Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ends Against the Middle

Are the Democrats really the party of the rich? Well, they certainly are the party of the plutocratic chatterers, from Robert Rubin to George Soros on the east coast, to David Geffen and the Googlers on the west coast. Meanwhile, in the heartland, Warren Buffett holds lonely liberal court.

And they all, of course, read The New York Times, still a rich man’s publication, even if the Sulzbergers themselves are fading fast. Yes, plenty of rich Republicans remain, but even among their ranks, many of the old GOP dynasties—Rockefeller, Heinz, Harriman—are now notably Democratic.

The phenomenon of limousine liberals has been around since the 60s—ever since the Ford Foundation started funding radical multiculturalists, ever since Leonard Bernstein hosted a fundraiser for the Black Panthers, ever since rich liberals such as Teddy Kennedy embraced forced busing while sending their own kids to private schools. In 2005 Michael Barone took note of “the trustfunder left”; the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, voted 70 percent for John Kerry, while on the other coast, Kerry picked up 73 percent of the Martha’s Vineyard vote. In addition, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee won such rich-nomad spots as Aspen, Sun Valley, and Boulder.

On November 5 of this year, The Heritage Foundation’s Michael Franc, op-ed-ing in The Financial Times, calculated that Democrats now represent the majority of the nation’s wealthiest Congressional districts. “More than half of the wealthiest households are concentrated in the 18 states where Democrats control both Senate seats,” Franc observed—which would include, of course, such obviously affluent states as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, and Washington.

Franc’s findings provoked a furious reaction. “Silly New Wingnut Meme: Democrats Are The ‘Party Of The Rich’” headlined; was similarly nasty. Those two liberal websites, of course, are more notable for their Democratic partisanship than for any consistently lefty ideology. And so naturally, those two sites sought to inoculate the Democrats from the charge that they are now belong to bloggers and billionaires—that being precisely the thesis of Matt Bai’s recent book, The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics.

Bai is a reporter for The New York Times, and that’s probably the only reason he got close enough to his subjects to hear them refer to evangelical Christians as “lizardheads” who live in “Dumbf__istan.” To be sure, Democrats have no monopoly on arrogance or asperity, but it is a Democratic Congress, now, that is showing no interest in closing the obvious capital-gains loophole that benefits hedge funders, of the type that hired John Edwards.

Meanwhile, journalists have made the same point as Franc: This is The Wall Street Journal, from November 16: “Affluent Voters Switch Brands/Stands on 'So-Called Moral Issues' Prove Costly for Republicans.” And here’s a headline from The Huffington Post—speaking of rich-Republicans-turned-rich-Democrats—from November 25: “Fortune 500 CEOs Favor Dems: Gobs Of Green Go To Blue Candidates.” Indeed, in their unguarded moments, even partisan Democrats seem giddy with their gilt; I found this August 21 headline, “Democrats Outraise Republicans 2-to-1,” on the website of the Democratic National Committee.

Of course, it can’t really be said that the Democrats are the party of the richest of the rich—because they have the poorest of the poor, too. From East LA to the Rio Grande Valley to the Deep South, donkeys rule.

So that’s the dual reality: The Democrats are safe in Manhattan and Beverly Hills, but they also rule among the poor. Look at Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton—they themselves are poor, right?

So what, pray tell, do Barbra Streisand and Charlie Rangel actually agree on? Probably only this: The Americans in between them, the Middle Americans, are the common enemy. In* this reckoning, small towns and suburbia are subtly racist—except when they are overtly racist—toward people of color. And everybody on the port side of politics knows that “family values” is thinly disguised code for sexual repression and homophobia.

In fact, the normal, historic pattern of small “d” democratic politics is for the very rich and the very poor to ally themselves against the bourgeoisie. The poor look up at the working stiff of a foreman and see the hated Simon Legree. The rich look down the social ladder and see nothing but Babbitts and other small-minded reactionaries, who might well be pro-life.

For their part, the Republicans might as well get used to their new status as the middle class party. Being the party of the rich is good for fundraising, being the party of the poor is good for invoking moral authority—plus provoking the occasional riot—but being the party of the Silent Majority is the best for winning elections.

Published in the 12/17/07 issue of The American Conservative.