The gentry liberals
After decades on the political sidelines, liberalism is making a comeback. Polls show plunging support for Republicans and their brand of conservatism among young, independent voters and Latinos. But what kind of liberalism is emerging as the dominant voice in the Democratic Party?I think the reason for this is that educated Americans are not happy with what happened to a Republican Party taken over by psychopathic neocons and Taliban like Evangelical Christians.
Well, it isn't your father's liberalism, the ideology that defended the interests and values of the middle and working classes. The old liberalism had its flaws, but it also inspired increased social and economic mobility, strong protections for unions, the funding of a national highway system and a network of public parks, and the development of viable public schools. It also invented Social Security and favored a strong foreign policy.
Today's ascendant liberalism has a much different agenda. Call it "gentry liberalism." It's not driven by the lunch-pail concerns of those workers struggling to make it in an increasingly high-tech, information-based, outsourcing U.S. economy -- though it does pay lip service to them.
Rather, gentry liberalism reflects the interests and values of the affluent winners in the era of globalization and the beneficiaries of the "financialization" of the economy. Its strongholds are the tony neighborhoods and luxurious suburbs in and around New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco and West Los Angeles.
Although many of the newly affluent are -- as is traditional -- politically conservative, a rising number of them are turning left. Surveys done by the Pew Research Center indicate that an increasing number of households with annual incomes greater than $135,000 -- the nation's top 10% -- are moving toward the Democrats. In 1995, there were nearly twice as many Republicans (46%) as Democrats (25%) in this category. Today, there are as many Democrats (31%) as Republicans (32%).So if you are a traditional working class Democrat you are probably not going to get a lot of help from this new Democratic Party.
The political upshot is that Democrats now control the majority of the nation's wealthiest congressional districts, according to Michael Franc of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
In part, this is because the Democratic gains in the 2006 elections were in affluent districts once held by the Republicans. In Iowa, for instance, the three wealthiest districts now send Democrats to Washington, and the two poorest are safe Republican seats.
The ascent of gentry liberalism remains largely unchallenged, in part because of the abject failure of the Republicans to address middle-class aspirations in a serious way and in part because of the absence of a strong pro-middle-class voice among Democratic presidential contenders, with the exception of former Sen. John Edwards. As a result, Democrats are unlikely to stop, let alone reverse, the current economic trend that dispenses major benefits to gentry-favored sectors such as private equity firms, dot-com giants and entertainment media.This brings us to Climate Change and peak oil. As I have said here before I don't believe that anything significant will be done to address these problems. Hybrid cars, bio fuels and the sham of carbon offsets are not solutions. The only solution is major lifestyle changes and while the new liberals may have a green cast they are unwilling to make those changes.
Over the last half a century, liberals have moved from strong support for basic middle-class concerns -- epitomized by the New Deal and the G.I. Bill -- to policies that reflect the concerns and prejudices of ever more elite interests. As a result, neither party speaks for broad middle class concerns.
The nation deserves better than that.
But gentry liberalism's increasingly "green tint" distances it the furthest from the values and interests of the middle and working classes. Leading gentry liberals, whether on Wall Street, in Hollywood or in Silicon Valley, are among the greatest scolds on global warming. They justifiably excoriate the Bush administration for its overall environmental record, but some of them -- movie stars, investment bankers, dot-com billionaires -- are quick to insulate themselves from charges that their private jets or 20,000-square-foot vacation homes in Nantucket spew prodigious amounts of carbon dioxide. Repentance typically includes the purchase of carbon "offsets," parcels of rain forests, hybrid vehicles or solar panels.Here in the Pacific Northwest they are still building three to five thousand square foot houses where they would have been building twelve to sixteen hundred square foot houses a few years ago. My wife and I raised two sons in a fifteen hundred square foot house and we had plenty of room and less to heat, cool and clean. When I was growing up in NW Portland there were four grocery stores within walking distance of my house. Today you must drive to the store because the nearest "super center" is two, three or five miles away. The only way the issues of climate change and peak oil can be addressed is with major lifestyle modifications. I don't see that happening and I don't see the new liberals making it happen.