Thomas Frank’s most recent book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America preciently explains phenomenon of “moral values” that polls show played a pivotal role in Tuesday’s election.
Frank has an op-ed piece in today’s Times, basically restating the argument conveyed in his book. Frank, who also wrote One Market Under God seems to think that moral/cultural values should always be trumped by economic values. But yet how to make the evangelical Christians and the people in the middle of the country care about the economy or foreign policy of health care or education?
To short-circuit the Republican appeals to blue-collar constituents, Democrats must confront the cultural populism of the wedge issues with genuine economic populism. They must dust off their own majoritarian militancy instead of suppressing it; sharpen the distinctions between the parties instead of minimizing them; emphasize the contradictions of culture-war populism instead of ignoring them; and speak forthrightly about who gains and who loses from conservative economic policy.
What is more likely, of course, is that Democratic officialdom will simply see this week’s disaster as a reason to redouble their efforts to move to the right. They will give in on, say, Social Security privatization or income tax “reform” and will continue to dream their happy dreams about becoming the party of the enlightened corporate class. And they will be surprised all over again two or four years from now when the conservative populists of the Red America, poorer and angrier than ever, deal the “party of the people” yet another stunning blow.
Peter Beinart calls for a similar Democratic focus on economic issues in The New Republic:
It is true that Kerry failed to win back many lunch-pail, working-class former Democrats. But, instead of focusing merely on why those voters were alienated by the Democrats’ cultural message, party strategists need to pay more attention to why they weren’t attracted by its economic message.