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“Caring About The Political Fortunes Of The Causes”: If Bernie Sanders Wins, Centrist Liberals Are Morally Obligated To Support Him

In modern electoral politics, moderate and centrist Democrats are well-known for browbeating leftists with the lesser-evil argument. Democrats might not be particularly concerned about, say, child poverty, but they’re still better than Republicans on just about any issue you care to name. Obama might drone strike American citizens, but at least he doesn’t start full-blown wars of aggression that kill hundreds of thousands of people.

And that’s true, so far as it goes. However, there is a small but distinct possibility that moderates might find themselves on the receiving end of such an argument in the next election, if a leftist like Bernie Sanders wins the presidential nomination. As Matt Bruenig points out, they don’t seem to like this possibility. But they better be prepared for it.

For an example of a Democratic partisan, here’s Mark Kleiman explaining why he doesn’t agree with “emo-progs” (i.e., left-wing critics of Obama), in a post from a couple years ago entitled “Confessions of an Obamabot”:

What the emo-progs refuse to remember — now, and in the run-up to the 2010 election — that I never for a moment forget is that, whatever the failings of Barack Obama the human being, “Barack Obama” the political persona is the leader of the Democratic Party (and thus, effectively, of the entire progressive coalition) in a battle with a well-organized, well-funded, and utterly dedicated plutocrat-theocrat-racist-misogynist-obscurantist-ecocidal Red Team, whose lunatic extremism is now actually a threat to republican governance. If I’m reluctant to help Rand Paul and Glenn Greenwald add NSA! to Benghazi! and IRS! and Solyndra! and all the other b.s. pseudo-scandals designed to make Obama into Richard Nixon, it’s not because I’m in love with “The One:” it’s because, for good or ill, the political fortunes of the cause I care about are now tied to Obama’s political fortunes. [Washington Monthly]

Interpreted narrowly, this is a reasonable point. It is very often taken too far, of course — as with the people who blame the 97,000 Nader voters in Florida in 2000 for Gore’s loss of that state, instead of the 2.9 million who affirmatively voted for Bush. I would further add that Democrats should not always be supported without question. Centrist hack Democrats like Andrew Cuomo do not care about left-wing priorities like affordable housing and quality public transit — indeed he has actively worked against both. In Cuomo’s case, it is worth risking a potential loss in order to change the political incentives in New York at the state level.

Still, in America, tactical voting must always be a consideration. And for voters in swing states, that consideration is powerful indeed. Republicans really could do spectacular damage — just look at the smoking wreckage the last GOP president left.

The question is whether moderates are willing to swallow such an argument if Sanders manages to clinch the Democratic nomination. It’s still an extreme long shot, but it’s not completely out of the question.

After all, something similar happened in the U.K. just last week, with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. The reaction was not encouraging. Moderate liberals, like New Labourite Tony Blair, who all but begged his nation on hands and knees not to vote Corbyn (and probably added 10 points to Corbyn’s victory margin in the process), are furious. Some Labour MPs have reportedly even approached the Liberal Democratic Party about defecting.

Of course, that’s in the U.K., a genuinely multi-party democracy. There is less of an obligation to support Labour when the Greens or Scottish National Party could end up being part of a liberal coalition. In the U.S., there are only two real national parties, thus greatly strengthening any lesser-evil argument.

So unless moderate liberals’ arguments were 100 percent hypocrisy, should Sanders lock down the nomination, they will be obliged to support him. If they really care about the political fortunes of the causes they care about — ObamaCare, climate change, women’s rights, a higher minimum wage, keeping 27-year-old Heritage interns off the Supreme Court, etc. — they best start saying “actually, democratic socialism is good” in front of a mirror. They may need the practice.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, September 20, 2015

September 22, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, Progressives | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“What It Says About The Republican Base”: There Is No Liberal Donald Trump Because Liberals Don’t Need A Donald Trump

Talking about Donald Trump can be an exhausting and pointless exercise: no sooner does he say or do one outrageous thing than he follows it up with another (the latest being an appalling and viciously misogynist menstruation-based jab at Megyn Kelly, giving Erick Erickson the excuse he wanted to disinvite Trump from the RedState gathering.)

But Trump isn’t really that interesting for his own sake. Trump’s candidacy is of interest because of what it says about the Republican base and about American conservatism itself. I’ve been hammering lately on the theme that conservatives are in such a cultural defensive crouch that they’re not seeking a policy leader so much as insurgent cultural one.

But the focus on Trump has also helped hide a fundamental lack of seriousness in the entire Republican firmament, a point effectively noted by Paul Krugman:

For while it’s true that Mr. Trump is, fundamentally, an absurd figure, so are his rivals. If you pay attention to what any one of them is actually saying, as opposed to how he says it, you discover incoherence and extremism every bit as bad as anything Mr. Trump has to offer. And that’s not an accident: Talking nonsense is what you have to do to get anywhere in today’s Republican Party.

For example, Mr. Trump’s economic views, a sort of mishmash of standard conservative talking points and protectionism, are definitely confused. But is that any worse than Jeb Bush’s deep voodoo, his claim that he could double the underlying growth rate of the American economy? And Mr. Bush’s credibility isn’t helped by his evidence for that claim: the relatively rapid growth Florida experienced during the immense housing bubble that coincided with his time as governor….

The point is that while media puff pieces have portrayed Mr. Trump’s rivals as serious men — Jeb the moderate, Rand the original thinker, Marco the face of a new generation — their supposed seriousness is all surface. Judge them by positions as opposed to image, and what you have is a lineup of cranks. And as I said, this is no accident.

Pundits keep pretending that Donald Trump is a media creation–a charlatan and entertainer who is crashing the otherwise serious political party to generate headlines. But he wouldn’t make those headlines without having an enormously popular appeal to the Republican base, which pundits attribute to general frustration with the political system on both sides of the aisle.

But that’s just not true. If it were true, then the Democratic Party would be just as susceptible to a liberal version of Trump. But it’s not. It’s hard to even imagine what that would look like.

The reality is that mainstream Democratic positions also happen to be broadly popular positions already without the need for demagogic bluster. Left-of-center positions tend to be based on science and a more complex, nuanced understanding of social problems. Even more importantly, liberals in the United States promote solutions that have already been shown to work elsewhere in the world. In terms of party divisions Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders simply present a more rhetorically forceful version of those positions, and where their opinions differ from centrist Democrats (especially on, say, Wall Street), their takes tend to be backed up by history and economics, and to have the support of the majority of Americans.

Once again, it’s important to note that both sides don’t, in fact, do it when it comes to political extremism. American conservatism has gone far, far off the rails. Donald Trump’s successful candidacy is only the latest–but far from the only–proof of that.

Liberals don’t have a Donald Trump because we don’t need one. Even liberal populism is a doggedly rational, evidence-based, internally consistent and broadly popular affair. Populist conservatism is anything but.


By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 8, 2015

August 10, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Democrats, Donald Trump | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Stark Difference”: Republicans Fear Their Activist Base. Democrats Don’t

We’ve gotten so used to Republican infighting over the last few years that it would have been easy to forget that historically it’s the Democrats who have been the most consumed by internecine arguments. Over the weekend we got a reminder, as a group of protesters disrupted a forum at the Netroots Nation gathering of liberal activists where Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley were speaking. By all accounts, neither Sanders nor O’Malley handled it particularly well.

But if we look at this event in combination with what’s happening on the Republican side, we can see the stark differences in the relationship of each side’s base, its activists, and its candidates.

If you want a moment-by-moment account of the event, I’d recommend this one from Eclectablog or Dara Lind’s insightful analysis of the different forces at play. If the protesters wanted to make the point that Sanders in particular is not spending enough time talking about racial injustice, then he did their work for them by reacting in a somewhat combative way and trying to forge ahead with what he wanted to say about economics. But it’s hard to avoid this question: Is Bernie Sanders the guy you want to be protesting? To what end?

I say that not because Sanders has a strong record on civil rights, though he does. And if the complaint is that Sanders isn’t talking about race as much as he could, well that’s true, too. The truth is that however good his intentions, Bernie Sanders is a longtime Democratic politician who has never really needed the support of the single most important Democratic constituency, African-Americans. He represents the whitest state in the union — only one percent of Vermonters are black. So he may not have the instinctive feel for what African-Americans care about that another politician who had of necessity spent years courting them and working with them would have developed.

But you know who does have that instinctive feel? Hillary Clinton. She spent her political life in Arkansas and New York, where there are plenty of African-Americans. She’s spent more Sundays in black churches than you can count. Toni Morrison famously called her husband the first black president. Yes, there was plenty of tension and ill feelings when black voters left her and got behind Barack Obama in 2008, but I promise you that they’ll be with her in 2016.

But Clinton didn’t attend Netroots Nation this year, and Sanders and O’Malley did, so they’re the ones who got protested, for little reason other than the fact that they were handy. And while they suffered some discomfort, one thing the protesters weren’t demanding was that Democrats vote against either one of them in the primaries. In fact, I’m sure that if you asked the protesters what primary voters should do, they’d say that it’s not their real concern — elections aren’t the point.

Which is where the contrast with Republicans couldn’t be more stark. The Tea Party started just as much as a movement of self-styled outsiders, but unlike activists on the left, they pursued an inside strategy from the outset, one focused clearly on elections. They saw the path to achieving their goals running through Congress and the White House, and they all but took over their party by mounting successful primary challenges to Republican incumbents. How many prominent Democratic incumbents have faced the same kind of strong grassroots challenge from the left in recent years? There was Joe Lieberman, who was beaten in the 2006 Democratic primary in Connecticut by Ned Lamont. But apart from a backbench House member here and there, that’s about it.

In contrast, Republican activists have gotten one prominent scalp after another, from incumbent senators like Richard Lugar and Bob Bennett to important House members like Eric Cantor. The result is that Republican politicians regard their base with barely-disguised terror. You can see it in how they’ve approached Donald Trump, a spectacular buffoon who has tied the party in knots. Even when he was saying one bigoted thing after another about the demographic group the party desperately needs if it’s ever to win back the White House, his opponents stepped gingerly around him, lest they offend his supporters. It was only after Trump’s remarks about John McCain’s war record (which, frankly, he sort of got baited into making) gave them an excuse removed from any policy area that most of them finally started criticizing him.

Even if Trump pulled out of the race tomorrow (sorry, Republicans, no such luck), the rest of the candidates would still operate from fear of their base, which means that activist conservatives will be able to extract commitments from the candidates on the issues that they care about. You can argue that in the long run this hurts the GOP by radicalizing the party and making its presidential candidates unelectable, and you’d probably be right, but in the short run, it probably feels to those conservative activists like success.

The situation on the Democratic side isn’t the same at all. The activists involved in Black Lives Matter and similar efforts would say that they don’t want just to become players in the Democratic Party, because they’re looking to create change on entrenched issues with roots that go back centuries. And they might be right that an outside strategy will be more effective at achieving that change than a strategy focused on making gains within the party. After all, you can argue that while tea partiers have almost taken over the GOP, they’ve gotten very little of the substantive change they wanted — the Affordable Care Act lives, Barack Obama got reelected, and history keeps marching forward despite their efforts, even if they’ve managed to stop things like comprehensive immigration reform.

On the other hand, circumstances will eventually produce another Republican president, even if it isn’t next year or four years after that. And when that president gets elected, the conservative activists will come to collect on the commitments he made.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, July 20, 2015

July 23, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Netroots Nation, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Blind Spots Are Unacceptable”: Presidential Candidates Will Need To Listen

The most recent AP-GfK poll found something interesting.

Even as the public remains closely divided about his presidency, Barack Obama is holding on to his support from the so-called “Obama coalition” of minorities, liberals and young Americans, an Associated Press-GfK poll shows, creating an incentive for the next Democratic presidential nominee to stick with him and his policies.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, by comparison, is viewed somewhat less favorably by the key voting groups whose record-setting turnout in 2008 propelled Obama to the White House and will be crucial to her own success.

Roughly two-thirds of Hispanics view Obama favorably, compared to just over half of Hispanics who say the same about Clinton. Among self-identified liberals, Obama’s favorability stands at 87 percent, to Clinton’s 72 percent. Half of Americans under the age of 30 view Obama favorably, compared to just 38 percent for his former secretary of state.

The findings offer a window into the factors at play as Clinton decides how closely to embrace Obama, his record and his policies in her campaign for president. Although associating herself with Obama could turn off some independent and Republican-leaning voters, electoral math and changing demographics make it critical for Democrats to turn out high numbers of Hispanics, African Americans and young voters.

From the moment Hillary Clinton officially launched her 2016 campaign, it has been clear that she is actively courting “the Obama coalition.” She came out of the gate talking about things like criminal justice reform, immigration reform and voting rights – all issues that are of primary concern to people of color, especially young people. Based on reports like this, that is not an accident.

“This is the strongest start when it comes to diversity in presidential politics that I’ve seen and I’ve been doing this for over 20 years,” says Jamal Simmons, a principal at The Raben Group, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm. “She is hiring Black and Latino department heads and women in important positions. It’s aggressive and to be commended.”

According to Simmons, it’s not only the Democratic thing to do because the party says it values diversity, but it’s also important to have people on her staff who come from the same communities as her prospective voters.

Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, agrees.

“The first thing [such hires] does is show our community that the campaign is concerned about who we are and what our issues are and I think that’s very, very important,” she said. “It also says to our community that there are people in that campaign with whom we have some genuine ability to talk to and who understand what we’re talking about.”

To the extent that Hillary listens to the diverse members of her staff, she is unlikely to make the same mistakes that Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders did yesterday in response to challenges from people involved in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. They will tell her things like: saying “all lives matter” is “perceived as erasure rather than inclusion” and that tackling the issue of income inequality is a necessary but insufficient way to address structural racism.

Like it or not, this presidential campaign is going to require candidates to deal with the issues that are important to people of color, and white people inherently have blind spots in those areas. It will become increasingly important for candidates to pay heed to the words of the Dalai Lama.


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 19, 2015

July 20, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Minorities, Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Liberals And Wages”: Public Policy Can Do A Lot To Help Workers Without Bringing Down The Wrath Of The Invisible Hand

Hillary Clinton gave her first big economic speech on Monday, and progressives were by and large gratified. For Mrs. Clinton’s core message was that the federal government can and should use its influence to push for higher wages.

Conservatives, however — at least those who could stop chanting “Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!” long enough to pay attention — seemed bemused. They believe that Ronald Reagan proved that government is the problem, not the solution. So wasn’t Mrs. Clinton just reviving defunct “paleoliberalism”? And don’t we know that government intervention in markets produces terrible side effects?

No, she wasn’t, and no, we don’t. In fact, Mrs. Clinton’s speech reflected major changes, deeply grounded in evidence, in our understanding of what determines wages. And a key implication of that new understanding is that public policy can do a lot to help workers without bringing down the wrath of the invisible hand.

Many economists used to think of the labor market as being pretty much like the market for anything else, with the prices of different kinds of labor — that is, wage rates — fully determined by supply and demand. So if wages for many workers have stagnated or declined, it must be because demand for their services is falling.

In particular, the conventional wisdom attributed rising inequality to technological change, which was raising the demand for highly educated workers while devaluing blue-collar work. And there was nothing much policy could do to change the trend, other than aiding low-wage workers via subsidies like the earned-income tax credit.

You still see commentators who haven’t kept up invoking this story as if it were obviously true. But the case for “skill-biased technological change” as the main driver of wage stagnation has largely fallen apart. Most notably, high levels of education have offered no guarantee of rising incomes — for example, wages of recent college graduates, adjusted for inflation, have been flat for 15 years.

Meanwhile, our understanding of wage determination has been transformed by an intellectual revolution — that’s not too strong a word — brought on by a series of remarkable studies of what happens when governments change the minimum wage.

More than two decades ago the economists David Card and Alan Krueger realized that when an individual state raises its minimum wage rate, it in effect performs an experiment on the labor market. Better still, it’s an experiment that offers a natural control group: neighboring states that don’t raise their minimum wages. Mr. Card and Mr. Krueger applied their insight by looking at what happened to the fast-food sector — which is where the effects of the minimum wage should be most pronounced — after New Jersey hiked its minimum wage but Pennsylvania did not.

Until the Card-Krueger study, most economists, myself included, assumed that raising the minimum wage would have a clear negative effect on employment. But they found, if anything, a positive effect. Their result has since been confirmed using data from many episodes. There’s just no evidence that raising the minimum wage costs jobs, at least when the starting point is as low as it is in modern America.

How can this be? There are several answers, but the most important is probably that the market for labor isn’t like the market for, say, wheat, because workers are people. And because they’re people, there are important benefits, even to the employer, from paying them more: better morale, lower turnover, increased productivity. These benefits largely offset the direct effect of higher labor costs, so that raising the minimum wage needn’t cost jobs after all.

The direct takeaway from this intellectual revolution is, of course, that we should raise minimum wages. But there are broader implications, too: Once you take what we’ve learned from minimum-wage studies seriously, you realize that they’re not relevant just to the lowest-paid workers.

For employers always face a trade-off between low-wage and higher-wage strategies — between, say, the traditional Walmart model of paying as little as possible and accepting high turnover and low morale, and the Costco model of higher pay and benefits leading to a more stable work force. And there’s every reason to believe that public policy can, in a variety of ways — including making it easier for workers to organize — encourage more firms to choose the good-wage strategy.

So there was a lot more behind Hillary’s speech than I suspect most commentators realized. And for those trying to play gotcha by pointing out that some of what she said differed from ideas that prevailed when her husband was president, well, many liberals have changed their views in response to new evidence. It’s an interesting experience; conservatives should try it some time.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 17, 2015

July 19, 2015 Posted by | Economic Policy, Hillary Clinton, Minimum Wage | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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