Browsing the archives for the big picture stuff category.


The Winds of Change Are, Unfortunately, Blowing Over a Garbage Dump

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American History, Bad Hair, big picture stuff, Hillary Clinton, Republican Party

Matt Taibbi:

The first symptom of a degraded aristocracy is a lack of capable candidates for the throne. After years of indulgence, ruling families become frail, inbred and isolated, with no one but mystics, impotents and children to put forward as kings. Think of Nikolai Romanov reading fortunes as his troops starved at the front. Weak princes lead to popular uprisings. Which brings us to this year’s Republican field.

There wasn’t one capable or inspiring person in the infamous “Clown Car” lineup. All 16 of the non-Trump entrants were dunces, religious zealots, wimps or tyrants, all equally out of touch with voters. Scott Walker was a lipless sadist who in centuries past would have worn a leather jerkin and thrown dogs off the castle walls for recreation. Marco Rubio was the young rake with debts. Jeb Bush was the last offering in a fast-diminishing hereditary line. Ted Cruz was the Zodiac Killer. And so on.

There’s a lot of talk about whether the Republicans can survive. Clearly, it’s not on its deathbed yet. But reading more of Taibbi, I do wonder what it will survive as. Here he’s describing the Paul Ryan-led rally in Wisconsin from which Trump was dis-invited:

The party schism burst open in the middle of a speech by Wisconsin’s speaker of the State Assembly, Robin Vos. Vos is the Billy Mays of state budget hawks. He’s a mean-spirited little ball of energy who leaped onto the stage reminding the crowd that he wanted to eliminate the office of the treasurer to SAVE YOU MONEY!

Vos went on to brag about having wiped out tenure for University of Wisconsin professors, before dismounting with yet another superawkward Trumpless call for Republicans to turn out to vote.

“I have no doubt that with all of you standing behind us,” he shouted, “and with the fantastic record of achievement that we have, we’re going to go on to an even bigger and better victory than before!”

There was scattered applause, then someone from the crowd called out:

“You uninvited Donald Trump!”

Boos and catcalls, both for and against Vos and the Republicans. Most in the crowd were Trump supporters, but others were angry with Trump for perhaps saddling them with four years of Hillary Clinton. These camps now battled it out across the field. A competing chant of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” started on the opposite end of the stands, only to be met by chants from the pro-Trumpers.

“We want Trump! We want Trump!” “U-S-A! U-S-A!”

Ryan, the last speaker, tried to cut the tension with a leaden joke about the “elephant in the room.” But he still refused to speak Trump’s name, or do more than refer the crowd to a written statement. He just smiled like it was all OK, and talked about what a beautiful day it was.

The threat of a Trump insurgency to the GOP might be mitigated if the GOP had even one strong, respected figurehead for the party to rally around. Alas, all they’ve got is Paul Ryan and John McCain.

My guess is that the Trump faithful might very well split off and form their own party, which in the U.S. is usually the first step toward political irrelevance. But if the worst of the whackjobs follow Trump into eventual oblivion, taking the red-meat-only base with them, it could allow the remaining Republican mainstream to move back toward the center again. Which would be a good thing, in the long run. Maybe they’ll even taken an interest in the governing thing.

 But then you’ve got the Democratic Party, which also is being run by out-of-touch aristocrats. The Wikileaks emails show us that even Clinton’s campaign staff worried their candidate had no compelling reason to run.

The correspondence reveals a campaign that has struggled all year to improve a flawed candidate. As far back as March, aides were keenly aware that she was resistant to the media, perhaps out of touch with regular Americans and unable to convey a clear message to voters.

A month before Clinton launched her campaign, her aides worked to corral her well-known love for granular policy details into a message that would both capture her agenda and present a forward-looking, aspirational vision for her presidency.

Nearly a year later, a similar struggle cropped up as they attempted to revise her core campaign message.

“Do we have any sense from her what she believes or wants her core message to be?” asked Clinton adviser Joel Benenson. . . .

. . . .Seven months later and on the cusp of Election Day, the concerns laid out in these emails and others largely remain. Clinton has proven to be a lackluster candidate who has struggled to win over the liberals who gravitated to Sanders during the primary, and who remains ahead in large part due to Trump’s historic weaknesses.

“Right now I am petrified that Hillary is almost totally dependent on Republicans nominating Trump,” Brent Budowsky, a political columnist and former political adviser, wrote in a March 2016 email to Podesta and Roy Spence, an ad maker for the campaign. “She has huge endemic political weaknesses that she would be wise to rectify.”

The electorate is roiling with a desire for change, and the Democratic nominee had no clue.

In our alarm and loathing of Donald Trump, we must not lose sight of how Hillary Clinton came to be the Democratic nominee.

The answer: we live in a moribund democracy, not a thriving one.  A conjunction of corporate political power and immense wealth is forcibly installing a president.  We haven’t confronted this before, either.  We will cast our ritual ballots in November, but not in a free election: the Democratic nominee was imposed upon us by the corporate and the wealthy.

That’s a strong charge, but as I’ve written in the past, that’s pretty much what happened. The Democratic Party itself made sure there was  no real contest. The Clinton nomination was a done deal long before the primaries even began. But why was it so important to her to run, given that she has no real central message or agenda other than “I am competent”? That’s the part that remains baffling to me. Personal ambition is the only answer I can think of, and that’s not a good answer. It wouldn’t be a good answer for a male candidate, either.

Anyway, in short, the Democratic Party itself doesn’t trust its voters to choose the “right” nominee. The GOP has the opposite problem; it lost all control of the nomination process. Neither development is healthy.

IMO the Dems are roughly in the same place the GOP came to be in the 1990s and 2000, when the party was able to dictate who the nominee would be, and got away with knocking down the competition without too much grumbling. The Powers That Be in the GOP obviously had settled on George W. Bush as the standard bearer shortly after Bob Dole’s defeat in 1996, and they spent the next four years skillfully puffing Dubya up. And during the primaries, you could practically see the RNC’s thumb on the scale to be sure Dubya was the one left standing. (And how did Bob Dole get to be the nominee? I can’t believe that was a popular choice.) Well, now it’s the DNC forcing the pre-ordained candidate on the rest of us.

Eventually, people do notice when they’re being used. I heard a talking head on MSNBC this morning say that about 40 percent of Americans don’t think the presidential election process is legitimate, and this sentiment is spread across the political spectrum. Distrusting the legitimacy of elections has been a problem for a while, though. Republicans tried their best to delegitimize Bill Clinton’s presidency, for example, in part by blaming Ross Perot. They tried to delegitimize Barack Obama by claiming he only won because he was black — he was the cute novelty candidate, apparently.

Of course, in 2000 when George W. Bush was selected rather than elected, Democrats went along for the sake of tradition, or to keep Democracy alive, or something. That was a mistake.

Once you’ve seen the man behind the curtain, the old myths and buzzwords lose their force. As much as I look forward to seeing the Great Orange Sleazebag have his ass handed to him on election night, I’m not kidding myself that Hillary Clinton will be the president we need right now. She might surprise me, but I don’t think she’s got it in her to surprise me. The best we can hope for is that she’ll not completely renege on trying to pass the Democratic platform.

Going back to the Republicans — I believe the party will survive, but the Trump insurgency will force it to change. The mob of Faux Nooz viewers and Rusho dittoheads they have counted on to believe their bullshit and vote R will likely desert them for a long time, or at least a couple of election cycles. This might well force them to have to broaden their base, which means they will have to offer something besides hate. They might even have to start making sense. Radical, I know, but stranger things have happened.

But if Republicans change, Democrats will have to change also. They might have to stop being The Party That Isn’t as Awful as That Other Party and actually stand for something. Imagine.

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The Can’t-Do Nation

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big picture stuff

Recently I’ve seen a lot of essays and comments on the glories of pragmatic, incremental change. I’ve even seen social media commenters saying that the U.S. has always been a nation of slow, incremental change.

Which, of course, is bullshit. If anything we are a nation that does things in fits and starts. We will sometimes ride the status quo for awhile, but then when we take a notion to change, we can create big change pretty durn fast.

Or, at least, we used to.  We’ve been in something of a long rut of can’t-do, I admit. But it’s nonsense to say that’s always the way things have been in the U.S.

Let’s just look, for example, at the Progressive Era, which began in 1890 with the passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Along with massive amounts of business reform that accelerated when Teddy Roosevelt had anything to say about it, this era also saw the rise of labor unions. Congress passed the first Food and Drug Act in 1906, created the Department of Labor in 1911, and ratified the Sixteenth (income taxes) AND Seventeenth (direct election of Senators) Amendments in 1913. The Eighteenth (prohibition) and Nineteenth (women’s suffrage) Amendments were both ratified in 1919. And those were just the high points. There were countless other laws and regulations passed on both state and national levels that impacted just about everyone in fundamental ways. And while this was going on people were switching over from horses to automobiles and acquiring electricity and telephones.

The Prohibition thing didn’t work out so well, but it was a lot of change — in government, in culture, in technology. Of course many of the laws, such as the antitrust laws, were revised over time, but the initial laws were not exactly tweaks. Many of these changes were transformative, not incremental, change. I talk about the difference below.

Do we need to review the stuff that happened during the New Deal? Do we?  And then think about the 1950s and 1960s. We went to the freaking moon, people. The Civil Rights movement brought about massive changes in our culture pretty quickly because people stood up and said, we gotta change. Not, we gotta change some day.

It seems to me that from the mid-1970s on, we shut down and decided we couldn’t do big change any more. The single Big Thing that has happened is computers and the technology that flowed from that. The Cold War ended, for which some of us took credit, but it really wasn’t our doing, exactly.

In the 1930s we built the Hoover Dam. Now we can’t even fix potholes. Atrios wrote last week,

Infrastructure price tags always sound like huge unthinkable numbers. ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS. And it is true that it is hard for state and local governments to come up with that kind of money. For the federal government it is chump change, even leaving aside some more creative ways of paying for it.

Once upon a time the US really was ahead of basically every other country in the world. It was shiny and new. We had shiny new highways, our cities weren’t bombed out by wars (though we did a pretty good job subsequently at destroying them ourselves), lower middle class people had things like refrigerator/freezers and cars, and potable water coming out of the tap was the norm. Things were clean. We had nice affordable hospitals. It was an understandable symbol of progress, of modernity.

Now much of the world has those things, along with in some cases some things are more humane and appealing. I don’t think Trump is really talking about BUILD MORE SUPERTRAIN TUNNELS when he says “make America great again,” but it is the case that the country isn’t shiny and new like it was. The Reagan era made nice things, even fixing nice things, unpossible for going on 40 years now. Something has to change.

 Lots of stuff has to change. Oh, but we’re not supposed to do BIG all-at-once change. We have to pragmatic little baby-step change. And while baby steps are better than nothing, there’s nothing inherently virtuous about baby steps. Baby steps are what you do from a position of weakness. Baby steps are what you do when there’s resistance and you lack the means to do big steps.

But we actually have the means to do big steps. We just don’t have the will.

What’s the difference between transformative and incremental change? A definition of transformative change is change that takes us in a new direction, and isn’t just a new variation of what was already happening. One article I found  used music as an example — the invention of musical recording was a transformative change that impacted behaviors like concert attendance and the piano and sheet music industries. However, the invention of cassette tapes over vinyl was an incremental change.

Another article defined incrementalism as a kind of resilience. These are changes that allow us to adapt to conditions as they are. Transformative change, of course changes the conditions.  I think that’s important. It’s not just about whether the change is fast or slow, or whether it’s done in stages or all at once. Is it adapting to prevailing conditions, or is it changing prevailing conditions?

For example, since the 2008 crash nothing transformative has happened to the financial sector. All that was done was just to allow us to survive and adapt to the  monstrosity the financial sector has become. Global climate change calls out for transformative instead of incremental, but so far we’re barely managing incremental. The ACA works, yes, but it’s another example of a mostly incremental change rather than a transformative one. We can say it’s a BIG incremental change, but it’s mostly an adaptation that allows more people to get insurance rather than a real transformation of our health care delivery system.

Incremental change is sometimes just foot dragging. It’s making things work just a little longer, until it can’t be made to work any more. It’s used to keep us placated so the transformative change we really want can be postponed.

Sometimes adaptations to conditions are fine; if conditions are not that bad, or are probably temporary, maybe a few tweaks are all we need. But we’ve gotten into a rut in which we’re told all we will ever get are tweaks.  That’s been doing on way too long.

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The Great Democratic Party Schism

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American History, big picture stuff, Democratic Party, liberalism and progressivism, Sanders and Clinton

In all my years of being a voter I don’t think I’ve ever felt so alienated from the Democratic Party as I do now. In some ways, this year has been worse than 2008.

It has struck me for some time that the Clinton and Sanders supporters are not only disagreeing; we’re speaking different languages. We’re approaching the campaign with entirely different sets of assumptions and values. For this reason, it has been impossible to communicate with each other.

And, frankly, I don’t think this is some temporary blow-up that will be soothed over by Fall, for next year, or ever.

I already tried to explain some of this rift through Moral Foundation Theory (“The Clinton-Sanders Divide and Moral Foundation Theory“) without realizing that real social science types had done a more researched analysis already. See “The Moral Foundations of the Presidential Primaries.” There’s also a somewhat dumbed-down version of this with less detail at Vox.

If you don’t remember Moral Foundation Theory, it basically is an analysis of the moral values and assumptions we carry around in our subconscious that causes us to make the political and moral judgments that we make. If you want to understand how Sanders and Clinton supporters differ, see this chart:

The colored bars that show positive or negative values represent six moral foundations, and you can see a stark difference between the two groups. An explanation of the colored bars, left to right:

  • Blue: Care/Harm – Being kind, nurturing and protective of other people.
  • Green: Fairness/Cheating, or Proportionality/”just deserts” – Treating people in proportion to their actions. The authors of the study say that in this case, “Sanders supporters also stands apart from Clinton’s supporters (and libertarians), in rating proportionality much less relevant to their moral judgments. This aligns with Sanders’ proposing greater expansions of government social welfare programs and higher taxes on the wealthy in comparison to Clinton.”
  • Orange: Liberty/Oppression – Individual liberty and protection from tyranny.
  • Red: Loyalty/Betrayal – Being patriotic and loyal to one’s group, family and nation.
  • Purple: Authority/Subversion – Respecting leadership, tradition and authority.
  • Gray: Sanctity/Degradation – Living in an elevated way and avoiding disgusting things, foods and actions; placing a high value on “traditional” sexual mores, for example.

In most Moral Foundations texts I’ve read, these six values also measure liberalism/conservatism, as shown on this graph:

The graph leaves out the “liberty” value for some reason, but you get the picture — liberals and conservatives value different things. And Clinton supporters appear to be more conservative, as a group, than Sanders supporters.

In particular the difference shown in the red, purple and gray bars has been really evident. Clinton supporters place much higher value on loyalty to the Democratic Party and to their candidate than Sanders supporters. I keep hearing Clinton supporters say of Sanders  “He’s not a real Democrat,” as if this was a trump card; but to Sanders supporters this is meaningless. Recently Clinton supporters have been shocked because Sanders has not been immediately forthcoming with an endorsement of Clinton, never mind that the primaries aren’t over. Clinton supporters also score much higher in authoritarianism and “sanctity” than Sanders supporters (although not nearly as high as most Republicans).

Reaction to this video reveals a lot. It’s like a Rorschach test. Sanders supporters (like me) basically heard Clinton brush us off as inconsequential maggots unworthy of her consideration. Clinton supporters were furious that Sanders is not jumping through the usual party loyalty hoops. But, as I’ve explained elsewhere, even if he did endorse Clinton that’s no guarantee his supporters would transfer their support to her. See above about authoritarianism; Sanders supporters aren’t wired that way.

And somewhere in here we might find the answer to the mystery of why African American voters so heavily favored Hillary Clinton, which makes absolutely no sense to me given her record. I’ve yet to hear an explanation that made sense, other than that black voters don’t think Sanders is electable. My hypothesis is that African Americans on the whole score more conservatively on the Moral Foundations scale, which would make them predisposed to favor Clinton, but I don’t know that for a fact.

But here is another chart to consider:

I picked this up from “Bernie Sanders Is (Still) the Future of the Democratic Party” by Matt Yglesias. The Clinton campaign has been trying — fairly successfully — to frame the Democratic contest as between white men and everybody else. But that’s a plain lie. It’s between younger voters and older voters. This data is from February; I understand that in the more recent primaries Sanders’s numbers have improved among young nonwhite voters to be at about the 50 percent mark.

And I say Democrats ignore this at their peril.

Much of Sanders’s support grew out of a long-simmering frustration with the Democratic Party itself. But a lot of us old folks stuck with it, because we remember what it used to be. (See “Why the Democratic Party Is in Bigger Trouble Than It Realizes.”) But the young folks don’t remember JFK or even Jimmy Carter. They are frustrated that neither party represents their point of view.

Quoting Matt Yglesias,

Hillary Clinton’s campaign — and, frankly, many DC journalists — has been repeatedly taken by surprise by the potency of some of Sanders’s attacks, because they apply to such a broad swath of the party. But this is precisely the point. Sanders and his youthful supporters want the Democrats to be a different kind of party: a more ideological, more left-wing one.

As Clinton put it in the most recent debate, “Under [Sanders’s] definition, President Obama is not progressive because he took donations from Wall Street; Vice President Biden is not progressive because he supported Keystone [the pipeline]; Sen. Shaheen is not progressive because she supports the trade pact. Even the late, great Sen. Paul Wellstone would not fit this definition because he voted for DOMA.”

To Clinton, Democrats are the party of progressives, and so stuff that Democrats routinely do is, by definition, compatible with being progressive.

But though Democrats are certainly the more left-wing of the two parties — the party of labor unions and environment groups and feminist organizations and the civil rights movement — they’re not an ideologically left-wing party in the same way that Republicans are an ideological conservative one. Instead, they behave more like a centrist, interest group brokerage party that seeks to mediate between the claims and concerns of left-wing activists groups and those of important members of the business community — especially industries like finance, Hollywood, and tech that are based in liberal coastal states and whose executives generally espouse a progressive outlook on cultural change.

Sanders’s core proposition, separate from the details of the political revolution, is that for progressives to win they need to first organize and dominate an ideologically left-wing political party that is counterpoised to the ideological right-wing Republican Party.

It’s gotten so that when we use the words liberal and progressive we don’t mean the same things by them.  As Yglesias says, the more conservative Clinton supporters consider themselves to be “liberal” because they are Democrats, as if “Democrat” and “liberal” were synonyms, even though they might score as centrist or conservative on the Moral Foundation measure. In their minds, electing Hillary Clinton would be “revolutionary” and “progressive” because she’s a woman, never mind that she’s the insider’s insider and the Queen of the establishment.  To them, because they are liberal on social issues they are completely progressive, even if they are utterly unconcerned about income and wealth inequality and wouldn’t know Thomas Piketty from Tyler Perry.

Jeffrey Feldman thinks that the biggest cause of the Great Schism is class consciousness. I’m not sure it was really the healthcare debate that created this shift, but here is what he says:

… some version of economic class consciousness began sweeping through the Democratic Party in that debate on healthcare. That debate from 2009 focused people on the idea that policy was controlled by an elite class that has emerged in the neoliberal global economy. In prior class consciousness debates, this elite class might just have been called “capitalists,” but in the post-2009 version, it has become associated with something called the “Davos crowd” or just “Davos,” meaning: the group of powerful, wealthy, jet-setters who attend the Swiss economic summit and others like it, who believe in the free market ideology of globalized neoliberalism, and who are able to command virtually unlimited resources.

These figures exist in both parties. The healthcare debate, however, led many in the Democratic Party to rethink the basic dualism of the American political landscape. It was in that 2009 healthcare debate that many Democrats began to see themselves as engaged in a battle more urgent than the thousand year struggle against Republicans: a battle against the Davos crowd for control of “our” party.

…What happened in this Presidential primary between Sanders and Clinton is that the dynamic of the single issue debate–which led to new awareness of intra-party struggle in 2009–was elevated to a much broader debate by refocusing on the financial sector as a whole.

Now, more and more people underwent the same transformation because the arguments about the control of big finance over politics and government seemed clearer or more convincing. This was coupled with the clearest contrast to date of this kind of problem being described since 2009: a top tier candidate who went from having Middle Class wealth to having money on part with the Davos crowd almost entirely by accumulating honoraria from the Davos crowd. And this clear example gave Sanders a unique power in the Democratic Party: his explaining the problem in the Party–which journalists had been pointing out–suddenly had the power to reach a vast audience via an ongoing national campaign–and to turn him into a transformative figure.

In my experience, this issue with global corporatism or predatory capitalism or the “Davos crowd” or whatever you want to call it is not on the radar of most Clinton supporters at all. I never see them address it. They’re stuck in thinking about technocratic answers to particular problems, not about any sort of sweeping change to the status quo.  They’re in love with the word “pragmatism,” which in effect means ignoring the big problems while focusing on tweaking the little ones. And, unfortunately, a lot of the Sanders supporters on social media do not articulate this well beyond calling Clinton names like “corporate whore,” which really isn’t that accurate. So there’s no real exchange of concerns, just name-calling.

A lot of what’s happening in this primary season is the result of the abandonment by both parties of working-class Americans. Even more than that, it’s the abandonment by both parties of youth. All the meanness and greed and tight-fistedness and corporate-centric values are hitting them hardest of all. In today’s America, young people are a resource to be exploited, not invested in. And among the student loans, unpaid internships, disappearance of blue-collar jobs, on-demand and other insecure and exploitative employment, they are feeling the effects of global corporatism/predatory capitalism more intensely than us old folks.

And, rightly, they’re getting pissed. Sanders gets them. Clinton doesn’t. They know that all they’re going to get from her is tweaks and platitudes, and it terrifies them.

And they are pissed.

Unfortunately, you can get cats to march in formation before you can get young liberals focused on any kind of directed, disciplined long game.  Right now they’re all over social media planning a third-party run for Sanders (often with the People’s Front of Judea Green Party), which would be stupid on several levels, and which I am confident he will not do. The way forward is in taking over the Dem party at all levels, replacing the neoliberals and centrists with actual progressives. It will take a few election cycles (I keep making this speech every few years), but it’s do-able if people can work together to do it.

Otherwise, we may be looking at the Democratic Party’s last hoorah. I hate to think what rough beast might take its place.

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Why the Democratic Party Is in Bigger Trouble Than It Realizes

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American History, big picture stuff, Democratic Party, liberalism and progressivism, Obama Administration, Sanders and Clinton, self-destruction

Regarding the perpetual complaint that young voters don’t turn out for midterm elections, which gives Congress to Republicans — yeah, I used to complain about that too. But try to imagine what the Democratic Party must look like to younger voters.

I’m old enough to remember when Harry Truman and Eleanor Roosevelt were still alive and still influential in party politics. I was in middle school during the Kennedy Administration. For all his flaws regarding Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson initiated genuinely progressive domestic programs. I was in high school when Bobby Kennedy ran for President and was assassinated. I cast my first vote for POTUS for George McGovern. So that’s the Democratic Party I remember — flawed and messy, but still a vehicle for doing the right thing, at least part of the time.

But that party died a quiet death some time back. I’m not sure that other people my age realize this. The Democratic Party now is closer to where the Republicans were during the Nixon Administration than they are to being the party of Truman, Kennedy or even LBJ.

But at least the Nixon Republicans sort of stood for something. You knew where they were coming from. The current party Democratic Party stands for nothing.

I’m not sure when it happened, exactly, but sometime between the McGovern blowout in 1972 and the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, the party of FDR, Truman and Kennedy died. Clinton ushered in a fundamental change in the Democratic Party that made it about winning elections on the Right’s terms. It became the party of lowered expectations, learned helplessness and “at least we’re not as bad as they are.” But what does it actually stand for any more, as a party?

I recently got into a sad discussion about how the party abandoned the legacy of FDR. I mentioned FDR’s great 1941 State of the Union address — the “Four Freedoms” speech. This encapsulates what the party should still stand for, I said. A Clinton supporter dismissed this as ancient history. You want to have it both ways, she said. You keep saying it’s not 1972 any more, and now you want to go back to 1941. The Democrats have moved on.

So I quoted this portion of the speech:

Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world.

For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.

Jobs for those who can work.

Security for those who need it.

The ending of special privilege for the few.

The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

Personally, I think anyone who wants to call himself a REAL DEMOCRAT ought to memorize that passage and recite it daily.

FDR continued:

Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement.

As examples:

We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.

We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.

We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.

And we’re still working on that stuff. Maybe we’ll always be working on that stuff. As technological and economic conditions change, we’ll have to keep adjusting. But it’s hard to even talk about some of these things now, never mind work on them. We’ve done something about health care, although we need to do more. But looking ahead I don’t see any plans from most Dems except to try to stop what we have accomplished from being further eroded.

Roosevelt went on to say that people would be required to pay more taxes to make these things happen. He was re-elected later that year anyway. And no, Pearl Harbor hadn’t been bombed yet.

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want–which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants–everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

Compare/contrast to right-wing calls for carpet bombing the Middle East to get rid of ISIS. For that matter, compare/contrast to Hillary Clinton’s “vision” of dealing with ISIS. It’s all about military and anti-terrorist options. There’s no vision there.

Now, some would say that Pearl Harbor and the subsequent war proved FDR hopelessly idealistic. I don’t think so. These ideals lived on in programs like the Marshall Plan, which helped secure a lasting peace in western Europe and which is the sort of thing that would never get past a right-wing Congress today, and which the current Democratic Party would never even dare propose. And FDR was a great war president and hardly a pacifist weenie, btw.

We have to acknowledge that FDR didn’t always live up to his own ideals — the Japanese-American internment, for example — but that doesn’t mean the ideals themselves were wrong.

As I’ve written elsewhere, there’s a good argument to be made that in 1992, Clintonian “triangulation,” moving Right to finesse the Reaganites on their own turf, was the only way a Democrat could have won the White House. But it’s time to drop that strategy now, because it’s holding us all back. The current Dem establishment, never mind Hillary Clinton herself, is stuck in the past and ignoring the realities of the current political climate, which is that the Republican Party is falling apart and the young folks are hungry for a more assertively progressive left-wing party that actually stands for something other than technocratic responses to whatever problems arise. Which is all Hillary Clinton knows.

And when some of us start talking about a real progressive vision, the Clintonistas dismiss us as naive “purists” who don’t understand what’s practical. I guess by their definition FDR wasn’t practical (see: New Deal; victory in World War II).

But y’know what? We’ve complained for years about how younger voters don’t turn out for midterm elections and let the Republicans take over Congress. I’ve complained about that, too. But try to look at the Democrats through their eyes. They don’t remember Truman or Eleanor Roosevelt or even George McGovern or Hubert Humphrey.  They remember the Clintons. They see Democrats in Congress that sell out liberal values a large part of the time, and who can’t effectively push back against right-wing craziness. Even President Obama — who has done a lot more good than he’s given credit for — has disappointed them often by trying to make “Grand Bargains” with the Right that would have compromised essential “safety net” programs. And his foreign policy hasn’t been all that great, which is largely Clinton’s doing, IMO.

From that perspective — what’s there to vote for? Why bother?

Again, I always do trudge out and vote, if only because the Dems are not as bad as those other people. But the Dems have been coasting on we aren’t as bad as they are way too much and way too long. It’s like they’re using the Republicans to hold us hostage — vote for us or they’ll shoot your dog. And then most of them go about being way too compromised by money and lobbyists and not really responding to the people.

No, they aren’t as bad as the Republicans. But maybe the young folks are right for not settling. And if the Democratic Party doesn’t change, I wonder if it can survive.

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Quickie Fundraiser Time

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big picture stuff

This is me rattling the tin cup again. Having completed the year’s residence at the Fire Lotus Zen temple in Brooklyn, I am camping out temporarily on my daughter’s sofa. I need to find my own place asap, however, before we both go crazy. I find I need to scare up some money so I have some available for a deposit and the move. Just $1,000 would make all things happen.  Otherwise I will be here for several weeks, which will be a strain on everyone.

Here’s a PayPal link.

And for those who hate Paypal, here’s a GoFundMe link.

Go Fund Me!

Thank you all for your help and support over the years. You help keep me sane.

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The American Impasse

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big picture stuff, Obama Administration, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Here we are, rolling to the end of another year, about to elect another President.  Very likely the Democratic nominee will be elected, and yet barring divine intervention we’ll be stuck with a Republican majority in the House.  (Right now it appears the Senate could go either way.) So there is still obstruction ahead as far as the eye can see.

Our basic problem, as I see it, boils down to this: There’s a portion of the American population that is prepared, intellectually and emotionally, for the United States to adjust to the 21st century. This portion accepts the U.S. as a multicultural and multi-ethnic nation. It understands the U.S. is one nation among many on this planet, and that our future security and prosperity require friendship and co-operation among nations, for our mutual benefit. It sees government as a means to carry forward the will of we, the people; to secure the rights of citizens; and to be sure that everybody gets a “square deal,” as Theodore Roosevelt promised about 112 years ago.

And then there’s the portion that wants to crawl inside a 1950s-era Disney movie about America and patriotism and never come out. You remember those. In that world, nearly everybody was white. Men were in charge and women were happy to let them be in charge. The few blacks were poor but cheerfully docile, and Native Americans were remote characters who dutifully fell out of trees whenever a white man shot a rifle. You’d think they would have learned to stay out of trees.

There also are a lot of people in neither of those portions. I think a big chunk of the electorate probably knows that Donald Trump is ridiculous and really don’t want to bomb Iran, but they tacitly accept much of the “wisdom” of the Right because that’s all they ever hear — taxes must always be cut, government spending is always bad, and all Middle Easterners are dangerous. They probably don’t accept progressivism, but it’s also the case that it’s probably never been explained to them.

So here we are, this big, strong, wealthy and allegedly dominant nation, and we can’t so much as fix our own bridges. We’re stuck between moving forward as a modern representative democracy or morphing into some kind of authoritarian state run by a cabal of mega-billionaires. If the latter vision wins, the (white) masses will be placated by visions of Fess Parker and his spunky militia protecting the homestead against scary foreign things. Everybody else will be disenfranchised.

A couple of weeks ago,  Rebecca Traister wrote that we’re all suffering through the death throes of while male power.

This moment, this election, these years represent the death throes of exclusive white male power in the United States. That the snarling fury and violence are contemporary does not make them less real than the terrors of previous periods; it makes them more real, at least to those of us living through them. And the presidential-primary contest, while absurdist and theatrical, is reflecting very real fury and violence in the non-electoral world: the burning of crosses and black churches, the execution of black men by police, the resistance of male soldiers to women in elite combat positions, a white man with a history of violence against women himself a “warrior for the babies” after killing people at a Planned Parenthood clinic, and a younger white man killing nine black churchgoers with the explanation “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country.”

The political contest just projects these panicked resentments on a bigger, more official screen. The public spectacle of this presidential election, and the two that have preceded it, are inextricably linked to the racialized and gendered anger and violence we see around us. Recall that Trump’s rise in politics began with his attacks on Barack Obama as foreign, as Muslim, as other. And that the tea party whence Ted Cruz springs has concerned itself mostly — official protestations about economic priorities to the contrary — with shutting down reproductive-health options for women. That is, when they are not trying to shut down the political ambitions of Hillary Clinton at any cost (see Trey Gowdy’s wild-eyed, profligate, and fruitless Benghazi investigation).

Increasingly, Republican voters want just one thing: revenge. Read what Frank Lutz says about pro-Trump focus groups:

I spent three hours in a deep dialogue focus group with 29 Trump supporters. The phenomenon of “The Donald” is rooted in a psyche far deeper and more consequential than next November’s presidential election. His support denotes an abiding distrust in — and disrespect for — the governing elite. These individuals do not like being told by Washington or Wall Street what is best for them, do not like the direction America is headed in, and disdain President Barack Obama and his (perceived) circle of self-righteous, tone-deaf governing partisans.

Trump voters are not just angry — they want revenge.

Mr Trump has adroitly filled the vacuum of vitriol, establishing himself as the bold, brash, take-no-prisoners megaphone for the frustrated masses. They see him as the antidote to all that Mr Obama has made wrong with America. So to understand why millions love Mr Trump so much, you have to take a step back and listen to why they hate Mr Obama so much.

Here, my Trump voter focus group was particularly illuminating. Some still believe the president is not Christian. Many believe he does not love America. And just about all of them think he does not reflect the values the country was built upon. Indeed, within this growing faction, Mr Trump has license to say just about anything. As we have seen repeatedly, the more outrageous the accusation, the more receptive the ear.

Mr Trump delights in unleashing harsh attacks on Jeb Bush, the Republican establishment and the “mainstream media”. His childlike joy in ridiculing his critics is tantamount to healing balm for the millions who have felt silenced, ignored and even scorned by the governing and media elite for so long. Is it any wonder that his declaration of war against “political correctness” is his most potent and predictable applause line?

This of course begs the question — what, exactly, has President Obama “made wrong with America”?  Other than being POTUS while black? Do they even know?

The fact that they hate “political correctness” above all things tells me that nothing matters to them more than the freedom to be openly bigoted without being stigmatized for it.

Tom Gogola writes that America really wasn’t ready for a black president.

If hope and change were the Obama buzzwords in 2009, the lesson of 2015 is that a bunch of overstimulated, hopelessly right-wing pseudo statesmen haven’t changed, grown up, dropped the sub rosa race-bait narrative—even as Obama delivered on his fair share of what he promised way back when.

Don’t ask me why Obama’s race is still an issue; ask Lou Dobbs. The immigrant-bashing news anchor blabbed to the Fox masses about how Obama only became president because he played the “race card,” a curiously timed outburst given that Dobbs made it just two weeks ago.

See the rock-solid belief in the minds of true bigots — black people get things handed to them they don’t deserve, at the expense of white people. They even somehow get elected POTUS when they don’t deserve it.

The Trump supporters feel their “values” are being threatened. And, of course, we know what those values are. They value maintaining social and cultural dominance as a birthright. They deserve to dominate because they are white. Being male and overtly Christian also count.

I could go on. Of course,there’s always been a disconnect between the ideal America and the “real” America. We see ourselves as the “good guys” who stand for freedom and compassion. And, y’know, every now and then, we have been. But there’s also always been bigotry and discrimination, sometimes to the point of violence. We’re a nation of mutts uneasily tied together by a Constitution that we all honor, even if we disagree over what it means.  And right now I have no idea where we are heading.

See also: Nate Cohn, Donald Trump’s Strongest Supporters: A Certain Kind of Democrat; Nancy LeTourneau, Republicans Want Revenge and A World View in Its Death Throes.

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This Is Murica

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big picture stuff, Republican Party

I didn’t even realize there was a mass shooting in Knoxville on Friday until I read about a young man who was shot in the head while shielding three young women. It’s so hard to keep up.

In the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert writes about the siege of Miami. Or the drowning of Miami, as it were.

To cope with its recurrent flooding, Miami Beach has already spent something like a hundred million dollars. It is planning on spending several hundred million more. Such efforts are, in Wanless’s view, so much money down the drain. Sooner or later—and probably sooner—the city will have too much water to deal with. Even before that happens, Wanless believes, insurers will stop selling policies on the luxury condos that line Biscayne Bay. Banks will stop writing mortgages.

“If we don’t plan for this,” he told me, once we were in the car again, driving toward the Fontainebleau hotel, “these are the new Okies.” I tried to imagine Ma and Pa Joad heading north, their golf bags and espresso machine strapped to the Range Rover.

The situation is not helped by the fact that the state’s Republican government is in denial that this is happening. And the people whose property and neighborhoods are being flooded also are in denial, or just plain don’t understand what’s happening because no one is explaining it to them. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are working on ways to kill the Paris climate agreement.

The class acts at Red State are trying to make an issue of Hillary Clinton’s old lady kidneys. Just wait until your prostates enlarge, dudes.

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There Is No Invisible Hand

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big picture stuff, economy

This cartoon sums a lot up for me. I remember back in the 1980s when I was living in New Jersey and looking for a decent, affordable apartment for me and two little kids. Nobody was building affordable apartments. There was much building of McMansions, yes, but there there was a shortage of decent lower-rent apartments. And every day I passed a huge, newly built industrial/office complex that was completely empty. Months went past; it remained empty. There just wasn’t that much demand for office space, I guess, or else the builders miscalculated what people would be willing to pay in rent. And I understand there’s a glut of McMansions in the New Jersey real estate market these days.

See also “The Old Suburban Office Park Is the New American Ghost Town.”

Now, proponents of Free Market capitalism will probably argue that the Free Market was not at fault; it was bankers, or the Federal Reserve, or something else that caused investment in the wrong thing. But this assumes that the Free Market is a thing that exists out in the ether somewhere entirely separate from banks and financial policy, separate from land and labor, separate from money and infrastructure.

This was published about a year ago, and I’m sorry I didn’t notice it before.

Polanyi’s core thesis is that there is no such thing as a free market; there never has been, nor can there ever be. Indeed he calls the very idea of an economy independent of government and political institutions a “stark utopia”—utopian because it is unrealizable, and the effort to bring it into being is doomed to fail and will inevitably produce dystopian consequences. While markets are necessary for any functioning economy, Polanyi argues that the attempt to create a market society is fundamentally threatening to human society and the common good.  In the first instance the market is simply one of many different social institutions; the second represents the effort to subject not just real commodities (computers and widgets) to market principles but virtually all of what makes social life possible, including clean air and water, education, health care, personal, legal, and social security, and the right to earn a livelihood. When these public goods and social necessities (what Polanyi calls “fictitious commodities”) are treated as if they are commodities produced for sale on the market, rather than protected rights, our social world is endangered and major crises will ensue.

Free market doctrine aims to liberate the economy from government “interference”, but Polanyi challenges the very idea that markets and governments are separate and autonomous entities. Government action is not some kind of “interference” in the autonomous sphere of economic activity; there simply is no economy without government rules and institutions. It is not just that society depends on roads, schools, a justice system, and other public goods that only government can provide. It is that all of the key inputs into the economy—land, labor, and money—are only created and sustained through continuous government action. The employment system, the arrangements for buying and selling real estate, and the supplies of money and credit are organized and maintained through the exercise of government’s rules, regulations, and powers.

The article goes on to argue that what we all call “deregulation” is really “re-regulation.” “Government continues to regulate, but instead of acting to protect workers, consumers, and citizens, it devised new policies aimed to help giant corporate and financial institutions maximize their returns through revised anti-trust laws, seemingly bottomless bank bailouts, and increased impediments to unionization.”

Our “socialist” mayor, Bill de Blasio, has made the creation of decent low-income housing in NYC a priority, bless him. The city needs this desperately. The “free market” doesn’t provide low income housing here. NYC is a place in which, if you build it, rich people will come and pay ridiculous amounts of money for it. But that means the “free market” only caters to them. There are new high-rise apartment buildings going up all over the place in Brooklyn; rent for a basic one-bedroom unit averages about $2,800 a month, I understand.

The people who have made free market capitalism their religion are certain that as long as government doesn’t interfere, the Holy Free Market (blessed be It) will naturally provide whatever anyone needs. But in truth the Free Market doesn’t give a hoo-haw about what people need. The Free Market will dedicate infinite resources to filling even the frivolous desires of the wealthy; everyone else is just out of luck, sometimes even for life’s necessities.

The Free Market also is wasteful and destructive, depleting resources for short-term profit without thought to the future; using up materials and resources for buildings that sit empty and consumer products that end up in landfills after only two or three years of use. The Free Market refuses to maintain infrastructure, will not safely dispose of hazardous waste unless forced to, and will not clean up the ecosystems it destroys. The Free Market would rather kill coal miners than invest in safety precautions.

Because, you see, there is no “Free Market”; there is no benevolent “invisible hand” that turns individual self-interest into common good. There are just people scrambling to make as much money as they can, and as long as a portion of those people don’t care who they hurt in the process, the results often will not be benevolent at all.

Henry Ferrell — the same guy who wrote the article quoted above — today has a post at Washington Monthly about Very Serious People. He’s talking here about foreign policy, but it applies to economic policy as well.

  1. Everyone has a mix of beliefs, some of which are right, and some wrong.
  2. Everyone co-exists in a social system that tends to value, heavily reinforce and widely disseminate some people’s beliefs while disparaging, heavily discounting, and tending to limit the circulation of certain other people’s beliefs. This bias is not random, but instead reflects and reinforces existing power structures and asymmetries.
  3. People whose beliefs are reinforced and widely circulated so that they are socially and politically influential, even when they are manifestly wrong, are Very Serious People. The system provides them with no incentives to admit error or perhaps to understand that they have erred, even when their mistakes have devastating consequences.

We’ve been fed this fantasy about “free markets” lo these many years, and the fantasy won’t die because the VSPs believe it. But from where I sit that fantasy is not just destroying lives; it’s destroying the planet.

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Who Gets to Be Angry

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big picture stuff

Recent events have reminded me that our culture has strict rules about who gets to be angry.

There are social psychology papers going back many years showing us that men get to be angry when women do not. Here’s a news story about just one:

STEREOTYPES DIE HARD

Citing earlier research, Uhlmann and Brescoll show that for reasons including deeply entrenched stereotypes, there is a real difference between men and women when it comes to expressing anger. Indeed, studies have established that men who express anger at work sometimes benefit from doing so, as co-workers subsequently perceive the mas more important, powerful, and independent. However, when women lose their cool, they do not benefit from such positive consequences

MARKED GENDER DIFFERENCES

“People … view a man’s anger as a response to objective, external circumstances, but a woman’s  anger as a product of her personality,” say Uhlmann and Brescoll. “As a result, a professional woman’s anger may imply that she is not competent at dealing with workplace situations.”

This is also a bind for women in politics, of course. Awhile back Hillary Clinton was accused by Republicans of being “too angry” to be President (to which David Letterman said, “Did you hear what the Republicans have said about Hillary Clinton? They say she’s too angry to be president. Hillary Clinton, Senator Hillary Clinton, too angry to be president. When she heard this, Hillary said, ‘Oh yeah? I’ll rip your throats out, you bastards.'”) This is right up there with the complaint that she’s “ambitious.” Ambition is fine and noble in a man, but highly suspect in a woman. But the point is, all other things being equal, it’s okay for men to be angry, but when a woman is angry something must be wrong with her. The stereotype that women are “more emotional” has no basis in observable fact, but persists even in people who ought to know better.

I said “all other things being equal,” and those “all other things” are race, of course. All kinds of social psychology papers have been written about how anger is perceived in whites and blacks. Whites see anger in blacks as “threatening,” more so than anger observed in other whites. I googled “black anger” and got a lot of commentaries complaining that blacks are angry and scary. They shouldn’t be so angry. They should try anger management.

The stereotype of the angry black is so entrenched in white America that the Right seizes on any demonstration of emotion in our President and First Lady as proof of it. Michelle Obama cannot demonstrate even the mildest of pique in public without right-wing media going ballistic over the “proof” that she’s militant and angry. Barack Obama can no doubt credit his political success to his extraordinary discipline in not showing anger in public, because just one outburst would have ended his career. Even so, Mitt Romney tried to paint the President as an “angry black man.” Hey, he’s black; he’s gotta be angry. Right? See especially Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Fear of a Black President.”

The Key and Peele “anger translator” skits are partly spoofs of the President and partly spoofs of the culture that forces him into no-anger-allowed box. Hilariously, the “skit” performed at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner drew out the bigots like honey draws ants; see, for example, John Hinderaker  and Byron York, two men so soaked in racism they can’t see the joke has been on them, all along.

Give me an example of a white man, especially a prominent white man, being penalized for being angry. I can’t think of one. Women aren’t allowed to be angry. African-Americans aren’t allowed to be angry. Nobody ever wags fingers at white men to tell them they’re too angry. And it’s not because they aren’t. See, for example, Fox News.

It hasn’t been that long since “angry white men” were being touted as a powerful voting block. Remember the angry teabaggers who kept showing up at townhall meetings to yell about the Affordable Care Act? (And yes, these included some women; I propose the maha anger-gender corollary, that it’s okay for a woman to be angry when she’s standing next to a man angry about the same thing.)

And then there are our frequent mass shootings, nearly always perpetrated by white men. When a white man acts out violently, his actions are attributed to “mental illness” or other factors unique to him as an individual. Anyone else doing the same thing would be proof that his entire demographic group, whatever that is, is unhinged. However, people looking closely at the several White Male Perpetrators say that one thing they have in common is a sense of “aggrieved entitlement” that really is linked to their race and gender and how those factors are perceived in our culture (which is not to say that all white men are “angry”).

As with men in the workplace, anger in a white man often is perceived a virtue or strength, not a threat. Remember Carl Paladino? He was the angry white guy who won the New York Republican gubernatorial primary in 2010. He didn’t come close to beating Andrew Cuomo, but no Republican is going to win a statewide general election in New York. The thing with Paladino is that his entire sales pitch was that he was angry. That’s what got his primary win — he was angry.

It’s OK if you’re a white male Republican.

But then, back during the Bushie years the Right was always complaining about the angry left. Here’s a couple of old blog posts about that — “Speaking of Anger” and “Our Left Wing.” Here’s a snip from the latter:

Predictable reaction from rightie blogs: We’re cool and intellectual, and those lefties are unhinged. I was checking out reactions on one rightie blog, where I found this comment:

“I don’t recall there being a vocal Right that was calling for the public lynching of President Clinton.”

Sorta takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

And now we come to Baltimore. All sorts of people are clucking about the violence, and I don’t condone violence, either. But as I wrote yesterday, something’s out of whack when citizens are told to control themselves while the government is allowed to be as violent as it wishes, with little to no accountability.

White “patriots” who want to secede or who are hankerin’ for an armed confrontation with the feds out at the Bundy Ranch = acceptable.  Tempers boiling over because of actual injustice = unacceptable.

Basically, the degree to which one is allowed to be angry, and at what, depends on how much power you have. The powerful can be as angry as they like, without criticism. But when those with less power are angry, they are condemned for it.

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Smoke But No Gun Yet

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big picture stuff

Before everybody gets excited about the latest Clinton scandal, do read Joe Conason’s analysis. There’s a lot of unsupported innuendo and connecting dots filled in between things that aren’t necessarily connected. It appears to be another Whitewater — a lot of storm and fury about nothing.

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