What's the Matter with Us? (Hint: It's not the people, it's the...

What's the Matter with Us? (Hint: It's not the people, it's the parties)


Thomas Frank (What’s the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America) presents an interesting take in the WSJ this morning on the “fake populism” that’s so popular right now.

He’s probably right that the Dems are satisfied that “those people” (i.e. disaffected independents) have nowhere else to go. Of course Jackie Salit (How the Independent Movement Went Left by Going Right) & Co. know better…

There’s a lot more where that came from over at The Hankster!

  • http://westanddivided.blogspot.com/ mw

    Help me work through this….

    First, you acknowledge (along with Thomas Frank) the existence of a GOP populism that is “popular” (which some would consider to be the defining characteristic of “real populism”) but assert it is actually “fake populism”. I surmise we know this is “fake populism” because Thomas Frank tells us. Frank being the same man who wrote a book explaining that there is something wrong with Kansas as evidenced by the fact that Kansas is conservative. This, of course being obvious to all right thinking individuals who know that “conservative” is identically the same as “wrong” – by definition.

    Then in the next sentence, you agree with Frank that independents have no where to go but to the Democrats. I guess again this is because Frank tells us so… or maybe it’s another definition thing – independents being only independent if they vote for liberals – or something.

    Finally Jackie Salit appears to clear up the confusion. According to her, it turns out our “beloved president” is actually an Independent, something I suspect that even he would be surprised to learn. Particularly since he had the single most toe-the-line partisan Democratic voting record in the Senate while there, and has managed to garner close to zero legislative support for his agenda outside of the Democratic Party as President. Superficially the casual observer might think this makes him as partisan a Democrat as it is possible to get.

    Now I understand you are just providing links to these very progressive authors in this post, but unless I am misreading this, you seem to be endorsing their views. Not that there is anything wrong with that – and please correct me if am mistaken in that read.

    But if I am not mistaken, I have a question.

    What is it that makes you an independent?

  • http://grassrootsindependent.blogspot.com/ Nancy Hanks

    mw — thanks for your response. Just to be clear, I am not nor have I ever been a centrist. I am a life-long leftist and community organizer aligned with independentvoting.org (I helped create the history that is outlined in Salit’s video).

    I realize that Donklephant is a centrist blog, however, I was invited to guest post here not because I am a centrist, but because I am an independent and bring an independent voice to the blog. Justin was on a panel that I organized last year along with Salit and several other bloggers and journalists where we engaged these issues. Independent does not = centrist. Independent does not = liberal. Independent does not = conservative.

    My point of agreement with Thomas Frank’s article is that I agree that the Dems THINK that they can ignore progressive independents (of which I am one) because the Dems think that progressive independents have no where else to go. The Democratic Party takes progressive voters for granted. (Shocked? I think not!) There is at least one grassroots based organization that I know of that is organizing independents as independents, not as a party — CUIP (independentvoting.org) — and having a lot of success (committees and activists in 45 states.) And by the way, my point about “fake populism” being “popular” is that being “popular” isn’t particularly genuine or having integrity or historically-based.

    Independents skew across the political spectrum. I speak to independents every day as a volunteer fundraiser for CUIP and as the Treasurer of the Queens County Independence Party in New York where I live. The NYC IP just elected the first independent mayor of NYC, Mike Bloomberg.

    No matter where they stand on social or fiscal issues, the people who I speak to who consider themselves independent (mostly they are registered as unaffiliated or as IP members here in NYC, but they might also be registered in a party in order to vote in that party’s primary where there are closed primaries) — these folks vote for the person not the party, think that the political parties are a corruption, and support political reform like nonpartisan elections and open primaries.

    Barack Obama is the first independent president, not because of his views or voting record in the Senate, but because the people who got him elected are independent. The American electorate stood up to the Clinton machine in the primaries, and stood up to the right wing and politics as usual in the general election.

    Independence is not a definition — it’s an activity. I’m not an independent because I take certain positions on issues or because some Pew Research study has categorized me as such; I’m an independent because I have built independent organizations, organizations that are outside of the partisan status-quo institutions that make the rules that exclude independents.

  • wj

    Based on Ms. Hanks definition of “independent” I guess I count as an independent. Even though I have been registered as a Republican for 4 decades now — yes, way back when it was a centerist party, then when it was a conservative party, and even now when it is (sadly) very much a reactionary party.

    Why do I do that? Because a) California has closed primaries and I want to have some say in a primary election, and b) because in California there is a bit more hope (albeit still slim) that the Republicans will move to the center before the Democrats do. Of course, neither is at all likely to happen until the current gerrymandered districts are changed. But it is even less likely if all the centerist voters decide not to register with one party or the other.

  • http://westanddivided.blogspot.com/ mw

    Thanks for the thoughtful (and comprehensive) reply. I wasn’t questioning your posting here. I don’t really consider Donk a “Centrist” blog, To me it is a venue where the full spectrum of views get hashed out on a more-or-less equal footing. When Justin is blogging actively it leans left, more recently – with Justin lying low and Frank more active, it has a right-of-center flavor. Your voice is an important one, and adds a lot to the mix.

    Your reply helped me appreciate your understanding of the independent “movement”, but I still struggle with its relevance.

    I get stuck on this notion of a “movement”, of a “political organization” that is somehow divorced from policy positions. It is the same problem I had with the abortive Unity08 effort. If a “movement” is not organized to deliver a predictable block of votes to specific candidates or on specific issues I don’t understand how it is politically relevant. And I don’t understand how you get there with the pretense that it does not matter whether self-identifying independents are liberal, conservative, libertarian or green. Ultimately it is only policy that matters politically, and in my view, the success or failure organizing around those policy positions.

    Once you say a political organization is not about policy, it begs the question – What is the organization about? Process I guess. It just seems kind of mushy.

    Regarding “the beloved”, I agree that independents got him elected, but the movement of independent votes from R to D started in 2004 and increased in 2006 and 2008. It appears to me that the shift in Independent votes over the last three cycles had almost nothing to with Obama and everything to do with Bush. So it is a little disingenuous to call Obama the first “Independent President”. If recent polls hold up, and the Independent vote moves away from Obama and the Dems in the next two cycles (as seems likely), does that mean that Obama is no longer the “Independent President”?

    BTW – I self-identify as a libertarian-leaning independent.

    Heh – Captcha words – “Policy Ransoms”

  • http://grassrootsindependent.blogspot.com/ Nancy Hanks

    wj — Yes, you are among many many voters throughout the country who think independent but stay registered in a party so that they can vote in closed primaries. Californians will have a chance to implement open primaries (called “Top Two”) in June. Gerrymandering is a big issue also, primarily because the major parties make deals about turf. Inclusion of independents on redistricting commissions has been recommended as a way of impacting on this. Let’s face it, whoever makes the rules, rules. In the case of our exclusionary two-party system, it is politicians from the major parties who sit in office year after year after decade making the rules that all of us have to live under. We have a partisan culture and it takes a lot of effort to make a cultural shift!

  • http://centristcoalition.com/blog/ kranky kritter

    MW, I think Nancy gives a really good answer, because she has been working on identifying where that spectrum of independent voices agrees. And the policy of traditional political issues is not where they agree.

    Where they agree is that the hegemony of the existing parties deforms authentic representation of the people. I have seen the same things as Nancy described and as wj touches on. Gerrymandering, closed primaries, and so on. All these things are geared to preserve a status quo of two-party dominance. And let’s face it, the parties rarely rise above theater, because they feel safe and entitled to their dominance of the system.

    What do independents want? They want better candidates than what the current system provides. They want to see authentic policy positions, with you know, details. Not subtle shadings of meaningless platitudes. I think it’s at least possible that the next couple decades will bring more viable candidates from outside the confines of the two parties. It’s a bit of a chicken-egg question as to whether changing mechanics or the growth of non-traditional candidates has to come first.

    Do independents agree on traditional policy issues like say abortion or regulation or taxes or whatever? Nope. Does that mean they can’t change things by finding common cause on other grounds? Also nope. By my mileage anyway.