January 21, 2007


Uncommon bonds: Can the glue of economic populism hold the Democrats' unlikely new majority together? The coming battle over immigration may be the test. (Drake Bennett, January 21, 2007, Boston Globe)

That freshmen Representative Heath Shuler of North Carolina and Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, for example, would be members of the same party might at first glance be rather puzzling. Shuler is pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, and a tax-cutter. Brown is pro-gun control, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and unapologetic about his support for big-government solutions to social and economic problems.

Still, on two hot-button issues-- trade and immigration --the two men sound much more similar: That is to say, they sound like economic populists. Both campaigned as staunch opponents of trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA, blaming them for costing Americans jobs and wages. And while Shuler's campaign rhetoric was sharper on immigration, both presented themselves as tougher than their Republican opponents on illegal immigration and the threat they said it posed to American workers and wages.

Among their newly elected Democratic colleagues -- a group whose views on social issues run the gamut from Shuler's to Brown's -- this skepticism about the benefits of trade and immigration is common. Freshman Democrats like Missouri's Claire McCaskill and Virginia's James Webb in the Senate and Pennsylvania's Jason Altmire, Chris Carney, and Patrick Murphy, Indiana's Joe Donnelly, and Iowa's Bruce Braley in the House ran on similar platforms. And while polls show that Iraq and corruption in Congress were the overwhelming concerns of most voters in the midterm elections, unease about the effects of globalization played a major role, especially in districts hard hit by job losses.

"The sense of populism out there among voters was palpable enough that it made a significant difference with a lot of Democrats who ran," says Norman Ornstein, a political scientist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

On one level, then, the midterms might be seen as a vindication of left-liberal writers like Thomas Frank, author of the 2004 bestseller "What's the Matter with Kansas?," and politicians like Howard Dean, who have counseled the Democrats to run on economic issues such as trade and wages that appeal to the white working class more than so-called "cultural" issues like abortion and gay rights.

But as this Congress moves beyond its first 100 hours, economic populism may prove to be a less durable bond than some would hope -- and the politics of immigration, in particular, shows how that strategy may complicate the Democrats' ability to govern.

The deeper the Democrats get in bed with Labor the more opportunity for Republicans to peel off Latinos.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 21, 2007 8:51 AM

Caiphas' Song:

"I see bad things arising. . .."

A bilateral coalition-buster, worse for our side than for theirs. The model is the four-party election of 1860.

It is not enough to mock the other side's fissure between labor and immigration. Our side is even more deeply conflicted between the peon-exploiting elite and the law-and-order tradition.

Mugwumpism is going to lose everything, just as it is throwing athe world away over Iraq. We are seeing Aesop's fable of the man and his son taking their donkey to market. The mugwump line is pleasing no one and losing everything.

Posted by: at January 21, 2007 3:46 PM

The splintering is all to the good because the nativists are natural Democrats and the blacks and Latinos natural Republicans.

Posted by: oj [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 21, 2007 5:51 PM

I have not nor ever been a natural democrat, nor will I ever be.

Posted by: Sandy P at January 21, 2007 7:20 PM

I have not nor ever been a natural democrat, nor will I ever be.

Posted by: Sandy P at January 21, 2007 7:20 PM

Of course you are.

Posted by: oj at January 21, 2007 8:24 PM

Now you're just trying to torque me, no way, no how.

Posted by: Sandy P at January 22, 2007 12:10 PM