Comparative Dissent

The TPMCafe column I mentioned this morning went up earlier than I anticipated. I won’t recapitulate the discussion of Adolph Reed’s essay calling for a revival of non-electoral progressivism as a social movement. But the column also gets into a comparison of Left and Right arguments against electoral orthodoxy in the two major parties.

I find it interesting that both Thomas Frank on the Left and various characters on the Right equally disdain political strategies based on demographic trends (i.e., the growing nonwhite portion of the electorate) and similarly argue for a focus on white working class voters in the belief that they are a rich target for “populist” messages (obviously not the same populist message). In Frank’s case, that’s not very surprising, since his big argument has always been that WWC voters have responded to right-wing cultural populism in the absence of any economic populist message and agenda from the Left. But all these populists are similarly fighting a CW suggesting that white non-college educated folk are inevitably a shrinking segment of the electorate that will for the foreseeable future tilt Republican, but probably can’t get much “redder” than they are at present.

Another common unorthodox argument you still hear on the Left has virtually disappeared on the Right: the belief that a “hidden majority” for a more radical message can be found in the ranks of nonvoters. Indeed, it’s hard-core conservatives who are most invested nowadays in the idea that the franchise needs to be restricted, ostensibly to prevent imaginary “voter fraud,” but more seriously to reduce the participation by “looters” and “moochers” who are voting themselves public benefits.

The biggest difference between dissenters on the Left and Right, of course, is the power of the latter in the GOP. As I put it in the column: ““constitutional conservatives’ are regularly invited into the high councils of the GOP in order to lash its leaders as sell-outs.” In some important respects, they are the GOP Establishment, and even where there are “fights,” they are typically over strategy and tactics rather than philosophy or policy goals. So while lefties hope to keep the pressure on Democrats to remember they are supposed to be progressive, folk on the Right can legitimately dream of Total Power. It is theoretically no further away than a few key primary wins in 2014 and 2016.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.