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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Why ‘Center-Right Moment’ May Be Shorter than Expected

In is latest New York Times column, David Brooks marvels at “The Center Right Moment” in the wake of the UK elections. As a center-rightist himself, however, Brooks may be indulging in a bit of wishful thinking.
What “center-right” is he talking about in the U.S.? Very few of today’s Republican politicians accept even modest social welfare policies, or even negotiate in good faith. Brooks also conveniently overlooks the reality that many of northern Europe’s “conservative” parties have long embraced policies that would be termed as “socialism” by Ted Cruz and other members of the ascendant right in the U.S.
And the U.S. right’s control of congress, he neglects to acknowledge, is deeply-rooted in gerrymandering and voter suppression. But that’s biz as usual for conservative pundits who embrace the code of political omertà regarding their party’s relentless advocacy of disenfranchising African American voters.
For a more interesting analysis of the political moment, try “Progressives Are Getting Clobbered in Europe. Here’s Why Their Chances Are Better in America” by TDS founding editor Ruy Teixeira. Writing in Mother Jones, Teixeira explains:

…In the United States, the Democratic Party has largely succeeded in capturing the current wave of modernizing demographic change (immigrants, minorities, professionals, seculars, unmarried women, the highly-educated, the Millennial generation, etc.) Emerging demographic groups generally favor the Democrats by wide margins, which combined with residual strength among traditional constituencies gives them a formidable electoral coalition. The challenge for American progressives is therefore mostly about keeping their demographically enhanced coalition together in the face of conservative attacks and getting it to turn out in midterm elections.
The situation is different in Europe, where modernizing demographic change has, so far, not done social democratic parties much good. One reason is that some of these demographic changes do not loom as large in most European countries as they do in the United States. The immigrant/minority population starts from a smaller base so the impact of growth, even where rapid, is more limited. And the younger generation, while progressive, does not have the population weight it does in America.
Beyond that, however, is a factor that has prevented social democrats from harnessing the still-considerable power of modernizing demographic change in Europe. That is the nature of European party systems. Unlike in the United States, where the center-left party, the Democrats, has no meaningful electoral competition for the progressive vote, European social democrats typically do have such competition and from three different parts of the political spectrum: greens; left socialists; and liberal centrists. And not only do they have competition, these other parties, on aggregate, typically overperform among emerging demographics, while social democrats generally underperform. Thus it would appear that social democrats, who have also hemmoraged support from traditional working class voters, will be increasingly unable to build viable progressive coalitions by themselves.

Germany and the Scandinavian nations, where core social welfare policies are popular, are going to be alright for the foreseeable future. Having long-ago achieved progressive reforms American liberals are still fighting for, it’s more a matter of holding on and fighting over taxes and immigration for the political left. The U.K., for as long as it survives as a political entity, and to some extent France, are ground zero for the struggle Teixeira previews, while Spain, Italy and Greece also look forward to protracted battles over austerity vs. social welfare.
As Teixeira concludes,

Bringing progressive constituencies together across parties is of course difficult to do and so far European social democrats seem completely at sea on how to handle this challenge. Much easier to have all those constituencies together in one party–like we do in the United States…The road to progress isn’t clear anywhere but, defying national stereotypes, it’s starting to look a bit clearer in the US than in Europe.

Democrats will have to edge leftward to keep it all together for the upcoming national elections. Making their message palatable to potential swing voters is the over-arching challenge for 2016, made more possible by the rigid right turn of their adversaries.

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