The depression-era comedian Will Rogers once famously said he did not belong to an organised political party because he was a Democrat.
Yet today the traditional factiousness of the Democratic coalition has been engulfed by an almost Stalinist attitude that brooks no dissent on its most treasured policies – even though these do not resonate well with the bulk of the electorate.
To recover, Democrats need to find a way back to their historic base of working-class and minority voters, who now seem to be heading to the GOP.
Franklin D Roosevelt’s alliance between big cities, small towns, labour unions and farmers was often awkward, but it still achieved remarkable success in restoring US confidence and winning the war.
In contrast, President Biden’s boneheaded embrace of a progressive agenda that is widely detested across most of the population may prove to be one of the greatest political blunders of recent American history.
Given the probability of a significant loss in this November’s Midterms, we should expect – and hope for – a full-scale brawl over the party’s trajectory.
There needs to be something equivalent to the New Democrats who, under Bill Clinton, revived the party after the devastating defeats of George McGovern and Michael Dukakis in the 1970s and 80s by moving the party to the centre and connecting it to the country’s diverse regions.
‘Too many Americans’, wrote New Democrats Bill Galston and Elaine Kamarck in 1989, ‘have come to see the party as inattentive to their economic interests, indifferent if not hostile to their moral sentiments, and ineffective in defence of their national security’.
This time around, the rhetorical knives are already coming out to counter the Democrats’ seemingly inexorable shift to the left. Much of the emerging argument centres around the most unappreciated and largest voting bloc – working- and middle-class Americans.
Many of these voters may be receptive to the traditional, economic-centred social-democratic message of the Democrats. But they are less enthused about the priorities of the now dominant progressives – especially the loudest and most pervasive among them, namely, the climate-change activists.
Backed by the media and numerous celebrities, and funded generously by tech and Wall Street oligarchs, they have asserted their dominance since the very beginning of the Biden administration, and appear to have further solidified their control over energy policy, even in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its numerous after-effects.
To some prominent Democrats, this is the ultimate in self-delusion. Some former Obama officials – including former treasury secretary Lawrence Summers, campaign strategist David Axelrod and economic adviser Steve Rattner – have criticised Biden’s attempt to blame inflation on Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, roughly 60 per cent of all voters, notes one recent survey, disapproved of Biden’s economic leadership.
The economic metrics are awful. Despite nominal GDP gains and higher wages, inflation, largely driven by energy prices, has been particularly cruel to minority and working-class voters.
Overall, when asked if they are better off now than a year ago, twice as many Americans said ‘worse’ than better in a recent poll.