Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Fault, Dear Voter, Lies Not in Our Stars, But in Our Democrats — Thomas Frank Adds His Voice


by Gaius Publius

As regular readers know, I've been recommending a full-on effort to widen the breach now open in all three layers of the Democratic world — the broad voting layer at the base, the smaller activist and writer layer above that, and the narrow layer of office-holders, leaders and insiders at the top.

My reasoning should be obvious; the 2014 elections showed that the voting layer — people who go to the polls, choose progressive policies, and don't choose Democratic candidates — know in increasing numbers that the party has largely abandoned them. Since in fact the party has abandoned them, the voter split can only be healed by an ad campaign, a change of policy, or both.

That ad campaign would be a cynical can of lies without the change of policy. And a change of policy can only be accomplished by (a) aggressively defeating current "Democratic party" leaders, depriving them of any position of power; and (b) convincing fence-straddlers in the current generation of progressive activists to stop supporting the "lesser evil" and start supporting the "greater good."

In other words, by widening the split, or schism, in the upper two layers.

The Party is Losing its Writers

Among left-leaning writers, that gap is widening at a rate that won't be stopping soon. Thomas Frank, of What's the Matter with Kansas?, has now joined the choir in his latest at Salon. The piece is wide-ranging and includes a nice section on "How many ways can we apologize for Obama? Let's count" — OK, that my language, not his, but he's just as sharp.

Here's one set of Obama excuses he calls the "MSNBC apologetic":
The first and most obvious excuse for all things Obama is, of course, the Republicans. Given their extreme intransigence and their many loathsome views, the steel-minded pundits say, we left-of-center citizens need to stand behind the president in complete, airtight unity. Criticism must not be permitted ... [I]n the USA ... enforcing party discipline is a job for the punditry, and so I suggest we call this particular species of rationalization the MSNBC apologetic, after the network that is so famously reluctant to air any criticism of the president. It consists, in brief, of demanding a kind of solidarity with Democratic leaders that those Democratic leaders themselves only rarely show for their own rank and file.
And note my second emphasis above — he's thinking this thought, I think. Not bad for a piece whose opening sentence contains this stunner:
one of the most cherished rallying points of the president’s supporters is the idea of the president’s powerlessness.
(I've always thought the Obama Legacy would itself be the lesser of two evil explanations — Is he stupid or just lying to us? Frankly, if those were my legacy choices, I'd pick stupid too, at least until I cashed out, created my own "Obama Global Initiative," and basked on the big stage with Pete Peterson and the other billionaires who love us even less than we think.) 

Frank on the Democrats

Frank's take on Obama and the Democratic party looks just at the bank bailout — which even my Tea–voting friends hate with a fervor I envy. Through that lens he examines what Obama could have done (what was within his power, not outside it), what Obama did instead, then adds:
What I am suggesting, in other words, is that the financial crisis worked out the way it did in large part because Obama and his team wanted it to work out that way.
I've been calling that "Occam's switchblade" — he did it because he wants to — but that's just me being playful. Frank is far more serious. After much excellent discussion, he concludes:
We scientific, hard-headed types are fond of structural explanations for what goes on in Washington, but far too often we are drawn to complicated, roundabout theories whose main virtue is that they get our heroes off the hook.
I propose instead that we turn our scrutiny on those heroes as well. Let us seek to explain the power of money over the Democrats as well as over conservatism. Let us examine the historical victory of a determined free-market faction in the Democratic Party over the larger organization. Let us ask what became of the social movements of the left and why their allies in Washington failed them when their crisis came.

A bit of blunt class analysis might also help. Let us take into account the Democratic Party’s transformation in recent decades into a dutiful servant of the professional class and its every whim and prejudice. ...

The notion that Democrats might have agency is shocking, I know, since it means they bear some responsibility for our unhappy situation. However, once you acknowledge that it might be true, it occurs to you that this simple and direct explanation might also be the key to all kinds of Democratic betrayals and failures over the years, from the embrace of NAFTA to the abandonment of the Employee Free Choice Act. Maybe these episodes weren’t failures at all. Maybe it’s time we confronted the possibility that these disasters unfolded the way they did because Democratic leaders wanted them to work out that way.
Stupid or evil? All the fence-sitters say "stupid"; I've heard them since I started doing this. The party, of course, says "evil" — but of the lesser kind. Frank weighs in with "evil" in this piece, placing himself firmly on the side of the voters and against the fence-sitting apologists.

Thus the party loses another writer, and thus the split — or schism — widens further. Do you want to widen that divide yourself, or bind it back up? We'll all get to decide soon, if Hillary Clinton is the next nominee. That discussion, if it comes, will split the left community right down the middle, and the gap it opens will be wide as the great outdoors. No room in the middle for any of us.

Let me prejudice the decision this way. Citizen, activist or insider — imagine the day your child asks:
"How did you make the world better, mommy?"
And your answer is:
"I was the lesser evil, dear."
That day could come soon.

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At 8:53 AM, Blogger ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I'd add this: fear the Republicans?

"Lesser evils" like Obama lead directly to political gains for the Republicans. Because they don't do enough for the Democratic voter...they'd rather collect the corporate payola.

And so here we are. Again.

At 10:01 AM, Anonymous Ford Prefect said...

At this point, does the Democratic Party even have any credibility left? Perhaps some, but if Hillary thinks she's going to get elected in 2016, she might ask herself how she's going to solve the turnout problem. The Clintonoid wing of the party has always acted as if their fortunes were not connected to the Party's fortune. Obama has acted the same way, essentially throwing the Party under the bus for his own benefit.

Now the Party is just so much roadkill, with all the levers of power in the hand of crooked Neo-Libs (wait, that's redundant!). The Iron Law of Institutions reigns supreme.

Perhaps progressives need to ask a more fundamental question: Which is more important: Loyalty to a party with no credibility that is only hostile to sound policy-making, or actually pushing a progressive/lefty agenda that works?

The answer should be obvious, because those two things ceased to be compatible years ago.

At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for Obumma excuses, I've gotten one-too-many of the "he's a moderate."

Would any AWAKE, registered Democrat have chosen the word "moderate" to label Bush/Cheney for signing a bill allowing he/them the power to indefinitely detain an American on American soil? How about if he/they had arrogated the power to unilaterally, without challenge, assassinate American citizens abroad?

I'd suggest it is VERY stupid political "strategy" to push the "powerless president" meme.
Certainly there is a serious problem with Dem voters rejecting non-progressive candidates. Of course, the party grandees don't see that.

BUT ... why would ANY voter be motivated to bother to vote for a candidate seeking a position portrayed as party-certified, nothing-burger, place-holder, punching bag for the opposing party?

We can only hope that the "left" community, in response to Clinton, splits down the middle.

From my, admittedly "atypical," vantage point, I'd be surprised if as much as 20% of any alleged "left" community would reject the Generalissima.

Neither do I consider the Dem Party to be comprised, in any significant fraction, of a "left community." Anyone there at DWT willing to define "left" in today's America and estimate its proportion among registered Dems, voting Dems?

I would no more vote for HRC than take a swan dive into a tightly-packed forest of red-hot javelins. So I do thank Obumma for catalyzing my finally rejecting the "hold your nose and vote for the lesser evil" syndrome.

Disclosure: I am a registered Democrat ...
but I am not a party writer.

John Puma

At 1:57 PM, Anonymous Ed Walker said...

I've been saying for some time that the academic/writer branch of the Democratic party bought into the Capitalist Celebration decades ago, and lost interest in capitalism as an object of study When the Great Crash came, there was no leftish economics to discuss. Of course, I'm just recognizing the prescience of C. Wright Mills when I write this.


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