Posted by: Chris | December 5, 2011

Skowronek and the Future of the Obama Coalition

In an addendum to my previous post on the subject, I noted a trend within Skowronek’s model of cyclical presidential politics:

Interestingly, disjunctive presidencies do not seem to disintegrate their own party. In fact, just the opposite is true. In prepping the way for the coming reconstruction, they tend to oversee either the dissolution or the fundamental alteration of the opposition.

Thus, John Adams would see the formation of the first official political party to oust him, JQA, nominally unaligned, precipitated the formation of both the Jacksonian Democratic Party and a proto-Whig faction under Clay, Pierce’s Democrats would live on, but he would be the last to compete against the Whigs, Hoover would end the Democratic tendency towards conservatism and state’s rights, and so forth.

Skowronek does not explicitly mention this trend, but my suspicion is that the defeated regime, now in opposition and dimunition, clings ever tighter to the old affiliations that once united their now-wayward coalition. It takes the repudiative power of their own reconstructive president to shake free these vestigial impulses and embrace a new organizing principle.

Thus, despite all of the regular rumbling about how the end of the Republican party is nigh, one would expect that the Democratic Party, and not the Republicans, have considerable transformative changes coming sometime in the next decade. The Republicans will hobble along, spouting a moderated version of Reaganism and looking for opportunities to engage in their own preemptive politics.

Less than a week later, the NYT posted a (much discussed) opinion piece on an adjacent subject, the shifting of the Democratic coalition:

For decades, Democrats have suffered continuous and increasingly severe losses among white voters. But preparations by Democratic operatives for the 2012 election make it clear for the first time that the party will explicitly abandon the white working class.

All pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned in favor of cementing a center-left coalition made up, on the one hand, of voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment — professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists — and a second, substantial constituency of lower-income voters who are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic…

As a practical matter, the Obama campaign and, for the present, the Democratic Party, have laid to rest all consideration of reviving the coalition nurtured and cultivated by Franklin D. Roosevelt. The New Deal Coalition — which included unions, city machines, blue-collar workers, farmers, blacks, people on relief, and generally non-affluent progressive intellectuals — had the advantage of economic coherence. It received support across the board from voters of all races and religions in the bottom half of the income distribution, the very coherence the current Democratic coalition lacks.

Thus Obama, like fellow late-regime preemptive presidents Wilson and Nixon, begins the process of voiding the party’s old self-image, for entirely short-term and self-interested reasons, and laying the groundwork for the coming disjuction (and its attendant transformation of the opposition party).  Where things evolve from there comes down to events and political opportunities as much as demographics.



  1. […] on the Republican’s growing demographic problems tangentially corresponds with our own Skowronek-based predictions on the future of American presidential politics: The modern GOP, the party of Nixon, Reagan, and […]

  2. […] crib sheet on Skowronek’s The Politics Presidents Make, a book on which we periodically post, would have it that Skowronek’s theory of the presidency’s role in American politics […]

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