Thursday, July 31, 2014

National Journal’s Ron Brownstein: What Democratic Split?

Ron Brownstein
Our previous entry talked of a Democratic Party division between younger, social issue liberals and older liberals focused on economic issues. Ron Brownstein, National Journal political columnist, discusses surveys that more conventionally treat the main split as Democrats v. Republicans, while siding with the party’s future, the youth who believe it’s all about culture:
the parties are escalating their conflicts over a broad suite of issues that divide the electorate along cultural lines, including [contraception,immigration,] gun control, gay rights, abortion, and climate change (which politically pivots on trust in science). Combined, these confrontations are stamping the GOP as what I've called a "Coalition of Restoration" primarily representing older, white, religiously devout, and nonurban voters who fear that hurtling change is undermining traditional American values. Democrats in turn are championing a younger, more urbanized, diverse, and secular "Coalition of Transformation" that welcomes the evolution in America's racial composition and cultural mores.
Brownstein credits Barack Obama for “cementing the Democrats' connection with [the younger] coalition's cultural priorities.” Brownstein believes that even if Hillary Clinton embraces more centrist fiscal or foreign policies than the President, “on cultural issues Obama has led his party across a Rubicon.”

Brownstein points to Obama's
defiant recent pledges to act unilaterally if necessary to ensure equal workplace treatment of gays, protect undocumented immigrants, confront climate change, and overcome the Hobby Lobby decision allowing religious-based private companies to exclude contraception from their health insurance plans.
In contrast, Brownstein tells us, Republicans are solidifying against Obama policies that have solid Democratic support, praising Hobby Lobby as reaffirming religious freedom, blocking with little dissent immigration reform, workplace protections for gays, and universal background checks, while “uniformly” decrying Obama's climate initiatives.

Brownstein believes not only that on each of these conflicts, polls show Obama's position represents majority opinion today, but also that the majority will likely grow because the groups that generally support his views most are increasing as a share of voters.

He’s right about gay-related issues: more than three-fifths of Americans supported a ban on employers discriminating against gay workers, and support among millennials and college-educated white women is over 70%. And while just over half of all Americans support gay marriage, that number also reaches 70% among millennials and college-educated white women.

And it’s true that failing to support immigration reform will badly damage the GOP, because the country is increasingly non-white. But Brownstein glides over rising opposition to Democrats’ stand on what’s now called “climate change,” on abortion, and on gun control, while even he admits that Hispanics and African-Americans are more conservative than upscale whites on both gay rights and abortion.

Brownstein concludes that “cultural affinity has become the Democrats' most powerful electoral weapon,” one that “may make it tougher” to hold red-state House and Senate seats, but will improve the party’s position with “cosmopolitan” states, unmarried women, youth, and minorities, “a trade most Democrats would probably take in a heartbeat.”  

Comment: Readers of this blog already know that Obama’s strategy for dealing with a sick economy and a controversially isolationist foreign policy is to emphasize what Brownstein calls “cultural issues”--specific appeals to the party’s victimhood-based interest groups. So far, it works.

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