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Issue LXXXVI: Southern Populism and the Secret History of Segregation

15 Jan

Facing economic ruin and political isolation, the farmers of the American South sought to overthrow the existing political duopoly of the Democrats and the Republicans in the late 1800s. After the Civil War, the value of agricultural commodities bottomed out while crop loans from banks increased in value due to the deflationary policy of the Gold Standard. A call to action began in Lampasas, Texas with the formation of the Farmer’s Alliance. At first, they focused on self-education, newspapers, agitation, and formation of cooperatives to improve their lot. But soon they realized that neither the Democrats or Republican Party cared about them or their issues.

Politically, the Alliance faced a tremendous regional and racial divide. Northerners and Southern blacks were loyal to the Republicans, the party of Lincoln; the party of emancipation and free labor now run by and for major industrialists. Southern whites were loyal to the Democratic Party. To rebuild the Southern economy after the Civil War, the Democratic Southern elite promoted the South to northern capitalists in New York (also Democrats). The Bourbon Southern Democrats pitched the South to northern industrialists as a sort of domestic colony with no labor laws, no unions, and plenty of state government subsidies and tax breaks.

With the Democratic Party in the hands of the conservative, free market Bourbon faction in the North and South, farmers moved in an independent direction. The Greenback Party, the Grange, Union Labor Party, and the Farmer’s Alliance all came together to form the Populist Party. The People’s Party, founded in 1891, called their followers Populists. An unabashedly anti-corporate movement, they sought to fight the banks, railroads, and merchants. Economically, they opposed the deflation of the Gold Standard and instead move towards a fiat currency (such as we have now) by returning to the Greenback policy of the Civil War. A policy far ahead of its time, most academic economists then opposed what we now take for granted.

Unite or Perish

Quickly, the Southern Populists realized leaving the Democratic Party was not enough. The racial division of poor people led to political division which prevented the poor from succeeding at the ballot box. One Populist warned:

You are kept apart that you may be separately fleeced of your earnings. You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both. You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars both.” (1892)

On the ground, this famous warning of Tom Watson’s led to cooperation with the Colored Farmers’ Alliance and a pledge to focus on shared economic struggles over the prior divisions of the Civil War. Black Populists spread the gospel of the Farmer’s Alliance and began to vote for the Populist Party. In North Carolina, the white Populists formed a Fusion Party with the black Republicans and won control of the entire state government, overthrowing the Democrats in 1894. White Populists defended blacks from lynching threats from racist Democrats, riding horseback all night to protect their fellow party members from the Klan.

Nothing terrified the Southern elite more than a cross-racial alliance on class grounds. A horrific white supremacy campaign was launched by the Democrats throughout the South to convince all whites to vote their race not their class. In 1898, this peaked in the infamous coup and massacre in Wilmington, North Carolina (then the largest city in the state) where the Fusion Populist-Republican city government was overthrown by racist mobs incited by the major newspaper and the Democratic Party. The Wilmington Massacre was the death knell for the Populists. Soon after, every Southern state introduced Jim Crow segregation laws and disenfranchisement laws for black voters. But they also pushed poll taxes to prevent poor whites from voting either to prevent another Populist rebellion (in fact, Texas only had the poll tax officially for disenfranchisement).

And the Party of Lincoln and Emancipation? Why didn’t the Republican Party and North object to the complete destruction of the vision of Ulysses S. Grant and the Radical Republicans for the South? As Southern historian C. Van Woodward pointed out, the United States took possession of multiple non-white islands like Guam, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii in the 1890s. It was not convenient to let the natives vote as they probably would object to American imperialist policy. So the federal government took the lead from Mississippi and agreed that voting was best left to the white man.

In our current year of 2021, do not let anyone think that racism, mobs, coups, and voter disenfranchisement have nothing to do with big business or imperialist foreign policy. In fact, it is the latter that causes the former. Only a new Populist vision and strategy can heal the racial, regional, and economic divides created by our modern Bourbon Democrats and big business Republicans…… after their defeat.

Issue LXXXV: Blue State Bailouts, Red State Refunds

2 May

Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) angrily denounced Republicans in Congress in 2013.  It was “disgusting” that Republicans in Congress continued to delay and block $60 billion in disaster relief for the region after Superstorm Sandy.  “In our hour of desperate need, we’ve been left waiting for help six times longer than the victims of Katrina with no end in sight…. [s]ixty-six days and counting, shame on you.  Shame on Congress,” he said.  And this was with a Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH).  Other Republicans in New York and New Jersey were similarly pissed.

Cable news has been yakking about the political divide for twenty years now.  There are Democratic blue states and Republican red states.  But these well-paid misinformers fail to note some startling economic trends in political representation.            

Income polarization meets political polarization

The short story is that there has been a 20 year cull of Republicans in rich states and an affluent occupation of the blue states.  Many states had mixed political representations, but now poor states and districts are Republican and rich states and districts are Democratic.  Until recently, there used to be Democratic senators representing Iowa, Nebraska, Louisiana, and South Dakota while there used to be Republican senators in New York, Illinois, Vermont, and Oregon.   Go back to January 1998 and see the differences over 20 years by income.

  Table 1 – Number of Republican Senators in richer states (1998-2018)

State Household Income Rank January 1998 December 2018
New York 14th 1 0
Minnesota 12th 1 0
Oregon 20th 1 0
Washington 10th 1 0
Arizona 28th 2 1
Colorado 11th 2 1
Delaware 17th 1 0
Vermont 27th 1 0
Rhode Island 15th 1 0
Maryland 1st 0 0

 

Table 2 – Number of Republican Senators in poorer and rural states (1998-2018)

State Household Income Rank January 1998 December 2018
North Dakota 18th 0 2
South Dakota 29th 0 2
Florida 39th 1 2
Louisiana 47th 0 2
Georgia 32nd 1 2
Arkansas 48th 1 2
New Mexico 46th 1 0
West Virginia 50th 0 1
Kentucky 44th 1 2
South Carolina 42nd 1 2

The senators that remain in the wrong table risk losing their seat in the next election or on retirement.  Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Susan Collins (R-ME) likely will lose the 2020 election while Joe Manchin (D-WV) likely will be replaced by a Republican upon retirement.  Only New Mexico seems stubbornly Democratic despite its poverty.

Similar things are also happening in the U.S. House.  The GOP lost every single congressional seat in New England while Democrats lost all of West Virginia’s seats and the state government.  Five years after Superstorm Sandy wiped out the Atlantic City boardwalk, New Jersey Republicans drowned five congressmen in 2018 to become a 11-1 Democratic delegation to Washington from a 6-6 tie.  The ten richest congressional districts are all Democratic now.  If income now predicts party loyalty, strange political changes are now afoot.

The Coming Canadianization of American Politics

Any Canadian would laugh at my contention that American politics may begin to Canadianize.  With its civility and parliamentary system, Canada cannot be America’s political future.  However, when talking to Canadians about politics, they all seem strangely aware of how the federal government spends their taxes at the regional level.  Canadian government is much more decentralized than the United States.  For example, unlike the United States, provinces run Medicare not the federal government.

To help all Canadians get the same level of public services, richer provinces subsidize poorer provinces through transfer payments.  Oil-rich Alberta famously receives no federal transfer payments while poorer Atlantic provinces and Quebec get topped up by the federal government.  This allows those poorer provinces to provide similar levels of benefits and public spending as the richer provinces.  English-speakers in Canada routinely moan that the French Quebecers squeeze them for money by threatening secession.  In any case, Canadians seem familiar with who gets more money from the feds than Americans are.  Until now……

Blue State Bailouts, Red State Refunds

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) does not want to send federal financial aid to state and local governments.  Sen. McConnell says they should just go bankrupt.  He derides this as a blue state bailout since much of the disease (so far) are in blue states or blue cities run by Democrats.  New York, if a nation, would be the hardest-hit country in the world.

Keen observers of public spending would laugh.  The Bluegrass State routinely receives more in federal spending than it pays in federal taxes and has done so for years.  In fact, U.S. Rep Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) complains about moocher states that get far more in federal government spending than they pay in federal taxes.  Analyzing which states are net payers and which are net receivers is complex depending on what you exclude or include as taxes or spending, but anyway you slice it Kentucky got more and New York and New Jersey paid more in 2016.  Safe Republican states receive more in federal tax money while safe Democratic states lose money in federal taxes.  This gap has been growing over time and may be worse with the Trump tax cut which capped deductions on state income and local property taxes.  So much for all this “makers and takers” talk Republicans like to babble about.

Now there is nothing intrinsically wrong with richer people or richer states or regions subsidizing poor people or states or regions.  That is the point of a state or national government if they plan to have equitable public services.  There is no other way to provide funding on a uniform basis over a large geographic area (in fact it is the point of the Canadian transfer payments system).  But the United States Senate overall rewards small states with parity in representation with large states.  The imbalance will only worsen in the future as 70% of senators will come from 30% of the population.  This did not matter as much when states were not polarized by party and income.  The death of rural Democratic senators and the end of urban Republican senators means representation will become more and more like the pre-reform British House of Lords with a permanent Conservative majority.

In a normal time, this would make politics deadlocked and irritating.  Now with coronavirus, federal obstructionism becomes deadly for blue states.  If Republican senators representing states that are routinely “bailed out” as a matter of public policy refuse to let richer blue states redirect some federal spending for ventilators, testing, and topping up missing tax money from the economic collapse, millions will suffer and thousands could die.  It will ultimately make the recession worse.  In the long term, it hurts the richer, urban states which will hurt the red states which receive more money due to their poverty, military bases, elderly populations, agricultural subsidies, and so on.

What would it take for the Senate to understand that the current representation and polarization cannot stand?  It will not be appeals to morality or the public good; personal avarice and lobbyists will see to kill any of that sentimentality.  But the rule of thumb in American politics still applies: money talks, bullshit walks.  States will need to claim their tax money BACK from Washington.

Governors for the first time are coordinating policies on a regional basis.  Governors now actually are trying to unify and share notes with their neighbors on a daily basis.  There is a West Coast cooperation effort for coronavirus as well as a Midwest group of states as well as a northeastern group of states including New York.  The virus does not respect geographic boundaries.  If California and their neighbors are routinely being ignored for their pleas to get back their own federal funding, they should consider non-cooperation with the federal government.  Governors could say we will not contribute to taxes anymore, and we will tell our citizens not to pay.  They can say that the federal government is not protecting our citizens so we will ask for a federal tax reduction or a rebate of federal taxes spent to our region.  Or we want the Senate to reflect population like how state senates are in state capitols.  Or we will push for autonomy or separation from the Union in a peaceful fashion.  That might make the small states listen.  Only cutting off the gravy train (which they deny exists) will wake them up.

Canada has 10 provinces and 3 territories and is overall larger geographically than the United States.  When a province or region is upset, the federal government has to listen.   Many of the 50 states are not geographically or economically large enough to punch at their weight, and our federal government does not listen at all to regional issues that cross borders like the Great Lakes.  If the US moved towards either larger states or making these coronavirus regional cooperation groups into actually sovereign bodies with taxing and policymaking ability, people would not feel that the government is “too distant” to them when it is Denver, Chicago, St. Louis, or New Orleans instead of the East Coast.   These new regional capitals also should become media capitals, decentralizing our newsgathering away from New York and Washington D.C.  There is far more television news about provincial politics in Canada than state governments in the United States.  There could be regional PBS networks instead of just national and city programming that could improve the quality of our public debate.  Currently we have airheads in New York talk about the “Midwest” they do not know or live in or have ever covered as a state capital reporter.

Coronavirus challenges health policy, economics, and the political system.  But as the contradiction between funding and representation in the system grows, the divide between states is sure to take a more concerning turn.

 

Link

Rockefeller Institute at SUNY Albany – State Balance of Payments

Issue LXXXIV: Love in a time of coronavirus

18 Apr

The neoliberals don’t have a plan for that pandemic

The rapid unravelling of the world economy from the once humble but now novel and frightening coronavirus from Wuhan, China fascinates me.  A pandemic that hits at the intersection of economics, politics and health care.  My three favorite topics all at once.  One cannot be an expert in all of them equally, but it does not take much of an observer to see how clearly all three systems are failing all at once.

Not only have these three systems stumbled at once, but the reigning underlying ideological assumptions have fallen apart as well.  What we have been trained to believe about what was possible is clearly not true; this opens windows of fresh air despite the recent closure of electoral doors in our faces.  Let us look out these windows in turn.

Health Care

The employer-sponsored health insurance system the United States developed after World War II was mostly an accident.  Unionization in heavy industry lead to companies providing a sort of corporate welfare state for workers lucky enough to work for large companies.  This included pensions, health care, paid vacations, and even golf courses for workers.  Great for the little guy working for the big company but not so great for the little guy working in farms, small businesses, retail, or restaurants among others.  Those excluded began to become more and more numerous after World War II so patches were made to cover them (Medicare for the elderly, Medicaid for the poor, CHIP for children, VA for veterans) but no national, universal system ever became law.  More than 65% of Americans have private health insurance compared to 34% on public insurance.

Despite the erosion of employee benefits since the 1970s, the vast majority of Americans on private health insurance get their insurance from their boss.  The Federal Reserve of St. Louis forecasts an unemployment rate of 32% due to the coronavirus while JP Morgan predicts 20%.  If one-third to one-half of the private health insurance market evaporates from layoffs, what happens to private health insurance?  Can it be the cornerstone of the health care finance in the United States?  The self-employed also will not be able to buy private health insurance for their families with the downturn in business.  Is anyone actually thinking about the huge hole about to be punched into the postwar health care system?

Public health insurance (seen in Australia, Canada, South Korea and Taiwan) does not have this problem as health spending and coverage are not tied to the profitability of your employer.  A government can run a deficit and print money, but we cannot expect the MGM Grand Hotel to run deficits to pay for union health insurance when 150,000 hotel rooms are empty in Las Vegas.  A single payer, national health insurance program will cover you for richer or poorer, in recession or expansion.

Medicare for All becomes not just a slogan or a political platform but a program for survival of the entire American health sector.  Myths about single payer become even more ridiculous when we look at East Asia instead of Europe for health system comparisons.  Taiwan has very low administrative costs and low cost growth while a very robust private sector competes vigorously for patients.  Usage of health services is high with no waiting times or national caps on volume. Patients choose doctors and hospitals, and the national health insurance covers them all.  And no one would even joke that Taiwan is socialist since it was founded by Chinese escaping the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949.

South Korea also faces a nuclear-armed Communist neighbor yet somehow also manages to have a national health insurance system that went single payer in 2004.  Despite being an oligarchy of approximately 100 family-owned business conglomerates called chaebol, South Korea has universal health care.  Sure, Wal-Mart has more than $500 billion in sales and millions of employees.  But did you know that 20% of the GDP of South Korea is one company? Samsung.  Korean conglomerates loom so large it would make Warren Buffet blush.  Plutocracy does not limit a nation’s ability to have guaranteed health insurance.

Economics

People remark that things will never be the same again after coronavirus.  Have we fathomed how far this rabbit hole will go?  Small businesses will close, restaurants lock up, hotels shutter, and many of them may never, ever come back.  There will be major companies that may never recover like Macy’s, Sear’s, cruise lines, or airlines. Tourism hot spots like Las Vegas may fall apart if the cachet of being in crowds like in the pre-coronavirus days does not survive.

But let us think about the big boys who will be fine and always were going to be fine.  We should all be frightened that major employers will use this as an excuse to NOT hire back workers when the crisis ends.  Blue collar workers in warehouses and logistics have shown their worth, but I foresee this era of telecommuting and working from home will just become a stay at home unemployment.  Work from home will become stay at home and don’t work for millions.

The void will even hit recession-proof health care.  Elective procedures produce profits that keep the average hospital afloat; governors have cancelled them in the emergency.  Hospital budgets collapse and layoffs begin.  People assume the largest employer in Houston, Pittsburgh, and New York would be an oil company, steel mill or a bank.  Surprisingly, they are all hospitals.  Government, health care, and education spending should be stable or ramp up in a recession to provide counter-cyclical spending to boost the economy.  Instead, school closures and loss of health insurance from unemployment are PRO-cyclical and make the downturn worse as health and education spending fall.  What to do?

Conventional economics has been (secretly) thrown out the window for 12 years; this time, the public might actually notice.   As they deposit their $1200 stimulus checks from Congress, voters might consider how much money their employers cashed in the $2 trillion bailout.  The more dire the situation the more unusual and more heterodox policies come to the fore.

Government responses to recessions involve fiscal policy (money appropriated by Congress from taxes or borrowing) and monetary policy (actions by the Federal Reserve affecting the supply of money).  The $2 trillion bailout this month and the $787 billion stimulus bill in 2009 are fiscal policies.  This gets all the attention and causes Tea Party protests or congressional hearings and presidential debates.  But that misses the more mysterious monetary machine.

Behind the scenes, the Federal Reserve pumped far more money this year and in the Great Recession using monetary policy.  Traditionally, this occurred by raising and lowering interest rates by decreasing or increasing the supply of money to the economy by purchasing safe U.S. Treasury bonds from banks.  Lowering interest rates stimulates the economy and raising interest rates cools the economy.  When interest rates could not be lowered further during the Great Recession, a complicated idea called quantitative easing began.  Central banks began to purchase assets directly to stimulate the economy just to give cash to corporations.   NPR in 2011 explained lucidly how even Hilton Hotels in Hawaii and bankrupt malls in Oklahoma were purchased as collateral from non-bank corporations to expand the money supply.  Who knows what unconventional cash injections they will pursue this recession?

For a very good reason, the British Labour party proposed the People’s quantitative easing years ago in addition to other heterodox economic ideas.  If non-bank companies can get cash for shaky assets, why not use the monetary system to assist the general public? It would stimulate the economy more directly than corporate bailouts.  Not long after, many economists and central bankers rebranded the idea as helicopter money.  Just have the Federal Reserve add dollars directly into everyone’s bank account!  It would raise demand directly and equally instead of hoping middlemen do the right thing.

If money is something invented by humans, can we just invent more for us instead of Goldman Sachs?  The myth that people should serve the economy instead of having the economy serve the people is falling apart.

Political Consequences

Never has something as small as an RNA virus so quickly and completely proven in a matter of weeks the value and truth of what the left has said for decades.  Yet politically we have never felt more dejected than ever with the collapse of the Bernie Sanders (I-VT) campaign and the anointing of arch-neoliberal, mass incarcerator, criminal justice deformer, warmonger, and senator from MBNA, “Credit Card” Joseph Biden (D-DE) as presidential nominee.  The health and economic system have collapsed but the Democratic political establishment still stands.  A leadership class that at best tweaks the margins of the medical-industrial complex (or any industrial complex for that matter) seems neither shocked nor awed by the enormity of the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.

To take advantage of the moment, politicians have to have some animating beliefs.  On the left, reducing investment in prisons and wars and increasing investment in health, education, housing, and the environment is not a slogan but an actual agenda to reduce social injustice.  Reducing wealth and income inequality does not just make us feel good inside but actually improves outcomes in life expectancy, mental health, education, employment and crime.

The failure of the Bernie Sanders campaign is as unexpected as the conversion of the Republicans to handing out cash and giving out free coronavirus treatment under Medicare.  Newcomer Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) has proposed a Denmark-style salary guarantee at 80% of wages during the pandemic.  Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) focuses on the paycheck protection program running out of cash.  If younger Republicans move towards economic populism after decades of Baby Boomer economic libertarianism, the future of the right may be more interesting than popularly assumed.  More concerningly, a Hungarian journalist confided in me that Viktor Orban’s right-wing populist nationalism combines anti-immigrant policies with lots of economic subsidies and social spending.  A budding, new nativist Right with liberal spending habits in the United States should worry us all.

Rules are meant to be broken, myths are meant to be shattered, and conventions are noted in the breach.  The conventional wisdoms on health, economic, and political policies have all evaporated.  We should take note and then raise hell.

 

Issue LXXXIII: Brexit as Identity Politics

19 Dec

Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a smashing victory in this month’s British election. The Conservatives won their largest victory since 1987 while the British Labour Party had their worst loss since the Great Depression.

The British press and the BBC blame socialist Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party for this horrendous loss. It is a fair point, but the world’s oldest and most successful party has an above average batting average anyway; only three Labour politicians have won an election since 1945: Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, and Tony Blair. If an Englishman went to a voting booth blindfolded and without any recent news, he would vote Conservative no matter who ran Labour.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair never had to deal with the death of the Labour stronghold in Scotland. Due to the strength of unionized manufacturing and mining, the vast majority of Scottish MPs elected were Labour, and the last (unelected) Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was Scottish. Now the Scottish National Party, which support independence from Great Britain, wins overwhelmingly. The Scottish National Party’s social democratic vision of an independent Scotland has won over the towns that used to vote Labour. Imagine if Nancy Pelosi had to win Congress without New York because it was electing a third party to Congress? Not very easy.

The Conservatives would never win Scotland so the gains of the Scottish Nationalists never cost them much. England was were they would make their bed. And England will be the focus of this report.

Brexit as Identity Politics

Visiting England for the first time in 9 years, it struck me how on edge London was in March. Brexit seemed to produce a form of identity crisis and paranoia in Londoners. There are racists in the countryside I was warned and attacks on immigrants and the brown-skinned. Progressive Londoners seemed to being having identity crisis. The way people talked about issues had Americanized significantly (for better or worse) with social issues having far more importance than they did in 2010.

Now explaining all the intricacies of the United Kingdom and the European Union would take a full semester course, and I do not aim to explain how the anti-democratic European Commission works. Remainers and Leavers have both good and bad reasons for leaving the EU. Some reasons are social and some are economic. Historically the Labour Left opposed the European Union for being pro-capitalist and anti-democratic while the far right has opposed it for its regulations, freedom of movement for all EU citizens between nations, and its international court. The center-right and center-left of the two major parties have supported it wholeheartedly.

Regardless of the real reasons one can debate Brexit, it ultimately became an American-style social issue or “identity politics” issue like abortion or gun control. Being a Remainer meant you were cosmopolitan, tolerant, and happy with the last 30 years of the British economy. Being a leaver meant you were racist, against immigrants, stuck in the past, and upset with how deindustrialization ruined entire regions of the United Kingdom.

This is novel in the UK. The ramifications of social issues are lost on Americans as it has been so part of American politics we cannot see how much it can affect the electorate.

Decline of the center-left

Internationally center-left parties have two main constituencies since the late twentieth century: historic working class areas (urban or rural) and a growing white collar professional base. Squaring these two has become difficult every election with the former group shrinking in wealth and numbers and the latter growing in wealth and numbers. In the case of the Democratic Party, the leadership has consciously shifted their focus to the suburbs since the 1968 convention as explained in the book Listen Liberal by Thomas Frank. The disaffected workers began to shift to the right or stop voting all together since the neoliberal era began in 1980.

Americans, never historically-minded to begin with, now think it is normal for affluent Overland Park, Kansas and Troy, Michigan to have Democratic congresswomen while postindustrial Dayton, Ohio turns red. The ten richest congressional districts are all Democratic now. In hindsight, the Barack Obama 2008 coalition of minorities and affluent professionals has become even more polarized in the Pelosi 2018 coalition as more medium-sized cities turn red and historically union Democratic areas like the Iron Range of Michigan and Minnesota become Republican.

Britain moves more slowly. Right now the politics are catching up with the 1994-2000 era of America. Newt Gingrich and the Tea Party freedom caucus are similar to MP Jacob Rees-Mogg and the ERG faction of the Conservative Party. The loss of the historic mining towns of northern England is similar to when Al Gore lost West Virginia for the first time since 1984. Ex-miner Dennis Skinner, the longest-serving Labour MP, lost his seat to the Conservatives despite supporting Brexit. He was an old school left-wing unionist that opposed the EU for decades. Tony Blair’s old seat went to the Tories as well. Labour only represents London and other major cities.

Polarizing to the Right

This is not good for left-wingers who hoped for Corbyn to lead the Labour Party back to its roots. His base straddled between the anti-Brexit professionals and the pro-Brexit postindustrial areas. To please the cosmopolitans, he pledged a second Brexit referendum. This irritated the workers in the North who voted no and cannot believe the process since still on going more than three years after they voted leave. In 2017, he did much better when he promised a pro-worker Brexit (Lexit or left Brexit) and no referendum.

But the news is not any better for the neoliberal centrists in the style of Tony Blair as the ultra-Remainers, the Liberal Democratic Party, flopped with less than 2% of seats. Conservatives should cheer however. In political geography, they get to keep their elite urban enclaves in suburbs who would never vote Labour but expand into the forgotten and neglected areas of Britain devastated by free trade and deindustrialization. Doesn’t that sound like the Trump playbook in the industrial Midwest? Bridging the gap between workers in the cities and the small towns will be the only way for Labour to ever win, with or without Jeremy Corbyn.

What works in the Midwest works in the Midlands…. to Boris Johnson’s delight.

Issue LXXXII: The Future Calling from California?

18 Aug

A couple of months ago, California Governor Gavin Newsom told HBO that California today is what the future of America looks like.  A typical line from a California governor, but he ended the interview saying that the Republican party of California has reached “third party status” and the national Republican Party “doesn’t even know what’s about to hit them.”  He felt sorry for them.

Is this bluster or is there something real to be said about this?  What does this say or predict about Texas in the future if indeed Texas is in transition as California was between 1980 and 1992?  When more than 20% of all Americans live in Texas or California, what does it say about America?

The Republican State that Once Was

California entered the national stage as a Union state supporting the party of Lincoln.  It produced three Republican presidents: Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan.  In fact, Southern California brought us the modern Republican Party of suburbs and automobiles.  Orange County epitomized sunny selfishness and right-wing lunacy.  Ronald Reagan described it as Republican heaven.  The John Birch Society, Focus on the Family, Pentecostalism, and Hollywood all started or flourished in the warm Pacific sun of SoCal.  Its referendum process even brought us anti-tax politics (Prop 13) in 1978 and anti-immigrant politics (Prop 187) in 1994.

While Confederacy-supporting Texas was part of the Solid Democratic South, it elected only two Republican governors in the 20th century.  California was the opposite with only four Democratic governors in the 20th century; two of them were father and son (Edmund and Pat Brown).  Texas became solidly Republican between 1978-1998 while California became solidly Democratic between 1992-2010.  I showed how the former happened last year; now I demonstrate how California flipped.  I began my analysis in the 1950s when the modern two-party system began in California with Pat Brown’s election as governor.

 

Presidential Peaks

At the presidential level, California voted for the Republican every single election between 1952 and 1988 except one.  The Democrats usually batted around 3.2 – 3.7 million votes in the same period.  Their candidates for governor never surpassed 4 million until 1998 and sometimes did not even make 3 million.  But both parties were growing their vote for president; the Republicans just grew faster.

The Republican vote grew from 3 million in 1950s to 5 million in the 1980s.  Their favorite sons Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan both won 49 state landslides for president in 1972 and 1984 respectively.  But the beginning of the end started between those two spectacular triumphs.  Between the 1972 and 1984 landslides, the Democrat/liberal vote began to grow from 3.475 million in 1972 to 3.742 million in 1976 to 3.823 million in 1980 (including liberal independent John Anderson’s votes) to 3.922 million in 1984.  California’s population was around the same size as Texas today.

California also began to have an exodus in the 1980s of conservative whites to other Mountain West states who brought their politics with them.  Focus on the Family relocated to Colorado Springs.  Two million whites left the state over the decades.  Los Angeles transformed from the backbone of the Republican Party into a growing Democratic stronghold.  No Republican would win LA County after 1984 for president.

Getting to 5 million

I noticed a pattern when looking for the tipping point in California elections.  I kept coming across the number 5 million.  Once the Democrats reached 5 million votes for Senate, President, or Governor, the Republicans never won another election in that category.  Michael Dukakis moved the needle to 4.7 million in 1988 and won Los Angeles despite losing California.

But Bill Clinton in 1992 took over 5 million votes and the state never voted for a Republican again for president.  That same day, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein got elected to the Senate with more than 5 million votes.  No Republican has come close to winning those seats again.  And the Democratic presidential vote has continued to grow since 1992 to 2016 by 3.6 million votes.  California traditionally is a low turnout state, but with the state now promoting voting, there seems to be no apparent ceiling to the Democratic presidential vote.

The last traditional Republican politician to win the governor’s mansion was Pete Wilson in 1994 with 4.7 million.  Arnold Schwarzenegger’s victories in the 2000s never had more than 4.8 million votes.  Once the Democrats hit 5 million votes in 2010, the gubernatorial races became increasingly comical.   First, Republicans faced a Democratic Party that kept growing and growing.  Then they had a bigger problem.  They began to shrink.

 

What Decline looks like and the falling ceiling

Between 1960 and 2004, a landslide presidential win for either party was a margin of 1.2 to 1.5 million.  In fact, George W. Bush received more votes for president than any Republican in the history of California in 2004 with 5.5 million votes; that was just a smidge more than Ronald Reagan’s 5.46 million in 1984 when California had 9 million fewer people.  After 2004, it spirals downwards.

 

Declining Republican Presidential Vote

Year Democrat Republican Margin
2000 5,861,203 4,567,429 1,293,774
2004 6,745,485 5,509,826 1,235,659
2008 8,274,473 5,011,781 3,262,692
2012 7,854,285 4,839,958 3,014,327
2016 8,753,788 4,483,810 4,269,978

 

Republican presidential nominees now routinely lose the nation’s largest state by 3 million votes.  The maximum number of votes a Republican can get for governor, president, or senator seems to be around 4.7 million.  The last year a Republican cracked 5 million for president, senator, and governor are respectively 2008, 1988, and never.  The presidential vote is down a million since Ronald Reagan’s 49 state landslide of 1984.

GOP Meltdown Continues

What about Newsom’s quip about the Republicans becoming a third party?  Can they lose even worse?  Yes, the wipeout only gets worse after 2016.

The reversal in the OC has been swift, rapid, and complete.  First, Hillary Clinton won Orange County, the first Democrat to do so since the Great Depression.  Then Gavin Newsom wins every coastal county from Mexico to Oregon in a 3 million vote landslide for governor.  When all the mail in votes are counted, every single Republican in Congress lost in Orange County in 2018.  Finally, after a few months, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in Orange County.

In Sacramento, California’s Republican legislators used to wield power because the budget and new taxes required a two-thirds vote from the Legislature.  Now the State Assembly has gone from a 54%-46% Democratic majority to a 77%-23% Democratic majority in 20 years.  Republicans can’t even block a budget anymore with the Democratic supermajority.

Republicans even failed to make the Senate election in November 2016 and 2018 under California’s new top two system.  How long before their gubernatorial candidate fails to make the November ballot?  Could we get a Green Party or DSA candidate against a Democrat if the Republicans become a non-entity in the future?

The consequences for the Electoral College are even more disastrous.  The larger and larger margins in California make it potentially impossible for the Republicans to win the popular vote.  Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by 2.86 million votes.  Without California, she would have lost the popular vote by 1.4 million.  If Donald Trump had lost California by the typical 1.2 million votes as Republicans used to before Obama, Donald Trump would have won the national popular vote by 100,000.  As wins in Texas become closer and closer, California becomes a bigger shaper of the national popular vote.  This is a profound problem for democratic legitimacy of any Republican president in the future.

Issue LXXI: Texas, Turnout and the Presidency

14 Aug

A recent poll from the Dallas Morning News showed former Vice President Joseph R. Biden (D-DE) and Senator Bernard Sanders leading by 2% in a presidential election in Texas against President Donald J. Trump.  Granted, this was within the margin of error, but it tantalized political observers locally and nationally.  It is consistent with a UT poll showing a state split down the middle on re-electing the president but with 60% of independents likely voting against him.  Is Trump losing Texas a Democratic pipe dream or something worth investigating?

This led me to re-analyze the final numbers in last year’s Bhatany Report on the 2018 U.S. Senate race in Texas between Senator Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz and Congressman Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke.  The short story is Texas is a young, diverse, urban, and immigrant state which has very low voter turnout.  Typically, 50th of the 50 states.  The few who vote (especially in gubernatorial years) are older and disproportionately white because cities and the Texas-Mexico border have appalling few voters.  For a state with 28.7 million residents with 18 million eligible voters and 15.8 million registered voters, there are not many voters.

How few?  Presidential elections this century have all had less than 9 million votes while midterm elections have been around 5 million or less until last year’s Senate race jumped up to 8.375 million votes.  The interesting number I keep finding is no Republican has gotten more than 4.68 million votes.  Remember, there are 15.8 million registered voters in the state.

 

Stagnation and Growth Reversed

The Republican Party of Texas used to be the party of growth.  Between 1976 and 2000, the Republican presidential vote doubled.  Now it seems to have run out of gas.

Presidential Vote

Year Republican Democrat Margin
2000 3,799,639 2,433,746 1,365,893
2004 4,526,917 2,832,704 1,694,213
2008 4,479,328 3,528,663 950,665
2012 4,569,843 3,308,124 1,261,713
2016 4,685,047 3,877,868 807,179

 

The most successful Republican candidates keep getting about the same number of votes since 2004 despite the state adding more than 6 million residents.  There is not much variation between Donald Trump (4.68 million), Gregg Abbott (4.64 million in 2018), Mitt Romney (4.57 million), John McCain (4.48 million), and George W. Bush (4.52 million in 2004).  Before 2018, the typical Republican candidate for governor only got 2.7 million votes.

Since 2000, the Democratic vote is growing after decades of stagnation.  Jimmy Carter won Texas in 1976 with 2 million votes which is not much different from Al Gore’s 2.4 million in 2000.  Since 2000, we have John Kerry (2.83 million), Barack Obama (3.3 million to 3.5 million), and Hillary Clinton (3.88 million) slowly gaining on Republican presidential candidate’s 4.5 – 4.6 million votes.  The Democratic gubernatorial candidate typically crashes out with 1.8 – 2 million votes until 2018 when Sheriff Lupe Valdez somehow scored more votes than Barack Obama in 2008 despite running an awful campaign against a strong incumbent.  Regardless of the quality of the Democratic presidential candidate, the Democratic presidential candidate is gaining 90,257 votes per year since the year 2000 which is 361,030 vote per presidential election.

4.5 million votes or Bust

That makes it safe to say that the Democratic nominee for president in 2020, regardless of quality, should get 4.2 million votes in Texas.  That’s not bad since no Democrat reached the 4 million vote mark until Congressman O’Rourke’s 2018 campaign.  But it is not enough to win the presidency.

President Trump could lose votes in Texas compared to 2016, but I doubt he falls below 4.5 million votes.  Due to the unusually high Libertarian vote in 2016, it is hard to predict how much he could lose or gain from 2016.  He could get 4.9 million at most and 4.5 million at the least.  My gut feeling says that he would perform around Gov. Gregg Abbott’s 2018 re-election number of 4.64 million.

Is it hopeless for Democrats?  Below the presidential election are many elections that likely would be winnable with 4.2 million votes such as John Cornyn’s U.S. Senate race in 2020.  A vote that high could lead to 1-2 Republican congressmen losing office and perhaps a lower level statewide office or the Texas House of Representatives.  There are always many reasons to vote besides the national media’s White House obsession.  If trends continue for 6 more years, Texas will definitely be a swing state in 2024.

Issue LXX: Age Polarization and 2020

2 Aug

Did you watch the debate on CNN?  Likely not, as people tune out of the sickening spectacle of two dozen candidates pulling each other down like crabs climbing out of a bucket

Talk of “moderates” and centrists versus “progressives” and socialists and likely turns the audience off no matter how much they may hate the current incumbent in the White House.  But unspoken on cable TV is a concerning trend I have noticed which may affect electoral decision-making far more than the pseudoscientific political babble masquerading as political analysis.  Here’s a dirty secret that has kept popping up when I review election results.

The biggest political divide in the United States is age.

 

Arizona is now America

This was first noted in Arizona which in many ways prefigures the politics of today.  In 2010, they passed the first anti-immigration legislation at the state level, SB 1070.  Unmentioned of course was the role of the private prison industry.  Private prisons proposed the law to rural politicians as a jobs program.  Undocumented immigrants would be a new population to fill the for-profit prisons.  The prisons would increase jobs but also prop up the population count in the Census to prevent rural areas from losing representation.

As a retirement state and Southwestern state, Arizona has a huge difference between the racial and income profiles of the youth and the elderly.  The youth are poorer and more diverse and overall progressive while elderly (often from out of state) are more Republican, very conservative, and fairly racist and anti-immigrant.  The defining politician of Arizona is this era is not John McCain (R-AZ) but Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the Massachusetts-born Italian-American known for breaking civil rights laws and placing prisoners in tents in the desert.  The politics of older and richer white voters wanting to arrest younger and poorer Hispanics makes more sense now.  It just happens to be national now.

Nationally, the age polarization for the youth can be explained by the increased diversity of the under 45 population which has a higher educational attainment, less religiosity, and increased social liberalism. Many in this population are children of immigrants being born after immigration laws were changed after the Civil Rights Movement by the Hart-Cellar Act of 1965.  This polarization also seems to extend to Generation X (born 1965-1980) which is now more liberal than it used to be.

Recent Elections and Guide for the Future

This was not always the case.  As recently as 2000, Democrats banked on older voters for wins in Florida.  But that generation who grew up during the Depression and Franklin Roosevelt has mostly died off.  Older people represent Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) and the Silent Generation (born 1928-1945) who while fairly conservative have become even more so.  This affects how people should think about the “moderate-centrist” versus “progressive-socialist” debate on CNN.

Those over 45 have voted Republican in many elections now regardless of the Democrat or the Republican.  In 2008 and 2012, they voted for John McCain and Mitt Romney not Barack Obama.  Looking at recent national exit polls for U.S. House we see them voting for Republicans 54% in 2014 and 2016.  In last year’s midterm election, the over 45 voted 50%-49% for a Republican for Congress while the youth voted 61% – 36% for the Democrats.  Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House not due to her age group but to the voters half her age and younger.

When you add up all the votes, people over 45 typically represent 60-65% of all voters depending on the state.  The vote of the youth ranges from around 30-35% depending on the state.  This produces some fascinating results that have little to do with ideology of the candidate.  More moderate or “pragmatic” Senate candidates lost the over 45 vote no matter what with numbers that are all pretty similar; North Dakota 44%-56%, Missouri 43%-56%, Indiana 43%-55%, Arizona 46%-53%, Florida 45%-54%, Montana 45%-52%, and Tennessee 36%-62% in 2018.  Meanwhile, the exceptions were significantly to the left of center in 2018.   Sherrod Brown won the over 45 vote 52%-48% in Ohio and Tammy Duckworth 53%-47% in Wisconsin.  That feat was not repeated by the local candidates for governor.

In contrast, the under-45 vote almost uniformly voted Democratic even in uncompetitive races like the Texas governor’s race.   Interestingly, ruby-red Tennessee’s Senate election had former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen win the under-45 vote at a rate higher (61%-38%) than the youthful Beto O’Rourke in Texas (59%-40%).  But what made O’Rourke almost make it to the finish line against Ted Cruz while Bredesen ate a 10-point loss?   Beto O’Rourke drove the share of the 18-44 vote up to 39% of all voters while Bredesen only had 31% of all voters under the age of 45.  He also did slightly better with the over 45 set.  Stacy Abrams came even closer to winning than O’Rourke with 40% of all voters under 45 for a less than 2% loss (notwithstanding some electoral shenanigans).

What is the lesson for all of this?  Regardless of region or ideology, any reasonably competitive election shows that older voters are going to vote Republican no matter how liberal or conservative the Democrat is.  The trick is to more or less forget about winning this age group and focus on building the biggest turnout possible with Generation X, Millennials, and the upcoming Generation Z while reducing the loss amongst the older voters to 8-10 points at best.  The drop in the share of the under 45 vote from 47% of voters in 2008 to 46% of voters in 2012 to 44% of voters in 2016 may have made the difference.

The candidate that will motivate the youth and speak to their issues and problems and the problems of the planet will be best positioned to do win if we desire the removal of President Donald Trump in 2020.

Issue LXIX: Congressional Liberalism (Part 2)

17 Jul

Trump’s tweets to the rescue

President Donald J. Trump just gave a great exit for Nancy Pelosi’s feud with the mediagenic “Squad” of four progressive congresswomen.  When things are not going well, distract from the failures of Sunday’s deportation raids, the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, immigration detention camps, and a looming war with Iran.   Making controversial statements has been a Trump Organization tactic since at least the 1980s (see: Netflix’s Trump American Dream) long before Twitter and cable news.  Like the credible fools they are, the media and political classes swallowed the mincemeat whole.

After the president’s outrageous comments that Congresswomen Tlaib, Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, and Pressley should “go back” to the countries they are from, Speaker Nancy Pelosi swooped in to make a House resolution.  In a party-line vote, the House of Representatives has called these statements racist with only a few Republican votes (ignoring House rules that forbid condemning anyone as a racist).  Commonly mistaken as actual action, resolutions mean nothing and do absolutely nothing.  I call it a congressional tweet with a roll-call vote.

Speaker Pelosi can thank President Trump for papering over differences within the party to create fake Democratic unity.  This contrasts to the controversy over the funding for the immigration detention camps which led her to rely on Republicans to pass the bill while a hundred Democrats voted against it.  Are we a big single Democratic family now?

Actually, no.  This unity will not and should not last.

Next Steps

In my last post, I wrote that the controversy has nothing to do with the “Squad” being women of color, and if anything, that bought them a few months of relief before the DNC establishment went on the offensive. Any man would have been labeled sexist to oppose Pelosi at the start.  The Squad’s sin is to open up the congressional process to the public with social media, work hard at congressional duties, and avoid the fundraising circuit using small donors.  Others may have been doing similar things for longer, but somehow these four deservedly or undeservedly got all the credit and attention.

The Squad has to move to institutionalize their role in the party.  They can create a sort of left-wing Freedom Caucus, the way that the Tea Party did in Congress.  Call it the Justice Democrats or the Working Families Caucus for example.  It cannot be the Progressive Caucus because it already exists and has rolled over many, many times when centrist Democratic leadership told it to shut up.  The caucus needs inclusion and exclusion criteria to join: no corporate money, no SuperPACs, transparent and accessible voting records online, commitment to Medicare for All, and commitment to reform and democratize the Democratic Party and its institutions.  I would even suggest a refusal take campaign money from the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Committee to show their complete independence from the party structure and its corrupt fundraising.  A parallel fundraising and campaigning apparatus has to be developed with grassroots money.  New insurgent candidates have no support currently as the Democratic Party has resolved to cut contracts to any election consulting firm that supports a primary challenger (to prevent any new Ocasio-Cortez from being elected).  Members of Congress who join the caucus who do not follow the rules should be able to be expelled to promote loyalty to the cause and not just branding.

This caucus can be used to develop a coherent worldview that will allow voters to vote for the kind of policies they want.  This caucus will form a party within a party much like the Tea Party label did for the Republicans.  Unlike the Republicans, this caucus will eventually become the embryo for a new progressive, working class party.  Eventually, the right of the party will either expel the progressives or leave the party just the way the Right left the British Labour Party in 1981 and again in 2019.

Why should the Squad go on the offense?  Because even before Trump’s tweets, the knives were out. Justice Democrats, which recruited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, wants to target conservative or corporate Democrats in safe seats.   AOC’s chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti was part of this and is being smeared for wearing a shirt of Indian independence hero Subash Chandra Bose (a smear so transparently idiotic I will not even dignify repeating it).  Further proving my point that claims of racism and sexism may only be made by the Democratic elites against the left and right, the House Democrats official Twitter account attacked Chakrabarti for criticizing moderate Sharice Davids (D-KS) for funding immigration camps without human rights protections.  Per usual, he was labeled sexist for criticizing this Native American woman.

Identity politics does not and will not work, and the Squad better avoid it. The next time they call Nancy Pelosi sexist or racist, she will roll out the corporate-funded Congressional Black Caucus and its lobbyists to defend her.  If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar want to survive, they have to double down and institutionalize their challenge.

 

 

 

Issues LXIX: Congressional Liberalism

13 Jul

When Nancy Pelosi Attacked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D – CA) attacked four congresswomen in the New York Times over the weekend for opposing a recent bill on the immigrant detention camps on the Mexican border. The self-described progressive “Squad” of Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) have their “public whatever and their Twitter world [b]ut they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”

This is not the first attack she has had on the gang. In April, she also denigrated the progressive wing of the party as “five people” on CBS’s 60 Minutes. The leader of the Squad, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) pointed out that she can attend committee hearings all day long (you know, her job) because she does not have to dial for dollars and waste time with fundraisers like the other congressmen who leave early. She is funded by small dollar donors. She now complains that the singling out of newly elected women of color was “outright disrespectful.”

Identity politics certainly will not protect AOC and the Squad; it does not matter that they are minority women. Their sin is to be progressive and ambitious, and they plan to democratize the public debate to a clear left-wing point of view. As women, they may have avoided attacks for a little longer for pushing against Nancy Pelosi (the media class would have labeled any male opposition to Pelosi as sexist), but their get out of jail card was bound to expire.  Just ask white, straight, and male Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) who received plenty of minority and female political endorsements against a lesbian actress primary challenger from the left in 2018.  Identity politics is a tool only wielded by the center-right political and media establishment against the left and right.  No one from below is allowed to use the tactic in the class war.

This leads to my exhortation to avoid using identity-based attacks and critiques from progressives to the establishment and to instead use deeper theoretical and historical analyses to understand what is happening.  Speaker Pelosi can always deny being sexist or racist or have women and minority politicians deny it for her.  Plausible deniability always limits these tactics, and we need firmer grounds than this.  Hence my translation of the following quote from the late Professor Ralph Miliband from British English and politics to American English and politics.

Parliament, Party and Society

Of political parties claiming socialism to be their aim, the Labour Party has always been one of the most dogmatic – not about socialism, but about the parliamentary system… the leaders of the Labour Party have always rejected any kind of political action (such as industrial action for political purposes) which fell… outside of the framework and conventions of the parliamentary system.

Parliamentary Socialism by Ralph Miliband at the London School of Economics

This applies precisely to the United States in the following translation.

Of parties claiming liberalism to be their aim, the Democratic Party has always been dogmatic – not about liberalism, but about the Congress… the leaders of the Democratic Party have always rejected any kind of political action (such as strikes and protests for political purposes) which fell… outside of the framework and conventions of the Congress and its committee and fundraising system.

Congressional Liberalism (imaginary translated book)

The problems that Congresswomen Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Pressley will find within the halls of Congress are increasingly going to be the vicious reaction of the Democratic congressional leadership.  With their large cohort of member-donors, the Squad can claim that they represent a concrete base of the electorate.  Even though they can self-finance with online donations and can spend more time with legislative and constituent responsibilities, they represent a headache for the party leadership.  Party leadership wants donations from the corporate class and would rather continue fancy $2000 a plate dinners even though it wastes time and energy.  Relying on a well-defined party membership that pays regular dues will net tens of millions easily, but the members will want a say in policy.  If only 10 million of the 65 million Americans that voted for Hillary Clinton donated $10 a month to the Democratic Party, the party would have $1.2 billion to spend on elections, candidate recruitment, and organizers for grassroots mobilization for the year.

This is normal.  In a normal country, a group of people get together (farmers, workers, language groups, businessmen) to create a political party to represent their interests with party politicians.  The policies are set by the members in a convention and the leadership ultimately answers to the members who pay dues.  The members make policy and choose the politicians.  In the United States, it is the opposite.  The politicians choose the voters and the policy.

The British Labour Party was founded over a hundred years ago to represent newly enfranchised workers in the United Kingdom.  Members either joined the party directly or indirectly by being union members.  The Democratic and Republican Parties have no such things.  Despite the clear union origins of the party, over time the Labour members of Parliament began to see themselves as parliamentarians first and foremost and not members of a broad, progressive working class movement.  They viewed the officeholders in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) as superior to the millions of members and unionists.  Instead of a mass movement which elects politicians, it became politicians controlling a mass movement; that means using non-parliamentary tactics like mass strikes, or protests to achieve goals is a nonstarter.  Hence Miliband’s quip that this parliamentary socialist party was more into parliament than socialism.

In the Democratic Party of Congressional Liberalism, we have a party that refuses to see beyond the halls of Congress.  They too see power and policy to be exclusively in the hands of elected officials (or their fancy fundraisers).  Opening up the political-legislative process up to the masses via social media is not acceptable.  Challenging current incumbents in primaries (called “re-selection” in Britain) is nuclear war.  There is no role for protests or strikes to actually swing votes and demonstrate public sentiment (“public whatever” according to Pelosi).  Thousands or millions of progressive donor-members are derided as “just four votes” by Speaker Pelosi.  The same would never be said about the center-right Blue Dogs or the new Problem Solvers Caucus (who prevented human rights regulations on the immigration detention camps in the recent budget vote on the border).

This royal prerogative claimed by the congressional leadership brings a modern twist to King Louis XIV’s quote (“L’é’tat, c’est moi”).  What is the party and the state?  It’s us, in Congress, not you. If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her supporters want to survive the coming storm, they better improve their understanding of theory and history.  Because we cannot treat until we diagnose.  Conceiving of politics as being more than the decisions and votes of 535 members of Congress and the White House is a complete threat to the entire political establishment, and they will not go down without a fight.

Issue LXVIII: The Paranoid Style and the Mueller Report

27 Mar

Somewhere out there Richard Hofstadter is laughing.

The Columbia University historian gave a lecture at Oxford University one day before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  The title?  “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”  Professor Hofstadter developed concern with the looming takeover of the Republican Party from the moderate Eisenhower wing by right-wing followers of Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ).  As he reflected on the situation more deeply, he realized that this minority of people has a style of mind with a long history in the United States.  In Harper’s he wrote:

I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mindthe feeling of persecution is central, and it is indeed systematized in grandiose theories of conspiracy…

[T]he spokesman of the paranoid style finds [a hostile and conspiratorial world] directed against a nation, a culture, a way of life whose fate affects not himself alone but millions of others.

He then cites many groups and movements in U.S. history which contained the paranoid style which had risen and fallen over the years.  Cranks who opposed the fluoridation of water, Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts of Communists, the anti-immigrant “Know Nothing” Party, and New England preachers worried about the European Illuminati all contributed to the rich tapestry of American insanity.  No region is exempt from this paranoia.

Linking your domestic opponent with the foreign has rich roots.  Pure, “real” Americans have been hoodwinked by rapacious foreigners.  Texas newspapers complained that Catholics were paid off by the Vatican to spread their un-American religion while the president of Yale likened Thomas Jefferson’s supporters to the Antichrist filled with foreign French revolutionary ideas.  Today, Muslims are the foreign religion under the pay of a foreign power and the “secular humanism” of George Soros’s Open Society Foundation seeds the nation with future radical Jeffersonians.  Which brings us to this month’s Mueller Report.

A conspiracy so vast

How can we account for our present situation unless we believe that men high in this government area concerting to deliver us to disaster?  This must be the product of a great conspiracy, a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man.  A conspiracy of infamy so black that, when it is finally exposed, its principals shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest men…

Rachel Maddow could have closed her show with this paragraph last week on MSNBC about President Donald J. Trump.  Glenn Beck’s opening monologue about Barack Obama on FOX News in 2013 could have sounded like this.  But instead this is from June 1951 from Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) describing a conspiracy of Communists in the federal government.

Little has changed.  It won’t do to disagree with Barack Obama’s ideas, policies, tax rates, judicial nominees, or public priorities.  Or that he did not end our never-ending wars.  No, it’s that he was born in Kenya (41% of Republicans), or he is the Antichrist (13% of Americans).

Is it not enough to accept that President Donald J. Trump is a tax cheat abusing nonprofit laws and creating phony educational institutions like Trump University?  He has ripped off contractors and hired mafia lawyer Roy Cohn to bully his opponents.  The Trump Cabinet of billionaires and generals has pursued unwise tax cuts and environmentally destructive policy in public!

Why can he not be a corrupt billionaire at the intersection of broken D.C. politics and New York real estate shenanigans?  Why does he need to a traitor?  The paranoid style afflicting Democratic liberals since 2016 shows symptoms of the deep American past.  A secular liberal evangelical thinking, wishing for superheroes to save us (Robert Mueller) and reveal the shocking crime of conspiracy against our innocent nation.

Donald Trump cannot be us.  He cannot be America. 

Well, he is.  He is us as much as Barack Obama is us and is America.

If you cannot fathom that the nation that produced Obama is the nation that produced Trump, you do not understand how much those two Americas need each other and reinforce our squalid present.  The need to externalize our faults is at work.

MSNBC and CNN will demand the full Mueller report be released.  It will come out and should.  But according to the direct quote from the report from Attorney General Barr, there was no evidence of Americans in the Trump campaign conspiring with Russia’s election activities in 2016.  This has been hinted at for weeks if not months before it was completed.  Shifting the topic to obstruction of justice (where there is more evidence but not enough) dodges the issue that this whole campaign of Russian collusion was led by people with less than pure motivations (intelligence agencies and incompetent Clinton campaign staff) using the bizarre Steele dossier.  Trump is not a Russian agent and did not collude, and that was what this was all about.  The only real question is why did a counterintelligence investigation begin on a presidential candidate during an election year?

Maybe I am wrong, and some paragraphs in the full report will reveal some grand treachery.  But I feel skeptical.  The fantasy of a ripping away the veil of some great crime displays magical thinking.  There are no saintly heroes, and there are no devils.  A corrupt system produces corrupt politicians.  Fight the system and you might have a chance.  Fight fantasy and you collide with reality.

Professor Hofstadter would shake his head as he saw mainstream liberals following the well-trod path of Puritans, anti-Masonic quacks, McCarythites, and the Tea Party towards the paranoid style of American politics.

Recommended Reading

Andersen, Kurt.  Fantasyland: How America went Haywire, A 500-year History.

Hofstadter, Richard.  “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”  Harpers: November 1964.