The big thing that Thomas Frank overlooks

Thomas Frank is one of my favorite writers.  I like his books.  I like his magazine articles.  I enjoy watching videos of his speeches and interviews.  But there is one thing he doesn’t quite get.

His basic idea is that the Democratic Party is losing because it has abandoned the American working class and the policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.   The leaves them vulnerable to the fake populism of Donald Trump and the right wing of the Republican Party.

Democrats rely on African-Americans, Hispanics and educated professionals of all races reacting against President Trump’s appeal to prejudice against African-Americans and immigrants.

That’s not enough, Frank writes.  Democrats need to stand up for working people of all races—provide free college tuition and Medicare for all, enforce the anti-trust laws and renegotiate NAFTA and other pro-corporate trade treaties.

All this is true and important.

Frank’s mistake is to think that the reason top Democrats are pro-corporate is that they fail to understand their situation.

Shortly after the 36th minute in the video above. he says that the reason the Clintons and their allies have abandoned American labor is that the signature achievement of their generation was to their successful revolt against the New Deal, and nobody will disavow their generation’s signature achievement.

If they really don’t understand, it is because, as Upton Sinclair once put it, “it is hard to make a man understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

The wealth and power of the Clintons, like that of the Obamas, is based on their allegiance to Wall Street and the corporate elite.  If they had advocated breaking up the “too big to fail” banks or prosecuting financial fraud, they wouldn’t get six-figure lecture fees from bankers and hedge fund managers.

On a lower levels of government, there is the revolving door between Congress and regulatory agencies on the one hand and Washington lobbyists, law firms and regulated industries on the others.  Neil Barofsky, whose job was oversight of the TARP bailout program, was warned that if he did his job too zealously, he would lose the chance of a good post-government job.  He’s not the only one.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee supports a whole ecology of fund-raisers, pollsters, media specialists and campaign consultants who depend on a system whereby candidates concentrate on raising money and spending it on designated funds.

So it’s not just a matter of waking up to what’s really going on.  It’s a matter of people knowing which side their bread is buttered on.  Or, as the Japanese might say, nobody willingly lets their rice bowl be broken.

Political bosses would sometimes rather lose an election than lose control of their party.  In 2006, conservative Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was defeated in the Democratic primary by Ned Lamont, an anti-war populist.  But Lieberman ran in the general election as an independent, supported by both Democrats and Republicans, and he defeated Lamont.

The same thing could happen to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  She defeated incumbent Joe Crowley, a 10-term congressman who represents parts of Queens and the Bronx, in this year’s Democratic primary.  But Crowley is still on the ballot on the Working Families Party and could well make a Lieberman-type comeback in the general election.

The reason the Democratic leadership rejects change is that rich and powerful people don’t willingly give up their sources of wealth the power.  The only way to change the Democratic Party is to replace the leadership.


Can liberals please work out how to win back the working class? by Thomas Frank for The Guardian.

Four More Years: The Trump reelection nightmare and how we might stop it by Thomas Frank for Harper’s magazine.

The Wrecking Crew: How a group of right-wing con men destroyed Washington and made a killing by Thomas Frank for Harper’s magazine.  Written in 2008, but unfortunately still highly relevant.

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One Response to “The big thing that Thomas Frank overlooks”

  1. peteybee Says:

    Which incidentally cements the impression that WFP is just a device to prevent union households from going to third parties when the Dem. candidate is unappealing for whatever reason.


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