This election season has generated more than its fair share of unrest. The final presidential candidates are controversial to say the least and have caused serious consternation in their own parties. We’ve written enough columns here about people who are fed up with the GOP over the selection of Donald Trump to fill a modest sized library, but it turns out that the angst is being spread across both parties. In the Orange County Register, columnist Joel Kotkin – a lifelong Democrat – stares out at the tattered remains of his party and ponders where things went so wrong. So great is his dismay that, like many columnists from the conservative side of the aisle, he’s left the party to become an independent.
For virtually all of my adult life, I have been a registered Democrat. But as the party has abandoned critical commitments to color-blind racial equality, upward mobility and economic growth, I have moved on to become a registered independent. This makes me part of the fastest-growing “party” in America – the politically homeless…
Democrats from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton generally embraced growth as a means to improve the conditions of most Americans, including the working- and middle-class families with whom the party identified itself.
Today, this is changing. Liberals now constitute roughly three in five Democrats, a share twice as large as in 1992, when we elected the first Clinton. Increasingly, liberals, or progressives, are at best ambivalent about economic growth, particularly in such blue-collar fields as fossil fuel energy, manufacturing, agribusiness and suburban homebuilding. Bill Galston, a former close advisor to Bill Clinton, notes that party platform “is truly remarkable – for example, its near-silence on economic growth.”
Joel appears to be a proponent of classical liberalism as originally established in the 1800s and clarified in the era of the New Deal. But the articles of faith embedded in the Democrats’ platform this year is largely unrecognizable to Joel. For one example, the author sees the irony in the latest edition of the Democrats abandoning their previous support of natural gas as a cleaner alternative to coal which could create jobs. Instead, they’ve now adopted Bernie’s “keep it in the ground” mentality as a socialist alternative. But it’s actually not.
The Bernie Bros and Gals think that higher taxes and more generous welfare benefits can turn America into a kind of mega-Scandinavia. They ignore the fact that, as author Nima Sanandaji has pointed out, the Nordic welfare state drew from generations of rapid growth built on small government, free markets and cultural factors, and that, in more recent years, countries such as Sweden have embraced a stronger free-market stance in order to pay for their generous welfare systems.
In one of the most shocking passages of this resignation letter, Kotkin tackles the untouchable subject of racial identity politics. He’s all for complete equality, but well recalls the roots of the movement and how equality was supposed to apply to everyone. (Emphasis added.)
The Democratic Party’s embrace of racial equality in the 1960s represented an enormous step forward for both the country and the party, whose past was mired in slavery and segregation. Yet the Democrats leading the civil rights charge, like Hubert Humphrey, did not endorse the institutionalization of racial quotas. Old-line liberals preferred the notion, advanced by Martin Luther King, that discrimination on the basis of race is always wrong, and that people should instead be judged primarily on “the content of their character.”
Yet as the party has alienated its old white working- and middle-class base, racial and gender identity politics have become more important to Democrats.
This letter is sad on a number of levels and I can certainly feel some sympathy for Joel. At the same time, it points out some obvious truths about modern day liberalism – which is closer to hard core socialism than anything FDR would have recognized – and how Democrats are abandoning their own roots. It’s a bold new world indeed, but not one that everyone is looking forward to.