April 24, 2008


After Pennsylvania: demography is destiny: With neither Clinton nor Obama offering a compelling political vision, the primaries are becoming a deeply entrenched war of identities. (Sean Collins, 4/24/08, spiked)

It’s almost as if demography is destiny. Pennsylvania has similar demographics as Ohio, and, sure enough, the Pennsylvania results were similar to Ohio’s back in March. In particular, Pennsylvania has a large proportion of senior citizens (the second-highest after Florida in fact – and, unlike Florida, very few are retiring to Pennsylvania), which was to Clinton’s advantage. And so, despite all of the noise about Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Bittergate and Clinton dodging sniper-fire in Bosnia, these events in the end did not upset what’s become the predictable demographic dividing line between the two candidates.

In electoral terms, this divide means that when the race moves on to states that have more favorable demographics for Obama – such as in about two weeks’ time in North Carolina and, to a lesser extent, Indiana – it is possible that he will come out on top, but that would not necessarily signal a swing in momentum towards his campaign. And what’s even more important than these electoral considerations are the political implications of this demographic divide.

Essentially these ongoing allegiances reflect the fact that neither candidate has a compelling vision that is able to win over voters across the spectrum of the party. For all of the excitement around the race, it has noticeably lacked a discussion of big ideas. Having to choose among personalities rather than programmes, many voters have seemingly fallen back on preferences that align with certain demographic profiles. As the race has continued, the candidates have moved even further away from any connection to ideas, turning inwards towards so-called negative ‘gotcha’ attacks. And, at the same time, the voters’ attachments, which began as mostly arbitrary and based on personal experiences, have showed signs of hardening into battles between competing identities.

The Left had a universalist vision that its tribes cohered around for the better part of a century: the socialistic Second Way. But the very fact that tribalism remained suggested all along that the vision was unsustainable ideologically and, of course, when it was tested it was treated unmercifully by reality (see under 1960's-70's America and modern Europe).

Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Kevin Rudd and other liberal leaders were able to come to terms with that failure and conform to the Third Way of New Zealand, Pinochet, and Thatcher. Lesser lights in their parties have proved unable to make the adjustment. It is the Democrats' misfortune to be well on their way towards nominating their third consecutive Second Way candidate in a Third Way epoch. It doesn't just cost them elections but, as Mr. Collins recognizes, sets loose the tribes against each other because the nominees are, wisely, terrified of running on the outdated and rejected ideas of yore.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 24, 2008 7:26 AM

With John Edwards the Dems could have kept their inherent structural flaws hidden for another cycle.

I don't believe Obama ever thought he'd get this far. I think he figured he'd make a bit of a run and get some national exposure, then retire from the Senate and do something else for a few years before really going for it. But he's stuck now, and his inevitable crushing by McCain will forever end his higher political ambitions.

The Dems should push for expanding the House of Representatives (there's solid conservative justification for doing so as well...). They're already getting into trouble in LA as Hispanics start to dominate in what have been considered "Black" districts. By balkanizing things even more, they could perhaps forestall the imminent problems they're facing with identity group interest clashes.

Posted by: b at April 24, 2008 1:18 PM

The inherent flaws and lack of ideas are shown by the desire of so many for the return of John F. Kennedy. The desire to return to Camelot is that of a return to a mythical Golden Age.

The thing that worries me is that I have heard some on the right desiring the return of Ronald Reagan, and the near-beatifying of the man. I wonder if it means that some aspects of the movement are running out of salable ideas?

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 24, 2008 2:03 PM