Democrats: Bankers 'R Us

David Callahan notes today that with its conversion to an adjunct of the Tea Party, the Republicans -- historic home of the nation's financial elites -- have sent those elites streaming (and screaming) toward the Democrats. David is surely right, and, as he notes, this is the latest step in the decades-long story of Wall Street's partisan realignment -- and the corollary story, which is the Democrats' growing subservience to finance.

The modern Democratic Party (dating from FDR) always went to Wall Street for key Cabinet positions and such, which is how the likes of Dean Acheson, John McCloy, C. Douglas Dillon, Paul Volcker, Robert Rubin, and Tim Geithner ended up in positions of power. The Wall Streeters who served Democratic presidents, though, were either Democrats themselves or Rockefeller Republicans, whose ideological divergences from mainstream Democrats weren't necessarily all that great.

But the post-Reagan movement of Wall Streeters into Democratic ranks is nonetheless a distinct phenomenon. To begin, it's been powered in part by the revulsion many of these folks have felt at the Republicans' growing social conservatism and anti-empiricism. The partisan shift of bankers in reaction to the GOP's growing no-nothingism in this regard parallels the larger shift of professionals into Democratic ranks, which Ruy Teixeira and John Judis have ably charted.

Second, however, the financial sector that Acheson, Dillon, and McCloy once personified may have been the pillar of the American establishment, but it was still an adjunct to an economy whose driving force was manufacturing. By the time we get to Rubin and Geithner, finance has completely eclipsed manufacturing, and its priorities -- free trade, tax reductions on the rich, financial deregulation, the repeal of Glass-Steagall -- have almost completely eclipsed those of other economic sectors, not to mention the broad interests of the American people. Wall Street in the age of Clinton, Gore, Kerry, and Obama -- all of whom received huge campaign funding from finance -- is more powerful than it was in the age of Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson, and its interests are more diametrically opposed to those of the working-class base on which Democratic candidates rely.

Among the world's political parties, the Democrats have always been most internally divided. Once, it was the party of Northern workers and Southern segregationists. Today, with Republican idiocy and intransigence driving Wall Street from the GOP's ranks, the Democrats are increasingly becoming the party of ascendant capital and diminished labor, of both the financial community and financial reform. Such a party mutes its clarion calls, if it issues them at all.

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