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The Daily Strategist

January 19, 2021

Yglesias: An Unheralded Progressive Success Story

In his recent post, “The CARES superdole was a huge success:  Progressives should learn to be happy when good things happen!” at slowboring.com, Matthew Yglesias shows once again why he is one of the left’s most perceptive, subscription-worthy thinkers:

With the relief bill squared away, the time is right to consider a question the Roosevelt Institute’s Mike Konczal asked the day after Christmas: why didn’t the success of enhanced Unemployment Insurance ever enter the narrative as a progressive success story?

Mike Konczal @rortybomb

For the last 7+ months I’ve been saying that the Left should claim, highlight, and center the fight over extending the massive expansion of UI, not just as an important program but as a model for reinvigorating Social Security. My read is that this didn’t happen. Why is that?

Mike Konczal @rortybomb

Unemployment insurance expansion was a big victory for progressive priorities: social insurance, fighting labor fissuring, empowering workers, especially low-wage ones. It’s also helping to fight a depression. Why isn’t the Left rallying on its extension? https://t.co/Q6ochwcOhT

I think there are a lot of specific ingredients that went into this, some good and some not so good. But I also think those specifics came together the way they did because there’s a norm in American progressive politics of looking at every glass as half empty.

Basically, the understanding is that whoever can paint the darkest possible portrait of the status quo is the one who is showing the most commitment to the cause. And you see this norm at work across climate change, health care, criminal justice reform, the economy, and everything else. If you’re not saying the sky is falling, that shows you don’t really care. A true comrade in the struggle would deny that any progress has been made or insist that any good news is trivial.

I tend to think this approach to politics is counterproductive — it’s psychologically and emotionally exhausting, out of touch with people’s lived experience of the world, and ultimately demoralizing and un-motivating. But even if it does in some sense work, it’s simply not true.

Progressive catastrophism is everywhere

In my recent post “A better way to cure recessions,” I noted that the personal savings rate is up in the United States (down from its peak when everyone got their $1,200 but still well above the pre-pandemic baseline) and also that “unlike during the Great Recession, the 67 percent or so of the public who owns a home and the 55 percent of Americans who own stock have seen their net worth rise.”

In the very next paragraph, I acknowledged that this is happening “amidst stories about overwhelmed food banks from San Antonio to Miami and beyond” but I got a lot of blowback for pointing out that most people are doing okay as if that was a way of dismissing the suffering of the minority of people who’ve lost their jobs and are now in desperate need of relief.

Similarly, back in late May, I ran into accidental intra-office controversy by pitching a piece about how police killings of African-Americans had become less common since Ferguson. My thought was that this was good, it showed that political pressure for reform was delivering results. But it was heard by many people as dismissing the problem, or ignoring the lived experiences of people who’ve suffered at the hands of the police.

And of course you see this on climate change, which is legitimately A Bad Thing but where the most keyed-up activists want you to believe it’s literally an existential threat to continued human existence.

When Barack Obama first took office, his administration enacted a bunch of progressive legislation. Bouts of activist legislating normally generate a thermostatic backlash, and Obama’s was no exception. But he managed to end his term popular, and has remained popular since, and most of his legislative achievements remain on the books. Everyone — including Obama — concedes that these achievements were not perfect. But to actually celebratethem as big achievements worth clapping for and taking credit for would be to mark you out as very much not a true progressive.

So I think the left’s attitude toward CARES needs to be seen in that light. Do you judge the Affordable Care Act on how much it helped people compared to the status quo ante or on how far it diverged from a hypothetical perfect health care bill? I’d be inclined to say the former, but the conventional left approach is the latter.

The CARES Act was really good

So what was the CARES Act?

Well, it spent about $300 billion sending direct checks to most American households. It also sent $500 billion to the Fed to capitalize some lending programs targeting large businesses. The funds there overwhelmingly didn’t actually get spent, but their existence likely helped keep corporate borrowing costs low. The law provided an increase in SNAP benefits, more money for child nutrition programs, money for food banks, student loan relief, money for schools, money for mass transit agencies, etc. There was also the Paycheck Protection Program which essentially gave small businesses free money to keep their staff on payroll.

But another huge chunk of it was to set aside normal concerns about incentives and give people who lost their jobs $600 per week in extra Unemployment Insurance benefits, over and above what they would normally be eligible for.

There were a million viral tweets about the bozos in Congress somehow expecting people to subsist on $1,200, but that’s not what happened. The $1,200 was a nice little stimulus sent out to everyone with the expectation that most people would subsist the way they’d long been subsisting — by doing their jobs or perhaps by retiring on Social Security and savings. If you lost your job, you got $600 per week — in other words, $15/hour on a standard workweek — in addition to your normal Unemployment Insurance benefits.

This was a huge, albeit temporary, expansion of the social safety net. But instead of celebrating its success and calling for it to be extended and used as a model in the future, a lot of people on the left seemed committed to pretending that it never happened. Note, for example, that $2,000 Canadian dollars per month is a lot less than $600 American dollars per week.

This was a very successful program. So successful that personal income actually rose during the pandemic.

And that’s not a “rich get richer” kind of thing — the poverty rate fell. And it’s no surprise. Peter Ganong, Pacal Noel, and Joseph Vavra found that under the CARES superdole, “two-thirds of UI eligible workers can receive benefits which exceed lost earnings and one-fifth can receive benefits at least double lost earnings.”

Indeed, in wonk circles this was the conversation — were CARES benefits too generous? Which makes the lack of enthusiasm for telling the story of how these generous benefits were good all the more disappointing.

A model for the future

The pandemic is, of course, a very unusual situation.

Part of the idea of Unemployment Insurance is that even during perfectly “normal” times when the economy is in fine shape, there are always some businesses somewhere that are failing or laying workers off. Under those circumstances, a UI boost that leaves the unemployed with more money than they were making during employment would be genuinely a bit perverse.

But as University of Massachusetts economist Arindrajit Dube points out, the current benefits are very low and evince a combination of stinginess and paranoia that unemployed people will just deliberately lollygag.

Arindrajit Dube @arindube

Take a moment to imagine: You just got laid off. You, not someone in abstract. Under “normal rules” you’re entitled to ~26 weeks of unemployment benefits, which are ~1/2 your salary…BUT… capped weekly at: $240 in AZ $247 in LA #275 in FL … $823 in MA How would you fare?

Prof Dynarski @dynarski

I do wish that more of the people making policy decisions about unemployment checks had ever subsisted on them

One clear message of this pandemic should be that those fears are overstated. Even with the very generous superdole in place, people did go back to work as businesses reopened in the summer and fall. People know that UI doesn’t last forever and prefer a decent job to not having a job at all.

We should scrap these weekly caps, noting with Elira Kuka that more generous UI schemes mitigate the health impacts of unemployment. But we should also make the benefit boosts an automatic thing that happens any time job openings rise. Ioana Marinescu’s research during the Great Recession confirmed that it’s true that generous UI reduces the intensity with which job-seekers seek employment opportunities, but she also finds that since there was no impact on the number of actual job openings, nothing about generous UI actually reduced employment. And as demand-side policy, Unemployment Insurance is a perfect mix of targeted (the people who get it don’t have jobs, so they really need the money to meet current spending needs) and universal (everyone who works is eligible for UI if they lose their job, which is a risk everyone faces).

There is also the longstanding thought in the literature (see Acemoglu & Shimer and Marimon & Ziblatti) that it’s good that UI makes workers less eager to jump at the first job available because it leads to better matching and higher productivity in the long run.

Now of course it’s true that the pandemic also revealed serious shortcomings in our benefits administration system and a lot of people had trouble getting help. But we shouldn’t let negativity bias lead us to overstate those problems. The numbers on personal income and poverty don’t lie — millions of people in need got help. We should view the program as a success to build on for the future. Upgrade the benefits administration (probably by nationalizing the system and taking it out of state hands), bump up the “normal” level of benefits, and make the superdole—the $600 per week increase in UI and stimulus checks—an automatic part of the national macroeconomic toolkit.

Many aspects of America’s pandemic response were a disaster, but poverty went down, which underscores that the welfare state is amazing and we should have more of it.

Nothing ever ends

In my real life, I am a kind of grumpy dyspeptic person. I’m not great at looking on the bright side, at seeing the silver lining, or about living in the now. I get very frustrated by setbacks, very upset when things don’t go the way I planned, and generally speaking am very impatient.

As with any other set of personal characteristics, there are good and bad sides to this sort of mentality, but mostly I want to convey that I really do appreciate the appeal of centering your thinking on an idealized end point and then complaining about all the ways that Obama or the CARES Act or whatever else fell short. After all, compare what I am saying we should do with UI and what CARES did with UI, and CARES looks terrible:

  • It did nothing to address the incredibly stingy base benefits in most states.
  • It had no automaticity so it expired awkwardly midway through the crisis.
  • It not only relied on our antiquated benefits administration system, it did nothing to improve it.

But it doesn’t make sense to do politics this way. One reason is because the model where you sketch out an idealized policy endpoint, then wage political combat, then win, then implement your vision just isn’t how anything actually happens. Not only was Social Security’s rollout bungled from a macroeconomic point of view (they started collecting taxes years before they collected benefits), it wasn’t until 20 years after the original Social Security Act’s passage that benefits were expanded to huge swathes of the population. Then it took 20 more years to get automatic cost of living adjustments. And the program still has some weird lacunae that leave out certain categories of state and local government workers, and doesn’t really meet the needs of the very elderly in an aging society.

Medicaid has been a policy triumph, but the initial program LBJ signed into law in 1965 was tiny compared to today’s Medicaid juggernaut that was largely the result of dogged work by Rep. Henry Waxman in the 1980s, some judicious interventions by the Clinton administration, and then the Obama-era expansion which lives on as a series of state-by-state fights.

The point is that politics is a process, and that’s especially true in a country like the United States that has a lot of institutional veto points. I won’t redo the entire slow boring of hard boards schtick, but the idea that past victories were single decisive battles won at unique moments in time is an illusion. Brown v Board of Education was the culmination of a 15-year litigation strategy that started with a law school case in 1938. But even though the NAACP won in court in 1954, real desegregation didn’t happen until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which in turn built upon the Civil Rights Act of 1960 and its predecessor, the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

It would of course be absurd to be satisfied with any of those interim outcomes, whether on health care or retirement security or civil rights, and it’s just the same with Unemployment Insurance. But successful movements claim victories as victories, highlight the ways in which their victories have helped people and debunked critics’ fears, and move on to build the case for new things. Politicians who do the spadework of getting things done should be praised and not ignored, and while journalists should of course highlight shortcomings, we should also bring perspective to bear. We had more articles written about benefit administration problems than we did about the reduction in poverty — that doesn’t make sense journalistically and it’s not politically constructive.

CARES was really good; it’s really good that a form of enhanced benefits is being extended by the new bill; and while none of this has been perfect, it provides a real template for further improvements.


Teixeira: The Sobering Downballot Facts

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

The good folks at the Cook Political Report have produced their traditional list of end-of-cycle facts about the the most recent election. I call your attention to the downballot facts. They should provoke some serious thinking about how the Democrats blew it so badly. The 2022 election could be a serious bloodbath without some very smart Democratic campaigning. The 2020 results do not inspire confidence.

SENATE:

12. Senate races still largely went the same way as the presidential election did in that state, save for Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who outran Trump by 7.2 points to win re-election. In 2008, she outran John McCain on the ballot by nearly 21 points, and in 1996 she outpaced Bob Dole in the state by more than 18 points. Her 2020 result is still the largest overperformance in a competitive race with Trump on the ballot by a Republican ever, outpacing Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s 6.69 in 2016, but Collins was in far more danger than Portman was and Trump won Ohio, while he lost Maine in 2020. In 2016, every single Senate race went the same way as the presidential race; this year, it was all but one.

13. Democrat Sara Gideon in Maine had the worst performance by a Democrat in a Toss Up race in comparison to the presidential results, running behind Joe Biden in the state by 11 points.

14. The Republican who ran the most behind Trump was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose winning margin was 4.4 points less than Trump, but he nonetheless sailed to a very comfortable 20 point win.

15. If Republicans hold onto both Senate seats in the January 5 Georgia runoffs, it will be the first time since tracking our Toss Up races that all the contests broke 100 percent one way for one party.

16. In Senate races we didn’t rate as Solid, Democrats (candidates + outside groups) spent $1,078,640,272 on TV ads, according to data from AdImpact. Republicans meanwhile, spent $850,828,443. In total, $1,929,468,715 was spent on TV ads this cycle.

17. The most expensive Senate race was North Carolina, where a total of $263,675,801 was spent by both parties on TV ads. Democrats spent more ($151,694,974) than Republicans ($111,980,827), outspending them by $39.7 million. Iowa was second, with $217,043,080 spent in total. Again, Democrats ($128,320,541) outspent Republicans ($88,722,539) by $39.6 million. Democrats nonetheless lost both races.

18. The most money spent in a state per vote was in Montana, where Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and his Democratic allies ended up spending about $323 per vote. In comparison, GOP Sen. Steve Daines, who won by 10 points, spent $193 per vote. The next biggest disparity was in Maine, where Democrats spent $272 per vote compared to $172 per vote for Republicans in a race that Democrats also lost.

19. The best bargain in a state that flipped was in Alabama, where Republicans spent just $12 per vote to have former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville oust Democratic Sen. Doug Jones. Democrats spent $17 per vote.

20. In Colorado, one of the two states Democrats flipped so far, Republicans did outspend Democrats per vote, $31 to $29, only to have GOP Sen. Cory Gardner lose to former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper by almost 10 points.

21. In all competitive races (excluding both Georgia races), Democrats spent on average $94 per vote, while Republicans spent $60 per vote.
HOUSE:

22. In January, House Democrats will represent 51 percent of all House seats, but just 16 percent of the nation’s land area — the smallest geographical footprint of any majority in modern history.

23. All 13 of the Republicans who have been certified as the winners in Democratic-held districts were women and/or minorities — including three of Cuban descent, two of Korean descent, one African-American and ten women. Of the 46 freshman Republicans entering the House, 18 are women — more than Republicans’ current tally from 13 to 29.

24. The top three most expensive House races of 2020 — in terms of both candidate and outside spending — were California’s 25th District ($37.9 million), New Mexico’s 2nd District ($36.7 million) and Texas’s 22nd District ($34.1 million), according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

25. The four largest outside spenders in House races (the DCCC, NRCC, House Majority PAC and Congressional Leadership Fund) spent a combined $442 million, including $196 million in races that were decided by more than five points and $42 million in races decided by more than ten. Meanwhile, there were 10 races Democrats won by less than five points where GOP groups failed to spend more than $500,000. Had Republicans invested in those races, they might have won back the House majority.”
Now that is genuinely scary. Time for a course correction.


Political Strategy Notes

A. P.’s Ben Nadler writes in “Turnout among young voters key to Georgia Senate runoffs: Georgia voters under 30 helped President-elect Joe Biden win the state. Democratic Senate candidates hope for similar results in January’s runoffs” at The Monitor: “In Georgia, people under 30 cast about 16% of the votes in the November election, compared with 13% nationwide, according to AP VoteCast. About six in 10 voters under 30 in Georgia backed Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump. But like voters overall, younger voters split starkly by race and ethnicity. Young nonwhite voters backed Mr. Biden overwhelmingly, with roughly eight in 10 supporting Democrats. Among young white voters, Mr. Trump was favored by about two to one.”…The push to connect with young voters has been especially apparent for the Democratic campaigns, which have more to gain from youth turnout – and more to lose if there’s a drop-off….Mr. Ossoff and Mr. Warnock have held rallies in college towns, invested in staff to help register and mobilize young voters, and engaged social media influencers to promote content and run ad campaigns on new media and digital platforms. They recently hosted a game night on Twitch, a livestreaming platform popular with young gamers. Mr. Ossoff also has made a push to connect with voters through TikTok, a video sharing app used by millions of U.S. teens.”

Here’s where Democrats really need to do much better in the Georgia U.S. Senate runoff elections, from “Turnout likely to be key in Georgia runoff election” by the Associated Press: “Early voting is lagging in Georgia’s smaller urban areas including Savannah, Augusta, Macon and Columbus, and Democratic vote totals have been disappointing in rural areas.” Democrats are strongest in the Atlanta metro area, and they showed dramatic improvement in the ‘donut’ surrounding Atlanta in the November presidential contest. Democrats showed some improvement in turnout in the exurbs north of Atlanta, including GA-7, the only red to blue House seat pick-up for Dems nation-wide in November. But Dems still lag badly in many rural counties, where winning 25 percent of the vote would be a significnt improvement.

At this point Democrats still have an good chance of winning both senate seats in the Georgia runoff election. But even if we don’t, SemDem’s “How to beat Mitch McConnell—even if we don’t win back the Senate” at Daily Kos has some interesting ideas, including: “As far as appointments go, Biden has a lot of options, as helpfully outlined by Washington Monthly. Obama paved the way for the appointment of nearly unlimited policy czars, and Biden also has the ability to appoint “acting” positions for more than 1,200 agency positions. (Trump managed to do it for other positions, as well.) Perhaps most interestingly, Biden can use the adjournment clause, in Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution, to force numerous recess appointments.” SemDem also cites examples of unilateral initiatives Biden can take with respect to the pandemic, including, but not limited to: (“appointing a “national supply chain commander” and establishing a “pandemic testing board”); putting photos on Social Security cards, which can serve as valid i.d. for voting; rejoining the Paris Climate Accords; forgive stuident loan debt or reduce the interest; eliminate Dreamer deportations and child caging; extend the ACA enrollment period; and “restoring government unions, breaking up monopolies, utilizing municipal lending instruments for better access to loans, and enacting Wall Street reform—just to name a few. The point is that Joe Biden can do a lot on his own, and if Georgia’s runoff goes sideways, he’d better get ready to do ‘em.”


Political Strategy Notes

In his article, “Trump’s Coup Attempt Could Cost Republicans the Senate: Georgians want him to concede the November election: Instead, he’s planning a fight in Congress just as they go to the polls” at slate.com, William Saletan notes that a Survey USA poll conducted Wednesday to Sunday found: “By margins of 29 and 51 points, respectively, suburbanites and moderates said Biden won the election “fair and square.” By margins of 28, 33, and 43 points, suburbanites, independents, and moderates said that when Congress meets on Jan. 6 to certify the votes of the Electoral College, Trump should “allow the count to proceed” rather than “ask Republican members of Congress to object.” Many of these voters will be making up their minds about the runoffs just a day or two before the congressional showdown. Anxiety over the fight and the outcome will be at a peak….Democrats have yet to exploit Trump’s defiance. They hope that some hardcore Trump voters, angry at the GOP for failing to defend his post-election challenges, will refuse to turn out for Loeffler and Perdue. But there’s also an opportunity in the middle. Most Georgians, including more than a quarter of those who voted for Loeffler or Perdue in November, oppose the congressional fight Trump and his allies are preparing. These are law-and-order voters. They don’t want a crisis or a coup. If the GOP loses even a fraction of them, it will lose the Senate.”

Is there a chance that Trump’s closing theatrics – his outrageous pardons, upending the stimulus agreement, talk of martial law, veto of the defense bill, more Covid denials in response to the spike in deaths from new infections – will help Democratic senate candidates Ossoff and Warnock win in Georgia? By calling attention to divisions in the Republican party, and reminding Georgia voters who would normally skip the runoff election that the G.O.P. is now the party of utter chaos, Democrats can hope that more suburban moderates will conclude that divided government doesn’t make much sense when one party, the G.O.P., is a mess, while Loeffler and Perdue are engulfed in embarrassing questions about their self-dealing. Less than two weeks remain in the Georgia runoff campaigns, so there is probably not enough time for new ads portraying the Republicans as the party of chaos. But Dems can hope that the media, mainstream and social, and Georgia’s impressive progressive activists will step up and press the case. Whatever happens, Democrats can be proud that their candidates have gotten this close, which was unthinkable a year ago.

Washington Post syndicated columnist E. J. Dionne. Jr. shares his thougths on “How Biden can make us hate each other a little bit less” and govern more effectively: “At least some of the voters who stuck with Trump did so because they liked his attacks on globalization, were more worried about the economy than the pandemic and felt ignored by conventional politicians. Biden needs to push the parts of his program (its “buy American” components, for example) that speak directly to these frustrations….The fights he chooses to pick with Republicans should be on behalf of proposals (a higher minimum wage, affordable health insurance, more family-friendly workplaces, political reform to reduce big money’s role in politics) that make clear who is on the side of the forgotten…..This also means that Biden’s laudable emphasis on fighting climate change must constantly come back to the job-creating potential of investments in green technologies — which is what Biden did when he announced his climate team on Saturday. The surest way to block progress is to allow opponents of climate action to cast it as a war by “elitist” environmentalists on workers employed in existing energy sectors.”

Harold Meyerson looks toward the future at The American Prospect, and offers some advice for Democrats: “Despite Biden’s success in reassembling the “blue wall” this November, Republicans’ long-term prospects in the Midwest look pretty good. As the nation as a whole grows more multiracial and college-educated, as millennials and Gen Zers move the electorate leftward, Midwestern states will largely resist these trends. Their young people will move away to more dynamic economies (for which reason immigrants will go elsewhere, too), and their cities will continue to shrink….Democrats will have to meet this challenge not only by doing their damnedest to hold these states, but by trying to hasten the Sun Belt dynamics that enabled them to squeak to victory this year in Arizona and Georgia. Texas disappointed the Democrats this year, but even with the setback in the Rio Grande Valley, Biden still did better there than he did in Ohio and Iowa. Democrats are going to have to make long-term investments in North Carolina, Florida, and, yes, Texas if they’re going to become the majority party electorally. If the popular vote were determinative for president, of course, such concerns would be a good deal less acute, so organizing around the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would also be a worthwhile Democratic mission.”


Warnock Leads by 7, Ossoff by 5 in New GA Runoff Poll

At Newsweek, Natalie Colarossi reports “Just two weeks ahead of Georgia’s critical Senate runoff races, a new poll shows Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue trailing behind Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.” Colarossi adds,

The survey, conducted by SurveyUSA, shows Warnock leading Loeffler by 7 percentage points among likely voters. Ossoff maintains a 5-point advantage over Perdue….The survey took place between December 16 and 21 and involved 800 respondents, 600 of whom said they were likely to vote in the January contests….According to the new data, Ossoff has widened his lead by 2 points after a SurveyUSA poll conducted three weeks earlier, while Warnock’s lead remains unchanged.

Colarossi speculates that the Democrats’ leads could be attributed to “Republican infighting over President Donald Trump‘s allegations that the election process is “rigged.” After weeks of Trump challenging the results of the presidential election with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, some Georgia conservatives have said they will sit out the Senate runoffs.”  Further,

Among those who identified as “very conservative” in the poll, 55 percent said they are not voting in the runoffs because “the voting process is rigged,” while 7 percent said they are “intentionally boycotting” the runoffs. That number compares with the zero percent of those who identify as either “liberal” or “very liberal,” according to the data.

However, Colarossi notes that “Georgia’s unprecedented double runoffs have generated a record-breaking number of early voters.” The combined 12 point lead of Warnock and Ossoff is the largest reported for the Democrats by a major pollster since the November presidential election.

President Trump has been threatening to revisit Georgia to stump for Republican  incumbents Perdue and Loeffler. But it is unclear whether he helps or hurts their races overall.

Of course, this is only one poll. But the respected FiveThirtyEight website’s poll analysts give SurveyUSA  an “A” rating — the highest rating among 11 pollsters which have conducted surveys for the runoff elections since the November 3rd general election.


Teixeira: The Left’s Assignment, Should They Decide to Accept It

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

To be honest, I don’t have a lot of confidence that the left will accept this assignment, but I think it is quite clear both what the assignment is and that they should accept it.

The assignment: help Biden succeed. His policy commitments are plenty progressive and it will be a big challenge to make progress on these commitments, even without endless sniping from the left that Biden is not a real progressive and pointless intra-party squabbles. Above all, the Biden administration needs to make rapid progress ending the coronavirus crisis and getting the economy back healthy and into high gear. No progressive dreams will come true until and unless that happens. A mature left would realize that and gladly accept the assignment to help Biden succeed.

Todd Gitlin in USA Today:

“As Donald Trump fades in the rear-view mirror, the all-or-nothing caucus has more urgent concerns. Its idea of the left requires trashing the winner because he was embraced by party elites and, embarrassingly, won primaries against candidates further to the left. Its first mantra is: Moderates will sell you out. Its second: Half a loaf is much worse than no loaf at all, because it will delude the naive masses into believing that things are moving in the right direction….

The sure road to irrelevance under a government that brings together disparate forces is to inflame rage at the moderates more intensely than one mobilizes forces to strengthen “the left wing of the possible,” in Michael Harrington’s memorable phrase.

The unreconciled “we told you so” folks are ever ready to call “Gotcha!” It’s as if the evidence demonstrates (contrary to fact) that progressive congressional candidates are sure to win in moderate distracts. The chorus must always be tuned up, ready to go, to signal to hyper-alert Democrats that their party is, at bottom, nothing more than the neoliberal Tweedledee to Trump’s aspirationally fascist Tweedledum.

What the “we told you so caucus” does not understand is that the whole Democratic Party — moderates as well as the left — shares a stake in helping Biden succeed. Only if he delivers quickly, beginning next month, can progressive politics come to life. If the Democrats win the two Georgia runoffs on Jan. 5, the odds for deep reform are even better, though even if Republicans keep control of the Senate, some doors for progressive change will remain open. Shouting insults at Biden is not the way to make the most of the Democrats’ strength. Neither is cuing up the circular firing squad.

Democratic power can only be anchored, over the longer haul, by showing that Democratic government works for a majority. The only way to peel away some of the less fanatical Trump supporters, over time, is to deliver — to put money in their pockets — to demonstrate that Biden policies stand to shore up a big tent that has room for them, too.”

EJ Dionne in the Post:

“Since {Biden’s] gains this year over Hillary Clinton’s 2016 vote were larger among college graduates and suburbanites than among those without college degrees, he needs to continue his outreach to the less privileged — White but also Latino.

He can do this without breaking faith with the Black voters who gave him decisive majorities. They form a big part of the working class, and would also respond positively to an emphasis on creating well-paying jobs, lifting incomes and, more broadly, themes built around equal dignity.

In her book “The New Working Class: How to Win Hearts, Minds and Votes,” British writer (and Labour Party political adviser) Claire Ainsley highlights the themes of family, fairness, hard work and decency. They are keys to reducing polarization.

At least some of the voters who stuck with Trump did so because they liked his attacks on globalization, were more worried about the economy than the pandemic and felt ignored by conventional politicians. Biden needs to push the parts of his program (its “buy American” components, for example) that speak directly to these frustrations.

The fights he chooses to pick with Republicans should be on behalf of proposals (a higher minimum wage, affordable health insurance, more family-friendly workplaces, political reform to reduce big money’s role in politics) that make clear who is on the side of the forgotten…..

The larger lesson is that culture wars are at the heart of our polarization. If they become ferocious, they will block Biden’s efforts to broaden his reach. As a religious person, Biden — simply by virtue of who he is — can reduce levels of mistrust bred by the growing secular/religious divide, and he needs to handle church/state questions with care. He has a moral obligation to be uncompromising on issues of racial justice, but advocates of change need to find arguments (and, yes, slogans) that appeal across existing lines of division.

And nothing unites like success (one reason Reagan’s 1984 “Morning in America” slogan was so effective), so ending the pandemic and restoring the economy should be the Democrats’ lodestar.”

So, pretty simple right? Culture wars, bad; helping Biden succeed, good. Time for the left to step up and do what needs to be done.


Political Strategy Notes

At Politico, Elena Schneider and James Arkin report that “GOP winning the Georgia ad war as Dems shift money to ground game: Super PACs have tilted the advertising battle toward Republicans, as Democratic donors invest in groups working on the ground.” They explain that “Republicans hold an overall advertising advantage across the state, largely fueled by $86 million in outside spending supporting their candidates, compared to just $30 million spent by Democratic outside groups on TV advertising so far, according to AdImpact. Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are hauling in record small-dollar cash, far ahead of GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler — but not enough to own the airwaves….Super PACs pay more per ad than candidates do, so Ossoff and Warnock have been able to blunt the GOP’s financial edge, especially in the Atlanta media market, where nearly two-thirds of people in the state reside. But GOP TV ads are running in much higher rotation in other markets, according to data from AdImpact, and the disparity has sparked concern among Democrats that the two campaigns aren’t getting enough help with control of the Senate on the line.”

Ronald Brownstein writes at The Atlantic: “Biden should target McConnell almost immediately, says Sean McElwee, a founder of the progressive polling-and-analysis firm Data for Progress, one of the organizations that signed the open memo. “Democrats really need to start making people understand that Mitch McConnell is leading a do-nothing Senate that should be replaced in the midterms,” McElwee told me. “You want to make Mitch McConnell the enemy, and we need to get his favorables down to nil and then tie all of the Republicans to” him….By contrast, the centrist Democratic group Third Way this week released a poll  showing that a strong majority of registered voters want political leaders in both parties to seek compromise. In the survey, 85 percent of self-identified Democrats and two-thirds of Republicans said they prefer political leaders who will “compromise in order to get things done….In practice, these two perspectives may not really be all that different. McElwee agrees that Biden should work, wherever possible, to divide the GOP by seeking to attract at least a few Republican senators to his policy priorities. And Bennett said that while Biden must continue to pursue agreements “in the hope that Republicans will come to their senses, he also needs to be mindful that they may not.”

“Through no fault of his own, Biden’s legislative agenda is blocked for at least the first two years of his presidency, and most likely for the entirety of his first term,” Martin Longman writes in “How Biden Can Have a Successful Presidency Without Congress: Barry Lynn provides a roadmap that Biden use to take on monopolies–without Mitch McConnell’s help. Now state attorneys general are stepping up their game, too.” at The Washington Monthly. “He can resign himself to being ineffectual, or he can use the antitrust tools he has at his disposal, and those tools are more powerful than is commonly understood.” Longman then quotes from Barry Lynn’s How Biden Can Transform America: “On day one, President Biden will be able to strap himself into the cockpit of a governing machine purpose-built during the Wilson and Roosevelt administrations—and fortified by Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, and even Richard Nixon—to break power, distribute opportunity, build community, protect security, and engage citizens in constructive activities. This system includes agencies with great untapped powers, like the FTC and the Department of Agriculture, which have far-reaching and long-neglected rule-making authority. And it includes strong anti-monopoly powers in just about every office of government, including the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, the Federal Communications Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Defense Department, the Transportation Department, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, among many others.” Longman adds, “While the public is focused on quarrelsome and unproductive debates on Capitol Hill, he can work behind the scenes to bust up monopolies. He’ll find sympathetic ears on the right where concern about market concentration is on the rise.”

From a Hill-HarrisX poll, which was conducted online among 3,785 registered voters Dec. 3-7:


How Kelly Loeffler’s Career Went Off the Rails

As the whole political world becomes obsessively focused on the January 5 Senate runoffs in Georgia, I meditated a bit at New York about the unforced errors afflicting one of the two Republican senators involved:

When Georgia governor Brian Kemp settled on Atlanta sports executive and socialite Kelly Loeffler as his choice to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated at the end of last year, he seemed to be making a shrewd calculation for his own and his party’s future in a blue-trending state. The GOP had been rapidly losing ground in the growing north Atlanta suburbs that had until very recently been its electoral stronghold, with moderate women leading the exodus.

She seemed the sort of novice politician such women might find appealing: an urbane woman, a Yankee and a Catholic, who had married her gazillionaire boss, quickly shown her own business chops, and become the co-owner of the Atlanta Dream WNBA franchise. She lived in a mansion in Atlanta’s wealthy Buckhead area, and kept up the social graces with charity work, while rubbing elbows with the diverse fans of the Dream. Compared to the usual Georgia Republican pols — blunt-talking Southern Baptist small-town lawyers and exurban developers with a few Ku Klux Klansmen on branches of the family tree — Loeffler was far more relatable to upwardly mobile suburbanites. And her politics seemed moderately conservative; she and her husband had been major donors to Mitt Romney in 2012, but had also donated to Democrats now and then. Kemp was also certainly aware that Loeffler would be running in 2020 in a special nonpartisan election to claim a full term, not a party primary, meaning she might be able to seize and hold the center and draw votes from moderates as well as conservatives. Best of all, Loeffler was very rich, and could not only self-fund her own 2020 campaign, but potentially a 2022 race for a full term, when she would share the ticket with Brian Kemp, who was expecting a tough rematch with Stacey Abrams. 

For all these reasons, Kemp wasn’t unduly troubled when he introduced Loeffler to Donald Trump and the president remained adamant in wanting the Senate seat for his impeachment attack dog, Representative Doug Collins, a hard-core conservative and ordained Baptist minister from the foothills of the North Georgia mountains.

But Kemp’s estrangement with Trump and Trump’s grip on Georgia Republicans have made Loeffler’s political initiation a real nightmare. And in just a year she has transformed herself from a genial country-club Republican into a snarling ideologue boasting in ads that she’s “more conservative than Attila the Hun” and brown-nosing to Trump so aggressively that she’s turned her back on the governor to whom she owes everything.

To put it simply, Loeffler and her patron, Kemp, picked the wrong time and place to launch a respectably mainstream Republican political career. With conservative activists and Breitbart News egging him on to challenge the RINO Loeffler, Collins quickly launched a challenge to the appointed senator and led her in early polls, drawing strength from the bad press she received from stock deals she and her husband made that smelled like inside trading. (Loeffler was cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee of wrongdoing but it didn’t dispel the unsavory aroma.) She counterattacked with tons of early ads Collins could not match, but it took many months for her to build a lead in a runoff race only one Republican could survive. (Democrats consolidated behind Raphael Warnock for one of the two certain runoff spots under Georgia’s arcane laws requiring a majority for victory.) Every step of the way Loeffler likely feared Trump would jump into the race with an endorsement of Collins. And so she campaigned as the most strongly pro-Trump member of the Senate.

As the election season reached its peak, Loeffler was in a right-wing frenzy. She triangulated against her colleagues and players in the WNBA, attacking their support for Planned Parenthood and Black Lives Matter, and probably ruining some actual friendships while offending the social conventions of her peer group, as the New York Times observed: Her “harsh criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement has run afoul of a longstanding convention in her adopted hometown, sometimes referred to as the Atlanta Way, in which the white corporate class has cultivated a level of solidarity with the city’s African-American leaders and civil rights movement.”

Loeffler reached her MAGA omega point in October when she pursued and secured the endorsement of Marjorie Taylor Greene, the AR-15-wielding, QAnon-backing congressional candidate from Georgia who embodies the far frontiers of Trumpism. Nobody could call Loeffler a RINO anymore! Never mind that most of those in Loeffler’s old social circle in Buckhead are probably horrified by Greene, a woman whom veteran Georgia conservative commentator Erick Erickson called “batshit crazy.”

It may have all seemed worth it to Loeffler when she soundly beat Collins and made the cut for the January 5 general-election runoff, which will determine control of the Senate with her colleague David Perdue facing Jon Ossoff in the same election. But the runoff campaign has provided fresh demands for Loeffler extremism. Because her new idol Trump is refusing to accept his defeat in Georgia, Loeffler and Perdue have to go along with his delusional demands that Georgia’s Republican leadership help him overturn the election. On November 9, the two senators called for the resignation of the state’s Republican secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for the sin of certifying Biden’s victory. Both senators have refused to follow Mitch McConnell in acknowledging Biden as president-elect. And you have to figure it’s a matter of time before Loeffler in particular is forced to denounce Kemp, with Trump now attacking him relentlessly for refusing to illegally call the legislature into a special session to overturn the state’s election results.

Loeffler has firmly trapped herself in this intra-party feud that not only forces her to choose between her great benefactor and her new idol but that also threatens the GOP unity essential to a win on January 5. After all, here’s the standard set by her new great friend, Marjorie Taylor Greene on Twitter: “Every ‘Republican’ that isn’t fighting for @realDonaldTrump’s 2020 landslide victory is supporting the Chinese Communist Party takeover of America.” All righty then!

Greene’s screeds aren’t much more intemperate than Loeffler’s exceptionally nasty ads against Warnock, which specialize in taking old sermons from Warnock’s pulpit of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church wildly out of context, attacking its pastor and the Black religious tradition in ways that make you wonder if she’s risking divine lighting bolts.

Kelly Loeffler’s sold her soul to Trumpian extremism, and even with her enormous wealth, she won’t be able to buy it back.

 


Teixeira: Jon Tester Channels Woody Allen

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Allen once said, “80 percent of success is showing up”. Want to win in rural areas? Try showing up, says Jon Tester. From an interview in the Times:

“I think showing up is a fundamental rule of politics, and I don’t know that we showed up. Because of Covid, we didn’t show up on the campaign trail. And in a state like Montana, you have to give people a reason to vote for you or they’ll vote Republican — they’ll default to Republican. And I think that hurt us greatly in 2020. The Republicans, for the most part, didn’t see the pandemic as near as a threat to health as some of the Democrats did.”

On going on the offensive in rural America:

“Democrats can really do some positive things in rural America just by talking about infrastructure and what they’re doing for infrastructure, particularly in the area of broadband. And then I would say one other policy issue is how some Republicans want to basically privatize public education. That is very dangerous, and I think it’s a point that people don’t want to see their public schools close down in Montana.”
On connecting with rural voters:

“I can go into the list of things that might be insane about this president, but the truth is that rural people connect more with a millionaire from New York City than they do with the Democrats that are in national positions.

So that tells me our message is really, really flawed, because I certainly don’t see it that way.

We do not have a — what do I want to say — a well-designed way to get our message out utilizing our entire caucus. So we need to do more of that. You cannot have Chuck Schumer talking rural issues to rural people; it ain’t gonna sell.”

Why Obama did relatively well in rural America:

“You know where Barack Obama spent Fourth of July in 2008?

Butte, Mont. He showed up. Now, he didn’t win much in it, but he did a hell of a lot better than people thought he was going to do because he showed up.

What has happened in Montana as far as losing Max Baucus’s seat, and in North Dakota and in South Dakota, I think speaks to the fact that we’re not speaking to rural America. And look, Steve Bullock lost [this year’s Senate race in Montana] for a number of reasons. One was they nationalized it. They totally nationalized his race. They tried to do it to me, too. What I had that Steve didn’t have was there wasn’t a damn pandemic, and I could go out. And we did, man. We showed people that I was not A.O.C., for Christ’s sake.”

Tester’s recommendation for a bumper sticker Democratic slogan: “Opportunity for everyone”

Not bad.


Political Strategy Notes

From “Warnock And Ossoff Are Testing A New Strategy For Democrats In The South” by Perry Bacon, Jr. at FiveThirtyEight: “What makes Georgia electorally unlike most swing states is its large Black population. About 33 percent of Georgians are Black, a much higher share than the nation overall (13 percent) and higher than all but two other states (Mississippi and Louisiana)….To be more precise, what’s really different about Georgia’s electoral politics is that Democrats there are disproportionately Black….Neither Ossoff nor Warnock is saying anything particularly bold on racial issues to appeal to Black voters. That’s not surprising. Ossoff and Warnock can’t take a stand on any issue, racial or nonracial, that is likely to alienate a lot of white voters in Georgia. A Democratic campaign needs to win around 30 percent of white voters in Georgia to carry the state — and that’s often where they fall short….Ossoff and Warnock’s approach is similar to Abrams’s campaign in 2018, when she ran for governor: a lot of focus on showing connectedness to Georgia’s Black community, but not a ton of policy, particularly on more controversial issues specifically aimed at Black people….I doubt we have seen the last of Biden-Edwards-Jones-style candidates in the South. But what Abrams has dubbed the “Abrams playbook” for Democrats in Georgia in particular — trying to win a coalition of progressive white voters and people of color with candidates and strategies that connect with those two blocs — may eventually be the default Democratic Party playbook for the South.”

At The Cook Political Report, Charlie Cook notes, “A poll taken in the last two weeks for a super PAC found that out of 600 voters interviewed, there was only one respondent who split their ticket. In what today is surely the most evenly divided state in the country, I would not bet a dollar on either side to prevail; it is just that close. At the beginning, there was an assumption that because Republicans had fared better in past Georgia runoffs, they would again, but comparisons to 1992 and 2008, the previous two Senate runoffs in Georgia, are spurious. This is a completely different state than it was even 12 years ago….But heading into 2022, with a paper-thin Democratic majority in the House and a very nearly evenly split Senate, we’ll barely enjoy an intermission between election seasons. History suggests that Democrats, as the president’s party, are more likely to surrender seats in 2022. But Republicans will have 21 or 22 Senate seats up for reelection, compared to just 12 or 13 for Democrats. Historical patterns are important, but exposure levels are too….Having both chambers teetering on the edge like that is likely to infuse both sides with a great deal of caution.”

Also at FiveThirtyEight, Geoffrey Skelley, Elena Mejía, Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux and Laura Bronner explain “Why The Suburbs Have Shifted Blue,” and write: “Suburban and exurban counties turned away from Trump and toward Democrat Joe Biden in states across the country, including in key battleground states like Pennsylvania and Georgia. In part, this may be because the suburbs are simply far more diverse than they used to be. But suburbs have also become increasingly well-educated — and that may actually better explain why so many suburbs and exurbs are turning blue than just increased diversity on its own….According to Ashley Jardina, a political science professor at Duke University who studies white identity politics, it’s not that racial diversity isn’t a factor. Among white people, at least, educational attainment is often a proxy for how open they are to growing racial diversity, with more highly educated white people likely to think increased racial diversity is a good thing. “Education is so important because it’s intertwined with racial attitudes among white people,” Jardina said….But the political swing among diversifying counties was much less uniform than it was in counties that became more educated….But a lot will depend on Democrats’ ability to mobilize the diverse groups that now are looking more and more like typical suburban voters….“The future of the Democratic Party is clearly with these younger, more diverse, more educated populations,” [Brookings Senior Fellow William] Frey said. “But they have to figure out how to keep them energized and voting.”

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. shares some salient insights in the wake of President-elect Biden’s recent trip to Georgia in support of Senate candidates Warnock and Ossoff, and notes that “by campaigning, Biden is also signaling that however strong his affection might be for an older, less polarized politics, he understands that it’s not the 1970s — or 2008 — anymore. The radicalization of the Republican Party is a fact he is coming to accept….Thus, he pulled no punches in his tough attack Monday on the efforts of President Trump and his GOP allies to discredit this year’s election outcome. He called it “an unprecedented assault on our democracy” that “refused to respect the will of the people, refused to respect the rule of law and refused to honor our Constitution.”….The GOP’s election denialism is terrible for the country and for democracy. But the early signs are that it could backfire on Republicans by turning Biden, bipartisanship’s best friend, into a tough realist about what he’s up against. And the longer Trump’s antics keep him in the forefront, the easier it will be for Biden to hold Democrats together. No wonder Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) finally told his party on Tuesday that it’s time to move on….In paying close attention to how Trump and McConnell approach politics, Biden seems to have learned something important: Hitting back is the only way to get the current Republican Party’s attention. Asking nicely won’t cut it in 2021.”