In the 7/30/11 New York Times Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg writes Why Voters Tune Out Democrats. It was a thoughtful piece, but was stronger on analysis than prescriptions. It earned some great comments and retorts:
At American Thinker, Why Some of Us Tune Out Democrats by Robert Oscar Lopez.
At Real Clear Politics, Americans Want the Honor of Earned Success by Michael Barone
An excerpt from Barone:
But Americans prefer to see themselves as doers rather than victims. They do not see themselves, as the masses in the Progressive Era a century ago may have done, as helpless victims of large corporations and financial interests.
They want public policies that enable them to earn success, and they resent policies that channel money to the politically well positioned or to those who have not made decisions and taken actions necessary for earned success. They want to be empowered, not patronized.
That’s why voters here and, as Greenberg notes, in other advanced countries are rejecting policies that give more power to the mandarins who run government and provide less leeway for ordinary people to work for earn success.
But the most thorough treatment of Greenberg’s article is The Progressive Crisis by Walter Russell Mead in The American Interest.
Meanwhile, Greenberg has not yet come to grips with the deepest and most difficult aspect of the crisis of liberal legitimacy. He roots the dangerous and corrupting special interests outside the state: with their money and their lobbying the corporations and the fat cats influence and pervert the state. But the state and its servants do not, in Greenberg’s story, constitute a special interest of their own.
This is not how voters see it. For large numbers of voters the professional classes who staff the bureaucracies, foundations and policy institutes in and around government are themselves a special interest. It is not that evil plutocrats control innocent bureaucrats; many voters believe that the progressive administrative class is a social order that has its own special interests. Bureaucrats, think these voters, are like oil companies and Enron executives: they act only to protect their turf and fatten their purses.
The problem goes even deeper than hostility toward perceived featherbedding and life tenure for government workers. The professionals and administrators who make up the progressive state are seen as a hostile power with an agenda of their own that they seek to impose on the nation.
Progressives want and need to believe that the voters are tuning them out because they aren’t progressive enough. But it’s impossible to grasp the crisis of the progressive enterprise unless one grasps the degree to which voters resent the condescension and arrogance of know-it-all progressive intellectuals and administrators. They don’t just distrust and fear the bureaucratic state because of its failure to live up to progressive ideals (thanks to the power of corporate special interests); they fear and resent upper middle class ideology. Progressives scare off many voters most precisely when they are least restrained by special interests. Many voters feel that special interests can be a healthy restraint on the idealism and will to power of the upper middle class.
At bottom, that is what the populist revolt against establishments of all kinds is about. A growing section of the American population wants to think and act for itself, without the guidance of the graduates of ivy league colleges and blue chip graduate programs.
The fight for limited government that animates so many Americans today isn’t a reaction against the abuses and failures of government. It is a fight to break the power of a credentialed elite that believe themselves entitled by talent and hard work to a greater say in the nation’s affairs than people who scored lower on standardized tests and studied business administration in cheap colleges rather than political science in expensive ones.
Progressives are failing to capture the American Voter because they are fighting the last war and have not adapted to the changes in the voting populace.
Tips to Bob Cain for the articles.