The PJ Tatler

For the Democrats, 'Demographics is not enough.'

True story: When I was communications director at the Republican Party of Texas, we moved the party headquarters from one building in Austin to another. During that move, we discovered some old party publications that provided talking points on how demographics would shape Texas in the future. The paper stated that demographers expected that changes in the population would hand Texas permanently to the Democrats within a decade or two.

The publication was dated to the early 1980s. It echoed the talking points that the Texas Democratic Party has used forever, to justify why they believe that they don’t have to modulate their leftist stances on any issues. Demographics will eventually hand the state to them.

But they’re wrong. Since that time, the opposite has happened even as Texas’ population has become more diverse. What was a Democrat stronghold is now a Republican bastion, and has not elected any Democrat to any statewide office in a generation.

Democrat Kevin Baker writes in the NYT that the Democrats’ setbacks aren’t limited to Texas, and that demographics will not save them across the nation.

DEMOGRAPHICS is not enough.

For years now, it’s been an article of faith among Democrats that the future belongs to them, thanks to the country’s changing demographic mix. The rising percentage of voters who are women, Americans of color and especially Latinos were always about to turn the country deep “blue.”

I never believed this — largely because I have been hearing it since 1971. That was the year the 26th Amendment passed, lowering the voting age to 18. Democrats had already been the dominant political party since the 1930s, and now with young people getting the vote, a permanent Democratic majority was guaranteed, right?

The future failed to arrive on time again this fall. Democrats lost all over America, and they lost big, by much wider margins than predicted. They lost statewide races in the Midwest where Democrats have won repeatedly in presidential elections for more than 20 years. They lost in races against radical right-wing Republicans they might have been expected to defeat, like Sam Brownback in Kansas and Paul R. LePage in Maine.

Nor was this month’s election an anomaly. It was the third disastrous midterm for Democrats in the past 20 years. The party suffered similar or even worse losses at all levels of government in 1994 and 2010, along with a lesser catastrophe in 2002. It now holds fewer elected offices at both the federal and state level than it has at any time since the 1920s.

Baker writes that Democrats believe that demographics will rescue them in 2016, when “their base will go to the polls in greater numbers, and when demographics — again — will render the country less white, more Latin and more female.”

But will that happen? In my opinion that depends very much on the candidates. Hillary Clinton might bring out much of that base for the Democrats, but she is probably the most overrated politician in the world. She was so “inevitable” in 2008 that she was easily beaten by a rookie who happened to have a good stump speech. And Obama won in large part because the Republicans nominated the uninspiring John McCain, and he mostly ran a terrible and indecisive campaign. In 2016, it’s the Republicans who will have a deep bench and could have any of several historic candidates on the ticket.

Baker goes on to note that the Democrats are at a historic weak point nationally, after dominating for decades from the Senate and House to statehouses. The Democrats have declined nationally as the nation has become more diverse.

Baker, though, has no real prescriptions to fix the problem. Instead, he wants Democrats who took credit for electrification, the GI Bill and for ever increasing government control of our lives and businesses, to offer more of the same.

Today’s Democratic Party, with its finely calibrated, top-down fixes, does not offer anything so transformative. It seems scared of its own shadow, which is probably why it keeps reassuring itself that its triumph is inevitable. It needs instead to fully acknowledge just how devastating the recession was for working people everywhere in America, and what a generation of largely flat wages did to their aspirations even before that. It needs to take on hard fights, even against powerful forces, like pharmaceutical and insurance companies that presume to tell us the limits of what our health care can be or energy companies that would tell us what the world’s climate can endure. It means carving out a place of respect for working men and women in our globalized, finance-driven world.

There’s a lot to unpack in that — especially for a party that wants government control of our healthcare and just about everything else — but it boils down to pining for more class warfare and soaking the rich either through more regulation and mandates or higher taxes.

But when you do the math, the rich cannot pay much more than the huge share of our taxes than they are already paying.

The Democrats’ idea people are out of ideas. So, demographics!!!