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Culture Clash – Have Democrats Lost Their Way? [OPINION]

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Despite the Republicans doing everything they can to marginalize themselves, the 2014 prospects for the Democratic Party don’t look good.

If the Democrats should fail to retake the House, or worse lose the Senate too, they will have no one to blame but themselves, because as a party, they have lost their way.

Party politics in the US before FDR are a little muddled, because you have people like Teddy Roosevelt, who was both progressive and a Republican. After FDR though, the political economic lines were pretty well drawn, with the Democrats championing the idea that government needs to temper the free market in order to protect the little guy.

Since the 1960s, the politics of cultural identity have opened up a second front in the battle between the right and left in this country. From the civil rights struggle to feminism, to the LGBT movement, each cause has found a place in Democratic platform. By no means is all of the work done, but the status of these groups compared to how things were in the 1950s is nothing short of a remarkable victory.

Compare that to how much progress has been made in economic issues over the last 50 years.

Union membership peaked in the 1950s and is now back down to levels not seen since the 1930s.

Except for a few infrequent increases in the federal minimum wage, there hasn’t been a major push to do anything about poverty in the US since LBJ’s Great Society programs; today all the talk is about saving the middle class.

For all the good it will do, Obamacare would have taken a very different shape if protecting health insurers had not been such a high priority.

Corporations and the wealthy pay much lower tax rates than they did in the 1970s and Congress and the President are negotiating about how much to cut Social Security.

How can the Democrats have had so much success on the cultural front and made so little on the other in the same time period?

I would suggest that real cultural change is happening outside of government and politicians are simply responding to it. If we aren’t seeing much in the way progressive economic policy, it is because not enough effort is being made to raise awareness of these issues in a way that translates to the ballot box.

We are a people entertained to the point of distraction. What we are watching has gone an awful long way in changing cultural norms, i.e. casual racism is no longer acceptable, women might want a career and a family, gays are people too etc., but you don’t see many TV programs dealing with the issues of class struggle.

Perhaps it is too overtly political, or maybe the entertainment industry is so far removed the paycheck to paycheck reality that so many people face, that they simply don’t know how to deal with the issues in an entertaining way.

Despite the fact that Democratic policies are in the interest of the vast majority of the people, Republicans routinely outperform Democrats in non-Presidential election years.

The left is apparently too busy with whatever else to get informed about school boards, and city councils and even state representatives, and can’t be bothered to turn up to the polls unless the top office is on the ballot. It is the political equivalent of ignoring all the other games all year, but tuning in for the championship.

You have to hand it to Republicans and the conservative entertainment culture; they do a much better job keeping their people fired up between presidential elections than we do. The consequences of that are now playing themselves out not only at the federal level where the Republican led House roadblocks anything that might actually help the economy, but also at the state levels where Republican governors and legislatures are taking away both collective bargaining and abortion rights.

Maybe this time, with women’s health, comprehensive immigration reform, and voting rights being hot topic issues, Democrats will turn out to the polls in meaningful numbers and make some midterm gains.

However, if the left leaning culture industry and the Democrats as a party can’t find a way to put bread and butter issues front and center, we will never return to the mighty Democratic majorities of the past that made great progressive leaps forward, like the New Deal and the Great Society, possible.

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