Frank has been delivering some version of this message for the past two decades as a political essayist and a founding editor of The Baffler magazine. Listen, Liberal is the thoroughly entertaining if rather gloomy work of a man who feels that nobody has been paying attention ... Frank’s book is an unabashed polemic, not a studious examination of policy or polling trends. In Frank’s view, liberal policy wonks are part of the problem, members of a well-educated elite that massages its own technocratic vanities while utterly missing the big question of the day ... But [his] conclusion, too, may rest on a faulty analogy with the 1930s. Franklin Roosevelt did not suddenly decide on his own to enact Social Security or grant union rights. Those ideas came up from below, through decades of frustration and struggle and conflict.
When the left party in a system severs its bonds to working people — when it dedicates itself to the concerns of a particular slice of high-achieving affluent people — issues of work and income inequality will inevitably fade from its list of concerns,' Frank concludes ... Frank acknowledges the power of intransigent congressional Republicans, but insists Obama could have better used the executive branch to 'do big and consequential things about inequality' ... The critique that Frank offer[s] is somewhat self-fulfilling. If you dare suggest that the Democratic Party must adapt to a changing global economy, or that the power of the presidency has been curtailed regardless of who inhabits the White House, you become part of the very mind-set the author vilif[ies].
The timing of this change in approach is impeccable. During the past several months Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign has held that same mirror up to the warts of the Clinton and Obama administrations. There are moments when Listen Liberal reads like a 300-page endorsement of the Vermont senator, even if Frank says it's a happy coincidence ... Listen Liberal doesn't go as far as to call for a Sanders-style political revolution—it's an angry plea to the Democratic Party to return to its liberal roots.