Book Review: Listen Liberal

Ever get the feeling the Democratic Party isn’t very deeply concerned about economic inequality? You have plenty of company. And in Thomas Frank’s Listen Liberal, you’ll find confirmation and an explanation.

In a blistering critique of the Democratic Party, Frank explains the metamorphosis that’s taken place since the 1972 election. The party of the working class has evolved into the party of the professional class. No longer does the party answer to workers and their unions. Instead, it caters to Silicon Valley geniuses, Wall Street money managers, lawyers, and others in the so-called “knowledge industry.”

Drawing on the Clinton and Obama presidencies, the experience in states and cities where Democrats are firmly in control, and Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, Frank makes a powerful case.

Innovation, in the minds of Democratic Party leaders, is the answer to everything. Accordingly, the “creative class” has special standing. Thus, deep blue Massachusetts, for example, has become one of the most unequal states in the nation. The professionals of Boston who work at universities, leading hospitals, and hedge funds and in the city’s booming biotech industry are riding high. But a gaping chasm lies between Boston’s opulence and once thriving nearby industrial towns like Fall River, where abandoned buildings dot the cityscape, the economic outlook is bleak and the futures of those living there are bleaker.

The change in Democratic Party thinking is not merely strategic, according to Frank. At a base level, he argues, it’s attitudinal. Democratic leaders believe that the world has changed and the road to financial well-being is education. Those who left school for blue-collar work and are now hurting financially, the logic goes, probably are where they deserve to be. So much for the being the party of working people.

For those who believe reducing economic inequality is among America’s most urgent challenges, Listen Liberal is a must read. Frank’s message as to how this challenge can be met or, really, how it almost certainly can’t be met, is one that anyone who desires a more egalitarian society should not ignore.

3 responses to “Book Review: Listen Liberal

  1. I really lost faith in the Democratic Party in the fall of 2010. The Bush tax cuts were about to expire after ten years. Democrats now controlled the Presidency, the Senate and the House, for the first time since 1994. The Democratic pollsters held meetings with Democrats in the House and Senate and told them it would be great politics and policy to enact a new tax law. The Democrats could once again cut taxes for middle class Americans, while letting the tax rates on the wealthy go back to the Clinton era rates, including a 55% estate tax rate.
    The Democrats in Congress didn’t have a clue. It was like they didn’t realize that the cuts were expiring. Finally, they started to realize it was a golden opportunity. At that point, 40 Blue Dog Democrats in the House wrote a letter to Nancy Pelosi saying they would not support tax increases on the rich. That put a quick end to any tax cut legislation by Democrats.
    Needless to say, the Republicans swept back to power in the House a couple of months later. With no congressional Democratic input, Obama cut a deal with the Republicans on the expiring tax cuts. The estate tax rate went from 55% under Clinton to 40%.
    After being a Democrat for 6o years, I realized at that point that I belonged to a shell party. It was not a good feeling.
    Democrats rely on campaign contributions from wealthy donors. This has made them timid and weak.

    • Jim, your observations are spot on. Frank’s book gives you the context to make sense of it.

  2. captain*arizona

    the minority community is so vulnerable it is afraid to go against the democratic establishment. dlc clintonistas corporate democrats use this fear against bernie sanders.