A reader offers his observations of where we are today:
Others and I have posted quite a bit about this issue in other threads of the blog. In fact, I wrote at some length of the convergence of the Democrats and Republicans (or as a friend calls the two parties, the “Republocrats”; I like “Demonicans” myself). Rather than copy that post, I’ll lay out my view briefly:
1. The baby boomer Democrats became country club Republicans in all but name. (Remember when Jerry Rubin became an investment banker?) I find a lot of truth in E.J. Dionne’s discussion of this shift in his book “Why Americans Hate Politics”: He points out that the the internal dynamics of the Democratic party changed greatly when the baby boomers won major primary reforms in the early ’70s during the McGovern campaign. The rule changes greatly favored the power of the middle- and upper middle-class, college educated voters and began to dilute the more traditional blue collar powers. Thus, the Democrats started moving away for the left on economic issues and became more liberal on social issues, setting up the great defection of the blue collar voters to Reagan in 1980.
2. Union jobs became passe. Michael Moore explained in his movie “Capitalism: A Love Story” how the new middle class of the 1950s created a generation that had good schools, went to college, and abandoned the sorts of jobs that are traditionally unionized. Instead, the children of the auto workers and other blue collar parents became interested in white collar careers that traditionally were a bastion of GOP support. Families left the cities for the suburbs, owing houses, and taking up the lifestyles traditionally found among GOP supporters. We move to a “culture of contentment”, as J.K. Galbraith put it, which favors policies that protect individual wealth.
3. The intellectual left died in in the McCarthy witch hunts. As Chris Hedges points out in his book “The Death of the Liberal Class”, the 1950s took a huge toll on academics who sided with leftist views, leaving colleges and universities increasingly dominated by conservative thinkers like Milton Friedman’s Chicago Boys. By the late 1960s, as Christopher Lasch points out in “The Age of Narcissism”, the left in America had become moribund.
I think history bears these observations out quite well. By the end of the Carter administration, the country had largely abandoned support for labor and social activism, and had become extremely focused on material wealth. The culture became dominated by a libertarian idea that we would all get along just fine if left to our own devices. The great stock market bubbles of the ’80s and ’90s, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, seemed to prove that we could all get rich off of our investment portfolios and had no need for government outside of defense. During that time, the rise of Clinton and Gore and the new DLC cemented the changes that started in the ’70s. Obama carries that torch today, acting like a more like a progressive in the mold of Walter Lippmann than a New Deal reformer like FDR.
Slowly, people are realizing that we have lost our middle class and risk falling into a pit of crony capitalist corporatism. But we have not seen a real leader to show us the way back–yet. I can’t support the Demonicans; I’m voting Green this year to help support a move back from the brink.