We recommend a key word: Please ignore the silly headline on Thomas Frank’s new piece at Salon.
(At the new Salon, headline writers rarely care about what the article actually says. That’s how Paul Krugman gets snarked at in Frank’s headline, even though he isn’t mentioned in Frank’s actual column.)
Ignore the headline, but focus on Frank’s ideas. Frank says progressives have to learn how to talk about—well, we have to learn how to talk about our current condition, whatever we decide to say that condition is.
According to Frank, liberals don’t know how to talk about the condition which is frequently called “inequality.” He says that condition is discussed in the denatured language of professional academics.
We don’t know how to discuss what’s happening in a way that punches the gut.
At one point, people did know how to talk, Frank says. He offers “a famous passage from the Omaha Platform of the Populist Party,” which was written in 1892:
“The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of those, in turn, despise the republic and endanger liberty. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes—tramps and millionaires.”
Thomas Frank knows how to talk. In a similar vein, we’ll recommend that progressives learn to employ a key word:
That key word is “looting.”
In the past, we’ve used that helpful, accurate word to discuss the way American health care works. Let’s face it: When you see data like these, average people are getting looted every day of the week:
Per person spending on health care, 2011As compared to France, $4400 per person in health care spending was disappearing that year.
United States: $8508
United Kingdom: $3405
Back in 1892, “the fruits of the toil of millions were stolen.” Today, the average person is constantly looted in his or her spending on health care.
Frank complains about the dull writing “in the New York Times’ series on the subject, The Great Divide, which has run now for a little over a year.” We’ll admit it—the series has generated so little buzz that we didn’t know it exists.
He complains about the standard claim that inequality is “a complex, highly technical problem, with many confusing causes.”
Pshaw, Frank says. “Inequality happened because our leaders set out to make it happen.” He quotes clear direct language from Kevin Phillips in 1990 saying that this is the case.
Do you mind if we add one thought to Frank’s rumination? “Inequality” may be unexciting because of the way the professionals discuss it. That said, you’ll also note that it doesn’t get discussed a whole lot on the liberal “news” channel.
MSNBC tends to define progressive politics around the drive for middle and upper middle class rights. That’s an important part of progressive politics, but it can be pushed so hard that viewers don’t notice that large economic outrages are going undiscussed.
How often have you seen health care spending discussed on MSNBC? How often have you seen the channel’s hosts asking where all that looted health care money is going?
You tend to get a diet of rights on MSNBC. In a Rolling Stone profile of Rachel Maddow, executive producer Bill Wolff discussed the kinds of segments that tend to please Maddow Show viewers:
WALLACE-WELL (6/27/12): While Maddow is on set, broadcasting the show, Wolff tends to stay upstairs in his office and monitor Twitter, to get a sense of how the show's fans are reacting. Maddow has built a base of admirers to the point where she now averages 1.2 million viewers a night, which is just over half of what Sean Hannity averages during the same time slot. Wolff believes that what her fans respond to most are not necessarily the biggest news stories of the day, but the moments when Maddow is defending rights: “voting rights, reproductive rights, women's rights, really any kind of rights.” Viewers like to see Maddow on the attack: "People want to see the home team winning." Oftentimes, the home team is all they want to see. "If there's a Republican, you'll see all these tweets," Wolff says. "Get that Republican off my screen!"Rights are important, but so is income—and Republican voters are getting looted every day too. Is the cable news diet of topics one of the ways by which liberal viewers perhaps keep getting looted?
Plutocrats don’t care if you have rights; they want to get their hands on your money. We hear about rights, and we see our team winning.
Does this help the looting roll on?