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The Non-Existent Non-Incrementalist Golden Age of the Democratic Party

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FDR12

With apologies in advance for two Freddie-related posts in 24 hours, I can’t resist this (and it’s worth discussing because it’s a particularly bald version of a fallacy shared by people with much deeper historical learning):

As the historian Kevin Kruse (whose book One Nation Under God is strongly recommended) observed, the obvious answers are “yes,” “yes,” “yes,” and “this is not a thing but assuming you mean the Fair Housing Act, yes.” The idea that the Social Security — which not only offered modest benefits but intentionally excluded large numbers of African-Americans — was not an example of incremental reform is quite remarkable. Even more revealing is the Medicaid example. Nothing makes it clearer that this fake-nostalgia for the REAL LIBERAL Democratic Party of yore is just a rhetorical cudgel with which to beat Democrats and not any kind of serious historical analysis than this. Apparently, a public health insurance program that required states to cover only a subset of people well below the poverty line was REAL, UNCOMPROMISING LIBERALISM while a public health insurance program that required states to cover everyone up to 138% of the poverty line is the hopelessly compromised neoliberal work of useless corporate sellouts. Right.

Some people tried to salvage deBoer’s hilarious wrongness by arguing that while the end products of the New Deal and Great Society might have been incremental reform rather than uncompromising triumphs, the process behind them wasn’t. But this is just as false. The Social Security Act did not arise only after FDR tried to ram an expansive, racially egalitarian version right down Congress’s throat. FDR was not, you know, a moron; he didn’t think he would be able to persuade the Southern Democrats whose votes he needed to provide generous public assistance to African-American constituents. Similarly, LBJ Didn’t. Even. Try to get comprehensive health care reform. Medicare and Medicaid were what he asked for, watered down by the conservative Democrats and Republicans whose votes were necessary to pass it. People who think that important legislation gets passed by presidents making opening bids far outside the expected negotiating space have no idea how presidential power works. (And, for that matter, have no idea how negotiating works. If the Mariners phone up the Angels and offer Mike Zunino for Mike Trout, that doesn’t mean that the Angels will then offer to accept Leonys Martin for Mike Trout; it means the Angels GM will stop taking your phone calls.) To say that a president “pre-comprimised” is often used as an insult, but it is in fact a sign that he knows what he’s doing. The lessons of FDR and LBJ — and now Obama — are the opposite of what this faction of the left thinks they are.

Anyway, we needn’t dwell on this because Freddie abandoned his inept history in record time, and pivoted to an equally terrible argument:

I see. So, having abandoned the claim that the liberal victories of the New Deal and Great Society weren’t “incremental,” we now have an argument that they prove that incrementalism is always a mistake. But this is insane, not to mention monstrous. (That Freddie was last seen arguing that if you point out that racists constitute a significant amount of Trump’s support you therefore ipso facto want the working class to suffer makes this extra special.) The options faced by FDR were “a horribly compromised Social Security Act” or “nothing.” The idea that FDR should have chosen the latter is nuts. If LBJ had held out for comprehensive health care reform, he would have gotten nothing. But of course this is the whole underlying fallacy of the argument (which, again, is worth discussing only because it’s far from unique to Freddie.) “Incrementalism” is not a choice FDR and LBJ made; it was a necessity. Majority coalitions to get the legislation you think the country needs in exactly the form you want aren’t something you can just declare by fiat. The fact that deBoer’s only remaining example of change that isn’t “incremental” literally involved a civil war that killed upwards of a million people tells you everything you need to know.

And this is why too many people are vastly overestimating the stakes of the 2016 Democratic primaries. The choice between Clinton and Sanders is not a choice between “incremental” change and an uncompromising “political revolution.” If Republicans control the House, we’re not going to get significant progressive reform, incremental or otherwise. If Trump drags the GOP down so much that Democrats take the House, that doesn’t mean that President Sanders would be able to get universal free public college education and single-payer out of Congress — the Democrats in marginal Senate and House seats that allowed for Democratic control of Congress will not, to put it mildly, be social democrats, and you need their votes to pass stuff. This doesn’t mean that there’s nothing at stake in the outcome of the primaries — the incremental change of a Sanders administration would probably take a different form than that of the Clinton administration — but the differences are just far, far less than many people think. There are real choices being made, but the choices are not about whether reform should be “incremental.” That’s the form that major reform legislation takes even in unusually favorable circumstances in the Madisonian system.

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  • Steve LaBonne

    Also, the fact that the Freddies of the world consistently ignore the blatant racism of the REAL, LIBERAL, UNCOMPROMISING New Deal Democratic Party and its policies, tells you everything you need to know about what they do and don’t care about.

    • humanoid.panda

      Or, they are just ignorant pricks.

      • DrDick

        Who understand absolutely nothing about politics.

        • efgoldman

          Who understand absolutely nothing about politics.

          And apparently never read (let alone studied) any history.

          • DrDick

            A major reason they know nothing about politics.

            • humanoid.panda

              So, ignorant pricks after all!

    • Docrailgun

      Freddie pointed out today that he’s not a liberal, he’s a socialist. So, he doesn’t care about Democrats or the Democratic party.

      • Steve LaBonne

        Until he wants to cite mythical examples of non-incremental change from the mythically golden New Deal area.

  • Morbo

    Two posts in a day? Why are you so obsessed with a simple grad student with a blog? It must really burn you up all the places he’s been published.

    • J. Otto Pohl

      On the premise that there is no such thing as bad publicity especially when it is free DeBoer is doing something right. It appears according to this blog that he is better known than any living Ghanaian outside of Kofi Annan. If he had gone into advertising he would have been rich by now.

      • UserGoogol

        I keep seeing Freddie deBoer showing up in other contexts, and I assume that 100% of his prominence is thanks to the tireless work of Lawyers Guns, and Money.

      • Planetologist Kynes

        the top-ranked NBA JAM player on the playstation network is a user named “ghanastriker”.

        ghana’s on the map, baby!

        • J. Otto Pohl

          Interesting since Ghanaians generally only care about football when it comes to sports except for the Ga who still like boxing. But, basketball is not very popular at all. Here at the uni most of the basketball courts are occupied by Chinese not Ghanaians on any given day.

      • Warren Terra

        Wikipedia’s list of famous Ghanaians includes people with Ghanaian heritage. Idris Elba is pretty well known and successful.

        • J. Otto Pohl

          It was hyperbole. Every American my parents’ age knows about Azumah Nelson and none of them have heard about DeBoer.

          • Warren Terra

            Every American my parents’ age knows about Azumah Nelson

            I encourage you to test this notion.

            • J. Otto Pohl

              Not sure how I would do that. But, I have never met an American my age or older who did not know who he was. It is pretty certain that he was the most famous Ghanaian internationally between Nkrumah and Annan. He held WBC belts three times.

              • DrDick

                I am not sure how old your parents are, but I suspect I am of their generation and have never heard of him/her.

                • efgoldman

                  I am of their generation and have never heard of him/her.

                  A professional boxer. I remember seeing him on TV.

                • J. Otto Pohl

                  My parents are in their 70s. But, I have never come across anybody in the US over 50 that did not know who he was. He was a very famous boxer in the 1980s. Wiki makes the following claim.

                  Azumah Nelson (born 19 July 1958) is a Ghanaian former professional boxer. Widely considered the greatest African boxer of all time,[1][2] he held the WBC featherweight title once and the WBC super featherweight title twice.

                • erick

                  I remembered him, but only that he was from Africa, not which country

                • CD

                  He was new to me, and I’m about Mr. Nelson’s age.

                • DrDick

                  But, I have never come across anybody in the US over 50

                  Well you have now, as I am 64. Of course the number of professional boxers I can name I can count on my fingers with some left over.

                • ColBatGuano

                  But, I have never come across anybody in the US over 50 that did not know who he was.

                  So, you only know two Americans over 50 then? Because I’m pretty sure I could round up everyone in my family over 50 and I’d be the only one who would even recognize his name. And I wasn’t sure in what context until you mentioned boxing.

                • rea

                  I have never come across anybody in the US over 50 that did not know who he was.

                  [Raising hand]

              • NonyNony

                Wait – you’re over 50?

                • J. Otto Pohl

                  No I am over 40 and under 50.

                • DrDick

                  So close to my son’s age.

              • bender

                In the 1950s and 1960s, prizefighting was one of the major professional sports with a mass audience in the United States. (The others were baseball and horse racing). However, by the 1980s, boxing was a less popular sport; team sports like football and basketball took its place. In the 1980s, a boxer could be well known to boxing fans in the US but not be a household name.

                • Exactly. I thought it had more or less disappeared from public view completely and was now pursued more or less in secret for high-rolling gamblers and people who can afford pay-per-view. Manny Pacquiao is the first boxer whose name I have learned in many decades, except for Mike Tyson. Both are famous for reasons that you could easily digest with no knowledge of boxing at all.

              • sanity clause

                I’m 62. This thread is the first time I’ve ever heard of this guy.

      • Lit3Bolt

        Freddie was an acolyte of Sullivan. Sullivan was fond of trolling his readers as well.

        1. Claim something idiotic and destructively stupid, like “White people are like poodles and black people are like beagles”

        2. Post an equal amount of people agreeing with you or disagreeing with you in the name of “balance” and “free inquiry necessary for the functioning of a democratic state”

        3. Follow up post: Whine that nobody understands you

        4. Completely ignore any attempt to broach the topic again or take any responsibility for said odious opinion, claiming “I’m just a writer, I just make people think”

        5. Gloat at the web-traffic of people desperate to try to prove you wrong. Use this as proof of being “edgy” and “controversial” to potential publishers and editors.

        Repeat as necessary.

      • Morbo

        This turned into an impressive derailment of a throwaway sarcastic comment. I’m honestly not sure if that’s a compliment or a complaint…

    • DilbertSucks

      To be fair, Freddie’s arguments above echo those made by many other “uncompromising” BernieOrBusters, so this post is a useful refutation of arguments that are much more influential and pervasive than Freddie’s own small following implies.

    • Docrailgun

      It burns me up that people that know nothing about the things that they write get paid to write when people that DO know something can’t get a break.

  • petesh

    “I dont understand” saith FdB and proceeds to prove it — all in one tweet. It’s quite impressive in its own way.

  • ColBatGuano

    I hope Freddie did hurt himself switching positions so quickly.

    • DrDick

      Well, he does seem impervious to injury from serial face plants.

  • The Temporary Name
    • wjts

      …who buys a dining room table with a swastika motif?

      • Warren Terra

        Big dining tables are hella expensive. Maybe the swastika made it cheaper, and they planned always to use a table cloth?

        ETA apparently it’s taken from You, The Living, a “Swedish black comedy-drama film” composed of “fifty short sketches”

      • Kathleen

        My brother posted a link to an article about a guy selling a 1980 Corvette adorned with swastika artwork. I guess it’s a “thing” now?

  • brad

    So unfair of you. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, sure, but Yglesias is still a neoliberal. QED faux-libs, hah.
    And Josh Marshall made a joke about Jewish culture and Jewish women to a Jewish woman!!!!!! Just because she used identical language herself and continued joking with him doesn’t change the fact that…. something.

    Note: these are among his actual responses on twitter today. I’m not being unfair.

    • DW

      If he can tell gays they aren’t gaying correctly, I’m sure he can tell Jews they aren’t Jewing correctly.

      • kped

        He once saw a Woody Allen movie, and if you’re not as Jewish as that, you aren’t Jew enough for Freddie.

        • DW

          “I knew plenty of Jewish people growing up! My mother was a professor in the Department of Nebbish!”

          • kped

            The more I think about his gay thing, the more I am convinced he looks at the mockery of Trump and his taco bowl and says “what’s everyone complaining about?”

            Like Trump, Freddie sees groups as a collection of stereotypes (unless it’s straight white men, who are allowed nuance and dignity).

      • Matt McIrvin

        At least Mallory Ortberg is shutting down The Toast, so she can’t incorrectly woman in front of him any more.

    • IM

      oy gevalt!

  • @ASFried Sounds like something we shouldn’t emulate, then.

    So…we’d be better off without the modern Social Security system that was made possible by that early, flawed, incremental bill?

    • Rob in CT

      Of course. It’s impure. UBI or GTFO!

      • kped

        And medicare and medicade were expansions of the SS bill, right? So you can see incremental changes being added to incremental changes, and the end results is grandmothers not having to eat cat food!

  • Rob in CT

    You left out the best bit (others noted this in the last thread):

    “I’m not talking about that anymore.”

    • …and we can’t forget about this:

      • Warren Terra

        So let’s see if I understand his thinking: if we reduce prison populations by, say, 10%, the only fair way to do this is to release 10% of the vicious multiple murderers serving life-without-parole?

        • brad

          Nownow, not if they murdered a white man or attractive young white woman. You need the proper perspective.

        • UserGoogol

          Well, 10% would be incrementalist. The long-term goal should be a lot closer to 100%. Two wrongs don’t make a right. People should only be imprisoned if doing so is absolutely necessary to prevent harm.

        • NonyNony

          The man can only think in extremes. If we want to reduce the prison population, then of course that means that we want the most violent criminals released.

          I swear to Grod I’m starting to think he’s just a troll.

        • Wait a second – “domestic abuse and lower-level sex crimes” = “multiple murder?”

          OK, then, what are the upper-level sex crimes?

          • Warren Terra

            Freddie reacted to a proposal that prison populations should be reduced by saying that this must entail the early release of dangerously violent abusive persons. I’m just taking his interpretation seriously.

            So: no, multiple murderers aren’t low-level sex criminals. But the low-level sex criminals also aren’t poor schmucks who didn’t pay too many parking tickets, or who held a couple of joints. Contra Freddie, it’s possible to reduce prison populations with some cognizance of why the people you’re letting go were in the pokey in the first place!

            • Anon21

              If you have that cognizance, you also understand that releasing people who are locked up for unpaid parking tickets or simple possession of marijuana is not even a drop in the ocean of mass incarceration. It should happen, but if you want to actually reverse the incarceration level and put it on a path converging with the rest of the first world, you must be willing to release currently-serving violent offenders and reduce future sentences for violent offenses.

              This Marie Gottschalk piece at Jacobin is a good overview of why releasing the low-hanging fruit (parking tickets and joint-possessors) is not going to do much at all to end mass incarceration: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/03/mass-incarceration-war-on-drugs/

              • jam

                In fact, if we released everyone now serving time in state prisons whose primary charge is a drug offense, we would reduce the state prison population by only 20 percent.

                Where I come from, 20% is a big improvement.

                It’s not a total solution, but there’s no political solution that doesn’t work by increments.

                Additionally, that neglects the problem of violence induced by criminalization of marijuana.

                The entire purpose of the War On Drugs was to incarcerate & disrupt black and hippie communities.

              • pseudalicious

                Yep. The idea that the vast majority of our prisoners are there for possession or for being young small-time corner dealers is a comforting fantasy, unfortunately. Freddie’s not wrong on the facts (those sure aren’t fun words to type) — he just happened to interpret them in a really ugly, sexist way. (“Why are you so upset about being raped and beaten, ladies?”)

            • Freddie reacted to a proposal that prison populations should be reduced by saying that this must entail the early release of dangerously violent abusive persons.

              Looks again at tweet: “domestic abuse and lower level sex crimes.”

              I’m just taking his interpretation seriously.

              So, “taking seriously” here means “changing domestic abuse and lower-level sex crimes too multiple murders.”

              If you have to dramatically distort what someone says in order to argue against it, what are you actually doing?

              • Warren Terra

                I’m letting him hang himself. He basically said, on the basis of nothing, that if we release some prisoners early to reduce prison populations we will necessarily include people we really don’t want to release early. This is an offensively stupid assertion for him to make, and I simply took it at face value and to its logical conclusion.

                • But you aren’t letting him hang himself. You invented this position that releasing 10% of the prison population would be done randomly, resulting in the releases being a representative cross-section of the entire prison population.

                  And there is nothing in what Fredo wrote to suggest he thinks that about how to pick the 10%.

      • I’m sure there’s a very liberal reason he thinks a specific type of violent offender should be released.

      • D.N. Nation

        Sady Doyle vs. Freddie deBoer: “Hey, it can’t be any worse than BvS”

      • Anon21

        I mean, he has a point there. It’s a broader point–violent offenders in general need to be released if our incarceration rate is going to be meaningfully dented–but it’s also worth talking about how anti-racist concerns with mass incarceration intersect with feminist concerns about violence against women. Inter-left tensions about these issues may play an outsize role in whether and how de-incarceration happens, because all the momentum on that is going to come from the left.

        It’s possible that the correct answer is that domestic violence and “lower-level” (not sure what that means) sex crimes are under-prosecuted and over-punished, and that what we need is swift, certain, but more lenient punishments. What we’ve gotten in practice is ever-increasing sentences without much attention to the problems in police departments and prosecutor’s offices that make reporting gender-based violence such a hellish experience.

        • He really doesn’t have a point. Don’t we have a long way to go before we get to letting out rapists and abusers? Can’t we start with people who are in for drug-based and nonviolent offenses.

          • Anon21

            I don’t know. Are we talking about it in terms of what’s politically possible, what the best policy is, or something else?

            The big point to me is that “drug-based and nonviolent offenses” are a small share of offenders and a very small share of sentenced time (because they tend to serve shorter sentences). I linked it above, but Marie Gottschalk lays it out here and discusses why we must release violent offenders if we’re serious about ending mass incarceration: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/03/mass-incarceration-war-on-drugs/

            For me, step one is getting leftists on board with the idea that lots of people currently locked up for violent offenses should not be locked up. If you can’t even get agreement with that principle on the left, there is no chance it will ever become policy. So in that context, I think the conversation is worth having right now. (Which is not to say FDB is the right person to have it; I don’t think he’s the right person to talk about anything.)

            • Oh. Well, I’m not for letting out most violent offenders, no. But letting out nonviolent offenders, even if it only reduces the prison population by 14% still seems like a great place to start before we start telling women that we have to let out the men who beat them.

              • Oh, and I would also add that some crimes ARE unforgivable and that’s a completely legit opinion to have.

                • Anon21

                  I agree that it’s a legitimate opinion to have. But saying a crime is unforgivable doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s justifiable to sentence someone to 20 or 25 years in prison for committing it.

                  In any event, the discussion about where it makes sense to start is a bit difficult. We start with the status quo, which is extremely bad. To get from the status quo to something approaching an incarceration rate in line with other developed countries, sentences for violent crimes have to be reduced. I personally think that sending someone to prison at all is an extremely severe punishment and expresses societal condemnation. That doesn’t mean every sentence should be a day in jail, but it does mean that few crimes should be met with sentences measured in decades.

                • kped

                  This is an interesting debate to have.

                  But it is an actual debate, not a 140 character snark on “someone” who may or may not exist in Freddie’s head (hey, maybe he can write a blog post about it….nah, better to write “Liberals are bad part the infinity” instead…)

              • Well, I’m not for letting out most violent offenders, no

                The only way incarceration rates will go down substantially is by reducing prison sentences for most crimes, including violent ones like assault and robbery. The argument is that long prison sentences do not rehabilitate people and indeed tend to do the opposite; the only reason to have long prison sentences, then, is if you believe that rehabilitation is unlikely and that public safety is best served by keeping the offenders imprisoned.

                That said, even if we adopted completely new penal processes dedicated to rehabilitation and reconciliation, reducing and eliminating prison sentences, etc. it wouldn’t change the fact that we have many people who are already prisoners and who have not gone through such processes. Penal reform doesn’t mean just opening all the cell doors and saying “go in peace”.

                I think of it this way: our society currently views crimes of having a single degree of severity, from dope smoking to Holocaust. We also see punishments as having a single degree of severity, from small fine to death. As a result, we expect these two scales to be calibrated and fit to each other, so the severity of punishment reflects the severity of the crime. As a result, you can also consider the severity of punishment for a particular crime to be a value judgment on how society views the crime.

                In this context, it is entirely understandable and legitimate for people to say “hey, this crime that is pretty serious is generally punished much less severely than less serious crimes; that has negative societal effects.” Whether the penal system itself is just or effective is, to some degree, beside the point.

                tl;dr – anti-rape activists are working within the criminal justice system we have; were that system to be replaced with one advocated by criminal justice reformers, the nature of their activism would change while the underlying goal would not. This can cause tension, but people of good faith can work it out. Freddie is not a person of good faith, and his answer is that activists for causes he doesn’t care about should STFU and do what he says.

            • ColBatGuano

              When did “criminal justice reform” come to equal “completely empty prisons”?

              • Anon21

                Norway, Germany, and France don’t have empty prisons. But they do have incarceration rates that are between 7 and 9.8 times lower than the U.S.

                “Reducing sentences for violent offenses” does not mean “eliminating sentences for violent offenses.” The point is that even for the crimes that everyone would acknowledge are serious and should be punished in some way, the U.S. punishes way too much.

                • Ransom Stoddard

                  They have homicide rates that are and were lower by a comparable margin, though.(Not sure about rates of other violent crime.)

                  Criminal justice reform is good as far as it goes, but the long term solution to mass incarceration has to involve reducing U.S. crime rates.

          • Scott Lemieux

            And as someone noted above, why single out domestic and sex abusers as opposed to other people convicted of violent assaults?

            • Anon21

              For the reason I stated–intraleft disagreement will probably shape any future criminal justice reform. Many crime issues are not particularly salient on the left, but violence against women is. And it should be–it’s under-prosecuted, and women face a demeaning and exhausting gauntlet when they actually try to get abusers to face consequences for their actions. But one response to that reality is simply to pile on additional prison time to crimes that are already severely punished, and I think that’s a bad response that’s driving mass incarceration to some degree. (Other responses, like rape shield laws, are much better.)

              One possible path for criminal justice reform is a compromise that reduces sentences for a few sympathetic categories of offenders who don’t represent typical victims of the American prison state while leaving untouched or even increasing penalties for less sympathetic offenders. The way to preclude that is by making the case that no offenders deserve the kinds of punishment our current system routinely doles out. (To be clear, the case for “no one deserves” goes beyond just sentence duration and gets into the horrific conditions of incarcerated life.)

              • This. All sentences have to be reduced to some degree, including for crimes I really disapprove of, and rehabilitative programs have to be increased and improved. Probably there should be efforts to prosecute crimes against women, hate crimes, etc., more effectively, but no sentencing should be lengthened and (relatively) early release should be contemplated for all prisoners. Also Guantánamo should be emptied and if the US doesn’t have evidence with which to try certain detainees then they just need to be released. Bad people who could conceivably commit a crime are released from jail every day, it’s an intrinsic part of the system and a risk society has to run.

                We’ve been frightening ourselves into police-state status long enough. All this special pleading against this and that class of prisoner is a distraction.

            • UserGoogol

              If someone says the criminal justice system needs to be tougher on violent criminals in general, generally they’re a conservative. If someone says the criminal justice system needs to be tougher on sexual assault and rape, generally they’re a liberal. Broadly speaking the left-right division is for the left to forgive criminals, and for the right to want to punish criminals, but with sexual crimes, things are reversed.

              Rape isn’t the only example of this, there’s also financial crimes and war crimes. But those operate at such a massive scale that it’s a somewhat incoherent situation to use: a relatively small number of criminals hurting a tremendously large number of victims. Throwing Henry Kissinger in jail (although I don’t think it would accomplish much) would not contribute to mass incarceration in any meaningful sense, but sexual crimes are more spread out.

        • Docrailgun

          The US incarceration rate would be reduced greatly if we weren’t locking people up for 10+ years for minor drug crimes.

          • Anon21

            We aren’t. I mean, yes, there are a few unfortunate people, particularly people sentenced during the height of anti-drug hysteria in the 1980s and early ’90s who are actually serving long sentences for “minor drug crimes,” but it’s a marginal phenomenon and is doing nothing to drive the phenomenon of mass incarceration. What’s always driven mass incarceration is extremely excessive sentences for crimes that are legitimately serious and socially harmful, including violent crimes. We have to reverse those excessive sentences if we want to be a country that incarcerates on par with our peers in the developed world.

        • pseudalicious

          Anon21: +1,000, said everything I wanted to say but better.

          ETA: Especially:

          but it’s also worth talking about how anti-racist concerns with mass incarceration intersect with feminist concerns about violence against women.

          It’s going to be an ugly shitshow. On Twitter, at least. Or the hologram-telepathy-chips that replace Twitter by the time anyone’s actually ready to have this conversation. Although, by that time, climate change will have killed us all, so.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Are the liberals who say there was no choice but to support the war the same liberals who want federal transfers to West Virginia suspended? Freddie has a very active fantasy life.

          • kped

            Get a load of this total non sequitur (that doubles as totally factually incorrect)

            https://twitter.com/freddiedeboer/status/730821160447967232

            FDB: I don’t understand – was Social Security incrementalism? Medicare? Medicaid? The Equal Housing Authority?

            @butleriano: Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

            FDB: The socialist left completely transformed the working world in the first half of the 20th century and did so without Democrats

            First…how does that respond to “yes, yes, yes, and yes. Second of all…did I miss the part in the early 20th century when the socialist left passed all sorts of laws and regulations without a Democratic president to transform the working world?

            Not to deny the socialist left’s role in any of those things…but to say they did anything without the help of Democrats????? Has Freddie read anything other than his own blog?

            • Well, it was mainly Republicans up to 1912. Maybe he meant the first eighth of the century.

  • kped

    Too many on the left are recreating a history where Obama worked with a senate of 60 Elizabeth Warrens, and he just didn’t to pass socialist utopia because he’s a right wing sell out. They forget that in reality, Obama had to deal with Joe Lieberman, who was intent on pissing off every liberal who had the audacity to primary him. And Joe wasn’t even the most conservative Dem at the time!

    Now moving back to Freddie, he is saying on Twitter that if you are for incrementalism, you are conservative. That’s a pretty dumb statement, even by his idiotic standards. How about…we know how government actually works, and acknowledge that all change will be incremental just by the nature of the government. That in no way makes you a conservative. It does make him an idiot.

    • Rob in CT

      Small-c conservative in a sense, I guess. Neither radical nor reactionary.

      And, used in that sense, I’d happily say “yep, what of it?”

      More to the point, our political system is designed to be conservative. Even if you *are* a radical, refusing to deal with that reality isn’t going to end well for you. [ETA: I see you made this point already. Worth repeating.]

    • Murc

      Now moving back to Freddie, he is saying on Twitter that if you are for incrementalism, you are conservative.

      I think Freddie and a distressing number of other people really believe there are a ton of people who are affirmatively in favor of incrementalism, like, in a substantive way. People who, given a choice between the full loaf and half a loaf, will willingly eschew the full loaf because incrementalism.

      And that’s just dumb. Those people do not exist. The closest you can get is people who think the full loaf is actually bad policy… but even in that case, those people still wouldn’t turn down the “whole loaf” of their preferred policy solutions because of some a priori commitment to incrementalism. People don’t work that way.

      • NonyNony

        I’m running into a lot of people who don’t understand the difference between “describing an existing system accurately so you can work within it” and “endorsing an existing system as a good thing”.

      • Rob in CT

        Oh, I think there are people who do think that change should be fairly slow and cautious, as a general rule.

        I have my own leanings in that direction. For example, if you asked me to design an optimal tax system from scratch, I would do one thing. I would not necessarily instantly implement it if I were made God Emperor of Murika tomorrow. I’d phase changes in, and see how things went. Similarly, like many liberals I think we devote far too much $$ to our military, but I wouldn’t actually cut the defense budget in half overnight if given the chance.

        • kped

          “I swear I can rip the table cloth off and none of the glasses on top will break!”

          People who think like this fit right at home with people who said “we’ll be greeted as liberators” after dropping thousands of bombs and destroying thousands of lives and infrastructure. Actions have consequences. As you note, it’s great to say “cut military spending” but if done overnight, you’d have massive unemployment which would do a tonne of damage to a great many states.

          • Rob in CT

            That’s w/o discussing the international impact. I’m all for gradually reducing our global footprint. But a sudden power vacuum? Pass.

            • Pat

              I would be more worried about the sudden economic vacuum. Sometimes it seems to me that the primary things America really makes are weapons of death and food.

              • Movies/tv shows/music.

                Civilian aircraft.

                Medicines.

                But the biggest manufacturing sector is chemicals, which I assume is driven by pharma.

                • Hogan

                  When it gets down to it — talking trade balances here — once we’ve brain-drained all our technology into other countries, once things have evened out, they’re making cars in Bolivia and microwave ovens in Tadzhikistan and selling them here — once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a nickel — once the Invisible Hand has taken away all those historical inequities and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakistani brickmaker would consider to be prosperity — y’know what? There’s only four things we do better than anyone else:
                  music
                  movies
                  microcode (software)
                  high-speed pizza delivery

                  Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

                • Nice.

                  It may not be manly-man work that generates lunch-bucket nostalgia, but the culture industry produces a hell of a lot of jobs and a hell of a lot of foreign money for our economy.

      • humanoid.panda

        Well, it depends. I fully undestand that asingle payer system is superior to any other, in theory. But if I was offered the power to decide whether the US goes single payer, or Obamacare is enhanced to deal with its biggest kinks (say, expand Medicaid further, enhance subsidies significantly, start working on single rates, and so on), I would probably lean towards the latter- as I am not sure that radically restructuring 17% of the economy in a fell swoop is a great idea.

        • kped

          That’s not even true though. European countries with hybrid systems have better results and equal or better prices than Canada’s single payer system.

          But your point about restructuring 17% of the economy overnight is very very true.

          • humanoid.panda

            And here I think is FdB’s point: there really is a distinction between liberals (in the American sense of the word) and radicals, in that liberals really are wary of going too far too fast, on some issues.

            • kped

              Sure, but that doesn’t make a liberal a big-C conservative, and saying that is just silly.

              • humanoid.panda

                Yes, of course, unless you say it from the point of view of,say, a radical Marxist Leninist.

            • Pat

              It’s the difference between wanting to make things better and wanting to blow shit up.

              Some of us find both attractive, though.

            • I want to note here that the thinker whose name is in many ways a byword for industrial-age radicalism — Marx — dedicated himself to a theory of gradual political change, and his most immediate successors (up through Lenin) frequently were at odds with other leftist factions which demanded much more sudden, dramatic change.

              Radicalism is about getting to the root (radix) of social problems and changing the preconditions which enable oppression, poverty, and violence. You can get at the root of a plant by yanking it out of the ground, but you get better results by gently uprooting it.

              Marxists identified as “scientific socialists”, and part of that was viewing society as driven by mechanical forces. Freddie’s “infantile leftism”, on the other hand, seems to identify social structures and processes as the direct result of government policies and the preferences of elites, and suggests that changing those structures is as simple as specifying a desired end result and applying sufficient force.

              • Warren Terra

                Marx himself spent a lot of time and effort in essentially bureaucratic struggle against charismatic messiahs offering simplistic instant total solutions.

                • He made mincemeat of anarchists and foggy utopian revolutionaries like Freddie. In fact somebody needs to start a fake Karl Marx Twitter account just to denounce those people. I wish I was knowledgeable enough to do it myself.

      • pseudalicious

        Mm, idk. Ruth Bader Ginsberg had that interview where she thought Roe v. Wade “moved too fast” and got us to our much more anti-choice landscape today. And I remember the “should we fight for same-sex marriage state by state vs. at SCOTUS” arguments.

        ETA: Whoops, everybody already said it, and better. Lol.

    • efgoldman

      Obama worked with a senate of 60 Elizabeth Warrens, and he just didn’t to pass socialist utopia because he’s a right wing sell out.

      It’d very difficult for a purity pony to gallop while holding a green lantern n its teeth.

      • kped

        bspencer, that’s your next art piece!

      • Robert M.

        I’ve been busy today, so I haven’t had time to read much. Fortunately, I’m confident that even if I had, I wouldn’t have read anything better than this.

      • searunner

        Well done. I’ll be using this in comment threads throughout the interwebs.

    • DilbertSucks

      Now moving back to Freddie, he is saying on Twitter that if you are for incrementalism, you are conservative.

      The irony here is that actual conservatives are practically NEVER in favor of incrementalism. They want radical change in the direction of their preferred right-wing utopia. The “prudent Burkean conservative” is a myth.

      Center-left liberals are more likely to embrace pragmatism and incrementalism than soi-disant “conservatives” are.

      • indefinitelee

        The irony here is that actual conservatives are practically NEVER in favor of incrementalism.

        I wouldn’t say that. One could argue the raft of abortion restriction laws (defund/close facilities, mandate ultrasounds, waiting periods, pain monitors, etc. etc.) are an incrementalist approach.

        • UserGoogol

          Pragmatism has a way of imposing itself on people. But conservatives sure as hell aren’t happy about it. That said, I suppose it’s how you look at it. On both sides there are incrementalists and radicals. But I feel like liberals are more inclined to accept a compromise as a pretty good step on the path towards justice, while conservatives are more inclined to view it as a stab in the back.

        • Because it’s not legislative, it’s about creating legal precedents.

        • Pseudonym

          Do you think conservatives would still pursue those incrementalist measures if they were able to ban abortion in one swell foop?

    • rea

      Not to mention, he (or rather, the Democrats) had 60 votes in the Senate for all of about 6 weeks (between Franken being seated and Brown replacing Kennedy).

      • kped

        Well, maybe if they hadn’t wasted time passing the stimulus they could have passed single payer!

        (actually i do see some saying “maybe if they didn’t pass health care, they would have passed more stimulus”…which is equally as stupid, as if there was an appetite to pass more stimulus months after passing $800B, or that expanding health care to 16 million people was somehow a distraction…)

        • Espcially since the stimulus was passed months before Franken was seated and when Specter was still a Republican.

          • Scott Lemieux

            I love the number of people who simultaneously hold the views that “Obama was too optimistic about Republican cooperation” (which does contain some truth) and “there were totally multiple Republican votes for a trillion-dollar stimulus” (which is ludicrous.)

        • JMV Pyro

          I see this pop up on my facebook feed occasionally. Colossally dumb argument.

      • Hogan

        That’s because Obama didn’t abolish the filibuster on Day One.

        • Warren Terra

          I am disturbed you’d accept him waiting until day one, in the spirit of craven compromisers everywhere. He should not even have waited for the election!

          • See, you people, you’re all incrementalists. The problem is he didn’t abolish the Senate.

            • Scott Lemieux

              But old friend of the blog Ethan Gach says that bicameralism had nothing to do with the final shape of the ACA!

            • Trump’s going to build a wall around the Senate. And the Senate will pay for it.

    • Now moving back to Freddie, he is saying on Twitter that if you are for incrementalism, you are conservative.

      A great a-ha moment for me was around 2007 or so, when Laura Clawson put her finger on this problem in the context of diarists/commenters at Daily Kos; for many of them (primarily the dumb ones, although she didn’t say that) they judge someone’s liberal purity not on an ideological or policy axis, but on a tactical axis. If you don’t favor the most aggressive tactical approach, that provides those people the most emotional satisfaction, then you’re a sell-out, or timid, or unimaginative, or a Quisling, or whatever.

      It’s juvenile, but pervasive, in particular among the faux-lefty online dumbentariat, of which Fred is a major figure.

      • pillsy

        If you don’t favor the most aggressive tactical approach, that provides those people the most emotional satisfaction, then you’re a sell-out, or timid, or unimaginative, or a Quisling, or whatever.

        This is also the animating pathology of the Teahadis and the House Freedom Caucus.

      • EliHawk

        See also the idea that the person who yells the loudest is the most progressive, which seems to be the animating reasoning by the people who support Alan Grayson.

        • Did you see what Reid did to him yesterday, at the House progressive caucus meeting? It was glorious.

      • This precisely. I mentioned it in another comment, but this has been an active debate among leftists for over a century: whether radical politics must be revolutionary politics. In Europe you still have progressive leftists, but anti-communism did a number on them in the US (and the rise of the New Left was bad for them worldwide). In the US, progressive leftists have to somewhat unhappily serve as the left margin of the Democratic Party, where they are frequently confused with left-liberals (and left-liberals like Bernie Sanders occasionally confuse themselves with leftists!).

  • Warren Terra

    The idea that FDR should have chosen the latter is insane. If LBJ had held out for comprehensive health care reform, he would have gotten nothing

    If only FDR and LBJ had stuck to principle and Heightened The Contradictions, we would certainly have passed the Unicorn Puppies and Pegasus Kittens For All act by now.

    • Rob in CT

      The example of what happened when Ted Kennedy held out for more when dealing with Nixon and then Carter is pretty telling.

    • DW

      Passing a Unicorn Puppy sounds awfully painful.

      • Warren Terra

        You are aware horned mammals exist, right? That somehow they get born?

        • DW

          I was thinking more of urethras.

          (I was also unaware of “passing” as a synonym for “giving birth.”)

        • Are there any born with their horns already exposed? I’m pretty sure they’re all incrementalists.

          • N__B

            Hellboy was.

            • Warren Terra

              … born? Not in the movie, iirc.

              • N__B

                Instanted.

        • ajay

          You are aware horned mammals exist, right? That somehow they get born?

          Wait, you think deer are born with antlers?

          Bless your heart.

  • ThusBloggedAnderson

    FdB is, honestly, one of the worst human beings I’ve bumped against on Twitter. If he and Chuck C. Johnson were both drowning & I had only one life preserver, I hope I’d rip it in two and then set both halves on fire.

    (Had forgotten CCJ’s name, but googling “chuck redheaded wingnut” did the trick. Heh.)

    • The “good” Chuck Johnson calls him “rage furby.”

      • D.N. Nation

        Maybe “bad” Chuck Johnson will undergo a similar complete 180 transformation.

        • ThusBloggedAnderson

          Just as long as it’s not incremental.

          (Searches page quickly.)

          NO ONE pointed out that FdB’s opposition to incremental change is evidently because he’s committed to excremental change?

          Where all that has to happen is for Democrats to say “let’s change some shit” & lo! shit is changed?

          Hang your heads in shame, LGM commenters.

          • petesh

            + #2

          • Excrementalism: the political theory where saying “let’s change some shit!” is both necessary and sufficient to effect change

            Radical excrementalism: like Excrementalism, except you say “let’s burn this shit down!” instead

            I like it.

    • DAS

      (to the tune of Puff the Magic Dragon)

      Chuck the redheaded wing nut
      Lives in LA, C[A]
      And trolls and posts
      in the swampy mists
      of the internet with glee

      Chuck the redheaded wing nut
      is a rage furby
      who slanders and libels as
      part of the
      right wing noise machine

  • IM

    The fact that deBoer’s only remaining example of change that isn’t “incremental” literally involved a civil war that killed upwards of a million people tells you everything you need to know.

    A certain Karl Marx admired Lincoln and slavery as an example of incrementalism done right. Lincoln he wrote, had the talent to always make the right step, as far as necessary and possible.

    First a defensive war to defend the union, then the Emacipation proclamation, then after the war abolition of slavery. That actually was incrementalism. If in a somewhat compressed timeframe.

    • First a defensive war to defend the union, * then the Emacipation proclamation, then after the war abolition of slavery.

      Needs something about accepting “contrabands” across the lines where the * is located. The EP was a culmination.

    • Ransom Stoddard

      First a defensive war to defend the union

      Agree with the broad point regarding political change, but how was the Civil War in any sense a defensive war from the U.S.’s point of view? Regardless of whether you think the secession of the C.S.A. from the U.S.A. was worth going to war to prevent, it seems very peculiar to say that it was “defensive”; the C.S.A. was not seeking to invade the U.S. or overthrow the U.S. government. The U.S. government could have chosen to not respond to the C.S.A.’s secession with war in a way that, say, the Polish government in 1939 could not have chosen to respond to the German invasion. The war may have been worth its cost, but it was very much the product of discretionary choices made by the U.S. government, and that’s worth recognizing.

      Sorry to be off topic, but this is a pet peeve of mine. It is totally unclear to me that “preserving the union” was at all a worthy cause for war. What exactly about making sure that there is one rather than two political units in the geographical area of the United States is worth a war? Ending slavery is a much more valid possible justification, but the Lincoln administration would clearly not have gone to war for the sole purpose of ending slavery.

      It seems like liberals sometimes say “the C.S.A. was evil” and happily accept any choices made by U.S. military and political leaders to combat the C.S.A. as just and necessary. Saddam Hussein’s regime and Imperial Japan were evil, but that doesn’t mean that any and all of the military actions of the U.S. undertaken for the purpose of undermining them are necessarily beyond reproach.

      • Rob in CT

        Well, Lincoln’s argument was that just letting it happen ratifies a take-your-ball-and-go-home response to losing a free & fair election, and also leads inevitably to further fracturing.

        • Ransom Stoddard

          But…so what? Why does it matter, considered in isolation, if the U.S. is 1 or 2 or 50 or 500 political units? The C.S.A. was founded to indefinitely perpetuate slavery, and a particularly vicious form of slavery based on white supremacy. Perhaps preventing its creation for those specific reasons was worth a war, sure. But it’s very difficult to see why it would be worth going to war if the C.S.A. had seceded for some less morally abhorrent cause, even though by Lincoln’s logic it would be equivalent.

          • Rob in CT

            I don’t know. I waffle on this one.

            • Rob in CT

              Actually, shit others beat me to this but it matters at least in part b/c of foreign threats. But also b/c those 2 or 50 or 500 would most likely have ended up fighting each other anyway.

              And yaknow, I think it’s important not to bless the idea that if you lose an election you get to blow up the Republic.

          • Why does it matter, considered in isolation, if the U.S. is 1 or 2 or 50 or 500 political units?

            The colonial powers in Europe would have seized them piecemeal. This is not theoretical – remember the French army defeated on Cinco de Mayo. Those foreign powers absolutely wanted to retake North America.

            • humanoid.panda

              There is also the small matter of the South planning to start a series of war of conquest in Latin America, and the inevitable conflicts and cross-border raids that would have began once slaves started escaping from C.S.A to U.S.A, and the latter refused to return them.

              • Ransom Stoddard

                The colonial powers in Europe would have seized them piecemeal. This is not theoretical – remember the French army defeated on Cinco de Mayo. Those foreign powers absolutely wanted to retake North America.

                Eh, I’m not so sure about this. My (quite possibly ill informed) understanding is that Britain was basically supportive of the Monroe Doctrine, and generally didn’t have significant further designs on North American territory by 1861. The France thing is fair enough given that the post war U.S. very explicitly pressured them to withdraw, but post Franco-Prussian War France clearly had more important things to worry about. I could be wrong about this, but my perception is that the late 19th century colonial areas of interest were Africa and Asia, and various European powers were mostly concerned with acquiring possessions in these regions.

                In any case, the rapid industrialization of the North after the Civil War would have made it very, very unpleasant for a European power to provoke a war with the U.S. The post Civil War South was an extremely poor and unproductive region of the U.S. And it seems like if the only concern of the U.S. government was security from European imperial expansion, some sort of agreement to cooperate against such expansion with the C.S.A. would have been possible.

                There is also the small matter of the South planning to start a series of war of conquest in Latin America,

                Preventing the C.S.A. from doing so may have been a desirable objective worthy of war. But it would obviously be a war of choice on the part of the U.S. government, not a defensive war.

                and the inevitable conflicts and cross-border raids that would have began once slaves started escaping from C.S.A to U.S.A, and the latter refused to return them.

                If the C.S.A.’s armed forces invaded the U.S. to mandate some change in slavery/refugee policy, and the U.S. fought to expel the C.S.A.’s forces, that would be a defensive war. That is very different, however, from the U.S. invading and occupying the C.S.A. to prevent its secession, which is what actually happened. I’m not necessarily arguing that it was incorrect for the Lincoln administration to go to war, but I am arguing that it was definitely incorrect to be willing to go to war for the purpose of preventing secession.

                As a thought experiment, imagine if the C.S.A. had seceded to rid itself from U.S. industrial policy instead of to protect the institution of slavery. According to the logic of “union at any price”, it would be equally worth going to war to prevent the C.S.A. from seceding to establish a different trade policy as it would be to free 4 million persons from slavery.

                • Eh, I’m not so sure about this. My (quite possibly ill informed) understanding is that Britain was basically supportive of the Monroe Doctrine, and generally didn’t have significant further designs on North American territory by 1861. The France thing is fair enough given that the post war U.S. very explicitly pressured them to withdraw, but post Franco-Prussian War France clearly had more important things to worry about. I could be wrong about this, but my perception is that the late 19th century colonial areas of interest were Africa and Asia, and various European powers were mostly concerned with acquiring possessions in these regions.

                  The French invasion of Mexico to install a monarch, intended to be followed up by French-Mexican support for the Confederacy, is a well-documented historical fact. The European colonial powers had shifted their gaze to Africa and Asia because the creation of unified United States had presented too big a military challenge – first in the War of Independence, and then through the assertion of the Monroe Doctrine.

                  The very first time that unified United States wasn’t available to stop them – that is, the outbreak of the Civil War – a collection of European powers sent an army into North America and installed a monarch from the Hapsburg royal family.

                • Ransom Stoddard

                  The French invasion of Mexico to install a monarch, intended to be followed up by French-Mexican support for the Confederacy, is a well-documented historical fact. The European colonial powers had shifted their gaze to Africa and Asia because the creation of unified United States had presented too big a military challenge – first in the War of Independence, and then through the assertion of the Monroe Doctrine.

                  The very first time that unified United States wasn’t available to stop them – that is, the outbreak of the Civil War – a collection of European powers sent an army into North America and installed a monarch from the Hapsburg royal family.

                  Right, fair enough, but I have a hard time imagining European powers focusing on American colonial (mis)adventures rather than African and Asian ones in the late 19th century (as well as brewing intra-European conflict). And it seems like if the U.S. really, really cared about preventing this, and nothing else, it wouldn’t have required a war to prevent secession to develop the capacity to block European colonial influence in the Americas.

                • It is only because history played out with a strong, unified United States in North America that it is difficult to imagine that.

                  And it seems like if the U.S. really, really cared about preventing this, and nothing else, it wouldn’t have required a war to prevent secession to develop the capacity to block European colonial influence in the Americas.

                  This is a little confused. We developed the capacity to block European colonial influence in the Americas, at least unwanted European influence (see Canada) decades before the Civil War. The Civil War didn’t create that capacity; it undermined it for a little while.

                • ajay

                  As a thought experiment, imagine if the C.S.A. had seceded to rid itself from U.S. industrial policy instead of to protect the institution of slavery. According to the logic of “union at any price”, it would be equally worth going to war to prevent the C.S.A. from seceding to establish a different trade policy as it would be to free 4 million persons from slavery.

                  Or an even better thought experiment: a pro-slavery Southerner wins the 1860 election and announces that he plans to use federal troops to support the Fugitive Slave laws. The North announces that it will secede rather than have laws it abhors enforced on its soil by military force. The president orders federal troops to invade the North, crush the secessionists and enforce federal law.

                  By the “war to preserve the Union” argument, the South is in the right here.

          • UserGoogol

            There are certain extreme circumstances where unilateral secession might be justified, but they have to be very good reasons, and not just not-horrible reasons. Unilateral secession is the most extreme form of political calvinball there is: just declaring the government null and void and going home. It is fundamentally contrary to any sort of principle of rule of law.

            I mean, if the secession was unilateral but largely peaceful, it would certainly be preferable to try to resolve the issue by diplomatic means. As it happens, the South wasn’t particularly interested in negotiating, and fired the first shot. But a province of a country tries to secede, it’s best to talk with them and see what sort of arrangement you can negotiate. But still, the federal government can’t just immediately fold and withdraw its forces from that territory, for the reason in the first paragraph. Governments can’t just stop operating because some people want them to stop.

            But also I do think that one government is better than two, as a general principle, for a variety of reasons. Part of it’s just scale, a larger government can organize infrastructure that smaller governments can’t. But also, democratically speaking I think larger government prevents abuses. By having lots of different factions you discourage them from being especially horrible. And in so far as politics is just a one-dimensional conflict, having the bad side restrain the good side is an acceptable cost to pay for the goods side restraining the bad side. If the South had successfully seceded, the North probably would have had much more liberal policies, but… the South would have been quite horrible. (Although admittedly the North had to a significant extent let them be horrible anyway prior to the Civil War.) Or even in more moderate situations: if Scotland left the United Kingdom, Scotland could be more left-wing, but the rest of the United Kingdom would be more right-wing, and have a bigger effect.

            • Ransom Stoddard

              There are certain extreme circumstances where unilateral secession might be justified, but they have to be very good reasons, and not just not-horrible reasons. Unilateral secession is the most extreme form of political calvinball there is: just declaring the government null and void and going home. It is fundamentally contrary to any sort of principle of rule of law.

              I tend to be very skeptical of these abstract “rule of law” Crito style arguments (though I very much agree that having a centralized, effective state with a monopoly on violence is absolutely essential to a civilized society.) For instance, anti-civil rights politicians in the 1960s talked about how protesters were violating “the rule of law” and today support for drug prohibition is often recursively justified on “rule of law” grounds. It’s quite possible to disagree with certain laws, or wish to have the laws governing your community be constructed by other people, without also wishing to live in a stateless society.

              I mean, if the secession was unilateral but largely peaceful, it would certainly be preferable to try to resolve the issue by diplomatic means. As it happens, the South wasn’t particularly interested in negotiating, and fired the first shot. But a province of a country tries to secede, it’s best to talk with them and see what sort of arrangement you can negotiate. But still, the federal government can’t just immediately fold and withdraw its forces from that territory, for the reason in the first paragraph. Governments can’t just stop operating because some people want them to stop.

              But the secession itself was unilateral, and it would have been peaceful if the U.S. hadn’t decided that a war to prevent the states from seceding was the best policy choice. (I’ll address the “the South fired the first shot” thing in more depth in a response to different comments on that point.) I don’t think the U.S. government needs to continuously occupy territory that its military forces are stationed in to maintain domestic rule of law; it’s not like the U.S. state dissolved after withdrawal from Vietnam, Cuba or Grenada.

              But also I do think that one government is better than two, as a general principle, for a variety of reasons. Part of it’s just scale, a larger government can organize infrastructure that smaller governments can’t. But also, democratically speaking I think larger government prevents abuses. By having lots of different factions you discourage them from being especially horrible. And in so far as politics is just a one-dimensional conflict, having the bad side restrain the good side is an acceptable cost to pay for the goods side restraining the bad side. If the South had successfully seceded, the North probably would have had much more liberal policies, but… the South would have been quite horrible. (Although admittedly the North had to a significant extent let them be horrible anyway prior to the Civil War.) Or even in more moderate situations: if Scotland left the United Kingdom, Scotland could be more left-wing, but the rest of the United Kingdom would be more right-wing, and have a bigger effect.

              I’m broadly sympathetic to the idea that having fewer, more centralized political units is a good thing, but I don’t think that invading and occupying communities whose members don’t want to be a part of them is a good idea. I think states function more effectively when the people they represent want to be part of the same country. Stuff like the Turkish occupation of Kurdish areas, the former British occupation of Ireland, the former French occupation of Algeria, the former Japanese occupation of Korea, etc. etc., seems like a big waste of resources to me. The point about different factions is interesting, but one could come at it from a very different direction: it’s best to have political units divided neatly by ideology, and have freedom of movement to allow people to choose the ones that work the best. This as opposed to the exhausting, infuriating, constant struggle of political groups with
              mutually exclusive ideas about public policy to get a temporary 50%+1 majority and block the others through abuse of veto points.

      • kped

        I agree that preserving the union isn’t a great reason for that war. But the war was just and good given what it actually accomplished (ending slavery). I have no time for people who think the war was a tragedy. “brother vs brother”. If my brother kept a person in a cage, he ain’t my brother anymore.

      • Hogan

        the C.S.A. was not seeking to invade the U.S. or overthrow the U.S. government.

        It was seizing U.S. property (Fort Sumter).

        • Ransom Stoddard

          (Similar points have been raised in a few different comments, so I’m going to respond to the “South shot first/seizing federal property” thing here.)

          It never ceases to amaze me that people genuinely cite as evidence of the defensive nature of the Civil War that the C.S.A.’s armed forces fired the first shots. In the Mexican-American War, Mexican forces also “shot first” (i.e. the Thornton affair.) In the Vietnam War, the “attack” on U.S. forces in the Gulf of Tonkin was cited by the Johnson administration as justification for war. The Spanish-American War followed the “attack” on the Maine. For Christ’s sake, even Iraq sort of “shot first” with the attempts to shoot down U.S. pilots enforcing the no-fly zones.

          Obviously, in each case the U.S. government decided to go to war well before the first shots were fired, and each case made decisions about the deployment of its armed forces that naturally led to small scale confrontations. It then used these confrontations to provide a thin, rally behind the flag pretext of defense for a war of choice.

          If the U.S. government’s only concern was the federal property in the seceding states, it would have been trivial to reach an agreement (e.g. purchase and transfer of the facilities to the C.S.A.) Obviously, the U.S. government had a desire to prevent secession independent of narrow concerns about federal property, and considered war an acceptable means with which to combat secession.

      • the C.S.A. was not seeking to invade the U.S. or overthrow the U.S. government.

        Every inch of the territory of the so-called CSA was U.S. territory, and this criminal conspiracy seized it by force of arms. The United States was not merely the portion that the rebels called the Union; it was the entire thing. They did invade the United States.

        • Anon21

          Exactly. Saying that the CSA just wanted to keep what they had presupposes that the CSA was correct about the legality of secession.

        • ChrisTS

          Thanks. I was a bit dumbstruck by the comment to which you responded.

        • Ransom Stoddard

          Every inch of the territory of the so-called CSA was U.S. territory, and this criminal conspiracy seized it by force of arms. The United States was not merely the portion that the rebels called the Union; it was the entire thing. They did invade the United States.

          The territorial claims states make aren’t divinely inspired and incontrovertibly justified. The British Empire claimed every inch of so-called “Ireland” (and “the United States”, for that matter), Saddam Hussein’s government claimed every inch of so-called “Kuwait”, France’s government claimed every inch of so-called “Algeria”, the Israeli governments claims every inch of so-called “Palestine”, etc. I definitely don’t agree with the tactics of, say, various Irish anti-colonialist resistance movements, but I think it’s ridiculous to suggest that Britain’s suppression of them was fundamentally defensive in nature, or that they were “invading” Britain.

          • This “argument” relies upon conflating the notion of “claims” to make an established state’s control over its own territory and a claim of a neighbor to its territory morally and legally indistinguishable. That is obvious horse puckey, even if you use the same word in both cases.

            Saddam claimed every inch of Kuwait. The USA claimed every inch of the USA.

            And Ransom Stoddard doesn’t see any difference between those two things.

            • Ransom Stoddard

              This “argument” relies upon conflating the notion of “claims” to make an established state’s control over its own territory and a claim of a neighbor to its territory morally and legally indistinguishable. That is obvious horse puckey, even if you use the same word in both cases.

              Saddam claimed every inch of Kuwait. The USA claimed every inch of the USA.

              And Ransom Stoddard doesn’t see any difference between those two things.

              But if you accept Hussein’s arguments, Kuwait was a legitimate part of the Iraqi nation. Just as the French colonizers believed that Algeria was a legitimate part of the French nation by the 1950s, and various Israeli politicians today believe the Palestinian territories are a legitimate part of the Israeli nation and so on.

              But obviously, in all these cases we’d agree that people don’t have to justify their right to not be ruled by a state; states have justify their right to rule people. A war to make people join/stop people from leaving your government is not a defensive war.

              • But if you accept Hussein’s arguments, Kuwait was a legitimate part of the Iraqi nation.

                Again, you’re treating some notion that existed in Saddam Hussein’s head, which was contradicted by the entirety of international law, with the near-century of actual existence of the United States of America, including decades and decades of the “Confederate” states themselves acknowledging being a part of that nation.

                They are not the same thing. This is like looking at a certified deed a property owner has for his house, and looking at someone writing “I own this” on a napkin while stealing someone else’s house, and declaring them to be the same thing because they’re both claims to own a house.

                Throwing that slash in between “join” and “stop people from leaving” doesn’t make them equivalent. And, no, there is no individual right not to be ruled by a state. States do, of course, have to justify their right to rule people. The right of the United States to govern the populations of the southern states was established by their ratification of the Constitution.

                • ajay

                  Again, you’re treating some notion that existed in George Washington’s head, which was contradicted by the entirety of international law, with the near-two centuries of actual existence of the British Empire in North America, including decades and decades of the “United” states themselves acknowledging being a part of that empire.

          • But the United States did not invade or occupy the southern states. The southern states freely joined the union, both at its formation and afterward. The southern leaders who led the insurrection were by all reasonable measures members of the same political, ethnic, and national group as the northern leaders they fought against. They were Americans, a fact demonstrated by the name they gave their supposed country.

            If the Civil War had been caused by Indians and enslaved black people storming the state houses and declaring independence, your comparison would be apt. As it happened, though, it was just an illegal power grab by the existing political elite.

            • Ransom Stoddard

              But the United States did not invade or occupy the southern states. The southern states freely joined the union, both at its formation and afterward. The southern leaders who led the insurrection were by all reasonable measures members of the same political, ethnic, and national group as the northern leaders they fought against. They were Americans, a fact demonstrated by the name they gave their supposed country.

              If the Civil War had been caused by Indians and enslaved black people storming the state houses and declaring independence, your comparison would be apt. As it happened, though, it was just an illegal power grab by the existing political elite.

              The leaders who made the decision to join the union were dead by the time of the Civil War; there’s no intrinsic reason that people are obliged to respect the decisions made by politicians before they were born. (E.g., the 13 colonies had all decided they wanted to be part of the British Empire before they decided they wanted to leave it.)

              Canadians were also members of the same political, ethnic and national group as the nascent U.S. at one point in time. Is/was an invasion of Canada to preserve the U.S./North American Anglosphere’s territorial and national integrity consequently justified?

              The basically democratically elected leaders of the C.S.A. clearly thought they were fulfilling the wishes of the white Southern electorate. It’s obviously very important to recognize that the African-American population, one third of the total C.S.A. population, didn’t have any say in the process of choosing these leaders. But the U.S. didn’t oppose the C.S.A.’s secession on the grounds that African-Americans didn’t vote to secede and therefore the secession was undemocratic; they invaded it on the grounds that the secession of white Southerners (among which the decision was democratic) was prima facie illegitimate.

              Also, though there were and are important commonalities, there’s the whole Albion’s Seed line of argument about how settlement patterns created important regional differences.

              Finally, I want to note I’m not suggesting that the C.S.A. was in any sense right to secede for the actual purpose, protecting slavery, that it seceded for. My point is that the U.S. fought a war of choice, not a war of necessity, in “preserving the union”, and this is not recognized enough today. Nationalism that we’d (or at least, we liberals) would feel uncomfortable about today was a recognizably important motivation for U.S. political leaders during the Civil War.

              • Finally, I want to note I’m not suggesting that the C.S.A. was in any sense right to secede for the actual purpose, protecting slavery, that it seceded for.

                Absolutely, understood and agreed.

                Canadians were also members of the same political, ethnic and national group as the nascent U.S. at one point in time. Is/was an invasion of Canada to preserve the U.S./North American Anglosphere’s territorial and national integrity consequently justified?

                Canada has never been part of the United States, though. I think a better argument along these lines would be whether Canada is justified in invading the US to re-unify the British Empire.

                My response there is simple: the people of the United States participated in an illegal insurrection against the British crown, which the British government fought back against as was justified by their right to exclusive territorial sovereignty. Washington etc. were a criminal gang. Then they won. The British surrendered and abandoned their claim to the 13 colonies. The government in Washington claimed that sovereignty and have defended it against rebellions large and small ever since.

                A government that is not willing to fight to protect its exclusive control of a territory is no longer in any meaningful terms the government of that territory.

                • Ransom Stoddard

                  Canada has never been part of the United States, though. I think a better argument along these lines would be whether Canada is justified in invading the US to re-unify the British Empire.

                  Good point. I, for one, welcome our new Canadian overlords…

                  My response there is simple: the people of the United States participated in an illegal insurrection against the British crown, which the British government fought back against as was justified by their right to exclusive territorial sovereignty. Washington etc. were a criminal gang. Then they won. The British surrendered and abandoned their claim to the 13 colonies. The government in Washington claimed that sovereignty and have defended it against rebellions large and small ever since.

                  A government that is not willing to fight to protect its exclusive control of a territory is no longer in any meaningful terms the government of that territory.

                  I have a view of the American Revolution sort of orthogonal to yours: though the colonists had some noble ends, war was not a good means to accomplish those ends. There was a lot of suffering produced by the 22,000 deaths (0.9% of the male population), suffering that outweighs any tangible benefit. The colonists could have accomplished their means at least partially through non violent forms of political and economic resistance.

                  That said, I don’t think the colonists had some sort of moral obligation to be a part of the British Empire (any more than the Indians or the Irish or the Nigerians). They deserved, like everyone everywhere does, to live in a free society in which the state respects their inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As liberal thinkers since Locke have argued, a state that does not safeguard these rights is not deserving of legitimacy.

                  Of course, the Confederacy didn’t secede to protect those rights; it seceded to violate them. But Lincoln’s administration would have been fine with that violation as long as it continued under the U.S. flag, which I don’t find a particularly morally impressive stance. The obligations of citizens to a state are conditional, not absolute, and going to war to make unwilling people be a part of your country is antithetical to the best ideals of classical liberalism.

                • I can’t say I disagree with any of that, other than that I think a state has a particularly strong justification to resist an uprising in its own territory by members of its own political class. I think that applies in principle as strongly to the 1776 insurrection as it does to the southern one, although the ideals for which the latter was thought were more loathsome.

      • IM

        The founding of the C.S.A was an invasion of the United States and an overthrow of the US. Goverment. Lincoln defended the US against that rebellion. Pointing out all the time that he was just defennding the status quo.

        • Ransom Stoddard

          The founding of the C.S.A was an invasion of the United States and an overthrow of the US. Goverment. Lincoln defended the US against that rebellion. Pointing out all the time that he was just defennding the status quo.

          The fact that the political leaders of the C.S.A. wanted to secede from the U.S. doesn’t equate to wanting to overthrow the U.S. government. The Viet Cong, for example, wanted to end U.S. control of Vietnam; they didn’t want to end U.S. control of Vermont.

      • IM

        even if for argument’s sake the US would have let the secessionist states go, there would have been a (civil) war in the border states.

      • brugroffil

        Who fired the first shots?

        (hint: it was not the USA!)

        • Ransom Stoddard

          Addressed at greater length upthread, if you’re interested.

      • jam

        how was the Civil War in any sense a defensive war from the U.S.’s point of view? Regardless of whether you think the secession of the C.S.A. from the U.S.A. was worth going to war to prevent, it seems very peculiar to say that it was “defensive”; the C.S.A. was not seeking to invade the U.S. or overthrow the U.S. government.

        A nation has a deep and vested interest in maintaining its territorial integrity. There has never been a viable government that would not respond with war to seizing such a large part of its territory.

      • rea

        Well of course the war against the slavers was a defensive war!

        (1)they started it.

        (2) they didn’t own the south, where they happened to live. it was all one country, and they were running off with part of it.

        (3) by no means was there unanimous support in the south for secession, not to mention the enslaved.

        • Ransom Stoddard

          (1)they started it.

          (2) they didn’t own the south, where they happened to live. it was all one country, and they were running off with part of it.

          I believe I’ve responded to these complaints in other comments upthread; if you don’t feel my responses are adequate, I’d be happy to clarify upon request.

          (3) by no means was there unanimous support in the south for secession, not to mention the enslaved.

          Right, but the U.S. government didn’t go (and wouldn’t have gone) to war because it felt that secession was undemocratic because African-Americans didn’t have votes. It went to war because it felt that the decision of democratically elected political leaders representing white Southerners to secede was prima facie illegitimate.

          • jam

            It went to war because it felt that the decision of democratically elected political leaders representing white Southerners to secede was prima facie illegitimate.

            Maintaining territorial integrity is a high priority for every nation that ever existed.

            • Ransom Stoddard

              I agree! And I think many of those nations have massively overvalued the importance of militarily invading, occupying and holding various regions for the purpose of territorial integrity.

              • jam

                And if you were to evaluate the relations between, say, the states of the CSA to entirety of the U.S. and compare and contrast to the relations of, say, Vietnam & the U.S., Algeria and France, Ireland and the U.K., or Palestine and Israel, then the obvious difference in power relationships would point the way to what makes one case different from the others.

                To spell it out very clearly, the CSA states had considerable influence in the operation of the U.S. Federal Government for 80 years before they decided that they didn’t have quite enough influence to secure slavery forever, so they flounced out of the political process, lost a democratic election, and then went to war.

  • Ransom Stoddard

    The fact that deBoer’s only remaining example of change that isn’t “incremental” literally involved a civil war that killed upwards of a million people tells you everything you need to know.

    (Assuming this refers to American Civil War.)

    The thing is, even during the Civil War when the vast majority of the illiberal political coalition had been literally removed from the political process the Lincoln administration had to thread the needle between abolition and union. The Emancipation Proclamation, as glorious a use of political power as any in the history of the United States, was exactly the sort of “incremental” change that de Boer et al deride.

    • Rob in CT

      Right, it wasn’t just that it required a massive war. It required (self)disenfranchisement of a significant chunk of the population. And yet, no 40 acres & a mule. Thaddeus Stevens died thinking he was a failure (which pisses me off whenever I think about it).

    • kped

      Didn’t it leave slavery legal in a number of states that supported the Union?

      • Rob in CT

        Yes.

        For a while Lincoln tried to muster support for a compensated emancipation scheme for those states. The slave owners wanted no part of it, so it didn’t happen (honestly I have no idea whether it was *also* not viable due to opposition from radical Republicans).

      • Warren Terra

        Basically it only applied to territory not already under Union control; even rebellious territory securely occupied by federal troops was largely exempt. From Wikipedia:

        The Proclamation applied in the eleven states that were still in rebellion in 1863, and thus did not cover the nearly 500,000 slaves in the slave-holding border states (Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland or Delaware) which were Union states. Those slaves were freed by later separate state and federal actions.

        The state of Tennessee had already mostly returned to Union control, under a recognized Union government, so it was not named and was exempted. Virginia was named, but exemptions were specified for the 48 counties then in the process of forming the new state of West Virginia, and seven additional counties and two cities in the Union-controlled Tidewater region.[21] Also specifically exempted were New Orleans and 13 named parishes of Louisiana, which were mostly under federal control at the time of the Proclamation. These exemptions left unemancipated an additional 300,000 slaves.[22]

        The Emancipation Proclamation has been ridiculed, notably in an influential passage by Richard Hofstadter for “freeing” only the slaves over which the Union had no power.

        ETA my recollection is that at least one abolitionist Union general took advantage of the proclamation to free the slaves in the territory he occupied, even though as territory already controlled by the Union it wasn’t actually covered by the Proclamation.

        • drkrick

          Hofstadter was right about the moment the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, but it freed quite a few people over the next two years or so as the Union regained control over more “Confederate” territory.

          I know General Fremont tried to free slaves in the territory he controlled in the first months of the war, which Lincoln reversed in order to keep the border states on the Union side.

          • Ransom Stoddard

            Yup, and the same thing happened with General Hunter I believe.

          • Morat

            No, he was wrong. Most territory the Union had retaken was exempted, but not all. Eric Foner’s estimate of immediately freed people is 20-50,000. Still a drop in the bucket compared to 4 million slaves, but not nothing.

      • Denverite

        Yes. Delaware and Kentucky allowed slavery until the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified. Maryland and Missouri abolished slavery prior to then but after the Emancipation Proclamation.

        • Maryland and Missouri abolished slavery prior to then but after the Emancipation Proclamation.

          As did West Virginia.

          • Denverite

            Wait — there’s a West Virginia?

            • Warren Terra

              I saw an anecdote recently where someone’s drivers license was rejected as fake because the person checking didn’t believe there was such a state as West Virginia (I don’t remember if that person was a cop or, say, a person selling alcohol).

              • CP

                A friend of mine was similarly mistaken for an illegal immigrant because her driver’s licence was from New Mexico.

                “So where’s your visa?”
                “I don’t need one.”
                “Yes, you do. This is America.”
                “I’m from America!”
                “Your visa says you’re from Mexico.”
                “I’m from NEW Mexico!”
                “I don’t care if it’s New Mexico or Old Mexico! You’re in America now!”

                • The Temporary Name

                  What’s a better jobs scheme? Security-state jobs or construction jobs for football stadiums?

              • so-in-so

                Some years ago the Governor of New Mexico had to explain to the IRS that he did not, in fact, earn his salary in a foreign country…

                Beaten by CP by a minute.

            • tsam

              Yeah, and it’s not even anywhere near west. It’s all east and junk.

    • even during the Civil War when the vast majority of the illiberal political coalition had been literally removed from the political process the Lincoln administration had to thread the needle between abolition and union.

      Details, details.

      • so-in-so

        Then too, we go from slavery being legal in all of the United States to it being legal only in Southern and border states before the war. All through the early 19th century northern states abolished slavery in their territories, normally by sun-setting it for children of slaves coming of age after a certain date.

        Sounds pretty incremental to me.

        • Scott Lemieux

          As we have discussed before, the idea among certain segments of the left that Lincoln was a fire-breathing radical who opposed incrementalism is a nearly precise inversion of history.

        • kped

          Even then, none of this is to say that incrementalism is good per se, it would have been great if slavery was ended in one radical moment! But this does show that everything happens incrementally, because the system is setup that way. And to deny that, and to say that anyone who understands it is a sell out conservative, is to betray your stupidity and naivety. And Freddie is doing a lot of that on Twitter lately.

      • rea

        even during the Civil War when the vast majority of the illiberal political coalition had been literally removed from the political process

        But of course, that is not true. McClellan, for example, the Democratic nominee in ’64, want the Union’s war aim to be status quo ante bellum, with no abolition.

    • Robert Cruickshank

      If the argument is that the American political system cannot produce anything other than incremental change, then the Civil War shows that the American political system cannot handle a serious crisis. The Constitutional order of the early republic was unable to resolve the crisis of slavery to either side’s satisfaction. So the only answer was to go outside of it. For the slaveowners, the answer was secession. For everyone else, the answer was war.

      Ultimately we might be better off talking about how to change our hopelessly broken Constitutional structures, rather than trying to use them to solve immediate crises.

      • jben

        The problem is that for the Constitutional structures to change dramatically, things generally have to get so bad that lots of people die. Like the Civil War, for example. And frankly, while our country has a lot of problems, I really don’t see any of them, except for maybe climate change, as requiring solutions that need that kind of upheaval.

        • Robert Cruickshank

          That’s the point I’m trying to get at here. If our system cannot rapidly and effectively respond to crisis, then that leaves dramatic upheaval as the only way to resolve a crisis. And as you point out, that can get real ugly real fast.

          • Hogan

            If it’s something to which the system can respond rapidly and effectively, what makes it a crisis?

      • JG

        Slavery could not have been abolished by any other way than war.

        • ajay

          IT was abolished by means other than war in pretty much every other advanced country in the world.

  • pzerzan

    That’s the form that major reform legislation takes even in unusually favorable circumstances in the Madisonian system.

    I’d go further and say it’s what reform policies take in any system, even Parliamentary democracies. Whether it be the Labour Party’s obsession with paying down the debt following World War II or the political alliance social democrats had to form with rural peasants in Scandinavia, there is no system on Earth where public policy isn’t the result of compromises with various interests. Even totalitarian dictators had to find ways to keep many of the preexisting powers that be supporting them-their power was never a given.

    I’m getting really tired of this “politics is a science fair” idea of how the world is run. A lot of people have great ideas. Getting them implemented is the tough part. And if your great idea can’t be implemented with compromises, it’s not such a great idea…

    • Phil Perspective

      I’m getting really tired of this “politics is a science fair” idea of how the world is run. A lot of people have great ideas. Getting them implemented is the tough part.

      Tell that to Scott Walker and the other GOP governors.

    • sonamib

      Even totalitarian dictators had to find ways to keep many of the preexisting powers that be supporting them-their power was never a given.

      That damn incrementalist sellout Lenin, and his New Economic Policy! Why didn’t he start the dekulakization earlier?

  • Denverite

    Apparently, a public health insurance that required states to cover only a subset of people well below the poverty line was REAL, UNCOMPROMISING LIBERALISM while a public health insurance program that required states to cover everyone up to 138% of the poverty line is the hopelessly compromised neoliberal work of useless corporate sellouts.

    Oh, it gets even richer. When LBJ signed the Medicaid Act, almost all states were already providing health care services to the subset of people well below the poverty line (e.g., elderly, blind and disabled). The problem was that many of the states did so in cruel and inhumane manners (mostly with horrible state hospitals and aged homes). Medicaid wasn’t an attempt to provide health care for people who otherwise didn’t have it. It was an attempt to set a humane national standard for providing that health care.

  • Up next – the piecemeal expansion of suffrage in America was a disgrace!

    • LOL

    • Rob in CT

      Freddie writing about the Suffragettes should have tragicomic value…

      • kped

        I’m sure there was a man who helped that Freddie would end up writing about instead.

    • Warren Terra

      Bonus points if you can tell the story of the piecemeal expansion of suffrage so that the true liberal hero is Richard Nixon, who oversaw the expansion to 18-year-olds, and therefore achieved the “final” expansion of the franchise to realize our current system.

      • Rats. I was going to claim that democracy is a disaster until felons are allowed to vote while in prison.

      • Scott Lemieux

        Well, now that he’s repudiated FDR and LBJ, according to Freddie Nixon is the only liberal American president since Lincoln.

      • Kidding aside, I’ve always found it fascinating that the 26th amendment doesn’t figure more prominently in histories of the student and youth movements of the sixties.

    • Scott Lemieux

      The 15th and 19th Amendments were both the work of neoliberal sellouts.

      • Breadbaker

        Don’t forget the 24th!

  • Mike in DC

    I suppose that, within incrementalism, the increments can be larger or smaller. I’d like to see larger increments rather than smaller ones, on balance.

    • Warren Terra

      Mani is disappointed with you. Increments must either be complete or they don’t count at all.

      • leftwingfox

        Sounds like creationists trying to argue that the flagella is too complex to have evolved.

    • NonyNony

      Sure, but I’d rather see a smaller increment than nothing.

      And I’d rather see nothing than an incremental step backwards.

      Anyone who decries “incrementalism” without indicating what the alternative to incrementalism is in that context is either a liar or a moron.

      • efgoldman

        …is either a liar or a moron.

        Or both. Not at all mutually exclusive.

    • Linnaeus

      I’d like to see larger increments, too. So it’s useful to recognize when those are doable (which is not as often as I’d like).

  • brad

    In a certain sense I’m at a loss for what Freddie and his ilk are even trying to debate here. Politics are about using the right tools for the time and task. I think Murc is onto something above, it amounts to trying to smuggle in a strawman presupposition that finding incrementalism to be of use in the right moments actually means being against progressive change. The revolutionary sneer that reform is fundamentally impossible, basically. But Freddie seems more and more to be simply a reactionary, an old style white dood who above all wants to think that he means well and expects everyone else to indulge him in that fantasy and who really wants the same old power structures with slightly different phrasing. So it’s especially odd he resorts to it, not that I mean to sound like I expect coherency from him or similar types.

    • humanoid.panda

      I’d say that Freddie has 2 loosely interconnected points.

      1. He really is pissed that American liberals (or even democratic socialists) do not reject capitalism, and respect the bounds of well, liberal, politics.
      2. He is a vulgar Marxist, in that he seems to believe and any and all injustice is a product of, and only off, economic repression.

      None of these points is terribly original, but rarely are they expressed with such amount of condescension and narcissim.

      • humanoid.panda

        And as for his future: think of the original neoconservatives.
        You start with class, not identity politics.
        Then you go to, people who are engaged with identity politics are terrible.
        Since liberals are engaged in identity politics, they are terrible.
        And since liberals are terrible, conservatives have a point.

      • CP

        He is a vulgar Marxist, in that he seems to believe and any and all injustice is a product of, and only off, economic repression.

        Was the original Marxist (Karl, not Groucho) really this reductive? I’ve only ever read the Manifesto and even that was a long time ago.

        • humanoid.panda

          No, not at all. But some of his epigons surely are- that’s why we call them vulgar Marxists.

          • ChrisTS

            Right. And even as reductive as the CM ‘sounds,’ it was not as reductive as the vulgar Marxists. (Besides which, it was intended as pamphleteering to frighten capitalists and rally laborers.)

      • CD

        This is unfair to vulgar Marxists.

        • Not to be confused with Marxists with bad taste, who wear loud colors and listen to 80s rock.

      • brad

        I just can’t give him the credit of being in truth any kind of Marxist or socialist. He’s pissed that we don’t reject capitalism in favor of a command economy structured by him, or his designated followers. The meaning and depth of his politics begin and end with what he sees in the mirror, everything else is just a means to make his voice louder, to him.
        As to your progression above, I’d add the momentum of an Althousian trajectory. Since he’s taking it as a personal rejection, he’s making it one as well. Liberals are mean to him, we’re objectively despicable. And from there he becomes another asshole victim of the processes behind cleek’s law.

        • humanoid.panda

          Sure, you can’t adress him without talking about his clinical narcissism. But I was trying to describe a certain style of thought he represents.

      • jben

        Yeah, I’ve seen these tendencies before from certain leftists, and they’ve always struck me as off base

        2 is just obviously wrong. Yes, economic injustices are important to tackle, but they are not the only ones, nor are they at the root of all others. If we got rid of all poverty tomorrow, we would in all likelihood still have to deal with racism and sexism.

        As for 1, it is true that the overwhelming majority of American liberals and leftists accept both liberal democracy and capitalism (broadly defined). But as far as I can tell, this is because there is no alternative to either of these that we have discovered,-or at least no alternative that wouldn’t be actively worse!

        Liberal democracy does have some problems, and working “within the system” can often be quite frustrating. But the alternatives seem to be either “dropping out” of the system entirely, or violent revolution-both of which are highly dubious, to say the least. And the alternatives some radicals suggest to democracy seem to be either the complete absence of a state, or some kind of benevolent “dictatorship of the proletariat” to force change, which both strike me as extremely bad ideas.

        As for capitalism* it has many, many, issues and is often quite unjust.This is why a significant amount of government intervention is often required to moderate it. But again, the alternatives I can see are either pure communism (an impossibility without replicators or super-technology), some vague, probably unworkable system of co-operatives, or a planned economy.

        The last is the only alternative we have seen actually function on a large scale for long periods of time. It would, in all likelihood be highly inefficient and sclerotic, and while being more equal, would almost certainly produce a lower standard of living than capitalism. Also, while it is not technically incompatible with democracy the countries that have had it have all been dictatorships, and it puts an enormous amount of power in the hands of the state- quite possibly threatening civil liberties.

        Given these alternatives, it is easy to see why most American liberals do not reject capitalism or liberalism outright. We may eventually come up with something better, but right now, there really seems to be no alternative.

        *I am using capitalism here to refer to private ownership of the means of production. Used this way, capitalism is quite compatible with a large welfare state-which I support- and even some nationalized industries.

        • jben

          Sorry it got so long.

    • CP

      In a certain sense I’m at a loss for what Freddie and his ilk are even trying to debate here.

      They seem to be trying to argue that They are Right and You are Wrong.

      • kped

        We have a winner!

  • brugroffil

    In the responses:

    Morgan Bird ‏@morganbird 6h6 hours ago
    @freddiedeboer @ASFried what’s your example of successful non-incremental change?

    Freddie deBoer ‏@freddiedeboer 6h6 hours ago
    @morganbird @ASFried Abolition

    Carl Gershenson ‏@cgershenson 4h4 hours ago
    @freddiedeboer @morganbird @ASFried Abolition was incremental. Took place over a century in the north. Was fought over in the territories…

    Freddie deBoer ‏@freddiedeboer 4h4 hours ago
    @cgershenson @morganbird @ASFried I’m done talking about that

    le lol

    • And abolition was followed by sharecropping, Black Codes, the Klan, sundown towns, Jim Crow… there was a huge backlash, almost counterrevolutionary in nature. This is standard history, taught in schools. How ignorant does one have to be of American history to cite abolition here? For huge numbers of people, the only immediate difference between life before abolition and after was a word — “slave” — and frequency of assault by sheet-wearing terrorists.

      • Scott Lemieux

        This is also an excellent point. Even with the application of military force, the South was able to maintain a faded simulacrum of slavery for nearly a century.

  • Mike in DC

    Dragonball Z is a good example of incremental change.
    See, first Goku learns the Kaioken technique, which doubles his fighting power. Then he masters higher multiples of Kaioken, up to Kaioken x20, before finally achieving “Super Saiyan” form. Then he progresses through Improved Super Saiyan, Super Saiyan 2 and Super Saiyan 3, before achieving Super Saiyan God status. Most recently, he achieves Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan(or Super Saiyan Blue for short) status. Bottom line: Freddie wants to go straight to Super Saiyan Blue. You can’t get there without mastering all the other levels first, Freddie!

  • Robert Cruickshank

    Far be it from me to get in the way of a good old fashioned dogpile, but there are some problems with this.

    First, the New Deal and the Civil Rights Era were not incrementalist – at least, not in what they did change. The New Deal completely reshaped our financial system and the role of government in that system. It also delivered the first national, broad welfare state, and enabled unionism on a large and sustained scale.

    There was a lot the New Deal did not do, and its approach to racism could be labeled incrementalist at best. It was certainly accommodationist.

    The Civil Rights Era – legislatively, at least – was similarly not incrementalist. Outlawing Jim Crow, protecting voting rights, and mandating equal rights for women – to a degree – doesn’t qualify as incremental. As academics many of us can see the ways in which the legislation of 1964-66 stopped well short of massive, system-rebooting change. But if we define those laws as incrementalist, I fear the term has lost its meaning.

    More importantly, let’s assume that the USA’s political system makes it impossible for anything other than incrementalism and that major changes must take place over long periods of time. What happens when that slow-as-molasses system meets immediate, serious crisis? Whether it’s climate change or the erosion of our democracy or staggering inequality or the reimposition of segregation and loss of voting rights, these are not problems that can wait while our sclerotic system sluggishly stirs to address them.

    So what happens then? If we have immediate crisis, which we do; and if we have a political system unable to quickly and effectively address that crisis, which people here make a strong case that we do; then what happens? Either the crisis overwhelms us, or we need a new political system.

    In short, the argument that the American political system can only produce incrementalism is an argument for making major changes to the way that system operates – or tossing it aside entirely. And to do that…you need a revolution.

    • humanoid.panda

      Whether it’s climate change or the erosion of our democracy or staggering inequality or the reimposition of segregation and loss of voting rights, these are not problems that can wait while our sclerotic system sluggishly stirs to address them.

      I think you’ve created a pile that includes all sorts of things, some of which possible to deal within the bounds of our system ,some not so much. Like, stopping the backslide on voting rights does not require much in way of incrementalism: with a 5th liberal jurist, any one of a number of lawsuits making their way around the court system can reverse the trend. Global warming, on the other hand, might be a crisis that no system short of wartime-style mobilization can resolve.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I just disagree. The economic programs of the New Deal and Great Society were both incrementalist. The closest you could come to uncompromising triumphs would be the Civil Rights and especially Voting Rights Acts.

      • Mike in DC

        Notably those required massive supermajorities in Congress and a semi-cooperative opposition party.

      • Robert Cruickshank

        Fair enough – and you make a strong case for that view.

        I think the more important issue is what we do if slow incrementalism is all that the Madisonian system can deliver. Sclerosis in the face of crisis usually produces some sort of solution that comes outside that existing system.

    • ChrisTS

      I don’t understand what you think ‘incrementalism’ means.

      • Robert Cruickshank

        To me it means slow change that provides some improvement to people’s lives, or addresses a serious problem, without meaningfully resolving it.

        Obamacare is a great example. It has positive elements to it. But it also still makes people pay out of their own pocket for health care, leaves people at risk for the effects of medical debt, and in other ways falls short of what a single-payer system would provide.

        One can get to single-payer through incrementalism, as Canada did. Or you get there all at once, as the UK did.

        But does incrementalism work in the face of climate change? Does it work to end our unequal economic system? If those crises are left unaddressed, or we seek only to ameliorate their effects because that’s all our system will allow, the results will be terrible – and will undermine that political system. Which might be a good thing. Or might be a bad thing.

        • But it also still makes people pay out of their own pocket for health care, leaves people at risk for the effects of medical debt, and in other ways falls short of what a single-payer system would provide.

          Single payer != premium or fee free (the UK is free at point of care, but that’s a principle explicitly built into the system, not a feature of single payer US single payer would probably look like Medicare). A single payer system could still leave people at risk for significant medical debt (e.g., by not covering certain things). Etc.

          Single payer is just a structure for payment. How well funded, what it covers, etc. are different features.

          • Single payer is just a structure for payment.

            Crucial point that needs to be made every time someone blathers on about it as if it’s the One True God. Except I’d drop “just,” because in addition to a structure for payment, it’s also often a shibboleth, a signifier that the person using the phrase is one of the enlightened, virtuous ones, who won’t settle for less than utopia. Never mind that countries have high-quality health care with universal coverage with private-insurance systems similar to the ACA.

            • Ronan

              Yeah, but the payment system is important. And not just for controlling costs but for laying out the institutional foundations of what kind of health system you want. I’m not sure why people are so confident the US will evolve towards a “continental European” type of health care system. My understanding is that a lot of the European payment systems, even when they are multipayer or privately run, function too all intentst and purposes as a govt run single payer, ie they’re heavily regulated non profit making charities where the state exerts significant control in setting costs and bargaining with health care providers.
              Here’s a non partisan, reasonable analysis of the US predicament

              https://medium.com/@jamesykwak/the-problem-with-obamacare-46cc74827131

              I don’t see how you inevitably get from the above to a European insurance scheme. The US has a considerably different distributional politics, political culture, conception of the state’s role in the market, (not to mention the power of private insurance companies)that the evolution towards a more cost effective and state controlled payment system doesn’t seem inevitable, and certainly won’t be seamless

              • Yeah, but the payment system is important.

                Sorta.

                And not just for controlling costs but for laying out the institutional foundations of what kind of health system you want.

                Well, sorta. I’m not even sure what this means. All the desirable health care systems use somewhat different payment mechanisms and provider systems. Single payer is a distinct minority. Single payer-private GPs-public hospitals like the UK is pretty unique to the UK. It’s hard to argue that *those* aspects of the shape of the payment system are determinative of costs or care. What matters is how you regulate payers and the relationship between payers and providers. Payers need to force providers to control costs in a number of ways. If they don’t, you’re screwed.

                My understanding is that a lot of the European payment systems, even when they are multipayer or privately run, function too all intentst and purposes as a govt run single payer,

                This just defines “well regulated system” as “single payer”. But that’s just makes the term “single payer” meaningless.

                ie they’re heavily regulated non profit making charities

                This is true of lots of US insurance companies.

                where the state exerts significant control in setting costs and bargaining with health care providers.

                Well, this is mostly true of France, but only partly true for Germany. But there’s no reason that those aspects can’t be divorced from, e.g., non-profit status.

                That article was pretty terrible.

                I don’t see how you inevitably get from the above to a European insurance scheme. The US has a considerably different distributional politics, political culture, conception of the state’s role in the market, (not to mention the power of private insurance companies)that the evolution towards a more cost effective and state controlled payment system doesn’t seem inevitable, and certainly won’t be seamless

                ?? And who argued otherwise? Not Dana.

                But the State already has significant effects on prices (cf Medicare). Plus the ACA has shifted a lot (e.g., toward fee for quality). Getting the rest of the way isn’t trivial, but…so? Switching to single payer isn’t trivial either.

                • Ronan

                  What are the next (politically feasible) steps you see as most important to expanding and improving the US health care system? Genuine question, what policies would you most like to see passed, and what aspects of the system are most in need of reform? Ie what should a Clinton admin which was serious about building on the ACA be looking at next ?

                • To Ronan, who doesn’t rate a reply button, the first step is to fund the “risk corridor” system for maintaining insurance co-ops, which the Republicans destroyed last year. These and the multi-state program should be allowed to compete on an equitable basis.

                • Ronan

                  Thanks for the link Yastreblyansky, and the pointer towards the site, which is very informative

            • efc

              You must be such a hard nosed pragmatist without time for feelings. That’s why you don’t need to use such emotive language. Unlike those crazy single payer advocates, wailing and gnashing their teeth, screaming shibboleths to the sky! Demanding utopia right now. Bathing in their virtue while children go without health insurance due single payer advocates desire for Purity (it’s not pure without a capital “P”). Thank you for calmly and rationally explaining how much calmer and more rational you are.

              • Somebody’s cat must be standing on their keyboard.

  • Docrailgun

    I hope he goes apeshit over me saying he’s a paid troll for the Kochs and Trump on Twitter.

    • Warren Terra

      Which would be worse: for him to be a paid troll, or for him to be such a moron that he promotes their cause for free?

      • Mike in DC

        The term “useful idiot” comes to mind.

  • a_paul_in_mtl

    Mind you, I don’t know of any change that isn’t incremental, aside from truly cataclysmic, apocalyptic change. For example, a tsunami that sweeps away an ocean-side village.

    Even single-payer health care and other social democratic advances have been, are, and would be derided by revolutionaries as a sop to the working class to prevent genuine revolutionary change.

    • humanoid.panda

      Closest parallel to non-incremental change in recent American history is, I think, the second World War: a massive wave of government spending that ended the Great Depression in, basically, a heartbeat. One could make the argument that something like this is only appropriate response to global warming.

      • Mike in DC

        The unemployment rate in mid-1944 was 1.2%.

  • sylvainsylvain

    Even single-payer health care and other social democratic advances have been, are, and would be derided by revolutionaries as a sop to the working class to prevent genuine revolutionary change.

    Huh, it’s been years since I thought of trade union consciousness.

  • addicted44

    I think it’s fairly easy to prove that progressive policy change must always happen in an incremental fashion in the US.

    The policy in question is almost certainly not a slam dunk that everyone agrees to. If it was, it would have already been changed (and it wouldn’t even be a progressive achievement because even conservatives agreed with it).

    So, almost by definition, any major progressive policy change will necessarily involve people changing their opinions. And opinions rarely change across a country in 1 shot. Opinion changes usually spread gradually. So if you’re looking at the legislature, it’s likely that approval for the policy in the legislature will probably gradually rise from 20-25% to above 80-90%. So your options are to either wait till you get about 60% approval in the legislature, or you try and pass a more watered down version when you have closer to 40% approval and can convince another 10 or so % to join in by letting go of the more extreme measures.

    Since the gap in time between you go from the 40% approval to over 50% approval for the uncompromised version of the policy could probably be measured in decades, it would almost be an unforgivable evil to not try and make the change at an earlier stage, so you can at least alleviate a significant chunk of people’s problems to some extent earlier.

    • Steve LaBonne

      When and where has progressive change ever not happened incrementally? Trying to do it by leaps and bounds inevitably involves levels of coercion that soon stamp out anything describable as progressive. The historical examples are left as an exercise for the reader.

      • Ronan

        True, but as ajay mentions below, every policy, looked at in a certain light, is “incremental”, ie that it’s the result of various political and distributional battles, built on prior institutional foundations, and is never a finished product, but a point in a more general evolution.
        These arguments over Incrementalism really don’t go very far (unsurprising considering it’s in response to an fdb talking point). There are probably more fruitful ways of looking at policy change, rather than concentrating on “Incrementalism” vs whatever its opposite is.

  • geniecoefficient

    Once I tried to read a Freddie post, but after 2 or 3 sentences the bombast threw me across the room, where unfortunately I collided with some window blinds. As I straightened myself up, I thought of Freddie’s self-importance and felt compelled to try to asphyxiate myself with the blind cord, now conveniently nearby. For some reason this attempt failed; but fortunately, the edge of the blind was sharp; I thought of Freddie’s state of perpetual narcissistic injury and dudgeon and decided to renew my attempt to terminate my life; to that end, I used incisions which I placed crosswise through my ulnar artery. A housemate rescued me from near-certain death; the urgent-care doctor prescribed Freddie repellent, which through some electronic alchemy blocks Freddie’s site from my computer. For the sake of mockery I would like to catch up on Freddie’s oeuvre, but my health seems to demand abstinence

  • ajay

    It’s kind of a pointless argument because I suspect that you could pick literally any policy in history and argue that it was incremental, if you define “incremental” as “part of a chain of actions all heading towards the same result”. Someone mentioned the National Health Service in Britain; well, that was revolutionary! Suddenly everyone had single-payer government-provided health care!

    Except that it was also an incremental move. The Poor Law set up hospitals for local residents in the 19th century. The LCC was running free hospitals in London in the thirties. The 1911 National Insurance Act involved part of your NI contributions going towards health care. And so on.

    Abolishing the death penalty! Well, look at it as part of a century of progress; the number of capital crimes was reduced from hundreds in the 18th century to just three in the 1960s. The number of executions was falling as well.

    Independence for India! Well, yes… except that from the 1870s onward the various Government of India acts had been moving more and more responsibility from London to India, and expanding both the electorate for the Indian legislative councils and the amount of power they had.

    And so on.

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