DENVER — Standing in front of a 16th Street sandwich shop, “Jessica Sideways” held up a hand-lettered poster: “I am an atheist, lesbian, male-to-female transsexual and I embrace it all!”
Jessica hasn’t yet gotten the Change, but the 20-year-old blonde has Hope — working for $11 an hour, she’s almost saved up enough money to make an appointment with a surgeon in Thailand who will perform the transformation.
Jessica wasn’t a delegate to this week’s convention, but in some ways her plight epitomizes the Democratic Party’s search for identity in the post-Clinton era.
For decades, the Democrats identified primarily as the party of “the working man,” especially labor union members. This organizing base formed the foundation of Democratic dominance for more than three decades after the advent of the New Deal.
Union membership peaked in the 1950s at about 35 percent of the U.S. labor force. The labor movement’s subsequent steep decline — unions now represent less than 8 percent of private-sector workers — sent the Democrats in search of new constituencies.
Beginning with the McGovern campaign in 1972, the party sought to cobble together a new majority composed of left-leaning professionals, students, feminists and minorities. Yet this coalition has proven insufficient to re-establish the political dominance Democrats had enjoyed from the 1930s until their old majority collapsed amid the anti-war protests and urban riots of the 1960s.
The Republican ascendancy that began with Ronald Reagan’s presidency eventually forced Democrats to seek a new formula, the appeal to suburban middle-class “soccer moms” that was Clintonism.
BILL CLINTON POPULARIZED a new mode of Democratic discourse, framing policy proposals in terms of their putative benefit to “working families.” This language not only gave the party a means of reclaiming territory lost to Republican “family values” rhetoric, but also distanced Democrats from the welfare policies that had done so much to foster taxpayer-subsidized disorder in urban America.
The clearest expression of this new liberalism was Clinton’s statement in 2000 that the American dream should guarantee “that if you work hard and play by the rules, you ought to have a decent life and a chance for your children to have a better one.”
Clinton’s wholesome-sounding formulation cloaked the entitlement mentality in an appeal to fairness, and made Republican opposition appear mean-spirited. Who, after all, could oppose a chance for children to have a better life?
Despite its rhetorical advantages, however, Clintonism never resulted in a Democratic majority. Clinton got 43 percent of the popular vote in 1992 and 49 percent four years later, while his successor, Al Gore, got 48 percent in 2000.
The Bush presidency has ceded much of the domestic-policy terrain claimed by Clintonism. In his 2000 State of the Union address, for example, Clinton proposed an education plan with “higher standards” that “holds states and school districts accountable for progress, and rewards them for results” — reform proposals much like the No Child Left Behind Act that President Bush pushed through Congress in 2001.
Abandoning the limited-government agenda that had incited accusations of Republican mean-spiritedness in the 1990s, Bush instead sought to consolidate the support of social conservatives with his “faith-based initiative,” funding for abstinence education, and opposition to gay marriage.
Whether that approach might have led to Karl Rove’s “permanent Republican majority” in an administration focused exclusively on domestic policy, 9/11 and the Iraq war refocused the political debate. The GOP initially benefited from the wartime environment, scoring unprecedented mid-term gains in 2002 and re-electing Bush in 2004.
Scandals and war fatigue enabled Democrats to recover, demonizing Bush and portraying other Republicans as his henchmen. Whereas the limited-government conservatism of Newt Gingrich had been denounced by liberals as mean-spirited, the big-government conservatism of the Bush administration was denounced as a fascistic threat to civil liberty.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
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?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online