Chasing the illusion of Reagan Democrats

When the Democrats formally take control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, there will be talk of this being the first step toward a Democratic president in two years. Maybe. But more than likely we are looking at a Democratic movement that really doesn't have the legs to make a real run in 2008.

Democrats won because George Bush and his programs failed, corruption ran rampant and the war in Iraq went terribly wrong. We did not win because we had a program better than the Republicans, and, from close observation, we did not do a good job organizing our Democratic base. I have had this conversation with African American and Latino American political activists over the last 20 years or more.

We had another campaign season in which our communities did not get very well organized. Another season in which our plea to put money and people into low-income neighborhoods early went unheeded. But because the party won big without doing it, they are even more unlikely to do it between now and 2008.

The 37th legislative district runs from the University of Washington almost to Renton, along Lake Washington. It's one of the most diverse districts in the state and has been solidly Democratic for at least three decades or more. I cannot remember when this district has had the ability to turn out more than 50 percent of the eligible Democratic voters.

Other inner city communities with an overwhelming Democratic vote are in a similar position around the nation. The party seems to be content to get 25 percent of the vote that turns out on its own. The majority of the money is spent in the liberal, white communities and the conservative swing-communities fighting over Reagan Democrats.

There seems to be a feeling that if the party gets too close to minorities and poor people that the middle class, white-swing voter will go somewhere else. So the party gives lip service, but no money, to organize its minority base and puts its mailings and doorbellers into the swing neighborhoods. That is how the Democrats lost the South. They lost the Reagan Democrats as well as the Yellow Dogs (die hard Democrats) and their minority base is poorly organized.

It's only when it's clear that a certain percentage of that swing vote is possible that they turn their energy to the minority communities to turn out the vote the candidate needs in the last two weeks of the campaign. If the swing vote is higher, then the turnout in minority communities can be low. If the swing vote goes Republican, then the minority vote must be higher.

If you are a serious political organizer in a minority community you are caught between reliance on a party that is lukewarm toward serious organizing and a community that does not have the infrastructure to get the job done on its own.

It's clear that the only ones who have an interest in organizing the minority community are the communities themselves. So be it. We will be forced to organize without the financial and political aid of political parties. We will not owe our allegiance to either major party, and we can finally choose candidates because they support our interests rather than because we are members of their party.

Interest groups are rewarded because of the votes they bring to the polls or the money they donate. If they do both, the rewards are maximized. If they cannot demonstrate the ability to consistently do either (or they do neither), their portion of the political and social pie continuously shrinks.

It is not in the political parties' interest to strengthen minority interest groups. However, the interest groups must be strong enough to influence the parties. Those interest groups who are already influential within the party do not want to slice the pie pieces smaller. So, one must demonstrate the influence to have a seat and a plate at the political table.

Between now and the 2008 election, inner city communities must organize themselves to protect the interests of the least and the left out. Scarce dollars must be pooled and voters must be organized door-to-door if the lower middle class and the poor will have a real choice for president.

Over the last 20 years America has been discussing the middle class and the upper class as though they were the only voices in America that matter. It's not because they have any better answers than the poor. It's because politicians know they vote and contribute money.

Every year it takes more and more money to win an election, and the candidates are wealthier and wealthier. They now lend their campaigns millions of dollars as casually as we lend a cup of sugar to our next-door neighbor.

America's future political landscape will, and should, include more than two competing political parties because our current system is pricing most of us out of the game. In the meantime, we better get better at the game on the board because the Republican party will always be closer to conservative voters than the Democrats.

In a short time they will run back to the Republican Party and the Democrats will have done nothing to organize the groups that are the heart of the party and will have egg on their face in 2008, again.

Unless inner city communities do something different this time, the only relevant political issues will be tax cuts for the middle class and wealthy.

Central Area community activist and writer Charlie James may be reached by writing to or by calling 461-1311.[[In-content Ad]]