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David Brooks on Losing the Alitos

David Brooks has a fantastic column in today's New York Times that pretty well sums up why the Democrats have lost 5 out of the last 7 presidential elections. It's titled "Losing the Alitos" but it might as well be titled "Why Democrats Lose National Elections:"

If he'd been born a little earlier, Sam Alito would probably have been a Democrat. In the 1950's, the middle-class and lower-middle-class whites in places like Trenton, where Alito grew up, were the heart and soul of the Democratic Party.

But by the late 1960's, cultural politics replaced New Deal politics, and liberal Democrats did their best to repel Northern white ethnic voters. Big-city liberals launched crusades against police brutality, portraying working-class cops as thuggish storm troopers for the establishment. In the media, educated liberals portrayed urban ethnics as uncultured, uneducated Archie Bunkers.

The liberals were doves; the ethnics were hawks. The liberals had "Question Authority" bumper stickers; the ethnics had been taught in school to respect authority. The liberals thought an unjust society caused poverty; the ethnics believed in working their way out of poverty. [snip]

In 1971, Fred Dutton, an important Democratic strategist argued.....the New Deal coalition, including Catholics and white ethnics, was dying......and should be replaced by a "loose peace coalition" of young people, educated suburbanites, feminists and blacks.

That plan wasn't stupid, but it didn't work. The party has been in a downward spiral ever since. John Kerry lost the white working class by 23 percentage points. He lost among his fellow Catholics. He lost the election.

After every defeat, Democrats vow to reconnect with middle-class whites. But if there is one lesson of the Alito hearings, it is that the Democratic Party continues to repel those voters just as vigorously as ever.

Brooks goes on to detail how Democrats have accentuated the problem with their questioning of Alito by coming off as the party more willing to err on the side of criminals rather than cops, and seemingly more interested in fighting the NSA than fighting terrorists. Brooks concludes:

The big story of American politics, which was underlined by every hour of the Alito hearings, is that sometime between 1932 and 1968, the DNA of the Democratic Party fundamentally changed. In 1932, the Democrats had working-class DNA. Today, the Democrats have different DNA, the DNA of a minority party.

Memo to the Democratic Party: Howard Dean and Moveon.org are not the way to fix this problem.