The bookstores, journals of opinion and newspaper Op Ed pages are chockfull, these days, of books and articles on the subject of "What's Wrong With the Democrats?" It isn't that they are believed to be at death's door. On the contrary, they are widely regarded as likely to wrest control of the House of Representatives from the Republicans this November, and substantially improve their situation in the governorships and state houses.
But, given the problems President Bush is facing in Iraq, the general deterioration of the situation in the Middle East, the threat posed by North Korea, the various incidents of corruption that have been breaking out in the executive branch and (mostly, though not entirely, among Republicans) in Congress, plus the fact that the generally healthy economy is overshadowed in the public's eyes by the continued high price of gasoline, the wonder is that the Democrats aren't widely considered sure to seize control of both houses of Congress in November and throw the Republican rascals out of the White House in 2008.
Instead, the Democrats seem totally out of fresh ideas for improving matters either at home or abroad, and many confess to fearing that Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for their presidential nomination in 2008, would lose to any one of several possible Republican nominees. What is the explanation for this seeming paralysis? If they can't win now, when can they?
I think the explanation may lie, at least in part, in the structure the two major parties have assumed in recent years.
The Democrats have become, more and more, largely a coalition of minorities, each with its own special agenda. The first of these was the African-Americans, who regularly cast about 90 percent of their votes for the Democrats. Also early on the scene was a large, disaffected segment of the intelligentsia, dominant in the universities and angry at the failure of the country to recognize its superiority and its right to rule. Then came the ultra-feminists, the abortion supporters, the gay lobby, the environmental extremists and a newly vocal pack of secularists, openly hostile to religion and furious at the alleged efforts of the "religious right" to impose a "theocracy" on society.
These are the groups that dominate the national Democratic Party today. They can and do work together, but each has its own individual set of preoccupations, which may not always be shared by its allies. (Many black Democrats, for example, are no friends of the pro-abortion crowd or the gay lobby, let alone the secularists.) As a result, the party's policy initiatives tend to reflect the interests of its individual components, rather than any larger interests that a comfortable majority of the nation's voters have in common.
What groups of voters, then, are left to the Republicans to appeal to and identify with?
Do you begin to get the picture?
Recently, the hotter Democratic activists have fastened onto a new issue, which they hope may have more traction with the average American voter. It is a demand that America pull out of Iraq. Sometimes it is presented delicately, as a proposal to "redeploy" our forces there to some other, unstated destination by a certain date. Sometimes it is put forward more baldly, as the only way to force the Iraqis to defend themselves.
Lots of Americans have their doubts about our presence in Iraq. But I doubt whether becoming known as "the bug-out party" is what the Democrats really need to add to their current reputation with the American people.