Bruce Bartlett’s Ridiculous Trump Gambit

Bruce BartlettI’ve long admired Bruce Bartlett. But like all the truly reasonable people who continue to call themselves Republicans, I do think he has a screw loose. If I had been a Democrat my whole life, but it kept changing to the point where what I had always thought the Democratic Party represented was now found in the Republican Party, I would become a Republican. I’m not wedded to the name. Bartlett is a man whose beliefs place him clearly in the mainstream of the Democratic Party, and yet he continues to hang onto the Republican Party. In this way, he is like Josh Barro and David Cay Johnston. [In a private correspondence with Johnston, I learned that he does not consider himself a Republican, and pretty much never did. He found my belief that he considered himself a conservative amusing. So I’m apparently totally wrong about Johnston. -FM]

But I knew what Bartlett was up to earlier this week when he wrote, The Moderate Republican’s Case for Trump. It wasn’t necessary even to read the subtitle, “Only Trump can make the GOP sane again — by losing in a landslide to Hillary Clinton.” He’s such a smart guy, how can he think this? It must be like a father who just doesn’t want to believe that, in fact, his son is a serial killer. Bartlett so wants to believe that his party really is what he’s so long thought. But he couldn’t be more wrong.

Bartlett argued that a Trump nomination would lead to a “defeat of Barry Goldwater proportions” and this would “prove beyond doubt that the existing conservative coalition cannot win the presidency.” But this is not how elections work. Take the 1964 election where Goldwater lost by almost 23 percentage points. Did that cause the Republicans to moderate? Not at all. They nominated Richard Nixon — a hardcore cold warrior who ran on the idea of the “silent majority” — those people who weren’t demonstrating against the Vietnam war and who supposedly loved it — and “law and order” — basically oppression of the weak and suppression of speech. Yeah, those Republicans really learned their lesson!

But there is an important connection here. Bartlett claims that John McCain and Mitt Romney lost because they were encumbered “by the right-wing baggage essential for winning the nomination.” But this is total garbage. First: they lost because the economic environment favored Obama. Second: neither man was a moderate. But this is what passes for Republican moderation in polite society. It’s like that argument I got in with “danny” over racism: unless someone is explicit about their wanting to dismantle the New Deal and Great Society, we are all expected to pretend that they would never do such a thing. So what Bartlett is saying is that Donald Trump would prove to Republicans that they can’t talk like Trump, even though the actual policies of Trump would likely be more moderate than any of the “moderate” Republicans that would come later.

Bartlett then goes on in his article to recount the history of Ronald Reagan — a totally ahistorical history, but the standard one that Republicans tell themselves. And he repeats the true, but deceptive claim that Reagan raised taxes 11 times, as though that makes up for the fact that the top marginal income tax rate was 70% when he came in and 28% when he left. In terms of domestic policy, Reagan was more conservative than any president. But Bartlett’s false memories of the time (he was in the administration) are doubtless what keeps him thinking that the modern Republican Party has been hijacked, rather than having just evolved the way that Reagan would have wanted.

But what is most ridiculous about Bartlett’s article is his cluelessness as to why people vote Republican. He understands that his side of the party is elitist. He repeats the joke, “Republicans could never understand why they lost an election because all their friends at the country club voted Republican.” But somehow he thinks that the “yahoos” (His term!) will just continue to vote Republican in the name of truly conservative foreign policy (which is what the Democrats offer) and a truly conservative economic policy (which is also what the Democrats offer).

The argument that Bartlett is making is the same argument that pundits made after John McCain lost by almost 8 percentage points. And it is the argument that pundits made after Romney lost by 4 percentage points. “The Republicans will have to moderate now!” But they didn’t and they won’t. And the idea that political parties move that quickly is ridiculous anyway. If the Republican Party is going to stop being a revolutionary power, it is going to take decades. And that’s especially true given that it can continue being a regional power where racism is still a big motivator of the electorate.

Latinos Like Sanders, Pundits Do Not

Bernie SandersOne thing that has bothered me about the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign is that the people who support him are overwhelmingly white and highly educated. I don’t like to be part of such a homogeneous group. And this has caused a lot of people to call into doubt Sanders’ ability to mount an effective challenge to Hillary Clinton. But is that description of Sanders’ coalition even correct?

Earlier this month, Nate Cohn wrote, Why Bernie Sanders’s Momentum Is Not Built to Last. Basically: it’s just the strong liberals, stupid! In a companion article, he wrote, What the Hispanic Vote Says About Bernie Sanders’s Chances. He noted the whiteness of Sanders’ coalition and claimed that it didn’t include African Americans and Latinos because they were more socially conservative.

If that seems like an odd criticism, that’s only because you’ve been paying attention. The one thing that most defines Bernie Sanders is that all he talks about populist economic issues. Everything else is in that context. True: Bernie Sanders is a consistent liberal down the line. But like me, he is focused on economic issues. And economic issues are — you know — the most important issues for all groups. So are African Americans really not supporting Sanders because he’s in favor of same sex marriage — even though he rarely talks about it?

I was very pleased to read an article on this subject by Matt Bruenig, How “Consistent Liberal” Deceives. In it, he noted that it obscures what’s really happening to lump economic and social issues together — especially when talking about a candidate like Bernie Sanders who is all economics, all the time. This is something I’ve written about a lot around here over the last six years. One of my great disappointments with the Democratic Party has been its abandonment of economic issues in favor of social issues. I just don’t care that much about social issues — and neither do the voters.

So Cohn claims that African American and Latino Democrats are not supporting Sanders because they are less liberal. But they aren’t less liberal on the issues that Sanders focuses on. He isn’t running on same sex marriage or reproductive rights or criminal justice reform. So is it really the case that these voters aren’t flocking to Sanders because he’s too liberal? Or is it the case that upper middle class white New York reporters are so stuck in their own paradigms that they can’t see the truth of what’s going on?

It turns out that Bruenig was able to dig up some data on what Latinos actually think about Sanders. You would have thought that a number cruncher like Cohn would have used actual data on this question rather than just assume that Latinos aren’t keen on Sanders. It turns out that in the one poll Bruenig could find, Latinos are more fond of Sanders than whites. In a poll by The Economist/YouGov, they asked people how they would vote in a match-up between Clinton and Sanders. In it, Sanders got 38% of the white vote and 41% of the Hispanic vote.

Now it is true that Clinton’s support among African Americans is amazing. She got 79% of it and Sanders got only 11%. There are a lot of reasons why this might be. For example, it could be that the Clinton brand is just really strong and that she will get strong numbers until the campaign gets under way and people learn more about the candidates. It could have something to do with being in the Obama White House. It could be that being part of the underclass has made the African American community skeptical of candidates like Sanders who sound too good to be true. It could be scores of other things. There is one thing that most definitely isn’t the reason that African Americans aren’t supporting Bernie Sanders. It isn’t because he is too liberal.

Bernie Sanders is really only too liberal for one group: vaguely centrist pundits in the mainstream media. (I’m not really talking about Nate Cohn here, but I think he’s been poisoned by this attitude.) It is them, after all, who define centrism as economic conservatism and social liberalism. These people usually don’t see even the most extreme social liberalism as anything but common sense. But move even a bit to the left on economic issues, and they start freaking out. Maybe Bernie Sanders will never appeal to the African American community. But that isn’t what all this wringing of hands is about.

Republican Evolution and the End of Norms

Bob Dole WheelchairBrian Beutler asked a good question, Would Republicans Support the Americans with Disabilities Act Today? When the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed 25 years ago yesterday, it was supported by just about everyone. Sure, some business lobbyists claimed that it would cost money and destroy capitalism as we know it. But people liked it and politicians liked it. It passed the Senate 76-8 and by unanimous consent in the House. I don’t think it is surprising. I think most humans understand that it would really suck to be disabled, and so the least that we as a society can do is make it as painless as possible.

But would it pass today? Probably not. Beutler reminded us of the Senate vote on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Bob Dole, Republican icon, then 89 years old and in a wheelchair, came to the Senate for the vote — hoping to sway some votes. But it didn’t work. The treaty was not ratified by the Senate because 38 Republicans stood strong against helping the disabled all over the world. Those 38 Republicans included three current presidential candidates: Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. What brave men they are!

So there is little doubt that if the ADA came up for a vote today, we would hear screams about socialism and how the law would destroy the economy and this was just the first part of the attack on American sovereignty and is that a black helicopter on the horizon! But it brought to mind an argument that I was hearing a lot a few years ago. It was claimed that the Republicans had not, in fact, gotten more extreme. Liberals had been saying that since at least Barry Goldwater. I found that argument pretty compelling. But now I wonder.

It’s probably just a question of expectations. Yes, Ronald Reagan raised taxes seven times — blah, blah, blah. But he also lowered the top tax rate massively compared to where it had been. And he lowered the top tax rate down to 28% — a rate that Bush was forced to raise back up to the still ridiculously low 31%. Yes, Nixon was president while the country looked seriously at a single payer healthcare system. But that was being forced on him by a liberal Congress. The best you can say about him is that he didn’t especially care. And overall, Nixon’s focus was on international matters.

I don’t think that the Republicans are necessarily more ideologically conservative than they used to be. But they are just more crazy — less serious about what they are supposed to do. There is a breakdown of norms. I don’t actually think that Republicans of old cared that much about the disabled. But they knew that all human beings do care about the disabled and the weak more generally, so they supported common sense measures like the ADA. But now, most of them don’t.

And I think I know why from 1994 onward, the Republican Party has lost all touch with humanity: they’ve learned it isn’t necessary. The average American doesn’t pay that much attention to politics. And as much as they do, they assume that the truly vile things that the Republicans say is all for show. “They don’t really think we should let people without insurance die, right?” No, they really do. But given that the mainstream media never calls them out on this, everyone assumes that they don’t. And as a result, one norm after another falls. And the end of this road is fascism. The Republican Party is already pretty far down that road.

Morning Music: Utah Phillips

Utah PhillipsIn the early part of the 20th century, members of the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) were in conflict with the Salvation Army, which they referred to as the “Starvation Army.” It used to be a very big thing among Christians to say that we didn’t need to worry about earthly possessions because God would reward us in the afterlife. Well, the Wobblies weren’t too keen on that. They had this thing about eating.

So in 1911, Joe Hill wrote another of his songs, “The Preacher and the Slave” — often referred to as the refrain, “Pie in the Sky.” It is a parody of the hymn “In the Sweet By-and-By.” Here is the great Utah Phillips doing the song live. “Folk music belongs to everybody…” That’s no lie!

Anniversary Post: B-25 and Empire State Building

B-25 Slams into Empire State BuildingOn this day 70 years ago, a B-25 Mitchell flew into the Empire State Building. Three crew members got lost in the fog and slammed into building at roughly the 79th floor. The crew members were killed as well as 11 people in the building. It is mostly notable to me that the story of this was widely told to me as a reason to think that either the 9/11 attack was a hoax or that people had really messed up in designing the World Trade Center.

On the issue of 9/11 being a hoax, well, I don’t have a lot to say about that other than that I wish such people would spend half that effort being engaged in actual politics. On the issue of design failure, well, hindsight is a really great thing, ain’t it. Regardless, there is a big difference between a medium sized propeller airplane at the end of its flight, and a Boeing 767 just filled with jet fuel for a transcontinental flight.

But there you are. There will always be a lot of woulda, shoulda, coulda reactions to these kinds of things. Because humans don’t like the idea that they aren’t in control. But they should get used to it. Americans especially should be waking up to the fact that their economic station in life is wholly dependent upon factors beyond their control. And some times, you starve to death because of a global warming induced drought. And other times an airplane slams into your office and kills you.

Seventy years ago, that happened to a small group of people in the Empire State Building.