Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Special Interests, My Ass

I caught Digby today via Making Light and this reminded me of an old rant I used to rehearse in the deep silence of the night: "Democrats are the party of special interests."

If you've been around for more than a few years, you've almost certainly heard this. You might even have said it in some form or another; I know I have.

Then one day I actually tried to analyze this. What "special" interests are They talking about? (And which They actually benefits from this?)

So I sat down and listed the major groups that the Democratic Party tends to draw voters from, which they clearly court, and who have significantly effective lobbying groups pushing agendas associated with these groups:

  • black folks
  • women (well, pro-choice women and women who want to be able to have a job without sexual harassment)
  • unionized blue-collar workers
  • gay folks
  • environmentalists
Not surprisingly, many of these groups are also those who are demonized or rhetorically coded as Bad by Replublicans. (In the case of women, it's only Some Women -- they have to use subdivide-and-conquer tactics since they do want women to vote for them.) But how "special" are these special interests?
Aside: as near as I can tell, whenever a Republican uses "special", they mean "something I don't like or which I fear will cut into my social or economic position". This is why expansions of equal protection laws (to include, say, women or gay people) are usually met with cries of "special rights". It's to the everlasting shame of the Democratic party that they haven't hit right back with "it's equal rights, you shitheads". "Special" rights are things like "whites only" or "no women allowed" or "sure, go ahead, fag-bash, we don't care".
So let's see:
  • Women are around 51% of the population and 54% of the voters.
  • African Americans are 11% of the population, 11% of the voters.
  • Unionized workers: these represent 20% of all workers at this point.
  • Gay people: depending on how you count, this group is something like 3-10% of the population, with recent research tending toward the 3-5% range.
  • Environmentalists: surveys show that a strong majority of Americans rate the preservation of the environment (including clean drinking water and clean air) as a value they agree with. (The numbers on this are all over the place since it's so dependent on how the questions are asked, but numbers in the 70-80% range regularly show up.)
(These statistics are from CNN's coverage of the 2004 Presidential election and The Census Bureau.)

Each of these groups is fairly large. Women are the majority in the population in the U.S. (by a bit), and are a significant majority of voters. Well over 90% of black voters vote Democratic, so in a nearly 50-50 national race they represent 20% of the votes that Democrats get. Even gay voters, as small a group as they are, are potentially a bigger group than "the Jewish vote" (2%), which seems to not get characterized as a Special Interest (because Republicans have been seeking Jewish voters for years via slavish support for Israel).

These aren't "special interests" -- they're constituencies.

What could be more of a "special" interest than oil company CEOs, anyway?

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