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The Dream of the Pain Caucus Savior

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Brian Beutler has a good piece about pundits who dream that massively overrepresented views will get representation by a third party candidate:

The most recent variation on the theme, which ran in The Wall Street Journal one week ago, resembles its antecedents in many ways. Written by former Politico CEO Jim Vandehei, the article was widely criticized on the political internet, and for many reasons: Vandehei described two overwhelmingly white, rural towns as “Normal America,” when America is an ethnically diverse, urban, and suburban country that also happens to have a lot of empty and sparsely populated land in it. His forays into these outposts left him with a reasonable sense that both Trump and Sanders were on to something—“The best and perhaps only way to disrupt the establishment is by stealing a lot of Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’s tricks.” But he also concluded that we should dismiss their popular appeals out of hand—“Trump’s vulgar approach to politics is a terrific middle finger to the establishment but a terrible political and governing paradigm. Same goes for Sanders-style socialism.”

What ails our political system can be cured, according to Vandehei, with a familiar mixture of rogue militarism, austerity, and genuflection to tech and finance titans. “Why not recruit Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg to head a third-party ‘Innovation’ movement? Maybe we can convince Michael Bloomberg to help fund the movement with the billions he planned to spend on his own campaign—and then recruit him to run Treasury and advise the president.”

These ideas don’t just lie outside the overlap of a Trump-Sanders Venn diagram, but outside the Trump and Sanders sets entirely. Trump and Sanders have arguably gained large constituencies in part by rejecting precisely this kind of thinking, and for embracing American political and ideological traditions that long predate modern political conflict.

Beutler does us the service of reminding us about the Politico primary. Remember that? VandeHei/Allen’s entry on Erskine Bowles is definitive:

The most depressing reality of modern governance is this: The current system seems incapable of dealing with our debt addiction before it becomes a crippling crisis. Few have the courage to propose specific cuts to entitlements, gut military spending, raise taxes or take away government goodies. Instead, most politicians play it safe and dabble around the edges or propose ambiguous ideas, all in the name of political self-protection.

But there is a decent chance conventional politicians playing by conventional rules are playing it all wrong. Many voters seem open to, if not hungry for, a real discussion about tough changes. Ask Republicans and Democrats alike to name a serious and responsible thinker who could lead this discussion and the name Erskine Bowles often tops the list.

Of course, mainstream Democrats are perfectly willing to raise taxes and in some cases even to cut military spending, so what this is really about is “specific cuts to entitlements” and “government goodies.” V/A simply assume as fact that these are desirable policy objectives. But on this the public is right and they’re wrong.

The punchline is that Politico’s readership happened to vote for the best of the candidates in the hypothetical primary — Hillary Clinton. But now that she’s actually running, VandeHei has figured out that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Obama and Clinton on economic policy, so he wants a Great White Guy Hope who will really be able to get big cuts to Social Security through.

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