There’s added confirmation for our colleague Jay Cost’s thesis about the Democratic party from a surprising source. In his new book, Spoiled Rotten, Cost argues that the Democrats have increasingly become less a traditional political party than an agglomeration of client groups, who band together to feed at the federal trough. As he wrote earlier this year in these pages:
Over the decades, the Democrats have added scores of clients to their operation: trade and industrial unions, African Americans, environmentalists, feminists, government unions, consumer rights advocates, big business, and big city bosses and their lieutenants. All of them are with the Democratic party in part because of the special benefits it promises them when in office, and all have a major say in how the party behaves in government.
With more and more clients who needed constant tending, it became harder and harder for subsequent Democratic leaders to focus on the public good. . . . [U]nder the Obama administration, clientele liberalism has achieved a kind of apotheosis. The stimulus, the health care bill, cap and trade, and the financial reform package were all designed with heavy input from the party’s clients, and ultimately each reflects their priorities, so much so that any kind of national purpose the legislation might have served was totally undermined [“Spoiling Julia Rotten: The Democrats’ Clientelism Problem,” May 21].
As it turns out, the Democratic party itself embraces the essence of Cost’s analysis. On the convention website you’ll find prominently displayed the “Communities” page (www.demconvention.com/communities/overview), with the following explanation: “The Democratic National Convention provides a platform for representation by people of many different origins, orientations and backgrounds. To get involved with a group, find the community that best fits you and see how you can connect with others.”
The browser of this page is encouraged to select his or her community from a list of 14: African Americans, Americans With Disabilities, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, European and Mediterranean Americans, Faith Caucus, First Americans, Labor, Latinos, LGBT, Rural, Seniors, Veterans and Military Families, Women, Youth. (For those uninitiated in Dem-speak, First Americans = the group formerly known as Native Americans.)
You might think only a right-wing crank like The Scrapbook finds this balkanization off-putting. You’d be wrong. We found the website page not by browsing the DNC’s site (The Scrapbook is many things, but masochistic is not one of them). Rather, our attention was drawn to it by Time magazine’s Joe Klein, who wrote a column lamenting the Democratic party’s “drift toward identity politics, toward special pleading.” Wrote Klein,
If I’m a plain old white insurance salesman, I look at the Democratic Party and say, What’s in it for me? These feelings are clearly intensifying in this presidential campaign. . . . If the Democratic Party truly wants to be a party of inclusion, it must reach out to those who are currently excluded from its identity politics. It needs to disband its caucuses. It needs to say, We are proud of our racial and ethnic backgrounds, our different religions, our lifestyle differences. But the things that unite us are more important than the things that divide us. We have only one caucus—the American caucus.
The Scrapbook feels for Klein. We encourage him to affiliate with the European and Mediterranean American caucus—and perhaps the Seniors caucus, too—and make his voice heard.
Vice President Al Gore was roundly mocked for a speech in January 1994 in which he said, “We can build a collective civic space large enough for all our separate identities, that we can be e pluribus unum—out of one, many.” Yes, he got the Latin wrong, but as a Democratic party leader, he was ahead of his time.
D.C. at the DNC
Sure, like everyone else The Scrapbook was mesmerized by the Democratic convention: those three yea-or-nay votes on God and Jerusalem, ex-governor Jennifer Granholm’s emotional tribute to financial bailouts, Eva Longoria’s plea to pay higher taxes. But The Scrapbook was also sniffing around the edges and discovered an amusing, if minor, complaint about the proceedings.