The Democrats' Permanent Disadvantage

posted by Alan Greenblatt Having gotten on the case of conservatives yesterday, I naturally decided I should think about liberals today. I've spent most of
April 15, 2008
 

posted by Alan Greenblatt

Kerry Having gotten on the case of conservatives yesterday, I naturally decided I should think about liberals today. I've spent most of my career documenting the rise of Republicans and conservatives and it seems to me that this is a season of some trouble for the GOP. But Democrats retain a core problem of long standing -- namely, as I alluded to yesterday, the fact that people don't seem to want government to be too ambitious in addressing more problems.

Journalist Bill Bishop gets into this in his forthcoming book The Big Sort , citing the work of some political scientists who believe that the decline in trust of government (along with many other traditional institutions since the 1960s) has put Democrats at a "permanent disadvantage."

One reason the Democratic primary campaign seems so long is that there's so little policy difference between Obama and Clinton. They're left to argue about personality differences and slip-ups like Obama's "bitter" comment. I'm mighty curious to see how the eventual victor, whom I still assume will be Obama, casts his ideas in competition against a Republican candidate with a very different agenda.

One day early in the fall of 2004 I sat down and wrote a piece -- never before published! -- about why I thought John Kerry would lose that presidential race. Looking it over, it seems to me that Democrats continue to have some of the same problems four years on. They still are thinking small, although universal health coverage has returned as an issue with some life. And global warming might be another issue where there is a renewed hunger for government to do something big, although that clearly hasn't been tested yet.

Overall, I'd say that Democrats are certainly looking better than they were four years ago. Bush-hating is a much more widely shared condition and Republicans under Bush now seem like a spent force when it comes to new ideas. The pendulum seems to be swinging the Democrats' way and they are bound to have a good year at the congressional level, even if they lose the White House.

At any rate, here was my prognosis about the party four years ago:

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