Published January 25, 2019
Here they come, the newly resurgent Democrats, ready to take on “the man” (Rep. Rashida Tlaib); protect America’s middle class from “attack” by big corporations and billionaires (Sen. Elizabeth Warren); provide “Medicare-for-all” (Sen. Kamala Harris); offer universal pre-K (Julian Castro); and fight capitalism in general without any idea of how it works (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). The Democratic Party is lurching to the left like a confused American driver on a British highway.
As the New York Times‘s Thomas Edsall notes, it isn’t just leaders who are stampeding to the port side. Democratic voters are becoming more liberal, too. In the past 17 years, Pew Research has found, the percentage of Democrats who described themselves as liberal jumped from 30 to 50 percent. This is reflected in issue positions. In 2008, the percentage of Democrats who agreed that immigrants here illegally should be permitted to become citizens was 29 percent. That increased to 51 percent in 2018. Between 2010 and 2017, the portion who said “racial discrimination is the main reason many blacks can’t get ahead these days” rose from 28 percent to 64 percent. (Notably, among white liberals, 79.2 percent agreed that discrimination was the main thing holding blacks back, whereas among black respondents, the percentage was lower — 59.9 percent identified discrimination as the obstacle to progress. Hmm.)
The liberal nostrums on offer are utterly disconnected from the actual challenges the nation faces. It’s hard to see how the “war on the middle class” theme can get traction in an economy with 3.9 percent unemployment. Poverty has been declining and middle incomes have been increasing since 2013. Jobs are plentiful. Median household income reached $61,372 in 2017, which is higher than comparable countries like Canada, Germany, France, Britain and Denmark, and exceeded only by a handful of tiny rich nations sitting on oil (Norway) or numbered bank accounts (Switzerland and Lichtenstein). U.S. median household size, meanwhile, has declined, so individual wealth has increased even more than the income numbers reflect.
Admittedly, facts need not impede a good political pitch. Republicans have succeeded by offering their own fractured fairy tale about what ails the nation. They’ve insisted that we are being overrun by illegal immigrants, when border apprehensions are at an 18-year low. They assert that immigrants bring crime, which is false. They’ve claimed (along with some progressives like Bernie Sanders) that outsourcing has decimated U.S. manufacturing, when the real story is that automation has been the chief cause of lost manufacturing jobs. And they’ve claimed that globalization has hollowed out the middle class when, in truth, global trade, while costing some jobs, has created far more and provided middle-income Americans with a bounty of affordable products, thus improving their standard of living.
Republicans and Democrats alike encourage victimhood. We need a party that will address the true problems we face.
As a governing matter, our greatest problem is that we are not behaving like citizens but like consumers. We are gorging on entitlements and washing them down with tax cuts. The bill? What bill? We can always borrow more! Medicare’s trust fund runs out in 7 years. Social Security’s in 15. But what the hell, let’s have free college! Bartender, let’s have another tax cut, but this time for the middle class! (By the way, what ever happened to that pre-election pledge?)
Any individual who behaved the way our nation does would be obese and broke.
Also, we are living in a civic cesspool. Our language, our manners and our hatreds are out of control and out of proportion to our problems. We are marinating in mutual contempt and suckers for conspiracy theories. Do you think the Covington High imbroglio was bad? Wait until deep fakes come along. These video impostures can make any politician (or anyone else) appear to say anything. Imagine the kids at the Lincoln Memorial having racial slurs put into their mouths by video manipulation.
It’s not that our problems are so intractable; it’s that our spirits are so sour. We desperately need some uplift, some commitment to the rule of law, more suspicion of centralized power, and a stab at trust. It’s a lot to ask of a political party, and frankly, most of our problems, like the decline of families and churches, are pre-political. But leadership is important, and the majority of Americans are not at the extremes. A recent survey found that 54 percent of Democrats would like their party to be more moderate. And two of the most popular Republican elected officials are Maryland’s Larry Hogan and Massachusetts’s Charlie Baker.
That’s a start.
Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Her new book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense.