Democrats Face Civil War!

Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that Paul Kotkin has written an interesting essay on an “internal civil war” [Is there another kind? -ed.] looming within the Democratic Party:

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.

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*I’m using “elites” in Kotkin’s sense, notwithstanding Ace’s memorable critique of unknowns making middle class incomes claiming the title.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. odograph says:

    It strikes me that they did take the Republican/Palin story and try re-writing it for the Democrats. Does it fit? Maybe inside the beltway, beneath the surface, in hidden power struggles.

    I sure don’t see it on Main Street.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I sure don’t see it on Main Street.

    But you wouldn’t see it there for either party. Ditto in the urban areas. That’s really part of the point: Most of us lead rather insular lives, surrounded by people with whom we have a lot in common and are shocked at how differently others view things.

  3. odograph says:

    Well, “future of the Republican Party” discussions have broken out at lunch, a couple times. Do rank and file Democrats really do that too?

  4. just me says:

    I have no problem believing the lines are there. I also agree that it is the same problem the GOP and any political party is going to have.

    The reality is that in one party, no all party members are going to be on the same page-they have their list of wants and they want their wants to come first when it comes to what politicians do.

    I actually think that right now this won’t be a huge problem, but eventually it is going to be one, and I think the differences between the different cultural factions in the party will be more pronounced as the democrats are in power-especially with the kind of power they have right now. It is really tough to tell one faction that the reason they aren’t getting their way is because the GOP won’t let them, when the GOP has been rendered pretty much powerless in both houses of congress and the Democrats own the white house.

    I think having strong majorities actually in the long run may make it harder for the democrats to govern according tot he will of their constituents.

  5. MattF says:

    As you note, a successful national party is always going to include some factions and disagreements. The place to look for changes and trends is on the margin– and, it seems to me, that on the margin the Democrats are doing better than usual, while the Republicans are doing worse. Actually, a lot better, and a lot worse, respectively.

  6. Bithead says:

    What we have here, is merely an extension of what we’ve been seeing along with the Democrats.

    Their stated goals, their stated purposes, what they tell us they’re going to do and why, all fall victim to the knife, sacrificed on the altar of raw, unadulterated power. Which tells us point blank that’s all this was ever about, all along.

    I would add that to the extent that James is correct, where this thing applies to the Republicans as well, you should note that the conflicts within the Republican Party along those lines and up being almost to a man, conflicts between the grass roots and the far left of the Republican party.

    See, that’s the thing about governmental power. The founders knew that it was an addictive poison. That’s why they designed the constitution specifically to limit government open power. To the extent that we don’t have limited government, is the exact extent to which the constitution, and those wishes of the founders, have been bypassed.

    Perhaps the perceived prevalence of power grabbing being greater amongst liberals, has something to do with their regarding the constitution as a “living document” .

  7. […] —-Joyner, this morning: Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that Paul Kotkin has written an interesting essay on an “internal civil war” [Is there another kind? -ed.] looming within the Democratic Party: […]

  8. Skippy-san says:

    Re: immigration, Sarah Palin, and Joe The Plumber Wurzelbacher

    Seems to me you have it backwards. The elites in the Republican party are the so called true conservatives-while the populists were the ones who wanted the party to get back to the center.

    Actually you have 3 groups in this country-the extremes on both sides and the mass in the middle who actually support government taking care of Americans first.

  9. Jim Henley says:

    I look forward to two years of “Dude, Where’s My Democratic-Party Civil War?” posts from Reynolds as he subjects Kotkin’s thesis to the same burden of proof as he brought to evidence of an Iraqi civil war in 2006 and a recession in 2008.

  10. anjin-san says:

    Perhaps the perceived prevalence of power grabbing being greater amongst liberals

    Well bitsy, no one doubts that thats the way YOU perceive it. But then you are the guy who thinks anything Michelle Malkin says is a FACT.

  11. sam says:

    I’m not a member of any organized political party, I’m a Democrat!

    Will Rogers

  12. Bithead says:

    Well bitsy, no one doubts that thats the way YOU perceive it.

    Did you notice Byrd, the other day? Even HE admits it, now. You still can’t bring yourself to do that.

  13. superdestroyer says:

    The Democratic Party know has a trillion dollars of government pork to hand out to their core groups. That will keep the elites and the populist happy and able to get along with each other.

    The Democratic Party is a set of different groups united in their love of government spending and increasing government power. They can always pay each other off.

  14. anjin-san says:

    Did you notice Byrd, the other day?

    So now you are citing BYRD as an credible source? Really bit, you should do comedy…

  15. tom p says:

    Perhaps the perceived prevalence of power grabbing being greater amongst liberals, has something to do with their regarding the constitution as a “living document” .

    After the last 8 yrs??? Bit you crack me up.

    Did you notice Byrd, the other day? Even HE admits it, now. You still can’t bring yourself to do that.

    Bit, I have lived thru, and observed, the last 30 yrs. Has ANY Republican ever had the BALLS to stand up to a Republican Admin? (Nixon went way over the line… funny, you don’t seem to have the same problems with “W”) Bit, you are a hack, willing to go along with whatever the “politically correct conservative wisdom” of the moment is.

    As JM said:

    I have no problem believing the lines are there. I also agree that it is the same problem the GOP and any political party is going to have.

    The reality is that in one party, no(t) all party members are going to be on the same page-they have their list of wants and they want their wants to come first when it comes to what politicians do.

    But you can’t say that, can you?

    You know the difference between Steve Verdon and you Bit? He hates all the politicians, you only hate half of them…. even after the ones you love have been spoon feeding you a dry f’n up the a** for the past 8 yrs…

  16. Bithead says:

    So now you are citing BYRD as an credible source? Really bit, you should do comedy…

    He’s your guy, Anjin. If you don’t trust him, what remains?

  17. Jim Henley says:

    He’s your guy, Anjin. If you don’t trust him, what remains?

    This is OBVIOUSLY true. And he lied about reaching the North Pole too, so how can we ever trust another Democrat?

  18. angellight says:

    WHY did the CONSERVATIVES under BUSH spend like there’s no tomorrow and wreck the economy, and now the US is producing less than ever. With the lowest tax rates on the wealthy in history, why did the economy collapse? CNBC’s hypocritic stance by ignoring what they helped create through their supporting the GOP and BUSH’s insane spending has caused a depression! Remember the 2 Fools on the Hill? Bush: It must be a budget, see there’s numbers on it. — Cheney, “Deficits don’t matter.” Sometimes its not HOW much you spend that wrecks an economy, it’s WHERE you spend it! You spend a million on a bridge in the US, the accounting is balanced. You don’t have a million dollars but you have a million dollar bridge, hence balanced accounting. If you spend a half million to blow up a bridge then spend a million to rebuild it in a foreign country, you are immediately in the red!

    Suddenly the GOP CNBC pundits are feigning worry about the middle class?, blue collar workers? UNIONS? They certainly have been the enemies of the middle class since Reagan, as the middle class is disappearing before our eyes, and the poverty classes growing faster than ever under CONservative failed ideologies! Industrial production is plunging, and partly due to CONservative corporations fleeing the USA to build factories where they can pollute unrestrained. These corporations under a common sense government should never be allowed to do business in or with the United States ever again! The current lame efforts diluted by the GOP have only allowed pollution to increase. The answer to industrial production and corporations is clean up your act, here and abroad, to continue doing business in the United States.

    http://hiddenmysteries.net/geeklog/article.php?story=20090301131215108

  19. Bithead says:

    Bit, I have lived thru, and observed, the last 30 yrs. Has ANY Republican ever had the BALLS to stand up to a Republican Admin?

    Apparently, you were fairly isolated through the period…

    Perhaps you’ll recall the Republicans in the Senate, and their reaction to Nixon?

    And how many times did McCain buck Bush? Seems to me the left celebrated when that happened, and the press made lots of noise about it. Funny you don’t remember. there’s lots more of course but that oughta give you enough to start you into denial.

    WHY did the CONSERVATIVES under BUSH spend like there’s no tomorrow and wreck the economy,

    The point you’re not grasping is they were not conservatives. As with Bush, they were at best moderates.

  20. anjin-san says:

    He’s your guy, Anjin. If you don’t trust him, what remains?

    I live in California, Byrd is definitely not my guy.

    Sticking with your policy of “rhetoric over reality” I see…

    Apparently you trust him though, duly noted.

  21. anjin-san says:

    Perhaps you’ll recall the Republicans in the Senate, and their reaction to Nixon?

    Yes. When it became clear Nixon was done, the GOP in the Senate turned on him

  22. Bithead says:

    Yes. When it became clear Nixon was done, the GOP in the Senate turned on him

    As opposed to what went down with Clinton.
    And no, I’m not talking about Monica.

    I live in California, Byrd is definitely not my guy.

    Ah, so he’s not a Democrat leader.
    Got it.

    Apparently you trust him though, duly noted.

    Hardly. But I trust Democrats to agree with him, blindly. Always assuming of course they’re not feeling kinda trapped by his assocaition with the party.

  23. Rick Almeida says:

    The reality is that in one party, no all party members are going to be on the same page-they have their list of wants and they want their wants to come first when it comes to what politicians do.

    It doesn’t take much more analysis than this, really. These are inherent problems with big tent parties. Right now, the Republican coalition is smaller and more homogeneous than the Democratic one, so the latter is harder to maintain.

  24. anjin-san says:

    Hardly

    You cited him pal. I will take this as an admission that there is no straw you will not grasp to support your “arguments”.

    Ah, so he’s not a Democrat leader.

    A Democratic leader? Of course not. He is an elderly gentleman who should have retired 20 years ago.

    Even if Byrd was the lion of the party, it does not make him “my guy”. Fienstien is a party leader and one of my Senators, but I do not feel she speaks for me. I will leave the marching in lockstep to you Skippy.

    Now that you have stated your view on party leadership it is clear that McCain is “your guy” 🙂

    As opposed to what went down with Clinton.
    And no, I’m not talking about Monica.

    What does your Clinton obsession have to do with the subject at hand. Sounds like an admission that your argument about the GOP Senate & Nixon is nonsense.