Ross Douthat is on fire this morning, talking about the 2008 Obama remarks about the bitter clingers of Jesusland, and the 2012 Romney commentary about the moochy 47 percent. Douthat says that both statements, uttered as they were in presumed confidence to the tip-top elite of the two parties, are most useful as expressions of what the elites want to hear. That is, the candidates were flattering the prejudices of their discrete audiences. Excerpts:
For rich Republicans, the stereotype is all about the money: They have it, other Americans don’t, and those resentful, entitled others might just have enough votes to wage class warfare and redistribute the donors’ hard-earned millions to the indolent and irresponsible.
For rich Democrats, the stereotype is all about the culture wars: They think they’ve built an enlightened society, liberated from archaic beliefs and antique hang-ups, and yet these Jesus freaks in flyover country are mobilizing to restore the patriarchy.
Both groups of donors seem to be haunted by dystopian scenarios in which the masses rise up and tear down everything the upper class has built. For Republicans, the dystopia is (inevitably) “Atlas Shrugged.” For liberals, it’s one part “Turner Diaries,” one part “Handmaid’s Tale.”
What does it say about our culture that the people funding presidential campaigns on both sides of the aisle seem to regard their downscale fellow countrymen as a kind of alien race, to be feared and condescended to in equal measure?
What does it say that rich Republicans are unable to entertain the possibility that Americans who depend on government programs during the worst recession in generations might have legitimate economic grievances?
What does it say that rich Democrats can’t fathom why working class Americans might look askance at an elite that’s presided over a long slow social breakdown and often regards their fundamental religious convictions as obstacles to progress?
These excellent questions get to the heart of why I am so deeply alienated from both parties. We need a Christopher Lasch party. I keep trying to imagine what the source for this kind of political renewal would be, and I keep coming up blank.