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“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

“Is The Iran Deal ‘Liberal’?”: Shifting The Reigning Washington Foreign-Policy Paradigm From War-Making To Deal-Making

So, Senator Chris Coons, what do you think of the Iran deal?

There’s a pause. I have spoken a few times in recent weeks to the Delaware Democratic Senator, because a) he is deeply immersed in the details of this negotiation and b) he’s coming from what seems to me roughly the right place here: He wants to support his president and he wants to see diplomacy succeed, but he doesn’t trust Iran and he wants a deal that has a chance of actually working. He’s thoughtful and smart and not a demagogue, and his ultimate support (or not) of the thing really will hang on the details and what he concludes about them.

So he opens by telling me that he first wants to give credit to President Obama and John Kerry for getting this done, because any negotiation is hard, this one almost incomprehensibly so. Then he gives an answer: “It seems on the face of it from press accounts to meet most of the goals that were set.” He hadn’t read it yet, but he’d read enough about it to draw a few conclusions.

Still, Coons says he hasn’t made up his mind yet how he’ll vote. “I’m aware that it’s easier to be critical than supportive because this deal is so complex and the stakes are so high,” he told me. “I do think the diplomacy was worth exploring.” He wouldn’t say this of course, but it seems to me unlikely that Congress can kill the deal; Obama needs the backing of only 34 senators, which would result in a failure to override his certain veto of a “no” vote. It’s hard to imagine he can’t get that.

We’ll circle back to Coons, but first let’s acknowledge a point that liberal Obama-backers everywhere ought to acknowledge in this case: The deal is a big gamble. Nobody can know today that it will work in the main goal of keeping the Islamic Republic from getting a nuclear weapon. Of course, nobody knows for certain that it will fail either, and Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton and John Boehner’s instant and predictable Munich-ification of a deal they obviously hadn’t even read was revolting.

But the way to counter their false, know-nothing certitude is not with more false, know-nothing certitude. From a liberal internationalist point of view, it’s clearly a good thing that Obama is trying to shift the reigning Washington foreign-policy paradigm from war-making to deal-making. The war-makers have been wrong about everything for the last 15 years, have told us endless lies, have harmed American credibility, have sown destruction and death—and, by the way, have done a hell of a lot more to strengthen Iran than we doves have. So deal-making is a fine principle for which to strive. But that doesn’t mean the deal is without risks and downsides, and liberals do themselves and the world no favors by not acknowledging them just because Tom Cotton is such a dreary soapbox haranguer.

Here were Coons’s four concerns in the order he listed them to me. First, the inspections regime; second, the timing of the sanctions relief; third, the degree to which the International Atomic Energy Agency will be able to keep track of the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear activities; and fourth, restrictions on centrifuge development after about year 10. “I need to have a much better sense of the breakout time after 10 years,” Coons said, noting concerns that limits on centrifuge development might ease after the tenth year.

For my money, Coons’s second concern is the biggest potential problem here. Iran will get a $150 billion windfall starting in December, and while the regime will presumably spend some of that money at home, it’s a certainty that the Syrian regime and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Houthis in Yemen are all going to get their share.

Combine this money with the deal’s lifting of the conventional arms embargo, which hasn’t gotten much attention yet but you can be sure will get more, especially once Congress starts holding hearings on this, and you have a recipe for Iran to make far more trouble in the region than it has been in recent years. It should not comfort Americans, and American liberals in particular, that the likes of Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, both busy murdering Syrian children and suppressing any chance of real democracy being able to grow in Syria and Lebanon, praised the deal to the heavens.

Coons told me he had a lengthy phone call with Joe Biden Tuesday, and “that’s precisely what I was discussing with the vice president.” He said he’d let Biden speak for himself, but he did tell me that he pressed Biden on questions like what we’d be doing to beef up our commitments to our allies and to check Iranian influence. He says Biden assured him that stern measures were in the works. We’ll see about that. This, too, will be much discussed in the upcoming hearings, and it’s not only Republicans who have these concerns.

Obama says people should judge the deal only on whether it prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, that it isn’t designed to change the nature of the regime or address regional terrorism. What this means is the administration made the decision that keeping a nuke out of Iran’s hands was the job that took precedence over all other tasks. All in all that’s probably the right call. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday that this deal would start an arms race. Not if it holds. If anything, it’s the opposite that’s true: Without a deal, Iran would surely develop a bomb more quickly, leading Saudi Arabia and perhaps others to do the same.

But surely Obama doesn’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t discuss the other possible consequences of the deal. American liberals in particular should discuss these things. Nuclear non-proliferation is an old-school liberal value, but so is seeing our country take stands against the fundamentalist extremism that Iran exports and the kind of slaughter of civilians we see in Syria.

I was pleased to see that Hillary Clinton’s statement on the deal took both of these concerns seriously. Oddly, it’s not on her website. I got it via email, and the part that impressed me says this: “Going forward, we have to be clear-eyed when it comes to the broader threat Iran represents.  Even with a nuclear agreement, Iran poses a real challenge to the United States and our partners and a grave threat to our ally Israel. It continues to destabilize countries from Yemen to Lebanon, while exacerbating the conflict in Syria. It is developing missiles that can strike every country in the Middle East. And it fuels terrorism throughout the region and beyond, including through direct support to Hamas and Hizballah.  We have to broadly confront and raise the costs for Iran’s destabilizing activities…”

That’s real liberal internationalism, and I hope she spells out in the coming weeks what “broadly confront” means. I’d rather have her doing it than Jeb Bush or Scott Walker.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, July 16, 2015

July 17, 2015 Posted by | Chris Coons, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Middle East | , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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