Monday, November 21, 2016

                                     ELECTION 2016: POGO'S REVENGE

"We have met the enemy and he is us".  Pogo got it right.  As the losing side plays the usual blame game with much wringing of hands, notwithstanding whether one attributes the Presidential election result to supposed failures of Hillary's campaign or her persona, racism, economic stagnation or any of the other possible explanations of the outcome, the bottom line is that the American electorate (including eligible non-voters) screwed up.  Here are some takeaways and some thoughts on going forward.

1. Low Voter Turnout.  This is nothing new, but this time we're really paying for it.  Leaving aside questions as to whether it was better or worse than in previous elections, or whether Obama voters from 2012 turned out in the same numbers, total voter turnout was only about 58% of eligible voters, and only 66% of eligible voters bothered to register.  Even taking into account Republican voter suppression efforts, that is disgraceful, particularly for a county that likes to pride itself on spreading democracy to the rest of the world.  Whatever happened to civic responsibility?  Isn't it time to institute compulsory voting and fines for people who don't register and vote, at least for elections for national office (even if the vote is write-in or for none of the above)?  As of 2013, 22 countries had compulsory voting, including Australia and 9 other OECD countries.  This is appealing not only on the merits, but also because it is comforting to think that if everyone eligible had voted there would have been a different result.  Faith in the good sense of the American people, although naive and unsupported by the evidence, dies hard (think of the popular vote).  However, there is also the growing suspicion that this is a sick country, that the ideals that we grew up with are, and always have been, illusions, that this election has revealed the underlying reality show.

2. The Deplorables.  Hillary was right (if impolitic) when she claimed a substantial number of Trump voters were deplorables.  They are.  Whether it's half, or 40% or 60%, it's significant.  These are the racists, nativists, homophobes, misogynists, anti-Semites, white supremacists, the religiously intolerant and xenophobes who came out of the woodwork in response to Trump's blatant appeals.  Bigotry, predominantly in the form of racism, whether overt or implicit, and nativism, were the defining motifs of Trump's campaign.  Even those of his supporters who don't fall into these categories ought to be condemned for voting for such an"indecent human being" as Tom Friedman characterized him.  He's being generous at that; "despicable" and/or "disgusting" would seem to be more descriptive.  His Bannon, Flynn, Sessions and Pompeo appointments show his true colors, if there ever was any doubt.

3. The Willfully Ignorant.  This segment of Trump voters includes those who have legitimate grievances, and they comprise a substantial portion of his backers.  For the sake of convenience, the predominant theme of these grievances can be summarized as income inequality and stagnation, although they are also manifested through resentment toward the "elite", which seems to include the college educated, feminists, academics, government employees (particularly federal government employees), white collar workers, elected officials (but what happens then to those they elect? do they immediately become part of the elite?), urban dwellers, people who live on the East and West Coasts, and presumably the rich and famous (other than Trump). Income inequality (which will be deemed to include joblessness and low-paying jobs, when available) and income stagnation are the biggest issues in this country for the working class and the poor.  It didn't start with the recent recession, and has persisted through both Democratic and Republican administrations.  Something needs to be done about this, and Trump supporters are right to cast their votes for someone who will try to do some thing about it.  But they voted for the wrong candidate.

Trump's policies, such as they are, are only going to exacerbate the inequality.  He promises to bring back manufacturing jobs.  Those jobs aren't coming back.  Most of them were lost to automation, not trade agreements.  Opting out of trade agreements and initiating trade wars isn't going to bring them back, but the cost of goods we are importing will go up for everyone and export industries will suffer, which is certainly not going reduce income inequality or increase the availability of well paying jobs. Probably this will also cut back on economic growth.  Globalization has been around for a long time and isn't going away.  National economies, including ours, are too integrated and dependent on each other to just put up a stop sign and say no more.  It won't happen. The immigrants that Trump speaks of deporting or blocking at the wall are not taking well paying manufacturing jobs from Trump voters. They are mostly taking jobs that Trump supporters don't want.  Whatever Trump proposes to do with Obamacare is not going to make paychecks go further; in fact, just the opposite as fewer become insured and end up having to pay more for medical expenses. Trump can't do anything for coal miners; coal is a dying industry because natural gas is an abundant less expensive and cleaner fuel and mining jobs are disappearing because of new mining methods. An infrastructure program will provide construction jobs, but that was part of Clinton's agenda as well, and Republicans have been opposing similar programs throughout the Obama administration.

Taxes are going to be cut - for the wealthy, thus expanding the wealth divide.  For blue collar workers, the contemplated tax cuts are going to provide peanuts.  The super wealthy will no longer have to deal with estate taxes.  A lot of good that is going to do for blue collar workers.  Corporate taxes will go down, but where do those benefits go - to bloated company management salaries and capital, i.e., shareholders, through share buybacks and increased dividends.  He is going to cut back regulations which will help the big banks which he railed against in his campaign while curtailing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which protects consumers against predatory financial organizations, further enhancing the very institutions with which his supporters are so infuriated.

So what were they thinking?  Or were they thinking?  Probably not.  They got taken in by a clever charlatan.  He made big promises of everything they wanted.  He didn't say how; he just said unequivocally that he would do it, that he would change things.  He made the better offer.  So they took it.  They bought the snake oil.  They should have known better, but they were so desperate and frustrated and angry that they voted for what they wanted to hear. They were convinced they were voting for change for the better.  As one Trump supporter said, they would have voted for Captain Kangaroo if he were running.  And they were getting even with what they think of as the elite who they blame for all of their travails.  They didn't associate Trump with the elite, because the so-called elite were against him (and that probably contributed to their voting for him).  So he couldn't be one of them.  And he was saying all those spiteful things that many of his supporters were feeling, but would have been ashamed to say themselves.  He legitimated their basest feelings.  That's probably why the polls were wrong - they kept it to themselves until they reached the sanctity of the voting booth.

One of the greater ironies here is that this anger was vented against the one political party which has been trying to come to their rescue.  The Republican Party has tenaciously obstructed every legislative effort of President Obama and the Democratic Party to address the issues which so frustrate those Trump supporters who are motivated by their economic distress.  The Republicans fought against and weakened Dodd-Frank which targets big bank and other financial institutions; they opposed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, they opposed and limited the stimulus program; they opposed Obama's proposed infrastructure bank; they opposed the public option in the Obamacare legislation which probably would have reduced healthcare costs; they opposed increasing the minimum wage.  They oppose a commitment to pre-K education, expansion of Pell grants, equal pay for equal work for women, and paid family and sick leave.  All of these measures would ease the economic burden of working class families. They propose to make Medicare and Medicaid less generous, and in most States in which they are in control they have rejected Medicaid expansion even though the Federal government would pay almost all of the additional costs.  This is the Party which shut down the Government and some of whose members were willing to have the US default on its debt.  This is the Party which has caused the federal government to be dysfunctional for the past eight years, which has created the "swamp" that Trump promises to clean up.  Trump supporters are right to want change, to "throw the rascals out", but instead they voted to elect the presidential nominee of the Party that created the mess and to maintain its majority in the Senate and House.  They voted for a Party that calls for small government when it is only government which can protect them and provide the stimuli and incentives to the economy which will improve their lot. Echoes of "Keep the Government's hands off my Medicare". This anger at government flows from both ignorance and the race-based misconception that all government programs benefit only blacks and other minorities, which demagogues such as Trump and many others in the Republican Party are only too happy to exploit.  After all, what else do they have to offer.

4. The Forces of Reaction.  There are perhaps some fundamental issues reflected here that go beyond the problems of the day.  These are the forces of political reaction.  As Mark Lilla has pointed out in "The Shipwrecked Mind", "Reactionaries are not conservatives.  They are ... in the grip of historical imaginings. ... [A]pocalyptic fears of entering a new dark age haunt the reactionary."  The Republican Party today is not the party of conservatives but the party of reactionaries.  Lilla goes on to say that the reactionary in his historical myth making  blames everything on modernity, whose nature is to perpetually modernize itself.  The reactionary builds on the resulting anxiety with political nostalgia, proclaiming the perpetual continuity of all things. Make America Great Again!

So, going forward - What is to be done? Two thoughts.

1. No Making Nice.  There is the temptation to say, give Trump the benefit of the doubt; maybe all his threats were just campaign talk (more locker room talk?); maybe he'll turn out to be a pragmatist; maybe we can work out deals with him, make reasonable compromises.  Forget about it (how do the Bannon, Flynn, Sessions and Pompeo appointments work for you?)  That was the mistake Obama made when he was first elected in 2008 - that he could work with the Republicans.  We know how well that turned out. Trump and the rest of the Republican Party are obstructionists and destroyers, not creators, and are not interested in governing, only in tearing things down for their own benefit. You might think of them as right wing revolutionaries.  The only way to deal with them is to play hardball - to oppose them every step of the way.  This is not just another lost election. It may sound Manichean, but this can be looked at with little exaggeration as the closest thing to Armageddon this country has faced since the Civil War, at least with the Republican Party in its present iteration and with Trump as its leader.  If given the opportunity they would take down all progressive legislation and Supreme Court decisions (yes, the Court is now a political institution) going back to the New Deal (maybe even before), clearly an apocalyptic possibility. McConnell, at the beginning of Obama's first term, stated that his overriding objective was to make Obama a one term President.  He didn't succeed, but that set the tone for all of Obama's legislative initiatives and judicial appointments (think Merrick Garland).  To a great extent that strategy was successful.  The Republicans never paid a price for it - witness the recent election in which voters supported the Party which largely created the mess in Washington with which they are so fed up.  Democrats are the Party of reason, but reason only works when both Parties are playing by the same agreed ground rules with a sense of moral purpose and common decency and recognition of the pluralism of this country.  The Republicans and Trump have rejected the prevailing rules and the ideal of a pluralistic society and have no moral sense.  Reason is out the window.  The only recourse is a policy of total resistance, including using the filibuster, as detestable as that may be in principle, for extremist Supreme Court and Cabinet nominations and regressive legislation.  This is not to say that if opportunities arise whereby progressive policy objectives, such as the infrastructure stimulus proposal, can be achieved by reasonable compromises they should be rejected.  By all means, the Democratic Party should take what it can get if the price is right, but keep in mind that any wavering will be seen as a sign of weakness, particularly by a school yard bully like Trump.  Only strength, even if arbitrarily exercised, and especially if so, is respected by him.

2. How to Make It Work.  The case has to be made to the public, and most specifically to those described herein as the willfully ignorant.  Every action by Trump and the Republicans, whether in the form of proposed new legislation or amendment to or repeal of existing legislation or regulations or judicial decisions, needs to be analyzed specifically in terms of how it affects blue collar non-college educated workers and brought to their attention on a constant basis.  It has to be done in layman's language in real life terms with the bottom line being jobs and effect on income and other material benefits, and conversely the effect on high earners' income and wealth.  This should not be in the form of think tank style policy papers.  The analysis needs to be politically focused and voter oriented.

In addition, the Democrats in Congress should be pro-active and not just react to Republican initiatives.  They should come up with their own progressive legislative program even before the Republicans come up with theirs, and publicize the benefits of the Democratic proposals to the average voter. It needs to be communicated to members of the working class at the grass roots level. It doesn't matter that it will never pass.  Let the Republicans reject it.  And then make them explain why.

It may be obvious, but no less important is the need to expand voter registration efforts and to resist voter suppression tactics in the courts and at all levels of government. Changing demographics can't help if people don't vote.

The Democratic Party has historically been the party of the working man and woman, and in fact still is, but this reality has been lost on the average voter.  The message is not getting through.  The story is not getting told.  The past eight years has not been great for the working class, but there have been many progressive achievements that have not been sufficiently promoted.  This does not mean ignoring or diminishing concern with traditional Democratic social issues such as abortion, gun control, poverty, health care, affordable and quality education, equality of opportunity, discrimination, police over-reaction, the environment and gay rights, but they should not be addressed in the form of identity politics but as of benefit to the entire population; economic issues which emphasize broad economic growth for all need to be brought front and center.  In other words there needs to be an effective appeal to the best side of populism. Why not a super PAC established exclusively for this purpose?  And start immediately. There are only two years until the next election. It's still the economy, stupid!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

                                      DONALD TRUMP: AN EXISTENTIAL THREAT

With less than three weeks left before election day the race seems shockingly closer in several states than it should be based on any rational evaluation of the candidates.  One major party candidate, Hillary Clinton, is probably better qualified by experience than any candidate who has been nominated for the presidency since I first voted 56 years ago.  Conversely, the other major party candidate, Donald Trump, is not merely the least qualified such candidate proposed during that span (and well beyond), but is totally unqualified by any measure for the office, or, for that matter, for any other public office.  Mrs. Clinton has served as a Senator and as Secretary of State.  She is totally conversant with the full gamut of both domestic and foreign policy issues facing the country today.  Mr. Trump, on the other hand, has no experience whatsoever in these matters, nor does he have the intellectual capacity to deal with them.  Trump, a self-described super successful real estate mogul, proclaims that running the ship of state is no different than making a real estate deal, which, by the way, it turns out he actually was not so good at, experiencing a half dozen bankruptcies in which his investors and creditors were left holding the bag while he came out ahead.  His successes, such as they were, seem to have relied on, for the most part, his wealthy father's financial backing and political connections, misrepresentation, unethical practices, outright lies and other peoples money.  It is this business "acumen" which he contends qualifies him to be President, but basically, he is a just a con man, someone who perfectly fits the stereotype of the real estate scammer who sells underwater lots in Florida when he's not trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge.  In short, a fraud.  But at this stage it is pointless to try to enumerate all of his inadequacies. One hardly knows where to begin and the list would be endless.  And this is before one even begins to take into account his personality flaws, which include being a congenital serial liar and probably a sociopath.  By now everyone is fully aware of them (he flaunts them every day).

But the purpose here is not so much to try to convince those that are willing to ignore these flaws and intend to vote for him to rethink their position as to persuade those who under no circumstances would vote for him that not voting for him is not enough.  I am thinking of those who are disenchanted with the political process, or are unenthusiastic about Hillary Clinton, or who are disappointed that Bernie Sanders did not get the Democratic Party's nomination and feel that Hillary Clinton is no Bernie Sanders.  Well, she's not, but she is the closest thing to Bernie Sanders you're going to get this time around.  You don't have to like her - this is not a high school popularity contest. Not voting at all or voting for one of the third party candidates only increase the chance that Trump could pull this off.  Don't be misled by all the polls and prognostications that predict that Clinton is going to win.  Think of Brexit.  Think of "Dewey Defeats Truman", the banner headline on the front page of the Chicago Daily Tribune on November 3, 1948.

If you're unhappy with things as they are now, you're going to be miserable if Trump wins.  Think of it - Obamacare down the drain, privatization of Social Security, more income inequality, Dodd-Frank eviscerated, twelve million undocumented immigrants deported, further tax breaks for the 1% (and not much if anything for the rest of us) and a huge increase in the deficit, institution of stop and frisk, discrimination against Moslem citizens, limits on the availability of reproductive health services for the needy and continued attacks on Planned Parenthood, support for the NRA approach to gun controls, backing off from equal pay for women, family leave and increases in the minimum wage, voter disenfranchisement, trade wars with negative economic consequences, desertion of our European and Asian allies, gutting of all of Obama's environmental regulations, climate change denial, rejection of fracking regulation and other clean energy initiatives as well as the Paris Agreement on climate change, ignoring the failures of our education system and the burden of college education costs, expansion (and perhaps use) of nuclear arsenals; and if the Republicans maintain control of the House and the Senate the implementation of every retrogressive policy in the Republican Party platform.  And don't think that establishment Republicans are going to block any of this.  After all, they are the ones who don't have the moral courage to withdraw their backing for Trump in the first place.

And that's not even the worst part!  If you don't think of anything else, think of the Supreme Court.  There's already one vacancy; there is a real possibility that there will be two or three more in the next four years.  Think of 3-4 Scalia clones on the Court.  That will lock up a reactionary Supreme Court for at least another generation, not just four years.  Forget about Roe v. Wade.  Think expansion of Citizens United to open the money spigot in politics even further, and furtherance of the Heller ruling to totally eliminate regulation of gun ownership.  Expect more attempts to impede voter registration, to eliminate affirmative action and to further weaken labor unions.  The possibility of a Trump presidency as it would affect the Supreme Court is in itself the single most significant issue for this election.  Thus, the existential threat. 

That is why no one who believes in the progressive cause or who is just non-partisan can justify failing to vote or voting for a third party candidate.  For young people who are disenchanted with the current system, I fully sympathize; our political system is dysfunctional.  But it doesn't have to be that way.  If you look at the root cause of this dysfunction, you will see the Republican Party as it has evolved over the last twenty or so years - since the time of Newt Gingrich.  And who is one of Donald Trump's most avid supporters? None other than Newt Gingrich, who may be in Trump's cabinet.  The ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party in Congress, to which the rest of the Party is subservient, stands squarely in the way of any progressive legislation, or, for that matter, any legislation at all.  In short, its objective is the very dysfunction which you hope to end.  And who are these people?  They are our elected representatives.  So, elections do make a difference; voters make a difference; votes make a difference.  Don't waste it by not voting or by voting for a candidate who has no chance of winning.

Finally, just a word for those Trump supporters who are not racists, misogynists or nativists, but who are planning to vote for Trump because he has promised to bring back manufacturing and other jobs or who believe he will institute policies which will rectify the inequality of wealth in the US today. You have a just cause.  But Donald Trump is not the answer.  First of all, he doesn't care;  second, he doesn't have a clue about economics, trade or jobs.  He is a flim flam man; a snake oil salesman; a megalomaniac who is just selling his personal brand.  Give it another thought.  There was once a great advertising line for the Levy's bread company - "You don't have to be Jewish to like Levy's".  By the same token, you don't have to be a centrist Democrat to vote for Hillary Clinton.  The competing brand in this case is stale and mold infested.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Has Bernie Burned Out?

My previous blog argued that Hillary Clinton was the better candidate for the Democratic nomination for President, mainly because she has a better chance of winning in the general election and because Bernie Sanders' program was not achievable.  Since then, Sanders, who once was a refreshing entrant in the quadrennial presidential circus, has become annoying with his pie-in-the-sky screed.  He turns out to be an old fashioned populist demagogue, a William Jennings Bryan for the 21st century (and we know how well he did).  In some ways Sanders is no different than the Republican demagogues of the right with his assaults on the usual whipping boys of populist causes over the years, banks and  the wealthy.  Of course he is substantially different in his ultimate objectives; his policy goals are for the most part admirable, but his attack format is not all that different. Trump, et al, argues, "elect me and everyone will will fall in line", i.e., Putin, corporate executives who want to move their companies overseas, Mexico, Japan, China, etc.  Sanders argues similarly with regard to bank executives and presumably the one percent.  In short, he too is an ideologue.  If there is anything to the claim of American exceptionalism it has to be based on Americans' approach to problem solving, that is, pragmatism, not dogma.  Simply put, Hillary is a pragmatist while Bernie is an ideologue.  It is this commitment to ideology (and let the facts and circumstances be damned) that has been the ruination of the Republican Party.  Bernie, like them, seeks a Utopian world, albeit his Utopia would be far preferable to theirs.

To Sanders, the enemy is big banks and the one percent who are the cause of inequality and the Great Recession.  All we have to do is lean on them and everything will work out.  However, he doesn't seem to have a clue as to how this is going to happen or really understand economics.  Certainly bankers are not nature's noblemen and have been treated too easily for their past transgressions.  I carry no brief for the banks and their officers.  The chicanery they have indulged in is breathtaking. But breaking up the banks is not going to solve our ills.  Bernie doesn't seem to understand the difference between revolution and reform.  Revolutions seldom turn out well. Arguably Trump and Cruz are also seeking a revolution, of a different kind of course.  A common by-product of revolution is civil war, or, in peaceful times, more extreme partisan politics.  Reform is not as exciting, but is more likely to achieve results.  It is the route to take and that Hillary subscribes to.

Surprisingly there are other echoes of the Republican dogma in Sanders' approach to the economy. The Republicans have forever argued that you can cut taxes substantially without reducing social programs (although they would prefer to do both) because the increase in economic growth will generate the revenue to offset the tax cuts (all mainstream studies refute this).  Sanders believes that raising the minimum wage, spending a trillion dollars on infrastructure and offering free college will inspire such enthusiasm and determination that people will work harder and invest more, and the economy will generate the tax income to pay for it.  Thus his plans won't cost money, they'll raise money.  If you recall my last blog, to believe this you have to believe in the tooth fairy.  The economic profession certainly doesn't believe it.

Bernie focuses on the excesses of others, and there is more than enough of that, but he is short on practical solutions and seems to miss the point on many of these issues.  Let's be clear at the outset.  I am in favor of raising the minimum wage, increasing taxes on the wealthy and spending substantial sums on improving our deteriorating infrastructure ... and so is Hillary.  As far as breaking up the banks, that in itself is not going to improve the lot of the middle class or the poor.  The size of the big banks is a subset of a more important issue - what we should be talking about here is monopoly power - the closing out of medium and small businesses in a range of industries.  Whatever happened to the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice? There are too many mergers and acquisitions which leave only a handful of competitors in a number of sectors which give them a virtual monopoly on buying and/or selling.  We see it in the health care and insurance sectors as well as the banking sector.  This should be a major priority of the next President, but it does not have the same allure as "breaking up the banks".  Sanders seems to be unaware of this issue.  His focus is very narrow.  It is all about "Wall Street".  There is much to criticize about Wall Street, but the nation's economic issues are much broader than that.  Although the financial sector is in many ways unique, which may require additional considerations, if bigness as such is to be evaluated it should be done in the context of maintaining or increasing competition.

But let's just focus on the banks for the moment.  There is more work to be done in the regulatory area, but Dodd-Frank has made a good if slow start.  The big banks have shed many businesses. They have been forced to become simpler and safer, if not always smaller.  Increased capital requirements have significantly penalized the banks for their size and complexity and required them to find ways to shrink on their own.  Recently the plans of five of the eight largest banks to wind themselves down in case of a crisis have been rejected by bank regulators.  The tools are in place in existing legislation. The Democrats need to concentrate on defending and fine tuning Dodd-Frank rather than breaking up the banks which is a non-starter politically, even if it were deemed to be desirable.  By pushing for the latter, Bernie would, in the face of determined Republican opposition, lose any opportunity to further the reform process.  Hillary, on the other hand, would have a much better chance to move that process along, in part because she is not perceived as an enemy of Wall Street.

Then there is the issue of Glass-Steagall.  Bernie wants to bring it back, and I would agree with the principle of separating commercial banking from investment banking, particularly in light of the Great Recession.  However, the economic experts have concluded that the existence of Glass-Steagall would not have prevented the Great Recession.  On that basis, it would seem more practical to rely on the regulators under Dodd-Frank to develop the mechanisms to ensure that the risks that Glass-Steagall was meant to eliminate are addressed.  This may mean strengthening Dodd-Frank, but again Hillary is better positioned to push that through than Bernie with his all or nothing approach.

When it comes to the bail-out of the banks and the auto industry, Sanders has a checkered record due to his ideological hang-ups.  Although he was in favor in principle of the bail-out of the auto industry (which was essential), he was strongly opposed to the bail-out of the banks.  This would have been a disaster for the financial sector and the US and world economies.  But Bernie is not a pragmatist; he is a Utopian and is not guided by the likely results of his actions as long as he can maintain his ideological purity.  Sound familiar - say, the Tea Party?  Beyond this, when, due to the Republicans in Congress, funds for the auto bail -out would only be available from funding which would also be used for the bank bail-out, Sanders voted against appropriation of such funds.  Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

What about free college education for all?  That's a great idea, but it's not affordable, at least for now. Again, the problem should be approached incrementally.  No qualified student should have to forego a college education due to lack of funds.  There are mechanisms already in place to help, but they are not enough.  They need to be enhanced.  To do this the Republicans in Congress have to be brought on board.  Bernie is not going to be able to do this with his proposal for free college education for all. It would be a non-starter.  There is also the other side of the equation - how to lower the cost of college education.  The next President needs to be able to develop ideas as to how this can be done and bring along the academic community to support such ideas.  I don't see Bernie having the flexibility to do this.

The issue of international trade agreements is the subject of Bernie's most frantic rants.  This is a very complex subject, and even Hillary is backing away from TPP under the pressure of electoral politics. However, I believe she will be amenable in principle to trade agreements with the appropriate protective mechanisms.  Bernie never will.  He refuses to accept the reality of the modern world.  The United States has lost, and will continue to lose, manufacturing jobs with or without trade agreements.  Our future, as it has been for many years now, is in the service and technology areas. What we need to do is educate our young people and promote development in these areas, and that requires allocating funds for these purposes.  Our enemy here is not less developed countries which can manufacture at less cost, but the Republican Party which will nor appropriate the necessary funds.  In addition, we have to provide relief for those workers who are displaced by loss of manufacturing jobs through job retraining, income support and job placement assistance.  I never read about Bernie addressing these issues.  He seems to think we can restore our manufacturing sector as it was.  Maybe in Utopia - he and Donald Trump who is going to impose 35% tariffs on imports.  We should concentrate on helping the people who need help and not try to roll back the tide.

Finally there is the issue of campaign finance.  Nobody in the Democratic Party, including Hillary, disagrees with Bernie on this.  So, what is he going to do about it?  Only through the right Supreme Court appointment is there any possibility for help.  Even under the best of circumstances that is not going to play out for several years.  In the meantime one must be able to compete with the other side. That Bernie has been able thus far to do this in his own way is a tribute to him, but not to play the game when it comes to the general election would be suicidal.

Bismarck got it right - politics is the art of the possible.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

                             THE TOOTH FAIRY VS THE DENVER BRONCOS

The Democrats are at it again.  Shades of George McGovern in 1972 and the rejection of Hubert Humphrey in 1968.  Liberal Democrats indulged themselves and stroked their egos in 1968 when they turned on Humphrey (until the last minute when it was too late), the epitome of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, because he failed to denounce LBJ's Vietnam war (who ironically was the last President to enact any part of the progressive agenda favored by the liberal Democrats until Obama).  So what did they get? Richard Nixon, their bete noire.  Having learned nothing, they went for McGovern in 1972 who was about as liberal as you could get and was destroyed in the election, again by Nixon.

So here we are in 2016, and the Democrats are toying with Bernie Sanders.  Bernie is a wonderful guy, and in the best of all possible worlds we would have a single payer health system with free health care, free public colleges and expanded social security, as he advocates.  That's fine if you believe in the tooth fairy.  In the real world, there are no tooth fairies.  There is only the American public (read electorate), whose intelligence, in words attributed to H.L. Mencken, can never be underestimated. More to the point, there is the Republican Party, which sees as its principal goal the destruction of the federal government or any government which they cannot control.  (An interesting note: the Republican right (actually there is no Republican right, because there is no Republican left or center) is chasing its own tooth fairy in people like Trump, Cruz, Rubio and Carson, disregarding their own ideological disaster in 1964 with  Goldwater.)  Sanders cannot win a national election; as a self proclaimed socialist promising what will be characterized as a European welfare state, he will be road kill for the Republicans.  The last socialist to run for President was Norman Thomas and you know how far he got.  Sanders will be fair game for the Republican simplistic rubrics, "tax and spend Democrats", "big government", etc.  It's true that Republican politicians have bumper stickers for brains, but take a look at the bumpers in front of you; it works in H.L. Mencken's world.

Which brings us to the main point.  Politics is about winning elections, not providing salve for one's conscience or indulging one's self righteousness.  For those who say they are sick of politics and want to do what's right and the hell with the politicians, let me put it on a more fundamental level - democracy is about winning elections.  If you don't win, forget about your progressive programs. Bernie, for all his good intentions, is not a winner on a national level in this political climate, or, for that matter, perhaps in any likely political environment.  Bernie deserves our thanks for highlighting the issues in his program, but the time is not yet ripe for them; perhaps in another generation or even two.  Keep in mind that much of what Norman Thomas advocated eventually found its way into law in one form or another through the efforts of more pragmatic politicians and the gradual evolution of concepts of social justice.  For the young idealists who are enamored by Bernie Sanders, the person, and his ideas, don't let the perfect destroy the good.  In Hillary Clinton there is an attractive alternative.  She is someone who in a long public career has demonstrated that she strongly supports the principles that lie behind Bernie Sanders' programs and has a far better chance of moving those principles forward.  Democrats are aghast at the Republican's denigration of compromise; yet Sanders' approach is exactly the same.  Of course, Sanders' positions are good and those of the Republicans are, quite simply, bad, but there are no points awarded for losing even if you are right, or think you are.  We Democrats need someone who can get the best possible deal under all of the circumstances (no, not Donald Trump's deals).

So how do the Denver Broncos come into the picture?  For those who follow professional football and watched the recent Super Bowl, you know outstanding defense can win games even when your team's offense is anemic.  And that's where we Democrats are today.  Our top priority has to be to protect the gains we've made during the Obama presidency.  Unfortunately this is not a time when we can expect to make broad progress on social justice issues.  The Republicans are rigidly opposed to such progress and seem to have no shame, much less guilt, to which Democrats can appeal.  Sanders wants to institute a single payer health care system.  The Republicans are not only opposed, but are determined to eliminate Obamacare which, even if it does not fulfill the ultimate goal, is a vast improvement on the previous system.  The Republicans will try to roll back financial and environmental regulations, reduce taxes on the super rich, and not only stifle immigration reform but deport 12 million undocumented residents.  With a Republican House assured for the foreseeable future and a Republican Senate again a strong possibility and in any event captive to Republican filibuster, the Democrats' last line of defense is the Presidency.  Democrats will have their hands full just trying to maintain the status quo.  The upcoming election is all about defending the White House, a la the Denver Broncos.  With that in place, a Democratic President can look for opportunities to move the ball forward without Congress, much as Obama has done or tried to do, i.e., environment, immigration, or through compromises with Congress when circumstances permit.  The bottom line is that Hillary Clinton is the best defense.  You might say she is the Von Miller and the DeMarcus Ware of the Democratic Party all rolled into one.

As I have written in an earlier blog on the 2012 election, it is the nature of a two party system that in general elections it is more about who you vote against than who you vote for.  In this election, it is crucial to vote against the Republican candidate for President, whoever it may be.  The corollary is that in the nominating process you must vote for the candidate who is least likely to lose in the general election.

In the last few days the premium on choosing the right Democrat to run for President looms even larger.  With the death of Justice Scalia, the next President will have the opportunity to put his or her stamp on the Supreme Court for the next generation or more, and, if it is a Democratic President, preserve the progress made under Obama and stop the hemorrhaging of progressive principles imposed by the conservative cabal on the Court.  It seems highly unlikely that the present "know nothing" Senate will approve, vote on or even report out President Obama's nominee to replace Scalia.  Thus, it will be left to the next President (and the next Senate; don't forget that in those States with a Senatorial election coming up).  The views one holds on the comparative merits of Sander's and Clinton's positions on social and economic issues pale in comparison to the  significance of nominating the next Supreme Justice (or for that matter, probably several more in the next 4-8 years). This is an unexpected opportunity to promote the progressive agenda.  Its significance cannot be over emphasized.  Losing the White House is not an option.  Clinton is far and away the best bet.  The Denver Broncos trump (pardon the expression) the tooth fairy.