As opposed to [Democratic Party] gentry politics, whose bastions lay in fashionable urban districts and college towns, Truman-style democracy reached into the vast suburban dreamscape--even into small towns and rural areas.
Over recent years this version of the party, with its more geographically diverse middle-class base, has lost influence. It's been a process of both addition and subtraction.
A series of strong Republican politicians since Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan lured many middle-income voters out of the Democratic Party by appealing to their patriotism, economic self-interest and, in some cases, prejudices.
At the same time, the core of the elite liberal constituency--academics, high-tech businesspeople and media figures--has been growing steadily in wealth and influence. By marrying this constituency to poor minority voters, gentry liberals have turned our core urban areas into a collection of electoral "ditto heads," with so-called "progressives" winning as much as 70 or 80% of the vote in presidential elections.
This year's thrilling primary battle between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama represented a clash of these two tendencies. Although Clinton herself enjoyed strong ties to some gentry liberals, she campaigned, particularly toward the end of the marathon, as Harry Truman in a bright pantsuit. Obama, for his part, sallied forth from a solid base of academics and well-educated professionals, as well as African Americans.
In first the primary and then the general election, Obama's growing fundraising advantage stemmed increasingly not from his early base among students and liberal professionals, but from his strong ties to the highest echelons of the gentry. As we now know, it was big money--hedge funds, Silicon Valley, Hollywood--not small donors who helped propel Obama's financial juggernaut.
Then it's not surprising that, so far, the Obama pre-presidency reflects the values of the gentry class. His appointments in key economic posts have been very much in sync with the Schumer-Robert Rubin Wall Street wing of the party. Contrary to the hyperventilations of some conservatives, Obama seems as unlikely to confiscate the holders of mega-wealth, inherited or otherwise, as that muddle-headed blueblood, George W. Bush.