Stanley B. Greenberg, chairman and CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and a co-founder of Democracy Corps. He is a co-editor of The New Majority: Toward a Popular Progressive Politics, published by Yale University Press.
Working- and middle-class voters remain economically anxious. But in the absence of a convincing narrative that connects to their lives, many are concluding from their condition that the only remedy is rugged individualism.
progressive economic narrative today begins with the stagnation and growing
inequality that characterizes this period of change and possibility. That seems
a natural enough starting point. Throughout this century, progressive movements
have found their purpose in capitalism's failure to deliver on its promises to
ordinary citizens. Once again, this is the central challenge of our own time.
The story of the Democratic Party crisis begins in Macomb County, north of the Detroit City line -- and in Northeast Philadelphia, Cobb County near Atlanta, California's San Fernando Valley, and numerous other working- and middle-class neighborhoods across the country. These were the homes of loyal Democrats: people who felt at ease in a diverse, bottom-up, majority coalition that used politics and government to advance the interests of working people. But here we find alienated voters today with little good to say about politics or Democrats.
The Democrats ended the 1988 election demoralized. Late in October, Michael Dukakis, facing almost certain defeat, stood at rail-side in Bakersfield, California and made his confession. He was a liberal after all: a liberal in the tradition of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy, one who "knows you have to pay your bills." He did not elaborate. He did not articulate any set of principles, offered no special perspective, and invoked no deeply resonant historical experience. The public was left, by default, with Lee Atwater's savage caricature: a Democratic Party short on patriotism, weak on defense, soft on criminals and minorities, indifferent to work, values, and family, and, inexplicably, infatuated with taxes.