What’s the Matter with Democrats?

Thomas Frank has a notion of what’s wrong with the Democratic Party – why it repeatedly snatches defeat from the jaws of victory:

The answer to the riddle is as plain as the caviar on a lobbyist’s spoon. Democrats don’t speak to angry, working-class people because a lot of them can’t speak to angry, working-class people. They don’t know how. Many of the party’s resident geniuses gave up on that constituency long ago, preferring instead to remodel their organization as the vanguard of enlightened professionals and the shrine of purest globaloney. They worked hard to convince Wall Street that new-style Democrats could be trusted. They accepted, for the most part, the deregulatory agenda of the Reagan administration; in fact, in some fields—banking, telecommunications, free trade—they went farther than Ronald Reagan dared.

Along the way, these new-style Democrats did little as their allies in organized labor were scythed down by organized money; last year they watched as the percentage of unionized workers in the private sector sank lower than any point in the 20th century. The fatuity of it all is surely plain to Democrats by now: They have permitted nothing less than the decimation of their own grass-roots social movement. As a result, in large parts of America, there is no liberal presence at all, no economic narrative to counterbalance the wisdom of Rush Limbaugh.

President Barack Obama might have helped in this regard, using the biggest megaphone in the land to tell us, in the Times’s words, “why it happened and whom to blame.” He might have explained to us how financial regulation was systematically undermined by his predecessors, how the prospect of quick profits bred conflicts of interest throughout the system, and how a delusional free-market superstition blinded the nation to the unsoundness of the financial structure.

He might, in other words, have contested the right’s monopoly on the word “elite.” He might have reached out to working-class voters in the only way Democrats can.

But that would have been divisive. That would have disturbed the confidence of the markets.

Watching the victory of 2008 appear to slip through the Democrats’ fingers is disheartening, but not because it is a story of opportunism and selling out. After all, if Democrats were opportunists, they would be pushing the still-popular “public option” in the health-care debate. Something might yet be salvaged.

No, the Democrats’ problems arise from their convictions, from the botched centrist faith to which so many of their leaders still cling. They do what they do because they believe that those hearty fellows on the Sunday talk shows really know the answer; that the truth really resides in the dusty globalization clichés of the ’90s.

Read the whole column here.

One Comment

  1. Sandra
    February 25, 2010

    Yup, I must agree with what you say, especially the part about there being no narrative to counterbalance the likes of Rush Limbaugh in some parts of the country. As a Southerner, I know only too well.


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