Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Pundit's Death Marks End of An Era for Democrats ^ | July 3, 2015 | Jonah Goldberg

Posted on 07/03/2015 7:25:32 AM PDT by Kaslin

Ben Wattenberg died this week at the age of 81.

He gave me my first job in Washington, as his research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. (I returned to AEI as a fellow a few years ago, my office just a few doors down from where Ben used to work.)

Ben was one of the last star pundits of what might be called the Old Order, before cable news and the Internet transformed the landscape. When everyone was rushing to CNN to shout at each other on "Crossfire," he launched a PBS show called "Think Tank" that aimed at high-minded conversation above the din. (I produced the show for several years.)

He had a remarkable career. A speechwriter for LBJ, Ben became a self-trained demographer. In 1970, he wrote "The Real Majority" with Richard Scammon, the former head of the Census Bureau. It was a data-driven analysis of the American electorate -- the first to marry demographic data with public polling data. The impact of "The Real Majority" was enormous. The Washington Post said it was the "most influential study of the American electorate ever published."

The impact was huge, but not what Ben intended. The Democratic Party was in the throes of McGovernism, an eggheady, quasi-isolationist, movement-oriented liberalism that many voters took for thinly veiled anti-Americanism.

Meanwhile, a savvy aide named Pat Buchanan gave the book to Richard Nixon, who was looking to build his own movement out of what he called "the silent majority." Nixon loved it. "We should aim our strategy primarily at disaffected Democrats, at blue-collar workers and at working-class ethnics," Nixon said. "We should set out to capture the vote of the 47-year-old Dayton housewife."

That housewife was a statistical fiction, a composite created by Wattenberg and Scammon. The typical American voter was "a 47-year-old housewife from the outskirts of Dayton, Ohio, whose husband is a machinist" and whose brother-in-law is a cop. (Take note: Even nearly a half-century ago, Ohio was still an electoral lynchpin.) Contrary to the rhetoric of the Democrats and their intellectual supporters, the majority of Americans were in fact "unyoung, unpoor and unblack." They were instead "middle-aged, middle-class and middle-minded."

"Will it sell to the Dayton housewife?" became the new "Will it play in Peoria?" for political consultants. TV host Dick Cavett even found an actual Dayton housewife to interview as if she was an oracle of the age.

The real majority, Wattenberg and Scammon argued, broke to the right on "social issues" -- a now-ubiquitous term coined by the authors -- which covered the waterfront of non-economic issues from law-and-order and drugs to student revolts and cultural malaise. They cited polls from 1969 showing that 94 percent of Americans wanted universities to come down harder on student protests, 84 percent were against the legalization of pot, and 84 percent were in favor of stricter obscenity laws. By nearly a 2-1 margin, Americans wanted the next Supreme Court vacancy filled by a conservative (49 percent to 27 percent).

Democrats ignored it all. They thought economic populism could hold the old Democratic coalition together, while cultural leftism would bring in ever more young and minority voters.

Nixon won re-election by a landslide, carrying 49 states, with 52 percent of voters under 30. Only Ronald Reagan, who followed a similar (though not identical) electoral strategy, matched Nixon's success.

Jimmy Carter won in 1976 by running as a somewhat culturally conservative Democrat from the South (and aided enormously by the Watergate hangover). In 1992, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, a member of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (the heir to the Coalition for a Democratic Majority, co-founded by Wattenberg), ran as a "different kind of Democrat." He was pro-welfare reform, pro-death penalty and at least claimed to be hawkish on defense. Ben endorsed Clinton in 1992 but not in 1996. Ben's death is an end of an era for me personally, but it also marks the end of an era for the Democrats. There are virtually no prominent Wattenbergian Democrats anymore. But that's in large part because the world of the Dayton housewife is no more. Bill Clinton's wife isn't running like Bill Clinton. She sees no advantage in trying to win the old silent majority or the swing voters who used to decide presidential elections. A changing culture, evolving technology and Barack Obama's elections seem to have convinced her that McGovern was simply ahead of his time. For Ben's sake, and the country's, I hope she's wrong.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; US: Arkansas; US: California; US: Georgia; US: Ohio; US: South Dakota; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: 1972election; 1976election; 1980election; 1984election; 1992election; 1996election; aei; arkansas; benwattenberg; billclinton; california; censusbureau; dayton; deathpenalty; dickcavett; election1972; election1976; election1980; election1984; election1992; election1996; georgemcgovern; georgia; goldberg; jimmycarter; jonahgoldberg; lbj; middleaged; middleclass; middleminded; obituaries; obituary; ohio; patbuchanan; pbs; peoria; richardnixon; richardscammon; ronaldreagan; southdakota; texas; theend; therealmajority; thesilentmajority; thinktank; tribute; watergate; welfarereform

1 posted on 07/03/2015 7:25:32 AM PDT by Kaslin
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: Kaslin
Bill Clinton's wife isn't running like Bill Clinton. She sees no advantage in trying to win the old silent majority or the swing voters who used to decide presidential elections. A changing culture, evolving technology...

AND millions of third world uneducated wannabees bonding with black inner city dependents... the REAL 'change'....

2 posted on 07/03/2015 7:54:25 AM PDT by GOPJ (The left's perfectly happy with slavery so long as they're holding the whip..Billthedrill)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Kaslin
I enjoyed him on Crossfire back in the 80s. That was back in the day when I felt there was an element of Democrats who I would consider as loyal, principled opposition. However, it was obvious that even in the 80s, that faction within the Democrats was shrinking.

It's too bad the Ted Kennedy faction ousted them. Is there one Democrat today who fits the Wattenberg mold?

3 posted on 07/03/2015 7:57:29 AM PDT by Sir_Humphrey (Is it too late to save the country?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Sir_Humphrey

Jim Webb maybe.

4 posted on 07/03/2015 8:10:26 AM PDT by Yardstick
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]


RIP. Unfortunately, Ben was very bad on immigration.

5 posted on 07/03/2015 8:22:54 AM PDT by jumpingcholla34 (.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: jumpingcholla34

I was ‘bad’ on immigration too until it dawned on me that every third world hellhole that could - was dumping their losers on us...

And - to add insult to injury - democrats were welcoming these criminals as a way of keep themselves in power...

6 posted on 07/03/2015 1:22:42 PM PDT by GOPJ (The left's perfectly happy with slavery so long as they're holding the whip..Billthedrill)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: AdmSmith; AnonymousConservative; Berosus; bigheadfred; Bockscar; cardinal4; ColdOne; ...
Thanks Kaslin. The young college- and post-college idiots who knocked on doors for and cheered for the ridiculous imbecile George McGovern are in their 60s now, and intellectually haven't aged a day since.

7 posted on 07/03/2015 1:38:30 PM PDT by SunkenCiv (What do we want? REGIME CHANGE! When do we want it? NOW)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson