This New York Times article is not especially good, but it cannot hide the fact that there is a growing rift among Black church leaders: More and more have become Bush and GOP supporters. Democrats are realizing this and are, in my humble opinion, in a near panic over it. Clarence Page (not a Republican) reflects on all this and says he is happy to be wooed by both parties. Both articles, interestingly enough, make reference to Bush’s faith based initiative as a "new form of patronage," (for Blacks, I presume). There is much political significance to all this, and I prophesize that the GOP will pick up more and more black voters in the next many election cycles. I don’t think that moving from 8% support to 11% among Blacks for the GOP is what scared the Dems. What shook them is that Bush got about 16% of the Black vote in Ohio (and 13% in Florida), and the fact that Blacks are ever more publicly questioning their past absolute support for the Dems by noting the appeal of the GOP based on some principle.
Blacks are not the only group within the Democratic Party that is being picked off by the GOP, of course, but this group has a greater moral and symbolic value than any other. The Demos can’t find a way to keep their factionalized Party together at a time--even more so now than in Van Buren’s time--when there has been a GOP call for a national and principled view of the Republican Party for many decades. In short, the Democratic Party, born of a need to give formal voice for the people in a way that is disciplined in a party (rather than upholding a constitutional and principled view) that acted as an intermediary between government and society, can no longer be held together as it once was. For example, FDR’s emphasis of programmatic rights and entitlements and the federal government acting as the guarantor of social and economic welfare meant that he used the Democratic Party to support the centralized welfare state, and each part of the Party would benefit. That arrangment was thought to be permanent by the Demos (and most Republicans during the last century).
The Democratic Party was useful to 20th century Progressives and Liberals as long as it supported the progress of Progressive democracy (Croly’s term); the older form of patronage was petty compared to what the new Democratic Party wrought. But this could only last as long as the older constitutional view of a political party did not reassert itself. Well, it has reasserted itself both in theory and in practice, and now the Democrats can’t figure out what holds them together as a party. The loss of those vital links is especially painful for them because they had thought--from FDR on--that those links were permanent. It should not surprise us that the debate over Social Security reform, moral issues, and the needed principled clarification of what America stands for in a post 9/11 universe, is causing havoc within the Democrtic Party. And the slow but certain movement of Blacks away from the Demos, reveals the heart of the problem.