Tuesday, April 05, 2005

On the Left's Left

Instapundit linked to this article in the Sunday Times and highlighted this passage:
Bredesen, a former mayor of Nashville, believes his party has “somehow gotten itself divorced” from the blue-collar constituency it has always relied on for presidential success: “I’ve always felt the Democratic party was a kind of alliance between the academics and intellectuals and working-class men and women. I think what happened is that in my lifetime, the academics won.”

As a result, the governor said, the party had lost its broad appeal. He mocked other Democratic candidates who think connecting with middle America means quoting a few verses from the Bible or being photographed with guns.
Reading it, I was reminded of something very similarly expressed in a memo penned by Laurie Garrett before she retired from Newsday earlier last month (please do the Ctrl-F thing for "Laurie Garrett"). In it she writes:
When I started out in journalism the newsrooms were still full of old guys with blue collar backgrounds who got genuinely indignant when the Governor lied or somebody turned off the heat on a poor person's apartment in mid-January. They cussed and yelled their ways through the day, took an occasional sly snort from a bottle in the bottom drawer of their desk and bit into news stories like packs of wild dogs, never letting go until they'd found and told the truth. If they hadn't been reporters most of those guys would have been cops or firefighters. It was just that way.

Now the blue collar has been fully replaced by white ones in America's newsrooms, everybody has college degrees. The "His Girl Friday" romance of the newshound is gone. All too many journalists seem to mistake scandal mongering for tenacious investigation, and far too many aspire to make themselves the story. When I think back to the old fellows who were retiring when I first arrived at Newsday – guys (almost all of them were guys) who had cop brothers and fathers working union jobs – I suspect most of them would be disgusted by what passes today for journalism. Theirs was not a perfect world --- too white, too male, seen through a haze of cigarette smoke and Scotch – but it was an honest one rooted in mid-20th Century American working class values.
In both passages the working class and its attitudes and perspectives have been seemingly silenced by more *sophisticated* groups--be they academics or white-collar professionals. This transformation and loss of a large group of people seems utterly lamentable, given the need to bring people together for debate and create some form of unity throughout the country during times of debate.

As voices like the academic Left--voices that Garnett's white-collar journalists probably echo--become more prominent, it seems that the Left loses some of its ability to actually connect with the vast majority of the country--including those swing voters who don't know if they will vote Republican or Democrat. When neo-Marxists and socialists, ready with their sophisticated political economy critiques, are speaking and listened to, it is no wonder that many folks are not willing to vote for Democrats. Even though these far-left types hardly represent the majority of the Left, or the whole country, through the institutional power and cultural background that the academics speak from--possibly the same type they critique in businesses and government--they have gained a primacy and significance that seems disproportionate.

In my own department, I sometimes get the sense that my fairly moderate political stance (when forced, I declare myself to be a Joe Lieberman Democrat or John McCain Republican) might easily and relatively be taken for far-right reactionary-ism. Of course this is silly; after all, I, like most people, am not a fascist! But, in this type of environment, it becomes difficult for the Left to create a genuine stasis with the Right, because the fairly-fringed wing of the party that, at times becomes embarrassingly vocal, makes it seem like the Democrats are the party of collectivization and Revolution!

To start a conversation you need some common ground and a sense of some shared system or logic.


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