Monday, May 02, 2016

May 2, 2016--Limousine Liberals

Back in 2004, liberals like me loved Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas? We chortled as he exposed how Republicans there and elsewhere duped white working people by promising and then failing to focus on social issues such as abortion and anything having to do with gay rights while in fact delivering tax cuts for themselves and their wealthy patrons.

On the other hand, I am not so sure we will like Frank's latest--Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? As Beverly Gage quipped in her front-page review in yesterday's New York Times Book Review, it could just as easily have been titled, What's the Matter With Massachusetts?

As I haven't yet read Listen, Liberal, here are highlights from Gage's review--

Liberals in general--and the Democratic Party in particular--should look inward to understand the sorry state of American politics. Too busy attending TED talks and vacationing in Martha's Vineyard, Frank argues, the Democratic elite has abandoned the party's traditional commitments to the working class. In the process, they have helped create the political despair and anger at the heart of today's right-wing insurgencies. . . . 
In Franks's view, liberal policy wonks are part of the problem, members of a well-educated elite that massages its own technocratic vanities while utterly missing the big question of the day. . . .  It is the eternal conflict of management and labor, owner and worker, rich and poor. . . . 
Frank notes that today some people are living much better than others--and many of those people are not Republicans. . . . He argues that the Democratic Party--once the "Party of the People"--now caters to the interests of the "professional-managerial class" consisting of lawyers, doctors, professors, scientists, programmers, even investment bankers. These affluent city dwellers and suburbanites believe firmly in meritocracy and individual opportunity, but often shun the kind of social policies that once gave a real leg up to the working class.

I have offered similar thoughts here for at least the past two years, confessing in one posting that though I am an advocate for tax reform that would be democratically redistributive, I have benefited from and enjoyed the bounty of the Bush tax cuts.

From that position it is hard not to sound hypocritical when calling for structural changes that would truly help the hardening underclass. Listen. Liberal sounds like something I need to read. And in a hurry. It sounds as if my progressive friends need to do likewise.

We have a lot to answer for. Liberals too have been duping the people who trusted us and been the core of our constituency. Partly on our watch inequality has widened and many of us in the professional class have benefitted mightily.

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