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Charlie Sykes: Sykes Writes

The Obama Coalition (It's Not Clinton's)

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Forget the working class, the white middle class, and ethnics. That was then. this is now: "Obama owes his success to new groups that have taken center stage in the increasingly liberal post-Clinton Democratic party: the urban “creative class” made up mostly of highly-educated professionals, academics, gays, single people, and childless couples."

Joel Kotkin describes how the Democrat Party has become increasing "gentrified," leading to a coalition of the elites on top and dependents on the bottom, but a sizeable hole in the middle..


The gentrification of the Democratic Party has gone too far to be reversed in this election. After decades of fighting to win over white working- and middle-class families, Democrats under Obama have set them aside in favor of a new top-bottom coalition dominated by urban professionals—notably academics and members of the media—single women, and childless couples, along with ethnic minorities.

Rather than representing, as Chris Christie and others on the right suggest, the old, corrupt Chicago machine, Obama in fact epitomizes the city’s new political culture, as described by the University of Chicago’s Terry Nichols Clark, that greatly deemphasizes white, largely Catholic working-class voters, the self-employed, and people involved in blue-collar industries..

The Chicago that Obama represents is more Hyde Park or the Gold Coast than the Daley family base in blue-collar Bridgeport; more faculty club, media shop or Art Institute than the factory culture of “the city of Big Shoulders”.


This tracks with the vision of liberal thuinkers like Thomas edsall. Here's an excerpt from "A Nation of Moochers":


Not everyone, however, sees this ‘tipping point” as a bad thing; some leading “progressives” see the growth of dependency as an opportunity for political success.

Writing in The Atlantic, liberal analyst Thomas Edsall made a compelling case for the rise of a coalition of takers and dependents that will dominate American politics. In an article entitled “The Obama Coalition," Edsall argued that such a coalition of those dependent on government aid, public employees, minorities, unions, and other "social democrat" minded liberals could cobble together a majority that would use its clout to spread around even more wealth. [i]

Edsall make the "progressive" case for the "tipping point”:

More than a one out of every four dollars of personal income in the United States, notes Edsall, is now paid for with tax dollars. The percentage of Americans receiving government-financed medical coverage from Medicare or Medicaid has risen from 21 percent of the population in 1987 to 28.4 percent of the population in 2008, meaning that more than one in four were dependent on taxpayer funded health care -- even before the enactment of Obamacare.

"Over the last two years," he wrote, "there has been a massive increase in the number of people who have no place to turn except to the government." The passage of health care legislation will accelerate the process, since a trillion dollars or so will be added to the totals of government transfer payments.

Edsall, who covered national politics for the Washington Post for a quarter century, surveyed the economic and political scene and sees opportunity for the left: The Great Recession and the nation's fiscal crisis "and a demographic transition moving the nation closer to a non-white voting majority," writes Edsall, have "revived, enlarged, and intensified the battle for limited government resources—pitting those seeking to protect what they have against those seeking more."

Constituencies “seeking more” from government are expanding, writes Edsall, noting that "three previously-marginalized groups—unmarried women, Latinos, and African Americans—made up 43 percent of the total electorate and just over 62 percent of the voters who backed Obama..." (Note here Edsall's assumption that unmarried women, Latinos and African Americans by definition support a growth in the dependency culture.)

Edsall envisions "the possibility that the political strength of voters whose convictions are perhaps best described as Social Democratic in the European sense is reaching a significant level in the United States," and if effectively organized "such voters are positioned to set the agenda in the Democratic Party in the near future."

Essentially, Edsall and Paul Ryan are making parallel arguments; they agree that the nation is at a tipping point. In that sense, they are both right: the battle lines of the next few decades have been drawn. But where Edsall applauds the rise of a coalition of the dependent, Ryan sees an economic and cultural disaster.

[i] Thomas Byrne Edsall, “The Obama Coalition,” The Atlantic,  April, 2010


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