The party's over

Frank A. DeFilippo

June 20, 1991|By Frank A. DeFilippo

THERE are two Democratic parties in America. One is white, suburban and middle-class. The other is minority, urban and poor.

And the trouble with the party of Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy is that the breach is widening.

The class dynamics within the Democratic Party read like a script for a Spike Lee movie -- Bensonhurst comes to the Democratic National Committee. For the truth is, the internal warfare for the soul of the Democratic Party is more a matter of class than color.

Thanks in large measure to Ronald Reagan, politics today is not a matter of party loyalty or ideology. Politics today is a question of greed -- who's got it made and who doesn't, who lives in the suburbs and who lives in the city, who pays taxes and who doesn't, who has a roof to sleep under and who sleeps on the streets.

Remember, the very first major suburban politician who broke into the State House and onto the national scene was a repatriated Democrat who fled the city for a Baltimore County ZIP code, joined the GOP, ended up berating blacks and almost went to the slammer for getting caught with his fingers in the tambourine. He was none other than the pride of Maryland, our very own white knight, Spiro T. Agnew.

Along with the irreparable rip in the Democratic Party is the new assertion of ethnicity: black power, Hispanic power, Asian power -- separatist movements that are forming outside the normal venue of the Democratic Party and which are willing to free-lance their growing numbers and compete with each other for a piece of the action.

In the Maryland suburbs around the District of Columbia, for example, there are 534,602 blacks, 106,009 Asians, 96,181 Hispanics and 43,148 people classified as "other," according to the 1990 census figures. There are 1.4 million whites. During the 10-year period between 1980 and 1990, the black population around D.C. grew by 50.4 percent, Asians by 131 percent, Hispanics by 122 percent and "others" by 88.9 percent. The white population grew by only 8.2 percent.

Witness, too, the cat fight between Maryland Democratic Party chairman Nathan Landow (white) and national party chairman Ron Brown (black). Landow wants a winner-take-all system of voting in presidential elections, which is viewed as anti-minority. And Brown favors the present system of proportional voting, which is seen as beneficial to minorities, especially Jesse Jackson, whose presidential campaign Brown managed in 1988. Gov. William Donald Schaefer sides with Brown.

In Virginia, Sen. Charles Robb (white) and Gov. Doug Wilder (black) are mud-wrestling their way to the top. The two Democratic presidential pretenders are jouncing each other with wiretaps and kiss-and-tell stories of drugs and womanizing.

And just last week, the African-American caucus (seven Democrats) of the Baltimore City Council appealed to council President Mary Pat Clarke (white and Democrat) not to attempt to override the veto of the bottle tax. (The black council members said the revenue lost from repeal would hit their districts disproportionately.)

By the end of the century, the cohort of blacks, Hispanics and Asians will be the numerical majority in America. That statistic alone spells doom for the Democratic Party as we (used to) know it.

But wait a minute. Maybe there's a third Democratic Party. That would be the Democratic Party on Capitol Hill, the one that's totally out of touch with the people, the party that pretends not to notice what's happening with the other two Democratic parties.

The Capitol Hill Democrats are more interested in themselves and their tight little money circles than in the dramatic disintegration and realignment of their own historic party.

They may be right. For in truth, the Democratic Party, as a polyglot institution, is just about dead.

Long live the Democratic Party!

Frank A. DeFilippo writes every other week on politics.

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