Gentry Liberalism

Joel Kotkin and Fred Siegel note the transformation of liberalism from an ideology that promoted the interests of middle-class Americans to one promoting the interests of the affluent, and notes that neither political party any longer represents middle-class concerns and interests very extensively. (HT: Instapundit.) I’ve already noted that Democrats are increasingly the party of the rich and poor. Kotkin and Siegel:

Although many of the newly affluent are — as is traditional — politically conservative, a rising number of them are turning left. Surveys done by the Pew Research Center indicate that an increasing number of households with annual incomes greater than $135,000 — the nation’s top 10% — are moving toward the Democrats. In 1995, there were nearly twice as many Republicans (46%) as Democrats (25%) in this category. Today, there are as many Democrats (31%) as Republicans (32%).

They describe traditional liberalism, the liberalism of Truman and JFK:

The old liberalism had its flaws, but it also inspired increased social and economic mobility, strong protections for unions, the funding of a national highway system and a network of public parks, and the development of viable public schools. It also invented Social Security and favored a strong foreign policy.

Contemporary liberals have mostly abandoned these concerns. Mobility? They favor higher taxes on incomes—and keep in mind that income drives changes in wealth. Higher taxes ineluctably decrease mobility. Infrastructure? Think pork-barrel waste rather than the construction of a framework within which people can pursue liberty for the common good. Viable public schools? Contemporary liberals kowtow to teachers’ unions, the interests of which are often antithetical to those of their students. Social Security? They refuse to face the system’s looming financial problems. Strong foreign policy? Look at what happened to Senator Lieberman.

Ronald Reagan used to say, “I didn’t leave the Democratic party. The Democratic party left me.” He’d have even more reason to say it today.

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