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The Democrats Are Republicans

Thomas Frank says they're Republicans with a socially liberal face

A conservative friend e-mailed yesterday, about Thomas Frank’s 2004 book, What’s The Matter With Kansas?:

When that book came out, without reading it, I pooh-poohed the idea that Kansans should sign on to the Democrats’ agenda, with its identity politics, disregard for traditional morality, etc., just because it might be better for their wallets to be on the receiving end of a redistributionist system. I said to myself that Kansans (broadly speaking, small-k kansans) don’t want to soak the rich because they hope and expect to be rich. And they don’t want to vote for economic liberals because that would mean accepting abortion and all the other baggage that comes with Democratic Party.

But lately, with Trump and Sanders ascendant, and with Kansans not getting rich or even holding their ground, I’m wondering if the writer wasn’t pretty much on target on the economics.

Related: I saw Bernie Sanders on Colbert a few days ago. Colbert asked a softball question about how weird it is that a reality-TV goon like Trump is so popular. I assumed Sanders would piñata Trump, but his response was fascinating – he recognized the legitimate grievances that were animating Trump voters, without insulting Trump and without saying his name. Sanders isn’t just campaigning for Hillary’s voters, he’s campaigning for Trump’s.

Well, my friend, thanks to one of this blog’s commenters, here’s a fairly devastating Guardian column by Thomas Frank saying that the problem Hillary Clinton faces is that the Democratic Party today is the one her husband made, and it’s pretty much the GOP with a socially liberal face. Excerpts:

What Democrats had to turn away from, reformers of all stripes said in those days, was the supposedly obsolete legacy of the New Deal, with its fixation on working-class people. What had to be embraced, the party’s reformers agreed, was the emerging post-industrial economy and in particular the winners of this new order: the highly educated professionals who populated its clean and innovative knowledge industries.

The figure that brought triumphant closure to that last internecine war was President Bill Clinton, who installed a new kind of Democratic administration in Washington. Rather than paying homage to the politics of Franklin Roosevelt, Clinton passed trade deals that defied and even injured the labor movement, once his party’s leading constituency; he signed off on a measure that basically ended the federal welfare program; and he performed singular favors for the financial industry, the New Deal’s great nemesis.


That Clintonian consensus, which slouches on in the bank bailouts and trade deals of recent years, is what deserves to be on the table in 2016, under the bright lights of public scrutiny at last. As we slide ever deeper into the abyss of inequality, it is beginning to dawn on us that sinking the New Deal consensus wasn’t the best idea after all.

Unfortunately, focusing on the money being mustered behind Hillary Clinton by various lobbyists and Wall Street figures misses this point. The problem with establishment Democrats is not that they have been bribed by Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and the rest; it’s that many years ago they determined to supplant the GOP as the party of Wall Street – and also to bid for the favor the tech industry, and big pharma, and the telecoms, and the affluent professionals who toil in such places.


In truth, our affluent, establishment Democrats can no more be budged from their core dogmas – that education is the solution to all problems, that professionals deserve to lead, that the downfall of the working class is the inevitable price we pay for globalization – than creationists can be wooed away from the tenets of “intelligent design”. The dogmas are simply too essential to their identity.

Read the whole thing. I do not believe that either Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump will be the next president (though I am far less confident about Trump’s fate). But I believe that both men will have done their parties and their country a great service by poleaxing the political establishment. The really interesting story is going to be the upstart candidates who rush through the holes in the wall that both Sanders and Trump have blasted.



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