In 1984 the tone of the Democratic presidential campaign was set in Iowa, where issue activists and interest group leaders have come to play a disproportionately large role in determining the outcome. But in 1988, subsequent contests -- most notably the vote on Super Tuesday -- have overshadowed Iowa and at least discounted the importance of the momentum that it imparts.
No longer are all the candidates forced to debate within the narrow limits set by what is "ideologically permissible" in Iowa. Indeed, Super Tuesday virtually forced candidates to craft a broader message that has the potential to appeal to a wider electorate in November.
For example, in 1984 all but one of the Democratic candidates campaigning in Iowa embraced the "nuclear freeze," leaving little to debate except the apparently crucial matter of who had embraced it first and most fervently. Instead of a vigorous debate on national security, we were treated to a show of abject obeisance to the prevailing orthodoxy of the day. That the "freeze" is not even an issue in 1988 suggests how substantial an idea it was in 1984.
In this campaign, we've already had a more serious and substantive debate on questions of national security. Sen. Albert Gore in particular has raised important questions about what our country must do to meet its responsibilities as a world leader -- questions that go to the heart of the Democratic Party's credibility on national defense. Now, I'll admit that I'd like to hear even more on this subject, but at least we're having a more candid and relevant debate on defense than in 1984.
In my judgment, the success of Super Tuesday bodes well for the party's chances in November. The officials who created it and the southern Democrats who voted in it have a greater stake in the nominating process and a greater incentive to support the party's nominee in the general election.
Since 1964, Democrats have lost four out of five elections, with only Jimmy Carter squeaking by in 1976. Ironically, the party's crackup began the year of Lyndon Johnson's landslide, when white southerners began to defect in droves over the issue of civil rights. By 1968 the Vietnam War had opened a bitter schism that has not yet closed entirely.
In the 1970s, double-digit inflation and the decline of old-line, highly unionized industries undermined the Democratic Party's economic consensus as policies demanded by leaders of constituency groups began to conflict with those needed to fix the economy and promote widespread prosperity.
But no single factor contributed more to the party's electoral decline than its identification with ideas, causes and values that were alien to most Americans. Elements of the party seemed estranged from its mainstream roots, exhibiting an affinity for "cultural radicalism" at home and a reflexive hostility to the use of U.S. power abroad.
Without a consensus behind "populist" economics and a strong foreign policy to bind the party together, its division on cultural issues came to the forefront.
A decade and a half of party reform also took a heavy toll on party unity and discipline. Elected leaders once served as the "brokers" of interest-group demands. But with the reforms, they were supplanted by a new party elite of interest-group leaders and activists who came to dominate the party's primaries, caucuses and conventions. Not by accident, I would argue, with the takeover of the party by a new elite, Democrats began faring as poorly in national elections as we had in the abysmal years after the Civil War.
In 1984, "pressure group" politics reached its culmination in the nomination of Walter Mondale, himself an able and decent man but one whose campaign both embodied and legitimated the demands of the new party elite. Despite the vocal support of feminist groups, he failed to win a majority among women who voted in the general election, and despite Herculean efforts by labor leaders, 51 percent of all blue-collar workers and 62 percent of all white-collar workers voted for Ronald Reagan.
In other words, the party elites weren't able to deliver the votes of the rank and file they claimed to represent. In fact, however, it had already become evident that Democrats had lost many of the wage-earning and working middle-class Americans who had long been the mainstay of our coalition. Today they could be characterized as our "forgotten constituency."
After the party lost 49 out of the 50 states in 1984, it was clear to many of us that elected Democrats could no longer stand back and watch the balkanization of the party continue. If for no other reason than to ensure our own political survival, elected officials at the state and federal levels knew we would have to act to prevent the national party from becoming an albatross around our own necks.
So we acted -- forming the Democratic Leadership Council, working to increase the number of "super delegates" to the national convention and creating Super Tuesday as a means to change the dynamic of the nominating process. We got welcome support from the new party chairman, Paul Kirk, who wisely and courageously abolished the special interest fiefdoms that were institutionally entrenched in the Democratic National Committee.
The logic of Super Tuesday was not, as some assumed, to launch a conservative southern candidate. The real purpose, as far as I was concerned, and I was one of the architects, was to give voters in the participating states a greater voice in selecting the nominees for both parties and, of even greater importance, to force the candidates to face a broader and more typical electorate. Super Tuesday was designed to be the first authentic test of the candidates' ability to mount a national campaign.
Nonetheless, skeptics confidently predicted that it would blow up in its creators' faces. Iowa and New Hampshire, they said, would again set the tone and terms of the political debate and winnow the field. Candidates who failed to win or at least gain momentum in Iowa would be automatically finished. Turnout on Super Tuesday would be lower than in 1984, and moderate and conservative Democrats would cross over in overwhelming numbers and vote instead for Republicans.
Of course, none of that happened. Instead, turnout was higher than in 1984, not least because seven southern and border states switched from caucuses to primaries. A significant crossover vote simply didn't materialize -- only 7 percent of the people who voted in Republican primaries identified themselves as Democrats, while 5 percent of those voting in the Democratic primaries said they were Republicans.
Pat Robertson, the supposed beneficiary of a large Democratic crossover vote, ran a poor third and didn't even win a majority of the evangelical vote.
And despite Republican boasts, two out of three voters who voted on Super Tuesday cast ballots for Democrats. And Democrats outpolled Republicans in every Super Tuesday state.
Interestingly, of the four candidates catapulted into the lead by Super Tuesday -- Dukakis, Gore and Jackson on the Democratic side and Bush on the Republican side -- none finished higher than third in Iowa. And, of course, Gore's strategy of bypassing Iowa and husbanding his resources for the main event on Super Tuesday was vindicated in dramatic fashion, however he finishes from here on out.
To us in the Democratic Leadership Council, Super Tuesday was a means to a larger end -- the same end we have pursued doggedly since the DLC's inception: to rebuild a broad-based party coalition that is capable not only of winning the White House but of governing the nation. That requires not an ideological shift to the left or right but a return to the party's traditional moorings: economic strength at home and assertive U.S. leadership abroad. We need to unify our party around broad principles, not narrow interests.
What has emerged from our efforts is the outline of what, I believe, is a powerful new public philosophy, a Democratic approach to governing that seeks to awaken the spirit of civic enterprise in America.
This philosophy holds that a strong ethic of civic obligation, of equal sacrifice for the common good, is integral to the success and survival of a democratic society. It recognizes that without the personal commitment of an active and educated citizenry, government can accomplish little lasting social good. I believe America is ready for a renaissance of civic spirit and enterprise, ready for a new politics based on self-government and community.
Former governor Robb is a Democratic candidate for senator from Virginia. This is adapted from remarks to the City Club of Cleveland.