Monday, December 20, 2004

What Frank gets right

Frank's thesis is simple enough. The Democratic Party, under Bill Clinton's strategic leadership, tried and largely succeeded in becoming as much the pro-business party as the Republicans. This DLC-ification of the Democratic Party has had two essential effects: first, to accelerate of the economic destitution of the low-skilled and low-educated, and second, to take economic issues off the political table. The result of the first effect has been ever-growing class resentment on the part of the downwardly mobile ex-middle class, and the result of the second is that these resentments have no political outlet except for cultural issues.

In this analysis, Frank gets to the essentials of what ails the Democratic Party. The reason that Clinton disgusted me as a politician was that he sold out the working class. Here was a man from humble origins himself, who took over the Democratic Party – which with varying degrees of effectiveness had since FDR’s time stood for the defense of the working classes within the limits set by an essential embrace of capitalism – and turned it into a party whose industrial and economic policies were, at bottom, a more fiscally sound version of Reaganism. It was this move by the Democratic Party that led me personally to cast protest votes in both 1996 and 2000. And it's not just me; the working classes also decided to cast protest votes: since neither Party actually represents their interests, the downwardly mobile may as well vote their resentments (excuse me, "values").

Frank also helps explain exactly how the Republicans (especially under Bush) have harnessed cultural resentments to pull their tax-cutting anti-statist wagon. With that said, I don't think Frank proves his case when he claims that the "Con" wing of the GOP is manned by sincere "movement" sorts, but fronted by opportunists who just want to use the power of the movement to achieve other purposes. In particular, as I argued earlier, I believe that there is more ideological congruence between tax-cutting and theocracy than Democrats have generally acknowledged.

Finally, Frank’s clearly right that the way out for the Democrats is not to compete on "values" – to lurch even further to the right than Bill Clinton dragged them – but to get back to the bread and butter that defines the Party, which is an industrial policy that is meaningfully more friendly to working people than the one espoused by the Republicans.

No comments: