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Stricherz contends that the net result was to bias the process in favor of the party’s most liberal elements, shutting out working-class social conservatives. And as the Democratic Party tried to make itself look more like America, it began to have less in common with the American electorate. The 1972 election, with McGovern at the helm, was a debacle, with the disenfranchised Catholics and Southerners contributing to Nixon’s 49-state landslide.
Jimmy Carter briefly contained the damage. A Southerner and born-again Christian who absorbed the lessons of McGovern’s loss, he played the middle on social issues. Running against the moderate Republican Gerald Ford in 1976, he opposed both a constitutional amendment overturning Roe v. Wade (without being especially supportive of Roe itself) and taxpayer funding of abortion (he later signed the Hyde Amendment into law). That year, he carried both social liberals and social conservatives by a narrow margin, winning the presidency with pro-life and pro-choice votes alike.
THE FRAGILE COMPROMISE came apart in 1980, when Ronald Reagan invited social conservatives — many of them Reagan Democrats — into the new Republican majority coalition. Stricherz recounts the familiar stories and statistics about these voters helped the GOP win the 1980, 1984, 1988, 2000, and 2004 elections, except for when Bill Clinton reprised the Carter model in 1992 and 1996.
Like, in their own ways, Ramesh Ponnuru in The Party of Death and David Carlin in Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?, Stricherz makes a powerful case that social liberalism has hurt the Democrats. He is much less persuasive about what to do next. He can’t argue for returning to the old undemocratic boss system and provides little evidence that the recommendations he does make — more open, less blue-state primaries and optimism about Hispanic social conservatism — will turn the tide.
The book also comes at a bad time. The Democratic Party has managed to win control of both houses of Congress while being only marginally more open to cultural conservatives. The two most frequently cited examples of this new openness are pro-life Democrats Harry Reid, whose record has become much less pro-life as he’s moved up in the leadership, and Bob Casey Jr., who voted to overturn the Mexico City policy against taxpayer funding of pro-abortion groups.
Even without taking Stricherz’s advice, the Democrats may be poised to increase their congressional majorities next year and are favored in the presidential race. The Republicans seem to be increasingly split between undermining their social-issues advantage by nominating Rudy Giuliani or mimicking the Democrats’ old fusion of social conservatism and economic liberalism by nominating Mike Huckabee.
Why the Democrats Are Blue is a welcome reminder of social conservatism’s continued relevance and the Democratic Party’s better angels. But sometimes, you can’t go home again.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
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The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
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