More On The Republican Wing Of The Democratic Party
At the very end of February, we ran an exhaustive piece on the dangers of electing Kathleen Matthews, Chris Matthews lobbyist wife, chair of the state Democratic Party. Short version: the Democratic Party needs fewer vile millionaire elitists running the party, not more. A few days later the vile millionaire elitist was selected to be interim party chair. She's already running for a full 4 year term, which will be voted on in a couple of months. She admits that party bosses Steny Hoyer, Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin asked her to run.
Her appointment was criticized by former Montgomery County Council member Valerie Ervin (D), who said the process smacked of insiderism. The state party “missed an opportunity to open up the space for a new and different kind of leadership,” said Ervin, who is the first African American woman to be elected to the council.Yesterday Robert Woodruff, in posting a Hal Ginsberg piece at ProgressiveMaryland.org, wrote about "Democrats slip-sliding back in the centrist, old-boy direction that has brought us Larry Hogan [and asks] where will progressives go instead?" Ginsberg:
Appearances to the contrary, Maryland’s Progressive Democrats have little to cheer about. While over 60% of Marylanders are registered Democrats, Republican Governor Larry Hogan is enjoying “sky-high popularity.” Despite Maryland’s high cost of living, the intransigence of some Democratic legislators and executives has stymied efforts in Baltimore City, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County to raise the minimum wage to $15. Maryland’s traditionally excellent public schools are struggling to accommodate influxes of immigrants and increasing numbers of students from poor families.Boo! This isn't a Maryland problem. There are power-mongering elitists like Hoyer and Van Hollen everywhere in America, incongruously, embedded in the Democratic Party. Just look at Charles Peters' new book, We Do Our Part-- Toward A Fairer And More Equal America. A Washington Monthly Peters protege, Paul Glastris, the magazine's editor-in-chief, wrote an appreciation of the book, Recapturing the Soul of the Democratic Party. "We Do Our Part," he wrote, "is a history of how American political culture evolved from the communitarian patriotic liberalism of Peters’s New Deal youth to a get-mine conservatism in which someone like Donald Trump could be elected president."
The latest blow to progressives came March 1 courtesy of the Maryland Democratic Party’s eight-member Executive Committee when it elected Kathleen Matthews to be interim chair... The State Central Committee will decide in May whether to elect Matthews, who says she will run, to a full term as Chairperson. She is also promising an open and transparent process. Nevertheless, by installing Matthews as interim chair two months before the election, rather than appointing a current member of the Executive Committee, top party officials have made clear that she is their choice to lead the party over the next four years.
Matthews is a consummate Washington insider. Her duties at Marriott, where her annual salary comfortably exceeded $1 million, included overseeing “a political action committee that contributed over $1 million to House and Senate candidates.” She counts as friends and allies many establishment politicos from both parties who were generous financers of her unsuccessful Congressional bid.
...The Matthews pick exposes the obliviousness of Maryland’s top Democrats to the winds of change buffeting the party both nationally and at home. In the Presidential primaries, self-proclaimed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders inspired millions of young people and independents and nearly upset overwhelming favorite Hillary Clinton. When Sanders withdrew from the race, much of the excitement on the Democratic side left too.
In 2014, Maryland’s Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown ran a singularly uninspiring race and lost. He had campaigned as a reasonable centrist standing between Marylanders and the allegedly right-wing Larry Hogan. Two years later, Jamie Raskin beat Matthews with an unabashedly progressive message and Bernie Sanders’ endorsement.
...As the state struggles with sky-high housing costs, stagnant wages, and overcrowded public schools, Maryland progressives must look beyond the Democrats for political leadership. A party that values so highly a multi-millionaire news personality and corporate lobbyist with no commitment to progressive economic populism does not share our values.
In the standard telling, the decline of big government liberalism begins sometime around the Tet Offensive and the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. Peters fixes the date much earlier: 1946. That’s the year a number of senior advisers to the recently deceased FDR, people like Thurman Arnold and Abe Fortas, decided to become lobbyists. Few New Dealers had done this before, so the connections and insider knowledge these men possessed were rare and valuable. Arnold and Fortas grew rich and powerful-- the advance guard of what would become a vast Washington industry.I hope you see Kathleen (and Chris) Matthews in this description. And Rahm Emanuel, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, (alas) Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer... the New Dems, the Republicans like Charlie Crist, Tom O'Hallaran and others being recruited into the House Democratic caucus (where they invariably vote with their old comrades across the aisle). Next time you hear some shit-eating New Dem scum bag, whining about the evils of political "purity," kick him in the balls and drop me a note so I can salute you.
Peters’s concern isn’t just with how lobbying corrupted the political process, though it certainly did that-- Fortas, for instance, was denied the job of chief justice of the Supreme Court thanks to shady payments from a client-connected foundation-- but more broadly with how it corrupted the incentives and worldview of those who came to Washington. Men like Fortas, a brilliant Yale Law School grad from a modest background who owned multiple homes and Rolls-Royces, set a new lifestyle standard in Washington. As more staffers and ex-congressmen followed the lobbying path, those still in government began to see their salaries, which they once considered comfortable, as penurious. (Eventually they became so, as all the high incomes bid up real estate prices and the local cost of living.)
This acquisitiveness was connected to another rising sin: snobbery, specifically the practice of signaling superiority to the hoi polloi through one’s purchases and discriminating tastes in food, drink, and culture. JFK himself, despite his war heroism and inspiring call to service, embodied the trend by marrying the high-born, fashionable Jacqueline Bouvier and surrounding himself with celebrities.
The twin viruses of greed and snobbery are not, to say the least, conducive to a focused and sympathetic concern for average Americans. But Peters reminds us that these behaviors were not widespread among educated people in Washington or throughout America in the 1950s and ’60s. The postwar prosperity and compression of incomes continued, the draft was still nearly universal-- even baseball greats served their two years-- and the federal government continued to deliver impressive new national projects, from interstate highways to Medicare, that the vast majority of Americans appreciated.
...The viruses of snobbery and selfishness spread wildly over the course of the 1970s and ’80s. Graduates from top colleges flocked to high-paying jobs at law firms and investment banks rather than to public service, and the caliber of the civil service accordingly declined. Magazines that catered to consumer chic and cultural signaling, like New York, Vanity Fair, and Washingtonian, grew fat with advertisers and subscribers. On PBS, the TV home of the educated elite, Louis Rukeyser’s Wall Street Week became the number one show.
“Money had become a major and open interest of the meritocratic class,” writes Peters, in a way it simply hadn’t been from the 1930s through the ’60s. As a consequence, “the cause of lower taxes and of conservatism in general flourished, as shown by the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.” Even elites who didn’t support Reagan were sympathetic to the growing idea that the market should deliver more “shareholder value.” So they didn’t protest (some even cheered) when corporations closed plants, busted unions, and spent their cash on stock buyback schemes rather than on new products and services. To the extent that they expressed their public spiritedness, it was by supporting causes-- gay rights, the environment-- that weren’t the central concerns of most middle- and working-class voters, whose incomes were stagnating while the meritocrats’ were soaring.
The result was greater and greater resentment of the educated elite. The Rush Limbaughs and Roger Aileses of the world fed off that resentment to boost their ratings and advance a conservative movement that didn’t, in the end, improve their audiences’ economic situation-- a fact that Trump exploited by running against establishment conservatives as well as liberal elites.
Peters credits Bill Clinton with being the only Democratic president or candidate in decades who managed, through his policies and gift for empathy, to bridge the gap between the meritocrats and the white middle and working classes. And he sees evidence that Democrats have awakened to the problems of greed, snobbery, and elite detachment, including “the radical increase in awareness of income inequality” and “some meritocrats overcoming their snobbery to make a serious effort to understand the Trump vote.” He also sees signs “that people are beginning to question their relentless pursuit of money, or at least some of the reasons why they think they have to make a lot of money.”
More concretely, he is heartened by examples of elites returning to government service. These include the investment banker Steve Rattner, who joined the Obama administration and helped save the auto industry, and the top Silicon Valley talent Obama personally recruited to the new U.S. Digital Service after the disastrous rollout of the health care exchange website. Peters makes a plea for more Americans, especially liberals, to run for office at the local, state, and national levels-- something that, in the months since his book went to press, actually seems to be happening.
If anything, I think Peters underestimates the degree to which Americans are hungry to serve. What confounds his call for more of the best and brightest to join government is a lack of opportunity. The problem is political. There are eight applicants for every slot in AmeriCorps, the national service program founded by Bill Clinton. But Democrats’ attempts to expand the program have been consistently checked by Republicans. Trump’s budget office has drawn up plans to eliminate it altogether. More broadly, the federal workforce, at 2.8 million employees, is the same size it was in the 1960s when Peters was part of it, even though the U.S. population since then has more than doubled and the federal budget has quadrupled in real terms. Lawmakers control the federal head count and don’t want to be seen as “growing the bureaucracy.” The most Democrats in Congress have been willing to do is beat back repeated Republican efforts to further decimate the federal workforce.
To make up for the inadequate number of staff, the government increasingly relies on contractors. Peters bemoans this trend, citing numerous examples of how it has hurt government’s performance. He’s right. But he doesn’t call for the obvious solution: boost the number of federal employees so more of the work can be done in house. This would require hiring a million new federal workers, according to University of Pennsylvania political science professor John DiIulio, and boosting their pay as well.
That is also the key to curbing the power of lobbyists, which won’t happen merely by inveighing against their greed. Lobbyists’ power comes mainly from their control of information-- about the industries they represent, about the ways government programs work-- that congressional staffers, many of them young and inexperienced, often lack. The way to neutralize that power is to strengthen government’s capacity to get that information independently, by hiring more staffers and researchers and paying them more so they can make a decent living without having to join the private sector.
Of course, a politician who called for hiring a million more federal workers, and raising their salaries, might appear suicidal in the current political climate. But if Peters is correct-- and I think he is-- that a key to bridging the class gap is for more Americans, especially the elite, to serve in government, a political way has to be found. The same bilious anti-government fever that gave America Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich has now given us Trump. Peters reminds us that government service was once a broadly shared and elite experience and value. To cure the fever, today’s liberals must figure out how to make it so again.