Monday, April 05, 2004

O'Merica Factor

In the interest of disclosure the following comments are surely influenced by Thomas Frank.

Al Franken and his liberal band will not be successful in reproducing an angry rank and file liberal base because for the most part liberals aren't very angry. They might hate the dim Bush and his clan and have disdain for his bible thumping followers but they really aren't that pissed off at the state of things. They are not going to appeal to the group that truly have something to be angry about because for the most part they are liberal centrists and thus do not have fundamental issues with the state and economy.

There are 4 main liberal constituencies that consistently vote and agitate for the Democratic Party, Jews, Blacks, organized labor households, and government workers. This is the base of the New Deal and Great Society coalition which has been under dramatic attack for the last 30 years. The group that has been under the most consistent and fierce attack and has thus seen the greatest defections is organized labor. The Right has very consciously pursed an economic and political strategy for this group; undermining workers ability to organize and appealing to white male workers on cultural grounds. They have been particularly successful with a specific group of working class men, the Reagan Democrat. This group tends to be ethnic, Catholic, from one of the rust belt states, and is from a formerly New Deal household.

Who's angry? Who isn't? Who cares?

There are lots of angry people in the USA. For our purposes though we will just look at how this affects the electoral opposition, the main target of Air America. Blacks in the US are very angry but for the most part don't vote. They are strategically important however and the small numbers that do vote are courted, particularly in the black church, where money is lavished to local preachers who have abilities in turning out high numbers of middle class voters.

Organized labor households, the few that are left, are also angry after years of givebacks, speed up, lockouts, etc... lots of organized work forces are exhausted and just happy to sign off on the next contract.

Government workers, most of whom are organized are also angry. They are pissed for many of the same reasons as above but they have the added ire because they are the whipping boy's of all sorts who see them as the hand maiden of of the evil "welfare queen," re black, and is grossly overpaid.

Jews are angry that these idiot gentiles are so dumb that they would elect such fools to represent the most powerful nation in the world. They are only intellectually angry however as opposed to being angered by their material condition or because of racial injustice because most are materially comfortable. In terms of foreign policy Jews tend to be very progressive and on the non-interventionist end of the spectrum and even to the left of most Americans on Israel. This being said the most reactionary Zionists dominate the debate from the Jewish community and this includes the most "doveish" Democrats.

I isolate these groups not because they represent such a large portion of US society but because we have such dismal voter participation that even small groups can have a large impact on elections. For example Jews are a very small minority in this country but they vote in high numbers and live in strategic states, thus their importance. Particularly in presidential elections, because of the electoral college, this point is salient.

This being said the Democrats take their core constituencies for granted, they will vote for us anyway so why should we vote for them seems to be the approach. The Democratic Leadership Council, the most dominant faction of the Democratic party at this time, Clinton, Gore, Liberman, Kerry, Edwards, are all members, epitomizes this position. The famous triangulation strategy of Clinton is its most clear implementation on the national level; steal the Right's thunder by adopting their policies and throw some platitudes to the base to keep them happy. For instance, welfare reform, free trade, interventionism. Clinton was for all three and some how liberals think he was the greatest. I thought they were against these things?

A round about way to get to Air America but here goes. Both in style and substance Franken and co. will not break from the Clinton model. The problem in a nutshell is lots of liberals listen to the radio, it's called NPR. It's the most listened to radio news program in the country. The listener likes folksy stories, folky music, business news, and non-mukraking journalism. NPR delivers in spades. Rarely does the government in power have a beef with NPR because for the most part they are stenographers. The commentary that comes across is always "balanced" meaning a liberal and a reactionary. It well represents the US political spectrum and elite opinion. Liberals like this approach and they listen in. NPR fills the niche that Al is coveting.

The problem here then is who is going to listen to Al? I'm not sure. They are centrists so they are not going to expand the base by appealing to issues of labor, radical re-distribution of wealth, expansion of democracy, racial appeals or calls for a new role for regulation and government in our lives to say nothing of nationalization of industry and such. They like Clinton and Kerry and will thus parrot their positions. They will do this because they are fairly comfortable themselves and don't see a real need for any radical change.

To style, Rush is a right wing populist. He has identified an enemy, government, minorities, labor unions, environmentalists, feminists (re. women), the ACLU and has tried to create a constituency out of an insecure population. He has been particularly successful with white males, who now tend to vote Republican. He has a ranting, angry style. He is emotional, he is passionate. Everything that Al Franken isn't.

Have you heard Al's rap? It's boring, barely passionate, wishy-washy and obsessed with Bush, not a systematic approach to issues that people are pissed about. Even the name of his program is reactive. Why would you listen to Al besides wanting to be mildly humored?

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