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Whose New Gilded Age?

The New York Times recently ran a lead Sunday Magazine article on the “The New Gilded Age.” The article tastefully failed to note that most of the monied people discussed were Democrats. It’s further evidence, I’d say, that liberal Democrats are having a hard time owning up to the nature of their party. In his new book The Squandering of America (reviewed in the November issue of COMMENTARY), liberal economist Robert Kuttner describes his dismay at discovering that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party has gone upscale. “I have attended Democratic fund-raising events in the Park Avenue homes of investment bankers,” he writes, “where there was plenty of enthusiasm for human rights, morning-after pills, and climate change, but nary a word about financial regulation or social investment.” Kuttner’s ideological soulmate, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, lodges a similar complaint about the Democrats’ refusal to close “the hedge fund tax loophole—which allows executives at private equity firms and hedge funds to pay a tax rate of only 15 percent on most of their income.” The Democrats, he concludes are “wobbled by wealth.”

What’s striking about their complaints is that none of this is new. Writing in COMMENTARY in 1972, Joshua Muravchik and the late Penn Kemble noted that “The purpose of the McGovern quotas (for the delegations to the Democratic National Convention) was not to make the convention more representative of the Democratic electorate as a whole, but to favor the affluent liberals within the party and to diminish the influence of its lower-middle and working-class constituents.” The McGovernites succeeded and the Democrats became far more of an upper-middle-class party.

And they’ve only become more of one since then. Michael Franc of the Heritage Foundation, writing yesterday in the Financial Times, notes that “Democrats now control the majority of the nation’s wealthiest congressional jurisdictions. More than half of the wealthiest households are concentrated in the eighteen states where Democrats control both Senate seats.” This pattern holds in the House as well. Iowa’s three richest districts are represented by Democrats, the two poorest by Republicans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi represents a San Francisco district containing more than six times as many high-end households as her Republic counterpart, John Boehner. Nor is this just a matter of wealth. Democrats, notes economist Joel Kotkin, predominate in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, where income inequality is the most pronounced in the nation.
“The demographic reality is that, in America,” says Franc, the Democratic Party is the new “party of the rich.” The question for 2008 is whether that economic reality will enter into the political debate.


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