Commentary Magazine

Salt-of-the-Earth Democrats

Among the most peculiar aspects of the very peculiar Democratic nomination contest now drawing to a close has been Hillary Clinton’s transformation into a beer-drinking, blue-collar everyman. It has been thoroughly and transparently dishonest, of course. But it worked reasonably well, and over the last few weeks in particular she ably played the cultural conservative in that race. It somehow seemed perfectly reasonable for a union organizer introducing Clinton at a rally last week to say that she was all that stood between the American people and “the Gucci-wearing, latte-drinking, self-centered, egotistical people that have damaged our lifestyle.” Until a few months ago, she was one of the icons of that very crowd. But thanks to Obama’s elitism, Hillary saw the “salt-of-the-earth Democrat” niche was open, and she went for it.

Clinton’s transformation into a teamster almost saved her–but not quite. In the end, the Democrats look to be nominating another elitist liberal who looks down on most of his voters, and so setting in motion a campaign certain to be shaped, once again, by clashing cultural self-images: the straight-talking patriot and the champagne-sipping intellectual; the worldly young progressive and the simple-minded Neanderthal.

This dynamic doesn’t pre-determine the winner, to be sure, and (as John Podhoretz persuasively argues below) Republicans should not lull themselves into imagining otherwise. But it is a pattern that has done grave damage to the Democrats for decades.

If they’re paying attention, the smart strategists among the Democrats will have learned something crucial in these past few months. A real (as opposed to a patently fake) blue-collar, everyman, salt of the earth Democrat–one who takes the rebukes of the MoveOn Left as a compliment and is even a tiny bit culturally conservative–could have a very real chance of winning the party’s nomination, would do especially well in states that are most crucial in the general election, and, most importantly, could be a knock-out winner in the fall. Is there any doubt that a genuinely anti-elitist, culturally moderate Democrat would crush  every Republican candidate we can conceive of today?

Of course, such salt-of-the-earth Democratic politicians are increasingly hard to come by, as cultural liberalism is the core of the party’s self-identity today. But maybe Clinton’s failed effort will get some conservative Democrats thinking. It would be good for the Democrats, and good for the country, if their leaders came to see that their cultural elitism, bordering on cultural separatism, is not only obnoxious but counterproductive. Maybe next time.

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