Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Tom Frank on The Great Divide

Tom Frank has some interesting things to say in the New York Times Book Review where he essays four recent books on American Politics.

He doesn't think much of the much advertised The Great Divide: Metro Vs. Retro

Here the goal is to blend together two of the worst big ideas of recent years -- the new economy fantasy of the 1990's and the red/blue thesis of the last few years -- into a universal narrative that can simultaneously direct the electoral strategy of the Democratic Party and inform future scholarship. The essential cleavage in American life, the authors argue, is not between left and right or business class and working class; instead, it is a regional matter, a cultural divide between the states, polarized and unbridgeable....

a Rosetta stone to decipher and to win over America. ''The Great Divide'' furnishes them with demographic, poll-based vindication for the strategy they have been pursuing all along: forget the focus on class conflict that defined the party in the old days, and rebrand the Democrats as the voice of enlightened industry versus dirty industry; of sensitive, artistic billionaires versus loathsome, racist billionaires.

In the half of the book making this argument there is an error or misstatement or indefensible historical interpretation on nearly every page ... Some of these can be dismissed as the fault of the authors, of course, but most are intrinsic to the argument itself, to the impossible demands of tracing a cultural cleavage that seems to give Democrats an edge and that simultaneously denies the significance of social class.
Frank does approve of Ohio Congressman Sherrod Brown's Myths of Free Trade which
describes the role that the false religion of unregulated free trade has had in reopening the class divide, and also what we might do about it. For him the word ''elite'' refers not to someone who likes books, but to the industry lobbyists whose planes clogged National Airport and whose gifts inundated Capitol Hill during the debate over Nafta. Brown could easily have taken the anti-intellectual route to populism since, as he points out, virtually the entire pundit class, regardless of party, routinely supports free-trade agreements (and just as routinely depicts opponents as ''selling out the poor'' or Luddites). The real battle he lays out is not between salt-of-the-earth folks and effete know-it-alls, or between tolerant Metro and screeching Retro: it is between all of us and the corporate power that today bombards labor and environment from the ideological heights of free trade.

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