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

Thursday, June 1, 2017

In Which I Disagree With Booman

I have long been a fan of Martin Longman's political analysis.  He has devoted a lot of time since November coming up with his plan for a return to Democratic governance.  He unveiled it.

I'm skeptical, though I think he proposes a fine policy.

First, he predicates his vision on a repeat of the alliance between Populists and Progressives around the turn of the last century.  This seems historically flawed.  Populists were reactionary, hoping to turn back the clock to an imagined golden era.  Sound familiar?  Progressives were largely interested in cleansing American democracy from the corruption of machine politics and the "malefactors of great wealth."  There was overlap, but Progressives always held Populists like William Jennings Bryan at arm's length.  They never really bridged the rural-urban divide, except in certain policy areas.  Their alliance was tactical, fragile and short-lived.

Secondly, I don't think there is a policy magic bullet.

If policy mattered, Al Gore would have won.  Hillary Clinton would have won.  Generally speaking, people prefer Democratic policies.  They want family leave.  They want a fairer tax code.  They want a cleaner environment.  They want universal health insurance.  Some of the historical unpopularity of Trump and the Republicans comes from the fact that Republicans have to put forth their agenda and no one really likes it.

Trump, to a certain degree, conned them into believing he was a different type of Republican.  My worry is that motivated reasoning will come into play and many of his voters will embrace whatever he does as a way to retroactively justify putting this ignoramus in power.  Trump did not win with a policy agenda beyond "build the Wall and make Mexico pay for it."  He won, because he actively reflected back to his supporters their sense of status anxiety and proposed himself as a magic bullet to solve the problem that it's not a white man's country anymore.

Adding a policy arrow to the Democratic quiver isn't going to solve that.

Perhaps running an explicitly class warfare campaign, targeting the 1%, would make sense.  As Charlie Pierce put it about the drum circles of the Occupy movement, at least they were shouting at the right buildings.

To me, that's the critical fulcrum.  If Democrats can run against the "malefactors of great wealth" and the "economic royalists" then they can plausibly fold anti-monopoly into that emotional message.

The GOP - and Trump - are doing all they can to reinforce this message; however, we have to get past motivated reasoning.  Most Trump voters were Reagan voters.  They liked Reagan.  So, eventually, they adopted Reagan's anti-government positions as their own, no matter the fact that they liked the programs that they benefited from.  This voting pattern and this anti-government position remained mostly unchanged, and in fact, it grew to a point where I doubt Reagan would recognize it.

The trick has always been to get voters to see the GOP as the Party of Money, and then to get them to see that Money is ruining their lives.  Anti-monopoly is simply another arrow in the same quiver.

Democrats win when they nominate charismatic, compelling persons.  Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are magnetic personalities, and as a redneck and a black man, no one could accuse them of being part of the "Establishment."  Dukakis, Gore, Kerry and Hillary are all very competent technocrats.  Hillary was the only one with a really compelling story, as potentially the first female president, but she was killed by the Clinton Rules that magnified poor email practices into a national scandal.  Meanwhile, Trump's connections to Russia went largely unreported outside of the Washington Post.

There is also a pendulum effect in American politics.  2008 leads to 2010, which leads to 2012.  Yes, Democrats don't vote as much in midterms, but they voted in 2006.  If Trump spends the next 18 months fighting off scandal and the congressional GOP spends the next 18 months trying to funnel money upwards, while the opiod epidemic and the hollowing out of manufacturing continues apace, then Democrats will win because of what the GOP does, rather than anything they do or say.

FDR won in 1932 because of Hoover, not because of the "New Deal" which was more rhetoric than program.  He won because the New Era of capitalism of the 1920s proved unstable.  That's true now.  And that unbridled capitalism of the 1920s came immediately after the Progressive moment.  Republicans were able to hide their unpopular policies behind Obama's veto.  They don't have that luxury anymore and it's showing.

The key for Democrats will be to attack the GOP as the Party of Plutocrats, not just the Party of Trump. If anti-monopoly helps, OK. I just don't see policy proposals, however laudable, as doing any real good.

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