washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

WE WON!

Biden Harris logo

WE WON!

Biden Harris logo

WE WON!

Biden Harris logo

WE WON!

Biden Harris logo

WE WON!

Biden Harris logo

The Daily Strategist

April 20, 2021

Three Generations of Right-Wing Extremists

Looking through the latest news about the January 6 insurrectionists, I spotted a very familiar name, and wrote about it at New York:

Some of those involved in the January 6 Capitol Riot were to most observers anonymous schmoes called to Washington by Donald Trump, while others were familiar to intrepid analysts of the far, far right. But as rioters were called to account for their conduct, one name leaped right off the page, as this HuffPost report explained:

“Leo Brent Bozell IV, the son of conservative activist L. Brent Bozell III, was captured on video inside the Senate chamber during the attack on the U.S. Capitol and has been charged with three federal offenses, according to a federal criminal complaint unsealed on Tuesday.

“Bozell is charged with obstructing an official proceeding, entering a restricted building, and disorderly conduct. The complaint features several images of him on the floor of the Senate, where he was wearing a sweatshirt featuring the name of a Christian school where he formerly served as a girls’ basketball coach. Online sleuths focused in on him because of that sweatshirt and posted videos of his activity online.”

Many will recognize Bozell IV as the son and namesake of Brent Bozell III, founder of the Media Research Center and a relentless critic of alleged liberal bias in the mainstream media. Bozell III probably had more to do than any other single person in laying the groundwork for Donald Trump’s assaults on “fake media,” which is ironic since he was initially a very vocal conservative critic of Trump. Like his hero Ted Cruz, though, Bozell came around, and now occupies a pan-Republican position of great influence. He’s never been far from the conservative fringes, however; he was finance chairman for Pat Buchanan’s insurgent presidential campaign in 1992 and was involved in the right-wing Conservative Political Action Conference until he split with the event’s organizer in 2012 over its acceptance of a gay Republican group as a participant in the annual conference.

But Bozell IV’s grandfather, Brent Bozell Jr., was arguably a more influential and definitely more radical forebear. The son of an ad executive, Bozell Jr. was William F. Buckley’s best friend and debating partner at Yale, and soon his brother-in-law (he married WFB’s sister Patricia Buckley). Together the two fiery young conservatives wrote the definitive defense of Joseph McCarthy, called McCarthy and His Enemies. Bozell would later ghostwrite Barry Goldwater’s manifesto The Conscience of a Conservative. But it was his conversion to Catholicism in high school that really changed his life and ultimately his political views. As the founder of a journal of “political Catholicism,” Triumph, Bozell became more and more estranged from the more ecumenical conservatism of Buckley, and eventually, from America itself. He even moved for a while to Franco’s Spain to enjoy a society rigidly organized on conservative Catholic lines, and later had his own collision with authority (as Ben Sixsmith explained years later):

“Passive dialogue was not enough for Bozell. He became, as far as I know, the only National Review contributor to be arrested for participating in a disorderly protest when with a group of like-minded Catholics named ‘Sons of Thunder’ – clad, misguidedly, in khakis and red berets – he broke into an abortion clinic with the intention of disrupting its procedures. A journalist for The [Fredericksburg] Free Lance-Star was baffled by the thought of a supposed conservative defying law and order. ‘If disorder is necessary to stop this murder of babies,’ Bozell replied pugnaciously, ‘I’m in favor of disorder.’”

Bozell Jr. suffered from a variety of physical and mental ailments, and spent a good part of his declining years doing charity work among Hispanic immigrants. But he is arguably the ideological father of the culturally authoritarian wing of conservatism that has flourished in the wake of Donald Trump (a sort of Catholic version of Josh Hawley). And for all we know, his willingness to support disorder in the name of his cause could have inspired his grandson.

 


Political Strategy Notes

In her Politico article, “Reparations bill tests Biden and Harris on racial justice: The House proposal has been introduced in every Congress for more than three decades and would establish a commission of experts to study direct payments to African Americans.,” Maya King writes, “Despite the enormity of the task behind the legislation known as H.R. 40 — named for the “40 acres and a mule” that has come to symbolize the post-Civil War government’s failure to help formerly enslaved people — the bill has new political momentum since its last introduction in 2019, when the GOP controlled the White House and Senate. The nationwide protests last summer following George Floyd’s killing have raised public awareness of racial injustice and kick-started a national conversation that advocates for a reparations dialogue see as valuable….What no one knows yet is how committed the White House is to the specific House legislative vehicle, which has been introduced in every Congress for more than three decades and would establish a commission of experts to study direct payments to African Americans….If the legislation passes, it would create a commission of more than a dozen experts to review the United States government’s role in supporting enslavement of African Americans from 1619 to 1865 from financial and legal perspectives. It would then recommend to Congress ways to both educate Americans on the legacy of slavery and alleviate its harms.”

However, “Americans are growing increasingly aware of racial inequality in the United States, but a large majority still oppose the use of one-time payments, known as reparations, to tackle the persistent wealth gap between Black and white citizens,” Katanga Johnson reported at Reuters last June. “According to Reuters/Ipsos polls this month, only one in five respondents agreed the United States should use “taxpayer money to pay damages to descendants of enslaved people in the United States…A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday showed clear divisions along partisan and racial lines, with only one in 10 white respondents supporting the idea and half of Black respondents endorsing it…Republicans were heavily opposed, at nearly 80%, while about one in three Democrats supported it. The poll did not ask respondents why they answered the way they did. Other critics have said too much time has passed since slavery was outlawed, and expressed confusion about how it would work.” Yet, “The failure of efforts to offset inequality, beginning with broken promises of farmland for freed slaves after the Civil War, “laid the foundation for the enormous contemporary gap in wealth between Black and White people in the U.S.,” Duke University economist William Darity and writer A. Kirsten Mullen argued in their April book “From Here to Equality.” It appears that any form of cash grants to individuals are a non-starter, politically. But “too bad about your enslaved ancestors, but that was then and this is now” is also a non-starter. While compensatory programs for horrific historical injustices are justified, the term “reparations” remains a tough sell. However, large grants to HBCUs and tuition grants for Black students may be a more promising approach.

In his post, “The Democrats Have An Ambitious Agenda. Here’s What They Should Learn From Obamacare” at FiveThirtyEight, Dan Hopkins writes, “Democrats are back in the driver’s seat, with unified control of the federal government thanks to their Senate wins in Georgia. So, what lessons from their 2010 signature accomplishment should they apply to their efforts to pass legislation in 2021, whether it’s on COVID-19 or climate change?….As a political science professor studying public perceptions of the ACA, I see two core lessons for Democrats to keep in mind. First, to stop high-profile laws from becoming unpopular, it helps to keep them simple. And the ACA was anything but: It sought to increase access to health insurance through a complex patchwork of regulations and other policies, which included creating new health insurance exchanges, expanding Medicaid, adding new rules to guarantee insurance access regardless of preexisting conditions, and mandating that all Americans obtain health insurance….Second, when the public evaluates a complex, multifaceted policy, like the ACA, there is a tendency to focus on its least popular parts. Most of the ACA’s major provisions were actually pretty popular. In a January 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation poll, for instance, 67 percent of respondents said that they were more likely to support health care legislation that created insurance exchanges, while 62 percent said the same about expanding Medicaid. Yet, Obamacare as a whole was viewed unfavorably from 2011 until 2017. That was, in large part, due to one unpopular provision in the law: the individual mandate. In that same 2010 KFF poll, 62 percent said that the health insurance mandate made them less likely to support the bill. And for millions of Americans, the ACA became synonymous with the individual mandate.” Perhaps another lesson is that big package reform is possible only when 60 Senators are in favor of it or with budget reconciliation.

Dylan Scott makes the case that “The Covid-19 relief bill is also an Obamacare expansion bill: Millions of Americans could gain health coverage under the Democrats’ stimulus bill” at Vox. As Scott observes, “The Covid-19 relief package proposed by President Joe Biden and being considered by Democrats in Congress could expand health care coverage to millions of people, the most significant step in the last 10 years toward patching up some of the holes in the Affordable Care Act….The ACA led to a historically low uninsured rate in the US — 8.6 percent in 2016 — but the number of uninsured Americans started ticking up again during the Trump administration, rising to 9.2 percent by 2019. Then millions of people lost their insurance (along with their jobs) during the coronavirus pandemic….The Covid-19 relief plan is trying to move the rate back in the other direction. The most effective provision would be a two-year expansion of the ACA’s premium subsidies, which Americans can use to purchase private health insurance on the marketplaces the law established….Completing the work of universal coverage, which is what Biden’s campaign platform amounted to, will almost assuredly not be accomplished in the president’s first big legislative package. Democrats will likely face a lot of pressure from progressives to go bigger in the next reconciliation bill they pull together….But this is, nevertheless, a start.”


Brookings Forum on Equity for Black Americans Explores Strategies for Biden Administration

The Brookings Institution has a forum, “Around the halls: What should the Biden administration prioritize in a policy agenda that promotes equity for Black Americans?,” which includes presentations by Brookings experts on 14 subtopics, including:

Ensure access to vaccines and prioritize jobs and income – Camille M. Busette
Baby bonds and the child tax credit – E.J. Dionne, Jr.
Enforce higher standards on artificial intelligence – Alex Engler
Economic reforms should redress injustices of the past and provide equal opportunity now – William G. Gale
Ensure Black Americans are included in the COVID-19 vaccination programs and economic relief, and continue pursuing police reforms – William A. Galston
Prioritize teacher diversity in public schools – Michael Hansen
A policy agenda to support Black America must prioritize drug reform – John Hudak
Require all banks to offer very low-cost basic accounts – Aaron Klein
To embrace Black humanity, the Biden administration must embrace restitution – Rashawn Ray
Focus in particular on the barriers to opportunity faced by Black men and boys – Richard V. Reeves
Ensure Black Americans have access to the ballot box – Molly E. Reynolds
Address exclusionary zoning laws and encourage pathways to build wealth outside homeownership – Jenny Schuetz
Create a “Tech New Deal” for Black America – Nicol Turner Lee
Reduce the barriers to entering the legal profession – Clifford Winston

Here’s a sample contribution from “Prioritize teacher diversity in public schools” by Michael Hansen, Herman and George R. Brown Chair, Director of the Brown Center on Education Policy, and Senior Fellow in Governance Studies: ”

“I urge the Biden-Harris administration to prioritize teacher diversity in public schools as a policy lever to both advance the status of students of color and promote a more inclusive, multicultural democracy for all. The demographics of the nation’s student body crossed the 50% nonwhite threshold in 2014, becoming officially “minority majority” status overall. Yet, the nation’s public teacher workforce remains disproportionately white—roughly 80% according to the latest data.

In recent years, the empirical evidence drawn from many rigorous studies across many different schooling contexts has coalesced around an important finding: exposure to teachers of color increases many short- and long-term outcomes for students of color and promotes greater tolerance and empathy among white students. School systems nationwide should capitalize on this evidence base and start using teacher race as a policy lever for stronger and more equitable public education.

Since the waning days of the Obama administration, many states and districts have taken actions to promote diversity among teacher ranks, though often these efforts are targeted to urban settings, often with high shares of nonwhite students. The problem, though, is that student diversity is growing more diffuse, quickly increasing in the suburban and rural areas that previously served almost exclusively white student bodies; thus, current efforts likely misdirect teachers of color away from the areas where they could be most impactful.

Beyond recruiting greater numbers of teachers, school leaders also need complementary strategies both to provide more exposure opportunities to nonwhite teachers for all students, and to help train existing teachers to work with and support students of color without projecting their unconscious biases onto them. Fortunately, the evidence base on these areas is deep enough to point to the strategies leading to more inclusive schools where all students can learn on a level playing field.”

In addition, “For more information, you can read more Brookings experts’ analysis on race and American public policy, watch a recent webinar featuring Congresswoman Joyce Beatty and Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr., and subscribe to receive updates with future research in this field.”


Teixeira: Biden’s Biggest Move

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

What’s the Biggest Thing to Happen in the Biden Administration So Far?

No, it isn’t the impeachment trial. No, it isn’t the executive orders. It’s this, as lucidly captured by John Cassidy of The New Yorker:

“If there were any doubt that Joe Biden’s economic proposals represent a big break with the policies of the Obama and Clinton Administrations, the debate about Biden’s $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief plan dispelled it. For good or ill—and, in my view, it is very positive—the Biden White House is pursuing a bold and aggressive program of Keynesian economic management, the likes of which Washington hasn’t seen since the nineteen-sixties.

The argument began, last week, with a warning about the Biden plan from Lawrence Summers, the Harvard economist who served as the Secretary of the Treasury toward the end of the Clinton Administration and as the director of the White House National Economic Council during Obama’s first term. Whatever good the Biden spending package might do in boosting output, wages, and profits, Summers wrote in the Washington Post, it was so large that it could also “set off inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation, with consequences for the dollar and financial stability.” Over the weekend, Olivier Blanchard, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, seconded Summers’s concerns, tweeting, “The 1.9 trillion program could overheat the economy so badly as to be counterproductive.”

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union,” on Sunday, the Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen…said that the possibility of inflation picking up as the economy rebounds from the pandemic was “a risk that we have to consider,” but she also insisted that policymakers have the “tools to deal with that risk if it materializes.” Delighting Democrats who want to break with the past, Yellen emphasized the need to pull the economy out of its covid-19 slump rapidly and restore full employment. Citing a Congressional Budget Office study that predicted that the jobless rate wouldn’t return to its pre-pandemic level until 2025, she said, “There is absolutely no reason why we should suffer through a long, slow recovery.” CNN’s Jake Tapper pressed Yellen on how quickly the Biden plan might bring down the jobless rate, which is now at 6.3 per cent. (Before the pandemic, it was just 3.5 per cent.) Given the danger of making a bold promise that opponents could seize upon, most politicians would have punted on Tapper’s question. Yellen tackled it head on. “I would expect that if this package is passed we will get back to full employment next year,” she said…..

The message implicit in the Biden plan is that prior Democratic Administrations have been too modest in their ambitions and too committed to the old orthodoxy about the relationship between inflation and unemployment. Biden’s advisers haven’t made this argument explicitly, but Josh Bivens, an economist at the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute, laid it out clearly last week. “The U.S. economy has run far too-cool for decades, and this has stunted growth and deprived millions of potential job opportunities and tens of millions of potential opportunities for faster pay raises,” Bivens wrote, praising the Biden plan. Ever since the inflation of the nineteen-seventies, policymakers, led by the Fed, have sought to exert downward pressure on rising prices, a policy of “opportunistic disinflation,” Bivens noted. “The Biden plan is essentially the reverse of opportunistic disinflation—it’s opportunistic go-for-growth.”

As such, it marks a return to an older Keynesian tradition, which dominated economic policymaking in the nineteen-sixties, when the U.S. government sought to keep unemployment at very low levels to spur wage growth and capital investment. (In 1968, the jobless rate hit 3.4 per cent.) Skeptics will point out that this period ended with rising inflation and higher unemployment—the phenomenon known as stagflation. As Yellen made clear, the Biden Administration hasn’t discounted the risks of going big. But its policies are based on the conviction that these risks are far less serious than the danger of not doing enough to revive the economy and alleviate the suffering that Americans have endured over the past year. “We have got to address that,” Yellen said on CNN. “That’s the biggest risk.”

Somewhere John Maynard is smiling. As for Summers and the newly-awakened deficit hawks–to hell with them! Full speed ahead!


Political Strategy Notes

A warning for Dems from Ronald Brownstein’s article, “The GOP Cheat Code to Winning Back the House: The stakes for Democrats’ election-reform plan couldn’t be higher” in The Atlantic: “Democrats face a daunting future of severe Republican gerrymandering that could flip control of the House in 2022 and suppress diverse younger generations’ political influence for years to come, according to a new study released today. Those findings underscore the stakes in Democrats’ efforts to pass national legislation combatting such electoral manipulation….The four big states to watch are Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina, where the GOP enjoys complete control over the redistricting process, says Michael Li, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice and the author of the new report on how congressional redistricting could unfold following the 2020 census. “Those four states, which are seat-rich and where Republicans control the process, could decide who controls the next Congress,” he told me….The magnitude and speed of the GOP’s efforts since its 2020 losses to impose new state-level voter-suppression laws, even as it gears up for aggressive gerrymanders, have exceeded even the most alarmist predictions from Democrats and voting-rights advocates. If nothing else, the sudden and sweeping Republican efforts to tilt the rules of the game should leave Democrats with no illusions about the fate they can expect if they allow the filibuster to block new federal standards for redistricting, election reform, and voting rights. H.R. 1 and a new VRA represent the Democrats’ best, and perhaps only, chance to preempt the multipronged offensive Republicans are mounting to tilt the balance of national power back in their direction—and potentially keep it there for years.”

Reasonable Democrats disagree about the wisdom of the second Trump impeachment. But even among those who supported the 2nd impeachment, there is a lot of grumbling about the managers’ decision not to call witnesses. As Cameron Peters writes at Vox: “The move was widely criticized as an “an unbelievable cave by Democrats,” ” a “retreat,” and “a non-serious move.” Sunday, however, Democrats argued that they didn’t back down….“We could have had a thousand witnesses, but that could not have overcome the kinds of silly arguments that people like McConnell and Capito were hanging their hats on,” Raskin told NBC’s Chuck Todd Sunday on Meet the Press….Plaskett took a similar line with Tapper. “We didn’t need more witnesses, we needed more senators with spines,” she said Sunday….Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), one of the impeachment managers, also told Margaret Brennan on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday that “witnesses that were not friendly to the prosecution were not going to comply voluntarily, which meant that we were going to be litigating subpoenas for months and potentially years.”….As Neguse said Sunday: “I think it’s pretty clear, and lead manager Raskin touched on this, whether it was five more witnesses or 5,000 witnesses … it would not have made a difference to those senators.”

Another article by Brownstein, this one at CNN Politics, addresses a scary question, “Is the GOP’s extremist wing now too big to fail?” Brownstein observes, “Through their inactions on Trump and Greene, Republicans “are normalizing, they are mainstreaming, what counterterrorism experts would say is violent extremism: that it is acceptable to use inflammatory rhetoric and encourage violence to achieve your ends and … it is acceptable to engage in public life through conspiracy theories,” says Elizabeth Neumann, a former assistant secretary for threat prevention in the Department of Homeland Security for Trump who resigned and opposed his reelection….The exact share of the GOP coalition responsive to extremist White nationalist beliefs or the use of violence to advance political goals is impossible to measure precisely. But polling and other research suggests that the best way to think about it may be through concentric circles radiating out from hard-core believers willing to commit violence themselves to a much broader range of GOP voters who might not become violent personally but express sympathy or understanding for those who do….One-sixth to nearly one-fifth of Republicans have praised the January 6 attack in polling from PBS NewsHour/Marist and Quinnipiac. That’s a far higher percentage than among the public overall (just 8% in the Marist survey and 10% in Quinnipiac.) In the American Enterprise Institute poll, about 3-in-10 Republicans said they believed the QAnon conspiracy theory….The share of Republican voters who express support for the use of force to advance their political goals in general is considerably larger. In the American Enterprise Institute survey, 55% of Republicans agreed that “we may have to use force to save” the “American way of life.” Roughly 4-in-10 agreed with an even more harshly worded proposition: “If elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves even if it requires taking violent actions….The share of Republicans who “strongly agree” with that sentiment — about 1 in 8 — is smaller and may be another measure of the share of the party coalition willing to personally consider violence. But even so, Republican opinion on these questions dramatically stands out from other Americans. Big majorities of Democrats and independents rejected both propositions….The institute’s results almost exactly mirrored the findings of a national 2020 survey by Vanderbilt University political scientist Larry Bartels. Bartels found 51% of Republicans agreed with the statement that “we may have to use force” to save “the traditional American way of life.” In his study, just over 4-in-10 backed an idea similar to the second American Enterprise Institute question: the belief that “A time will come when patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands.”

Jeffrey M. Jones reports that “GOP Image Slides Giving Democrats Strong Advantage” at Gallup: “Americans’ opinions of the Republican Party have worsened in recent months, with 37% now saying they have a favorable view of the party, down from 43% in November. This decline, along with a slight increase in the Democratic Party’s positive ratings, to 48%, gives the Democrats a rare double-digit advantage in favorability….The Jan. 21-Feb. 2 poll was conducted in the weeks after the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by people seeking to disrupt the counting of the 2020 presidential election electoral votes….Since November, the GOP’s image has suffered the most among Republican Party identifiers, from 90% favorable to 78%. Independents’ and Democrats’ opinions are essentially unchanged….Meanwhile, the slight increase in positive ratings of the Democratic Party is being driven by independents, who show a seven-percentage-point jump in favorability since November, 41% to 48%. Ninety-four percent of Democrats (compared with 92% in November) and 4% of Republicans (compared with 5% in November) rate the Democratic Party favorably….The tumultuous end to the Trump presidency appears to have harmed the image of the Republican Party. The GOP now faces a double-digit deficit in favorable ratings compared with the Democratic Party.”


The Genesis of “Constitutional Cancel Culture”

While watching Trump’s second impeachment trial, I heard his lawyers use a strategically clever term that I dissected and denounced at New York:

Donald Trump’s impeachment trial lawyers, amid their effort to recast Trump as a victim of Congress — rather than the president who sent his militant followers to storm the U.S. Capitol and stop the routine confirmation of an election he himself had tried to steal — deployed an evocative new term: “constitutional cancel culture.” Attorney Michael van der Veen introduced it as part of his angry diatribe against the alleged Democrat witch hunt targeting Trump. Then Bruce Castor used it again to dramatize his claim that Trump’s wild remarks on January 6 were protected by the First Amendment and squarely within existing political traditions.

This semantic development was probably inevitable. “Cancel culture,” a term originally associated with a sort of loosely organized boycott of offensive people in power, gradually gained use as an invidious description of any incident where people are pressured to conform their opinions. But then “cancel culture” was adopted by conservatives, for whom it has the same sort of function the equally abused term “politically correct” used to serve: a way for those wrong-footed by habits of prejudice and privilege to regain high ground by posing as victims. And it has caught on with Republican politicians in a very big way, as Vox’s Aja Romano pointed out during the 2020 GOP National Convention:

“[D]uring Monday night’s lineup, several speakers mentioned cancel culture. Former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle portrayed it as a culture of ‘elites … who blame America,’ and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) stressed that Republicans ‘don’t give into cancel culture or the radical and factly baseless beliefs that things are worse today than in the 1860s or the 1960s.’ Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley described cancel culture as ‘an important issue. [Trump] knows that political correctness and cancel culture are dangerous and just plain wrong,’ she told viewers. ‘You cannot cancel a culture that love its heroes,’ Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl) said, referring obliquely to the nationwide trend of toppling Confederate statues in protests against racism.”

More recently, the term “cancel culture” has been used to convert some of the more egregiously aggressive and violence-prone conservatives into brave and persecuted dissenters, most notably freshman congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. Last week, House Freedom Caucus leader Jim Jordan wept crocodile tears for Greene, asking: “Who will the cancel culture attack next?”

On the principle that the most authoritarian of political figures are most likely to need the kind of moral switcheroo that attacks on “cancel culture” are designed to produce, it’s not surprising to find Donald Trump’s lawyers try to confer him its benefits. But it was devilishly clever to elevate it to a constitutional matter. Regardless of what you think of the arguments over the Senate’s power to sanction an ex-president, or the question of whether he met the definition of “incitement,” or whether mob he spoke to on January 6 constituted an “insurrection,” it is indisputable that Trump was the aggressor against Congress in trying to disrupt an entirely routine electoral vote count. Earlier he was the aggressor against the states, both Republican and Democratic controlled, who sought to count and certify votes. And above all, for months and months, he maligned and assaulted the rights of voters who wanted the opportunity to vote by mail in order to reduce their odds of dying. He left office as he spent every day of his presidency: a bully who deeply and cynically believed in winning by intimidation and incessant lying.

Wrapping this man in the crimson robes of martyrdom is one of the most outrageous stunts of Trumpism, worthy of its object in shamelessness. Yes, Trump will be acquitted, and there are defensible grounds for that verdict. But he did not come to the events under debate in the impeachment trial with clean hands. The idea he deserves pity for the treatment he has been given, and the dignity of a constitutional doctrine to protect behavior like his, is simply unconscionable.


GOP, a.k.a. ‘the Cop Killers Caucus’ Bets on Public Apathy, Amnesia

MSNBC commentator Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, has taken to calling the G.O.P. “the cop-killers caucus.” Harsh, yes, but it’s fair insofar as the likely acquittal of Trump will give a free pass to the primary instigator of the vicious riot that took the lives of a capitol policeman, Brian Sicknick. Two others, Howard Liebengood and Jeffery Smith dies by suicide in the wake of the riot.

So much for the “Blue Lives mattter” mantra of Republicans who profess to be champions of the police who risk their lives to protect the public — and members of congress.

Every Republican Senator knows Trump instigated the treasonous riot at the capitol. Every Repubican knows that the riot would not have happened and the seven lives would not have been lost without Trump’s agitation. Yet, if more than 10 of 50 Republican Senators vote to hold Trump accountable, it will be a surprise.

The impeachment managers did an outstanding job of presenting the case against Trump. As E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes, summing up their work:

The House impeachment managers moved efficiently on Wednesday to close off the escape hatches and back doors for Senate Republicans. Quietly but passionately, they put the lie to the sham alibis that weak and cowardly members of the GOP are likely to invoke if they decide to do Donald Trump’s bidding one more time.

Those who vote to acquit the former president will now own it all: The incendiary speech that made the nation’s capital a killing ground but also the months of incitement and lying that built up to the violence.

They will own the threats against elected officials who refused to cheat on Trump’s behalf, the attacks on Black voters in big cities, and the savage mendacity of his all-caps tweets. Voting to acquit will mean joining in Trump’s rejection of the democratic obligation to accept the outcome of a free election and in his declarations even before the voting began that this was a “rigged” and “stolen” contest.

Dionne adds that “Importantly, the managers showed how Trump’s criminality involved not just whipping up the shameful, quasi-fascist violence (although that alone would justify conviction) but also his attacks on the entire democratic process, an argument carried by Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif). “He had absolutely no support for his claims,” Swalwell said. “But that wasn’t the point. He wanted to make his base angrier and angrier. And to make them angry, he was willing to say anything.” Dionne concludes,

This is why we will owe a debt to the House impeachment managers for many years to come. They have created an indisputable record. They catalogued lie after lie about the election’s outcome. They laid out Trump’s long history of promoting political violence, including his praise, shortly before the attack on the Capitol, for Rudolph W. Giuliani, right after his lawyer had called for “trial by combat.”

The punditry says that fewer than 10 Republican Senators are likely to vote for Trump’s conviction. This will be an outrage, a sign that a once great party has surrendered to craven opportunism or, worse, brutal authoritarianism. But thanks to the work of the impeachment managers, the country will know how spineless the party has become.

The Democratic impeachment managers showed Americans that one party is doing its job with impressive thoroughness and commitment. Those Republicans who will vote to acquit will be placing a cynical bet that most voters either don’t care or will forget their cowardice and hypocrisy in time for the next election. The job of Democrats is to prove them wrong.


The Beltway Fantasy About Mitch McConnell and Impeachment

Nothing in recent days has exasperated me more than the desire of Washington reporters to imagine some anti-Trump coup led by Mitch McConnell. I tried to pour cold water on it at New York this week:

A day into the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, and more than two weeks after a test vote that showed how many Senate Republicans wanted to stop the trial before it started, there remains a peculiar, glittering fantasy among Beltway media types that somehow Mitch McConnell will yet find a way to lead his flock onto the path of righteousness in time to save his party and prevent a Trump comeback. Here’s a report from Bloomberg:

“Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is signaling to fellow Republicans that the final vote on Donald Trump’s impeachment is matter of conscience and that senators who disputed the constitutionality of the trial could still vote to convict the former president, according to three people familiar with his thinking.

“The Kentucky Republican has also suggested that he hasn’t made up his mind how he’ll vote, two of the people said, even though he voted Tuesday to declare it unconstitutional for the Senate to hear the case against a former president.

“That position is starkly different than McConnell’s declaration at the start of Trump’s first impeachment trial last year that he did not consider himself an impartial juror.”

This intel was gobbled up and posted at the top of Wednesday’s edition of Politico Playbook, the daily bread of the Capitol set. Both the Bloomberg and Playbook accounts have “to be sure” acknowledgements that Trump’s conviction remains unlikely. But there’s something dreamy and almost mystical about the abiding belief that the wily McConnell is operating behind the scenes to save his party from a MAGA future. It was, indeed, a raging counter-narrative in Washington until January 26, when McConnell joined 44 other Senate Republicans in supporting Rand Paul’s effort to preempt the swearing in of senators on grounds that trying an ex-president is unconstitutional.

Technically, it’s true that the January 26 vote was on a motion to table Paul’s resolution stopping the trial. So, in theory, Republicans could say they just wanted to hear more about Paul’s deep constitutional thinking, and did not necessarily share it. But that’s certainly not what anyone understood the vote to be about at the time. Paul designed his gambit to show that conviction was impossible, and accomplished his purpose.

Those who detect the moving of tectonic plates far beneath the surface of Senate Republican sentiment may point to Senator Bill Cassidy’s epiphany on Tuesday. He was the one Republican who apparently changed his mind since January 26 about the constitutionality of the trial. But what was his reasoning? He was pretty clear about it in interviews:

“The House managers were focused, they were organized … they made a compelling argument. President Trump’s team, they were disorganized. … One side is doing a great job and the other side is doing a terrible job. … As an impartial juror, I’m going to vote for the side that did the good job.”

Voting for the team of lawyers who put on a better show on a matter of constitutional law is not a very good look, though in Cassidy’s defense, he is a gastroenterologist by training, not an attorney. He’s already been rebuked by his own state Republican Party, and isn’t exactly showing his colleagues the benefits of changing sides.

As for McConnell, it’s easy enough for him to call the ultimate guilty or not guilty verdict a “vote of conscience.” In Senate-speak, all that means is that he won’t whip the vote and make it a matter of party conference discipline. But here’s the thing: Unless there’s some previously undetected movement in his conference, he doesn’t have to.

So why do sources “familiar with his thinking” keep whispering in the ear of reporters that McConnell is still on the fence? That’s unclear, though they could be trying to force the Kentuckian’s hand via the media, tapping into the intense desire of the permanent Washington Establishment for a return to the pre-Trump days when politicians didn’t incite mobs to attack the Capitol.

Most likely, a misunderstanding of the current fault lines dividing Republican elected officials is the problem. Since January 6, only a handful (like the ten House Republicans who voted for impeachment) have been willing to fully turn their backs on Trump. The vast majority have been divided between those who argued Trump did nothing wrong (and that his allies who tried to overturn the election results in Congress were brave patriots trying to “stop the steal”), and those who conceded bad presidential behavior but wanted to forget about it and move on to the crucial task of opposing Joe Biden’s agenda. McConnell has been in the latter camp all along. There’s a vast gap between that position and the fateful step of telling Republican voters they have no right to vote for Donald Trump in the future, which is what a conviction would mean. If some force exists that will ultimately save the GOP from the views of its own base, it’s not going to be Mitch McConnell or the Senate Republican conference, no matter how poorly Trump’s attorneys perform.


Why Youth Use the Word Socialism

Here’s why so many young people say they support “socialism” despite the fact that it is politically toxic to many American voters and the actual policy agenda that they support isn’t really socialist.

For a wide variety of progressive political strategists it is understandably frustrating that Bernie Sanders and his followers insist on describing their objective as “socialism” when their actual policy agenda more closely approximates that followed in the Scandinavian countries – which are market economies with substantial social regulation and welfare systems and not socialist economies – and the term socialism is wildly unpopular with many of the working class people that they sincerely want to win to their side.

As Ruy Teixeira notes in a recent post:

…for many who use the term, their idea of socialism seems closer to a traditional social-democratic mixed economy than a radically different system that would somehow do away with profits and markets. So why call it socialism, a term that has all kinds of unpleasant associations and does imply a replacement of capitalism? Why not call it “people’s capitalism” or “democratic capitalism” or “the advanced mixed economy” or whatever?

By grasping nostalgically at revolutionary rhetoric, the Left sets the bar high for public embrace of what might otherwise be quite popular policy ideas, from single-payer health insurance to free college to a job guarantee.

Teixeira, along with others he mentions including John Judis, E.J. Dionne, William Galston, Fred Block and Andrew Koppleman, all carefully distinguish between the classical definition of socialism and the range of political platforms, economic policies and government institutions that the modern left actually supports. Their common hope is that that these clarifications might wean the left away from its unnecessary infatuation with “socialism” as their label of choice.

But in order to understand the preference many young people have for the word “socialism” these days, it is important to understand that for many, their advocacy of the term is not based on support for any specific set of policies or specific form of government so much as it is on a profound rejection of the basic moral and ethical value system that is inextricably bound to capitalism.

It was the great intellectual contribution of the otherwise appallingly un-intellectual Ayn Rand that she was willing to proudly express and glorify the underlying value system of pure capitalism – the social Darwinist view of the world popular at the beginning of the 20th century. It held that:

Greed is good, altruism is bad

Competition is good, cooperation is bad,

Contempt is good, compassion is bad.

The poor are not the “blessed” of Jesus and the bible. They are lazy, despicable losers who deserve their fate and the scorn of the successful.

There are inherently superior individuals and inherently inferior individuals and an ideal society would give absolute freedom to the former and absolutely nothing to the latter.

And so on. Anyone wanting to wade through 90 interminable pages of this essentially sociopathic philosophy can find it in her book, Atlas Shrugged.

Back at the end of the 19th century there were many social Darwinists who had the courage to express this moral and ethical philosophy proudly and openly but after World War Two the rhetoric of naturally superior people and utterly worthless inferior people carried with it a little too much of the lingering odor of the gas chambers to be argued in polite company. Rand was the only major figure willing to champion Social Darwinism without apology.

Instead, the post-war defenders of capitalism argued two things:

First, that Capitalism was the only alternative to state totalitarianism and prison camps. Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom was the Ur-text of this view for intellectuals; Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom was the Cliff Notes version for college freshmen. Buying and selling things in markets was a magnificent exercise in freedom; paying taxes and supporting social programs was tantamount to suffering the whips and chains of slavery (one leading conservative taught his toddler son economics by buying him an ice cream cone and then taking a series of big bites out of it while saying “You see, this is the federal tax, this is the state tax.”)

Liberals argued that some minor reforms of the capitalist system could be made in the name of compassion but that such reforms had to be made very timidly because there was, as the Kennedy Administration economist Arthur Okun, titled his 1963 book, a “Great Tradeoff – Equality versus Efficiency.” Any interference with the perfectly balanced, automatic operation of a completely unregulated free market inevitably reduced economic efficiency and made all of society poorer as a result.

Stripped of its fancy math, the logical argument behind this “perfect efficiency” notion was the following:

If one accepts the necessary sassumptions that all businessmen and all workers have “perfect foresight” about the future and all men and machines are perfectly mobile and adaptable, then, in principle, an ideal free market economy would automatically be optimally efficient.

Why?

Because with his perfect knowledge of the future each businessman would only hire the most productive workers he could possibly find and each worker would only choose the job that paid the best wages for his particular skills. As a result, each worker would get exactly what he was “worth” and each businessman would always get the most productive possible workers for the job.

This same perfect knowledge of the future would also allow the businessman to produce exactly what consumers desired and consumers to know exactly what bundle of goods and services would give them the maximum satisfaction. The logical deduction from these assumptions was therefore that an ideal free market would necessarily produce the maximum possible economic efficiency and consumer satisfaction.

Stripped of the elegant mathematical equations that the theory basically plagiarized from classical physics and electrodynamics, as a purely logical argument this conclusion really sounds very silly – and, in fact, it really is. Using exactly the same assumptions it can be shown that Santa Claus could also create

a “perfect” economic result. With his perfect knowledge of how good or bad every little boy or girl had been (perfect foresight) and with infinite elves to produce exactly the right toys (perfect mobility of labor and capital) Santa could produce maximum economic efficiency and consumer satisfaction as he flew around the world instantly delivering all the toys on Christmas eve.

No-one in the real world (other than economists and small children) took this argument seriously but as long as unemployment stayed reasonably low and the standard of living gradually increased during the 80’s and 90’s the idea that the “free market” was basically efficient was able to escape close scrutiny. In fact, as the 2000’s progressed, the business establishment and the wealthy became increasingly convinced of their own spectacular genius and innate natural superiority and increasingly demanded not only lower and lower taxes but also the most abject and humble awe, respect and admiration from the “little people” below them.

The 2008 crisis blew up this fantasy, revealing a vision of the wealthy and powerful as venal money grubbers who cynically extracted vast bonuses from their corporations while the economy collapsed and millions of ordinary people lost their homes and jobs. The generation of college students coming of age in this era, as a result, looked behind the economic textbooks and began to perceive capitalism as a conspiracy of vastly overpaid men hiding in luxurious mega-mansions and gleefully reciting the interminable harangues of the hero in Atlas Shrugged to themselves like magic incantations.

Quite naturally, then, many young people were attracted to Occupy Wall Street and then the campaigns of Bernie Sanders. It was an emotional reaction – a moral and ethical outrage at the twisted morality of “Capitalism” that generated their advocacy of socialism and not the details of economic policies platforms and institutions. They simply felt that unfettered capitalism was an inherently immoral system and “socialism” a convenient word to suggest a more humane alternative.

This suggests that the common ground progressive “social democrats” and “socialists” can find with each other is in the realm of morals and ethics, in their shared rejection of the cynicism, greed and selfishness of “ideal” capitalism’s social Darwinist philosophy.

In closing his post, Teixeira suggests that “just for old time’s sake” Social Democrats should recall the song “The Red Flag” the traditional, idealistic anthem of the British Labor Party that had been sung at every annual conference since the 19th century.

It well recalls the triumphs past
It gives the hope of peace at last
The banner bright, the symbol plain
Of human right and human gain

To find common ground with the modern socialist supporters of Bernie Sanders and AOC, traditional progressives and social democrats can also recall a more recent anthem of social protest that was also shared by millions:

imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world,
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

It is on this shared belief in the hope and possibility of a more moral and ethical social system than venal social Darwinistic capitalism, and not in debating the details of programs and policies or labels like “social democrat” and “socialist,” that the basis for political collaboration and alliance can be found.


Political Strategy Notes

Will voters in the 2022 midterm elections remember and penalize Trump’s enablers in the Senate? Put another way, will Trump’s Senate trial have an effect on the midterms, whether he is convicted or not? If Trump is convicted, a long shot, the answer could be yes to some extent. Unfortunately, several of Trump’s most shameless Senate enablers, including Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell are are not running in 2022. Marco Rubio has announced that he is running for re-election in 2022. He will likely face a high-profile Democratic opponent, since popular Reps. Val Demmings and Gwen Graham and former Rep. David Jolly are reportedly interested in running against him. Rand Paul, another Trump apologist, could run for re-election in 2022. He has supported legislation limiting senators to two terms, which he will have completed by 2022, so he may retire, although nobody ever went broke underestimating the integrity of Republican senators. If there is a wild card, it’s Mitch McConnell who could influence other senators with a strong stand for conviction. But it has to happen very soon. More likely, Democratic Senate prospects in 2022 depend less on Trump’s fate than the course of the pandemic and the economy.

There is not much chance that Trump will be convicted, according to Manu Raju and Alex Rodgers at CNN Politics, who report: “But even after witnessing the deadly violence firsthand, and being reminded of it again at the scene of the crime, many Republican senators appeared no closer on Wednesday to convicting former President Donald Trump on the charge of “incitement of insurrection.”….While they were struck by the impeachment managers’ presentation, these Republicans said that the House Democrats did not prove Trump’s words led to the violent actions. They compared the January 6 riot to last summer’s racial justice protests and criticized how the trial is being handled….Sen. Lindsey Graham said he couldn’t believe “we could lose the Capitol like that” but added that it didn’t change his mind on whether to acquit Trump during the trial. “I think there’s more votes for acquittal after today than there was yesterday,” the South Carolina Republican said….”I think you get at best six Republicans — probably five and maybe six,” GOP Sen. Tim Scott told CNN when asked if the video and footage changed his mind on convicting Trump. Asked if he considers himself an impartial juror, the South Carolina Republican said: “I think I’m as impartial as the other 99….The six Republicans could be Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mitt Romney of Utah and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana — the six Republicans who broke with their party Tuesday to vote that the impeachment trial was constitutional.”

With many rank and file Republicans walking away from their party in disgust, it should be a good time for Libertarians and other third parties to crank up their recruitment efforts. As regards a “Trump-Led third partty,” Geoffrey Skelley calls it “unlikely” at FiveThirtyEight. As Skelley writes, “On the one hand, this political calculation does make some sense. Many Americans (57 percent in 2020, per Gallup) think a third major party is needed. And there is some evidence that if there were more than two parties — for instance, if the Democratic Party and Republican Party each split in two — many Americans would identify with a new party.” However, Skelley notes that “many states have onerous ballot access lawsthat require large numbers of signatures or stringent filing fees. This makes things extra challenging for third parties as they have a harder time raising money, finding volunteers, paying workers and getting enough signatures to qualify to appear on a ballot than their Democratic and Republican counterparts….Voters’ strong attachment to the major parties has also limited the ability of third parties to grow. Although a huge share of voters claim they’re independent, the reality is that roughly nine in 10 Americans identify with one of the two major parties, and, by and large, that’s been the case for decades. Add in the deep divides in our current political environment, and the status quo doesn’t look likely to change anytime soon, especially as the risk of “wasting a vote” on a candidate with little chance of winning could actually help the party a voter dislikes win.”

In terms of formulating long-range strategy, Democrats would do well to heed the warning of Ronald Brownstein,  who writes at The Atlantic: “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last week started running ads tying potentially vulnerable GOP House members to both QAnon’s rising presence and Trump’s role in provoking the riot….Yet most Republicans appear more comfortable weathering those attacks than confronting what McConnell has called the “cancer” of growing extremist influence in the party. Opening the door to radicals like Greene is part of a much larger shift: As I’ve written before, the GOP is morphing into a quasi-authoritarian party—one that’s becoming more willing to undermine democratic norms to maintain power. Its long-term evolution toward any-means-necessary militance is likely to only intensify as the nation’s growing racial and religious diversity, which triggers so many in the party’s base, unspools through the 2020s. This tug toward conspiracy-theory-laden, often-racist extremism “is in the Republican Party DNA,” [author of Rule and Ruin Geoffrey] Kabaservice told me. “If the party isn’t going to forcefully turn against QAnon and the Proud Boys and the neo-Nazis who invaded the Capitol … then that DNA is going to be passed along in an even more virulent form to the next generation of Republicans.”