Thomas Frank: What's Wrong With The Democratic Party?
I was in a state of shock this week. I met with some Democratic insiders and the most insider of all-- after repeating word-for-word the Wall Street/Schumer line of why Alan Grayson must be destroyed-- agreed with my assessment of Debbie Wasserman Schultz... perhaps not the specifics of the case against her, but totally with the conclusion: for the sake of the Democratic Party and for the sake of the country, she must be defeated in the late August primary. Wow! Everyone who voiced an opinion inside this relatively establishment group agreed. Of course they didn't do anything about it-- that could never happen-- but... in their hearts they were sympathetic to the idea.
Two unions that allow their members, who are relatively high-info groups, to vote on endorsements-- the nurses and the communications workers-- endorsed Bernie over the establishment candidate that unions were "supposed" to fall in line for. Even more troubling for the establishment-- perhaps-- in another, more ominous phenomena that I read this morning at Huff Po-- union members going over to Trump. Karen Nussbaum, executive director of Working America, which has high membership in the Rust Belt: "We hear the same refrains all the time. That people are fed up and they’re hurting. That their families have not recovered from the recession. That every family is harboring someone still not back at work. That someone is paying rent for their brother-in-law. And then a guy comes on the stage and says, 'I’m your guy who will blow the whole thing up.'"
Trump’s pyromaniac approach to politics has earned him strong support from white, working-class voters and brought him to the cusp of winning the GOP nomination. It is an ascent that has shaken Republicans, who view the businessman as a fraud bound to splinter the party, and it’s leading Democrats and their allies to do what they do best: fret and panic.Can a Democratic Party headed by Hillary Clinton, a captive of the corporate and professional-class elite suddenly and convincingly paint itself as a populist party relevant to the working class? Not an ice cube's chance in hell. A Hillary nomination could probably be the final break with union members for a Democratic Party that has been unmoored from its working class roots for decades, to the point where the DCCC won't even consider union members as candidates and ruthlessly stomps their candidacies to death to make room for self-funding professionals-- always and everywhere in the country. The Democrats' "lesser-of-two-evils" strategy is how they hope to drag Hillary across the finish line-- that and demographics, albeit demographics that don't account for Trump's appeal to white working class union members.
Trump, the worry goes, is making precisely the right appeals at precisely the right time to fundamentally realign the Rust Belt working class electorate’s traditional political allegiances.
“In terms of his message, it is really resonating. Particularly if you are talking [about] union people, he is speaking our language,” said Josh Goldstein, deputy national media director for the AFL-CIO. “We can’t let that go unattended, because people have been doing that with Trump for a long time, and his numbers have only gone up. ... It is our job to go out and educate people now, so it doesn’t cross that threshold and become a threat.”
...What worries [Andy] Stern, and many officials in the labor movement, is that Trump’s appeal to working-class voters is more than just a byproduct of his master showmanship. Trump’s denunciations of trade deals, his condemnation of politicians who ushered in outsourcing, and his tough, often-xenophobic rants about immigrants taking domestic jobs all lay out a policy portfolio that, at the most basic level, can be attractive to the economically marginalized.
...Larry Cohen, the former longtime president of the Communications Workers of America, said there’s a lot for Democrats and unions alike to learn from Trump’s rise. First and foremost, they should acknowledge the populism he has tapped into if they don’t want Trump to win the White House.
“I think the key will be the Democratic Party has to show that it can be a populist party, not a party of the corporate elite or the establishment,” said Cohen, who endorsed Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders and has actively campaigned for the Vermont independent. “It depends not only on who the [Democratic] candidate is, but what kind of convention we have and what kind of platform we have. Right now, for good reason, working people are skeptical of the authenticity of the Democratic Party.”
“If the Democratic Party seems to be a populist party and becomes a populist party, Trump will get crushed,” Cohen added. “Unions, regardless of who the nominee is, need to quickly become a vehicle for reform inside and outside the Democratic Party, or they’re going to lose significant numbers of their own members this election.”
Tom Hartmann did a spectacular full hour interview with Thomas Frank on Friday (embedded up top): "The Democratic Party," explained Frank, "is not who we think they are. It's not the party of the groups that we think it's the party of. It's not the party of working people; it's not the party of the middle class. It's the party of the "professional" class [the Eisenhower era GOP]. And when I say that I mean people with advanced degrees, doctors, lawyers, mathematicians who write derivative securities, biochemists who make pharmaceuticals... When they talk about who their coalition is-- who the members of their coalition are-- they always say upper middle class white professionals. There's other groups in the coalition, of course: minorities, women, the young, organized labor to some degree, but the group that comes first and that gets what it wants from the Democrats and is very satisfied with the Obama presidency is professionals. I call them the liberal class." The wealthy aren't just the top .01% or the top 1%... they are also the top 10%, the mainstay of the New Democratic party.
Who is the "they" Frank is referring to, the ones who define the Democratic Party and set its priorities? That's the true meaning of The Establishment, of course, the geriatric, sclerotic, entirely self-serving Democratic Party Establishment-- Wasserman Schultz, Schumer, Hoyer, Pelosi, Israel, Van Hollen, Rahm Emanuel, Cuomo, state Party bosses like Ed Rendell, Bob Brady, George Norcross, the party financiers, predominantly from the DC lap dog organizations, certain unions and Wall Street. The DLC, Third Way, the New Dems... the Republican wing of the Democratic Party has turned the Democratic Party as sharply away from the values and principles of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt as they could without entirely alienating the whole leaky, cracked coalition which is entirely dependent now on a "we're still the lesser of two evils" approach to elections. Hartmann had given much of it away in his intro. "What happened," he asked in the set-up, "to the Democratic Party?"
From the New Deal to the middle part of the 20th Century, the Democratic Party, like most left or center left parties around the world, was the party of the people, the home of unions, Social Security, Medicare and the working and middle classes. But then something strange started happening. Over the course of the 1970s, the '80s and well into the '90s, the Democrats got a lot less democratic. They were still "liberal," or said they were, but they now got their economic policies from Wall Street and their trade policies from multinational corporations, and that was just the beginning. Then came school "reform," welfare "reform," bankruptcy bill, the bailout... What happened? What happened to the party of FDR, of Henry Wallace or Lyndon Johnson. When did that party disappear and become the party of Bill Clinton, Tim Geithner and Larry Summers?
Back to Frank, refining the differences between the hierarchy of money (the 1%) and the hierarchy of status or accomplishment (the top 10% of the distribution of wealth), by asking, ominously, how have the Democrats failed, so badly, on matters of inequality? "The Democrats have really dropped the ball on this... but they haven't really tried" to do anything about it. The professional class-- the Democrats' top constituency-- are fine with the status quo, including the inequality people like Bernie are rallying against. This is Hillary's core constituency-- plus a great many women for whom her gender is a primary motivation for their votes and who passionately want a woman to be president, and minorities frightened out of their minds at how much worse things could get for them under a Trump or a Cruz or any Republican. "The only people who have done well in the recovery," claims Frank, "that have participated in the growth since 2009 are the top 10%."
In the '70s, the Democrats consciously decided to jettison labor, jettison the New Deal and "modernize" into a yuppie-- young, urban professional-- party. That's what happened to the party of the people. That's what has led to the garbage meritocracy Democrats who have taken over the party now, from Bill and Hillary Clinton down into the sewers where you'll find bottom feeders like Steve Israel, Joe Crowley, Gwen Graham, Joe Donnelly, Sean Patrick Maloney, Claire McCaskill and, bottom of the barrel, Patrick Murphy, who Wall Street demands be promoted to the U.S. Senate. The opposite of that, the one chance we have to get the party back before it totally falls apart: