Some recent US figures on the distribution of income by party: 65 percent of taxpayer households that earn more than $500,000 per year are now in Democratic districts; 74 percent of the households in Republican districts earn less than $100,00 per year. Add to this what we knew already, namely that the 10 richest congressional districts in the country all have Democratic representatives in Congress. The above numbers incidentally come from the Internal Revenue Service, via Bloomberg, and are likely to be more reliable than if they came from Project Veritas via theblaze.com.
We have known for some time that the dark money of Charles Koch is answered by the conspicuous money of Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai, George Soros, Bill Gates, and a swelling chorus of others, none of whom “identify Republican.” Yet it has been comforting, in a way, to continue believing that real wealth resides with the old enemy: Big Oil and Big Tobacco and the rest. They were the ultimate source of the power that distorted American society and politics.
The income of their voters aside, Democrats enjoy the active, constant, all-but-avowed support of The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, all three of the old television networks, CNN, NPR, and the online mainstream of Slate, Salon, and HuffPost. Any sentient reader can easily add a dozen more outlets. But along with the benefits of this mutual understanding comes a liability. The warm handshake with a friendly media establishment can grow so familiar that you get out of the habit of seeing what it looks like when you strut your stuff in public. And no longer seeing what it looks like, you stop asking what it might look like to people not already on your side.
For Barack Obama’s 60th birthday, a celebration in Martha’s Vineyard was planned for 500 guests and a staff of 200. “Scaled back” to minimize the “bad optics,” the numbers still looked to be in the hundreds; and this at a time when President Biden had lately advised Americans to re-mask and not assemble in large gatherings. Tom Hanks, Chrissy Teigen, Bradley Cooper, Beyoncé—all were present, making the scene, trailing clouds of glitz. The birthday message couldn’t have been plainer: “We work so hard, we are doing so much that you are not, every exception should be made for us.” The leaked pictures were of undoubtedly cool people, worthy of their very cool host.
The display, however, brought back the memory of Gavin Newsom, caught dining unmasked with some donors after he declared his mask mandate, and more recently Muriel Bowser, caught doing the same just hours before declaring hers. Another dip into the past might recall the moment when Wolf Blitzer, at the height of the budget crush last October, confronted Nancy Pelosi over her stalling tactics on an emergency package to deny Donald Trump an assist at the polls. Blitzer said that he noticed people in city streets, hungry, homeless, and in immediate need. With an air of affronted virtue, Pelosi replied that no action taken by a Democrat like herself could be questioned: “We feed them!”
Even when a dissident wing of the party succeeds in a worthy cause—as with the extension of the eviction moratorium effected by Cori Bush and her congressional allies—a suggestion of deserved status appears in an unpleasant light. A CBS reporter asked Bush about spending $70,000 on private security guards while less fortunate persons would be left to fend for themselves without the police she wants to defund. Bush pointed out that in earlier years she had been evicted three times, and yet she spoke in a voice weirdly similar to Pelosi’s: “I have too much work to do. There are too many people that need help right now…. So if I end up spending $200,000, if I spend 10, 10, 10 more dollars on [private security], you know what, I get to be here to do the work. So suck it up. And defunding the police has to happen.” A Missouri TV station carried widely different reactions to her stance, from a woman who approved and a man who was having none of it. The citizen opposed to defunding was Black, working-class, in his middle years; the defunder was young, white, professional.
What has drawn the most attention around the eviction moratorium is Biden’s risky politics in admitting that his extension probably wouldn’t “pass constitutional muster,” but he was going to try it anyway. Just as interesting was the fact that Bush and her allies thought of landlords as the enemy. It did not occur to them to look higher up and ask for an extension of mortgage due dates to protect middle-class landlords (who depend on rent) from predatory banks.
The party’s general tone sometimes seems to disparage the mass of people it cannot patronize. The truth is that property owners and shopkeepers of the middling sort, hard hit by the past 18 months if not the past 18 years, are pretty much off the radar of the new party of the rich. Even if, under Biden, the Democrats are union-friendly to an extent unimaginable in the Clinton and Obama years, the party as a whole remains closer to Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood than it is to the merchants who lost their livelihoods in the summer riots of 2020.
For all the good things they do, there are some things you can rely on the Democrats not to do. They won’t push hard for a genuinely progressive income tax. They won’t raise corporate taxes in a way that would darken the brow of Bezos and Dorsey, Zuckerberg and Gates, or increase the inheritance tax in a way that might make an impression on the grandchildren of the Stanford class of 1985. They have learned to talk about racism, which is good, with intellectual labor-saving devices like “systemic,” which is not so good. Will they ever talk so frankly about—as Dickens put it in Our Mutual Friend—“money, money, money, and what money can make of life”?