been born a little earlier, Sam Alito would probably have been a Democrat.
In the 1950's, the middle-class and lower-middle-class whites in places like
Trenton, where Alito grew up, were the heart and soul of the Democratic
But by the late 1960's, cultural politics replaced New Deal politics, and
liberal Democrats did their best to repel Northern white ethnic voters.
Big-city liberals launched crusades against police brutality, portraying
working-class cops as thuggish storm troopers for the establishment. In the
media, educated liberals portrayed urban ethnics as uncultured, uneducated
The liberals were doves; the ethnics were hawks. The liberals had "Question
Authority" bumper stickers; the ethnics had been taught in school to respect
authority. The liberals thought an unjust society caused poverty; the
ethnics believed in working their way out of poverty.
Sam Alito emerged from his middle-class neighborhood about that time, made
it to Princeton and found "very privileged people behaving irresponsibly."
Alito wanted to learn; the richer liberals wanted to strike. He wanted to
join R.O.T.C.; the liberal Princetonians expelled it from campus. He was
orderly and respectful; they were disorderly and disrespectful. The
experience was so searing that he mentioned it in the opening of his
confirmation hearing 37 years later.
In 1971, Fred
important Democratic strategist, acknowledged the rift between educated
liberals and the white working class. In a short book, "Changing Sources of
Power," Dutton argued that white workers had "tended, in fact, to
become a major redoubt of traditional Americanism and of the antinegro,
The New Deal coalition, including Catholics and white ethnics, was dying, he
argued, and should be replaced by a "loose peace coalition" of young people,
educated suburbanites, feminists and blacks.
That plan wasn't stupid, but it didn't work. The party has been in a
downward spiral ever since. John Kerry lost the white working class by 23
percentage points. He lost among his fellow Catholics. He lost the election.
After every defeat, Democrats vow to reconnect with middle-class whites. But
if there is one lesson of the Alito hearings, it is that the Democratic
Party continues to repel those voters just as vigorously as ever. The
Democrats have amply shown why they remain the party of gown, but not town.
First, there was the old subject of police brutality. If you listened to the
questions of Jeff Sessions, a Republican, you heard a man exercised by the
terror drug dealers can inflict on a neighborhood. If you listened to Ted
Kennedy, you heard a man exercised by the terror law enforcement officials
can inflict on a neighborhood. Kennedy railed against "Gestapo-like"
tactics. Patrick Leahy accused Alito of rendering decisions in a "light most
favorable to law enforcement."
If forced to choose, most Americans side with the party that errs on the
side of the cops, not the criminals.
Then there was the old hawk-dove divide. If you listened to Lindsey Graham,
a Republican, you heard a man alarmed by the threats posed by anti-American
terrorists. If you listened to Leahy or Russ Feingold, you heard men alarmed
by the threats posed by American counterterrorists. The Democratic questions
implied that American counterterrorists are guilty until proved innocent,
that a police state is being born.
If forced to choose, most Americans want a party that will fight
aggressively against the terrorists, not the N.S.A.
Then there were the old accusations of bigotry. Kennedy misleadingly and
maliciously asserted that Alito had never written a decision on behalf of an
African-American. But those wild accusations don't carry weight any more.
Rich liberals have been calling white ethnics bigots for 40 years.
Finally, and most important, there is the question of demeanor. Alito is a
paragon of the old-fashioned working-class ethic. In a culture of
self-aggrandizement, Alito is modest. In a culture of self-exposure, Alito
is reticent. In a culture of made-for-TV sentimentalism, Alito refuses to
emote. In a culture that celebrates the rebel, or the fashionable
pseudorebel, Alito respects tradition, order and authority.
What sort of party doesn't admire these virtues in a judge?
The big story of American politics, which was underlined by every hour of
the Alito hearings, is that sometime between 1932 and 1968, the DNA of the
Democratic Party fundamentally changed. In 1932, the Democrats had
working-class DNA. Today, the Democrats have different DNA, the DNA of a
Nancy Dutton's letter back to
Good column (Alito/Democratic party - 1/12/2006) and particularly
nice of you to mention Fred Dutton. I am very impressed that you
were aware of (and read) his book. Right now, you may be the best
thing going for the Republican Party!
You are also great on The News Hour. You might be surprised to learn
that Fred Dutton and John Sears were the 'original Shields and
Brooks." (ask Les Crystal). When Jim (Les and Robin) had the idea of
the Dem/Rep discussion segment in the mid-70s, Fred and John were
the original two and they were 'on call' and it was done
occasionally -- until they decided to make it a regular
feature. Fred was asked to commit to the Friday spot.. He declined
-- three more to put through college and in his first two years
representing the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Embassy of
Washington (some travel required and some economic security).
During his last several years he commented more than once that maybe
he had made a mistake!
Again, thanks for remembering Fred.