UA-43475823-1

The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – October 15, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Early fall in Nuremberg, Germany – photo by voyageblonde

With so much anger about Brett Kavanaugh becoming a Supreme Court justice, it seems that Democrats care more about the Supreme Court than Republicans. As Sean McElwee has noted:

Democrats were more likely to approve of the court than Republicans by an average of a 14 point margin from 2010 to 2014. This gap increased…to a 32-point margin in 2016…even while the court decided cases like Trinity Lutheran, in which the court required the government to subsidize churches.

Democrats’ view of the Court was shaped by the Warren Court’s civil rights decisions (Brown vs. Board of Education), and Anthony Kennedy’s occasionally siding with Democrats on a few socially liberal issues.

The Dem’s higher approval of the court is striking, because it has been 49 years since the Supreme Court has had a liberal majority. From Marty Lederman:

On May 15, 1969, Justice Fortas resigned from the Supreme Court, thereby ending a seven-year period in which a 5-4 majority of the sitting Justices had been appointed by Democratic Presidents. I had just turned eight years old.  I’m now almost 58. And yet that day in May 1969 remains the last moment in time that a majority of the Court was appointed by Democrats.

In the 2016 presidential election, many Democrats said that the chance to appoint new Supreme Court justices was reason enough to vote for Hillary Clinton, but too few Democrats turned out in 2016, so control of the Court is safely in the hands of Donald Trump and the GOP for what could be another 50 years. More from Lederman:

In only seven of the past 108 years (1946-1953) has the Chief Justice of the United States been a Democrat who did not fight on behalf of the Confederacy.)

So, should we conclude that Democrats like the Court, but fail to see it as a priority at election time? There are a few other ideas to go along with that.

  • Democratic Presidents have served five terms since 1969, and have won a majority, or plurality of the popular vote in seven of the twelve elections in that period–including in six of the past seven elections.
  • Democrats have held a majority of the Senate in more than half of the 25 Congresses since Fortas’s resignation, including some with huge majorities. But the Court has remained in GOP control, and will for decades to come.
  • Consider that only Justice Thomas was appointed by a Republican President who entered office with a majority, or plurality of the popular vote.
  • In the 27-year span, which covers the entire tenure of all of the current Justices, a Republican President has won the popular vote in just one election, 2004.

It gets worse: The Senators who confirmed Gorsuch represented states in which only 47% of Americans lived. Back to Lederman:

Using estimated 2018 population figures—and not even counting the millions of Americans in the territories, including Puerto Rico—my rough calculation is that Kavanaugh was confirmed by the votes of Senators representing only 44% or so of the nation’s population…

So, our democracy, which specifies two Senators per state, makes approval of liberal justices an issue, since too few Senators represent liberal-leaning states.

But, liberals didn’t need to care about the Court’s direction for most of the second half of the 20th century. During that period, there were many victories in the Court that either enshrined liberal policy preferences directly, or made it possible for them to be legislated into existence.

There is a Japanese concept in military science called “Victory Disease” which occurs when complacency or arrogance, brought on by a victory, or a series of victories, makes an army underestimate the battle at hand. This is what infected Dems over the past 50+ years about the Supreme Court.

By the 1990s, liberals had largely stopped caring about the courts, except for the gay rights movement.

But, since the Rehnquist and the Roberts Court, it is now conservative policy preferences that are either being enshrined directly, (Shelby County, Hobby Lobby, and Citizens United) or are possible because of refusals to hear cases, such as Brakebill v. Jaeger, which disenfranchised Native Americans in North Dakota.

So it’s time for Democrats to Wake Up! And to have a laser focus on the Court.

When Hillary lost and Trump was inaugurated, many people were furious. Now isn’t the time to be furious, it’s time to be serious.

The mid-term election isn’t a game, and turnout is everything!

Otherwise, Dems won’t take back the House.

Then, they would be in danger of becoming a fringe party.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Send Establishment Democrats to the Bench

The Daily Escape:

City Hall Subway Station, NYC – via @themindcircle

We live in disorienting times. Disorienting in that our society, and our values, are in motion. We are no longer anchored by social mores, beliefs, or any shared vision of the future. Our politics are evolving as well. We can’t simply blame Trump, or those who elected him for taking us to this scary place. The bipartisan consensus that’s ruled this country since the 1940s — neoliberal domestic policy, and neoconservative foreign policy ─ no longer produces the same results for our citizens that it has produced since the Eisenhower era.

Establishment Democrats bear some of the blame. And looking forward to the mid-terms and beyond, they have failed to do the simplest work — forming a worldview, then persuading others about their vision, and the steps to achieve it.

We can also blame establishment Republicans, but they have collapsed. The new right is much farther right, more authoritarian, and whiter. And who would have thought they would be the pro-Russia, anti-FBI, anti-DOJ, and (maybe not a complete surprise), the pro-police state party?

History shows that when society turns like this, the establishment parties can disappear, as did the Federalists and the Whig parties. And when one party changes, the other must as well. After Lincoln, neither the Republicans, nor the Democrats, were the same parties.

Perhaps it’s time to take these words in the Constitution to heart:

…to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed…

Therefore, if the Dems are to win back the hearts and minds of the people, regardless of what the banks and corporations want to do, Government must be the advocate for the People.

That requires that our political parties confront the banks, corporations, military contractors, and the other oversized creatures that feed at the government trough.

Is that something that the establishment Democrats (Wrongo likes calling them the “Caviar Dems”) are willing to do? They used to champion social and economic justice, but not so much today. Today, they follow the same neo-liberal economic policies that Republicans champion.

And with few exceptions, they are as neo-conservative on foreign policy as any Republican.

Republicans have undergone a different mutation. They celebrate the globalized economy, and support the domestic gig economy as a means of growing corporate profits. They still celebrate Christian values, so controlling Supreme Court appointments is their great achievement, along with ruinous tax cuts.

America’s corporate tax revenues are going down, while social and infrastructure costs keep rising. So far, under both parties, government has continued to spend money it doesn’t have. It borrows, and pretends that everything is under control.

Now, after 10 years of economic expansion, we continue to pile up deficits. What’s going to happen in the next recession? The truth is, we are poorer, and weaker, as a country than we think. But few politicians are willing to help us face reality.

We see both Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic nominee for Congress in NY, describe themselves as socialists. But, in fact, that’s not what they are. Merriam-Webster defines socialism as:

Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective, or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.

Obviously, they hope to take over the corporate-friendly establishment Democratic Party, but if you call yourself a socialist, then, at a minimum, you need to advocate for government ownership of the means of production, i.e., industry. You’re only a socialist to the extent that you advocate that.

Will Bernie or Alexandria nationalize General Motors, Apple, or ExxonMobil? No.

Even advocating for “Medicare for all,” isn’t socialism. Neither Medicare, nor other single-payer programs like Medicaid, are really socialized medicine. No one is advocating for an actual government takeover of hospitals, or turning doctors into government employees. If they really wanted socialized medicine, their cry would be “VA for all,” not “Medicare for all.”

Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are social democrats. In a social democracy, individuals and corporations continue to own the capital and the means of production. Wealth remains produced privately.

But taxation, government spending, and regulation of the private sector are much more muscular under social democracy than is the case under today’s neo-liberal economic system.

Joel Pett has a great illustration of the difference between Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez and Republicans:

It’s time for the Dems to change direction. Carry the “Medicare for all” banner proudly. Work to end income inequality. Work to add jobs for the middle class.

Send the establishment Democrats to the bench.

Facebooklinkedinrss

How to Blow a “Blue Wave” Election

The Daily Escape:

Tillamook Head Lighthouse, Oregon – 2018 photo by Shaun Peterson

2018 is supposed to be a “Blue Wave” election, but Wrongo has doubts. We spoke yesterday about the pathetic performance of Team Dem during the shutdown. The Financial Times (paywalled) quoted Adam Green, co-founder of the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee: (brackets and emphasis by Wrongo)

The Republicans are very good at casting this debate [DACA] as being about illegal immigration and Democrats were not willing to own that this was at its core about the Dreamers and to define the Republican position as hurting kids and tearing apart families…The Trump people were clearly thinking about their messaging in advance and preparing ads in advance and there was almost no [Democratic] co-ordination with outside groups and no air cover by Democratic strategists…

That Schumer, Pelosi, et al. had no Plan B shows that they weren’t serious, no doubt because DACA isn’t an important issue for their base, the top 10%. Can the current Democratic Party leaders turn a wave opportunity into another squeaker like they did in 2016?

There is a large group of disaffected and/or disappointed voters who can be claimed in the 2018 Congressional elections. It’s a group of voters so disgusted with both parties that they could, just as easily vote in huge numbers, or stay home in droves.

Democrats said after the 2016 election that one new principle was to “crack down on corporate monopolies”, but since then, have done nothing. Here is a candidate that should be an example to Democrats on the subject of corporate power over the lives of regular people.  Austin Frerick is a 22-year-old running as Democrat in the 3rd Congressional District in Iowa against a conservative Republican. Watch him explain concentrated corporate power in a way that Schumer and Pelosi can’t, and won’t:

(Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.)

The basic skill a politician must have is to bring disparate groups a message about what they want/need, and how to get it. Chuck Shumer, the beacon of Wall Street, can’t be the guy fighting for Main Street voters.  Anything Schumer comes up with will not be the kind of clear and concise message that Austin Frerick can use to win his district.

Civil Rights activists in the 1960s didn’t win the prize on day one, but they never took their eyes off the ball once they achieved a few small wins. It’s important to remember that in the 1960s, the Party’s leadership was aligned with their Main Street supporters. But today, Democrats in Congress and their usual Democratic supporters have little in common. Schumer/Pelosi are not seeking the same prize as Main Street Democrats. They are captured by the monied elites, and have no message directed at the little people. Their only message is “Russians! Trump!”.

So far, Dems have won a few special elections, and won the Governorship in NJ, which should never have been lost to Christie in the first place. It’s time for the progressives in Congress to stage an actual coup, replacing today’s leaders with a few of their own. Otherwise, 2018’s messaging will be: 2016 – the sequel.

Will Wrongo be wrong again? Will the Democrats win with their current leaders? Or will they field so many unpalatable mainstreamers, backed by no message at all, that few will vote for them?

We’ll know in just a few months, and then, 2020 is just around the corner.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Do Democrats Have a Winning Political Strategy?

The Daily Escape:

Frozen branch in Lake Erie, Cleveland OH – 2018 photo by Igorius

The Democrats’ demand of passage of DACA legislation, or they would block a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government open, lasted 72 hours. No DACA legislation was passed, but Dems are touting a Republican promise of debate about DACA over the next three weeks.

That promise comes from Mitch McConnell, the guy who stole Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court seat, and got away with it.

Wrongo believed that dying on DACA hill was a bad political choice for Democrats. After all, there are 700,000 Dreamers, but 320 million Americans would be affected by a government shutdown. Their negotiating position shows how weak the Dems are today.

Those Dems who say that capitulation on the CR was worth it to secure the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) funding for six years, should remember that the CR runs out in three weeks. Then it will be up for discussion again.

So from the Dems viewpoint, if by February 8th, the Republicans have not dealt with DACA, the Dems can shut the government down again, this time using the narrative that Mitch McConnell is a liar, and that they gave Republicans a chance to fix the problem. Unfortunately, McConnell has been called a liar before.

But if February 8 comes, and Democratic Senators back off on another confrontation to protect the Dreamers, that will not only be terrible for Dreamers, it’s terrible for Democrats. They have a few weeks to pressure Republicans to get this done.

OTOH, it is difficult to see why Republicans would do anything different. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will use these three weeks to tighten the screws, and finish the job. That would start with McConnell taking the House’s already passed Securing America’s Future Act (SAF) to a vote.

Once Senate Dems say “no” to that, McConnell can say “Well, we put a DACA bill on the table, and the Dems rejected it. I lived up to my promise.” There will be some tinkering by middle-of-the-road Dems around the edges of the SAF bill. Then it will be attached to the CR. How long do you think it will be before 10+ Dems cave, and pass it?

Fault lines exist. A dozen Senate Democrats broke with party leaders to vote against the bill, including a number of potential presidential candidates, a sign they knew exactly where their base is, even if the leadership doesn’t.

Democrats need to use their time in the minority to remake the Party. They should pursue and deliver programs that offer real benefits for middle and working class voters. They need a plan to deal with income inequality. Fundamental questions about what being a Democrat means in the 21st Century must be addressed.

FDR provides a great example for today’s Democrats. In the 1930s, FDR responded to a financial crisis with bold, creative policies that delivered massive, tangible benefits to working people. Because of what FDR did, the Republicans were forced to go in his direction to stay politically competitive. Republicans began to promise that they could improve the programs they once opposed.

Here is what Roosevelt said in a speech about Republicans at the time:

Let me warn you, and let me warn the nation, against the smooth evasion that says ‘Of course we believe these things. We believe in social security. We believe in work for the unemployed. We believe in saving homes. Cross our hearts and hope to die. ‘We believe in all these things. But we do not like the way that the present administration is doing them. Just turn them over to us. We will do all of them, we will do more of them, we will do them better and, most important of all, the doing of them will not cost anybody anything’

In the post-war period, the Republican Party looked more like Dwight Eisenhower than like Ronald Reagan.

And today, Democrats must emulate FDR: Move Republicans to the left, not move the Dems further to the right. This isn’t about finding someone to create an Obama third term. Democrats shouldn’t prioritize getting rid of a bad president, they need to build a serious alternative to Republican ideology.

The Democratic Party has failed many times to produce a political strategy which would force the Republican Party to change direction. And they look like they may fail once again. The Democratic leadership believes that the party needs to unify at all costs to present the strongest possible electoral challenge to Trump in 2020.

It’s counter-intuitive, but to secure a future Democratic majority, Dems must first decide to be a party with a plan that addresses income inequality.

They can knock out Trump without moving to the right.

Facebooklinkedinrss

A Year Later…

The Daily Escape:

Chalk Pyramids, Oakley Kansas – photo by Marlon Flores

(Wrongo is writing this on Election Day, and will not know any national or local results before you read the column on Wednesday. Two years ago, Wrongo’s hometown turned out 20+ years of Republican control in a deeply Republican county. The subsequent efforts by local Republicans to block change mirrors exactly what we have seen on a national level. Despite that, much was accomplished. We’ll know on Wednesday if vision or blockage controls the town’s next two years.)

We are one year into the Trump administration. Many of us are still dealing with the reality that the country elected someone who is incapable of empathy, who has very little understanding of how the world works. Someone who treats women, minorities, and people who disagree with him so appallingly.

The worst thing is how bad behavior (by Trump and many in his administration) has become normalized in the eyes of the press and the people. It started immediately with the administration lying about the size of Trump’s inaugural crowd. Martin Longman took a look back and sums it up perfectly:

Looking back a year later, it’s a struggle not to succumb to a well-earned cynicism. We don’t like to repeat our mistakes, which makes it tempting to over-correct for them.

There were…times when President Obama stood up and told the American people that we’re better than this, that we can do better and be better. It’s not a good feeling to know that the response [by voters in 2016] was, “No, we’re not, and no we can’t.”

…But one giant mistake doesn’t condemn us in perpetuity. I actually find comfort and a cause for optimism that so many people were unable to imagine a Trump victory. It means that I wasn’t alone in having some standards or in believing that we can be better than this. It’s just going to be harder and take longer than I was willing to imagine.

Wrongo thinks Martin is too optimistic, and we shouldn’t expect any real change in his lifetime. Why? One reason is that the Democrats can’t stop playing inside baseball long enough to have a winning vision for the country. The Donna Brazile kerfuffle tells all we need to know: There is no leadership in the Democratic Party.

So, no leadership and no vision. The Dems are like your kids fighting in the back seat of the SUV. While the GOP is a well-oiled machine, staying on message, even when they don’t agree with whatever it is that the Donald just did.

The Democratic Party leadership has to go, we can’t stand by them, not even for another election cycle. Mike Allen at Axios suggests we look to mayors for the next Democratic leaders:

Here’s something unusual and refreshing: There are two highly ambitious Democrats who don’t even bother hiding their strong desire to run [for president] in 2020 — and to reshape the party: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, president of the US Conference of Mayors.

Allen thinks that Democrats could be led back from the wilderness by a mayor:

  • Garcetti: “We’re too busy talking to ourselves, and about ourselves…People don’t care about our inner workings, or even our inner leadership battles…We’ve got to get back to speaking plain English. We are so inside baseball right now…Are you a Bernie person? Are you a Hillary person?”
  • Landrieu, speaking about the bipartisanship of the Conference of Mayors: “The one thing we never do in any of our meetings is think about what the Democratic caucus or the Republican caucus in Washington, DC, is doing. It never enters our mind…People in America are feeling unbalanced right now.”

Allen asked top Dem donors and operatives about possible candidates like Garcetti and Landrieu, and heard that they think DC experience is a vulnerability not an asset for a presidential candidate.

Wrongo agrees. America’s mayors actually do things, and getting things done energizes them. Wrongo has seen this from up close in his hometown. Mayors don’t talk like DC pols, they seem to love their jobs.

And it’s a level of government where Democrats have a deep bench.

The GOP’s goal is to destroy the New Deal, the environmental legislation passed during the Nixon administration and all of Johnson’s domestic achievements.

We won’t defeat their goals without a new message and a new messenger.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Saturday Soother – November 4, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Grand Tetons early morning – 2011 photo by Wrongo

Two short thoughts for your Saturday. First, hidden in the language of the GOP’s Tax Bill  is a something that would change the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the tax code that prohibits churches, faith communities, and other non-profits from outright endorsing political candidates:

…The provision is not a complete repeal of the Johnson Amendment. As written, it would only free up religious communities—not all non-profits—to endorse candidates and appears to prohibit churches from going out of their way to campaign for a candidate outside of their normal religious activities.

The GOP wants to erode the separation of church and state. Let’s see who, if anyone, in Congress is willing to fight for the Constitution.

Second, the Democrats had a grenade go off inside the DNC when an excerpt from Donna Brazile’s new book was published by Politico. She claims that the Clinton administration assumed control over the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in exchange for keeping it solvent, then funneled most of the funds raised into her campaign, leaving the states with very little to support down-ballot races.

The states kept less than half of 1 percent of the $82 million they had garnered from the Hillary fund-raisers the campaign was holding to support state-level candidates. That’s about $4.1 million.

When Howard Dean was chair of the DNC he instituted a 50-state policy, saying the DNC would maintain full time workers in each state, to contest seats up and down the ballot from the county, to state legislature to house and senate races.

When Obama won, Dean was out, and the 50-state policy was dismantled. After that, the DNC was reorganized to serve only national level elections. And Obama For America took its place as the funds-raising vehicle for the presidential re-election. And Hillary did much the same with the Hillary Victory Fund, but she went further, as Brazile reveals: The DNC would covertly back Hillary in the primaries.

And now, through these efforts, the Democrats have lost the White House, the Senate and the House, in addition to most state governments.

It’s hard to decide what’s worse, that the party is run by incompetents, or that it is just hopelessly corrupt.

Time for a hostile takeover of the Democratic Party.

On to the weekend. You obviously need to go to a happy place that doesn’t include continual assaults by our national media. So brew up a cup of London-based Union Hand-Roasted Coffee’s El Topacio Microlot, El Salvador, available online for £8/200g.

Now kick back someplace you can see the natural world outside, and listen to Peter Mulvey playing his instrumental, “Black Rabbit”. Mulvey is known for his guitar chops and songwriting. He got started by playing in the Boston metro. This short acoustic gem is executed with ease, and pure musicality:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss

Trump Nominates More For Federal Judgeships

The Daily Escape:

Road in Chongqing, China – photo by Reuters

We have been watching Trump clap Pelosi and Schumer on the back, as Democrats declared victory. But in background, the administration was busy announcing their seventh Wave of Judicial Candidates, including three appellate judge nominations, and 13 district court appointments. All are to vacant judgeships.

These are lifetime appointments, and most will serve long past Trump’s tenure as President. Business Insider quotes Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE):

This will be the single most important legacy of the Trump administration….They will quickly be able to put judges on circuit courts all over the country, district courts all over the country, that will, given their youth and conservatism, will have a significant impact on the shape and trajectory of American law for decades.

Coons went on to say these appointments will lead to “a wholesale change among the federal judiciary.”

Part of the reason Trump’s been able to nominate so many federal judges is that an unusually large number of these positions were unfilled. From Business Insider:

The furious pace of nominations come as Trump faces an impressive number of vacancies to fill. As of [July 27], the federal bench had 136 vacancies…. In August 2009, Obama faced 85 vacancies on the federal bench.

It is possible to attribute the big discrepancy in vacancies to obstruction by Senate Republicans during the last few years of the Obama administration.

Democratic senators have started using a 100-year old procedure to block some Trump nominees. This process is called the “blue slip”. Since 1917, the Senate has followed a process whereby a state’s senators traditionally must return a blue slip of paper, endorsing any federal judicial nominee from their home state, in order for the nomination to proceed. If the senator fails to return the blue slip, or does so with some indication of disapproval, the nomination may be delayed, or possibly, blocked.

This system is old, but it isn’t absolute. Some Senate Judiciary Committee chairs won’t schedule hearings without receiving positive blue slips, while others think they do not necessarily disqualify a nominee. In recent years, the blue slip has given individual senators virtual veto-power over a federal judicial nomination, if the individual was from the state the senator represents.

Will this tradition continue? Last week, Sen. Al Franken (D-WI) did not return a blue slip for David Stras, a nominee from for an open spot on the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Politico quoted Franken:

 Justice Stras’s professional background and record strongly suggest that, if confirmed, he would…reliably rule in favor of powerful corporate interests over working people, and that he would place a high bar before plaintiffs seeking justice at work, at school, and at the ballot box… I fear that Justice Stras’s views and philosophy would…steer the already conservative Eighth Circuit even further to the right.

Later, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) wouldn’t return blue slips for Ryan Bounds, a nominee for a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, because they will not green-light any candidate that had not been previously approved by the state’s bipartisan judicial selection committee. More from Politico:

Unfortunately, it is now apparent that you never intended to allow our longstanding process to play out…Disregarding this Oregon tradition returns us to the days of nepotism and patronage that harmed our courts and placed unfit judges on the bench…

So, will Republicans end the blue slip process? Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IW), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, reportedly thinks the blue slip process is less important for district court judgeships than for appellate positions.

But, nobody knows if Grassley will schedule hearings on appellate court nominees who do not secure blue slip approval. Republicans have majority control of the Senate and could confirm judges even over strenuous Democratic objections.

OTOH, tradition is strong. While the denial of a blue slip does not legally restrict a judge from being approved, Business Insider reports that:

No circuit court nominees have been confirmed over objection of one (or two) home state senators — including under Obama.

Even if the blue slip process remains in place, Democrats aren’t in a position to stop more than a handful of Trump’s nominees. Most will probably soon be confirmed, since it is relatively easy to pick nominees that are not in a state with a Democratic senator.

Another example that elections matter.

Facebooklinkedinrss

A Different Way to See Middle Class Voters – Part II

The Daily Escape:

This is the last in a series from the NJ Grounds for Sculpture – 2017 photo by Wrongo

Today, we continue with G. Mark Towhey’s idea that our political parties no longer work well enough to be relevant to a large segment of middle class voters. He says that the parties must appeal to the voters he calls pragmatists:

The opening episode of the fourth season of Aaron Sorkin’s Emmy-winning TV series The West Wing... [places]…what typical Americans want from government…into perspective for…Toby Zeigler and Josh Lyman, both senior White House staffers in the show. They’re…in a hotel bar and strike up a conversation with a middle-aged “typical American” who’s spent the day touring the University of Notre Dame with his college-aged daughter.

The man and his wife together earn $80,000 a year and, he laments, ‘I never imagined I’d have trouble making ends meet. I spend half the day thinking about what happens if I slip and fall on my front porch. It should be hard. I like that it’s hard. Putting your daughter through college…that’s a man’s job, a man’s accomplishment. Putting your kids through college, taking care of your family… [But] it should be easier, just a little easier, because in that difference is…everything.’

That guy doesn’t want welfare reform, or tax reform. He wants government to focus some of its resources and brainpower on making his everyday life “just a little easier.” The typicals don’t want perfection, just small, concrete steps that improve their lives.

They are the pragmatists.

We shouldn’t confuse “pragmatists” with centrists who are in the space between the Left and the Right. They are not necessarily moderates. Pragmatism isn’t a moderate ideology, but a different prioritization of issues. From Towhey: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

It’s a focus on the concrete, rather than the abstract. It targets immediate, specific problems rather than deep, systemic causes. It prefers clearly defined and implementable solutions rather than aspirational visions…what if, instead of referring to a place on a Venn diagram, the pragmatic-idealistic divide actually functions like a different political axis?

In other words, don’t appeal to them with policies, speak about solutions. Towhey thinks we should imagine the traditional Left/Right political spectrum on a horizontal line, the “x-axis,” running naturally, from left to right. Now imagine a vertical line that intersects the x-axis at its center. That’s the “y-axis.” At the top of this vertical line, we’ll put people who place a high value on ideals and ideologies that affect society in the abstract. The top end of the y-axis is the “idealist” end. At the opposite end of the y-axis are people who place a high value on practical solutions and actions that help them personally. This is the “pragmatic” end. Here is a representation of Towhey’s matrix:

Prepared by Wrongo from Towhey’s article. Position of politicians by Wrongo

Towhey thinks that the y-axis (Pragmatists to Idealists) shows how most Americans see the world: how a policy affects the world, versus how it impacts me; people who’ve succeeded in the current system, versus people who are struggling in it. Those at the pragmatic end struggle to make it under the status quo. They’re people who want small, but real improvements, a few practical solutions.

Pragmatists are too busy to worry about the future. Whether they’re on the left or right on the x-axis, they share a focus on more immediate needs. And today, voters don’t move along the x-axis as easily as they may have in the past.

If Democrats are to compete in this “pragmatic” voter segment, they need to recognize that the typicals comprise many American citizens, enough to have elected a president in 2016.

The lesson for Democrats is to support leaders who will perform the basics of government exceptionally well. Mayors are great examples of this.

On the national level, health insurance is a great example. Pragmatists want action on health insurance, not on health insurance ideology. If Trump can’t form a coalition with an ideologue GOP Congress, pragmatists would be happy if he worked with pragmatic Democrats, so long as the new health insurance law makes their lives easier. It doesn’t have to be perfect, as it has to be for idealists on the right or the left.

This is the message of pragmatism: less ideology, more action. Small steps, not grand gestures. Results, not principles. And pragmatists are up for grabs. They can, and will vote for Democrats.

They’ll follow a politician who unites them behind a few plans that people think will deliver tangible results. That is how Bernie out-polled Hillary, who had 39 positions on her campaign website.

But, if Democrats can’t make this shift in thinking and leadership, new candidates and new alliances may form, and pragmatists will vote for them.

It could lead to the end of the Democratic Party as a national political power.

Facebooklinkedinrss

A Different Way to See Middle Class Voters – Part I of II

The Daily Escape:

Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, British Columbia – 2017 photo by Shelley VanKempen

Yesterday, we discussed how building consensus among voters was the best way to beat the disruptive, and in many ways, destructive efforts by Donald Trump to change our democracy.

When Democrats bring up Clinton’s winning of the popular vote in 2016, they overlook the reality that Democratic congressional candidates lost in 23 districts that Clinton won, including seven in California. Imagine, those voters didn’t want Trump, but liked what their local GOP candidate for Congress stood for enough to split their vote.

Trump won the white vote by 58% to 37%, while 51% of American women also voted for him.

To beat Trump, or whoever might be next, Democrats need to move from following a few failed strategies. First, they have been trying only to win the White House, not the Congress. Being a presidential-only party is a powerful thing, until you lose the White House. Second, they need to move away from identity politics. People know the size of the pie is relatively fixed, and the effort to fix the problems of one group can easily be a zero-sum game for others.

An interesting analysis in American Affairs by G. Mark Towhey says that our traditional view of voters as positioned along a spectrum of left to right is no longer germane. He argues for a new grouping of “pragmatists”, who are everyday middle class people:

This bloc of typical citizens—overstressed, under-informed, concerned more with pragmatic quality of life issues than idealistic social goals—has become a powerful political movement…Conventional political leaders seem to completely misunderstand them…

They are not among those of us who read (or write) long-form blogs or articles. We aren’t typical Americans:

We have time to read…we can pause our breadwinning labor and child-rearing duties long enough to consider hypotheticals and to ruminate…on an idea or two. We may not recognize this as a luxury in our modern world, but we should.

Typical Americans don’t read lengthy articles. They: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Get up far too early in the morning, after too little sleep, [and] work too hard for too long in a job that pays too little, before heading home, feeding the kids, cleaning the house, and collapsing into bed far too late. He or she has precious little time to consume news…maybe a two-minute newscast on the radio if they drive to work or a few minutes of local TV news…It is through this lens that typical Americans view the world beyond their personal experience and that of friends and family. It’s through this lens that they assess their government and judge their politicians.

Towhey says that these people elected Donald Trump.

We all know that there is a gap between the lifestyles, perspectives, and priorities of the most successful Americans and the “typical Americans.” The people who make the decisions that matter in America are, by definition, our political and business leaders — people who have been successful under the current system. They believe that the system works, because it has worked well for them.

The smart people that lead our politics believe the typicals don’t really know what’s best for them. The typicals want to end immigration, hoping it will increase wages, but we smarties know better. From Towhey:

A politician who promises to deliver the demands of an ignorant electorate is a “populist,” and that is a very bad thing. A politician who equivocates during the election, then does nothing to impede immigration, on the other hand, is a wise man skilled in the art of political campaigning and governance.

Typical Americans have always elected the smart people who call themselves Republicans or Democrats. After each election, the typicals wait for their lives to improve, but nothing changes. Most typical Americans don’t simply divide the world into Left and Right. Instead, they instinctively divide the world into things that affect them and things that don’t, things that help them, and things that won’t.

In 2016, the typicals decided that it was time to elect someone from outside the system. Maybe it won’t work out, but electing smart status quo types hadn’t worked out so well for typical Americans, so what did they have to lose?

(Tomorrow we will talk about the emerging political power group of middle class voters that Democrats need to satisfy if they want to remain relevant, the group that Towhey calls “pragmatists”.)

Facebooklinkedinrss

Do Trump’s Poor Approval Ratings Mean Much?

The Daily Escape:

Lake Louise Sunrise, Alberta, Canada

On Monday, Gallup released Trump’s job approval rating in all 50 states, based on a collection of over 81,000 survey results gathered in the six months between the president’s inauguration on January 20 and June 30. The results show an interesting trend, particularly if you divide them into three categories: states where Trump is above 50%, states where Trump is in the 40%’s, and states where Trump is under 40%:

The dark green states where Trump is above 50% are states Trump carried in 2016. The yellow states, where Trump is under 40%, are all states that Clinton carried in 2016. The light green states are 2016’s swing states: New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nevada. From Gallup:

Trump largely owed his victory in the 2016 presidential election to his wins in three key Rust Belt states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — that had not backed a Republican for president since the 1980s. In these states, his January-June approval ratings were just slightly above his overall average of 40%, including 43% in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and 42% in Michigan.

So those three states that put him over the top in the 2016 Electoral College could now be in play. Other interesting data:

  • In the 2016 election, Trump won all 17 of the states where Gallup now shows him with an approval rating of at least 50%.
  • During the six-month survey period, residents in West Virginia (60%), North Dakota (59%) and South Dakota (57%) gave Trump his highest approval ratings. Montana, Wyoming and Alabama all had average approval ratings of 55% or higher.

This is consistent with the geographic patterns of Republican strength nationally. Trump’s highest approval ratings tend to be in Southern, Plains and Mountain West states. His lowest ratings are in Northeast and West Coast states.

Maine, Georgia, Missouri, Indiana, Mississippi, Arizona and Texas are now in the minority-favorable category. Clinton carried Maine and Nevada, but the rest are states that voted for Trump.

In Michigan, North Carolina, Florida and Texas, Trump is at 42% and at least nine points underwater with majority disapproval. Majority disapproval in Texas could help Dems in 2020.

This means that Trump is solidly under 50% in 33 states, including every swing state.

Gallup has been running this daily tracking poll for about 70 years. It showed Trump’s approval at 46% at inauguration. Now the same Gallup poll, done with the same protocol, shows Trump’s approval at 36%.

But this doesn’t mean that Trump is toast in 2020, or that the Democrats have a path to control either the House or Senate in 2018. Peter Hessler had an interesting article in The New Yorker about how Trump has a deeper influence on his voters than we previously thought:

If anything, investigations into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia have made supporters only more faithful. “I’m loving it – I hope they keep going down the Russia rabbit hole,” Matt Peterson told me, in June. He believes that Democrats are banking on impeachment instead of doing the hard work of trying to connect with voters. “They didn’t even get rid of their leadership after the election…”

Trump is drawn to making silly statements on the Twitter machine like a moth to flame, and it is scorching him enough to reflect in his approval numbers. But Russia alone won’t be a winning hand for Democrats, as the New Yorker article shows. These Russia investigations may not amount to anything, or they may be something that takes until Trump’s second term to fully flower.

In the meantime, the Dems issued a new manifesto, “A Better Deal”, a re-branding of their greatest hits: more and better-paying jobs, lower health care costs, and cracking down on the abuses of big business.

But this time, they really mean it.

It is doubtful that the new slogan or its underlying policies will have Republicans quaking in their Ferragamos.

If there is one lesson Democrats should have learned from 2016, it is that opposition to Trump is not enough to win elections. They need new leadership and a better message.

Otherwise, despite the rosy (for Democrats) poll results on Trump favorability, Democrats will be explaining what went wrong again when the 2018 midterms roll around.

On to today’s tune. Here is Aretha Franklin doing “It Ain’t Necessarily So“, with lyrics and music by George and Ira Gershwin. It is from their opera, “Porgy and Bess”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Facebooklinkedinrss