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“Unprecedented Demographic Change”: Adapting To Change Requires Curiosity And Creativity

Our 24/7 news cycle that is addicted to the crisis of the moment and the horse race of electoral politics doesn’t do a good job of recognizing the tectonic shifts of change that are undergirding our lives.

The attacks of 9/11 followed by the Great Recession changed the way a lot of people feel about America in ways that aren’t articulated often enough. We are experiencing demographic change that is unprecedented, are nearing the end of two terms for our first African American president and are likely on the cusp of electing our first female president. All of that is happening as we are experiencing the effects of globalization and automation in our economy while technology becomes more central to how we live our everyday lives. Finally, we are just beginning to see the effects of climate change – with dramatic impacts looming on the horizon.

We can play the political parlor game of trying to suss out which of these is the most responsible for the dynamics of our current politics, or we can notice that the combination of those changes is affecting all of us. When Kevin Drum wonders why both political parties are afraid to talk about an improving economy and Gregg Easterbrook asks when optimism became uncool, I suspect that it is the weight of all of these changes that is the answer. But Easterbrook makes an interesting observation.

Though candidates on the right are full of fire and brimstone this year, the trend away from optimism is most pronounced among liberals. A century ago Progressives were the optimists, believing society could be improved, while conservatism saw the end-times approaching. Today progressive thought embraces Judgment Day, too…

Pessimists think in terms of rear-guard actions to turn back the clock. Optimists understand that where the nation has faults, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

The Tea Party responded to these changes by saying that they wanted to “take our country back.” When Donald Trump talks about “making America great again,” that’s essentially what he is saying too. Fear and retreat are a pretty common reaction to change among human beings.

Traditionally progressives have faced challenges like this by working on ways to move forward rather than pinning for days past. To do so requires things like curiosity and creativity. The past can be examined objectively, but the future is still uncertain. Ideologues too often stand in the way of curiosity and creativity. Here is how then-Senator Barack Obama talked about that back in 2005:

…the degree that we brook no dissent within the Democratic Party, and demand fealty to the one, “true” progressive vision for the country, we risk the very thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas that are required to move this country forward. When we lash out at those who share our fundamental values because they have not met the criteria of every single item on our progressive “checklist,” then we are essentially preventing them from thinking in new ways about problems.

I believe that this is why the President so often says that it is young people who inspire his optimism. They tend to be free of the ideologies and baggage of the past. Instead, they bring fresh eyes to the challenges we face going forward. Progressives need not fear the changes we are experiencing today when we tap into all of that.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 17, 2016

May 17, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Liberals, Progressives, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How A President Negotiates With Congress”: Cross-Party Negotiations In Congress Are More About Leverage

The Democratic presidential primary has sparked a discussion on the left about the value of bold proposals vs incrementalism. In arguing for the latter, Scott Lemieux takes on the ridiculous notion that the history of Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid are examples of bold change proposals.

The idea that the Social Security — which not only offered modest benefits but intentionally excluded large numbers of African-Americans — was not an example of incremental reform is quite remarkable. Even more revealing is the Medicaid example. Nothing makes it clearer that this fake-nostalgia for the REAL LIBERAL Democratic Party of yore is just a rhetorical cudgel with which to beat Democrats and not any kind of serious historical analysis than this. Apparently, a public health insurance program that required states to cover only a subset of people well below the poverty line was REAL, UNCOMPROMISING LIBERALISM while a public health insurance program that required states to cover everyone up to 138% of the poverty line is the hopelessly compromised neoliberal work of useless corporate sellouts. Right.

But then Lemieux takes on an argument we’ve heard often during the Obama presidency about how he has too often pre-compromised by negotiating with himself. This is the case Brian Beutler made not too long ago when arguing in favor of Bernie Sanders’ approach.

But if we’re imagining both of their agendas as opening bids in negotiations with Congress, why fault Sanders for not negotiating with himself? Ask a future Democratic Congress for single payer and a $15 minimum wage and you might get laughed at… but you also might get the public option and a bump to $12. Ask it for the public option and a $12 minimum wage, as Clinton might, and you’ll get a fair hearing from the outset, but you might end up with advancements barely worth fighting for. President Obama, as Sanders is fond of noting, negotiated with himself, and progressives paid an unknowable price as a result.

Here’s what Lemieux says about that:

People who think that important legislation gets passed by presidents making opening bids far outside the expected negotiating space have no idea how presidential power works. (And, for that matter, have no idea how negotiating works. If the Mariners phone up the Angels and offer Mike Zunino for Mike Trout, that doesn’t mean that the Angels will then offer to accept Leonys Martin for Mike Trout; it means the Angels GM will stop taking your phone calls.) To say that a president “pre-comprimised” is often used as an insult, but it is in fact a sign that he knows what he’s doing. The lessons of FDR and LBJ — and now Obama — are the opposite of what this faction of the left thinks they are.

Frankly, the argument Beutler makes is something that has never made sense to me – no matter how many times I’ve heard it over the last 7 years. For example, if President Obama had made single payer his opening bid in health care reform, I fail to see how that would have triggered a more progressive negotiation process. First of all, it would have negated what he ran on as a candidate and more likely would have been ignored – even by Democrats – as a serious proposal. Similarly, the President proposed raising the minimum wage to a meager $10/hour a couple of years ago. Did that spark a negotiating process with Republicans? No, they’ve simply ignored it – just as they did his “bold” proposals for things like the American Jobs Act, universal pre-K and free community college.

The truth is that cross-party negotiations in Congress are more about leverage than they are about bold opening bids. In order to get the other party to the table, you have to be willing to give them something they want. That is why – since 2010 when Republicans took control of the House – pretty much the only thing that has been negotiated is the budget and raising the debt ceiling. Initially Republicans used those “fiscal cliffs” as leverage (or hostages) to get what they wanted. For the last couple of years, both parties have eventually come to the table on budgets in order to avoid another government shut-down (which is the leverage).

Beyond what Lemieux wrote, it is important to remember that when FDR was negotiating for Social Security and LBJ for health care, they were engaged in intra-party negotiations – much as Obama did during those few months that Democrats controlled the House and had a 60-vote majority in the Senate. That is not a likely scenario for a Democratic president any time in the near future. Any “bold” proposal will therefore require having leverage that brings Republicans to the table. In other words, it will require pre-compromise.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 13, 2016

May 16, 2016 Posted by | Congress, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Liberals | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Are You Liberal Or Are You Conservative?”: I No Longer Have Any Idea What “Conservative” Means

About 20 years ago, when the syndicate that represents this column was preparing to pitch it to newspaper editors, I was called in for a meeting with the sales staff and somebody asked me this question:

“Are you liberal or are you conservative?”

I said, “Yes.”

I wasn’t trying to be a wiseguy. OK, maybe a little. But I was also trying to convey my impatience with our bipolar political discourse, with the idea that I was required to pick a team. I was trying to preserve for myself the right to think a thing through and come to my own conclusion regardless of ideological branding.

But at the same time, I knew what I was being asked. When they said, “Are you liberal or are you conservative?” those words had concrete meaning, embodied real political concepts.

But that is no longer the case — at least where the latter term is concerned.

Once upon a time, when a person identified as conservative, you knew the ideas he or she meant to convey — low taxes, small government, resistance to social change. But a word that once encoded a definite set of values and beliefs now seems utterly bereft of internal cohesion, less a name for an ideology than for a mood: surly, nasty and put-upon.

They don’t like the rest of us. Nor do they seem to like each other all that much, feuding with a bitterness and constancy that would make even the Hatfields and McCoys tell them to tone it down. Yes, ideology still gets lip service, but its importance has become secondary, if that.

How else to explain that people who once considered Christian faith their foundation stone have coalesced behind a candidate who can’t name a Bible verse? Or that people who once valued a grown-up, clear-eyed approach to foreign policy support candidates who want to “carpet bomb” the Middle East and pull out of NATO? Or that people who once decried “a culture of victimization” now whine all day about how they are victims of biased media, bullying gays and political correctness?

How to explain that people who once vowed to safeguard American moral decency from the nefarious irreverence of liberals — think President Bush chastising “The Simpsons” in the era of “family values” — now put forth candidates who tell penis jokes?

A few days ago New York Times, columnist David Brooks professed to be excited by this act of self-immolation — “This is a wonderful moment to be a conservative,” he gushed — because after this debacle, conservatives will be able to reinvent themselves, unencumbered by “existing mental categories and presuppositions.” Like when a comic book or movie franchise gets re-booted, I suppose. One had the sense of a man desperately painting lipstick on a pig.

The right is rotting from within, putrefying on its own grievance and rage. It seems bereft of core values and beliefs unless you count its determination to always oppose anything the left supports, up to and including motherhood and sunshine. That’s as close to principle as conservatives come these days.

Given the way they have spurned their party’s 2012 election “autopsy” report, which called for greater inclusion and a gentler tone, one wonders if these folks are capable of, or even interested in, the reinvention Brooks predicts. Conservatives do not need to be “liberal-lite” — no ideology has a monopoly on good ideas. On the other hand, when your base is the Ku Klux Klan, Ted Nugent and people sucker-punching strangers at rallies, it’s a sign that a little self-reflection is overdue.

“Are you liberal or are you conservative?”

I had a smart aleck answer 20 years ago. But it occurs to me that if they asked that now, I’d have to request clarification. My worldview hasn’t changed.

But I no longer have any idea what “conservative” means.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, March 3, 2016

April 4, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Ideology, Liberals | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Conservatives Are Right To Be Frightened”: Don’t Believe The Hype: Here’s What A Liberal Supreme Court Would Actually Do

If you look at how the Democratic and Republican candidates for president have reacted to the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Antonin Scalia, you might notice a greater sense of urgency from the Republicans. The Democrats are certainly talking about it, and they’ve certainly expressed their contempt at the absurd arguments Republicans are making in support of their position that the president of the United States shouldn’t be allowed to appoint Supreme Court justices if a new president will take office in a year. But they aren’t spinning out nightmare scenarios about what will happen if they lose this conflict. The Republicans, on the other hand, seem much more worried.

And they’re right to be, because at the moment, they have more to lose. But what would actually happen if the balance on the Court shifts from 5-4 in favor of conservatives (what it was before Scalia’s death) to 5-4 in favor of liberals?

To hear Republicans tell it, the results would be positively apocalyptic. Here’s how Ted Cruz described it in a CNN town hall last night:

“We are one liberal justice away from the Supreme Court striking down every restriction on abortion that’s been put in place the last 40 years. We are one liberal justice away from the Supreme Court writing the Second Amendment out of the Constitution. We are one liberal justice away from the Supreme Court ordering Ten Commandments monuments to be torn down, ordering veterans memorials to be torn down, and undermining our fundamental religious liberty.”

This is almost verbatim what Cruz has been saying since Scalia died; on Meet the Press last Sunday, he added colorfully that a liberal majority would mean “the crosses and Stars of David sandblasted off of the tombstones of our fallen veterans.”

There’s no doubt that if and when a new liberal justice takes his or her seat on the Court — either because Obama’s nominee somehow gets confirmed or because Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders wins the election and appoints one — it will be the most significant shift in the Court’s balance in decades. And that’s in large part because the right has gotten so much of what it wanted out of this Supreme Court. While conservatives shake their fists at the Court and call John Roberts a traitor, the truth is that with just a few exceptions, most notably the legalizing of same-sex marriage and the upholding of (most of) the Affordable Care Act, the Roberts Court has delivered the right a spectacular string of victories over the last few years. Among other things, they found an individual right to own guns for the first time in history, knocked down limits on spending by corporations (and unions) on political campaigns, whittled away at affirmative action, gutted the Voting Rights Act, made it harder for employees to sue for sex discrimination, and declared that corporations have religious rights.

Nevertheless, according to the Pew Research Center, in 2008, 80 percent of Republicans had a favorable view of the Supreme Court. By 2015 that figure had fallen to 33 percent. And 68 percent of conservative Republicans described the Court as “liberal,” which is laughable by any standard one could devise.

So what happens now? Margo Schlanger compiled this list of major rulings where Scalia was in a 5-4 majority, all of which could in theory be overturned, from Citizens United to D.C. v. Heller (which established the individual right to own guns) to Shelby County v. Holder (which invalidated key parts of the Voting Rights Act). But that doesn’t mean a liberal majority would go on a rampage, overturning all those settled cases.

“The Supreme Court is a conservative institution as a whole; justices aren’t looking to overturn the apple cart,” Jill Dash of the liberal American Constitution Society told me this morning. She argued that it’s unlikely that a liberal majority would set about to repeal those high-profile decisions, particularly within the first few years of that majority.

Samuel Bagenstos, a professor at the University of Michigan law school who served in the Justice Department under President Obama, also doubts that there would be too many major decisions overturned. “The four more liberal justices currently on the Court take precedent and stare decisis seriously, and I don’t think that will change,” he said.

But there would be change in complex areas of law where the courts are still working through how previous decisions apply to varied situations. Affirmative action is one “where the Court would be much more likely to uphold programs designed to promote diversity in schools and the workplace,” Bagenstos says. He also points to employment law as an area where a liberal majority could chart a new path, in cases concerning arbitration clauses in contracts and what constitutes systemic discrimination. Dash notes that a liberal majority would probably produce a spate of voting rights cases, as challenges to restrictions imposed by Republican state legislatures would find a friendlier hearing, even if Shelby County isn’t entirely overturned.

And then there’s abortion, always at the top of everyone’s mind when the Supreme Court comes up. In recent years, conservative states have pushed the envelope farther and farther in restricting the availability of abortion, with onerous rules on abortion clinics and invasive mandates on the women seeking the procedure. The question is which of these measures violate the Court’s 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which stated that the government can’t impose an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to choose.

The conservative position to this point has been that virtually no burden is “undue.” If the state makes you drive hundreds of miles, wait for days, make multiple visits to a clinic, hear an oration of lies penned by some GOP state legislator about how getting an abortion might give you cancer and drive you mad, so far the Supreme Court has said it’s just what women should have to tolerate.

But that might no longer be true. “A liberal who replaced Justice Scalia would likely read the Casey ‘undue burden’ standard as imposing a much more significant limitation on the regulation of abortion than the Court has in recent years,” says Bagenstos, “so you could see a major practical shift in reproductive rights jurisprudence. I don’t think the Court would overrule any precedent, though. It would just find a wider range of burdens to be ‘undue.’”

In short, a liberal replacing Scalia would be an important change with profound consequences for all Americans’ lives. But it wouldn’t happen all at once, and it wouldn’t be so earth-shattering as to cause riots in the streets. Nobody’s going to sandblast the crosses off the gravestones at Arlington. Nevertheless, conservatives are right to be frightened. They’ve had a long run with conservative dominance of the Supreme Court, and it may be coming to an end. Now they’ll understand how liberals have felt for the last few decades.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, February 18, 2016

February 19, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Liberals, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How Would He Govern?”: Why Liberals Should Be Very Worried About The GOP Nominating Donald Trump

Be careful what you wish for.

New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait hopes his fellow liberals will cheer on the possibility of Republicans nominating Donald Trump for president. Chait’s preference will make no difference at all to the result of the GOP race. But still, Chait’s essay is important for what it tells us about how at least one smart liberal is thinking about 2016 and the stakes involved in who becomes the Republican standard-bearer.

And what it tells us isn’t good.

The GOP is an unstable (but electorally very successful) amalgam of an ethno-nationalist base with a wealthy anti-government and pro-immigration donor class. Republican presidential candidates normally work very hard to smooth over the tensions between these very different constituencies. Trump refuses to do this. Chait argues that by explicitly rejecting the outlook of the donors and siding unambiguously with the base, Trump’s campaign has already begun to make mischief within the Republican electoral coalition.

If he won the nomination, the chaos would increase enormously. And that is an appealing prospect for a liberal. As Chait puts it, “A Trump nomination might not actually cleave the GOP in two, but it could wreak havoc. If, like me, you think the Republican Party in its current incarnation needs to be burned to the ground and rebuilt anew, Trump is the only one holding a match.”

Let’s leave aside the possibility that burning down the current incarnation of the GOP would also destabilize the Democratic Party’s own incoherent electoral coalition. If we could be close to certain that Republican nominee Trump would lose the general election, I could see accepting the risks and even cheering him on as a catalyst for fundamental change in the Republican Party.

But can we be so certain? Chait seems to think so. His first reason why liberals should support a Trump nomination is that the billionaire “would almost certainly lose.” I’m not so sure. Yes, it’s true that Trump is “massively — indeed, historically — unpopular, with unfavorable ratings now hovering around 60 percent.” But Trump’s most likely general election opponent — Hillary Clinton — doesn’t do much better, with an average unfavorable rating in the low 50s and two recent polls showing her as high as 55 and 56 percent. That’s not a big difference.

Chait argues that the only thing that could enable the wildly unpopular Trump to overcome this obstacle and eke out a victory would be a “landscape-altering event.” Like what? Chait names a recession. But recessions aren’t once-in-a-century catastrophes. They happen on average at least once in a decade — and the last one (the Great Recession that hit in the run-up to the 2008 election) ended nearly six years ago.

But maybe even a Trump win in November isn’t something to be overly concerned about. That is Chait’s surprising third reason why liberals should cheer him on in the GOP nomination contest: Not only would a President Trump “probably end up doing less harm to the country than a Marco Rubio or a [Ted] Cruz presidency,” but a Trump presidency “might even, possibly, do some good.”

Here I think the normally sharp and sensible Chait careens off the rails, basing his entire argument on a presumed (and fanciful) parallel with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s two terms as governor of California: The grossly unqualified non-politician with few ties to the Republican Party at first acted like an imbecile but then became a flexible and highly effective governor. Might not Trump do the same?

Never mind that Schwarzenegger left office with a 23 percent approval rating and a massive hole in the state budget. The ominous fact is that a president is exponentially (and when it comes to nuclear weapons, infinitely) more powerful than any state’s executive officeholder. Which means that the stakes in a race for the presidency are exponentially higher as well.

Though he doesn’t make the case explicitly, Chait presumably thinks that Trump would do less harm than a President Rubio or Cruz because he has distanced himself from the ideology that dominates the Republican Party — and because his wealth places him beyond the reach of manipulation by the party’s big-money donors. But that independence — the same independence that led him to blow off the final Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses — makes Trump more dangerous than standard-issue Republicans, not less.

A President Rubio or Cruz governing with congressional majorities would do lots of things that Chait and I think are bad for the country. But they would be quite predictable things: tax cuts for high-income earners, big increases in defense spending, massive deficits, the repeal of ObamaCare, and so on.

What would a President Trump do? Aside from rounding up and deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants, building a massive wall along the southern border, (somehow) making Mexico pay for it, and forbidding Muslims from entering the country — each one of which would be quite bad — it’s impossible to say. Untethered from the constraints that traditions, parties, donors, and other establishment institutions normally impose on politicians, Trump really would be his own boss, relying solely on his own temperament and judgment to determine which policies to pursue.

Even if Trump hadn’t already demonstrated in a thousand ways that he possesses the temperament and judgment of a childish, vindictive bully, this would be an alarming prospect.

As it is, we simply have no way to know how Trump would govern. And that should be more than enough reason to stand against him with everything we’ve got.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, February 9, 2016

February 12, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Donald Trump, Liberals | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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