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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

J. Oliver Conroy profiles “Mark Lilla: the liberal who counts more enemies on the left than the right” at The Guardian. Lilla, a former neo-conservative, now self-styled progressive rooted in the white working-class, has emerged as a oft-cited commentator in the debate about identity politics vs. a more class-based progressivism. As Conroy quotes Lilla: “American liberalism,” he wrote, “has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.” Conroy notes further, “Working-class white voters are “doing a kind of expressive voting”, Lilla said. “It’s all about symbols, and an assertion of what they are in the face of what they deem to be a hostile culture … People who don’t make it in this country are going to feel bad about themselves, and when they feel bad they get defensive…When people are in that kind of psychological position, you need to talk them down from the ledge and show them where their real interests lie.”

Sometimes observers from other countries illuminate American culture and politics in a fresh, revealing way. At The Nation, contributing editor Jon Weiner interviews Gary Younge, a black and British columnist, who has written eloquent articles for the The Guardian, as well as The Nation. Younge is touring the U.S., focusing on exploring the attitudes of America’s white working-class. At one point, Younge notes the views of a white worker who voted for both Obama and Trump: “There’s a guy who’d voted for Obama. He had liked Obama’s jingle. He said, “I voted for hope. And then the jobs didn’t come. And then Trump said he’s going to make America great again. And I voted for that.” I said, “Okay. They see.” It’s the Democrats’ failure to deliver that to a large extent can explain some of these people switching sides. And why even more of them just stayed at home—they felt “there’s nothing out there for me.” Younge also notes, “I did say to this one guy, Jeff, “Trump looks like the guy that closed your factory—not the guy that was in the picket line with you.” And he said, “Yeah, but he looks like maybe he’d be the guy who might start another factory up.” It’s important to remember in all of this that Trump’s base was the white and wealthy and they will be the primary beneficiaries of his tenure. The white working class was a decisive but junior partner in the electoral coalition. The question is what was in it for them. I think in the absence of an appealing alternative, they thought, “Screw it. I’ll give this guy a go.” For those who bothered to vote, it was, “Let’s try this.”

“Bill Galston, a senior fellow of governance studies at Brookings Institution, who served as a policy adviser to former President Clinton during his administration, said Democrats will use the bill to argue that Trump is not putting into place the populist policies he promised. One vulnerability for the president is that the bill does little to change the favorable tax treatment for wealthy investment managers…“No doubt Democrats will be combing the bill for little nuggets, particular provisions that do embody highly targeted policies that will look like giveaways,” he said. “And if Democrats want to make an issue of the president, they can use it to weaken any populist credentials he may have…“They just have to find effective ways of saying what the majority of the public already believes,” he said.” — From “Dems see tax bill as giving them midterm advantage” by Amy Parnes at The Hill.

In his FiveThirtyeight article, “The Democrats’ Wave Could Turn Into A Flood,” Harry Enten writes, “A new CNN survey released this week showed Democrats leading Republicans by an astounding 56 percent to 38 percent on the generic congressional ballot. That’s an 18 percentage point lead among registered voters — a record-breaking result. No other survey taken in November or December in the year before a midterm has found the majority party in the House down by that much since at least the 1938 cycle (as far back as I have data)…And while the CNN poll is a bit of an outlier, the Democratic advantage in the FiveThirtyEight generic ballot aggregate is up to about 12 points, 49.6 percent to 37.4 percent. That average, like the CNN poll, also shows Republicans in worse shape right now than any other majority party at this point in the midterm cycle1 since at least the 1938 election…When the generic ballot is showing this large of a lead for one party, the playing field of competitive races also tends to be correspondingly huge.”

At The Hill, Ben Kamisar spotlights “Seven primary races to watch in 2018,” featuring updates for “closely-contested” races for both Republicans and Democrats in: IL-3, KY-6, NC-9, TX-7, MN-1, VA-10 and FL-27. Meanwhile Margaret Kadifa explains why “Democrats’ Hopes of Taking Back the House Could Hinge on Two Districts—in Texas” at mother Jones, and notes that “Thanks to the state’s infamously gerrymandered districts, Democrats have few places where they can realistically pick off incumbent Republicans, even with the kind of increased African American turnout that propelled Doug Jones to his surprise Senate win in Alabama. That’s why Texas Democrats are focusing on two solidly Republican districts that Hillary Clinton flipped in 2016: Rep. John Culberson’s District 7, near Houston, and Rep. Pete Sessions’ District 32, around Dallas…“Trump will represent a millstone around both Culberson and Sessions’ necks,” said Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute. “The lower his approval rating, the worse Culberson and Sessions will do.”

For a sobering read, I suggest “How Citizens United Changed Politics and Shaped the Tax Bill” by Lawrence Norden, Shyamala Ramakrishna, Sidni Frederick at The Brennan Center for Justice. Among insights shared by the authors: “Perhaps even more striking is the brazenness with which donors themselves are admitting they have threatened members of Congress. Conservative donor Doug Deason of Texas explicitly said the “Dallas piggy bank” was closed until tax and health bills were passed. “Get Obamacare repealed and replaced, get tax reform passed…You control the Senate. You control the House. You have the presidency. There’s no reason you can’t get this done. Get it done and we’ll open it back up,” Deason told Republican leaders…Deason refused to host fundraisers for Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). “I said, ‘No I’m not going to because we’re closing the checkbook until you get some things done.”…The real impact of an unregulated campaign finance is on policy, and the proof is in this year’s tax bill.”

Lawrence P. Glickman says it well in  his article “Forgotten Men: The Long Road from FDR to Trump” at The Boston Review: “Trump’s forgotten men and women are the descendants of Lowndes and other conservatives, who used this class to frame a compelling political narrative. In their vision, the welfare state and social movements to expand it were not efforts designed to help the less fortunate but rather a multi-pronged assault on the pocketbooks and dignity of white, middle-class Americans. Theirs was a language that mythologized white people living above the poverty line as a group that paid more than their fair share—that “seldom goes to extremes about anything,” in Upton’s words—and yet were being pushed into protest by the combination of economic exploitation and humiliation that they faced. Such a discourse, emergent as Donald Trump inherited his first millions, gave children of privilege sanction to understand themselves as victims…The conservative forgotten-man rhetoric fundamentally shaped Trump’s worldview and politics. He won the support of a cross-class coalition of whites who, whatever their position in society, felt ignored, exploited, and disrespected. Moreover, it allowed Trump and his followers, a group that has benefited disproportionately from a racialized welfare state, to weaponize resentment toward the less fortunate, to express cruelty toward racial others at home and abroad, and to view diversity as weakness.”

Jennifer Berkshire interviews Joan Williams, author of “The White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America” at Alternet on the “limits of college for all.” Williams observes, “…There are a lot of very concrete reasons why working-class kids, by which I mean the true middle class, might not want to go to college. It’s  economically very risky to go to college right now. It’s very expensive and a lot of people end up starting college and not finishing. They end up paying many thousands of dollars in debt while they’re earning the wages of a high school graduate. Middle and working-class kids are very well aware of that. It’s also literally harder for them to get into college with the same credentials than it is for kids of professional classes…What we really need is a new education to employment system where local community colleges or companies identify the specific skills that employers are going to need as we transition to an economy where 60 percent of jobs will require interaction with robots. People are going to need technical skills not necessarily a four year degree.”

“…If the resistance energy engendered by Trump and the Republicans continues to fuel efforts at democracy reform, and the results of the 2018 elections are as the tea leaves of 2017 suggest, then regardless of the outcome of the Gill case, the possibilities for reform will jump dramatically in 2019, and the district-drawing of 2021 could look a whole lot different and more promising than 2011. At the very least, progressives and people who care about our democracy should not assume that redistricting reform is a hopeless cause, and should get to work at organizing for real reforms, and working on legislative elections, as a major part of a pro-democracy strategy.” — from “Prospects Brightening for Redistricting Reform” by Miles Rapoport at The American Prospect.

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