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June 26, 2005

Henry Farrell on Rick Perlstein

Someday, someday, I swear, I will reliably and correctly distinguish Rick Perlstein from Steve Pearlstein.

Henry Farrell already does. Here he writes about the first:

: I just finished reading Rick Perlstei's The Stock Ticker and the Super Jumbo yesterday (an earlier version of the essay and the various responses is available here). It's a great read, and a smart essay.... Perlstein tells the Democratic party that it needs to be like Boeing in the 1960s and 1970s, and not like Boeing in the 1990s.... In the 1960s and 1970s... Boeing won incredible profits through building the 747, but... had its shares trade at a... discount.... In the 1990s, it signalled its willingness to kow-tow to the short term demands of the stock market, by refusing to... build a new super-jumbo. The stock market loved it... Boeing also missed out on a crucial opportunity....

Thus, the main contrast that he draws in the essay is between short term thinking and long term thinking... hiring Dick Morris... [and] muddying the Democrats' appeal... [vs] building a set of coherent policies that build on... strengths.... Perlstein is using the right metaphor... is also right on the main underlying argument. But short term thinking versus long term thinking is the wrong way to connect.... What Perlstein is really trying to get at, I think, is what one might call the difference between market making and market taking....

What was important about... the jumbo-jet... [was] that it was an act of market making.... [N]ew technologies provided it with the opportunity to... summon customers... out of thin air. And... [b]ecause it had created the market, it... secure[d] a long term advantage. In contrast, most firms most of the time are market takers.... The Democratic Party, at the moment, is a market taker.... But Perlstein's key point (and again, you need to read his book on Goldwater [Before the Storm] to properly understand this) is that the current conservative bias of US politics is itself a political artefact... [an] initiative by right wing Republicans to reorient the political debate around a set of ideas that once seemed bizarre and unnatural to most Americans.... They set the rules... (protecting the poor becomes "class warfare")....

Barry Goldwater's people changed the rules of American politics.... Ever since, the Democrats have been fighting a holding action.... Perlstein's prescription -- a return to economic populism -- seems to me to be the right and obvious way for Democrats to start remaking politics on their own terms.

Rick Perlstein--see! I can get it right--replied:

Damn, Farrell, you're not supposed to tell them they can get the preliminary version for free on the Internets!

Great points. I should have talked to you in 3/04 when I wrote the thing.

It's REALLY important to understand the ways in which the notion of conservative dominance is in itself a political artifact. I did a reading in Chicago yesteray and someone asked me about a point by Woolridge and Micklethwaite's (bad) recent book on American conservatism The Right Nation that Dennis Hastert's district is "normal" America, and Nancy Pelosi's, the urban Democrat's, is not.

I said: My, have those conservatives punked the media elite. I pointed out that many of the most popular national radio sitcoms that took place in teeming cities were moved to suburbs when they moved to TV. And now people buy the notion that conservatives have been selling: that cities aren't really American.... Buy the book... when uttering the phrase "culture war" is as illegitimate as uttering the phrase "class war," the Republicans can not possibly win.

Posted by DeLong at June 26, 2005 05:46 PM