The modern Democratic Party was formed out of four previously antagonistic elements in American society: urban working class and immigrant whites, Southern whites, African-Americans and upper middle class progressive reformers. It began to take shape when Woodrow Wilson brought progressives into the mainstream of the Democratic Party; Franklin Roosevelt put all the pieces together when he built his New Deal coalition, reaching out to northern black voters while holding on to the white South. For the first time since the Civil War, the Democrats were the natural party of government from 1932 through Nixon’s victory in 1968.
Intellectually, the progressives were the driving force of the Democratic Party of the 20th century. Upper middle class progressive reformers, dubbed goo-goos by machine politicians offended by what they saw as an infantile and naive love of ‘good government’, are responsible for some of the greatest achievements of the twentieth centuries. It was the goo-goos who fought for civil service reform, the development of the administrative and regulatory state, who sought to professionalize government and the academy and who generally fought (and fight) for transparency, accountability and the rule of law both at home and abroad.