Salena Zito
WASHINGTON- Apropos of our democracy, Alexander Hamilton's and Thomas Jefferson's statues stand miles apart here.

America always has been at odds with these two Founders' philosophies of where the nation's exceptionalism would be found.

Today we are in the midst of a cultural U-turn away from a Hamiltonian meritocratic-elitist, centralized-power society to a more Jeffersonian Main Street focus, with state and local governments as the primary powerbrokers.

"When the country feels as though we have pushed too far in one direction, it swings back to the other side," says Dr. Lara Brown, author of "Jockeying for the American Presidency."

Prone to rambling, his clothes slightly worn, Jefferson was creative; his prose was almost poetic, his delivery scattered. The author of the Declaration, his vision of America was of a decentralized federal government, with power spread out to state and local governments.

His vision of an agrarian nation, with mild laws and a deep belief in man's goodness and liberty's importance, contrasted sharply with Hamilton's vision of a Washington-centric government, with power concentrated among the elite few.

Well-dressed, with a very organized mind, Hamilton believed humans were inherently flawed and, left on their own, made poor choices. His vision was to promote an economy based on commerce, wealth and strict laws, advancing toward a technological age and European-style collectivism.

Our shift away from elitism has threads throughout our culture, in the food we eat and the entertainment we choose. Cases in point: Plaid shirts, cowboy boots and Levi's jeans have surged in the fashion world, and last year's No. 1 new cable show was the History Channel's "American Pickers," about chasing Americana in the flyover zone.

It also is apparent in our political shift that began two years ago.

"What you saw in the very beginning of the tea party movement is our culture reconnecting with individual liberty again, the self-agrarian values of Jeffersonians," says Brown.

The shift from elitism isn't just a Republican thing, she says. "In just a few weeks you saw the end of the moderate Democratic Leadership Council, the resignation of Rep. Jane Harmon, D-Calif., and the loss of three moderate Democratic senators -- Webb of Virginia, Conrad of North Dakota and Lieberman of Connecticut."

Then there's the loss of moderate Democrats in the South: Since November's midterm elections, 24 state representatives and state senators have switched to the Republican Party.

The Democratic Party has cast itself as the progressive party, leaving little or no room for conservative Democrats. It appears to be out of sync with where the country is heading, despite Main Street's message last fall.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.