For those tired of hearing me rail about the problems in the GOP, an excellent long-form piece in The Atlantic explores the history of teh Democratic Party and challenges they face:
Over the previous 12 years the party itself had steadily diminished in importance, as single-issue and single-interest groups increasingly provided votes and money directly to candidates. By 1980, for instance, government-employee and teachers-union members typically constituted one half of the delegates at Democratic national and state conventions. Pension and benefit commitments were being made at the federal, state, and local levels that kept the unions happy but clearly could not be sustained long-term. Carter had created a Department of Education as a payoff for endorsement and financial support of teachers unions, in expectation of a 1980 primary challenge from Senator Ted Kennedy. The same syndrome was afflicting both major political parties. Whether you were pro- or anti-abortion, pro- or anti-gun control, pro- or anti-trade liberalization, pro- or anti-tax-code changes and had a letterhead and political money, you used your leverage directly with officeholders. The parties themselves had been reduced to the staging of quadrennial conventions and enforcing rules for the presidential-nominating process.
There had been a time in which the two major parties had served as rallying points for policy formulation and leadership between national elections. Losing presidential nominees became “titular leaders” and spokesmen for their parties until the next election. But Republicans, following the Goldwater defeat of 1964, and Democrats, following the McGovern defeat of 1972, abandoned that tradition. Losing candidates were expected to disappear and be removed from Kremlin Wall photographs. Democrats had traditionally appointed policy councils to help formulate intra-election policy proposals. The Eisenhower-era Democratic council was particularly influential in developing proposals that would later surface in New Frontier and Great Society legislation. After 1968, however, policy formulation disappeared from either party’s official mandate. It was every elected official and candidate for himself, deriving policy ideas most often from those with an interest in them. That was, of course, before the time of the present unregulated independent committees that can use their money and muscle pretty much as they please in national and state politics.