To Defeat Illiberalism, Democrats Must Embrace Their Success As A Governing Party

Over the past few years, NDN has been advancing an argument that we believe is essential to understanding American politics today – that the two parties are not the same; that over the past thirty years in this new age of globalization, when Democrats have been in power, things have gotten better.  When Republicans have come to power, things have gotten worse. 

The data for establishing this basic framework is overwhelming, and as we discuss in our recent piece excerpted below, those Americans who have come of age since the late 1980s – those in their mid forties and younger – see the world that way and recognize that there are vast differences between the two parties.  There is no “pox on both your houses” talk for younger Americans. 

Why does this matter? First, in our primary debate, we believe that Democrats should be making Republican policies the central cause of our ills today, not globalization, wealth concentration, inequality, or corruption.  Imagine what America would be like today without the trillions spent on failed geopolitical adventurism, a Great Recession and global financial crisis, plutocratic tax cuts, the resistance to climate change policy, universal health care, and smart and sound immigration policy, and the Trump presidency?

Second, when it comes to the urgent task of defeating illiberalism here and abroad, it is critical that we establish that center-left governance has and can work; that it has brought a growing economy, rising wages and incomes, booming stock markets, and lower deficits; provided health care and modern skills and education to help our workers succeed; and worked tirelessly to give everyone – truly everyone – a chance to chase the American dream.  Unlike many of the left and center-left parties in Europe, the center-left Democratic Party is a modern force which has made the nation far better in two consecutive American Presidencies, won more votes in 6 of the last 7 national elections, and won a huge election victory against our illiberal President in 2018.  While not without problems, the American Democratic Party has been arguably the most successful center-left party in the developed world over the past 30 years, and it is our belief that making that story known and understood – and we hope imitated/replicated in allied nations – will not just be critical to defeating illiberalism here in the coming years but also throughout the world in the coming decades. 

So friends, read an excerpt from the latest version of our big argument below, which you can find in full here, and feel free to review earlier iterations of it here and here.  We have a lot of work ahead of us, but let’s begin it by owning our achievements and celebrating them with the American people and others fighting for a better future.

Godspeed, Simon

Americans Under 45 Are Breaking Hard Toward The Democrats — And For Good Reason

By Simon Rosenberg and Chris Taylor

Let’s say you were born in 1974 and are 45 years old today. You were 14 when George H.W. Bush was elected to office and during your teenage years, those when political understandings first form and begin to harden, the economy fell into recession, the deficit exploded, an era of deep military engagement in the Middle East began, and Bush became one of only three Presidents in the post-war period to lose re-election. But then in your twenties this all changed, as Bill Clinton was elected President and the economy boomed, the Internet age began, deficits became surpluses, and median income climbed by over $7,000 per household. The US spent its time in these years fashioning a new post-Cold War order through diplomacy and trade agreements, rather than through military conflict.

This era of economic prosperity and peace came to a halt in your late-twenties and early-thirties with a second Bush, 9/11, failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the worst economic and financial crisis in 75 years. Millions of jobs were lost, median income fell by almost 10%, and the stock market collapsed. But then in your mid-thirties Obama, and all that he represented, was elected President. The economy recovered, uninsured rates plummeted, the deficit came down, and global cooperation on things like climate and trade once again took precedence over military conflict.

Then came the shock and the ugliness of the Trump Presidency, starting with Russia’s extraordinary intervention on his behalf, and continuing with his giving trillions in tax cuts to those who needed it the least, threatening health care for tens of millions, subjecting women and kids to inhumane conditions at the border, and tearing at the country’s broader social fabric though his relentless attacks on women and people of color.

Source: Federal Reserve, Compiled by NDN Staff

Note — Change in the deficit refers to the difference in the annual fiscal deficit between each President’s first and last year in office

It is no wonder that if this is your lived experience, you would lean towards the Democrats today. The two Democratic presidents in your lifetime produced long economic booms, vast improvements in healthcare, and global cooperation and respect, while the three Republican presidents brought recession, rising deficits, disastrous adventurism abroad, and well, Trump. Furthermore, if you are under 45, your life has been shaped by the rise of a truly global economy, an interconnected world enabled by the Internet, a far more diverse population here at home, and important steps towards greater equality for all. This is the world you know — and it is almost as if Trump and the current GOP have risen to roll back and reject all that you understand America to be.

Not surprisingly, all of this has led to what is becoming a truly consequential divide in American politics — voters under 45 have become overwhelmingly Democratic. While these voters had been trending more Democratic in recent years, in 2018 there was an unprecedented and consequential shift among them. In the elections from 2000 to 2016, the Democrats beat the Republicans among under 45s by an average of 6 points, with Republicans even besting the Dems in 20002002, and 2004. In the 2010 and 2014 midterms, the Dem margin was just 2 and 5 points, and in the 2016 general election it was 14 points. In 2018, however, the Democratic advantage in this group exploded to 25 points, 58–33. Over 45s were 50–49 for the Republicans, so these younger Americans were responsible for the entire margin in the Democratic 9 point win last year.