Air Date 6/11/2022
[00:00:00] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left Podcast, in which we shall take a look at the reasons why Democrats lost rural America, and why it's important to make gains outside urban centers through working class coalitions, and a focus on the policy failures of unchecked republicanism.
Clips today are from Pitchfork Economics, Deconstructed, Jacobin Radio, The Rick Smith Show, The Tennessee Holler Podcast, with additional members-only clips from The Real News and The Dig.
How can Democrats win back rural America? (with Bill Hogseth) - Pitchfork Economics with Nick Hanauer - Air Date 1-26-21
[00:00:32] ZACH SILK - HOST, PITCHFORK ECONOMICS: I’d like to go down this politics road a little bit more. One of the things that you said in the piece is you talked about your dedication to good organizing and really, writ-large, the party has done a lot of organizing. There’s real commitment to organizing in Wisconsin. I think Barack Obama famously made a lot of organizing commitments across the country, especially in 2008. And there is a resurgence of organizing that’s been going on, but it wasn’t enough to win Dunn County, and you point that out.
Can you talk a little bit about your perspective on the limits of organizing or maybe better put, what is the positives and benefits of organizing? Because I don’t think we want to disparage it. But there are limits to it, because even after all that great work, it wasn’t enough.
[00:01:19] BILL HOGSETH: Yeah. And just to start, I want to just say I identify as an organizer, it’s part of my DNA. I really believe that the change that we need to make in the world that’s going to help the lives of real people, starts with getting real people involved in the process. And to me, that’s the heart of good organizing. I didn’t mean to disparage organizing in saying, oh, it wasn’t enough, so it’s not important in my article.
My hope in writing the article was to provide the perspective of someone who did dedicate his life, in a volunteer capacity, to organizing and give up my free time to make sure that I was getting my neighbors off the sidelines and having them take responsibility to get out to vote. But I kept on having these nagging thoughts while we were having conversations with voters, and while we were recruiting volunteers and doing all that grassroots work that, I would have people on the phone or at the doors before the pandemic ask me, "well, I don’t see anything different in my life after the Obama administration, what’s the Biden administration going to do for me?"
And there were those conversations with folks who live in rural communities, where it was hard for us to point to something that was going to change their life in a measurable, visible, tangible way that was connected to their experience as a rural American. to get back to your question, I think organizing is an essential part of the process, especially in rural areas where you really need to have those relationships on a one-to-one basis where people could start trusting progressives in rural areas again, but if you don’t have some transformative vision or some big audacious plan for how you’re going to change people’s lives that you can point to when you’re doing that work, it makes the organizing really, really difficult.
[00:03:18] ZACH SILK - HOST, PITCHFORK ECONOMICS: I’m an organizer, lifelong organizer like you. I think organizing is the central part of making progressive change in America. The reality is that at the end of the day, what we have on our side is people, and the only way you get people to express power is to organize them. I agree, it’s an essential ingredient, but let’s be honest, it’s not enough. Some of what you said in your piece really resonated with me, and I’ve got a lot of complaints about the way that Obama and team governed.
Really, it’s important to understand that you’ve got to do the organizing, but just as important, you have to do the delivering. What you’ve done when you’ve done organizing is you’ve lifted people up and given them hope for a different tomorrow. That’s part of the key of organizing. That’s helping them believe that things can be different if they just band together, but when you disappoint them and you don’t deliver, it’s really, really devastating.
And as we know, Obama actually did very well with rural America, particularly in the upper Midwest, but it collapsed, and I think the support for Democrats collapsed and part of that is attached to the governing, the delivering. It was a really, honestly, a complete disconnect. If you went back and read the things that Obama would say in speeches in places like Wisconsin, were put in television ads, and then you looked at his governing record, they couldn’t be more opposite. And I know you’ve said a little bit about that in your piece about this notion that if you don’t have an agenda that’s going to deliver for rural people, it doesn’t matter how much organizing you do or how much speechifying you do, you really have to deliver. Could you talk about what your thoughts are on what it means to deliver and fight for rural America?
[00:05:05] BILL HOGSETH: Let me just start and say, I’m an organizer, I’m not a policy expert. A lot of my thoughts just have to do really with starting the policy question by looking at people’s lives in the community where you live, and having an open heart and looking for where is the suffering happening, and where are people experiencing that in their lives, and then working backwards from there to identify what are the policies that are actually going to change people’s lives. So really connecting it to people’s experiences, and finding ways to change the material conditions that people find themselves in right now, because the economic despair amongst the folks who I live around is palpable.
Having some way to show that change, and then recognizing that a lot of those policies, whether they’re antitrust policies or changes to the for-profit healthcare system, passing those policies are going to require coming up against powerful interests, and for those policies to become reality, there’s going to need to be some fight. The folks who I talked to around here, especially farmers, for example, they really understand the way the economic system works, and they really understand how economic power works, how the companies that they buy their fertilizer and seed from have pretty much monopolized that sector, or the companies they sell their grain to, they can’t go around and try to get the best price for their grain, because there’s only one or two buyers in the area. They understand this, and so they know when a policy is proposed, well, there needs to be a fight because there’s significant economic power surrounding them and surrounding the communities that they live in.
[00:06:58] ZACH SILK - HOST, PITCHFORK ECONOMICS: There’s this horrible perception driven by elite media and folks who are living in urban environments that somehow rural people are naive to power. People who live in rural America have a more sophisticated understanding of power arrangements than anybody I’ve ever spent time with in cities, and part of that is exactly what you just said, which is they understand it at this very personal level. Like how it affects their crops, how it affects what they’re trying to get to market, how the international markets affect the price for what they’re producing. And then, if you’re not a farmer, there’s also the dynamic of, if you own a business in a small town, you know directly what it meant when Walmart came in.
[00:07:44] BILL HOGSETH: I agree. And I would add to that, just that a lot of the local town boards and a lot of the school boards, people in the communities where I live in, experience these really direct face-to-face relationships when it comes to government in their lives. And they often know the people who are their town chair, and who are the president of their school board, and see them at the grocery store, and talk with them at the coffee shop, and I think that adds to the perception of how power and resources work.
I would just add also to that when it comes to the understanding of power, I think there’s this overwhelming feeling amongst my neighbors, that a lot of the decisions that affect their life are made somewhere else. Culture happens somewhere else. Capital flows somewhere else. Decisions are made somewhere else. And when you think about this idea of resentment, I think that’s where a lot of this comes from. That we’re .Not in control of our own destinies here.
I think this goes both ways in the rural-urban divide, that stereotypes are alive and well of rural people, and I think also of urban people, stereotypes held by rural folks because there’s not the cross-pollination and the opportunities for those communities to go experience one another enough. There’s this often stereotype that everybody in rural America is a farmer, well it’s certainly not the case. You get political organizations wanting to develop a rural message and they often have a picture of a farmer in there, and it becomes a caricature of itself.
I just appreciate you just mentioning that a lot of our perceptions of rural and urban can be based on those stereotypes, but to the experience of just living in rural America, I grew up in Eau Claire-Chippewa Falls, which are very close to here. I chose to raise a family here. I’m 40 years old, so one of the things that, for me, and I think it’s common amongst other of my neighbors, is that we often choose to spend our lives here. We are not as mobile as I think other folks in the country are, or at least that I know of. It’s interesting to have this 40 year time lapse video of my life, where I have seen my community change over those decades, and having the memories of those barns that I see that are now empty and rotten, and the roofs are collapsed. Knowing that those barns, when I was a kid, we had 30 or 40 cows in the bottom stalls, and we’re supporting a small family business, and it was part of this network of small farms that were really holding up the rural communities around here, and then to be able to fast forward now to myself as an adult and I’m driving in the town, empty barn after empty barn, and then starting to see these large dairies that have 2000 cows in them now. When you live here your whole life you experience the story and you experience that change visually, and it’s this feeling that you get back to that things are changing without our voices being part of that process.
I was talking to a dairy farmer last year, and I don’t know if his stats were right, but he’s a smart dude, and he said, in Dunn County in 1972, there were 1100 dairy farms just in our county, and then as of last year, he said there were 150 dairy farms. And so this whole feeling that all these small businesses are blinking off the landscape, businesses that you could actually raise a family with, and then you see these visual reminders of these empty barns, it reminds you that the economy has changed, and that it’s harder and harder to get by around here. And also when you’re someone like me, a lot of my friends have left this area. I see more people having left than people having stayed, and so that’s another feeling like, well, the people who you grew up with are all gone because there’s nothing to stay here for.
Can Democrats Win in Rural America? - Deconstructed - Air Date 6-4-22
[00:12:09] RYAN GRIM - HOST, DECONSTRUCTED: So much of this debate around the approach to rural America that your book sparked seemed to not actually get into the question of what the party was saying. It was more about who to talk to, and how to talk to them, like in what form. But what about the message itself? Is there something that Democrats are doing wrong when it comes to the overall message, or platform, or kind of substantial program that they’re running on that needs to change?
[00:12:46] CANYON WOODWARD: I’m curious to hear what Chloe thinks, but I think my answer to that is nationally, especially as a party, it’s less an issue of what we’re saying or not saying and more of an issue of are we even in these spaces at all, having the conversations?
Back to your point at the very beginning of this conversation about the worry of the bottom dropping out of our margins in rural America. You look at, as recently as 2009, the partisan lean of rural voters was evenly split. And now it’s a 16-point Republican advantage. And I attribute so much of that to Democrats just not running strong campaigns and investing in grassroots organizing in rural spaces. We just haven’t been present enough, having the conversations and going door-to-door. And so what that’s created as a huge, huge void that Fox News and right-wing personalities and Trump have come into and filled. And that’s led to a lot of extremism, just because we kind of ceded that ground and haven’t been there to push back on those narratives.
[00:14:04] RYAN GRIM - HOST, DECONSTRUCTED: Yeah, Chloe, what do you think?
[00:14:06] CHLOE MAXMIN: Again, I think that Canyon is spot on. I mean, we’ve had this experience as Democrats campaigning in more red places. And we know that other candidates have had the same experience, too, where you’re like: I’m a Democrat, but I’m not like the national Democrats! I’m a different type of Democrat. And so I think there’s this space to really kind of reframe what it means to be a Democrat, and so that it is kind of improving the national party and the national reputation from the ground up instead of the top down. I don’t know if the top down is really going to work anymore.
Like we’ve been saying, so much of this is about grassroots organizing and grassroots conversation that can slowly change the way that we’re thinking about these issues. I think our theory of change is really rooted in the Democratic Party and getting more Democrats elected and really expanding the party as well and saying: Hey Democrats, like so many of the Republicans that we’ve written off, it doesn’t have to be that way. And we can find this common ground. And it doesn’t have to be based on party warfare, it can be based on a united, positive vision for the future, where we’re all just fighting for what we think is best for our families.
I mean, that’s the core of it, I think. There’s so much anger and strife, and so much of it is so needed and so justified. But I think in a lot of these everyday conversations that are happening on the campaign trail, people are just coming at it from the space of: what’s best for my daughter, what’s best for my child who’s in school right now, what’s best for my mother-in-law, who’s aging in place, what’s best for my family. And I think it’s so easy to lose sight of that. But we can fix it. We can fight back. We just got to build grassroots movements in spaces where we might not expect them.
[00:16:00] RYAN GRIM - HOST, DECONSTRUCTED: And I wonder if — and this will sound pessimistic — I wonder if the brand of the Democratic Party can even be revived in some of these areas. I think in Maine, it’s still strong, in New England. Generally it’s strong even in rural areas. I grew up in a very rural area of Maryland, and when I was growing up, there were still these Blue Dog Democrats, and there was a legacy of Democratic power. Today, in those areas, it’s very hard to find anybody outside of the kind of very liberal potluck club that would even remotely want to associate with the Democratic Party. And I’ve talked to some candidates who are running in different rural areas of the country as Democrats, and they won’t say it on the record, but they’ll say that if they could somehow manage to run as an independent, yet still have the backing of the party apparatus, they’d be so much better off — that the brand of the Democratic Party, for better or for worse, for whoever’s fault it is, has just become so fundamentally toxic in some of these rural areas, that it’s hard to see them going back from there.
Like I said, that’s not the case in Maine, obviously. They’ve got a trifecta — which they might lose, as you said, in 2022, a big, red wave coming. But what do you think? Is it as bad as that in some areas?
[00:17:29] CANYON WOODWARD: Yeah, I mean, that’s a good question. It’s a big question. I don’t know the answer to it.
[00:17:35] RYAN GRIM - HOST, DECONSTRUCTED: I mean, Canyon, what about where you’re from? I can’t imagine the Democratic Party has much of a shot no matter what kind of candidate they put up?
[00:17:45] CANYON WOODWARD: Yeah. It’s not a good brand. But it’s not like the Republican Party is a great brand, either. I think, what comes to mind for me, is there’s a really broad frustration with the people who are in office and have been in office for years and years, in both parties, and just the system that doesn’t feel like it’s representing us. And I think party leadership on both sides has a lot to do with that, of just these folks who get in the office and have stayed in office for years and years and years, and just a really strong inertia that has led to where we’re at today — and I won’t give up on it completely. I think it can be turned around to some extent, but I do also think things like ranked-choice voting, like we have in Maine and some other states, that allows independents or third party candidates to run without being a spoiler, are important reforms, or like fusion voting, like they have in New York, where you can be the nominee of multiple parties, you can be the nominee for the Working Families Party and the Democratic Party.
[00:19:05] RYAN GRIM - HOST, DECONSTRUCTED: Isn’t there kind of like an independent nearby you, Chloe, who’s a progressive, but isn’t part of the party?
[00:19:12] CHLOE MAXMIN: Here in Maine?
[00:19:12] RYAN GRIM - HOST, DECONSTRUCTED: Yeah.
[00:19:13] CHLOE MAXMIN: Yeah. There are quite a few independents in the Maine House, who kind of buck party politics and pave their own way. And Maine is also very famous for Angus King who was our governor and is now one of our U.S. senators, who is also an independent.
[00:19:30] RYAN GRIM - HOST, DECONSTRUCTED: Do you feel like that is almost a requirement in some parts of the country for progressives to make a revival?
[00:19:40] CHLOE MAXMIN: I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a requirement, per se. I think what’s more important is having values-based politics and trying to get away from this really intense party identity that prevents us from having conversations across the aisle.
One of the things that I’ve been working on here in Maine in my term here has been open primaries. Maine hasn’t had open primaries before, so independents have been left out of really deciding who’s on their November ballot. And so we’re changing that, which means that one-third of Maine voters are now going to be able to vote in primaries and decide: What does November look like? And maybe that will also help tilt things away from this hyper-partisan situation that we’re in. I really think that it’s okay to run as a Democrat. I think it’s okay to run as a party. I think it’s just about how we talk about it, how we approach it, how we make sure that our allegiance is to the people and the values that we are talking about, instead of to a party infrastructure.
[00:20:45] CANYON WOODWARD: Yeah, I think that’s totally right. And being willing and able to critique the party and the status quo and communicate to voters that you are not the Democratic Party or you are not the Republican Party, and I think that was a large part of the appeal of folks like Bernie, or even Trump, to rural voters is Bernie was an independent for his whole life. But he ran as a Democrat and was clear that he had lots of problems with the party, but that that was the best vehicle for his campaign.
How Democrats Lost Rural America w/ Anthony Flaccavento Part 1 - Jacobin Radio - Air Date 3-24-22
[00:21:23] JEN PAN - HOST, JACOBIN SHOW: While redistricting gets a lot of attention, because it's so often overtly a partisan grab for power, gerrymandering is actually only a very small part of what's stopping Democrats and progressives from gaining more power at the national and even state level.
The problem isn't limited to a handful of bad actors, or even a reactionary political party like the GOP, that's deliberately trying to undermine democracy. The larger problem is that the combination of, A, the geographical concentration of Democratic voters in cities and, B, the very nature of winner-take-all elections, structurally prevents Democrats from winning seats proportional to their share of the vote. Here's why.
So take a look at this map. Most people who follow politics already know that while Democrats dominate elections in cities, Republicans consistently trounce them in rural areas. The reason this is such a problem, as political scientists Jonathan Rodden points out in his book Why Cities Lose, is that our current electoral system, which is made up of small districts that elect only one representative using a winner-take-all system, consistently disadvantages voters in cities.
As Rodden writes, "in many US states, Democrats are now concentrated in cities in such a way that even when districts are drawn without regard for partisanship, their seat share will fall well short of their vote share. Because of where Democrats live the very existence of winner-take-all geographic districts has facilitated the systemic under-representation of Democrats.
In other words, because they're so heavily concentrated geographically, it's extremely difficult for Democrats to translate raw votes into seats, both in Congress and in state legislatures. And while Republican gerrymandering certainly exacerbates the problem, the consistent under-representation of Democrats will never fully vanish as long as we keep our current electoral system of people voting in small districts that elect only one winner-take-all representative.
So, what does this all mean for a left that's trying to find some way of achieving reforms like Medicare For All on a national level? To put it bluntly, it means we can't just stick to racking up wins in cities. First it is important to note that the American left, small as it is at the moment, is arguably in better shape now than it was a decade ago. Particularly over the last five years, the ranks of the Democratic Socialists of America have grown to nearly 95,000 members, with at least one chapter in every state. Dozens of self-identified Democratic Socialists have been elected to city councils and state legislatures across America, and we now even have a few socialists in Congress. As Jacobin contributor, Jared Abbott recently put it, "this is no minor achievement given many previous decades in the political wilderness."
However, geography is still a serious hurdle. Most of the left's wins to date have been concentrated in urban centers, much like the base of the Democratic party itself. Progressive Congress members like AOC and socialist state legislators overwhelmingly represent solidly democratic districts in major cities, which means that we on the left face the exact same structural constraints as our moderate Democrat counterparts in national and state elections. To quote Jared again, "it is becoming increasingly clear that the tried and true method of picking off centrist Democrats in deep blue districts is reaching its strategic limit." In other words, it's essential for the left to start building a larger and more geographically diverse working class constituency, which means contesting elections in rural areas and small towns in order to gain some leverage nationally.
There's also obviously a moral and ethical component. Simply put, rural America has been devastated by neoliberalism. This shouldn't be too much of a surprise, capitalists have found it more profitable to locate the hubs of their businesses in cities. As professor Mark Edelman wrote in Jacobin in 2020, "since the turn to more cutthroat free market policies in the 1980s, American capitalism has systematically underdeveloped rural and small town regions of the United States. The 2008 crash poured gasoline on the fire, mutual savings banks and credit unions, cooperatives, mom, and pop businesses, local industries and newspapers, health, and elder care facilities, schools and libraries have all fallen victim to relentless austerity policies or private equity raiders."
So this is to say that over the past several decades, rural areas have suffered from chronic underinvestment, crumbling physical infrastructure, and the swift erosion of social institutions. Since 2005, more than 180 rural hospitals have closed, and at least 21 have shut down since the start of the pandemic. We also know well at this point that opioid use and incarceration have skyrocketed in rural America, as have so-called deaths of despair, or, suicide, drug overdose, and alcohol related liver disease.
Now winning rural voters is, of course, much easier said than done, and to call the situation before us an uphill battle is probably an understatement. In 2016, for instance, a majority of rural voters held a negative view of all of the candidates running in the Democratic presidential primary, including Bernie Sanders, though, it probably has to be said, that rural voters did rate Sanders least negatively out of all the Democratic candidates.
But the point is that, even if we're starting from square one, under our current political system, there are few alternatives to winning more rural voters. Moreover, if the left cannot break out of the cities, and particularly the more affluent precincts within those cities, our entire political project will flounder within America's rigid electoral system, and the few Progressive's that are elected will find it increasingly difficult to avoid working with corporate Democrats. In other words, we can't settle for our current clustering within urban centers, no matter how well we're doing there and no matter how many centrist Democrats we manage to defeat. The viability of our entire project depends on successfully organizing working people outside of cities.
Joe Shepherd of United Rural Democrats - The Rick Smith Show - Air Date 5-9-22
[00:27:18] RICK SMITH - HOST, THE RICK SMITH SHOW: What is United Rural Democrats and why did you start this?
[00:27:23] JOE SHEPARD: So I worked a couple of campaigns in 2020 when I was still in college. I'm actually still a junior at Iowa State. And it was very clear to me after working those two campaigns in Iowa and Wisconsin, that it was something fundamentally wrong with the country and how are people reacting to its government and its just general system.
So I took it upon myself to travel 110,000 miles since the 2020 election. And I've interviewed people in 45 or 46 states trying to figure out what the heck is going on. What is this malaise and what is the prospect? And what it's come down to for me is that a lot of people feel like nobody cares about them anymore. And it has allowed some of our darkest elements as humans to take hold. And I think there's no better evidence of that than the rise of Donald Trump over the past eight or so years.
[00:28:10] RICK SMITH - HOST, THE RICK SMITH SHOW: The reality is, like you I've traveled this country and been to rural communities across the country where back when I was a kid, they had a factory, they had an image, they had an identity, the town was this manufacturing plant -- and that has been stripped from them, and they've been left with nothing and they've been left to languish, and a government that doesn't seem to care. And I point to a representative in Ohio when he was asked Hey, can you help us with our town, the jobs have left? What should we do? And the guy goes "Move," and you go, No, that's not the answer you want from your government. And I guess not surprising, he was a Republican.
[00:28:47] JOE SHEPARD: Not at all. A little anecdote I always like to tell people is that the Republican party, they have nothing in terms of an agenda right now, aside from being divisive and bigoted. Because I worked as a clerk at the Iowa legislature this session, and you might've seen the news about our transgender sports bill that was just state-sanctioned bullying. But what you may not have known is that the same time, I believe the same bill, that would have got food stamps for 99% of Iowans also was put up. Now that vote gratefully died, but it shows that they're trying to use this culture war to push a sentence or agenda that not only hurts marginalized communities, but will hurt everyone.
[00:29:29] RICK SMITH - HOST, THE RICK SMITH SHOW: And this is the part that I think is most important, because I've argued for a very long time that right-wing talk radio, the dominant talk radio in the country overwhelmingly -- there was a study done a couple of years ago that 90% of talk radio in this country is of the right wing, conservative fashion -- their model is based on pitching the outrage candy. You've got these chaos merchants who just keep slamming this stuff, the transgender stuff, down people's throats. And they never bother with the followup that you just put out there. The fact that while they're pushing the outrage candy, they're literally trying to starve families and children and all of this. That's the outrageous part to me.
And this is where I think the other shoe has to fall, where you have to talk to people and explain, look, there's the outrageous stuff that may get you all fired up, but this should get you even madder. The fact that we're going to literally take food off the tables of children. That's what gets me more upset than anything.
[00:30:23] JOE SHEPARD: I absolutely agree. And after interviewing a lot of people, I think that the conclusion I came to was that a lot of people simply feel like nothing matters anymore. There's almost a degree of nihilism in a lot of these communities: my children are going to have a worse future than me. And there's absolutely nothing I can do about it, because my local leaders, Democrat or Republican, don't care, although most often they're Republican.
[00:30:44] RICK SMITH - HOST, THE RICK SMITH SHOW: How do we begin to change that, Joe? Because I'm somebody who believes that we, while we still can, we have the power to vote, we have the power to change things. We can make different choices. I still believe that to my core. If I didn't I would probably be nihilistic and I would probably be one of those folks and "It doesn't matter, let's tear everything down and restart." How do we begin?
[00:31:05] JOE SHEPARD: This almost sounds productive, but I think we have to normalize what a Democrat is. Because when I visit communities, oftentimes they'll say the Democrats are gun-grabbing baby killers who want to do this and that. It's " No, I want you to have health care. I want you to have a good-paying job. And I want your family to have good education."
I think we need to do two things and they're intertwined. We need to get back into these communities. And I know it's going to be hard. 'Cause I know a lot of them are hostile territory these days.
But we need to make it clear to people that even in communities that are 40% Democrat, you would think the Democrats are like dinosaurs. They existed at one point, but they don't exist now. What we need to do is get back out into these communities and make the Democrats like the Kiwanis, the Lion's Club, the local church, just another community within the community.
That's how the Republican party took over at the local level over the course of the last 40, 50 years. They just became part of the community in rural areas. Because before the 1980s or 1990s, the Democrats in much of the country were the baseline political party for the largely apolitical.
[00:32:03] RICK SMITH - HOST, THE RICK SMITH SHOW: No, I don't disagree with you. And it's something I've been saying, oh, I don't know, almost every day that they've been doing this program for the last 17 years, that you have to get in there and you have to fight where the fight is, which is why our program is in a lot of rural communities and people go, why do you do here program from one of the reddest areas of the country? Because this is where it needs to be heard most. This is where we have to have these conversations. This is where you have to have a pro-labor message and talk about wages, hours, conditions. You need to talk about how we're going to move forward and make lives better.
And because for me, a lot of these issues, Joe, is not right or left. It's not a Democratic or Republican issue. It's up/down, it's wealthy versus the rest of us. And what's happened over the years is we've created an environment where wealth inequality in this country, which I think is the biggest problem that we've got facing us, it's grown bigger and more all encompassing. And at some point it's going to be our downfall.
[00:33:00] JOE SHEPARD: I absolutely agree. I think that one issue I've seen -- and it goes back to why a lot of people gravitate towards Donald Trump. I think that after talking to so many people who voted for president Trump after being lifelong Democrats, it's clear that Donald Trump is what a lot of people envision a rich person to be.
I think one thing that a lot of people who are in politics sometimes forget is a lot of working class people, they may resent the rich, but everyone wants to be rich. And we have to make sure that you can climb that ladder, but when you get to the top, you're not pulling it up with you. And I think that's a line from Tom Harkin even. We have to make that our message again. Because we can't keep doing what we're doing.
[00:33:40] RICK SMITH - HOST, THE RICK SMITH SHOW: And so what do you say? 'Cause look, I've got a lot of friends who are dyed-in-the-wool Trump supporters -- and as you said, baby killer, gun grabber, and then all of the culture war stuff because it's what they've been spoon-fed. How do you then, how do you bring back that messaging? Because look, I'm not gonna walk away from the LGBTQ community. I'm not going to walk away from race relations. I'm not going to walk away from some of the other things that the Republicans beat Democrats up for. Because I do believe in life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. I believe in equality for everyone, not just a select few.
How do you bridge those gaps, in those divides? And in a moment where hyper-nationalism, white supremacy seem to be the Republican mantra and seem to be very pervasive in rural America. Or is that too generalizing, do you think?
[00:34:30] JOE SHEPARD: I think the key is trust. I think that at this moment in time, we are running out of time to fix this issue in rural areas.
But I think the major key is that there are still some people in local and state leadership in very Trumpy areas. I know, for example, the state of Pennsylvania has some state reps who are Democrats who represent 30 or 40 districts. And that's not because the people of those districts view them as a Democrat. It's because they trust them and they know them as their guy or their gal.
And I think what we really need to do is focus on those local levels. Because if you look at polling, your local elected officials -- your city council and your mayor -- all those guys have a lot better approval ratings than Congress or even state legislators.
So I think we need to do is build up from the bottom. Grassroots. We need more city councilors, county commissioners, mayors, whatever local position your community may have. And I think that once we know that this guy is going to do right by the people, this person is going to be looking out for me, then we can more easily bridge those gaps, because that person's already trusted. It's not some out-of-towner pushing a new idea. It's Bill from up the street who you've known for 20 years and you trust. And I think that if you have trusted leaders in your communities, who are able -- those are the people who must and can bridge those gaps still. And we need more of them.
And I think, to anyone listening, I think the first step is to either build local party infrastructure or run for office at the local level yourself.
'Cause that's what we need right now. We need more trusted guides to these communities. Because the culture divide is just getting worse over time.
How Democrats Lost Rural America w/ e Part 2 - Jacobin Radio - Air Date 3-24-22
[00:35:57] JEN PAN - HOST, JACOBIN SHOW: It's very well known that Democrats currently dominate in cities. Cities are overwhelmingly Democrat. They're starting to take over suburbs, but they struggle in rural areas. So there's a political component. And then of course, when we talk about the rural urban divide, a lot of, I think, cultural issues come to mind as well. So you obviously have been writing and thinking about this subject for a long time. As I mentioned, you yourself are a rural resident, so how do you define the rural-urban divide, to begin with, and what do you see as the main sources driving this divide?
[00:36:30] ANTHONY FLACCAVENTO: Sure. It's a fairly extensive list of things driving the divide, but we've, myself and my colleagues at RUBI, have narrowed it down to the top half a dozen or so underlying causes. We see the divide, first of all, more fundamentally as an economic divide, and cultural I'd say is pretty foundational as well. The political divide, in my thinking, has mostly followed from the economic and cultural divide.
When we do our trainings and write and speak about the rural-urban divide, we always start with an economy that has failed at least 80% of Americans. We talk a lot about the top 1%, but actually the top 20% have done pretty well through most things. But the bottom 80%, the mass of us, have not done so well for a lot of reasons, from the complete abrogation of our responsibility around anti-trust and how corporate monopolization has taken over almost every economic sector, to terrible foreign policy, to investor driven trade policy, and on and on.
Now that's failed most working Americans, most Americans across the board, but it is particularly catastrophic for the past four decades or so in rural areas, because rural areas have tended to be much less diverse economically. Whether they are a manufacturing, so-called rust belt town, whether they're more agriculture, whether they're like Appalachia, where maybe they had coal timber and tobacco, we've been much more concentrated in the economic basis, and as a result, these bad economic policies that have hurt everybody have devastated rural communities.
To us that's the starting point. We know there's lots of other factors, but when the economy has essentially abandoned you or just extracted from you for generations, you're pretty predisposed to get pissed off. Unfortunately, on the political side, the right has been way more effective, not in solving the problems of rural communities, but in speaking to the anger and the frustration. Whereas on our side, somewhere on the spectrum of Dems, liberals, progressives, we've either pretended it isn't a problem, blame the people who are angry because of their own parochialism, racism, whatever, or simply, here's the most recent version, simply decided that all we have to do is use better messaging to convince these people that we're actually on their side. So all those things have added up.
Now, with the foundation of an economy that has extracted from, and degraded so many rural communities and small towns, then you have the cultural differences, that are real, also then become not just differences, but become flashpoints, and become further fuel for the fire of the divide.
I'll give you one example, is around environmental policy. Now, I'm an organic farmer. I've been advocating for good environmental things for most of my life, and in the last 10 years or so, particularly around climate change, but the message from our side about the environment to rural places, —and let's remember that it's the rural places that are most intimately connected to the environment, whether you're fishermen, farmers, foresters and loggers, even the drillers and the miners, they depend on the environment in a much more immediate and direct way than most urban and suburban people do, we do in rural areas. And yet, most rural people hate environmentalist. Why is that? How could that be?
It's not because they actually hate the environment or that they don't believe in conservation and stewardship of the resources, it's that they feel that all they've heard in relation to the environment is that they are the problem, and that what we have to do is shut down their mines, shut down the big ag farms, shut down their logging operations, and then we'll take care of the environment.
Meanwhile, while we're getting that message, we know that all the people giving us that message still eat, still turn their lights on, still use wood and fiber and materials in their lives, and so it creates this deep resentment over people not really understanding just how challenging it is to utilize the environment to the benefit of people, but not to the detriment of the ecosystem. That's no easy proposition, and yet, rural people by and large feel they've been put in a place, kind of a no win.
That's one example about how the failure of the economy has then exacerbated the perspective and cultural differences.
[00:41:24] JEN PAN - HOST, JACOBIN SHOW: I want to follow that up with a similar question, because I think that's something that we hear quite a lot, is that there's a condescending stereotype. That people in rural areas, especially rural poor people " vote against their interests" when they're casting ballots overwhelmingly for Republicans, and you're rolling your eyes already. So I was going to ask, how do you respond to this other than with just the eye-roll?
[00:41:46] ANTHONY FLACCAVENTO: I don't know who it was that said this, but I saw a quote or maybe I heard somebody on a call say, it's less about people voting against their own interests than people looking for someone, some party, who has their interests at heart. That's the big difference. It's easy for, not just city folk, but liberals and progressives more generally, to look and say that people, working class generally, are voting against their own interests, rural people voting against their own interests, but the truth is, neither political party in our two-party system has paid much attention to these interests at all.
I'm not somebody who believes that there's no difference between the Dems and the Republicans, especially the modern Republican party which is off the rails, but it is true that neither party has consistently addressed the needs, the issues, or the opportunities there.
David Pepper On Why We Need to Focus on State Capitols to Save Democracy - The Tennessee Holler Podcast - Air Date 2-9-22
[00:42:40] DAVID PEPPER: When we are trying to convince people to change this, including in elections, my best advice is most of what you and I are discussing is not what I would put in a 30-second ad. It's too political. You talk about this in a way that has some broader appeal. And that goes back to what I said before, about red parts of your state.
The consequences of broken, undemocratic statehouses are horrible public outcomes on things that people really care about. Their local school system is not doing as well. They're having to pay more for their kid to play sports because the state is defunding schools. In Texas, the energy grid collapsed so that people froze to death.
[00:43:16] JUSTIN KANEW - HOST, THE TENNESSEE HOLLER PODCAST: Well, how does that happen? Does that happen because they put themselves first?
[00:43:19] DAVID PEPPER: It happens because -- and this'll sound dramatic, but it's true -- the entire M.O. of statehouses, where no one knows who they are, but major private players are posted up in the state capital getting everything they want, is a massive transfer of public access to private players, that do know what statehouses do and love this system.
In Ohio, the best example, public school money, a school system in Ohio ranked fifth in the nation 15 years ago, bleeding into for-profit online charter school scams that are disasters for education. And one was caught making up numbers about attendance to make more money. What's happened? Our public school systems are not ranked in the mid twenties when they were fifth. The energy grid in Texas? Privatized. These big private players -- individually and through groups like ALEC, national group that's organizing all of them -- at the trough, pulling out public resources from states.
And that's why tied to the hip to these undemocratic statehouses is trickle-down economics. A lot is privatization, pay-for-play and in some cases corruption. And I guarantee you in every state where it's really taken hold, terrible public outcomes. If you're running for governor of a state like this, focus on those public outcomes that most people will agree are bad.
We have a governor of Kansas, Laura Kelly, Democrat. How did she win? They were down to four days a week for school -- they'd so defunded everything -- four days a week. If you Google her ads, she doesn't talk about Kris Kobach, who she could have and all that [....] voting. That would've been a great campaign, would have been true. She says, I'm from Kansas. When I grew up here, our number one value was education. What in the world is happening that we are down to four days a week in school?
In Texas, it's the energy grid. That's what Beto is talking about. In Michigan, it was fix the damn roads.
Every one of these statehouses immediately as a response to the crumbling of democracy will be public outcomes that are indefensible, that can't be explained away, that are an automatic outcome. And that's how I think we say to places all over the states, way beyond just core Democrats, this is why we need to change; this form of broken government is failing all of us, and you in particular.
[00:45:28] JUSTIN KANEW - HOST, THE TENNESSEE HOLLER PODCAST: Privatization, you're talking about charter schools at the trough. That's making me want to just play this clip for you, because this is what we're dealing with right now here in Tennessee. The head of Hillsdale College in Michigan, a private Christian school that governor Lee just announced a partnership with, and this guy is on tape last year, at the end of last year, saying that governor Lee asked him to bring a hundred charter schools to Tennessee.
So that right there is what you're talking about. That is a privatization of public resources. Meanwhile, governor Lee has control of a statewide charter school approval board to overrule when local communities don't want these schools. And here comes this siphoning off of public resources that you're talking about.
[00:46:11] DAVID PEPPER: Right. Now, by the way, there are some charter schools that do okay. In Ohio, we have found that that most of them have been a total disaster, the for-profit ones especially, the online ones especially. You know, Republicans in Ohio were literally, all they cared about was online virtual school until the pandemic, and all of a sudden they flipped. But they were for it for a decade, because that was our biggest donor.
Folks like us need to pinpoint in our state what are the most broadly impactful public outcomes that have collapsed because of these broken places. And that's what we need to campaign on.
A huge issue is the state of our small towns, dying right in front of us. Unpaved streets, main streets that are empty. Why? Lack of infrastructure and trickled on economics never helps these people. It helps the people in a few of the big cities, the state capitals. Every one of us needs to figure out what are the inevitable public outcome consequences of broken government in our state and run and talk about those as much as he can, because they are direct consequences of these statehouses being locked up in these undemocratic ways.
[00:47:10] JUSTIN KANEW - HOST, THE TENNESSEE HOLLER PODCAST: You know, the problem is, even as those things are happening, they are standing up at things like the state of the state say how great everything is going. You know, we're at the bottom in poverty, at the bottom in infant, maternal mortality, number one in medical bankruptcies right here in Tennessee, and governor Lee stands up there and talks about how great we're doing. Things like The Holler or people like you speaking these truths, it's really important so that people understand what's actually going on. So that's why I appreciate what you're doing.
Just as a final thought here, and then I'll let you go: What should people be doing, other than buying your book, which we want people to do, what could people be focused on to get things turned around here?
[00:47:44] DAVID PEPPER: The best way to combat what you just said is to have a candidate in every district, who's from the district, obviously. 'Cause they're the ones who will know and capture. Governor Lee may say everything's great, but we know this town is not doing as well as it needs to. Let's get to work.
So when we do not run in every district, it's the greatest gift ever to what you just described. They get to have a monopoly on the conversation, tell everyone's everything's perfect. And if we don't run a candidate, no one local with credibility is saying what I think a lot of people would actually agree with if someone put it together.
That gets me to my broader point is: All of us have to be broader champions of democracy. Whether you're a candidate for office, like you've been -- and thank you for doing that, that's incredibly as patriotic as it gets, especially in tough races -- whether you're a small businessperson, whether you're a local official, whether you're just an everyday activist. All of that. Every one of us has a footprint in democracy. We have a footprint of influence. How can we use our footprint to lift democracy in any way possible?
And I worry that we wait for heroes. You know, Stacey Abrams will do it. Or Michelle Obama is going to register voters, and we just wait. We'll never hit the scale we need if that's how we attack it.
If anyone listening to this call, if anyone in any holler, anywhere in this state, is on the board of a homeless shelter or a food bank, or a nonprofit serving kids, as a member of that board, if you said to that group, are we registering voters? We know they're being purged. Are we registering them? If you have a friend who's the mayor of a small town, are they using the footprint of their city hall? You know, the rec center, the health clinic, the library, whatever they do, are they using it to engage democracy? Are they registering voters who come to the rec center?
Small business. Sherrod Brown once in Ohio was secretary of state. He had McDonald's have a voter registration document as part of the menu on the tray. If there's a business doing that, do you go to that restaurant and eat because of it? Do you tell other people to? That's what I'm talking about. Think creatively of everything you do, how you can bring lifted democracy into the bloodstream of your day-to-day activity. If you can run for office or support someone who's running for office, do it right away, especially in districts that aren't being challenged. But beyond the actual elections, there are many other things everyone can do to lift democracy.
I would challenge folks to think through how they could do that as well. When they're attacking democracy every single day, which they are, that's the way you scale up to fight back.
So that would be my challenge to everyone listening: Are you doing all that? Because you can, and in many cases it's a slight adjustment to what you do when you can do it.
Corporate Democrats Have a Vested Interest in Not Listening to Workers – RAI with Thomas Frank (1/9) - The Real News - Air Date 9-5-17
[00:50:12] THOMAS FRANK: The faction that is currently in charge of the Democratic Party, this is by and large a very contented group of people. So the thesis of Listen, Liberal, what I write about in Listen, Liberal is how the Democratic Party changed from being a party that really cared about blue collar workers, you know, working class people, to being a party that cares about a very different group.
[00:50:34] PAUL JAY - HOST, THEANALYSIS.NEWS: Did it actually care when, even Roosevelt, when he originally ran he certainly wasn’t running on a stimulus plan, he wasn’t running on a big jobs program.
[00:50:46] THOMAS FRANK: Did they genuinely care?
[00:50:47] PAUL JAY - HOST, THEANALYSIS.NEWS: Let me just add one point to it. Are they simply more farsighted when it comes to systemic solutions? Like, Roosevelt knew that if you want to keep any form of modern democratic capitalism-
[00:51:01] THOMAS FRANK: Yeah, it has to be reformed, yes.
[00:51:02] PAUL JAY - HOST, THEANALYSIS.NEWS: -you need to have a jobs program and such or you’re going to be dealing with some kind of fascism in the United States.
[00:51:08] THOMAS FRANK: Yeah, that’s right, no, that’s exactly right. But towards the sort of end of the New Deal era, like in the 1960s, labor unions were very powerful within the Democratic Party, members of Congress often came from a blue collar background, came up through organized labor, that sort of thing was fairly common in those days. This is not to say that they were ever a perfect party or anything like that, but there was, there has been a real shift. Not a cosmetic shift, but a real shift on-
[00:51:38] PAUL JAY - HOST, THEANALYSIS.NEWS: Doesn’t that actually begin with Truman?
[00:51:41] THOMAS FRANK: With Truman?
[00:51:41] PAUL JAY - HOST, THEANALYSIS.NEWS: Yeah, like Vice President Wallace, Roosevelt’s vice president-
[00:51:44] THOMAS FRANK: Yeah no, you’re right. There’s been fights-
[00:51:45] PAUL JAY - HOST, THEANALYSIS.NEWS: A real progressive, and then you had kind of a coup against Wallace, the unions want Wallace to become the vice presidential nominee, and in ’45 that’s kind of a coup within the party and they dump Wallace and bring in Truman.
[00:51:58] THOMAS FRANK: And bring in Truman, I know. But that’s, I consider that stuff was too far outside of the focus of Listen, Liberal. I start in the late 1960s, which is, there was an enormous change in the Democratic Party. A lot of it for the better, this is in the aftermath of the Vietnam War when the Democratic Party decided to sit down and reform itself, and they basically decided to remove organized labor from its structural position within the Democratic Party. This is the famous McGovern Commission in the early 1970s. Now, some of the things they did were very good and very healthy, and in their defense … By the way, once they do this, once a party of the Left, which is unfortunately what the Democrats are in our system, once a party of the Left decides that it’s no longer going to be a voice of working class people and instead is going to be a voice of a different group, namely affluent white collar professionals, which is what they deliberately chose in the early 1970s, they chose to make this transition, when that happens, things like the inequality, the situation that we’re in today, are inevitable. When the Left party in your system has decided that they don’t really care about the fate of working class people, what we have seen come to pass is inevitable. Now, in their defense, no one in 1971 would’ve seen that coming. I mean, America was probably at its probably most equal state ever, like the high water mark of social equality. Or I should say economic equality, in this country where you had, very famously back in those days, blue collar people living next door to white collar people, both live in ranch houses in the suburbs or whatever, and the difference would mainly be a matter of taste. Commentators, like sociological commentators, used to write about this all the time. Like, “This guy drinks Budweiser, this guy drinks martinis, this guy drives a Chevy, this guy drives a Buick,” but they earned the same amount. And that’s who we were in this country, not all-
[00:53:57] PAUL JAY - HOST, THEANALYSIS.NEWS: The higher paid, the upper stratums of mostly unionized workers were making similar money to some professionals.
[00:54:04] THOMAS FRANK: White collar, exactly. Yeah. And that was-
[00:54:07] PAUL JAY - HOST, THEANALYSIS.NEWS: And to a large extent, because they were getting kind of bought off with the-
[00:54:11] THOMAS FRANK: Well they were paid really well-
[00:54:12] PAUL JAY - HOST, THEANALYSIS.NEWS: Well yeah, but they were getting that set share of the plunder of the world, because they-
[00:54:16] THOMAS FRANK: Oh of course, oh no, those were. You were talking about the very large picture, yes, absolutely. And they have a lot to answer for, too. But all I’m getting at here is that this was the case in this country and that has completely disappeared. And in fact, I’m in my fifties now, but I grew up in that world where, I’m from Kansas City. If you have a parade in Kansas City, organized labor had a float in the parade. If you had a blue ribbon commission to decide some issue, organized labor had a seat at the table. It was just that’s who were as a society that working class people were represented, and that’s gone. And I describe this to younger people, and they can’t imagine that America was like this, but it was not just that America was like this. This was the cliché of you were who, you know?
[00:55:05] PAUL JAY - HOST, THEANALYSIS.NEWS: And isn’t part of what happened in the Democratic Party is that the leadership of many, not all, but many of the big unions, because they’re having such a comfortable life and the leaders of the unions are not living and getting paid like professionals, they’re getting paid like CEOs. They’re getting, you know.
[00:55:22] THOMAS FRANK: That’s right. CEOs in the ’70s, it’s a very different world now.
[00:55:26] PAUL JAY - HOST, THEANALYSIS.NEWS: Yeah, but big salaries and $40 steaks at lunch and so on, that they ceded, they said "okay" to the elites, they said "okay" to Wall Street: “You can run the Democratic Party, you just make sure that us big unions kind of get what we need in a very narrow way.”
[00:55:42] THOMAS FRANK: Oh that’s right, I think that might be the case. I mean, some unions were always better than others. United Auto Workers for example, but they were very angry when this happened to them in the ’70s, when they basically lost their power within the Democratic Party, they were very upset about it.
[00:55:58] PAUL JAY - HOST, THEANALYSIS.NEWS: Part of the critique of, including the auto workers, is that they had this wonderful healthcare plan for themselves but they did next to nothing to lobby for a universal healthcare plan for the country. Later, they get screwed.
[00:56:10] THOMAS FRANK: Yes. Look, all of these are, these are all true and correct objections, but the larger picture thing is they get removed from their position of strength in the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party then becomes, through the 1970s and the ’80s, becomes a very different beast and becomes a vehicle for the interests of affluent white collar professionals. And as we all know, labor still by and large endorses Democratic candidates, funds Democratic candidates, and the Democrats have lots of other groups who are part of the coalition as well. We all know that. Minorities, women, the young, on and on and on. Many many many groups that vote that are reliably Democratic. But the group that comes first, and the group whose interests always prevail in Democratic circles, is professionals. And by the way, this is not a secret, this is not something that I made up, this is not something we have to read between the lines. They’re open about this. They talk about this all the time, the Democratic Party. You read their-
[00:57:07] PAUL JAY - HOST, THEANALYSIS.NEWS: And in your book you call this class the meritocracy.
[00:57:10] THOMAS FRANK: Yeah, this is … Well, that’s their philosophy, and that’s the philosophy that the Democratic Party has by and large embraced, and you see it in the Hillary Clinton campaign in a sort of staggering way. Well, you see it in Hillary Clinton’s career where Hillary Clinton, and by the way, and I don’t hold this against her, I admire Hillary Clinton in all sorts of ways, but she’s like her husband and like Barack Obama, she comes from a humble background and is plucked out of it by a fancy education, by a fancy school. In her case, Wellesley College. In her husband’s case, Georgetown. Barack Obama was at Harvard. Was it Harvard? It was Columbia and then Harvard for grad school.
[00:57:50] PAUL JAY - HOST, THEANALYSIS.NEWS: Yeah, and he heads up the Harvard Law Review, yeah.
[00:57:51] THOMAS FRANK: Yes, right, right. But there’s, it’s always the same trajectory with these people where their success in life comes through education, and comes through the opportunities that education affords them. And so Hillary goes to Yale Law School, Hillary becomes this super-lawyer, sort of, back in Little Rock, and they used to call her whatever it was, the best lawyer west of whatever river Little Rock is west of. I don’t even remember, it might be the Mississippi, I forget. But that’s her career, it's defined by her academic excellence and her achievement as a professional. And that’s really who she cares about, and that’s who the Democratic Party cares about.
The New Democrats w/ Lily Geismer - The Dig - Air Date 6-5-22
[00:58:33] DANIEL DENVIR - HOST, THE DIG: In his 1999 State of the Union address, Clinton said, "Our greatest untapped markets are not overseas; they are right here at home, and we should go after them by building a bridge from Wall Street to Appalachia, to the Mississippi Delta, to our Native American communities." A few years prior soon after the passage of NAFTA, "If we simply can apply our international economic policy to South Central Los Angeles, Harlem, Milwaukee, Detroit, you name it, the Mississippi Delta, South Texas, we're going to do just fine in this country." How did Clinton's global vision of this liberal order where the U.S. Was spreading free trade and democracy across the globe, how did that relate to his politics of poverty alleviation through market inclusion at home?
[00:59:24] LILY GEISMER: Well, I think they... that's a great question and something that I'm really interested in sort of thinking about, 'cause I think it often gets treated separately. I think they were absolutely sort of intertwined. Um, and so this idea of ... I mean, so central to the sort of globalization moment, and it's really fascinating. I actually just taught, just finished teaching a class on, um, Cold War America and we were talking about the kind of 90s and globalization and sort of what it stands for, in a foreign policy dimension, is really central to this. Um, but that the solution, you know, in many ways it's this kind of end of history post- triumphalist liberal democracy is winning, but that this is going to be good for everybody and we can kind of bring, through markets, we can bring democracy and spread democracy throughout the world. And I think there's the sharing and fusion of various different techniques. So there's often this language of like these things are working hand in hand and we can share the solutions that are working in one place to another, so that goes to the micro finance dimension of this, of taking techniques that were, you know, it's questionable how well they were working in Bangladesh, but bringing those to the U.S. and vice versa, this idea of kind of the Clinton language of building bridges, tearing down walls, all of that stuff, I think is a really central component of this, but also in the ways that globalization itself was creating mass instability in many peoples. It was actually like a contributing factor in the questions of poverty both. in the United States and in the developing, in the Global South, too. So that goes to it, too. So that's a kind of vague answer to the question, but I think that that's how I see it, as like, they become absolutely, fundamentally intertwined. What's fascinating to me actually, I would say this is like the language of saying that we need to go find these untapped markets is actually like a longstanding language that particularly liberals have used to talk about parts of a rural area, that it's like another country. And I think there's that level of it. But the other piece I see is this idea that like the solutions that can work one place can work somewhere else.
[01:01:11] DANIEL DENVIR - HOST, THE DIG: Which really comes out in the micro-lending and micro-enterprise part of the story you tell.
[01:01:15] LILY GEISMER: Yeah. And that, um, that to me is this idea that you can take something that's working, that's that purportedly working, in one place and just apply wholesale somewhere else. And I think that also goes to the notion of spreading globalization, that like if you have a market, democracy itself will, like, sprout. Um, and that's really what, that's some of the thinking was going on in the nineties. So that's, I think those are some of the places that I see them as like sort of fused in a variety of ways.
[01:01:37] DANIEL DENVIR - HOST, THE DIG: Yeah. I mean, Clinton, as Governor of Arkansas, really wanted to bring the Grameen Bank to Arkansas to turn poor people in Arkansas into successful entrepreneurs and solve the problem of poverty in Arkansas that way. But I mean, the Grameen Bank didn't solve poverty in Bangladesh.
[01:01:54] LILY GEISMER: Yeah. And I mean, I think these, there's lots of ways that it was, there's many debates on that sort of success of microfinance in the Global South. But I think it didn't solve, it didn't solve, at the macro level, the problems with poverty. And I think there's this...
[01:02:05] DANIEL DENVIR - HOST, THE DIG: It didn't even solve the micro problems in Arkansas. They don't even have like success stories in Arkansas, really, where at least there are individual success stories in Bangladesh.
[01:02:14] LILY GEISMER: Yes, exactly. Um, and so that component you can sort of apply this idea to another place, but I think becomes part of this kind of bigger vision of globalization is another place that I see sort of like fusion really clearly.
[01:02:25] DANIEL DENVIR - HOST, THE DIG: Hillary Clinton was particularly enamored with micro-credit and micro-enterprise as a tool for women's empowerment. What does the story you tell reveal about this new Democrat brand of feminism focused so much on individual women's economic advancement? A brand of feminism of course that's still palpable here today.
[01:02:43] LILY GEISMER: Absolutely. So Hillary Clinton promotes micro-finance. So, she takes the, after the healthcare debacle of the early nineties, she embraces microfinance. I actually was surprised, she says it in like every speech she gives and she becomes like even a bigger proponent of it than Bill Clinton. And I think really sees it as like her platform, but it's absolutely in line with her particular vision and version of feminism and what feminism can offer, which is this notion of like empowerment choice, but largely regulated through markets. And also this, I would say, somewhat paternalistic way of treating poor women in the Global South and this effort of needing to promote and to save them. And that is actually what becomes really central to her time as First Lady. So that version of kind of saving women throughout the world and sort of giving them rights and freedoms, but not actually, fundamental economic tools is really central to the story here. And I think you see that as sort of really coming out in the nineties.
[01:03:37] DANIEL DENVIR - HOST, THE DIG: Why was the Left so marginal in the nineties and more specifically what happened to Jesse Jackson? He started off calling the DLC the "Democrats for the Leisure Class", as I mentioned earlier, but he ended up helping Clinton lead this 1999 New Markets Tour, which was Clinton going around the country with CEOs, visiting places with a lot of poor people and being like, we're going to make you not poor by bringing capitalism here. At this point, he's praising Clinton for having launched a "war for profits", a take on, a riff on the war on poverty, of course. And in 1997, and I remember this from my early years on the Left, as a teenager, crystal clear, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition launched what it called the Wall Street Project, essentially campaigning to make financial firms more diverse and did that in alliance with major financial firms, amid welfare reform and NAFTA and everything else going on. When I was first getting involved as a teenager in the late nineties, at least in, uh, I don't want to go all the way to the end of the nineties here, but for much of the nineties, there just wasn't organized resistance at any meaningful scale? Why?
[01:04:43] LILY GEISMER: So this is like a critical question. And I would say actually that the speech you read of Clinton saying like, we're going to build a bridge, or was the bridge?... no, he said that like, cause he self-plagiarized at various different points or had variations. When you read a lot of Presidents from this book, I realize like Presidents say the same thing over and over again, but he gave that at the Wall Street Project, which is a big project, you know, connecting Wall Street with Wall Street CEOs. So it is interesting, like Jesse Jackson is, in some ways is an unreliable figure for standing in for the Left in various different ways. And so he becomes a foil and I do think his campaigns in the eighties are like profound, and actually there's some of that had to do with Jackson himself. But I think a large part of it had to do with the campaign infrastructure who sort of understood him as a vessel for pushing a lot of quite progressive policies.
[01:05:25] DANIEL DENVIR - HOST, THE DIG: Including activists from the New Communist Movement and stuff. There was like a broad Left involved.
[01:05:30] LILY GEISMER: Who were involved in those? I mean these kind of big coalitions that came into being, um, but, I think he was a good, one of the things about Jackson, as a side note, he's an extraordinarily effective speaker. And so I think that's another thing. That actually goes, to like circle way back, um, to Clinton, is that, I mean one of the things is that people ask me, like, why the new Democrats who are like a relatively, or DLC, or like a small organization gained a lot of power in the late 1980s and early 1990s. And I think a lot of it had to do with Bill Clinton's, like, they found the right figure and Bill Clinton, he was a really good translator, and was able to kind of put their message into a very kind of populist language and he was able to speak to multiple audiences very effectively. So I think that like effective translation was really critical to the DLC. I think with Jackson, like he's an incredible speaker. And so that was really effective. To your larger question with the Left: this is a huge, um, you know, it's the other piece of the Left behind - play on words - and something I was really invested in thinking about is like, what happens to the Left during this time? And like I was, when I started doing the research that was like crucial to me, it was like, where is the organized, where's the opposition? Like, where's the pushback, where's the opposition, having studied at various different points, you know, when you look at the early sixties and you look at the Democratic Party and liberalism, there's lots of contestation and lots of pushback. And that just like, that friction was not there as much as, and what I came to is like, it was there on particular issues. Um, and so I even, like one of the reasons I focused on particular things in the book was to kind of understand, just to find those places. And so a big one is sweatshop labor. Um, and I do think around globalization that, like sweatshops and trade is a place where really you do see sustain organized opposition.
[01:07:09] DANIEL DENVIR - HOST, THE DIG: But that's not really until like the end of the nineties.
[01:07:12] LILY GEISMER: It's not until the end and it's yeah, exactly. It'd be interesting who else was there and, like, what happened? But that to me was the one that there's the most kind of people from different, where there's the beginnings of a coalition coming together. But on the other issues, like, my understanding, and I think what happened, is that there's opposition on particular issues. So there was actually a lot of opposition to welfare reform. Like it was not like this past, I mean, and you had like Jesse Jackson at the head of it now, and a lot of other people outside the White House protesting on welfare reform, you have the teachers, like when I look at charter schools and you have like the teachers, the teachers unions who actually have the biggest percentage of a voice of constituents in Democratic conventions, I mean the power of the teachers movement and their huge coalition in the Democratic party. They're the biggest representative of labor. And I think, I would actually be curious, I haven't looked at the numbers, but that actually might still be true. And so they are like a huge democratic constituency who you'd think would actually be able to leverage the party in various different ways.
Final comments on the ignoring the middle class and poor open the door to right-wing populism of the worst sort
[01:08:09] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with Pitchfork Economics discussing the failure of Democrats to make noticeable positive change in rural America. Deconstructed looked at how to repair the damaged Democratic brand. Jacobin Radio explained that more than just gerrymandering is holding back democratic gains. The Rick Smith Show discussed more ideas on Democrats regaining trust. Jacobin Radio looked at ways Democrats turned their backs on the bottom 80%. And The Tennessee Holler podcast argued that Democrats should make their case by highlighting the terrible outcomes of unopposed Republican governance.
That's what everyone heard, but members also heard bonus clips from The Real News speaking with Thomas Frank about the moment that Democrats decided to abandon the working class; and The Dig looking back at the nineties Democrats and the impacts of the new liberal order and globalization.
To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly into your new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at BestoftheLeft.com/support, or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership, because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information.
And now today I just want to highlight to me what is the biggest takeaway, which is that the divide in our country should so much more clearly be seen as the divide between the top and the bottom, not the left and right, or rural and urban.
As members heard in more detail, Democrats made the conscious decision to abandon unions and working people to focus on the professional class, while Republicans have basically never been interested in helping anyone who couldn't fund their campaigns. And this was sort of the birth of the fallacious idea that there's no difference between the parties. There are huge differences between the parties. And yet they both are basically fighting for the support of only slightly different segments of the rich, while mostly ignoring the bottom 80% entirely.
And it has been said many times that Republicans fear their base, with pretty good reason. I mean, we've seen their base physically assault the US Capitol and threatened to kill politicians, including their own vice president.
While on the other side, Democrats tend to loathe their own base. But the thinking goes, according to establishment Democrats, that the base of the party doesn't have anywhere else to go. 'Cause I mean, look at the Republicans. You're not gonna vote for them. So you're obviously gonna vote for us. And so they can be taken for granted.
Now if you were to govern in a way that actually delivered the goods for people while you continued to hate them, then you could probably get away with that, to be honest. But after decades of neoliberalism and general disintegration of society leaving everyone feeling quite on edge with next to no safety net below us to give a sense of stability, the most dangerous part of ignoring the middle class and the poor is that it leaves the door wide open for a toxic mix of right-wing economic populism, racism, scapegoating, and authoritarianism to start to sound really appealing.
And if you think that no one could have seen this coming, no one could have possibly imagined that ignoring the bottom 80% of the country might have some dangerous repercussions, I urge you to go read It Can't Happen Here, written in I think the thirties, basically predicting exactly what we are experiencing at this moment.
So anyway, that toxic mix of right-wing economic populism mixed up with everything else, now for some that is gonna sound naturally appealing, and that's fine. Those humans are always going to exist and there's nothing we can do about it.
But to others, it's gonna sound like the lesser of two evils. And it is that group of people who feel desperate enough to support right-wing economic populism, for lack of a left-wing alternative, that is actually capable of tipping the balance and leading to an absolute disaster waiting to happen.
As always keep the comments coming in at 202-999-3991, or by emailing me to [email protected].
That is going to be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Ken and Brian, Bri for short, for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at BestoftheLeft.com/support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple Podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good bonus episodes in addition to there being extra content and no ads in all of our regular episodes.
So coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay!, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from BestoftheLeft.com.