By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
This isn‘t the first presidential contest that Stan Greenberg has figured out. In 1992, Greenberg was Bill Clinton’s pollster, and it was he who helped develop a formula for winning back enough onetime Reagan Democrats to capture the White House. a Reconnecting with a wary white working class involved support for some policies -- capital punishment, ending welfare as we knew it -- that liberals loathed. It also involved support for other more progressive policies -- chiefly universal health insurance -- that no Democratic presidential nominee since George McGovern had dared espouse.
After the electoral debacle of 1994, though, Clinton and Greenberg had a parting of the ways. Clinton‘s new strategist, Dick Morris, acknowledged Greenberg had been right about the need to move to the center on crime and culture and the like, but he insisted that Greenberg had been wrong to think that Americans wanted any significant increase in government assistance with their economic dilemmas. Abetted by his allies in the corporate-funded Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), Morris tilted the ’96 campaign to a more upscale constituency -- suburban soccer moms, who presumably wanted little more from the government than V-chips and school uniforms. Greenberg, meanwhile, went into a not-very-onerous exile: His clients included the African National Congress, Gerhard Schroeder, Ehud Barak and Tony Blair.
Until late July, however, they did not include Al Gore. Indeed, the veep had surrounded himself with policy people straight out of the DLC (chiefly, his policy capo, Elaine Kamarck), politics people more aligned with traditional Beltway interest-group liberalism (such as campaign manager Donna Brazile), and pollsters (first DLCer Mark Penn, then Harrison Hickman) from a range of perspectives. The result was a campaign that seemed to lack any strategic perspective at all: Gore‘s lieutenants couldn’t agree on whom they wanted to persuade about what. And as the Clinton prosperity rolled on, the DLCers grew even more insistent that upscale voters, ”wired workers“ and voters in the New Economy held the key to the Democrats‘ success.
As Clinton entered his second term, with Morris’ programmatic minimalism now official party gospel, Greenberg took increasing issue with the DLC‘s new line. With Harvard government and sociology professor Theda Skocpol, he convened a rolling series of seminars called the New Majority Project. Progressive academics, editors, columnists, activists and pollsters came together on several occasions over the past half-decade to plumb the continuing lack of working-class support for the not-very-populist Democratic Party. I attended the first such discussion back in early 1997, where voting analyst Ruy Teixeira quite properly savaged the DLC’s claims that Clinton had assembled a lasting majority. Teixeira had recently left the brief employ of the DLC‘s think tank when he’d been unable to persuade his colleagues to pay heed to the numbers. Will Marshall, who then as now heads the think tank, was a guest at this session, and when Teixeira finished making his case, Marshall took a deep breath and said, ”Ruy -- how did you ever stand working for us?“
Teixeira, Skocpol and Greenberg have all opposed the DLC‘s market-oriented vision for upscale Democrats. In her book The Missing Middle, which appeared shortly before the Democratic Convention, Skocpol complains that both Clinton and Gore ”have stopped talking about the forgotten middle class,“ and she notes that the Children’s Health Insurance Program that they champion -- a kind of New Democrat eyedropper rationing of health coverage -- fails to insure the vast majority of uninsured children. For Skocpol, working-class parents must be at the center of any successful strategic and moral Democratic Party vision. ”The middle has been left outside contemporary social policy debate,“ she laments, ”because neither right nor left has much to say about the real-world situation of the vast bulk of ordinary American families who live by wages and salaries, espouse moderate social values and struggle with the new stresses that families now must face.“
In his new book, America‘s Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters, co-written with political scientist Joel Rogers, Teixeira explicitly attacks an article by Gore policy maven Kamarck on the political centrality of the ”new Learning Class.“ On the contrary, Teixeira insists, fully 71 percent of voters in the ’96 presidential race were not college graduates. Even amid the current boom, median family income in America this year is roughly $47,000. At that level, a new entitlement covering grandpa‘s prescription drugs looms somewhat larger than a further reduction in the capital gains tax.
Finally, in the August 28 issue of The American Prospect, which appeared just before the Democratic Convention, Greenberg, writing with his daughter Anna (an assistant professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School), came up with his own assessment of the Democrats‘ dilemma. Like Teixeira and Skocpol, the Greenbergs see the key swing constituency as ”working mothers and fathers, especially those with modest means.“ They note that, partly as a result of the Lewinsky affair, the Democrats poll dismally among these voters on questions of which party better helps families or is more linked with ”faith in God.“ The parents in these families ”worry about the breakdown of rules and discipline“ -- as well as how they’ll make ends meet.