As duly noted, the Democrats find themselves impaled on the horns of a dilemma. They still see themselves as working-class champions, but they've lost the rural working poor who now faithfully vote Republican. If they do more than pay lip service to these workers' plight, they alienate their donors (who, truth be told, look an awful lot like Republican donors). But if they don't take concrete steps to once again become the party of the poor, it's darn hard to see how they cobble together a governing majority.
For years unions were the backbone of the Democratic Party. But private-sector unions have been decimated, and now public-sector unions are under assault. In a state of 5 million people, there are only something like 130,000 unionized public employees in Wisconsin and the ability of their unions to be a political force has been seriously undermined. Public workers aren't politically monolithic, but even if they were there are not enough of them to carry the Democrats. Not even close. And besides, the Democrats' loyalty to the public employee unions has more than a little to do with the Republicans being able to steal away the rural working poor.
In short, the Democrats are screwed. Until they can figure out a way out of the trap they are in, about the only thing they have going for them is the Republicans. Here is a party that believes corporations are people but a woman's body is the state's property. Good luck closing that gender gap. At a time when the face of America is growing steadily browner, here is a party that is hostile to immigrants and openly fans the flames of white fears with everything from race-baiting rhetoric and English-only rules to Jim Crow-style voter suppression laws and relentless attacks on affirmative action. Good luck appealing to the fastest growing parts of American society.
To maintain their appeal to the rural working poor, Republicans have no choice but to keep bashing gays, keep worshipping guns and keep cynically exploiting worship, knowing what Napoleon Bonaparte said about religion being the only thing that keeps the poor from murdering the rich. They have no choice because they are one-trick ponies when it comes to the economy, and their one trick doesn't work. Isn't working in Wisconsin. Hasn't worked anywhere.
Call it what you will . . . trickle down economics, supply side theory, Robin Hood in reverse. It's been tried and tried again and again for the past 30 years. All it's done is make the rich a lot richer, the poor even poorer, and the middle class an endangered species. The country grew together in the 30 years after World War II, with every income class growing in real terms (adjusting income for inflation). Then we grew apart in the three decades that followed, with every income class but the top 10% either treading water or sinking, a phenomenon that coincided with trickle down becoming the economic law of the land.
A wrecked economy marked by vanishing jobs and growing income disparity has been met with even more of what caused the wreckage in the first place. More tax cuts for the wealthy. More deregulation. Predictably the economy continues to sputter, worse here in Wisconsin than anywhere. And predictably we continue to grow apart, with 93% of income growth going to the wealthiest 1% of Americans in 2010.
Until the Republicans can rediscover sanity (economically, socially and politically), the only thing they have going for them is the Democrats.
In short, we are all screwed until at least one party that is worth a damn reemerges.