As long as I can remember, the Democrats have been running from their hippie left. It all goes back to 1968, when the dean of the press corps of his day, Joseph Kraft, sounded the alarm: The Democratic Party and the elite media were out of touch with Real Americans and those Real Americans were not amused by what they saw in Chicago that summer:
Most of us in what is called the communications field are not rooted in the great mass of ordinary Americans–in Middle America. And the results show up not merely in occasional episodes such as the Chicago violence but more importantly in the systematic bias toward young people, minority groups, and the presidential candidates who appeal to them.
To get a feel of this bias it is first necessary to understand the antagonism that divides the middle class of this country. On the one hand there are highly educated upper-income whites sure of and brimming with ideas for doing things differently. On the other hand, there is Middle America, the large majority of low-income whites, traditional in their values and on the defensive against innovation.
In these circumstances, it seems to me that those of us in the media need to make a special effort to understand Middle America. Equally it seems wise to exercise a certain caution, a prudent restraint, in pressing a claim for a plenary indulgence to be in all places at all times the agent of the sovereign public.
From this was born the media’s decades-long effort to prove that they were the voice of Real America, even as the right relentlessly attacked them for being the tools of liberalism. And the 1972 convention fully convinced the Democratic establishment that the inmates had taken over the asylum and it was time to put a stop to it. From that point forward it was an article of faith that the American left was to be kept at arm’s length at best. In fact, “triangulating” against it became the Democrats’ favorite political strategy. For many years, metaphorical hippie punching was the best way for a Democrat to prove his Real American bona fides.
The Republicans, on the other hand, had no such problem. They systematically went about rebranding themselves from country club elites to the party of Real America. They too engaged in metaphorical hippie punching, but did so with an almost tongue-in-cheek glee by portraying the hawkish, economically conservative centrist Democratic elites as counterculture freaks and then sitting back and enjoying their howls of protest as they twisted themselves into pretzels trying to prove otherwise.
Those days finally ended about half a decade ago. No, it’s not that Democrats finally stopped running from their left. You’ll recall the disdain with which an administration that won with young people, weeping over Will.i.Am‘s hipper-than-thou “Yes we can” video, held the “professional left” when it spoke out against some of its policies.
“They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.”
(All the best hippie punches contain the words “Michael Moore” or “Dennis Kucinich.”)
No, the recent change came from the other side. These days it’s the Republicans who are dealing with a bunch of radicals dressed up in funny clothes, spouting crazy slogans, yelling at politicians and basically acting out in public. Sure, it was useful in the short run to trip up the Obamacrats but it has become clear that despite the fact that they are a little bit gray and a little bit paunchy, they are every bit as embarrassing as those hippies were to the Democrats back in the day. Indeed, it turns out that the vaunted white middle America of Joseph Kraft’s day is rapidly turning younger and browner, so the process whereby the GOP establishment must try to distance itself from its “wacko-birds” has begun. (And the Democrats, naturally, will do everything in their power to ensure they are bound to each other with duct tape and super glue.)
But crazy hippies and ancient Tea Partyers aren’t the only “problem” for the two partisan political establishments. They’ve got much bigger miscreants in their midst: wealthy donors. This story in yesterday’s Politico about one wealthy egomaniac named Anthony Scaramucci, who’s bought the hype that being rich automatically assumes one must have great talent in all pursuits, illustrates the problem perfectly:
Scaramucci’s meteoric rise has tested traditional clenched-jawed mores in finance and especially in politics, where discretion and the ability to avoid attention are prized. The Mooch — who favors custom-made Loro Piana pinstriped suits and participated in a 2009 CNBC program called “Untold Wealth: The Rise of the Super Rich” that showed him walking by a golden harp in his living room — is not one to shun the spotlight.
In 2012, he boasted that he was “one of the top raisers” for Mitt Romney’s campaign, and about the time he spent at Romney’s New Hampshire lake house, while filling his Twitter feed with a mix of sensitive campaign finance information and a stream of backstage photos and glimpses of the Romneys and other top Republicans.
That’s the tip of the iceberg. The man’s high jinks make Donald Trump look like a prince by comparison.
The Democrats have their loose cannons too. There’s Hollywood, for one thing. But for the most part they give money to whomever the establishment wants them to and since they are professional performers they usually (but not always) understand the limits of their involvement. But the Democrats are having to deal with these Big Money egos as well. Both parties attended a recent confab organized by “the Mooch” where, despite the fact that President Obama was apparently ludicrously portrayed by many as a pitcgfork-wielding populist, they all agreed that Wall Street had been unfairly maligned and, darn it all, it’s got to stop. President Obama’s right hand Valerie Jarrett even went so far as to praise Frank Underwood, Kevin Spacey’s fictional sociopath politician, for his ability to “get things done.”
But what are they going to do about “the Mooch” and his ilk when they act like fools and embarrass them with crazy antics, as Sheldon Adelson does with his supplication rituals or major donor Foster Friess with his comments that women should hold an aspirin between their legs as a form of birth control? While the party establishments are free to shove the Tea Partyer in a tricorner hat or a hippie in a tie-dyed shirt aside when they try to influence the parties to follow certain policies, in this big money environment, it’s going to be very hard for them to shove aside fellows like “the Mooch.” As Willie Sutton explained when asked why he robbed banks: “That’s where the money is.” And whether they like it or not, these fellows are increasingly refusing to simply sign the checks or have an audience with “the man.” They aren’t even content to demand a specific return on their investments (if you know what I mean). Now that it’s perfectly legal and socially acceptable for these people to pour vast sums of money into politics, they are no longer willing to operate from the sidelines. They want to take the wheel and run the political system itself.
From this report about the big Mooch Meet-up, it sounds like they’re perfectly willing to wear a costume, dance a dance or juggle their wine goblets if that’s what the Big Money Boys want them to do — and the press will report it with blithe cynicism, as if that’s as natural as the sunrise. Will Joseph Kraft’s Real Americans (or the emerging new Real America, for that matter) go along?