The UL Takeover of the Democratic Party

If Barack Obama defeats Hillary Clinton, this will of course be the first time an African-American has been the presidential nominee of a major party. Equally important, and perhaps even more important in the long run, it will mean that the national Democratic Party has finally and fully been taken over by the “move-on-dot-org” wing of the party, that is, the party’s ultra-liberal (UL) wing.
The party has had a UL wing since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, if not before, but it is only recently that this wing has been able to aspire to dominance in the party. In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s the party was dominated by two forces, organized labor plus the big-city political “machines.” In the 1960s the machines went into decline, but during the same decade organized African-Americans became major players in the party. ULs first became a truly significant factor in 1972, when their candidate, George McGovern, was the Democratic nominee. McGovern was trounced, but his supporters became a permanent element of the Democratic power trinity — labor, African-Americans, and ULs. ULs were young in those days, but in the decades since they have grown not only older but richer and far more influential.
This year they lucked out in having Obama as their candidate. Politics, as everyone knows, makes for strange bedfellows; and strange bedfellows indeed are these ULs (white, highly educated, well-to-do) and their current partners, the legions of African-American voters (most of them neither highly educated nor well-to-do) who, from an understandable sense of ethnic/racial pride, are flocking to Obama’s banner. Add to this a very talented, very attractive, very eloquent candidate, and you have the combination needed to put the ULs in command of the Democratic Party.
Black voters may be giving Obama lots of enthusiasm, but the ULs are giving him enthusiasm along with money and the system of ideas he will have to implement if he becomes president. For, if he abandons their ideas, the ULs — who are nothing if not ideologues — will abandon him. What are the key ideas of today’s UL-ism? Here are a few:
1. Moral liberalism. This involves a rejection of certain traditional Christian values, especially those related to sex. That is, ULs are pro-choice and pro-same-sex marriage.
2. Semi-pacifism. They are not outright pacifists, since there are some wars they believe to have been justified (e.g., World War II and the American Civil War). By and large, however, they don’t believe in war and violence. They have great faith in the nearly absolute efficacy of diplomacy.
3. Cosmopolitanism. While ULs are patriotic, their patriotism is of the “soft” variety. They consider themselves to be first of all citizens of the world, only secondarily citizens of the United States; and they pride themselves on their ability to see, just like good Europeans, America’s many moral shortcomings.
4. Multiculturalism. ULs love all kinds of diversity, including cultural diversity; they have a “rainbow” sensibility. They feel that conservatives who want America to be a monocultural society are narrow-minded and dangerous.
5. Anti-racism. Despite the apparent success of the Obama candidacy, ULs feel that racism is still a major problem in the United States, perhaps the major problem. They have in mind not just anti-African-American racism but anti-immigrant racism as well. The widespread conservative opposition to “illegal aliens” (whom ULs always refer to as “undocumented workers”) is motivated, as ULs see it, by xenophobia and racism.
6. Strict separation of church and state. While often non-religious or only tenuously religious themselves, ULs, who are super-tolerant, don’t object to other people being religious, even intensely religious — provided religion remains a strictly private affair (rather like stamp collecting or pornography). Religion must be kept out of the schools, out of the public arena generally, and above all, out of government.
Clearly, the UL takeover of the party means that it will no longer be your grandfather’s Democratic Party. But will the UL Democratic Party be a popular success in the long run? Probably not — not in a country filled with people who are patriots, religious believers, and not-very-diplomatic cowboys.


David R. Carlin Jr. is a politician and sociologist who served as a Democratic majority leader of the Rhode Island Senate. His books include "Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?: How the Party I Loved Became the Enemy of My Religion" and "The Decline and Fall of the Catholic Church in America." Carlin is a current professor of sociology and philosophy at the Community College of Rhode Island at Newport.

  • Deal Hudson

    David writes about “not-very-diplomatic cowboys,” well, I’m from Texas but I can’t really claim “cowboy” status, though I wish I could because my father rode well enough to teach it in his youth. I’m sure he is referring to our president who can be a bit blunt at times but is more diplomatic than he is given credit for. I think Carlin has hit the nail on the head regarding the UL support for Obama — this is not good news for the Democrats, in spite of the present Obamania.

  • EK Pavlat

    Right after the 2004 presidential election, I recall that exit polls showed that “moral issues” was, surprisingly, the top issue of voters. Accordingly, Rep. Nancy Pelosi went on radio and commented that Democrats hadn’t “done a good enough job of communicating their message” when it came to morality.

    I wanted to scream at the radio, “No! We understand your message quite well–it’s the WRONG MESSAGE!”

    In 2006, things were looking pretty good for Democrats for Life, as Sen. Casey of PA, Gov. Ritter of CO, and several pro-life Democratic representatives were elected. Not so good right now, with Obama supporting federal funding for abortions (the second nominee in a row to do so). Very frustrating.

  • Deal Hudson

    Eric, the Democrats are facing a dilemma: Many have made an effort to become “faith-friendly” after 2004, and 2006, as you say, recorded some progress. But with Obama, it is going to very hard to make the case, except with the far left, the UL as Carlin calls it. But it is important to note that all the leaders of the Religious Left (Wallis et al) are UL as well, thus, the dilemma.

  • Zoe Romanowsky

    All of these are ultra-liberal positions?? Numbers two and three sound very similar to the Church’s positions.

    It seems a real stretch to say if you’re against war and violence and prefer diplomacy, you are “semi-pacifist.” And even if you want to use the phrase, is this supposed to be a bad thing??

    In number three, the principle there is actually similar to the Catholic position: We are called to see ourselves as Christians over and above our loyalties to national or party loyalties.

    There are some very disturbing elements of the “Ultra Liberal” agenda, as there are in the “Ultra Conservative” one, so I’d prefer we judge these positions against our Catholicism rather than our partisanship.

  • Chris

    Unfortunately the young people who Obama’s campaign depends on don’t care that he’s an ultra-liberal, because he reflects the same values and opinions they’ve been inundated with over their stay on campus. So far, the “youth vote” has been a paper tiger, in part because the George McGoverns and John Kerry, while reflecting liberal ideology, were, stylisticly, just like the middle aged white guys they ran against.
    Even more so then Clinton, Obama’s seen as “cool”, and supporting him, and voting for him is as well. My fear is, that this might finally be the year that the college aged minds full of mush decide to vote, and we end up with a President based on teenaged peer pressure. There are enough baby-boom 60’s retreads, combined with “millenial” generation kids to make it a real possibility.
    Zoe- lets be honest. While pacifism and “citizen of the world” rhetoric is certainly present in portions of the American Catholic community, it’s not mainstream- either in the Church or in American politics. Of course we owe our highest duty to God and his Church, that doesn’t mean it’s (automatically)Catholic to support, say, increased power for international unelected bodies, or the incorporation of foreign precedents in our legal system. What would be unCatholic and unChristian would be to claim automatic superiority for a particular ethnic or national group- thus denying our common humanity. Rejecting cosmopolitanism doesn’t do that.
    Just a suggestion- Samuel Huntington’s “Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity” talks about the question of cosmopolitanism at length.Worth looking at. Set his view of immigration aside- that’s a different argument.

  • Zoe

    Chris, Not quite sure you’re addressing my points. Catholics are not called to be “mainstream.” We’re actually supposed to be against war and violence and to allow for them only under the most stringent criteria (Just War).

    I agree that “cosmopolitanism” has some big problems, but my point was that a similar principle exists in a Catholic world view – that allegiance to the Church comes before country or anything else.

  • Jay Smigielski

    Actually, UL are not for true diversity. They like diversity as long as the person marches lockset with their views. Any other views must be silenced. Try talking to a UL and say you are pro-life, or favor enforcing immigration laws. It is like having a basket of different colored apples. They are still all apples. But a basket of apples, oranges, melons, bananas…now that is true diversity!

  • Dave Carlin


    In listing the 6 UL marks, my purpose wasn’t to say whether these are good or bad (although for the most part I consider them bad). My purpose, rather, was to describe the UL ideology — and then to suggest that, given the kind of people who vote in the US, this is probably not an ideology that will be conducive to the long-run political success of the Democratic Party.

    Dave Carlin

  • Zoe

    Thanks for the clarification, David. I guess I’m so used to “ultra liberal” being synonymous with “ultra bad,” it seemed important to look at where some of those UL marks may be reasonable and even compatible with Catholic teaching/thinking.

  • Chris

    What I was trying to get at, is that pacifism is a fringe view among Catholics( although in certain religious quarters it’s a default position), and that part of the (for lack of a better word) “liberal” world view requires such a narrow view of what constitutes a “just war” as to be in effect pacifist.
    Now that may be within the (broad)bounds of Catholic thought-faithful Catholics may disagree, but it’s more problematic when you’re looking to elect a US President, no?

  • Zoe

    Chris, I agree with you that pacifism is a minority view — whether in or out of the Church. But I don’t think most people who hold “ultra liberal” views similar to the ones written in this article are pacifists. Barack Obama isn’t an “in effect” pacifist — he supported the invasion of Afghanistan and continues to do so, for example. Not supporting the Iraq War hardly qualifies as being close to pacifism.

    I’m not sure what a “narrow view” of Just War really means… By your definition, I might be an “in effect” pacifist, and so would many Catholics I know. Most “ultra liberals” outside the Church seem to know little about Just War in the first place so I wonder how relevant this is.

    I’d actually welcome a president who holds to a narrow view of what constitutes reasons for going to war. I happen not to believe war is an acceptable way to solve problems, except as a last resort in the most rare of situations.

  • Francis Wippel

    Like the list, but I

  • AB

    “…second nominee in a row”. forgive me if I’m missing something but are you saying Al Gore was not pro-choice?

  • AB

    or did not support fed funding of abortions?