The "resurgent populism in the Democratic Party" think piece is, thankfully, normally of a higher intellectual caliber than the "millennial" think piece. But that's not saying much.
The analysis is often thin, beginning with an (at least implicit) assumption we live in a "center-right" country. These pieces often ignore the fact that there's been a Progressive Caucus in Congress for two decades now, so the existence of a progressive wing in the Democratic Party is not new--it just has better spokespeople. Moreover, these pieces always set a very low bar for "populist" (or progressive) policies, reflecting the narrowness of our policy debate.
Let's start by looking at the piece by Dan Balz and Philip Rucker from WaPo this past Saturday: "For Democrats looking to post-Obama era, how populist a future?"
With three years remaining in the presidency of Barack Obama, the party he has led since mesmerizing members with his 2008 campaign has begun debating a post-Obama future.Although we must acknowledge that polling is never a perfect tool for gauging public sentiment or the translation of sentiment to action and voting patterns, let's look at how that "message" resonates with the public.
Though more united than Republicans, Democrats nevertheless face simmering tensions between the establishment and a newly energized populist wing, led by the unabashed liberalism of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the fiery rhetoric of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
The schisms are as much stylistic as substantive. But however defined, they offer a challenge to the party’s next leader, whether former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden or any number of lesser-knowns who await a decision by Clinton before making their own.
All will have to grapple with this reality. The Democratic Party, by various measures of public opinion, has moved to the left in the past decade. But that does not necessarily mean that progressives have become the party’s dominant force or that the policies and messages they advocate can carry the day in a national election.
One piece of legislation with which Warren is frequently associated is her Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act, which would have (for a year, as a stopgap) reduced student loan interest rates to the same discounted rate the Fed offers big banks: 0.75%. According to a poll last summer, voters supported Warren's proposal by a 2:1 margin. 65% of Democrats and 56% of both Republicans and Independents supported it.
Elizabeth Warren's name is also commonly associated with the liberal/progressive push for expanding Social Security. MoveOn commissioned several polls on this last fall. They looked at five states in particular: Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Washington. Voters in all five states supported expanding Social Security over 2:1, ranging from a low of 60% in Washington to a high of 73% in North Carolina. Interestingly, in each of the five states, only about a quarter of those surveyed had any idea that Obama and the Republicans had both put forth plans for cutting Social Security.
Now, as I noted, there's a gap between public sentiment and public action (and then public policy), but I feel that the author underestimates the resonance of such policies.
“Nothing moves a party more than copying successful people,” said Andrew Stern, the former president of the Service Employees International Union, as he pointed to the prominence of de Blasio and Warren. “I think the party tends to drift in the direction of its successful innovators.”They interviewed Andy Stern? The ex-labor leader who endorsed Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo's efforts to help Wall Street loot public pensions? The Andy Stern who wanted to allow Wall Street to loot Social Security, too? What a fine interviewee.
But Stern cautioned that the bigger test of who holds power inside the party is proving those ideas can attract voters beyond staunchly liberal states or cities.
“It is fair to say that more liberal places find politicians first who are more willing to step out on these issues,” he said. “But it is not a shift until it’s seen to work in Minnesota or Wisconsin or New Mexico or Arizona.”
Progressive politics can never succeed in a place like Wisconsin, which gave us Russ Feingold and now Tammy Baldwin. I'd like Tammy Baldwin to be more proactive, but her voting record is still far better than of her peers (if not as much so as hers from her House years). Progressive politics can never succeed in a place like Minnesota either, which gave us Senator Paul Wellstone. Al Franken has been, in some ways, a disappointment, but he's still clearly on the left of the caucus. And Minnesota's governor, Mark Dayton, was a liberal representative when in the House and is one of the nation's more liberal governors.
Progressive politics could never work in New Mexico, represented in the Senate by Tom Udall, again part of the liberal wing of the caucus.
Arizona, that's another story.
Adam Green, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a grass-roots group that has helped propel Warren’s rise, said the populist wing of the party is clearly ascendant.I won't go so far as to say that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is "ascendant," but I'll agree with Green's normative analysis.
“There’s been consensus in both parties since the 1990s Clinton days where big corporations run the show and both parties suck up to them and everything else falls into place from there,” he said. “The Elizabeth Warren wing really believes in challenging the current state of who has power and who has influence."
But other Democrats counter that the party must be careful about how it shapes its message and policies. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who came up through the centrist ranks of the party, noted that in the past when the progressive or liberal wings of the party were flourishing — he cited George McGovern’s candidacy in 1972 and Walter F. Mondale’s in 1984 — the party suffered major defeats.Walter Mondale was a strong austerian. I'll turn you to the estimable Rick Perlstein and Corey Robin for elaboration. Carter and Dukakis, as Perlstein shows in his takedown of the DLC, were no progressives either, and Carter is not credited enough as the father of neoliberalism in this country.
“The idea of us as a party not continuing to understand where the people of the country are — we ignore all of that at our own peril,” he said.
When Markell speaks of "the people of the country," I'm going to guess that he means more banks and corporations that disproportionately charter in Delaware than actual people.
The Democratic Party of 2014 is one shaped both by the influences of former president Bill Clinton’s New Democrat ideas and the more liberal policy initiatives and cultural changes that have defined Obama’s presidency.I'll give you more liberal "cultural changes," especially as relates to LGBTQ rights and to the changing demographics of the country. But "more liberal policy initiatives"? Obama brought back Clinton's advisers, pushes corporate-friendly and corporate-authored trade deals and cuts to social insurance programs, and pivoted to austerity at the end of his first year in office.
The Affordable Care Act, despite the good that it does, is not a bold liberal policy initiative, but rather an attempt to expand coverage while entrenching the status quo of private, for-profit health insurance and cowering to (or collaborating with--choose your interpretation) the pharmaceutical industry.
Obama’s tenure has intensified the debate over whether the Democrats are more ideologically liberal than they were a decade or two ago.The deficit has been falling, and federal employment has been falling. WaPo sees no reason to correct the factually inaccurate beliefs held by Republicans because of course they don't.
Conservatives see a president who has brought government much deeper into the health-care system, whose economic policies significantly increase the deficit and whose bent is for more government and more spending. But progressives see a president who lacks the populist edge they say the times demand and who has fallen short of the promise of his first campaign.
By many measures, the party is certainly seen as more liberal than it once was. For the past 40 years, the American National Election Studies surveys have asked people for their perceptions of the two major parties. The 2012 survey found, for the first time, that a majority of Americans describe the Democratic Party as liberal, with 57 percent using that label. Four years earlier, only 48 percent described the Democrats as liberal."By man measures" means "by two polls." I've always wondered what people even think the words "liberal" or "conservative" mean. A poll that does not take that into account doesn't really mean much. I think that many people probably describe themselves as "temperamentally conservative" even though they support policies that would be described as "liberal." The same goes for those who call themselves "moderate." Language disconnected from policy is just abstraction.
(In the same survey, 59 percent said they saw the Republicans as conservative, up from 52 percent four years earlier.)
Gallup reported last month that 43 percent of surveyed Democrats identified themselves as liberal, the high water mark for the party on that measurement. In Gallup’s 2000 measures, just 29 percent of Democrats labeled themselves as liberals.
Still, liberals are a plurality of the Democratic Party, not a majority, which is strikingly different from the Republican Party, where Gallup found that 70 percent identified themselves as conservative.
Joel Benenson, who was Obama’s lead pollster in 2008 and 2012, said Democrats are and always have been a progressive party, but they have balanced those ideas with practical policies that have attracted voters.So Obama's lead pollster thinks that "progressive" policies are different from "practical policies that have attracted voters." Change "practical" to "economically conservative" and "voters" to "donors." The 1%, as we have seen in past studies care more about the deficit and less about unemployment and jobs than the rest of the country.
Asked about claims by some grass-roots progressives that the party is now Warren’s party, he said, “I don’t know what it means. Do you think that Harry Reid thinks it’s an Elizabeth Warren party? Do you think Chuck Schumer thinks it’s an Elizabeth Warren party? Do you think Hillary Clinton thinks it’s an Elizabeth Warren party? Do you think Barack Obama thinks it’s an Elizabeth Warren party? Or Nancy Pelosi?”
Also, take a look at Joel Benenson's client list. You see such estimable corporations as Verizon, NFL, Pfizer, and Procter & Gamble. More "Progressive auto insurance" than "progressive populism," if you ask me.
Democrats are most united on cultural and social issues, and it is here where the party has most obviously moved to the left, particularly on same-sex marriage and even the legalization of marijuana. But the party’s shift reflects overall changes in public attitudes that have kept the Democrats within a new political mainstream on these issues.Democrats have moved to the left on marijuana? The Democratic governor of Colorado actively opposed the state's referendum in 2012. Jared Polis's Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act has a whopping 16 co-sponsors (all but one Democrats). What a shift in the party!
Women’s issues have provided even more cohesiveness within the party’s coalition.Remember, though, that a majority of white women will still vote GOP. Romney actually did better than John McCain with white women voters.
“We’ve seen a gender gap for two decades now, but what we saw in 2012 was a larger step toward women voters standing with the Democrats in a much, much larger way,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, a group that helps elect pro-choice Democratic women. “There’s such a contrast right now between the two parties on issues impacting women and families.”
On issues of national security and foreign policy, divisions remain. Obama may be president because he opposed the Iraq War and Clinton voted as senator to give then-president George W. Bush the authority to take the country to war. Obama has ended the war in Iraq and is ending the war in Afghanistan, but some progressives are at odds with him over other aspects of his national security policies.Obama likes to take credit for the withdrawal in Iraq; however, he intended to extend the US presence but was rebuffed by Iraqi officials' refusal to grant immunity to US troops.
He also wants to extend the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan for at least ten more years.
And don't even get me started on the rest. This diary will already be long as is.
Clinton may continue to disagree with part of her party’s base on these issues. Her record in the Senate and as Secretary of State is one where she has been, by evidence available today, fully supportive of the president’s drone policy and the National Security Agency’s surveillance policies.Yep.
On economic issues, the party is torn between two key parts of its coalition.Only now does the donor class get mentioned in this article, when that's the driving force behind the Democrat's embrace of neoliberalism.
“One of the biggest failings of the Democratic Party,” Stern said, “is that its funders come from its traditional side of the economic spectrum and its voters come from a more populist, distributive side of the economic agenda.”
Former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer said, “I think the party increasingly is responding to the special interests they need to get elected — the military-industrial complex, big energy, pharmaceutical companies, banks.”Schweitzer, who spouts American Petroleum Institute propaganda about Keystone XL and pushes the myth of clean coal, is talking about how Democrats are responding too much to "big energy." The irony is lost on him, apparently.
Yet in both policies and tone, there are indications that Democrats have moved to the left. Democratic candidates from all regions — including two potential rising stars running for the Senate in conservative states, Michelle Nunn in Georgia and Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky — have embraced raising the minimum wage. This is a centerpiece of Obama’s agenda heading into this fall’s midterm campaigns.Let's look at the tone of Michelle Nunn's endorsement of raising the minimum wage: "I support raising the minimum wage, but we need to do it in concert with business leaders to limit any unintended consequences." Fiery!
Look at you, being all populist and tepidly supporting raising the minimum wage to a still sub-living wage standard.
Democrats favor raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, a rallying cry dating to the 1990s, but there are differences in the magnitude of tax increases and whom they would impact. New York is a microcosm. De Blasio and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo both support expanding access to pre-kindergarten programs. But de Blasio wants to pay for it by raising taxes on the rich in New York City, while Cuomo objects to paying for universal pre-kindergarten through tax hikes.Everything you need to know about Cuomo can be found in the fact that he compared his opposition to the millionaire's tax to his father's opposition to the death penalty.
Hostility to free-trade agreements is still deep among part of the Democratic coalition, but that tension has existed for decades. While many better-educated, upscale voters do not fear the impact of free trade, others, led by organized labor, look at stagnant wages and the difficult job market and attribute those hardships to trade.Wow, the classism in that line.
Perhaps more than any other economic issue, income inequality has animated progressive activists and voters. Party strategists say this energy is being fueled by lingering fury at Wall Street tycoons, whom they blame for the financial collapse, and deep unease about the nation’s eroding middle class.Bill Galston has been accurately described by Slate's Dave Weigel as "America's wrongest columnist." He is your "Wall Street Journal op-ed writer" style Democrat, whose raison d'etre is to criticize Democrats for being too "liberal" or too "populist" and say that they should support big business and cut Social Security and Medicare instead.
“There’s a consciousness developing that’s related to this issue of inequality and the unfairness of our system and the wealth gap that has the potential to really grow and develop into a strong movement that will be reflected in coming elections,” former Ohio governor Ted Strickland said.
William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution said, “It’s not just a case of the very rich getting richer. If that were the only thing going on I think we’d be having a very different conversation. It’s also a case of the people in the middle at best treading water and in fact doing a little bit worse than that.”
Warren, with her calls for tougher Wall Street regulations, and de Blasio, with his campaign mantle of “a tale of two cities,” have galvanized voters with fiery lines and fresh thinking.No complaints.
“Part of it is really expanding the debate beyond the sterile ideas that have been in D.C. for a while,” Green said. “When the question was should we renew current interest rates for students or not, Elizabeth Warren said, wait, why is that the norm? Let’s give students the low rates that banks get, and she focused attention on the sweetheart deals we give the big guys.”
Obama and Senate Democrats running in difficult 2014 campaigns are adopting a more moderate approach — especially in rhetoric, style and emphasis. Where Warren speaks of economic justice and calls for Wall Street executives to be brought to trial, Obama talks, as he did in his State of the Union address last month, of expanding growth and opportunity.The problem with "opportunity" is that it seeks only to make a small faction of the poor not poor any more rather than lifting up everyone. It offers a ladder when what's needed is an elevator.
Matt Bennett, a senior vice president at Third Way, a centrist think tank, said Obama’s approach is more resonant for more voters.And that's why he champions cutting Social Security and Medicare.
“What folks out in the country are trying to do is find a way to maintain their lifestyle,” he said. “Other than an intellectual exercise, they don’t see the struggle as focused on rich people. It is about their own situation and their own ability to make their way through a very difficult economy.”
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, a leading liberal, said Democrats must not lose sight of their tradition as the party of progressive ideas.The Democratic Party, which is by no means a progressive party in full, hasn't always been even that. Andrew Jackson and James Buchanan, to take two examples, were no progressives.
“Fundamentally, there’s two things that elections and governing are all about — the future and whose side are you on,” he said. “Democrats win elections and govern well when we keep that front and center. . . . It’s always important to put some new face on this, and it matters how you dress it up, but fundamentally it’s the historic difference between the parties.”
Stern offered one caution to those on the left: “I think it’s really not helpful for the Democrats to turn this into an attack on the one percent. I don’t think it’s in the American spirit, or at least the Democratic Party’s future spirit. As Republicans attack immigration, we attack rich people? If you learned anything from the president, selling hope is better than selling hate.”Hahahaha, never change, Andy Stern. Never change.
The rest of the piece is 2016 speculation. I'll spare you.
Tomasky, NYRB, and a Rather Un-populist Populism
Now let's turn to Michael Tomasky's "A New Populism?" in the New York Review of Books. The article is, ostensibly, a review of Lane Kenworthy's Social Democratic America, even though Tomasky doesn't even mention the book until the last few paragraphs.
Let me skip over the first paragraph and a half (framing around the State of the Union and issues raised more clearly later in the piece) and then jump in:
But the point was made, perhaps as much by what wasn’t in the speech—no pleas for reducing the deficit and cutting entitlements, to name two inside-the-Beltway priorities that liberals loathe and that Obama had previously suggested he favored or would at least consider.Obama did not include language about "entitlement reform" in the speech, but such language did appear in the White House fact sheet. And given that Obama has expressed interest in cutting Social Security and Medicare since January 2009--if not much earlier, his proposals are less a mild "favor" or a reluctant "would consider" but an active "want."
There exists these days, among Washington policy intellectuals and advocates who tilt toward the left end of the accepted political spectrum, a certain measured optimism. It’s not about Obama, or any feeling that he might somehow, with his sagging poll numbers, be able to persuade congressional Republicans to fund, say, an infrastructure investment bank. Confidence is appropriately near zero on matters like that. Rather, it’s about the widely held perception that the Democratic Party, after years of, in the argot, “moving to the right,” is finally soft-shoeing its way leftward, away from economic centrism and toward a populism that the party as a whole has not embraced for years or even decades.He cares so much about addressing inequality that getting fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a priority for him. Okay then.
This change has occurred not by way of sweeping dramatic gestures on Obama’s or anyone’s part, but subtly and incrementally. Obama’s contribution to the shift has been mostly rhetorical, but of course presidential rhetoric matters, so when he started addressing such issues as income inequality more directly in his speeches, many observers read into it certain clear policy implications.
“This growing inequality is not just morally wrong, it’s bad economics. Because when middle-class families have less to spend, guess what, businesses have fewer consumers,” he said in a speech at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, last summer. He finished the thought by saying that reversing the trend of growing inequality is “certainly my highest priority.”
And he cares so much about inequality that he just signed into law $8.7 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
I will skip the next section--four paragraphs and a block quote--that discuss Elizabeth Warren (mostly) and then Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown (briefly).
It isn’t just elected officials who are part of this change. It extends to the partisan liberal media as well. Most of the liberal websites and younger bloggers who have become influential in the capital, who are read avidly by their coevals who work as Capitol Hill and White House staffers, are highly sympathetic with the populist worldview. I would argue that MSNBC has played a significant part in this trend. MSNBC was slow to take to the idea of becoming “the liberal channel”—it seems astonishing, looking back on it, that conservative pundit Tucker Carlson had his own show on MSNBC as recently as 2008—but it certainly has embraced the identity now.MSNBC, however, is still the network of Morning Joe--that bastion of Beltway wisdom and deficit fetishism. Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O'Donnell seem more interested in poking fun at Republicans and highlighting their awfulness and hypocrisy than in pushing Democrats to the left--although Maddow can have her good moments. Melissa Harris-Parry has diverse guests and covers issues that no Sunday show ever would, but she's always very quick to defend the president against his left-wing critics. Steve Kornacki is a better political reporter than host and has never struck me as particularly passionate. Chris Hayes is probably MSNBC's best host, although Up was far better than All In. He's willing to criticize the president from the left although he's often too easy of a sell, willing to assume rhetoric implies action when it so rarely does.
Things have reached the point that Washington-insider Democrats watch MSNBC as faithfully as Republicans watch Fox. But Fox, so adept at plucking those rank-and-file conservative raw nerves, has far more viewers overall. Many of MSNBC’s most prominent hosts—Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, Chris Hayes—are fiercely populist in their politics. MSNBC offers its viewers a steady diet of segments on inequality, the minimum wage, un- and underemployment, and related issues, along with interviews with Walmart or fast-food workers. With Democratic offices on Capitol Hill, and TVs throughout the White House, tuned to MSNBC all day and into the night, this programming was bound to exert considerable influence.
Finally, and not least, there are the conditions of middle-class American life itself: a real unemployment rate, according to Jeff Madrick, of nearly 9 percent, the official number being low only because so many workers have taken themselves out of the job hunt; the slow pace of the recovery; and across-the-board wage stagnation (except for the top few percent). The public, or at least Democrats and independents, now perceives that inequality, underemployment, and wage stagnation are important and interconnected issues.Yes, but the Democratic Party sold out the unemployed when crafting a budget deal, only realizing that failing to include the EUC was a moral abomination and a strategic mistake after they voted en masse to pass the budget.
The most astonishing piece of social science research I’ve seen in some time was published in late 2011 by two academics, Michael Norton of Harvard and Dan Ariely of Duke. They asked a sampling of Americans two basic questions: What do you think wealth distribution in the United States is today, and what wealth distribution do you think would be ideal? They then matched those two sets of numbers to the existing facts."If Americans knew all this"--That's a big "if."
Respondents guessed that the top 20 percent of Americans owned just under 60 percent of the wealth, and the bottom 60 percent owned just more than 20 percent. Their ideal distribution, they said, would be for the top quintile to own only about 32 percent of the wealth, and the bottom three quintiles to own about 45 percent. The actual numbers: the top quintile owns more than 80 percent, while the bottom 60 percent owns around 5 percent. The results suggested that if Americans knew all this, the political space for a more aggressive left-populism would exist.
Americans don’t know all this, but in more recent surveys they do strongly back an increased minimum wage in the $9 to $10 range, as well as more public investment and other populist measures. All of this has created an atmosphere in Washington in which progressive think tanks are offering white papers that are a bit bolder than normal, not merely supporting the Democratic administration’s agenda (as is typically the case), but trying to direct it.Raising the minimum wage to the $9 to $10 range counts as "populist"? I live in Middlesex County, Massachusetts (Boston). A living wage for a single adult is $12.29 here. $9 might pass as a living wage in a place like Albany County, Wyoming, but once you have a kid, say good-bye to living wage standards with your $9 an hour paycheck.
For example, the Center for American Progress (CAP), under its new president Neera Tanden, has pushed “middle-class” or “middle-out” economics as the left’s alternative to supply-side, trickle-down economics. The idea of middle-out economics is that the government, instead of investing in the top 2 percent by means of tax and other privileges, should instead invest in the broad middle through a number of left-leaning policy choices from which the bounty would radiate out to all sectors of the society. These would include a much higher minimum wage, paid family leave, and improvement of decaying infrastructure. Obama’s Knox College speech on inequality is one expression of the middle-out view in the way it ties middle-class investment to growth. CAP has been pushing the White House to take up these arguments, not the other way around.The Democratic Party embraced this "middle-out" language, poll-tested of course, before CAP did, and I always viewed CAP's adoption of it as a reflection of their symbiotic relationship with the Democratic Party rather than any innovative thinking of their own. CAP, of course, remains strongly wedded to the corporate-friendly, job-destroying, environmentally destructive "free" trade policies of the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party and is willing to try to give them a "progressive" gloss as best they can. CAP has also argued for cutting Social Security via adoption of chained CPI and fully bought into deficit-mania. They are on friendly terms with the Pete Petersons of the world and take money from estimable corporations like AT&T, Comcast NBCUniversal, DeVry Education Group, Eli Lilly, Walmart, and Wells Fargo.
I'm not sure if he can make the claim that "CAP has been pushing the White House" when they are so closely connected (especially with staff interchange) as to be united on policy in so many areas. I give CAP credit, though, for willingness to criticize the administration's troublesome record on public lands and climate more broadly.
John Podesta, CAP’s former president, helped launch a new think tank, the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, devoted specifically to issues related to inequality. Podesta is now a White House counselor, which gives these issues respected representation in debates in the Roosevelt Room and the Oval Office.Podesta has, along with his brother, lobbied for Walmart, Lockheed Martin, Bank of America, and BP, among many other corporations. Clearly, inequality is his top concern. There's just too little of it.
This is all a welcome shift in emphasis, but of course it doesn’t mean that populist policies are going to become reality anytime soon. There is opposition to them within the Democratic Party and its broader policy solar system. Not nearly as much as there once was; the radical rightward shift of the Republican Party has, perhaps inevitably, moved the Democratic center of gravity leftward. But the opposition to populism continues.The "radical rightward shift" of the Republicans has not really shifted the Democratic center of gravity much to the left. As Pelosi said in her interview with Jon Stewart, Democrats strive to be the "reasonable" and "responsible" party. And because of that, they let the Republicans drag them ever rightward. The donors don't mind one bit. They're probably encouraging.
Washington’s most influential Democratic centrist group, Third Way, has taken the lead in warning of a cliff at the end of the populist road. In a much-discussed Wall Sreet Journal opinion piece last December—all the more noticed because it appeared in the enemy pages of the Journal—the group’s Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler wrote that “nothing would be more disastrous for Democrats” than following the advice and examples of Warren and the new New York Mayor Bill De Blasio. Their main argument centers on Social Security and Medicare and what they call the “undebatable solvency crisis” facing both programs.Third Way is influential?
They are not incorrect, certainly with regard to Medicare. And it’s also true that populists are kidding themselves if they think that all their investment goals can be met by taxing only the wealthy. Someday, perhaps, a Democratic president with a more amenable Congress will place before the voters the option of protecting Social Security by raising the payroll tax or raising the cap (workers now pay Social Security taxes only on about the first $115,000 in income), and we’ll see if citizens embrace populism in practice.If the Affordable Care Act succeeds in "bending the cost curve," then future Medicare costs will go down. That will also be the case if people, with health insurance, are simply healthier. If they were really concerned about health care costs, they would opt not for raising the Medicare eligibility age but lowering it to zero, something that could actually help to balance the budget.
Also, Tomasky shows a clear class bias in his belief that voters might dislike raising or scrapping the payroll tax cap. Only 5% of wage earners makes more than $115,00 in income a year.
Let me skip ahead a bit, past the discussion of the 2014 election, to this line:
Most notably, it seems that Mark Penn, the high guru of “small-bore” centrism whom she (and her husband) once followed devoutly, may not have any role in a next Clinton campaign. And Clinton remains close to Tanden and Podesta, who presumably will advise any campaign she mounts.Tanden has been responsible for bringing in the corporate cash at CAP, and Podesta is a former corporate lobbyist. Tanden also worked on Hillary's 2008 campaign, so she doesn't represent much of a change.
In other words, she is more likely than anyone else to give some political momentum to the new populism. But even if that does happen, it’s three years away.????
He then finally discusses the book about which this piece is, perhaps just in theory, a review. Let us skip ahead again to his discussion of the fifth obstacle to progressive change Kenworthy that identifies and tries to debunk:
He runs into a bit of a wall on obstacle 5: “The structure of the US political system impedes policy change.” Here, Kenworthy is reduced to hoping that, for example, another presidential election loss will force a reckoning within the GOP that will ultimately result in the party coming back toward the center. This should happen—it happened with the Democrats after 1988, their third consecutive loss, when an intraparty bloodletting pitted New Democrats against old liberals. But that’s no guarantee that it will happen with the Republicans.I'm bringing back Rick Perlstein to note that, no, for the last time no, the Democratic Party of the 1980s was not liberal. Michael Dukakis, for example, ran to the right of his Republican opponent in his race for governor of Massachusetts.
There's also an important contrast. Democrats didn't shift right for the public. They shifted right for their donors. I'd recommend Thomas Ferguson's Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems on this point. Republican donors aren't going to be pushing the Republicans to the left on economics any time soon.
Remember, conservatives believe that they lost the last two elections because they weren’t conservative enough—in the name of “electability,” the party put forward, in John McCain and Mitt Romney, people they regard as “squishes.” If the GOP nominates Chris Christie (if he survives his scandals) or Jeb Bush and loses, those conservatives will merely again be reaffirmed in their conviction. But perhaps if the party nominates Rand Paul or Ted Cruz and loses, then Kenworthy’s hope will prove correct, and the circa 2017 congressional GOP will be somewhat more willing to compromise with a Democratic president.Something tells me that Republicans wouldn't love a President Hillary Clinton any more than they love a President Barack Obama. And I doubt the president's policies would be any further to the left.
The irony here, of course, is that it was the first President Clinton who elevated the New Democrats within his party and marginalized the old liberals. Now the old liberals—and many new ones—may find themselves come January 2017 hoping that the second President Clinton wipes the slate clean of the New Democrats’ influence and legacy.