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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

At Slow Boring Matthew Yglesias writes: “The widespread ownership of guns in the United States is the predominant reason we have so much more homicide than the developed countries of Europe and Asia. Differential availability of guns also largely explains why, inconveniently for Republicans, there is generally more murder happening in red states than in blue ones….The standard GOP cope is to argue that the murders are happening in “blue cities,” but that just reflects the fact that essentially all cities are blue in the contemporary United States. When you look at the rare city with a Republican mayor like Jacksonville in Florida, you see a lot more homicide than in New York. That’s because criminals aren’t magicians or kung-fu masters; their ability to kill people depends on their access to lethal weapons. And unfortunately there is substantial interplay between the legal market for guns and the black market for guns. The NYT ran a great piece last week about the large number of guns used in crimes that are stolen from parked cars— the more guns floating around, the more people get shot. Morgan Williams has a great paper looking at a gun policy reform in Missouri where the state legislature made it easier to buy guns legally with the result that shootings surged in Kansas City and St. Louis. Non-gun homicides actually fell because assailants were equipping themselves with better weapons. But precisely because guns are more deadly than knives or bats, this generates an overall increase in death….Do note, though, that essentially all of this action is being driven by handguns….The big long guns, including those with features that would get them tagged as “assault weapons” and also long guns without those features, are collected by hobbyists for use in tacky family photos. They’re stockpiled for use in a hypothetical civil war. They’re used for fun. And occasionally (though still far too often), they are used in a rare-but-spectacular spree killing that electrifies the nation because it affects middle-class suburbanites who are unaccustomed to having their lives impacted by violence. These guns are too big and too expensive, though, to be the weapons of choice for “ordinary” crime — the type responsible for the overwhelming majority of gun deaths in the U.S.”

Yglesias continues, “That they are so frequently at the center of our national gun debate strikes me as an understandable reaction to horrific events. I’m a dad with a kid in school and I feel this anguish in my gut and I see it in the eyes of my fellow parents all the time. I get it. But the focus on the very most spectacular events to the exclusion of “normal” shootings generates bad policy analysis. We have policy solutions at our disposal that would address the proliferation of illegal handguns that drives the bulk of gun deaths in this country….Public opposition to banning handguns is overwhelming. It’s also unchallenged by any remotely mainstream Democratic Party politician, which seems like a reasonable response to the reality of public opinion….But that means thought-leaders on the left need to exert some discipline and mindfulness when they post about newsworthy shootings. I fully endorse the implication of this chart Steven Rattner posted, which is that the large aggregate number of guns in the United States is why the United States has so many gun deaths. But a majority of these gun deaths are suicides, and a very large majority of gun homicides are committed with handguns. So as an intervention in the debate about assault weapons, it loses some of its persuasiveness….A federal assault weapons ban, if passed, would have a minimal impact on that “gun deaths” number. A federal assault weapons ban also isn’t going to pass. Sometimes it’s politically constructive to discuss things your opponents in Congress are going to block. But a high-profile national debate about assault weapons doesn’t help Jon Tester and Joe Manchin and Sherrod Brown get re-elected. It’s probably bad for Bob Casey and Tammy Baldwin and Elissa Slotkin, too. We also know that media coverage of mass shootings and post-shooting gun control debates leads to an increase in gun sales….Everyone is entitled to push for small-bore change with modest upsides, and banning assault rifles would absolutely be a good idea. But it’s not a good idea to fool yourself about what’s at stake in your own policy proposal. Meanwhile, if we want to reduce the number of handguns floating around, we have options.” Read Yglesias’s article for a deeper dive into policy options.

Here’s a bit of a demographic shocker from “Latino Catholics eclipse white evangelicals in Southwest” by Russell Contreras at Axios: “Hispanic Catholics last year accounted for the largest percentage of people who identify with a religion in the American Southwest….They surpassed the share of white evangelicals in some of the country’s most populous states — California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, Axios’ Russell Contreras reports from a new survey….Zoom out: Hispanic Catholics’ rise comes despite an overall drop in religious affiliation among all Americans, and a growing number of Latinos who convert to evangelical faiths, according to earlier research….Hispanic Catholics have eclipsed white mainline Protestants in California, New Mexico and Texas. The share of mainline Protestants in Arizona is about the same as Hispanic Catholics — 13% vs. 12%….State of play: Despite their growth, Hispanics — especially Catholics — are underrepresented in positions of power….Few Hispanic Catholics have been elected to the U.S. Senate. Five now serve there — the most in U.S. history….The nation has just one Hispanic Catholic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico. Arizona and California have had only one Hispanic Catholic governor each. Texas has had none.” The chart:

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. shares some of the salient ideas of Cecilia Rouse, President Biden’s Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, who is retiring on Friday: “Part of her job was to advance and defend President Biden’s policies. But in her lectures, testimony and writing, Rouse also sought to advance a public argument about government’s proper role in a well-functioning market economy. Views on that question influence all sorts of policy judgments (and a lot of hollow rhetoric, too). Only rarely do we drill down to its fundamentals….In an interview in her office the day before she left, Rouse spoke as a good economist in insisting that she does not see the government displacing the market. In a $25 trillion economy, she observed, “the idea that one central planner can actually efficiently allocate all of those resources is just too much, right?”….But all by itself, the market is insufficient, she said, and not just because, as we learned again recently, government regulation is essential to keeping banks and other private institutions from flying off the rails. Which government roles really matter?….“The first is for macroeconomic stabilization,” she said. In a recession, “we don’t have a lot of economic activity from the private sector, but people still need to pay bills. They still need to eat.” The “automatic stabilizers” such as unemployment insurance (which she sees as in need of reform) and food stamps not only help people directly, but they also speed revival in an economy where nearly 70 percent of gross domestic product is based on consumption…..“The second is the more classic — where there’s market failure,” Rouse continued. On many questions, market actors worry “about their own benefits and costs” and are not “taking into consideration the benefits and costs for the rest of society.” Pollution in general and the climate crisis in particular are classic cases of this…..The third area is public investment when there is no immediate incentive for market actors to take risks. “Government makes investments … in basic science. Some of them work out, some of them don’t work out. Private companies may not be willing to bear the cost of this research.” Government investment, she noted, sped the production of vaccines by private companies. The basics also include infrastructure, education and public health — along with child care and elder care that make it possible for more people (especially women) to participate in the economy….Finally, government can reduce the inequalities created by the natural workings of the market and by discrimination, including socially and politically divisive regional economic disparities….Rouse’s overall view of government and her particular interest in labor markets undergird her insistence that Biden’s $1.9 trillion rescue plan was the right pandemic bet, despite inflation that, she notes, hit other advanced economies, too….She grabbed a small, milky globe she keeps on her conference table. “It’s my cloudy crystal ball,” she said with a smile. In the face of “a lot of uncertainty,” the question before the administration was “where did you want to put your weight?” Her choice, she said, was on the side of “individual well-being and worker well-being.”….Rouse’s colleagues, back at Princeton and elsewhere, will spend years debating the decisions made over the past 26 months. But in a crisis, I’ll take an economist who knows that crystal balls are usually cloudy, is transparent about her values, and does her best to make democracy educational again.”

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