- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 31, 2004

Democrats: the party of the little guy. Republicans: the party of the wealthy. Those images of America’s two major political wings have been frozen for decades.

The stereotypes were always incomplete, but for a long time they reflected rough truths. Over the last generation, however, that has dramatically changed. Whole blocs of “little guys” — ethnics, rural residents, evangelicals, cops, construction workers, military veterans — have recently moved into the Republican column.

At the same time, big chunks of America’s controlling elites — professors, journalists, trial lawyers, Wall Street barons, Hollywood entertainers — have become dominant among the Democrats.

The extent to which the parties have flipped positions on the little-guy/rich-guy divide is illustrated by research from the 2000 election. In counties that registered strongly for Al Gore, the fraction of voters earning $100,000 or more was twice as high as in pro-Bush counties. Conversely, modest-income voters were much scarcer in the Gore counties.

The old idea that the Democrats are the party of the common man is now about as accurate as a 1930 weather forecast. It’s only exaggerating a little to say that our current political divide can be summarized as NASCAR Republicans contending against Ivy League Democrats.

Contemporary Democrats have lost their faith in common people. For instance, Democrats say that if ordinary workers were given control of their own retirement accounts, they’d screw them up. John Kerry and company much prefer Social Security benefits ladled out by Washington functionaries.

Likewise, when it comes to health care, Democrats argue for more programs run by government experts. Helping households find their own answers via medical savings accounts, tax credits and other decentralized initiatives is an abomination to most Democratic politicians.

Even more hated by Democrats are school choice programs that would allow parents to find the institutions best for their own children. Schooling is too important to be sorted out by families, apparently — that’s a job for Ph.D.s and education mandarins only.

Democratic devotion to top-down social engineering was clear in the last welfare reform. Democrats in Congress insisted that expecting welfare recipients to stay in school or work was unrealistic and cruel. But welfare recipients turned out to be much more competent and self-reliant than Democrats imagined — once pried from the grasp of state social workers, more than 7 million Americans worked their way off the dole in just a few years.

The Democrats’ paternalism is summarized in their attitude toward taxation. Letting families keep more of their own money is no way to solve problems, Democrats insist. Whether the issue is day care or housing or college tuition, the automatic reflex of Democratic politicians is intervention by credentialed bureaucrats, using money pulled out of workers’ pockets.

Democrats called it “Camelot” when they first suggested, back in the 1960s, that our nation should be steered by Harvard technocrats. A generation later, many Americans think of this intrusive nannying from above as … “Nightmare on Elm Street” — and they say they are tired of being patronized.

It’s time to put more trust in everyday citizens. The next moment a Democratic politician tells you that school choice, and individual Social Security accounts, and worker-owned medical savings plans are, quote, “dangerous,” I suggest you answer with four simple words: Power to the People.

Karl Zinsmeister is editor in chief of The American Enterprise, a national magazine of politics, business and culture (TAEmag.com).

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