Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Wall Street: Lining Up to Run America

Joel Kotkin sees a new power elite and a new political paradigm emerging from behind the ruins of George W. Bush’s failed administration.   The whole essay is worth reading. Here’s a taste:

How much things have changed in the past few decades! Hollywood once split its loyalties carefully among the parties; its only president came from its right. Now, as much as 80 percent of its largesse flows to the Democrats. The schism between Obama supporter David Geffen and those hanging tough with Clinton is important, not only because of how it reflects Hollywood’s endemic pettiness, but because much of the party, instead of regarding these wealthy prima donnas as deluded minstrels, now treats them as enlightened policy gurus.

Not long ago, Silicon Valley was a bastion of middle-of-the-road Republicans like former Congressman Ed Zschau. But as power once vested in industrial firms like Hewlett Packard has shifted to software and internet-based companies, high-tech politics have shifted both left and dark green. The rising powers of the 21st Century Valley, firms like Google and eBay, generally don’t worry about trifles like groundwater regulations or factory emissions since they don’t manufacture anything. Nor do they worry much about labor laws, because their own employees tend to be young, well-educated and well-compensated. This makes it easier to curry favor with enviro-friendly, left-leaning politicians like former Vice President Al Gore.

Perhaps most important of all have been the changes on Wall Street, whose power extends deeply into both Hollywood and Silicon Valley and which now stands as one of the predominant sources of funds for federal office-seekers and related political action committees. Long the bastion of the old Republican establishment and a backer of Bush in his two presidential runs, Wall Street in 2006 gave more money to the Democrats, and that trend seems to be accelerating along with the implosion of the Republicans.


How did this corporate power shift occur so quickly and dramatically? To a large extent, the answer lies in the utter failure of George W. Bush and his administration. Bush came to office with the support of a Sun Belt elite that drew its wealth and power from the great economic surge west and south after World War II and for nearly a quarter-century dominated American political life

Donors from this group of businesses propelled the careers of such substantial figures as Arizona’s Barry Goldwater, and California’s Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Arguably, their final triumph, helped by the demographic shift to the South and West, lay with Newt Gingrich’s 1994 congressional takeover.

Back in the late 1970s, founding fathers of the Sun Belt power grab, such as oilman Henry Salvatori and Litton Industries founder Tex Thornton, shared with me their conviction that the old Eastern establishment lacked the power and conviction to lead the country. They felt America needed to be guided by more vital, more clear-headed leaders. Economic malaise of the Jimmy Carter years, as well as the perception of America’s weakness both against the Soviet Union and terrorist states such as Iran, lent credibility to these beliefs among a large part of the public.

Like most successful elites, these leaders possessed a relatively coherent agenda. It centered on gaining a free hand over the nation’s natural resources, a low-tax economic policy and support for a strong national defense. The divisive moral agenda, particularly helpful in wooing working-class and Southern voters, was grafted on later but was never widely embraced by the right’s corporate funders.

Bush’s disastrous tenure has pretty much destroyed his backers’ credibility on all three issues. High energy prices and shifting climate-change politics have decimated the traditional agenda of oil and gas companies. An uneven and poorly shared economic expansion has convinced many middle-class erstwhile conservatives that Bush’s low tax, pro-business policies do not really work for them. Finally, the catastrophe in Iraq has undermined support for the overt, aggressive national defense policy long supported by Sun Belt conservatives and their defense industry allies.


Once they recover from their post-Bush euphoria, however, traditional liberals should realize that the ongoing power shift does not necessarily signify the rise of a populist agenda. The wealthiest fifth of Americans are now equally likely to be Democrats or Republicans, a shocking shift from the nearly 70 percent Republican cast of this same quintile just two decades ago. The “party of the people” increasingly now must appeal as much to the affluent as the working-class voter.

I’ve been struggling for a “big picture” that explains the changes in politics in the past couple of years that goes beyond the tactical novelties like the netroots and YouTube.  Kotkin’s is pretty coherent. 

A possible flaw, however, is that his analysis completely omits 9/11, the jihad against the West, the “war on terror.”  Or, is he implying that 9/11 is no longer pertinent, the war on terror is quiescent, and that whole policy arena doesn’t cut politically anymore?  That would come as a huge, rude surprise to the blogospheric right, who think the war on terror is the only issue.  But maybe that’s the case.


2 thoughts on “Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Wall Street: Lining Up to Run America

  1. If Bush’s gamble in Iraq had gone exceedingly well, and there was a democratically elected government with a stable political situation there, we would all be hailing him. There would be no drag on the G.O.P. Losing a war is perhaps the classic way to lose power.

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