Thomas Edsall, professor of journalism at Columbia University, gives a pretty accurate diagnosis of the problem with the Democratic party in the NYTimes today. In this piece, he speculates on the prospects of Jim Webb, former senator from Virginia. Here are some money quotes:
Webb is one answer to the weaknesses of today’s center-left, the so-called “upstairs-downstairs” coalition described by Joel Kotkin, presidential fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University. Kotkin argues in his recently published book, “The New Class Conflict,” that the Democratic Party has been taken over by what he calls “gentry liberals,” an elite that has undermined the historic purpose of the Democratic Party.
Kotkin contends that
“The great raison d’être for left-wing politics – advocating for the middle- and working classes – has been refocused to attend more closely to the policy imperatives and interests of small, highly affluent classes, as well as the powerful public sector.”
I asked Kotkin what he thought of the themes Webb intends to raise, and he wrote back “I think he’s onto something.”
The Democrats, Kotkin believes, need “someone — Sherrod Brown, Webb, Jon Tester, somebody! — who speaks to the issues of upward mobility and incomes.” Both Senator Brown and Senator Tester have staked out populist positions in support of their working-class constituents in Ohio and Montana.
I’m not sure that Jon Tester would be the right person either. But in general, this is what I think I was trying to get at with my proposal the other day to revive our old blogtalkradio show. We’re not the “gentry liberals”. We might not be Jim Webb’s cohort either but there’s definitely an intersection on the Venn diagram.
Then there’s this:
“Today,” Fiorina writes,
“We have a situation where voters can choose between a party that openly admits to being a lap dog of Wall Street and a party that by its actions clearly is a lap dog but denies it. At least vote for the honest one.”
Asked about Webb, Fiorina replied, “the emotional side of me loves him.” But, Fiorina cautioned, “the rational side is worried about how he would actually behave if he were president.”
Well, it’s about time that the pundit class openly admits what those of us on this blog have suspected since the day after Super Tuesday 2008. The party was highjacked during the 2008 primary campaign. That’s why the nature of discourse on Daily Kos changed almost overnight. Almost immediately it felt like the guys from Enron took the place over. And the super delegates started falling like dominos with the rush of money into party coffers. We know retrospectively from Michael Lewis’s book, The Big Short, that there were plenty of people who knew the collapse was coming and wanted to set themselves up before the fall. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that the bubble was going to burst with very grave consequences for the economy. The traders and bankers put their money on the enabler.
But one thing I disagree with is Edsall’s characterization of Hillary as polished and over produced. Maybe that was the case early in the 2007-2008 primary campaign season. But as the race became tighter and Florida and Michigan delegate numbers were withheld from her win column to create an artificial narrative that she was always behind, she transformed as a candidate and became much more authentic. We all saw her become a different person. That is why she continued to win primaries right to the bitter end and more and more voters responded positively to her as a person. Underdog status didn’t polish her. It forged and hardened her, like steel.
There’s another problem with the current Democratic party opinion makers that I think they need to sit and think about. For all the talk about Hillary being in the pockets of the corporate and financial elite, those donors abandoned her in 2008 for Barack Obama. I find it curious that no one wants to talk about that.
Plus, it’s my sense from reading all the commentary in the past 6 years that the gentry elite has never really liked the Clintons. Anglachel had a series of riveting posts on the subject back in 2008 about how the liberal elite thought of the Clintons as Arkansan podunks who didn’t know which soup spoon to use. They were rather too authentic in their support of working class economic issues. Bill was channeling the Jacksonian/Truman wing while the gentry liberals are all Adlai Stevenson. The class issues are stark and the bridge very hard to span. Maybe that’s where all the misleading “Clinton is a Third Way, neoliberal, DLC loving, puppy eater!” comes from. If you’ve never lived in poverty, crafting policies to address it become a mental exercise for the reader the results of which resemble intellectual masturbation. I don’t remember Clinton being about that kind of process. He rather enjoyed politics and making friends with everyone. He is the ultimate LinkedIn profile.
Nevertheless, I think it would be a good thing for Jim Webb to jump into the race. I think he would appeal to a lot of people in the Appalachia area and a lot of people that the Democrats wrote off in 2008. He might have a following here in Pittsburgh as well. Sure, why not have him run? Hashing out issues of class, opportunity and income would be a very good thing. We don’t hear enough of that kind of campaign rhetoric and the results of the last 6 years shows that Democrats in Exile, such as ourselves, have been completely ignored by the Democratic party. As Edsall speculates, Webb’s political skills might not carry him as far as the White House but he does represent a throwback to the New Deal era and the Tennessee Valley Authority and championing the little guy, not just some carefully data mined groups.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing for Hillary Clinton.