Archive for Strategy
The Twitter thread yesterday from the DNC’s platform committee meeting in Orlando was pretty entertaining. There was a lot of passion from the Bernie Sanders delegation. The debate on fracking was particularly heated. Filmmaker Josh Fox (Gasland) spoke in favor of language to ban the practice:
— People For Bernie (@People4Bernie) July 10, 2016
Last Saturday’s post addressed ways to disrupt commercial the forces undermining our democracy. Ways to restore balance to the Force, if you will. Today, please look at Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s speech to New America’s Open Markets meeting. Warren attacks consolidation itself, not just in finance but across industries including the tech sector, as an anti-competitive trend that must be stopped by more hard-headed regulation.
Earlier this week I mentioned Warren’s roll as principled antagonist for all the right corporate lapdogs in Congress. Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism echoes those thoughts in response to Warren’s Open Markets speech:
Warren is continuing to be a thorn in the side of powerful interests. And even though bona fide progressives are disappointed on her support of our misadventures in the Middle East, and her general fealty to feckless Team Dem positions outside her particularly interests, the concentration of economic power and the resulting high corporate profit share of GDP is a big part of why capitalists are partying while workers struggle. Warren is taking on a central topic that is starting to mainstream traction. Even if Warren falls well short of being the Great Progressive Hope, it’s a mistake to disregard how she uses her bully pulpit to undermine a key justification for the rise of inequality in our society: that the operation of markets is always and ever virtuous and therefore outsized pay and profits are justly earned. The more monopolist wannabes are seen as parasites, the better off we will be.
Reducing human decision-making to a binary this or that choice turns humans into Flatlanders with no other dimensions to their thinking. So the rush to explain last week’s Brexit vote as simple xenophobia or stupidity is rankling. (Don’t get me started on the complaint that people voted against their best interests.) A flush of articles examines the human psychology that led to it.
Time magazine quotes Drew Westen (“The Political Brain”):
“There’s a very legitimate reason to be concerned about immigration,” says psychologist Drew Westen of Emory University. “Unfortunately ISIS has given would-be fence-sitters the permission to vote out of some combination of conscious or unconscious prejudice or bias.” That hardly means that pro-Brexit Britons acted out of racism; it does mean that people who do traffic in racism had more power to influence voters than they would have had in more peaceable times.
This is why the thinking within the Democratic Party has gotten so flabby over the years. It increasingly seems to rejoice in its voters’ lack of real choices, and relies on a political formula that requires little input from anyone outside the Beltway.
It’s heavily financed by corporate money, and the overwhelming majority of its voters would never cast a vote for the nut-bar God-and-guns version of Republicanism that’s been their sole opposition for decades.
So the party gets most of its funding without having to beg for it door to door, and it gets many of its votes by default. Except for campaign-trail photo ops, mainstream Democrats barely need to leave Washington to stay in business.
Still, the Democratic Leadership Council wing of the Democrats have come to believe they’ve earned their status, by being the only plausible bulwark against the Republican menace.
What has changed, then, is the politics. The leader of the Democratic Party believes it’s in his political interest to support expanding rather than cutting Social Security. The pushback against chained-CPI from both Democratic voters and many congressional Democrats was crucial in making this happen. And you can bet Obama has been paying attention to Bernie Sanders’s strong presidential run, too, which has shown there is an appetite for a stronger welfare state. He changed his public position on Social Security for the same reason he belatedly came out in support of same-sex marriage rights: that’s where the party was.
President George W. Bush’s epic failure to privatize Social Security (at least, in part) early in his second term, Lemieux writes, demonstrated the limits of both the bully pulpit and Overton Window shifting for moving the political center of gravity. In fact, Bush’s backfire may have been “the best thing to ever happen” from a liberal perspective. Republicans have backed off and their putative presidential candidate opposes entitlement cuts, saying, “Of course they believe they’re ‘entitled’ to receive the benefits they paid for–they are!” A deal’s a deal.
At Political Animal, Nancy LeTourneau comments on Rebecca Solnit’s essay on cynicism in Harpers. She writes that when Barack Obama entered the White House riding on a message of hope and change, that “the Republican strategy of total obstruction was designed to dampen all that with cynicism about the political process.” Cynicism about the political process is not in short supply in 2016. Hope is. But let’s not give Republicans too much credit.
Cynicism is first of all a style of presenting oneself, and it takes pride more than anything in not being fooled and not being foolish. But in the forms in which I encounter it, cynicism is frequently both these things. That the attitude that prides itself on world-weary experience is often so naïve says much about the triumph of style over substance, attitude over analysis.
Anyone who dares venture onto Facebook or Twitter these days knows the posture. Solnit continues:
If you set purity and perfection as your goals, you have an almost foolproof system according to which everything will necessarily fall short. But expecting perfection is naïve; failing to perceive value by using an impossible standard of measure is even more so. Cynics are often disappointed idealists and upholders of unrealistic standards. They are uncomfortable with victories, because victories are almost always temporary, incomplete, and compromised — but also because the openness of hope is dangerous, and in war, self-defense comes first. Naïve cynicism is absolutist; its practitioners assume that anything you don’t deplore you wholeheartedly endorse. But denouncing anything less than perfection as morally compromising means pursuing aggrandizement of the self, not engagement with a place or system or community, as the highest priority.
It will take more than fear of Donald Trump for Democrats to win this fall. They need a message. This article from Harold Meyerson after monumental losses in 2014 summed it up:
What, besides raising the minimum wage, do the Democrats propose to do about the shift in income from wages to profits, from labor to capital, from the 99 percent to the 1 percent? How do they deliver for an embattled middle class in a globalized, de-unionized, far-from-full-employment economy, where workers have lost the power they once wielded to ensure a more equitable distribution of income and wealth? What Democrat, besides Elizabeth Warren, campaigned this year to diminish the sway of the banks? Who proposed policies that would give workers the power to win more stable employment and higher incomes, not just at the level of the minimum wage but across the economic spectrum?
Bernie Sanders has focused on the banks this year, but Democrats as a party have failed so far to send a message to families working without a net that their concerns and anxieties have been both heard and felt, and that Democrats have a plan to address them. They need to forcefully answer the “cares about people like me” question.
A variant of that question is “Why don’t they do something?” That’s an even bigger joke line here, mostly because it evokes that old song from David Crosby. The now-standard rejoinder is, “Who are They? And on what streets do They live?” Maybe we can ask them.
Something Gaius wrote on Monday grabbed me:
In the FDR-liberal world, the function of government is to provide services to citizens and protection from predators in the private sector. In the neo-liberal world, the function of government is to manage government services so the private sector is given the most profit opportunities possible.
Going back over some notes from the weekend, I recognized the echo of George Monbiot’s critique of neoliberalism in the Guardian. His How Did We Get into This Mess? was released yesterday. Neoliberalism, like many political enthusiasms, morphed from philosophy to religion with its practitioners hardly noticing. Not so for working people paying for neoliberal hubris. They noticed:
Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.
Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.
I ask because two of the biggest brands in the current race for president offer different versions of “purity.” Both offer themselves as outsiders untainted by party corruption. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders sell themselves as immune from being bought by big-money interests. Trump because he has billions of his own and Sanders because, you know, $27 and no super PAC. Both offer themselves as political outsiders, although Trump has the better claim to that. Sanders, the independent who has been in Congress since 1991, offers himself as an alternative to party Democrats.
But a recent story about Trump illustrates the downside of that outsider status when mounting a revolt against the status quo. Trump was flummoxed upon learning that despite beating Ted Cruz in Louisiana, Cruz might come out with more delegates.
Just to show you how unfair Republican primary politics can be, I won the State of Louisiana and get less delegates than Cruz-Lawsuit coming
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 27, 2016
Here’s the crux of it: