The Immigration Trap
Monday, October 31, 2005
Having visited the Southland, what surprised me most was the depth of animosity towards immigrants. Even among moderates and liberals (yes there are some), I heard fear and hostility towards new Latino residents. "They're taking away our jobs. "They won't learn English." etc., etc. Having lived in NYC for several years, I suppose I just didn't grasp the salience of this issue. And as a political analyst, I couldn't help but ask myself - what effect will this have in upcoming elections?
I think that both the Democrats and the Republicans are in very dangerous ground on this issue. In the short term, the immigration hot potato could prove a fatal lure to the Republicans. For decades their principal strategy has been to use "identity" appeals in order to win over the white working/middle class. The success of this strategy has made the exploitation of racial and ethnic divides a conditioned response. While the party is divided on the issue of immigration - the business wing likes it, the strategists want to win Latino voters, and the white nationalist base hates it - I think that in the end the Republicans just won't be able to help themselves. They'll get into a bind and make coded and not-so-coded anti-immigrant appeals. They may couch it is illegal immigration, but the driving force will be anti-Hispanic xenophobia.
This strategy might win an election or two, but in the medium term it will prove to be a political blunder of huge proportions. Latinos are just beginning to politically mobilize, and they trend Democratic anyway. There is a great deal of suspicion by Latino voters towards the Republicans. Should the right run a race-baiting campaigning, it would likely consolidate Hispanics behind the Democratic party for a generation.
The historical example is California. Pete Wilson was struggling to win re-election in 1994, and resorted to immigrant-bashing to win re-election. It worked, but his victory cemented a liberal-black-hispanic coalition that has dominated California politics ever since (Schwarzanegger is a fluke). Remember - a decade ago California was a swing state.
Now as a Democrat I should be salivating at the prospect of the Californiaziation of American politics. But I'm not. You see, such an eventuality was simply reinforce existing political trends, trends that make cultural identity the most important feature of American politics. History demonstrates that identity politics in the end only benefits the right. We are a coalition of minorities, but if the elements of our coalition are primarily loyal just to their own narrow interests, it will always be easy for the right to blow us up with wedge issues. The entire conservative strategy over the last generation has been to displace class politics with identity politics. Should they go anti-immigrant, it might give us a decade of pre-eminence, but we'd then be right where we started.
The chief problem facing America is NOT immigration. It's not civil rights, or abortion, or gay marriage. These are all issues that matter, but they will not in the end fundamentally alter American life. The central challenge facing the country is the steady erosion of economic opportunity and the slow disappearance of the middle class. My fear is that if Democrats learn to use identity politics to their advantage, they will have fallen prey to a fatal delusion, because the result is that we will continue to ignore the real problem facing us, and that when the crash comes (as it surely will), Americans will have learned that the solution to all of their problems is to blame some other group of Americans.
The New Distopia
Saturday, October 29, 2005
Contrary to my expectation, I am able to blog today (obviously). In part this is because there is a pause in my family obligations, but also because my father in law has this spiffy cable modem and I can't force myself to quit using it.
I'm in Atlanta right now, catching up with old acquaintances. Everyone I talk to who used to work in a small indepedent store - a bookshop, a paint company, whatever - is now working for some huge megacorp. The old places they loved to work have all gone out of business. When we drive around, every few blocks we see the same conglomeration of chains: McDonalds, Home Depot, Walmart, Blockbuster, big national banks, etc. It's all the same, and it makes for a very dreary monotony.
We have bleached our communities of any individual character or charm. Every small business has a "for sale" sign on the front, or at best is just empty of customers. Every big chain store has huge parking lots full of foreign-made cars and SUVs, with people honking at each other as they fight for parking space. Every street is blocked up with traffic and angry, frustrated commuters. Every worker is unhappy, uncooperative, insecure, and underpaid.
This is the America we have made. No connections, no opportunities, no community. We are all just little sharks scavenging an empty ocean.
Is this really what we want? Is this the society we meant to create? Or have we allowed ourselves to drift into an inhuman society of crass commercialization and hypocritical moralizing out of simple intertia?
It's not like we didn't have a choice. We made it this way. We chose it.
Friday, October 28, 2005
I have to go to a wedding back down South, so I won't be posting again until Monday.
But you want to know what I think of the Miers withdrawal? I don't have anything to say that E.J. Dionne
hasn't said already.
David Broder, Crack Fiend
Thursday, October 27, 2005
In today's op-ed
, the overrated David Broder argues that the country needs a more sensible fiscal policy. Fair enough. Unfortunately his description of a sensible fiscal policy amounts to drinking the kool-aid:
At a panel headed by the DLC's chairman, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, the answer that emerged was: Strike a bipartisan bargain that would involve some short-term tax increases in return for long-term savings on entitlement programs and improvements in the administration of government.
This is a compromise? This is a sane fiscal plan? Long-term cuts and short-term tax increases? I'm afraid Mr. Broder simply hasn't taken the time to examine the facts. The major cause of the deficit is not overspending but the gaping whole in the tax base. The federal government today spends 25% of GDP, a figure which has remained fairly constant for decades. When you look at tax revenue, however, it has decline from a quarter of GDP to a fifth. This is what people call a structural fiscal gap. If Bush hadn't cut taxes on the wealthiest 10% of people, we wouldn't have such a deficit problem. Now I'm a reasonable person. I can accept reductions in spending. But how about we have increase taxes on the people whose incomes are rising and tax burden is falling? And how about we do so permanently? Otherwise we will be having entitlement cuts today and more entitlement cuts tomorrow, when the tax increases expire.
The faulty assumptions of Broder's (and the DLC's) approach is laid out in the next section:
MacGuineas urged the Democrats to begin examining ideas she and others have put forward that would not simply reduce future benefits or postpone the age at which retirees could claim them but would instead adapt the whole social insurance concept of the 1930s to the realities of a new millennium.
Her concepts include mandated programs of individual savings for the predictable expenses of child-rearing, education and retirement; social insurance for the costs of catastrophic but unforeseeable medical bills; and some guarantee of safety-net income for people who, through no fault of their own, lose jobs or retirement benefits because of broad economic changes.
This is just a reformulation of the so-called "opportunity society," the main message of which is that we are all in this alone. This agenda would in effect shift the burden of paying for the tax cuts (on the wealthy) onto the backs of the poor and middle class. Broder's suggestions don't amount to social insurance at all, but individual insurance. It would completely shred the social safety net. If we accept these proposals, it will justify the whole "starve the beast" strategy of cutting taxes and forcing cuts in social welfare. We will have handed Grover Norquist his victory: the New Deal will be repealed, and we can now drown the government in the bathtub.
Broder is supposed to be a smart guy, isn't he?
More Stealth Nominees
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
So it appears that we have yet another nominee to an important position with little experience and less idea how he will behave. From what I can gather Ben Bernanke is a decent choice for Fed Chairman. According to the New York Times, he is "an economist with stellar credentials and a good reputation in Congress and on Wall Street who has won widespread plaudits since being named on Monday."
And given the experienced candidates that Bush might have picked were probably loonies, I suppose that this is the best we can do. But what is wrong with our politics in that people have to be utter cyphers to have a chance of reaching high office? We're doing this not just with appointive positions, but with our candidates as well. Perhaps we should consider the Athenian system and just pick people by lot - it would at least solve the dynasty problem, and would probably be just as likely to produce decent public officials.
Just Like Old Times
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
I have always enjoyed critiquing David Brooks' pseudo-intellectual hackery, which is why I was so sad when the NYT (foolishly) restricted access to the op-eds. But now thanks to Max Sewicky
and Matt Yglesias
, I have a new opportunity. Thanks guys.
In his latest piece, Brooks responds to those who argue that Bush has betrayed conservatism. Instead, Brooks argues, Bush has just embraced the simpleminded anti-government conservatism of the previous decades in favor of a more reasonable form of conservatism that accepts the legitimate role of government in people's lives. In other words, Brooks is dusting off "compassionate conservatism" and the "opportunity society." According to Brooks, Bush's real failure has not been his policy, but his politics. By catering to his base, he has obscured his real accomplishment in crafting a new center-right coalition.
Matt Yglesias appropriately jumps on the key difficulty here. The one policy that Bush has hewed to most consistently, and the only one embraced by his entire coalition, is tax-cutting. Low taxes are the linchpin of the Republican governing coalition. If Bush abandons his tax-cutting mania, his coalition explodes. If he continues it, Brooks' pro-government conservatism remains unsustainable and reckless.
I would like to follow up by highlighting a revealing passage in Brooks' editorial. According to him, in the mid-1990's...
Voters preferred Democratic ideas on issue after issue by 20-point margins. The G.O.P.'s foreign policy views were veering toward isolationism, its immigration policy was veering toward nativism, its social conservatism had crossed into censoriousness, and after it became clear that voters didn't want to slash government, its domestic policy had hit a dead end.
And then Bush came on the scene with his compassionate conservatism and changed everything. So goes the fairytale, anyway. What I would like to suggest is that nothing has changed. The Republican party is imperialist now rather than isolationist, but the rest remains: nativism, social intolerance, anti-government mania, and the Democrats are preferred by 20 points on every issue. The only thing that allowed Bush to win elections was to dishonestly obscure the differences between the parties in 2000 and run a McCarthyite campaign in 2004.
The sad reality for Republicans is that they lead a fractious coalition that is finally beginning to realize that they disagree. And each element of the faction is pretty unpopular. The libertarians are socially tolerant and anti-government, but their tax cutting is bankrupting the country. The corporate wing is busy redistributing money upwards and getting handouts, but in the process corrupting the Republican party and undermining the economy and the environment. And the religious right is just wacky.
The problem that the Republicans face is that they cannot really implement any of their policies. If they really enforced their cultural vision on society, the country would rebel. The cultural hedonism they destest is in fact a product of a consumer society sponsored their coalition partners. To really shrink the size of government would be to cut very popular programs - as they learned with Social Security. And now that the corporate cronyism of the big business wing is going public, the whole party is in trouble.
So since the right can't actually push any affirmative agenda, they are reduced to divide-and-conquer nationalist appeals, smear campaigns, and just plain lying. It is the consequences of this necessity that are ruining the conservative movement. Conservatism's problem is that conservatism is an incoherent governing philosophy and an anti-democratic political strategy. It's going to take a lot more than a little rhetoric tinkering to fix this, no matter what Mr. Brooks thinks.
Ah. That's better.
Hypocrites R Us
Monday, October 24, 2005
Sorry I didn't post earlier today. I've been reading Dan Simmons' Ilium duology and literally couldn't put it down. Yes I like silly sci fi novels. So sue me.
I watched the Sunday morning news shows yesterday out of sheer schadenfreude, expecting it to be all about the Miers nomination's problems, the Fitzgerald investigation, the DeLay indictment, etc. And it didn't disappoint. What I found particularly amusing was Kay Bailey Hutchinson's lame defense of Rove - that we shouldn't drive people out of office on a technicality like obstruction of justice and perjury. Apparently this is going to be the entire Republican strategy
- to minimize these charges and howl about the "criminalization of politics."
These people are clearly immune to irony. Have they forgotten Clinton's entire Presidency? Or if they haven't, is there a substantive difference between the accusations against the Clinton white house and the ones against Bush's administration?
According to current conservative theory, outing CIA agents who are investigating weapons of mass destruction in order to get back at that agent's spouse is okay, money laundering is okay, and lying to get into a war are okay, but getting a blowjob isn't.
At least now we know what they mean by "values." Apparently "values" only refers to sexual morality, and doesn't apply to theft, intimidation, deceit, and treason.
Bush Is No Clay
Friday, October 21, 2005
Somehow I missed this article by Sean Wilentz
in the New York Times Magazine comparing modern conservatism to the Whigs. A friend showed it to me - thanks Ryan!
In his piece, Wilentz argues that modern conservatism is not some new or alien outgrowth of American history, but is in fact has a long historical pedigree stretching back to the old Whig party of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and though he didn't mention him - Abraham Lincoln, in many way the last Whig as well as the first Republican.
Wilentz identifies three areas in which the Whigs and today's right wing agree: pro-business/anti big government, conservative populism, and conservative christian morality. I would contend that although there is of course a great deal of truth to Wilentz's piece, he is essentially off the mark when he places the right wing within the Whig tradition.
In the first instance, the Whigs, while pro-business, were not anti-government. As Wilentz notes, the Whigs embraced Henry Clay's American system, with federal resources used to promote economic development. This meant a tariff, money on infrastructure, and a national bank. These institutions amounted to the creation of a stronger national government and industrialization. In the short run these did policies did benefit elites, tying them to today "trickled down theory." (One of the things that distinguishes the Whigs, of course, is that their "supplys side" policies worked
, but that's another story.) However, the general trend of their policies was the expansion of national institutions and nationalism, not today's states right rhetoric. And I don't recall anywhere where a major Whig attacked "government regulation," despite Wilentz's claims.
What the Whigs were against was not "big government" but overweening executive power. The reacted to the strong Presidency of Jackson, fearing he was paving the way for a populist tyranny and frequently comparing him to Caesar. Today's conservatism, on the other hand, is terribly fond of executive power, as the Bush Presidency has demonstrated.
The conservative populism that Wilentz notes has little in common with today's attack on the "liberal elite." Yes the Whigs worked hard to portray themselves as regular people, but this is the essential prerequisite of anyone seeking political office in a democracy. But if you read Wilentz's quotes carefully, these Whigs are not bashing elites but party machines. Jackson's Democratic party, organized by Van Buren, was the world's first mass party organization characterized by party bosses and patronage. Now tell me, which political party today does this sound like? Certainly not the Democrats.
Wilentz is on stronger ground when he ties the Whigs to conservative protestant morality. This was one of the major additions to the old Federalist ideology by the Whigs. However, the Whigs were more concerned by what they called "mob rule." This was in part an attack on Jacksonian populism and the party machines, but also a critique of appeals to emotion in politics. The Whigs accused the Democrats of being demagogues who flattered and corrupted the people with crass jingoistic appeals. Again, this critique could easily be levelled against today's "movement conservatives."
Wilentz also neglects a major issue area where Whigs and Republicans disagree: foreign policy. While today's Republican party is ultranationalist and imperialist, the old Whigs resisted territorial expansion and militarism. This was in part because their party would be split by the expansion of slavery, but also for more fundamental reasons. The Whigs distrusted militarism for its ability to subvert a democracy, and believed that expansion amounted to rape - an application of their Christian principles.
So George Bush is certainly far outside the political tradition of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. There was a conservative tradition in America that included the Whigs. It stretched from the Federalists to the Whigs to the Republicans of the 19th century. That tradition was in favor of a strong national government, economic nationalism, and the protection of civil liberties. This is a better description of the Democratic party than today's Republicans.
Unfortunately, today's right wing is related to a very different political tradition - Calhounism. John C. Calhoun was the champion of the South during the 2nd quarter of the 19th century. He was in favor of unregulated free trade, wanted to eliminate the major source of government revenue -tariff, promoted natural economic resources (like cotton - today's version of oil) rather than manufacturing, wanted a weak national government and strong states, and pursued an expansionist, imperialist foreign policy. Calhoun also viewed a conservative social hierarchy, buttressed by fundamentalist christianity, as the key to the social order. And of course he was a southern white nationalist with nothing but contempt for the rights of ethnic minorities or civil liberties.
Which party does that sound like to you?
Everyone (including myself) talks about how important it is to be involved in politics. But to really be an activist takes more than a small amount of time. To just review, let me tell you what is entailed in working in a political club in a New York City election
1) Figuring out who you support. This means not only that you pay attention, but that you also have to go see the candidates and researching what they're for. If you're going to spend the next six months of your life trying to get someone elected, you sure as hell want to make sure you're backing the right horse.
2) Trying to get your club to endorse that candidate. Not all of your political allies are going to agree with you. Sometimes they are going to violently disagree with you, and you have to decide to what degree your own preferences are more important than your political coalition, or whether other folks in your club are persuadable.
3) Petitioning. In New York City, you have to get signatures from registered party members to be eligible for the ballot. For Mayor, you need 7000 signatures city-wide. No big deal, right? Wrong. First of all, if you only get the minimum your candidate gets a black eye. And second, we aren't talking about standing on a street corner. We're talking about rounding up a bunch of other volunteers (no easy task) to go out several nights a week into apartment buildings and knocking on doors. Getting into the buildings can be difficult (somebody has to let you in and the supers are frequently trying to stop you), it's very hot in the hallways, the voter lists are often a mess, and lots of people aren't home. If you do find someone, you have to convince them to sign, and lot of folks are a little suspicious of a complete stranger coming to their home and wanting them to sign on the dotted line. You get the picture.
4) Once petitioning is done, you need to start the "active" campaigning. This means standing on street corners early in the morning and on weekends passing out literature. And where does this literature come from? Well if you're not working directly for a candidate but with a club that has an endorsed slate, the club has to come up with the money to distribute it. This means raiding your own (tiny) treasury and asking the candidates you're supporting for money. And candidates are always so short on cash that such funds are hard to acquire. You get the picture.
5) In the week or so before the election, you stuff buildings. This means going back into those hot buildings and slipping flyers under doors. Now I've gone to the jungle and climbed up and down mountains, and stuffing is harder. Leaning over a couple of thousand times a day will really kill your back. It took me about 3 days to really recover, and a friend of mine (who did a lot more stuffing than I did and is younger than me) was a zombie for about a week.
6) Election day. Get the day off work. Get up at 5 AM. Be at the polls at 6. Stand in the blaring hot sun with no shade and hand out palm cards (a sample ballot printed by the club). Get a couple of breaks for water/bathroom/food. Keep this up until the polls close at 9PM. Then your job may be to go in and record the vote totals at the machines.
7) The campaign party. If you're lucky, you'll get to go. This year I did - I went to the Weiner event, where somehow I managed to stand on my feet for another couple of hours watching the returns come in and waiting for the candidate to speak. This is the rewarding part of the evening when there is excitement everywhere and you get your second wind. Assuming your guy is doing well . If he loses, it's just insult to injury. I have to tell you, the only person I feel more sorry for than a losing candidate is a losing candidate's volunteers & staff. Yikes.
8) Go home at 2 AM and get a couple of hours of sleep until you have to go back to work the next day.
It doesn't sound glamorous, and it's not. But to tell you the truth, I loved doing it. It's hard and it's often thankless, but there's nothing quite like realizing that you're making a Republic function.
The New Class War
Thursday, October 20, 2005
I was always sceptical that the Hurricane Katrina would lead to any real anti-poverty programs. It didn't take much time for the whole issue to be forgotten. Now we have more evidence that the Class War being waged by the wealthy on the rest of America is continuing. Kevin Drum has a handy chart
explaining how the President's tax commission screws over the middle class. He admits that there are some proposals whose effects he is unsure about. Worry not Kevin - they stick it to the working people too. In addition, Hale Stewart at BOP
has a horrifying but predictable statistic that college students with higher incomes are more likely to graduate than poorer students who have the same test scores
. So much for the meritocracy.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
In 1989, Harriet Miers
stated that she would be in favor of the so-called "human life" amendment to the Constitution. This amendment would give foetuses and embryos the status of human beings, and would ban all abortions with the sole exception of the life of the mother. It has also been suggested
that such an amendment would make permissable laws banning contraception.
Call it a litmus test, but I think this makes her an unacceptable choice for the Supreme Court. The human life amendment is so radical that it would ban abortion even in cases of rape or incest.
One could argue that her support of such a proposal need not influence her decisions on the court. I would simply respond that her position on the issue calls into question her basic judgment. Talk about out of the mainstream opinions! What percentage of the American people do you think would be in favor of such a proposal, knowing that rape and incest are not exceptions and that contraception could be declared illegal? 2 percent? Maybe 3?
On the other hand, I think there is a slight possibility that this information was leaked in order to rally the conservative base and to rile up liberals. If we Democrats start making noise about this issue, it's likely to unify the Republicans and stop their internecine squabbling. But if this is their strategy, I think we should use her position on abortion to demonstrate exactly how radical she and the Theocons really are. With some skill, we could marginalize social conservatives they way they marginalized themselve during the Schiavo case.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
As I've mentioned before, I'm concerned about the gradual ratcheting up of political conflict in this country. I'm not sure it's avoidable, I just think we need to be aware of what we're getting into. Those of us on the left (myself included) have been experiencing extraordinary glee at the widespread investigations of the Republican leadership. It's fund to watch the right getting back what they did to us in the 1990's. Seeing Bill Kristol talk about the "criminalization of politics" really gives me the chuckles.
But what are the consequences of all of this? I suspect that the forever-aggrieved conservatives will decide at some point in the future, when all of their leadership is behind bars or in disgrace, that the Democrats used the courts to overturn an election. When they decide that Democrats will stop at nothing to win power, by hook or by crook. Y'know - the whole phenomenon of projecting your own sins onto others. What happens when the conservatives reach this state of frenzied, indignant victimhood? Will they escalate again? And if so, how so? My god, what's left to escalate short of political assassination and armed violence?
The Doom Generation
Monday, October 17, 2005
And no I don't mean the movie
. At least not just the movie.
It turns out that at the very moment that the U.S. is facing intense competition from abroad in the form of educated, highly motivated, poorly paid workers, we have decided that a college education is a luxury. Apparently public universities are becoming steadily privatized
due to remorseless cuts in public funding. So we're going to have a workface totally unequipped to face the challenges of a global economy.
But outsourcing is no big deal, you say. Well, look at this little experiment by A.A. Jacobs
(via After School Snack
). Nothing is protected from the forces of international competition. Nothing. To those who are graduating from (a substandard) high school today and can't afford college, all America has to say is... tough shit.
Talking To Conservatives
Friday, October 14, 2005
I had dinner with some friends from exurban Indiana last night, and they were bemoaning how hard it is to be a liberal in such a right wing area. They said what I've heard (and experienced) so many times before: that conservatives don't want to engage in argument, that they refuse to hear contrary evidence, that they have an almost religious faith in their leaders.
It is the psychology of conservative voters that makes the Republican party so dangerous. When your supporters will believe anything they're told and will trust you no matter what happens, it means that there is simply no accountability - that they have absolutely blank checks. And it precisely here that the corruption problem appears. No man (or woman) has an unquestioning claim to my loyalty- it has to be earned. The Theocons seem to find it comforting to have someone tell them what to do and what to think. This is scarcely the attitude of someone living in a Democracy.
So how do we deal with them? How do we talk to our friends, neighbors, and family that have drunk the kool-aid? Well getting angry won't help, and neither will yelling. It might be easy to ignore them or just change the subject, but this is abdicating your responsibilities to someone else. Here's what I believe - you engage them with the Socratic method, patiently revealing to them all the inconsistencies and delusions. And you do so with an eye not necessarily to persuading them (because that's not easy), but to demonstrate to everyone watching how ridiculous their opinions are. Because the people we really need to convince aren't the right wingers, as hard as that is, but the undecideds - who are just Democrats that haven't realized it yet.
Prerequisites of Success
Thursday, October 13, 2005
With all of the bad news for the GOP this year, there is a real possibility for a big Democratic year in 2006. What's cool is that there are now "zeitgeist" stories in the mainstream media to this effect: the New York Times
wrote an article to this effect today. This means that quality candidates considering a race are more likely to get in. Which is very, very important.
I'm not saying that you should take the NYT too seriously - you shouldn't. But the first half of the battle is on the recruitment side of the ledger, and that is determined the year before
a race. So a bad year in '05 can mean that you have the quality candidates in place necessary to take advantage of any opportunities in '06. This doesn't mean that we are guaranteed victory in '06 - only that we will have all the elements in place. And that's not a bad start.
It's nice when what I've learned as a political scientist from Gary Jacobson
and what I've learned as a political junkie from Charlie Cook
I Dare You
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
I triple dog dare you.
The Republicans are considering scrapping the Alternative Minimum Tax
and regaining the lost revenue by abolishing the home mortgage deduction and the business deduction for health insurance.
My response: Wow.
Admittedly there are problems with the AMT. Because it isn't indexed for inflation, people from middle income brackets are getting shoved into an artificially higher tax bracket. If nothing is done, we are likely to see a tax revolt similar to that of the late 1970's.
However, to abolish a tax meant to prevent millionaires from sheltering all of their income and to fund it by eliminating incentives for home-building (when the bubble is about to burst) and health care (when people are losing coverage) is just insane. Policy insanity, and certainly political insanity.
There is NO WAY this is going to happen. If the Theocons try it, they will be crucified in the next election. The campaign ads practically write themselves:
"It's good times for Congressman Smith
Insert Yeats Reference Here
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
There is a lot of buzz about the new book by Hacker & Pierson, Off Center
, which seeks to explain why very conservative Republicans are winning elections while the population has not moved to the right. I haven't read the book yet, so I won't get into any detailed commentary. From the commentary (at the Washington Monthly
, where the writers are blogging, to reviews by Crooked Timber
and Chris Hayes
), Hacker & Pierson argue that the Republicans have been successful because they have built up powerful and integrated political institutions and have ruthlessly gamed the system to their advantage.
What I find most alarming but least surprising is the degree to which the Republicans' efforts a) mimic the behavior of any and all political machines, and b) the vulnerability to democracies to demagogy. With a public drunk on proverbial bread and circuses, a party in power has extraordinary leeway to get its way. Machines thrive in political environments of low attention and participation. In fact, such an environment is the essential prerequisite to the survival of machines.
Which brings me to my pet opinion on how to deal with this extraordinary challenge. There have been lots of machines in American history, and in fact the Republicans have done this before on the national scale - they controlled the government for two decades after the civil war, and were similar in their fealty to big corporations, willingness to exploit ethnic and religious tensions, widespread corruption, and ruthlessness in preserving power. And they were defeated.
How? By democracy itself. Only by educating the citizenry and bringing them into the political process in a concrete way are we going to be able to build up the critical mass necessary to drive these lunatics from power. If all we do is imitate their methods, we not only risk becoming what they are, but of simply causing a gradual escalation of political conflict that will only end in civil war. This is going to take more than framing, it will take the hard work of political organization and mobilization. We must take the failure of 2004 for what it was - a beginning.
Before I Go...
Friday, October 07, 2005
Al Gore for President in 2008 (maybe)
One of the only avenues left for the expression of public or political ideas on television is through the purchase of advertising, usually in 30-second chunks. These short commercials are now the principal form of communication between candidates and voters. As a result, our elected officials now spend all of their time raising money to purchase these ads.
That is why the House and Senate campaign committees now search for candidates who are multi-millionaires and can buy the ads with their own personal resources. As one consequence, the halls of Congress are now filling up with the wealthy. Campaign finance reform, however well it is drafted, often misses the main point: so long as the
only means of engaging in political dialogue is through purchasing expensive television advertising, money will continue by one means or another to dominate American politic s. And ideas will no longer mediate between wealth and power.
And what if an individual citizen, or a group of citizens wants to enter the public debate by expressing their views on television? Since they cannot simply join the conversation, some of them have resorted to raising money in order to buy 30 seconds in which to express their opinion.
Told You So!
I am by any definition a liberal Democratic activist. I hang out with other activists all the time, and we rarely argue about policy. At the same time I come out of the Southern moderate tradition. How is it possible to be both?
Simple. Democratic activists, and liberalism itself, really isn't that radical. Want evidence? Check out this post
by Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly. Liberalism in the Clinton era moved decisively to the center. Part of the reason is that, in response to the conservative political agenda, the left has had to close ranks. When the topic of political debate is whether to privatize Social Security, there's not much difference between a moderate and a lefty.
While I'm interested in theories into why the Republicans have gotten so radical, and why they have been able to win elections despite this radicalism, I am happy to be able to gloat a little. I've been arguing for a year on this blog now that a) liberalism is essentially moderate, and b) the media frame that both sides have moved to the extremes is flat wrong. Only the conservatives have gone around the bend. The left, on the other hand, has fully recovered its sanity. American politics today is a debate between a reactionary Republican party and a mildly center/left Democratic party.
P.S. I'm going on vacation this weekend. Dr. Hussy and I will be in upstate New York touring the wine country until Monday. See you when I've sobered up........
Thursday, October 06, 2005
lays out in sobering detail what we face with a conservative takeover of the courts. What concerns me is, what happens next? Let's assume that we finally sweep the Republicans out of power and win back control. What happens when we pass a host of liberal legislation to address our national problems, only to see them struck down by a radical right wing court? We would face the same test as Roosevelt: see our reforms (and perhaps the country) fail or try to intimidate or break the federal courts. We got lucky the last time - I'm not so sure we would again.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
I'll most likely be moving away from New York. One of the places I might end up is in St. Louis. Just for fun I looked up who the congresspeople are. And what do I find?
1st District - Bill Clay, son of the former Congressman of the same name
2nd District - Todd Hakin, entrenched Republican
3rd District - Russ Carnahan, son of the former Governor
I throw up my hands in exasperation at this point, since I'm either looking at Republicans or political dynasts. To add insult to injury, I then read that Jimmy Carter's son is running for the Senate.
Apparently I get to choose between corrupt theocons and aristocrats. Ah, the humanity!
So Larry Bartels (via PolySigh
) is debunking Tom Frank's "So What's the Matter with Kansas?" The statistical evidence seems to indicate that the white working class a) has not abandoned the Democratic party, b) has not become more conservative, c) is not more concerned with social than economic issues, d) and are not primarily motivated by religion. The sole exception seems to be in the South (isn't this always the case?), where the Frank thesis seems to hold up a little better. That seems pretty decisive, doesn't it?
Well sort of. I'd have to look at the actual numbers before I entirely concede the argument, but for the sake of this post I'll go along with Bartel's critique. What I find interesting, and of far more political important, is that the Frank thesis appears to be confirmed by middle class white voters
. Bartel's study indicates that they are more driven by social issues in the past and are trending Republican. Given the difficulty of defining what "working" and "middle" class are, perhaps Frank and Bartels are talking past each other. Because as far as I'm concerned, most of the people we call middle class aren't really middle class at all. They aren't independent professionals, farmers, or small businesspeople - they get their checks from someone else. This makes them functionally "working class" whatever their incomes are.
Even if we set the so-called working class aside, the puzzle remains - why in a time of great economic pressure has the American middle class embraced conservative economic policies that don't seem to materially benefit them, and to focus on cultural rather than economic issues? And it is this essential question that Franks is attempting to answer, and a challenge to which liberals have yet to craft a reply.
The Miers Appointment
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
A lot of my fellow liberal bloggers are pleased enough with the Miers nomination. Although they may be right and Miers is the best we are going to get out of Bush, I am still going to argue that she should be opposed. Her only qualification for the bench is that she has no qualifications. Combined with the bald cronyism of the appointment, that renders her unacceptable. I'm afraid that my lefty pals are just assuming that she is more liberal because she has no paper trail. While there is some indication that she is a moderate on social issues, this does nothing to ease my worry about how yet another nondescript corporate lawyer with political connections will rule on regulatory and separation of powers issues.
So I say vote no. No more gambling with our nation's Constitution.
Earth to Werbach
Monday, October 03, 2005
So I'm reading through my latest issue of the American Prospect, and there's this article by Adam Werbach on the "population movement."
Werbach is the former President of the Sierra Club, so he certainly has credentials. He argues that a narrow focus on population control is mistaken both on political grounds (it puts you into bed with some unsavory characters) and policy - the focus should be on women's rights and sustainable development rather than just birth control. There is some truth to this position - when you educate women their fertility rate drops like magic.
But where I go from nodding my head to shaking it is when Werbach suggests that the Sierra Club reject anti-immigration arguments entirely. Werbach suggests that illegal immigration from Mexico is the product of basic economic forces (okay), is therefore inevitable (maybe), and that we should direct illegal immigration to the Great Plains, which has lost a third of its population over the last century (WHAT?!).
Let me get this straight: you want to forcibly send poor immigrants to a part of the country where there are NO JOBS? You want to purposefully replicate what accidentally happened to African-Americans in the 1950's and 1960's? When they moved to the cities at the very moment those cities' manufacturing jobs were disappearing? The last time I checked this was the #1 cause of the problem of the urban poor. There are a lot of reasons why the Great Plains has lost population, but the most powerful ones are that our economic system is discriminating against small towns and that agriculture is now run by big, mechanized industrial combines that need less labor
. I just don't understand how sending low-skill immigrants to that part of the country will result in anything else but disaster.
Aside from the dunderheadedness of Werbach's proposal on policy grounds, his lack of political sense demonstrates why the environmental movement has been on the defensive for so long. Can you imagine the political reaction in the communities of the Great Plains if 10 million immigrants suddenly showed up? Are we trying
to create a (another) massive white backlash?
Talk about your political tin ears - apparently Werbach has concluded that the left doesn't have enough problems and that we need to create new ones. Sheesh.