The New Benevolent Democrats
Before the primary it had been so long since Democrats held power I never noticed how much Democratic philosophy and policy advocacy had changed. But during the primary I started to note what I would call a split in the Party between those who sought economic justice for the middle class, and those who sought social benevolence for the poor. I'm always on the side of helping the poor, but in policy terms, I've always thought what helps the poor most is to empower the middle class. Policies that target only the poor through subsidies and welfare programs, and sort of ignore the plight of the middle class over the last several decades, don't leave those on the bottom with anywhere to move up to. Further, often the needs of the poor can only be met through vigorous funding of public programs, not simple charity. And, at this time of economic lopsidedness, often policies need a broader scope than limiting social programs to the least among us. When social programs include the majority of working people they are extremely empowering and hold great staying power. Medicare and Social Security are two examples. Both programs are taxpayer supported by the broad populous. Neither is a welfare program. Social Security, particularly, is a program where what you put in is basically what you get back. It puts everybody on the same playing field and no one who pays into those programs thinks they are recipients of the gift of health care or the gift of retirement security.
Our greatest social achievements came at a time when we had a strong labor movement, but that era is over. So who are the policy makers now? They are largely academics, white elites who seem more intent on policies of benevolence than in risking their upper middle class status in the name of supporting a larger middle class through empowering policies of justice.
Anglachel says it better than me, but I find it both reassuring and troubling that I'm not the only one noticing this trend.
Charity is enactment of a power relationship, an exercise of largesse from a have to a have-not that never need have happened and is fundamentally performed for the psychological satisfaction of the empowered party. It is capricious and, in that caprice, reifies the power of the giver and the powerlessness of the recipient.
Lind's key observation, which is simply brilliant, is the precarious position of the have-littles when charity is substituted for political interest. They aren't quite destitute or damaged enough to "deserve" the pity and charity of the social elites, but neither do they have the necessary tools or access to power to defend their very material interests. These are the people that Obama et. al. spoke of with such contempt throughout the election, Bubbas and Bunkers. The very real condition of the eroding living standards of the working class combined with contempt for them from both left and right for not having the good sense to transform themselves into something else (as though it is personal failings alone that account for the worker's limited conditions), serves to cut this class off from receiving social goods. The emphasis on identity politics, where much of the benefit goes to those already well off and who know how to work the system to claim disadvantage, further isolates the have-littles from the haves and the have-nots.
I recommend reading the entire post.