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“Is Bernie Sanders Actually Too Conservative For The Democratic Party?”: It’s How You Conceptualize The Government’s Obligations

It should be easy for Bernie Sanders to get to the left of Hillary Clinton. The Clintons have long dabbled in centrist Democratic Leadership Council politics, while Sanders is an avowed socialist, albeit a small-d democratic one.

As such, it’s no surprise that Friends of the Earth, a major environmental group, has endorsed Sanders for president in response to Clinton’s dithering over the Keystone XL pipeline. Leaders of large labor unions like the AFL-CIO admit that Sanders is generating more enthusiasm from the rank and file. Sanders is polling competitively in New Hampshire and drawing huge crowds elsewhere, all while raising $15 million from small donors.

Yet it was Sanders the socialist who was effectively heckled by Black Lives Matter activists at the Netroots Nation conference last month. Clinton didn’t attend the progressive confab, but she picked up on Sanders’ unease, and has since incorporated the racial-justice phrase into her speeches.

After Netroots, Sanders again faced a great deal of pushback from the left when he told Ezra Klein that he wasn’t a fan of open borders. “You know what youth unemployment is in the United States of America today?” Sanders asked incredulously. “If you’re a white high school graduate, it’s 33 percent, Hispanic 36 percent, African American 51 percent. You think we should open the borders and bring in a lot of low-wage workers, or do you think maybe we should try to get jobs for those kids?”

There was a time when this wouldn’t have been such a heretical viewpoint on the left. But that time has come and gone. These days, it’s hard to find a liberal this side of Mickey Kaus who thinks restricting immigration for the benefit of American workers is something progressives should contemplate. Some went so far as to argue Sanders’ opposition to open borders was “ugly” and “wrongheaded,” since “no single policy the United States could adopt” would “do more good for more people.” It didn’t take long for Sanders to backtrack slightly, telling Univison’s Jorge Ramos he’d consider opening borders between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

Kaus, our lonely liberal immigration skeptic, asked what happened to Sanders’ concern about American wages: “Do unskilled Mexicans have some magical properties that suspend supply and demand that unskilled immigrants from other countries lack?”

Sanders defended his immigration views when speaking to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He acknowledged that his history representing a 95 percent white state may make minorities worry he is out of touch with their concerns. But that’s only part of Sanders’ problem.

Bernie Sanders is an old-school progressive who believes most of the country’s problems can be traced to class and economics. Meanwhile, contemporary progressivism is more committed to multiculturalism and the idea that America’s biggest injustices remain inextricably tied to race.

On a lot of substantive policy issues, this is a distinction without a difference. Most liberals recognize there is a strong relationship between economics and structural racism. Sanders favors most of the same policies his multicultural critics do and is even, on balance, pretty supportive of high levels of immigration.

But there are important differences rhetorically and in terms of how you conceptualize the government’s obligations. You don’t have to believe Sanders has anything in common with Joseph Stalin’s politics to recognize that he is also talking about “socialism in one country.”

Sanders favors a robust welfare state and wants the government to mandate generous wages and working conditions. But he wants those things for Americans, not necessarily all the people living all across the globe whose standard of living could theoretically be improved by residing in America instead. (Rand Paul gets similar grief when he occasionally advocates libertarianism in one country.)

This puts Sanders out of step with much of his party. It also gives Clinton an opening to Sanders’ left, at least rhetorically, on some racial issues, which could limit his following to college-educated liberal whites. This is crucial, because the ability to reach beyond these voters and win over minorities was the difference between Barack Obama and Howard Dean.

Unless Sanders can, at 73, update his socialism to fit in with the priorities and demands of today’s left, Clinton can keep him contained — and Joe Biden can keep his faint presidential hopes alive.

 

By: W. James Antle, III, The Week, August 4, 2015

August 5, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Immigration | , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

“Abandon Your Bipartisan Fantasies: The Baltimore Uprising Won’t Make GOP Get Serious About Urban Reform

Elite pundits like Richard Cohen may expect zombie Richard Nixon to soon sweep the nation with a new campaign of law and order, but for those of us who see something more in America’s future than an endless rehash of the 1960s, the political ramifications of the uprising in Baltimore are still unclear.

Are we destined to live through another round of backlash politics, largely driven by white and affluent voters’ fears? Or might the dysfunction and injustice that was so explosively revealed in Baltimore — and Ferguson before it — kick-off a rare bout of genuinely useful bipartisan cooperation?

Cynics will likely find these questions gratingly naive, but you don’t have to be a pollyanna to see reasons for optimism. After all, ending mass incarceration and reforming the criminal justice system were making their way into the political mainstream before anyone had heard the name Freddie Gray. And even conservative politicians like Sen. Rand Paul, a man some people (wrongly) consider a serious threat to be the next president, have been talking about these issues frequently and at length.

Well, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but although I think a return of “tough on crime” politics is unlikely, it still appears to me that a serious response to urban poverty and mass incarceration won’t be coming out of Washington any time soon. This useful Tuesday article from the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent helps explain why, but the answer can be boiled down to two words: demographics and location.

If you want to understand why Republicans in D.C. will ensure this problem goes unaddressed, you must start, as always, with the House of Representatives, where the GOP’s grip on power is white-knuckle tight. According to Sargent (via David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report) one way to think of the Republicans’ dominant position in Congress is to look at one of the usual explanations — the fact that Democratic voters are inefficiently packed into a smaller number of overwhelmingly Dem-friendly districts — from a new angle.

Viewed through the lens of land mass rather than population, Sargent reports, Republicans control nearly 86 percent of the United States, despite holding “only” 57 percent of the seats in the House. Democrats, on the other hand, lay claim to 43 percent of House seats yet only control around 14 percent of actual American land. As Wasserman explains to Sargent, what that means, in practice, is something you probably intuitively got already — in the House, the coalition that makes up the Democratic Party is very urban; and the Republican one, conversely, is not.

Put simply, the GOPers in the House whose constituents look like (or care about) the folks in Baltimore, Ferguson and so forth are few and far between. Most Republican members of Congress’s “lower” chamber represent people in rural or suburban areas. Except as a place they fear and prefer kept at a distance, these voters are not thinking about the American city. And even if they are, the fact that they’re Republicans will tell you all you need to know about whether they’d be open to a plan that involved increased social investment, as any bipartisan agreement no doubt would.

If you’re someone who believes politics is driven more by big, indifferent forces — like the economy or geography or demographics — rather than personal relationships, that would seem to be the end of the discussion. Politicians want above all else to be reelected, and they respond to incentives accordingly. It’s hard to see why a far-right representative of rural Kansas would be particularly interested in joining up with Nancy Pelosi to try to make it suck a little less to be an African-American kid in Jersey City. Someone so inclined probably wouldn’t even make it through their district’s GOP primary.

Still, as useful as that political science 101 framing can be in most cases, it is not all-seeing. At least that’s what someone trying to make a counter-argument would say, before pointing to the Senate. In the “upper” chamber, of course, Republican politicians have to worry about representing all of their state’s citizens. So you might expect a GOPer from Ohio (home of Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland) or Virginia (which shares a border with Baltimore’s Maryland to its north) to be more interested in reform. And that goes double for the next Republican presidential nominee, who will need to win some of those big, purple states in 2016.

Moreover, while politicians are often astonishingly simple-minded creatures, the same is not always true for voters. There are plenty of suburban moderates, for example, who don’t want to send a Democrat to Washington to represent their district but don’t want to have a Republican “eat-the-poor” ogre as president, either. Such voters shouldn’t be mistaken for true believers in social justice, mind you — but the desire to assuage a nagging sense of guilt by supporting a “compassionate” conservative can be a powerful thing. Pure self-interest, then, would lead a smart GOP presidential contender to support at least some elements of urban investment and reform.

But here’s the reason why I don’t expect that alternative scenario to play out in the real world, and why I suspect we won’t see a response to Baltimore from Washington — certainly not a bipartisan one — any time soon: Most of these elements were present during the 2012 election, but they had basically no influence on the behavior of House Republicans. Then-candidate Mitt Romney sure could have used some leeway to wander a bit from conservative orthodoxy and prove he was no real-life Mr. Potter. He got an Ayn Rand fanboy as his teammate instead.

It doesn’t feel like that was quite so long ago but, in political terms, America was a different place. This was before the lily-white Republican base had to endure two full terms of a relatively liberal African-American president, and before that same base had begun spending much of its time defending cops and describing poor communities of color as mired in a “tailspin of culture” and “government dependence.” This was when Darren Wilson was just another run-of-the-mill, mildly thuggish cop; and before “black lives matter” became a national slogan.

If the chances of congressional Republicans supporting a bipartisan legislative response to inequality were slim a few years ago, the likelihood of their doing so now, in the face of civil unrest, has to be right around zilch.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, May 6, 2015

May 7, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore Riots, Bipartisanship, Congress | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Race, Class And Neglect”: Baltimore, And America, Don’t Have To Be As Unjust As They Are

Every time you’re tempted to say that America is moving forward on race — that prejudice is no longer as important as it used to be — along comes an atrocity to puncture your complacency. Almost everyone realizes, I hope, that the Freddie Gray affair wasn’t an isolated incident, that it’s unique only to the extent that for once there seems to be a real possibility that justice may be done.

And the riots in Baltimore, destructive as they are, have served at least one useful purpose: drawing attention to the grotesque inequalities that poison the lives of too many Americans.

Yet I do worry that the centrality of race and racism to this particular story may convey the false impression that debilitating poverty and alienation from society are uniquely black experiences. In fact, much though by no means all of the horror one sees in Baltimore and many other places is really about class, about the devastating effects of extreme and rising inequality.

Take, for example, issues of health and mortality. Many people have pointed out that there are a number of black neighborhoods in Baltimore where life expectancy compares unfavorably with impoverished Third World nations. But what’s really striking on a national basis is the way class disparities in death rates have been soaring even among whites.

Most notably, mortality among white women has increased sharply since the 1990s, with the rise surely concentrated among the poor and poorly educated; life expectancy among less educated whites has been falling at rates reminiscent of the collapse of life expectancy in post-Communist Russia.

And yes, these excess deaths are the result of inequality and lack of opportunity, even in those cases where their direct cause lies in self-destructive behavior. Overuse of prescription drugs, smoking, and obesity account for a lot of early deaths, but there’s a reason such behaviors are so widespread, and that reason has to do with an economy that leaves tens of millions behind.

It has been disheartening to see some commentators still writing as if poverty were simply a matter of values, as if the poor just mysteriously make bad choices and all would be well if they adopted middle-class values. Maybe, just maybe, that was a sustainable argument four decades ago, but at this point it should be obvious that middle-class values only flourish in an economy that offers middle-class jobs.

The great sociologist William Julius Wilson argued long ago that widely-decried social changes among blacks, like the decline of traditional families, were actually caused by the disappearance of well-paying jobs in inner cities. His argument contained an implicit prediction: if other racial groups were to face a similar loss of job opportunity, their behavior would change in similar ways.

And so it has proved. Lagging wages — actually declining in real terms for half of working men — and work instability have been followed by sharp declines in marriage, rising births out of wedlock, and more.

As Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution writes: “Blacks have faced, and will continue to face, unique challenges. But when we look for the reasons why less skilled blacks are failing to marry and join the middle class, it is largely for the same reasons that marriage and a middle-class lifestyle is eluding a growing number of whites as well.”

So it is, as I said, disheartening still to see commentators suggesting that the poor are causing their own poverty, and could easily escape if only they acted like members of the upper middle class.

And it’s also disheartening to see commentators still purveying another debunked myth, that we’ve spent vast sums fighting poverty to no avail (because of values, you see.)

In reality, federal spending on means-tested programs other than Medicaid has fluctuated between 1 and 2 percent of G.D.P. for decades, going up in recessions and down in recoveries. That’s not a lot of money — it’s far less than other advanced countries spend — and not all of it goes to families below the poverty line.

Despite this, measures that correct well-known flaws in the statistics show that we have made some real progress against poverty. And we would make a lot more progress if we were even a fraction as generous toward the needy as we imagine ourselves to be.

The point is that there is no excuse for fatalism as we contemplate the evils of poverty in America. Shrugging your shoulders as you attribute it all to values is an act of malign neglect. The poor don’t need lectures on morality, they need more resources — which we can afford to provide — and better economic opportunities, which we can also afford to provide through everything from training and subsidies to higher minimum wages. Baltimore, and America, don’t have to be as unjust as they are.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 4, 2015

May 5, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore, Economic Inequality, Poverty | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sharp Focus”: A Reminder Of Our Collective Unfinished Work

Back in 2001, I got into a long argument with a friend about Jesse Jackson, who had just acknowledged having fathered a child with a mistress. I insisted that Jackson’s retirement from the American political scene was long overdue, and that Jackson probably should have called it a career after the 1984 “Hymietown” controversy. Jackson, I asserted, had long since become an obnoxious, ineffective blowhard.

My friend disagreed. While not defending Jackson’s adultery or anti-Semitic rhetoric, he suggested that the best way for Jackson to leave the political stage was for white racism to decline dramatically, and that the folks who wanted Jackson to go away should work harder to combat the manifestations of discrimination. After all, he stated, “If racism goes away, what does Jesse have to complain about?”

I haven’t spoken to that old friend in some time, but I keep thinking about his remarks whenever I see Al Sharpton speak out about police brutality. I can’t say that I’ve ever been a Sharpton fan; I don’t watch his MSNBC program, and even when he makes points I agree with about police violence against African-Americans, I can’t help wondering if it might be better for American race relations to have those points made by someone with, frankly, a less controversial track record than Sharpton.

Yet the point my old friend made about Jackson also applies to Sharpton, no? If we all work harder to combat racism, discrimination, income inequality and police brutality, would we not, in effect, retire Sharpton? Is Sharpton not a reminder of our collective unfinished work?

When we hear complaints about Sharpton’s rhetoric and image, do we really think about how we should best answer those complaints? Getting rid of Sharpton wouldn’t get rid of racism…but getting rid of racism would get rid of Sharpton, no?

I’ll admit it: when I see Sharpton, I still think of Tawana Brawley and Freddie’s Fashion Mart and the other controversies of his past, not his calls for racial justice in the present. For many years, I regarded Sharpton as a voice of racial discord and resentment, and it’s tough for those memories of Sharpton to fade.

However, I can’t deny the validity of the argument that Sharpton’s grievances have to be addressed before he can depart from the platform of American politics. There are millions of Americans—left, right and center—who secretly want Sharpton to shut up and go away. The best way to achieve that goal, of course, is to actually fix the problems Sharpton is talking about.

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Post, December 27, 2014

December 28, 2014 Posted by | Al Sharpton, Police Brutality, Racism | , , , , | Leave a comment

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