Maybe FDR Knew What He Was Doing?

Orange County, California was ground zero for John Birchers and has always been an important base of support for the Republican Party. So, it’s not surprising to see that their newspaper is kind of panicked about the popularity of Bernie Sanders.

The biggest and most important development [of the presidential campaign] has been the massive support among the new generation of voters for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and his open embrace of socialism. In Iowa’s Democratic caucuses, which ended with Clinton and Sanders in a virtual tie, young people opted for Sanders at an almost inconceivable rate of 84-14. In 2008, Barack Obama won this segment, claiming only a 57 percent majority.

So we are seeing the embrace of an openly socialist septuagenarian by a generation that, within a decade, will dominate our electorate and outnumber baby boomers as soon as 2020. That should put more conventional politicians, and business, on notice. Whether you are a Republican, a free-marketer or, even a Democratic-leaning crony capitalist, be afraid – be very afraid.

What’s interesting about the actual piece, which was penned by Joel Kotkin of Chapman University, is that he doesn’t offer much of an alternative to Sanders. The Republicans are too absorbed in cultural issues to defend capitalism:

Some conservatives – particularly given the chaos of the Republican race – might be tempted to revel in the new Democratic lurch to the left, which conceivably could drive the party too far from the mainstream, at least for older generations. But millennials are the future, and, if the GOP retains its reactionary ideas on key social issues – notably the mass expulsion of undocumented immigrants, legalizing marijuana and gay marriage – its chances of reaching millennial voters may be minimal.

As for Hillary Clinton, he considers her the worst kind of crony capitalist.

The rise of support for socialism among millennials is having an immediate impact on the Democratic Party. Many left-leaning Democrats rightfully detest the kind of modulated crony capitalism epitomized by Hillary Clinton. This could precipitate a civil war among major Democratic donors – notably in Silicon Valley – who may embrace progressive views on cultural and environmental issues, but have little interest in having their massive wealth threatened by regulations or hypertaxation.

“They don’t like [Bernie] Sanders at all,” notes San Francisco-based researcher Greg Ferenstein, who has been polling Internet company founders for an upcoming book. Sanders’ emphasis on income redistribution and protecting union privileges and pensions violates the favorite notions of the tech elite. “He’s an egalitarian liberal,” Ferenstein explains, “these people are tech liberals. Equality is a nonissue in Silicon Valley.”

I’m not really sure exactly what “crony capitalism” is supposed to mean in this context, but there could be a battle within the donor class of the Democratic Party in coming years as millennials’ values come into more conflict with the folks who are currently thriving in this economy. I don’t think this will come to full fruition in this cycle, but it’s on the horizon.

What confused me the most, though, was this part:

Ultimately, the future of capitalism depends on making the system work for the majority of people, including millennials. The current system, frankly, is producing few benefits for the vast majority of Americans, giving the free market a bad name and turning off millennials. Fully half of them, notes a recent Harvard study, already believe the “American Dream” is dead. More than 10 million millennials are outside the system, neither employed nor in education or training, a population that seems ripe for leftist agitation.

Simply put, to change millennial views, capitalism also needs to change from its current trajectory.

But if the Republicans are off in la-la land, fighting battles about human sexuality and embracing nativism, and Clinton represents more of a system that favors the already affluent, and if capitalism needs to address the legitimate concerns of millennials, then why isn’t Sanders the best solution on offer?

The answer, insofar as Kotkin supplies one, is that Sanders’ policies only sound good to millennials, but they’ll fail just as surely as other redistributionist policies have failed.

That may be true, but you can’t combat something with nothing. If you don’t want to see more leftist agitation or an emerging dominant generation that embraces socialism, then you have to have some kind of middle ground.

I wish these Orange County Republican-types would, once in a while, reconsider how FDR found a middle ground between the xenophobic national-greatness appeal of fascism and the brutal excesses of Bolshevism. But that would require them to admit that they’ve been wrong about the New Deal since the beginning.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.