Monday, December 5, 2016

Liberalism in Trump’s America: Where do we go from here?

A lot of people I know have been asking me (since I appear the only person my friends know with a political science background), what the Democrats as a party - and liberals in general - can do about the presidency of Donald Trump. My answers tend to not be all that well received, though they are by no means completely bleak. First, let's get one thing right out of the way: Donald J. Trump is going to be president. There is nothing that can stop that now. Even though some people seem to be holding onto the slim hope that the electoral college will do what many say it was meant to do and derail his presidency (here), this is extremely remote possibility. 2016 has been a weird enough year that I won't say it's impossible, but even in this year of shattered precedents, this is one you won't catch me betting on. So, without an escape hatch that could prevent the Trump presidency (without causing a constitutional crisis), what are we sad, shocked, embattled and embittered liberals to do?
Outlook for the Party…
In the short term, the answer is frankly, not very much. The Democrats lost the presidency, they lost the House, they lost the Senate. They lost the whole enchilada in a fashion that is still difficult to fully grasp. The party ate it harder and deeper than just about any other election I can think of.  2016 has been, for the Democrats, an absolute, unmitigated cluster-f--- of truly epic proportions. So, for the next two years at least, the party will be hobbled and largely relegated to symbolic protest and filibustering. Now, it's entirely possible that Paul Ryan might find the Trump agenda abhorrent enough to work with the Democrats in opposition, but this is very unlikely. For one thing, he will only need to do it if he needs to bypass the so-called Freedom Caucus. In light of the renewed strength and enthusiasm of the far right, it is entirely likely he will be loath to do anything that might elicit a primary challenger in 2018. This year has been so weird, and this president-elect is who he is, so I wouldn't write off any scenario completely; but things will have to get very, very nutty before Ryan is likely to try to outflank his conservative colleagues like that.
Outlook for Liberalism…
On the other hand, for liberals in general, the outlook is not quite so bleak. The presidency of Donald Trump actually presents liberals with a prime opportunity to rebuild the party from the ground up. A lot of pundits have argued that this election was a repudiation of the Obama legacy. This is nonsense. There is no evidence (not yet anyway) that Obama voters who moved to Trump did so because they are anti-Obama, or anti-liberal. Far from being a repudiation of liberalism, I feel this election will likely be judged by history to be a repudiation of Clintonism. Salon has a very good (if somewhat heavy-handed) breakdown on what twenty some-odd years of Clintonism has done to the liberal cause and the Democratic party (here). The short version goes like this:
  1. Democrats were getting their butts kicked at the Presidential level with 20 years of card carrying liberals trying and failing to capture the Presidency (with the one-term Carter being the exception)
  2. Clinton devised a pro-Wall Street, center-right platform for the Democratic party which would negate the Republican advantage with the business class 
  3. Because the interests of Wall Street and labor are basically incompatible, 20 years of far-right/center-right divided government eviscerated the economic prospects of the Democrat's working-class base and alienated the largely white, old union Democrats in the manufacturing heartland
The 90's were really and truly when private sector labor went to pot and the Clintons were at the helm; so it only makes sense that broke, angry alienated working classes would have a hard time swallowing the idea of a Clinton presidency. That moderate liberals didn't see this coming (and this includes both the traditional and big-data pundit classes), will likely go down in history as one of the greatest political blunders of all time. However, it still looks like it is less a repudiation of liberalism, than it does a repudiation of Clintonism. And this is a very, very important distinction.
If this thesis holds, then liberal activists have a very good chance to remake the party into something which would be far more competitive in the upcoming contests. Bernie Sanders popularity in the rust-belt was misread by many (most) pundits as being led by young, millennial, multi-cultural liberals. The reputation of these voters as unreliable made the movement easier to dismiss. This reputation isn’t entirely undeserved. These are the same voters who came out in force for Obama but disappeared during the midterms. However, there is some evidence emerging that white working class voters made up a larger part of Sanders' voters than the media ever acknowledged. If it turns out to be true, than it bodes well for the development of a stream-lined, Sanders/Warren led, 21st Century New Deal Democratic party to emerge by 2020. But to do this, the party will need to make some major changes. The list below represents my personal opinion of three of the most important steps the party needs to take to engineer a comeback: 

Dump the Clintonistas 
This should be a no-brainer. Anyone who is attached to Clinton-era leadership needs to go…NOW. At the moment, this means, perhaps more than anyone, the ouster of Nancy Pelosi as minority leader. I happened to live in San Francisco when Pelosi became party leader, so I got a little first-hand experience of what her constituents thought of her. Believe me, it wasn't good. Her power, as far as I can tell, stems from her ability to tap into the vast amount of private wealth the Bay Area generates. Her fund-raising prowess is certainly an asset in the days of Citizens United, but her connection to the Clinton era and its focus on big money makes her a "yuge" liability. On top of this, she was Speaker when the ACA was being developed and she should therefore share the blame for its many short-comings. This should be non-negotiable. Pelosi needs to go.

Re-evaluate the platform to re-focus on labor protection, education and economic sustainability
The decoupling of labor from the Democratic party is perhaps the single most damaging legacy of the Clinton era. Without national level champions, the unions were gradually eroded away until only the public-sector unions remained with any force. That is not to say that private sector unions are not organizing and campaigning all over the country. They are; but without the power of the federal government behind them, they are contending with a hostile business class that is fueled by both Wall Street and an indifferent (at best) federal government. The pro-labor policies touted by the Sanders/Warren faction now seem incredibly prescient given how the vote went and who lead the voting. This being said, the approach should not be simply a return to the big-labor/big-business nexus of the post-war era. A lot of very good academic work has been done on the importance of local level investment and public support for small businesses. Sustainable, local and regional growth models need to be pursued by the liberal political class; not just big manufacturing. 

De-emphasize ideology and abstract social justice issues
This will undoubtedly be the most controversial of my opinions here, but I think it is important to state. For too long, I feel the Democratic party has been focusing on abstract issues untethered to the local issues facing voters. Solving the Israeli/Palestine impasse is certainly important, but so too are the women's health centers that closed down in Texas over the last two years. There are many liberal organizations focused on solving the issues which directly affect the lives of voters. The fact that Democratic leadership took as long as it did to embrace Black Lives Matter is truly a terrible sign. At the same time, liberal activists' preoccupation with ideology over practical politics needs to be addressed. It has been, in my opinion, a great mistake of liberals to assume the goal of civil rights activism has ever been to change people's minds. Securing equal justice under the law should the first (and maybe the only) priority of the activist left, not changing hearts and minds. 
By implementing such reforms within the Democratic party, liberals may have a chance to re-engage the large class of voters lost by twenty years of Clintonism. It will not be enough to sit back and hope the Trump administration hangs itself. That was the very mistake the party made made in this election and the one which makes us all have to get used to the phrase, “President Donald J. Trump”. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Is the electoral college a rubber stamp for majority vote in the states, or do they have an obligation to deliberate independently? In all likelihood the question is moot, since the electors have never overturned the results of an election (to my knowledge) and both Obama and Clinton has sent signals they are opposed to the idea. However, this article in Time makes a good argument that Trump is exactly the type of candidate the College was meant to prevent. If true and they ratify his election, then it may be the best argument yet for doing away with this extremely unpopular institution. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Less Popular Than Polygamy?

While the rest of the press fixates on what Obama’s ratings will mean for his reelection, the real 800 pound gorilla in the voting booth seems barely to be noticed. I’m speaking of course about Congress. As this Huff-Po article expresses, Congress is now less popular than a number of seemingly negative things, like the BP oil spill or the government “going communist.” The effect this could have on the 2012 election is potentially huge. With Congress essentially split between the two parties, the question of who voters will turn to - especially if “throw the bums out” is the only narrative that sticks - is a difficult one to answer.

One possibility is that this will turn out to be a good year for third parties and independents. With both parties being vilified, voters may prove unwilling to hold their noses for the big two this year. In such a scenario, the only viable alternative would be the non-affiliated or fringe candidate. Of course, the more parties that run, the less predictable the results tend to be. Extra candidates could win, but history suggests they are more likely to split votes, causing all sorts of havoc. A more likely outcome is that the big two retain their lock on the nominations and voters express their disgust by staying home. If that happens, there is no telling how this election will turn out. It may come down to a question of which side has the weaker sense smell…

Monday, October 3, 2011

On the Idea of a Tea-Party of the Left

E.J. Doinne talks about the short-comings of the American grass-roots left. While this is interesting, I fear it is also grossly oversimplified. First, he uses the discrepancies in media coverage between conservative and leftist grass-roots groups to set up his idea of the "quiet left." But there is, I think, a difference between being quiet and being ignored.  Media coverage is almost always going to be weaker for the left because so much of it makes for "bad" television. The themes and the tactics of grass-roots liberalism have been around for years and don't jog well with interests of media owners anyway. So of course a "new" grass-roots conservative movement is going to get coverage. That doesn't mean progressive groups are not or were not out there. On the contrary, the very longevity of these groups is likely to work against them in the media. Simply put, it isn't news if it isn't new. A protest in Berkley by radical student activists doesn't get coverage because it's nothing new. Radical - and often irrational - grass-roots groups holding the GOP hostage on the other hand is very new and subsequently worth printing.

Second, Dionne blames Democratic failings in 2010 on the "absence of a strong organized left.". But what he doesn't take into account are some of the quirks of our electoral system. This is a system that tends to discourage intra-party competition, especially when that party is defending a majority. Democratic party leaders in many states have often campaigned against the very idea of primary challengers on the grounds that they might "weaken" an incumbent and threaten a party majority. In 2010, an election where the "left" party was defending a majority which wasn't particularly popular, I suspect that state primary laws played a significant role. Added to this is the lack of basic civic education on the part of the voters. Voters in mid-term elections tend to be more politically active and have better formed political identities. They are also a comparatively small slice of the electorate. Unaffiliated voters make up the largest slice in a majority of states. This means that they are not only less committed to concepts like preserving the party majority but also, in many states at least, barred from competing in the candidate selection process. This makes them notoriously difficult to mobilize.

That being said, I will agree with Dionne that the tea-party phenomenon has certain organizational advantages over their leftist counter-parts. Chief among these, in my mind at least, is their willingness to sacrifice the electable candidate in favor of the "correct" one.  Much of the TPs strength comes from its willingness to pursue aggressive primary challenges regardless of the effect this might have on party fortunes. This has forced many candidates - particularly House candidates - to adopt more conservative policy positions, which they then must carry into office if they are to stave off a challenge in the next cycle. This primary threat is something the left could stand to adopt. If leftist groups have one glaring weakness, it is that we fear the GOP more than we want to reform the Democrats. This has made us less willing to risk the party position over individual candidates, and we need to get over it.  The public primary was a progressive tool intended to give voters more control over party decision making. How ironic that this tool is now being leveraged to undo all that the American left has thus far achieved.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

GOP take Wiener's Seat...or Why is Pelosi still in Charge?

Read this article this morning. Can someone with a better understanding of internal Democratic party politics explain to me WHY Nancy Pelosi is still minority leader??? She created this embarrassment by calling for Wiener's resignation and yet not a single headline I've come across (so far) has called for her removal?? Do party leaders really think voters are so stupid that they're not paying attention to chamber leadership???
For the record, I'm not buying the Obama-referendum angle here. People who vote - especially people who vote in special elections - have at least enough of a grasp on how the system works to know who leads the House Democrats. This isn't a referendum on Obama. He has a low approval rating, sure. But it isn't any lower than many recession presidents who went on to 2nd terms. No, I think this is a referendum on Congressional Democrats. Unless they start acting like they think voters can see them, this party is in trouble.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dem keep their fingers on Conservatives' pulse...

Once again the democrats prove just how out of touch they are with their own supporters. 
Anthony Weiner to take leave from Congress after sexual misconduct
Published on The Guardian World News | shared via feedly mobile

New York Democratic congressman to seek professional help after sending sexually suggestive images to women online
Embattled Democrat Anthony Weiner announced he has requested a leave of absence from Congress following growing pressure from senior party members to resign after admitting he sent sexually suggestive images of himself to several women.
A spokeswoman for the 46-year-old New York congressman made the disclosure in a statement shortly after Democratic leaders demanded Weiner quit, adding that he would be receiving "professional treatment" at an undisclosed location. The House Democrat leader, Nancy Pelosi, said Weiner had "the love of his family, the confidence of his constituents and the recognition that he needs help". Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, described the incident as a sordid affair that had become "an unacceptable distraction".
Weiner's spokeswoman, Risa Heller, revealed that the congressman had departed "to seek professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person". She added: "In light of that, he will request a short leave of absence from the House of Representatives so that he can get evaluated and map out a course of treatment to make himself well."
The development came just 24 hours after Weiner first acknowledged he had exchanged online messages with a 17-year-old girl in the state of Delaware, although he insisted nothing improper had passed between them. He also finally admitted sending a picture of himself in his underpants via Twitter to another woman.
Democrats said the concerted call for Weiner's resignation had been brewing for days, as senior party officials concluded the scandal was interfering with their attempts to gain political momentum in advance of the 2012 elections. Democrats hope to rebound from a devastating election last November in which the Republicans won control of the House.
"We had decided we were not going to have one more week of Anthony Weinergate," said one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official added that Pelosi had spoken numerous times with Weiner in an attempt to persuade him to step down for the good of the party, telling him that because of the media focus on his predicament their attacks on a Republican Medicare proposal were going unnoticed. The Republicans have proposed major cuts in the government-run Medicare programme which provides healthcare to the elderly.
Pelosi, Wasserman Schultz and others had been notably reticent in public in the days since Weiner held a news conference to announce he had exchanged lewd photos, and more, with a handful of women. On Thursday, an X-rated photo surfaced on a website, and in response, Weiner's office issued a statement that did not deny it had been taken of him.
Weiner is married to Huma Abedin, a top aide to Hillary Clinton. She is pregnant with the couple's first child and is travelling with Clinton in Africa. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Who benefits from the "Knowledge Economy?"

The Projo reports today that over a hundred thousand dollars is being invested by government agencies to help develop a "knowledge economy." Presumably this will bring high tech jobs developing hardware, software and bolstering design jobs. All of which sounds wonderful, of course. But still I have to ask myself, who's going to be working in these jobs of tomorrow?  Currently the overwhelming majority of jobs in this state are in the service industry. These are mostly unskilled or semi-skilled positions which pay modest wages. A lot of these jobs ought to be transitional ones at best; minor rungs on an upwardly mobile ladder. Only they're often not. Social mobility tends not to reach thousands of workers in the service sector. Part of the reason is because they lack the skills and training opportunities of workers in other sectors. When money is tight, educational expenses can be hard to justify. So when I see the prospect of hundreds of possible high skilled, high tech jobs coming to Rhode Island, I can't help but wonder who will benefit most. Whoever it is, I doubt it will be the workers who are here now, struggling to make a decent living for themselves and their families.