I saw this post on National Review and could not help but laugh. Through the Bush years, National Review was just a clearing house for the GOP. Whatever crackpot idea the Bushies cooked up, NR would brand it “conservative approved” and peddle it to the masses. In fairness, the caterwauling by the Left made it easy to fall into this trap. Every cult member of my acquaintance was constantly chanting “Bush Lied” at me, making it impossible to think straight.
By 2006 most sensible people threw in the towel on Bush and the GOP. His rating fell into the high 20’s exclusively due to the Right walking away from his administration. It turned out that the paleo-cons were right and Bush was just Bill Clinton with morals and balls. Professional conservatives still struggle with their full-throated support of Bush and the GOP. Even today they struggle to separate themselves from the Republican Party. I guess this post over at NRO should be viewed as a positive development.
Jack Kemp famously called for the GOP to “take off its green eyeshades” in the late 1970s. By this he meant that the GOP needed to stop focusing primarily on balancing budgets and start focusing on how to grow the economy and improve the lives of average Americans. After its brief, unsuccessful detour into modern greeneyeshadism by nominating venture capitalist and business consultant extraordinaire Mitt Romney, most nationally serious Republicans are back to talking less about numbers and more about middle-class people. But if this map is any indication, even this effort still views America through a lens of green eyeshades.
This map shows household income for every county, town, and neighborhood in America. Wealthy and upper-middle-class areas are colored green, while the rest of America is colored in orange. As you can see, most of America is some shade of brown, while most of the eastern seaboard is colored in some shade of green.
This small detail on a map makes a world of difference to conservative and GOP chances to run the country. Virtually every major national consultant, analyst, staffer, and journalist lives in the green areas in and around Washington D.C., America’s Emerald City. This is a land where families making $100,000 a year struggle to buy a decent house, where everyone has a college degree, and the major health-care struggle is finding a doctor who takes your insurance.
This problem is compounded by the rise of super-donor-driven super PACs. Virtually all of the large donors who give to super PACs and GOP campaigns live in local versions of the Emerald City. They see highly educated people who get ahead by working hard, lots of prosperity and wealth, and think this is what America looks like. The major political problem they see is that some of their neighbors and friends vote Democratic, so they naturally think a national majority can be crafted by persuading those people to vote more on their self-interest and less on social and other issues. That view makes sense within the walls of the Emerald City, but outside of that realm America is a horse of a different color.
Pat Buchanan said a long time ago that the problem with the GOP is this. The sensible people elected a sensible conservative for the House or Senate. He starts out fine, but he goes native once he has lived in Washington for a few years. Way back in the olden thymes I saw it first hand. I’d see supposedly far right wing guys partying with their left-wing counterparts. It was the old Road Runner cartoons with Sam the Sheepdog. On the clock, when the cameras were running, they played their parts. Off the clock they were laughing at the rubes back home in Dogpatch.
Contrast that with the vast bulk of the country, especially in the swing states needed to retake the presidency. Ohio has very few green counties; Florida, Wisconsin, and Iowa have virtually none. In those states, making $100,000 is rare and enables you to live a very comfortable life. Most people make between $25,000 and $75,000 a year, with many more on the low end of that range than the high. In most of these counties, more people get by on less than $25,000 a year than earn more than $75,000. In these places, “decent home” means something much more humble, very few people have college degrees, and the major health-care struggle is getting or keeping private health insurance at all.
People with high-school degrees making $40,000 a year face problems very different from those of college-educated folks making $80,000. Their economic future is much more unstable, their job opportunities more limited, and their family finances more precarious. There are many more families in these circumstances among the growing Hispanic populations of the Southwest or the vast plains of the Midwest than one would guess living in the Emerald Cities. Republicans are right to focus on the needs of the middle class, but they must better understand who the middle class is if they are to succeed.
That sounds great, but I wonder if the gap between the typical American and the ruling class is too broad to cross. Our rulers live lives that are so estranged from what the typical American experiences, they may as well be foreigners. America, the country with people and a culture and shared history, has been colonized by pod-people. They make noises that sound familiar and they sort of look like us, but they are alien to us in all the ways that matter. This story in the Financial Times touches on it.
The UK Independence party does not represent the start of a revolt but the culmination of it. A spirit of anti-politics began permeating the country around the turn of the millennium when Tony Blair, the last politician the British allowed themselves to love, broke their hearts by turning out to be a prime minister and not a miracle worker. The disillusion intensified after the Iraq war, a work of naive over-ambition forever remembered as an act of heinous deceit. Then came the crash, the expenses scandal and much more immigration than voters were told to expect.
Cynicism verging on nihilism is the closest thing modern Britain has to a national ideology. It has become common sense to assume the worst of anyone in public authority. Nigel Farage, Ukip’s leader, profits from this foul zeitgeist, not because he is a manipulative genius but because he is the nearest populist to hand. If it were not him, it would be some other jobbing demagogue with the dumb luck to be here now.
It is not obvious how to take him on. But it is increasingly obvious how not to. Hounded by the mood of anti-politics, Britain’s political class has become self-loathing and scared of its own shadow. Mainstream politicians ape the language and manner of populists. They vie to disown a “metropolitan elite” that they themselves constitute. They hope that nodding along as voters express their scorn for them will somehow spare them from it.
Politicians used to wound each other with accusations of incompetence, immorality or intellectual wrongness – all slurs grounded in substance. Now they try to define each other as “out of touch”. When David Cameron, the Conservative prime minister, attacks Labour for indulging dependency culture or withholding a referendum on EU membership, he points to the party’s estrangement from public opinion. When Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, attacks the Tories for overseeing a fall in living standards, his point is that millionaires cannot care about the plight of the ordinary.
The measure of a politician’s worth is how much he is like “us” and not like “them”. Mr Farage’s real achievement is not electoral – his party has no MPs and runs no councils – but cultural. He has spooked the mainstream into emulating the values and priorities of its own tormentors.
As a ploy to neutralise Mr Farage, this self-abasement gets nowhere because it concedes his basic point – that Britain is run by a conspiracy of malign people – and radiates the most lethal weakness in politics: inauthenticity. Mr Cameron is the highest-born prime minister since Alec Douglas-Home half a century ago. Mr Miliband is a professor’s son whose main detour from north London’s cognoscenti was a year teaching at Harvard. They stand for major parties. When they or their similarly rarefied lieutenants play at being the man in the street, it looks craven and affected.
This is certainly true. When John Kerry was running for president, he tried to pass himself off us a regular guy. They kitted him out in an Elmer Fudd costume and sent him into a gun shop to buy a hunting license. It may very well have cost him the election. Normal men could not stop laughing at this effete over-class pansy trying to act butch. They would have been better off putting him in a sun-dress and having him sing duets with RuPaul.
The political classes believe they are unpopular because of something they have done. Certainly, expense-fiddling compounded their scuzzy reputation. And their sheer narrowness is alienating, too. Parliament has become a job guarantee for apparatchiks and activists who relax by watching television dramas set in other political capitals. In Britain politics is not just showbiz for ugly people but for weirdly obsessive people too.
The rise of populism, however, is not primarily the fault of any person – even Mr Blair – or any event. It is powered by structural trends that have been in train for decades. Prime among these is the fragmentation of class loyalty, which has cut the vote share commanded by the two main parties from 97 per cent in the 1951 election to 65 per cent in 2010. More votes are up for grabs, giving rebel parties a look-in.
People do not like being ruled by foreigners. That’s what it feels like in many Western countries today. In Britain, the major parties are more concerned about the Continentals and their European project than the needs and wants of the native Brits. In the US, our politicians and their toadies make noises that sound like American English, but it is all gibberish. The technical term for it is echolalic babbling. The press serves as the interpreter. We are ruled by pod people.