Allow me to recommend a book: The Emerging Democratic Majority by John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira. No question: it's the political book of the year. It's not a rah-rah book; there's no Bush-bashing; it's not written by a leggy, blonde whackjob. But it's the most penetrating and prescient look at American politics you're likely to read for some time. If you favor what Judis and Teixeira call the politics of the 'progressive center' the news is quite good. Conservatives may not agree with their findings. But the book will challenge their optimism about the political future.
(Judis and Teixeira published a synopsis of the book's argument in a recent article in The New Republic. Also, full disclosure: both these guys are friends of mine. But I don't make a habit of recommending friends' books. So, believe me, it's every bit as good as I say it is.)
The book's title is consciously modeled on Kevin Phillips 1969 classic The Emerging Republican Majority, which argued -- correctly -- that the fracturing of the New Deal consensus was laying the groundwork for a new conservative ascendancy. It's an apt analogy.
The basic argument here is straightforward: a handful of demographic, economic and cultural trends are combining to create a new Democratic majority. It's not the old New Deal coalition. It's more centrist, more like the early 20th century Progressives than the mid-20th century New Dealers. It's based on professionals, women and minorities. And its engine is the post-industrial economy. The factors creating these changes include the rise of what the authors call 'ideopolises' -- "areas where the production of ideas and services has either redefined or replaced assembly-line manufacturing"; the declining salience of race-tinged political appeals and other 'wedge issues'; and the Democratic party's slow move toward incrementalist reformism.
If you think of it in terms of the 2000 election map's Blue v. Red America, they argue, Blue America is growing. Red America's not. That doesn't mean necessarily that the Blue states are growing and the Red states are shrinking. In fact, in many cases, the opposite is happening -- at least in relative terms . What it does mean is that the kinds of demographic groups and regional economies that make the Blue states blueish are growing -- in many cases even within states that voted Red in 2000. Follow that? Good.
Republicans often push a contrary argument: that the fastest growing counties in the country, for instance, went overwhelmingly for Bush in 2000. But Judis and Teixeira show why this argument is based on a crude error of statistical analysis. (That, or a tendentious interpretation.) The fastest growing counties in percentage terms turn out - not surprisingly - to be quite small. In the counties with the highest growth in absolute terms, Gore won by a solid margin.
Some of this is obvious enough so long as you're not a political reporter with an earpiece receiving daily inspirational breifings from Karl Rove. (If your base is in rural and smalltown America, in the long-run, that's a problem.) But these guys get to the heart of just why it's happening, where, what the numbers are, the mix of economics and culture which is the wind of politics.
New Democrats and traditionalist, labor-liberal Democrats will each find things they'll like in this book (what struck me, from reading the book, is how stale many aspects of the New Dem/Old Dem debate have become). But the real excitement and value of this book comes in the way it traces these developments back at least thirty years and in many cases far further back than that. The authors do a fine job weaving together highly readable recent political history with a great mass of polling and demographic data and a nuanced understanding of how political coalitions work. It's that rare political book which is both rich in substantive and a good read. Pick up a copy. You'll be glad you did.