Thomas Frank, a man of many bellows, bellows yet again in the Wall Street Journal today, repeating his usual trope that anything associated with the Clinton presidency is toxic and that by associating himself with Clintonites, Barack Obama is in danger of becoming toxic, too. As usual, Frank—who wrote a whole book about the triumph of nitwit conservatism in Kansas without proposing a single specific policy that liberals might pursue to win them back–has nothing to say about Obama’s actual proposals. He’s just worried about the body language.
Let us review the bidding: Obama is proposing a stimulus package–including a massive, job-creating government investment program–that will total somewhere around $1 trillion. He has pledged, and may well succeed in enacting, a near-universal health care plan. He has pledged to reverse the Bush Administration’s foreign policy, to end the war in Iraq, to start talking with Iran, to negotiate a global warming treaty. (Hillary Clinton, the ultimate Clintonite, has pledged to enact those changes.) That doesn’t sound like a namby-pamby centrism to me.
Furthermore, when recounting the Clinton era, Frank somehow misses the crucial work done on behalf of the working poor–especially the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit. The fact is, single mothers eligible for welfare were receiving $7300 more per year at the end of the Clinton Administration than they were before it. Vast numbers of middle-class and lower-income kids were able to attend college on the Hope Scholarship program. I could go on…but these are the sorts of wonky details that apparently don’t interest Frank.
He may be right about Obama. The President-elect may turn out to be a feather pillow. But there is zero evidence of that yet–and Obama’s agenda certainly indicates otherwise. And I believe that Obama’s attempts to reach out to conservatives–yes, even the George Will dinner party–and moderates are not only smart politics, but a real effort to mitigate the poisonous atmosphere that has stifled Washington for the past twenty year. That may be bad news for polemicists like Frank; I suspect it will be very good news for the working people he says he cares about, but whose lives–both religious and economic–seem entirely foreign to him.