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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Blogging Around

An apology to faithful readers for the dearth of posts this week. In part, it’s because I’ve been blogging around on you. I’m participating in a TPMCafe Book Club discussion on Kevin Phillips’ latest provocative tome, American Theocracy. As my post indicates, I was certainly provoked by Phillips’ hypothesis that the “southernization of politics and religion” is largely responsible not just for the Bush Era, but for its most egregious excesses: huge public and private debt, an oil-focused energy policy, and the bungled war in Iraq. I probably pulled my punches in commenting on this hypothesis; one of the interesting features of TPMCafe Book Club is that it involves a direct discussion with book authors. It’s a useful structure, but one that inhibits me (unlike the brave Kevin Drum) a bit. No matter what he’s writing now, I will always esteem Kevin Phillips for his very first book, The Emerging Republican Majority, which did for political analysis what Bill James did for baseball analysis: create a statistical foundation for a truly comprehensive understanding of trends over many, many decades. In particular, Phillips consolidated an enormous amount of data on the non-economic determinants of voting behavior, especially religion, ethnicity, and amazingly persistant regional patterns based on large, traumatic events (most famously the Civil War). To this day, whenever I encounter one of those neo-populist Democrats who assume that today’s cultural politics represent an aberration from “natural” class-based politics, I direct them to Phillips book for a decisive rebuttal. Though The Emerging Republican Majority is generally regarded as a true classic, its influence took quite a while to develop. It was published in 1969, based in part on Phillips’ work in the 1968 Nixon campaign. Nixon’s subsequent re-election in 1972 seemed to confirm the title of the book, but the ’72 landslide was so enormous and national–and Republican non-presidential performance that year was so weak–that it didn’t do much to validate Phillips’ analysis. And then, of course, came Watergate, the Agnew and Nixon resignations, the Democratic landslide of1974, and the election of a Democratic president from the very region stipulated by Phillips as the hinge of the Republican majority. By the time of Reagan’s election in 1980–which really did validate his hypothesis–Kevin Phillips was largely a forgotten prophet. There’s another book that suffered a similar initial fate–one that in fact was explicitly modeled on Phillips’ classic. John Judis and Ruy Teixeira’s The Emerging Democratic Majority had the misfortune of being published just before the decisive Republican midterm victory of 2002, followed by Bush’s re-election. It will be interesting to see if they turn out ultimately to be prophets as well. I certainly hope they are.

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