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Picardy, kansas and why the left should listen to business

by citizen k Sun Oct 30th, 2005 at 10:11:57 AM EST

How is it that Jaques Chirac and George Bush, representatives of the aristocracy
have been able to run and win on populist themes?
How can Sarkozy get up and say of the socialists:


I understand why the people have turned against you," he said. "It's because you
forget the people. You don't talk like them, you don't understand them and you offer
no response whatsoever to what they experience on a daily basis."

Thomas Franks wrote a book about about the right wing in Kansas. He says

By "backlash" I mean populist conservatism of the kind pioneered in the Sixties by
George Wallace and Richard Nixon, perfected by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and
crafted into an entertainment form by Fox News. Instead of selling conservative
politics on economic grounds, it imagines conservatism as a revolt of the little
people against a high and mighty liberal elite.

Franks goes on to say:


There is no doubt that liberals bear a lot of the blame for the backlash. Back in
the Sixties and Seventies, Democratic Party leaders decided to turn their backs on
the working-class voters who until then had been the party's central constituency,
and to try to find a new constituency in groups like college students,
environmentalists, and so on. They called this the "New Politics," and it was a
terrible mistake. Among other things, it is one of the sources of the "liberal
elite" stereotype, in a historical sense. And while there have been numerous
Democrats who have tried to resurrect the alliance with the working class over the
years, the dominant, Clinton wing of the party clings to this failed strategy. They
essentially agree with the Republicans on economic issues, write off the working
class, and try instead to win the votes (and the campaign contributions) of
educated, professional people by taking liberal stands on social issues. Their idea
of politics is a war of enlightened CEOs versus backwards CEOs.

This strategy has been disastrous in the extreme. While stripping away any economic
reason for working people to vote Democratic, it has simultaneously played into the
"liberal elite" stereotype which is the Republicans' strongest weapon. The result is
what you see around you: Republicans talk constantly about class grievances, albeit
in a coded and inverted way, while Democrats never bring it up at all, desperately
trying to prove their "centrist" bona fides. What liberals must do to beat the
backlash, it seems obvious to me, is to resurrect old-fashioned, upper-case-P
populism, and to wage non-coded, non-inverted class war. They must at the very
minimum counter Republican appeals to social class with their own appeals to social
class.
(here)

And this brings us the bar on the corner.

Let's take a look at this interview with Daniel Cohn-Bendit published in the British
Independent.
http://www.friendsofeurope.org/index.asp?http://www.friendsofeurope.org/news_detail.asp&frame=ye s~bas
Cohn-Bendit argues that the French left has refused to come to terms with the existence and predominance of the world market. This is the opposite of Franks who is arguing that the US liberals have become apologists for the world market, buthere are two very different analysts with two very different points of view, both agreeing with Sarkozy. Are they both dupes? Foolish retransmitters of right wing talking points?

The discussion takes place in the bar, where the patron announces he also took part
in 68. Here is a quote from the patron:


"... we still need a revolution in France. We should be
more like your country, like Britain. France will never succeed until we have the
right to hire and sack people whenever we like."

More later.


Display:
this is a valid question. I'll be back later but will point out one interesting tidbit in France: the first party amongst blue collar workers and the unemployed, whichnused to be the communist party, is now not the socialists or the gaullists, it's Le Pen's National Front, i.e. the «blame the Others for everything» party.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Oct 30th, 2005 at 10:43:00 AM EST
The Herald Tribune article from which the Sarkozy quote comes says he is attempting to win over the La Pen voters.
by citizen k (sansracine yahoo.fr) on Sun Oct 30th, 2005 at 11:11:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is certainly true that the Democrats in America are no longer the party of the workers, but I'm not so sure it can be blamed on a shift towards college students and environmentalists.

It's because the party is largely controlled by the (few remaining) powerful unions. UAW assembly line workers oppose high taxes for "the rich" because they are themselves among the rich. If you're getting $35.78 per hour ($75,000 per year)--and your wife is working there, too--then you're not going to support a strongly graduated income tax system.
http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/list.asp?order=A

Take a look at who donates to the parties. Democrats are hugely supported by unions and trial lawyers, neither of which is a constituency for the poor, or minorities.
http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/index.asp

There is a huge need for new party--on our side of the pond at least.

by asdf on Sun Oct 30th, 2005 at 02:08:39 PM EST
The link to Cohn-Bendit's interview doesn't work!

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Sun Oct 30th, 2005 at 06:12:25 PM EST
It's interesting that your Frank quote doesn't mention the elephant in the room - race.

It's no accident that when the Democratic Party in the US began to be seen as the party of blacks, the white working class began to turn conservative.

Now, would you say that this is one of the "mistakes" of the left? I wouldn't. The civil rights movement in the US is exactly the kind of thing we need a left for.

I am sympathetic to arguments that specific programs for equalizing economic and social outcomes by race were implemented in ways that put much of the cost onto white urban working classes (school desegregation, for example) while bypassing more affluent suburban communities. And that implementing many of these programs through the courts instead of through legislation allowed opponents to portray those initiatives as undemocratic power grabs.

But this brings up the real issue - what would you have done as an alternative? What policies would you have proposed that brought about racial equality without imposing undue burdens on the white working class? What was the right political strategy to get those programs passed while keeping the white working class inside the Democratic tent?

You just simply can't escape these issues, no matter how uninteresting you think they are.

by TGeraghty on Sun Oct 30th, 2005 at 08:46:32 PM EST
Dead-on question.
The problem is, when the Democratic Party supported integration (leading LBJ to predict -accurately or perhaps optimistically - that the Democrats had lost the South for a generation) it did not tackle the issue of school finance and property taxes.  A leftist party might have taken this opportunity to propose a national or at least state-based educational finance system that did not promote economic apartheid.  All the Dems did was let the Courts order busing, while millions of northern whites fled to the suburbs, while southern whites fled to white academies, first, and then to white suburbs, later, when they were tired of paying private school tuition.

My point is that the Dems did not examine the class issues around school finance in order to find a position/solution that would benefit all working people everywhere.  They were content to stick with moralism - the moralism of anti-racism - precisely at the point where Martin Luther King had moved on to stress economic issues.

by cambridgemac on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 08:45:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Class" is a Marxian concept and for that reason will never make it to a mainstream American party's platform.

The systemic function of the Democratic Party is to keep leftists penned so they don't form their own party with a class message.

The Green Party is not left, it's green, and so it avoids class as an issue as well.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 08:51:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Although I am doubtful, I still question your assertion that class will never make it to the mainstream as an issue -- it would take a different word, since the word "class" has been ruined.  

I agree with you that CLASS, not race, is the unmentionable in the United States.

by cambridgemac on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 08:56:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it's rather the opposite. The Dems have been tiptoeing away from race forever, and only during LBJ did they confront race directly.

Remember, Clinton's Sistah Souljah moment, his "welfare reform", his sacrifice of Lani Gunier,  ...

by citizen k (sansracine yahoo.fr) on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 08:16:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cohn-Bendit argues that the French left has refused to come to terms with the existence and predominance of the world market. This is the opposite of Franks who is arguing that the US liberals have become apologists for the world market, but there are two very different analysts with two very different points of view, both agreeing with Sarkozy. Are they both dupes? Foolish retransmitters of right wing talking points?

Retransmitters of right wing talking points? Frank, no, Cohn-Bendit, maybe. The patron who thinks the answer to French economic and social problems is to let business hire and fire people at will, absolutely yes.

There's no question that the centrists in the US Democratic Party (and the Blair sect in the UK Labour Party) have gone way too far in trying to placate corporate special interests. We certainly agree there. I wouldn't call these people "liberals," (and they certainly wouldn't call themselves that) but they are certainly apologists for "free" markets and deregulation and all that. And, I think Frank's call for a new economic populism is a sound one. It's not the whole answer to what ails the left, but it is moving in the right direction.

I would also add that this new populism is not going to get anywhere unless the left is alot more successful at debunking right-wing economic myths like  "France will never succeed until we have the right to hire and sack people whenever we like." French stockholders and managers may succeed, but workers never will under such conditions.

I disagree with Cohn-Bendit about the European Left, though. It seems to me what they are trying to do is grope for an alternative model of globalization that preserves openness and generates more trade, but in a way that preserves rich-world living standards and doesn't put all the costs onto workers. They are trying to come to terms with globalization.

Again, the trick is to find the right balance of markets, government regulation, and new institutions that produces a global economy where a rising tide really does lift all boats. And the political strategy that allows the left to put that program in place.

Again, "what to do" and  "how to get it done" are issues that you simply cannot de-link.

by TGeraghty on Sun Oct 30th, 2005 at 09:02:09 PM EST

I disagree with Cohn-Bendit about the European Left, though. It seems to me what they are trying to do is grope for an alternative model of globalization that preserves openness and generates more trade, but in a way that preserves rich-world living standards and doesn't put all the costs onto workers. They are trying to come to terms with globalization.

What do you disagree about with Cohn-Bendit? He is exactly promoting what you describe (adapting to globalisation and not putting all the costs on workers) with the additional sensitivity to ecological issues. On most topic I have found him to be pragmatic about tools while never losing sight of the long term goals.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 04:36:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I didn't get to read the article (link didn't seem to work), so if that's what he meant, then I agree with that sentiment.

I just disagree with the view that the left as a whole is  putting its' collective head in the sand with respect to globalization (which may be a mis-interpretation of what he is saying). Some people are, sure, but others are trying to deal with it.

by TGeraghty on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 10:26:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And some people are taking advantage of it. Without mobile communications, the internet and cheap travel the anti-globalization movement would not exist as a global movement. It would be a collection of disconnected pockets of discontent.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 10:36:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What Dany Cohn-bendit means is that too many people from the French left haven't yet acknowledged the fact that we live in a market-based economy and stick to an old model of state-run economy. I am afraid he's right!
 

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 04:21:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank is wrong. Kansas is actually somewhat above average in income and benefits hugely from government programs favored by the local Republican party.  Furthermore in general in the US there has not been any shift among poor white voters to the GOP except in the South, and even there it is much smaller than popular myth would make it out to be.  Furthermore he is condescending by suggesting that someone voting against their class interests is necessarily being deceived.  It is interesting that nobody is writing any books on 'What's the matter with the Upper West Side' or any other representative wealthy liberal area of the US that likes to vote for people who promise to raise their taxes.  

Keep in mind that whatever their rhetoric both Blair and Clinton raised taxes on the wealthy and upper middle class.

France also happens to be a special case where there really is a pretty substantial extreme left that genuinely hasn't come to terms with any variant of capitalism, whether of the American or Scandinavian variety.  The views of a left-wing Dem politician would be in the middle or right of the PS - and very far removed from the Trotskyists and Communists. Cohn Bendit's words have to be understood in that context.

by MarekNYC on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 01:09:11 AM EST
I've never understood the argument that "Frank is wrong" because Kansas just happens to be above average in income. As Jerome has pointed out, average and median are two different things, and economic inequality has increased in Kansas more than just about anywhere else in the country.

But all of this is beside the point. Kansas has always been a conservative Republican state, as Frank well knows because he grew up there. Frank's argument is that the nature of that conservatism has changed in the last 15 or 20 years, from a sort of "Main Street" conservatism to a more radical version defined more by the religious right and cultural/social issues than economic ones.

Beyond that, is it really "condescending" to think that, in a world of Fox News and a right-tilting media, along with a milquetoast Democratic Party establishment, that people may not fully understand that there are more economic policy options before them than just tax cuts and deregulation? Or that people may get wrongly convinced that George Bush is a new kind of "compassionate" conservative? Or that he is more moderate than he actually is on foreign policy?

I don't think so.

Of course, if people think cultural or social issues are more important than class or economic issues, then that's one thing.

But if they fail to distinguish between the two parties on economic issues or become convinced that the center-left are "extremists" on cultural issues because of a successful right-wing propaganda campaign, then that is something else, and we need to understand why it has happened and what to do about it.

That's what Frank's book is really about.

by TGeraghty on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 02:21:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But all of this is beside the point. Kansas has always been a conservative Republican state, as Frank well knows because he grew up there. Frank's argument is that the nature of that conservatism has changed in the last 15 or 20 years, from a sort of "Main Street" conservatism to a more radical version defined more by the religious right and cultural/social issues than economic ones.

Your forgetting that back in the day of 'Main Street' conservatism traditional values regarding sexual morality were the established consensus. Over the past forty years the US (and Europe) has seen a dramatic change in how sexual behaviour is judged by society. It is natural that conservatives should become a lot more militant about such issues when that social consensus has crumbled.

With regard to economic issues I'd say it would make more sense to see the period from the mid fifties to the mid seventies as a temporary swing to the left by the Republican party. They opposed all government programs from Social Security to Medicare and Medicaid when they were proposed. So their views on that part of the political battlefield are also consistent with the past.

To sum up - not much has changed except a feeling by conservatives that their ideology is being undermined by a changing world, and it is the very essence of conservatism to become upset under those circumstances. Before you could have a de Maistre you needed the Revolution. The precondition for the rise of the Christian Right was the sexual revolution.

by MarekNYC on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 02:46:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
True, but there were other social issues that divided the country along similar lines - immigration, prohibition, the Catholic issue. The fundies always find something to bitch about.

You know, "rum, romanism, and rebellion."

It may be, though, that during the immediate-post WWII period American society was as secular as it ever has been.

by TGeraghty on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 11:47:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Kansas has always been a conservative state? In the 1850s-1880s it was quite radical. But even in the long years of republican dominance, it was nothing like what it is now. But consider someone like Frank Church or George McGovern or ...
by citizen k (sansracine yahoo.fr) on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 08:36:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, there is a very extensive rightwing literature on just that, dating back at least to Tom Wolfe's 1970 "Mau-mauing the Flack Catchers" and the phrase Radical Chic, and widely adopted by pop journalism, not just the righwingers.  The old-line rightwing press is content just to call the Upper West side types traitors, while mentioning casually that many of them are Jews....
by cambridgemac on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 08:50:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What's against the economic interest of upper west siders? The Al Gore knowledge economy is exactly in their interests. The Bush Haliburton economy takes money from higher education, tech, health care professions, ... - the litany of upper west side employement and gives it to corporate interests not represented there.
by citizen k (sansracine yahoo.fr) on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 08:19:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've reread this a few times and can't distil a point from it. What's your argument exactly? Are you passing on the shock news that there exists a bar tender with right-wing opinions? Enlightening us that the far left (even by French standards!) often aren't very sensible?

Apparently the following (ignoring the long quotes about Democrats in the US):

  • A politician who says "You don't talk like them, you don't understand them and you offer no response whatsoever to what they experience on a daily basis."
  • A bartender who says "France will never succeed until we have the
right to hire and sack people whenever we like." What did the taxi-driver say?
* "Cohn-Bendit argues that the French left has refused to come to terms with the existence and predominance of the world market." So?

combine to show that "the left should listen to business". I don't understand why.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 11:24:43 AM EST
The main point is that it is worth trying to figure out what makes it possible for the right to pursue fake pupulism against the "liberal elite" in both the US and Europe.

As for the second point, you are welcome to dismiss the points of view of Cohn-Bendit, Bourdieu, and any other prominent and influential French person who does not subscribe to your ideas.
 

by citizen k (sansracine yahoo.fr) on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 08:41:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Can you please provide again the link to the Cohn-Bendit interview you are using (or some quotes) to make these assertions, because you seem to have a very strange view of what his political views are. Bourdieu and him are definitely not in the same left; Before we comment any further on your assertions, we need to understand what they actually are.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 1st, 2005 at 02:50:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It appears that this site has the interview, which is about his support for the constitution, which as lefties both you and I were against. Oh hold on. Nooo, didn't we both argue in favour of it? Silly us.

Interestingly, it contains the following passage:

"It was a beautiful song," he said. As I left the bar, I asked le patron whether he had truly fait les barricades with Cohn-Bendit in 1968.
"Yes, of course," he said. "And we still need a revolution in France. We should be more like your country, like Britain. France will never succeed until we have the right to hire and sack people whenever we like."

The veteran of the barricades had become a man of the right, then? No, he said, he was still a man of the left. And therefore stoutly for the "non".

I told him that Cohn-Bendit was for the "oui".

"What? Really? He"s changed sides then."

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 1st, 2005 at 05:31:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was in favor of it and still think it was a good idea. But I'm interested in why so many others, who it seems to me should agree with me were so against it. And thinking about this leads me to a question about why the right has been able to profit from fake populism and perhaps real resentments about liberal elites. After all, La Pen's unemployed constituents can look at you and me and see privileged beneficiaries of the globalism that has destroyed their factory jobs.
by citizen k (sansracine yahoo.fr) on Tue Nov 1st, 2005 at 09:31:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I started out in favour of it but as the drafting progressed, and the more I learnt about the text once it was finished, and the farther along the approval process we went without a proper debate of its content, the more against the whole thing I got.

I am positively sick of the Council of Ministers and their nationalistic shenanigans behind closed doors. I want a legislative, not consultative, European Parliament and a European Commission chosen by it instead of by the Council.

I think a few years of gridlock is a small price to pay, especially if the gridlock prevents neoliberal policies from being adopted, and as long as the EU engages the European public in finding a solution. So far, they seem disinclined to do so.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Nov 1st, 2005 at 09:59:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I like the idea of "pupulism". Pups are cute.

More seriously, according to the interview Cohn-Bendit does agree with my views. He just doesn't appear to agree with the views you attribute to him.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 1st, 2005 at 05:27:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My "So?" in response to the comment from Cohn-Bendit was a question to you: what bearing  have his views about the French left got to do with why the "left" should listen to business?

In fact, what does listening to business have to do with populism? What does your diary have to do with listening to business?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 1st, 2005 at 05:34:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My apologies for the lack of coherence in my writing - which is far from worked out. When I look at, for example, Sarkozy's recent moves or the brilliant work that Ken Mehlman did for the US republicans I can understand what they are doing, why, and how. They are completely cynical and are able to put together very polished political marketing efforts that unite the varied resentments (real or not) of a number of constituencies to build power for their clients/selves. In some ways these guys are the heirs of Goebbels, but with all the benefits of both a better understanding of marketing and market research and also with much more presentable clients. On the other hand, "the left" seems slow to adapt and reluctant to listen. So when we discussed the EU vote, it looks to me like both the "non"-left failed to deal with the reality of the world market, as Cohn-Bendit says, but the oui-left failed to speak to the daily lives of people as Sarkozy says. This is something that struck me in both the "politicians should not listen to businessmen" and the California property tax discussion. One can dismiss this greedy fellow going to the UK ostensibly to avoid bureacracy but really to not pay his 35% tax, and dismiss those short
sighted greedy Californians who valued their homes over schools, and dismiss this surly bar patron who is not only an obvious fool, but a cliche as bad as a taxi driver, and so on. But my sense, and it is not a sense I can as yet back up with a detailed argument, is that all this scornful dismissal is a symptom of why the world is in the hands of Bush's, Blairs, Merkels, and Berlusconis and why even an obvous fraud like Sarkozy can not be laughed at when he strikes a populist pose
by citizen k (sansracine yahoo.fr) on Tue Nov 1st, 2005 at 10:10:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think I understand your point/question better. Why is the right so much better at the simplistic talking points that the public craves in a complex and uncertain world? Maybe because the failure of the simplistic left (the communists) is more recent than that of the simplistic right (the fascists) and we remember is more clearly?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 1st, 2005 at 01:37:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think it can be reduced to that, but I do think that people will go for crappy answers if those are the only ones. The California property tax disaster is the simple and clear case in point.
by citizen k (sansracine yahoo.fr) on Tue Nov 1st, 2005 at 08:29:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One thing that Ralph Nader has complained about is that the public will study sports statistics ad nauseam, but if you try to make a moderately involved argument about policy their head starts to spin.

It's a matter of mental blocks, and the fact that people educate themselves (and are educated by the media) on sports statistics but not on economic statistics.

The crappy, simplistic argument always wins if you submit policy to a popular vote, unfortunately. I have no idea how you would change that - you cannot force people to educate themselves.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Nov 3rd, 2005 at 08:11:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I must say I'm puzzled: what reasoning makes you say that Cohn-Bendit agrees with Sarkozy? Same for Franks.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Mon Oct 31st, 2005 at 04:28:14 PM EST
Franks is quite clear in saying that the US Democrats have allowed themselves to be painted as the liberal elite - he is deploring what Sarkozy is boasting about. Cohn-Bendit is, to my mind, also arguing against an inward looking left that is driven by internal power struggles - also a way of saying "not in contact with the daily lives" of ordinary people.
by citizen k (sansracine yahoo.fr) on Tue Nov 1st, 2005 at 10:33:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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