Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Centrist Quislings

I love how centrist predictions and prescriptions routinely fly in the face of actual results. Their one-size-fits-all "pox on both houses" moralizing is a poor substitute for actual analysis and thus rarely fits any situation. Just fetishize bipartisanship, insist "the truth is somewhere in-between," and fault both sides in equal measure sight unseen. It's like they are playing darts and don't get that the numbers on the board mean anything. They just say the center is the bull's eye and throw accordingly, so they don't win many games.(1)

Remember when the Gray Lady ran a concern-trolling "analysis" piece anecdotally claiming that criticizing Trump was actually helping him? I do. Trump entered office with historically low numbers which continued to plummet. Yet somehow, the author wondered if protest was helping Trump. 

Just take this precious gem, "[F]or many Trump voters, even peaceful protests are unsettling." Yes, hearing disagreement can be very unsettling. This was dutifully followed by quotes from some "moderate"(!) Trump voters saying we are in a civil war. That is catnip to centrists because concern trolling is literally who they are.

NEWSFLASH: Registered Independents who "lean Republican" are not necessarily "right of center." Many are hardcore conservatives.  Many of them think the GOP is "too liberal." They may identify as Independents but belong to other third parties - including right-wing. And the "libertarian"-to-reactionary pipeline is well-established. Centrists assume that Independents are like them when in fact they are very diverse. The term "moderate" is often misunderstood when not deliberately abused. Donald Trump himself is a "textbook definition of an ideological moderate" because he defies party orthodoxy. He is just an obnoxious version of the non-ideological voter centrists ordinarily celebrate and associate with policy sobriety. Thus, the textbook example of their un-ideological ideology totally torpedoes their whole worldview.

So, I'm skeptical when the chronically wrong who reflexively default to false equivalencies say that antifas are actually helping Nazis. Particularly when it comes on the heels of Donald Trump's claim that there is violence on "both sides." When you say "What about the alt-left?" you are siding with Trump.(2) Centrists, please revisit your worldview. You have painted yourself in a corner in an Escher drawing. ____________ 1) EDIT 9/13/17: Oh shit, this is simply beautiful. 2) Pointing out that centrist James Wolcott originally coined the term "alt-left" first is hardly exculpatory. It still shows how centrists and conservatives think alike. Centrists are closet conservatives. Indeed, as I wrote previously, long before "alt-left" or "alt-right" appeared in our lexicon, loons like Glenn Beck and Jonah Goldberg were channeling Horseshoe Theory to claim that progressives are Nazis. I wrote a whole chapter about the right's ass-backwards Nazi analogies in my 2014 book. It's the twisted logic that National Review writer Kevin Williamson used to call Bernie Sanders a "national socialist" in 2015. (Not that Clintonistas are immune to similar tin-eared comments about the Jewish senator.) Centrists and conservatives reflexively make the same manifest false equivalency. It has become rhetorical motor memory by this point.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

On Bonzo and Nazis

Again, I say we're having an Eighties flashback.

Remember when President Ronald Reagan sought racist votes, got enthusiastically endorsed by the Klan, and weaselly defended Apartheid in South Africa? 

Indeed, speaking of weaselly defenses, cuddly Ronnie defended his infamous Bitburg Cemetery visit by saying that the Nazi SS officers buried there “were victims, just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps."  Trump’s recent false equivalency falls in the exact same category. 

I'm not saying Trump isn't worse, just that there is a Reagan administration precedent. It's the same Southern Strategy with less finesse. Apparently, Lee Atwater was more adroit than Stephen Bannon. He was definitely more subtle.* In hindsight, I'm kind of surprised that "The Donald" did not launch his presidential bid in Philadelphia, Mississippi, as "The Gipper" did.

I am not trying to muffle outrage or disgust, but this shit goes back to the 1964 Goldwater campaign. It's GOP SOP. Let's not pretend those Willie Horton ads that elected George Bush Sr. never aired.

Trump's just a symptom - not the cause - of a longstanding problem. Dumping him won't end it. It will help some, of course; but it will not be a silver bullet.

A lot of history has to be acknowledged and confronted.


* EDIT: And speaking of Steve Bannon (now out), how different is Donald Trump hiring him from Ronald Reagan having fascist enthusiast Pat Buchanan as his White House Communications Director?

I'm certainly not the first to compare Donald and Ronald. The similarities are legion - so much so that you can find several on the topic of racism alone. But that's largely because conservatism is prone to it and thus there is a history of the right capitalizing on it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Gangrene Analogy

Sigh. Centrists are still blaming Trump's election on third parties.

Since no amount of data will ever convince them, I have decided to appeal to their unreasoning prejudice with an ugly analogy they might like. Of course, this won't work. But this might at least help them grasp what I am talking about. Let's start with some uncontroversial facts that I have mentioned before:

1) Third parties exist, have always existed, and always will exist. Period. 

2) They take away from both major parties, both collectively and individually.

3) But they are never a serious factor unless one major party really fucks up. 

For example, there were third parties when Barack Obama ran in 2008 and 2012. They did not cease to exist during that time. But he didn't need to worry about them for some reason. Why?

Because he had charisma and inspired. Also, he didn't lose the Rust Belt because a) he saved Detroit with the auto bailout and b) he actually seriously campaigned in the region instead of blowing those voters off as Hillary Clinton did on top of defending NAFTA. Most Clintonista arguments hinge on forgetting that President Barack Obama ever existed, but I'll explore that in another post.

The point here is: If your excuse for losing is "We would have won too, if it weren't for you meddling kids," then maybe you should factor for the existence of third parties. Because a strategy that doesn't is, by definition, a spectacularly stupid strategy. Hinging voter turnout solely on guilt trips is also obviously ill-advised. Obama did not do that. He was more than just "not John McCain" or "not Mitt Romney."

So, what's my analogy? Germs. Third parties are like germs.

I expect centrists will love this analogy because germs are tiny and dangerous. And of course because the analogy is sufficiently insulting to third parties. I'm honestly surprised they haven't made it themselves.

Yeah, germs are tiny; but they are also always there. Germs get in everything. They are literally in the air we breathe everyday and wishing them away will not work. Nor will guilt trips. So, when you cut yourself, clean the wound, apply disinfectant, and a bandage. Do this immediately. Do NOT let it fester.

Politically, this means do not betray labor or patronize progressives if you are a Democrat. If you or your predecessors have in the past, make credible amends and tend to those wounds. Obama did that and thus won. He got that these constituencies are the foot soldiers in the ground game of any campaign. As I wrote before, they do the shit work of making cold calls and licking envelopes. Who shows up for Democratic Party phone banks? Mostly hard hats and hippies. Sapping their enthusiasm is self-sabotage.

Evangelicals perform the same function for Republicans. Any GOP candidate who didn't attend to their issues would be seriously weakened - to say nothing of the consequences openly mocking them. There is a reason why "shooting yourself in the foot" is a durable idiom. Don't bash your party's activists. Don't shoot your foot soldiers in their feet. They can't canvas neighborhoods as well after that.

Well, the Democrats' foot wounds have been festering for decades - ever since yuppie fuckwit Gary Hart declared the New Deal coalition dead in 1974. Centrists have been using salt instead of disinfectant.

So, if you do neglect to disinfect your wounds or bandage them up and find yourself getting your leg amputated because of gangrene, do not blame the fucking germs. Blame yourself.

Because third parties only have the power you give them.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Jackson (Ass) Hole

FINALLY! I get to blog about history again!

Donald Trump said something profoundly dumb once again. I admit that does not quite constitute news; but it touches on topics that really need repeating and they are mercifully irrelevant to the last presidential election so I am going to go to town.

In a recent interview, Trump trumpeted his Andrew Jackson enthusiasm once more. He loves Old Hickory about as much as Glenn Beck hates Woodrow Wilson. This time, Trump did so by claiming that Jackson could have stopped the U.S. Civil War. Trump had visited Jackson’s "Hermitage” plantation in Tennessee, you see, so he thought he knew all about it.

The incident was reminiscent of when Sarah Palin visited Paul Revere’s house and spectacularly garbled the story. This spurred historians to clarify things, lest anyone wonder, "What the fuck are they teaching visitors at that hackneyed tourist trap?” Kristin Peszka, Director of Interpretation and Visitor's Services at the Paul Revere House, stressed that Palin made her comments prior to her visit.

Trump’s take was similarly ludicrously dubious, but not quite as dumb as it seems at first blush. Close, but not quite. WARNING: This post uses the word "quite” quite a bit.

For one thing, Trump does indeed seem to realize that Jackson was not around for the Civil War. Trump said "had Jackson been a little later" and the next day he tweeted, "President Andrew Jackson, who died 16 years before the Civil War started, saw it coming and was angry. Would never have let it happen!" So all those anachronistic jokes some folks are making are off the mark. They are fun, but a tad unfair.

Second, Andrew Jackson did face-down a potential Southern insurrection as president - the Nullification Crisis. South Carolina declared federal tariffs null and void in their state and mobilized to resist federal enforcement. Jackson's Vice President, John C. Calhoun, resigned so he could oppose Jackson as a Senator. According to dubious lore, Jackson said he wanted to hang Calhoun. It was the Cuban Missile Crisis of the day – that is, if the "mad bomber” Richard Nixon had won the 1960 election instead of John F. Kennedy.

In this light, Trump’s comment almost sounds informed – or at least, not quite as bad as Caribou Barbie’s.

The problem with Trump’s take is that Jackson was a slave-owner and therefore highly unlikely to end slavery. The word "plantation,” above, might have alerted you to that complication in advance. 

This is significant. For the sake of argument, let’s say Jackson could make the South back down twice. This would not prevent the Civil War insomuch as postpone it. Slavery was the ultimate cause of the Civil War, as every honest historian acknowledges.

For one thing, the South proudly said so in their Articles of Secession. Just as Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence to justify America’s break with England, the Confederate states individually wrote their own proclamations to explain themselves as well. Where Jefferson catalogued the colonists’ varied grievances against old King George III, the southern states railed against Yankee interference with the institution of slavery. As I wrote before, their meaning was as clear as a terrorist martyr video. Each was a defiant, unambiguous, signed confession. Such rhetorical turds cannot possibly be polished now.

For another thing, we had averted civil war over slavery several times before. Everyone always knew slavery was likely to tear the country apart. It was an ever-present threat that the founders fretted about constantly in papers both public and private. Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that slavery would be the "knell of the Union" and that "We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go." So Jackson gets no credit for the prediction Trump attributes to him (incongruously, without mentioning slavery). Thus, every subsequent legislative compromise was celebrated as a dodged bullet. There was the Compromise of 1820, also known as the Missouri Compromise, followed by the Compromise of 1850. Each self-congratulatory act kicked the can further down the road. Therefore, the U.S. Civil War could not possibly be prevented – only postponed.  And the number of times that hat-trick could successfully be pulled off was rapidly evaporating.

Trump’ characterization of Jackson as tough but with a "big heart" is odd because it better describes Lincoln who actually was president in 1860. The famously homicidal Jackson was not the "with malice toward none” guy. But on the flip side of Trump’s interesting description, Lincoln was no coward either. Abe tried to avoid war, but he did not shy away from force after the South fired on Fort Sumpter.

Trump is, unsurprisingly, grasping at every facile, desperate, half-assed rationalization to stop thinking about a complicated thing and his fans are doing likewise.

Well, most are. As I explained in my book, today's Republicans are paradoxically trying to be both pro-Confederate and anti-slavery. But as I wrote, you cannot be the "Party of Lincoln” after embracing Jefferson Davis, and I imagine some Southerners feel betrayed. Trump’s strange take simultaneously whitewashes Dixie and threatens it. On the one hand, slavery is taken out of the equation entirely. Trump just doesn’t mention it. On the other, he is essentially celebrating hanging so-called Southern heroes.

Yeah, try not to think about it too hard. Certainly most conservatives don’t.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Centrist Concern Trolls

Lately, I have noticed that many centrists are not only closer to conservatives ideologically, they are similar rhetorically. Arguing with some Democrats is like arguing with Republicans.

For example, in their efforts to conflate left and right, they endorse Horseshoe Theory,(1) which is akin to Glenn Beck’s ass-backwards Nazi analogies. In my book, I called Nazi analogies psychological projection and an effort to "disassociate right-wing politics from right-wing politics." Here again, centrists copy conservatives. Similar motives result in similar strategies.

And then there are centrists' zero-sum games - except instead of pitting liberty against equality or the economy against the ecology as conservatives routinely do, they pit economic equality against all other forms of equality as if intersectionality is not a thing and minorities don’t mind being poor.

But one favorite conservative debate tactic sums up centrism perfectly: concern trolling.

Indeed, concern trolling is the essence of centrism because its aim is to move the listener to the right by raising the specter of alienating moderates and insisting this is an inherently conservative country(2) so all ambitious progressive proposals are nonstarters. They say, "Hey, I’m sympathetic and a potential ally. But I fear your radical stuff may drive away people like me.” Self-interested advice ensues. Effective methods are called ineffective. And anything the least bit disruptive or inconvenient is called counterproductive - even if it is nonviolent. Whether it is conscious or not, that is the inexorable rhetorical reflex.

It’s an old story. In his famous Letter from a Birmingham JailDr. Martin Luther King expressed his profound disappointment in white moderates who said "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action" and urged waiting for a "more convenient season," i.e. never. 

One recent article that exemplifies this is this piece in Vox by Zack Beauchamp. It argues that the economic populism of the left cannot possibly beat the racism on the right and that helping working people actually enables their racism. According to Beauchamp, achieving progressive goals backfire. Indeed, he argues that even proposing them does. Beauchamp is either adorably misinformed or concern trolling because his article is populated with obvious problems.

First and foremost, Trump voters are not monolithic; but Beauchamp writes like they are. 

Many voted out of economic desperation, which centrists tenaciously refuse to accept exists. Economic inequality has been metastasizing for decades. But centrists insist nobody really cares about any of that stuff: Nobody votes their pocketbook or worries that we are hemorrhaging jobs. The centrist narrative says bigotry was the only factor in Donald Trump’s election. 

Yes, other Trump voters are indeed flat-out bigots. No question. But most of those people have already been voting GOP for decades. As I wrote before, Trump is just the Southern Strategy without subtlety. He energized those who were tired of talking in code - those who felt using racist dog whistles was polite spin and tiptoeing, if not oppressive “political correctness.” To them, Lee Atwater was probably a cowardly cuck who shrunk from “telling it like it is” as Trump does now.

Donald Trump’s blunt bigotry energized the GOP base. But it didn’t lure many Democrats away - certainly few who voted for Barack Obama four years before. Or are we supposed to imagine such Democrats took eight years to realize that Obama was black? Bigotry did not lure those voters - talk of jobs and trade did. It was the policy centerpiece of Trump's campaign because it was what he spoke about most.

The point is not all Trump voters are bigots. Hillary Clinton herself emphasized that only half of them are a basket of deplorables - not all. "You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables." And then she spoke of the other half:
[B]ut that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they're just desperate for change. It doesn't really even matter where it comes from. They don't buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won't wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they're in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.
Many centrists have not been terribly empathetic. But more importantly, Clinton’s essential distinction escapes them and that could give Trump a second term.

Centrists love to claim that the poor routinely vote against their own economic interests. There’s an apt expression to describe that patronizing assessment: Half-truth is whole lie. An uncomfortable chunk of them certainly do vote against their well-being and often have, but the rest do not. Donald Trump won almost half of union households. That's absolutely astounding. But a very slim majority - 51% - still did not defect and voted for Hillary Clinton. 

To put that figure in perspective, 51% was also the proportion of white, college-educated women who supported Clinton. Should we vilify and jettison them as well? Imagine if the Internet were awash with articles claiming white women are getting what they deserve and crying "Good riddance! We don't need you! Go away!" Not only would that be monstrously unconscionable, tactically it would be suicidally stupid. Well, it is no less so on economics. 

And while we are on the topic, 
I've noticed that a lot of the same folks mocking poor Trump voters are all sympathy when some racist blond woman is fired from Fox News or The Blaze. It has happened twice now and neither is a "superb journalist" as Hillary Clinton ludicrously praised Megyn Kelly.

Should we make no attempt to woo back those who voted for Trump out of desperation and make the Republican majority in government permanent? To ask the question is to answer it: Unfortunately, many centrists cannot even face it, let alone grapple with it.

I say “patronizing” because wealthy people vote against their own economic interests too. And, no, I’m not talking about rich liberals supporting anti-poverty programs. The American Medical Association (AMA) opposed Medicare and Medicaid in 1961. Doctors should be grateful they lost that battle because those programs became gravy trains for them.  Yet many still bite the hand that feeds them. As I noted in my book, roughly half of Senator Rand Paul's (R-KY) medical practice income came from Medicaid payments, a program that he blasts as “intergenerational welfare.”(3)

Poor conservatives are foolish, but no more so than rich ones. And Paul’s problem is quite common: Business benefits from Keynesian economics, yet the wealthy continue to sabotage their own fortunes. It's a familiar longstanding paradox,(4) so check your paternalistic contempt and vicious schadenfreude.

But I digress. We were talking about Zack Beauchamp shoddy article.

Beauchamp’s whole article is a train wreck of ridiculous self-contradictions. Each derailed car is mashed into the next. For example, he argues that racism is worse in Europe because the welfare state has freed working class people up to focus on bigot issues. Seriously? But then he argues that things are worse in America - despite the miserliness of our threadbare safety net. He writes, "The US faces even sharper pressures, as much of the public sees social spending in highly racialized terms - a phenomenon without parallel in the rest of the Western world." Well, where is it worse? Here or there?(5) Make up your mind.

This is a consistent contradiction. Later, he writes, "Inglehart, an eminent political scientist at the University of Michigan, argues that the combination of rapid economic growth and a robust welfare state have provided voters [in Europe] with enough economic security that they could start prioritizing issues beyond the distribution of wealth - issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and, most crucially, immigration."(6) Assuming Beauchamp is not cherry-picking or torturing the source material, his take is still self-contradictory because we don’t have a robust welfare state here. We never did. It was pretty modest to begin with and has been decimated since, so his comparison with Europe is a poor one.

And this is part of a pattern: It's sort of a rhetorical shell game. He points to Jeremy Corbyn's current poor poll numbers to argue that democratic socialism is unpopular, but Bernie Sanders is currently the most popular politician in America. I'd say those polls are more relevant to American politics.

This is not just a question of personal charisma: Sanders' signature issues are very popular with voters. From single payer health care, to free college, to breaking up big banks, to defending Social Security, Sanders is popular precisely because he passionately fights for things frustrated voters actually want.

I’m not saying transatlantic comparisons can't be made - just not Beauchamp's comparisons. Europe’s social programs have been under prolonged assault too. Beauchamp is describing a pre-Thatcher Europe that has not been experimenting with austerity for almost four decades. His take roughly translates as “The peasants have gotten too comfortable and must suffer some. It’s character-building. Idle hands are the devil’s playground.” The problem with this perspective, besides its Victorian overtones, is we have been disciplining labor for two generations on both sides of the Atlantic and racism has only gotten worse during that time. They grew in tandem, so more of the same does not sound promising – particularly not when it is being offered as a daring, innovative new idea. At this point, neoliberals are essentially ringing doorbells and asking people if they have heard about Jesus. Yes we have. Go away.

Beauchamp says social democracy has failed to stop the far right. But in this time, socialist parties have become much less socialist and increasingly business-friendly. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Labor Party stopped representing labor under Tony Blair, Britain’s Bill Clinton. In short, social democracy did not fail to stop racism: That was neoliberalism’s failure.

Nearly everything in Zack Beauchamp’s piece is shockingly wrong.(7) Jeremy Corbyn caused Brexit? Seriously? Beauchamp describes the European right as "pioneering" racist dog whistles in 1984. Um, I think that actually started here in the U.S. with the Southern Strategy two decades before in 1964. The whole article has this twisted Laffy Taffy sense of chronology and cause-and-effect.

Incidentally, it's interesting that he briefly mentions Sweden, if only by way of name dropping. He talks about Denmark’s “tough” immigration policy but ignores Sweden’s famous openness. Talk about cherry-picking. Sweden is about as democratic socialist as you can get and yet they have welcomed more Syrian refugees than any country in Europe - and that has helped Sweden flourish economically.(8)

Again, almost every paragraph in Zack Beauchamp’s piece has something heckle-worthy. When he says something correct it is either irrelevant to his point or actively undermines it.

For example, he goes on an on about how socialist programs won’t woo hardcore bigots. No shit. Nobody claimed they would. That’s a strawman argument along with the one that progressives don’t care about sexism, racism, or homophobia. No progressive I know claims that economic populism alone is a “silver bullet” that will win elections or entice racists. But we can definitely win back the neglected and devastated Rust Belt which we only narrowly lost last year.

In order to advance his argument, Beauchamp points out that most Trump voters are already fairly well off. Again, no shit. So is the average Tea Party member. As I wrote before, they are largely the same people - conservative Christian suburbanites who attend high-tech megachurches who
are responsible for the bulk of the bigotry. So why is Beaucahmp talking about a supposedly spoiled working class

Shit and grits! Even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had admitted that their neoliberal policies have exacerbated economic inequality in developed countries. You think that might be contributing to xenophobia and discord? Interestingly, the IMF has proposed more social spending as a corrective.

Another example: Beauchamp points out that racist voters are more likely to oppose social programs. Again, no shit. That is why progressives are incentived to be actively anti-racist. Indeed, the dishonest and absurd centrist accusation that progressives are deaf to other justice movements is obviously projecting.  As one wit brilliantly tweeted during the Democratic primary, "Hillary saying 'intersectional' & 'systemic racism' is like when the Terminator tricks its victims by mimicking the voices of their family."

In fact, relatively speaking, leftists have always been better on race than liberals have been. Reds were supporting the civil rights movement in the 1930s when most liberals weren't. Yes, I am generalizing, but back then, if you supported a federal anti-lynching bill you were probably black, red, or both. Yes, communists prioritized class over race seeing racism as a mere side effect of capitalism; but now the left recognizes them as equally important - although intimately intertwined - in American history. But regardless of the emphasis, the left has always acknowledged the connection that many centrists deny now.

All politics is about coalitions - holding your own together and peeling votes away from your opponents'. Centrist thinking says “forget the Rust Belt” even though that is obviously what cost us the election. But as I wrote before, the coasts alone do not have enough electoral votes. We righteously lost the South over civil rights, but we cannot afford to lose the Midwest on top of that. It’s just math. We can only bleed so much.

Donald Trump was able to peel away some desperate, disgruntled blue collar voters and add them to his white collar GOP base. Hillary Clinton wrongly thought the affluent conservatives who make up that base were gettable and aggressively courted them, neglecting working class voters with whom she was already on thin ice thanks to her defending NAFTA. In short, he succeeded in peeling away some her voters while she failed to peel away many of his. I’m not talking about trying to sway all Trump voters and neither is any progressive that I know of. Many, if not most, Trump voters are unreachable - and, yes, deplorable - people that I would prefer to have nothing to do with. They are called Republicans. But others are not and they are enough to tip the scales. And, yes, economic populism is how you win them back, dumb ass.

This is basic shit that anyone who writes about politics should already be familiar with. This political history is literally old news. In a memo for the 1984 Reagan campaign, Lee Atwater made this strategy explicit: "Populists have always been liberal on economics. So long as the crucial issues were generally confined to economics - as during the New Deal - the liberal candidate would expect to get most of the populist vote. But populists are conservatives on most social issues." Atwater was explaining the rationale for the Culture Wars. It was how the GOP lured away "Reagan Democrats." But Atwater emphasized that the political terrain changes with voters' priorities. "When social and cultural issues died down, the populists were left with no compelling reason to vote Republican."

The self-evident flipside of Atwater’s assessment is that, without liberal economics, populists have no compelling reason to vote Democratic. By abandoning liberal economics, we have helped Republicans because now populists have zero reason to support us. There is no longer any conflicting feelings that might break our way if, say, the economy might sour as it is doing now. The same establishment Democrats who advocated dumping labor in favor of business also believed the stock market would climb forever. It was dubious soothsaying as well as callous strategy. Centrists want to make this fatal mistake permanent.

At this point, we should probably ask, “What happened to those ‘Reagan Democrats’ that Atwater had lured away?” Did they remain Republicans in subsequent elections or did they come home to the Democratic Party? It could be that Bill Clinton lured them back, at least temporarily. If so, how?

Was it his charisma? Oops, sorry, I forgot. That’s sexist to even mention.

Maybe it was Bill Clinton's racist dog whistles, like his “Sister Souljah moment” or his conspicuously executing a mentally retarded black man as Governor of Arkansas. Talk about a blood sacrifice! I imagine the Aztecs would be impressed. And you can file Welfare Reform and the Crime Bill under dog whistles as well. Let's be blunt: Bill Clinton made certain he could not possibly be Willie Horton-ed in any way.

Or was it because the economy had soured and Reaganomics left George Bush Sr. - who had once called it “Voodoo Economics” - holding the bag? If it was the economy, it definitely illustrates that priorities change with shifting circumstances. That's worth remembering.

But, whatever happened to those Reagan Democrats, Barack Obama first ran as a progressive (however he subsequently governed) and won decisively. Twice. The second time, in 2012, he was the president who saved Detroit while his opponent, Mitt Romney, said we should let the auto industry go bankrupt. I imagine that was a factor. By contrast, in 2016, Donald Trump co-opted a populist stance that previous Republicans both opposed and mocked while Hillary Clinton touted her husband's pro-business economic polices. She promised more of the same in a debate with Trump and that was probably the moment she lost the Rust Belt and thus the election. That and the fact that she barely campaigned there.

The upshot is obvious. Democratic socialism is a political winner and insisting the opposite is dishonest.

If this post sounds hyperbolic,  just read this sentence from Beauchamp’s article and ask yourself what the author is suggesting: "A more populist Democratic platform might rally more voters to Trump, as many whites will see it as a giveaway to undeserving minorities." That is totally concern trolling. 

What is the likely effect of accepting the author's argument that generosity backfires? There are two that I can think of right-off-the-bat: First, generosity in general goes the way of the dodo as a matter of policy, which will disproportionately harm minorities. Second, so does addressing any problem that concerns race, directly or indirectly. If reviving FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society is too politically radioactive because of race, then affirmative action will absolutely be abandoned as well. And the right can racialize anything. After all, Glenn Beck said Obamacare was really about reparations for slavery. 

And anyone who thinks social programs are freebies for minorities is probably already a Republican and may have been since 1964. Their vote is not gettable so Beauchamp's concern trolling is nonsensical.

Saying passing social programs benefits bigots is like saying that electing Barack Obama subsequently elected Donald Trump. Should we never run another black candidate then? That’s like saying we must appease racists to fight racism. It’s a “We had to destroy the village in order to save it” mindset. 

This is why I say centrism is essentially concern trolling. This is why we can’t have nice things.

And I am beginning to suspect this tragic dynamic is by design.

Next Day Edit:

Beauchamp caught the brunt of my ire, but he is hardly unique. A recent New York Times "analysis" piece wonders whether anti-Trump protests are actually helping him. Um, not according to Trump's still plummeting poll numbers or the surprising spine-stiffening we are seeing in Congress. Maybe they won't roll-over and rubber stamp any obviously dubious wars this time around. No promises.

And one popular blogger says liberals need to learn how to compromise - as if compromising has not been establishment Democrat motor memory for several decades. 

How many times had Obama reached across the aisle only to have his hand slapped back? It's a good thing too, because Obama's "grand bargain" on Social Security would have hurt seniors. During the healthcare fight, single payer was preemptively taken off the table as an olive branch to conservatives. Did that or the fact that the final plan was basically warmed-over Romneycare sway any Republicans? Of course not.

Indeed, Bill Clinton's telecommunications deregulation has helped conservatives immensely: No more "burdensome" anti-monopoly regs to keep Clear Channel from buying up every radio station in town.

Extra Edit:

To further stress just how utterly absurd discounting the impact economics is, let's go Godwin. Normally, I avoid Nazi analogies, but we are talking about Trump supporters, after all.

There is absolutely no questioning that Hitler and the Nazis were racist and stoked racism. But no serious historian ignores the importance of economics in explaining Hitler's rise to power. The reparations for WWI, hyper inflation, and the Great Depression after all that helped make the German electorate desperate. When it takes wheelbarrows of money to shop, demagogues are obviously going to prosper politically.  And if they succeed in turning things around - as Hitler's "economic miracle" did - the electorate becomes even more likely to overlook, excuse, or rationalize away bigotry.

Denying this dynamic is like denying gravity. Any analysis that does simply isn't serious.


1) Horseshoe Theory, or as I call it "Horseshit Theory" (Toilet Seat Theory works too), is not even a theory. It is a poorly thought-out visual metaphor that logically eats itself if you think about it at all. For openers, to get to the right by traveling left, you have to move toward the central axis. After all, that's what an inward curving arc does. Moreover, the ends of the horseshoe never meet. If they do, it's not a horseshoe anymore: It's an oval. In order for someone on the left to get to the right, they have to move toward the center and keep on going. Geometry: It's a thing.

2) Full Disclosure: I am the author of a book called Conservatism is Un-American & Other Self-Evident Truths, so I predictably take issue with the pernicious assumption that we are a conservative country. It frames every issue in conservatives' favor and is a form of self-sabotage.

I should also point out that I am certainly not the first to accuse centrists of concern trolling. For example, in a piece for The American Prospect,  Scott Lemieux called-out centrist concern trolling on the issue of abortion. Bloggers have noticed the phenomenon for even longer. I am tardy to this party.

3) Bruce Schreiner, “Rand Paul: Medicaid has turned into welfare,” Associated Press, Oct 4, 2010.

As I wrote in my book, “More important than Rand Paul’s personal hypocrisy is the fact that his ideology makes him militantly ignore the evidence of his own experience. After all, Dr. Paul is the Paul that Peter is being ‘robbed’ to pay. Upton Sinclair once said, ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.’ But Sen. Rand Paul has the opposite problem. His salary should make things a great deal easier to understand and yet he still does not get it. Either he is deeply indoctrinated or playing a longer con.”

I'm obviously awfully fond of that Upton Sinclair quote. I've used it in my blog twice now.

4) Franklin Delano Roosevelt once noted this stubborn ingratitude in an amusing medical analogy. Referring to businessmen as sick patients in a speech, he quipped, "But I know how sick they were. I have their fever charts. I know how the knees of all our rugged individualists were trembling four years ago and how their hearts fluttered. They came to Washington in great numbers. Washington did not look like a dangerous bureaucracy to them. Oh no! It looked like an emergency hospital. All of the distinguished patients wanted two things-a quick hypodermic to end the pain and a course of treatment to cure the disease. They wanted them in a hurry; we gave them both. And now most of the patients seem to be doing very nicely. Some of them are even well enough to throw their crutches at the doctor."

5) Is racism worse in the U.S. or Europe? It’s hard to gauge because we have a two-party system and they have multiparty systems which mean that individual parties are more defined with specific constituencies. Some are single-issue parties. A side effect of this is they have overtly racist political parties whereas stateside the GOP has to do a balancing act of appealing to racists without appearing too racist. Some have argued that this arrangement keeps the racists in line and under wraps. The election of Donald Trump shows that this is not the case. It is also worth noting that the election of Trump has emboldened racists in other countries. Observers have noticed a troubling “Trump Effect” in CanadaEurope, and even in India, so there seems to be a feedback loop. Let’s not equivocate. America has a terrible record of confronting racism and building a multicultural society. But with the legacy of slavery and our history of immigration (attention Ben Carson, they are not the same), we have been doing it for a lot longer and therefore have made more progress despite ourselves. On the other hand, other countries can benefit from our experience and avoid our mistakes. So, again, it is hard to gauge.

6) “But wait,” you may say. “In the first quote he is talking about the racialized cast of social spending in America rather than racist politics as a whole.” Yes, but they use the very same “Charity starts at home” rhetoric in Europe. Beauchamp argues that the European right’s attitude varies between that and antagonism toward all social spending, but the notion that outsiders should have nothing is consistent across the right. The rhetoric is identical.

For example, when Ronald Reagan attacked welfare, he spoke of “young bucks” (black men) buying steaks with food stamps. He was not explicitly calling for making welfare white-only but for cutting the program as a whole, but the issue was racialized either way. The dog whistles were certainly there - ditto with his talk of “welfare cheats” and restricting the program to the “truly needy.” Despite the fact that the majority of welfare recipients were white - as were the majority of the few people who abused the system, the media routinely reinforced the stereotype of recipients in general and cheats in particular as being black or Latino. To Reagan’s base, the deserving and undeserving were already color-coded.

7) Nearly. In the article, Beauchamp at least acknowledges that European fascists are not always economic populists. He mentions Jörg Haider’s economic conservatism, for example. Alas, other writers are not so honest. Read this bit from Thomas Frank's One Market Under God where he mocks Roger Cohen's incongruous examples. It is worth reading for the catchy phrase "Alpine Thatcherist," if nothing else.

8) Have there been some bad incidents in Sweden? Yes, but overall the response to immigration has been positive, Donald Trump's imaginary terror attack notwithstanding. The few violent incidents have been by native racists, not immigrants contrary to the favorite right-wing narrative that Europe is awash with violent Arabs. Europe in general - and Sweden in particular - are held up as cautionary examples by right-wing anti-immigration writers in the U.S. Needless to say, their horror stories are often false, such as the mass sexual assault in Frankfurt, Germany which didn’t happen.

And I am happy to report that the anti-immigrant party was soundly defeated in the Netherlands’ recent elections. It was as if it was timed to refute Beauchamp’s article.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

On Obsolete Occupations

We're sorry. But you're no longer needed.
Or wanted. Or even cared about here. 
Machines can do a better job than you.
And this is what you get for asking questions.

- “Soup is Good Food,” The Dead Kennedys

It’s pretty easy to imagine how Gray Lady scriveners would greet my last three skewers of them - that is, in the highly unlikely event they ever saw them. These famous, globe-trotting sweatshop apologists would probably brush them off as emotional and woefully uniformed about the beneficial realities of world markets.* They would feign obligatory empathy for the affected while advocating callous policies and argue that the thing they agree is terrible is actually quite wonderful.

But since we are imagining things, let’s pretend they had one valid argument. Let’s pretend they mentioned automation. If they ever did, I missed it. After all, their focus is on globalization and we can build robots here. Plus, it is harder to paint robotization as Kiplingesque missionary work.

It's funny how often they accuse their critics of being Luddites without mentioning machines. Instead, "the future" fulfills this rhetorical function: They say their critics hate and fear The Future. As with Stalinists of yore, the future excuses all atrocities. IMF Structural Adjustment Programs that plunge poor countries deeper in debt are like Stalin's infamous Five Year Plans. If you don't want to be crushed under The Future's tractor treads, you should get out of the way. These heralds of the inevitable are authoritarians promising that the state will "fade away," except it will be replaced by transnational corporations rather than local communes. Their article of faith is that more commerce will solve all social problems when unfettered by government regulations. 

Yeah, tell that to the Congolese children slaving in cobalt mines to to make the lithium-ion batteries in our smart phones. The pure pursuit of profit is the cause of their poverty, not the solution to it. The "magic of the market" is actually sleight of hand. It's a pity Penn & Teller are with the charlatans on this one. They are not skeptics where the free market religion is concerned.

Automation is absolutely costing jobs. This isn’t to suggest that overseas outsourcing isn’t: Both are. Outsourcing is just another wound to bleed from. As this New York Times article arguing that automation costs more jobs that outsourcing candidly admits:
Globalization is clearly responsible for some of the job losses, particularly trade with China during the 2000s, which led to the rapid loss of 2 million to 2.4 million net jobs, according to research by economists including Daron Acemoglu and David Autor of M.I.T. People who work in parts of the country most affected by imports generally have greater unemployment and reduced income for the rest of their lives, Mr. Autor found in a paper published in January. 
But Autor adds that automation would have "eventually eliminated those jobs anyway." It is easy to see why. As I wrote in my previous post, "To management, employees are just machines." Twas ever thus. Whether the human robots live in China or the U.S. makes no difference to them.

There is no questioning that we are in a period of transition, but it can be cushioned or it can be bruising. Corporate globalization’s cheerleaders would prefer it were 
pulverizing. They want to crush unions and punish the poor for daring to aspire to equality. If that sounds outlandishly melodramatic or improbable, you have not yet read my previous post. 

Their attitude basically amounts to: “If laid-off autoworkers don’t learn to become dot com entrepreneurs, they have nobody to blame but themselves.” These columnists are not just bankrupt of compassion but of any realism beyond their bubble of privilege. The have not honestly grappled with the question of what all these cast-off people are supposed to do now. Tisking improvidence is insufficient. Which is unfortunate because scolding the poor is where they really excel

Obviously, I advocate some cushioning. But I also insist on some realistic talk about the end point of this process. Neither globalization nor automation is a never-ending process: At some point, you run out of planet. There will be no more foreign shores to relocate to. There will be no more jobs to automate. Globalization is touted as the new frontier; but eventually every frontier closes because you have taken all you can from the natives and you have nothing left to do but write a musical boasting about how "The corn is as high as an elephant's eye." It isn't pretty.

Case in point, this current form of globalization depends on cheap oil. You cannot make products with components and assembly stages scattered all over the world once we hit Peak Oil. Transportation costs will make that prohibitively expensive. Indeed, some companies are already bringing factories back home - unfortunately, they are doing it with more automation so job prospects are not much improved. From the same Times story:

When Greg Hayes, the chief executive of United Technologies, agreed to invest $16 million in one of its Carrier factories as part of a Trump deal to keep some jobs in Indiana instead of moving them to Mexico, he said the money would go toward automation. “What that ultimately means is there will be fewer jobs,” he said on CNBC. Take the steel industry. It lost 400,000 people, 75 percent of its work force, between 1962 and 2005. But its shipments did not decline, according to a study published in the American Economic Review last year. The reason was a new technology called the minimill. Its effect remained strong even after controlling for management practices; job losses in the Midwest; international trade; and unionization rates, found the authors of the study, Allan Collard-Wexler of Duke and Jan De Loecker of Princeton.
If only the New York Times' columnists were as thorough and fact-driven as its reporters are. 

At least we have more perceptive and reflective voices out there giving their perspectives. For example, David Simon, the creator of the HBO show "The Wire," has helpfully pointed out that economically obsolete people do not conveniently disappear. Note that. It will be relevant shortly:
And that's what The Wire was about basically, it was about people who were worth less and who were no longer necessary, as maybe 10 or 15% of my country is no longer necessary to the operation of the economy. It was about them trying to solve, for lack of a better term, an existential crisis. In their irrelevance, their economic irrelevance, they were nonetheless still on the ground occupying this place called Baltimore and they were going to have to endure somehow. That's the great horror show. What are we going to do with all these people that we've managed to marginalize?
Fortunately, that question already has an answer. For his introduction to a reprinting of Paul LaFargue's 1883 book The Right to be LazyJoseph Jablonksi wrote an essay in 1989 entitled "The War on Leisure." It recalled a problem we never had but feared having:
Sometimes I have the feeling I am the only person who remembers a certain popular sociological cliché of the late fifties and sixties about the imminent arrival of the Age of Mass Leisure. Yet many more could probably unbury, if they tried, some dusty and yellowed books, popular magazines and scholarly journals containing alarmist articles and quotations pondering whether we are really ready for the inevitable utopia of almost total leisure. Such concerns and conclusions were pretty much an article of faith among young urban social scientists and graduate students doing “participant observer” fieldwork among “hippies” and others in those days. “Automation” was not only coming, it was here! Millions were already living height on freebies and throwaways – or so it was written and reported. Work was becoming a peripheral aspect of daily life. Leisure was the new frontier. Were we equal to it? What could “post-industrial man” fill the void in his life caused by his economic obsolescence?
That sounds like a good problem to have. Alas, we escaped that calamity. Instead, automation meant more people competing for fewer jobs. And on top of that, the first wave of overseas outsourcing began making things even worse for workers.

This was a disastrous decision that we made as a society but we can unmake it. As Abraham Lincoln said, we are free to change our form of government at any time and our economic arrangements are no different. Automation was supposed to provide comfort, not poverty. It still can. We just have to decide to use it that way. Nothing is inevitable. Forget the far right's invisible historical forces.

One possible way is the universal basic income currently being tested in Finland. Instead of welfare, people get a base monthly check, which they do not lose if they find work. This check would replace most social services - except their universal healthcare. Interestingly, some conservative critics of the welfare state are enthusiastic about it, which gives me some pause. Indeed, racist author Charles Murray has even advocated it in the Wall Street Journal. Did I mention my wariness?

I don't think Finland has insidious designs, but vigilance is always necessary because no good idea is immune to being distorted or poorly applied. For example, Charles Krauthammer has endorsed reparations for slavery in exchange for ending affirmative action for all minorities. As I wrote before, this is a transparent attempt at divide and conquer. Still, that should not taint a just or good idea. Again, all good ideas can be distorted or misused.  Should we thus chuck all good ideas?

People fear de-industrialization for a variety of reasons. Some are cultural and tightly bound up with identity. This is the "existential crisis" that both David Simon and Joseph Jablonksi spoke of. Many enjoy working with their hands and getting them dirty: They don't want to become cubical drones. 

As a homeowner, I totally get this. But the universal basic income will not end that. Factory jobs or no, there is a ton of 
long-neglected work to be done. As I wrote in a earlier post, human need does not automatically create markets. Thus, government must intervene to correct such blind spots. Our infrastructure is crumbling. For example, eleven percent of our bridges are structurally unsound. Think about that next time you cross a river. Also, read this and memorize it.

Other forms of deterioration are no so dramatic, but they still need to be fixed. So many solutions kill two birds with one stone. A lot of our architectural heritage is threatened. It will need skilled masons and carpenters to restore. Electricians and plumbers are needed to bring old buildings up to code. To repurpose Georges Clemenceau's famous quip, architectural preservation is too important to be left to yuppies. We can enliven devastated areas without the gentrification which drives the poor out of their own neighborhoods. A preservation-oriented Works Progress Administration may be necessary.

It’s just a question of priorities. Skilled manual labor will never go away entirely, but the repetitious work will disappear leaving the interesting work. People who think it is "just a job" can do other jobs to supplement their guaranteed income.

Moreover, most hobbies are also forms of work, such as woodworking or working on cars. Even unconventionally productive pastimes like sports and music can become careers - which is what a lot of people would rather be doing than their day job. Most people don't sit around for long. We have to do things. We have to make things. It's what humans do. "Filling the void" will not be a problem.

No, we do not quite live in the era depicted in "The Jetsons" - flying cars are probably never happening. But the wholesale replacing of people is here. As that Times article explained:

The changes are not just affecting manual labor: Computers are rapidly learning to do some white-collar and service-sector work, too. Existing technology could automate 45 percent of activities people are paid to do, according to a July report by McKinsey. Work that requires creativity, management of people or caregiving is least at risk. 
Yes, existing tech. Roombas are now vacuuming floors. Working prototypes for drone package delivery and driverless vehicles are already here. Thus, truck drivers, bus drivers, and taxi cabbies will soon disappear as job options - and Uber drivers too, if the company still exists then.

Will Nicholas Kristof lecture these displaced workers as well?

I'm not saying everything will be okay. We can keep fucking this up as we have been. There are plenty of people who are happy to let the swelling ranks of the unemployed starve. That's not an option - not only because it is totally unconscionable morally, but because raising a resentful army of jobless, desperate Americans isn't exactly the apex of far-sighted civic wisdom. The shocking election of Donald Trump is but a taste of what we will face if we continue to ignore the forgotten. 


The dystopia portrayed in the rest of Dead Kennedys song probably cements the impression in this particular cri de coeur. But it is a lot more accurate than the hellscapes Nicolas Kristof portrays.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Which Side Are You On?

Do you have an appetite for terror? Do you enjoy a good horror story that depicts the depravity and stark darkness lurking in the human heart?

Well, “truth is stranger than fiction,” which may explain the appeal of reading history. George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books are fantasy, but they accurately reflect the reality of life in medieval times – minus the magic, dragons, and ice zombies, of course. As medievalists frequently marvel, Martin did his homework - hence his edge. But it was for a purpose beyond entertainment. Like Mark Twain’s novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, I believe that Martin seeks to de-glorify the myth of chivalry that reactionaries from Klansmen to Nazis invoke to cloak their tyranny in pageantry. Yes, Martin's world has magic, but it still sucks to live in. And his archetypic chivalric knight, Jamie Lannister, is a flat-out sociopath.

There are degrees of evil, and evil acts can be boring as well as flamboyant, bureaucratic as well as bloody. But at the heart of all of them is wishing their targets harm or at least being indifferent to their suffering. In my book, Conservatism is Un-American & Other Self-Evident Truths, one self-evident truth I touched on Republican efforts to suppress the black vote:
Those who defend such bills insist they are not racist – they say they are just trying to hurt the Democrats’ chances at the polls. In other words, “We’re not bigots, just cheaters.” But I think there is definitely some bigotry in the mix too. After all, it is easier to violate others’ rights if you dislike them. Sympathy tends to interfere with victimizing others at both the planning and execution stages, while hostility obviously facilitates it.
This dynamic is undeniable and predictable. History illustrates that if you dislike your likely victims, it will make you more inventive in your designs and enthusiastic in their application. And nothing ignites conservative creativity quite like bigotry.

This applies to class as well as race. Just 
read this yuppie fuckwit luxuriate in class hatred:
I’d love the Teamsters to be worse off. I’d love the automobile workers to be worse off. You may say that’s inhumane; I’m putting it rather baldly but I want to eliminate a situation in which certain protected workers in industries insulated from competition can increase their wages much more rapidly than the average without regard to their merit or to what the free market would do, and in doing so exploit other workers.
Yeah, that’s inhumane. Shockingly, that was President Jimmy Carter’s economic adviser Alfred Kahn in a 1981 interview quoted in Thomas Frank’s book Listen Liberal - Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (1) This was how I first learned that the hostility toward unions among establishment Democrats predated the Clintons. No, they are not at fault for everything. 

Carter snubbed labor, vetoed public works projects, and pushed the first huge tax cut. Economically, Carter presaged Reagan, which is why Ted Kennedy challenged Carter in the 1980 primary. As with the Clintons, Carter's conservative efforts still failed to make Republicans love him.

Kahn’s callous rhetoric likewise anticipated the incoming Reagan Administration. He surreally reasoned that union members “exploit other workers” by being paid more than “the free market” would. Of course, that’s a stupidly deceptive argument: Those other workers are being exploited by their employers, not union members. If the market decided wages, most workers would be near-slaves. Recall comedian Chris Rock’s memorable routine on the minimum wage: "You know what that means when someone pays you minimum wage? You know what your boss was trying to say? 'Hey if I could pay you less, I would, but it's against the law.'”

As for "merit,” an assembly line worker’s job is to connect parts A and B. He or she has no control over how intelligently those parts are designed or if they are made out of inferior materials. Look at Detroit, for fuck’s sake. If the corporation decides to cut corners, ignore warning signs, or resist change, how is that the worker’s fault?(2) Competition is management’s concern. Damn right union workers - and all workers - should be “insulated” from management’s spectacular stupidity and avarice. To management, employees are just machines. It is so much to ask that they keep these machines well-oiled so they do not wear out too soon?

Moreover, the mere existence of strong unions improves the condition of all workers. Not too long ago, employers feared their workers would unionize, so they started offering similar benefits to prevent union drives: Vacation days, access to health insurance, etc. - they are the deteriorating legacy of the bygone days when unions were winning.(3) Does your job offer any benefits, however watered-down they are now? You can thank unions for normalizing those noble, battered, and now sabotaged concepts.  Also, weekends: Unions gave us weekends.(4)

In addition, unions push for legislation that also benefits and defends all workers, such as minimum wage laws and safety regulations. That is obviously the opposite of exploitation:  It is generosity toward those who shrank from the fight. Yes, union members benefit as well: Such legislation is an extra layer of protection - i.e. “insulation” - but it everyone benefits.

And more importantly, in so far as the big picture is concerned, unions were the backbone of the American middle class. But because establishment Democrats so hated working people and wanted them to be “worse off,”(5) they eagerly helped Republicans destroy the middle class on which our consumer-based economy so desperately depends. America’s postwar economic boom was fueled in large part by lifting working people into the middle class whose spending, in turn, stimulated the economy. The funny thing about a consumer-based economy is it needs consumers - the more, the better. Closet conservatives often forget that.

Let me expound. Without a broad base of consumers, markets for products are small and rapidly saturated. If everyone who can afford a particular type of product, say a washing machine, already owns one, the market for it evaporates and the employees who make them get laid off. But after “Big Government” and “Big Labor” expanded the middle class, employment became more continuous because there were more consumers for those products.  The economy did not stall so often and dips were not as deep.(6) To put it in the simplest possible terms: If more people can afford washing machines, the worker on the washing machine assembly line has more steady employment. This once was a novelty. Then it became the norm. Now it is a novelty again. That is a stupid decision that we, as a society, have made after listening to conservatives and their “liberal” apologists.

Unfortunately, Alfred Kahn’s attitude is not an outlier. A lot of establishment Democrats despised what makes the Democratic Party great - FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society. (Some are not too enthused about LBJ’s civil rights legislation either.) And so there has been a well-funded effort by some nominal Democrats to declare the New Deal dead.  This self-sabotage has a lengthy history as Thomas Frank wrote in Listen, Liberal:
“The collapse and end of the New Deal is one of the most frequently announced events in American media,” wrote a political scientist in 1985. It was announced so often and so predictably in those days that cataloging it became an academic exercise in itself. The historian William Leuchtenburg filled several chapters of his 1989 book, In the Shadow of FDR, with New Deal death notices. [Here Frank gives several examples] ...
On the eternal return of the death-of-the-New-Deal, Leuchtenburg himself wondered, “It was far from clear why if, as Gary Hart claimed, the New Deal was dead in 1974, it was necessary for him to kill it off in 1980 and again in 1984.”
What applies to civil rights also applies to economics. There is an FDR quote that is on-point. “We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all our citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.” He was echoing Thomas Paine’s principle that “He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression: for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach unto himself.” Or as a union called the Industrial Workers of the World puts it, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Establishment Democrats have enthusiastically collaborated with Republicans in the destruction of our country’seconomy. And, as is always the case, those toward the bottom of the socio-economic ladder felt the effects first.

Conservative thought sabotages the Democratic Party just as it sabotages America’s economy. Indeed, it sabotages America itself. By its inherent nature, conservatism is corrosive to any free society. The right despises America’s three central ideals of liberty, equality, and democracy. 

The corruption starts with callousness towards others and ultimately poisons the proverbial village well. We can look as the poisoned water in Flint, Michigan and say, “Well that only affects them” - i.e. black people. But similar water quality issues exist all across the county. Eventually, our empathy succumbs to inertia. Callousness becomes habit and infects our views on other issues. And, at the end of the day, you discover that the well of empathy is dry when you need something to drink. And perhaps you discover that your gated community or bomb shelter is not as secure as you think.

It's something to think about, isn't it?


1) As Thomas Frank explained, the hatred of working class America among establishment Democrats began in the 1970s. Popular culture was rife with images of pro-Vietnam War hardhats bullying hippies. They shot the protagonists in Easy Rider. Never mind all the union support of the Civil Rights Movement. As Frank added, these things should have alerted pundits that the Archie Bunker stereotype was not the whole story. Also, Fun Fact: Alfred Kahn was Jimmy Carter's "inflation tsar." He was also the architect of energy and airline deregulation. 

2) In the 1970s, consumers demanded safer, more fuel efficient cars; but CEOs ignored them. They insisted “safety doesn’t sell” despite their own market research which said the opposite and continued to manufacture treacherous gas-guzzlers. Should their employees be punished as a result? Yes, shit rolls downhill; but justice says it shouldn’t. As always, arrogance leads to clue-less self-sabotage. The ancient Greeks called this “hubris.” Or, as I always say, "Cocky becomes sloppy."

Interestingly, one of the things that unions were demanding was more input into the design of cars. It seems that a lot of autoworkers liked to tinker on cars at home, so their understanding of cars was thorough. They knew their products both backwards and forwards, warts and all. Folks in the Motor City loved cars. Who knew?  It was the nadir of classism and hubris to assume these people had no valuable input. Well, they saw the writing on the wall and knew how to improve the product. If only corporate were somehow forced to listen.

3) The late, great Wobbly folksinger Utah Phillips explained this quite plainly. He was talking about the 1912 Lawrence, Massachusetts textile strike. After mentioning that the women in the mills were dying at the average age of 26 from breathing the airborne particles in the weave rooms and describing the police beatings they received, he added: “Did you know, I never had to work underground in Pennsylvania at the age of 12 in a coal mine. My sister never had to work at the age of 8 or 9 at the looms in Lawrence Massachusetts or anybody else. None of us have had to do those sorts of things. And why? Why do we have that 8 hour day? Why do we have those mine safety laws? Why do we have those laws busting the sweatshops? Were they benevolent gifts from an enlightened management? No. They were fought for, bled for, died for by people a lot like us. They died not on the battle field to fight another dumb bosses’ war. They died on the picket line to give all of us a better future.” (Utah Phillips & Ani Di Franco, Fellow Workers, “Lawrence,” track 8, Righteous Babe Records,  1999.) Highly recommended listening.

4) Yes, the Bible says “Remember the Sabbath day,” but capitalism isn’t particularly religious. It has to be forced to pay workers enough to live on a five day week and “big labor” and “big government” are the only things that have ever successfully accomplished that. Faith alone has historically been woefully insufficient. Otherwise, the middle ages would have been a paradise, which it was obviously not. Mechanisms matter. They succeed where moral exhortations fail.

5) The sheer evil of that sentiment simply astounds me. It just goes to prove what Voltaire said. "Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."

6) What those ignorant of industrial history do not understand is that the giant dish washing machines you see behind the scenes in hotels, restaurants, etc. are not actually giant versions of home appliances but the opposite: Home appliances are miniaturized versions of the behemoths that came first. (It was the same with computers.) Before the consumer revolution, companies primarily sold to other companies. If you worked on an assembly line making giant dish washing machines, your employment was often temporary because the market for that product was small and quickly satiated. But if you make home dish washing machines and fellow working people are paid decent wages, they can afford to buy what you make and your employment becomes more regular. We discovered this after WWII. We seem to have forgotten it since.