Home / General / Noam Scheiber: The Left Must Never Walk *and* Chew Gum!

Noam Scheiber: The Left Must Never Walk *and* Chew Gum!


There hasn’t exactly been a dearth of terrible argumentation today, but here’s one more example for the case files – and it’s a doozy. According to Noam Scheiber, author of The Escape Artists, Bill DeBlasio has erred:

instead of transcending the Obama coalition, Mr. de Blasio has become its prisoner…from the get-go, Mr. de Blasio’s campaign fused two distinct strands of progressivism. The first was economic populism. The second was what some have called “identity group” liberalism, which appealed to black and Latino voters as blacks and Latinos, not on the basis of economic interests they shared with whites…The problem for Mr. de Blasio is that only the first approach has widespread appeal.

In other words, we’re back to the old fight between class-based vs. identity politics on the left, because apparently it’s impossible to do both at the same time.

Let’s examine this argument, shall we?

Let’s take the argument that it’s a mistake for Bill DeBlasio to “promise to win better treatment for minorities at the hands of the police,” because this divides black voters from white, such that “blacks approve of Mr. de Blasio’s handling of “relations between the police and the community” by a two-to-one ratio; whites disapprove by the same ratio.” Instead, Scheiber argues, DeBlasio should pursue  “issues by their potential to unite whites and minority voters, the most promising would be populist economic issues like raising taxes on the rich.

This is a terrible argument for two reasons. First of all, on a factual level, DeBlasio has been pushing populist economic issues, specifically raising taxes on the rich. The “ham-handed showdowns with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo” that Scheiber clucks his tongue at are specifically showdowns with Cuomo over income tax surcharges on the wealthy to pay for pre-K.  In his first year, DeBlasio has not just pursued raising taxes on the rich, but has also enacted a number of populist economic policies: he got universal pre-K funded, expanded sick leave for NYC workers, committed $8 billion to an ambitious affordable housing plan, passed an expanded living wage ordinance, and pushed for an increase in the minimum wage (which Cuomo has finally deigned to try to push up to $11.50) up from $8/hr. So clearly a focus on ending “stop and frisk” hasn’t prevented action on this front – progressives can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Secondly, Scheiber’s argument ignores the desires and needs of the city’s minority voters. At the end of the day, New York City is a so-called “majority-minority” city, and the core of DeBlasio’s electoral coalition were African-Americans (96% of whom voted for him) and Latinos (87% of whom voted for him), who supported him on the basis that police harassment and brutality against people of color be ended. Scheiber looks down on DeBlasio actually following through on him promises, on the grounds that “Mr. de Blasio’s identity-group liberalism has capped his level of support. Inroads among African-Americans tend to coincide with a decline among whites.”

To which I’m moved to reply: who cares? Black votes count just the same as white votes, and in a city that’s only going to get demographically more diverse, it doesn’t make sense for DeBlasio to pursue the allegiance of a shrinking portion of the population at the risk of losing his support elsewhere. Especially since as Scheiber himself admits, the 20% of voters who stopped supporting him between his election and his inauguration are probably white voters who never were on board with DeBlasio to begin with.

And this is where Scheiber’s analysis begins to swing towards that nasty trend of suggesting that black and Latino votes aren’t as good as white working class votes. Scheiber admits that “of course, given the country’s changing demography, the same dynamic can raise a politician’s floor of support even while it lowers his or her ceiling, insuring against a steep drop in popularity,” such that DeBlasio’s current strategy of pushing for social justice and economic populism will probably lead him to “a narrow re-election.” But for some unspoken reason, Scheiber doesn’t like the idea of winning with a coalition of racial minorities and white liberals as much as winning with a coalition that includes white economic populists who get to dictate the agenda.

Nostalgia for the New Deal may be pleasant, but we shouldn’t let it blind us to the political realities of the present. This is New York City in 2015, not the U.S in 1936. If there are white economic populists in New York City, then they’re the liberals who continue to support DeBlasio and who understand the political necessity for alliances with the black and Latino communities and the moral necessity of ending police harassment and violence. The ones who have a problem with the latter? They bailed on DeBlasio back in January 2014, not because of anything the mayor said about Eric Garner.

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  • CP

    To which I’m moved to reply: who cares? Black votes count just the same as white votes, and in a city that’s only going to get demographically more diverse, it doesn’t make sense for DeBlasio to pursue the allegiance of a shrinking portion of the population at the risk of losing his support elsewhere.

    thank you.

    This goes for the Democratic Party on a national level, too.

    ETA: and speaking to the New Deal, did FDR have this many concern-trolls telling him “oh, goodness me, you mustn’t get too close to all these Jews and Catholics. I know they vote for you and all, but you’re alienating the WASPs”?

    • RobNYNY1957

      Tha answer about FDR is yes. He was famously a “traitor to his class.”

    • My fascist great-uncle Leonard, from Minneapolis, believed that FDR was Jewish himself, and that his real name was Rosenfeld. I think concern trolling, like dog whistling, was at a very crude state of development in those days.

      • The Dark Avenger

        Look up the stuff flying around when a Catholic Democrat dared to run for the Presidency in 1928:

        Hoover wisely stayed away from debating the more colorful Smith (he would not even mention his opponent’s name) and presented himself as a smart businessman who would run the government like an efficient corporation.

        But the election soon took a sickening turn. The Ku Klux Klan continued to be a powerful force in America, with a membership that historians now estimate as high as two to four million. When Smith’s campaign train headed West, it was met by burning crosses on the hills and explosions from dynamite charges echoing across the prairies. Klansmen and other religious bigots swayed ignorant voters by telling them that the Catholic Smith, having supposedly sworn fealty to the pope, would turn the United States over to “Romanism and Ruin.” Protestant ministers told their congregations that if Smith became president, all non-Catholic marriages would be annulled and all children of these marriages declared illegitimate. Preachers even warned their congregations that if they voted for Al Smith, they would go straight to hell.

        Hoover officially proclaimed that his opponent’s religion had no bearing on his ability to be president, but even Hoover’s wife, Lou, whispered that people had a right to vote against Smith because of his faith. She and many other Republicans spread rumors of Smith’s alcoholism, which were already rampant because he favored the repeal of Prohibition or, at least, the right of states to choose for themselves. Republicans sneeringly referred to him as “Alcoholic Smith,” told of drunken public behavior, and claimed that he had already secretly promised to appoint a bootlegger as secretary of the treasury.

        In truth, Smith was a moderate drinker who enjoyed a cocktail in the evening from legal, pre-Prohibition stock. But as we’ve seen, truth rarely factors into presidential campaigns.

        • There were KKK members burning crosses on Long Island during Smith’s campaign.

          • Lee Rudolph

            On the Cross Island Parkway, no doubt.

            • Anon21

              Ha! But of course there was no Cross Island Parkway; that had to wait for Smith’s protege, Robert Moses.

        • Manju

          All true. And yet Smith’s electoral map managed to look pretty much like George Wallace’s…or Barry Goldwaters.

          • CP

            While he kept the Deep South, he also lost more Southern states than any Democrat since Reconstruction, so there’s that.

          • witlesschum

            Smith wasn’t running against Hoover in the deep South states, he was running against Abraham Lincoln.

            From the movie Lone Star:

            Cliff: I never thought I’d see the a buddy of mine would be dating a woman with three bars on her shoulder.
            Mickey: I think it’s beyond what you’d call dating.
            Cliff: You’re gonna get married?
            Mickey: Maybe.
            Cliff: You met her family? Think they’re gonna be okay that you’re a white guy?
            Mickey: They think any woman over 30 who isn’t married is a lesbian. She figures, they’ll be so relieved that I’m a man…
            Cliff: Yeah, it’s always heartwarming to see a prejudice defeated by a deeper prejudice.

        • I hear he may have been born in Kenya also.

    • Yes, he did, and about black voters and the unions too.

    • Manju

      I think Jim Crow makes this a moot point.

      • CP

        No, it doesn’t. Black people may not have been allowed to vote, but there were still unpopular minorities/outsiders who were – which is why I mentioned Jews and Catholics, the urban immigrants who historically scared the WASPs, but were critical to the New Deal coalition.

        • Manju

          Well, its race v class. The “concern” is that embracing the former undermines the latter. So for example, LBJ told MLK that he would like to wait on the 1965 Voting Rights Act…as he was afraid that supporting it would undermine his ability to pass the War on Poverty. He would lose Dixiecrat support. (This is not the controversial part of “Selma”).

          So FDR’s New Deal, in and off itself, doesn’t really fit the paradigm. Its actually an example of the opposite…submerging race issues into economic ones…which is what the concern-trolls want.

          • Oh for crying out loud, LBJ wanted to wait *later in the year* so he could outlast a filibuster. He did the same thing with the ’64 Civil Rights Act – made sure he got the tax cut through, then pushed the bill.

            • Manju

              Back then, a filibuster stopped all pending legislation, not just the one being filibustered. So…

              1. In 1964, LBJ makes sure to get thru tax cuts / spending limits first…as you point out. This breaks the conservative coalition. If he didn’t do that, Dixiecrats could hold tax cuts / spending limits hostage. “Pro” civil rights Republicans would likely cave, since they prioritized tax cuts and spending limits over civil rights.

              2. But for the 1965 VRA, it is the War on Poverty that could be held hostage. This is a different coalition. Its now “pro” civil-rights Democrats who are in danger of caving.

              So, lets stop there…and assume that’s what he actually feared. Even if you are correct, its still a pretty good example of prioritizing class over race.

              • The Keynesian tax cut was very much a liberal priority in 1964. It’s the same in both cases.

                • DrDick

                  Expecting Manju to have any grasp of American history or politics is always a fool’s errand.

                • Manju

                  Ok…you put civil rights first and you are in danger of not being able to wait it out…since other pieces of legislation get bottlenecked.

                  Historically, that means pro-civil rights legislators cave on civil rights because they prioritize the other stuff. (Yes, in better world it would mean that they all vote for cloture instead…but that is not our world).

                  You’re saying the other stuff was liberal stuff, and presumably the cave-dwellers are liberals. You don’t know how much I wish you were correct.

                • What I’m saying is that in both cases, LBJ acted to make sure the Dixiecrats couldn’t take liberal legislation hostage. Drawing anything more than tactical implications from that would be a mistake.

                • Manju

                  Steven…you have to explain why the filibuster was an effective hostage taking mechanism.

                  After all, if you were teaching civil rights history, students would naturally ask; “why didn’t the filibuster didn’t have the opposite effect?” Wouldn’t pro civil rights legislators be more inclined to vote for cloture…in order to get onto the business that was being held hostage?

                  Well, that would be logical. Except they valued class issues over race ones. So, even if we were to assume your narrative is correct…we would still have a decent example of prioritizing class over race.

                • The Dark Avenger

                  Don’t bother responding to Manju about the filibuster, he’s a living example of J.S. Mill’s famous statement about most stupid people being conservatives.

                • Manju

                  Re: 1964 CRA

                  The tax-cut deal involved Harry Byrd…who was holding it up in order to get some budget concessions. Byrd, it pains me to say, was a fiscal conservative.

                  It was a smart tactical move by LBJ. He should be credited. But it was smart because without it, some pro-civil rights legislators would cave on civil rights.

                  As to who LBJ thought would cave…northern dems or republicans…I always assumed it was the latter. I would be very interested in being proven wrong here.

      • Not really. Black voters in the North were a significant part of FDR’s coalition, especially from ’36 on. Hence the increasing fear from Dixiecrats that FDR would start supporting civil rights, hence the resistance to the court packing, hence the reaction to the Supreme Court’s shift on race in the 40s, etc.

  • BubbaDave

    Steven, I’d like you to meet Erik. I think you two have a lot of areas of agreement…

    • Yeah, just noticed that. Still, when an op-ed angers up the blood, the muse calls and won’t go away.

      • I did not know there was a muse named Blood. I agree with you: I will do whatever she says.

  • Malaclypse

    instead of transcending the Obama coalition, Mr. de Blasio has become its prisoner

    Examples of this being a bad strategy seem to be missing from this otherwise-fascinating idea.

    • FMguru

      It’s right there in the piece Steve quoted – de Blasio will likely win “a narrow re-election”.

      Surely, the most horrible fate a politician can suffer.

      • Steve LaBonne

        Not to mention that Obama’s re-election wasn’t narrow.

    • Shakezula

      Schreiber doesn’t like it, what more do you want?

      • Gut feelings are evidence of a kind.

        • Shakezula

          And evidence of Schreiber’s gut feelings can be seen on the seat of his pants.

  • WabacMachinist

    Scheiber’s reasoning bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the notion of “concurrent majorities”, whereby to be acceptable a policy must win the approval of a majority of whites as well as non-whites. The most famous advocate of concurrent majorities in US political history was that famous liberal John C. Calhoun.

    • It does indeed. Although the idea of non-whites being a part of the concurrent majority would have given Calhoun another stroke.

      • WabacMachinist

        You can hear echoes of the idea in the way Congress treats DC. Since DC residents “aren’t really” full-fledged citizens to begin with they can’t govern themselves without Congress’ express approval.

  • MADVargr

    Speaking of New York.

  • Murc

    Scheiber also seems to elide the fact that promising black and Latino people you’ll work to not have them murdered and harassed by the cops is the right thing to do.

    I mean, seriously. How hard is that to grasp? Even if doing that were a demonstrated political loser, it wouldn’t actually matter, because sometimes (surprise!) politicians do things because they actual hold actual beliefs, and those beliefs (surprise again!) can be judged on their actual merits.

    There is a time and place in which is it appropriate to make arguments of naked political calculation, but it is rarely appropriate to castigate someone for not making those calculations without also analyzing whether or not the policy and political stances in general are correct (meaning effective answers to the problem and hand) and right (meaning morally non-suspect.) Disregarding both of those factors kinda makes you look like a sociopath.

    • Steve LaBonne

      And when you make idiotic political calculations, it makes you look like a really stupid sociopath.

  • DrDick

    Scheiber’s argument against “identity politics” really just boils down to “di Blasio does not pander to affluent white people like me.”

    • The fact that Scheiber is surprised by a lack of BDB pandering to well-off whites suggests he never heard of BDB before the 2013 election.

      • Shakezula

        The fact that Scheiber is surprised by a lack of BDB pandering to well-off whites suggests he never heard of BDB before the 2013 election Pat Lynch and Rudy Ghuliani started yelling about him.


    • snarkout

      And as noted with the Scheiber’s own reference to the ACA, even a race-neutral attempt to better the lives of poor and middle-class Americans can be spun as giving money to those people, unless it’s explicitly or implicitly punitive to minorities.

    • Phil Perspective

      He did work for Marty Peretz after all. For 13(or 14) years!

    • Sly

      It’s not simply a question of insufficient pandering to white people, but that actively representing black constituents is something that white people will not tolerate. One could make the case that there are significant numbers of white people who fall in to this category – perhaps even enough to sabotage leftist policy so long as the national electorate is majority white. One can not make the case, however, that it is the fault of black people demanding equal participation in collective self-governance that this is so, and they should stop doing that because… reasons. The responsibility of this lies squarely on the shoulders of anyone and everyone who self-identifies as white.

      As an extension to this, one can also not make the case that economic justice is a worthwhile priority for any liberal or left constituency if it is merely an extension of white supremacy, because that precludes any real notion of justice. Put another way, if the white working class will only pursue economic justice for themselves, what makes anyone think that white working class people deserve economic justice in the first place?

  • Steve LaBonne

    “Liberals” who reek of unexamined white privilege like this should just fuck off and vote Republican.

    • Lord Jesus Perm

      I fear that there are more white liberals of this stripe than we realize.

      • FMguru

        This article was an almost purestrain example of Brogressivism in action. Minorities, women, gays, poor people, and the disabled need to wait quietly at the back of the line until we’re done dealing with the real issues of the day, or else the whole thing will come clattering down!

      • JL

        They’ve really been coming out of the woodwork lately in response to the anti-racist-policing movement. A journalist for the local alternative paper referred to the more extreme ones as “closet Archie Bunkers.”

  • MAJeff

    Nostalgia for the New Deal may be pleasant, but we shouldn’t let it blind us to the political realities of the present.

    Nostalgia for the New Deal might also include some racism. After all, many of the social welfare programs established during this period were created in such ways as to exclude most black folks by either legislative language or local administration.

    Scheiber’s resurrecting the “Reagan Democrats.” Racist whites who support social welfare state for themselves while ignoring or endorsing the exclusion and suppression of communities of color. That’s his New Deal coalition.

  • Ronan

    DeBlasio appears to be quite a good politician(ideologically and policy wise), from a left perspective, in general..is this impression of mine correct ?

    • Generally. He’s not the most decisive guy around (some major city agencies waited eight months to get their commissioners after he took office) and he’s not free of the general NYC political game, but he’s the farthest-left mayor since LaGuardia in the 30s and 40s.

      • FMguru

        I’ve been impressed with his unwillingness to back down in the face of the provocations from the NYPD and its union.

        • Oh yeah, he’s got a spine.

    • He’s done a pretty good job, overall. When it comes to moving the policy agenda, he’s done as much as can be done without support from the state.

      He got beat up by Cuomo pretty bad, but for the right reasons.

      And then he took a shot along with the rest of WFP on the whole Cuomo agenda thing and that failed.

    • He’s in an unusual position for a liberal in politics: any fixing he needs to do is fine-tuning.

      Usually, when a liberal or even a centrist Democrat takes over, there’s a massive overhaul needed (see: Obama or Clinton). deB takes over a city that was in decent financial position, albeit unfairly apportioned over the population, with few social ills beyond the aforementioned apportionment. There are issues, to be sure, education being primary among them, but for the most part, he’s engaged in maintenance, not rebuilding.

      • Lee Rudolph

        with few social ills beyond the aforementioned apportionment

        and the notably few, exceptional, cases of murder/perjury/harassment by the police!!!

  • My first question for Schreiber, after I ask him if he’s as big an ass as he seems, is “why do they have to be conflicting goals?” Economic freedom + racial freedom seems to be a win-win for everyone.

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