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“Whoa Nellie!”: Bernie Sanders Is The Future Of The Democratic Party, Right? Not So Fast

As the competitive phase of the Democratic presidential primary has wound down, the action now moves to the nebulous contest to define the terms of Hillary Clinton’s victory and what, if anything, she owes to Bernie Sanders. It is a little strange, as Ed Kilgore points out, that the coverage of this question treats Sanders as the victor and Clinton as the vanquished. The discussion hinges on the premise that Sanders, even while losing the fight for delegates, has won the war of ideas within the party. The premise is shared by such disparate figures as economically moderate Matthew Yglesias (“Sanders’s basic vision of a party with a more sharply ideological message on economic issues is very likely to dominate in the future”) and ecstatic radical Corey Robin, who sees in Sanders’s success the rise of socialism that will sweep liberalism into the dustbin of history. But this assumes that Sanders’s appeal was mostly or even entirely ideological. That is probably wrong.

It is certainly true that Sanders pushed the debate leftward, by bringing previously marginal left-wing ideas into the Democratic discussion. It is also true that his disproportionately young supporters lie farther to the left than Clinton’s, and that his ideas account for at least some of his enthusiastic support. But to understand the Sanders campaign as primarily a demand for more radical economic policies misses a crucial source of his appeal: as a candidate of good government.

American liberalism contains a long-standing tradition, dating back to the Progressive Era, of disdain for the grubby, transactional elements of politics. Good-government liberals prefer candidates who make high-minded appeals to the greater good, rather than transactional appeals to self-interest. The progressive style of politics was associated with the middle-class reformers and opposition to urban machines, and was especially fixated with rooting out corruption in politics. Candidates who have fashioned themselves in this earnest style have included Adlai Stevenson, Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart, Jerry Brown, Howard Dean, and Barack Obama. These candidates often have distinct and powerful issue positions, but their appeal rests in large part on the promise of a better, cleaner, more honest practice of politics and government.

Sanders has tapped effectively into this tradition. His disdain for corporate donations, disheveled appearance, frequent disavowals of personal attacks (“People are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!”), and pleas to conduct the campaign as an elevated issues seminar have lent him a rare authenticity. This has been aided by the fact that Clinton is unusually vulnerable to a good-government candidate. Through a combination of her husband’s scandals, her own missteps, and a hostile news media, Clinton has labored under the buildup of years of toxic coverage. Obama effectively attacked her on these themes eight years ago, and in 2015 her campaign began under the clouds of new scandals around her buckraking and misuse of a private email server. Polls of Democratic voters showed Sanders crushing her on perceptions of being honest and trustworthy.

The Wisconsin primary is indicative. Fifty-four percent of Democrats said they wanted a candidate who would continue President Obama’s policies, while only 31 percent of voters preferred more liberal policies. (This measure is itself imprecise, since Obama would also prefer more liberal policies, except the Republican Congress is blocking them.) But almost 90 percent of Democrats called Sanders honest and trustworthy, versus 57 percent who said the same about Clinton. Sanders won Wisconsin by 13 points.

Sanders has certainly benefited from and encouraged the spread of radical policies on the left. But the media attention to these ideas has magnified their real-world constituency. A faction is not close to taking majority control of a party before it is able to win at least a sizable minority share of the party’s elected officeholders. When Barry Goldwater led an insurgency to win the Republican nomination in 1964, the conservatives who supported him represented an important faction within the party, with representatives in both houses of Congress. Within the Democratic Party, on the other hand, socialists — depending on how you define it — are limited to Sanders himself. Sandersism may one day become the Democratic mainstream creed, but that day is probably a long way off.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 2, 2016

May 3, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“You Damn Millennials Don’t Get Socialism”: Hillary Is The Sausage-Maker, And Bernie Is The Eggman

Once upon a precious old time, socialism actually meant something, distinct from liberalism. A socialist was somebody who wanted the state to own the means of production. The British Labour Party, say, was genuinely socialist. Its socialism had a specific (and since abandoned) source—Clause IV of the 1918 party constitution, which described the new party’s goal thus: “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

Back in those days, when by today’s standards most people were poor or close to it, this was actually a pretty popular position. Even the ruling classes tolerated a bit of common ownership. For example, in London between the wars, as in New York, the underground/subway systems were taken public, because what had existed before was a mish-mash of privately owned lines that didn’t coordinate schedules and so on.

After World War II, when Labour swept in with a clear mandate, the party really did set about nationalising-with-an-s all the major public services and industries. Can you imagine?! The coal industry was nationalized, just wrenched right out of the scheming hands of several hundred little (and big) Don Blankenships!

The United States never had a major socialist party. If you don’t believe me, conservative readers, go back and read some of preacher and Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas’s criticisms of Franklin Roosevelt. Aspects of the New Deal were of course quasi-socialistic. But real socialists hated Roosevelt more than they hated the Republicans in a way: Roosevelt saved capitalism. And broadly speaking, socialists also tended to be pacifists (even as they were militant anti-fascists).

Well, to make a long story short, times changed. In America we had deindustrialization, deunionization, Reagan; in Britain, Thatcher won, and a fellow named Arthur Scargill whom you ought to Google if you’re interested did some terrible damage.

Then in 1989, the Soviet Union collapsed. Through the 1990s, there were still a number of countries in the world that called themselves socialist. But that began to dwindle, and over these past 25 years, the memory of the distinction between liberalism and socialism has dwindled along with it. The evanescence of this memory has of course been accelerated by the roughly 89 kajillion hours of American talk radio in which any mildly left-of-center politician or proposal was reprehended as socialistic.

I say all this of course by way of talking about the popularity of Bernie Sanders, and especially the generational divide thereof. Some observers appear to be a little surprised that Sanders, the crotchety old guy, leads Clinton among young people. A Rock the Vote poll of millennials that came out this month shows Sanders leading Clinton by 11 points among voters under 35 I’ve seen others where the spread is higher.

It all makes total sense. If you’re my age, you remember a time when the distinction between liberal and socialist mattered. If you were one or the other and lived in a place populated by many of both, you got into lots of beer-spittled arguments about the merits and demerits of each. And incidentally, you also remember a time when Bernie Sanders was this interesting, basically admirable, but only-in-Vermont mayor, and then later, this interesting, basically admirable, but for the most part inconsequential back-benching member of the House of Representatives.

But say you’re 28 and a liberal. All you know about socialists is that these eye-bulging racist vampires you see on TV keep calling Barack Obama a socialist. And you think, “Hey, I like Obama, so socialist is okay by me!” And remember that in his one big speech in which he defined what socialism means to him, Sanders—probably somewhat disingenuously, given that he chose to be a socialist rather than a liberal back when the differences were stark, but also wholly understandably—basically kinda said socialism to him means the stuff that Roosevelt did and free college and so on.

Besides all that, you have no memory of a time when Sanders was a marginal character on the national stage. For all of your adult lifetime, he’s been a United States Senator! There are important senators and unimportant ones, smart ones and dumb ones, sober ones and drunk ones, but all that doesn’t really matter. Once people have to call you “Senator,” you’re a respectable figure.

So differences in perspective on Sanders between young and old is Grand Canyon-ic in scale, and it is both ideological and personal. By the way, Clinton wallops Sanders in their own older cohort. In one recent poll, Clinton was leading Sanders among voters 50 and older by 40 points, 64-24.

Now of course young voters are responding to Sanders’s positions and his rhetoric, and they’re responding to his thundering assertions that sweeping change is a matter of political will, which older voters (this one included) tend to disbelieve. My point is just that they aren’t put off from jump street by the S-word in the way that older voters who knew the original meaning of the word are more likely to be.

So we had this Des Moines Register poll last week showing that 43 percent of Iowa Democrats thought of themselves as socialists. No age breakdown was released, but I’d bet the generational divide is clear. Oddly enough, “liberal” wasn’t a listed option on the question; just “socialist” or “capitalist.”

Since no one’s talking about the state seizing the means of production today, what’s the remaining difference, you might ask? Fair question. These days, with socialists having dropped the core thing that made socialism socialism, it’s probably mostly a mindset, an emotional-psychological sense of how confrontational and disruptive and anti-establishment people want their leaders to be. The only distinctly socialist (as opposed to liberal) thing about Sanders’s platform is his call for Medicare-for-all, which directly echoes what the socialist Labour Party did in the UK in 1946.

In an ideal world most Democratic voters would prefer that, surely; but how many will see it as preferable to the Clinton position of just slowly, and admittedly much more boringly, building on Obamacare? Art Goldhammer had a terrific column at The American Prospect this week in which he divided us into sausage people and egg people—the sausage people, after Bismarck’s famous quote, know that making change is hard, slow, and messy. The egg people want to break eggs to make omelets, and they want to break them now.

Hillary is the sausage-maker, and Bernie is the eggman. Egg-breaking is a lot more fun, hence its attraction, especially to younger people. But then you have to make the omelet. Sometimes people forget that that part can be really hard.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 22, 2016

January 23, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Millennnials, Socialism | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“What I Learned From Beau Biden”: Our Politics Of Recrimination Does A Profound Disservice To How Much All Of Us Care About Family

Between now and the 2016 election, we need to have a searching national debate over family values.

It will not be about whether we as a country are for them. We are. What’s required is a grounded and candid discussion about what those words actually mean.

Note that I did not follow the convention of putting quotation marks around family values. That punctuation is appropriate only when the phrase is defined in a narrow, partisan way, aimed at claiming that some large number of Americans don’t believe in family responsibility or love.

I will be haunted for a long time by last Saturday’s funeral for Beau Biden, the vice president’s son, who died of cancer at the age of 46. I suspect anyone who watched or listened to the eulogies feels this way, and I hope especially that staunch social conservatives give some of their attention to hearing the tributes. Beau Biden’s sister, Ashley, and his brother, Hunter, spoke with a power and an authenticity about love, devotion, and connection that said more about how irreplaceable family solidarity is than a thousand speeches or sermons.

And President Obama captured rather precisely what family is about when he described what he called “the Biden family rule.” Its components: “If you have to ask for help, it’s too late. It meant you were never alone; you don’t even have to ask, because someone is always there for you when you need them.”

I certainly don’t pretend that social conservatives who experience these eulogies will suddenly convert to liberalism or be transformed into supporters of Obama or Joe Biden. What the Biden funeral brought home is that the feelings and convictions that very nearly all of us — left, right, center, and apolitical — have about the bonds between parents and children, brothers and sisters, truly transcend our day-to-day arguments. We so often wage political war around the family that we forget how broadly shared our reverence for it is.

This helps explain the paradox of the gay marriage issue: Our opinions on it have changed in large part because of ties of family and friendship. A Pew survey released this week found that now 57 percent of Americans favor allowing same-sex marriage, while 39 percent oppose it. Just five years ago, only 42 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage, while 48 percent opposed it.

The key to this long-term shift is deeply personal. The number of Americans who know that someone they care about is gay or lesbian has skyrocketed over the decades, and risen a lot even in recent years. Pew found that the proportion of Americans who know someone who is homosexual has gone to 88 percent, from 61 percent in 1993. Among those who know many people who are gay or lesbian, 73 percent support same-sex marriage. Among those who know no gays or lesbians, 59 percent are opposed.

These numbers underscore again that so many of the issues related to family are more complicated (and less about ideology) than the angry, direct-mail style of discourse we are accustomed to on these matters would suggest.

Yet you don’t have to be right wing to worry that the family in the United States faces severe stresses and challenges. It would be genuinely useful if the 2016 campaign focused on practical measures that would help parents do their jobs.

Discussions of how policies on taxes, child care, family leave, wages, and criminal justice affect the family’s well-being (and specific proposals in each area) would be so much more constructive than polemics that cast one part of our population as immoral enemies of family life and the other as narrow-minded bigots. A politics of recrimination does a profound disservice to how much all of us care about family.

In 2007, after a Democratic presidential debate, I was approached in the spin room by Beau Biden, then Delaware’s attorney general. He wanted to talk about how well his dad performed, and his father had, indeed, done very well that night on the stage. But Beau Biden was most animated (and spoke at much greater length) when he turned to describing what an extraordinary father Joe Biden had been.

This fact about a politician certainly didn’t require anyone to vote for him. But it always helped explain to me why I feel as I do about Joe Biden and also why our discussions of family life need to recognize that love and commitment go way beyond politics. Family is too precious to let it divide us.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 10, 2015

June 11, 2015 Posted by | Beau Biden, Family Values, Politics | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Flood The Government With Lawsuits”: Charles Murray And The Right’s Plan To Subvert Democracy

Early last week, a watchdog website hosted by People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, reacted with alarm to a political-legal strategy outlined in a new book by the conservative social theorist Charles Murray. Normally when liberals assail Murray it’s in connection with his infamous tome The Bell Curve, which made him synonymous with race science—specifically the presumption that I.Q. differences between whites and blacks can be partially attributed to genetics.

Twenty years later, Murray has moved on to a more direct form of conservative activism, and taken a critical look at the mixed record of various expensive right-wing efforts to roll back the New Deal consensus. As you might expect from someone as deterministic as the author of The Bell Curve, Murray has concluded that the conservative movement’s shortcomings must be explained via reference to its political DNA and the political DNA of its competitors. But rather than reason much as he did two decades ago that these shortcomings reflect the intrinsic weakness of his ideology, he has concluded instead that the system is rigged against it. Appealing as populist libertarian ideas are to him and his cohort, or as they should be in the abstract, they simply can’t compete in a democratic environment with downwardly distributive progressivism. For the right to gain advantage, it will have to change terrain.

In his latest book, as PFAW explains, Murray hopes “to have one or a few anti-government billionaires kick in to create ‘The Madison Fund,’ a legal group that would flood the government with lawsuits challenging the enforcement of regulations they deem unnecessary.”

This is an apt description of Murray’s strategy, but the strategy itself happens to be the least revealing or alarming in his book. By The People is not first and foremost a book about billionaires subverting federal regulations, or beleaguered citizens seeking redress with the help of libertarian philanthropists.

It is instead about the impossible odds conservatives face if they hope to implement a libertarian agenda, and thus about the need for conservatives to think more devilishly about how to subvert democratic and quasi-democratic processes. The book’s title—By The People—has been held up for ridicule for exemplifying the emptiness of the populist appellations conservatives typically apply to the handiwork of wealthy, self-interested ideologues. But perhaps the joke’s on us, and Murray’s simply using a different form of the word “by” than Abraham Lincoln had in mind when he wrote the Gettysburg Address.

The subtext of Murray’s argument is that principled conservatives can only set back liberalism with rearguard action, and that even then, they can hope only for modest victories. Remarkably, the 100-page buildup to the strategy that has PFAW so concerned reads less like a battle cry than like a manifesto of hopelessness—or perhaps like a letter of surrender to the left. Murray tells his fans that “a restoration of limited government is not going to happen by winning presidential elections and getting the right people appointed to the Supreme Court”—asking them to accept, as a premise, that the billions of dollars conservative activists have spent trying to advance the cause through the White House have been wasted, or at least could have been better spent.

Like an adolescent Ayn Rand devotee, Murray can’t quite come to grips with the unattractiveness of his ideology. He is perfectly aware that the policies he opposes and the regulations he wants to overwhelm with litigation could theoretically be overturned by Congress and a conservative president. But to him, the unlikelihood of that outcome isn’t attributable to the normative weaknesses of his worldview but to a playing field that’s tilted against it. His ideas falter not because the people don’t support them, but because a series of ingredients, including—in his words!—the democratization of the House of Representatives, have corrupted the political system systemically. To the extent that “the people” he claims to be speaking for don’t rise up to challenge this corruption, it’s because they run up against what Murray calls “the fundamental theorem of democratic politics”—the fact that “people who receive government benefits tend to vote for people who support those benefits.”

“As of 2012,” Murray laments, “approximately half of all Americans received such benefits.” And more than one in three receive such generous benefits (either through welfare or retirement programs) that “the continued security of those programs is likely to be near the top of the recipients’ political calculations.”

Conservatism has been checkmated, not by a superior player, but by an unscrupulous one. Under the circumstances, Murray sees no choice but to move the game from the chessboard into the wild.

In truth, there’s nothing particularly novel or disquieting about the scheme Murray’s drawn up, except insofar as the procedural extremism conservatives have deployed in the Obama era is alarming in general. From the moment conservatives lost the White House six and a half years ago, they’ve been asking judges to do on their behalf what they’ve been unable to accomplish in the democratic branches. A few weeks from now, the Supreme Court will issue a ruling in a case that was devised as part of an explicit strategy to hobble the Affordable Care Act through the judiciary, knowing that the legislature wouldn’t be able to do it for them.

This strategy has been intermittently successful, but has also run aground when its objectives—such as paralyzing the administrative state by flooding the courts with litigation—are unsupportable or too nakedly political. Notwithstanding Murray’s continued influence over conservative thinking, including favorable mentions just this month by GOP presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, his latest big idea will run into a feasibility problem: even if it were attempted, it wouldn’t work particularly well.

What’s refreshing about By The People is that it blows right past the typical pretense that conservatives are, humbly and alone, defending the constitution and the rule of law, except to the extent that he believes the country went off the constitutional rails in systemic fashion several decades ago. He happily admits that his means here are subversive, undemocratic and of questionable legality. His substantive aims are not so different from those of, for instance, National Review writers Reihan Salam and Ramesh Ponnuru, who have outlined an agenda for the GOP Congress that includes unwinding the cooperative federalist models, responsible for so much of the regulatory and redistributive status quo Murray detests, and subjecting the regulatory regime in the crosshairs of his litigation strategy to legislative approval. But what Murray sees that others don’t, or won’t admit, is that these goals can be achieved only by short-circuiting the normal policy-making process.

It’s a shame in a way, because notwithstanding his Romney-esque conception of the political economy of modern welfare states, Murray’s overall critique of the American political system has a lot of merit to it. Were Murray’s central purpose to make Congress and the executive branch more responsive to the public, irrespective of the public’s political disposition, he’d find a lot of support in unexpected places. But that’s not his central purpose, and for good reason. As infuriating and frustrating as the U.S. government’s many corruptions are, they do not explain why conservatives have failed to upend enforcement of environmental, anti-discrimination and workplace-safety regulations. That’s why his preferred instrument of reform isn’t the ballot box, but the court system, and that in turn gives away the game. The former helps ensure that policy reforms have public sanction. The latter makes it possible to sneak ones that don’t By The People.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, May 18, 2015

May 24, 2015 Posted by | Charles Murray, Conservatives, Democracy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Lion Of Liberalism”: Remembering Mario Cuomo, 1932-2015

When I met Mario Cuomo in the summer of 1978, he was already a celebrated public figure, if not yet a political powerhouse. We were at the Democratic state convention in Albany, where I was reporting for the Village Voice, and he was pondering an offer from New York governor Hugh Carey, then seeking re-election, to join the ticket as lieutenant governor. Mario frankly didn’t much trust Carey, who needed him more than he needed a largely ceremonial promotion from his then-position as secretary of state.

But in the end he accepted the deal, both because he believed that New York needed a Democratic administration, regardless of his personal feelings toward the governor — and because he knew that this step would advance his own political career.

That was my introduction to the Cuomo style of “progressive pragmatism” – and to a charming, thoughtful, highly literate, and occasionally volatile figure who became one of the most compelling orators of the late 20th century.

His speech at the 1984 Democratic convention, delivered at the zenith of Ronald Reagan’s reign, remains a remarkably inspirational assertion of progressive values against conservative complacency and cruelty. His address at Notre Dame on religious belief and public morality that same year courageously defended the independence of Catholic elected officials from subservience to church doctrine on reproductive rights.

In recent years, it has been fashionable to draw contrasts between Mario, who passed away yesterday at the age of 82, and his older son Andrew, who was sworn in for a second term as governor of New York only hours earlier. According to the conventional wisdom, Mario was liberal while Andrew is conservative; Mario was too self-doubting to run for president, while Andrew is too self-confident not to run, someday.

Whatever the differences in personality between father and son, however, Mario’s reputation as the conscience of the Democrats grew more from what he said than what he did. “We campaign in poetry but we govern in prose,” he famously remarked – and much of his governance was prosaic indeed.

He spoke out bravely against capital punishment, for instance, yet built more prison cells than any governor in state history. He approved tax cuts, held down spending, and was proud of his balanced budgets – even while the number of homeless on New York’s streets swelled during his administrations. But he borrowed billions to stimulate spending and create jobs with major public works in environmental protection, education, roads, bridges, and mass transit.

As a columnist for the Voice, I didn’t always agree with his priorities, to put it mildly, and wrote many columns criticizing his policies. More than once I picked up a jangling telephone to hear an angry, argumentative Governor Cuomo railing on the line, without the pleasantry of a “hello.” It was an experience that other reporters shared from time to time. But I have met very few elected officials who were as kind or as genuine.

And I’ve known few politicians as engaging in conversation, or as erudite without pretension. He wrote wonderful diaries of his first campaign for governor, published by Random House in 1984, and could speak as cogently about the history of Lincoln’s presidency as the philosophy of the Jesuit visionary Teilhard de Chardin. But he was still a tough lawyer who went to public schools and grew up on the streets of Queens.

Among the most amusing Cuomo anecdotes is one from the 1977 New York City mayoral campaign, when he is supposed to have confronted Michael Long, the unsavory chairman of the state’s Conservative Party, on a street corner – and knocked him out with a single punch. (Long later claimed this report was an “embellishment,” but I heard it straight from an impeccable source.)

Exaggerated or not, that little legend captures the feisty essence of Mario Cuomo – a man of passionate intellect and spirit, who sought to make his values real in this world. He worked diligently and spoke powerfully, reminding millions of Americans about values we ought to cherish. I have no doubt he will rest in peace.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, January 2, 2015

January 3, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Mario Cuomo, Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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