A gentrified cocoon of progressive privilege has cost Democrats the middle class.
Democrats for over a century were associated with the American middle class.
Working-class voters once believed that Democratic-inspired intervention into the economy — minimum-wage laws, overtime pay, Social Security, Medicare, workers’ compensation — protected their interests better than unfettered free-market capitalism.
Republicans often had trouble selling the argument that an unleashed economy and new technology would relegate poverty to a relative, not absolute, condition — something like suffering with a cheap, outdated iPhone 4 while the better-off could afford an iPhone 6.
Why, then, have Democrats lost the working class — especially white, lower-middle-class voters?
There are several obvious reasons.
For one, high-profile progressives are largely rich, and their relatively small numbers live in a gentrified cocoon. Politicians, academics, media personalities, celebrities, and other Democratic-aligned professionals had just the sort of academic brands or technological, linguistic, cultural, and service skills that were well-compensated during the transition to globalism.
Their out-of-touch privilege, however, led to agendas — radical green politics, hyper-feminism, transgender advocacy, forced multiculturalism, open borders — that were not principle concerns of the struggling working classes. A techie in Silicon Valley, an actor in Hollywood, a trial lawyer in Washington, or a professor at Yale had the income to afford the steeper taxes and higher housing, energy, and college costs that were the natural dividends of their own political agendas.
High-speed rail, expensive graduate degrees, and European-level gas prices are logical aims for elites. They insist that the planet is cooking, that cities are the sole generators of cultural advancement, and that tony academic stamps are proof of knowledge superior to the kind absorbed through religious instruction or pragmatic experience.
In the short term, liberal elites had little clue how the ramifications of their own unworkable ideology always fell on distant others. Before one can damn fracking, guns, traditional religion, and tract suburbia, one has to have a high income that allows for expensive energy, exorbitant college tuition, and $500-a-square-foot housing. Obamacare, with its higher average deductibles and premiums, is far more of a burden than a bargain for the working class.
Race proved a second Democratic Waterloo. The constant push for identity politics, open borders, expanded federal entitlements, and inflated government was based on the idea that an increasingly non-white America would soon swallow up the old European majority, and that would ensure a new Democratic century.
But class is always a more telling divide than race. In contemporary straitjacket Democratic orthodoxy, there is no concession that a white male mechanic could face more economic difficulty than a Latina journalist, African-American federal employee, or Asian dentist. Lockstep obedience to the mantras of diversity, affirmative action, and preferential hiring does not allow that race can be increasingly divorced from class.
Moreover, race is not always either absolute or easily definable.
Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson has to emphasize that he is Latino. Otherwise, based on his name, appearance, and speech, he appears to be just another successful grandee of unknown lineage. Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren can cynically claim to be Native American — with all the perks that such lineage entails. Warren knew that no one is quite sure which particular racial percentage qualifies for special consideration or why, much less how racial heritage is authenticated.
To the working class, Democrats appeared to reward Americans not just on the basis of their race, but also on the assumption that some sections of the population have an easily identifiable racial pedigree, and that it has resulted in a proven need for reparations. In a multiracial America, that orthodoxy appears untenable — and unfair to those without claims to the correct genealogy or the money and privilege to navigate around such rules.
Finally, Democrats are now easily caricatured as both snobbish and condescending in the same way bluestocking Republicans used to be.
The hysteria over Sarah Palin’s gaffes in comparison to the more frequent lapses of Joe Biden was due to cultural bias. Palin was ridiculed as an ill-informed, working-class Alaskan mom. Good ol’ Biden earned a smile as an occasionally too candid East Coast liberal.
Snobbery’s twin is hypocrisy. For a liberal, when the poor waste money on $300 Air Jordans, such spending should not be criticized. But for the middle class to supposedly squander cash on a shotgun or Jet Ski is gauche. If an undocumented immigrant has seven children, it is not declared to be unwise family planning with the same disdain shown a Mormon blue-collar roofer with a comparably large family.
If Hillary Clinton, Al Sharpton, or the masters of Silicon Valley wish to talk about how growing inequality and the unfairness of American life demand more regulations and higher taxes, they should at least show some symbolic class solidarity by now and then flying commercial, eschewing limousines, and avoiding Martha’s Vineyard.
The new bifurcated Democratic party of rich and poor shows a sort of contempt for those who do not share the privileged tastes of the elites and can’t earn their easy sympathy by being dependent on liberal government largesse.
Democrats’ problem is that the working classes are large and know that they no longer fit into what liberalism has become.
© 2015 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
14 thoughts on “The Party of Snobbish Elites”
The trouble with the progressive privileged is that, in most cases, their silver spoons are located in the wrong (or, perhaps, right) orifices.
As always so well said!!!
The Eagles had a song making fun of tract homes. I remember thinking they have the money to live somewhere else.
Another problem with many progressives is that they have no qualms about using the coercive force of government to force people to do things against their will, like hand over 50 percent of their hard earned income. These progressives rationalize that if they are willing to give up a significant portion of their earnings for what they believe is in the country’s best interests, everyone should be required to do so. They just don’t seem to appreciate the fact that forcing people to do things against there will is generally wrong and, therefore, the justification to impose the coercive force of government must be far greater than merely the progressive’s belief that it’s good for the country. Before the government takes away its citizens’ freedom, its objective must be unequivocally good for the country and there must be no other, less coercive means to achieve the objective.
Taking the long view of the biblical saga you will discovered that the most important feature God created in humans is free will, since that paves the way for a person to freely choose to love God or not. Hence free will which can conceptually be translated to liberty, which can then be further translated to the power to choose, is problematic to liberals who want to restrict your choices in life! Hence, many liberals which can conceptually be translated to dictators, love to violate a person free will.
Empathy for the working and business owning middle class isn’t nourished by the wealth and power vapors in which most of the professional political classes and their supporters live and breathe. Middle class workers and business owners buy the products and services from the wealthy while paying the taxes and fees that support every government worker and pay for the freebies to the often mis-defined poor and downtrodden. They do that without the financial buffer from sacrifice that the wealthy enjoy and without the freebie guarantees given to the often mis-defined groups. Has it become impossible to have an empathetic middle class Congress and President?
Aristocracy has many names: Count, Earl, First Citizen, Dictator, President-For-Life, Czar, Fuhrer, Sultan, Shah. Here they like to be called “Progressives”.
Excellent insight on nomenclature!
Well put. They believe if you have several degrees you are entitled to rule. The Aristocracy of Degree. Since they think people are stupid they are entitled to lie, deceive and insult and bully and coerce to force people to live as they think they should.
It’s a long way from John L. Lewis, who was born in a mining camp, and did work as a miner before becoming a union leader.
It is no bad thing that the great American middle class is moving away from the Democrats, because of the long Democrat association with racist policies (Copperheads, KKK, and southern segregationists were all largely Democrat).
The rise and fall of Nations is never in doubt, only the timing. The top has aquired wealth beyond the mind’s ability to comprehend, right alongside government debt ballooning to unpayable levels. and still rising. Thievery on a burn-in-hell scale has China and Russia reeling and capital flight is ongoing. Saudi Arabia unleashing oil pricing as a weapon against murderous regimes— does the Saudi dynasty continue, untouched by the lunatics their surrounded by. Only another French revolution will halt America’s ceaseless movement towards full blown banana republic. Google “” the dollars 70-year dominance is coming to an end””, by the telegraph in july 2014. In the USA, it’s finance— in an interconnected world.
Sadly, the powers that be in the GOP will miss an historic opportunity to garner the vast support of the disaffected middle class Dems shunned by their party. They, it would seem, have succumbed to the allure of being included in the ruling class.
Democrats don’t upset me any more that scorpions, sharks or leaches upset me. They are what they are.
Which is worse? My enemy who wants to destroy me? Or the turncoat posing as my friend, who holds the door open for my enemy to destroy me?
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, same on me. Fool me every election for a generation, and I must be a conservative Republican.
The fact that the Democrats have lost the middle class is (sadly) almost irrelevant. The fiddling around with unemployment statistics, identity politics, and the coastal elites’ dominance of huge urban chunks of our country make the opinions of the middle class an academic affair. As an academic, I like academic affairs. However, the left has so “gender-dized” and racial-ized politics that the middle class trembles in fear of violating the orthodoxy of identity politics. The shrinking of the middle class as a dominant political force is due to the cultural and numerical effects of increased numbers of people dependent on government either through assistance or through crony capitalist government contracts and the relative decrease in numbers of those more self sufficient.