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A Strawman Appropriately Repurposed

[ 192 ] May 19, 2016 |


Ross Douthat finds the “smug style of American liberalism” guff news he can use:

THE rise of Donald Trump, and with him a white-identity politics more explicit than anything America has seen in decades, has created an interesting division on the political left — over the question of what, if anything, liberal politics ought to offer to people who seem bigoted.

On the one hand there are liberals determined to regard Trumpism as almost exclusively motivated by racial and cultural resentments, with few legitimate economic grievances complicating the morality play. From this perspective, the fact that Trump’s G.O.P. has finally consolidated, say, a once-Democratic area like Appalachia is almost a welcome relief: At last all the white racists are safely in the other party, and we don’t have to cater to them anymore.

On the other hand, there are left-wingers who regard Trump’s support among erstwhile Democrats as a sign that liberalism has badly failed some of its natural constituents, and who fear that a Democratic coalition that easily crushes Trump without much white working-class support will simply write off their struggles as no more than the backward and bigoted deserve.

I like how the left-wing gadfly Fredrik deBoer framed this issue: “What do you owe to people who are guilty of being wrong?” It’s a question for liberals all across the Western world to ponder, given the widening gulf between their increasingly cosmopolitan parties and an increasingly right-leaning native working class.

He definitely gets where deBoer and Rensin are coming from. And between the three of them, they have collectively identified zero liberals who share the set of beliefs (“white working class Trump voters have no legitimate economic grievances and we should not try to help them materially”) attributed to them.

I won’t repeat my previous arguments about this in full, but to summarize: nobody (well, not literally, it’s a big internet and I’m sure someone in a comments section somewhere is saying something dumb, not nobody of any influence) is saying that because racism a major factor in Trump’s support that federal economic policy should not try to help Trump voters. The argument is against the pundit’s fallacy that if you materially help the kind of working class voters in states like West Virginia that now support Trump and Republicans for federal office they will immediately start voting for liberal Democrats for federal office. But, of course, the fact that (for example) greatly expanding Medicaid hasn’t helped Democrats even in the red states that have taken the expansion like Kentucky doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done, and I defy you to name me one liberal Democrat who thinks otherwise.

In addition, although people like Rensin and deBoer can’t see it because this is more about their hatred of liberals than any kind of serious political analysis, the fact that white supremacy constitutes a factor (not a monocausal factor, but a factor) in explaining white working class support for Trump is also a powerful argument against 90s-era DLC gestures to the right, which didn’t stop West Virginia and Kentucky and Tennessee from going deep red either. To the best of their ability, Democrats in federal office should strengthen the safety net and expand access to health care and expand labor protections and increase regulation of business where necessary because it’s the right thing to do. Doing so doesn’t guarantee electoral victories, but not doing it doesn’t guarantee electoral success either.

One other example in the liberals=neoliberals=conservatives trend that I hope will not persist in the same volume after the primaries are over:

As Bouie says, it’s an impressively layered strawman — pretend to believe that racism is about individual morality rather than structural inequality, so that you can falsely attribute to left-liberals a belief that if working class voters have racist beliefs the government shouldn’t do anything for them. As an alternative, one could argue with actually existing liberal arguments, but I guess that would be too much work.


11 White Reactionaries

[ 72 ] May 19, 2016 |


If you like Sam Alito, you’ll love who Donald Trump would nominate to the Supreme Court. In conclusion, not a dime’s worth of difference!

Pat McCrory Seems Nice

[ 119 ] May 19, 2016 |


North Carolina governor Pat McCrory’s embarrassing signature of the state’s transgender bathroom law is fitting for a man who has hated gay people his whole public life.

McCrory has rejected LGBT anti-discrimination measures every chance he’s had in his 25 years in public office. He voted down a Charlotte ordinance in 1991 as a city council member, opposed another one in 2004 as the city’s mayor, and now, as governor, he just made it illegal for localities to pass these kinds of protections.

“We have laws in our Constitution which forbid discrimination based on race, gender and religion,” McCrory said after opposing the 1991 measure. “Beyond that, no other group should be given special status, and this community is often wanting special status.”

He had a chance in 2014 to offer protections to LGBT government workers, when he signed an executive order barring discrimination against state employees. But he specifically left them out, keeping the order limited to discrimination based on “race, religion, color, national origin, sex, age disability and genetic information.”

He hasn’t just opposed anti-discrimination measures. As the mayor of Charlotte, a post he held from 1995 to 2009, McCrory defended a local YMCA for rejecting a gay man’s application for membership. The club turned away local resident Tom Landry in 2006 when he tried to join with his partner and son. Landry wrote to McCrory about it, and he wrote back, “Thank for letting me know about your situation in trying to secure a membership at the YMCA. The YMCA has every right to set their membership criteria, but as you found, Charlotte has many options for health club memberships, including the Jewish Community Center.”

McCrory was also no fan of the Charlotte Gay Pride Festival. As the city’s mayor in 2005, he said it wasn’t appropriate to have the parade in a public place. He suggested the LGBT celebration “belongs in a hotel.” That same year, he refused to write a welcome letter to leaders of the Human Rights Campaign when they hosted a large dinner in Charlotte. He said later that he had the right “not to show any visible support” for the LGBT rights group.

The governor has even gone after local theater productions. In 1996, as mayor, he pressured the Charlotte Repertory Theatre to tone down the nudity and gay themes in its production of “Angels in America,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the AIDS crisis. “The Pulitzer Prize does not give you license to break the law,” McCrory said at the time. The theater had to obtain a court injunction to continue with its show.

Wendy’s Boycott

[ 130 ] May 18, 2016 |


On the issue of consumer boycotts, the general rule should be that if affected workers are calling for it, then it’s something we should support (the UFW grape boycott) and if it’s consumers calling for it without consulting the workers, we should probably find out what the workers think about it first (people saying we shouldn’t buy clothes from Bangladesh when the workers there say that doesn’t help them). So therefore I endorse the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ call for a boycott against Wendy’s, the only one of the 5 largest fast food chains not to sign on to the CIW’s Fair Food Program and a chain that has switched to incredibly exploitative tomato suppliers in Mexico after that program was implemented throughout Florida. The CIW has done this once before, a successful boycott that forced Taco Bell to join the program and set off the rush of all the other big fast food companies except Wendy’s also agreeing.

The CIW recently picked up a major endorsement of its Wendy’s boycott from the Presbyterian Church, which was also a critical supporter in the Taco Bell fight.

But the church’s support for the Fair Food movement extends well beyond the Wendy’s campaign. Indeed, the PC(USA) was among the first to endorse the Taco Bell boycott back in 2002, far before the Coalition had won agreements with now 14 corporations and before those agreements had made possible the implementation of the Fair Food Program. The church’s unwavering support was catalytic, generating endorsements from many other religious denominations for the boycott over the years and dramatically expanding the base of committed consumers. With its Louisville headquarters just across town from those of Taco Bell parent company Yum! Brands, the PC(USA) engaged executives, hosted massive rallies, animated and mobilized thousands of its members, and its representatives served as a guarantor of the CIW talks of that led to the first-ever Fair Food agreement in 2005.

By answering farmworkers’ invitation to work in partnership, the PC(USA) played a crucial role in the realization of the simple — but then seemingly improbable — vision cast by farmworkers: an agricultural industry free from abuse and exploitation. Fourteen years and fourteen agreements with corporations later, the farmworker-designed Fair Food Program is transforming the day-to-day working conditions of tens of thousands of farmworkers — not only here in Florida tomato fields, where the Program began, but now also in Florida strawberries and in six northern states.

“For so many years the PC(USA) has acted with fortitude and love in the Campaign– standing with us through thick and thin, speaking out consistently and courageously, and matching their words with deeds,” said CIW’s Gerardo Reyes Chavez. “Together, we know that it is not a matter of if Wendy’s will join the Fair Food Program, it is only a matter of when. And with the church’s support, we hasten the inevitability of that day.”

And unlike many other boycotts, Wendy’s actually is the only fast food chain I ever eat at, when I am on the road and need a fast meal. So this one actually is going to force me to find other options. Not McDonald’s though. Because really, who likes a burger that tastes like nothing?

Trump’s True Base

[ 136 ] May 18, 2016 |


Interesting Jacobin essay on Trump’s real base of support:

What does it mean that Trump has done well among middle-income and higher-income voters but not the most-educated? This suggests that his real base of support is small-business owners, supervisory and middle-management employees, franchisees, landlords, real estate agents, propertied farmers, and so on: those who are not at the executive pinnacle of corporate America (who largely have MBAs and other similar degrees) and those who are not credentialed professionals (doctors, lawyers, and the like), but the much wider swath of those people whose livelihood is derived from independent business activity or middle-band positions in the corporate hierarchy.

This corresponds, of course, to the classic scenario in which the petty bourgeois — the middle class whose ownership of small parcels of property does not protect them from vulnerability in the business cycle and the need to exact self-exploitation — experience worry and insecurity following a financial crisis and economic slump, making them receptive to right-wing authoritarian solutions and scapegoating of ethnic-racial minorities.

The presumptive Republican nominee is running into flak from his party’s own leadership, particularly the powerful Chamber of Commerce faction represented by Mitt Romney and Congressman Paul Ryan which seeks to bring him to heel on trade and immigration. These tensions are likely to be papered over, perhaps by backroom assurances by Trump that it’s all for show, but they are reminiscent of the classic tensions between big and petty bourgeois — or, in American terminology, big and small business — in central European politics during the worldwide slump of the 1930s.

Although he resists releasing his tax returns, most likely because they might show his wealth to be less than claimed, Trump offers “art of the deal” business savvy as his answer to capitalism’s problems.

A malfunctioning bourgeois politics can be solved, this projects, by a billionaire megalomaniac who will suspend his class’s self-interest because he cannot be bought, a scenario particularly attractive to a small-business mentality that resents taxes, minimum wages, and “red tape” and seeks someone who knows “the real world.” Those who have run their own little domains are prone to seek answers in a strong leader.

The great shock of 2008 left a punctuation mark in popular psychology. A less-than-persuasive economic recovery and lower rates of unemployment have not altered a situation in which most of the population feels itself to be scraping by, still fears business failure or the scythe of unemployment, is uncertain about retirement, groans under student and consumer debt, and waxes pessimistic about their children’s prospects. The entire population apart from the super-rich top one percent has suffered flat or declining incomes across four decades.

Such conditions breed not only anxiety but resentment, explaining the appeal of Trump’s bellowing about Mexicans and Muslims. The significance of this development is not to be minimized. Not since the campaigns more than four decades ago of George Wallace, the Alabama segregationist, has such naked bigotry attracted such mass support in American presidential politics. Then it was a desperate, declining revanchism. Now its popularity is fresh and gaining.

Talking With Threatening Trolls

[ 236 ] May 18, 2016 |


They are an unrepresentative minority, but Bernie Bros are real and they are less than spectacular.

As Rob reiterated earlier today, there’s nothing about this unique to Sanders; neither Clinton’s supporters nor surrogates behaved any better at thus stage of the 2008 campaign, and evidently Mark Penn et al. could see and raise any of Jeff Weaver’s aggressive intelligence-insulting and rube-running about his candidate’s chances of winning. But am I ever looking forward to this being over.

The Feckless Neoliberalism of the Democrat Party

[ 163 ] May 18, 2016 |


Surely the Department of Labor in a Romney administration would have done the same thing:

Millions of Americans will get a raise beginning Dec. 1, and not because their employers will have a sudden outbreak of Christmas generosity. Rather, it will come courtesy of the Obama administration, which on Tuesday evening released the final version of a long-planned update to the nation’s overtime regulations.

Under the new Department of Labor rules, salaried employees earning less than $47,476 annually will automatically receive overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week, double the current $23,660 ceiling. Administration officials estimate that more than 4 million workers will be impacted by the change, which will increase their pay by an estimated $12 billion over the next decade. “It is based on a simple proposition. If you work overtime, you should actually get paid for working overtime,” Vice President Joe Biden said on a press call.

The change in overtime eligibility rules was first proposed by the Obama administration two years ago and immediately ran into opposition from pro-business groups like the Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, and the National Restaurant Association. Opponents claim the change will be a job- and income-killer, forcing many businesses to either cut their employees’ hours, make do with less workers, or even switch more work over to automated technology that minimizes or eliminates the need for human involvement.

This is a really important change. As Olen explains, under the status quo ante, companies could easily evade overtime laws by making ordinary workers “managers” and paying them low salaries rather than by the hour, allowing employers to demand more uncompensated hours. Requiring workers with such titles and salaries to be paid something like a middle class salary is the only effective way of combating this scam.

Hillary Clinton’s “Shift to the Left”

[ 109 ] May 18, 2016 |


Political reporters have been characterizing Clinton coming out for a Medicare buy-in and against the Hyde Amendment is a shift to the left. This is not exactly true, as both reflect long-standing views. Which doesn’t mean her emphasis on them isn’t important:

Last week, Hillary Clinton unveiled a single-payer health insurance plan that would allow people to buy into Medicare starting at age 50 or 55. To some political reporters, this embrace of a public option represents an ideological shift. “Mrs. Clinton is moving to the left on health care,” asserted The New York Times, attributing it to her unexpectedly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders. Clinton was “floating a new idea,” declared The Wall Street Journal.

But this is not precisely correct. There’s nothing remotely new about Clinton’s support for a Medicare buy-in or a public option for health insurance. From the beginnings of her husband’s administration, health care has been a major priority for her, and she deserves major credit for the Affordable Care Act, which closely resembles the plan that was a centerpiece of her 2008 campaign. Sanders is having an effect on Clinton, but he is not causing her to change her stance, so much as he is compelling Clinton to emphasize her existing, more-liberal positions.

Indeed, Clinton’s support for a Medicare buy-in is nothing new, and dates back at least 15 years. In a 2000 debate in her New York Senate campaign against then-House Republican Rick Lazio, Clinton said that she would ideally “allow people between 55 and 65 to buy into Medicare.” This shouldn’t have been surprising, since her husband had floated the idea in his 1998 State of the Union address. It’s hardly a novel concept.


But a better example is her expressed support for repealing the Hyde Amendment ban on Medicaid coverage of abortion.

The Amendment is one of the most important legislative barriers to abortion access, and also exacerbates the unequal access to reproductive care faced by poor women. Even if a Clinton replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Anonin Sclaia ensures that Roe v. Wade survives, the Hyde Amendment substantially limits practical access to abortion. So it was very welcome for progressives to see Clinton come out against it (as has Bernie Sanders.)

Even so, this is not actually new for Clinton. In a 2008, her campaign told a reproductive rights website that she “does not support the Hyde amendment. She believes low-income women should have access to the full range of reproductive health care services.” Her opposition to the Hyde Amendment is a change in emphasis, not a change in ideology.

Does this mean that the Sanders campaign is having less of an effect that some people have claimed? I don’t think so. For national political leaders, emphasis and priorities matter. There’s a difference between opposing the Hyde Amendment while answering a question in an online interview, and pledging to repeal it during a presidential campaign speech. That’s not because Clinton’s saying something in public will cause people to change their views, but because party leaders help set the legislative agenda. Democrats have to try to figure out what they will do during the next period of unified Democratic government, even if it doesn’t come about in 2017. For the presumptive nominee to support policies like a Medicare buy-in and a repeal of the Hyde Amendment makes the next Democratic Congress more likely to put them on the front burner.
Like most politicians with ambitions for national office, Clinton has both more-liberal and more-conservative aspects of her record and policy views. Sanders, and the support he’s receiving, are encouraging her to emphasize the former—and to progressives, who want the party’s left flank to keep the pressure on, this is an immensely valuable thing.

In that sense, whether these ideas are “new” positions for Hillary Clinton may not matter very much in the end. Progressives saw more of their agenda realized under Obama than under Bill Clinton, but that had more to do with political circumstance than with the president’s personal ideological preferences. Opposition to the Hyde Amendment is a longstanding part of Hillary Clinton’s record; so is feinting to the center by saying that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” That she feels more inclined to emphasize the former rather than the latter matters, and it’s evidence of a party moving in a more progressive direction.

Another way of putting it, as I elaborate on in the piece, is that if you compare the body of legislation signed by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, it looks as if the latter is considerably more liberal. But most of the difference is that the Democratic coalition to the whole has moved to the left, not differences in their personal views. Had he assumed office in 2009 Clinton would have governed much more like Obama than like he did in the 90s. And there’s never been a penny’s worth of difference between Obama and Hillary Clinton on domestic policy. The relative success of the Sanders campaign both reflects and (if played correctly) should accelerate the leftward shift of the party.

Foreign Entanglements: 1968!

[ 0 ] May 18, 2016 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, Michael Cohen and I talk about his new book, American Maelstrom:

American Maelstrom tracks the 1968 election, with a focus on each of the major candidates. Very interesting stuff, although I’m sure that some would quibble with Cohen’s characterizations. Worth a read.

Naval History: Battleship Book Review

[ 19 ] May 18, 2016 |

The following review (below the fold) was written by Paul Stillwell, who served in the crew of the USS New Jersey in 1969. He is the author of several books about battleships. This text is reprinted from Naval History with permission; Copyright © 2016 U.S. Naval Institute.

Read more…

A Brief, Personal Meditation on the 2016 Democratic Primary

[ 257 ] May 18, 2016 |
"Avoid fatigue - Eat a lunch that packs a punch" - NARA - 513896.jpg

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain.

I did not vote in yesterday’s Presidential primary in Kentucky.  The differences between Sanders and Clinton are real, but marginal; I have some appreciation for each, but not so much that it’s worth committing my support.  I appreciate that sounds strange coming from an LGM blogger, but I think this genuinely is a case in which “not a dime’s bit of difference” is true enough.  They’re both fine, and I would have enthusiastically supported Sanders in the general election, just as I’ll enthusiastically support Clinton.

The long Democratic primary season, drawn out by the endless proportional division of delegates, may not end up hurting Clinton in the end.  It certainly didn’t hurt Obama in 2008.  It is good, however, at two things; emotional exhaustion, and generating bad arguments.

With respect to the former, the memory of 2008 is, for me, so scarring that I declined to endorse either Sanders or Clinton this time around, or really engage with any seriousness in the policy debate between them.  You may recollect the endless, bitter comment threads here at LGM in 2008, waged between Clinton and Obama supporters.  I wasted far, far too much time with that nonsense, and I’m simply not at a place in my life when I can do that again.  And if anything, the greater prominence of social media (in my life, and in general) has made it clear that engagement this time around would have been even more exhausting.  I did serve briefly, and in an extremely small capacity, as part of a group that advised Sanders on foreign policy, but more out of a commitment to the idea that any Democratic presidential candidate should have access to expertise than out of specific enthusiasm for his candidacy.

That said, friends have been lost.  “Bernie or bust” advocates are making no meaningful contribution to the Democratic primary race; they’re simply helping to elect Donald Trump.  And I struggle to remain friends, or continue cordial relations, with any progressive who thinks that electing Donald Trump would be a good idea.  On this point I’ve been vicious on social media, and the nastiness has been returned twofold.  But no great loss.

With respect to the latter, it’s not clear to me that the arguments that have emerged from the Sanders camp (and more broadly, from his supporters) are any worse than the arguments that came from Clinton supporters in 2008.  Never forget the Whitey Tape, the Eeyores, the Pumas, and every other bit of nonsense that came out of the waning days of that campaign; it was truly dreadful, and probably, on balance, stupider that what’s coming out of the Sanders camp now.  That said, the Clintonistas from 2008 had a better case in purely electoral terms than the Sanders folks do now; Clinton probably won the popular vote, and did not rely on caucus results to pad her delegate totals.

And the problem with both of these is that it just goes on.  And on.  And on.  Every system for nominating a Presidential candidate sucks in its own way, but I’m hard pressed to think of a way to generate bad arguments and create emotional exhaustion that the one that the Democrats have settled on.  In the last two contested cycles, we’ve effectively known who the nominee would be about a third of the way in; everything after that point is just bitter recrimination, and pundits needing to imagine ways in which the inevitable might not happen.  From a political perspective there doesn’t appear to be anything particular destructive about this (at least from 2008; we’ll see about 2016), but from a personal perspective it’s just… very… difficult.

And so yeah.  I just want it to be over.  I don’t think Sanders needs to drop out (the Jesse Jackson 1988 campaign seems instructive here) but I agree with Paul that Bernie needs to start prepping his camp for the inevitable.


Letting go

[ 399 ] May 18, 2016 |


Bernie Sanders ran a remarkably successful campaign against overwhelming odds, and in doing so pushed Hillary Clinton at least rhetorically to the left on a number of key economic issues. But now . . .

Sanders speech tonight was right in line with his statement out this afternoon. He identified the Democratic party as an essentially corrupt, moribund institution which is now on notice that it must let ‘the people’ in. What about the coalitions Barack Obama built in 2008 and 2012, the biggest and most diverse presidential coalitions ever constructed?

Sanders narrative today has essentially been that he is political legitimacy. The Democratic party needs to realize that. This, as I said earlier, is the problem with lying to your supporters. Sanders is telling his supporters that he can still win, which he can’t. He’s suggesting that the win is being stolen by a corrupt establishment, an impression which will be validated when his phony prediction turns out not to be true. Lying like this sets you up for stuff like happened over the weekend in Nevada.

As Marshall notes, it’s hard to say to what extent Sanders’ increasingly problematic response to the fact that he’s lost is a matter of personal temperament, as opposed to the natural psychological difficulties any candidate who has gotten as far as he has must deal with when coming to terms with the reality of that loss.

It’s reasonable to expect that in three weeks all this will be water under the bridge, and Sanders will make nice with Hillary, DWS, and the rest of the establishment. But that’s not inevitable, and it would be a shame if he threw away much of the good will he’s won over the past year.

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