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The U.S. Democrats as a Conservative Party

Despite all the talk about the Republican Party in need of splitting into two camps, aren’t the Democrats a more realistic target?

January 5, 2013

Credit: Marina Riley/

It may be news to most Republicans in the United States, but in most other developed countries it is impossible to imagine that a party often described as left-of-center would ever agree to tax increases imposed only on those making more than $450,000 a year.

But that is precisely what the Democrats did. Everywhere else, the likely threshold for tax-raising moves supported by a party generally positioned as they are would be more in the range of $60,000 a year, or ever so slightly above the average level of family income.

Under those circumstances, you may be forgiven to think that Mitt Romney did win the U.S. presidential elections. On taxes, the country now has almost the exact result he advocated, making the Bush tax cuts permanent. One might think that he has managed to slip slipped into Barack Obama’s body.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party that, for reasons of fiscal probity, if not sheer sanity, was adamantly opposed to that outcome, and surely dead set against making these rates permanent, did give in. There is a reason why Joe Biden is called the “Silver Fox.”

What about the man who carried that message in the campaign? Barack Obama once again did not even show up at the negotiating table, leaving things to Biden, and cutting his Congressional party out almost entirely.

He thus underscored the impression that he is really just an orator with a distinct regal bearing, but not a politician and a man who can stand any ground in the trenches. That is because he disdains getting into those trenches, or is temperamentally incapable of getting into them. No wonder people increasingly think of him as a Hawaiian princeling of sorts.

Savor the moment: The Bush tax cuts were made permanent mostly with Democrats’ votes, with Republicans’ opposed. In other countries, such an outcome would be described as what it really is — suicidal.

How on earth do the democrats realistically expect to raise rates again on higher-income voters now? Who really has any confidence that, in the next round of poker over the debt ceiling and entitlements, they won’t be pulled over the table yet again?

But the logic of the year’s end fiscal cliff maneuver, expect this outcome: Democrats will vote in large numbers for severe adjustments on spending, while the Republicans will vote against them because they don’t go far enough.

No wonder that there is a clear sense of impotence when it comes to the strategic mindset of Democratic Party negotiators. They mostly seem to negotiate by making offers early in good faith that are then not honored or rewarded.

It seems as if the White House wing of the Democratic Party has a curious approach in the strip poker negotiations conducted with the Republicans.

Even though it is the middle of winter, they tend to arrive in a single layer — a Speedo swimsuit — for the negotiations. In other words, one wrong move and they are done in.

None of that is really surprising for a party shaped by Bill Clinton and his agonists. They are united in the belief that being in the business of politics can be personally extremely remunerative.

In a moment that truly revealed where the real priorities of the Democratic Party’s apparatus are today, an old Clinton hand, Will Marshall, the head of the so-called Progressive Policy Institute, offered his honest and highly revealing opinion in the Wall Street Journal.

In his view, Mr. Obama was being too drastic with his temporary insistence on letting the expiration of the Bush tax cut kick in for incomes as low as $250,000. In Marshall’s view, people making $250,000 a year are “the merely affluent,” not the rich.

Any income tax increases therefore ought to be limited to the level of $450,000 and above. That income level captures many Democratic Party-leaning well-to-do professionals in all sorts of fields.

Most notably, it includes the Obama family ever since he served as a State Senator and law professor, while his wife worked as a highly remunerated vice president for community relations at the University of Chicago Hospitals.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inimitably dubbed the “Traitor to His Class” by the brilliant University of Texas historian H.W. Brands. By that logic, Barack Obama can only be labeled the “Protector of His Class.”

Those are the income “realities” that afflict and shape many a Democratic Party operative.

Given how aggressively the U.S. Democrats, ever since the times of Bill Clinton, have been keen to starve the Republicans of viable breathing space among upper-income voters, it is almost logical that the Republican Party is somewhat disoriented or driven to extremes.

The best that can be said about the Democrats is that they are truly a party with a split mindset. Lip service notwithstanding, in its policy actions, the Clinton wing of the party has exhibited a level of material conservatism that would positively qualify it as a conservative party in Europe.

There has been much talk about the Tea Party hijacking the Republicans. What is missing from the U.S. political debate is that the Democrats have been hijacked, too.

For the most part, the party merely pays lip service to the interests and concerns of working class voters. It is firmly focused on where the money is, in the upper middle class.

If the U.S. political system were to resemble the constellation of economic interests in most other developed countries, it would have to be the Democratic Party that would need to split into two parts.

One would form a modern Conservative Party, along the lines of how moderate Republicans used to operate. The other one would be a more social-democratic party that would much more closely and explicitly represent the interests of people at the median income level.

A party that battles itself as to whether income tax cuts ought to affect already those making more than $250,000 a year or only those making in excess of $450,000 a year cannot be said to have any true viability for those households making only 10% of the miniature plutocrat class.

Also see The Republicans’ Endgame by Stephan Richter.


It is as if Mitt Romney had won the U.S. presidential elections. On taxes, the country has almost the exact result he advocated.

FDR was dubbed the "Traitor to His Class." By that logic, Barack Obama acted as the "Protector of His Class."

The Clinton wing of the party has exhibited a level of material conservatism that would positively qualify the Democrats as a conservative party in Europe.