Saturday, January 30, 2016

You say you want a revolution, but what if you've got one?

William Howard Taft on carabao-back in the Philippines.
I'm not one of those who worries a lot about whether Bernie Sanders is electable or not, at least against anybody on the roster of Republican candidates including the imaginary ones like Romney or Ryan, and with the Democratic ground operation as it's developed over the past eight or ten years. He's a disciplined and attractive candidate, and he keeps saying things everybody knows to be true and nobody else does say. BooMan was quoting Dana Milbank the other day—
Watching Sanders at Monday night’s Democratic presidential forum in Des Moines, I imagined how Trump — or another Republican nominee — would disembowel the relatively unknown Vermonter.
—and I was thinking, are you crazy, Milbank? Since the whole Republican shtik is to pretend to this Catonian personal rectitude and an indignation at the corruptions of the times that Sanders actually exemplifies, simply standing next to Sanders at a couple of podiums might cause Trump or Cruz or Rubio to simply annihilate, in a blinding flash of cognitive dissonance.

That said, I don't have any real doubts about Clinton's electability either, I just don't think that's the question. I think the question needs to be how we see the two of them as president, and, like Krugman, I have a really hard time imagining what Bernie does in that situation. How does he pass those initiatives to reregulate the banking system, and overthrow the health insurance industry in favor of Medicare for all, with a Senate where a two-fifths vote counts as a majority that can defeat any bill? Elizabeth Warren was out in the Times the other day implicitly complaining about the Obama administration's failure to enforce the laws we already have on corporate misfeasance:
Presidents don’t control most day-to-day enforcement decisions, but they do nominate the heads of all the agencies, and these choices make all the difference. Strong leaders at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Labor Department have pushed those agencies to forge ahead with powerful initiatives to protect the environment, consumers and workers. The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, a tiny office charged with oversight of the post-crash bank bailout, has aggressive leaders — and a far better record of holding banks and executives accountable than its bigger counterparts.
Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission, suffering under weak leadership, is far behind on issuing congressionally mandated rules to avoid the next financial crisis. It has repeatedly granted waivers so that lawbreaking companies can continue to enjoy special privileges, while the Justice Department has dodged one opportunity after another to impose meaningful accountability on big corporations and their executives.
But then who's in the Sanders cabinet, as Martin Longman was wondering the other day? Who's in his brain trust? And how does he get them past the Senate veto? Warren herself was supposed to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which she designed, but Obama had to give up on putting her through (luckily the second choice person has been very good).

Now here's old Robert Reich to argue that all these detail issues aren't important after all:
I’ve known Hillary Clinton since she was 19 years old, and have nothing but respect for her. In my view, she’s the most qualified candidate for president of the political system we now have.
But Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate to create the political system we should have, because he’s leading a political movement for change.
How does that work? How do you will a political revolution into existence? Don't tell me, tell Erik Loomis, who is not exactly a smelly old centrist:
I don’t believe that Sanders can create a political revolution. In fact, I think there is essentially no chance of it. It seems that Sanders supporters think there is going to be a wave of left-populist candidates swept into office with him. But where are those candidates in current House races? Where are the open Bernie acolytes either challenging moderate Democrats in primaries or running in conservative House districts that are heavily gerrymandered? Because while there are probably a few, I sure don’t see some broader platform of leftist candidates here, nor has anyone told me how they are going to win a 60-40 Romney seat.
You know what I'm saying? Hillary Clinton has raised $18 million for the DNC toward 2016 candidates so far, Sanders zero. She has endorsements from all but one senator and 153 House members (my count could be off there), he has two representatives. Where's the revolution coming from?

And then on the other hand we have a very clear concept of what a president Clinton will do, or try to do, and how possible it is, with a somewhat more friendly Congress, and while it may seem a little bit on the small-ball side—so much of it devoted to consolidating and refining the Obama legacy—there's another way of looking at it.

This is the thought that we're in the middle of a political revolution already, one that began out of the chaos of the Iraq War and the financial meltdown of 2008, and signaled itself through the 2008 election of Barack Obama. It's not just a matter of who's president but of what the Zeitgeist is up to, less with the ascendancy of the Democratic Party than the disintegration of the Republicans as a national organization, and the general restructuring of the discourse that we've seen in matters like the sudden acceptance of marriage equality and marijuana legalization (just getting started) and criminal sentence reform (still has a long way to go), and the huge expansion of the renewable energies industry, how many people thought that was going to happen?, and the improved regulation of banking and finance and insurance, and the provision, at long last, of a road that will lead to universal health insurance. Obama himself didn't quite have his hand on all of these, and in a couple of them he was decidedly behind the curve, but it has surely been the Obama era (and then there's foreign policy, with the slow, maddeningly slow but not yet reversed elimination of Stupid Shit).

From this standpoint we don't need a new political revolution, we need to get the first one fully implemented. We're somewhat in the position the electorate was in toward the end of the second term of Theodore Roosevelt, and the eighth year of the Progressive revolution, when the trust-busting was as incomplete as banking and industrial reregulation are now, and the voters in the presidential contest had to choose between the stolid figure of William Howard Taft and the mercurial William Jennings Bryan, the former Boy Wonder now in his third campaign. (Progressives dominated both parties, for the moment, so the issue of the general election had some analogy to the issue in our primary campaign in which the Republicans are basically irrelevant.)

Not that Taft and Bryan were anything like Clinton and Sanders. Bryan, the Democrat, was extraordinarily inspiring as a speaker, as everybody knows, and deeply committed to the welfare of the worker, a huge figure in the transformation of the Democrats from the old Southern slavery party into the liberal party of today—and also an incredibly annoying and flawed figure with his attachment to the worst of all Progressive ideas, alcohol prohibition, and his sanctimonious religiosity and hatred of evolution theory, and his unwillingness to denounce the Ku Klux Klan, and his frequent policy turnarounds especially on foreign policy issues, from antiwar to prowar and back. Also in spite of his long political career he had held public office just for four years in the House in the early 1890s. Taft, the Republican, was a man of no electoral career, but a distinguished legal man with a wide experience of public service (including as a colonial governor in Cuba and the Philippines, I'm sorry to say), and a friend of TR—running for president only because the incumbent president wanted him to, and with the express program of completing TR's legacy. And as you all recall he weighed well over 300 pounds and wore a very silly-looking mustache.

Come to think of it, all three of our people—Obama, Clinton, and Sanders—are much better people than Roosevelt, Taft, and Bryan. Obama's even a much better writer than Roosevelt, who was in his own right one of the best writers to occupy the White House (Adams, Jefferson, and Grant were of course the best all round, but I like Obama better than Jefferson). We are very fortunate to have this problem. But I think more and more that there's a strong argument for Clinton, meaning shoring up the revolution we have instead of chasing after a different one that we can't see clearly.

(Not that I know who I'm voting for in the primary even at this point; I'm angry with her for the stupidity that informs whatever she says on Iran, not that Sanders is a whole lot better there, and also for whatever role she or her campaign has played in denouncing Sanders over the "Soviet honeymoon scandal", plea-yuz. )

No comments:

Post a Comment