Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Agree To Disagree

Long time readers know that I am especially fond of the analysis of Martin Longman, aka Booman.  However, his latest piece left me puzzled and a tad upset at his reasoning, because it seems to fly in the face of his usual pragmatic liberalism.

He has consistently been saying - rightly - that Democrats cannot afford to lose rural Rust Belt districts 20-80, like they did in 2016.  We need to go back to losing them 40-60.  He frets that Democratic outreach and inroads among suburban voters threatens to further alienate those WWC voters that we have been endlessly told to genuflect before, because they gave us the Cheetoh colored fart-sack currently occupying the Oval Office.

OK.  I get the logic if your desire is to form a coalition of working class whites and black to upend the plutocracy.  You want those WWC voters to vote their pocketbooks and ally with minorities to upend Wall Street's stranglehold on the country's economy and politics.  The problem with reaching out to wealthier suburban voters if that you risk further alienating those WWC as being the party of minorities and the suburban professional class.  That seems to be Longman's argument.

Here's my counterargument.  No successful reform movement has left out the middle and professional classes.  None.  The American Revolution was a revolution of merchants and landowners.  Abolitionists were the comfortable.  The Progressives were eminently respectable.  The Civil Rights movement mobilized middle class blacks and animated white middle class outrage.

If the old saw "Programs for the poor are poor programs" is true, then "Reform movements led by the poor are poor reform movements" is also true.  If you want to create the equivalent of the British Labour party, just take a look at how the Labour party is falling apart.

Shaun King has a laugh/cry line where he challenges his audience to say what the Democratic party stands for.  To me, the Democrats have - since the Age of Reagan - stood for good governance above all else.  Democrats use evidence-based decision making to bring the most good to the most people.  Want an example? Watch Jimmy Kimmel's incredibly moving story about the birth of his son and his son's heart defect.  His son is protected from discrimination by the ACA, and Kimmel is obviously not economically disadvantaged.

Being the party of good government - or to put it another way, the party that brings the most good to the most people - means creating a coalition that embraces that.  Minorities, immigrants and certain groups of poor people have a natural affinity for a strong, competent state that can protect them from the majority and the malefactors of great wealth.

But I believe that those comfortable suburban upper middle class voters ALSO want good governance.  They are ALSO upset that the 1% effectively pay no taxes.  They are ALSO sensitive to environmental and LGBT issues.  Yes, there will be issues where migrant Hispanic laborers and suburban lawyers don't see eye-to-eye, but that's the nature of coalition politics.

The GOP coalition is being torn apart, precisely because they are an ideological rather than pragmatic party.  And they are being led by a mentally unbalanced charlatan.  But also the ideological purity of the Tea Party is ripping the party apart in Congress.  Democrats will not return to a majority party by being "pure."  They will do it by winning a majority in the coming House elections and then the Presidency in 2020.

Being the party of good government, government that does the most good for the most people, is a hard sell in a country historically antithetical to a powerful state.  But we can also be certain that those rural WWC voters didn't vote for Trump solely out of the sense that he was going to "make their lives better."  They voted their resentments at the city folk (and the suburban folk) who they feel have left them behind and sneer at them.

We aren't winning them back.

Instead, the raging dumpster fire of Trumpism puts the suburbs in play.  We are seeing that in the Georgia special election.

Democrats need to put themselves forward as the party of competence and compassion, even as they need to find someone who can make that message sing.  Hillary Clinton never mastered the poetry of that message.  Her husband did.  Obama did. Gore and Kerry did not.  This is a problem, in that few technocrats are poets.  But Democrats won power in 2006 and 2008 because the Bush Administration was a series of colossal fuck ups.  That time looks like an Eden compared to now.

Don't be afraid of the tensions between well-off suburban voters and the existing Democratic base.  Work to create a new Progressive coalition that welds them into a governing force.

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