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Lost Hope of Lasting Democratic Majority

In retrospect, gun control and environmental issues were harbingers of one of the major themes of postindustrial politics: White working-class voters were slowly repelled by the policy demands of the secular, diverse, postindustrial voters who were supposed to power a new Democratic majority.

The book is all but silent on the issues that fit into this category, like same-sex marriage, immigration, climate change, inequality or racial justice. In fairness, the book was written before many of these issues rose to prominence. It was written near the “end of history.” The 2000 election campaign was a relatively dull affair, with low turnout and few stark differences between the candidates. No one could have foreseen the next 20 years of wars, economic crisis, cultural change and social unrest.

Yet despite all the intervening events of the last two decades, the book did get something very important right: America was entering a new era of postindustrial politics.

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As Mr. Judis noted in an email, professionals have “grown, if anything, more Democratic” than the book foresaw. Maybe the book didn’t predict a blue Virginia or a blue Colorado — but in some sense, those shifts proved that the thesis of the book was more powerful than its authors imagined. The industrial era of political conflict really was coming to a close.

While the authors argued Democrats would follow in the footsteps of Progressive Era Republicans, who ran as reformers and won overwhelming electoral victories, the next 20 years proved more reminiscent of the Gilded Age — the decades of political division, resurgent populism, political reaction and growing inequality that ultimately set the stage for the rise of the progressives.

Perhaps this is the book’s greatest shortcoming. It assumed that the transition to a new postindustrial, multiracial society would come without anything like the conflict, unrest and reaction that accompanied industrialization. Indeed, the book failed to imagine the basic contours of political conflict in the postindustrial era — let alone why the Democrats would be well positioned to guide the nation through those challenges. Instead, it assumed a peaceful, prosperous and content nation, one where centrist Democrats offering small solutions to small problems might fend off stolid Reagan-era Republicans in perpetuity.

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