Here’s the real problem with American liberalism: there is no such thing, not really. What we call American liberalism is really a kind of genetic mutant, a Frankenstein’s monster of incongruous parts – a fat, affluent, overeducated New York/Washington head crudely screwed onto the withering corpse of the vanishing middle-American manufacturing class. These days the Roosevelt stratum of rich East Coasters are still liberals, but the industrial middle class that the New Deal helped create is almost all gone. In 1965, manufacturing jobs still made up 53 percent of the US economy; that number was down to nine percent in 2004, and no one has stepped up to talk to the 30 million working poor who struggle to get by on low-wage, part-time jobs.
Thus, the people who are the public voice of American liberalism rarely have any real connection to the ordinary working people whose interests they putatively champion. They tend instead to be well-off, college-educated yuppies from California or the East Coast, and hard as they try to worry about food stamps or veterans’ rights or securing federal assistance for heating oil bills, they invariably gravitate instead to things that actually matter to them – like the slick Al Gore documentary on global warming, or the “All Things Considered” interview on NPR with the British author of Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. They haven’t yet come up with something to replace the synergy of patrician and middle-class interests that the New Deal represented.
Bernie Sanders, the new Senator from Vermont and one of the few American politicians in history to have survived publicly admitting to being a socialist, agrees that this peculiar demographic schism is a fundamental problem for the American political opposition.
“Unfortunately, today, when you talk about the ‘American left,’” he says, “as often as not you’re talking about wealthy folks who are concerned about the environment (which is enormously important) who are concerned about women’s rights (which are enormously important) and who are concerned about gay rights (which are enormously important).
“But you’re not really referring to millions of workers who have lost their jobs because of disastrous trade agreements,” he says. “You’re not talking about waitresses who are working for four bucks an hour.” As often as not, he says, you’re talking about “sophisticated people who have money.”
This is a snip from a long piece by Taibbi; I have yet to read all of it through, and see what he thinks follows from this diagnosis.