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Jul 29 2014

The Failure of the Political Class

GOP’s 30-year spin job is over: Why we are not a center-right nation

Joshua Sager, Salon

Monday, Jul 28, 2014 11:45 AM EST

According to Gallup polling, 59 percent of Americans think that U.S. wealth “should be more evenly distributed” among a larger percentage of the people while only 33 percent thought that the current “distribution is fair.” While this is down from the 2008 modern high point, where 68 percent of Americans supported more redistribution, the public opinion of redistribution has held a stable majority, if not super-majority, for decades.



According to Pew Research, 69 percent of Americans oppose any cuts to Social Security or Medicare, even in order to cut the deficit, while only 23 percent support such cuts. Additionally, 59 percent oppose cuts on programs assisting the poor in order to address the deficit, while only 33 percent support such austerity.

A multitude of polls have indicated that between 60 percent and 80 percent of Americans support increasing taxes on the wealthy, depending upon how the question is worded and the polling venue – this indicates that a majority of Americans support increasing taxes on top-earners in order to reduce the deficit.

According to Quinnipiac Polling, 71 percent of Americans support increasing the minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour, while only 27 percent oppose increasing the minimum wage.

According to Gallup Polling, 54 percent of Americans support labor unions, while only 39 percent disapprove of unions.

According to Gallup Polling, 37 percent of Americans think that we spend too much on defense, while only 28 percent think that we spend too little.

During the fight over letting jobless benefits expire, Quinnipiac Polling found that 58 percent of Americans supported extending benefits by at least three months, while only 37 percent of Americans supported letting benefits expire.

According to Washington Post/ABC polling, 59 percent of Americans support gay marriage, while only 34 percent oppose marriage equality.

According to Pew Research, 54 percent of Americans support keeping abortion “legal in all/most cases,” while only 40 percent support making abortion “illegal in all/most cases.” While informative of public opinion, this poll is moot, as abortion is a constitutionally protected right, and there is no way for even a majority of antiabortion voters (that hasn’t existed for decades) to legally make abortion illegal in most cases.

According to ABC/Washington Post polling, 51 percent of Americans disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, while only 33 percent support the decision. This decision was a direct result of the Alabama GOP’s attempts to circumvent the Voting Rights Act preclearance provision, and was engineered to allow right-wing legislatures to pass voter disenfranchisement laws.

According to polling by the Feldman Group, 62 percent of Americans support the Paycheck Fairness Act – which seeks to close the gender-based wage gap – while only 29 percent of Americans oppose the act.

According to Gallup Polling, 58 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, while only 39 percent support continued criminalization.

Even Fox News Polls indicate that 68 percent of Americans support a pathway to citizenship, while only 15 percent support deportation – of the remaining 17 percent of those polled, 13 percent support expanding guest worker programs while 4 percent didn’t know what they wanted.

According to Pew Research, 81 percent of Americans support universal background checks for all gun purchases, while only 17 percent oppose them. A University of California, Davis, poll concluded that even 55.4 percent of gun sellers supported universal background checks and disqualifying offenses for gun purchase, while only 37.5 percent opposed background checks.

According to USA Today/Stanford University polling, 73 percent of Americans believe in climate change and 52 percent of Americans say that it will be a “very serious” problem if we don’t implement policies to reduce it (as opposed to 10 percent who say that climate change will be “not serious at all”).

According to polling by Perception Insight/Greenberg Quinlan, 66 percent of Americans support stronger EPA air regulations, 72 percent support stronger carbon-emission regulations, and 60 percent support stronger regulations on motor vehicle emissions.

According to these policy polls, an “average American” supports the redistribution of wealth through taxing the wealthy more, wants to increase the minimum wage and environmental protections, thinks that unions are beneficial to society, and opposes attempts to cut anti-poverty programs or entitlements, even if those cuts are intended to balance the budget. On social issues, this theoretical American supports gay equality, reasonable abortion access, universal background checks for gun purchases, wage equality for women and the legalization of marijuana.



The tendency of the American public to vote based upon party or cultural identification rather than objective policy preferences creates a situation where almost half of our political representation in the federal government supports policies that are supported by only a tiny minority of the total population; this is what has led Congress to have a 13 percent approval rating, up slightly from when it cratered to 9 percent in late 2013.

If the American people want to actually implement their policy preferences, they need to stop voting based upon cultural or party identifiers and start voting based purely upon policy. Democrats need to vote for progressive politicians while Republicans need to vote for conservatives who do not live so far out on the fringe that they fall off the edge of sanity.

My party has lost its soul: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and the victory of Wall Street Democrats

Bill Curry, Salon

Sunday, Jul 27, 2014 07:00 AM EST

Though a private citizen, Nader shepherded more bills through Congress than all but a handful of American presidents. If that sounds like an outsize claim, try refuting it. His signature wins included landmark laws on auto, food, consumer product and workplace safety; clean air and water; freedom of information, and consumer, citizen, worker and shareholder rights. In a century only Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson passed more major legislation.

Nader’s also the only American ever to start a major social or political movement all by himself. The labor, civil rights and women’s movements all had multiple mothers and fathers, as did each generation’s peace and antiwar movements. Not so the consumer movement, which started out as just one guy banging away at a typewriter. Soon he was a national icon, seen leaning into Senate microphones on TV or staring down the establishment from the covers of news magazines.



Washington’s rapid response affirmed Nader’s belief that people provided with critical facts will demand change and that sooner than one might expect politicians, however listless or corrupt, will give it to them. This faith in the power of ideas and of public opinion – in the educability of people and thus in the viability of democracy – distinguishes Nader from much of what remains of the American left.



In 1985 moderate Democrats including Bill Clinton and Al Gore founded the Democratic Leadership Council, which proposed innovative policies while forging ever closer ties to business. Clinton would be the first Democratic presidential nominee since FDR and probably ever to raise more money than his Republican opponent. (Even Barry Goldwater outraised Lyndon Johnson.) In 2008 Obama took the torch passed to Clinton and became the first Democratic nominee to outraise a GOP opponent on Wall Street. His 2-to-1 spending advantage over John McCain broke a record Richard Nixon set in his drubbing of George McGovern.

Throughout the 1980s Nader watched as erstwhile Democratic allies vanished or fell into the welcoming arms of big business.  By the mid-’90s the whole country was in a swoon over the new baby-faced titans of technology and global capital. If leading Democrats thought technology threatened anyone’s privacy or employment or that globalization threatened anyone’s wages, they kept it to themselves.  In his contempt for oligarchs of any vintage and rejection of the economic and political democratization myths of the new technology Nader seemed an anachronism.



Between 1996 and 2000 the Wall Street Democrats who by then ruled the party’s upper roosts scored their first big legislative wins. Until then their impact was most visible in the quietude of Congress, which had not enacted any major social or economic reforms since the historic environmental laws of the early ’70s. It was the longest such stretch since the 19th century, but no one seemed to notice.

In the late ’70s, deregulation fever swept the nation. Carter deregulated trucks and airlines; Reagan broke up Ma Bell, ending real oversight of phone companies. But those forays paled next to the assaults of the late ’90s. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 had solid Democratic backing as did the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. The communications bill authorized a massive giveaway of public airwaves to big business and ended the ban on cross ownership of media. The resultant concentration of ownership hastened the rise of hate radio and demise of local news and public affairs programming across America. As for the “modernization” of financial services, suffice to say its effect proved even more devastating. Clinton signed and still defends both bills with seeming enthusiasm.

The Telecommunications Act subverted anti-trust principles traceable to Wilson. The financial services bill gutted Glass-Steagall, FDR’s historic banking reform. You’d think such reversals would spark intra-party debate but Democrats made barely a peep. Nader was a vocal critic of both bills. Democrats, he said, were betraying their heritage and, not incidentally, undoing his life’s work. No one wanted to hear it. When Democrats noticed him again in 2000 the only question they thought to ask was, what’s got into Ralph? Such is politics in the land of the lotus eaters.

The furor over Nader arose partly because issues of economic and political power had, like Nader himself, grown invisible to Democrats. As Democrats continued on the path that led from Coehlo to Clinton to Obama, issues attendant to race, culture and gender came to define them. Had they nominated a pro-lifer in 2000 and Gloria Steinem run as an independent it’s easy to imagine many who berated Nader supporting her. Postmortems would have cited the party’s abandonment of principle as a reason for its defeat. But Democrats hooked on corporate cash and consultants with long lists of corporate clients were less attuned to Nader’s issues.

Democrats today defend the triage liberalism of social service spending but limit their populism to hollow phrase mongering (fighting for working families, Main Street not Wall Street). The rank and file seem oblivious to the party’s long Wall Street tryst. Obama’s economic appointees are the most conservative of any Democratic president since Grover Cleveland but few Democrats seem to notice, or if they notice, to care.



Populism encompasses not just Bryan’s late 19th century agrarians but their close relations, the early 20th century urban progressives and countless descendants of each. Jefferson and Jackson are called fathers of both populism and the Democratic Party. Jackson and Bryan are the only Democrats other than FDR to be nominated three times for president. All populists share common traits: love of small business; high standards of public ethics; concern for individuals, families and communities; suspicion of elites and of all economic trusts, combinations and cartels.

Some recent populist talk is owing to the election of two liberals, Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio. (Liberals taking Massachusetts or Manhattan didn’t used to be news.) It’s unclear how well they and other Democratic liberals can tap populist sentiment. In any case, Democrats are late to the populist dance. Mass protests of corrupt oligarchies have roiled global politics for a decade. In America the Tea Party has been crying crony capitalism since the Bush bailout and Obama stimulus. Income inequality’s so bad Mitt Romney wants to raise the minimum wage.

Even the Democrats’ tardy me-too-ism seems insincere, less a churning of policy than a freshening of message. In 2009, when he had the votes in Congress, Obama chose not to raise the minimum wage. Not till late 2013 did Democrats press the issue. Why then? As the New York Times reported, “they found an issue they believe can lift their fortunes both locally and nationally in 2014.” If there’s a true populist revolt on the left it is as yet invisible to the naked eye.



Democrats aren’t even having a debate. Their one think tank, the Center for American Progress, serves their establishment. (Its founder, John Podesta, once Clinton’s chief of staff, is now counselor to Obama.) The last real primary challenge to a Democratic senator was in 2006 when Ned Lamont took on Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman. They say the GOP picks presidents based on seniority. Two years out, Republicans seem headed for a bloody knife fight while Hillary Clinton may be headed for the most decorous, seniority-based succession in either party’s history. (If she loses this time it will be to herself.)

If Democrats had caught populist fever they’d be reappraising their own orthodoxy and offing a few of their own incumbents. Owing only partly to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, they instead spend their days as Republicans do, in an endless search for new ways to help the rich pump money into politics. As public alienation deepens, polls show Democrats generally content with their party’s leaders. Of such stuff revolutions are not made.



What agrarian populists did best was battle cartels and advocate for a kind of homegrown communitarian capitalism. They busted price fixing railroads and granaries, fought for rural free delivery and established cooperative banks that still provide a third of all credit to rural America. Most amazing, they did it all via Congress amid the venality of the first Gilded Age. Powerful trusts were turning farmers into wage slaves and the world’s greatest democracy into just another corrupt oligarchy when Populists and Progressives rose as if from nowhere to stop them.

Parallels to our own time could hardly be clearer. Like invasive species destroying the biodiversity of a pond, today’s global trusts swallow up everything smaller than themselves.  The rules of global trade make organizing for higher wages next to impossible in developed and undeveloped countries alike. Fights for net neutrality and public Wi-Fi are exactly like the fight for rural free delivery.  Small businesses are as starved for credit as small farmers ever were. PACs are our Tammany Hall. What’s missing is a powerful, independent reform movement.

Republicans make their livings off the misappropriation of populism. Democrats by their silence assist them. Rand Paul is more forceful than any Democrat on privacy and the impulse to empire. The Tea Party rails loudest against big banks and corporate corruption. Even on cultural issues Democrats don’t really lead: Your average college student did more than your average Democratic congressman to advance gay marriage.



Mistaking the nature of the crisis, Obama mistook massive fraud for faulty computer modeling and a middle-class meltdown for a mere turn of the business cycle. Had he grasped his situation he’d have known the most he could do by priming the pump would be to reinflate the bubble. Contrast him to FDR, who saw the systemic nature of his crisis. To banks Roosevelt offered only reform; financial help went to customers whose bad mortgages he bought up and whose savings he insured. By buying into Bush’s bailout, Obama co-signed the biggest check ever cut by a government, made out to the culprits, not the victims. As for his stimulus, it didn’t cure the disease and hefty portions of it smelled like pork.



Liberals have spent the intervening years debating macroeconomic theory but macroeconomics can’t fathom this crisis. This isn’t just a slow recovery from a financial sector collapse, or damage done by debt overhang or Obama’s weak tea Keynesianism. We’re in crisis because of all our broken systems; because we still let big banks prey on homeowners, students, consumers and retailers; because our infrastructure is decrepit; because our tax code breeds inefficiency and inequality; because foreign interventions bled us dry. We’re in peril because our democracy is dying. Reviving it will take more than deficit spending and easy money. It will take reform, and before that, a whole new political debate.



It pains us to watch Democrats bungle populist issues. We see Rand Paul corner the market on privacy and the scrutiny of defense budgets and wonder why no Democrat rises to expose his specious rantings. We yearn for a new politics but worry that our democracy, like that Antarctic ice shelf, has reached its tipping point. For things to improve Democrats must come up with better ideas and learn how to present them. So why don’t they?

One reason is that today’s Democrats think politics is all about marketing. While Republicans built think tanks Democrats built relationships with celebrity pollsters. When things go awry one pops up on TV to tell us how they “lost control of the narrative.” Asked to name a flaw, Obama invariably cites his failure to “tell our story.” Judging by his recent book, Tim Geithner thinks failing to tell his story was the only mistake he ever made. People don’t hate the bailout because Tim Geithner gives bad speeches. They hate it because their mortgages are still underwater.

Democrats must learn that policy precedes message; figure out what you believe, then how to tell people about it. A good idea advertises itself.



Democrats think the power of money is greater than the power of ideas. Nader thinks that with the right ideas you can win even if outspent 100-to-1.  Every year Democrats further dilute their ideas to get the money they think they need to sell them. The weaker the ideas, the more ads they need, the more money it takes, the weaker the ideas. As you can tell from their ads, they’ve been at this a long time.

They don’t believe in ideas because they don’t believe in people. Obama wasted years dickering with Republicans who wished him only ill. He should have talked to the people and let them talk to the Republicans.

One reason we know voters will embrace populism is that they already have. It’s what they thought they were getting with Obama. In 2008 Obama said he’d bail out homeowners, not just banks. He vowed to fight for a public option, raise the minimum wage and clean up Washington. He called whistle-blowers heroes and said he’d bar lobbyists from his staff. He was critical of drones and wary of the use of force to advance American interests. He spoke eloquently of the threats posed to individual privacy by a runaway national security state.

He turned out to be something else altogether. To blame Republicans ignores a glaring truth: Obama’s record is worst where they had little or no role to play. It wasn’t Republicans who prosecuted all those whistle-blowers and hired all those lobbyists; who authorized drone strikes or kept the NSA chugging along; who reneged on the public option, the minimum wage and aid to homeowners. It wasn’t even Republicans who turned a blind eye to Wall Street corruption and excessive executive compensation. It was Obama.

A populist revolt among Democrats is unlikely absent their reappraisal of Obama, which itself seems unlikely. Not since Robert Kennedy have Democrats been so personally invested in a public figure. Liberals fell hardest so it’s especially hard for them to admit he’s just not that into them.



If Democrats can’t break up with Obama or make up with Nader, they should do what they do best: take a poll. They would find that beneath all our conflicts lies a hidden consensus. It prizes higher ethics, lower taxes and better governance; community and privacy; family values and the First Amendment; economic as well as cultural diversity. Its potential coalition includes unions, small business, nonprofits, the professions, the economically embattled and all the marginalized and excluded. Such a coalition could reshape our politics, even our nation.

Inside the Beltway, things look much different.

No Labels? No results? No problem.

By Meredith Shiner, Yahoo News

7/28/14

In 2010, a group of political veterans who said they were tired of the extreme partisanship paralyzing Washington created an organization to advance their new cause. The founding mission of No Labels was “to move America from the old politics of point scoring toward a new politics of problem-solving.” Through a combination of congressional engagement in Washington and grass roots organizing around the country, No Labels’ lofty aspiration was to promote bipartisanship by providing political cover for lawmakers to work across the aisle and creating incentives to slowly erode the culture of polarization and intransigence in Congress. But four years later, it appears the group designed to combat the insidious habits of the Washington establishment has been engulfed by it.



The group failed to carve out much of a niche for itself in the 2012 presidential contest. Its backing of a 12-point “Make Congress Work!” action plan and promotion of a bill that would “withhold congressional pay if members of Congress fail to pass spending bills and the budget on time” went nowhere.  Since then, its focus on fostering bipartisanship in Congress has not gone far, except to the extent that there is now bipartisan stagnation and gridlock so severe some members report becoming depressed and hating their jobs. Members of Congress seem all too eager to accept the mantle of civic responsibility offered by No Labels, only to return to partisan warfare.

In July 2013, No Labels held a rally where lawmakers of both parties crowded a park outside the Capitol, stood on a grandstand and one by one declared themselves “problem solvers.” The government shut down a few months later as Republicans, including some who appeared on that stage, refused to allow a budget to pass unless it defunded the president’s health care law.

Even in its own May document, No Labels claimed only one legislative victory: a bill that passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee by voice vote, but which never came up for a vote in the House or became law.

It turns out that for a group that consistently bills itself as above the partisan politics and the corrosive culture of Washington, No Labels has come to exemplify some of the most loathed qualities of the town’s many interest groups.

Much of the group’s budget goes toward sustaining or promoting itself. According to No Labels’ confidential document, the group employed 22 paid staffers and eight consultants as of May. Of its projected $4.5 million budget for 2014, only 4 percent – or $180,000 – of spending was slotted for “Congressional Relations.” By contrast, administrative and operational expenses got $1.035 million over the same time period. Another 5 percent was set for travel. A further 30 percent ($1.35 million) was earmarked for digital growth and press, and 14 percent for fundraising.



Outside groups have become a cottage industry inside the Beltway, where they pay lush salaries to staffers and consultants while talking loudly and doing little to achieve their missions in this age of legislative stasis.

“The reality is that No Labels is a front group to raise money and pay consultants,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “They should release a full disclosure of not only how they’re raising their money but also how they’re spending it.”



Clearly people still are writing big checks to keep the operation moving.

But the more they do, and the more entrenched a player No Labels becomes, the more risk there is that the accumulated weight of the group’s actions will come to define them permanently. In today’s highly partisan Washington, it’s hard to stay unlabeled for long.

2 comments

  1. ek hornbeck
  2. BobbyK

    Bill Curry, of Salon said  

    It wasn’t Republicans who prosecuted all those whistle-blowers and hired all those lobbyists; who authorized drone strikes or kept the NSA chugging along; who reneged on the public option, the minimum wage and aid to homeowners. It wasn’t even Republicans who turned a blind eye to Wall Street corruption and excessive executive compensation. It was Obama.

    My favorite part of that piece:

    If Democrats can’t break up with Obama or make up with Nader, they should do what they do best: take a poll.

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