By David Sirota
New York Times (Permalink)

The Korean War is known by many as “the forgotten war” – a conflict ignored because of its proximity to other wars. But there is a difference between a war that is forgotten and one that is deliberately ignored even as it rages in our midst. That kind of war is the subject of Lou Dobbs’s fist-pounding new book, “War on the Middle Class,” which exposes a vicious economic battle being waged against the vast majority of Americans.

Dobbs seems an unlikely general to lead this fight. A financial journalist, he was the longtime anchor of CNN’s “Moneyline,” where, as The Wall Street Journal noted, “his opinions generally were seen as unabashedly pro-business.” That changed when Dobbs returned after a two-year hiatus from CNN and revealed a new personality: the pinstriped populist. His current program, “Lou Dobbs Tonight” (on which I have been a guest), follows his book’s central thesis: “Our political, business and academic elites are waging an outright war on Americans.” He examines this economic war in chapters on wages, corruption, trade, outsourcing, immigration and health care, showing how moneyed interests devise policies that harm the public, and offering up his own set of solutions.

For Dobbs, there are no sacred cows. Sometimes his zeal runs too hot, as when he attacks religious organizations that favor amnesty for illegal immigrants with the same fire he unleashes on corporate front groups that support illegal immigration because it provides cheap labor. But more often he is right on target, as when he expertly skewers a health care system riddled by profiteering.

The book is driven by Dobbs’s seething yet remarkably matter-of-fact style. His refreshing prose, like his on-air persona, combines seemingly unmixable ingredients – one part Ted Koppel authority, one part Bill O’Reilly bluster and one part Howard Beale “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore” outrage. Occasionally Dobbs seems unwilling to risk his tough image by exploring difficult issues. For example, he neglects to go beyond simple law-and-order rhetoric about border security and ask why so many Mexicans risk their lives attempting to immigrate illegally to our country in the first place.

While our border security does need improvement, illegal immigration is a result of America’s having an impoverished country at its southern border and a trade policy that has helped push 19 million more Mexicans into poverty over the last two decades. Many Mexicans who illegally cross the border are motivated not by nefarious criminal intent but by sheer economic desperation. Except for a few fleeting mentions, Dobbs avoids connecting these issues in pursuit of a serious fix. Why? Maybe he knows that the real solution includes both improving border security and building Mexico’s economy – and that may be a save-the-world message far less appealing to his followers than his usual tough-on-crime mantra. Dobbs also peddles a few hackneyed right-wing talking points. For instance, he excoriates the news media as “liberal.” This charge comes in a chapter that berates reporters for refusing to cover economic issues from what would generally be considered a more working-class, “liberal” perspective.

But then, that is probably one of his book’s most important, if unstated, points: cultural liberalism focusing on social issues that have only varying degrees of support among the general population is far different from full-throated Dobbs-style economic populism. It is undeniable that aside from Dobbs and a few politicians, America’s political debate is almost entirely devoid of economic populists. “War on the Middle Class” confronts this problem head-on – and thanks to Dobbs’s passion and charisma, it succeeds in sounding an alarm that cannot be ignored.

 

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