Friday, September 2, 2016

Liberals should be listening - to Thomas Frank

One of my greatest disappointments has been with how the Democrats have (that is, mostly have not) confronted economic inequality. During the last 50 years the disparities just kept getting bigger and bigger regardless of which party was in the White House, regardless of which party controlled Congress. Why? I think Thomas Frank may have the answer - and advice for Democrats who are now faced with a bullying bragging bullshit artist who has stolen their identity.

Kathy Kiely interviews Frank about his book Listen Liberal for The interview covered lots of ground. Bill Clinton is close to a "villain." Obama needed to do more. Frank will vote for Hillary, but thinks Elizabeth Warren would be a better candidate than Bernie (who is talking about the right stuff). Here's a sample.

In his books What’s the Matter with Kansas? and The Wrecking Crew, writer Thomas Frank made a name for himself with his critiques of Republican politics. Now, he’s turning his eviscerating anthropological technique on the tribe of which he considers himself a member.

While the battle rages for the soul of the Republican Party, Frank sees Democrats in the throes of their own identity crisis. The one-time party of the working class has been co-opted by a hyper-educated elite, he argues in his just-published Listen Liberal. The book can be read as an argument that the anger propelling Donald Trump’s campaign is the product of short-sighted policy decisions made by Democratic technocrats.

Kathy Kiely: Your last couple of books took aim at the Republicans. This one takes aim at folks more ideologically of your ilk.

Tom Frank: It’s the Democrats.


Oh I think it’s just as interesting a story with all the paradoxes and ironies. All the things that make for a compelling political story. And there’s also a great question, that we’re all wondering in year eight of, you know, the “hope presidency,” which is why has inequality gotten worse? Why has it gotten worse under a Democratic president whom everyone assures us is the most liberal of all possible presidents, if not a socialist or a Kenyan communist, you know?

It raises the obvious question with this wonderful liberal president in office, why has inequality continued to surge? Why have the gains of the recovery been monopolized by the top 10 percent or so of the income distribution?

So what should [Obama] have done?

I think he should have been a lot more aggressive, first of all with the Wall Street banks. But take a step back. The overarching question of our time is inequality, as he himself has said. And it was in Bill Clinton’s time too. Although the issue receded a little bit in the late ’90s. But when Clinton ran in ’92, they were arguing about inequality then as well. And it’s definitely the question of our time. The way that issue manifested was Wall Street in ’08 and ’09. He could have taken much more drastic steps. He could have unwound bailouts, broken up the banks, fired some of those guys. They bailed out banks in the Roosevelt years too and they broke up banks all the time. They put banks out of business. They fired executives, all that sort of thing. It is all possible, there is precedent and he did none of it.

What else? You know a better solution for health care. Instead he has this deal where insurance companies are basically bullet-proof forever. Big Pharma. Same thing: When they write these trade deals, Big Pharma is always protected in them. They talk about free trade. Protectionism is supposed to be a bad word. Big Pharma is always protected when they write these trade deals.

Who are you going to vote for in the Maryland primary?

Oh. I am looking forward to casting my ballot for Bernie Sanders.

Tell me why. Because you say in your book you may end up voting for Hillary.

I may end up voting for Hillary this fall. If she’s the candidate and Trump is the Republican. You bet I’m voting for her. There’s no doubt in my mind. Unless something were to change really really really dramatically.

Look, my own opinion about this is that this is Elizabeth Warren’s year. She’s the one who should be up there running. If she had run, she would be, I think, crushing it in the polls. And I’m really sorry that she didn’t run.

But yes, Bernie Sanders because he has raised the issues that I think are really critical. He’s a voice of discontent which we really need in the Democratic party. I’m so tired of this smug professional class satisfaction. I’ve just had enough of it. He’s talking about what happens to the millennials. That’s really important. He’s talking about the out-of-control price of college. He’s even talking about monopoly and anti-trust. He’s talking about health care. As far as I’m concerned, he’s hitting all the right notes. Now, Hillary, she’s not so bad, right? I mean she’s saying the same things. Usually after a short delay. But he’s also talking about trade. That’s critical. He’s really raising all of the issues, or most of the issues that I think really need to be raised.

Because your book is so tough on Bill Clinton—you yourself said he’s the closest thing to a villain in the book—does Hillary deserve the same degree of suspicion?

No, she’s her own person. But she should be held responsible for things when she says she supports them. I actually tried to avoid taking Hillary to task for things that happened during the Clinton years because I don’t think that’s fair to do that. However, take something like welfare reform, which was regarded at the time as one of Bill Clinton’s great achievements. Today, not so much. But she was very proud of her role in this and encouraging him to sign it and get it through. She’s written about this in one of her memoirs. When she does that and says, I lobbied for it, then she should be held responsible.

But that’s not my main critique of her. My main critique is that she, like other professional class liberals who are so enthralled with meritocracy, that she can’t see this broader critique of all our economic arrangements that I’ve been describing to you. For her, every problem is a problem of the meritocracy: It’s how do we get talented people into the top ranking positions where they deserve to be. And this is always especially with reference to her own problems with becoming president, with becoming the first woman president. Remember the glass ceiling, putting cracks in the glass ceiling? She talks about this all the time. For good reason. And that’s a good issue. And there shouldn’t be glass ceilings. People who are talented should be able to rise to the top. I agree on all that stuff. However that’s not the problem right now. The problems are much more systemic, much deeper, much bigger. The whole thing needs to be called into question. So I think sometimes watching Hillary’s speeches that she just doesn’t get that. She just automatically gravitates back to this meritocracy thing. You know about the talented rising to the top and the barriers that keep the talented from rising to the top. That’s not the problem.


... Look, my own opinion about this is that this is Elizabeth Warren’s year. She’s the one who should be up there running. If she had run, she would be, I think, crushing it in the polls. And I’m really sorry that she didn’t run. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the one who has best articulated all of the things that I’m describing. Bernie Sanders, yeah, he’s great. But she’s a better candidate in my view. And it’s a real shame she didn’t run. ...

Scriber agrees. I'll have to get the book.

I missed this one from March 22nd of this year, so h/t Linda Laird.

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