I got around to re-reading the “Politics of Evasion,” DLC’s “mission statement,” so to speak from 1989, for some reason, and I was staggered by how different today’s “DLC” politics is from that of its beginnings.
The original politics of DLC was focused largely on winning back working class whites back to Democrats. Cultural conservatism, so to speak–hunting, guns, “low-class” culture with common touch (i.e. “redneckness”) etc: all these were as crucial to the DLC message as free trade and deregulation of the economy. While their economic program might not have been especially welcome to the working class, they were already discounting the Democratic economic program after the Oil Shock and Stagflation of 1970s and the Reagan-era economic recovery of 1980s. Their social program, in other words, were to serve as a beard to cover the dismantling an economic agenda that did not count for a great deal. (Yes, the poor economy helped WJC get elected in 1992, but there was no demand for a massive government program to get things going–if anything, the Clinton “stimulus package” was met with widespread skepticism once he entered office.)
Fast forward to 2016, the economic situation, especially for the working class, is precarious. The economic message mattes more than it did in 1990’s. It will not be easy to cover an unfriendly economic program with the guise of sociocultural sympathy. But not only is the Democratic insiders’ economic message unwelcome to the white working class, they are offering no beard to cover up for it. Rather, the Democrats’ message is defiantly in favor of social liberalism, even on the matters, rightly or wrongly, many in the working class might be fearful about–e.g. terrorism and immigration. The defense offered by the Democrats echoes that of 1989 yet again: because of the Democrats’ natural demographic advantage, driving up turnout will ensure Democratic electoral success regardless.
Unlike in 1989, there is more basis for putting faith in the turnout “solution.” Democrats do enjoy overwhelming advantage for the demographic segments that make up increasingly larger shares of the population and, unlike 1980s, there is no clear evidence that they are turning against the Democrats. If anything, the current trends among the Republicans would only reinforce that trend. In this sense, perhaps Democrats may not need a “new thinking” after all. Still, the idea that one could maintain a status quo that many find distasteful strikes me as a lazy thinking that cannot end well.