The problem with the argument.

I read this letter to the New Republic, and I suppose I agree with it, kind of sort of in part and within a particular frame at least.  I’ll get to my main problem as soon as I just cut and paste the letter here.  Take it away, Mark Richard of Columbus, Ohio:

 Thomas B. Edsall is onto something when he writes that “the Democratic Party has become the political arm of the subdominant, while the GOP is home to the dominant groups in American life” (“Party Hardy,” September 25). This, however, is not new; it’s the basic story of U.S. politics since the Civil War. Until the Depression, the Democrats were (roughly) the party of the South in coalition with the urban North, while the Republicans were (also roughly) the natural governing party of “the nation” as a whole. Franklin Roosevelt and his followers brilliantly capitalized on the Depression–which occurred at the apex of the urban moment in American politics–to build a party of dependent interest and constituency groups. (His administration didn’t do much to solve the slump, but it did put the middle-class urban intelligentsia front and center as the administrators of American public life, to the gratitude of historians, journalists, artists, and others of the class ever since.) The Democratic Party’s coalition began to break up after World War II. With the exception of Lyndon Johnson in 1964 (in the emotional aftermath of the Kennedy assassination), no Democratic candidate for president has received the 51 percent of the popular vote that George W. Bush garnered in 2004 since Roosevelt did it in 1944–not Harry Truman, not John Kennedy, not Jimmy Carter, not Bill Clinton. (Not even Al Gore.) Democratic Congressional majorities persisted in the decades after World War II, thanks in part to gerrymandering (the party got 59 percent of the seats in the House as late as 1992 on only about 50 percent of the popular vote) and the willingness of Southern Democratic politicians to stay in the party of the Confederacy until their retirement. The great run the Democrats had, from the 1930s until 1994, depended heavily on the artifice of padded congressional majorities and the complicity of the old segregationist South, hard as it might be for today’s blue-state liberals to accept. Significantly, the economy was strengthening in 1994, when the realignment that the Democrats had long been able to skillfully avoid finally occurred. The Democrats are now basically back to being the party they were before the Depression: a coalition of disparate “minority” groups without much in common except their “outsider” status in the context of middle-class American life. They will win elections when the Republicans foul up or get lazy, but the slow climb back to power by the GOP in the absence of one mighty, aberrant event like the stock market crash or the Great Depression seems to illustrate that the Republicans represent “core American values” more authentically (if not more eloquently) than do the Democrats.

My problem is that I get the feeling while most people of any political or historical or even simply cultural bent would cite FDR or Teddy Roosevelt or JFK or Reagan as their favourite presidents, Mark Richards of Columbus, Ohio has no choice but to think of William McKinley as his presidential hero — much as Karl Rove’s political hero is Mark Hanna.

 Try again next time.

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