Judging by his campaign’s recent attacks on Bain Capital, President Obama is positioning himself as the tribune of the 99 percent against the Republican 1 percent.
This is a time-honored Democratic tactic that runs from Andrew Jackson’s self-description as champion of the “common man” standing up to the “moneyed capitalists,” all the way through Al Gore’s presidential nomination in 2000, when he framed the Republican-Democrat divide this way: “They’re for the powerful; we’re for the people!”
Yet that flattering narrative is at odds with history. Jackson, despite his humble roots, was a man of considerable personal wealth. His rhetoric about representing those without power or political connections belied a cruel indifference to the plight of powerless groups like Native Americans. Gore’s populism similarly masked his upper-class pedigree and his net worth, well in excess of $100 million. Obama himself, with estimated assets of more than $10 million, is an unlikely epitome of the everyman.
What’s true of the Democratic Party’s standard-bearers is true of the party and the Left more broadly. As we detail in our new book, “The New Leviathan,” Democrats and their progressive core represent America’s social and cultural elites and constitute the wealthiest, best-organized and most economically powerful political force in American history.
Left-wing foundations exemplify this clout. As of 2009, the financial assets of the 115 major tax-exempt foundations of the Left added up to nearly $105 billion. That is over 10 times greater than the financial assets of the 75 major foundations of the Right.
Not that such disparities have deterred progressives from portraying themselves as underdogs. People for the American Way, in an oft-heard liberal lament, insists that conservative foundations are a singular force in American political life, unmatched in “their sheer size and concentration” and in their willingness to “promote a highly politicized agenda by funding a broad range of organizations.” Our findings suggest that this complaint is a reversal of reality.