Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?
By Thomas Frank
Review by David Wineberg
There is one (horrifying) theme in Listen Liberal. It is that the Democratic Party has betrayed its natural constituency of labor, and is constantly trying (and succeeding) to outrun Republicans by doing more damage to the social structure than Republicans profess, thus stealing their thunder. “It has become Democratic thinking that the common people are at last being treated as they deserve to be.” They do it with “professionals”. Frank has filled this entire book with evidence of this one point.
The difference between Republicans and Democrats ain’t what it used to be, according to Frank. The Democrats have decided to put all their eggs in one basket: professionals. They staff their offices with them, just like the Republicans use only lawyers from the Federalist Society. Their backers are Wall Streeters, because the Democrats are at least as generous to Wall Street as the Republicans when in power. For the wealthy, it’s a win-win. Doesn’t matter who gets in. So while Republicans consider their base the uneducated, bootstrap entrepreneurs who create jobs, the Democrats consider their base the highly educated, networked professionals who create jobs. Two sides of the same coin. And neither one can be bothered with the rest of the population except when vote-gathering. Then, for a brief period, it’s all about inequality and jobs.
Frank focuses on the last two Democratic presidents, Clinton and Obama, and the upcoming contender – Hillary Clinton. He autopsies their administrations (and Hillary’s part in them) and finds them all the same – mouthing platitudes to gain votes from the electorate, then reverting to type and removing any and all support for them so they can to deliver on promises made to the rich. It was Bill Clinton who dismantled welfare and Glass-Steagle, not either Bush.
I particularly appreciated Frank’s discussion of glass ceilings – in terms of floors. While the Hillary Clintons of the world rail about glass ceilings, it was her Democrat husband president who removed the floor for mothers on welfare, creating extreme poverty where once there was a safety net. While Hillary grandly supports microloans for women (which do not work, other than to create more debtors and richer bankers), when in power, it’s all about supporting the rich at the expense of the poor. Garden variety hypocrisy, but coming from a Democrat, and about Democrats, it’s supposedly shocking.
Frank is overwhelmed by the Democrats’ adoption of professionals. Democrats think professionals can solve any problem, and every position is filled with one. Every event showcases them. Doesn’t matter that they have no real world experience; the fact they are professionals means they are highly educated creatives. That’s all that matters in a Democratic government. So to be disappointed in the Obama Administration is to show yourself as not being a professional.
It wasn’t always so. Frank shows that FDR’s Democratic cabinet had poorly educated secretaries who had street smarts, real life experience, and ideals. They could propose innovative programs that addressed real problems. And if they didn’t work, they had another idea waiting. His VP Harry Truman never went to college. Truman couldn’t even get an interview today. The Democrats’ solution to every problem is go back to school, preferably Harvard, Yale or Stanford, and every door will open for you. All you laborers – you’re fooling yourselves. Get an education and become professionals, because America doesn’t need or want anyone else.
Listen Liberal is a damning, upsetting polemic from a passionate, experienced insider. You might think it would make excellent fodder for a Republican. But it is actually a sad reflection of what has become of the country and its politics. Two sides of the same coin is not healthy. Someone needs to represent the 99%.
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.