Monthly Archives: October 2015

The problem with our politics is the lack of a racist left

Rich Americans tend to be relatively culturally liberal, in the sense of being pro-gay, pro-abortion, anti-racist, feminist, etc. This is likely because those traits associate with being intelligent, educated, and worldly, and those traits are associated with having more money.

Rich Americans also tend to be relatively economically conservative, because people tend to follow their self interest on that kind of thing.

As with other Americans, these two spectra are weirdly correlated: the more culturally liberal someone is, the more economically liberal they’re likely to be, and vice versa.

American politics is dominated by the rich, so the political struggles we see are mostly based on differences of opinion within the ruling class. No matter how many non-rich people want something, if no rich folks are involved it doesn’t happen, while a faction of rich people can have a big impact even without much in the way of popular support.

The shape of modern American politics is that the relatively culturally and economically conservative faction of the ruling class (meaning culturally moderate and extremely economically conservative compared to the rest of the country) runs the Republican Party, while the relatively culturally and economically liberal faction of the ruling class (meaning extremely culturally liberal and moderate economically compared to the rest of the country) runs the Democratic Party, with a little support from what there is of non-ruling class power, basically the surviving labor unions.

This is how we end up with the Democrats espousing overwhelmingly popular economic policies that put them right in the center of the American people, and getting beaten by Republicans spouting off extreme right wing insanity.

The shape of the American electorate is that rural areas are culturally conservative and urban areas are culturally liberal, and that economic views pretty much correlate with wealth, with the median view of what our economy should look like being a bit to the left of Sweden. Of course voting also correlates pretty perfectly with wealth, with a nice smooth curve going down from nearly 100% of the top 1% of income earners voting, down to nearly 0% of the bottom 1%.

The Republican donor base will fund candidates as long as they are economically conservative. The Democratic donor base will fund candidates as long as they’re culturally liberal. This has had an unfortunate consequence in our politics: the abandonment of rural America to the Republican Party. The Democratic donor base will only finance a culturally liberal candidate, and such a candidate simply cannot win in these culturally conservative areas. Republicans hold a huge majority of state level offices, because of this very phenomenon. Democrats are simply not interested in offering the product that would allow them to compete with the Republicans in these areas: a culturally conservative but economically liberal candidate.

Can you imagine a gun-toting, flag-waving, anti-PC, pro-life little bit racist, little bit homophobic candidate who also wanted to expand social security, expand unions, and follow Keynesian economic policy? That could be a very popular platform in certain parts of the country. Can you imagine such a candidate being a part of the Democratic Party? Can you imagine such a candidate receiving the vast sums of Democratic donor money he would need to even begin to compete? And it should go without saying that such a platform would never get any support from Republican donors.

Now as someone far to both the cultural and economic left, I don’t find that candidate very appealing either. But man, it’s not like he’d be running in my district, he’d be running in some district where the other option was someone who was not only economically conservative, but also even worse on the cultural stuff!

Now it’s not like I’m going to convince any Democratic donors to start giving to racist red state leftists. And even if they did, these are big systematic issues, not to be resolved by some individual donor decisions (well maybe a few billionaires, Jesus, our elections are fucked up). However, there is a solution that is already very much under discussion: public financing of elections. If we can produce an effective enough system that candidates without much in the way of donor support can still have a real chance, that changes things quite a bit. I think we would start to see the rise of culturally conservative economically liberal politicians. Look, for example, at Europe, where there has been a surge in what are dubbed ‘right-wing populist’ parties, and which are in reality parties that are culturally right-wing while actually being to the left of the local conservatives, and sometimes even to the left of the local center-left party in terms of opposition to austerity. And of course Europe is full of publicly financed elections.

So this is something we should be prepared for. Publicly financed elections will let us elect more economically liberal candidates in urban areas, which will be unambiguously great. The more ambiguous part is that we may get the return of the Democratic Party in rural areas in the form of culturally conservative, economically liberal populists. Or maybe people with that platform will run as Republicans once they can get funded to do so. The thing is, they (hopefully!) will be an important part of any coalition to move economic policy to the left to any real degree. The voting block of poor, rural, culturally conservative and economically liberal block of voters need to be activated, and they need to be activated by politicians who share all of those traits with them. That’s democracy! Or at least, that’s how it should be. And man do I wish that guys who I think of us nutty Tea Party types could get money to run for office even if they are on the left economically.

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Centrists

Sometimes you will hear the narrative that there is a broad political center in the United States whose policies would be executed if only the two parties could figure out how to work together in a bipartisan way. If you think just a little bit about this statement, it seems obviously crazy: the Republicans are completely controlled by the super-rich, and the Democrats enormously influenced by the super-rich as well. The ‘compromise’ positions we see that the parties are supposed to rally around are things like the Grand Bargain, with the Democrats accepting cuts to entitlement spending in exchange for Republicans accepting modest tax increases on the wealthy. It’s hard to see this as a broad national coalition for sensible compromise, when the entitlement cuts are massively unpopular, while increasing taxes on the wealthy is incredibly popular. If there’s any actual national consensus on what needs to be done, it’s in favor of a range of social democratic policies well to the left of the current Overton Window. So why do we hear this described as the ‘centrist’ position?

The answer is that you need to stop pretending that voters are the primary constituency for modern American politicians. Their constituencies are their donors. So you shouldn’t be thinking about the median voter theorem, you should be thinking about the median donor theorem. It’s basically like the median voter theorem, except everyone’s opinion is weighted by the amount of money they might donate, meaning that most people’s opinions are weighted at roughly zero, while a few are massively influential. This implies that the political landscape to pay attention to is the gradations of opinion within the donor class.

And once we’re looking at the donor class, everything starts to make sense. The Democrats are dominated by the donors with enough compassion or fear of revolution to make an effort at improving the well-being of the lower classes. The Republicans are dominated by the donors who either out of self-interest or class-interest just want to suck up as much money into their own pockets / the pockets of the super-rich in general as possible. The big centrist coalition are the mass of relatively a-political rich people who think the Democrats are going a little far in giving their money away to poor people, but think that the Republicans are going a little far with wanting to smash the poor into tiny bits. These are the guys funding No Labels, or Fix the Debt, or yearning for Michael Bloomberg to run for President.


Vegetables

Vegetables used to be shit food that people ate because they couldn’t get anything else. That’s why they don’t taste very good – they’re not very good. So in our fabulously wealthy modern age, people can afford to eat other stuff instead of dumb vegetables, and economies of scale even make that other stuff cheaper. But then it turns out that there were some particular nutrients that we mainly got from vegetables, and the things we replaced vegetables with are often pretty crappy for us, so veggies become the thing you’re supposed to eat, even though your body is trying to tell you not to.


The Democratic Debate

The fundamental confusion that caused much of the media to botch their debate coverage is that they thought the story of the last few months was Hillary collapsing, rather than Bernie rising. All the media has been covering are her problems and scandals, so when they saw her poll numbers declining they thought their coverage was the explanation. Stories talk about the potential for a Hillary ‘implosion’, whatever that means, and speculate about Biden joining the race if she screws up, since of course they can’t imagine Sanders as an alternative. So when Hillary got up and showed herself to be competent and well-spoken and not much weighed down by their bogus scandals, they said “Wow, she is so great, defying expectations! What a win for Hillary!” In reality, as poll after poll shows, this race has never been about Democrats souring on Hillary, it’s that they really like Bernie. Everyone outside of the pundit bubble already knew that Hillary was competent and well-spoken, and few Democratic primary voters bought into the silly email and Benghazi ‘scandals’ in the first place. For most people, who have not been following the race very closely up until now, the big story was “Hey, look at this Bernie Sanders guy!” After months of little coverage, and with most of the coverage there was constantly emphasizing his ‘fringe’ status and downplaying his chances, people got a chance to listen to his message for themselves, and unsurprisingly, it hit home with a lot of them.

I’m not exactly sure what it means to have ‘won’ a debate. There’s no objective criteria to talk about. What matters is what effect the debate has on the people watching. I can’t imagine anyone whose mind would have been changed by Hillary’s performance. People know her and have opinions about her, and nothing she said on stage shifted those opinions much. On the other hand, there were a lot of people turned on to Bernie by the debate, simply because they got to hear him speak for once.


Everyone to my right is in on the conspiracy

There is a tendency in politics to assume that everyone farther to one side of the political spectrum than you are is in on a big conspiracy to screw you and your buddies on the opposite side of the spectrum. For people who are relatively close to the political center, this just manifests as conspiratorial thinking about the opposing major party – Democrats talking about the evil plans of the Republicans and vice versa. It gets weirder and more interesting as you talk to people more on the fringes, either far left or far right. Socialists think that President Obama, and the Democratic Party in general, is just a tool of the capitalist class to divert discontent into acceptable channels, and no better than the Republicans. Some of these socialists think the solution to this problem is to elect someone farther left, like Bernie Sanders. And then there are the people to the left of Bernie calling him “an imperialist capitalist shill.” Meanwhile on the right wing of our political discourse, you find Tea Party Republicans accusing their slightly less fanatical Republican colleagues of being in league with Obama to destroy America and usher in a communist dictatorship based on their unwillingness to hold the country hostage until their demands are met.

Presumably this is because in politics you are always trying to pull policy towards your preferences. My preferences are well to the left of current policy, so when I pull towards me, it seems as if everyone to my right is pulling in the other direction in unity. Meanwhile to someone as far to the right as I am to the left, it seems like everyone to their left is pulling in unity against them. Obama, and even Sanders, really are agents of capitalism in that their agendas do not include overthrowing our capitalist economy and replacing it with a socialist one. The important thing to remember though is that this doesn’t imply that they are actually in league with the others on ‘team capitalism’. Indeed, ignoring these internal divisions within the very broad coalition of “everyone to my right” is foolish. I have no objection to teaming up with people who don’t want to move as far left as I do, but want to move in that direction relative to the status quo. Sure they’ll become opponents eventually if we’re successful, since they’ll want to stop and I’ll want to keep going, but those are the problems of victory. The key from a tactical standpoint is that these alliances need to support the creation of power-bases that represent the interests I care about, rather than just channeling the power of those interests into supporting the lesser of two evils that we’re temporarily allying with. Don’t just fight for the Democrats against the Republicans, or even just support the better Democrats in primaries, but instead build organizations that can do all that, but retain their separate character and ideological outlook.

Of course saying all this will get me branded a reactionary ally of the capitalist regime by a certain breed of less compromising socialists, for whom I’m just on the left edge of the massive pro-capitalist conspiracy. All I can say to those people is that I promise I really will be on their team if and when we achieve the current moderate social democratic type goals we’re pushing for against my current allies who will want to rest on those laurels rather than continuing towards socialism. Also that I love them unconditionally. Keep on shining you pure, powerless, crazy diamonds.


The Next Speaker of the House

There’s something important people need to understand about the difference between Tea Party Republicans and Establishment Republicans: there is roughly zero distance between the two on any policy issue. Essentially the entire modern Republican Party is dominated by totally insane hyper-reactionary thinking on virtually every topic. There is however a significant difference between the two breeds, tactics. The establishment wants to implement their monstrous policies through the ordinary legislative and electoral process. The Tea Party on the other hand is willing to threaten horrendous harm on the country unless their demands are met. This is scary for the establishment for two reasons. First, they really would rather not blow up the country to make a political point. They may be immoral craven puppets of their corporate masters, but neither they nor those corporate masters would benefit from an economic crash. Second, the Tea Party makes Republicans look freaking awful. Reporters have a pretty strong bias in favor of claiming that the two parties are basically equivalent, both with their good and bad points. This is hard enough to maintain in the face of Republican policies that have gone off the deep-end, but introducing a whole contingent of Republican politicians who don’t attach any value to functional government at all adds a whole new level of difficulty. The press tries, bless their hearts, and always makes the conflicts over government shutdowns and such out to be more of a bipartisan problem than they are, but even they have to acknowledge that these recurring crises are being driven by a specific faction within the Republican Party.

And now that faction is using the same terrorist tactics its been trying to get the party to use against their opponents within the party, for the crime of not  going along with using the strategy against others. Who’s going to be the next Speaker of the House? Who the hell knows? The possibilities are the Tea Party will cave and it will be an anti-blackmail Speaker, the Tea Party wins and it’s someone who goes along with their plans, or there’s some sort of unprecedented coalition between Democrats and establishment Republicans. If the Tea Party caves we basically go on as before. Not great, but not utterly disastrous. But the Tea Party doesn’t look inclined to cave. If the Tea Party wins, things will get truly crazy. Going over the debt limit, defaulting, shutting down the government, economic catastrophe… basically things will keep getting worse until establishment Republicans grow a spine and get to one of the other options, or we have an election, whichever comes first. And of course the election is no guarantee, since it’s not like any of these safe-seat Tea Party guys are at much risk. And then there’s the final option, some sort of coalition government. This could either mean Democrats voting for an establishment Republican Speaker, or Republicans voting for Nancy Pelosi, or some stranger option (the Speaker doesn’t even have to be a member of the House!) The Democrats would have to get some pretty real concessions to be willing to go along with such a thing, and it’s hard to imagine any Republicans going along with that kind of deal would survive their next primary.

So here we are, on the edge of disaster as always. If you give a crap about what happens in this country, please vote for your local Democratic representative in 2016. The only exception is if you’re an accelerationist who wants to hurry along the collapse of capitalism in order to cause a revolution. If that’s the case, see if there’s a Tea Party candidate running in your district. If not an establishment Republican is almost as good.


Moderate Republicans

It’s amazing what an obsession there is with the idea of the ‘moderate Republican’. There are a lot of establishment Democrats who sort of wish they had somewhere else to go in case the Sanders-Warren wing takes over the party, and a lot more not particularly politically savvy Democrats who keep thinking that a mythical ‘moderate Republican’ would be the scariest of all electoral opponents.

The issue is that there isn’t any such thing. So many policy areas these days are binaries: do you think we should take action on global warming? Should taxes on the wealthy go up or down? Should we regulate Wall Street more or less? Are you pro-choice or pro-life? On and on… what does a moderate mean in this situation? Someone with a mix of liberal and conservative positions on different ones of these policies? Any one deviation from right-wing orthodoxy is enough to disqualify you in Republican primary. Someone who tries to split the difference on a lot of things? Then you’re basically Hillary Clinton.

No Republican who doesn’t take hyper-conservative positions on every issue will ever be nominated on the Presidential level, and barely any can do so on any level. And even if / when by some miracle they do get nominated, such candidates can’t turn out the deranged Republican base.

RIP GOP