The Democrats’ Biggest Problem Is Cultural

Since 1968, the party has been alienating working-class voters. President Trump is the latest result.

Democrats need to recognize a profound voter shift that has been under way since 1968 and is centered on cultural issues.

Three statements in recent years illustrate why former Democratic voters have abandoned their party.

  1. First, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign remark that small-town Americans “cling to guns and religion.”
  2. Second, Michelle Obama’s statement, also in 2008, that “for the first time in my adult lifetime I am proud of my country.”
  3. Third, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 characterization of Trump supporters as “deplorables”: “They are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”
 .. None of these statements had anything to do with national security or economics. They revealed a mind-set that many voters find offensive—a huge cultural chasm that cannot be bridged by offering voters economic goodies.
.. Alienated by street and campus riots and disorder, these voters bought into the Nixon/Wallace law-and-order themes. Some also were attracted to their message that Great Society programs had overreached.
..They opposed the Vietnam War. But they were mostly interested in cultural and lifestyle issues—“
  • acid,
  • amnesty and
  • abortion,”
as Republicans called them, picking up a line that turned out to have originated with McGovern’s first running mate, Sen. Thomas Eagleton. Those Democrats gave short shrift to jobs, economic growth, public safety and other traditional voter concerns.
.. The answer to this crisis does not lie in cries of black victimization by police or other authorities. It lies instead with tangible, practical programs like those we launched in the 1960s. We purposely sought bipartisan sponsorship in Congress and enlisted labor, business, academic and other support in society more broadly.
.. Many probably sensed that chaos and fumbling would follow. By their lights, it was an acceptable price to pay to rid themselves of leaders who had forgotten them.

..Congressional Democrats are right to begin construction of an alternative agenda. But as they do so, they must recognize that most Americans are not racist, sexist, ignorant or opposed to alternative lifestyles. Most largely accept the cultural and social changes of the past half-century. To recapture traditional Democratic voters, and attract new ones, Democrats must learn empathy for those who believe they are being mocked for

  • working hard,
  • going to church,
  • serving in the military, and
  • trying to instill moral standards in their children.

.. do not view them as cultural inferiors to be manipulated in campaign years. President Trump is not our problem.