Friday, June 02, 2017

Is The Democratic Party A Party Of Working People Or A Party Of Its Own Elites And Careerists?


Thomas Edsell's OpEd in the NYTimes yesterday, Has the Democratic Party Gotten Too Rich for Its Own Good?, came just as Blue America posted the above video by Mike Lux on our main 2018 congressional contribution page. Edsall began by pointing out that "During his primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist, lived up to the grand Democratic tradition of favoring the underdog at the expense of the rich. He proposed hammering the affluent by raising taxes in the amount of $15.3 trillion over ten years. New revenues would finance about half the cost of a $33.3 trillion boost in social spending. The Sanders tax-and-spending plan throws into sharp relief the problem that the changing demographic makeup of the Democratic coalition creates for party leaders. Trouble brews when a deeply held commitment to the underdog comes into conflict with the self-interested pocketbook and lifestyle concerns of the upper middle class." Edsall, though, isn't celebrating.
In rhetoric reminiscent of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Sanders declared:
We must send a message to the billionaire class: “you can’t have it all.” You can’t get huge tax breaks while children in this country go hungry.
But Sanders spoke to the Democratic Party of 2016, not the Democratic Party of the Great Depression.

In days past, a proposal to slam the rich to reward the working and middle classes meant hitting Republicans to benefit Democrats.

Even as recently as 1976, according to data from American National Election Studies, the most affluent voters, the top 5 percent, were solidly in the Republican camp, 77-23. Those in the bottom third of the income distribution were solidly Democratic, 64-36.

In other words, 41 years ago, the year Jimmy Carter won the presidency, the Sanders proposal would have made political sense. But what about now?

In the 2016 election, the economic elite was essentially half Democratic, according to exit polls: Those in the top 10 percent of the income distribution voted 47 percent for Clinton and 46 percent for Trump. Half the voters Sanders would hit hardest are members of the party from which he sought the nomination.

The problem for the Democratic Party is that “them” has become “us.”

In the past, Democrats could support progressive, redistributive policies knowing that the costs would fall largely on Republicans. That is no longer the case. Now supporting these policies requires the party to depend on the altruistic idealism of millions of supporters who, despite being relatively well off, often feel financially pressed themselves.

This problem applies not only to tax policy, but even more to social policies concerning education and housing.

Richard V. Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, highlights the contradictions of modern Democratic liberalism in his new book, Dream Hoarders: How the Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust.

Reeves argues that those in the top 20 percent of the income distribution have become an increasingly isolated class; if the country is to restore the American tradition of upward mobility, this elite will have to pay for it.

“The upper middle class has been having it pretty good. It is about time those of us in the favored fifth recognized our privileged position,” Reeves writes. As members of this class protect their status and economic gains for themselves and their children, Reeves contends, they have capitalized on a host of less visible forces — exclusionary zoning, the clustering of elites, legacy college admissions, disproportionate political influence — to build a protective wall, keeping those in the lower quintiles of the income distribution from breaking in.

As Reeves points out,
it is a stubborn mathematical fact that, at any given time, the top fifth of the income distribution can accommodate only 20 percent of the population. Relative intergenerational mobility is a zero sum game. For someone to move up the ladder, someone else must move down.
Or, as he put it in a 2013 essay in The Times,
Even the most liberal parents are unlikely to be comfortable with the idea that their own children should fall down the scale in the name of making room for a smarter kid from a poorer home.
His proposals calling on the upper middle class to abandon unfair “opportunity hoarding” raise a basic political question. Can the Democratic Party, as it is currently constructed, maintain its commitment to a redistributive agenda? Put another way, can a political party impose costs on its own constituents, especially those voters who make up the most influential faction of the party: the affluent and well educated?

The preliminary evidence from actual events is that demanding sacrifice poses major risks. Asking people to think of themselves as compassionate and to pay higher taxes is one thing-- many Democrats have made that leap-- but ask them to live in a mixed income neighborhood or ask them to have their kid give up her spot at Princeton, and you get a different response.

Reeves himself points to the Democratic uproar when President Obama proposed a relatively modest change in a tax-based mechanism to help pay college costs. The change in what are called 529 College Savings Plans was designed to make the program more advantageous to people with moderate incomes and less so for those with high incomes. An estimated 70 percent of the tax benefits of 529 plans currently go to families with incomes above $200,000.

The moment Obama suggested the reform, prominent Democrats from both the House and Senate were inundated with angry complaints from affluent constituents. They pressured Obama to drop the proposal. In less than a week, he did.

“The idea was sensible, simple, and progressive,” Reeves writes. “The episode was a brutal reminder that sensible policy is not always easy politics.” Reeves noted that two of the leading Democratic opponents of the 529 reform, Nancy Pelosi and Chris Van Hollen, who was elected Maryland’s junior senator in November but was a congressman when Obama proposed it, represented districts where “almost half their constituents are in households with six-figure incomes.”

Perhaps the most problematic issue for affluent Democrats are proposals calling for expanded construction of affordable housing in middle-to-upper-middle class neighborhoods.

When local officials and the courts pressed for construction of relatively small numbers of moderate income housing units in such upscale liberal bastions as San Francisco (Clinton 84.5 percent, Trump 9.2 percent) and neighboring Marin County, Calif. (Clinton 77.3 percent, Trump 15.5 percent), the groundswell of opposition was loud and clear.

...In an effort to further explore this question, I asked Jacob Hacker, a political scientist at Yale, two questions:
As the share of Democrats who are well-educated and upper middle class grows, how can the party continue to advocate redistributive policies? Can a party survive that calls on its own members to pay the costs of policies designed to help those on the bottom rungs?
Hacker replied:
The evidence is clear that even relatively affluent Democrats are more supportive of redistribution than a typical Republican-- at least in opinion surveys. This general support, however, doesn’t always translate into support for pro-opportunity policies at the local level.
Affordable housing, Hacker wrote, “is far and away the best example.” Opposition to zoning allowing denser and more affordable housing “comes not just from well-off residents but also from landlords who get monopoly rents.” The inherent zero-sum thinking underlying not-in-my-backyard approaches
prevents positive-sum solutions that could reduce the economic conflict between poorer members of the Democratic coalition and the more affluent segments.
Hacker concluded his email on an upbeat note, contending that “demography is not destiny” and that Democratic leaders
could work more aggressively to identify and create positive-sum solutions-- pro-growth policies that both lift up the least advantaged and attenuate class-based cleavages within its own coalition.
Arthur Lupia, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, less optimistically put his finger on the core problem for Democrats:
The Democratic Party is evolving in multiple ways that separate it from the living conditions of large numbers of working-class Americans.
The result, Lupia wrote, is that
many Democrats now know less, and appear to care less, about the day-to-day struggles of many working class Americans. Hillary Clinton is an example of a Democrat who struggled to be seen by many such Americans as having a sincere and credible grasp of their concerns.
Hacker and Lupia, while differing in outlook, together raise a basic concern about the contemporary Democratic Party: the casual, if not negligent, willingness of the party elite to adopt policies and positions, however worthy, without regard to the costs such policies impose on others.

The characteristics of the Democratic elite are best reflected in studies of delegates to the Democratic National Convention. For years, CBS surveyed these delegates but stopped doing so in 2008. Still, even without data from 2012 and 2016, the CBS surveys show a consistent pattern. Delegates are drawn overwhelmingly from the liberal upper middle class. In 2008, 70 percent of the delegates reported earning $75,000 or more per year, compared to 27 percent of Democratic voters at that time.

The Democratic delegates were well to the left of Democratic voters, a trend that continues. Seven out of ten delegates said that abortion should be generally available and 20 percent said abortion should be available under “stricter limits”; 43 percent of Democratic voters supported generally available abortion and 39 percent said under “stricter limits.”

More than 8 out of 10 Democratic delegates in 2008 agreed that “government should do more to solve national problems,” while 54 percent of Democratic voters shared that view, according to American National Election Studies. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Democratic coalition clearly reflected the same priorities.

As the Democratic elite and the Democratic electorate as a whole become increasingly well educated and affluent, the party faces a crucial question. Can it maintain its crucial role as the representative of the least powerful, the marginalized, the most oppressed, many of whom belong to disadvantaged racial and ethnic minority groups-- those on the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder?

This will be no easy task. In 2016, for the first time in the party’s history, a majority of voters (54.2 percent) who cast Democratic ballots for president had college degrees. Clinton won all 15 of the states with the highest percentage of college graduates [Massachusetts, Colorado, Maryland, Conneticut, New Jersey, Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Minnesota, Washington, Illinois, Rhode Island, California and Oregon].

The steady loss of Democratic support in the white working class, culminating in Trump’s Electoral College victory on the backs of these white voters, must inevitably send a loud and clear signal to the Democratic elite: The more the party abandons the moral imperative to represent the interests of the less well off of all races and ethnicities, the more it risks a repetition of the electoral disaster of 2016 in 2018, 2020 and beyond.
Paul Clements is the Kalamazoo progressive who ran against reactionary Republican Fred Upton in 2014 and 2016. We're hoping he runs again in 2018 and he told me he's considering doing so but hasn't made up his mind yet. He's speaking to folks on the ground and figuring out if another run is the best way to defeat Upton. After watching Mile's video up top, he told me that "As Americans see and live the results of Trump's government of billionaires and generals allied with Ryan's free market fundamentalists, Democrats need to give a vision of government for the people. Medicare for all, breaking up big banks, and clean energy, not to mention getting rid of for profit prisons, raising the minimum wage, and re-investing in public education."

Jenny Marshall, who's running for the North Carolina seat held by right-wing knee jerk crackpot Virginia Foxx, is exactly the kind of progressive Democrat who feels in her bones exactly what Lux is talking about. "We want someone who will stand up for our values, our way of life and our families," she told me after watching the clip-- although it's exactly the kind of stiff she's been talking about ever since I met her. "We want a champion that will fight for us. Democrats need to be willing to go to the mat for people and stop caving in when the GOP refuses to compromise. We can no longer negotiate away our schools, our health, our livelihoods and our future. We cannot continue to follow the Republicans as they lead us further to the right. We must stand up for what we believe in. I am standing up for the people of the 5th district. It is time we had a real leader in Washington who won't back down from a challenge."

Last year Tom Wakely ran for the Austin-San Antonio corridor seat occupied by crackpot science denier Lamar Smith. He's running again this year. He found Mike's video spot on and without knowing about Edsall's OpEd, addressed some of the questions he raised in it:
As candidates, we need to be bold. We need to tell people that having Medicare For All is a good thing. We need to tell them having the EPA around is a good thing. Unfortunately, too many in the Democratic Party still think that being a centrist is the only way to win elections. Here in Texas, we are fond of saying the only thing that is in the middle of the road is a dead armadillo and it stinks to high heavens.

When I ran against 30-yr. Republican incumbent Lamar Smith in 2016, I ran on a progressive agenda and while I lost that race, we managed to do something no one else has been able to do in over 30 years-- we managed to drop Smith's percentage vote total to 56.9%, the lowest of his career. Our campaign accomplished this not by running a centrist political campaign but by running a progressive community organizing campaign. And Lamar Smith took note of this. For the first time in nearly two decades, Smith actually started campaigning. He also dumped over $1.7 million into his campaign, spending over $8.00 a vote. We only raised $70,000, which came to a little less than .55 cents per vote. Imagine what our campaign could have done with a  little more money.

As I take a look at the Democrat Party today, I don't see the party of FDR, of Kennedy, of LBJ. I see a party wed to Wall Street, to the Big Banks. A party more interested in helping line the pockets of consultants with cash than with helping line the pockets of ordinary, working class citizens of this country. We need to make voting a hell of lot easier and that is why I support a national program to vote by mail. A lot needs to be done in the Democrat Party if it is ever to be able to proudly raise it's head once again and say, "I stand for the working people of this country." It's a marathon and not a sprint.

I am 64 years old and I don't think I have that many years left in me to take on the Democratic Party Establishment and Wall Street and win. But there are so many young, enthusiastic activists out there I have hope that one day we will see a return to the party of FDR and LBJ. But until that day comes all I can do, all I will do, is continue to tell everyone that will listen, that I am a Progressive. I  will shout from the rooftops that I stand with the working people of this country against Wall Street and the Big Banks, against those who would destroy the EPA and against those who believe that making a profit off of sick and dying people is okay.

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At 10:13 AM, Anonymous Hone said...

Europe manages to do quite well for most of its people and has huge safety nets. We can do it, too., if we have the will.

Among other things, the problem is the Republican mantra of limited government. That is not a good thing. All hit means is limited regulation, which cannot stand in the modern world. without devastating it

If you watch the Danish series "Borgen" even the moderates and conservatives use the term "welfare state" in a positive way. Governments exist for the country and the people, not to raid it all for the greed of a few. Corporations and businesses can thrive, too, is a socialistic economy, but they must have serious controls or they become out of control. As Chinga Chavin said in one of his songs, "Scum floats." The greediest rise to the top. Just look at Trump and his awful family.

At 11:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

IMO this is pointless overanalysis, fictional for the most part and total horseshit. Perhaps the intent is to make more excuses for the sociopathic nature of the democrap party of today. I don't know. Are you saying all rich people are, by nature/nurture, sociopaths? If that's true, we truly are fucked.

FDR was rich. Yet HE (and notably his wife) were compassionate, empathetic and smart enough to know that if the least among US were not afforded opportunity for, at the very minimum, a modicum of self respect, then he would not just be dealing with a depression, he'd be dealing with a revolution.

I don't doubt for a second that he had empathy for those who had nothing even though he'd never been left wanting for a single comfort.

Perhaps today's democraps are simply sociopaths who, like republicans, don't give a flying fuck about anyone in the lower castes. Perhaps it's that they've been paid for so long to ignore those concerns that they just have no frame of reference. Perhaps it's all of the above.

All I can say is that they stopped DOING anything for the least among US at the same time that Clinton, gore et al formed the DLC and started selling policy to corporate and billionaire interests. They do still, sometimes, make the effort to pander to the least among US (notable exception: $hillbillary, DNC, DxCC heads, party oligarchy) but pandering becomes self-evident when deeds never follow.

The democrap party is a collection of rich, corrupt opportunistic sociopaths who lie to the least among US in order to get votes. There can be no question remaining about this.

The only remaining question is: how can republicans, who don't even disguise their motives any more, get a lot of the least among US to continue to vote for them? Are they so stupid that they think republicans will actually improve their lot? Or are they imbued with so much hate for what the mirage of the democraps is? Or is it just simply hate for the nonwhites and non-christians and non-males that tend to make up the D electorate?

Americans are fat, delusional, stupid, ignorant, hateful and pure evil in numbers that preclude any health returning to its society. There is always a minority of pure evil like our republicans in every society. But our democraps are little different, in an accurate reflection, IMO, of our society as a whole.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger VG said...

I am still trying to wrap my mind around this Edsell article- I read it in full.

He uses "data" in a very selective way, and chooses his "categories", which are not at all equal, in a way to support his argument. And, he totally distorts what Bernie said, even though he links to it, again by picking and choosing "categories" that have no equivalence. And, uses data from the 2008 DN Convention as if it is still valid.

He manages to totally miss the point as to what is wrong with the Democratic Party right now, and has been for years and years. His hand-wringing suggests to me that he is incapable of critical thinking. Lacking even the barest grasp of "numbers".

I went to the NYT piece by Edsell (linked in article), and spent over an hour reading the comments. So, I'm not inclined to spend more time googling to figure out who this idiot is.

Maybe someone who is feeling calmer than I do right now can supply further information.

At 1:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I make more than 80% of American workers as a unionized STEM worker. I have no deductions anymore, as my kids are grown and my house is paid off. I do have a few write-offs as part-owner of a small business, but that only knocks off a few thousand from my gross income. I took the Standard Deduction, and qualified for two Exemptions. I claim zero on my W-2. Thus each paycheck was as small as our taxation system can make it. My bills are paid. I can go out to eat if I feel like it. My needs are met.

When all was calculated on my return, I owed 9.2% of my GROSS income (Not Taxable Income) for income tax. Note: this is less than EVERY flat tax proposal ever submitted by the various candidates over the years.

So allow me to add in Medicare and Social Security taxes. For the income I earned, the amounts added to the income taxes owed, I had to fork over 15.7% of my GROSS Income.


Even wealthy Democrats can afford the taxation necessary to maintain the American Social Safety Net AND STILL HAVE A DAMNED GOOD LIFE.

At 6:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The general meme of americans from both sides of the political spectrum: Not one nickel of mine for anyone I don't like.

And we don't like anyone.

It isn't about whether we can all have a good life AND provide sustenance for those that are ratfucked by society into "bolivian". It's simply that we don't like them and don't want them to survive, unless it's free. And not always even then.


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