Thomas Frank: When Clinton, Obama Sold 'Hope,' They Sold Out Rank-and-File Democrats

March 24th, 2014 8:12 PM

What's the Matter With Kansas? author Thomas Frank believes the matter with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as presidential campaigners was that they spent too much time "selling tidy homilies" about "hope" and too little advocating ideas such as single-payer health care. Frank stated his case Sunday in his latest weekly column for the liberal online magazine Salon.

Frank suggests that all the non-ideological rhetoric of hope from Clinton and Obama presaged the sort of lefty-disappointing policies they've often yielded (e.g., "Clinton’s deregulations [and] Obama’s spying program"). In that regard, he comments, they're typical of Democrats over the past three-plus decades:

...Maybe ['hope'] and these two presidents’ fecklessness actually complement and explain one another. Maybe 'hope' is the ideal philosophical doctrine for a party determined to dump its old constituents and chart a brave new course in a marketized world. As a slogan, 'hope' is vague and ethereal...but perhaps that is what makes it the consummate brand identity for a party that so often triangulates away the concerns of its rank and file...

Moreover, declares Frank, "this particular platitude is not harmless...To describe politics in terms of 'hope'...allows [Democrats] to sell us out over and over."

He further argues:

'Hope' also sets an extremely low standard for judging Democratic politicians...

...It means, just keep waiting, and just keep voting. If you think good thoughts long enough, maybe someday you’ll get that million bucks, or that single-payer healthcare system.

...After 30 years of these pseudo Democrats—Democrats who fundraise like Republicans, Democrats who govern like Republicans, Democrats who basically become’s easy enough to understand why elected officials love the concept. 'Hope' means, forget about how you got taken last time. Think positively. Maybe this next Democrat is the one who will finally act the way you think Democrats ought to act. And when he doesn’t, 'hope' means you need to stick with him anyway, because...well, because he’s the one who carries hope in his back pocket and all.

At any rate, 'hope' is a virtue they mainly recommend for you, the Democratic voter; with their funders and bundlers, the relationship is a little more contractual. For them our Democratic leaders undertake to perform certain actions; it is only for the rank and file that they recommend a diet of wishes...