Saturday, March 19, 2016

Progressives and Democrats

Clinton clearly is the "presumptive nominee" at this point. But she hasn't wrapped up the nomination yet.

Sleep Mark Shields and David "Bobo" Brooks provide a safe, conventional wisdom take on the state of the Presidential horserace; the conventional wisdom may be true in this case. Shields and Brooks on blocking Trump, Sanders’ chances and Merrick Garland PBS Newshour 03/18/2016:

Shields does make an observation about the Democratic primaries that may be a little out of step with the present assumption that Clinton will be the nominee and Sanders should be ignored:

Well, again, when you have two candidates in a race, yes, there is always a possibility. I recall rather vividly eight years ago, when she was asked if she was going to get out, and she said, no, anything can happen in a race when there is two people.

Bernie Sanders has run an absolutely exceptional campaign, and continues to do. He has dominated — as Donald Trump has dominated the dialogue and the debate on the Republican side and gotten the attention, he has totally dominated the debate on the Democratic side. He has moved her on trade, on the TPP.

He has moved her on preserving Social Security. She’s now pledged to not touching a single hair on the gray hair on the beautiful head of Social Security. That had been a traditional Democratic sort of moderate position, or new Democrats, that you had to limit entitlements.

So, I mean, Bernie, he is — he has really been the driving force in this campaign. David’s right; 80 percent of voters under the age of 30 supported him in several states. And he came back. You know, I was thinking of Massachusetts, where, in 2008, Barack Obama had the support of Governor Deval Patrick and Ted Kennedy, and he still lost by 15 points to Hillary Clinton.

He almost beat her there. And he’s won a number of states. And what lies ahead, he’s quite confident. So I just — he has four million individual contributions. So, he’s given the party a lot of energy. I don’t think he’s got dreams that he’s going to be the nominee at this point, but I think he’s got — he’s leading a cause.
Sticking with the "horserace" considerations for a moment, I've been a Mugwump on the Clinton-Sanders "electability" issue, though I'm dubious that the national match-ups in the polls don't mean much at this point. Either way, they would to have to give the Democrats reason to turn out in November and have solid get-out-the-vote operations.

My worry on that score with Sanders is that his political experience has largely been in a small state; but then so was Bill Clinton's in 1992. My worry on that score with Hillary is that her campaign might fall into the chronic Democratic temptation to go the "DLC" route and try to sound as conservative as possible for the general election and thereby induce shrugs in Democratic-leaning but not hardcore base voters. There's a good reason that no actual DLC (Democratic Leadership Council, a neoliberal corporate Democratic group) any more.

For what it's worth, the successful Obama for America operation in 2008 headed by Marshall Ganz was much more along the lines of what Bernie is at least describing. Bernie calls it "political revolution" but for 2016 what he obviously means is an energetic GOTV operation for November.

And Marshall is an honest-to-god "Alinskyite."

Will Clinton's campaign put together anything like such a mobilization this year? Anything is possible. But I have my doubts. Clinton's self-framing in her political career has been that of a centrist who can appeal to people who otherwise might vote Republican.

And then there's the dilemma, if members of a party are not going to vote for the candidate they prefer on issues and outlook in the party primaries, when are they going to vote for what they want?

And there are substantial policy differences between Sanders and Clinton.

Sanders favors single-payer national health insurance; Clinton opposes it. Sanders favors tuition-fee education at public colleges and universities; Clinton opposes it. Sanders wants to break up too-big-to-fail banks; Clinton opposes it. Sanders supports a $15/hour minimum wage; Clinton opposes it. Sanders opposes the death penalty; Clinton supports it.

Sanders straightforwardly opposes corporate-deregulation (psuedo-) "trade" traties; Clinton has generally favored them though she claims at the moment to oppose TPP. Sanders wants to increase Social Security benefits; Clinton has made noises in the past about "entitlement reform" (cutting benefits on Social Security and Medicare) though she currently echoes Sanders' position.

And, very importantly, Sanders favors a more peace-oriented foreign policy than Obama's; Clinton almost certainly will pursue a more hawkish one. (See: Jon Schwarz, Hillary Clinton Has Long History of Collaboration With GOP on Foreign Policy 03/13/2016)

Foreign policy hasn't really been discussed much in the Dem primaries except as it relates the candidates' experience. But Bernie is clearly challenging the dominant US foreign policy consensus, in which the current poles of respectable opinion range from neoconservative to liberal interventionist, which is often hard to distinguish in practice from the neocons. Even "realists" are considered fringy by the Very Serious People these days. And that's a big deal for me. Interventions like the one in Libya that Hillary championed as Secretary of State are avoidable disasters that we really should be avoiding. Bernie's foreign policy perspective sounds much closer to "Don't Do Stupid S**t" than Obama's policies have been on the whole.

The Clinton-Sanders contest for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency has produced a notable moment of division and definition between New Keynesian and post-Keynesian economists.

Zach Carter discusses it in the melodramatically and misleadingly titled, The Fight Between Bernie Sanders And Hillary Clinton Is Officially Super Ugly Huffington Post 02/19/2016

To explain the costs and benefits of his Medicare-for-all health care plan, $15-an-hour minimum wage, gender pay equity, increased infrastructure spending and other programs, the Sanders campaign has touted an analysis performed by University of Massachusetts Amherst economist Gerald Friedman.

Earlier this week, four economists — Alan Krueger, Christina Romer, Austan Goolsbee and Laura D’Andrea Tyson — wrote an open letter accusing Friedman of making “extreme claims” in that study that “undermine the credibility of the progressive economic agenda.” Krugman then published multiple blog posts citing the letter as evidence that the Sanders campaign was engaging in “fantasy” and “voodoo.”

The problem with these condemnations, according to former JEC Executive Director James Galbraith, is that none of the economists involved in the fracas actually crunched any numbers to show why Friedman’s study was supposedly such a sham. Galbraith now teaches economics at the University of Texas at Austin.
The text of the February 18 letter is available online.

The asymmetry between the two parties with the Republican Party gone hard right and the Democrats stuck in a corporate-cozy mode won't be broken because the Republicans are currently going full-on Mussolini. Corporate corruption is a more substantive problem than the "framing" problems that George Lakoff has critiqued so well. But the framing or narrative issue is extremely important in its own right. That's why Obama has done such a great service to the real Establishment, the One Percent, by insisting on framing issues year in and year out in Republican terms.

We are still living the dilemma that John Kenneth Galbraith described in The Culture of Contentment (1992):

While in 1988 the top 1 percent of family groups had annual incomes that averaged $617,000 and controlled 13.5 percent of all income before taxes, the top 20 percent lived in conditions of some comfort with $50,000 a year and above. To them accrued 51.8 percent of all income before taxes.

This latter income, or much of it, is, in turn, made relatively secure by a variety of public and private reinforcements - private pension funds, Social Security, publicly and privately sponsored and supported medical care, farm income supports and, very expensively, guarantees against loss because of the failure of financial institutions, banks and the now greatly celebrated savings and loan associations.

The substantial role of the government in subsidizing this well-being deserves more than passing notice. Where the impoverished are concerned ... government support and subsidy are seriously suspect as to need and effectiveness of administration and because of their adverse effect on morals and working morale. This, however, is not true of government support to comparative well-being. By Social Security pensions or their prospect no one is thought damaged, nor, as a depositor, by being rescued from a failed bank. The comparatively affluent can withstand the adverse moral effect of being subsidized and supported by the government; not so the poor.

In past times, the economically and socially fortunate were, as we know, a small minority - characteristically a dominant and ruling handful. They are now a majority, though, as has already been observed, a majority not of all citizens but of those who actually vote. A convenient reference is needed for those so situated and who so respond at the polls. They will be called the Contented Majority, the Contented Electoral Majority or, more spaciously, the Culture of Contentment. There will be adequate reiteration that this does not mean they are a majority of all those eligible to vote. They rule under the rich cloak of democracy, a democracy in which the less fortunate do not participate. Nor does it mean - a most important point - that they are silent in their contentment. They can be, as when this book goes to press, very angry and very articulate about what seems to invade their state of self-satisfaction.
Yes, the elder Galbraith was talking about the One Percent before Occupy Wall Street made it a common and familiar concept meaning much the same as "ruling class" or "ruling elite."

Of course, that situation has not been static for the last 24 years. The concentration of wealth and income has become far more extreme. And the general economic prosperity and opportunities of the majority (the real majority, not just the voting majority) have declined dramatically.

Galbraith also notes:

The first and most general expression of the contented majority is its affirmation that those who compose it are receiving their just deserts. What the individual member aspires to have and enjoy is the product of his or her personal virtue, intelligence and effort. Good fortune being earned or the reward of merit, there is no equitable justification for any action that impairs it - that subtracts from what is enjoyed or might be enjoyed. The normal response to such action is indignation or, as suggested, anger at anything infringing on what is so clearly deserved.
New Keynesian Paul Krugman describes the present-day version of this attitude, now turned more explicitly against the white working class than it was in 1992, in Republican Elite’s Reign of Disdain New York Times 03/18/2016:

Stripped down to its essence, the G.O.P. elite view is that working-class America faces a crisis, not of opportunity, but of values. That is, for some mysterious reason many of our citizens have, as Mr. Ryan puts it, lost “their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.” And this crisis of values, they suggest, has been aided and abetted by social programs that make life too easy on slackers.

The problems with this diagnosis should be obvious. Tens of millions of people don’t suffer a collapse in values for no reason. Remember, several decades ago the sociologist William Julius Wilson argued that the social ills of America’s black community didn’t come out of thin air, but were the result of disappearing economic opportunity. If he was right, you would have expected declining opportunity to have the same effect on whites, and sure enough, that’s exactly what we’re seeing.

Meanwhile, the argument that the social safety net causes social decay by coddling slackers runs up against the hard truth that every other advanced country has a more generous social safety net than we do, yet the rise in mortality among middle-aged whites in America is unique: Everywhere else, it is continuing its historic decline.

But the Republican elite can’t handle the truth. It’s too committed to an Ayn Rand story line about heroic job creators versus moochers to admit either that trickle-down economics can fail to deliver good jobs, or that sometimes government aid is a crucial lifeline. So it ends up lashing out at its own voters when they refuse to buy into that story line.
It's painfully obvious that the contempt directed by the most militant defenders of the established order is even more intense against African-Americans, Latinos and immigrants than it was in 1992.

But I don't share the optimism that Krugman and other Clinton supporters are expressing right now, a view consistent with Clinton's "electability" argument, that a Republican Party with Trump as the Presidential nominee will be an electoral fiasco. Republicans will unite around him. And the media normalization of Trump's behavior is already well under way. And our Democratic President's Both Sides Do It position on the Storm Trumpers' violence isn't helping to mobilize popular opinion against it. (See: Ariel Edwards-Levy, Half The Country Sees ‘Fascist Undertones’ In Donald Trump’s Campaign: New Survey 03/19/2016)

Meanwhile, Democratic turnout is critical. Part of Obama's successful general election campaign in 2008 involved turning out younger voters at a higher rate than usual. Bobo and Shields note that Sanders has shown definite appeal to younger voters:

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think the Democratic side is even more ironed shut down than the Republican side.

I think she’s on a march. And she got has nearly twice the number of delegates he has got. And she’s just been very solid in her demographics. Now, she’s amazingly weak outside of her demographics. Among young people, he’s getting like 80 percent in some states. It’s amazing.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: And among minorities, she’s very solid. Among middle class, among moderate Democratic voters, she’s very solid and she’s holding her people.

And I think that is what is frustrating for Sanders. She’s a fox [sic], and he’s a hedgehog. She knows a lot of things. He knows one thing and he keeps repeating it and repeating it. He doesn’t adjust tactics. He doesn’t shift. He’s just doing that thing.

And so that thing wins over a certain demographic, young people and the left, but there just aren’t enough of those people to knock her off. And so I think she’s looking — she’s sitting very pretty now.
But the ability of the Democrats to get younger voters to the polls in key states could make a critical difference in November.

Joe Stiglitz reminds us that there is a generation gap in voting behavior and outlook among younger voters: The New Generation Gap Project Syndicate 03/16/2016:

While today’s older generation encountered bumps along the way, for the most part, their expectations were met. They may have made more on capital gains on their homes than from working. They almost surely found that strange, but they willingly accepted the gift of our speculative markets, and often gave themselves credit for buying in the right place at the right time.

Today, the expectations of young people, wherever they are in the income distribution, are the opposite. They face job insecurity throughout their lives. On average, many college graduates will search for months before they find a job – often only after having taken one or two unpaid internships. And they count themselves lucky, because they know that their poorer counterparts, some of whom did better in school, cannot afford to spend a year or two without income, and do not have the connections to get an internship in the first place.

Today’s young university graduates are burdened with debt – the poorer they are, the more they owe. So they do not ask what job they would like; they simply ask what job will enable them to pay their college loans, which often will burden them for 20 years or more. Likewise, buying a home is a distant dream.
And he observes, "These three realities – social injustice on an unprecedented scale, massive inequities, and a loss of trust in elites – define our political moment, and rightly so."

The Bill Clinton strategy that won over enough of the contented majority in 1992 was approaching an electorate in many ways qualitatively different than that of 2016. And Trump has a demagogic appeal that may mobilize the Republican base and attract actual swing voters. I doubt very seriously that the Sanders voters in the caucuses and primaries will actually flip to Trump, as some of the Clinton camp have been suggesting in their eagerness to stigmatize Sanders and his supporters. But turning them out to the polls in sufficient numbers is another question. Can she convince them that Obama's Third Term is that exciting a prospect?

Eric Sasson makes a stab at arguing that Clinton appeals to voters who sound suspiciously like Kenneth Galbraith's "contented majority" in Who Is the Hillary Voter? The New Republic 03/18/2016:

An examination of Clinton voters and their motivations might reveal that the narrative that most media outlets have been feeding us this election cycle is dubious at best. Because if the biggest vote-getter of either party is Hillary—by a large margin—then that suggests the electorate is not necessarily as angry as pundits claim. It further suggests that perhaps some people are tired of hearing about how angry they are, and are quietly asserting their opinions at the ballot box. If Democrats are so angry, Clinton would not be in the position she is today. Is it really so farfetched to claim that quite a few Democrats aren’t voting for Sanders precisely because he seems angry? Which isn’t to suggest that people aren’t angry—certainly many Republican primary voters seem to be. Rather, it is to suggest that voters who aren’t angry are still showing up at the polls, despite being ignored in news stories.
But I don't think it's ever a good year for Democrats to campaign on smug overconfidence. And if the Democrats are serious about taking back the Senate and the House as they should be this year, avoiding it is even more critical. Using "electability" as such a key part of her campaign may be having the effect of encouraging just that kind of overconfidence in her admirers. Hopefully, her actual campaign operation doesn't succumb to it if she wins the the nomination.

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