Since 1968 there has been a division in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party between what we call "economic liberals" whose main concerns are economic fairness and "social liberals" whose main concerns are social fairness. By economic fairness we mean issues such as increase in the minimum wage, universal health insurance, and barriers to union organization and representation. By social fairness we mean issues such as civil rights for minorities, gay rights, and freedom of reproductive choice. Now, we don't mean to imply that there people concerned with one aren't concerned with the other, but what we are talking about is emphasis, that is, which area progressives emphasize in their concerns.
This division became pronounced with the Vietnam War when a lot of labor organizations supported Lyndon B. Johnson's handling of the war and a lot of progressives became involved in the anti-war movement. People who had been allies in getting the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed found themselves on the opposite side of a very bitter divide. That division led to a very narrow defeat of Humphrey by Nixon in 1968. It also led to conservatives using wedge issues such as gun control, civil rights, and abortion to divide Democrats. This divide helped Nixon overwhelm McGovern in 1976, and helped Reagan roll up two landslide victories in 1980 and 1984.
Nixon, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, have all used this division to get votes from blue-collar Democrats and win elections. By painting Democratic presidential candidates as being out of touch elitists who didn't represent the values of middle-class Americans, they could win elections. Of course, the irony is that once in office they adopted policies that decimated the power of unions and increased the power of the economic elites that bankrolled their campaigns, especially Reagan and George W. Bush.
Yesterday there were two excellent articles in newspapers that reflected these divisions. One was a news story in the Wall Street Journal on why Hillary Clinton is having trouble raising money in Silicon Valley and the other was an opinion column by Ronald Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times on why Obama is having trouble with union leaders. The Journal article is here and the Brownstein column is here . Both of these articles deal with the divide described above.
Clinton is trusted more by union leaders because she articulates their concerns and values better than Obama. Obama is trusted more by Silicon Valley leaders for the same reason. This division could lead to a Republican victory if the Republicans can nominate a candidate who can package himself as being more in the mainstream and the Democratic nominee as an elitist.
Of course, there are Democratic candidates who can bridge the divide. We saw it here in Ohio with the nomination and election of Sherrod Brown to the United States Senate. Sherrod was against the war from the outset and didn't hide that fact, but a lot of his message was about representing the middle class in Washington. The question becomes whether any candidate who supported the war resolution in 2002 and hasn't made amends for that vote can bridge the divide.
One thing that George W. Bush has done for Democrats is unite us against a common enemy, but it is up to Democrats to make sure we preserve that unity. If we stay united in 2008 we can win the presidential election and maintain our Congressional majorities. If we don't, we won't.