Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), known for his perceptiveness, ascribed his party’s 2014 defeat to the fact that, since the Democrats are the “pro-government party,” their electoral fortunes are tied to what Americans think about the role of government in their and in the country’s life.
The accuracy of that self-description is beyond question. The Party’s character is set by persons whom Joel Kotkin dubs “gentry liberals”—they hold the commanding heights of government, as well as of cultural and corporate life. They figure prominently, says Kotkin, in the “affluent classes as well as the powerful public sector.”
Every election day, Democratic votes come, very disproportionately, from ethnic minorities, single women, gays, first-time voters, and other members of groups deemed in need of protection by government (such as environmentalists, and supporters of the abortion industry). The party’s leaders and the party’s base view government as a means of imposing their social preferences on other Americans, and as a source of material benefit for themselves. In short, government is the Democratic Party’s intense but narrow cosa nostra.
Since only about one-fifth of the American people express confidence that the government will do the right thing; since they see, as does Senator Schumer, that government in America has become a partisan thing; and since some two-thirds of Americans—including married people and churchgoers of all races, persons employed in the private sector including craft unions—see government as a negative influence on their lives, the Democratic Party’s emerging problem is big and basic. Its size may be measured by noting that the Democratic Party no longer even tries wooing the “white working class,” that it concedes to its opponents majority support among men as well as among the 75 percent of the U.S. population who are white, and that it counts on squeezing ever-bigger majorities out of its narrow base.
Democrats on the other hand derive long-term solace from the proposition that America must change demographically, and therefore politically: fewer whites, fewer marriages, fewer churchgoers, a smaller private sector will redound to the benefit of Democratic candidates.
No one contends, even so, that such demographic trends would turn the Democrats’ constituencies into a majority. Nor is there any reason to believe that the base-exciting, polarized rhetoric by which the Democratic Party has lived for the past generation, can continue without producing an equal and opposite polarization against Democrats. In sum, the business model of the “pro-government party” is tenuous in the short run and foredoomed in the long run.
What has saved this party thus far, of course, is that our political system provides no electoral vehicle for the majority of Americans whose interests or predilections differ from those of government. Today no party is out there working for the votes of those Americans who do not want to rule others because they prefer to rule themselves. So long as such a vehicle does not exist, the “pro-government party” can lumber on despite its serious infirmities.
Even as an overwhelming majority of voters—and those too discouraged to go and cast a vote on election day—clamor for protection against government that issues overbearing and unaccountable rules, that serves narrow constituencies at the cost of scrambling and impoverishing the lives of the rest, the Republican Party’s establishment tries to answer that clamor by presenting yet another set of rulers, rather than protectors of the people’s freedom against the ruling class.
The sad fact is that the Republican establishment’s social identity is, if not identical, then close to that of the Democrats’ “gentry liberals.” The GOP’s political financing comes from the same place Democratic financing comes from: Wall Street, big banks and insurance companies, and businesses such as are represented by the Business Roundtable.
That is why there is little difference in the character of the appointees of Democratic and Republican administrations.
The differences come in the constituencies served by the government’s exquisitely detailed rule-making, a process accessible and knowable only by insiders. The differences between, say, George W. Bush’s Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson, and his Democratic successor, Timothy Gaithner, were imperceptible to those of us outside the circles of the blessed. Similarly, although all Republicans in the fall of 2014 campaigned for repealing Obamacare, the Republican establishment is preparing to vote to support the Democrats’ bailout of insurance companies’ losses due to Obamacare.
From the moderate Left, Stanford political science professor Morris Fiorina comments that voters
can choose between a party that openly admits to being a lap dog of Wall Street and a party that by its actions clearly is a lap dog but denies it. At least vote for the honest one.
But the rest of the country, it seems, is looking beyond the two parties to the single essential issue: whether the government will continue to increase its mastery over us or whether it will be cut back to its proper role.
The “pro-government party,” solid in character, identity and interest, is an immutable pole of American public life. Our future rests on whether the rest of America can dismiss the Republican establishment’s double game and coalesce around a distinctly different political force.