What I’d read of Nat Hentoff’s in the last twenty years suggested he would have made a sterling mentor. A jazz critic of formidable erudition and prodigious output, Hentoff could have triumphed in any genre. Continue reading
We’re going to see columns like this for the next four years.
The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good,” said Mr. Watts, who was in the area to campaign for Senator Rand Paul. “We are born bad,” he said and added that children did not need to be taught to behave badly — they are born knowing how to do that.
“We teach them how to be good,” he said. “We become good by being reborn — born again.”
He continued: “Democrats believe that we are born good, that we create God, not that he created us. If we are our own God, as the Democrats say, then we need to look at something else to blame when things go wrong — not us.”
Mr. Watts talked about the 2015 movie theater shooting in Lafayette, La., in which two people were killed. Mr. Watts said that Republicans knew that the gunman was a bad man, doing a bad thing. Democrats, he added, “would look for other causes — that the man was basically good, but that it was the guns, society or some other place where the blame lies and then they will want to control the guns, or something else — not the man.” Republicans, he said, don’t need to look anywhere else for the blame.
I’m not sure where to start. I haven’t even quoted the Robert Leonard bits where he laments the fiction of city liberals spending money on roads and computers while rural America — the bedrock of all that is good and fine in America — watches its roads turn to gravel.
First, Homo sapiens is an animal. Like any animal, homo sapiens must be trained. Homo sapiens is neither fundamentally good nor evil.
Secondly, Donald J. Trump should frighten these Iowans to death. He hasn’t shown much patriotism. He doesn’t go to church (he doesn’t even know who or what the Corinthians were). He’s been married three times. He treats taxes as if they were Paul Ryan — an annoyance to be ignored.
Thirdly, who cares what J.C. Watts thinks?
Finally, teenagers are stupid.
This is why the GOP wins elections and the Democrats do not:
In 2012, Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist described the ideal president as “a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen” and “sign the legislation that has already been prepared.” In 2015, when Senate Republicans used procedural maneuvers to undermine a potential Democratic filibuster and vote to repeal the health-care law, it did not matter that President Obama’s White House stopped them: As the conservative advocacy group Heritage Action put it, the process was “a trial run for 2017, when we will hopefully have a President willing to sign a full repeal bill.”
“What I told our committees a year ago was: Assume you get the White House and Congress,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told CNBC in a post-election interview last month. “Come 2018, what do you want to have accomplished?” Negotiations with the incoming Trump administration, he said, were mostly “on timeline, on an execution strategy.
Yeah but bipartisanship:
Some Republican lawmakers also want legislation that would stop courts from deferring to federal agencies’ interpretations of statutes — a practice known as “Chevron deference,” after the 1984 Supreme Court case that went against the energy company — and have them instead defer to Congress.
Republicans never stop, never rest. Regarding Democrats and liberals as poxes on the Republic, requiring swift extirpation, they are motivated by righteousness. Democrats, no matter their laudable leftward tilt in the last eighteen months, regard their enemies as people with whom they can negotiate in good faith; the Democrats are the true corporatists, which after thirty years of the Democratic Leadership Council and Wall Street’s endorsement of gay marriage makes delicious sense. More fatally, they regard the GOP as amenable to the sweetness of their reasons. Seeing as how I learned not to reason with morons only a couple years ago, take your shoes off, relax, and wait while Gainesville turns into beachfront property.
Politico occasionally posts worthwhile material, but not even this upteenth post mortem can avoid obtuseness. Why does the phrase “working class voter” need the adjective “white”? It has never occurred to these reporters that blacks and Hispanics are working class too — and they vote. Thomas Frank, author of books with subtle titles like Listen, Liberal and What’s the Matter with Kansas?, reminds the panel that many new Trump voters were recent Obama and Bill Clinton voters:
Frank: There’s a lot of these people that could easily be won back to the Democratic Party and, by the way, not by the Democratic Party denying the theory of evolution or siding with the NRA or something like that, but offering them a competing message that has to do with economics, appealing to them on their class interests.
And this is what the Democratic Party obviously used to do. This is not even hard to look up. This is very recent. You look at a place like Missouri. I grew up in Kansas City. And when I was a kid, Missouri was a very Democratic state. Harry Truman is from Missouri. Dick Gephardt is from Missouri. But you look at the map now, and Trump took every county except for St. Louis, Kansas City and the college town, Columbia. And it is a wipeout for Democrats out there. You go to these small towns, and there is no Democratic presence in these places….
…Frank: Small towns, all over America, boarded up, the businesses are all gone, the kids leave as soon as they can, the family farms are dying. OK, what do you do about that? Well, one thing that’s really easy is antitrust. You know, you start going after the agricultural monopolies. Every farmer I’ve ever met knows about these companies, and is furious about them. And those people—I mean, this is a very Republican cohort now—but, you know, you start talking about their one obsessive concern, and you might be able to win some of them over. You start going after Wal-Mart, which has destroyed the businesses in every small town in America. Do you remember when Barack Obama won Iowa over Hillary Clinton in 2008? It was a big surprise, a big shocker. And the way he did it was by promising to use the antitrust laws against agricultural monopolies, or that was one of the things that he said.
So what are Frank’s solutions? We need stronger unions. We need unions. But this need — this hope — is futile. Unions will never return to the days before 1981 or even 1947. Guy Cecil of Priorities USA has the better idea: the kind of grassroots effort that Reverend William Barber of North Carolina organized for Moral Mondays, whose canvassing eventually kicked Pat McCrory out of office (replacing him with a successor whom the legislature has nevertheless emasculated).
Forgive me, though, for shaking my head over one more liberal who knows what we have to do — including, I might add, yours truly.
At the height of the budget impasse of 2011 I wondered why the hell Barack Obama sought the imprimatur of bipartisanship for policy decisions for which the Democrats would become unloved if not loathed during midterm and presidential elections. In boardrooms, classrooms, playgrounds, department stores, we appreciate conviction, however rudderless and bat shit. Dahlia Lithwick and David Cohen say enough already. Toying with the realization that had Donald Trump lost the Electoral College but lost the popular vote as Hillary his vassals would have sicced Roger Stone, the mummy of James Baker, and several generations of Federalist Society lawyers at the Supreme Court, Lithwick and Cohen bemoan the Democrats’ penchant for playing nice:
Moreover, they didn’t cop to the possibility that their theories might lose or look foolish in retrospect. Take the theory that ultimately succeeded in the Supreme Court. There was no precedent for the idea that the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause required a uniform recount within a state. However, the Republicans pressed that theory and convinced a majority, even though the justices acknowledged that the argument was both unprecedented and not to be used again. It was a win for pure audacity.
Fast forward to 2016, and the Democrats are doing nothing of the sort. Instead, they are leaving the fight to academics and local organizers who seem more horrified by a Trump presidency than Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. The Republicans in 2000 threw everything they could muster against the wall to see if it stuck, with no concern about potential blowback; the Democrats in 2016 are apparently too worried about being called sore losers. Instead of weathering the criticism that comes with fighting an uphill, yet historically important battle, the party is still trying to magic up a plan.
In other words, please present a bat shit theory. It may be laughed out of the court. Perhaps not out of federal courts in which Obama and Bill Clinton judges are majorities. “It is common sense to take a method and try it,” said the greatest Democratic president of the twentieth century. “If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” Don’t even admit it frankly. Try.
Eric Foner, whose studies of Reconstruction and marvelous biography of Abraham Lincoln The Fiery Trialproved considerable influences on me, stands at the sunset of his teaching career but encourages readers to buttress their radicalism with history. The idea of packing freedmen into ships and returning them to Africa had a lot of centrist support in the 1850s; Henry Clay believed in recolonization, and Abraham Lincoln’s most harebrained impulse was to present this idea to a meeting of freedmen as if it would delight them. But it took radical action to delegitimate them:
Teaching the class as Barack Obama’s presidency neared its end and Senator Bernie Sanders’s campaign ignited the enthusiasm of millennials was an interesting experience. I began with the premise that radicalism has been a persistent feature of our history and that radicals, while often castigated as foreign-inspired enemies of American institutions, have usually sprung from our culture, spoken its language, and appealed to some of our deepest values—facts that help to explain radicalism’s persistence even in the face of tenacious opposition. American radicalism entails a visionary aspiration to remake the world on the basis of greater equality—economic, legal, social, racial, or sexual. Despite the occasional resort to violence, most of these movements have reflected the democratic ethos of American life: They’ve been open rather than secretive and have relied on education, example, or political action rather than coercion. Not surprisingly, they have also reflected some of the larger society’s flaws; radicals are a product of their society, no matter how fully they reject certain aspects of it. While I made clear my sympathy with most of the groups we studied, I also insisted that we should not be surprised that some abolitionists were antifeminist, some feminists racist, some labor organizations hostile to immigrants. Neither history nor politics is well served by simple hagiography.
Foner also addresses Barack Obama’s own relationship to radical social movements; Foner’s theorizing coincides with some of the conclusions Ta-Nehisi Coates drew about Obama and white power structures in his own essay, which I’ve only half read.
It may be true that due to demographic change, Democrats won’t need white working class voters to win presidential elections in the near future. But they do need them to win back state legislatures, gubernatorial races, senate and congressional seats. The thing about these “irredeemably racist” hinterland states is that they all have cities, and in those cites are minorities. These states also have women and immigrants and LGBT people and disabled people. As it stands, the marginalized populations in red states live under the rule of increasingly authoritarian statehouses and governors, whose priorities include depriving gay & trans people of their rights & safety, depriving poor and black people of the franchise, depriving working people of the right to organize, and depriving women of the right to get an abortion—not to mention empowering police, prosecutors, and immigration enforcement.
Unless leftists are content to condemn these populations to permanent white, nativist, reactionary rule, we have no choice but to prioritize organizing—yes, “winning over”—white workers in these states. Make no mistake: the most inspiring organizers in the country,many of them black and brown and gay and trans, are already and have long been doing this work. But the instinct among some liberals right now to write off Trump-voting states altogether is both politically and morally untenable and insulting to the organizers struggling—in an often hostile environment—to empower oppressed communities in the South and upper Midwest
Although I’m divided over questions like whether Keith Ellison should lead the Democratic National Committee, the idea of abandoning minorities and queers to the Scott Walkers and Gregg Abbotts and Rick Scotts strikes me as churlish, morally indefensible, and craven — as much as the chatter about California seceding and liberals moving to Canada. I heard the same twaddle in January 2005; our voices are louder now.
An excerpt from the Democratic Party platform of 1972:
We hold that the federal tax structure should reflect the following principles:
The cost of government must be distributed more fairly among income classes. We reaffirm the long-established principle of progressive taxation —allocating the burden according to ability to pay —which is all but a dead letter in the present tax code.
The cost of government must be distributed fairly among citizens in similar economic circumstances:
Direct expenditures by the federal government which can be budgeted are better than tax preferences as the means for achieving public objectives. The lost income of those tax preferences which are deemed desirable should be stated in the annual budget.
When relief for hardship is provided through federal tax policy, as for blindness, old age or poverty, benefits should be provided equally by credit rather than deductions which favor recipients with more income, with special provisions for those whose credits would exceed the tax they owe.
Provisions which discriminate against working women and single people should be corrected in addition to greater fairness and efficiency, these principles would mean a major redistribution of personal tax burdens and permit considerable simplification of the tax code and tax forms.
Twenty years later, the party that nominated William Jefferson Clinton:
We reject both the do-nothing government of the last twelve years and the big government theory that says we can hamstring business and tax and spend our way to prosperity. Instead we offer a third way. Just as we have always viewed working men and women as the bedrock of our economy, we honor business as a noble endeavor, and vow to create a far better climate for firms and independent contractors of all sizes that empower their workers, revolutionize their workplaces, respect the environment, and serve their communities well.
In a story published in 2012, Marc Fisher noted the consistency with which the GOP has moved towards “ever more conservative stances” on the economy and social questions while the Democrats have followed a, well, “a more jagged series of experiments with activist and statist approaches,” he writes, in which riffs on family, God, and free enterprise ring as nervously and reassuringly as a power chord in a One Direction song.
The GOP’s gonna be doing some awful zagging this year to accommodate the nominee whom we all know even Ross Douthat will embrace by the Fourth of July. Whatever else has happened since the GOP fooled itself into thinking it had principles, the Dems will coalesce around a platform that will look, oh, about sixty percent different from the time Hillary Clinton’s husband decided that adopting conservative positions would get him reelected. For the first time since I became old enough to vote, I am reasonably comfortable with voting for a Democrat.
Bill Bradley? Three syllables almost made me dismiss Jamelle Bouie’s formidable analysis of the reach of Bernie Sanders’ challenge to Clintonism. Challenges aren’t created equal. Challenging a sitting vice president, as Bradley did Gore in early 2000, might have been bold but Bradley’s neolib record in the Senate was as indistinguishable as Gore’s before his elevation to the second highest seat.
Running the nearest approximation to an “insurgent” strategy in my lifetime, Howard Dean earned some condescension from yours truly that I regret and for which I’m grateful no online trace exists. Reading a New Yorker profile about his becoming interested in foreign policy from reading a, well, foreign policy journal in airports evoked Ronald Reagan purloining copies of Human Events after his White House troika stole them from the mail room; we’d had too many ignoramuses letting the State and Defense departments run amuck because they insisted on retiring to the Executive Residence at precisely five o’clock. I don’t hold his support for Hillary Clinton against him, although I wonder how wide his mouth stretches to insert his fist when homo hater and Terri Schiavo fan Harold Ford, Jr. joins him in permanent residency at “Mika” Brzezinski and “Morning Joe” Scarborough’s breakfast nook.
But back to Bouie:
Working with other groups doesn’t guarantee you will achieve your goals, or even come close. Like its predecessors, the Sanders insurgency is an attempt to force the question, to declare “we deserve a louder say” to the moderate stalwarts, corporate interests, unions, and activist groups that constitute the Democratic Party. But they have a say, too, with backers and voters who support their positions. And they may not be swayed by arguments over policies and ideology. Groups and voters come to political parties with a variety of different interests that reflect their identities and livelihoods as much as their beliefs and values. Some of this is tribalism or “identity politics,” but those are real forces that have to be negotiated. It is possible. The one upset in the 2016 contest was in Michigan, where Sanders beat expectations by enlarging the electorate—bringing more young people into the process—and improving with black voters. And he did this by reaching out, early and often. Not just with talk of a “political revolution,” but by connecting to voters with a common message rooted in trade and labor, an effective move in a state with a long history of unionism. The broad point is that a “political revolution” can’t rest on a call for clean government and ideological rigor—the crux of Sanders’ general argument. The Democratic Party isn’t yet an ideological party, and many of its voters don’t put ideology or good-government reform at the top of their lists.
Again, while this is a smart analysis, I’m not sure what evidence he presents to support the claim that Dems aren’t an “ideological” party. If he means “voters vote against people and ideas, not for candidates,” amen and halleluiah, but in my experience Dem voters want Social Security, federal support for the right to privacy enunciated in Roe v. Wade, the strictest of scrutiny for foreign policy adventures, to name a few — functioning government, a robust functioning government, in other words. In 1975 this was an assumption. In 2016, it’s a ideological position.
But he’s right on this count: campaigns “are not the right place to change the overall dynamics of a political party.” To win over black voters, he writers, the Sanders camp “needed to spend time in black communities, becoming a part of their politics—a trusted partner.” The Clintons had their trust — their vote. Campaigns catalyze. They don’t do the work of local organizing — the lesson one Brent Bozell learned with direct mail campaigns on behalf of Ronald Reagan after the governor lost to Gerald Ford in 1976. If one development shows the Sanders campaign did not expect to get this far, it’s failing to secure support in black communities in 2015. Maybe he should be the DNC’s next chair.
Unable to watch last night’s Democratic debate live, I caught up with the stream, impressed by how well the thoughtful-to-a-fault PBS ethos worked in rerun. Some notes:
1. The thoughtful-to-a-fault PBS ethos crumbled to powder when Bernie Sanders said, with the air of making a campaign promise, “I happen to believe that Henry Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country…I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger.” The election isn’t about détente or a referendum on the malevolent, amoral careerism of a man whose stewardship of the State Department and National Security Council turned Southeast Asia and Chile into abattoirs. Quite likely few watchers understood Sanders’ disgust or even what Kissinger was supposed to have done. But few watchers could have missed the confidence with which Sanders dismissed an institution, an eminence even, on television. When did Barack Obama and John Edwards call Donald Rumsfeld one of the most destructive secretaries of defense in the modern history of this century? Clinton, expecting to hear the crowd excoriate Sanders but instead heard whistles, rocked on her heels. For a moment the shallowness of the format, the inability of these debates to serve as any kind of review – forget redress – of history was exposed.
2. Moderator Judy Woodruff asked Sanders, “Will there be a limit to the size of government?” as if a worry about size of government was a truism with which serious people agree.
3. Neither Sanders nor Clinton connected the dots between Flint, universal health care and the importance of a robust federal government. Clinton did not help: skepticism about government does not come from both “the left” and “the right”; there she goes again with phony, dangerous equivalence.
4. An internet friend: “It’s a tough choice on foreign policy, two competing strains of ignorance.”
“This magazine rarely makes endorsements in the Democratic primary (we’ve done so only twice: for Jesse Jackson in 1988, and for Barack Obama in 2008),” the editors of The Nation write. “We do so now impelled by the awareness that our rigged system works for the few and not for the many. Americans are waking up to this reality, and they are demanding change.” And this is the platform of the candidate the magazine has endorsed:
Voters can trust Sanders because he doesn’t owe his political career to the financial overlords of the status quo. Freed from these chains of special interest, he can take the bold measures that the country needs. Sanders alone proposes to break up the too-big-to-fail banks; to invest in public education, from universal pre-K to tuition-free public college; to break the power of the insurance and pharmaceutical cartels with Medicare for All reforms. He alone proposes to empower workers with a living wage. He alone stands ready to put Americans to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, and to confront climate change by making the United States a leader in renewable energy. His audacious agenda proves that money in politics doesn’t widen debate; rather, it narrows the range of possibility. While Sanders understands this, we fear that his chief rival for the Democratic nomination does not.
Although Hillary Clinton would be preferable to any Republican nominee, the editors write, she has serious problems:
Her talk of seeking common ground with Republicans and making deals to “get things done” in Washington will not bring the change that is so desperately needed. Clinton has not ruled out raising the Social Security retirement age, and her plan falls short of increasing benefits for all. She rejects single-payer healthcare and refuses to consider breaking up the big banks. We also fear that she might accept a budgetary “grand bargain” with the Republicans that would lock in austerity for decades to come.
I have cavils about “breaking up the big banks.” Which banks? How are we defining banks in 2016? Break them up into…? As for foreign policy ideas, well: “She now advocates a confrontation with Russia in Syria by calling for a no-fly zone.” I’m sure she’ll change her mind about it soon, as her aides are after looking at poll numbers:
Several Democratic leaders agreed, saying the Clinton campaign underestimated Mr. Sanders from the start. They argued that Mrs. Clinton and her advisers should have competed against him more aggressively, in debates and on the campaign trail, rather than appear so sharply negative with their recent attacks, which have given the campaign a jumbled feeling heading into the first voting states. Even Chelsea Clinton jabbed at Mr. Sanders, an unusual move given that relatives are traditionally used in campaigns to soften a politician’s image.
Oh for the love of Christ. Again? She lost a nomination that would’ve been hers in 2008 because she got complacent. She’s ready to do it again. I’m beginning to imagine any conceivable Hillary Rodham Clinton presidential campaign as an elaborate shuck, a self-ratfucking exercise designed to scour any trace of good will about her political life.
Manipulating his rusted exhaust pipe of a voice to cover up a lack of specifics, Bernie Sanders has my uncertain support if not my vote, for in Florida independents, like the poor on Election Day, can’t vote. We’ll see.
The Barack Hussein Obama presidency has been more consequential than it looks, Michael Grunwald argues. Wading through the minutiae of the stimulus bill and Department of Energy regulations, Grunwald says the president’s domestic legacy will outlive him:
What he’s done is changing the way we produce and consume energy, the way doctors and hospitals treat us, the academic standards in our schools and the long-term fiscal trajectory of the nation. Gays can now serve openly in the military, insurers can no longer deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, credit card companies can no longer impose hidden fees and markets no longer believe the biggest banks are too big to fail. Solar energy installations are up nearly 2,000 percent, and carbon emissions have dropped even though the economy is growing. Even Republicans like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who hope to succeed Obama and undo his achievements, have been complaining on the campaign trail that he’s accomplished most of his agenda.
“The change is real,” says Ron Klain, who served as Biden’s White House chief of staff, and later as Obama’s Ebola czar. “It would be nice if more people understood the change.”
Grunwald avoids foreign policy, which isn’t his strength or interest, and notice even this excerpt how he hurries past the consequences of Race to the Top and the mushrooming of the charter school racket and the public career of Arne Duncan, but otherwise it’s a serious appraisal. But:
Healthier school lunches. A ban on “light” cigarettes. Streamlined financial aid forms that take college applicants 20 minutes to complete instead of an hour. Reduced sentencing disparities between crack and powdered cocaine. A popular new competitive grant program called TIGER for innovative transportation projects. Immigration enforcement that prioritizes dangerous felons rather than ordinary families. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act easing gender discrimination lawsuits. New rules requiring fast-food restaurants to post nutritional information. The percentage of student borrowers getting relief through through “income-based repayment” has tripled in just the past two years. George W. Bush’s tax cuts are gone for families earning more than $450,000 a year and permanent for everyone else; Bush’s limits on stem-cell research are gone, too. Medicare will now cover end-of-life planning discussions, a shift that could help ease the pain, as well as the cost, of many American deaths.
I’ve criticized the president a great deal; his foreign policy achieves coherence when he signs orders having a drone vaporize an American accused of sedition and his blameless son. But he has been the most consequential Democratic president of my lifetime. We’re going to get many retrospective pieces in the next twelve months. If anyone could write one, it’s the author of The New New Deal, the only book I’ve read that examines the legislative tumult of 2009 without my fumbling for garbage words like “policy wonk” even when the prose coarsens for the sake of the Chris Matthews claque.