Commentary Magazine


The Party of the American Dream

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And the left’s view of the political landscape is equally out-of-date.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.

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8 Responses to “The Party of the American Dream”


    I agree that Lyndon Johnson, his legislation and his war, pretty much shaped today’s left, and its leaders. And they have not had a new idea since.

    But has the Republican Party been such a beehive of new ideas? Yes, it has pushed charter schools and deregulation, which also included the deregulation of banks, and globalization, which was less an idea than an inevitable development.

    Otherwise Republicans have mainly been reflexive and reactive (think Tea Party) as the Democrats have moved leftward. Where for example has the Right offered a meaningful solution to health care costs, illegal immigration and stagnant wages? What is the Republican view of the future?

    I think the Republicans attitude is, we are not about grand designs, “the vision thing.” The shape of the future is up to our entrepreneurs, scientists, academics, not politicians.


      Nothing wrong with that Republican attitude – history says it works.

    • ERIC SCHUMANN says:

      Appending the qualifier “meaningful” to proposed “solutions” gives the game away. If one disagrees with a proposed solution, is it thus not “meaningful”? The problem of course is not the lack of new ideas on the Right, but the effectiveness of the Republican party to implement those ideas. The Tea Party was certainly reactive, but what was it reacting to? Not merely Obama’s “fundamental transformation”, but also the expansion of government under Bush and a decade of GOP control of both Houses of Congress. The central idea behind the Tea Party movement – and it’s electoral victories – is a return to greater liberty through a reduction in the size and scope of government. An idea doesn’t necessarily need to be a big government program. There are many ideas on the Right that unfortunately do not find effective expression through the present GOP leadership: Health care costs? Allow more market competition and reduce government regulation. Illegal immigration? Enforce immigration laws (do not reward, excuse and encourage illegality with amnesty) and protect the border. Stagnant wages? Decrease regulation and lower taxes. There is certainly a role for politicians in shaping this future: They can listen to the voters and change the law accordingly.

      • MARC SALZBERGER says:

        Alright, the qualifier, “meaningful” solutions is sneaky. Then you show me the solutions Republicans have pushed for problems like spiraling health care, illegal immigration, indecent election campaign costs, 2 million incarcerated, and stagnant wages!

        It is not that proposals don’t exist. For example, mandatory jail terms for employers of undocumented workers would instantly close the job market to illegals and send millions back across the border. Giving insured patients the option to shop for their medical care and garner a bonus for choosing modalities and using providers less costly than the average, would not just stop the upward spiral, it would bring costs down. Where is the Republican push for that? Or for court sentencing sessions staged in the streets of high crime neighborhoods that could vaccinate children and teens against the law-breaking temptation. Where are Republicans financing their elections with campaign documentaries for $100 contributions. Those could produce vast popular funding. But no, Republicans prefer, no less than the Democrats, to beg for money and be obligated to fat cats.

        The Right, is as bankrupt as the Left. But while Democrats never desert their one idea, big govt, and keep inflating it, the Republicans when they are not expanding govt themselves, have no practical plans for contracting it.

        Well there I go again, with a sneaky “practical” plan qualifier.

    • ERIC SCHUMANN says:

      Marc: Re your reply to me, let me focus on the point of agreement. You are justified in your frustration with the Republican party’s lack of effectiveness in advocating and implementing what I refer to as a liberty agenda. I don’t agree the Right is bankrupt of good ideas. I do agree the GOP is a crappy vehicle for putting the good ideas out there into practice. And frankly this is a result of a form of corruption. But I have to vote for somebody, so I hold my nose, gripe about the GOP leadership, and to to the polls every two years. Happy New Year – let’s hope this one shows us the system is not irretrievably rotten.

  2. KIM BATTEAU says:

    Good article, confirming what we all know: the real rich are limousine liberals (symbolized by Upper East Side Manhattan), avoiding taxes via their clever lawyers, but expecting the middle class to pay for the underclass.


    I just heard Mona Charen say each party is saddled with an image that just won’t die. The Republicans with the fantasy that they are the party of the country club rich (demonstrably untrue). The Democrats that their party is soft on crime and clueless on foreign policy (absolutely true on both counts.)

  4. MARK REED says:

    Thank you, Mr. Steel, for puncturing the tired old myths of the Dems as the party of the “little people” and the Republicans as the party of the “fat cats.” The Republicans have to develop a master communications strategy at reminding Americans that the roles of the parties have reversed. With a media married to the myth making leftists, it’s up to the GOP to fight the verbal battle in every television, radio, and print appearance that leaders of the party make. If they don’t, the myth lives on, and the American experience suffers.

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