--Ronald Reagan (1988)
1965. The last year it was great to be a liberal. The year of the Great Society’s Voting Rights Act and Medicare, as well as the Immigration Act of 1965, which opened U.S. immigration to the increasingly important non-European, nonwhite world. 1965 also brought sustained U.S. bombing of North Vietnam, the introduction of U.S. combat troops into full-scale combat in Vietnam, doubling of the draft to 35,000 a month and Pentagon requests for an escalation to 400,000 troops. The war’s escalation in turn led throughout the nation to teach-ins, mass demonstrations, draft card burnings, and the first American self-immolations. 1965. The first year it was bad to be a liberal.
From 1965 on liberals had little to celebrate, as Republicans made major gains in the 1966 elections, then elected Nixon president in 1968 and 1972. In 1976 Democrats barely beat Gerald Ford following Watergate with an inept and increasingly unpopular Jimmy Carter, who presided (1977-81) over an energy crisis, rising unemployment, slow growth, inflation (“stagflation”), the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the Iran hostage crisis.
Ronald Reagan’s successful presidency (1981-89) turned the nation away from liberalism, led to the elections of Bush 41 and Bush 43 (1989-93, 2001-09), and even under “New Democrat” Bill Clinton (1993-2001) yielded up GOP control of congress over Clinton’s final six years, including his 1998 House impeachment for perjury.
The 1997-99 impeachment fight marked a turning point for Democrats, even though Republicans did control both the White House and Congress for most of 2001-06. In 1997, Southerner Clinton gave up on being “GOP lite.” He instead embraced progressive Democrats, who provided Clinton the one-third of the Senate he needed to stave off a perjury conviction and early removal from office.
Southern conservative abandonment of the Democratic Party, complete by 2000, made the surviving Democratic core more purely progressive. At the same time, Democrats had solidified their domination of America’s ruling class, the government-connected elite fighting to hang on to the power they seized during liberalism’s growth years. Elites play by different rules—their rules. To elites, words are weapons, truth is relative, the law is flexible, and God is a myth created for the masses. Smarter, richer, better educated, elites know what’s best for us.
Bush 43’s failed presidency, abetted at every step by liberal domination of government, the media, academia, entertainment, and the arts—the knowledge economy—led by 2006 to Democrats controlling Congress for the first time since 1994. Democrats then recaptured the entire country in 2008 with Barack Obama’s smashing victory and further Democratic congressional gains.
Democrats have subsequently moved us toward a European-style social democracy of big government, higher taxes, crony capitalism's tamed businesses, and masses dependent on bureaucratic largesse centered on universal health care. Progressives want equality not of opportunity, but of results. It helps Democrats that the people who benefit most in such a society are the national elite, the ones who run the show.
The progressives’ coalition—a knowledge-economy head, a dependency underbelly—importantly rests upon minorities and unmarried women. They along with educated young people (our future knowledge economy) provided the 2008 votes that truly returned progressivism to power for the first time since 1965.
Valerie Jarrett (picture), we learn from New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor’s biography The Obamas, is a very important person in today’s progressive coalition. Jarrett touches every coalition base. She is African American, unmarried (divorced), from an elite family, born in Iran, a graduate of Stanford and Michigan law school, and Barack and Michelle Obama’s closest confidante. In the conservative Weekly Standard, Matthew Continetti paints this revealing miniature of Jarrett:
Jarrett told author David Remnick that the reason she bonded with Barack Obama was that “he and I shared a view of where the United States fit in the world, which is often different from the view people have who have not traveled outside the United States as young children.” Remnick goes on to write that Jarrett viewed America “as one country among many, rather than as the center of all wisdom and experience.”Do progressives feel isolated in a center-right nation? Not really, for they know, as Valerie Jarrett knows, they live in a larger world that like their coalition is nonwhite and majority female, and looks to them for leadership.
Within the U.S. though, as the 2010 elections demonstrated, progressives remain a minority. Here’s John Feehery in The Hill:
Among all whites, now just 35% approve of [Obama’s] performance and 58% disapprove. . . the Obama White House has made the decision that it doesn’t need those white voters to win. That may be true in 20 years, but it is not true today. The swing vote in this next election is the same as it has been in the last six elections. It is the white working-class voter.More facts on progressive weakness from conservative Nile Gardiner, writing in The Telegraph (UK):
in 2011, . . . 40% of Americans continu[ed] to describe their views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal. . .conservatives have become the single largest group, consistently outnumbering moderates since 2009 and outnumbering liberals by 2-to-1.One would think this Democratic coalition, importantly built upon minority votes, would cater to minority demands. But Joel Kotkin, in Forbes, asks “does the progressive agenda actually support minority upward mobility?” Kotkin believes that
As Gallup’s surveys show, Americans’ fear of big government is now at near-record levels, with nearly two thirds of Americans identifying it as the greatest threat to the country:
The 64% of Americans who say big government will be the biggest threat to the country is just one percentage point shy of the record high, while the 26% who say big business is down from the 32% recorded during the recession.
From its inception the Obama administration’s focus has been on the largely white information economy, notably boosting universities and the green-industrial complex based in places like Silicon Valley. The Obama team’s decision to surrender working class whites to appeal to what Democratic strategists call the “mass upper middle class” makes political sense but could lead to problems for an American working class that is itself increasingly minority.I think Kotkin is understating the political cost of such a strategy. If Democrats are giving up on the white working class, they really are giving up on the working class of all colors, and of both sexes. That could well be a prescription for minority status.