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Institute for Policy Studies

A New Blast at an Entrenched Elite

Thomas Frank’s new book offers us a must-read on how and why the Democratic Party lost interest in seriously addressing the deep inequality that so ails America. 

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

Listen LiberalIn this 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.

This professional party no longer answers to workers and their unions. This party caters instead to Silicon Valley “geniuses,” Wall Street money managers, high-profile lawyers, and assorted other movers and shakers in the so-called “knowledge industry.”

Many readers may fondly remember Frank’s earlier bestseller. His What’s the Matter with Kansas? took us on a tour of his native state and gave us a case study on why working class families in the heartland so often vote against their material interests.

In this new book, Frank focuses his analysis not on Middle America, but on the coastal urban centers that make up the Democratic Party’s base.

Listen Liberal zeroes in on the Clinton and Obama presidencies, the experience in states and cities where Democrats stand firmly in control, and Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. “Innovation,” author Frank shows, has become the Democratic Party leadership’s answer to everything, and that perspective gives the “creative class” a special standing.

Deep-blue Massachusetts illustrates where this mindset leads. The state has emerged as one of the nation’s most unequal places. The professionals of Boston who work at universities and leading hospitals and in hedge funds and the city’s booming biotech industry are riding high. But a gaping chasm divides Boston’s opulence and once-thriving nearby industrial towns like Fall River, where abandoned buildings dot the cityscape.

The party of the working class has evolved into the party of the professional class.

The change in Democratic Party thinking over recent decades, Frank notes, amounts to more than a strategic shift. At a base level, he argues, the change has been attitudinal.

Democratic leaders believe that in our new world the road to financial well-being goes through education. Those who left school for blue-collar work and are now hurting financially, the logic goes, probably have ended up where they deserve to be. So much for the being the party of working people.

For those who believe that reducing economic inequality remains among America’s most urgent challenges, Listen Liberal is a must-read. Frank helps us see how this challenge could be met — and how it most certainly won’t be.  No one who seeks a more egalitarian society should ignore these pages.

  • DHFabian

    Democrats and liberals make the party of consumers and campaign donors, and aren’t actually aware of the masses who have been left behind. The US shipped out a huge share of our jobs since the 1980s, ended actual welfare in the 1990s, creating a surplus population that has no means of getting by.

  • Jacqueline S. Homan

    Even if everyone was able to get a college degree, it still does not solve the problem of a real lack of a real safety net for the jobless poor. There aren’t enough jobs to go around for everyone and many people who DO have college degrees (even in STEM fields) get left out and excluded (due to ageism, sexism, racism, ableism, and classism). Right now, the situation is that 1 in 5 households NO ONE has a job. Our real unemployment rate is a LOT higher than what the government and the media are telling the public.

    • Intolerant_Liberal

      Same in the UK. Working class people like me have been left behind and working class communities, too. I have pulled myself up into relative respectability and have two university degrees, yet all I can get are low paid temporary agency jobs.

      • Jacqueline S. Homan

        That’s still more than what many poor people here in the US are able to get. Many of us are unable to get anything because of age discrimination – on top of classism, sexism, and ableism.

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