
where it needs a Bill Clinton to win elections, if it continues, might
very well result in it disappearing into history.

The DLC’s most recent effort to reverse this tend — to stop
talking about gun control — only highlights the depth of the
problem. They know, because their own analysts and Bill Clinton have
told them, that gun owners are the swing vote that cost them the 1994
and 2000 elections. And yet, the left, for whom hatred of civilian
firearms is a religious absolute, has such a lock on the party machine
that the DLC can only talk about spin, not about a substantive change
in platform.

I expect the Democrats to lose heavily in today’s elections.
Like VodkaPundit, I expect the loss to change not a damn thing. The
DLC will continue to wring its hands, and the New Lefties, comforted
by convenient rationalizations in the major media, will continue to
march the Democratic Party towards a cliff’s edge.

Suppose they do succeed in self-destructing. What then?

No crystal ball is required to answer that question, just a look at
the minor-party voting statistics. If the Democrats crumble, the big
winners have to be the Greens and the Libertarians. The New Lefties
who run most levels of the modern Democratic apparat would run to the
Greens en masse; in fact, whatever organization emerges would probably
view itself (with some justification) as the Democratic Party’s
successor. They’d probably take the public-employee unions with them.

The interesting question is whether the black establishment would
follow. Blacks, as a voting group, are more conservative on social
issues than Democrats as a whole — heavily opposed to gay marriage,
for example, and more in favor of school vouchers. The strain between
general opinion among blacks and the strident leftism of many of their
public figures has been growing. If the party of Lyndon Johnson were
to disintegrate, it would become acute. I think the most likely
scenario is that the Al Sharptons. Cynthia McKinneys and Carol
Moseley-Brauns would run to the Greens, lose their popular base,
and the black vote would fragment. Blacks would become a normal
ethnic group, not tied to any one party.

The second-order effects on the Republicans would be just as
interesting. The youth demographic Andrew Sullivan and others call
“South Park Republicans” would bolt the GOP in a second if the
Libertarians looked like a credible alternative. So, albeit more
slowly and partially, would more traditional (and older)
small-government/classical-liberal/free-trade types. The big
question, given current pressures, is whether the Libs would remain
isolationist or reluctantly slide into the pro-war camp and start
behaving a bit more like a European party of the center or

In either scenario, the effect on the Republicans would be to
resove their split-personality problem in favor of cultural
conservatives and the hard right. They’d become a lot more like a
Tory party. The really entertaining part comes when you look at how
this change would tie in with regional demographics — in this future,
the Republicans would become the party of the old South!



  1. The Libertarians have a lot of built in momentum as an ideological party that makes it less likely that they will ever become a mass party. Their function is more like the Radical party in England was – a faction that could prevent either major party from winning a solid majority. The greens, while much more savvy about winning elections, are probably in the same category. The reform party is a better model – a mass party springing up to fill a vacancy. Also, look to Working Families party Senator Clinton as an example of how a tiny faction can seize a share of power.
    Granted, the LP could be taken over as a vehicle, but probably has too much baggage, and besides, there is no eric conspiracy, to mastermind running a green extropian, like, say, wil wheaton, in 2008. By 2012, as the singularity approaches, things get weirder and the current two big parties could become extinct, but there’s no certainty that partisan elections will continue in the USA, or that there will be a USA.
    In support of your model, however, look at Canada, Mexico, Japan, where long-established parties fell within months. The rules of the game here make that harder, but possible.

  2. “The liberal-Democrat lock on the national media is crumbling under pressure from talk radio, Fox News, and the bloggers. They’re losing their ability to control the terms of political debate.”

    You forgot to mention that while this control is eroding, what’s left of it the content of the news is increasingly pushing a corporate agenda, rather than a liberal one.

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