The Politics Of Self-Congratulation

by Dish Staff

Thomas Frank bemoans the tendency of his fellow liberals to yuck it up over Jon Stewart’s jokes about conservatives, congratulating themselves on their enlightenment, while missing “a substantial chunk of political reality ourselves.” He points to the example of a recent Russell Sage Foundation study that median household wealth in the United States fell by 36 percent in the 10-year period ending last year:

Now, you can blame the risible, Ayn Rand-reading Tea Party types for this if you like, and you can also blame the George W. Bush Administration. They both deserve it. But sooner or later you will also have to acknowledge that there are two parties in this country, not just one; that the Democrats held significant power during the period in question, including (for much of it) the presidency itself; and that even when they are not in the White House, these Democrats nevertheless retain the capacity to persuade and to organize. For a party of the left, dreadful news like this should be rocket fuel. For the Dems, however, it hasn’t been. Why is that?

Well, for one thing, because a good number of those Democrats have not really objected to the economic policies that have worked these awful changes over the years. They may believe in the theory of evolution—hell, they may savor the same Jon Stewart jokes that you do —but a lot of them also believe in the conventional economic wisdom of the day. They don’t really care that union power has evaporated and that Wall Street got itself de-supervised and that oligopolies now dominate the economy. But they do care—ever so much!—about deficits and being fiscally responsible.

Bring up this obvious point, however, and you will quickly discover what a dose of chloroform the partisan style can be. There’s a political war on, you will be told; one side is markedly better than the other; and no criticism of the leadership can be tolerated. Instead, let’s get back to laughing along with our favorite politicized comedians, and to smacking that Rick Santorum punching bag.