Democrats forge a way forward | Opinion
My parents were old school. They believed that politics and religion should never be discussed. To this day, I don’t know if they voted Democrat or Republican. Sometimes one of them would comment on a candidate in a way that suggested they didn’t like them. But they never said frankly for or against whom they had voted.
My mom taught me the first thing I knew about politics. When I asked her what the difference was between Republicans and Democrats, she said Republicans were for the wealthy and big business, and Democrats were for the poor and working class. And that made sense – up to a point.
Kentucky is ranked among the poorest states in the country. Until a few decades ago, Democrats were well represented in our government offices across the United States, in states and counties. But then what happened?
Last weekend, a group of lawmakers, activists and concerned citizens gathered at Rough River Dam State Resort Park to craft a vision for Kentucky’s future.
Hank Linderman, one of the event organizers, is running for U.S. Representative in Kentucky’s 2nd District. Linderman, a Democrat, noted that the Democratic Party mostly invests in places it thinks it can win and mostly ignores rural America and small towns. “The reality is things could get worse for Democrats before they get better,” Linderman said.
“Neither party is doing a good job for the people,” Linderman insisted. “We need to stop vilifying the other side with broad brush strokes and look for ways that we can all move forward.”
Linderman introduced the keynote speaker, Thomas Frank. According to Wikipedia: “Thomas Carr Frank is an American political analyst, historian and journalist. He co-founded and edited The disconcerting magazine. Frank is the author of the books What’s wrong with Kansas? (2004) and Listen, liberal (2016), among others. From 2008 to 2010, he wrote “The Tilting Yard”, a column in The Wall Street Journal.
“A historian of culture and ideas, Frank analyzes trends in American election politics and propaganda, advertising, popular culture, mainstream journalism, and economics. His topics include the rhetoric and impact of the culture wars in American political life and the relationship between politics and culture in the United States.
Frank returns to the mid-1960s and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” — a series of policy initiatives, laws, and programs designed to reduce poverty and crime, abolish inequality, and improve the environment . It included funds for farmers to buy land and create agricultural cooperatives, Medicare and Medicaid, Project Head Start, the Housing and Urban Development Act, and the Water Quality Act.
According to Frank, it was a time when Americans believed that everyone could get ahead together – that everyone who worked hard could have a house, a television and a car.
“Who took this American dream away from us? asked Frank. “It is a great mystery and one of the inescapable questions of our time.”
Frank noted that the wealth gap has grown significantly since 1965. America’s three richest individuals – Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos – collectively own more wealth than the bottom 50% of the US population. (i.e. 160 million people or 63 million US households). ).
Frank recalled President Obama’s speech in 2013 which addressed the problem of the ever-widening wealth gap. Obama said the country’s wealth is going higher and higher, while tax cuts for the wealthiest have reduced investments that benefit the poor and middle class, saying it has made it harder for poor children to escape poverty. “The basic market at the heart of our economy has unraveled,” Obama said, noting that income inequality presents a “fundamental threat” to “our way of life.”
Republicans like President Reagan cut taxes on the wealthy and revised tax laws in ways that sent American jobs overseas. But Republicans aren’t entirely responsible for wealth inequality. Frank described Bill Clinton’s presidency as an “Aquarius white-collar era.” According to Frank, Clinton favored the “learning class” over the “working class”, saying that “what we earn depends on what we can learn”. This perspective has ignored and abandoned large groups of the ordinary poor and the working class.
Clinton betrayed the working class, especially unionized workers, when he passed the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) in 1993. He also repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, an important part of banking regulation Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and deregulated the trading of derivatives, including credit default swaps. Clinton’s deregulation of the financial sector paved the way for a myriad of abuses and excesses that led to the economic crash of 2007-2008.
Additionally, Clinton passed welfare reform that plunged millions of poor Americans into deep, bleak poverty, and he signed the now infamous Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, commonly referred to as ” the crime bill,” which led to mass incarceration, especially among poor and working-class blacks and Hispanics.
President Barack Obama has continued to strengthen the so-called “learning left”. Frank cited the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, often referred to as the “Bank Bailout of 2008,” as an example of the “endless second chances” given to Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Whereas working class Americans are meant to fail or succeed on their own.
“Our two-party system has degraded into a hateful culture war,” Frank said. “We need to change the way we think about who we are and how we got to this horrible place. Both sides consider themselves elite. Both sides ride a carousel of outrage.
Frank said Democrats and Republicans want the same things: shared prosperity, affordable housing and health care, a comfortable retirement. But instead of working toward these common goals, we are constantly distracted by culture war issues such as abortion, guns, critical race theory, transgender rights, and more.
I totally agree that these are not kitchen table issues – everyday issues that ordinary people are naturally concerned about. Rather, they are corner issues – divisive political issues specifically designed and manufactured by cunning pollsters and politicians to attract, alienate or attack the opposition. These corner issues create problems and divisions where they did not exist and did not need to exist. (But unfortunately, they help Republicans win elections.)
Kentucky Rep. Joni Jenkins (D – Dist. 44) serves as minority floor manager. Jenkins stressed the need to involve young people in government. She envisions a Kentucky where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Jenkins supports the idea of forming strong local Democratic parties, saying the “cookie cutter politics” of Washington and Frankfurt don’t work at the local level. “Residents need to start driving the train,” she said.
Our two adult children, ages 29 and 30, vote and keep up to date on the issues. They know that half of America is living paycheck to paycheck, half a million Americans are homeless, millions are worried about evictions, and 92 million are uninsured or underinsured. They know that the younger generation now faces the very real possibility that their standard of living will be lower than that of their parents – while the top 1% become grotesquely wealthy.
It is difficult to envision a new and different kind of government – not necessarily Democrat or Republican, but one in which both parties work together for the common good.
It’s hard to imagine, but it’s the only way to go.