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April 25, 2005


"the present-day Democrat party"?


DH, say it ain't so!

BTW, good post, though.

Aww, Jeeze, that's a bad typo. Thanks for pointing it out.

Well, being a liberal and being a Democrat are, unfortunately, two different things. I don't want to go all Ralph Nader, but the Democratic Party hasn't been the greatest defender of liberalism in recent years. 2004 wasn't simply some outlying exception.

The thing is, I think Kerry is a true liberal, but I think he got too caught up in trying to be a politician first and a liberal second. He tried to articulate some centrist philosophy rather than his true beliefs and it came out as a mess.

So I agree with DH that one can critique recent Democratic strategy without scoring any points against liberalism per se; but until the day when liberalism is actually given a voice in national elections, it's going to remain a moot point.

Very much agreed with your take on Thomas Frank. He is perceptive and a great writer, but badly needs to widen his scope.

re: your description of Bush as remarkably weak, with which I disagree: Bush had one issue hand of devastating psychological weight to play, terrorism, and he played it well. (The Bin Laden video release didn't hurt). In this way the 2004 election is an anomaly, tactically comparable only perhaps to the cold war non-overridding crisis elections in 1960 and 1984. Seen in the light of the Democrats' longstanding deficit on the foreign policy/national security issue, the loss is more understandable. Kerry couldn't undo 20 years of branding in 7 months.

Anna Greenberg has showed that fear (and neutralization on education) drove wavering, non politicized married women to Bush. Hard to see how Kerry could have done anything other than eke out a slight victory.

The Democrats problem goes back to the culture wars of the 1960's and Vietnam. In the culture wars, the Dems were naturally allied with forces of change -- Civil Rights, Reproductive Rights, and via the confluence of the Woodstock Nation and the Anti-War movement, the Dems became identified with the breakdown of the old fashioned social norms.

The Dems overt opposition to the Vietnam War led to the party being tagged as anti-military. These images, combined with the anti-government mood in the post Watergate era, are the essence of the subliminal attitudes that shape the American Electorate.

As I read Frank's piece, I kept thinking, "Now he's going to turn to what's the matter with liberals." After all, that was its title.

As I passed the halfway mark, I began to expect one of those NYRB italicized end-lines: First of two parts. But it wasn't there.

It was a good setup piece on how the Republicans are using backlash and vilification. I hope he writes a piece that fits the title sometime soon.

CKR--I had the same reaction (hence my post). I'll give him a partial pass, because I don't know that he came up with the title. But he did set it up as an example of "liberalism's continuing inability to confront [backlash populism] in an effective manner." As we know, he never addressed that part of his thesis.

The trouble I have with Franks as that his descriptive analysis actively obscures the continuing salience of race in US politics. White men have not voted for Democrats in most circumstances for years. That's big. If we listen too exclusively to Franks, we aren't going to confront this fact -- we are going to try to gloss over it.

I don't mean by this that Dems should walk away from our really existing core constituencies: women of color, men of color, and white women, in that order of intensity. But we do have to recognize the problem is real and the anxiety of white men at their slipping supremacy is kicking out butts.

Frank wrote this article a year ago, you may have seen it. It's for a European audience, and discusses "the left" as opposed to Democrats or more American-style liberals, but it definitely rings true for me. He rehashes his backlash argument in the first half, then develops why the left has failed so miserably in the second. As a Univ. of Michigan student who had endless conversations with self-proclaimed "more enlightened" Nader-voting peers in the horrible autumn of 2000, and then nearly died as Madison/Dane County nearly tipped Wisconsin to Bush... Let's just say Frank nails a certain segment of the left that we should probably always write off as unreliable.

The article is a bit superficial and doesn't even touch the party apparatus or "Big Liberalism" (think tanks, foundations, non-profits, etc.), but my experience with these types of voters (years as a neighbor and coworker and 3 elections volunteering) always makes me shudder when I hear demands to "move to the left" or "play to the base." Maybe DH could clear this up--please tell me that the imagined Democratic base looks a lot less like Ann Arbor, as much as I love it, and more like Ypsilanti?

LINK: http://mondediplo.com/2004/02/04usa?var_recherche=thomas+frank

I believe I read somewhere that Frank's next book would be about the Dems. So it seems you'll get your wish.

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