From John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams to Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, Massachusetts politicians associated with the Greater New England traditions of reformism, intellectual elitism, and anti-militarism have been defeated by rivals who embody the southern synthesis of social conservatism, populism, and martial patriotism.What to do?
Today, outside of big cities with large black and immigrant populations, the Democratic Party is slowly being confined to Greater New England. The political heirs of the Federalists, the Whigs, and the Progressives, today’s Democrats are in danger of following those parties into oblivion.
For Democrats today, the Midwest is the key to the White House, for the same reason it was crucial a century ago: Its location at the confluence of the major cultural regions of the United States means that its politicians must appeal to more than one tradition. During the era when it was the party supported by Greater New England, from 1868 to 1932, the Republican Party sent only two New England presidents to the White House: Chester A. Arthur and Calvin Coolidge, both from Vermont. Of the 11 Republican presidents during this era, seven -- Ulysses Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, William Henry Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Warren Harding -- were from Ohio. Democratic talent scouts should be eyeing midwestern governors.
Greater New England will be the regional core of the Democratic Party for a long time to come. But the next Democratic majority, if there is one, will be one in which the New England political tradition is merely one of several. The Democrats may remain the party of New England. But the Democrats must not be the New England party.