THE TWO AMERICAS
Our Current Political Deadlock
and How to Break It
By Stanley B. Greenberg
St. Martin's Press -- 400pp -- $25.95
In politics, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So Stanley B. Greenberg, author of a provocative new book, The Two Americas: Our Current Political Deadlock and How to Break It, should feel mighty flattered. The reason: Democratic Presidential candidates have liberally borrowed suggestions from this 400- on ways to end America's 50-50 political divide.
For example, the theme of North Carolina Senator John Edwards' standard stump speech is "The Two Americas," just like the book's title. Edwards' populist "One America" policy prescriptions are eerily similar to the "100% America" platform suggested by the author. Then there's Greenberg's call for a bold "JFK Democrats" strategy that "seeks an epic battle between the Reagan Revolutionary view of the world and the Democrats' Opportunity vision." As it turns out, a senator from Massachusetts with the initials JFK -- John F. Kerry, that is -- has adopted Greenberg's talk-tough-and-offer-clear-distinctions-from-the-GOP approach. Not surprisingly, Kerry's message-meister is Robert Shrum, Greenberg's partner in Democracy Corps, a liberal group that conducted the surveys that undergird the book.
The fact that Kerry and Edwards have done so well in the 2004 Presidential contest is clear evidence that Greenberg, who is not working for any White House wannabe, is on to something -- at least something that appeals to Democratic primary voters. We won't know until the general election whether Greenberg's message, as channeled through the Democratic ticket, sells to a wider audience.
The Two Americas is a must-read for political junkies. There's not a political insider in America who will agree with everything in it, but it should help every reader -- regardless of party or philosophy -- understand the Democratic strategy for recapturing the White House. It's also indispensable to anybody interested in the demographic divide that has produced a nation where Congress and the state legislatures are almost evenly split and where no President has captured 50% of the popular vote in 16 years. One reason for the standoff, says Greenberg, is that each party has a base of 46% of the electorate. The author divides each party's loyalists into demographic clusters: six of these for the Democrats, from supereducated women to union families; and seven for the Republicans, from privileged men to the Religious Right.
Greenberg argues that the GOP and the Dems tend to fight tactical battles to reach 50% in any given race by appealing to small blocs of persuadable voters. Among them: men with postgraduate degrees, older white women, devout Catholics, downscale women, and aging blue-collar whites. The good news for Democrats: All of these swing voters, with the exception of highly educated men, are critical of big corporations and open to a populist economic message. Now the bad news: With the exception of highly educated swing voters, the up-for-grabs groups are socially conservative and fond of the nra and pro-life groups.
Greenberg profiles three swing groups as a way of explaining how complicated it is for either party to break the deadlock. "Tampa Blue" refers to blue-collar Florida suburbs where Democrats often lose the working-class, socially conservative, pro-military voters because of social (not economic) issues. "Eastside Tech" is the rapidly growing Seattle suburbs, where wealthy techies fly the flag, drive suvs, and agree with Republicans on economic issues but are repelled by the Religious Right's influence over the GOP. "Heartland Iowa" means the farming counties surrounding Des Moines. Voters here believe deeply in faith, family, and community, but they are concerned about the harsh tone of GOP culture wars. In Greenberg's view, any candidate who attracts a plurality of these voters -- as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did -- is likely to win.
Both parties, however, face similar problems reaching them. That's because the 8% of Americans who are nonaligned buy neither party's total package. Rather than gambling on a new formula that could break the impasse, both parties find it easier to fire up their respective bases with red-meat rhetoric. Greenberg, though, is a gambler, offering an eight-point solution for Democrats that ranges from tax reform to a middle-class social safety net. He even offers a hypothetical strategy for the GOP. However, Greenberg inexplicably ignores the GOP strategy of appealing to the investor class by emphasizing tax cuts that benefit savings and investment. By not discussing Bush's "ownership society" and his attacks on "junk lawsuits," the author fails to give readers a taste of the President's emerging campaign plan.
Agree with him or not, Greenberg gives us plenty to think about. It's clear that John Kerry has already read this book. It would be a good idea for George Bush to check it out, too.
By Richard S. Dunham