Listen, Liberal

Listen, Liberal Democrats in the postwar period used to be the party of the people They stood on the side of unions and working people That is not today s Democrats Obviously, the Dems are the only sane option these days They eschew homophobia, overt racism, and xenophobia and have sane policies However, they could be doing the American people a lot better and actually working for the 90% of the population who have seen their lives collapse economically since 2008 This book is not about the 1% it is about the top 10% the professional class that did good in school and likes to think itself worthy of middle class entitlement It is the group the Democrats cozied up to after it ditched the working class and unions in the seventies These are kids who did well at school and are fairly opened minded on social issues It, however, feels itself to be an entitled meritocracy It is socially liberal and economically conservative It is the core constituency of the DLC and were fans of both Clinton and Obama It s solutions to inequality is the chant of opportunity and education which are noble goals Lifting a few smart kids from the poor identity groups and sending them to Harvard doesn t help the rest of their peers left behind in the winner take all economy These are the people the Democrats have left behind as they break the glass ceiling for their well heeled meritocrat constituency Professionals don t feel much solidarity with the poor and uneducated They may be open minded but they don t feel for people left behind This book traces the history since the seventies when the Democrats traded working class voters for professionals and critiques from a populist left perspective on how they have failed us since that time Excellent book on how to bring the party of the people back to the people Here is an hour long Youtube clip where Thomas Frank Discusses his book on the Majority Report Nothing to add but only to say that Thomas Frank makes explicit and clear my inchoate suspicions I have had for a long time on where the Dems the one time good guys have gone wrong.update 7 5 17 added some updates while I listened to the audiobook version of this book. Hot damn This is a gallon of lighter fluid for that liberal fire you ve been stoking in your heart Far too few writers are willing to take our own Democratic Party to task for its failings and flaws Must read for anyone hoping for politics that value people over profits. Damning critique of the neoliberal wing of the Democratic party I pretty much agree with most heck all of Franks analysis, although he veers into a full blown sarcastic polemic Which is ok I guess, I mean, I agree with his points and his arguments but sometimes the anger is so seething that it distracts from the argument I guess the emotional someone gets with their arguments the leery I get and I do have to say I often have trouble myself in avoiding this trap It s not always easy to decouple emotion from one s arguments easier said than done But that said Franks presents a strong point by point critique throughout his book and I generally agree with his assessments.Ever since the election of that man who shall not be named there s been a lot of writings out there mirroring Franks critique of the neoliberal wing of the Democratic party and how this powerful elite has turned its back on the working class, and even large segments of the middle class This has provided an opening for the Republicans to use cultural and identity issues as trojan horses to capture large segments of the working class, these issues providing cover for their less popular economically regressive agenda that s my interpretation of their general economic positioning It s been a brilliant strategy, and ever since the 70s when Democrats started turning their back on the working class Republicans seized this opportunity to drive a wedge into this demographic, peeling off large segments and assimilating them into their base In many respects Democrats sowed the seeds of their own destruction, and have yet to fully learn the lessons Franks provides a nice analysis and overview of this history.Over the last 40 years there is an entitled smug arrogant educated professional elite that has gained power in the Democratic party Clintons are emblematic , and their economic philosophy runs counter in many respects to core progressive economic principles They are anti New Dealers, anti progressives, banking elites, captains of industry specially Silicon Valley , and they don t want to hear about inequality They have fully bought into the narrative that we live in a pure meritocracy, therefore those who succeed do so on their own merit, intelligence, perseverance, hard work, etc, while those who don t succeed, don t get educations regardless of access , who suffer are 100% accountable for their lots in life I m all for personal accountability, but imo like most things it is a mix There are systematic barriers and entrenched wealth that tilts the field in favor of certain people while putting up barriers for others It s sneaky to ignore this disparity in opportunities, ignoring the system barriers, system rules, power dynamics in the system, and trying to pin everything on the individual Opportunities are hoarded by elite segments of our society, there is margin for error when one has wealth and power Of course there are people who can transcend their lack of opportunities, economic disadvantages, and these cases are always seized upon and highlighted by the elite to showcase how the system has fluidity and fairness As far as I can tell though, from the data I ve seen, fluidity between social classes, the actuality of the American dream, at least currently, is largely in retreat and in many respects illusory And this Democratic elite has largely championed progressive cultural and identity issues, which I do think are important, but often at the cost of focusing or championing progressive economic issues largely because it doesn t fit their agenda and narrative The idea of meritocracy is often used to justify one s wealth and justify the poverty of others, to me it often warps into a self serving narrative meant to mythologize one s own success and reinforce the status quo That s not to say that people who have succeeded haven t worked hard, aren t smart and awesome, but as too often happens many in this group discount their access to opportunities while ignoring the lack of access to opportunities that many others face Personally, I m a believer in aspiring towards meritocracy, while counterbalancing the effects of meritocratic winners taking all by enacting greater redistribution, fairer equal distribution of educational resources, universal healthcare, solid safety net, exploration of universal basic income, establishing balanced relationships between capital and labor, etc etc Too often meritocracy is used in this sneaky cynical way to deny people respect of their human dignity, it is used as an excuse to let people die in the street, it is used as an excuse to judge others Meritocracy without humanism is dangerous, callous, and frankly soulless That s how I see it It s a slippery slope when applied in too extreme a manner, it is a way of denying compassion and destroying man s humanity I think the most important point that Franks hit upon was the necessity for the liberal professional cosmopolitan elites to engage in a bit humility and yes one can argue other side could engage a bit in this as well ha We consider myself part of this group need to avoid moral and intellectual grandstanding, our smug cultural arrogance often leads us to look down upon the non educated, the rural populace, conservatives By automatically and unequivocally viewing them as morally backward idiotic rubes we push people away, we antagonize, we disrespect, and we preclude effective dialogue Not only does it not serve our interests, but it is rather disrespectful and inhumane as well Plus, if the packaging is done right, and the messenger plays it smart, I think large segments of the working class would be open to the progressive economic agenda Maybe I m naive, maybe I underestimate the average American s distrust of government although in its current incarnation distrust is justified , fear and leeriness of bureaucracy, and their lionization of the individual and the ethos of surviving on one s own and refusing hand outs no matter how badly one is getting hammered but I suspect that if people see this is a policy path to open opportunities that could give greater fairer chances for individual success then maybe it can be sold effectively But as so often happens, the suffering has to hit catastrophic levels before critical mass of people will push for major political system changes.As always, please feel free to jump in and critique any of my thinking It s helpful to hear from others. There was a time when America worked Not just for the well born and expensively educated But for millions of working class men and women whose jobs paid enough for them to live comfortably, own a home, maybe send the kids to college.How did we go from this And this To this And this.It took a new consensus A bipartisan consensus Democrats like to blame it all on Ronald Reagan whose policies are not without fault But as Thomas Frank explains in this furiously angry, brilliant book the triumph of Clinton marked the end of the Democrats as a party committed to working people and egalitarianismit wasn t until Clinton was seated in the Oval Office and the Democrats in Congress had gone down to defeat that the old New Deal and Great Society consensus on domestic matters finally collapsed Repeal of Glass Steagall Capital gains tax cuts Blocking derivative securities regulation And worst of all for the families of Detroit, the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement Only the Lewinsky scandal saved Social Security from a bipartisan attempt by Clinton and Newt Gingrich to privatize the plan The last vestiges of hope for Detroit died with welfare reform and a crime bill that made mass incarceration the go to solution for whatever ailed inner cities Only smiling Bill Clinton, well known friend of working families, could commit such betrayals The power of Frank s indictment of both the Clinton and the Obama administrations lies not just in the facts he marshals, but in his analysis of precisely why the New Deal consensus died and how Democrats replaced it with the social liberalism of the new rich, an infatuation with professionalism and financial sophistication, and a fantasy that higher education is the only right path to economic opportunity For those left behind there was nowhere to turn, no one left to understand. A valid critique of the Democratic Party, which has been historically cast as the ally of the working man Frank points out that recent decades have seen a shift in the party toward the center, as it embraces well moneyed and socially liberal professionals as its new base, effectively leaving the poor behind While the Clinton and Obama presidencies saw many of the vital protections for the poor and working class eroded, Democratic leadership has been a boon to the wealthiest members of society As an example, Obama s Affordable Care Act has strengthened the biggest insurance and pharmaceutical companies The former were entrenched as permanent, ubiquitous fixtures of health care coverage for all Americans, as Obamacare made no provision for a public option The latter threw their support behind the president in exchange for a promise that he would in no way challenge the practice of charging outrageously high prices for essential medications Perhaps most egregious of all, however, was the failure to hold the banks accountable for the financial crisis that all but guaranteed his election in 2008 While Frank is very effective at demonstrating the Dems abandonment of ordinary people, his narrow focus on the struggle between management and labor leaves out a very important player the consumer He laments any attempts to undermine the position of unionized workers, even when those industries have become notorious for poor quality and zero accountability For example, he vociferously defends teachers unions from political efforts to challenge the tenure system, but completely ignores the pervasive problem of disinterested and or incompetent teachers effectively appointed for life He opposes the ride sharing app Uber, primarily because of its effect on unionized taxi drivers, rather than confronting cab companies own failures to address significant problems in cost, convenience and comfort In general, Frank shows a baffling hostility toward innovation and meritocracy certainly it is a problem that millions are being left behind in the new economy but why does confronting this issue necessarily require scaling back incentives for the most creative and innovative thinkers among us I do not see how such quasi Marxist zero sum thinking can fix the broken system These shortcomings aside, his thesis as a whole is a strong one He does not really address the 2016 presidential campaign I get the impression that the book was all but finished several months ago but he nonetheless provides a very compelling argument to account for the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders Millions of working people have been disenfranchised with the Democrats turn to moneyed interests As a result, they have gravitated toward two candidates who are ideologically opposite on the two dimensional left right plane, and yet perfectly concordant in their shared populism Frank concludes the book pessimistically, questioning if the problem can ever be remedied in the current two party system Don t look now, but those parties appear to be exploding Amidst the rubble, let s hope a solution to inequality can be found. Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP it is not being reprinted illegally Like many others, I was shocked and saddened to witness the election of Donald Trump as President last month and given that the way he won was by tens of millions of people voting for him who had directly voted for Obama in just the last election, I thought it was high time I finally learned a little about why the American electorate chose to do this in the first place besides the typical pre election blowoff that they re all a bunch of racist Nazis , and so over the next few months I ll be reading a series of books recommended to me by others that supposedly help explain this This was the first book of the list to become available at my local library, written by the former founder of Chicago 90s liberal intellectual magazine The Baffler and it turned out to be half eye opening, although unfortunately the other half turned out to be eye rolling, leaving a mixed bag when it comes to whether to recommend it or not.The eye opening part, and definitely the part most worth your time, is Frank s detailed history of the Democratic Leadership Council, the organization that ultimately put Bill Clinton in the White House but that I and my fellow Generation Xers largely didn t even know existed when we voted for him in 1992 Started in the early 1970s by a group of young idealistic hippie politicians, all of whom had attended college and all of whom received deferments from Vietnam, the group certainly started with noble intentions tired of the old Democratic Party power base of the rural working class, the very people who supported the war and who continued to drag naked racism well into the 70s, the DLC spent twenty years systematically pushing such people out of the power structure of the party, believing instead that the New Democrats as they called themselves should be a party of meritocracy, educational excellence, technological innovation and embrace of big business, culminating in the 90s when they got their former leader Clinton elected as President.This is where we get the neoliberalist economics that are so rapidly becoming such a villain in the wake of Trump s election win inspired by the collapse in the 70s of Roosevelt s Keynesian New Deal economics into runaway government bureaucracy and hyperinflation, right in the same years the DLC was being formed, neoliberalism instead believes in radical deregulation of markets, the forced end of organized labor, and a benevolent dictatorship of elite Ivy educated technocrats to rule over all the uneducated, mouthbreathing masses which, to remind you, was originally inspired by a very valid complaint, that these mouthbreathing masses were the people who pushed racism and the Vietnam War way farther into history than either should ve existed And this just happens to be the same things the Republicans believe in too, or at least the Republican Party post 1980 as largely defined by Ronald Reagan so, as Frank smartly explains, if it sometimes seems here in the 21st century that both parties seem to be made up of the same banker billionaires enacting the same exact blue collar punishing policies, that s because they are, a triumph of neoliberalism that was so all encompassing by the 90s that no one even questioned its existence any, which is why I and my Generation X cohorts grew up not understanding that there was even an alternative.All of this is really intelligent stuff, and it s worth reading this book to see how the DLC has pulled the wool over all of our eyes for so long, painting themselves as the protector of the people when in fact they have actually been actively hostile to anyone who doesn t have a college degree and doesn t live in a big city, a huge reason that so many self made white collar suburbanites turned against the party here in 2016 when it became clear that yet another neoliberal billionaire Ivy educated technocrat was to be their official nominee Unfortunately, though, Frank has a lot to say about the Democrats than this, and that s where he starts getting into eye rolling rant territory entire chapters devoted to what a fuckup Obama was, entire chapters devoted to how anyone who s ever been an employee of a tech startup is a sellout monster, entire chapters on how anyone who s ever recommended that a poor person try to get into college is a dead eyed sociopath who hates the working class, with special amounts of piss and vinegar directed at such individuals as Richard Florida inventor of the term creative class , who Frank attacks in such a vindictive and personal way that he seems less like a political opponent and like a jilted ex lover.I have a friend here in Chicago who actually went to college with Frank, and she had an illuminating story to tell me about him how every time he would attend a party that happened to have the TV on like an election party or a movie watching party , he would spend the whole night ranting and raving about each and every single commercial that would air, pointing to the others in the room incredulously and yelling, Why aren t you people getting outraged about this Why am I the only person getting outraged about this That s exactly what Listen, Liberal comes off as, like a guy who s outraged at basically everything in the world and doesn t have the discipline to focus his arguments in on the things most worth getting mad about, a guy who takes eight years of Obama accomplishments and dismisses them in a single half sentence paraphrased, Sure, he reformed healthcare, got gay marriage legalized, kept the country from going bankrupt during the economic crisis, and managed to get the largest stimulus package in American history passed, but , because he s too busy screaming about how every software developer in America is inherently evil, because they took a job away from a noble farmer To be honest, that s exactly what The Baffler was like when it was being published too, which is why it was never than a special interest publication for philosophy majors and hipster radicals and while Listen, Liberal is recommended for sure, if for nothing else than to get a revealing primer on neoliberalism and why it s the cause of all our current problems, that recommendation unfortunately is a limited one today, a book you need to take with a large grain of salt in order to enjoy it at its fullest.Out of 10 7.9 Wow Even allowing for exaggeration Frank, a truly outraged liberal, piles the vituperation on here with all the fury of a betrayed lover this is a dismaying expose of the failures of the Democratic party And I ll admit, to my shame, that I would probably have written him off as a disgruntled radical before last month s presidential election That was an eye opener, though, and now, along, I assume, with many others, I m open to taking a closer look at where and how the Democrats lost credibility with so many of the union members and other blue collar workers who, until recently, were their faithful supporters I listened to this as an audiobook, read by the author, and while that was a plus in that he reads with great expression and conviction and he has a fine, clear voice , it was a drawback for pretty much the same reason well, except the fine voice part He does a lot of ranting, and he tends to go on and on about things long past the point where you want to say, All right I get it Now can we move on If I d been reading the book myself I d have skimmed these places But stillHis big point is that the Democrats have ignored the issue of income inequality, having written it off as an inescapable side effect of the new economy, and that their love these days is all for professionals meaning, doctors, lawyers, bankers, and, most of all, technology entrepreneurs Since I ve tended to buy into the idea of the inevitability of the loss of certain industries and the need for education to help workers prepare for employment in new fields myself, I found his tirades tolerable and even convicting than I normally would have I definitely disagreed with him, or at least doubted him, on some points, but he gave me things to consider and to dig into deeply The book s conclusion will give a better idea than my words of what Frank is on about This book has been a catalog of the many ways the Democratic party has failed to tackle income inequality, even though that is the leading social issue of the times, and its many failures to get tough with the financial industry, even though Wall Street was the leading culprit in the global downturn and the slump that never ends The larger message is that this is what it looks like when a leftish party loses its concern in working people, the traditional number one constituency for left parties the world over But we should also acknowledge the views of the people for whom the Democrats are all you could ask for in a political party I m thinking here of the summertime residents on Martha s Vineyard The sorts of people to whom the politicians listen with patience and understanding No one treats this group as though they have nowhere else to go On the contrary, for them the political process works wonderfully It s responsive to their concerns, its representatives are respectful, and the party as a whole treats them with a gratifying deference For them the Democrats deliver in all the conventional ways generous subsidies for the right kinds of businesses, a favorable regulatory climate, and legal protections for their innovationsWhile there are many great Democrats and many exceptions to the trends I ve described in this book, by and large the story has been a disappointing one We have surveyed this party s thoughts and deeds from the 70 s to the present We ve watched them abandon whole classes and regions and industries, and we know now what the results have been Their leadership faction has no intention of doing what the situation requires It s time to face the obvious that the direction that the Democrats have chosen to follow for the last few decades has been a failure for both the nation and for their own partisan health Failure is admittedly a harsh word, but what else are we to call it when the left party in a system chooses to confront an epic economic breakdown by talking hopefully about entrepreneurship and innovation When the party of professionals repeatedly falls for bad, self serving ideas like bank deregulation, the creative class, and empowerment through microlending When the party of the common man basically allows aristocracy to return Now, all political parties are alliances of groups with disparate interests, but the contradictions in the Democratic party coalition seem unusually sharp The Democrats posture as the party of the people, even as they dedicate themselves ever resolutely to serving and glorifying the professional class Worse, they combine self righteousness and class privilege in a way that Americans find stomach turning And every two years they simply assume that being non Republican is sufficient to rally the voters of the nation to their standard This cannot go on This was published in March of 2016 Now, in early December, the Democratic party has been knocked down in a way that makes reevaluation of its priorities and positions seem likely And I hope it will We need at least two viable parties in this country, and the diatribes of critics like Frank are a valuable check to easy assumptions about the inevitabilities of what markets or the times mandate The long rants had me ready to give this three stars, but, then, it made me think about some things I ve not given much thought to and I m giving it four. Frank s thesis in this book is that Democrats have not been effective creating a party that changes with the demands of the country Democrats lost the last presidential election, not because Trump was so good, but because the Dems were so inadequate When it comes to the defining challenge of our time, however, many of our modern Democratic leaders falter They acknowledge that inequality is rampant and awful, but they cannot find the conviction or imagination to do what is necessary to reverse it He also makes the not inaccurate point that the intellectual elites all think they deserve status because they are the best of the best After all they went to school and learned a few things, and now they might think they can tell everyone else where their thinking is deficient I have a certain amount of sympathy for both sides in this argument Intellectuals are picked to solve difficult problems because they know how to approach the problems Folks that think difficult problems are solved by wishing them away may need another look at history.We can t pin the idea that some folks think they deserve high status on liberal intellectuals only Not all intellectuals are liberal, difficult as it is to find a Republican we can call intellectual Heads of American corporations who can often be Republican may think they are the best of the best and deserve the truly obscene amounts of money they earn in salary, bonuses, and deferred stock The truth is that nothing they could possibly do in the course of a day would ever be worth such huge differentials in salary from the worker bees of the corporation Frank is focused on the left in this book.But enough about what I think Frank s view of the meritocracy does inform our debate He notes Jacob Weisberg of the New Republic fretted about the increasingly cozy relationships between the press, law, academic and government that he saw there There s rarely been a time when the governing elites in so many fields were made up of such a tight, hermetic and incestuous clique Aside from noting trenchant observations made by others, Frank s criticisms can be sarcastic and without a remedy He hits Massachusetts pretty hard he makes it funny for some of the pretty crazy political rhetoric about innovation and brain trust, and he sounds incredulous that all these smart people would believe their own hype The truth is they probably don t They are aspiring, too Frank casts aspersions on Liberal Gilt a useful and accurate descriptor but what does he really think needs to be done in middle America where manufacturing has fled and farming is owned by four or five monopolists If these folks aren t worried enough to be heading back to some kind of schooling, then they d better innovate without the schooling Frank complains that liberals call this reality My forehead wrinkles when I think of him trying to explain to me Trump s plan to bring back coal jobs.Frank is a liberal He makes the excellent point that sometimes the ruling Democrats in Obama s administration didn t look widely enough for social innovators most of Obama s Cabinet and other advisors had east coast IV league educations There is a groupthink that goes along with this Also, the incestuous relationship among the wealthy is unhealthy Frank plays gadfly when it would have been a better book if he d spoken with others about what to do with the jobless in Kansas if they don t want to learn anything new I frankly can t see beyond education, IV league or not.He gives his main points in a YouTube video here. Monica Lewinsky saved social security.I am a lifelong Democrat.I am a working man.I am so depressed by this book.I highly recommend it. From The Bestselling Author Of What S The Matter With Kansas, A Scathing Look At The Standard Bearers Of Liberal Politics A Book That Asks What S The Matter With Democrats It Is A Widespread Belief Among Liberals That If Only Democrats Can Continue To Dominate National Elections, If Only Those Awful Republicans Are Beaten Into Submission, The Country Will Be On The Right Course But This Is To Fundamentally Misunderstand The Modern Democratic Party Drawing On Years Of Research And First Hand Reporting, Frank Points Out That The Democrats Have Done Little To Advance Traditional Liberal Goals Expanding Opportunity, Fighting For Social Justice, And Ensuring That Workers Get A Fair Deal Indeed, They Have Scarcely Dented The Free Market Consensus At All This Is Not For Lack Of Opportunity Democrats Have Occupied The White House For Sixteen Of The Last Twenty Four Years, And Yet The Decline Of The Middle Class Has Only Accelerated Wall Street Gets Its Bailouts, Wages Keep Falling, And The Free Trade Deals Keep Coming With His Trademark Sardonic Wit And Lacerating Logic, Frank S Listen, Liberal Lays Bare The Essence Of The Democratic Party S Philosophy And How It Has Changed Over The Years A Form Of Corporate And Cultural Elitism Has Largely Eclipsed The Party S Old Working Class Commitment, He Finds For Certain Favored Groups, This Has Meant Prosperity But For The Nation As A Whole, It Is A One Way Ticket Into The Abyss Of Inequality In This Critical Election Year, Frank Recalls The Democrats To Their Historic Goals The Only Way To Reverse The Ever Deepening Rift Between The Rich And The Poor In America

Thomas Frank is the author of Pity the Billionaire, The Wrecking Crew, and What s the Matter with Kansas A former columnist for The Wall Street Journal and Harper s, Frank is the founding editor of The Baffler and writes regularly for Salon He lives outside Washington, D.C.

❴Read❵ ➵ Listen, Liberal  Author Thomas Frank –
  • Kindle Edition
  • 320 pages
  • Listen, Liberal
  • Thomas Frank
  • English
  • 05 June 2017

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