Last week I spent a few hours with one of America's finest writers. My old friend is still writing, producing some of the best fiction published in America today. And like most writers and intellectuals in this county, my friend is a staunch liberal.
He has been a liberal for over 60 years. Like many in his generation, his liberalism is a relic of the days when the left identified, or at least claimed to identify, with hard-pressed working men and the unemployed. My friend's liberalism has not evolved. It is stuck in fond memories of a childhood during which FDR's soothing voice filled the airwaves with those heartening fireside chats. For 11 years Roosevelt proclaimed that prosperity was "right around the corner." The corner was never turned, but three times the people reelected him.
That is the jolly, hopeful, "we're all in it together" sort of liberalism to which my writer friend still ascribes. He seems not to have noticed that the left has become at once more radical and more cynical. Today, the American left doesn't care a whit about hard-pressed workers or the unemployed -- not that it ever did. What now concerns the left are the massive donations from special interests that make it possible for radicals like Obama to occupy the White House.
Those special interests include unions, environmentalists, trial lawyers, billionaire financiers and entrepreneurs, academics, and minorities. This is not the same broad base that voted FDR into office. Unions no longer represent the poorly paid mass of workers -- they represent an elite whose wages and benefits far exceed those of non-unionized workers. Trial lawyers and academics constitute another elite, while minorities seek to preserve their supposed right to educational and hiring preferences. Environmentalists oppose growth at every turn, even at the expense of the livelihoods of their fellow men. In fact, none of these liberal special interests advances the needs of the broad middle class. All of them are working to further their own interests at the expense of ordinary Americans.
The left's special interests have sacrificed today's hard-pressed middle class on the altar of their own greed and lust for power. The Democratic Party promotes a slow-growth economy as the "new normal" because slow growth is the price it must pay to reward its special interests. Altogether, the cost of rewarding these interest groups is now slowing economic growth by an astounding two thirds. Instead of the normal 4% non-recessionary growth rate, our economy is now growing at 1.5%, about one third of what it should be doing. What is happening to the other 2.5% GDP growth? It is being redirected to the special interests that support the Democratic Party.
At every campaign stop, Obama claims to be "fighting for the middle class," but it is precisely the middle class that has been targeted by the left as the source of its funding for special interests. It is simply a fact that under Obama, ordinary Americans are making less, and their net worth has declined. Meanwhile, the number of Americans working has declined by 5.8 million since the start of the Great Recession. That's the same recession that Obama claims to be working night and day to reverse.
Why have ordinary Americans done so poorly under Obama? It is because Obama is fleecing them at every turn so he can reward his cherished special interests. Liberalism is now an elitist movement that preys on the middle class while it enriches special interests. It is conservatism that stands for ordinary working people.
My writer friend is a brilliant, compassionate, well-intentioned human being, but he understands nothing of this. He still believes that workers are enslaved by capitalist bosses and that turning things over to the government will make everything better. He doesn't realize that long ago the Democratic Party inked a devil's bargain with the well-funded special interests that have drained the wealth from ordinary Americans.
The left now treats the middle class as a mass of ignorant untouchables "clinging to their guns and religion." The eco-radicals wish to return society to a primordial, pre-industrial condition; the tort bar wants to amass huge fortunes for themselves at the expense of business and jobs; union bosses hope to place everyone under their thumb; minorities work to perpetuate affirmative action and minority set-asides; and government just wants to grow like a cancer until the nation it feeds upon is completely eaten up and destroyed. Whoever speaks out against this unholy alliance of special interests is regarded as a Tea Party extremist.
This transformation of liberalism from an earnest though deeply misguided crusade into a corrupt politics of influence peddling has been going on for at least a half century, but my writer has failed to notice. He is still back in 1936 -- or 1848, the year of the Communist Manifesto. Perhaps he really doesn't realize that the left, which was bad enough when it was exhorting workers to man the barricades, is now far worse. The left is no longer interested in manning the barricades -- it has discovered that taxation, regulation, and crony capitalism are more effective ways to fleece the middle class.
As a writer and critic of fiction, my friend is sophisticated and well informed. He is precisely the kind of politically correct liberal who is showered with honors and awards every year. I have no doubt that he is expecting a Pulitzer for his latest novel. (No doubt, because he suggested as much to me.)
Sadly, however, as a citizen my friend fails the test. Every citizen in a democracy has a duty to inform himself as best he can and to support those who govern in the long-term interest of the nation. My friend seems willfully blind to the damage that liberal special interests are doing to the country. The left is exploiting ordinary Americans, just as it always has. And like nearly all of the intellectual establishment, my friend refuses to admit it.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and article on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).