The UL Takeover of the Democratic Party

If Barack Obama defeats Hillary Clinton, this will of course be the first time an African-American has been the presidential nominee of a major party. Equally important, and perhaps even more important in the long run, it will mean that the national Democratic Party has finally and fully been taken over by the “move-on-dot-org” wing of the party, that is, the party’s ultra-liberal (UL) wing.
The party has had a UL wing since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, if not before, but it is only recently that this wing has been able to aspire to dominance in the party. In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s the party was dominated by two forces, organized labor plus the big-city political “machines.” In the 1960s the machines went into decline, but during the same decade organized African-Americans became major players in the party. ULs first became a truly significant factor in 1972, when their candidate, George McGovern, was the Democratic nominee. McGovern was trounced, but his supporters became a permanent element of the Democratic power trinity — labor, African-Americans, and ULs. ULs were young in those days, but in the decades since they have grown not only older but richer and far more influential.
This year they lucked out in having Obama as their candidate. Politics, as everyone knows, makes for strange bedfellows; and strange bedfellows indeed are these ULs (white, highly educated, well-to-do) and their current partners, the legions of African-American voters (most of them neither highly educated nor well-to-do) who, from an understandable sense of ethnic/racial pride, are flocking to Obama’s banner. Add to this a very talented, very attractive, very eloquent candidate, and you have the combination needed to put the ULs in command of the Democratic Party.
Black voters may be giving Obama lots of enthusiasm, but the ULs are giving him enthusiasm along with money and the system of ideas he will have to implement if he becomes president. For, if he abandons their ideas, the ULs — who are nothing if not ideologues — will abandon him. What are the key ideas of today’s UL-ism? Here are a few:
1. Moral liberalism. This involves a rejection of certain traditional Christian values, especially those related to sex. That is, ULs are pro-choice and pro-same-sex marriage.
2. Semi-pacifism. They are not outright pacifists, since there are some wars they believe to have been justified (e.g., World War II and the American Civil War). By and large, however, they don’t believe in war and violence. They have great faith in the nearly absolute efficacy of diplomacy.
3. Cosmopolitanism. While ULs are patriotic, their patriotism is of the “soft” variety. They consider themselves to be first of all citizens of the world, only secondarily citizens of the United States; and they pride themselves on their ability to see, just like good Europeans, America’s many moral shortcomings.
4. Multiculturalism. ULs love all kinds of diversity, including cultural diversity; they have a “rainbow” sensibility. They feel that conservatives who want America to be a monocultural society are narrow-minded and dangerous.
5. Anti-racism. Despite the apparent success of the Obama candidacy, ULs feel that racism is still a major problem in the United States, perhaps the major problem. They have in mind not just anti-African-American racism but anti-immigrant racism as well. The widespread conservative opposition to “illegal aliens” (whom ULs always refer to as “undocumented workers”) is motivated, as ULs see it, by xenophobia and racism.
6. Strict separation of church and state. While often non-religious or only tenuously religious themselves, ULs, who are super-tolerant, don’t object to other people being religious, even intensely religious — provided religion remains a strictly private affair (rather like stamp collecting or pornography). Religion must be kept out of the schools, out of the public arena generally, and above all, out of government.
Clearly, the UL takeover of the party means that it will no longer be your grandfather’s Democratic Party. But will the UL Democratic Party be a popular success in the long run? Probably not — not in a country filled with people who are patriots, religious believers, and not-very-diplomatic cowboys.


  • David R. Carlin Jr.

    David R. Carlin Jr. is a politician and sociologist who served as a Democratic majority leader of the Rhode Island Senate. His books include “Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?: How the Party I Loved Became the Enemy of My Religion” and “The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America.” Carlin is a current professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island at Newport.

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