Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Democrats in 2018: are we looking at "2006" - or "2002"?

There are many different perspectives from which to view the political world. It would be preferable if all of them were working from the same set of facts. Though in American politics, that seems an awful lot to ask these days.

I suppose that's part of why the postmodern idea that we don't really know things in the world, we just agree on a common "narrative" to talk about them, has been very tempting to academics in the liberal arts for several decades. The Republicans in particular have gotten adapt at starting a new narrative one day and dropping it a day or two later.

Josh Marshall invoked the "post-modern" comparison with the Cheney-Bush Administration back in 2003 (Joshua Micah Marshall, The Post-Modern President Washington Monthly Sept 2003; via unz.com):
That’s when the unverifiable assertion comes in handy. Many of the administration's policy arguments have amounted to predictions - tax cuts will promote job growth, Saddam is close to having nukes, Iraq can be occupied with a minimum of US. manpower - that most experts believed to be wrong, but which couldn’t be definitely disproven until events played out in the future. In the midst of getting those policies passed, the administration’s main obstacle has been the experts themselves - the economists who didn’t trust the budget projections, the generals who didn’t buy the mop estimates, intelligence analysts who questioned the existence of an active nuclear weapons program in Iraq. That has created a strong incentive to delegitimize the experts-a task that comes particularly easy to the revisionists who drive Bush administration policy. They tend to see experts as guardians of the status quo, who seek to block any and all change, no matter how necessary, and whose views are influenced and corrupted by the agendas and mindsets of their agencies. Like orthodox Marxists who pick apart mainstream economics and anthropology as the creations of “bourgeois ideology” or Frenchified academic post-modernists who “deconstruct” knowledge in a similar fashion, revisionist ideologues seek to expose “the facts” as nothing more than the spin of experts blinded by their own unacknowledged biases. The Bush administration’s bêtes noire aren’t patriarchy, racism, and homophobia, but establishmentarianism, big-government liberalism, and what they see as pervasive foreign policy namby-panbyism. For them, ignoring the experts and their “facts”is not only necessary to advance their agenda, but a virtuous effort in the service of a higher cause.
This is yet another reminder that spectacular dishonesy and policy recklessness are certainly not new to Donald Trump. And conservatives like Butcher's Bill Kristol and Max Boot who now are wringly their hands over what a threat Trumpism is to democratic institutions in the US were happy cheerleaders for the Cheney-Bush version of it.

But the continuing radicalization of the Republican Party is only one part of the story. In the US and in Europe, the collapse of the center-left parties in many ways are also contributing to the decline of democratic institutions.

One sign of that decline was how leading Democrats of 2002-3 voted for the Iraq War, including Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, then-Majority Leader Tom Daschle, future Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV), future Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Tom Harkin (IA), and Joe Liberman (of course!), among others. For the full rogue's gallery, see Roll Call Vote 107th Congress-2nd Session/On the Joint Resolution (H.J.Res. 114) US Senate; Gaius Publius, The Iraq War: Who voted for it, why you should still care (hint: Iran) AmericaBlog 03/20/2013.

The title of the Gaius Publius post from 2013 is still relevant, expecially with professional warmonger John Bolton becoming National Security Adviser. (Susan Glasser, ‘It’s very difficult to overestimate the potential danger John Bolton could put us in’ Politico EU 03/26/2018)

And we had a Senate vote on American contributions to the Saudi Arabia/UAE war against Yemen with its hideous humanitarian repercussions just this month. The vote was over A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.

The vote was over whether to table (postpone consideration) of the resolution, so the "No" votes in the Roll Call Vote are votes in favor of the resolution. Ten Democratic Senators voting with Trump and the Republicans for war:

1 Chris Coons (D-DE)
2 Caatherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)
3 Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
4 Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
5 Doug Jones (D-AL)
6 Joe Manchin (D-WV)
7 Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
8 Bill Nelson (D-FL)
9 Jack Reed (D-RI)
10 Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

It's especially discouraging to see Doug Jones in that list, especially after he threw in with Trump and the Republicans on another important vote recently on bank deregulation.

After his close race in the special election last year against Troglodyte Roy Moore. That victory was made possible by unusually high turnout among the Democratic base. Sadly, he seems to be tempted to go the time-worn on largely failed Blue Dog Dem path, in which he kicks his own voters in the teeth in order to show his "moderation." Democratic "moderation" in 2018 is a concept that just has no equivalent in the Republican Party right now.

ConservaDems don't have to face primary challengers or third parties to lose to Republicans. All they need is a significant fraction of the Democratic base to just now show up and vote on Election Day.

One of the critical problems in the Democrats' now-smug confidence that November will produce a wave election in their favor is war. War tends to make Presidents more popular in the short run. The Cheney-Bush Administration staged a vote on the Iraq War just before the 2002 midterms, allowing them to wrap themselves in patriotism and jingoism, simultaneously striking a pose as more reliable on national security than the Democrats and dividing the Democrats, who then looked weak to everybody. To Republicans, because some of them voted against the illegal invasion of Iraq. To the Democratic base, because leading Democrats looked weak by not making a solid stand against Cheney and they defied their base's strong opposition to the war.

And how did that work out for the Democrats? I'll let David Beckwith explain for the trusty Britannica Online (The U.S. 2002 Midterm Elections 2002, 2005):

The 2002 midterm elections proved that no generality in American politics was absolute. Although a first-term president’s party had not gained ground in midterm elections since 1934, Republicans in 2002 increased their narrow margins in the U.S. House and regained control of the U.S. Senate with Pres. George W. Bush taking the point.

Though Democrats were perceived to have had the advantage early in the year as concerns over the sluggish national economy and a declining stock market unsettled voters, Bush’s conduct regarding the “war on terrorism” was widely supported. Democrats were generally supportive of that effort and had attempted to remove security as an issue by focusing public attention on domestic issues, such as the establishment of a prescription drug benefit for senior citizens, the provision of additional federal help for education, and a slower phase-in period for Bush’s 2001 tax-cut plan. [my emphasis; internal links omitted]
A war with Iran would be a worse disaster than the Iraq War. A war with Korea would be a bigger disaster than both. But Trump does understand professional-wrestling type melodrama for television.

And despite the rhetorical commitment to being the Resistance - "resistance plus persistence" in Hillary Clinton's version - so far in 2018 alone we've seen the Democrats cave on the Yemen war, cave on bank deregulation, cave on the Dreamers. And we've seen the Democratic Party establishment push hard to get some progressive challengers out of primary races in favor of "safe" candidates who will continue the standard dependence on wealthy corporate donors.

I had previously worried that we might be looking at a "2006" this year, in which Democrats did have a midterm wave election and then foolishly decided to coast for another two years. Or at least the establishment did. It's hard to remember after eight years of Barack Obama pursuing his Grand Bargain to cut Social Security and Medicare that he ran a progressive insurgent style campaign in 2007-8, relying on a community organizing model with his Obama for America group led by experienced United Farm Workers organizer Marshall Ganz. (Ethan Porter, Why David Sometimes Wins In These Times 07/17/2009)

Now I'm started to worry that we could be looking at a "2002" election.

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