The truth is that the Democrats continued to reach out to white working class voters, and to offer policies aimed at helping them, long after these voters abandoned the Democratic Party. What the Democratic Party did not do, is walk away from their, admittedly sometimes inadequate, commitment to civil rights for people of color, women and LGBT voters. Those commitments, and the willingness of an increasingly emboldened Republican Party to exploit hatred and fear at every turn, are what has cost the Democrats white working class votes.
The veritable collapse of the Republican Party in California is not news, but it is worth considering, particularly given the party's failure, again, to even have a serious campaign for governor in 2014. California is the most populous state in the country, but it was at the center of the Republican Party for most of the years from 1952-1992, a period of ascendancy for the Party nationally. The national ticket in most of those years included national politicians, notably Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan with roots in California. Many big states are aligned with one party, but California is different both because of the Republican's strong recent history there but also because the diversity of the state that makes it both a harbinger of what the country will become and a place that should be a battleground for competing ideas and visions. In recent years, however, the Republican Party was not made itself relevant in that battleground.
The news this week about the Department of Justice looking at the phone logs of journalists covering the White House, and of the IRS scrutinizing the tax returns of various right-wing groups, is bad for the Obama administration. They are also much more likely to stick than the Benghazi story. The Justice Department and IRS stories make the administration look almost like a branch of the Obama campaign, putting their ample resources behind efforts to harass, or at least gather information, about the Obama administration. In a comparative sense, these are not as serious as Watergate, domestic surveillance during the Nixon administration, or Iran-Contra, but they have the potential to be solid b-level scandals, too small to bring down a president, but big enough to accelerate that second term president's lame duck status.
Much of what Democrats and progressives hate most about the Republican Party, including the class warfare that has shifted enormous amounts of wealth to the rich while economic conditions have gotten worse for most Americans, radical social conservatism and enormous defense budgets that both create massive debt problems and ensure an aggressive and often disastrous US foreign policy, have their origins in the Reagan years. However, Democrats understand that Reagan's enduring popularity means that Reagan can never be criticized and that the rather obvious point that the roots of many of today's problems lie in the Reagan presidency cannot be mentioned, without incurring significant political consequences.
As a political phenomenon, the Tea Partiers are more colorful than mysterious. They are not really a new or post-party phenomenon, but are the latest incarnation of the populist conservative wing of the Republican Party, the political descendants of Richard Nixon's Silent Majority or the angry white men who catapulted Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party into control of the Congress in 1994. Tea Partiers will vote overwhelmingly for the Republican Party in November, or they will stay home. Very few will vote Democratic; and third party rumblings that have not yet died away, will do so in the next months.
There are a range of issues, some new and some old, which have particular impact on big cities. The essential urban issues of quality public education, safe streets and job development remain central for all big city residents. If, as seems to be the case, President Obama is going to work for investment in our infrastructure, it is likely that his administration will be more sensitive to the needs of urban Americans with regards to infrastructure in areas such as public parks, public transportation and the like. Moreover, Obama is better positioned to bring sensitivity and awareness, and equally significantly, an appreciation, of some of these issues than any other recent president.
Today, I thought about my own two children, who are almost the exact same age as Malia and Sasha Obama, and who woke up this morning shouting "Obama is president today!" My children do not really remember the protests we took them to at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, but they remember this election, so their first presidential memories will be much happier than mine. They will remember watching Obama's string of primary victories, knocking on doors and eating ice cream in Pennsylvania during the primary and general election and, of course, this day, when a president who they can think of as theirs was sworn in. I feel much more confident about their future and the America in which they will grow up because of this new president. I am also almost a little jealous. They get Obama as their childhood president, while we were stuck with Ford, Carter and Reagan.
Sarah Palin and John McCain are beginning to remind me of an old, and dumb joke, that I remember from my childhood which goes something like "What does Smokey the Bear and Alexander the Great have in common?" The answer is, of course, their middle names. It seems like everybody in Sarah Palin's world has the same middle name. On the one hand, it is easy to laugh at the vice-presidential nominee's ability to take the politics of George Wallace and put it in the language of Richard Scarry, but the Republican focus on the Joe the Plumbers of America would not help that party win this election, even if they were running a better campaign.
The question of how we define foreign policy experience, however, is worth examining a little more closely. Currently foreign policy is experience is defined far too narrowly with credit being awarded for only a few conventional accomplishments. Understanding how the US government makes decisions about foreign policy and having detailed knowledge about the perspectives of people outside the US are both valuable components of foreign policy experience, but the former is usually the criteria used for measuring foreign policy experience. The latter, however, for the most part, cannot be gained once somebody is elected to the senate or holds high office in the American government. Congressional delegations, for example, can be used by participants to gain a deeper understanding of a foreign policy issue, or how the leadership of a particular government thinks, but they are not the same as spending time working or living in a foreign country. This kind of experience is best gained before a candidate becomes a famous public figure.
Accepting this different road to 270 electoral votes will be difficult for many in the Democratic Party who have spent decades searching for the silver bullet that would bring white blue collar workers home to the Democrats. Unwillingness to accept this was at the heart of Hillary Clinton's electability narrative. Her narrative, that she was uniquely positioned to bring Reagan Democrats back home in November was prima facie absurd, but got an enormous amount of traction and was largely unchallenged in the media or, frankly, by the Obama campaign. The reality was that Clinton remained unpopular with this group, with 55% of white voters who had not completed college viewing her unfavorably in an April, 2008 AP poll.