News & Politics

Even a Liberal Can't Stand Liberals Anymore

It’s nice to see that even a card-carrying liberal like author Thomas Frank can’t stand liberals, either. From a New York Times review of his latest book, Listen, Liberal:

In his new book, the social critic Thomas Frank ­poses another possibility: that 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 to create the political despair and anger at the heart of today’s right-wing insurgencies.

Frank delights in skewering the sacred cows of coastal liberalism, including private universities, bike paths, microfinance, the Clinton Foundation, “well-meaning billionaires” and any public policy offering “innovation” or “education” as a solution to inequality. He spends almost an entire chapter mocking the true-blue city of Boston, with its “lab-coat and starched-shirt” economy and its “well-graduated” population of overconfident collegians.

Behind all of this nasty fun is a serious political critique. Echoing the historian Lily Geismer, Frank argues that the Democratic Party — once “the Party of the People” — now caters to the interests of a “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 shun the kind of social policies that once gave a real leg up to the working class. In the book, Frank points to the Democrats’ neglect of organized labor and support for Nafta as examples of this sensibility, in which “you get what you deserve, and what you deserve is defined by how you did in school.” In more recent columns, he has linked this neglect to the rise of a figure like Sanders, who says forthrightly what the party leadership might prefer to obscure: Current approaches aren’t working — and unless something dramatic happens, Americans are heading for a society in which a tiny elite controls most of the wealth, ­resources and decision-making power.

Well, duh. Everybody, it seems, beside coastal Democrats understands that the “just society” Democrats profess to want looks suspiciously like the old Soviet Union, with a nomenklatura on top and penniless peons on the bottom; there was, of course, no middle class in the USSR, and the one we currently have in the U.S. is rapidly diminishing under the economic pounding of the past eight years.

And, what do you know, here’s another book, The Limousine Liberal, to make that very point:

As the historian Steve Fraser demonstrates in his wide-ranging new book, the idea of the “limousine liberal” has a long and messy history all its own. The term originated during the 1969 New York mayoral campaign, when the Democratic candidate Mario Procaccino charged the highborn Liberal Party incumbent John Lindsay, formerly a Republican, with acts unbecoming to his social class.

Fraser agrees with Frank that the Democratic Party can no longer reasonably claim to be the party of the working class or the “little man.” Instead, he argues, the Republican and Democratic parties now represent two different elite constituencies, each with its own culture and interests and modes of thought. Fraser describes today’s Republicans as the party of “family capitalism,” encompassing everyone from the mom-and-pop business owner on up to “entrepreneurial maestros” such as the Koch brothers, Linda McMahon and Donald Trump. The Democrats, by contrast, represent the managerial world spawned by modernity, including the big universities and government bureaucracies as well as “techno frontiersmen” like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. These are two different ways of relating to the world — one cosmopolitan and interconnected, the other patriarchal and hierarchical. Neither one, however, offers much to working-class voters.

Nobody know what’s going to happen this fall; the Democrats’ suckering of blacks and other minorities may continue unabated. Or Donald Trump’s populist appeal may finally topple the whole rotten, morally preening, corrupt enterprise.  Either way, the country’s getting exactly what’s been coming to it since 1968. Enjoy.