From Rick Perlstein's Nixonland:
Nixon groped toward giving that Lawrence Welkish mass a name and a nobility of purpose in a May 16 national radio address. William Safire took special delight in poaching a keynote from a liberal. Paul Douglas once gave a speech labeling all those millions of Americans condescended to by their economic overlords the "silent center." Nixon described the "silent center" as "the millions of people in the middle of the American political spectrum who do not demonstrate, who do not picket or protest loudly." They were loud. You were quiet. They proclaimed their virtue. You, simply, lived virtuously. Thus Nixon made political capital of a certain experience of humiliation: the humiliation of having to defend values that seemed to you self-evident, then finding you had no words to defend them, precisely because they seemed so self-evident. Nixon gave you the words. "A great many quiet Americans have become committed to answers to social problems that preserve personal freedom," he said. "As this silent center has become a part of the new alignment, it has transformed it from a majority to a minority."
From Josh Green's piece in the Atlantic about the Clinton campaign. This is a memo written by Mark Penn:
As this race unfolds, the winning coalition for us is clearer and clearer. There are three demographic variables that explain almost all of the voters in the primary—gender, party, and income. Race is a factor as well, but we are fighting hard to neutralize it.I find the similarities interesting--especially the echoes of the "silent center" with "Invisible Americans." One difference between now and 1968 is that a lot of those people who identified as the "silent majority" are now Republicans, and there are fewer of them as a percentage of the population than there were then. We've become a far more ethnically diverse nation (much to Pat Buchanan's dismay), and working to middle class white voters, while still a majority, aren't quite the unstoppable force they once were.
We are the candidate of people with needs.
We win women, lower classes, and Democrats (about 3 to 1 in our favor).
Obama wins men, upper class, and independents (about 2 to 1 in his favor).
Edwards draws from these groups as well.
Our winning strategy builds from a base of women, builds on top of that a lower and middle class constituency, and seeks to minimize his advantages with the high class democrats.
If we double perform with WOMEN, LOWER AND MIDDLE CLASS VOTERS, then we have about 55% of the voters.
The reason the Invisible Americans is so powerful is that it speaks to exactly how you can be a champion for those in needs [sic]. He may be the JFK in the race, but you are the Bobby.
And race relations have gotten better in those 40 years as well. The thing that shocked me most about Nixonland was the near constant violence it described during that period--I was born in 1968, two days after Nixon was elected, so I didn't live that period, and my parents didn't talk about it much, if at all. And let's just say my American History classes in high school didn't get that far. (My current students are often hampered the same way.) But that means that white working class voters aren't responding with the same vigor to those sorts of appeals. Sure, they worked to an extent--Clinton won some late states on just that strategy. And had she used that strategy from the beginning, she might well have pulled it off.
But at what cost?