Edsall, a thoughtful lefty, sees the problems that lie ahead for liberals and their flagship Democratic Party. Some are political and demographic in nature.
“Obama’s victory and the growing evidence of an emerging majority Democratic coalition pose the danger that the left will take false comfort,” he writes. “The demographic forces currently powering the Democratic Party in no way guarantee a resilient coalition assured of a long-term competitive advantage. In addition to the glaring class conflicts between the party’s upscale cultural liberals and the larger body of Democratic voters with pressing material needs, there are a host of potential fissures.”
But policy issues loom even more ominously.
“The much larger hurdle facing contemporary liberalism is the need to reconfigure the welfare state in ways that maintain popular support while addressing a host of conflicting forces,” he explains. “The aging of the population is steadily reducing the ratio of workers to retirees, expanding the ‘dependency ratio,’ even as global competition drives governments worldwide to reduce corporate and individual taxes, cutting off the revenues to finance social welfare spending.”
As President Obama is fond of saying, it’s really about the math. Democrats have won battles big and small in recent political cycles, but now it’s their economy, and their ledgers, Edsall says.
“Other demographic trends, particularly the erosion of supportive extended family networks and the rising numbers of single elderly, serve to increase the demands for benefits from the welfare state,” he writes. “Austerity policies enacted in response to high deficit and debt levels have resulted in increased voter suspicion of the ‘undeserving’ poor and of ‘free riders’ who are perceived as getting more out of government programs than they pay in, weakening support for the welfare state.”
And he’s right that Americans have spoken on the subject of safety nets. Americans demand that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid remain in place for the poor and the elderly.
The challenge, as he boldly tells his own party, is paying for those programs.
It’s not a question for the Democratic Party alone — Republicans have helped run up the debt — but it must be answered.