Like Chris Hedges, Thomas Frank has been analyzing what has gone wrong with the Democratic Party over the last fifty years. Don Lenihan writes
that, if you really want to understand what's going on in this year's presidential election, you should read Frank's latest book, Listen, Liberal:
As part of the American left, Frank regards Roosevelt’s New Deal as the high-water mark for the Democratic Party—a concerted effort to use the power of the state to defend working people’s interests in the face of economic calamity.
However, Democrats have ceased to be the party of working people, at least according to Frank. Under Bill Clinton and now Barack Obama, the party has begun catering to a new and very different class of people, which he calls professionals
And the evidence is in. Professionals have done very well under the Democrats. Working people have not:
Income inequality is the smoking gun. From the middle of the Great Depression up to 1980, Frank reports, the lower 90 percent of the population took home 70 percent of the growth in the country’s income. Look at the same numbers between 1997 and today and the same group pocketed none—zero
, he notes emphatically.
Readers should pause to consider what an inconvenient fact this is for Democrats. They like to portray themselves as fighting to protect the middle class. They focus on the bank CEOs and captains of industry—the notorious 1%—who’ve profited so nicely from the New Economy. It turns out, however, that the professional class has also done very well.
While Frank is appalled that this wealth has come at the expense of the middle class, in his mind, the bigger scandal lies elsewhere. There is no evidence this gap is going to close again. The professional class is not, as Clinton promised, a rebirth of the middle class, but the birth of a new elite. Indeed, Frank’s real point is that the interests of the new professional class are profoundly at odds with working people.
It's absolutely true that Donald Trump is unfit for the presidency. But a vote for Hillary should not be interpreted as approval or acceptance of Democratic Party policy since Bill Clinton. Roosevelt used to tell his supporters that if they wanted him to adopt policy, they had to push him in that direction.
Hillary needs to know that support for her comes at a price:
Working people are furious about what’s been happening to them. (Brexit provides further evidence of the unrest.) And Frank makes a convincing case that real debate over the causes has been stifled by group think for a quarter century.
Bill Clinton’s new New Deal sells politics short. Globalization and the digital economy may be forces that no one ultimately controls, but there are all kinds of things that presidents (and prime ministers) can and should be doing to shield working people from the worst effects. And that should command their full attention.