Friday, December 06, 2002

William Burton makes some very important points in the following post:
More Politics ... I believe that FDR's appeal was not to minorities, the poor, and to union members just because they belonged to those groups (even in the 30's that wasn't enough to win elections). I believe that his appeal to them was part of his greater appeal to huge chunks of the American electorate. That appeal was more psychological than based on race or other identity. FDR spoke to and for what America as a whole was feeling during the 30's and 40's, and that is still applicable today. I'd say that FDR had two basic constituencies, with a great deal of overlap: the anxious and the powerless. Speak to those constituencies today and you win elections (a great deal of Reagan's popularity was his appeal to those who felt anxious about the future and those who felt powerless in the face of government). Whatever the drawbacks (and they're too many to list) of the era, there was a lot less anxiety in the 50's and early 60's than there is now. If you had a job assembling cars, you could be pretty sure that the job would stick around and that you'd be able to support your family with it. If you had a job in middle management at GM or at a bank, you could be pretty sure that job would be there your whole life. If your kids were in college, then you could be pretty sure that good jobs would be waiting for them when they graduated. Things were more predictable, and that made people less anxious. Compare that to the 30's and 40's, in which the Great Depression and war made everyone anxious. You couldn't be sure that your job would be there in a year. You couldn't be sure your son would be alive in a year. You couldn't even be sure that your way of life would be around much longer. FDr dealt with this anxiety by letting people know that we were all in this together, and by using the government to actively make things better. He knew that when things are bad, people don't want the government to simply step out of the way and let nature take its course (the Hoover approach); they want the government to step in and make things better. This activist approach to government is very popular and should be just as big selling point for the Democrats now as it was then. While social dislocation and unemployment is nothing close to what it was in the 30's and the War on Some Terror Funded by Some People (none of whom happen to be Saudi) pales in comparison to WWII, the public today is still quite anxious. A factory employee, a middle manager, even a professional doesn't know for sure that his job will be there in a year. If it's not, he doesn't know for sure he'll be able to replace it. He doesn't know if his kids will find good jobs when they graduate college; nor does he know what the world will be like in even a few years. This leads to a lot of anxiety, and elections will go to those who act to calm it and are willing to take steps to make things better. If both parties pretend the anxiety doesn't exist, then elections will go to the party willing to promise the biggest bribes to the most people(and that's usually the party that wants to cut taxes the most).
Democrats should not be afraid to speak to the anxieties of the American people. But neither should they only hilight those anxieties without offering any solutions (Carter's mistake with his malaise speech). Clinton did this in 92 by both repeatedly talking about the fears of the average citizen, but he also had an upbeat approach that suggested that these problems COULD be solved and that he COULD do it (and he did, to some extent).


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