Two Ways of Selling Out Liberalism

John BreauxThere’s nothing quite like listening to two New Democrats complain about exactly how much is the right amount to sell out the liberal movement. Today, the battle was between John Breaux and Ed Kilgore. It all started with a Molly Ball article about Mary Landrieu, The Last Southern Democrat. In it, Ball asked one of those dreary and stupid questions about “what happened” to the Democrats on 4 November. Landrieu didn’t want to answer the question, but former Senator Breaux did, “The perception now is that the Democratic Party is too far to the left and the Republican Party is too far for the right. The majority of Americans are somewhere in the middle.”

This statement is true, but not in the way that Breux thinks it is. Americans are socially conservative and economically liberal. And when you ask them about specific policies, the American people come down decidedly with the Democratic Party. That ought to make Democrats think that the party needs to get a whole lot better at messaging — not that it should move to the right politically. But Breux wants to start up the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) again. And what that means is that he thinks that the Democrats should move to the right on exactly the economic issues where the American people are generally to the left of it.

Ed Kilgore is not happy to hear this, even though he used to work at the DLC. His complaint is that unlike the real New Democrats, Breux and his ilk never believed in the philosophy and were only interested in making whatever deals they could with the Republicans. That would be a good point to make if the principles of the DLC were not so toxic. After all, their primary interest was to remove economic liberalism as a choice from either major American political party. And ultimately, it was razor-focused on winning elections regardless of its effect on actual policy. As I’ve argued many times before, the Republicans won when Clinton became president.

What the DLC always stood for was winning elections. And their way to do that was to pander to the oligarchs. But they couldn’t just become the Republican Party. They had to maintain the brand of liberalism. So they held onto civil rights (as long as it didn’t cost the rich any money) and abortion rights (as long as it didn’t cost the rich any money) and gay rights (as long as it didn’t cost the rich any money). So it is hardly strange that Breux is obsessively pushing the Democratic Party to the right — that’s what a New Democrat is always for.

It’s funny, of course, that Breux can’t see that Obama is exactly a New Democrat — pretty much indistinguishable from Bill Clinton except for the tail chasing and the skin color. What’s really happened is that Kilgore has ossified as a member of the early DLC. Thus, he still believes in many forms of liberalism. But Breaux is actually the more true to the movement. After all, the DLC was only in favor of given policies at any particular time. The overall philosophy was: ever to the right!

If there is a difference between the Kilgore style DLC and the Breux style DLC, it is that the latter is just stupid. If you are willing to move to the right for political gain, you have to do it strategically. John Breux is like many a southern Democrat who abandoned the party during the years of Bush the Younger. But let’s not kid ourselves: the DLC has done terrible harm to liberalism generally and the Democratic Party specifically. And it did absolutely nothing to get Democrats elected. Democrats would have won in 1992, 2000, and 2008 regardless. Kilgore’s embrace of the DLC can be attributed to youthful idiocy. Breux’s embrace of always moving to the right can be attributed to lifelong idiocy. But the DLC was terrible for the country, regardless of whose philosophy of selling out liberalism was followed.

New Republic: 1914 – 2014

New RepublicThere are a lot of people at New Republic who I really like. In particular: Brian Beutler and Jonathan Cohn. But as a going concern, New Republic generally means one thing to me: a supposedly liberal magazine that is most concerned with attacking liberalism. Most of all, I associate it with its darkest years under the editorial leadership of Andrew Sullivan. This was when it pushed not only Betsy McCaughey’s hit job against the Clinton administration’s healthcare reform law, but also The Bell Curve.

This is what made the phrase “Even The New Republic…” so pernicious. Conservatives could and did say things like, “Even The New Republic thinks that economic inequality doesn’t matter because minority groups are just stupid!” (For those who don’t remember, that was the argument of The Bell Curve — although stated less bluntly.) Back in 2004, Steve Rendall and Anne Kosseff at FAIR described the magazine’s abandonment of its progressive roots since the early 1970s, Not Even the New Republic. In fact, it included a great quote from Hendrik Hertzberg, “The old ‘even The New Republic…’ scam was getting a little old in the 1980s; now it’s a quarter of a century old.”

As a result of this, I have a hard time getting too excited by the news that Chris Hughes has decided to destroy New Republic and turn it into a “digital media company” — think: BuzzFeed. The news, however, is both funny and sad. It is funny in that billionaire man-child Hughes has decided to do this. After all, why did he buy the magazine in the first place? He could have started his own stupid “also ran” digital media company. The whole thing is entirely typical of the useless rich. They like the idea of buying a magazine with a storied past, but they are soon bored and decide to “update” it and make it profitable. According to Jonathan Chait, the magazine has never been profitable and Hughes must have known that when he bought it.

The news is sad because many great writers have now quit BuzzFeed--. (That’s a programming joke!) This includes Jonathan Cohn and Noam Scheiber. The truth is that over the last few years, New Republic really has gotten a lot better. And now this is all gone. And I don’t have any convenient place to check out what Alec MacGillis and Julia Ioffe are writing. But I’m sure they will all still be around and I will find them.

The question is whether this is actually worse than Martin Peretz’s purchase of the magazine in 1974 or the beginning of Andrew Sullivan’s editorship in 1991. And there is potentially a huge upside here. I suspect this will be a huge failure. New Republic will muddle along for many years to come. But it is for all intents and purposes dead. No one is going to step up in a decade and say, “I want to take this mediocre ‘digital media company’ and turn it back into the important magazine it once was!” Instead, one day in the not so distant future, Chris Hughes will have had his fun and will be beyond caring what everyone is saying about him, and he will quietly abandon the project.

There is an important lesson in all of this. The rich are not the saviors of our culture. When they rush in to save institutions like New Republic, they do it as a form of self-aggrandizement. Our only hope is that we create a more equal society. But at this point, it wouldn’t make me sad if Chris Hughes was killed in an auto accident.

Black-on-Black-on-White Racism

DigbyAnd now we have the latest iteration of this very old phenomenon: whites who believe that it’s a racist act to point out their racism. The accusation itself is the racist act and in their minds much worse than whatever it was they were accused of saying. Nothing is more racist than calling someone a racist.

This goes hand in hand with what is perhaps the most specious of right-wing commentary in response to these notorious incidents of white vigilantes and police officers shooting unarmed black teenagers: “Why don’t you people care about black-on-black crime the way you care about this?” This is inevitably followed by the statistic that says more than 90 percent of all shootings of young black men are committed by other black men and delivered by the white person with an attitude that this somehow ends the argument. The fact that most crime against whites is committed by whites as well doesn’t seem to penetrate. Funny thing, but crimes seem to be more prevalent among people who live near each other. Go figure. But what’s most odd about this argument is that it’s supposed to answer the charge that racism or racial profiling might be in play in these cases where a George Zimmerman or a Darren Wilson shoot a young unarmed black man out of what they say was fear for their lives. If the so-called black-on-black crime is the real problem, what are all these white men so afraid of?

—Heather Digby Parton
White America’s Moral Disaster: From Eric Garner to Mike Brown, a Destructive View of “Justice”

See also: Why Hosting Rudy Giuliani to Talk About Race Is a Bad Idea

Good Jobs Report Could Spell Disaster

BLSThe Jobs Report is out for November and it is really good. Matt Yglesias provided a good overview of it, A Dominant Jobs Report. As he noted, the surface of the report is good news: 321,000 jobs added in November. “Dig a little bit deeper, though, and you see even more good news.” On the other hand, Dean Baker (Gloomy but correct!) would doubtless tell us that at this rate it would still take us years to reach full employment. Regardless, it is a good jobs report.

As a result, I’m worried. One of the best things in the jobs report is that we are finally seeing some wage growth: hourly wages went up by 9¢ this month. That’s great news all by itself. But the Federal Reserve is just itching to raise rates to head off inflation. You know: it is much better to kill an economic recovery than risk even the smallest amount of inflation that would hurt the rich rentiers. And the most liberal position on the Fed is that we should wait until wages start to rise before putting a great big drag on the economy.

Not surprisingly, I see it differently. I think that American workers have been suffering in a big way for the last six years. At the same time, the owners of capital have done extremely well. So the Federal Reserve should — For a change! — error on the side of the American worker. It should allow reasonable levels of actual inflation. I am so tired of the Fed constantly slamming the brakes on the economy before we see inflation. The justification for this is that inflation can quickly get out of control. But when have we seen this? It is ridiculous to suggest that if inflation went up to 3%, the Fed would be at a loss to do anything about it.

For the record, I think the Federal Reserve inflation target should surely be 3%. In fact, I’ve never heard a reasonable argument for why it shouldn’t be 4%. The truth is that over the last six years, the inflation rate has been below the ridiculously low target of 2% over 60% of the time. And the 2% inflation target is not based upon anything. It was just a number that Alan Greenspan made up. And his reason for doing so would not sit right with most economists. He claimed that the inflation measures overstated actual inflation so that 2% inflation actually represented zero inflation. Zero inflation is bad for workers and the economy; it is only good for the already rich.

This morning, Paul Krugman also argued for caution from the Fed. In fact, he gave what I think is infinitely reasonable advice, “So still: the Fed should wait until it sees the whites of inflation’s eyes — and by inflation I mean inflation clearly above 2 percent, and if I had my way higher than that.” But sadly, I don’t think any level of rational argument will matter. The clearest proof that our government is an oligarchy is found with the Federal Reserve. Not only does it give money away as long as the recipient is rich enough, it has never seen its purpose as being anything but helping the rich. The only good thing I can remember the Fed doing was under Greenspan where he allowed unemployment to get much lower than more establishment figures (like Janet Yellen) thought wise. And I don’t think he did that because he was concerned about the American worker.

Hopefully, the Federal Reserve will not act as stupidly and cruelly as is its tendency. But you can depend upon many people screaming about raising interest rates. One thing is pretty clear. The Fed has signaled that it will raise interests in mid-2015. The good jobs report today makes that much more likely.

Update (7 December 2014 10:06 am)

As expected, Dean Baker wrote, “To get back to the labor market of the late 1990s and 2000 we would need 3.5 years of November’s growth.”

Fritz Lang

Fritz LangOn this day in 1890, the great filmmaker Fritz Lang was born. He is primarily known for two iconic films. The first is one of the greatest silent films, Metropolis. It is visually stunning (even by today’s standards) and great story telling. Thematically, I have some problems with it. It shows the unjust class divide of that time as well as today. But it also shows the workers of Metropolis as a bunch of sheep who are easily led to do good or evil. I can well see why Joseph Goebbels loved the film and offered Lang the job of running Universum Film AG. (It was at that moment that Lang decided he had to get out of Germany. He went to France for two years and then made the very smart decision to move to the United States.) The entire two and a half hour 2010 restored print of the film is available on YouTube. But here is the trailer, which gives a good idea of just how amazing the film is:

His second iconic film was made four years later, M. It was also his first film with audible dialog. But unlike early American sound pictures, it was not staged at all. In fact, much of it has an almost neorealist feel to it. And there isn’t much to the story. There’s a man who we assume is molesting and then killing children. The town chase after him and put him on trial. And here is that scene:

He made a couple dozen films in the United States. There are generally quite good, but they aren’t revolutionary like his early work. Even still, he was critical to the development of the look and feel of film noir. And, of course, Hollywood constrained him because he remained an artist and we can’t have that now, can we? He ended his career with a couple of German productions, including the successful, The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse. Here is a terrible dubbed trailer for the film:

Happy birthday Fritz Lang!