Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Postmortems on the Clinton Era and Hillary 2016 Presidential loss

Kathleen Geier says her goodbyes to the Clinton Era in The Clintons’ Dominance of Democratic Politics Is Over—And They Will Not Be Remembered Fondly In These Times 11/28/2016. Her perspective is one that is familiar in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, pointing to how the neoliberalism in politics and economics that so heavily influenced both Bill and Hillary have left the Democratic Party at the unpleasant moment in which it now finds itself.

I think of the issues raised by the election outcome in three broad categories: the social context, strategic and tactical approaches, and organizational ones.

Geier's fifth point falls into the organizational area, the fallout from from the Obama/Hillary/Debbie Wasserman-Schultz policy of neglecting to build and support the Democratic Party organization in all parts of the country:

Theda Skocpol has cited another factor in Clinton’s loss: the Democrats' lack of organizational infrastructure in non-urban areas. The GOP has a strong organizational base in these regions, including get-out-the-vote efforts run by the Christian right, the NRA, the Koch organizations, and the Republican Party itself. But the Dems have let their own party organizations wither on the vine, and the unions which were once the Democrats’ stronghold in the critical Rust Belt region have declined dramatically. When it comes to getting voters to the polls in rural areas, the Democrats are now at a tremendous structural disadvantage. To be sure, this a party-wide, rather than a Clinton-only, failure. But Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama bear strong responsibility here. Each them served for two terms but showed little interest in building the party.
This observation touches both the strategic messaging of the Hillary Clinton campaign this year and the broader economic conditions:

In [a] stroke of bitter poetic justice, the fruits of Clintons' own long-ago policies came back to haunt them. NAFTA and other Clinton “free” trade deals devastated the Rust Belt and created the ravaged communities and the despair that compelled many working class voters in those areas pull the lever for the despicable Trump.

A post-election report by the pollster Stanley Greenberg confirms that Clinton's decision to shun a progressive economic appeal was a fatal error. Greenberg found that “polls showed fairly resilient support with white working class women, until the Clinton campaign stopped talking about economic change.” When the Greenberg team tested a Democratic message attacking Trump for his character vs. a message “demanding big economic changes” and attacking Trump for “supporting for trickle-down and protecting corporate special interests,” they found that the economic message “performed dramatically better,” particularly among key voter groups like millennials, white unmarried women and white working class women.
I'm not persuaded by the simple assertion that trade deals as such "devatated the Rust Belt," etc. Isolating the effects of trade on employment is complicated because so many factors are interacting. Even left-leaning economists who emphasize the problems of unemployment, underemployment and the growth of inequality like New Keynesian Paul Krugman and post-Keynesian Jamie Galbraith caution about blaming trade in physical goods as the main culprit in de-industrialization.

There are real problems with the so-called trade treaties like TTIP and TPP. But those problems mainly lie in their deregulation provisions, especially the destabilizing effects of removing restrictions of transfers of capital, which is a whole different animal from trade in goods. And even the clearest negative effects of international trade in goods in the United States are part of a larger context of neoliberal policies of privatization, restrictions and reductions on public services, severe neglect of public infrastructure and an economic ideology that drastically de-emphasizes or opposes public policies aimed at supporting employment. This is coupled with an unrealistic policy assumption that education will counteract the effects of declining industrial employment by equipping people for different kinds of jobs, at the same time that access to higher education is becoming more and more expensive and student debt itself has become not only a major burden for individuals but a significant drag on economic growth.

"Trade" treaties like NAFTA, TPP and TTIP have become a symbol of the much broader and very real problems caused by neoliberalism.

An accompanying article in In These Times by Susan Douglas reflects on how gender may have affected the Presidential election outcome, The Woman Who Might Have Been President 11/28/2016:

But can we please remember this: In 2015, Hillary Clinton was listed by Gallup, for a record 20th time, as the woman Americans admired most. So we must come to terms with this sad fact, as Penn State professor Terri Vescio put it, “The more female politicians are seen as striving for power, the less they’re trusted and the more moral outrage gets directed at them.” Not all Trump voters are misogynists, but sexism played a role in his victory, as evidenced, in part, by all the Trump regalia calling Hillary a “bitch.”

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