Democrats for decades have been struggling with the inner turmoil of diverse political positions which have kept their party from setting a course that all Democrats can get behind. And this partly why that party has bled so many conservative Democrats to vote for Republican Presidents.
Obama has succeeded in achieving the role of presumptive Democratic nominee for President by keeping his message as vague as possible, by pandering to specific interest groups as needed, and by establishing who he is not. But it is not clear what part of the party he really aligns with.
This week will definitely tell the tale of how well he can lead and influence the grassroots Democrats who will be attending the Democratic National Convention. He’s already mentioned that he’s added content to the party platform (supposedly to limit late-term abortions). Will convention-goers be receptive to those changes?
And, as Ted Van Dyk asks in a piece this weekend  in the Wall Street Journal, will Obama be able to bring “Reagan Democrats” back home? Interestingly enough, as the nation has become more educated, it has not necessarily swung in either the left or right direction dramatically except for bursts of elections of Presidents (where in the past 40 years we have seen mostly Republican Presidents).
The fact is, there is a large pool of voters, some of whom call themselves Independents, some of whom call themselves Republicans and tend to have liberal thinking about some social issues, and some of whom call themselves Democrats and have a series of issues (I think both social and fiscal) where they are conservative. Probably the biggest issue for many of these people is that they don’t feel either party is really speaking to them.
And that’s alright.
Except of course for the fact that the Democratic Party has struggled so badly over the last 40 years with dramatic infighting which will likely continue through this week, and in most elections cycles has kept them from hitting a home run on the Presidential level. Obviously, Carter and Clinton are the exceptions. But it appears that, as Van Dyk tells us, that many Democrats perceive a party significantly divided:
Since 1968, independent and on-the-fence voters have come to perceive that there are, in fact, two Democratic Parties represented by two kinds of candidates. There is the middle-income, middle-minded, socially more conservative, bread-and-butter Democratic Party. Then, there is the better-educated, higher-income, socially liberal Democratic Party. The candidates of these wings do not have their feet wholly in one camp or another. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton campaigned successfully as undefined populists, and benefited from weak Republican opposition. But as a rule, Democratic presidential candidates have not since 1968 been able to restore the party that was broken that year. Lyndon Johnson, in 1964, was the last Democratic presidential candidate to gain a national majority of white voters.
As much as I’m afraid to say this, what I’m seeing this year, while in fact many (including myself) would emphatically state that race or sex are not obstacles to voting for a candidate, this year’s election will be cast as a year of racial divide in America as Barack Obama is almost certain to continue the tradition of not getting the majority of white votes. And it will be perceived as an even greater American friction if he wins in that case. And a friction that may even exist within his own party. How well he brings Democrats together this week may spell either the success of demise of his campaign.
For either party, it would be well to jettison the truly extreme factions in order to ensure the solid base knows it can expect the kind of conservative or liberal core values that each of these two parties has stood for over the decades. We are already moving deeply into a divide between major philosophies of governing, and it is imperative that we have ample opportunity to engage in meaningful discourse. I’m afraid that four or five major views will become confusing for most (including me) and we will not succeed within the context of two major parties. If we have 5 major positions on most social and fiscal issues, perhaps we need 5 major parties.
Or perhaps it’s not that complex to begin with and we just need a third party to hold up the middle of the spectrum.
It is interesting that the last two presidents have been working their positions very close to the middle. The two before that weren’t really all that far from center themselves. And the current two candidates are (at least publicly) also laying their groundwork closer to the middle.
Those of us that speak from the conservative space tend to find this troublesome. We tend to find the left and even middle positions to be dramatically distant from where we think the right answers are. Sometimes, there are points where the Left is out to do the right thing, at least to solve short-term problem, but unable (it seems) to see the bigger picture and align policy to with a long-term view of the impact of government action.
I wonder if there will ever be a way that bipartisan can mean that both parties have a role in completing the whole picture. Instead of their positions being at odds, could they be complementary?
It ought to at least be that way within a single party, shouldn’t it?
Enjoy the convention this week. It will be eventful. It will be charged. And there are likely to be a few surprises!