In The New York Times (reg. req.), Thomas Frank weighs in on why the Democrats lost. (Short answer: They didn't listen to Thomas Frank.)
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.
Translation: We have to make these rubes understand that George W. Bush is just acting all down-homey. He's actually really rich!
Is it any wonder that nobody in Kansas gives a roasted fart what Tom Frank thinks? Only in the center of the blue-state echo chamber could you sell the idea that Bush voters are this naïve about or indifferent to their own economic, cultural, and political interests. Anybody who hasn't deserted the thinning* heartland by now either has decided he likes the lifestyle there and the system that maintains it or is too much of a sad sack to leave. The former doesn't want and the latter doesn't deserve an economic champion in D.C. Even the Joad family at least had the sense to come to California.
But leave aside the dubious proposition that the current administration has put forward a conservative economic policy. Frank's proposal is a straightup loser for the Democrats. The real value of this article lies in what it argues against: The Democrats can become the party of the enlightened corporate class, and that's exactly what they should be doing. Kerry's strenuous and demeaning efforts to look comfortable around union members should be the tipoff: These flirtations with the proles are getting to be as clumsy and embarrassing as the family life of a gay man in denial. The Republicans are already the party of war and welfare. Let the Democrats embrace their destiny as the party of free trade and free love. Seemingly this event would reverse the polarities of the two major parties—which would put it directly in the mainstream of American history.
* That's "thinning" in the figurative sense, of course. In reality, our country remains so rich that even Tom Frank's starving masses are getting fatter by the minute.