but perhaps only because he used to be a conservative. I’m referring to Michael Lind. His essay in Prospect Magazine locates the Democratic party’s malaise in the red-state and “outer” suburbs or, more precisely, in the sneer that liberals direct at those suburbs. The piece is full of insights, but the following one dazzled me:
There never was a time when working-class Americans voted for liberals whose values they rejected but whose economic programmes enticed them. Before the federal judiciary nationalised issues like abortion, gay rights and censorship, beginning in the 1960s, these controversies were part of state and local politics, not national politics. Conservative Catholics in the midwest or southern populists could vote for social conservatism in state and local elections, while voting for New Deal economic policies at the federal level. Thanks to federalism, New Deal liberals like Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Johnson took positions on the economy and foreign policy; they did not have to take stands on abortion or gay rights. The very success of liberals in nationalising these issues has worked against them in a country in which self-described liberals are a minority, outnumbered by self-described moderates and conservatives.
And then there is this one, less dazzling but spot-on:
When the Bush Republicans speak of “the ownership society,” they are tapping into common American values, not narrow conservative ideology. The most popular New Deal liberal programmes of the mid-20th century were those which diffused property or earning capability, like low-interest loans for people seeking to buy their own homes and loans for college students. Social security and Medicare – both redistributive systems – were carefully packaged by New Dealers as social insurance, to avoid offending republican populist sensibilities.
Red-state America – inland, suburban and working-class – represents the future of the US, not the expensive, class-stratified coastal cities like New York, Boston and San Francisco. Conservatives, a minority among American voters, have managed to put together a majority coalition because they have learned to speak the populist language of the vast region between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Liberals can do so as well – but only if they stop sneering at the people they aspire to lead.
UPDATE: I had the wrong link up for Lind’s piece, but it’s fixed now. Thanks to reader Peg Kaplan for pointing out the error.