- - Wednesday, May 31, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

THIS FIGHT IS OUR FIGHT: THE BATTLE TO SAVE AMERICA’S MIDDLE CLASS

By Elizabeth Warren

Metropolitan Books, $28, 337 pages

A basic problem with Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s well-written and at times eloquent book is the difficulty she has in explaining why so many members of the middle class she purports to be fighting for voted for Donald Trump — who, in cahoots with “billionaires and corporate lobbyists,” is pushing the middle class toward extinction. Nor is it ever quite clear that, like many Democrats today, she still has a grip on what constitutes the American middle class.

Ms. Warren begins her narrative with a depiction of an earlier day, when the New Deal created a society in which ambition, struggle and striving were encouraged and ultimately rewarded by a beneficent, free-spending, free-taxing and ever-expanding government, a condition that prevailed well into the 1970s.

But no matter. This was the golden age for Ms. Warren. She came up the hard way, a girl from a poor Oklahoma family, dropping out of college to marry, returning to take courses part-time, working her way through, becoming the first in her family to earn a degree, earning a law degree, joining the faculty at Harvard, and now serving as the senior senator from Massachusetts. In all, she tells her own story well, an admirable personal history that could serve as a model for many young American women. However, she believes that those golden years in America that she credits for much of her success, depending in no small part on government largesse, gave way to a disastrous new age of tax cuts and trickle-down economics.

In 1981, she writes, “President Ronald Reagan was sworn into office and became chief wizard. Picture Reagan and a bunch of other old guys waving magic wands as glitter dust sprinkles across the land. With each wave of the wand, corporations and millionaires and billionaires could keep more of their money, and then — here comes the magic part — everyone else would be richer, too!” (Incidentally, Ms. Warren and her husband fit comfortably into that millionaire category.)

And then, in 2016, the people inexplicably elected “a showman who made big promises. A man who swore he would drain the swamp, then surrounded himself with the lobbyists and billionaires who run the swamp and feed off government favors. A man who talked the talk of populism but offered the very worst of trickle-down economics.”

To charge that President Trump believes in trickle-down economics, or any other catchily-named economic theory for that matter, just doesn’t ring true. And beyond a vague desire to revive the New Deal there’s no coherent economic policy to oppose Mr. Trump’s advanced here. Nor is the repeated name calling (bigot, racist, liar, Fascist) effective in any principled way.

She calls for all-out resistance, but there’s no program offered here beyond an emotional resistance to Mr. Trump and any initiatives he might propose. In her view, the highest and most effective expression of that resistance so far was the Women’s March on Washington, although even many of those most sympathetic can’t explain just what it accomplished, beyond emotional venting and record sales of pink headdresses.

But as is the case with so many of Mr. Trump’s political opponents, she seems driven to emotional overreaction. She makes much of her somewhat childish twitter duels with him, several of which are reproduced here, and of which she actually seems proud. And in the process, her preoccupation with Mr. Trump seems to have hijacked this book.

In the end, the solutions to the problems she identifies are unrealistic, amounting to a restoration of the New Deal, increased spending, regulation and taxation, with a trendy new emphasis on inequality and its effects on matters of gender and race.

This latter has now become part of the official Democratic Party line, and was tried out nationally in the last election. It failed dismally, and how it could ever be conceived of as attractive to middle-class voters is beyond understanding.

But what it might suggest is that Ms. Warren has lived a little too long in Cambridge, Mass., a considerable hike from Oklahoma and the daily concerns of that middle class that elected our current president.

If, as many think, she’ll run against him the next time around, she’d do well to get out of that elitist rut into which the wealthy and aging leaders of her party seem to have fallen — perhaps back to Oklahoma, to listen to what the real middle class is taking about these days.

• John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).

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