No, Democrats Are Not the Party of the Rich

Thomas EdsallI am often reminded of Joe Biden’s finest moment. It occurred during the 2012 vice-presidential debate. Paul Ryan was using the usual deceptive claim that Obamacare took money away from Medicare. It was deceptive because while it was technically true, it wasn’t actually taking resources away from the program. But what was flat out wrong was Romney and Ryan’s claim that this meant that the Democratic Party was trying to destroy Medicare. Biden didn’t get into the weeds, as I just did. He simply said, “Folks: use your common sense! Who do you trust on this?!” That’s the thing: we don’t need studies, we know what the Republicans are all about, because they tell us all the time.

One of the great supposed ironies that I’ve been hearing my whole life is, “Actually, the Democrats are the party of the rich!” There are reasons to think this might be true. For example, Democratic support is more clustered in cities. And it may have been true at one time — at least if you massaged the data and squinted the right way. But it certainly isn’t true today and it hasn’t been true for a long time. All you have to do is use your common sense! Who do you trust on this?!

But Jim Naureckas over at FAIR did more than that, Democrats Depend on Affluent Voters? That’s Rich. It appears that Thomas Edsall has been pushing a slightly different narrative: the Democrats are as dependent upon the rich as they are the poor. This comes from the 2012 election, where Obama got as many votes from the upper two quintiles as he did from the lower two quintiles. Now this is a bit of a trick, because it depends upon the fact that richer people vote at greater percentages than poor people do. As you can see below, Obama killed it with the poor.

Voter Income Winner
Less than $30,000 Obama: 63%
$30,000 – $49,999 Obama: 57%
More than $50,000 Romney: 53%
More than $100,000 Romney: 54%

Naureckas noted something else that is critical: “elections aren’t won by getting a lot of votes, but by getting more votes than your opponents.” So it doesn’t matter the total number of votes of one group compared to another. The critical issue is how well the two parties do with any given group. And on that score, it is simply wrong to imply that Democrats are the party of the rich, as Edsall’s headline does, “How Did the Democrats Become Favorites of the Rich?” But let’s be clear, Edsall’s intent — as a New Democrat — is to say, “Stay away from Bernie Sanders because the Democratic Party still needs the votes of those upper two quintiles!”

Jim NaureckasThere may be reason to think that, although as always, I think most people — even a fair number of Republicans — agree more with Bernie Sanders than anyone else. But it’s just so ridiculous to talk about Democrats in this way. When people talk about Republicans being the party of the rich, they aren’t talking about voters; they are talking about policies. The Republican Party pushes policies that preferentially help the rich. That’s true to some extent of the Democrats too. But not nearly to the same extent. And based on last week’s debate, the party is moving away from that.

Regardless, no one is making that argument when claiming that Democrats are the party of the rich; they are just pushing some idea of what Democratic voters are. What they are talking about is what Geoffrey Nunberg lampooned in the subtitle of his book Talking Right, “How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show.” But as the table above shows: the strongest Democratic support is not from “latte liberals”; it’s from lower class workers. There are a whole lot more “crème brûlée conservatives” than than “latte liberals.”

Afterword

Nunberg documents in his book the fact that most of the stuff in his subtitle are actually done more by conservatives. For example, conservatives are more likely to drive Volvo cars than liberals. Myth is powerful.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

61 thoughts on “No, Democrats Are Not the Party of the Rich

  1. What’s wonky about these cultural signifiers is nobody thinks we should pay attention to Warren Buffett saying our tax structure and CEO pay are ridiculous — even though he’s a far more successful investor than Trump. Buffett’s rich, so he’s out of touch. Trump’s rich, so he understands how to run things.

    W was inherited private-school money all the way, but he had the phony accent making him more “down-to-Earth” than Kerry. (Don’t tell me you go to Yale and keep that accent unless it’s an intentional affectation. His dad didn’t have it and his brothers don’t.)

    Although Nader has some grudging respect for rich people who are actually good at knowing how to invest money, he’s an outlier.

    • It’s really not that we think we should listen to rich people. The media thinks we should listen to certain ideas. If a rich person is giving the standard line, they don’t question it because they know no one will attack them, since they are just presenting what everyone else is. But how can they know that a rich person calling for more taxes isn’t just a crank? I really do think a big problem is that most journalists are somewhat liberal, and so they are critical of stuff they naturally accept, but just pass on conservative rubbish without a thought.

      • This is well-observed and ties into what Elizabeth says below. There’s an element of self-censorship. Some issues are so hot button you can’t touch them. When I was doing some NBA posts, the Portland NBA team played an exhibition game against an Israeli team. Read the English-language version of that Israeli team’s website, and it’s harmless. Read the Israeli version of their link for hard-core fans, and it’s abominable. Needless to say I didn’t get that article posted.

        I did a bit on Katrina & insurance companies not covering flood damage (which I researched pretty heavily) — not posted. Etc., etc. So I learned fast — keep your “controversial” stuff down to the bare minimum. Bury it at the bottom of posts, write historical things not challenging modern politics (always with the perspective that we’ve gotten beyond awful prejudice now.)

        Not all modern reporters are lazy — far from it. Many are harder-working than even you. They’re confined by the fact that stories going against conventional wisdom would often need several installments to make those stories comprehensible to the average reader. Which aren’t going to get published. While stories that sell the simplest narrative are easy and quite lazy to type.

        • I’m not hard working. I seem perpetually distracted. If I could focus, I might be hard working. But I know what it is like to write for a newspaper. You don’t have much time. And you aren’t there to find the truth; you are there to publish articles. Occasionally, someone like Gary Webb comes along who really begins to pull on a thread. But look what happened to him. Getting to the bottom of things is not part of the job description.

          Do you still have that stuff lying around about the Israeli team?! Because I would love to publish that!

          • Even if you switch your attention like most people these days and still manage to get your work done, how is that being distracted? Most of us watch something on the TV while reading something else and checking our social media constantly while texting a friend.

            • I know people who do this and call it “being distracted.” Feels to me like they have sharper brains than I do! But, having a sharp brain isn’t the only important thing in the world. Probably the most important thing, yes. But one can also be a good pedestrian, and on odd-numbered days, I am.

          • No, sorry, I don’t remember any of it. I do remember it was gross. You’re writing about sports and find example #186282 of how sports makes people a-holes. Neither author, reader, nor subject are elevated in any way. It’s like writing about religion, another thing people turn to for comfort and which is also often evil. Why pile on? The Nuns On The Bus who went around campaigning against Paul Ryan’s austerity budget are a more interesting story than the 3,141,592 hate-spewing preachers everybody’s aware of.

            Now I believe there’s a German soccer team, FC St. Pauli, with fans who aren’t necessarily even sports fans, because the team’s colors and symbols are now associated with anti-racism. Are those fans making noise about allowing refugees into Germany? If so, that’s a great story. (One probably needs to move to Germany to examine it.)

            I’m not saying writing dark things isn’t helpful. It is, especially when it comes to politics. The Gary Webb story blew my mind when it came out. It’s just not the sort of thing already-depressed and stressed people want to read. Most of them; there are a few weirdos around.

            It’s strange. Audiences seem to want either bizarre “Prophets Of Capital” happy stories or bizarre Trump-y xenophobia porn. I’m done trying to understand it for today!

            • The people weren’t much interested in Watergate either. It takes an editor who is committed to working a story. Otherwise, they are just in the entertainment business. Of course, nowadays most editors think exactly that. But if Webb had had the backing of a strong editor, that would have been a huge story for years. Webb would today be more iconic than Woodward. But instead, most people I talk to are only vaguely aware that the CIA had something to do with crack cocaine.

              • I think — I may have this wrong — that at the time the Was.Post was independently owned. And that made a difference. Independent press ownership gave us Murdoch-y lunatics like Hearst and Luce, and you could always count on newspaper owners to side with the rich (themselves), but put them on an “enemies list” and they’d bite back. Nowadays if Jeb Bush had an enemies list, the conglomerate owning the papers on it would meekly ask how to make the White House happy again.

                • I think it goes along with a point made in The New Prophets of Capital. As long as profits are high, owners often do what’s right. But the moment that they are squeezed because of competition, they do whatever is in their short term interest. I think that’s what we’ve seen with newspapers.

  2. Rep. Ryan found out that you cannot push the idea that the Democrats are tax and spend liberals for decades and expect the voters to suddenly think that the Democrats are not going to spend. Voters know what the Democrats want to spend money on-mostly things like Medicare/Caid, Social Security and welfare. The last is not true any more but zombie ideas never die no matter how many times you get Rick to shoot them.

    • Yeah, the Democrats moving to the right has really helped! Now the Republicans are even more extreme and the poor even more miserable! Well played guys…

        • Yeah, for a while I was working on a book about how the New Democrats created the modern Republican Party. I don’t think there is any doubt of that.

          • I think there are too many different factors at play on what created the modern Republican Party but it certainly was a factor that the New Democrats moved right after the losses of 1980, 1986 and definitely after 1994.

            • I’m constantly amazed at what both parties “learned” from losses. Republicans still believe that Bush Sr lost because he allowed taxes to tick upward. And Democrats believe they lost in 1984 and 1988 because they were too liberal, and that they won in 1992 because Clinton wanted to end welfare as we know it. All of these elections are classic cases of economic fundamentals.

              • There is that. Although I am thinking of the congressional elections-a lot of out and proud liberals lost elections in those years. How economics messed with that is something I have not actually done any research or reading on. You probably know more about then I do.

                But it certainly scared the Democrats for a very long time and it showed in the revolt to Dean’s Fifty State Strategy by the Obama camp. Some WaPo pundit after the 2008 election and the announcement of Rahm Emanual as the new Obama chief of staff said it meant that the DTrip and the DSCC were going to go back to the terrible strategy of targeted districts instead of trying to rebuild the party nationwide to ensure that we held on to the gains in time for the 2010 redistricting. Which they did and well, we all saw what happened.

                One thing I find interesting is that the losses of the general led to a lot of cautious Democrats running for office or not even running at all. But that never happens with Republicans-they keep nominating the same nutters. Where they changed was in primaries which is they are as bad as they are since the establishment lost so many times in 2010. Even though that is the only election it really happened in with subsequent elections having very rare victories for Tea Party, the Republican Party has continued on their course of ever going right.

                • Well, the average voter has no clue how government actually works. None. That’s how they can accept Trump, who spews dingbattery.

                  (In defense of those voters, I know nothing of what the Dtrip and DSS you mention are.)

                  To me, it all comes back to racism. Somehow, someway, Reagan’s tired old anti-gummint Bircher act combined Watergate with memories of urban riots/uprisings ten+ years old and created the myth of “you’re poor, it’s because all your tax dollars are going to those lazy other people.”

                  It’s, as you wrote, nutters. It’s also quite effective. It’s a big deal in Europe; it’s a big deal here. Humans are no worse than other species, but we do have a tendency towards pattern recognition and a tendency to make very logic-leaping assumptions about what out pattern-recognition craftiness tells us. I know I do.

                  • The DTrip and DSCC are the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. They do things like recruit candidates, provide support and fundraising assistance. After my congressional race they did a poll based on my recommendations and picked the guy who later won.
                    Both parties have these kinds of committees although the Republicans have a habit of ignoring the party if they don’t like the results-that is why there was Gingrich’s GOPAC in 1993/4. Since they do, the RCCC and RSCC both tend to be as reactionary as the private groups are. The Democrats don’t have that issue.

                • In general, people are very partisan — even the so called independents. So what really matters is who comes out to vote. That’s as true on the local level as it is on the national level. It’s a big problem with governorships, because they are usually on off-years, and sometimes even on off-off-years. But having a strong presidential race really does help locally. Look at 2012: the Democrats won in House elections by about a million votes but didn’t come anywhere near to controlling the House. But I think you are right: the Democratic Party needs to work on rebuilding itself at all levels. I think conservatives have been better able to nurture talent. It says a lot that without much nurturing, the Democrats attract great people. But it needs to be better.

                  • Yes, having a strong candidate at the top of the ticket helps with the coattails effect as they taught us in the few Democratic candidate classes I have taken.

                    However the best part of the Dean strategy was it made an effort to focus on something other than the White House. The Presidential race has the glamour but there needs to be more than that to get governorships and state legislatures in time for the 2020 redistricting. It is lucky it will be a Presidential year and if President Clinton (heehee) does the job we all expect her to, she will sail easily to re-election while helping down ticket people.

                    • I agree with you. We need to do something to generate excitement for “lesser” elections. It seems to me here in California that we get a lot of excitement for off-year elections, because the governor is really powerful. But I may just be speaking of myself. I need to check out the voter turnout numbers.

                    • The only way to do that is for more civic engagement by people with something they care about enough to get energized over. Apparently sex does this based on that video of the angry parents who were mad over an optional sex ed class in Nebraska. Unfortunately the supporters were quiet and we all know that the most annoyingly loud people generally get their way because no one wants screaming in their face for a long time.

                      But here in AZ we do not have much excitement over the races like the gubernatorial one. The last one that had any excitement was Napolitano’s when she ran against a guy who complained about the repeal of our sodomy laws (and turned out to have knocked up his wife before their marriage, because of course it was okay for them, they were getting married! -.- Many oral sex jokes were made.) So the only thing that gets people excited is sex. Hmmm…

                    • It’s easier to get people who are angry involved. There is plenty of stuff for liberals to get angry about, but it isn’t usually sharp. You can get people to rise up for the death penalty because of some awful crime. But a system that slowly kills millions.

                      As for kids, I’m not a parent, but I still think it is very strange that parents are so freaked out about their kids learning about sex. I really think it is as simple as them not wanting to face uncomfortable questions. And that makes these parents really selfish — or at least delusional. Their discomfort trumps the long-term well being of their kids.

                    • Oh yeah, getting angry or otherwise emotional can help but it is hard to sustain that over a long period of time. That is why things like the universal background check failed-it was hard to sustain that horror long enough. Although I was just happy the conversation lasted past the right wing’s shrill whining about politicizing a tragedy. But when it failed, people just gave up.

                      Regarding sex ed-it is all about how messed up as a culture we are about sex. Since we still think the idea is so very naughty/dirty/wrong, it makes the parents think that their precious little angels cannot be exposed to such things. Ignoring of course how they probably did the same thing their kids are doing and unlike their kids, they had some decent sex ed to help prevent the spread of disease.

                    • It reminds me of a line from Take the Money and Run, “The psychiatrist asked me… do I think sex is dirty. I said it is if you’re doing it right.”

                      I think it is all about purity. But it isn’t the education that will make the children impure; it is the hormones. Better they understand about pregnancy and disease than not.

                      When it comes to a number of things — especially guns — most people clearly suffer from learned helplessness. It’s sad. But extremely understandable.

                    • I agree and someone who knows what they are talking about should be the one teaching this stuff. But parents of daughters (and it is almost always daughters, not sons) have this idea that their little princess will always be a pure angel if they just can keep her from learning about this sort of thing. While simultaneously telling her that it is her responsibility if the boy gets all excited so she should cover up.

                      Does it make sense? No but that is what parents want to do.

                    • Must be instinctive — protective mechanism. It seems to be fairly obvious to non-parents.

                    • I guess, but since it is geared almost exclusively towards females, it is annoying for not just the damage it causes but the sexism it reinforces.

                    • True. I’m just trying to understand them — which I don’t. But I’ve always been considered a bad influence on children. It’s my puppet/Looney Tunes focus.

                    • Are you always honest with the kids? That is terrible! (not really but I could see why parents would be upset over it.)

                    • That is hilarious. I loved his telling Calvin deadpan that the world was black and white back in the day and kept going no matter what objections Calvin raised.

                    • I loved that side of their relationship. That was probably the best comic strip ever.

                    • It was, and it ended at its peak. Even the delightful Pearls Before Swine crossover was perfect-not too much, not too little.

                      And I loves me some Pearls.

                    • As you will see on the right, it is one of the few cartoons I have listed it. I love Rat, but I think I’m more like Goat.

  3. There used to be a Rush-Limbaugh-like, conservative talk-show host on the radio in Washington, D.C. (WRC) back in the late 1980s, I think. He used to talk about the rich liberals driving their BMWs, which seemed odd to me at the time.

    The late blogger Steve Gilliard once initiated a big discussion about a GOP ad denigrating “latte-drinking liberals” during the run-up to an Iowa caucus (in 2004 or 2008 maybe). A number of commenters pointed out that, in the Pacific Northwest, truck drivers live off of lattes. And then there were extensive discussions about the best sources of coffee for commuters in various regions of the U.S.

    I’m also reminded of the GOP’s denigration of President Obama during the 2008 campaign when he discussed arugula prices with arugula farmers in Iowa, because, you know, arugula is an exotic food and arugula farmers aren’t really interested in arugula prices. A few years later, I came across this YouTube video of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan (a common man and an uncommon musician) on a 1989 episode of David Sanborn’s Night Music performing Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes”. At the end of the video (3:40), there’s a brief clip of SRV reciting “A Few of My Favorite Things” – including arugula!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCcO7gMmIEM

    • It is so difficult to grasp. John Kerry married money, so he’s an elitist. Trump and George W. inherited it, so they’re salt-of-the-earth. The British have nothing on us when it comes to class consciousness — it’s all we think about, all the time, and nobody can admit it for a millisecond. Which of course makes it more pervasive.

      It’s like how pretending humans don’t want sex makes everyone want sex even more. America MUST be the least class-based, least racist country in the history of anything. Accordingly, we’re gigantic snobs and huge racists. We just dislike Obama playing the “race card” (which he never does) and all those snooty liberals with lattes (as Thomas Frank pointed out, most liberals are poor people who complain a lot, which certainly describes me.)

      There are “social issue” liberals wading around in money; we all know them, they’re not hard to spot (as they desperately wish to be spotted.) I dislike them on sight and distrust anyone who doesn’t. Where I differ with our culture-war-conservative fellows is that I could care less about these people’s lifestyle choices (drink kale smoothies if you like) and I’m very bothered by the fact that to enjoy that lifestyle, you have to pay subservience to some pretty damn evil companies.

      Most of our fellow Americans who tend conservative don’t seem to mind the “paying subservience to evil companies” part. They resent the “enough disposable income to drink kale smoothies” part. But one directly leads to the other.

      Aah, I’m cranky at 10:00 in the morning. You wrote a terrific post!

      • Heh, I was just on Facebook and Salon’s page where the response to an article about Rep. Ryan’s demand for family time had dozens of right wing responses of “but the Clintons and Obamas are rich! How come they get a pass?” Well right wing idiots-because they don’t want to force parents to work 24/7 unlike Ryan who certainly does unless they are rich like he was off of government money.

        They definitely believe that we must be super duper fair to them. So that is why Obama is the worst president evah! Because our side, rightly, pointed out the massive flaws of Bush. So in order for it to be fair, they have to believe that our guy is terrible even when they actually like his stuff. But only Democrats have to be fair. Republicans don’t and calling them out on it is so uncivil that you need smelling salts to revive them from their pearl clutching swoon.

        • Oh, I declare, these uncivilized critics of our president have given me The Vapors, why do such ruffians insist on hurting us so.

          Which will either be the official Fox tone as of the first Wednesday next November or not, depending on the election results.

      • Part of being a regular Joe is showing that you don’t much care about other people, because Americans have a skewed idea of what a man is supposed to be. Liberals are at a distinct disadvantage in this regard. Being loud and stupid makes you a regular guy.

        • Lord knows that is true-just had an argument with some friends who insist, completely against the facts, that there was that stupid stand down order in Libya on Spacebook.

          Being ignorant is a badge of honor among too many Americans.
          But in other news, the NYTimes posted this article:
          http://tinyurl.com/qjdwcob

          Best quote: “And yet, to a significant degree, it is wrong. Actual experience, from the richest country in the world to some of the poorest places on the planet, suggests that cash assistance can be of enormous help for the poor. And freeing them from what President Ronald Reagan memorably termed the “spider’s web of dependency” — also known as forcing the poor to swim or sink — is not the cure-all for social ills its supporters claim.”

          Not that it will change anyone’s mind-we already know that here and the people who need to hear this message are too busy sticking their fingers in their ears yelling LALALALALALA.

          • That was one of the most fascinating things about today’s (yesterday’s — it’s pretty close) Benghazi hearings: just how many thoroughly debunked theories came up like this nonsense about the video.

            • The right’s endless repeat of zombie ideas/lies/theories is amazing. No matter how many times they are told, without a doubt by someone they trust, they still believe in the debunked information.

              If someone invents a cure for that, I am going to throw so much money at them…

              • It’s kind of like the grooves in The Accidental Tourist. But more than that, what is guiding them is the absolute belief that, say, Hillary Clinton is evil and just must be up to no good. So they fall back into the same way of thinking. You’ve probably known people who have gone from conservative to liberal — or the other way. What changes is the whole way they see the world. Once that happens, most of the individual positions fall in line.

                • That makes sense, I don’t know that many people who have changed so dramatically. Mostly people who suddenly realised that reality does not match what they are being told and then they decided to not be Republican anymore. They still are right wing.

                  • I suspect it mostly happens to people who were conservative by default. This American Life produced a great episode right before the 2004 election, Swing Set. It still annoys me because of the doctor. But the story of the kid is more what I’m talking about. Give it a listen. The 2004 election was a heart-breaker for me. But the episode is quite good.

                    • I knew I was not going to win my race so I really was totally indifferent to that part but I was hoping along with so many other people that we could pull it out regarding the presidency even if I could not stand Kerry. Then the reality set in and my team and I just went upstairs (we were at a hotel where they usually hold the watch parties) and sat around staring at the walls. My campaign manager got drunk and I even had some alcohol. Then remembered why I hate drinking.

                      I shall listen to your recommendation.

                    • I never should want to punch my laptop this soon in a radio program.

                    • Ever since I heard the one about the doctor I’ve thought he was a perfect representation of what is wrong with America. And I knew that even in early 2005, that very same doctor was whining about how he should have voted for Kerry. And note: he was not, as he stated, a swing voter. But he is exactly the kind of guy who would tell you he was an “independent.”

                    • He sounds like all the voters I have to talk to every election cycle. I did laugh and then sigh when Sproul was mentioned. We remember him around here for all the damage he did.

                      Why I keep putting myself through this (and I will eventually again but this year I am taking off) I have no idea. I must be a masochist.

                    • Schopenhauer teaches that continuing to live is irrational, so why not the rest of our lives?

    • That’s good. Conservatives have traditionally embraced their elitism. They were proud to be rich, well educated, and (they thought) right. Bill Maher used to give this line about how sometimes you want a Republican because you need someone to watch your money. But anymore, people don’t go for that, so conservatives have turned to social populism where they’re just a bunch of good ol’ boys who happened to get rich. Think: Duck Dynasty (even though most good ol’ boys were not college football stars). So half a billionaire Rush Limbaugh makes out like liberals are elitists. It’s sad that they even try. It is devastating that it works.

  4. Elizabeth, per Election Night, 2004 — I watched the returns at what used to be the local politico bar (between the newspaper offices and the government offices.) I sat next two guys from the national Dem organization, and they were getting updates by phone on the situation in Ohio (the lines, the broken machines, etc.) Long before TV declared Ohio for Bush, they were getting drunker and drunker. At one point I thought it would be rude to intrude on their grief any more, so I left.

    But I think losing sides getting blasted on Election Night is a time-honored political tradition!

    • I did not get drunk. I wanted to but I don’t like the taste of alcohol and bad things happen when I get drunk.

      That news program that Frank linked to was exactly why canvassing is so difficult-even though they were shown that the Republicans were straight up lying, the voters still were “but we can’t trust Kerry.” It makes me want to hulk smash.

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