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Saturday, March 06, 2021

What is possible now?

 Anyone who takes the time to peruse the archives here for late and early 2009 will find that I was much too optimistic about the future then.  The Democrats had 60 votes in the Senate and a substantial majority in the House, and that looked like enough for Barack Obama to reverse the direction that the country had been going in, just as Franklin Roosevelt had done 76 years earlier.  I turned out to be wrong.  While the New Deal passed at least a dozen pieces of major legislation in its first two years--many of them providing immediate relief to desperate Americans--Obama managed to pass only two, the stimulus program and the Affordable Care Act.  His economic advisers--Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, and William Bernanke--concentrated on putting the new, finance-dominated economy back together as soon as possible, instead of using the crisis to change our economic power structure. None of these policies brought immediate relief to large numbers of Americans, and by the middle of 2010, the Republicans seemed certain to regain control of the House--as indeed they did, for the next eight  years.  In 2016 they regained control of the Senate.  Now the Democrats control both chambers by very narrow margins.

Biden will, it seems, manage to provide more of the immediate relief that the nation once again desperately needs.  Even before the new stimulus passes, the economy is moving in the right direction and unemployment is now under 7%--much lower than its peak about a year into the Obama administration.  With vaccinations growing in number, the pandemic seems likely to recede by the end of the year.   But what more will he be able to accomplish after the stimulus passes through reconciliation, without a dramatic increase in the minimum wage?  And what are the chances that the Republicans will not manage to pick up the five seats that they need to control the House after 2022?

In the last few weeks I have listened to two interviews (readily accessible on youtube), and read one, with the Democratic political analyst David Shor.  He is the man who lost his job last summer with one Democratic political data firm because he retweeted an article arguing that violent protests over the death of George Floyd would cost the Democrats votes.  Fortunately he has found another one.  His extraordinarily even emotional keel, his dedication to data, and his non-confrontational style represent the best of his Millennial generation.  He sees things that most of us have not seen, and they do not bode particularly well for Biden and the Democrats.  I shall summarize some of his most important points.

Shor believes that the biggest dividing line in American politics today is not race, but education.  College graduates have been trending Democratic for years, and Trump accelerated that trend.  He lost substantial numbers of college-educated white voters--most, obviously, in the suburbs--last November.  He already had a large majority of non-college whites behind him, and he gained votes slightly among non-college black voters, and more significantly among Hispanics.  In a chilling moment in one of his recorded interviews, Shor discussed the evolution of Florida in the last twenty years.  In 2000 it was evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.  In the intervening years it has become larger, much more diverse thanks to more Hispanic immigration--and pretty solidly Republican. Like their Cuban counterparts, immigrants from Venezuela and Colombia, it seems, vote in large part out of hostility towards socialism.  Checking, I find that Donald Trump in Texas did 1% better against Joe Biden in 2020 than Ted Cruz did against Beto O'Rourke in 2019.  That shift also seems to have reflected a better performance among Hispanics.

Democrats do better, Shor argues, when they stick to bread and butter issues (like the stimulus and minimum wage) that appeal to uneducated voters.  Unfortunately, their party activists are generally highly educated, and prone to focus on social issues and even to use language which does not resonate with the uneducated voters who have become swing voters.  Shor reports that the political ads that appealed the most to himself and his co-workers, such as a notorious one (that I cannot find on youtube) that showed a little girl crying in response to some of Donald Trump's most vicious remarks, did the worst among potential voters.  He might have added that because Democratic candidates surround themselves with activists (their campaign workers) and with wealthy donors (also highly educated and liberal), they easily let those groups' language burst out in public or semi-public gatherings.  Barack Obama talked about white voters clinging to guns and religion, and Hillary Clinton referred to Trump's "basket of deplorables."  Biden, I think, in one of his rare public statements to date, did something similar when he referred to "Neanderthal thinking" behind the premature lifting of mask mandates.  He might better have simply criticized the policy, rather than labelling everyone who supports it as less than fully human.  Biden also seems to be going along with liberal activism on another hot-button issue, immigration.  The Washington Post reports today that large numbers of Mexicans and Central Americans are on their way to the border, and the Biden administration is apparently preapring to let them in.  Already it has allowed unaccompanied minors to cross the border and go into detention facilities for the first time in a  year, and revoked the Trump regulation that such people must stay in Mexico while their asylum claims are heard.  The Democrats may well emerge as the party of open borders.

An important recent article at fivethirtyeight.com described three options for Democrats, each favored by a certain faction of the party.  The first wants immediately to do away with the filibuster not only to pass the minimum wage, but to admit the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to the union and expand the size of the Supreme Court in an attempt to create Democratic majorities in those two branches of government.  A second group also favors getting rid of the filibuster, but only to pass bills such as the new minimum wage and a new voting rights act that will perhaps outlaw gerrymandering and mandate mail-in voting in Congressional elections.  The third group, to which the President seems at this point to belong, favors doing only what can be done with the help of Senator Manchin, if not with any bipartisan support.  The second group's ideas make the most sense to me.  They are designed to undo at least some of the advantage Republicans now enjoy through ruthless gerrymandering and which they are now trying to increase with numerous measures designed to reduce total votes.  If the filibuster is eliminated, however, the Democrats will have to deal with a lot of intraparty fights over more radical legislation.  

The Republican Party now essentially opposes democracy because it rejects what effective democracy brought about in the middle third of the twentieth century: high taxes, effective economic regulation, and civil rights bills, especially the Voting Rights Act. Three decades of packing the courts have   left the Republicans in an excellent position to block major economic legislation.  Biden may still have a chance to reverse the trends of the last 40 years.  He can improve his chances by taking positions on social issues and using language which the vast majority of voters can understand and approve.


Bozon said...


Here was my note re Shor, back when you first brought him up for scrutiny.

Maybe i am still wrong.

"Shor confuses what he calls ideological coherence with political platform and political loyalty.

Or maybe the concept of a platform itself is out of date.

The fact that someone might favor both pro life and higher taxes does not render these two positions inherently ideologically inconsistent.

Simply because we have only two main parties does not make them ideologically inconsistent but rather party inconsistent.

Maybe they are Democratic platform inconsistent, but a platform's ideological coherence makes little sense without a structuring of planks in relation to all others according to platform-wide principles that are reasonable of not commonsensical.

That would be a thumbnail sentence saying what a description of an ideologically coherent party platform would or might look like.

Ideological coherence cannot mean merely something agreed by consensus only among party elites at the top. A platform is something seen, not unseen, in plain view for the stooges in the campaign, for voters, to review."

All the best

Energyflow said...

Now you're getting to the meat of the subject. In generational theory the crisis welds the people together through a mutually shared struggle across classes, colors, creeeds which had dissolved, particularly during the 3 rd turning phase, where diversity is king. I exemplify this. Assume 4th turning start in 2008. I had an office job which I lost beginning of 2010 as all possibilities of one company I was in dried up. I got anotner place for 6 months as a replacement but then due to lack of technical skills in computer, extra language skills and middle age I had to go to untrained janitorial work, which luckily I was capable of due to extreme healthy habits over the years. The real adaptation was psychological, working with minority immigrants and less educated people in a practical physical environment. Now, my father and brothers were so inclined but I took after my mother, being the baby of the family and highly intelligent. So my softness and intelligence had to be hardened and made sly at 45. This is a work in process, a reverse gentrification. My wife maintains that I have become an insensitive, indelicate brute. I was never astute socially anyway but being passive and reasoning in a relationship instead of astute, aggressive, sly, perhaps deliberately passive aggressive is a totally different story. Sitting at a desk in the office and maybe working out alone is not the same thing as taxing the body 40 hours a week physically and thinking on your feet. Even athletes I see on youtube discussing fitness I see a disconnect from this work a day reality. Hobby sport, done voluntarily at one' s desired pace for fitness, longevity and discussed at length is not bread earning. Your seriousness goes into writing, theorizing. Another man' s earnestness is stock market analysis, the next man is an accountant, engineer, etc. We have little choice after getting a career track. Then our mminds and bodies mold themselves around those realities. We choose friendships, classes of friends, ideologies, marriage partners and where to live based on our early success. If I had remained in a cushy environment then maybe my opinions would have remained static. Upwardly educating the hispanics, etc and getting the dems bosses accustomed to working class voters could tip the scales for dems side. Otherwiise they will lose swing states, talking from ivory tower. I can quote bible, discuss tantra, relate to yoga and college education while feeling at home among poor and middle classes due to upbringing of mixed class, education and career variation. Social classes are getting separated out nowadays. Female and male doctors and similar marry each other. Previously Male surgeons might have found a nurse to marry. Class and income disparities between families becomes then greater as a male and female nurse married couple and similar across the board expect no different from their children. Caste system hardening over time. System dynamics feedbacks all at work here. Tweak in one place to repair women or minorities rights creates accentuated class differences in the case cited above. Increase latino immigration as human rights, left wing tactic begets perhaps a conservative catholic revolution perhaps antiabortion, against women' s rights, gays, transgenders that are the left wing specializations.

Energyflow said...

At any rate, a very broad life experience in a general way and lots of actual contact between individuals of different origins in varying situations in the real world brings understanding but only after deep internal emotional turmoil and conflict. The easy life is to marry and live close in your social, ethnic, geographic group and not change religions, passports, etc. How the country as a whole at such a crisis turning point deals with the drift in values is the question. Technology and policy are superficial. Humans have to feel and find identity in groups, activities. Trump was such a person for many, for and against. Biden, a Silent is too bland for this. If the ship of state is generally going towards icebergs and people sense this then they want such a person even as an enemy to fight against when they sense that their ideals of the left are coming to a dead end. What comes after nobody can know but a truthful therapy session for a family living incommunicable is a necessary tool.

Unknown said...

Strauss and Howe claimed that there was no civic generation during and following the Civil War. The war started too early and what would have grown into a civic generation was ruined before they could become that, so the saeculum was reset and they became an artist generation, with the generation after them being prophets, like the current Baby Boomers.

If you are right that the fourth turning began in 2001 with 9/11 and the War on Terror, when the oldest millennials were 19 and the youngest were toddlers, then the same starting over of the saeculum might apply today. The oldest of the GI Generation were 28 when the fourth turning began in 1929, not 18. 18 is too young.

So there may well be no civic reset this time around, as there was none after the Civil War, only a saeculum of weak government, weak civic sense, and domestic division and strife. Will the U.S. survive this one as a unified country? The next fourth turning, occurring around 80 years after 2001, seems like a very long time for the country to hang together in today's world.

Gen Z seems a lot like the Boomers and like a prophet archetype in many ways, lending credence to the idea that the millennials are in fact artists, not civics, and there is no civic generation in this cycle. The zoomers are very self-righteous, aggressive, eager to protest and to fight the police (look at Boulder yesterday, a place I know well; last year's explosion of street activity seems set to reignite this spring or summer, whether the sentiments driving it are sincere or are really a desire to be rowdy and assert dominance over existing authorities).

The Bush and Obama regimes might have done their neoliberal work so well that they successfully eliminated the chance for a civic revival until late this century, whether or not that's too late for the United States as a going concern.

Bozon said...

This is a sort of tribute, in a way, to Energyflow and some of his his stellar rants:

I oppose our Dems and Reps both, because together they comprise, all the way from super rich to desperately poor, a socially, morally, and Democratically "Thomas L Friedman pancake flat", atomistically fragmented, seething mass of widely disparate, ungrateful, unconnected, pathetic, unempathetic, largely unemployable, over educated, plump, ugly, and ungovernable enormous mob.

All the best