As usual following a decisive win in the American political elections, there is now concern about the future of the losing party. Is this the end of the Democratic Party, and perhaps even the end of the two-party system in the United States?
Be of good cheer, ye of little faith. Things don't work that way in this remarkable country, with its remarkable political system.
Right now, of course, the Democrats are a bedraggled and sorry lot. Their national constituency is down to those minority groups who have, or think they have, been disadvantaged over the past four Reagan years. What is left of the national Democratic Party today? Many blacks, but not by any means all. A lot of women, but not enough to have changed the election outcome. The unemployed, but not all. Social-security pensioners, but not even all of these.
You can't rebuild a winning national party out of the above fragments. This is merely a listing of those groups that today think themselves left out of the Reagan economic boom.
Winning national parties are not made up out of fragments of the disgruntled in boom times. They are made out of widespread dissatisfaction with the people in office. Right now there is no widespread dissatisfaction with the people in office in the United States. Quite plainly, a substantial majority of the voters are satisfied with things as they are and with those in charge of things as they are.
It won't do the Democrats any real good to have post-mortem study sessions and try to work out new and better policies with which to try to entice the voters back to their standard next time. The only useful thing they can do is keep their organization intact, look around for better candidates for local and regional offices, and wait to see how the national future evolves.
It would be a particularly foolish waste of time to try to think up new national policies right now, because no person can foresee today what the national needs of the country will be four or eight years from now. Political thinking today would be in a vacuum.
No political party in a modern democratic country has ever been able to enjoy indefinitely the kind of general approval the Republicans enjoy today. The Democrats did well with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, but eventually they outstayed their welcome. The longest run any American party has had since the Civil War was the Republican dominance from 1860 to 1912, with eight years out for the two Grover Cleveland terms. For 44 out of 52 years the Republicans ran the United States.
A repetition is conceivable, but unlikely. The revival of the national Democratic Party will come if and when there is widespread dissatisfaction with the party in office, which means Republican for at least the next four years.
If you can tell me when Reagan policies will generate widespread dissatisfaction, you will have named the time for a Democratic revival. The policies the Democrats will propose at that time will be shaped out of the nature and cause of the dissatisfaction.
But can you identify today the conditions that will at some uncertain time in the future generate dissatisfaction?
You, and I, can guess. The economists can do a little better than guessing, but not much. Probably the most likely cause of rising dissatisfaction a few years from now will be the consequences of Mr. Reagan's unfunded deficits. If those trigger a revival of inflation, with or without high interest rates, popular attitudes would change.
Also, who knows what may happen on the wider world stage? War or a danger of war involving the United States could make a big difference. Depression or war could unleash the kind of dissatisfaction that opens the way for an opposition party. But not until the cause of a new dissatisfaction is seen can the opposition party frame intelligently and effectively the policies that can capitalize on the dissatisfaction.
The sensible thing for Democrats right now is to concentrate on putting forward better senators, congressmen, governors, mayors - and dogcatchers.