I have begun reading Tom Frank’s Listen, Liberal and it is good, very good. In it, Mr Frank clearly identifies the slide of the Democratic Party from the party of working families to the party of managerial professionals; the slide of the Democratic Party from my Grandparents to me. You should read Tom’s book.
Confession. I first encountered Tom Frank at Jimmy’s “Woodland Tap” back in 1991 as an entering graduate student at the University of Chicago. “That’s Tom Frank,” a friend pointed out. My eyes wandered to a young man (attempting to look old?) in a fedora and trench coat. “He edits ‘The Baffler.'”
Even at the time there was something “mysterious” about a resident of Hyde Park who was neither professor nor student. “What kind of creature is this?” I wondered.
I will withhold a review of Tom’s book until I have read and digested it in its entirety. It covers territory with which the readers of this blog will already be familiar.
But, here is my front end take. Tom wants the Dem’s to be defenders of working families; so do I. But he is also critical of the educated elite; I am not. As readers of this blog will know, I believe that the working class is as much a product of capital as trust funds and the rentier. The working class is a signature attribute of the elite. Readers will also know that I firmly believe that emancipation from necessity — from compulsion — holds the key to clear reflection about our condition: a person cannot think clearly about their condition with a gun to their head. Tom does not think highly of the folks I circulated with in Hyde Park.
And, yet, Tom makes an important — critical — observation. I experienced the shift in 1998 when I worked as a consultant in Silicon Valley. It was not simply that the labor movement was dead. That was obvious. What people told me was that the labor movement was unnecessary, obsolete, anachronistic. This shift paralleled a shift in the Democratic Party leadership, a shift that Tom makes us face, away from working families to the managerial professional — liberal — class.
Is it possible to remember labor without celebrating it? Is it possible to promote the right to education, health, security, and leisure without also promoting the right of capital to pave the path that makes these possible? When we celebrate FDR and the New Deal, do we also have to celebrate the industrial conditions that made the New Deal necessary?
I am only half way through Tom’s book. And, as I have already said, I like Tom Frank. But I anticipate some critical interventions in his approach.