Anyone looking for an explanation as to why the left went all in on identity politics and matters of conscience need only look at their record where they have long held political sway.
“Blue America,” defined as states that have not voted Republican in presidential elections since the eighties, is lagging “Red America” in virtually every economic category, and the gap is widening. Net migration from blue states to red over the past decade is staggering and the progressive planners are feeling the pain of losing so many taxpayers to fund their social democracy. And much as activists might salivate over the prospect of “turning Texas blue” or of flooding red states with progressive migrants, the truth is that the blue state diaspora has not effected any real shift in states’ partisan affiliations. People motivated to “vote with their feet” typically do so out of raw economic self-interest and therefore are less inclined to factor politics into the decision to relocate. But even if many of these domestic migrants are motivated by progressive politics and seek to transform states, the aggregate effect of people looking for work and then finding it is generally not one of antipathy toward their new home; quite the opposite. Democrats who move to places like Austin, Orlando, Raleigh or Phoenix to find work and come to appreciate the policy agenda that facilitates vibrant economies are growing in number. Writ large, this phenomenon explains Reagan Democrats. After the malaise of the seventies, the Reagan revolution ushered in growth and opportunity nationwide. Blue collar workers and those without degrees saw with their own eyes how deregulation and lower taxes lead to broad prosperity. Most were Democrats frustrated with high gas prices, high unemployment and higher inflation, yet they were ready to dump partisan affiliation in favor of economic growth and when they got what they were promised, they registered their appreciation by giving Reagan forty-nine states (may Minnesota forever live in shame) in 1984. Ultimately, paychecks trump partisanship.
A similar thing is happening today, only it is the states instead of the federal government leading the way. Federalism – the system of decentralized power and state autonomy championed by Madison for its facility to cater competing experiments within the republic – is ascendant.
One reason to cheer the decline of Democrats’ political fortunes is that it will accelerate the left’s budding flirtation with federalism. As Matt Welch reminds us, in the wake of George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004, desperate Democrats looked to states’ rights as a panacea. “On gay marriage, marijuana, even environmental regulation, progressives were getting in touch with their inner decentralist.” Today the left has won genuine victories on same-sex marriage, gun restrictions, minimum wage and tax increases and, most notably, straight legalization of marijuana. All were achieved at the state level while federal policy lagged behind. Of course, being progressives, the embedded intent in state initiatives is always to lay the groundwork for federal extension. But the fact that the left is working to advance their agenda at the state level at all is encouraging. It is the way things are supposed to work.
Experience can be a hell of a teacher and as the drug war and police state escalate in proportion to the growth of government, progressives are starting to realize government’s inherent dangers. The rising tension between federal prohibition and state legalization of marijuana is instructive. How will they react when the feds bust pot dispensaries in Boulder or Spokane? I doubt it will be to say “well, it’s the law, and we progressives must bow to the benevolent will of our federal government.” Or is it more likely that such an experience would likely nudge a few leftists ever so slightly towards the view that politics and legislation should be conducted as locally as possible? Baby steps to federalism are better than the road to serfdom.
If there is hope yet for grass roots lefties to see the light as a result of government’s expanding reach, the same cannot be said for the leading lights of progressivism. Three celebrity stooges for an unabashed progressive agenda, Elizabeth Warren, Bill DeBlasio and Bernie Sanders believe that cronyism and inequality can be cured by adding more cronyism and bureaucratic oversight to an already straitjacketed economy. Like Occupy Wall Street, their answer to the genuine problem of corporatism and crony privilege is not to fix the underlying incentives that create corruption but to make sure that they are the ones in charge. They have no problem with the federal reserve or quantitative easing, the true culprits of widening income inequality. All are whole hog supporters of the Ex-Im Bank, an almost comical embodiment of special interest and regulatory capture that privileges large corporations over the interests of smaller competitors. Economist Veronique de Rugy’s extensive research “show[s] that the Export-Import Bank’s top beneficiaries constitute a large portion of total financial assistance—and therefore have plenty of reasons to support the upcoming reauthorization.” Elizabeth Warren wants to keep the Ex-Im Bank because to a progressive, eliminating any part of Leviathan is tantamount to admitting failure. So what if the only people in favor of keeping the bank are its direct beneficiaries, Boeing and GE? It is simply more important to the progressive identity that the benighted government they consider theirs be forever guarded. Denying the bureaucracy its ability to meddle in everyday Americans’ lives would be tantamount to stripping however many championships Alabama football claims and make Charlton Heston’s position on gun rights look tame by comparison. What truly vexes is the lack of any question from Warren’s rabid supporters about whether her support for the bank of cronyism is a good idea. The silence speaks volumes and suggests that OWS was never about tackling cronyism. Only the most confused socialist could rail against the injustice of rigged games and corrupt power and call in the next breath for further consolidation of power in the form of more rules and regulations. The farce that passes for leftwing “populism” is in reality just another primal scream against capitalism and a call for mass redistribution of wealth for the sake of fairness. To echo Milton Friedman, “I don’t believe in fairness. I believe in freedom.”
As progressive-led cities across America suffer under terrible policies and worse corruption, it is the poorer citizens who suffer most, from education to crime to jobs. If Democrats held even an ounce of compassion for poor people as they claim, wholesale changes to the public union, tax-and-spend model would have been undertaken long ago. No such changes were made of course, let alone contemplated, since it is the only model they know. As Bill McGurn attests in the Wall Street Journal, progressivism “can claim its victories, here making it more expensive for employees to hire workers, there enshrining some race or gender grievance into law, here again imposing some new tax on millionaires. As a governing philosophy, however, progressive cures tend to leave the people the movement claims to want to help most – the poor and the working class – in worse shape.”
The poor are starting to notice how progressive policy “works” in practice. Black community leaders and Hispanic conservatives are pointing to different approaches to poverty and education because if one thing is clear, it is that America’s urban environments are in crisis and conservatives have not been at the helm of this sinking ship.
Because “progressive leaders [have] few examples of thriving progressive states and cities to point to,” they delude themselves into believing that Americans place matters of petty cultural disagreement above kitchen table concerns. The left is thoroughly convinced of their moral superiority, on everything from compassion, empathy and tolerance to women’s issues and sexuality. In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking the whole Democratic platform is about sex. Or race. Or “science!” Not a lot of particulars or specifics or even slight departures from the status quo regarding opportunity or upward mobility. It is like they believe that denial and obfuscation are enough to keep them in power, and once in power, prior transgressions will just fade away, especially as they work their will on the agenda that the American people really want, even if they don’t know it yet.
The progressive delusion is twofold: delusion about the reality of their economic and political stewardship of urban America and further delusion that economic performance is secondary to cultural considerations. Essentially, the Democrats are betting that cultural grievance and contempt for the “other side” will be enough to neutralize whatever fallout they suffer from being routinely exposed as incompetent inner city stewards. Ready for Hillary should be inspiring. If nothing else, it will be delusional.