The Best Laid Plans...
On political events and realignments.
10:35 AM, Dec 31, 2010 • By JAY COST
As legend has it, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillian was once asked what he most feared, to which he responded, "Events, dear boy, events." That, essentially, is the point that the enigmatic but always insightful "Karl," who regularly blogs at HotAir's GreenRoom, made in response to my item last week about Hispanics and the supposed "emerging Democratic majority," which has by now become the Godot of political-demographic trends. My point last week was that Hispanic voters right now tilt squarely albeit not overwhelmingly to the Democratic side, but with care and consideration the Republicans can make inroads with this bloc of voters. My broader point has long been that realignments are notoriously tricky to predict, and that the "emerging Democratic majority" argument is over-simple.
It is here that we turn it over to Karl:
This is an excellent observation. Major realignments in this country have typically been precipitated by significant events: the Civil War, the Panic of 1893, and the Great Depression being chief among them. Even the most recent realigning pattern -- the transformation of the South from a one-party Democratic bastion into a two-party battleground -- has its roots in events, namely the economic transformation of the Sun Belt combined with the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Karl concludes by noting that much will depend on how the Democratic party will react to our impending debt crisis. I think this is a terrific point, and I'd like to expand on it. Scanning history, it is pretty clear that it's not just events, but whether and how parties respond to events, that make for realignments. In the various realigning events throughout our history, you usually see that one party is somehow constrained in its behavior. For whatever reason, one party was unable to hold its old voters -- so either it had to find new voters or (in the case of realignments that reduced it to minority status) suffer a new, diminished fate. For instance, Grover Cleveland and the Democrats took the blame for the Panic of 1893 while Herbert Hoover and the Republicans caught the heat for the Great Depression. Those events boxed in the Democrats and Republicans, respectively, preventing them from building a majority coalition for a generation.