Is there a Democratic “Silent Majority”?

Ken Wolf
Ken Wolf

Some of us are old enough to remember when Richard Nixon appealed to the “silent majority” of Americans in 1968 and 1972 to win the presidency.

At that time in U.S. history, the term referred to all those who disliked Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs to end poverty, and the many people protesting LBJ’s Vietnam war policies. The term “silent majority” was also a way to appeal to conservative southerners who disliked Democratic civil rights policies.

“Silent Majority” was a code word used to appeal to Southern racists. Later, Ronald Reagan would use the term “states rights” as a similar code. It certainly worked for both Nixon and Reagan, as Republicans reclaimed the states of the former Confederacy for the GOP.

Well, that was then. Now the term may be acquiring a new meaning.

Jennifer Rubin wrote a column for the Washington Post (2-17-22) with the intriguing title “Democrats should embrace the silent, sane majority.” She began with this interesting quote from Richard Nixon: “If a vocal minority, however fervent its cause, prevails over reason and the will of the majority, this nation has no future.”

Rubin, who was only a child when Nixon said this, was known for many years as a conservative columnist who wrote for right-of-center magazines and papers such as Commentary, Human Events, National Review and the New York Post. She was hired by the Washington Post as a conservative columnist in 2010, but finally rejected the GOP in 2020 after Trump was elected.

In her “silent, sane majority” column, Rubin quotes statistics from a number of Canadian public opinion polls in which clear majorities of 65%, 69%, and 72% opposed the recent truckers blockade of the border and of an important bridge. A Maru Public Opinion poll found, Rubin tells us, that “56% of the respondents did not agree with the protesters in ‘any way, shape, or form’ and 64% said ‘Canada’s democracy is being threatened by a group of protesters and they must be stopped immediately.’”

Rubin then points out that only a small number of truckers were opposed to the mask mandate and “many were scrambling to distance themselves from the movement, which they view as radical and fringe.” American press reports have also confirmed that organizers of these trucker blockades were only a few people supported by the alt-right in the United States. I wondered about this when I saw Confederate flags in the television reports of the protest.

“When things turn violent, disruptive, or downright scary,” she adds, “demonstrations will find little sympathy among ordinary people.” Nixon, Rubin notes, “wasn’t wrong about everything.

This is as true in the United States as in Canada. Before ending her article, Rubin suggests that Democrats rethink this whole “silent majority” thing, and even remember that Bill Clinton, despite (or perhaps because of) his centrist bias, was elected twice by appealing to people “who work hard and play by the rules.”

We now see Republican legislators across America not playing by the rules, whether the issue is curbs on open debate, restriction on open records requests, and voting restrictions – or even the serious attempt to illegally and violently change the results of the 2020 presidential election.

If I were advising the Biden administration or the media folks who keep predicting an overwhelming Republican victory in the 2022 mid-term elections, I would suggest that they give some attention to the larger point that Jennifer Rubin is making in this column.

After all, a “silent sane majority” of Americans are vaccinated, and many have followed pandemic rules and cautions. Even as mask mandates are lifted, I still see some people, even in “red” Kentucky, wearing masks indoors to protect others.

Yes, the MAGA folks do make much noise, and get consistent press attention – but I will give Jennifer Rubin, who deserted the GOP and converted to the sensible center, the last word here: “So long as Republicans take the side of bullies, insurrectionists, and others who menace public officials, Democrats should side with the silent majority.”

This is how she ends her column. Maybe it is where Democrats should focus their campaigns this fall.

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Ken Wolf

Ken Wolf spent 40 years teaching European and World History, punctuated by several administrative chores, at Murray State University, retiring in 2008. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

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