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“Not So Fast”: No, Ted Cruz Is Not an ‘Economic Populist’

There are few words in the political lexicon more frequently misused and abused than populist, particularly in times of strong public hostility toward elites, like the present. Still, Time magazine has truly jumped the shark in publishing an interview with Ted Cruz in which he is encouraged without contradiction to call himself an “economic populist.” If Cruz is an “economic populist,” then the term has truly lost all meaning beyond the pixie dust of rhetorical enchantment.

We are supposed to believe Cruz is a populist because he opposes a few relatively small but symbolically rich corporate-subsidy programs like the Export-Import Bank and regulatory thumbs-on-the-scale for the use of ethanol — both objects of ridicule among libertarians for decades. In the Time interview, he leaps effortlessly from the argument that sometimes government helps corporations to the idea that government should not help anybody.

[B]oth parties, career politicians in both parties get in bed with the lobbyist and special interest. And the fix is in. Where Washington’s policies benefit big business, benefit the rich and the powerful at the expense of the working men and women.

Now the point that I often make, and just a couple of days ago in Wisconsin I was visiting with a young woman who said she was a Bernie Sanders supporter. And I mentioned to her that I agreed with Bernie on the problem.

But I said if you think the problem is Washington is corrupt, why would you want Washington to have more power? I think the answer to that problem is for Washington to have less power, for government to have less power over our lives.

Is there any K Street or Wall Street lobbyist who would not instantly trade whatever preferments they’ve been able to wring from Washington in exchange for a radically smaller government that lets corporations do whatever they want? I don’t think so.

Yet it’s hard to find a politician more inclined to get government off the backs of the very rich and the very powerful. My colleague Jonathan Chait summed it up nicely this very day in discussing Cruz’s Goldwater-ish extremism:

In addition to the de rigueur ginormous tax cut for rich people, Cruz proposes a massive shift of the tax burden away from income taxes to sales taxes. So, not only would Cruz’s plan give nearly half of its benefit to the highest-earning one percent of taxpayers (who would save, on average, nearly half a million dollars a year in taxes per household), but it would actually raise taxes on the lowest-earning fifth …

He advocates for … deregulation of Wall Street, and would eliminate the Clean Power Plan and take away health insurance from some 20 million people who’ve gained it through Obamacare. He has defined himself as more militant and uncompromising than any other Republican in Congress, and many of his fellow Republican officeholders have depicted him as a madman.

Cruz would have you believe his unsavory reputation among Beltway Republicans flows from his identification with the working class as opposed to the special interests. As a matter of fact, he’s considered a madman (or a charlatan) for insisting Republicans ought to shut down the federal government rather than compromise or abandon their anti-working-class policies (and their reactionary social policies as well).

Aside from the policies Chait mentions, Cruz also favors (in contrast to Donald Trump) that populist perennial, “entitlement reform,” including the kind of Social Security benefit cuts and retirement-age delays promoted by George W. Bush back in 2005.

And for dessert, in a position that would certainly make William Jennings Bryan roll in his grave, Cruz is on record favoring tight money policies to combat the phantom menace of inflation, along with a commission to consider a return to the gold standard.

One might argue the description of Cruz as an “economic populist” is a small journalistic excess justified by the heat of the GOP nominating contest. But in a general-election matchup between Cruz and Hillary Clinton, we could find ourselves hearing misleading contrasts of Cruz as a “populist” to Hillary Clinton, the “Establishment” pol. Let’s head that one off at a distance, people. Whatever you think of her set side by side with Bernie Sanders, compared to Cruz she’s a wild leveler and class-warfare zealot, favoring minimum-wage increases, more progressive taxes, large new mandates on businesses, continuation and expansion of Obamacare, action on global climate change, a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and (of course) opposition to the many reactionary policies Ted Cruz holds dear.

Get a grip, gabbers and scribblers: Call Ted Cruz a “constitutional conservative,” as he would have it, or the reincarnation of Barry Goldwater, as many of us regard him. But he’s no economic populist.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, April 7, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | Economic Populists, Monetary Policy, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Donald Trump Is The Product Of Our Failed Political System”: Questioning The Traditional Liberal Vs Conservative Paradigm

Donald Trump’s shocking transformation from reality-show host to Republican presidential front-runner is not some random and bizarre twist of fate. It grows from the failure of our political system to adapt to demographic change, economic disruption and a reorganizing world.

Trump’s victory Saturday in the South Carolina primary appears to have cleared away the cobwebs of denial. However improbable, outlandish or frightening it may be, Trump has a very good chance of becoming the nominee. He can still be beaten, but the debilitated Republican establishment does not seem up to the task; poor Jeb Bush bowed out after winning less than 8 percent of the vote.

Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz essentially tied for second place, 10 points behind Trump’s winning 32.5 percent. Since John Kasich and Ben Carson turned out to be non-factors, the Republican race is left with three leading candidates — none of whom offers viable solutions. Trump is a wrecking ball, Cruz is a conservative ideologue, and Rubio tries to be all things to all people.

None addresses the nation and the world as they really are. Rubio promises an aggressively interventionist foreign policy of the kind that gave us more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cruz pledges to double down on failed economic policies — deregulation, tax cuts, tight money — and turn back the clock on social changes such as same-sex marriage. Neither offers much that sounds new or promising.

So it should be no surprise that substantial numbers of Republicans are seduced by Trump, who proposes knocking the house down and starting over. His demagoguery succeeds not just because of his fame and charisma. In sometimes appalling ways, he addresses the hopes and fears of much of the Republican base.

His pledge to build a physical wall along the border with Mexico hits a nerve with white voters worried about the “browning” of the nation. His disparagement of free-trade agreements gives hope to blue-collar workers left behind by the flight of manufacturing jobs. His advocacy of restraint in the deployment of U.S. troops, even with the Middle East in flames, draws nods from war-weary military families and veterans.

And Trump’s diagnosis of what is wrong with our politics — that the politicians are bought and paid for by special interests — is essentially correct. His supporters may disapprove of his extreme rhetoric, some of which is racially tinged, but still appreciate the fact that he is beholden to no one.

Can either Cruz or Rubio stop him? It looks doubtful. Trump’s support in the party may be well short of a majority, but he is far ahead of the others. Cruz’s showing in South Carolina was a disappointment; the evangelical Christian vote, which he desperately needs if he is to stay competitive, went narrowly for Trump. Rubio would seem to have wider appeal and thus be the more potent challenger, but there is no guarantee that he will scoop up all of Bush’s support — or that of Kasich and Carson, assuming they eventually drop out. At least some of those votes will go to Trump. And perhaps most ominously for the others, a majority of Republicans now believe Trump will be the nominee.

If he is, however, his appeal to independents should be limited. The Democratic nominee — and that is likely to be Hillary Clinton, following her decisive win over Bernie Sanders in the Nevada caucuses — would begin the general election campaign with a big advantage.

To be sure, Clinton has exploitable weaknesses — notably the fact that so many voters do not consider her trustworthy. But her long record leaves no doubt that she would be a steady hand in the White House, as opposed to Trump, who would be anything but. Passionate anti-Trump sentiment could boost turnout and give Democrats a sweeping victory.

Such a result would not mean, however, that the Democratic Party has done a significantly better job of responding to new realities than the GOP has. It would just mean that most Americans believe putting someone with Trump’s views and temperament in the White House would be unthinkable.

Sanders’s core message is the same as Trump’s: that the system is rigged to favor the rich and powerful. Trump offers himself as an autocratic strongman; Sanders promises a “political revolution.” Together, they have shown that the establishments of both parties have lost touch with big segments of voters.

Many Americans seem to be questioning the traditional liberal-vs.conservative paradigm. The parties might want to pay attention.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 22, 2016

February 24, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, GOP Primaries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hillary Unleashes The Kraken On Bernie”: ‘If You’ve Got Something To Say, Say It Directly’

It was almost as if a switch went off in Hillary Clinton’s brain.

Moments into the first Democratic debate not beleaguered by the presence of Martin O’Malley, Clinton laid into her remaining opponent, Bernie Sanders.

Sanders has tried to paint Clinton, the former secretary of state and first lady, as a representative of the “establishment” he rails against. He often notes, sometimes without using Clinton’s name that she has taken millions in contributions from Wall Street and pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from banks.

But tonight, after weeks of semi-veiled attacks, Clinton announced she had enough.

“People support me because they know me, they know my life’s work, they have worked with me, and many have also worked with Senator Sanders—and at the end of the day, they endorse me because they know I can get things done,” Clinton said, redefining her “establishment” credentials as an asset.

“Being part of the establishment is in the last quarter having a super PAC that raised $15m from a whole lot of money from drug companies and other special interests,” Sanders quickly retorted.

As soon as the dreaded “e” word was used again, Clinton was ready to pounce, directly pushing Sanders to attack directly if he was going to attack at all.

“It’s fair to really ask what’s behind that comment. Senator Sanders has said that he wants to run a positive campaign, and I’ve tried to keep my disagreements over issues,” she said. “But time and time again by innuendo and by insinuation, there is this attack that he is putting forth, which really comes down to ‘anybody who ever took donations or speaking fees from any interest group has to be bought,’ and I just absolutely disagree with that, senator.”

Clinton went on to insist that she would never be influenced by the vast sums of money she’s received from Wall Street.

“If you’ve got something to say, say it directly,” Clinton said, her voice raised. “You will not find that I have ever changed a view or a vote because of any donation I have received. I have stood up and I have represented my constituents to the best of my abilities, and I’m very proud of that.”

Semantics about the definition of “establishment” and “progressive” aside, this seemed to mark the beginning of a new stage in the contest between Sanders and Clinton. And it’s not going to be pretty.

 

By: Gideon Resnick. The Daily Beast, February 4, 2016

February 5, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Primary Debates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Clinton’s Clever Debate Strategy”: Cling To Obama In A Party That’s Already Missing Him

If only Democratic primary voters were as furious at their own party’s powers-that-be as are Republican voters, the posture taken by Bernie Sanders in the NBC/YouTube debate Sunday night would’ve been a clear winner: Both parties have been bought by wealthy interests, and only an anti-corporate crusader like Bernie can avoid the terrible policy mistakes committed by and under the Clinton and Obama administrations. Indeed, if a sizable majority of Democrats thought the last two administrations of their own party were the corporate betrayals that many of Sanders’s most avid supporters consider them to be, HRC would be the perfect symbol of the continuing DINO establishment that had to be overthrown to install progressive governance.

Alas for the Sanders campaign, that’s not how Democrats feel. According to the latest Gallup weekly presidential-job-approval tracking poll, the 44th president’s rating among Democrats is 84 percent. Among self-identified Liberal Democrats it’s at 89 percent; among African-Americans it’s at 85 percent. Yet it is extremely difficult for Sanders to make his case that HRC is too close to Wall Street or too militaristic or too timid on domestic policy without co-indicting the incumbent president. Hillary Clinton understands that, which is why she took so much care in the NBC debate to identify her approach to the regulation of Wall Street with Obama’s; to defend Obamacare in contrast to Sanders’s advocacy of a single-payer health-care system; to remind Democrats she was a major architect of Obama’s foreign policy; and to refuse opportunities to separate herself from Obama even though some consultants probably think she’ll need to do that to win a general election.

Meanwhile, Sanders is on the horns of an excruciating dilemma: Even if he manages to win in both Iowa and New Hampshire early next month, the long-term success of his campaign will depend on a breakthrough with minority voters in the South and large industrial states who don’t particularly know or have reason to trust him, and don’t particularly want to hear the first nonwhite president — who has been, and is continuing to be, assailed by Republicans on a daily basis as a hopeless incompetent and near-traitor — being instead described by a Democrat as a corporate whore. Yet an implicit indictment of the Obama administration (and less directly, Bill Clinton’s administration) as compromised by corporate ties and hobbled by unprincipled centrist compromises is at the heart of the entire Sanders campaign, and intrinsic to the kind of activist energy he’s showing in the first two states and other hotbeds like the Pacific Northwest.

Beyond that, it seems difficult for Sanders to think or talk beyond the Evil Corporate Cash Nexus to embrace other Democratic voter concerns. Even when he stops talking about economics — as he briefly did in this debate in a very well-wrought and comprehensive answer to a question about police conduct — you get the sense he wants to get back to his Great White Whale. In a conversation on climate change, Sanders insisted fossil-fuel industry campaign contributions were the sole reason for climate-science denialism, ignoring the regional, cultural, and even religious factors feeding the reactionary position of the GOP and the conservative movement on this subject.

Sanders did get in some telling shots at Clinton’s acceptance of speaking fees from Goldman Sachs (though one wonders if the name of that firm inspires the same fury in his listeners as better known banks they deal with every day), and defended his oscillating position on guns pretty well. And even his response to the “bipartisanship” question — the Naderite position that both parties have been bought and sold — wasn’t that much less convincing than Clinton’s or O’Malley’s stale rap about reaching across party lines and forging the kind of coalitions that have become largely a distant memory.

But Bernie’s plight was perhaps best captured by the moment observers are already calling one of his best in the debate, when he sharply replied to Andrea Mitchell’s out-of-context quote of his condemnation of Bill Clinton’s behavior in the Lewinsky scandal by saying:

I cannot walk down the street, Secretary Clinton knows that, without being told how much I have to attack Secretary Clinton.

That’s undoubtedly true. His core supporters want a civil war — for “the soul of the Democratic Party,” as the pundits love to say. But it’s doubtful the Democratic Party, and particularly the voters he most needs to expand his beachhead in nearly all-white states into more representative Donkey territory, wants its soul contested.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 18, 2016

January 19, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Politicians Protecting Themselves”: Ideology And Polarization Are Trumping All Of The Old Rules Of Politics

If you need convincing that 2015 wasn’t just an “outlier” of a year in American politics, where all of the old rules seemed to fly out the window, please read Mark Schmitt’s fascinating piece in the New York Times earlier this week that examines the rapid decline of some of the bedrock principles of political behavior we all used to take for granted. You cannot, he concludes, blame any of this weirdness on Donald Trump; it’s preceded his rise for a good while.

He may be changing the rules of the presidential primary race, but in the halls of Congress and in governors’ mansions across the country, politicians have already acted in ways that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. By testing and breaking the rules, they have been reshaping the practice of politics since long before Mr. Trump emerged.

Members of Congress, Schmitt observes, are showing unprecedented independence from their own constituents, and so, too, are state elected officials. In both cases they are beginning to refuse to “bring home the bacon” if they dislike the ideological provenance of the cook:

[S]everal members even announced in 2013 that they would not assist constituents with problems involving the Affordable Care Act. The idea of not just neglecting but actively refusing constituent services, for reasons of ideology, would be unimaginable to the constituent-focused members of Congress of both parties elected beginning in the 1970s.

Governors, too, rejected everything from infrastructure spending to federal funding for Medicaid expansion. Even when they saw their approval ratings drop into the 30s, they survived. In 2011, Rick Scott of Florida rejected $2.4 billion in federal funds for a commuter rail project and yet got reelected.

The widespread expectation that red states would accept the Medicaid expansion once the Supreme Court made it voluntary, as a deal too good to refuse, is an example of the old conventional wisdom.  In nearly half the states, ideology trumped helping constituents access available funds and services.

Schmitt believes that predictable partisan voting patterns and special-interest pressure have combined with ideology to all but kill the once-reigning assumption of American politics: the “median voter theorem,” which held that politicians of both parties would inevitably cater to the interests of swing voters in the middle of the ideological spectrum in the pursuit of a majority. It’s the basis of the still-common belief that in competitive contests candidates have to “shift to the center” to win general elections no matter how much time they spend “pandering to the base” in primaries. If, however, an ever-higher percentage of voters simply and reflexively pull the lever for the party with which they identify, then keeping them motivated enough to vote — perhaps by negative attacks on the hated partisan foe — becomes far more important than appealing to an ever-shrinking number of “swing voters.” Eventually, as Schmitt suggests, the whole idea of accountability to voters begins to fade, as pols try to figure out how to protect themselves via gerrymandering and oceans of special-interest money.

[B]y recasting politics as a winner-take-all conflict between wholly incompatible ideologies and identities — as most of the presidential candidates have done — they help to closely align party and ideology, so that those who identify as Republican will always vote Republican and vice versa. When politicians know more or less who will vote and how, they can ignore most voters — including their own loyalists.

Schmitt attributes a lot of these trends to the conquest of the GOP by conservative ideologues, but also notes that the declining competition for median voters has liberated Democrats — themselves less constrained by a conservative minority that barely exists anymore — to think bigger and bolder thoughts about the role of government than they have at any time since the Great Society era. So judging the new rules of politics as a good or a bad thing will most definitely depend on one’s own ideological perspective.

If Donald Trump didn’t cause the fading of the old political order, is he nonetheless benefiting from it? Quite probably so, in that he is the living symbol of spitting defiance to the belief of Republican elites that the median voter theorem required a less viscerally angry and culturally reactionary GOP. Indeed, political observers view Trump as strange and scary precisely because the old rules that would have consigned him to the dustbin of history don’t seem to be in operation anymore. We’d better all lower our resistance to the unexpected.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 6, 2015

January 7, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Primaries, Ideology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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