The tragically incompetent elites of the centre left

This critique by Thomas Frank, on loc 2729 of his Pity the Billionaire, applies as well to proponents of the ‘third way’ within the Labour Party as it does to the leaders of the Democratic Party in relation to whom they originally articulated the notion:

Sometimes when I watch the Washington Democrats in action, my mind goes back to the tragically incompetent British general staff of World War I, ordering assault after gigantic assault, only to see their armies annihilated one after another. But still they kept at it, ordering up another round of the exact same thing, playing by the gentlemanly rules of combat, never doing anything remotely clever, and always completely surprised when the other side introduced them to twentieth-century warfare in some brutal new way.

The Washington Democrats will no more acknowledge the possibilities of other tactics than they will abandon Georgetown and move en masse to some burned-out quarter of Baltimore. Instead they deride their liberal critics as impossible dreamers—or as “fucking retarded,” in Rahm Emanuel’s famous phrase—and try what worked for Clinton yet again. That their own habitual deference to expertise leaves them wide open to the decades-long conservative assault on “elites” never occurs to them.

There’s an increasingly zombie-like repetition of strategic impulses whose purchase, if any, relied upon a social and economic conditions that have been in rapid decline for nearly a decade. Yet still they soldier on, professionally socialised into an understanding of politics most, if not all, seem incapable of repudiating. If modernisation meant anything, it meant adapting a party to changing circumstances, yet they seem weirdly incapable of recognising the fact that it’s no longer 1997.

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