February 6, 2005


A Short History of Deanism (DAVID BROOKS, 2/05/05, NY Times)

[A]s Prof. Theda Skocpol of Harvard has demonstrated, ... fraternal associations lost members in the 1960's. Instead, groups like NOW, Naral and the Heritage Foundation emerged as the important associations in American life. But these groups were not like the old fellowship organizations.

Many of these groups were formed to champion some specific cause. Instead of relying on a vast network of local chapters, they tend to organize their work from central offices in New York or Washington, with a professional staff. They raise money through direct mail appeals or by asking for foundation grants.

These new groups are dominated by experts - people who live within the network of grant officers, activists and scholars. Being a member of one of these organizations doesn't generally involve going to a local lodge once a week and communing with your neighbors; it involves sending a check once a year and reading a newsletter.

Furthermore, as Skocpol observes in her book "Diminished Democracy," these new organizations tend not to bring people together across class lines. In 1980, at a time when about 15 percent of the electorate had a college degree, roughly 80 percent of the members of the Sierra Club and Naral were college graduates.

The decline of fraternal associations and the emergence of these professionally run groups for the educated class diminished communal life. The change also reshaped politics.

Since the 1960's there has been a breakdown in the machinery that allowed Americans to work together across class and other divisions. The educated class has come to dominate, and the issues of interest to that class overshadow issues of interest to the less educated and less well off.

But the two major parties were affected unequally. The Republican coalition still contains some cross-class associations, like the N.R.A. and the evangelical churches, which connect corporate elites to the middle classes. The Democratic coalition has fewer organizations like that. Its elite - the urban and university-town elite - has less contact with the less educated.

Not coincidentally, Republicans have a much easier time putting together electoral majorities.

The story doesn't end there.

though he doesn't exploit the point, Mr. Brooks has put his finger on one of the reasons that the GOP is going to have an easier and easier time appealing to blacks and Hispanics--the shared religion that bridges all other divides.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 6, 2005 8:59 AM

The zinger at the end of Brooks' piece is very nice.

Posted by: David Cohen at February 6, 2005 9:52 AM

This was the best essay Brooks has written since joining the Times. At least he isn't going on about Bobos and other nonsense any more, as he was in his cutesy stage.

He did however neglect to state that this is the reason the Democrats refuse to talk about economics, except for a few zingers designed to scare the old folks.

Posted by: Bart at February 6, 2005 11:15 AM

The Democrats also need to look at the economic/educational demographics of the last election. In both cases, Kerry did well at the high end and the low end of the scale, while Bush won by connecting with the people in the middle.

If you're trying to build a lasting coalition, doing it with college professor lifers and folks who don't have a high school diploma as two of your key groups is almost impossible. Not only do they have virtually nothing in common, but the college/high income side looks at James Carville's "trailer trash" with disdain, while the low-income/limited-education group has contempt for the know-it-all attitudes of the upper echilon group. That's a divide that's far harder to breech than the religious/secular one the Democrats hope will split the Republican Party in the near future, since the all-out secularists are already in the Democratic Party's camp.

Posted by: John at February 6, 2005 12:47 PM