Monday, July 28, 2014

Poor little rich populist

Monsignor Ross Douthat, the Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, has always seemed to me to be smarter than David Brooks, but he may be equally challenged when it comes to simple mathematics.

In Sunday's Times, he writes:

WHEN Barack Obama won the White House in 2008, he did so in an unusual way for a Democrat: As the candidate of the rich. He raised more in large-dollar donations than any of his rivals and raked in more cash from Wall Street than John McCain. In November, he won the upper class’s votes: By 52 percent to 46 percent, according to exit polls, Americans making more than $200,000 cast their ballots for Obama.
Well, yes, and it's also true that he raised more than any of his rivals in penny-ante contributions of $200. Following the Monsignor's link, by August 2008 he had collected about $170 million in the small-donor category as opposed to $112 million in the category of $1000 and up.

And the same applies to the vote: he did indeed beat McCain 52 to 46 among the 6% of the electorate (around 7.8 million voters) making more than $200,000, and among those (about the same number, as it happens) making under $15,000 he beat McCain 73 to 25. The only income sector where McCain decisively won was among the 20% making between $100K and $200K. So he really wasn't so much the "candidate of the rich" as McCain was the candidate of the almost-rich, people who make far more money than you and I but still have trouble writing those private-school tuition checks and swinging a week at St-Barth.

 Which makes it pretty odd when young Ross goes on to say,
There were several reasons for this shift, some specific to 2008 (elite exhaustion with the Bush presidency, the power of Obamamania) and some reflecting deeper trends: The Republican Party’s post-1970s gains among white working-class voters; the Democratic Party’s post-1980s attempts to shed its anti-business reputation; the increasing cultural liberalism of the affluent; and the rise of the so-called “liberal rich.”
How exactly did GOP "gains among white working-class voters" help Obama win among the very wealthy? Wouldn't they have been more likely to help McCain win among the working class, which he didn't?
In the wake of Obama’s ’08 victory, these trends confronted Republicans with an interesting dilemma: Should they seek to actively win back the Aspen-Greenwich vote, or embrace their increasingly populist coalition and try to rebuild from the middle out?
Hmm, should you look for some proportion of the approximately 4 million votes of the wealthy that went to Obama in 2008, or should you look somewhere else where they have the 10 million votes that would have won for you?

I have no idea why young Ross is being so obtuse here, unless it's more of that deliberate dishonesty. As everybody knows, the Republicans have been the party of the rich pretty continuously ever since they threw Reconstruction under the bus in 1876 (Teddy Roosevelt, but he had to exile himself from the party in 1912 because he just wasn't pro-rich enough), and that has always been their electoral problem, because there just aren't enough rich people to win an election.

The party of the rich has to get its votes from somewhere else, and various strategies have been employed, including the Red Terror one, the Southern one, the if-you-win-the-lottery-they'll-take-all-your-winnings one (which made poor people terrified of taxes they would never have to pay), and the God-'n'-guns one, and all of them put together. Now they're talking about returning to a policy of neglectful benignity, last heard in the days of Tommy Thompson and Jack Kemp, by taking this and that federal social program and turning it into writing checks to state governments, which will use the money to help out the poor for six months and then to put bandaids on their pension obligations and cut taxes on the upper middle classes thereafter.

It pleases them, and deeply pleases Ross, at the moment, to call this "populism", but that's bullshit. It's like calling dish soap ads feminism. It's like saying Willie Sutton hung out around banks because he was a bankist.

Because the last time they were listening to ordinary folk, all the ordinary folk wanted to talk about was abortion and the dark-skinned enemy, now they're out looking for a better class of ordinary people, not because they necessarily like them any better, or even because they'll behave better in Congress (which is in itself not a bad thing—I'd regard it as something of an improvement to have a Congress willing to consider the Trans-Pacific Partnership and cutting a deal with the Internet providers than one that refuses to do any work at all), but mainly because the old group isn't amusing any more, played out, and the new one has more votes.

Maybe. I'm really hoping they're wrong.

Miss Shirley Temple in Stand Up and Cheer (1934).
Much more chez Steve (so much more that I almost thought I should ditch this piece; really everything you need is over there).

No comments:

Post a Comment