October 18, 2018

OUR TWO REPUBLICAN PARTIES:

Who Will Speak for the Democrats? (Michael Hirsh, NOVEMBER 8, 2018, NY Review of Books)

If Democrats win the House (and the Senate, though that's still considered a long shot), the best-case scenario for the party may be that, as Republicans did after 2010, they fall back on their common hatred for the man in the White House.

The temptation to do this will be enormous: according to Gary Jacobson, a scholar at the University of California at San Diego who has tracked electoral data going back to the 1940s, a sitting president has never been as central an issue in a midterm election as Trump is in 2018. Despite an unemployment rate that is near mid-twentieth-century lows and other good economic news, public outrage at Trump's offensive policies and statements--the "Muslim ban," the separation of families seeking asylum, his ceaseless barrage of insults aimed at women, African-Americans, and other minorities--has kept him at 50 percent-plus disapproval ratings, according to most major polls. To become a party that stands for little else than ousting a hated president is an enticing but perilous path--especially if you fail.

The Republican Party establishment lost its base after Mitt Romney's defeat in 2012, and one can trace a direct line from that reckoning to the rise of the incendiary populist outsider who cost the party its soul (or, at the very least, its platform) and has since become the GOP's sole owner and proprietor. Or witness those sixteen hapless Trump rivals in the 2016 GOP primaries, several of whom (like Romney) tried and failed to square the demands of the base with the evidence of their more reasonable voting records (the exception being Ted Cruz, who came in second to Trump). It wasn't until August, after Trump was nominated, that Republicans really knew--for good or ill--who or what they were voting for.

Win or lose on November 6, Pelosi will have a pack of progressives at her back--and so will the eventual Democratic presidential nominee in 2020. For the Democrats this reckoning is ultimately about whether their leadership can finally acknowledge that since the Reagan era they've too often been a party of counter-punchers. They've sought merely to temper free-market ideology without offering an alternative vision of their own. Judging from her 2017 memoir, What Happened, and various postmortems, Hillary Clinton still doesn't seem to fully grasp--or at least admit--that the seeds of the (largely white) working-class distress that sank her campaign were planted during her husband's presidency, with its embrace of Wall Street deregulation and GOP-driven deficit-cutting that left a pittance for job retraining and adjustment programs.

Barack Obama did little better. Perhaps the greatest irony of his "Yes, we can" presidency was that income inequality actually increased during his terms. Obama's administration failed to send a single major Wall Street, real estate, or insurance executive to jail despite their complicity in the biggest securities fraud in history. Under pressure from the right, Obama too became a proud deficit cutter. And he submitted to his financial gurus, Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, when they argued that the moral hazard of bailing out millions of desperate underwater homeowners was far too risky, even as they shrugged off the moral hazard of bailing out big banks.

Just as Bill Clinton's greatest successes came once he had a Republican Congress to collaborate with, so too would a Democratic Congress help our protectionist, isolationist president.


Posted by at October 18, 2018 4:02 PM

  

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