But nothing Dutton did was as influential and far-reaching as his work on a Democratic commission that ran from 1969 to 1972. Better known as the McGovern Commission, for its chairman, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, the twenty-eight-member panel became the vehicle by which a handful of antiwar liberals revolutionized the Democratic Party. Of this group, Dutton emerged as the chief designer and builder. His goal was nothing less than to end the New Deal coalition, the electoral alliance that had supported the party since 1932 around a broad working-class agenda. In its place, Dutton sought to build a “loose peace constituency,” a collection of groups opposed to the Vietnam War and more generally the military-industrial complex. To this end, Dutton recognized that Democrats would need to appeal to three new constituencies-young people, college-educated suburbanites, and feminists-while ceasing to woo two old ones-Catholics and working-class whites. As it turned out, the McGovern Commission became Dutton’s unlikely vehicle for renovating the party’s coalition. He used one proposal to engineer the emerging feminist movement into the Democratic fold. He used other measures to, in effect, help secular, educated elites wrest the party machinery from state and big-city bosses.
As Greenberg concluded about the 2004 election, “The reason for the defection of these more blue-collar Democrats is rooted in their conservative views on cultural issues. Culturally, the defectors differ from other Democrats on abortion, gay marriage, and especially the National Rifle Association, the second biggest area of difference.”
Dutton, though a supporter of his loose peace constituency and the McGovern Commission to the end, harbored few illusions about them. “It might not have been politically shrewd,” he acknowledged to me in two interviews. “What surprised me is that young people didn’t vote until they were thirty-five years old. And black leaders talked a good game [about delivering the black vote], but they didn’t walk a good game.” Dutton, for all his errors in judgment, maintained a refreshing and admirable intellectual honesty. He might have been the shortsighted designer and builder of the modern Democratic Party, but he was hardly one of the bumbling mechanics who run it today.
It'd be nice if someone would drop Thomas Frank a line. The Democrats have long ceased being interested in the plight of working people. When you are convinced that most working people are lazy racist slobs (witness the typical sitcom's male lead) you aren't very motivated to do anything to help them. Of course, with the decline of the middle class we're all going down the tubes eventually. Nobody makes a good living in a subsistence economy, even the rich get poorer eventually. It's just the working stiffs who are feeling the first effects.