Is it their hair?
May 5, 2005 12:21 PM   Subscribe

What's the matter with Liberals? An article by Thomas Frank, author of What's the Matter With Kansas, and previously linked here. Well researched, and worth arguing over. via MoFi
posted by klangklangston (48 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is a great article and a bit scary to liberals. A good companion to this article is this one describing how the Democrats lost the South. (I just posted it over in the George Will discussion, but it probably has more relevance here.) The GOP is now the populist party and the Dems the effete party. Ouch.
posted by caddis at 12:31 PM on May 5, 2005

i'm baffled.
posted by petebest at 12:37 PM on May 5, 2005

Best line from the article:

For its corporate backers, the GOP delivers the goods; for its rank-and-file "values" voters it chooses a sturdy wall against which they are invited to bang their heads.

God bless us every one.
posted by nofundy at 12:41 PM on May 5, 2005

Learn to say ain't.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:42 PM on May 5, 2005

Indigestion from too much brie and white wine? Hip Displasia because there isn't enough room between your crotch and the steering wheel in the old Volvo sedans? MondaleNostalgia? Too many tote bags? Terry Gross fatigue? Envy of Republican abilty to successfully wifeswap? Distraction due to day-dreaming of the day they will be able to just straight up bathe in the blood of the innocent with impunity?
posted by Divine_Wino at 12:55 PM on May 5, 2005

I think there is a lot of truth in that joe's spleen.
posted by caddis at 12:57 PM on May 5, 2005

I read part of What's the Matter With Kansas and found it quite damning for the right and a compelling description of the current situation with the working class voting themselves into poverty and death. This is interesting too, a continuation and extension of that analysis, as it's obvious that the left shares much of the blame for its own failings with the malicious right.

Personally I find it hard to understand though how things like the CBS "scandal" are national crises while utter libel like the "SwiftVets" junk is either accepted as true or dismissed as harmless. That's the most difficult thing for me to accept, that there are people so dogmatic, simple, ignorant, uninformed, or just butt-ugly that they can't figure things like this out.

What we need in this country is a Ninja Militia to soundlessly execute the clueless ones.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:58 PM on May 5, 2005

Thank you caddis. I should have also said I read that yesterday via majikthise, who writes consistently great posts.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:02 PM on May 5, 2005

Based on the headline, I was hoping to get a slightly different perspective. Granted, it was well written, but Frank really just re-iterated my already extant (liberal) beliefs: in short, too many people rely on faith-based acquisition of knowledge to make decisions.

It seems that if I (as a Democrat) want to fix what's wrong with me, I have to become a Republican.
posted by FYKshun at 1:02 PM on May 5, 2005

Democrats lost the 2004 election because the candidate they nominated was unable to articulate anything remotely resembling a consistent, deeply-held position, and was a dour dud, to boot. I don't think the "take away" from the election is the need to move leftward (recent history tells us Democrats do better in the center -- Clinton -- than the left -- Dukakis).
posted by pardonyou? at 1:05 PM on May 5, 2005

I think the election was lost largely on the issues. Fact is, Kerry didn't really show himself as being different than Bush on the issues that matter:

Bush was for the War in Iraq. So was Kerry.
Bush let jobs go overseas. Kerry complained about this, but he and his party support globalization and outsourcing almost as much as the Republicans.
Bush is against gay marriage. So was Kerry.

I think that the author is equally correct in saying that the election was lost on image. But part of the reason it came down to image is that there was so little substance. Most of the positions Kerry had were not that different from Bush's. When the candidates are the same, what other than image would you vote on?
posted by unreason at 1:11 PM on May 5, 2005

I don't think that what Frank is talking about is left or right as those terms are currently deployed. He seems to want to give up the game entirely on cultural issues and turn toward 1930's style economic populism. I for one think this is a much smarter strategy than that horseshit that George Lakoff is pushing and that so many democrats swooned about.

Here is an interesting article in Dissent giving some analysis critique of Thomas Frank's argument from a leftist perspective that I stumbled upon the other night. There is also a similar article by Frank for Harper's from a while ago that I think is much better reading that the NYRB article.
posted by mokujin at 1:15 PM on May 5, 2005

I_am_joe's and Moku: Thanks for those two links. They were really interesting critiques, and I'm glad to have read 'em.
posted by klangklangston at 1:28 PM on May 5, 2005

That Harper's article is basically the first chapter of his book, this is George Will's take on Frank, he misreads him a bit, but acknowledges him (in the George Will way)..
posted by stratastar at 1:34 PM on May 5, 2005

Gosh darn it!

That was MY title.....

Oh well, it was kinda obvious. Boo hoo.
posted by troutfishing at 1:35 PM on May 5, 2005

unable to articulate anything remotely resembling a consistent, deeply-held position, and was a dour dud, to boot
The media treatment of the Dean and Kerry's wife (and Gore too, really) shows how they can be bizarrely cold to Dems who show any signs of character.
posted by fleacircus at 1:49 PM on May 5, 2005

Great article. Haven't finished it yet, but one of the things that has always bugged me is politicians' and pundits' kneejerk vilification of the rich (In the liberal case: Bloomberg et al, in the conservative: Kerry et al.)

True, many rich people are out for themselves, but that doesn't mean they all are. And as far as I can tell, these "class war" tactics rarely work.

What should work: pointing out greed and corruption, not wealth.
posted by fungible at 1:57 PM on May 5, 2005

Pardon my ignorance, but is the democratic party (or libertarian, for that matter) listening to any of this and figuring out how to change things? Or are they just whining like everyone else?
posted by yoga at 2:05 PM on May 5, 2005

The most damning comment I can make about this article is that to anyone for whom it would make a difference, it is just more liberal hogwash. The people who will actually understand it don't need to read it because they already know what it says; the people who have any room to learn from it will stop reading at the point where the author starts speaking ill of their party.
Old news. The one who strikes second to discredit their opponent is obviously retailiating, and therefore less honorable; he who strikes first is clearly just revealing the truth.
posted by leapfrog at 2:11 PM on May 5, 2005

Frank's most important point is that despite more than two decades of footsie between the religious right and the Republican Party, what, really, has the religious right achieved? What have they got to show for it?

But this piece makes me think more than ever that what this country needs is not a swing back to the left or a further swing to the right, but an entirely new coalition, one that thinks in expressly local terms.

I'll give you an example. In my hometown is a big issue over whether a convention center should be built in the center of the (dying) city, the county seat. It's a huge controversy, with the elite of the community backing it - largely not with their own money, alas, and there's the rub.

The average citizen in this place is opposed to it, and becoming more so. Hard-core fundies and gay liberals are finding themsevles on the same side of this issue, which boils down to: How should this community be governed? What are the right decision to make at the local level here - not in Washington, not in the state capitol, but right here?

When this is the question, the whole idea of party affiliation fades away. People who all voted for Bush and have vowed to overturn abortion scream at each other across conference tables while ideological foes wind up shaking hands and working together.

I become more and more convinced that this is the strategy of the future, generating a consensus of good governance at the local level, which then trickles up. This national "should I try to seem more like a redneck" business is a fools game, and a losing game.

Cede the ground to the right, let them implode - and spend your time working on something better, rather than figuring we can just go forward into liberalism's past.
posted by kgasmart at 2:23 PM on May 5, 2005

Like it says in the blog post i_am_joe's_spleen linked to: "Why the fuck do we keep nominating Frazier Crane?" So, yeah. Image.
posted by furiousthought at 2:26 PM on May 5, 2005

That Kung Fu Monkey guy rocks pretty well, actually. His followup post is also interesting, as is the discussion in the comments.
posted by furiousthought at 2:44 PM on May 5, 2005

The media treatment of the Dean and Kerry's wife (and Gore too, really) shows how they can be bizarrely cold to Dems who show any signs of character.

Yeah, it's not so much that we actually nominated a dour dud, it's just that there are only so many storylines the media have prepared ahead of time. Democrats are liars or zombies or wimps or elitist. Republicans are crazy or stupid or mean or elitist. Was Al Gore actually running around exaggerating in his campaign? No. Was Dan Quayle actually any stupider than any other politician? No. Political reporters have no problem with lying if it makes their job easier.
posted by queen zixi at 2:45 PM on May 5, 2005

KGAsmart: Well, it makes sense. Especially when you think that most large cities have the population that entire states had when this country was founded. Perhaps there needs to be more local control within counties with regard to development, and less at the federal and state level?
posted by klangklangston at 3:07 PM on May 5, 2005

I think one aspect that few consider is those who identify themselves as conservative are those who feel a need to be controlled or look up to a leader figure who they would not dare to question, such as a parish priest, chief executive or similar leader figure.
Those who identify as liberal are very particular who they put their trust in and questioning the validity of a leader is just part of the territory. They are notorious for being difficult to organize and act on issues as well. Some may find some issues with this assessment, but this is just what I've observed.
posted by mk1gti at 3:37 PM on May 5, 2005

Why do we keep nominating Frazier Crane?

You know why? Because of our stupid, backwards-ass primary system in this country. Although I grew to like Kerry, I didn't nominate him, and I bet you didn't either - Iowa and New Hampshire did.

Why do they have all the control? Why do we let them? Wouldn't you want your primary to go to the candidate who can get the most votes nationally? Is it really so hard to hold all the primaries on the same day?
posted by fungible at 3:49 PM on May 5, 2005

It is not just the Frasier Crane problem, although that has dogged the Dems at times, it is the move away from the people. The GOP has effectively positioned itself as the party of the people, the little guy, regular joes, whatever, and the Dems have focused more and more on the concerns of middle class and up east coast or west coast professionals, the so called liberal elite. The charge sticks because there is an element of truth in it. The party has abandoned to some extent the working class. Instead it focuses on the cultural concerns of the well to do liberals on the coasts and on the concerns of the underclass. They have forgotten the concerns of the working class. The working class do not want a hand out, they want a chance. They frequently see the hand outs to the poor as payment for sloth, right or wrong. They do tend to respect authority, including the police, the military, the church, their elected leaders (at least the ones with whom they agree politically) and so on. I do not think the answer is to promote class warfare as much as it is to offer up candidates who can connect with a broad swath of the population (Bill Clinton) and offering positions that matter to the regular citizen. The country is not yet ready for stuff like gay marriage and the GOP successfully positioned the Dems as promoting this despite individual pols disavowing support for such. These pols basically were not believed, and probably for good reason. If the Dems could get back to the populism of La Follette or something similar then they would be universally loved, or at least loved enough to be elected.
posted by caddis at 4:14 PM on May 5, 2005

Well said, Caddis. I wish I had more time to type, just between calls so my thoughts come out a bit disjointed sometimes. . . (in case anyone was wondering)
posted by mk1gti at 4:18 PM on May 5, 2005

It's not an issues issue. The last few years have clearly shown that people can be easily persuaded to vote against their own interests.

It's 50% personality, and 50% conviction. Bush and other conservatives are respected because (rightly or wrongly) they have strong beliefs and they act on them with vigor.

Getting people to vote for you has a lot less to do with them agreeing with you, and more to do with them a: believing that you have distinct values and ethics (even if they differ from theirs) and b: that you've got a pair, and will back up your beliefs with action, even when the going gets tough.

My impression is that joe-voter sees our last few candidates as being callow, poll-driven, and lacking fundamental backbone, integrity, and balls, more or less.

I say this as a guy who ran against a Republican incumbent and 30 year political veteran for the state senate in north Idaho as a 24 year old liberal Democrat.

I got roughly 30% of the vote, even though the area is probably 85-90% Republican. Not incredible, but not chickenfeed either. Campaigning, I got a good opportunity to talk with people from the other side of the fence and learn how they think. Standing up for your beliefs in a respectful, friendly, and non- condescending manner goes a long way.
posted by stenseng at 4:58 PM on May 5, 2005

the current situation with the working class voting themselves into poverty and death

That's what happens when people value "morality" over their own pocketbooks. I'm sure they'd willingly starve themselves to death if they thought it could somehow make homosexuals suddenly go away. There's a technical term for this, you know. (Seriously, check out the common characteristics in their symptoms).

Pardon my ignorance, but is the [x] party listening to any of this and figuring out how to change things? Or are they just whining like everyone else?

The only thing you can do when confronted with such widespread, deliberate ignorance is to educate their children. Unfortunately, that's a long-term plan. And it's not going too well so far.

I do not think the answer is to promote class warfare

I hate to be the one to turn on the lightbulb, but class warfare has been going on for decades, except it's all been entirely one-sided because pussified liberals are cowed into submission with statements like, "Well, we mustn't resort to class-warfare!" The war is already on. The day of the attack: April 13, 1945.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:36 PM on May 5, 2005

*April 12, 1945: FDR dies
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:37 PM on May 5, 2005

From today's Wall Street Journal
... This procedural high-handedness is of a piece with the arrogant attitude the secular left takes toward the religious right. Last week a Boston Globe columnist wrote that what he called "right-wing crackpots -- excuse me, 'people of faith'" were promoting "knuckle-dragging judges." This contempt expresses itself in more refined ways as well, such as the idea that social conservatism is a form of "working class" false consciousness. Thomas Frank advanced this argument in last year's bestseller, "What's the Matter With Kansas?"

Liberal politicians have picked up the theme. Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, in a January op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, mused on a postelection visit he made to Alabama, wondering why people from that state "say 'yes' when the increasingly powerful Republican Party asks them to be concerned about homosexuality but not about the security of their own health, about abortion but not about the economic futures of their own children."

Assuming for the sake of argument that Democratic economic policies really are better (or at least more politically attractive) than Republican ones, why don't politicians like Mr. Feingold adopt conservative positions on social issues so as to win over the voters whose economic interests they claim to care so much about? The answer seems obvious: Mr. Feingold would not support, say, the Human Life Amendment or the Federal Marriage Amendment because to do so would be against his principles. It's not that he sees the issues as unimportant, but that he does not respect the views of those who disagree. His views are thoughtful and enlightened; theirs are, as Mr. Frank describes them, a mindless "backlash."

This attitude is politically self-defeating, for voters know when politicians are insulting their intelligence. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, recently framed the abortion debate in this way: "What we want to debate is who gets to choose: Tom DeLay and the federal politicians? Or does a woman get to make up her own mind?" He also vowed that "we're going to use Terri Schiavo," promising to produce "an ad with a picture of Tom DeLay, saying, 'Do you want this guy to decide whether you die or not? Or is that going to be up to your loved ones?'" Many voters who aren't pro-life absolutists have misgivings about abortion on demand and about the death of Terri Schiavo. By refusing to acknowledge the possibility of thoughtful disagreement or ambivalence, Mr. Dean is giving these moderates an excellent reason to vote Republican. ...
Also, Josh Chafetz's New York Times review of What's the Matter With Kansas
Frank's book is remarkable as an anthropological artifact. Although not terribly successful at explaining the cultural divide, it manages to exemplify it perfectly in its condescension toward people who don't vote as Frank thinks they should. Call this the Aretha Franklin version of the culture wars: people want respect, and they're more likely to vote for the party that gives it to them. More than that, people are unlikely to vote for a party that shows contempt for them.

And if there's one thing Frank's book has plenty of, it's contempt. Kansans are described as 'deranged' and 'lunatic,' people who live in a 'dysfunctional' state. They 'revel in fantasies of their own marginality and persecution.' Evangelical Kansans are often 'aggressively pious individuals' who can be expected to 'bark and howl and rebuke the world for its sins.' They are 'zealots' who have created in Kansas a 'great bubbling Crock-Pot of Godliness.'

Frank is hardly alone. A large number of the Democratic faithful view the Midwest and evangelical Christians as socially backward, politically amusing and religiously nutty -- and the objects of this disdain are sick of it. The more than 65 million Midwesterners are sick of being considered 'flyover country' -- that vast, flat, brown area glimpsed by people looking out of their airplane windows as they head from one coast to the other (perhaps with a stop in Frank's adopted hometown of Chicago). The estimated 70 million evangelical Americans are sick of being called wing nuts or Jesus freaks. And the socially conservative are sick of being derided as Neanderthals.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 6:26 PM on May 5, 2005

Keep in mind Steve, that the socially liberal are sick of being derided as terrorists, traitors, degenerates, sinners, baby-killers, etc.

Respectful interaction is a two way street.
posted by stenseng at 6:33 PM on May 5, 2005

It's not that he sees the issues as unimportant, but that he does not respect the views of those who disagree.

Give me a break. The Klu Klux Klan has views on minorities that differ from mine, but I'm supposed to hear them out and respect them because, well, "we're all entitled to our opinions"?

Democrats (er, social liberals) need to develop a fucking spine and not be afraid to call a crackpot a crackpot because you might hurt their feelings or lose their vote. At least the religious right have some freakin' conviction.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:15 PM on May 5, 2005

At least the religious right have some freakin' conviction.

I agree with this, though not because conservative voters "respect that forthright attitude" but because many are taken in by it. Let's face it: authority implies truth. Someone SO sure of something... may just be on to something. Or not. But the temptation to give in to that conviction is there.

I also agree wholeheartedly, Civil, regarding how "respect" gets trotted out. On the one hand, tolerance is the only thing that is going to permit survival of this little species of ours. But there is this ridiculous meme being passed around -- quite purposefully -- that says "all opinions are equal, on any subject". Yes, I may have spent my life masturbating in front of sitcoms while you have a PhD in physics, but my opinions on black holes are just as valid as yours, damnit! And this meme is quite vindicating for those who are used to having their views invalidated by science.

Worse, we are ever more consumed with ethereal, dare I say, mythological belief systems, that will not admit proof or disproof, and supposedly involve stakes worth killing or dying for -- so certainly cheating and lying for. Will the secular humanists do the same?
posted by dreamsign at 9:42 PM on May 5, 2005

Interesting excerpts, Steve - they apply to Frank the exact "contempt for the elite" that he describes in the article. It's like: "Those damned liberal elitists! How dare they analyze how much we hate liberal elitists!" or "How dare he imply that we revel in fantasies of persecution! He's oppressing me and other people of faith!"
posted by fungible at 9:42 PM on May 5, 2005

And this meme is quite vindicating for those who are used to having their views invalidated by science.

See also.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:17 PM on May 5, 2005

Just what I was thinking of, Civil.
posted by dreamsign at 10:18 PM on May 5, 2005

The Democrats "lost the South" when they embraced civil rights. The racists fled to the GOP. Mind you, I'm not saying that all Republicans are racist. I'm just saying that the old guard cross-burners and their fellows are more comfortable with the GOP. And the GOP knows and exploits this.
posted by SPrintF at 10:28 PM on May 5, 2005

And the socially conservative are sick of being derided as Neanderthals.

So we can start calling them Cro-Magnon fascist bastids now? I've been waiting 60,000 years for this!

SPrintF hits the nail on the head - right wing racism in its full American political context - while this point seemed lost during the election.
posted by zaelic at 2:59 AM on May 6, 2005

A large part of the problem is that people still think of the Democratic Party as part of the solution. It's not. The Democratic Party has always represented business interests first and foremost, as does the Republican Party, and as such it cannot represent popular interests unless it's basically forced to. The same people who made sure that Kerry was the nominee last year will always keep the Democrats from being any more than a mild and grudging progressive force.

If you really want change, go third party. More people need to realize that, and then maybe we'll see some positive developments.
posted by graymouser at 5:46 AM on May 6, 2005

A large part of the problem is that people still think of the Democratic Party as part of the solution.

That's why you need a new coalition, one that cuts across existing affiliations.

And fungible, your analysis is quite correct (and Frank does say this in his book) - right-wing fundamentalists climb into the arena of politics, play hardball, then spend all their time complaining that the inevitable criticism amounts to "persecution."

Sorry, you play the game, this is part of it. Get used to it.
posted by kgasmart at 6:31 AM on May 6, 2005

It warms my heart when I see wing nut fundies reaching out in compassion and brotherhood to those whose views differ from theirs.

That's just the kind of people I feel I can build bridges of understanding with and negotiate some kind of consensus that we all can amiably coexist under.
posted by nofundy at 6:48 AM on May 6, 2005

Yeah, but a third party is doomed to lose unless a majority of the Democrats come with it (and a fair number of Republicans). Take a look at third party victories: the last one to take a presidency was... The Republicans with Abraham Lincoln, and that took the budding civil war to create the party. But every third party in recent history has only succeeded in fucking whichever party they're closest to.
Nader, Perot... even back to the Bull Moose (Progressives) party that Roosevelt ran on.
It's a simple function of the winner-take-all system: the winner wins; the second-place finisher thinks that it can win next time; and the third party supporters end up throwing in their lot with whichever of those two they think has a better shot (or they run a vanity campaign for the tiny sliver of core believers).
If you want to get a third party in office, start aggrevating at a local level for Instant Runoff Voting, which allows people to vote for a third party (showing their ideological affiliation) without splitting the vote for the party they'd prefer to win. If we get IRV, it will only be 50-100 years before we can consistently hope for viable third party candidates.
posted by klangklangston at 7:04 AM on May 6, 2005

And the socially conservative are sick of being derided as Neanderthals.

then quit being so backwards.
posted by mcsweetie at 8:54 AM on May 6, 2005

"Most of you are backwards Neanderthals! If only you weren't such idiots, you'd vote for us!" Let me know how that works for you as a campaign strategy, mcsweetie.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:33 PM on May 6, 2005

I say we just partition the country, send the screwheads off to one part, the enlightened beings off to another part, take all our toys and leave them to their caves and sticks . . . But that's just me.
posted by mk1gti at 5:01 PM on May 6, 2005

Aww, Devil's, you're so cute when you spew established wisdom. RTFA?
posted by klangklangston at 6:59 AM on May 7, 2005

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