Consider this remarkable statistic. In 1980, 32 percent of the electorate consisted of white Democrats (or at least white Carter voters) -- likewise, in 2008, 32 percent of the electorate consisted of white Obama voters. But whereas, in 1980, just 9 percent of the electorate were nonwhite Carter voters, 21 percent of the electorate were nonwhite Obama voters last year. Thus, Carter went down to a landslide defeat, whereas Obama defeated John McCain by a healthy margin.I am struck by the economic implications of this shift in the electorate. The average Democratic voter is probably not poorer relative to the average Republican than in 1980, since Democrats have lost poor white voters and probably gained richer white ones. Nonetheless, the ethnic shift in the U.S. population does give the less well-off more of a voice-- at least if you assume that Democrats can represent the economic interests of the less well-off more effectively than Republicans.
At the height of the Bush era, as income inequality soared, lobbyists and Republicans flaunted their symbiosis, Rovian smear campaigning reached its apotheosis and the Republicans increased their majorities in Congress, it was possible to think that American democracy was being hollowed out by an oligarchy that was cementing its economic gains with a lock on the political process. But it turned out that the country's hardening democratic arteries still ran clear enough --defibrillated by an unpopular and mismanaged war started until false pretenses -- to give the Democrats a fresh shot at rolling back the great wealth shift and the great risk shift of the last 30 years.
As in 1980, democracy performed its core function: give failure its due reward, throw the bums out, and let a fresh crew at least try to do better. Today that means mending the safety net, rebuilding the educational system, and creating more opportunity for those not born into privelege.