My friend Scott Lemieux kindly takes issue with my previous post. Perhaps reading his and other objections will deepen my argument. I leave that for you to decide.
Things that are incontrovertible, some of which I’ve already acknowledged:
1. Dems are better than Republicans, in more-or-less every respect. They will be less bad, and their hires and appointments doing administration in the executive branch will be much less bad. Hence for the left a vote for Democrats for the presidency under currently foreseeable circumstances is usually the correct vote.
2. The obstacles to third parties at the national level are huge, nearly prohibitive.
3. Everybody agrees we need reinvigorated social movements to push the Dems and the country to the left.
4. I am no fan of Maoist “the worse, the better” thinking, which is more accurately memorialized in “After Hitler, us.”
So what’s wrong with another exhortation to go lesser evil? I note that Scott refers to it as “boring.” I’ll take that as an admission: it reflects a lack of imagination. The implication is that point #1 is contested, and answering it solves the Social Question, as Bismarck would say. My case only partly overlaps with ‘third party curiosity’ (Scott’s cute phrase).
One question that is arguable is whether we are on a continuous, rightward path where the D’s are always better than the R’s, but always worse than D’s of years past. How much credit is due to the current and previous Dem administration?
In this regard I’d first refer back to Samuel Gompers, who when asked the objectives of the labor movement, replied “More.” I think Scott and Mike Tomasky would agree with that too. However, their implementation of that axiom differs from mine. For me, “more” means maintaining constant, unrelenting criticism of the Democratic Party, replete with threats to abstain, sabotage, or defect. It means being an endless pain in the ass (insert your own joke here), a perpetual source of discord. Call it creative tension, or if you like, “heightening the contradictions.”
Even when the Dems are better, they should be told to be better still. To me that’s a valid strategic principle. You can’t put that across if you’re always making nice, or telling everybody things could be worse. It’s not like Dem leaders are some fragile, needy children with low self-esteem who require constant encouragement. How hard to push, and when, is a tactical matter. At times credit will be due. We don’t expect Democrats from a lot of places to garner much enthusiasm. From many, there is little to expect (Hi, Heidi).
There is also the non-trivial matter of evaluating actual progress and regress. It is not one-dimensional. It’s certainly better to be gay today in the U.S. than it was even ten years ago. Or to smoke weed. But is it better to be, say, African-American? Or a woman? I am neither, but some starkly negative trends are evident. Residential segregation by race (and by extension, in local public education) is probably as bad, though different, as it was fifty years ago. Incarceration rates are high. Denial of the voting franchise proceeds apace. Reproductive rights are increasingly under pressure in the so-called red states. The police are basically out of control, whether in day-to-day dealings with minorities or in attacking the practice of non-violent civil disobedience. We have no well-founded expectation of privacy any longer.
It pays to be careful with statements along the lines of “We’ve never had it so good.” On the other hand, if you rant that shit is fucked up and bullshit, you’ll never leave anybody behind. Scott can compare some points in time that favor his case, but as in economics, the period you choose to define a trend makes all the difference.
We often bifurcate issues between the economic and the social. The Dems are better on social issues, there have been notable improvements, as cited above. On economic, class issues there is more to argue about. On one level the split is misconceived. Segregation, incarceration, and reproductive rights have profound economic implications for the victims. On the other side, Scott can point to the BFD of ObamaCare. I could add the initial fiscal response to the Great Recession.
For the sake of argument, we could concede that the Affordable Care Act and the initial Obama budgets for FY 09-10 were the best that could be achieved. Imagination comes back in as one reflects on this background. We could acknowledge the pragmatic necessity of results without neglecting what more there is to do. Lesser evilism tends to rest on imperfect or, worse, entirely unjustified laurels.
In the case of fiscal stimulus, more was clearly called for, at the start and to a greater extent a year plus down the line. In the case of ACA, the surviving legislation will deserve any number of adjustments in the future. Where should we be going? I defy you to relate any answers from the White House, or from admonitions that the other guys are always worse. Is it worth advancing proposals with no immediate chance of passage? It seems to have worked for the crazies on the Right. What’s harder to support is offering bad proposals — like ‘chained CPI’ — that have no chance of passing either. (I happen to think it might have passed, but that’s speculation on my part, or at least, more speculative than the rest of this post.)
What can we unreasonably say, looking forward, taking a long view?
1. The Dems address climate change, but not enough. In this case a bit better is not necessarily adequate.
2. The Dems remain wedded to dangerous meddling in the ME, indulging dubious allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia. Hillary in particular promises more unwelcome excitement on this front.
3. You can’t advocate for jobs while touting deficit reduction; it just makes people stupider. The same goes for what I call the Democrats’ doctrine of Federal Reserve supremacy. The European variant is even worse. Ersatz notions of full employment are purveyed by liberals.
4. We are not out of the woods on bad Social Security changes coming from Democrats. They only await the return of more reasonable Republicans.
One new development is promising noises made by Democratic big thinkers. I’m so old I remember similar talk about “putting people first” (they didn’t). Another presidential election looms, and Lucy and her football are back.
If the problems I have raised do not support the case for a permanent state of umbrage, I’m afraid we are fated to disagree. Dems may get my vote, but they will not get my apologetics.