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Dick Morris: Return of the Reagan Dem

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The irrelevance of the modern Democratic Party to the needs of the average American summon memories of the 1970s and likely presage an entire new crop of 2016 “Reagan Democrats” who will defect from their party.

Today, as in the ’70s, the Democratic Party has been hijacked by the “less is more” psychology, which focuses on esoteric issues like climate change rather than the core questions of growth, jobs and incomes. The “era of limits” talk that animated the remarks of the likes of Jimmy Carter and Jerry Brown in that decade have returned to a central place in the Democratic catechism. 

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In Joel Kotkin’s excellent book The New Class Conflict, he calls the intellectual leadership of the party the “liberal gentry,” a group equally made up of Silicon Valley and Wall Street hedge fund types. The Democratic mantra has shifted from “growth” to “sustainability.” This change is not so much a difference in emphasis as a reversal of direction. Despite dreams of green jobs, the environmental policies of this administration impede growth, particularly in the manufacturing sector.

The Wall Street ties of the new Democratic Party have led to massive income inequality. Kotkin notes that under President Obama, 95 percent of the income gains have accrued to the top 1 percent of the country while 93 percent have experienced no income growth. Under former President Clinton, 45 percent of the income gains went to the top 1 percent. Under George W. Bush it was 65 percent. Kotkin notes that the disaffection of blue-collar working-class voters stems from the preoccupation of the Democrats with the views of their elite donors rather than of their lower- to middle-income voters. 

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) echoed the themes of Kotkin’s criticism when he lambasted Obama for choosing to stress healthcare over the economy as the central theme of his first term (a decision as fateful as that of Bill Clinton — under Hillary Clinton’s influence — to focus on healthcare rather than welfare reform).

There is nothing more emblematic of this elitist pre-occupation of the new Democratic Party than its embrace of amnesty for illegal immigrants. The Congressional Budget Office has concluded that immigration is likely to lower median wage levels — or at least stop any increase — for the next decade. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka shared these concerns. 

Schumer’s critique of the party’s move to the agenda of the “gentry” ignores the impact of immigration and amnesty. It is a blind spot among all liberals who are choosing special-interest Latino voters over the needs of the average American worker. 

Indeed, the change in the Democratic vote among Hispanics in the 2014 elections indicates, perhaps, that rank-and-file Latino voters are less eager than the leaders of special-interest groups  to see major new immigration and the economic competition it brings.

In the ’70s, the Democratic blue-collar voters were worried about crime, but their party’s candidates dismissed these concerns as racist and refused to address them. Likewise, they rejected their voters’ worries that inflation was robbing them of their upward mobility. The elites replied that they needed to embrace limits.

The results of this change in party priorities were Richard Nixon and then Ronald Reagan. Back then, it was “limousine liberals” who turned away from the party’s base. 

Now, the gentry’s obsessive focus on global warming — of which there has been none for 17 years — and its embrace of the high-density goals of the United Nations’s Agenda 21 are likely to create a new class of Reagan Democrats. Repelled by the elitism of their traditional party, they will be more attracted to the pro-growth, anti-amnesty policies of the new Republicans. 

Morris, who served as adviser to former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former President Clinton, is the author of 17 books, including his latest, Power Grab: Obama’s Dangerous Plan for a One Party Nation and Here Come the Black Helicopters. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to dickmorris.com.