2 Democrat parties

David Brooks:

Fifty-five years ago, 80 percent of American television viewers, young and old, tuned in to see Milton Berle on Tuesday nights. Tens of millions, rich and poor, worked together at Elks Lodges and Rotary Clubs. Millions more, rural and urban, read general-interest magazines like Look and Life. In those days, the owner of the local bank lived in the same town as the grocery clerk, and their boys might play on the same basketball team. Only 7 percent of adult Americans had a college degree.

But that’s all changed. In the decades since, some social divides, mostly involving ethnicity, have narrowed. But others, mostly involving education, have widened. Today there is a mass educated class. The college educated and non-college educated are likely to live in different towns. They have radically different divorce rates and starkly different ways of raising their children. The non-college educated not only earn less, they smoke more, grow more obese and die sooner.

Retailers, home builders and TV executives identify and reinforce these lifestyle clusters. There are more niche offerings and fewer common experiences.

The ensuing segmentation has reshaped politics. We’re used to the ideological divide between Red and Blue America. This year’s election has revealed a deep cultural gap within the Democratic Party, separating what Stuart Rothenberg calls the two Democratic parties.

In state after state (Wisconsin being the outlier), Barack Obama has won densely populated, well-educated areas. Hillary Clinton has won less-populated, less-educated areas. For example, Obama has won roughly 70 percent of the most-educated counties in the primary states. Clinton has won 90 percent of the least-educated counties. In state after state, Obama has won a few urban and inner-ring suburban counties. Clinton has won nearly everywhere else.

This social divide has overshadowed regional differences. Sixty-year-old, working-class Catholics vote the same, whether they live in Fresno, Scranton, Nashua or Orlando.

The divide has even overshadowed campaigning. Surely the most interesting feature of the Democratic race is how unimportant political events are. The candidates can spend tens of millions of dollars on advertising, but they are not able to sway their opponent’s voters to their side. They can win a stunning victory, but the momentum doesn’t carry over from state to state. They can make horrific gaffes, deliver brilliant speeches, turn in good or bad debate performances, but these things do not alter the race.

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My dad was the first person in his family to graduate from high school where he finished second in his class. He went on to work his way through college during the depression graduating with honors. He was a Democrat back then and thought highly of Roosevelt. My moms family were all Republicans, before that was cool in Alabama. I think Truman was probably the last Democrat Dad voted for. I remember when Kennedy was elected, he said "This country survived Truman and I guess we will survive Kennedy."

My mom's oldest brother had a sixth grade education, but made a fortune in real estate, motels and the construction business and ran for the state Senate as a Republican back in the 70s. Fortunately for him, he lost that race, but he managed to get some influence in the state capitol. Most of my cousins have college degrees and some have graduate degrees. I don't think any are Democrats.

In Texas there are few of those blue collar Democrats. Beaumont may have the only grouping of white blue collar Democrats left in the state. Austin has the Obama Democrats. The rest of the Democrats in the state fall into ethnic categories. Black Democrats in Texas have about the same percentage of Democrats as they seem to have elsewhere in the country. Hispanics are largely Democrat, but not as much so as blacks. Several blacks and Hispanics have been elected as Republicans in Texas.

What is interesting about the Democrat race is how many from the two wings of the party will not vote for the other candidate if they are nominated. I suspect the divide is over values as much as demographics.

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