Grand New Party

Fred Siegel reviewed Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream, by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam in a recent issue of National Review. Here’s the basic thesis, according to Siegel:

The timely thesis of Grand New Party is that the party that captures “the non-college-educated voters who make up roughly half of the electorate” will dominate politics for the foreseeable future, as has been the case ever since the New Deal…
[The authors] show quite convincingly that neither party is able to speak effectively to these voters. Democrats respond to their economic anxieties, but mistakenly dismiss their cultural concerns as merely a Republican contrivance, and offer to assuage their concerns by making them clients of an ever-expanding state. Douthat and Salam demonstrate further that “the so-called social issues,” from abortion, marriage, and religion to the death penalty and immigration, “aren’t just red herrings,” as liberals insist. Rather, they speak to the realities of working-class life, in which a failed marriage or crime or low-wage competition can put a family on the skids: “Working-class social conservatism . . . wasn’t just the residue of ancestral prejudices, it was and is a rational response to lives absent the security provided by wealth and degrees.”
Church and family as conventionally understood — and not government — are the bulwarks of the social solidarity essential for a stable and successful lower-middle-class life. But if liberal Democrats, some occasional rhetoric aside, are allergic to the social issues, business Republicans seem insensible to the perils produced by a global glut of low-wage labor that includes illegal immigration here at home. If Republicans refuse to recognize “that the white working class wants, and needs, more from public policy than simply to be left alone,” they will, the authors insist, be cast into the political wilderness.

Siegel agrees with their forecast that the U.S. may be turning into a “stratified society” where the upper middle class–thanks to “[t]he combination of intermarriage among professionals and a higher divorce rate among the less educated”–is at the top of “a Europe-like class structure, in which the upper middle class (particularly in the tech and financial-services industries) lives segregated from ordinary Americans.” Siegel believes “illegal immigration, and the flow of servants it provides…has, in a sense, reconciled upper-middle-class feminism with the family.” Two-professionals can work while the kids are minded while the illegal servants put the meals on the same table paid under which they are paid.
Creating strong families seems to be the ultimate cure for these ills. While Siegel is sympathetic to the goal, the means is less convincing.

The book offers a long list of reasonable proposals, ranging from expanded health-care-insurance pools to enhanced child tax credits and modernized highway signals (to reduce commuting time), that are designed to help create stronger, more secure families. The litany of solutions, which includes many of the proposals floating around the think-tank world, are not nearly as compelling as the book’s underlying argument. Nowhere do the authors take up the sheer incapacity of government to design effectively, and administer, sophisticated programs.

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