Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 3, 2004

Letter to Nicholas Kristof

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:46 pm

posted to www.marxmail.org on November 3, 2004

Dear Nicholas Kristof,

Although your op-ed piece was filed before the final tally, it was shrewd enough to implicitly anticipate Kerry’s defeat. You write:

“One of the Republican Party’s major successes over the last few decades has been to persuade many of the working poor to vote for tax breaks for billionaires. Democrats are still effective on bread-and-butter issues like health care, but they come across in much of America as arrogant and out of touch the moment the discussion shifts to values.”

In trying to explain the Democratic Party’s tin ear on such populist concerns, you draw upon Thomas Frank who also seemed to anticipate Kerry’s defeat:

“One problem is the yuppification of the Democratic Party. Thomas Frank, author of the best political book of the year, “What’s the Matter With Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America,” says that Democratic leaders have been so eager to win over suburban professionals that they have lost touch with blue-collar America.”

For reasons that are unfathomable to me, you offer up two of the unlikeliest RX’s for the DP’s current malaise: “Bill Clinton intuitively understood the challenge, and John Edwards seems to as well, perhaps because of their own working-class origins. But the party as a whole is mostly in denial.” I don’t think that going to McDonalds or being the son of a mill worker is exactly what is needed to turn the Democratic Party around. The first step led to nothing but heart surgery, while the second seemed to be of zero value in lining up the votes of Southerners. Perhaps if Clinton and Edwards had a record of challenging big corporations rather than feeding at their trough, their party’s reputation would be better among those people they presume to speak for.

Finally, your solution involves more frequent church attendance, a solution that would be lost on an apostate ex-Jew like me, even if I were a Democrat and had a gun:

“To appeal to middle America, Democratic leaders don’t need to carry guns to church services and shoot grizzlies on the way. But a starting point would be to shed their inhibitions about talking about faith, and to work more with religious groups.”

Let’s start at the top and review your observations.

To begin with, the Democrats have not been effective on bread-and-butter issues like health care. When George Bush challenged John Kerry to provide a single instance of health care legislation during his entire Senate career, Kerry was stopped dead in his tracks. Although Bush was obviously resorting to demagogy, the sad fact is that Kerry and *all of the leading Democrats* have failed to respond to the crisis. Bill and Hillary Clinton’s health care plan was a Byzantine attempt to drive the American people into HMO stockades, while Kerry’s plan was far friendlier to corporations, who would benefit from subsidies, than it was to the average citizen. Perhaps if the Democrats had adopted a Canadian style single-payer plan, it would have resonated more with those benighted red state voters. But then again, the Democratic Party depends heavily on HMO contributions, doesn’t it?

This leads us to the overarching problem. The underlying assumption of your article and Thomas Frank’s book is that the Democrats are somehow being punished by losing office. During the run-up to November 2nd, I kept hearing references to the need to punish George W. Bush. Frankly, I don’t think that returning to private life within the context of millionaire privileges is that much of a punishment. After Bill Clinton defeated Bush the elder, he seemed rather unfazed by being driven from the White House. To my way of thinking, people such as Saddam Hussein are being punished. Of course, someday our own war criminals will face justice.

If the choice is between maintaining the profits of HMO’s and winning an election, I am quite sure that the Democrats would opt for the former. Since most of them have some sort of background as corporate lawyers or entrepreneurs, their class origins and loyalties would ensure that they follow their marching orders. Of course, if a stray Democrat ever decided to march to the tune of a different drummer, they’d get taught a proper lesson as Howard Dean discovered.

All that being said, your article does not seem all that interested in figuring out ways to square the circle and make the Democratic Party more responsive to the economic needs of the working class. The idea that Democrats can win more elections by “talking about faith” seems utterly preposterous to me, if you’ll excuse me for being blunt. In the final analysis, the Republicans have not been successful because they have talked about faith, but because they have catered to the backwardness of Christian fundamentalists. This is something that has to be confronted head-on or else American society will continue to sink into medieval torpor. That will take a lot more backbone than any Democrat can muster, I’m afraid.

Yours truly,

Louis Proyect

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