Obama Victory Signals New Democratic Dominance in U.S. Politics
by Peter Beinart
It wasn’t 1992 all over again—but 1936, when FDR won despite a terrible economy. Peter Beinart on how the GOP will keep losing if it doesn’t change with the times.
This campaign, like every campaign, pundits offered historical analogies. 2012 was 2004 or 1992 or 1948. But, in the end, it wasn’t any of those. It was 1936.
For roughly half a century after the Civil War, Republicans dominated American politics because they dominated the North. But by the 1920s, after almost four decades of Catholic and Jewish immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, the North had changed. And instead of embracing that change, the GOP fought it, spearheading blatantly anti-Catholic measures like Prohibition and shutting down mass immigration in 1921 and 1924. Democrats capitalized, nominating a Catholic, Al Smith, in 1928. Smith lost, but in 1932 Franklin Roosevelt built on the coalition he had forged, and won the presidency by combining the white South—a traditional Democratic stronghold—with the new immigrants of the urban North. Then, to an unprecedented degree, he appointed Jews and Catholics to top administration jobs. In 1935 Time
magazine noted the change by featuring two key Roosevelt advisers, the Catholic Thomas Corcoran and the Jewish Benjamin Cohen, on its cover.
But it was only in 1936, when FDR won despite a terrible economy and the venomous opposition of much of the Northern WASP elite from which he hailed, that Republicans began to acknowledge that America had changed—and left them behind. And that’s exactly what Republicans are realizing again Tuesday night. For the last four years, Republicans have argued publicly, as they did between 1932 and 1936, that their defeat was a fluke. They’ve said John McCain was a bad candidate who only lost because Americans were sick of George W. Bush. They’ve said the Tea Party heralded an anti-government shift that would sweep the GOP back into power. They’ve said America was still a center-right country.
But in slightly more hushed tones, conservatives have also said something else: that Americans are becoming dependent on government, that we’re becoming a nation of victims. It was through this racially loaded rhetoric—crystallized by Romney’s 47 percent comment
to a group of super-rich old white donors in Palm Beach—that conservatives backhandedly acknowledged that the country was moving away from them.