How the Left Lost its Heart
The title comes from an editorial appearing in today's LA Times written by Thomas Frank. It is an excerpt from his book "What's the Matter With Kansas?"
Frank goes home to Kansas to try and determine what happened to liberalism and the left.
That our politics have been shifting rightward for more than 30 years is a generally acknowledged fact of American life. That this movement has largely been brought about by working-class voters whose lives have been materially worsened by the conservative policies they have supported is less commented upon.
He notes that Kansas has been poorly served by consevative policies of privatization, deregulation and deunionization. Yet the people have reacted by becoming more conservative. Frank claims that Liberalism has lost these people as much as conservatism has won them over. Liberalism has ceased to be relevant to a large number of people.
Frank thinks that the Democratic party has chosen to go after the affluent voters who are liberal on social issues. They also court the corporations. The why in all of this is the money they bring to the table. So the "new Democrats" are pro-choice but make concessions on labor/corporate policies.
As for the working-class voters who were until recently the party's very backbone, the DLC figures they will have nowhere else to go; Democrats will always be marginally better on bread-and-butter economic issues than Republicans. Besides, what politician in this success-worshiping country really wants to be the voice of poor people? Where's the soft money in that?
Such Democrats look at a situation like present-day Kansas, where social conservatives war ferociously on moderate Republicans, and they rub their hands with anticipation: Just look at how Ronald Reagan's "social issues" have come back to bite his party! If only the crazy Cons push a little bit more, these Democrats think, the Republican Party will alienate the wealthy suburban Mods for good, and we will be able to step in and carry places like superaffluent Mission Hills, along with all the juicy boodle that its inhabitants are capable of throwing our way.
The left by taking economic issues off the table, along with the repubs, and by abondoning its class language relys solely on its solical issues and leaves it self open to wedge issues like guns.
From liberals, the nation's working class hears little, but from the conservatives it gets an explanation for everything. Even better, it gets a plan for action, a scheme for world conquest with a wedge issue.
Sociologists often warn against letting the nation's distribution of wealth become too polarized, as it clearly has in the last few decades. A society that turns its back on equality, the professors insist, inevitably meets with a terrible comeuppance. But those sociologists are thinking of an old world in which class anger was a phenomenon of the left. They weren't reckoning with Kansas, with the world we are becoming.
Behold the political alignment that Kansas is pioneering for us all. The state watches impotently as its culture, beamed in from the coasts, becomes coarser and more offensive by the year. Kansas aches for revenge. Kansas gloats when celebrities say stupid things; it cheers when movie stars go to jail. And 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.
So what is he saying? To me its that the Democratic party I knew when I was young is gone and has been replaced by a clone of the old moderate Republican party, while the Republican party seems split between a far right group and, for lack of a better term, a libertarian group. The only thing these last two groups have in common is a distrust of liberals.
The political parties are driven by the quest for money. In addition, true reform of the electoral system that would remove the need to get large sums of money is not going to happen because it is not in the interest of the two parties. So the possibility of a viable 3rd party seems remote. Kerry despite the Repubs attack, is not an old fashion Democrat. He has moved himself to the center. I will vote for Kerry more out of a hatred of Bush than a love of Kerry.
So who is going to stand up for the poor including the working poor, the handicapped, the elderly, the unions? Do we continue to marginalize these people simply because they can't give enough money to the campaigns?
It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.
Hubert H. Humphrey
Kerry is no HH.
I have a handicapped son. I lay awake at night wondering what is going to happen to him when I'm gone.