[UPDATE, 3/19: Since this piece was published, the Clinton campaign had an outbreak of good sense and will no longer be fundraising with Theranos.]
So, that happened. Elizabeth Holmes is the young, fresh-faced CEO of Theranos, a medical device startup that promised to revolutionize the science of blood testing with cutting-edge technology. But there's a problem. Last October, the Wall Street Journal reported that Theranos wasn’t delivering anything close to what it promised. In the months since, the company has become synonymous with corporate excess -- serial violators of lab standards and federal regulations that posed "immediate jeopardy to patient health and safety."
So, why is Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton having a fundraiser with Holmes next week? The choice seems inexplicable -- unless you've read Thomas Frank's new book, Listen Liberal: or Whatever Happened To The Party of the People. Frank joined the "So That Happened" podcast to discuss his new tome.
To understand how it came to pass that Clinton would authorize Holmes to be a fundraising stand-in for her campaign, you need to be aware of how the Democratic party has evolved over the past few decades -- an evolution that Frank rather eloquently documents in his book. "At some point," Frank tells the Huffington Post, "[the Democrats] decided that they weren't all that interested in the concerns of working people anymore." Rather, Frank says, they became fixated on "the concerns of the professional class, people with advanced degrees, people at the very top of our economic society."
Essentially, the Democratic party lives in a meritocratic bubble, where credentials, advanced degrees, media savviness, and -- above all -- wealth, are treated as de facto evidence of authority and expertise. This is how the Democratic party has rationalized participating in the school reform movement: to meritocrats, it makes perfect sense to believe that a successful CEO would know more about how to run a school system than actual teachers.
And once you've made it into this coterie of elites, it becomes all too easy to forgive them for their occasional transgressions. The failures of Theranos don't stick to Holmes (indeed, the media continued to fawn over Holmes after the Wall Street Journal blew up her spot). If anything, these setbacks are temporary embarrassments on the way to success. Class recognizes class.
Frank says that Clinton is "a perfect example of the kind of liberal I talk about," steeped in the "belief in meritocracy that's going to solve all things" and the regular "palling around with billionaires."
"When you listen to her talk," Frank says, "when she's not trying to steal Bernie Sanders' talking points and actually speaking her own mind, she gravitates back to meritocracy almost automatically."
And Clinton has gravitated toward Holmes because the Theranos CEO represents something specific. Throughout the campaign, Clinton has described her candidacy as one that would "break down barriers." This is the essential aspect of her response to income inequality: rather than repair a rigged system or make the capital-to-labor ratio more equitable through policy, she wants to bring a greater amount of diversity to the meritocratic class, with benefits sure to trickle down.
Holmes, as a female CEO in the male-dominated culture of tech startups, thus represents the very model of a barrier-breaker. Concerns about the quality of her leadership and her company's work are secondary.
Asked whether the recent news of the Holmes fundraiser represented a good explication of his book's thesis, Frank says, "That's almost too perfect. One of the problems of writing this book is that I wanted to see this kind of thing in action. But in order to do that, you have to give money."
Elsewhere on this week’s podcast: This week, President Barack Obama picked Judge Merrick Garland to fill Antonin Scalia's vacant seat on the Supreme Court. Naturally, his pick has touched off another round of politicking between the White House and the Senate Republicans who have vowed to not consider a Supreme Court nominee, but more to the point: Who is Merrick Garland, and why?
Meanwhile, the 2016 races continue, and a sense of inevitability is beginning to set in. Bernie Sanders failed to pull off the upsets he needed on this past Super Tuesday's primaries, leaving him now in need of a miracle finish to pull off the nomination. Meanwhile, the #NeverTrump League suffered a setback after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) got waxed in his home state. We'll set the stage for what happens next.
Finally, Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) is back with us, talking about Donald Trump, government reform and his plans to travel to Cuba with President Barack Obama. He'll talk about how after 60 years of isolation and embargo, it's time for a change of course with the island nation.
“So, That Happened” is hosted by Jason Linkins, Zach Carter and Arthur Delaney. Joining them this week is author and journalist Thomas Frank, U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble and Huffington Post reporters Cristian Farias and Samantha Lachman.
This podcast was produced, edited and engineered by Christine Conetta.