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The Aqueduct?

[ 206 ] March 11, 2014 |

Kevin Drum has a post relevant to the current debate on Democratic economic policy. I agree with some of the individual points, but don’t really agree with the general framing. “Democrats simply don’t consistently support concrete policies that help the broad working and middle classes,” he argues. Well, depending on how much work “consistently” is doing I’m not sure if I disagree but let’s take the points one by one:

Half of them voted for the bankruptcy bill of 2005

This isn’t an ideal example of a both-sides-do-it argument given that it passed with Republicans in control of the White House and both houses of Congress. But, still, it was terrible legislation, a lot of Democrats voted for it, and they didn’t filibuster it, so at least 3/4 of a point to Drum on this one.

They’ve done virtually nothing to stem the growth of monopolies

Neither Obama nor Clinton were very aggressive on antitrust, so fair enough.

next to nothing to improve consumer protection in visible ways

Uh, Democrats created a Bureau of Consumer Protection and Obama wanted to have Elizabeth Warren head it. Republicans are opposed to staffing it in principle. So both in absolute and relative terms I’m afraid I’m not buying this one.

They don’t do anything for labor.

Well, they appoint people to the NLRB who actually want to enforce labor law, which is far from trivial. But, yes, conservative Democrats have stopped card check and this is bad. So half point on absolute terms, zero points on relative terms (where are Democrats at the state level voting to take away collective bargaining rights?)

They’re soft on protecting Social Security.

Eh. I didn’t like Obama giving even nominal support for Chained CPI. But not only have Democrats protected Social Security when in office, but unified Democratic opposition was crucial to thwarting Bush’s plan (which, remember, was not merely to modestly cut benefits but to destroy the program altogether.) Anyway, Democratic support for Social Security could be stronger in absolute terms but relatively has been pretty good, and relatively there’s no comparison.

They bailed out the banks but refused to bail out underwater homeowners. Hell, they can’t even agree to kill the carried interest loophole, a populist favorite if ever there was one.

Both fair.

So we’ve established that the Democrats are suboptimal, not a controversial claim. But what about the positive achievements? Unlike Reed, he doesn’t simply ignore them, but he does yadda yadda them:

Sure, Democrats do plenty for the poor. They support increases in the EITC and the minimum wage. They support Medicaid expansion. They passed Obamacare. They support pre-K for vulnerable populations. They expanded CHIP. But virtually none of this really benefits the working or middle classes except at the margins.

First of all, a lot of this — especially the ACA — is far from marginal in its impact. And second, there seems to be sort of a shell game going on here where the imprecise terms “working” and “middle” class are used to dismiss the impact of Democratic Party achievements. (Drum also leaves out unemployment insurance, which is highly relevant to both the lower and middle classes.) Note, too, that to the extent that the Medicaid expansion has had a more marginal impact on the working poor than it might have, this was because of a Supreme Court decision by a Republican-dominated Court that Drum was inexplicably fine with despite its very thin textual and precedential justification. And, speaking of the Supreme Court, for middle class issues like consumer protection and workplace discrimination who controls the Supreme Court matters a great deal, with Democratic nominees predictably being far better.

So while I think Drum makes some fair points, his bottom line is overstated.

Comments (206)

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  1. Warren Terra says:

    I take it this is the reference for the post title?

  2. mpowell says:

    It’s unclear to me why Dems are supposed to be in favor of bailing out underwater homeowners. That’s just picking an arbitrary subset of the population and giving them a bunch of money (many of whom heloc’d out a bunch of equity in years prior and spent it). And it doesn’t really do anything great for the broader economy. The focus should be on avoiding recessions and recovering from recessions as quickly as possible while directing equitable levels of financial assistance to the most vulnerable groups. I don’t see underwater homeowner assistance as hitting any of those 3 points.

    Maybe you don’t like the fact that many senior executives at banks survived the recession in charge of things, but most of them already made their money. You aren’t getting that back. The shareholders were wiped out and the govt made money on those deals. And you need banks for a functioning economy. Unless you were hoping for a govt takeover of executive control and replacing all those management teams (and with whom?), I don’t know what you would have done differently there.

    Overall, it’s a pretty weak criticism. It make a great slogan for criticism, but it’s not much in the way of good policy advice.

    • advocatethis says:

      Bailing out the underwater homeowners, many of whom did not take out heloc’s but found themselves with balooning principal payments on houses worth far less than they paid for them, by at least modifying payments or, more helpfully, some version of a helicopter drop, would have shortened the recession and avoided the foreclosure crisis while still stabilizing the banks.

      I’m not sure how you fail to see how something along those lines satisfies at least two of your points (of course, I don’t know how narrowly you’re defining “most vulnerable groups”).

      As for the government making money in the bank bailouts, I’m not sure that’s a selling point to any of the liberals in the room; we don’t generally expect the federal government to be a profit making concern. Perhaps less of that perspectve would have led to methods and outcomes more to our liking.

      • Dilan Esper says:

        I think you are right that bailing out the homeowners could have been useful on the level of stimulus. And that’s a fine argument because the reality is the reason we bail out banks is stimulus (or, more properly, to prevent a massive financial panic and depression).

        But as a matter of fairness, I don’t really think the people who made bad financial decisions and got way underwater on their mortgages are particularly sympathetic people, any more than the middle and lower income people who lost a ton of money on the stock market. They were gambling with money they didn’t have. Our policies did encourage that, of course– the words “home” and “investment” should never be uttered in the same sentence again. But no matter how much the government is telling you to buy a home, the red lights should still go off when you are buying something you can’t afford, or borrowing more than the value of something in the very recent past, based on the theory that it will go up in value because other suckers will want to pay more.

        • Craigo says:

          I don’t really think the people who made bad financial decisions and got way underwater on their mortgages are particularly sympathetic people, any more than the middle and lower income people who lost a ton of money on the stock market.

          They’re absolutely not sympathetic, but I don’t think this describes all or even most homeowners with underwater mortgages. You’d be surprised what living next door to a foreclosed home will do to your property value. Or what losing your job due to a worldwide financial crash will do to your ability to pay your mortgage.

          • LosGatosCA says:

            Or having to relocate in the middle of a Lesser Depression for reasons totally unrelated to the economic forces at hand.

            Bubbles affect normal people trying to do normal business in abnormal times.

            And actually, if the money that had gone to the banks had gone through homeowners first, then the banks would have had their money and the debt overhang on consumers could have been greatly reduced at the same time.

            But, hey, that would have meant the banks would have had to wait a bit, they would have had to deal with their MERS fuck ups and securitization frauds in order to collect. And we all know moral hazard only applies to the ‘little people’ who need to feel the pain while the big boys whine about how ‘no one appreciates them.’

          • Pseudonym says:

            Why favor homeowners over renters, though?

            • Rigby Reardon says:

              Because it’s a lot tougher to get out from under one’s financial obligations as a homeowner than a renter, and because breaking a lease will not hurt your credit rating or future prospects nearly as much as a foreclosure.

          • Rigby Reardon says:

            You’d be surprised what living next door to a foreclosed home will do to your property value.

            The value of my home dropped from $195K to $55K surprisingly quickly (it’s an old Craftsman-type bungalow). And while, in sane times, it probably never was *really* a $195K home, it also hasn’t *really* been a $55K home for at least a decade, back when my neighborhood was astonishingly dangerous and blighted.

            Or what losing your job due to a worldwide financial crash will do to your ability to pay your mortgage.

            Yep. That’s what happened in my case. I wasn’t doing real estate speculation, I wasn’t “flipping” houses, I didn’t get an ARM with a balloon payment or an interest-only mortgage. I just had terminally bad luck, is all.

            Broad generalizations about whether or not underwater homeowners are “deserving” or “sympathetic” aren’t really fair or useful, unless your goal is to make yourself look like an ass.

            • chris says:

              But surely underwater homeowners are, at best, no *more* sympathetic than people who couldn’t afford a down payment in the first place. (Or for that matter people who smelled a rat and deliberately stayed out of home buying. Even if it was just a hunch that this perpetually rising prices thing was too good to be true — that was, in fact, perfectly correct, even if they didn’t have a fully developed line of reasoning backing it up.)

              A helicopter drop may be a fine idea, but targeting homeowners with it is not.

        • Opie Elvis says:

          Ahh, the whole “moral hazard only applies to the little guy argument”

          Yes there were flippers and there were people who should have known better but there were also a whole lot of people who got sucked into the maelstrom created by the banks and mortgage underwriter. And then there were folks who lost jobs and couldn’t sell or get out from under as the market and values crashed.
          But what the hell, blame the folks who had the least amount of culpability for the largest of the problems.
          Still, even if you do that there’s a sound economic argument that says stop the bleeding, get home markets functioning again, and restore some demand.
          Of course one could simply take the Mellon approach and ,”Liquidate” everyone.

    • panda says:

      Tens of millions of underwater mortgages= sharp drop in aggregate demand. Foreclosures= drops in the value of neighboring homes, creating more underwater mortgages, and weakening aggregate demand further.

      • advocatethis says:

        The reaction to the foreclosure crisis pull the curtain back on the whole tragic scam. Homeowner A can’t afford to pay $2400/month on the house he owes $350k on but is worth $260k. He tries to get the bank to work with him to modify the terms of his loan so he can be forgiven part of the balance. The bank doesn’t go for it and either Okays a shortsale for about the amount the homeowner wanted to modify the loan to, or forecloses and resells the house at that price anyway. The homeowner is out everything and the bank gets to write off the loss.

        • panda says:

          The tragic thing is that if the bank modifies the loan and works with homeowner, it can still write down whatever losses it made on the deal! The whole thing was just one big parade of pointless cruelty.

          • advocatethis says:

            Yes, I meant to circle back to that…in the end the important thing seemed to be that the homeowner would suffer. I can’t help but feel that if they somehow could have worked debtor’s prison in to the outcome, as well, they would have found that more satisfying.

        • njorl says:

          “The bank doesn’t go for it …”

          The problem was there was no bank to go for it. There was a mortgage management company which did not own the mortgage, but rather, owned the right to collect fees for managing the mortgage.

          A bank, which might have had multiple mortgages on properties in the same neighborhood, doesn’t want to see property values crash. They don’t want to try to unload multiple foreclosed homes all at the same time. A bank would have had the power and incentive to cut a deal.

      • Craigo says:

        Yes, exactly. If you want to “recover from a recession as quickly as possible,” the last thing you do is stand by and watch the country burn because you disapprove of people playing with matches. Yes, you should stop them from doing that – but maybe wait until after you’ve put out the fire.

    • wengler says:

      And you need banks for a functioning economy.

      You really don’t. But to the broader point that banks are needed in a complex, dynamic economy with millions of people, what you don’t need are banks making bets that pay off when they themselves implode the economy.

      The problem is these are the banks that the government bailed out, because they were the big boys with the tentacles inside every part of the executive and legislative branches. They ate the little banks with their much smaller lobbying budget and then preceded to steal thousands upon thousands of homes.

      The reforms that were made have done very little to stop another fall 2008 from happening. Obama has presided over an economy that has given 95 percent of its gains to the top 1 percent. As long as money flows like water to the richest 1 percent they will be using it to finance these highly leveraged bets.

      • jim, some guy in iowa says:

        how does a functioning economy not need banks? or maybe the question I have is what takes their place?

        • Bill Murray says:

          You need some of the functions banks provide, which is not the same thing as needing banks, especially banks as currently constituted, particularly the Bank of America, Citibank abominations

          • jim, some guy in iowa says:

            I agree about the ‘too big to fail’ banks but I still don’t see who/what provides the services that my local bank does

            • LeftWingFox says:

              Credit unions?

              • JoyfulA says:

                My credit union hasn’t been too responsive to my needs—doesn’t take foreign currency, doesn’t take international wire transfers, built a new headquarters with non-union labor, offered me an insultingly low credit line when I wanted to switch from a superbank. When I get motivated enough to learn a new online bill-playing system, I’m making a change, probably to PNC.

                • Hogan says:

                  doesn’t take foreign currency, doesn’t take international wire transfers,

                  Yeah, but who needs that for a functioning economy?

                • N__B says:

                  Drug dealers.

                • Davis X. Machina says:

                  The international wire transfer thing depends on the CU. I had kids study in Germany and Switzerland and did a fair amount of inbound and outbound wires — mostly rental deposits being posted and returned after vacating the digs — via my 6-branch local CU.

                  The one thing they won’t do is redeem savings bonds.

        • Dana Houle says:

          how does a functioning economy not need banks?

          Bitcoin and freeganism!

          As for “bailing out the banks,” to have done anything else in September 2008 would have been insane. The problem wasn’t that the banks didn’t need to be bailed out–many of them did. No, the problem was that the Republicans refused to attach any real conditions. That’s a classic example of how not paying attention to the legislative details renders the criticism nearly useless.

          I think Kevin is generally sensible and not prone to hyperbole or useless generalizations, but this is not close to his best work.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            No, his best work was his thoughtful, careful criticism of the mint the damn coin option.

            (I kid! His best work was his dismissal of research on kids and portion size!

            (I kid again. His actual best work was hist explanation of how to interpret confidence intervals in polls. That was solid.))

            • Dana Houle says:

              You know what he has been good on? “The crisis in American public education.” He’s been great at looking at the data and saying “huh, you know, what, take out the East Asian countries that torture their children to peak at 18, and our schools do OK internationally and have been improving.”

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                That sounds good. His work on lead seems good.

                I’m not saying all his stuff is bad but the bad stuff is rather mindboggling to me.

                • mpowell says:

                  His work on lead has actually been fantastic. I mean, here is a huge public policy mystery and Drum is basically pointing everyone to the answer (most likely).

                • Rigby Reardon says:

                  His work on lead (and, to a lesser extent, education) is what keeps me from completely dismissing him. His bad stuff is often *really* awful.

            • Nonym says:

              I remember the Parsia v Drum in re the Obamacoin matter, and while you tore his attempts to argue its illegality all up, I will point out
              1) It was an issue where a lot of people thought common sense said that that shit sounds illegal. It’s a bit of an outlier to use as a litmus test.
              2) Drum’s guess that the coin was a political loser whatever its legality has, as Dilan would point out, gone untested. I’m inclined to agree that it would have been a loser, too, but we’ll never know, because Obama didn’t even try to make a case for it.

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                1) Well, isn’t Drum supposed to be do analysis rather than just going “But it SOUNDS goofy, thus it’s obviously illegal”?

                And really, his performance there was awful. On par with cookieness.

                2) That very well may be. In the end, the debt ceiling was raised so it’s a bit moot. I’d have no trouble with a Drum who said, ‘Ok, yes, it’s technically legal but it’s also politically insane’. That’s not, as I recall, where he ended up.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Actually, this post and its follow up are pretty good examples of muddleness.

                  Let’s concede, for the moment, that the Democrats haven’t succeeded in crafting policy helpful to the middle class. We can ignore the reasons why; in some sense they don’t matter.

                  But we all agree that the Republicans are equally bad at the very least. (They clearly are far worse and would like to be even worse.) So why don’t they have a problem too? Is it their shameless rhetoric? But…Democrats don’t really seem that bad on the rhetoric. And if rhetoric is all the problem is, then isn’t that rather easily fixable?

                  (And really, presidentially, at least, we’ve had all the rhetoricians since Reagan.)

                  And really, the payroll tax cut literally put cash in people’s pockets in a fairly dramatic way…ok, it’s small in general terms, but it clearly got zero love. So, what exactly explains the difference in support?

          • Davis X. Machina says:

            As for “bailing out the banks,” to have done anything else in September 2008 would have been insane.

            Not for a lot of DKos regulars. Some of them were positively looking forward for things to all go smash.

            This would have ended our unsustainable, materialistic, consumerist system, and we would have all discovered our neighbors again via the joys of barter and subsistence agriculture.

            A good physicking for the body politic, forcing us to focus on what is essential.

            There were even seed exchanges…

            • N__B says:

              I have a tape – now converted to an MP3 – of David Frye making mincemeat of pretty much everybody active in national politics in 1971. It’s ostensibly the life story of Richard Nixon as told by Billy Graham, titled “Richard Nixon, Superstar.” (Clips here.)

              Nixon is worried about the ’72 election, so he asks for advice. He’s told that he needs to work on certain constituencies, specially farmers, blacks, and young radicals. So he meets with LBJ, Mohammed Ali, and Jerry Rubin. Rubin, when asked what he wants, lists everything he want to tear down, incidentally including The Bank of America. Nixon says “And after everything is torn down, what then?” Rubin’s response: “I don’t know, man. Sit around and groove on the rubble.”

            • LosGatosCA says:

              The bailouts started WAY, WAY before September, 2008.

              Maiden Lane 1, was March, 2008, to get Bear Stearns sold to JP Morgan.

              And even earlier –

              “On August 17, 2007, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve announced[3] a temporary change to primary credit lending terms. The discount rate was cut by 50 bp — to 5.75% from 6.25% — and the term of loans was extended from overnight to up to thirty days. This reduced the spread of the primary credit rate over the fed funds rate from 100 basis points to 50 basis points.”

              But granted by September, 2008 the full panic was on, luckily limited only to the people who used virtual bulldozers to push the money over to the banks.

              The beef I will always have with Bernanke is that he obtained ZERO regulatory leverage on these people the whole time these bailouts were underway.

              In fact, while the Fed bailed out Bear Stearns, they allowed $1Billion (I believe) to go to the shareholders of the bankrupt company, just to avoid lawsuits.

              How many SFR’s did Bernanke bail out with $1B to avoid lawsuits against the predatory lenders (even the legitimate suits on unlawful seizure)?

            • Dana Houle says:

              Yeah, well, DKos Kommenters; a lot of them are wise and brilliant, a lot of them are lunatics.

        • wengler says:

          I guess it has a lot to do with what you mean by functioning and what you mean by banks. If you simply mean lending, banks are just one of many institutions that can do that.

          The main problem is that banking and finance make up too large a percentage of this country’s economic activity, while controlling an even larger percentage. It’s not just that banks can still become too leveraged and debt loaded, it’s that the country is too leveraged on the power of the financial industry.

          • That’s kind of right. I am a tenant in a building of one of my clients and he benefits by having me occupy this commercial space. At the same time, I bill hi for the work I do on his buildings and his projects. Those two elements do not necessarily balance at every moment, so he and I are extending some kind of credit as need arises.

    • BoredJD says:

      And a lot of them are people who just happened to live in neighborhoods/regions that got shellacked by the speculators and the general downturn. Sure, maybe they could have avoided it if only they’d looked in their crystal ball in 2002 and told the family to put those new school clothes or Christmas presents on hold while they battened down the hatches, but let’s be realistic.

      • mpowell says:

        Is there a single housing market in the country where a home purchased in 2002 (even with just 10% down) would have been underwater in 2009? My guess is no.

        • mpowell says:

          Actually, to respond to myself, I’ll be some places like Detroit might qualify. But that’s a much different problem.

          • Dana Houle says:

            In the city, yes, but that has to do with a lot of other forces. In the suburbs, in 2009 most places would still have been below 2002 levels, but probably not by 2010 when it was clear the auto industry had survived.

        • BoredJD says:

          In purple states? Sure. Vegas, many markets in Florida and Ohio come to mind. I’ll try to find data later on.

          And remember, the typical middle class person is using their home as a retirement vehicle. Underwater is one thing, not profitable is quite another.

          Yes, this is extraordinarily dumb way to plan for retirement, but it was common wisdom for a long period of time. And I think that the greatest economic issues facing middle class people is that the economics of the “common wisdom” of an American life (buy a house, two cars, college for all the kids, comfy 401K) are getting progressively more out of reach. A lot of this is cultural and won’t be changed for another generation, but some of it the government can actually do something about, college tuition being the best example.

          • advocatethis says:

            I’m just curious about which of the traditional ways of planning for retirement (defined pension, social security, homeowner equity, IRA/401K) now don’t seem dumb or risky. If you’re advising a kid starting out now to plan for retirement in 45 years, what do you tell them to do? The old ways now seem pretty unreliable and I don’t see anything coming down the pike other than…don’t retire?

        • FLRealist says:

          I bought our house for $125,000 in 2005. In 2010, after both my husband and I lost our jobs, it was worth $34,000. We owed a little under $100,000 on it still. So yeah, it did happen.

        • Davis X. Machina says:

          My home, in suburban Maine away from salt water, was purchased in 1990 for $105,500, and valued for a heloc (college tuition for the kids) in 2007 for $110,000.

          Some parts of the country never recovered from the 1989-91 recession.

        • Rigby Reardon says:

          My guess is no.

          Your guess is wrong. Look at any number of markets in Florida, for example.

    • Joshua says:

      Bailing out homeowners would have actually done a fair amount for the economy in the short term.

      The big problem with the real estate bubble is that prices are sticky. With a stock market bubble, prices crash quickly, people lose a lot of money quickly, vulture capitalists pick up the pieces (think of all the fiber a bunch of bankrupt companies laid down in the late 1990s – that is the pipeline powering the modern internet). With real estate, it takes a while for the actual prices to match the market. This is, obviously, very explainable in this instance – we are talking about, for the most part, regular working folk who had all their wealth tied up in their home. Of course they weren’t going to accept that the house isn’t worth what it was in 2006 and move on.

      Bailing out individual homeowners would have cleared out that cruft and reset the market far quicker, so it could start growing again. The recession ended in, what, 2009? Well the housing market has been crap ever since. Any signs of life it has are tied to banks buying up foreclosed homes and renting them back to people. That’s not good for anyone… except the banks.

      Yes bailing out individual homeowners would have introduced a fair bit of moral hazard to the system, but I am not convinced it is any more than we actually got (which is formalized TBTF).

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        I think a homeowner bailout would have been quite sensible.

        But lest we forget it was the prospects of such which launched the Tea Party.

        • panda says:

          I think this was a matter of timing: by the time there was serious talk of homeowner’s relief, it had already been six months since TARP, and public anger at the very idea of bailouts was boiling, so the people who orchestrated the TP could latch onto it. If TARP had serious funds allocated for that purpose, that could have been presented as a matter of basic fairness and would not have aroused such anger.

        • lee says:

          Also, wouldn’t bailing out homeowners also have been bailing out the banks? Thus getting double the bang for your bailout buck?
          Instead we paid the banks for all their bad loans, but then the mortgagees still owed the money.

      • mpowell says:

        What do you mean the housing market has been crap? It has already very expensive again in a lot of regions.

        I could see bailouts helping the economy short term, but I don’t think it would have been much different from any other reasonable approach to injecting cash into the economy. And if you’re going to do that, I’d rather see the injection not be conditioned on something like the state of a families mortgage.

    • MikeJake says:

      Homeowner “bailout”, no.

      Bankruptcy cramdown? Yes.

      • mpowell says:

        Well, that would be different. I guess maybe I’m not really sure what a homeowner bailout is supposed to mean. But in a cramdown, there’s no outflow of money from the govt to anyone (or even really a cost to the lender in principle), so I assumed that’s not what is referred to.

        • advocatethis says:

          I think a homeowner bailout can mean many things – anything really that provide homeowners with home debt relief. Bankruptcy cramdown would have been better to have than to not have, but if you intend to try to prop up the economy, and the housing market, why wait until people have entered into bankruptcy before stepping in to help? There’s a lot of disruption that could have been avoided with earlier action, unless the goal is to make sure that “moral hazard” is addressed and people do some suffering. Like all that suffering that Dimon fellow has gone through.

          • mpowell says:

            I’m not as worried about the moral hazard as just the fact that in many places housing prices had just gotten absurdly high. Supporting those prices by throwing more money at homeowners seems awfully unfair to people in those areas who don’t already own a home. That’s why cramdowns sound better to me since they do rely on assessments falling.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      It’s unclear to me why Dems are supposed to be in favor of bailing out underwater homeowners.

      Because defaults and foreclosures screw neighborhoods, communities, and the entire economy.

      It’s not just a question of achieving the peak of redistributive justice. Homeownership is one of the pillars of the economy, and (as we very nearly saw) can cause the whole structure to come tumbling down, and that’s going to cause the wide-view problem you correctly cite as the most important s: avoiding recessions, or the deepening of recessions.

      • LosGatosCA says:

        There was an absolute blueprint to doing the whole thing the right way – the RTC.

        Banks didn’t want RTC because:

        1. Their criminal enterprises would have ended up like many of those S&Ls – sol
        2. They wanted the money directly and now, without conditions
        3. They would also have ended up like some of those S&L operators – in jail.

        The bankers learned from the S&L crisis – defer accountability to someone else and no one gets hurt but the little people.

      • chris says:

        Homeownership is one of the pillars of the economy, and (as we very nearly saw) can cause the whole structure to come tumbling down

        This seems to me like a very good argument for finding a new pillar for the economy. Levering up to buy real estate on credit just isn’t a sensible way for the majority of people to arrange their personal finances — even *with* the massive tax subsidies given to that arrangement, let alone in a hypothetical economy without them.

        If you can’t afford for your house to lose a substantial fraction of its value, then you probably shouldn’t be putting so much of your net worth into an asset as volatile as real estate in the first place.

        If you want to make this a nation of homeowners, you need to *first* make it a nation of people with *enough net worth* to be able to invest in housing and absorb the inevitable market fluctuations.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m waaaay late to this, but it’s long occurred to me that a “homeowner bailout” could’ve done a lot of the work TARP did (shoring up the banking system) in a way that would’ve been better for the little guy.

  3. wengler says:

    When compared to Republicans, how hard is it to come out looking good?

    • LosGatosCA says:

      Well, the bad news is that the Democrats are the second worst political party in the US.

      The worse news is that the worst party in the US is a bunch of psychopathic ignorant racist gun owner supremacists being manipulated by soulless billionaires who only care about low taxes.

      So the good news is that at least we have a choice to go with the party that’s suboptimal, yet magnitudes greater than the alternative.

  4. fledermaus says:

    I think the problem here is not with Democrat congress critters as a whole, but the not insubstantial number who seem to have no other operating purpose than re-election and donor service. And the blue dogs were not even very good at that first one.

    That’s how you get Dem opposition to a gun control background check bill that is favored by 80% of voters. Or endless calls to cut social security.

    • Dilan Esper says:

      I think this stuff is where the parliamentary system argument that was touched on in the previous thread really has bite. Parliamentary systems impose party discipline. They make it much harder for people to tailor their votes for their own political purposes without taking into account the good of the party or its goals.

      As I have said before, I don’t believe citizens have any obligation to vote strategically or even to vote at all– their vote is their individual property to be used however they want to. But legislators, who are hired by their constituents, are quite a bit different. Tying legislators to parties in a stronger way would reinforce the fact that they aren’t supposed to freelance.

  5. jeer9 says:

    Increasing SS benefits seems like good policy and a winning strategy with a section of the population that consistently votes. So why isn’t every Dem pushing this idea?

    • panda says:

      It’s not that I am opposed to increasing social security benefits in principle, but the American welfare state is already tilted toward older people in myriad ways. Since spending increases spends political capital, I think that that on both equity and on political (why fight for people who vote for the other side?) Democrats should have other priorities.

      • FlipYrWhig says:

        I totally agree. And current beneficiaries are the same group that skews every election rightwards. I don’t want to give those people any more money than they currently have.

  6. BoredJD says:

    How about a sustained push for college tuition reduction, all the way from Pell Grants to tuition caps (not the bleating about “access”)?

    • LosGatosCA says:

      Hard to believe Democrats aren’t all over higher education:

      - more subsidies
      - better loans
      - greater access
      - etc.

      But what do I know, 3/5 of my siblings and me have masters, multiple masters, and doctorates and 2/5 of them work at universities with oddly no overlap between the two groups.

  7. pete says:

    I do recommend reading Drum’s post, because Scott’s complains about the “general framing” without actually addressing the framing — which is about why many people vote against their interests. Note also that Drum is writing in response to this article about the potential electoral appeal of environmentalism. In fact, while I think Scott makes some fair points, his bottom line is overstated rather burdened by the straw he has been chewing.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      Say what?

      There are two problems with the Democratic approach. First, it’s too abstract to appeal to anyone. Second, it’s not true anyway. Democrats simply don’t consistently support concrete policies that help the broad working and middle classes.

      Sure, Democrats do plenty for the poor…But virtually none of this really benefits the working or middle classes except at the margins.

      Apologies for being peevish. But honestly, Democrats have done virtually nothing for the middle class for three decades now. They’re nearly as reliant on the business community for campaign funding as Republicans. Can we all stop pretending that there’s some deep mystery about why lots of working and middle class voters figure there are no real economic differences between the parties, so they might as well vote on social issues instead?

      So Drum says that the Democrats can’t sell themselves and they didn’t do anything worth selling anyway. Guhwha?

      If anything, Scott’s far too generous. Is this any more than the parties are the same?

      It just isn’t a reasonable analysis.

      • pete says:

        I imagine Drum is chuckling at the idea that he is being lumped in with the wild-eyed leftists, many of whom regard him as a centrist shill. Living in a society where incomes for the majority have remained stagnant for generations, don’t you think there might be a need to appeal to the middle class? Patching the holes in the safety net is a very good thing, but there are a lot of people it doesn’t help.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Isn’t that what he’s doing here?

          I agree that there’s lots more that needs to be done, but neither the first nor the second, third, or fourth impediment is the Democrats.

        • Just a Rube says:

          Yeah, I’m pretty sure that Drum is to the right of the median front-pager here at LGM; certainly if you put him and all the front-pagers together and told them to sort themselves from left-to-right, they’d sort out that way.

          But both the original post and the criticism have some merit, and are really addressing slightly different points. Drum’s post is explicitly addressing the “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” question of “why do so many working-class whites (especially men) vote against their economic self-interest.” His answer is that it’s not just some sort of evil Republican mindtrick where they distract voters with social issues, but that the average working-class white male doesn’t see much direct and immediate benefit from many of these programs. As a result, with little concrete and tangible evidence that the Democrats will be better for them personally on an economic scale, they vote for their next immediate priority, which is social issues.

          Lemieux’s point is that while these individual programs may not seem like much to the average working-class individual (if you already had health-insurance through your employer, you may not see any significant difference on a personal scale, even if there is one), they add up to a lot. That’s true, and valuable from a standpoint of effects, but harder to market.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            I don’t think that “the toe parties are the same” is inherently left or right wing: folks across the spectrum do it.

            The sensible point Drum could have made is that wrt inequality the Democrats haven’t been all that successful against it, sometimes because they lost and sometimes because they bought into bad things.

            But on the flip side, the Republicans have been spectacularly awful on this front. So I don’t see that Drum’s explained anything.

            Why do the elderly vote republican?

            • Lee Rudolph says:

              Why do the elderly vote republican?

              Dementia?

            • efgoldman says:

              Why do the elderly vote republican?

              The white ones (largely) do, because ever since Nixon the GOBP has pushed fear, fear, and more fear, spiced up with a side of racism and a soupcon (for the last 20 years or so) of homophobia.
              Seriously, old people tend to be more fearful. Me, I’m scared to death of the GOBP taking over the whole government apparatus again, but I’m not in the majority of my old, angry, white guy consort.

              • Lee Rudolph says:

                Although, as a musician, you might have an old, angry, white guy consort (like the Funky White Honkeys who perform sometimes in my neck of the woods—though I don’t think of them as being particularly angry), I suspect you meant cohort.

                • efgoldman says:

                  I suspect you meant cohort.

                  I suspect I did.
                  My wife plays in an old, white, bluegrass consort, but they’re only angry when the woman who can’t plat worth a damn shows up.

            • joel hanes says:

              Why do the elderly vote republican?

              Because that nice Mr. Reagan assured them that they were the finest people the world had ever known, that America was a shining city on a hill, the envy of the world, that they had no responsibility for the misfortunes of others and need feel no guilt or shame for anything that happens to another person. No guilt! No worries! Be happy!

              Because a major media corporation was created with the goal of splitting the elderly whites from the rest of the polity, and ensuring that they vote Republican by presenting those older voters with a farrago of lies and distortions purposely designed to make them fear and hate “others”.

              In short: because the elderly seem more vulnerable to manipulation through propaganda lies, and because Republicans are only to happy to provide propaganda lies in order to achieve power.

              • efgoldman says:

                Because that nice Mr. Reagan assured them that they were the finest people the world had ever known

                I hated Reagan and still do, but anyone who was “elderly” when he was president is most likely dead by now.

                • Joshua says:

                  The people who are elderly today were in their 30′s and 40′s when Reagan was President.

                  joel hanes is right.

            • Sly says:

              Why do the elderly vote republican?

              The elderly are disproportionately white; 75% of the 65+ age group compared to 65% of all age groups. A big part of this is the inequality present in the Post-War baby boom.

              In 2012, Barack Obama won every non-white age group and lost every white age group. This has generally been the case for Democrats since at least 1972, with exceptions in 1992 when Clinton won a majority of 65+ whites, and in 1996 and 2008, when the Democratic nominee won a majority of 18-29 year old whites.

    • Elmer says:

      well it’s Scott, misinterpreting others arguments is often his opening position, usually followed by (or substituted with) not liking the policies pushed by Democrats means you love Republicans, which makes an appearance in this post too. We barely missed the trifecta as if you don’t think like me about voting you’re wrong did not make an appearance

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      which is about why many people vote against their interests.

      I don’t see how this changes anything. Presumably, this question depends on comparing what each of the parties are offering. Absolutely nothing about my response would change my bringing up the “What’s the Matter With Kansas” opening that leads to his substantive questions.

      • pete says:

        Comparing: Republicans say they will cut taxes, and taxes get cut. Democrats say your life will get better, and … pundits have to go around explaining how your life is actually better, whether you think it is or not. I strongly suspect that you and Drum agree on a lot; maybe on this you’re just half-full/half-empty guys.

      • MDrew says:

        Presumably, this question depends on comparing what each of the parties are offering.

        Only inasmuch as how the voters (or, perhaps more significantly, non-voters) in question perceive what is being offered in turn depends on what is offered. Which is to a non-trivial degree, but nevertheless the question Drum is really dealing with here is why they perceive and react to that as they do. He says it’s largely because what they’ve been offered is marginal, and it’s fine to reject that, but that leaves the question of why they react as they do and what there is to do about that unanswered.

        Absolutely nothing about my response would change my bringing up the “What’s the Matter With Kansas” opening that leads to his substantive questions.

        What is the contention here? I don’t understand what this gets at.

  8. Patrick says:

    “And second, there seems to be sort of a shell game going on here where the imprecise terms “working” and “middle” class are used to dismiss the impact of Democratic Party achievements.”

    I don’t think it’s that much of a shell game. If you’re a working in a job at the $15-$25/hr range with healthcare you aren’t living the high life but most of that list of achievements won’t help you much. The ACA really is marginal in its visible impact to people who’s jobs already provided healthcare – that’s part of how it was able to pass.

    That’s not to say they aren’t wonderful programs. But Drum’s point isn’t that they aren’t good, just that they are aimed for the benefit of the poor (including working poor) rather than even the solidly working class.

    • Dave W. says:

      Speaking as the parent of a 21-year old son with pre-existing conditions, who will be graduating into uncertain prospects of landing a job with good health benefits, the passage of the ACA was not a small thing to me. Speaking as someone who has been laid off, who has started his own business twice and worked for other small companies with minimal benefits, the passage of the ACA was not a small thing to me. Sure, I am happy with my current employer-provided insurance at the moment. But the provision of a safety net that ensures that affordable health insurance will be available should circumstances change is not a small thing to me.

      • Patrick says:

        Right, it patches some incredibly important holes in the healthcare system. I’d say the ACA is the best example of a program that reaches the middle class, particularly as crappy/nonexistant employer healthcare has been reaching up the income ladder and job security continues to decline. But still the largest part of this is the safety net aspect if your circumstances change or if your son can’t get a job with the same benefits right out of school.

        Not a lot of people start their own business. Even with the Great Recession as horrible as it is, not a lot are laid off and unable to find a job before COBRA runs out. Even among people who have children nearing that 20-26 gap most won’t have expensive pre-existing conditions. If the Democratic message is trying to appeal to direct self interest you are relying on people’s ability to realize they may not be so lucky in the future. Which can sometimes be lacking.

        • efgoldman says:

          Right, it patches some incredibly important holes in the healthcare system.

          Yeah. I’m retiring next year, but I’ll switch from my employer’s plan to medicare. mrs efgoldman, on the other hand, is nine year younger than I, *and* with a passel of pre-existing conditions. The ACA will provide a nice bridge for the years until *she* is eligible for medicare.

      • pete says:

        I agree that the ACA is an important component of the safety net, and for all its flaws it remains something to boast about. But it’s a notoriously second-rate solution to a social problem and most people most of the time are not really going to notice even its subtle beneficial effects (cost control, etc). What we do not have now are viable, large-scale public programs to, for example, make tertiary education affordable to all without lumbering them with debt for decades. In fact, we don’t have a government that seems to regard that kind of investment in human talent as a plausible goal. The so-called left wing (within the Congressional system) has to a regrettable degree bought into the bootstraps argument. OK OK, no handouts but where’s the hand up?

      • The prophet Nostradumbass says:

        As a 47-year-old who is unemployed, with pre-existing conditions, and essentially stuck caring for his elderly mother, the ACA is a tremendous help, especially the Medicaid expansion. When Medi-Cal get through their backlog and I get on the program, it will be a great day.

        • sparks says:

          Yeah, well. I’m not getting within a mile of Medi-Cal until/unless sometime in the future I have no other choice as I own a house and have a bank account. The first-person horror stories I’ve heard about the state coming after those who had been on Medi-Cal who suddenly inherited assets (including homes) from deceased parents convinced me to get a plan I can afford which has nothing to do with that state program. The people I spoke to painted an ugly picture of their assets being seized. Seizing assets, mind you, that might have taken those victims out of poverty.

  9. Joshua says:

    The problem I have with that “on the positive” list is that it is just a bunch of handouts to people at the fringes – it’s not actually about changing anything wrong with our current system. I don’t mean this in the Paul Ryan Rand Paul sense. I mean that Democrats still, broadly, support the modern American capitalist system, with its billionaires and gazillionaires and vampire squids and all that. They are just, you know, a little bit in favor of helping a few people who don’t benefit from it. Not a lot, mind you, just a few.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      But couldn’t you say this about every major political party in the history of post-Civil War American capitalism?

      • Erik Loomis says:

        And really, that includes the Socialist Party of the early 20th century.

      • pete says:

        Yes. But. The FDR/Truman era creation of a basic safety net, plus the GI Bill, may have been prompted in part by fear of revolution but did both actually help a lot of people and set (albeit temporarily) a general social goal of egalitarian mobility. The subsequent and partly consequent civil rights struggles were also intended to have broader consequences.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          But it still fundamentally protected the rich. What’s more, people on the left used these precise same arguments about FDR selling out, etc.

          • pete says:

            Yup. And people on the right accused FDR of all the usual rabid stuff. I think we’re basically on the same page. All I am suggesting is that the trade-off worked better, for the majority, in that era than it has in most of American capitalist history, as evidenced by, for example, the GINI stats.

          • Joshua says:

            It may have “fundamentally” protected the rich, but FDR’s programs were big and helped many people. Obamacare is the only thing that comes close to that type of scale. I don’t say that as a slight, if anything it is a compliment, because it got passed.

            I see the carried interest loophole as, basically, very emblematic of what the Dems do these days. They talk a good game, and even pass some decent stuff (provided it is mostly small), but won’t touch the big guys when it really counts. The carried interest loophole would have been big. It probably never had a chance.

            Then I look at Andrew Cuomo, for example – why is this guy a Democrat, again? He is indistinguishable from Chris Christie. He might even be more to the right on economics than Chris Christie. But he’s considered, possibly, a future Dem Presidential candidate.

            I’m rambling now.

          • Sly says:

            Don’t blame me, I voted for Norman Thomas.

  10. Solar Hero says:

    A fruitless war of position

  11. Dr Ronnie James, DO says:

    Are we sure the issues being discussed are most resonant with the middle class? What exactly are middle class issues (as defined by the class itself): the economy, schools, property taxes, public safety, health care costs, gas prices? Anyone? I’m not saying Drum or Scott are wrong, I’d just be interested to see what objective data is out there as to what matters to middle-class voters.

  12. Not to belabor the point, but in terms of anti-trust:

    Clinton – Microsoft?

    Obama:

    Anheuser- Busch InBev
    Apple eBook pricing
    Sprint-T-Mobile

    We’ll see what happens on Comcast-TW, as well as less likely the Silicon Valley wage collusion issues, but I think these records have been better than the alternative. Always room for improvement, of course.

  13. dollared says:

    Scott. Free Trade Agreements. They never, ever, ever should have happened. bill Clinton.

    Allowing free immigration and mass union busting by illegal aliens. Never, ever, ever should have happened. 800,000-1M union jobs lost in meatpacking. Bill Clinton.

    Airline deregulation. Never, ever should have happened. 1.0-1.5M union jobs lost. Jimmy Carter

    Original bankruptcy act provisions allowing MBAs to make millions terminating union contracts and pension plans as Section 363 contracts. Never, ever should have happened. Democratic congresses in the 1970s and 1980s. 10 million+ union jobs lost.

    Kevin Drum is exactly right.

    • dollared says:

      Gad. The total lack of prosecutions for Wall Street crimes. The total lack of prosecution of Bush Admin for corruption. Financialization and overall corruption affect the middle class. Deeply.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Can we stop with the dehumanizing “illegal immigrants” language? How does this help anything? And the idea that it was immigration that busted unions in the late 20th century–no. Even in meatpacking, those jobs were moved before the immigrants got there and immigrants were and are among the most pro-union groups in the country. It’s true that meatpackers (actually it was trucking companies more than the meatpackers themselves at first, see Hamilton, Trucking Country) used capital mobility to bust the unions, but they originally intended on using rural white or black labor for that.

      • dollared says:

        No, we really didn’t need to allow 20 million workers into our country. It was a disaster for high school educated Americans.

        I get really frustrated with this issue with Democrats. I don’t give a shit about my choice of words. They were immigrants. They were illegal and they should not have been able to get jobs.

        When I was a teenager a high school educated person could go “into construction” and build a completely viable life path. That is gone – affecting 20 million Americans. And the frenzy of immigration and the transformation of job sites into cheap immigrant labor is a huge factor in that. And no, college educated Americans, such as you, just don’t give a shit.

        And yes, I lived in the Midwest during Clinton. And I watched the union busting by Hormel and others. And yes, it involved busloads of illegal Hispanic immigrants. This is all documented.

        So don’t lecture me about how Kevin is overstating his case, or how my choice of words doesn’t please you. I’m really comfortable, but I’ve watched dozens of my high school buddies lower their lifestyles and their expectations, decade by decade, while people like Clinton spoke deceitful platitudes and took money from the union busters.

        Just like Obama takes money from Wall Street. And nobody’s in jail.

      • Rob in CT says:

        I think you’re wrong about this, and he’s got a point. There’s no way that millions of illegal immigrants didn’t hurt workers at the bottom of the wage scale. No effing way.

        Overall? Might be a wash. But “overall” ignores distributional effects, and the failure of the winners to compensate the losers.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          Why are you using dehumanizing language when describing these people?

          • dollared says:

            Like “illegal immigrants” to describe immigrants who are in the country illegally? I’m sorry, which less descriptive euphemism should I be using? And of course, is that’s what’s left here? A Brooksian civility argument?

            “These people” are a part of my everyday life. I sympathize with their aspirations. I’ve learned their language and travelled all over Mexico, the Caribbean and South America. I’ve helped several of them, from Cuba, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala, find ways to stay here. Legally. But it was still horrible public policy to not enforce our immigration laws, and it was a clear case of the upper middle class and upper class selling out the working class and poor because it was convenient and cheap.

            And yes, it totally undermines the rule of law to simply not enforce a major set of laws in our country. No Democrat should ever support that.

            I am all for fixing immigration and ensuring that those that have built lives here have a clear path to full citizenship. With strong protections for making sure a vast, uncontrolled inmigration as a convenient way of placating Capital does not happen again.

      • Dana Houle says:

        A lot of the meatpacking jobs left MN and IA for Southwest Kansas, in Dodge City, Garden City and (the inaptly named) Liberal. I’ve been down there a bit, and talked to folks who know a bit about the industry. It’s one of the only places outside the industrial Great Lakes cities where you’ll see buildings as big as an auto assembly plant or massive steel mill. The plants are massive. And it’s true they have mostly immigrants, some undocumented. But it’s important to know the companies are always struggling to keep workers. Those cities are hours and hours from any major metro area; probably 3 hours to Wichita, maybe 6 or 7 to Dallas, probably further to Denver. They pay OK, but nothing great, and the work is physically devastating. And few families settled there; it was almost all men, and unless they ended up as a floor supervisor or something they generally didn’t stay long. In recent years the lower-level workers were almost all Latino, mostly Mexican.

        But now, recognizing their difficulties in keeping workers, the plants have been actively seeking refugee families. Now there are a lot of Somali and Burmese and Vietnamese workers. By bringing families–and not just from overseas; when I was there in 2010 one of the companies–Cargill, I think–had moved several Somali families from Minnesota to SW Kansas.

        Those companies didn’t move their plants there in the 70′s and 80′s so they could be dealing with massive staff turnover, followed by recruiting employees to move to SW Kansas. They were fleeing labor unions. The union meatpacking jobs didn’t fade away because of immigrants. Instead, the non-union meatpacking jobs were so demanding, poorly-paid and isolated that local populations couldn’t sustain the operations, necessitating the shift to a more immigrant workforce.

        • Dana Houle says:

          Good stuff on the meatpacking and rural communities here.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          I’m going to have a post on this later today focusing on precisely what led to the meatpackers fleeing unions and ending up out in Dodge City and Greeley. But basically what you say here plus some other stuff.

        • dollared says:

          The union meatpacking jobs were destroyed, leaving management friendly environments where all people with any alternative stayed far away. That was capital mobility at work, with immigrant labor as a huge aid to that race to the bottom.

          You guys just don’t have a memory of when union factory jobs were good, middle class jobs and working conditions were tolerable.

          • Dana Houle says:

            Wow, are you putting in a real effort to be ignorant, especially wrt who you’re lecturing on matters they know quite well, or does it come to you effortlessly?

          • Erik Loomis says:

            Yeah, I think I might have some knowledge about the history of American labor.

            • dollared says:

              I look forward to more information. BTW, I didn’t see you when I was picketing in Austin Minnesota during the Hormel strike. I guess I should have waited to read some articles before I decided to take action there. I was ignorant then, and I’m ignorant now.

              • Dana Houle says:

                I didn’t see you when I was on any of dozens of picket lines in Detroit.

                Which says as much about you as your comment says about Erik.

                [Your comment, btw, does say some things about you.]

              • Erik Loomis says:

                “I didn’t see you when I was picketing in Austin Minnesota during the Hormel strike.”

                Understandably, since I was like 11.

                Also, isn’t the basically the same argument as “you don’t know anything about ‘Nam since you weren’t there”? The idea that one’s personal experience means that historians can’t talk about an issue is a dead end.

        • dollared says:

          I think we’re discussing a chicken-egg problem here. They moved to flee unions. That was a viable strategy because of immigrant labor. It wouldn’t have been a viable strategy without the immigrant labor.

          As to the conditions being terrible, of course they are. They are nonunion and Clinton did not enforce labor laws, or wage and hour laws, or safety laws, with any enthusiasm if at all.

          The danger I see here is you are taking the end state and assuming it was inevitable. So now we have jobs that “we people” won’t do, so it’s OK to have “those people” do them. It’s pretty inevitable to have a vast underclass in your society if you think that path is inevitable.

          And a quick reminder: This was not an industry that faced foreign competition and therefore needed to lower labor costs to survive. The livelihoods of upwards of a million families were extracted and reduced, and the money went into the pockets of a few thousand people. That is the US inequality problem in a nutshell.

          And to be absolutely explicit. I don’t blame the immigrants. I blame a government that didn’t enforce the laws, for the well being of its existing citizens. I don’t see how any liberal can defend that.

  14. joe from Lowell says:

    On Soft on Protecting Social Security: Let’s come up with a list of policies regarding Social Security this administration has adopted, and go from there.

    I can think of two. They cut FICA taxes temporarily as part of the stimulus. They excluded the program from the cuts in the sequester.

    Anyone else?

    • dollared says:

      So, 1)they chose tax cuts as stimulus and 2) they didn’t do what would have been the stupidest move in the history of politics, and instead chose to have poor people starve. Wow.

      • Craigo says:

        1) FICA, as a flat, capped tax, is one of the most regressive we have, aside from sales taxes. We’re not talking about cutting taxes on capital gains here.

        2) Wha?

        • dollared says:

          Joe from Lowell suggested Obama was a hero for not putting SS payments on the table to be cut as part of the sequester.That would be the dumbest move in history. So instead the Dems agreed to cut Food Stamps.

          • So you’re saying the Dems protected Social Security at a painful cost.

          • Dana Houle says:

            Nope. Elections have consequences, and one consequence of 2010 and 2012 is we don’t hold the House and have to deal with lunatics. So, the choices were cutting $40b from SNAP and kicking almost 4 million people out of the program, or cutting $9b, with virtually nobody kicked out the program. So the Dems agreed to pass a bill that could get through the Republican House that didn’t kick anyone out of the foodstamp program. Here’s Robert Greenstein, who’s no austerian or conservative:

            The SNAP cut that remains is a provision to tighten an element of the SNAP benefit calculation that some states have converted into what most people would view as a loophole. Specifically, some states are stretching the benefit formula in a way that enables them not only to simplify paperwork for many SNAP households, but also to boost SNAP benefits for some SNAP households by assuming those households pay several hundred dollars a month in utility costs that they do not actually incur. Congress did not intend for states to stretch the benefit rules this way, and longstanding SNAP supporters like myself find it difficult to defend. Moreover, a future Administration could close off this use of the rules administratively, without any congressional action.

            Two-thirds of states do not use the current rules this way, and no SNAP beneficiaries in these states are expected to lose any benefits under this provision. Across the other one-third of states, CBO estimates that 88 to 89 percent of beneficiaries would remain untouched, while 11 to 12 percent would remain eligible for SNAP but face a benefit reduction because their state has used this practice to boost their benefits above what they would otherwise be.

            Nationally, 4 percent of beneficiaries would face a benefit cut, CBO projects. Over the coming decade, total SNAP benefits would be 1.3 percent lower as a result. The 850,000 households that would lose benefits would, however, face a significant benefit reduction — costing them an average of $90 a month.

            • dollared says:

              I understand the logic and it was the best they could do. I was objecting to Joe’s strawman, that the somehow the Dems blocked SS cuts from happening in the sequester. SS was never part of the sequester deal so Joe had put up a strawman.

              • joe from Lowell says:

                You have no idea what you’re talking about.

                Social Security cuts were not part of the negotiations that led to the sequester?

                Lolwut?

                (BTW, that’s not what “straw man” means).

          • joe from Lowell says:

            Joe from Lowell suggested Obama was a hero for not putting SS payments on the table to be cut as part of the sequester.

            I’m guessing you’re one of those people who didn’t better on the math part of the SAT than the reading. Am I right?

            What I actually did was start of list of the actions the Obama administration has taken on the Social Security program, so we could evaluate the claim that they have been “soft on protecting Social Security.”

            Apparently, the facts are so contrary to that claim that you felt the need to change the subject. And even then, you somehow managed to garble “kept Social Security out of the sequester cuts” – that is, actually make their from the package of cuts a necessary condition for his agreement to the deal – into “not putting SS payments on the table to be cut as part of the sequester,” as if he was merely ignoring the matter, as opposed to actively working to prevent their inclusion.

            Anyway, I can only gather from your need to change the topic from whether or not Obama has been “soft on protecting Social Security” to your feelings about stimulus measures that you’re giving up the ghost on Reed’s claim.

    • Rarely Posts says:

      Drum’s largely talking about public perception and positioning. And, a lot of Democrats, including this Administration, have positioned themselves as willing to compromise on social security — chained CPI, etc.

      It may be obvious to you, and Scott, and many political junkies that they won’t actually make any compromises on social security, but Drum’s right that the average voter could see them as “soft” on this issue.

      He’s contrasting Democrats with Republicans. And he’s right that every voter “knows” what Republicans will do for them — cut taxes. It may not be true or very much (if your income isn’t very high), but it’s a clear economic message that the Republicans beat on. The Democrats’ message and conduct is not nearly so clear-cut or consistent, and it doesn’t sink in with most uninformed, middle-class voters.

      This is part of the trade-off from being the “responsible” party on fiscal matters. Drum’s got a point that Democrats don’t have a clear-cut, economic message for the middle class. The best example is ACA, but a huge part of selling ACA was that it wouldn’t change things for most people.

      • Craigo says:

        It may be obvious to you, and Scott, and many political junkies that they won’t actually make any compromises on social security, but Drum’s right that the average voter could see them as “soft” on this issue.

        That would be true if anyone aside from political junkies knew what chained CPI was.

        • Rarely Posts says:

          They constantly say they’re willing to compromise, and the press coverage indicates that they’re willing to compromise on social security.

          The Democrats send the message that they are open to cuts to social security as part of long-term fiscal responsibility. Even if Scott and Joe are right about whether or not the Democrats actually mean it, we can’t be shocked that the general public might think Democrats are willing to trim social security and other benefits under the safety-net.

      • chained CPI, etc.

        Can you expand that “etc”?

    • joe from Lowell says:

      I see that, since I left, no one has been able to come up with any examples of Democrats being “soft of protecting Social Security.”

      Not one.

  15. joe from Lowell says:

    I haven’t worked full time since 2009, partly because of the economy, partly because we had a kid. Money has gotten a little tight from time to time.

    We refinanced under the HARP program, and saved a couple hundred dollars a month on our mortgage from that bailout for underwater homeowners. You know, the one implemented by the Obama administration.

    It made a difference, kept the wolf from the door.

    I really don’t think he gets “Both fair” for that sentence.

  16. Matt says:

    My problem with Drum’s argument: it relies on comparing what the GOP *says* it does to what the Democrats have *actually* done. To be sure, the Democratic party’s record on these issues is not great – but the GOP’s is FUCKING AWFUL.

    “What have you done for me lately” might explain why a husband cheats on his wife with another woman; it doesn’t explain why he’s decided to sleep with a rabid wolverine. That takes religion.

  17. bobbyp says:

    I would agree with your analysis, Scott. Some other points:

    1. The administration’s enchantment with so-called school ‘reform’ based on testing, a policy driven by self absorbed billionaires who got rich off government patent protection whining about ‘merit’.
    2. Democratic party support for ‘free trade’ (increasing resistance noted, however).
    3. Pretty much bi-partisan support for a “strong dollar” (so not all Dem’s fault by any means) that makes US exports less competitive and promotes off-shoring.

    All the above public policies are part of a larger pattern that results in redistribution of income upward. But you probably already read Dean Baker and know this.

    Thanks.

  18. patrick II says:

    For much of the last forty years a basic tenant of the actual democrats in charge has been neoliberalism, defined by a trust in a more unfettered “free market” that they portrayed as the “third way” between the large government social programs of Roosevelt and Johnson that would increase economic well being for both the rich and poor.
    That is not the way it has worked. The more unfettered free market has lead to continuous and increasing disparity between the rich and the poor and what is left of the middle class. The ACA is great, but even now not a done deal and many democrats have run away from it. The other economic programs democrats have had the courage to support are good but not hugely significant in the larger general trend of class stratification and capital accumulation in the hands of a very few.

  19. Aaron Morrow says:

    1. Sometimes I want to weep when I run the numbers and see that the original (pre-Supreme Court) ACA would have made almost the entire working class eligible for Medicaid. (Example: 4-person household making $32.5 or so, about the divider between working class and middle class, would be eligible under original rules.) Most of the time it makes me want to fight harder on the state level.

    2. Surely someone noticed that Kevin Drum assumed that Democrats do poorly with working class and middle class whites, but those numbers look differently outside the South than inside the South.

    • panda says:

      I am rather cautiously optimistic about point 1. I think that within 5 or so years, everyone but the Deep South states will have accepted the Medicaid expansion. This, of course, relates to your point 2, and there there is very little to be done really.

  20. Greg says:

    One thing Drum neglects, probably because it’s more of a state and local issue than federal, is education. Yes, some Dems have been too willing to go along with Rheeism, but by and large Democrats are the party of fully-funded quality public education, while Republicans have been cutting funding for public schools to give the rich more tax cuts or to give vouchers to private schools to teach nonsense.

    • Yes, some Dems have been too willing to go along with Rheeism, but by and large Democrats are the party of fully-funded quality public education, while Republicans have been cutting funding for public schools to give the rich more tax cuts or to give vouchers to private schools to teach nonsense.

      What planet are you on? Have you been watching any of the big cities lately? Democrats are selling out the public schools and school teachers.

    • BoredJD says:

      Yes, but that’s a city thing (i.e. lower class, i.e. not white). The middle class we’re talking about live in suburbs where education is funded by local property taxes. Suburban politics can be rancorous (I grew up in an old Massachusetts “open meeting” town) but there is no need for the charters outside of a few fringe voucher supporters.

  21. [...] Scott Lemieux agrees with many of the specific points I made, but nonetheless thinks I went too far with my “general framing.” His post is worth a read, and it also gives me a handy excuse to write a follow-up. This is partly to expand on some things, partly to defend myself, and partly to concede an issue or two. So in no special order, here goes: [...]

  22. Albrecht says:

    I am with Drum on many points. First you fail to note that Drum’s frame is this: Voters don’t PERCEIVE the Dems doing much for the middle class (which is different from people on minimum wage jobs). Hence they figure they may as well vote for the GOP (à la What’s the Matter with Kansas).
    Given this look at consumer protection. You are right about Financial Consumer Protection. But do you think this has yet made any noticeable difference in consumer’s (and voter’s) life? ACA: It is designed not to affect people with insurance from their employer, so by definition it largely does not benefit the middle class (apart from small stuff like the higher age limit for children on parent’s plan).
    In fact if you accept above frame you have to give Kevin all points except labor (which I don’t think many people–non-wonks I mean–care much about any more). Kevin does not claim that voters are fair in all this.

    • MDrew says:

      Scott, please respond to this. If middle-class and especially working-class white voters are not responding to Democrats on economic issues the way Dems would like and it’s not because Democrats have not consistently enough supported policy that helps the middle and working class, then what is the reason? Or do you prefer to challenge the premise that they aren’t?

  23. [...] Scott Lemieux agrees with many of the specific points I made, but nonetheless thinks I went too far with my “general framing.” His post is worth a read, and it also gives me a handy excuse to write a follow-up. This is partly to expand on some things, partly to defend myself, and partly to concede an issue or two. So in no special order, here goes: [...]

  24. [...] Scott Lemieux agrees with many of the specific points I made, but nonetheless thinks I went too far with my “general framing.” His post is worth a read, and it also gives me a handy excuse to write a follow-up. This is partly to expand on some things, partly to defend myself, and partly to concede an issue or two. So in no special order, here goes: [...]

  25. [...] comments last night, dollared said this about the decline of unionized meatpacking: Allowing free immigration and mass union busting by illegal aliens. Never, ever, ever should have [...]

  26. chris says:

    Democrats simply don’t consistently support concrete policies that help the broad working and middle classes

    This is technically true (they support some such policies and pay no attention to others, thus don’t *consistently* support them), but surely it’s relevant to note that Republicans consistently oppose these same policies?

    The two-party system is a present political reality; if Drum has a plan to replace it he is free to propose one, but until such a plan succeeds (if ever), each party has to be understood in the context of the other.

    And from that point of view there is very little room for doubt that if you care about the well-being of the working and middle classes, you’d rather have Democrats in power than Republicans.

  27. [...] was recently dismissive of the Democratic Party’s record on antitrust, and in doing so I was unfair; the Obama [...]

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