Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Nick Cohen on Tom Frank

British columnist Nick Cohen reviews Tom Frank in the London Observer

Frank is in a different league from Michael Moore. He is a smarter and better writer, and a proper hack who has been to ask the supporters of the backlash why they vote against their fundamental interests.

The answers, says Frank, lie first in the disastrous consequences of the liberal reliance on the judiciary and bills of rights to bring social change rather than votes in legislatures. Unelected judges legalised abortion in America and conservatives are able to claim that the common people have had their views disregarded by the elite. Indeed, they have convinced millions that this 'elite' is not made up of the actual holders of power, nearly all of them Republicans, but rich Hollywood stars who lecture the poor on how to behave, and TV executives and academics who pump out propaganda for homosexuality, pornography, divorce and promiscuity, and denigrate patriotism, sexual fidelity and godliness. Dismissing working-class concerns as the idiocies of stupid white men explains the failure of the US left.

Frank ends by warning his American readers that 'things which begin in Kansas - the Civil War, prohibition, populism, Pizza Hut - have a historic tendency to go national'. The question for British readers is whether they could go international.

This can't be ruled out. In the US, the Republicans adopted the language of class struggle the moment the left abandoned it. There are striking similarities with Britain. Like the US Democrats, New Labour has taken classic questions about the distribution of wealth and regulation of the mighty out of political debate. The existing economic order is beyond question: it's just there as if it were the will of God.

The government has, in fact, done a great deal to help the disadvantaged, far more than the Clinton administration did. But ministers don't give tax credits and Sure Start to the working class loudly and proudly as a reward for their honest toil. Benefits are slipped out of the back pocket in the embarrassed manner of a man throwing coins to a beggar.

The lesson is that class politics don't die just because the political class decides that economics is no longer a fit subject for the electorate. Deny ordinary people the chance to fight wars about resources and they will fight culture wars instead, and when the left fights on its enemy's terrain, the right is laughing all the way to the bank.

Tom Frank autographing books for Kansas Democrats at Demofest 2004 in Wichita

More photos from the event here.

Post a Comment