“Can We Have a ‘Party of the People’?”

In a recent New York Review of Books article that comments on Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People by Thomas Frank, Nicholas Lemann summarizes Frank’s strong, solid critique of the Democratic Party, but reaches a different conclusion.

According to Lemann,

Frank puts considerable blame instead on a manifesto written … by a prominent Washington Democrat, Fred Dutton, titled Changing Sources of Power. It called on the Democratic Party to reorient itself from blue-collar to white-collar workers, from the high school–educated to the college-educated, and from the middle-aged to the young….

Frank’s collective villain is highly educated “professionals,” who “undertook a mass migration from the Republican to the Democratic Party” beginning in the 1950s:….These people, by his account, think of themselves as meritocratic and virtuous—indeed, superior—and as having transcended any fundamental opposition between capital and labor that may once have existed….

[Their] unifying cause is not to reduce economic equality but “to defeat the Republicans, that unthinkable brutish Other” whose voters don’t believe in gay marriage or gun control or legal abortion or the threat of climate change.

But Lemann concludes by affirming a sensible strategy that is not exclusively economic:

The idea of a Democratic Party that is truly consistent and unified around the fight against inequality—Frank’s ideal—is too much to hope for, and it may not even be a good idea. Better to have the Democrats’ prosperous leadership struggling to hold together an unruly coalition of labor, minorities, and social movements than to trust that any group leading a unified party won’t turn into just the kind of self-regarding, self-dealing insiders that Frank so much dislikes.

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