Could becoming a grandmother ease Hillary Clinton’s path to the White House? By Haley Sweetland Edwards
Justin Fox makes an excellent point (H/T Economist’s View). Some of our one percenters have lately indulged in drama queen hysterics over the modest political pushback that’s begun to develop over their obscene accumulation of wealth. But in the context of the vertiginous rise we’ve seen in economic inequality over the past several decades, and of the fierce populist reactions we’ve seen during similar eras in our nation’s past, what’s shocking is that public expressions of outrage haven’t been far more vocal:
Have these people never heard about Teddy Roosevelt excoriating the “malefactors of great wealth,” or his cousin Franklin getting Congress to raise the tax rate on top incomes past 90%? Americans have been pillorying the rich on and off for more than 200 years, and our economic system has survived and mostly thrived. In fact, the political and labor-relations compromises occasioned by what you might call class warfare have on balance surely made the country stronger.
What’s been unique, or at least highly unusual, has been the environment in which entrepreneurs and business executives were able to operate from the late 1970s through the early 2000s. Taxes dropped, high-end incomes exploded, and hardly anybody complained at all. Far from complaining, in fact, the news media for the most part celebrated the recipients of those exploding incomes for their boldness, creativity, and economic importance. It was a pretty stinking awesome time to be a plutocrat: You got to make billions of dollars, pay far less in taxes than you would have a quarter-century before, and get your face on the cover of Forbes or Fortune (or maybe even the top of your head on the cover of HBR).
In the past, Americans were downright furious at the plutocrats for appropriating such large amounts of wealth for themselves and immiserating the working classes. Fox mentions vicious satirical cartoons and angry editorials and speeches, but the populist reaction to the plutocrats was hardly limited to that. There was wave after wave of protests and strikes. And there were acts of violence, too, most notably the 1920 bombing of Wall Street by anarchists that killed 38 people. The plutocrats lived in fear of the masses. Industrialists like George Pullman were so widely loathed that they went to extraordinary lengths to protect their burial places, which they feared would be desecrated by angry workers:
Fearing that some of his former employees or other labor supporters might try to dig up his body, his family arranged for his remains to be placed in a lead-lined mahogany coffin, which was then sealed inside a block of concrete. At the cemetery, a large pit had been dug at the family plot. At its base and walls were 18 inches of reinforced concrete. The coffin was lowered, and covered with asphalt and tarpaper. More concrete was poured on top, followed by a layer of steel rails bolted together at right angles, and another layer of concrete. The entire burial process took two days.
Research shows that today, economic inequality and wealth concentration in America is as high as it’s been in at least 100 years. So why has there been so little public outrage, especially compared to the past?
I have a few theories. One is that, unlike in the past, today we do have a welfare state. Terribly inadequate though it is, it nevertheless protects many people from the worst ravages of capitalism. That takes the edge off some of the outrage.
This story has not gotten anywhere near the attention it deserves, so I’m going to highlight it in this space. The South Carolina legislature has taken upon itself to yank funding for public colleges that have assigned books by LGBT authors. The most prominent case involves the College of South Carolina, which had $52,000 slashed from its budget for assigning Alison Bechdel’s (great) graphic memoir, Fun Home, to incoming students. It’s possible, though far from certain, that the funds will be restored when the full South Carolina House reviews the budget later this month.
Bechdel is the cartoonist behind the long-running strip Dykes to Watch Out For and the genius who created the Bechdel test for movies. In the event you’re unfamiliar with Bechdel’s book — a state of affairs which I strongly urge that you rectify immediately — it’s a graphic autobiography about Bechdel’s coming of age as a young lesbian, in the context of the tragic story of her father, a closeted gay man. It’s a moving and brilliant book, been critically acclaimed to the skies, won/been nominated for major awards, and is even the basis of a hit Broadway musical.
Yet South Carolina wants to stop people from reading it — so much so that it’s enacting payback against schools that teach it.
There are a couple of reasons why I think this case is potentially important. First, I think progressives sometimes have a tendency to be far too sanguine about the progress of LGBT rights in this country. Yes, we’ve come very far, very fast. But there are still vast stretches of the country where LGBT still have no rights, and where change, when it does come, will get there slowly. Let’s not forget: fully 33 out of 50 states still ban same sex marriage. Given our federalist system, it may take this country much longer than anyone realizes to reach full equality for LGBT folk.
Secondly, this case sets a dangerous precedent. Even if the legislature ends up reversing itself (which is by no means certain), you better believe that public institutions of higher learning in South Carolina — and elsewhere — have learned their lesson. Budgets are already lean, and administrators tend to be excessively controversy-averse even in the best of times. I’d be surprised if future assigned reading lists for South Carolina students include books include anything more cutting edge than Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.
In honor of International Women’s Day, I’m posting a video the song “Hot Topic” by Le Tigre, one of the former bands of the great Kathleen Hanna. Lyrics can be found here, in case you can’t quite make out the names of all the great women artists and activists the band is giving a shout-out to.
Speaking of International Women’s Day, I have a post up in honor of the day at The Nation, where I’ve been guest blogging on the topic of economic inequality. (I’ll be blogging there next week as well; you can follow my posts at this link). International Women’s Day, which is over 100 years old, has its origins as a day established by feminist socialists who were committed to fighting both gender inequality and economic inequality. As I argue in the post, that’s the kind of feminism women need in today’s world, now more than ever.
I’m planning some serious catch-up work on NCAA basketball tomorrow, a pursuit I’ll probably abandon after the first round of March Madness. Got to pick your spots.
Reader advisory: in most of the country Daylight Savings Time begins Sunday, costing us an hour. Used to be we didn’t “spring forward” until, you know, Spring.
Here are some remains of the day:
* Before comparing Eric Holder to George Wallace at CPAC, Bobby Jindal and Ralph Reed should have probably done enough research to discover that one of the students Wallace blocked from attending the University of Alabama in his “Stand in the School House Door” was Holder’s late sister-in-law, Vivian Malone Jones.
* Per Dave Weigel, McConnell primary opponent said Mitch’s brandishing of a rifle at CPAC yesterday reminded him of “Dukakis in the tank.”
* Is nothing sacred? Wingnut warrior Mollie Hemingway goes after “Marxist” Dalai Lama.
* At Ten Miles Square, Martin Longman offers his less-than-sunny assessment of a Bernie Sanders presidential run.
* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer adjudges the pending changes in the SAT as pretty much a nothing-burger.
And in non-political news:
* Cerberus Capital Management purchase of Safeway designed to produce merger with Albertson’s chain and create a new 2,400 store outfit.
That’s it for the day and week. Kathleen Geier will be back for Weekend Blogging. Let’s close with another less-famous tune from Feats Don’t Fail Me Now, “The Fan.”
After a week featuring the first primary of the cycle and the annual CPAC barometer of sentiment on the Right, NBC’s First Read made a very good point this morning that nicely sums up my own impressions as well:
[I]f you thought Sen. Lindsey Graham was going to coast in his June 10 GOP primary, you need to think again. If 41% of Texas Republicans voted against [Sen. John] Cornyn when he was facing a clown-car of candidates, how many South Carolina Republicans will vote against Graham, who has voted for President Obama’s Supreme Court picks and been a key author of comprehensive immigration reform? Bottom line: Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Pat Roberts, and Thad Cochran look MORE vulnerable today than they did last week.
RINO Purge ‘14—and its effect on potentially vulnerable GOP incumbents—hasn’t even really begun.
For some good, clean Friday afternoon fun, I recommend Amanda Marcotte’s piece at Salon (originally published at AlterNet) on the rather odd sorts of people and phenomena that many religious conservatives feel are contributing to their ongoing persecution.
They include (1) “Gay people who want to give you their money” (the vicious men and women wanting to force bakers and florists to participate in their same-sex marriage abominations); (2)”Johnny Weir’s clothes” (clearly homosexual-agenda propaganda); (3) “Paperwork” (the contraception coverage mandate that allows baby-killing employees to buy insurance that subsidizes their baby-killing); (4) “Hipsters who think they are so cool” (devastating Real Americans with their mockery); and (5) “People who do want you ask them to do” (notably Barack Obama, who played the “race card” by launching an initiative aimed at mitigating the consequences of black family structure that conservatives understand as the sole cause of poverty, crime and every other social evil).
I’ve been saying for years that the Christian Martyrs of the centuries would be deeply shamed by the kind of “suffering” contemporary conservative Christians whine about so endlessly. Marcotte left out the golden oldie of department store “Happy Holidays” signs. But then the annual idiocy of the “War on Christmas” meme is, after all, more than nine months away.
Media attention at the annual CPAC clambake is naturally focused on the plenary session headliners, in part because the whole show is generally regarded by the MSM as an “invisible primary” event for the next presidential cycle (an interpretation encouraged by the presidential straw poll released at the end of the conference). But CPACs also feature plenty of breakout sessions and panel discussions where the mood of the attendees is expressed with greater clarity than is afforded by measurements of the volume of the feral roars they emit in response to the bellowing rage they hear from the plenary session podium.
The Atlantic’s Molly Ball attended one such panel discussion, on pot legalization, and harvested some interesting impressions:
Christopher Beach was trying to defend keeping marijuana illegal to a roomful of conservatives, and it was not going well.
When Beach insisted the drug war has not been a complete failure, laughter rippled through the crowd.
When he said governments sometimes have to protect people from themselves, there were groans and boos.
One after another, audience members stood to quibble with his statistics and accuse him of bad faith. As the discussion drew to a close with yet another hostile blast in his direction, Beach mumbled into his microphone, “This is just getting more fun.”
Beach’s panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference, titled “Rocky Mountain High: Does Legalized Pot Mean Society’s Going Up In Smoke?,” was ostensibly a debate. I attended expecting to find conservatives divided on the question, which seems to pit Republican cultural conservatism against the party’s ascendant libertarian strain.
But the discussion—which pitted Beach, a producer for the Morning in America radio show hosted by former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, against Mary Katharine Ham, a conservative blogger and Fox News contributor—turned out to be surprisingly one-sided.
Now as Ball notes, CPAC events tend to draw a disproportionate number of Paulite college students, who have both ideological and probably personal reasons for wanting to get government out of the weed, so to speak. But Beach glumly told her this sort of thing happens to him all the time, in media appearances as well as conservative conferences.
Since polls shows self-identified GOP voters still oppose legalized doobies by nearly a two-to-one margin, what are Republican pols supposed to do? You could argue that Beach’s experience shows the intensity on this subject on the Right comes from the pro-legalization minority. But it’s still a minority.
This is a delicious dilemma for progressives. But they should take to heart the warnings of Mark Kleiman, Jonathan Rauch, and Jonathan Caulkins in the new issue of the Washington Monthly that botched legalization initiatives in the states could generate a backlash, along with some terrible public health consequences. In addition, a more carefully regulated legalization regime might keep Republicans squirming on the horns of their dilemma on this subject for quite a long time, even as Drug War illusions go up in smoke.
Between Abby Rapoport, John Fund, yours truly, and now (at TNR) Jason Zengerle, I’d say the election-night CW of Tuesday’s primary in Texas being a debacle for the Tea Party has been pretty thoroughly overthrown.
We all made a lot of the same arguments, but what Zengerle distinctively brings to the table is a vivid account of what it means that gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott has now totally replaced David Dewhurst as the rising star of Texas Republican politics in just over a couple of years. Dewhurst, you may recall, got croaked by Ted Cruz in a 2012 Senate primary the Lieutenant Governor was heavily expected to win, and then on Tuesday he finished a poor second for re-election against a raving “movement conservative” who will likely finish him off in a May runoff.
Abbott is another matter altogether:
As Texas’s attorney general, Abbott pioneered the strategy—later copied by other ambitious Republican state AG’s, like Virginia’s Ken Cuccinelli and Florida’s Pam Bondi—of waging a litigious war against the Obama administration on everything from environmental regulations to Obamacare. “I go into the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home,” Abbott has boasted. But even before Obama got to the White House, Abbott was an unusually aggressive state attorney general. “When General Abbott first came into office in 2003,” says James Ho, who served as Texas solicitor general under Abbott, “he was determined to look for every possible opportunity to promote conservative legal principles in every forum possible.”
In fact, that’s why, in 2005, Abbott hired a hotshot young Harvard Law grad and Federalist Society member named Ted Cruz to be Texas’s solicitor general. Seven years later, when Cruz ran for the U.S. Senate, it was the politically charged cases he’d argued on Texas’s behalf that formed the backbone of his campaign. “Cruz ran on a record that was also Abbott’s record,” notes Texas Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak.
So we can thank Abbott for Cruz being in a position to run for the Senate. Yet assuming he wins in November against Wendy Davis (a very good bet at present), Abbott could rival Cruz as a right-wing celebrity, if only because his own personal saga—he’s a paraplegic from an injury he suffered while in law school—probably trumps Cruz’s immigrant roots as a biographical “story,” and also helps insulate him from the kind of bully-boy image harsh right-wing ideology tends to create.
Meanwhile, the Texas Republican Party of George W. Bush and Rick Perry continues its steady march to the right.
Happy Friday, or as it is sometimes known in both public and private schools during Lent: “Fish Stick Day!”
Here are some midday breaded snacks:
* Massachusetts legislature first to enact criminal sanctions for “upskirting.”
* McCain calls Obama “delusional” for thinking Cold War over. Guess all that religious imagery and capitalist advertising at Sochi was just an illusion.
* Prospect’s Scott Lemieux condemns “cowardice” of 7 Senate Democrats who helped kill nomination of Debo Adegbile.
And in non-political news:
* Interesting presentation by NewsWhip on what major newspaper front pages would look like if laid out according to reader preferences as reflected in social media data.
As we break for lunch, here’s more Little Feat, with one of my favorites: “Two Trains,” from the Dixie Chicken album.
There’s a great big new survey-based study out from Pew on the Millennial Generation that reinforces a lot of what we’ve long heard about the youngest adult age cohort, and also indicates that economic hard times, disappointment with aspects of the Obama administration’s performance, and disengagement with politics haven’t changed Millennials’ disproportionate liberalism on most issues.
The biggest dichotomy involves the political allegiances of Millennials: fully half self-identify as independents, but the cohort is significantly more likely than older generations to vote Democratic, identify itself as “liberal” (more Millennials self-identify as “liberal” than “conservative,” the first cohort to do so in a very long time), favor government activism, and agree with Democratic issue positions on both cultural and economic topics (there’s a slight divergence on abortion policy, where Millenials are marginally less likely than GenXers to support generally legalized abortion). Yet less than a third of Millenials agree there is a “great deal of difference” between the party they agree with and the party that tends to characterize Millennial views as secular-socialist.
There’s a particularly interesting finding on health care policy:
Millennials are as skeptical as older generations of the 2010 health care law. In December 2013—the most recent Pew Research Center survey on the Affordable Care Act—there were no significant differences across generations in views of the law. About four-in-ten in each cohort approved of the law.
Yet by 54% to 42%, Millennials think it is the federal government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have health care coverage. There is less support among older age cohorts for the government insuring health coverage for all.
Aside from the fact that Millennials are for obvious reasons less inclined to worry about health coverage than older cohorts, this finding suggests that Millennials may be disproportionately represented in the ranks of those who object to Obamacare from the left.
In any event, the study can be read in two very different ways by progressive political folk. Nothing about their views indicates much of an openness to Republican political appeals, at least so long as the GOP is in its current hyper-reactionary and old-white-folks-dependent phase. That would argue for a Democratic strategy of largely taking them for granted and focusing appeals on older generations more likely to “swing.” But insofar as low voting levels (particularly in midterms) among Millennials are a serious problem for the Donkey Party, and in view of their relatively strong feeling that the two parties aren’t greatly different, a more left-bent message might boost turnout and bond Millenials more durably to the party that actually seems to share its values. One much-discussed dilemma in Democratic strategy actually may be an illusion: while Millennials have huge doubts about Social Security’s solvency, and as an abstract manner favor greater emphasis on program benefiting young folks as compared to old folks, a pretty large majority (61%) oppose cutting Social Security benefits as a solution to the program’s solvency issues.
All in all, the study is worth a close look, particularly by those who like to make breezy assertions about “the kids” without much empirical grounding.
If Rick Perry’s CPAC speech gets the initial prize for rebel-yell inducing radicalism, the most audacious remarks belong to that perpetual master of religio-political nastiness, Ralph Reed. MoJo’s Tim Murphy has the story, with a special Bobby Jindal chaser:
Top social-conservative strategist Ralph Reed compared President Barack Obama to segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace on Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
“Fifty years ago George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door and said that African-Americans couldn’t come in,” said Reed, the founder of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, in response to the Department of Justice’s attempt to block Louisiana’s school voucher program. “Today, the Obama administration stands in that same door and says those children can’t leave. It was wrong then and it was wrong now and we say to President Obama, ‘Let those children go.’”
Remarkably, Reed wasn’t the first speaker at CPAC to compare the Obama administration’s policies to the Jim Crow South.
On Thursday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal made the same comparison in his address to the conference. “We’ve got Eric Holder and the Department of Justice trying to stand in the schoolhouse door,” he said.
Comparing legal objections to Louisiana’s highly dubious voucher program—which is extremely light on any sort of educational accountability for use of tax dollars at conservative evangelical madrassas, to efforts to bar African-Americans from public schools—is precisely the sort of rhetorical jiu-jitsu we’ve come to expect from conservatives trying to parry accusations of (and historical association with) racism. It’s particularly rich coming from the likes of Ralph Reed, who once took down an entire Republican state ticket with a heavy-handed racially-tinged campaign on behalf of a statewide candidate during his brief career as a paid political consultant.
While you are mulling the mendacity involved in the ideological heirs of the Dixiecrats accusing the first African-American Attorney General and the first African-American president of channeling George Wallace, check out Tim’s profile of Bobby Jindal, which is especially rich in detail of Bobby’s early days, including his famous involvement in an exorcism.
So we hear the best-received speech of the whole CPAC conference so far was by the warhorse Rick Perry this morning, which had the crowd standing and hooting and cheering.
I watched the whole thing (and you can too if you have the stomach). It was mostly a standard-brand shout-out-with-red-meat to Republican governors and their wonderworking powers as compared to the dreary socialist prison states of the godless Coasts. But near the end, after an earnest recitation of the federal government’s enumerated constitutional powers (never mind those pestiferous Supreme Court decisions on the Commerce Clause and the Spending Clause and other such elitist bushwa), Perry delivered a classic cheer-surfing paen to the wisdom of his audience (a lot of it sounded borrowed, rhetorically, from Howard Dean’s “You’ve got the power!” perorations a decade ago) and the perfidy of the federal government. And probably the peak of audience appreciation was his roared demand that Washington “Get out of the health care business! Get out of the education business!”
Insofar as this speech will probably be mentioned every time we hear of the otherwise dubious proposition of a Rick Perry comeback in 2016, it’s reminiscent of his 2012-cycle campaign book, Fed Up!, which similarly rejected the idea of federal involvement in anything Washington wasn’t doing in 1789, and gave him some uncomfortable moments on the campaign trail.
So we might as well get it over with and start demanding that Perry tell us whether all this high-decibal originalism means he favors the abolition of Medicare and federally guaranteed student loans, just to cite two extremely popular federal programs that rather blatantly run afoul of his strictures on what Washington should and shouldn’t be doing. Without question, a lot of those people cheering Perry’s CPAC speech would favor killing these programs instantly, along with Social Security, all environmental regulations, and all low-income assistance programs. So is that what Rick has in mind? Do tell.
UPDATE: Perry also, of course, touted his own state’s “economic miracle.” If you haven’t read Phillip Longman’s demolition of that myth, now would be a good time to check it out, particularly if the CPAC gig does indeed revive his presidential hopes.
After the last two months of decidedly underwhelming jobs reports, the February edition released today by BLS was something of a pleasant surprise. The 175,000 net new jobs exceeded expectations (the consensus prediction was around 150,000), and there were small upward revisions of the December and January numbers.
As always, the unemployment rate will get more general-public attention than the jobs numbers, and the small and essentially meaningless uptick from 6.6% to 6.7% will be what most Republicans talk about.
The bigger picture is that economists are very conflicted about the impact of this winter’s unusually bad weather on the numbers, and what that might mean for the underlying strength or weakness of the economy. So there’s a great deal of anticipation of the March and April jobs reports as perhaps resolving some of those arguments.
If you have been perusing the new issue of the Washington Monthly—and if you haven’t you should because it’s full of great reads, like this and this and this and this and this—you may have noticed an important change. Our esteemed founding editor Charlie Peters has handed in the keys to his signature Tilting at Windmills column. Charlie, who is 87, will still contribute occasionally to the magazine—and when he calls the office we will, as always, snap to attention and dutifully and gratefully take his dictation—but Tilting will now be written by a rotating cast of Washington Monthly contributing editors, beginning, in this issue, with New Yorker staff writer and dean emeritus at Columbia Journalism School Nicholas Lemann.
It’s fitting that Nick is the first to try his hand at Tilting because, as he explains, he’s the one who came up with the idea for the column in the first place:
My motives were not entirely pure. I came to work at the Washington Monthly on July 1, 1976, and in those days Charlie almost never wrote for the magazine under his own byline. But that didn’t mean he didn’t write. Often he would append material he’d written to other people’s articles, usually at the end, and usually as a means of getting more of his own and the magazine’s editorial positions into print. It fell to me to try to persuade the authors that Charlie’s additions had improved their stories, which wasn’t always so easy. Thinking of Frederick Jackson Turner’s theory that the open frontier had provided a safety valve to relieve the social pressures of nineteenth-century America, I wondered whether a column under Charlie’s byline could serve as an editorial safety valve, lowering the pressure on articles by other people to become the bearers of his views. And so it did. Because of what preceded the column, and because it’s how his mind works, the column became a collection of short takes, rather than a single essay; as several people have pointed out, he was a blogger before there were bloggers. And the title was a reference to Charlie’s favorite novel, Don Quixote.
Nick’s version of Tilting is less a collection of blog-like nuggets and more of a loose essay on what one might call the decline of institutionalism in American politics and civic life. And in the course of making his argument he offers a rather striking reassessment of the “neoliberal” political philosophy that Charlie advocated and he (and all of us who worked for him) imbibed:
The prospect of replacing interest group liberalism with something that was better targeted at the needs of the country, and also more effective, was deeply alluring. In those days we were about as distant from the heyday of the New Deal as the 1970s are from us today; you’d still see white-haired former aides to FDR (Joseph Rauh, Thomas Corcoran) wandering around the streets of downtown Washington. They had come to town to do good and had stayed to do well, and now it was time to sweep their old corrupted structures away and create new, purer ones. This was also the long-forgotten heyday of Ralph Nader as a super-respectable figure, who had an initiative staffed by bright young people aimed at reforming just about every department and agency of the government. Deregulating industries, using the power of markets to make government work better, embracing technology, targeting government social programs on people who really needed them, helping consumers rather than politically connected businesses, taking down trade barriers, reducing the power of the Democratic Party establishment and the labor unions, orienting government toward the public interest rather than toward interest groups—all of this was our dream.
I don’t mean to renounce these ideas entirely, but in retrospect they present a couple of problems. First, we had too much faith in the ability of people like us, smart and well-intentioned upper-middle-class (defined by family background, not by what the Monthly paid) Washington liberals, to determine what was and wasn’t a genuine social need. Our scorn for interest group liberalism led us to undervalue the process of people organizing themselves and pushing the political system to give them what they wanted from it. Second, we failed to anticipate the way that eliminating all those structures that struck us as outdated—the government bureaucracies, the seniority system in Congress, the old-line interest groups—would almost inevitably wind up working to the advantage of elites more than of the ordinary people on whose behalf we imagined ourselves to be advocating. The frictionless, disintermediated, networked world in which we live today is great for people with money and high-demand skills, not so great for everybody else. It’s a cruel irony of the Monthly’s history that our preferred label for ourselves, neoliberal, has come to denote political regimes maximally friendly to the financial markets. I’ve come to see the merits of the liberal structures I scorned in my younger days.
Nick’s column covers a lot of ground brilliantly and I urge you to read the whole thing. My own take on neoliberalism and the magazine’s impact on politics and government in America is a little different and rather more sanguine. But getting more viewpoints into the magazine is one of the things I’m looking forward to with the new Tilting regime.
I know I’ve featured their music before, but Lara Zarum’s piece on Little Feat at Slate inspires me to do it again. Here they are performing “Fat Man in the Bathtub” in Germany:
Feed the Political AnimalDonate
Washington Monthly depends on donations from readers like you.