The Fundamental Divide Within the Democratic Party

Unlike many in punditocracy, I am far less sanguine about the Democrats’ prospects in 2016. Why? Because, as Michael Lind notes, there is a fundamental, unresolved divide in the Democratic Party (boldface mine):

Unlike the Roosevelt Democrats of the New Deal/Great Society era, who were a coalition of the middle and the bottom against the top, the post-McGovern Democrats are an “hourglass” coalition, uniting white Americans with graduate and professional degrees and a minority of the white rich with the white poor and the majority of blacks and Latinos. Elite white Democrats can be further divided into two categories: the rich and the highly-educated professionals whom Joel Kotkin among others call “the gentry.” Let’s call the rich the One Percent Democrats and the highly-educated the Ten Percent Democrats (because in 2012 only 11 percent of the U.S. population has a graduate or professional degree and subtracting the highly-educated among the One Percent leaves Ten Percent). Almost all of the campaign funding comes from the One Percent Democrats, while many Democratic politicians, staffers, pollsters, activists, and intellectuals belong to the Eleven Percent—the rich and/or highly-educated.

This schizophrenia is reflected in several key areas. Social Security:

Most Americans are almost entirely dependent on Social Security in their retirement. Only the top tenth of the population has other significant financial assets in retirement, including 401k stock portfolios. Unlike most Americans, rich and gentry-class progressives would benefit little from all but a radical expansion of Social Security. But many professional-class Ten Percenters would pay much more of their income in taxes, if all wage income, and not just the first $113,700, were subject to the Social Security payroll tax—while taxing capital gains as well as wage income to pay for Social Security would crimp the lifestyle of the One Percent progressives who derive most of their income from investments rather than salaries or professional fees.


Education is another example. Most progressives support public education in the abstract. But many Ten Percenters as well as One Percenters to the left of center would rather send their children to class-stratified private schools, or public schools in class-stratified suburbs, rather than send them to urban or rural schools where most of the students come from downscale backgrounds. And—if anecdotal evidence counts—I have heard the fiercest defenders of “legacy preferences” for the children of alumni/alumnae in elite universities from otherwise progressive Democratic graduates of those elite institutions who hope that hereditary privilege will help their progressive offspring win a coveted slot in the entering class.

And, as I’ve discussed before, a real, livable wage:

The professional class benefits from the low wage labor pool produced by a combination of mass low-skill immigration and a low minimum wage. Upscale progressives may fret about inequality and low wages, but how many of them would be willing to pay their nannies and maids a living wage of $15 an hour (or more, in big cities)?

Admittedly, the Republicans are out of their fucking minds right now. As long as the Palinist faction–the white nationalist faction–is ascendant, Democrats will tend to do well. At some point, though, Republicans are going to figure this out, or at least a Republican candidate will (remember ‘compassionate conservatism’?), and Democrats will be forced to faced the divisions within our party.

It’s also worth noting this is probably why, outside of John Nichols of The Nation and Laura Clawson of Great Orange Satan (aka ‘DailyKos’), chattering class progressives have completely ignored Boston’s mayoral election wherein a card-carrying union member–not someone who is sympathetic to workers, but an honest-to-Intelligent Designer union member–defeated a neo-liberal. I don’t think they know what to make of his victory. This might even scare them a little:

For instance, in Boston, critics of mayoral candidate Martin Walsh produced a video showing the veteran Boston Building Trades labor leader and legislator leading chants of “Union! Union! Union!” at a rally organized in solidarity with Wisconsin workers who were protesting Walker’s anti-labor agenda. “What happened in Wisconsin better not happen here!” Walsh shouted in the video before adding: “Our grandparents, our great grandparents fought the fight for us, to have the wages we have. Not just here in Boston, but in Wisconsin.”

That was supposed to hurt Walsh, who was portrayed by some media outlets as too sympathetic toward working people and their unions. But Walsh did not back down or back away from his union ties. “I am a son of labor,” he said. “I will wear my record of fighting for working people as a badge of honor.”

As Walsh’s labor ties were emphasized, his poll numbers started to rise. The campaign closed with Walsh being celebrated in a TV ad that featured the Dropkick Murphys, a Boston band famous for championing the cause of workers (and for opposing Republicans who attacked unions in Wisconsin), reworking their popular song “Shipping Up to Boston” with new lyrics: “Marty Walsh for Boston! Marty Walsh!”

Republicans aren’t the only ones with a divided house.

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5 Responses to The Fundamental Divide Within the Democratic Party

  1. harrync says:

    Is there a “not” missing from the last sentence in this post?

  2. Robert L Bell says:

    Very interesting, well done.

    I will just add a couple of points. As one of your ten percenters, a science PhD from Harvard/MIT, I am acutely aware that I earn my living through the sale of my labor – intellectual and highly remunerated as it might be. This puts me forcefully in the camp of Labor and staunchly opposed to the degenerate rentier class with which I shared my schooling. Naturally I am in favor of the Living Wage, especially because it would place upward pressure on ALL wages – mine included. Unfortunately, and as you observe, most of my cow-orkers identify with the ownership class and would not piss on a union member if he were on fire.

    I am also utterly disenchanted with the hysterical ninnies and faux radicals at the Great Orange Satan. was an oasis of sanity back in 2002, when the whole world was going mad and a few hardy souls managed to find each other on the intertubez, but we lost our way after Kerry’s defeat and wandered off into the irrelevancy of the firebagger wilderness. Which is a tremendous shame, as decent lefty aggregator would be of great service to the country.

  3. Min says:

    When Lind talks about the Democrats being an hourglass coalition, he may be right, but does he have anything more than anecdotes and impressions? OC, pointing out hypocrisy always rings a bell, because we all know hypocrites and recognize our own failings. So I take his claims cum grano salis.

    That aside, there is an important point to make. It may well be that professional class Democrats as a group do not really want to pay their household help a living wage. But that is not the right question. The question is whether they would be willing to do so **if everybody else did so, too**. If you are among the few who do so, you may feel virtuous, but you also ask whether you can afford it, and whether you will be able to fit in with your crowd. See complaints about trying to get by on only $400,000 a year. But if everybody does it, then doing it too is one way to fit in. Another important question is what kind of society you want to live in. I suspect that Dems, even hypocritical ones, would rather live in a society that paid people at the bottom a living wage, while Reps prefer a dog-eat-dog world. To build character, don’t you know. Another point is economic, which is that if all workers got a living wage, they would spend more money than they do now, and a good bit of it would soon get into the hands of those who pay the living wages. Trickle down economics does not work, but bubble up economics does. Henry Ford understood that principle very well, which is one reason why he paid his workers very well, and one reason he got so rich.

  4. kaleberg says:

    Given the recent success in the war on the middle class, what is wrong with an hourglass coalition?

  5. Pingback: Things That Are and Are Not Considered Taxes | Mike the Mad Biologist

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