Saturday, March 26, 2016

Hillary Clinton's contented supporters

Is this going to be the message that the Clinton campaign goes with in the fall if she's the Democratic nominee: I'm retired or about to retire, I've paid off my mortgage and college loans, I've been a Democrat for eons because, well, I forget why, and who are these young'uns who think they can change stuff?

Because that seems to be the message Arthur Goldhammer is delivering here, In defense of the political center The American Prospect 03/25/2016:

Remember the old hit by the Scottish band Stealers Wheel, “Stuck in the Middle with You”? That song comes to mind these days whenever I talk politics with the people with whom I’ve shared a political lifetime, friends who’ve witnessed the 1960s and Vietnam, Watergate, the Reagan reaction, the Clinton years, September 11, the war in Iraq, the crash of 2008, the election of the first black president, the hesitant recovery from the Great Recession, and the cliff-hanger passage of the Affordable Care Act. A few have supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries, but most are backing Hillary Clinton, albeit without enthusiasm: stuck in the middle with “jokers to the right,” as the song says, and while not “clowns to the left,” certainly, a mostly younger crowd, less chastened by bitter experience and eager to believe that radical — or let us say merely rapid and substantial — change is possible despite deep political polarization.
That's just sad.

J.P. Morgan once declared, "If you destroy the leisure class, you destroy civilization." That's not an attitude that would likely be challenged by those of us who have been "chastened by bitter experience" and are too savvy to believe that any "rapid and substantial" political change is possible. Or even desirable. Much less "radical" change!

Goldhammer gives us another stock recital of this perennial justification of stale centrism:

In a political system like ours, with multiple veto points, being “stuck in the middle” is almost a misnomer, because the middle is precisely the only place where the system can be unstuck. The middle is not without friction, as party chafes against party and ambition against ambition, as logs are rolled and horses traded. But in a veto-ridden system motion is possible only in the middle. When one party deserts the center, as Republicans in Congress have done under Obama, the machinery of government seizes up.
This resigned state of mind is, of course, a variety of conservative thinking. Even when someone who holds it prefers an At Least We're Not The Republicans identification than to sign up with the howling-at-the-moon Republicans of today.

Maybe it's people like that who should really be called conservatives. Because the Republicans who so identify themselves are actually supporting Radical Right policies and candidates.

Andrew Rosenthal gives us a good example of this in Ted Cruz’s Terrifying Approach to ‘Religious Liberty’ New York Times 03/25/2016:

Mr. Trump sort of talks the Republican talk on “religious liberty,” which is how the right wing expresses its desire to promote conservative evangelical Protestantism over all other religions. But it’s hard to be sure he truly believes it, since he wasn’t exactly an outspoken Christian until he started running for president.

Mr. Cruz is a hard-core member of the group of Americans whose politics are driven primarily, or even entirely, by their personal religious beliefs. They think these beliefs should be the law of the land, although they always take care to act as though they are simply trying to honor the Constitution’s mandate to protect religious freedom.

And so Mr. Cruz created a “Religious Liberty Advisory Council” to offer suggestions of things he can do as president to protect religious freedom — in other words, to make sure that evangelical Christianity is embedded in government and the law, and that gay Americans and other godless non-believers are dealt with properly [my emphasis].
I often refer back to John Kenneth Galbraith's The Culture of Contentment (1992). In it, he describes the emergence kind of conservative, DLC-style Democratic complacency that Arthur Goldhammer expresses in his article:

Many who vote Democratic, perhaps a majority, are, in fact, strongly committed to the politics of contentment. They are Democrats by local or family tradition. In the South and Southeast especially, but elsewhere as well, they combine inherited and regional attitudes with the economics of personal contentment and are openly known as conservative Democrats. They would vote Republican were there any threat of serious onslaught on the policies of contentment, and many have, in fact, made the transition. This they would all certainly do, were a Democratic presidential candidate to make a concerted political bid for those not similarly favored - those, as a prime example, who live in the desolation of the large inner cities. No action on behalf of the latter-improved welfare payments, more low-income housing, general health care, better schools, drug rehabilitation - could be taken without added public cost, and from this would come the decisive threat of higher taxation. Accordingly, in a dominant Democratic view, reference to such effort must be downplayed or, as necessary, avoided. It looms large in conversation, small in declared intent. Liberals, as they are known, are especially warned: whatever their personal opinion as to the larger well-being or the longer future, they must be practical. If they want to win, they must not invade the community of contentment. Some, and perhaps a considerable number, would feel obliged to desert a candidate strongly committed to the underclass and those now nonparticipant in the electoral system. The shock effect to comfort would even here be too severe. [my emphasis in bold]
It's a sign of some progress that events since 1992 have made it necessary even for a conservative Democratic Presidential candidate like Hillary Clinton to sound for the sake of the primary contest that she's willing to be touch on Wall Street crimes and to try to stop police brutality against unarmed black people.

But Hillary still seems to be the preferred choice of comfortable Democrats who are looking for the government to further comfort them.

One of the things we've seen and heard in this primary year is that Democrats who are content with Hillary express condescension and even contempt for those who prefer Bernie Sanders' New Deal approach. To close with Goldhammer:

We recognize that others with whom we are broadly in sympathy may not share these same instincts, because they do not share our history or are by nature optimists of the will or belong to groups of the like-minded, as we once did, who brighten every glimmer of hope and amplify every expression of support. We know these people. Often they are our children. We admire their fervor and envy their faith, but we ourselves are no longer believers. For some of us, this faithless fate is the mark of a fallen state. That is why they feel “stuck in the middle.”

I don’t. This is where I have ended up, by choice, after much thought. My judgments may be wrong, but they are considered judgments, and I embrace them proudly. By doing so I hope to encourage some of my comrades to shake off their shamefacedness and assert the privilege of age: This is what my life has taught me. You, who have lived a different life, are of course free to disagree.
Yeah, we will.

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