Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 18, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WORKING CLASS WOES PART 2....Thomas Frank, author of What's the Matter With Kansas?, writes in the LA Times today that one of the reasons the working class is doing so poorly these days is that no one stands up for them anymore:

[Moderate DLC] Democrats explicitly rule out what they deride as "class warfare" and take great pains to emphasize their friendliness to business interests....The Republicans, meanwhile, were industriously fabricating their own class-based language of the right, and while they made their populist appeal to blue-collar voters, Democrats were giving those same voters their traditional base the big brushoff, ousting their representatives from positions within the party and consigning their issues, with a laugh and a sneer, to the dustbin of history. A more ruinous strategy for Democrats would be difficult to invent. And the ruination just keeps on coming.

Frank's thesis is that Republicans have successfully wooed blue collar workers via social wedge issues, while at the same time Democrats have decided to move upscale. The result is that neither party cares much about the economic issues of the working class:

Behold the political alignment that Kansas is pioneering for us all....when two female pop stars exchange a lascivious kiss on national TV, Kansas goes haywire. Kansas screams for the heads of the liberal elite. Kansas runs to the polling place. And Kansas cuts those pop stars' taxes.

As a social system, the backlash works. The two adversaries feed off each other in a kind of inverted symbiosis: One mocks the other, and the other heaps even more power on the mocker. This arrangement should be the envy of every ruling class in the world. Not only can it be pushed much, much further, but it is fairly certain that it will be so pushed. All the incentives point that way, as do the never-examined cultural requirements of modern capitalism.

Why shouldn't our culture just get worse and worse, if making it worse will only cause the people who worsen it to grow wealthier and wealthier?

I'm not quite as pessimistic as Frank that this vicious cycle is inevitable in fact, I'm one of those DLC Dems who think that the Republican embrace of neanderthal social issues will eventually ruin them. At the same time, though, he's right about the working class: their wages have stagnated over the past 30 years even though the economy has grown tremendously, and the Democratic party hasn't done nearly enough to address this. It's no wonder the Republicans have been so successful at picking off blue collar workers via social issues.

I only wish Frank had a bit more room in his op-ed to tell us what he thinks the Democrats ought to be doing about this. I guess you have to buy the book if you want to know that.

Kevin Drum 11:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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