Democrats Face Civil War!
This is the Democratic Party’s moment, its power now greater than any time since the mid-1960s. But do not expect smooth sailing. The party is a fractious group divided by competing interests, factions and constituencies that could explode into a civil war, especially when it comes to energy and the environment.
Broadly speaking, there is a long-standing conflict inside the Democratic Party between gentry liberals and populists. This division is not the same as in the 1960s, when the major conflicts revolved around culture and race as well as on foreign policy. Today the emerging fault-lines follow mostly regional, geographical and, most importantly, class differences.
Gentry liberals cluster largely in cities, wealthy suburbs and college towns. They include disproportionately those with graduate educations and people living on the coasts. Populists tend to be located more in middle- and working-class suburbs, the Great Plains and industrial Midwest. They include a wider spectrum of Americans, including many whose political views are somewhat changeable and less subject to ideological rigor.
This is, broadly speaking, right. Small problem, though: With light editing, one could write exactly the same kind of essay about the Republican Party.
To see that, one only has to look at the recent fights over immigration, Sarah Palin, and Joe The Plumber Wurzelbacher. The populist wing was wildly enthusiastic about all three while the elites* were disgusted, chagrined, and embarrassed.
Schism is simply the nature of combining a diverse, continental polity and a two-party political system. While, as Dave Schuler often notes, both American parties are more programmatic than they have been traditionally, they’re still ultimately catch-all parties, trying to find some core principles around which to attract a fifty percent plus one coalition of disparate folks.
*I’m using “elites” in Kotkin’s sense, notwithstanding Ace’s memorable critique of unknowns making middle class incomes claiming the title.