Finally Reading Thomas Frank’s “Listen Liberal: or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?”

5120ZCDtVTL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_    The Democratic Party is in a major transition period and it’s not the ever-continuing, ever-pointless Hillary-Bernie debate or the frustrating identity politics (read: minorities) vs. reaching out to angry white people pie fight, although elements of those fights are in the bigger fight.  The bigger issue has been that a generation of education and globalization fetishists took over the party with the idea that the New Deal coalitions with their emphasis on working people was over, dead, an anachronism.  It was a deliberate move from the left to the middle-right, to be Republicans lite.  It abandoned unions, working people, inequality and class politics in general for a technocratic, meritocratic faith in our betters in academia and Wall Street.

Not to be too simplistic about it but to echo Dr. Phil:  how is that working out for you?

As bad as the Republican Party has been at governing, as mistaken as they’ve been at policy, as cynical as they’ve been at campaigning and as dishonest as they’ve been in communicating their actual agenda, they run everything.  And also, too, in addition EVERYBODY FEARS REPUBLICANS AND NOBODY FEARS DEMOCRATS, as I believe I’ve said ad nauseam.  The Democratic Party that dominated American politics from the 30s through the 70s abandoned its ideological base and core message and now their identity is less clear than ever to the benefit of the awful GOP.

Sure there was the race issue that moved the South to the GOP, nobody can forget that – that’s as real as a Confederate flag sticker on a gun rack on a truck.  But it’s a convenient fantasy to believe that racism alone and the Dems adoption of voting rights and civil rights in the 60s caused the decimation of the party in the South and diminution of the party in the West and North.  It sure doesn’t explain Ralph Nader voters in 2000, Jill Stein voters in 2016 and the general malaise towards Democrats today.

Even the talk radio/Fox Newsification of the country where citizens are more inundated with opinion than ever and less informed than ever can explain the GOP’s success at the cost of Democrats.  Like the fast food revolution and the stratospheric increase of cheap, low quality calories has created our obesity epidemic, the Roger Ailes strategy of destroying legitimate media and replacing it with GOP culture warrior talking points has made a country of fat heads.  It’s a bad trend that has only gotten worse in the Trump era of deliberate, bald faced propaganda.  But even taken with the race issue it doesn’t explain an unresponsive, K Street dominated, corporatist and Christianist GOP dominating governor’s mansions and state legislatures.

None of those cynical Republican strategy wins (along with voter suppression) could be as successful as it has been in pushing a bankrupt GOP agenda if the Democrats hadn’t allowed their brand to become wishy-washy and wither.

The condensed version is that Bill Clinton ran a deceptive populist campaign in 1992 but with the Democratic Leadership Conference he and other New Democrats deliberately killed off the FDR coalitions believing that the future was in education, globalization and retraining for a shrinking world – the Tom Friedman, David Brooks centrist utopia.  A lot of economic trends that they weren’t wrong about, but they were wrong to limit their focus on.

These paragraphs from Thomas explains how it all went wrong:

Today the separation of productivity from reward is a feature of nearly every sort of work–white-collar, blue-collar; symbolic, literal; physical, mental; analytic, representational; all of us going nowhere while owners ascend the stratosphere.  But because it happened to production workers first, it was possible for Democrats like Reich and Clinton to look at the situation and conclude that the real problem was those workers’ lousy educations.

It was a costly mistake.  While this interpretation might have made a kind of narcissistic sense to the well-graduated, it allowed Democrats to ignore what was happening in the real economy–from monopoly power to financialization to labor-management relations– in favor of a moral fantasy that required them to confront no one.  In the Clinton view, which would become the standard Democratic view, the only ones who had to change their ways were the victims themselves.

As a sample of how this went wrong look to the corporate Democrats who, for a time, pushed charter schools and privatization.  Democrats have come back to public schools as a policy and have only recently come to see the problems with cost and debt in higher education and pushing junior colleges.  They have yet to truly embrace the need for vocational schools and competent blue-collar training and certification – which then should lead to good union jobs.

The focus on a four year university degree as well as their benign neglect for unions, blinded them to the reality of the larger economic struggles for working people.  They would never admit it, but they adopted the fantasy that we can have a country with just high educated, white-collar workers who all have a house in the suburbs.

That sounds crazy, but their policy prescriptions, from Clinton through the Obama Administration, seemed to be created for that non-existent world.  Hillary started to come back to Earth with the push of the Sanders revolution, but it was incomplete and unconvincing for too many.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s