Tag Archives: Democrats

Dayenu

Dayenu is a song sung during the Passover Seder–the Jewish celebration of the ancient exodus from Egypt. The lyrics acknowledge the miracles God is said to have performed on behalf of those escaping servitude, and each miracle is followed by “Dayenu”–meaning, it would have been enough.

So “If He had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgments against them— Dayenu, it would have been enough!

“If He had carried out judgments against them, and not against their idols”— Dayenu, it would have been enough!

The song goes on in that fashion for numerous stanzas. What brought it to mind was an especially annoying element of the current infighting among Democrats. (Bear with me.)

I frequently see angry posts from liberals, decrying what they see as a lack of a compelling  Democratic Party message going into the midterm elections. Comments posted to this blog and elsewhere are harshly critical of both major political parties; there are frequent assertions that there is little difference between them or between the oligarchs that control both. Some of the criticism is misplaced, but some of it is fair.

Here in Indiana,  where Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly is up for re-election, his less-than-liberal positions also come in for considerable criticism, and–at least from my perspective– much of that criticism is deserved.

Here’s the problem: These negative analyses of Donnelly and the Democrats are frequently accompanied by pledges to refrain from voting for either. The authors of these pledges are simply too pure to cast their votes for flawed, imperfect candidates of a flawed, imperfect political party. They  argue that “it isn’t enough just to be against Trump and his GOP enablers.”

They’re wrong.

Dayenu.  Right now, it is enough.

As Robert Reich recently reminded us,

Not so fast. Remember what happened in 2016, when Libertarian Gary Johnson got 3.2 percent of the popular vote and Green Party candidate Jill Stein got 1.06 percent. Enough votes that, had they gone to Hillary Clinton, she’d have won the Electoral College, and Donald Trump wouldn’t be in the White House.

 Oh, and anyone remember what happened in 2000, when the votes that went to Ralph Nader all but sealed the fate of Al Gore, and gave us George W. Bush.

You see the problem? In a winner-take-all system like ours, votes for third party candidates siphon away votes from the major party candidate whose views are closest to that third-party candidate. So by not voting for the lesser of two evils, if that’s what you want to call them, you end up with the worse of two evils.

Voters who are unhappy with their choices do have options: we can work through our chosen parties to effect change; we can support better candidates in the primaries. We can work for better campaign finance laws, an end to gerrymandering, and other systemic changes that will make it harder for special interests to buy/bribe lawmakers.

Of course, doing those things requires considerable time and effort. It also requires working within a system that is far from perfect or even admirable.( Politics is, after all, the art of the possible.) Purists prefer making the perfect the enemy of the good.

I will vote a straight Democratic ticket in November. That includes voting for Joe Donnelly. Is he my ideal Senator? No. Is he a far better choice that any of the Republicans running in the May primary for the right to oppose him? Absolutely. Is his re-election essential to a Democratic takeover of the Senate? Yes. Is a Democratic takeover of the Senate necessary to stop the refashioning of the federal judiciary and the steady confirmation of extremist, rightwing judges? Yes.

Will a “blue wave” in November bring us a perfect government? Hell no. But it will give us some desperately-needed breathing room–the time we need to fight for a better, fairer, more inclusive America. A wave will allow us to overturn the most egregious and harmful measures imposed by the Trump Kakistocracy. It will allow us to begin what will be a long and arduous process of restoring American civility, sanity and the rule of law.

DAYENU–that will be enough.

 

Two Different Worlds…

Some of you reading this post may remember an old love song–I believe it was sung by Nat  King Cole–in which he rejected warnings by an unidentified “they,” to the effect that he and his love came from “two different worlds.” At the end of the song, he promises that their two different worlds will be one.

I’d say their chances were better than those of contemporary Republicans and Democrats.

Over the past few years, a steady stream of research has documented the growth of America’s partisan polarization. Today’s Republicans and Democrats would be more upset if their children married someone of the other party than if they married someone of another race or religion. Facebook and Twitter conversations are filled with expressions of incomprehension (WTF!) of positions taken by the other party.

Now, the Brookings Institution has come up with another indicator that Rs and Ds really do live in “two different worlds.” The researchers were exploring one of the thorniest issues raised by “school choice”–whether, as many of us worry– parents opting for privatized schools see education as a consumer good rather than a public good, thus privileging the inculcation of personal skills over democratic ones.

In holding schools more directly accountable to parents, school choice reforms reduce the influence of the democratic structures and processes that govern traditional public schools. For example, being more responsive to parents generally means being less responsive to school boards. This can have important implications if parents’ desires for their own children’s schools differ from the broader public’s desires for its education system. For instance, schools may look different under school choice reforms if—as is often argued—parents are preoccupied with getting their own children ahead, wanting schools to prepare their children for college and career success at the expense of serving more collective interests for social, political, civic, and economic health.

Questions about how parents’ and the public’s desires for schools differ are among the richest questions surrounding school choice reforms. They are also among the least explored empirically. We recently released a study looking at what parents and the public want from schools. Instead of finding the parents-public distinction we expected, we found a Democrat-Republican contrast we had not considered.

The results were very different from the researchers’ expectations. Parents and the broader public prioritized the same goals–a balance between the personal and the public.

Given these similarities, we wondered who—if anyone—is particularly drawn to “private success.” Did any subgroup of respondents want schools to prioritize students’ private interests over more collective, societal interests?

We ran a logistic regression model to examine which, if any, respondent background characteristics were associated with choosing “private success” as the most important goal. We included all of the usual respondent characteristics in the model: gender, race, ethnicity, educational attainment, age, political affiliation, and parent status. Only one was a significant predictor: Republican respondents were much more likely than Democratic respondents to want schools to prioritize “private success.”

It’s a shame there are no earlier studies that might serve as benchmarks, allowing us to see whether and how these and other attitudes prevalent in today’s GOP differ from those of previous Republicans.

In any event, the pressing question we face now is how to make those “two different worlds” into one–or at the very least, make them overlap.

 

 

Corruption By The Numbers

Although I often use materials I’ve read in journals and other publications as the starting point for blog posts, I rarely reproduce an entire article or commentary. When I received the following analysis in an email, however, I asked for permission to do just that.

There is a widespread impression that Democrats are less upstanding and law-abiding than Republicans. That may be a side effect of the excessive public piety affected by so many Republican officeholders, or the belief that a willingness to compromise on matters of policy (a willingness today’s GOP evidently considers unprincipled) signifies a corrupt “wheeler/dealer” mentality.

Until I read this, my own impression had been that there isn’t much difference between the parties when it comes to bad behavior, so I was pretty surprised by this data. (Honesty also compels me to admit to a certain amount of schadenfreude–I am deathly tired of the incessant moral/religious posturing that has come to characterize the GOP.)

Here it is, unaltered:

“I made a comment recently where I claimed that Republican
administrations had been much more criminally corrupt over the last 50
plus years than the Democrats. I was challenged (dared actually) to
prove it. So I did a bit of research and when I say a bit I mean it
didn’t take long and there is no comparison.

When comparing criminal indictments of those serving in the executive
branch of presidential administrations, it’s so lopsided as to be
ridiculous. Yet all I ever hear about is how supposedly “corrupt” the
Democrats are. So why don’t we break it down by president and the
numbers?

Obama (D) – 8 yrs in office. Zero criminal indictments, zero
convictions and zero prison sentences. So the next time somebody
describes the Obama administration as “scandal free” they aren’t
speaking wishfully, they’re simply telling the truth.

Bush, George W. (R) – 8 yrs in office. 16 criminal indictments. 16
convictions. 9 prison sentences.

Clinton (D) – 8 yrs in office. 2 criminal indictments. One conviction.
One prison sentence. That’s right nearly 8 yrs of investigations. Tens
of millions spent and 30 yrs of claiming them the most corrupt ever
and there was exactly one person convicted of a crime.

Bush, George H. W. (R) – 4 yrs in office. One indictment. One
conviction. One prison sentence.

Reagan (R) – 8 yrs in office. 26 criminal indictments. 16 convictions.
8 prison sentences.

Carter (D) – 4 yrs in office. One indictment. Zero convictions and
zero prison sentences.

Ford (R) – 4 yrs in office. One indictment and one conviction. One
prison sentence.

Nixon (R) – 6 yrs in office. 76 criminal indictments. 55 convictions.
15 prison sentences.

Johnson (D) – 5 yrs in office. Zero indictments. Zero convictions.
Zero prison sentences.

So, let’s see where that leaves us. In the last 53 years, Democrats
have been in the Oval Office for 25 of those years, while Republicans
held it for 28. In their 25 yrs in office Democrats had a total of
three executive branch officials indicted with one conviction and one
prison sentence. That’s one whole executive branch official convicted
of a crime in two and a half decades of Democrat leadership.

In the 28 yrs that Republicans have held office over the last 53 yrs
they have had a total of (a drum roll would be more than appropriate),
120 criminal indictments of executive branch officials. 89 criminal
convictions and 34 prison sentences handed down. That’s more prison
sentences than years in office since 1968 for Republicans. If you want
to count articles of impeachment as indictments (they aren’t really
but we can count them as an action), both sides get one more. However,
Clinton wasn’t found guilty while Nixon resigned and was pardoned by
Ford (and a pardon carries with it a legal admission of guilt on the
part of the pardoned). So those only serve to make Republicans look
even worse.

With everything going on with Trump and his people right now, it’s a
safe bet Republicans are gonna be padding their numbers a bit real
soon.

So let’s just go over the numbers one more time, shall we? 120
indictments for Republicans. 89 convictions, and 34 prison sentences.
Those aren’t “feelings” or “alternate facts.” Those are simply the
stats by the numbers. Republicans are, and have been for my entire
lifetime, the most criminally corrupt party to hold the office of the
presidency.

So those are the actual numbers. Feel free to copy and paste!” – Kevin
G Shinnick

Wow. Just wow.

About That Partisan Divide

Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall makes a point I have often made: partisanship today is different than it used to be, not just in intensity, but in kind.

Marshall’s essay was focused on what he sees as inadequacies in media coverage of the GOP’s “health care” bill, but in the course of that discussion, he made the following observation.

.. coverage of national health care policy is fundamentally distorted by the imperatives of false balance or forced balance coverage. The idea here is that the two parties are so set in their ideological corners that they can’t constructively come together and find points of compromise to address issues of great public concern. But this sentiment only makes sense if you think both parties are trying to accomplish something approaching the same thing, albeit perhaps with very different strategies. That is simply not true….

We talk a lot about how Republicans real focus is getting the ACA money for a big tax cut, which is unquestionably true. You can only get the tax cut if you get back the money that went toward getting people covered. But at a deeper level this is a philosophical dispute, a basic difference in goals. It’s a difference in desired outcomes, not an ideological dispute over the best way to achieve them. (Emphasis mine.)

Perhaps my memory is faulty, but back when I was a Republican, fiscal conservatism meant crafting more cost-effective policies to achieve goals we held in common with Democrats–policies that would help poor people, for example. We favored programs that would help those who needed that help without inadvertently distorting markets in ways that deepened the original problem.

An example would be rent control. The shared goal was affordable housing for low-income renters; opposition to rent control as a means of accomplishing that was based upon the belief that rent control would deter investment in additional, desperately needed units. You could agree or disagree with that analysis (I agreed), but the opposition wasn’t based on a belief that government shouldn’t help low-income people find decent housing.

We were arguing means, not ends.

Today’s Republicans and Democrats do not share a belief in the nature of the common good. Democrats believe that government has a responsibility to ensure access to healthcare. Republicans don’t. As Marshall says,

When you try three times to ‘repeal and replace’ and each time you come up with something that takes away coverage from almost everyone who got it under Obamacare, that’s not an accident or a goof. That is what you’re trying to do. ‘Repeal and replace’ was a slogan that made up for simple ‘repeal’ not being acceptable to a lot of people. But in reality, it’s still repeal. Claw back the taxes, claw back the coverage.

Pretending that both parties just have very different approaches to solving a commonly agreed upon problem is really just a lie. It’s not true. One side is looking for ways to increase the number of people who have real health insurance and thus reasonable access to health care and the other is trying to get the government out of the health care provision business with the inevitable result that the opposite will be the case.

That difference cannot be bridged with pious calls for “bipartisanship.”

Interesting Parallels

History doesn’t really repeat itself, at least in the sense of “re-enactment,” but there are historical cycles with striking resemblances. We really can learn from history–if we are open to pondering its lessons.

Because I think the past can illuminate the present, I found this article by a Brookings Institution scholar fascinating.

Philip Wallach looked at various pieces of evidence offered by November’s elections–the electoral dominance of the GOP, followed by dissent and disarray, and asked whether America might be on the cusp of a realignment:

A month-and-a-half into Trump’s presidency, however, the tensions are looking more overwhelming than manageable. Internecine fights between Republicans, about both the party’s biggest priorities and the president’s unprecedented persona, erupt into headlines daily. And so we find ourselves wondering: could the GOP coalition be impossible to hold together? Might we be witnessing the beginnings of a serious partisan realignment, perhaps even the end of the long era of Democrats vs. Republicans in federal politics?

Wallach proceeded to analyze this question by comparing today’s political landscape to a “neglected chapter in American history”: the downfall of the Whig Party from its peak in 1848 (the year its outsider candidate won the presidency and gave Whigs effective control of American government), to 1856, when for all intents and purposes, the party no longer existed.

That period featured surging nativism, profound uncertainty for both major parties, and a striking number of rhymes with our current political moment. Then, as now, the issues that provided the traditional lines of contestation between the two major parties were losing potency while new divisions were taking their place.

Wallach proceeds to enumerate the schisms within the GOP that might well lead to that party’s disintegration–the various factions rejecting Paul Ryan’s healthcare “reform,” similar disputes over tax policies, deep disagreement with Trump’s populist policies on trade, and concern over what Wallach delicately refers to as Trump’s “preoccupations” and “personality.” He then turns to the Democrats.

Although the GOP’s troubles are more vivid just now, Democrats are in some ways in just as serious a predicament. Insurgent populists and establishment neoliberals are deeply suspicious of each other and divided on where the party’s future lies, as was made apparent by the bitter fight over the DNC chairmanship.

What internal conflicts ultimately fractured and dissolved the Whigs? The most important was slavery, but there were also deep divisions over prohibition and the rise of anti-Catholic nativism. There had been a major influx of Catholic immigrants, especially German and Irish, and the “native” Protestant Americans, who tended to be  Whig voters, accused these immigrants of “popery,” criticized their use of foreign languages, and decried their participation in “corrupt” urban political machines. (They also tended to drink demon alcohol.) A number of Whig politicians adopted virulently nativist positions as a way of energizing their base. (Sound familiar?)

Wallach identified a lack of leadership continuity as another reason the Whigs imploded:

As the party looked for a champion going into the presidential election of 1848, a majority of its members opted to put their trust in a man who had no political history in the party at all. General Zachary Taylor, hero of the Mexican War, seemed to be “a new Cincinnatus, a man who, like the revered Washington, stood above party.” There were even those who were enthusiastic about rebranding the party, abandoning the “Whig” label in favor of “Taylor Republicans.”

However, Taylor’s policies enraged a substantial number of Whig partisans, allowing the “Know Nothings” and others to step into the breach.

It is hard to exaggerate how rapid and widespread the expansion of Know-Nothingism was in the 1850s. Founded as the secret “Order of the Star-Spangled Banner” in 1849, Know-Nothings built up a vast hierarchical organization of lodges and established themselves as the dominant force in many parts of the country. Officeholders of both parties, but especially Whigs, found that their political fortunes depended on having themselves secretly inducted into the rapidly growing order. As long as Know-Nothings remained officially secret, they seemed to offer a kind of symbiotic relationship with the Whig Party rather than posing a direct threat. But members of the movement, active in both the North and South, soon desired a more public arm of their movement, leading to the founding of parties variously called “Native American,” “American,” or “American Union,” in 1854 and 1855.

I won’t belabor these parallels further (although I can’t resist comparing the Tea Party to the “Order of the Star-Spangled Banner”).

It may be that the American political structure–a structure that overwhelmingly privileges a two-party system– will end up saving both Republicans and Democrats in their present form, although not necessarily in their present, respective substances. But the parallels–and their implications– are worth pondering.

On the other hand, we may truly be in previously uncharted waters….