The fight we can't afford
Gentry liberals cluster largely in cities, wealthy suburbs and college towns. They include disproportionately those with graduate educations and people living on the coasts. Populists tend to be located more in middle- and working-class suburbs, the Great Plains and industrial Midwest. They include a wider spectrum of Americans, including many whose political views are somewhat changeable and less subject to ideological rigor.
Gentry liberals are very "progressive" when it comes to issues such as affirmative action, gay rights, the environment and energy policy, but are not generally well disposed to protec-tionism or auto-industry bailouts, which appeal to populists.
During last year's Democratic nomination contest, of course, this division manifested itself in the profound split between the Obama and Clinton camps. As I observed at the time, class contempt rose to ugly and dangerous levels, something not only harmful to the party, but also un-American and despicable.
The people Kotkin calls "populists" are, in other contexts, known as "swing voters". An intelligently-reformed Republican party (don't laugh, it might happen someday) could appeal to them, as Reagan did and as McCain might have done if the consequences of eight years of Republican economic incompetence had not come crashing down on the country mere weeks before the election.
The causes crucial to us "gentry liberals" -- gay rights, abortion, secularism, the environment, respect for science -- must never be sacrificed, but they don't need to be. Except for the Christian Right (which will never vote liberal no matter what we do), the country is slowly but surely coming around on those issues. Most populist concerns -- income stagnation, illegal immigration, job offshoring, elite domination of the economy, leaders too hesitant to uphold American sovereignty and American national interests against foreign claims -- are all ultimately legitimate concerns of liberals too. The Democratic party needs to address them, seriously and effectively, in order to stay in power -- and because it's the right thing to do.