The American left intellectually froze solid about the time of the end of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency in January 1969, almost 46 years ago. There has not been a single new policy idea since then although the world politically, economically, and technologically has changed profoundly.
Most policy nostrums of the left date to the 1930s, when FDR noted—correctly—in his great Second Inaugural, that “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” But the nation that FDR saw and which Walker Evans so hauntingly depicted in his photographs is as dead and gone as FDR and Walker Evans. We still have poor people, of course, but that’s because poverty is a relative term. The United States has the richest poor people in the world, poor people with smart phones, flat-screen TVs, air conditioning, and indoor plumbing (and a myriad of assistance programs). If today’s poor are ill-nourished, the problem is more one of caloric surplus than deficit.
And the left’s view of the political landscape is equally out-of-date. The Democrats’ self-image is as the party of the working stiff while the Republicans are the party of the country club. About the same time as Walker Evans was taking his photographs, Peter Arno published one of his most famous cartoons. It showed a group of people in evening dresses and dinner jackets saying to a friend, “Come on. We’re going down to the Trans Lux to hiss Roosevelt.” But that upper class is dead and gone too.
While Harry Reid spent endless time this year claiming (but only from the floor of the Senate, where he is immune to slander suits) that the Koch brothers are using their billions to buy the country, in fact the super rich are overwhelmingly Democratic. The Washington Examiner is reporting that the top ten individual donors to political organizations in 2014 gave a total of $128 million. Of that, $91 million (71 percent) went to Democratic organizations. Of those who gave more than $1 million, 60 percent went to Democrats. Of super PAC spending this year, $195.7 million was spent either for Democrats or against Republicans. Republican-leaning super PAC buys amounted to $137.9 million.
The fact of the matter is that the Democrats have become the party of the government-dependent, such as those receiving assistance, government workers, the academy, the media, and the very rich. Republicans are now the party of the hard-working, aspiring middle. The Democrats used to be the party of the American dream. Today it is the Republicans who are.
It’s a profound change, and both parties would do themselves (and the country) a favor by noticing the fact. The Republicans have done a fair job of doing so. The Democrats, living in a perpetual 1969, have not.