Sunday, October 17, 2004


Party of the working man - not anymore

Thomas Frank via Free Republic

The mystery is why Democrats have proved so vulnerable to the charge, and why they can’t fend it off even when it’s hurled at them in a hypocritical or self-refuting fashion.

One of the reasons Democrats are never able to mount a convincing comeback is because, at the bottom of their hearts, many of the party’s biggest thinkers agree with the “liberal elite” stereotype. They can’t simply point to their working-class base and their service to working-class America, because they aren’t interested in that base; they haven’t tried to serve that constituency for decades. For them, the real divide between the parties is—or ought to be, anyway—an industrial one: Republicans represent one sort of business and Democrats another; Republicans are Old Economy while Dems are New; Republicans represent square, repressive capitalism while Dems speak for the hip, creative, tolerant new breed.

In this new political arrangement, the working class is to have no role at all, except maybe as loyal and grateful employees of one or the other sort of enterprise. The constituency that such thinkers hanker after is “professionals,” upper-middle-class but sensitive voters who might support a Democratic Party that takes a liberal stand on cultural issues but who are also believers in free trade and the neo-laissez-faire economy. In such thinkers’ minds it is only natural that, say, steelworkers or coal miners would decide to vote Republican: Such people toil in old-school industries, survivals from the Republicans’ beloved nineteenth century, and it is fruitless for cool people like us to try to speak to them or understand their concerns.

“Many of the party’s biggest thinkers agree with the ‘liberal elite’ stereotype.”

The transition rightward in the Democratic Party was gradual, commencing under Jimmy Carter and gathering force all through the eighties. Democrats were simply no longer content, in this era of costly TV campaigns, to be the party of the outsiders and the have-nots. They wanted to play with the big boys, and ditch their thirties-era reputation as the “anti-business party.” By the end of the Clinton years, the leaders of both parties had essentially reached a point of consensus on the big economic issues: NAFTA, the WTO, welfare, deregulation, antitrust, even partial Social Security privatization. And although Democratic thinkers in 2004 would like to take credit for the New Economy boom of the nineties, they must ultimately share the limelight for that dubious achievement with hard-core conservatives like Ronald Reagan, George Gilder, and Newt Gingrich. Achieving economic unanimity with the GOP may have enhanced the Dems’ respectability among the professional class, but it also means that dissent, at least as we used to know it, has become a disrespectable and in some ways a forbidden pursuit; the anger and the sense of victimization that are out there on the edge of every town get channeled instead into the cultural realm, where the Republicans’ enormous alienation-harvesting apparatus awaits.

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