Thursday, April 27, 2006


Frank v. Klein: The Butt-Whipping

Joe Klein is a prime example of the sort of bought-off has-beens and never-weres that dutifully regurgitate GOP/DLC blast-faxes as Received Wisdom in the US press. Which is why it's simultaneously gladdening and saddening to see Frank's exquisite takedown-cum-review of Klein's new hymn to the GOP/DLC/Media Axis. Gladdening, because it's always a joy to watch a man of ethics, logic and learning at work disembowelling someone else's unethical, nonsensical propaganda. Saddening, because in our corrupt GOP/DLC/Media environment, Joe Klein is rewarded handsomely for his unethical, nonsensical propaganda. The money shots from Frank's review (thanks to Atrios for the link):

As it happens, there’s a much simpler way to make sense of Politics Lost. It’s this: The Democratic Leadership Council is always right. This is the real master narrative behind this confusing collection of anecdotes. When figures associated with the centrist D.L.C. show up in Mr. Klein’s text, you can be certain they’re going to turn out to be helpful or insightful. They will get the last word in revealing the screw-ups of rival consultants; they will be hailed for their wisdom; they will be greeted as the author’s “best friends in politics.” And to guess how Joe Klein is going to interpret a particular campaign or historical incident, you need only know what the D.L.C. has said about it in the council’s various publications or the op-eds of its leaders. Read deeply enough in the D.L.C.’s works and you will find it all: the straying, chastisement, redemption and eventual sainthood of Bill Clinton; the departure of Al Gore from the path of centrist righteousness and his resulting destruction; the dangerous wrongness of Howard Dean; and even Mr. Klein’s use of the word “populism” to signify economic liberalism of the New Deal/Great Society variety, which is a D.L.C. trademark. Joe Klein loves to gripe.
Now, I know it’s customary in D.C. journalism to understand Harry Truman the way Joe Klein does: as a symbol, as a lovable, plain-spoken guy from the “heartland” largely unconnected to actual politics (sort of the way the folkies regarded Woody Guthrie, come to think of it). So maybe it’s a little unfair of me to call attention to what Truman actually said. But Mr. Klein’s repetitive invocation of Truman, plus a little regional pride in the man, compelled me to look up the Turnip Day speech. Having listened to a recording of it, I think Mr. Klein is right in insisting that it be regarded as a model for Democratic candidates. I can also report that what Truman said in the speech is in almost every particular the precise opposite of what Joe Klein advises contemporary Democrats to say. Harry Truman was no centrist, and neither was he a radical. Still, listening to his ferocious ad-libs back in 1948 (which was, incidentally, not during the Great Depression), his audience could have had few doubts about what the Democratic Party stood for. Truman was explicit: “[T]he Democratic Party is the people’s party, and the Republican Party is the party of special interest, and it always has been and always will be.” He reveled in what Mr. Klein would call “class war,” calling a Republican tax cut a “rich man’s tax bill” that “helps the rich and sticks a knife into the back of the poor” and describing politics as a contest between the “common everyday man” and the “favored classes,” the “privileged few.” Even more astonishingly, Truman went on to talk policy in some detail, with special emphasis on Mr. Klein’s hated “jobs, health-care, and blah-blah-blah”: He called for the construction of public housing, an increase in the minimum wage, expansion of Social Security, a national health-care program and the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act. And this sort of high-octane oratory propelled Truman on to win the election in a historic upset. Joe Klein is not the only one to moan about the polarized age in which we are supposedly living these days, with all the power having gravitated to “the extremes of both left and right,” to use the standard deploring formula. Everyone in pundit-land moans this way, and they can be fairly confident that their buddy the CNN host won’t contradict them when they so moan. But someone needs to rub their faces in the fact that, compared to today’s “polarized” Democratic Party, their lovable old Harry Truman sounds like a fire-breathing anarchist, defending positions so far to the left that we have forgotten that one of the two major parties ever held them. Maybe what ails us isn’t a deficit of authenticity or the pull of the poles; maybe it’s something Truman would have grasped in a Kansas City minute: the power of money, the push of the right. Maybe squishy centrism is the problem, not the solution. And maybe we could use a little more polarization of the Turnip Day variety.

It's hard to believe that Klein didn't understand just how energetically Truman harnessed the politics of resentment. Every voter in 1948 had lived through the Great Depression. The very youngest of them was two when it hit and five when FDR became president. Most of them would have remembered the Bonus Marchers, the veterans of World War I, attacked with tear gas, ridden down with cavalry, and some killed by Douglas MacArthur. Two infants suffocated from the tear gas.

(At the end of World War II, veterans were not greeted with worthless Republican promises of bonus pay, but with the GI Bill of Rights, passed by an all-Democratic government).

And among the vast majority of Americans, there was no doubt that the Depression was caused by greed, rapacity, corruption, and monumental incompetence. Many people don't know that Roosevelt was a powerful opponent of corruption, and a lifelong opponent of Democratic Tammany Hall. But he knew the New Deal would not succeed if money were wasted as patronage.

The wonder of it is why the nation ever put the Republicans back in power. They had a lot to resent and Harry Truman expressed their feelings perfectly.

I think he could win today.
Upton Sinclair explained Joe Klein and his ilk before Klein was even born: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
Thank you for posting this.
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