I was pleased to read David Brooks' column today in the New York Times that (more eloquently) furthers the theme of my last article, "Post-Lehman: The Banking Oligopoly Reigns Supreme", albeit from a slightly different angle. My thesis was that the Obama administration has laid out, and is executing on, a very Hamiltonian restructuring of the financial system, while the Republicans seem to be migrating into the classic Jacksonian camp. This was interesting to me because the two parties are switching places, with the Democrats moving away from their Southern agrarian roots (the Jeffersonian / Jacksonian camp) toward becoming the party of Northern urban elites (the Hamiltonian camp). The Republicans are making the opposite migration. I was focused on finance, because that is the classic cleavage between Hamiltonians and the Jeffersonians dating back to the beginning of the Republic.
David Brooks takes it a step further to use the ancient split as the metaphor to the whole populist reaction to the Obama administration. He (accurately) dismisses the most-popular explanation that has been floating around: that these rubes can't handle the fact that we have a black president. He and I believe the reaction to Obama's policies would have been the same if he were white. While I agree with many of president Obama's goals (and, to a lesser extent, policies), his platform is a classic "we know what's best for you" set of policies being aggressively pushed by an administration that seems to consist mostly of college professors. You don't have to be a racist hick to be alarmed by the massive changes to a huge portion of our economy paid for with an ungodly sum of borrowed money pushed by an elitist group of people with very little "real world" experience.
The Hamiltonians have always favored strong federal authority,
centralized financial power, the use of federal debt and strong
intervention in the economy to promote favored industries. The
Jeffersonians and Jacksonians distrusted the urban elites that pushed
these policies and believed that such policies bred corruption and
therefore favored diffusing power among the people. The history of the United States has always been driven by the tension between these two camps. Whenever one side is given unchecked power, the other side goes crazy.
As Mr. Brooks puts it:
Barack Obama leads a government of the highly educated. His
movement includes urban politicians, academics, Hollywood donors and
information-age professionals. In his first few months, he has fused
federal power with Wall Street, the auto industry, the health care
industries and the energy sector.
Given all of this, it was
guaranteed that he would spark a populist backlash, regardless of his
skin color. And it was guaranteed that this backlash would be ill
mannered, conspiratorial and over the top — since these movements
always are, whether they were led by Huey Long, Father Coughlin or
populist tendency and the militant progressive reaction to it. We now
have a populist news media that exaggerates the importance of the Van
Jones and Acorn stories to prove the elites are decadent and
un-American, and we have a progressive news media that exaggerates
stories like the Joe Wilson shout and the opposition to the Obama
schools speech to show that small-town folks are dumb wackos.
The Dynamist tries to be as neutral an observer of events and trends as possible. Both the Hamiltonians and the Jeffersonians have valid arguments, but they have different priorities, and those differences will never be bridged. Thankfully, most Americans do not fall neatly into either camp and and are wary of aggressive policies from either side.
I just pray that, through all the Sturm und Drang, in the end the American center holds.