Daniel Henninger: The Democratic Party Lost Its Way in 1965





Daniel Henninger, in the WSJ (Nov. 5, 2004):

How did the 2004 election map of the United States come to look like a color-field painting by Barnett Newman? In fact, if you adjust the map's colors for votes by county (as at the Web sites for CNN and USA Today), even the blue states turn mostly red. Pennsylvania is blue, but between blue Philadelphia and Pittsburgh every county in the state is red. California, except for the coastline, is almost entirely red.

This didn't happen last Tuesday. The color-coding of the 2004 election began around 1965 in the politics of the Vietnam era. The Democratic Party today is the product of a generational shift that began in those years.

The formative years of the northern wing of the Democratic Old Guard go back to World War II. It included political figures like Tip O'Neill, Pat Moynihan and Lane Kirkland. It was men such as these whose experiences, both political and personal, informed and shaped the Democrats before the mid-'60s.

Over time the party passed into the hands of a generation, now in their 50s and early 60s, whose broad view of America and its politics was formed as young men and women opposing the Vietnam War. That would include the party's current leading lights--John Kerry, Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi. And its most influential strategists, such as Bob Shrum, Mary Beth Cahill and James Carville. The old industrial unions, whose members went over to Ronald Reagan, gave way to the more dependable public-employee unions run by John Sweeney and Gerald McEntee.

These Baby Boomers--the generation of John Kerry, Al Gore and Bill and Hillary Clinton--transformed the world view of the Democrats, on everything from foreign policy to cultural issues. This new ethos--instinctively oppositional, aggressively secular--sank its roots deep on the East and West coasts, but it never really spread into the rest of the country, then or now.
Early on, the military became a focus. Democrats belonging to the World War II generation believed that one "served." There was a nonpartisan pact of reverence for the services. After Vietnam, Democratic partisans worked hard, and successfully, to eradicate ROTC from elite, coastal campuses and to adopt an ethos that no longer revered the services, but held them suspect of doing harm. Bill Clinton's relations with the military were strained. John Kerry tried to use his service biography to erase the Vietnam-era legacy of Democratic opposition to things military. It didn't work....


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