Jay Cost is interviewed by the Washington Post about his book, Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic:
Is the Democratic Party’s current dilemma (its domination by an array of special interests (labor, environmentalists, etc.) the natural result of FDR’s coalition of interest groups?
To a large degree, yes. The problem with pursuing electoral majorities through patronage is that the interest groups become part of the party. The Democratic and Republican parties are, after all, open organizations. So, it’s not just that FDR won over the votes of organized labor in the 1930s, he brought them inside the tent, where they get a say on what happens next. Add in a half dozen or so other major groups who have a similar say, and suddenly it becomes very difficult for the party ever to defy them, even if the public interest requires it.
This means that the choices of past party leaders have created structural problems, which today’s leaders cannot simply choose to break free from. FDR had the freedom to operate independent of organized labor; he chose to integrate them into the party; so now his successors lack the freedom he enjoyed.
How do the Dems get themselves out of the mess — if not SEIU, then who’s going to stuff the coffers?
I do not know. The best hope for the Democrats had long been the South. Both Carter and Clinton had reformist instincts; though neither of them succeeded in reshaping the party, they both saw the need. A big reason why is that the South does not really have the kind of party clients that dominate in the North, so Southern Democrats were schooled in a different method of politics and brought to D.C. ideas about reform.
But the Southern Democrats have mostly been wiped out, and none of the remaining ones really stand a chance of getting to the White House, let alone reforming the party. Ideally, a guy like Phil Bredeson in the White House would be great for the party, but he stands no chance of getting the nomination. I do not see a solution for the Democrats at this juncture.
Whole thing here.