Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Howie Schultz and Mikie Bloomberg are not your friends!

   It's pretty clear that Howard Schultz's nascent presidential campaign is headed for a trip down the toilet of history pretty fast. If you clicked that link you know even Michael Bloomberg doesn't want him to run! Though Bloomberg might run himself as a Democrat if the party doesn't get its act together...

  That's a lot to unpack isn't it? I'll do it as plainly as I can. Based on his appearance on Morning Joe today (during which he humiliated himself repeatedly, including not knowing the cost of a box of Cheerios) Howard Schultz likes the Trump tax cuts and doesn't want the Democrats to reverse them. So he's thinking about running for president as an independent. As illustrated by the previous links, Michael Bloomberg thinks that's a bad idea but agrees with Schultz about the Trump tax cuts and may run for president himself to save them! He's just smart enough to understand you have to have a major party nomination to mount a successful political campaign in today's American and being an asshole to Schultz about it.

   But what do we care about a couple of billionaires who are clearly so out of touch with the grass roots of even the most NIMBY liberal corners of the Democratic Party? Frankly it's because these kind of "common sense" business candidates are dangerous. Wendell Wilkie was motivated to seek and win the Republican nomination because, fundamentally, of his fear of the empowering of labor unions by the New Deal. Wilkie was in favor of 99% of the New Deal. The one part of Roosevelt's platform he really disagreed with was unions. A millionaire businessman wanted to protect his cost margins to maximize his profits so he ran for president. Wilkie lost but he arguably pushed Roosevelt to the right on labor after the election by making a deal to transform his supporters into the core of what would become the WWII "Republican for Roosevelt" movement. H. Ross Perot ran as a spoiler to insure a business friendly Democrat's victory because he was mad at George H.W. Bush for raising taxes above the levels of Reagan's tax reform deal with Tip O'Neil.

   Indeed we are already seeing tangible results of Howie and Mikie having a temper tantrum. Before Howie humiliated himself on Morning Joe, Kamala Harris appeared to back off her previous commitment to Medicare for All at a CNN Town Hall on Monday. As several Twitter friends and I decided in an impromptu discussion Tuesday evening, if it's not "Medicare" and it's not "For All" then how can it be "Medicare For all?"The simple answer is that it cannot possibly be "Medicare For All" under these conditions. So we have to wonder why Medicare For All suddenly became a slogan instead of a policy to Kamala Harris.

   The answer lends itself to a magic word used by both Howie and Mikie to describe Kamala Harris's current leading rival for Democratic front runner status, Elizabeth Warren. What was the word? It was "socialist" of course. Howie spent a significant amount of time on Morning Joe bashing 70% marginal income tax rates (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's idea) and Elizabeth Warren's Wealth Tax. Both ideas "will never pass" because "Americans don't want socialism." Mikie had very nearly identical words on both topics and both singled out Warren as what they believed to be the "mainstream of the Democratic Party." It's fairly clear that a Bloomberg Democratic nomination campaign and a Schultz independent campaign would primarily be "Stop Warren" or "Stop Sanders" campaigns rather than serious projects bringing real policy ideas to the table.

   So Kamala Harris tacked right to align herself with the billionaires and not with us. If neither Bernie Sanders nor a genuine progressive candidate from the African-American portion of the Democratic Party establishment (opposed to Kamala Harris on the issues of penal slavery and police brutality) enters the race then we have a clear choice. Howie/Mikie/Kamala or Elizabeth Warren, which do you trust more?


Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Meaning of "Neoliberal"

   The word "neoliberal" goes flying around Twitter a lot and there appears to be some disagreement on what it means. If you ask the typical establishment Democrat online what it means these days you are told it's a dog whistle that racists use to reference African-American Democrats. It's simply not true. It's one of a large numbers of lies spread online by disgruntled supporters of Hillary Clinton in 2016 because they couldn't understand why so many actual voters didn't automatically fall in line. Since Hillary Clinton's belief in the free market economy over "big government" intervention in the messy work of making the capitalist sausage fits very well into the dictionary definition of the word, and Bernie Sanders biggest fans tend to have an interest in how the economy actually works, it's only natural someone would start to call Hillary "neoliberal." There's a clear delineation between "neoliberal" and "democratic socialist" that has real meaning to someone who studies economics, sociology or political science. So let's stat with the dictionary defition.

   Neoliberalism, n: A modified form of liberalism tending to favor free market capitalism.

   That's a bit of a mouthful isn't it? So now you may want to know what "liberalism" is.

   Liberalism, n: The holding of liberal views.

   Shorter, but still circular reasoning. So if Hillary Clinton holds liberal views she's a liberal and if her liberal views favor free market capitalism she's a neoliberal? I can follow that. Still, what are liberal views?

   There is an economic and a political component which can have opposing meanings. In sociopolitical terms a "classical liberal" believes in a doctrine of natural rights and artificial responsibilities. The artificial responsibilities form a "social contract" by which stakeholders in a society agree to the norms by which the society is governed in return for the resulting government's agreement to protect their natural rights. The stakeholders accept an artificial responsibility not to violate each other's natural rights and the government is the arbiter of their contract. While this precise framing of government has never actually played out this way, this social contract theory was the fundamental underpinning of England's Glorious Revolution and the later American Revolution. The Founding Fathers were so sure that their revolution followed naturally on the principles of the first that they even named themselves the Whigs, after the anti-Jacobite faction of the Glorious Revolution, and called their political opponents "Tories" after the anti-Williamite faction the earlier Whigs fought against.

   The results of both revolutions were what could be rather generously called upper middle class societies with a sense of the personal liberties that should be enjoyed by the upper middle class. Free landowning males could vote for representatives. Those representatives administered the government so as to respect the political and economic rights of all the free landowning males in the new political order.

   What about poor people, women, and various minority groups? That's a very good question with a simply awful answer. They didn't get a say. That was the fundamental flaw of the original liberal ideal. It really didn't include anyone who wasn't a stakeholder in the social contract. That's the flaw in liberalism. The profoundly liberal administration of John Quincy Adams was able to create an "American System" for internal improvements that would create gainful employment and sew the nascent world power together but they were unable to address the idea for many poor white tenant farmers and laborers that they were being used by the elite.

   The result was a political transition into what historians call "Jacksonian Democracy." They expanded on the natural rights theory and liberal doctrine to claim that all white men were equal under the law. The effect was to enlarge the pool of stakeholders in liberal society to address the complaints of the white underclass but leave the same underlying problem. The government was still only for those it defined as its stakeholders. Things actually became worse for women and minority groups. Jacksonian Democracy removed previous administrations' half-hearted checks on the Native American genocide and resulted in the disastrous Trail of Tears. While the liberal Founding Fathers paid lip service to antislavery, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren declared slavery a positive social good. The poor could vote, but their new political rights did not come with corresponding economic and social uplift unless they chose to join in the terrible migration west. Ironically it's the libertarian writer Rose Wilder Lane whose books show the real horror westbound pioneers faced in trying to better themselves.

   Subversive and revolutionary thinkers continued to agitate for change without a great deal of result for years to come. The Civil War served to end slavery. The corresponding attempt to integrate freed slaves into the political society of the postwar South in Reconstruction ultimately failed because white men were unwilling to consider black men stakeholders in their liberal society.

   Even as Reconstruction was being killed by racist whites seeking to regain their status as liberal stakeholders in the South, white women and African-Americans initially allied in a grand attempt to secure their civil rights in the North. The greatest irony is these efforts failed in the home states of the antiracist politicians attempting to impose political integration on the South. Liberalism had won again and the stakeholders were still on top.

   Real change wouldn't start to come after the Great Depression and WWII. The New Deal created a new economic contract to stand aside the political contract. A social safety net was built in Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. In the post-WWI era, liberals attempted to prove they could build a free and inclusive society by combining formal legal equality with a wide range of programs designed to ameliorate prejudice and poverty. Yet the stakeholders were still running things and every advance came with a degree of effort that felt greater than previous advances. Stakeholder reactions began to blame African-Americans for things like "urban decay", "crime", and "ghettoization" despite the fact that it was African-Americans who were primarily the victims of these things.

   Under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, the economic reforms of the New Deal and Great Society were undone in a way that massively benefited stakeholers at the expense of the working class and minorities. Under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, policies that were "tough on crime" devastated people already suffering from financial deregulation and tax cuts. Private enterprise would profit massively from what became a prion-for-profit law enforcement regime. Under George W. Bush a massive war against some of the poorest people in the world, that still hasn't ended, completely exhausted whatever budgetary gains had come from the projects of Bush I and Clinton. A Great Recession and an austerity program that could have been designed by the conservatives who made the New Deal necessary destroyed African-American and working class wealth in this country.

   It is the broad trend of American stakeholders crushing minorities, the working class and those who do not conform to the rules of the social contract between the stakeholders that we mean by "neoliberalism."

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Problem With Representationalism

   Last Sunday HuffPost columnist Talia Lavin wrote an eloquent statement that it is time for a woman to be president and that she will not apologize for wanting to be represented. It's precisely the air of inevitable social progress that was used to cast Hillary Clinton as the only possible candidate for president in 2016. It was time for a woman and it was Hillary Clinton's turn. This school of representational politics reduces each minority group to a set of "firsts", "pioneers" and "trailblazers." These include the first woman in space, the first African-American to play Major League Baseball in the modern era (this narrative has a tendency to erase the story of the last African-American to play Major League Baseball but that's not the same stirring representational tale of progress), the youngest Latinx woman elected to the House of Representatives. I'm not saying these milestones are not important, and I believe that we need to be the kind of country that will elect a woman or a Latinx person president if their abilities and policies fit the job.

   But, speaking as a straight white man, I have not found the payoff of being represented by people who look like me to be worth the neoliberal policy they have given us. I understand this is a privileged viewpoint. My privilege, however, is relevant here. It gives me a perspective that someone who does not share it does not possess. Most of the people in authority have looked like me for my entire life. All but one president of my lifetime has been a straight, white man. What have any of them done for me?

   They've done nothing for the fictional "middle class" they want us all to think means us. They've done nothing for the people who don't look like them, whom they have deliberately shut out of the halls of power. They've done nothing for the "white working class" which, speaking as a high school graduate with a semi-skilled semi-white collar job in technical support with a manufacturing company, to which I definitely belong. I don't care what the next president looks like, I care about the next president's policies.

   I want a strongly, hotly fought primary in which all the politicians who want to be the Democratic candidate for president tell us what they will do for us. I want to hear about universal health care, not universal health insurance. I want to hear about free college and forgiving student debt tax free, not about student debt relief as a favor to tax accountants. I want to hear about income inequality, worker rights, workplace democracy, a Green New Deal and public housing. In the end, I will vote for the candidate I think offers us the best chance at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

   I'm not willing to settle for anything less.

Monday, January 7, 2019

How Democrats Can Save Social Democracy

   How do we save our Social Democracy between now and 2021? We know the Republicans can't do it. If a political party is going to emerge as a serious champion of the established liberal order it will have to be the Democrats. On Sunday, I wrote about what I think the GOP needs to do if they want to save their portion of our two party system. That doesn't get us out of the immediate trainwreck, however, it just gives them something to rebuild after. Today I'm going to tackle the real problem: an immediate stare-down with the obvious consequences of the Senate Majority Leader first nullifying a Democratic president and then kowtowing to a Republican president. A lot of leftists and liberals have ideas about how to win a general election. I think there's a clear and common sense strategy but most won't dare try it.

   I'm about as confident of the Democratic Party's desire to follow my advice as I am of the Never Trumpers but I'm going to post this anyway. The thing to remember is that portions of this list don't require leadership as much as they require pressure on our representatives. Direct and continual action is how you convince people to take "the mob" seriously.

1. Let's Talk About The Mob

   Both in his presidential election and in the mid-term congressional election Donald Trump played the law and order card very hard. Democrats in urban areas, suburbs and exurbs need to meet this head on rather than hide behind their own veteran status or record as a prosecutor to prop up their own law and order credentials. Instead of playing into the establishment idea of respectability, Democrats need to express solidarity with activists and pledge to support their activism with legislation. More importantly, they need to cast "the mob" in the role of the protesters at the Democratic Convention in 1968. They need to cast the military/industrial/law enforcement complex as the police who beat the shit out of those protesters.

   The GOP, with the tacit assistance of Big Media and Big Donors, is attempting to engage in a national police riot and tell us it's for our own good. Look at what's been happening on the border. It's on both sides now and the Tijuana police are doing our dirty work because we're dumping the issue on Mexico instead of being a responsible superpower. So let's talk about who "the mob" really are.

2. The Identity Thing

   There is no way to navigate American politics without dealing with identity politics. This is something that really should be easier for an outsider like Bernie Sanders, who straddles the historic link between left labor ideology and left racial justice ideology, but the mainstream Democrats chose to very deliberately play Trump's game and attempt to play race as a wedge issue to deflect from real issues. Rather than dividing voters by race with Trump's naked racism the Big Dems chose to cast Bernie's supporters as racists and Bernie himself as a potential cryptoracist. Between Bernie's understandable desire not to use his personal civil rights record for political gain, which he probably thinks would sound patronizing from a white politician and his unfortunate decision to fail both economic and social justice in a single "civil rights" argument.

   To do this you just use the Declaration of Independence. "The pursuit of happiness" refers to the freedom to support one's self economically as one chooses and to participate in the creative and social life of the community. This was a fundamental principle of Enlightenment Natural Rights theory.  It needs to be communicated to the public as an unambiguously left populist argument. Anytime you mention "the working class" you make it clear that black and Latinx people will benefit more from kitchen table legislation than anyone else. Democrats should make voting rights an election issue every election and an activism issue every year before an election. When Republicans talk about "law and order" and "all lives matter" you reply that a policeman's first duty is to the public safety and concerns for the safety of police offers are less important than the safety of the public they serve. Make it clear it is not acceptable that this does not include the black community.

   The problem with identity politics isn't that Democrats play it. It's that they play it so badly. Remind the white working class that every time the cops shoot a black person and get away with it they become that much more likely to use violence during a strike and get away with it. Make it about solidarity against the police state.

3. Don't Get Hung Up On Electability in 2020

   Dennis Kucinich once famously said, "I'm electable if people vote for me." What's that? Don't remember that? It's probably because you either never heard of Dennis Kucinich or dismissed him as a joke when he ran for president in 2004. In either case you were doing what the mainstream media wanted and paying attention to Howard Dean. The most genuinely leftist candidate for president at the time, Carol Mosley Braun, was pressured into folding her campaign for the benefit of a straight white man (Howard Dean) of squishy Third Way credentials and a very thin political record. The chosen "electable star" was soon dismissed as un-electable because people thought his Vermont war whoop at a rally was weird. The electable candidate, John Kerry, was nominated and chose the populist outside (John Edwards) as his running mate. Dems thought it was in the bag.

   We know how that turned out. Despite what pundits are saying on talking head shows, we don't want anyone to drop out before they think they should. It's less important that the presidential candidate actually win in 2020 that he turn out lots of people who might vote Democrat in places people don't usually vote Democrat. Imagine a presidential candidate who can accomplish a Stacey Abrams level shift in the political balance of the entire country, down ticket, whether he wins the electoral college or not.

   If you can only have one in 2020 would you rather have the White House or the Senate? Think about 2012 before you answer.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

How Never Trumpers Can Save Conservatism

   I have been thinking a lot about Never Trumpers lately. Max Boot, Jennifer Rubin, Rick Wilson, Tom Nichols and others like to talk about how conservatives can rebuild in the post-Trump America. This may be overly optimistic. I'm not sure we can count on a post-Trump America being a pluralistic society in which there is room for any point of view but that of the ruling clique of corporate elites. For the purposes of this thought experiment, however, let's be more optimistic. The United States does not descend into Bonapartism. Some sort of Republican and Democratic parties, some form of conservative and progressive politics, still exist after Trump leaves office and we still conduct elections. What will the Never Trump Conservatives have to do in order to forge a conservative movement that can be relevant in 21st Century American politics?

   I doubt they will listen to a left winger like me, but I've been kind enough to make a list.

1. The Race Thing

   This may be the most difficult. American conservatives have never been willing to take a self-critical and unflinching look at race in this country. Trump's supporters are obvious racists and this gives Never Trumpers a lot of opportunity to virtue signal. The Republican Party has to do more than virtue signal if they want to attract the kind of voters they need to compete in the future. The National Review's David French is a good example of this. He showed us in August that he didn't grasp the difference between "racism" and "prejudice." In order to claim they are against white supremacy the conservatives in America need to demonstrate an understanding of what white supremacy is.

   So the first thing that a future, post-Trump Republican Party will need to do is learn to embrace the real and vibrant American culture all around them rather than sustain white supremacy and an illusion of White American Culture.

2. It's The Economy Stupid

   Look at the Bush tax cuts. Look at the Trump tax cuts. Look at the havoc corporations have wrought on American business with the twin neoliberal vices of supply-side economics and the belief that a corporation's primary duty is to maximize investor profits. If corporations are "people" as now Senator Mitt Romney ridiculously declared then they have the same social and legal responsibilities as any other "citizen." Since corporations are not people their executive officers need to be held civilly and criminally responsible for the crimes they commit.   

   The stock market is not the economy. We're not going to see real economic growth without a major redistribution of wealth. The "job-creators" you have been spoiling all this time have been sitting on their assets and let them earn capital gains. They have more incentive to raise rents than to increase payroll or start hiring new employees. Just look at GM.

3. Bipartisanship Starts At Home

   Lots of Never Trump Republicans are hoping conservative Democrats will adopt their ideals without meaningful change. The Problem Solvers Caucus and other neoliberal power centers press liberals and progressives for bipartisanship without cease. Yet not one Republican Senator voted with Democrats to prevent the disastrous tax cut. Even most Never Trumpers were in favor of the tax cut in principle. Conservatives who want to have a meaningful place in post-Trump America are going to need to understand that their first loyalty is to country and not party. The win at all costs mentality has got to fall by the wayside. 

   Those who don't compromise die.

   This is a short list but I'm not convinced any Never Trumper conservatives can manage it.