In today’s atmosphere of heated political rhetoric, almost every group is attacked. Unions selfishly feed at the trough. Liberal egghead academics plot to instill their values in our youth. Only one group is rarely if ever attacked: those who control concentrated wealth. This is because of the Democrats - and it explains a lot about their failure. Republicans attack groups that support the Democrats all the time. Democrats never go after the base of the Republicans in the same way.
Every couple weeks, there’s a new survey, study or article about the dominance of liberals in, for example, academia (or insert unions, government employees, media, or so on here - it’s not important). Whether or not it’s true is not the issue here. What matters is that conservatives believe it and, more importantly, talk about it. A search for “liberal academics” at the Heritage Foundation gives more than 100 hits. These concepts are deeply embedded in the conservative mindset - they shape the notion of an entrenched conservative minority, doing lonely battle against the overwhelming forces of the dreaded left wing.
A small amount of thought will reveal that this analysis leaves out one of the most important sectors of life (especially to conservatives): business and wealth. I’ll concede that there’s a pronounced partisan tilt in, say, professors. But reasonable conservatives should concede that there is a corresponding tilt in business. How many of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are Republicans? How many are favorably disposed to organized labor, or environmental regulations?
Groups that have pro-Democratic bias are attacked, viciously. Groups that have pro-GOP slant are left in peace. When was the last time you heard a Democrat talking about the “conservative business establishment?” I’m not talking about attacking business or the wealthy simply because they’re rich; but surely we can all agree that corporations and CEOs have interests, just as college professors do. Why is it that Democrats never bring this up?
Sometimes Democrats do attack Republicans for putting out policies that favor the rich. But do they ever claim that the rich have something to do with those policies? No. In the Democrats’ acid-trip version of a political narrative, the rich are passive beneficiaries of bad policies that are handed out by Republicans. Conservative politicians are attacked, not on the grounds that their policies are unfair, but that they promote policy that’s wrong for the country.
The distinction is subtle, but critical. The only people attacked for benefiting the rich or business are Republican politicians. The rich themselves are portrayed in Democratic rhetoric as passive - they are beneficiaries of Republicans, but nothing more. Meanwhile, in Republican rhetoric, the Democratic Party is propped up by the malevolent support of squishy college professors and unpatriotic hippies. Thus, the rich are never portrayed as actively working to further their own interests.
Any framework in which the rich are passive and meek will only benefit the Republicans. It masks the role of one of their primary sources of support. Meanwhile, the role of Democratic supporting groups - academia, unions and so on - is out in the open. So why do Democrats adopt this frame? Why isn’t there any discussion of the role of concentrated wealth in the political system?
The short answer is rhetorical cowardice. Democrats are cowed by charges of “class warfare.” Why they fear these charges so much is another subject entirely. But it’s clear what the Democrats need to do.
The Democrats’ rhetoric needs to reflect that the rich and business are interest groups, just like professors, unions or public employees. Their portrayal of the rich as passive beneficiaries of bad policy robs Democrats of the chance to claim that tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent, while so many needs go unmet, are simply unfair. That’s the argument that the Democrats should be making. Not a message of class warfare; not attacking the rich simply for being rich. Democrats should insist that everyone pay their fair share, and that means, for example, not cutting taxes in wartime.
The entire spectrum of economic issues - regulation, taxes and government spending - can all be cast through the frame of “fairness.” Rich people should pay more than they are now. That’s fair, and it’s also a solid message for progressives. Democrats need to stop portraying the rich as helpless beneficiaries and start portraying them as an interest group with an unfair advantage.