Tuesday, July 31, 2018


Ariel guiding shipwreck victims onto the island. Via.

David Brooks ("The Third-Party Option") is kind of all over the place as to what he really wants, today, whether to get Democrats to nominate Mitch Landrieu for president in 2020, which would obviate, he believes, the need for a third party (poor Mitch! that's a lot of pressure), or whether he wants the third party, except it looks like the third party, only not the same party it usually is, because that won't win:
But suppose the Democrats nominate one of the senators who are now sprinting leftward to catch up with what they perceive to be the Democratic base.
In that case, there would be room for a third party. But that bid would not work if it were trying to present a moderate or centrist or pragmatic alternative to the two party ideologies. There is no evidence that there are enough centrists or “pragmatists” to threaten the two-party duopoly.
To have a chance, the third-party candidate would have to emerge as the most radical person in the race.
Wait what?

That person would have to argue that the Republicans and Democrats are just two sides of a Washington-centric power structure that has ground to a halt. That person would have to promise to radically redistribute power.
He's just gone back to his National Review roots and dumped all that maudlin love-and-centrism on the floor like a bowl of infant food. Mashed peas. For this week, I mean, he'll be back in sensible before you know it. Or if you prefer, it's just the same mashed peas with the word "radical" whispered over it, because this is his "localism" concept, normally in Brooks's column the story of the kindly hometown millionaires who feed all the hungry and clothe all the naked in America's small towns because it makes them feel spiritually fulfilled and therefore no government is really needed at all, only this time it's going to the the story of the state and municipal governments to whom President Brooks or Brooks's advisee is going to turn over all the power:
In this new context, a third-party candidate might run on what Hais, Ross and Winograd call constitutional localism. The constitutional part means preserving the civil rights safeguards enshrined in the Constitution. The localism part means a radical decentralization of other powers, to the levels of authority people have faith in.
Hais, Winograd, and Ross being the authors of Healing American Democracy: Going Local, a 90-page pamphlet that came out last April that is, in fact, the subject of today's book report. The federal government will enforce racial integration and gender rights in schools, for instance, but will have nothing to do with funding schools (I have no idea whether Brooks, not to mention Hais, Winograd, and Ross, have any idea how much education funding has had to do over the years with the enforcement such as it is of Title VI and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, but if they don't have any money to work with they're going to have to send in the National Guard to most of the schools in the US, although that won't be a problem if things go on as they are since Secretary Betsy DeVos or whichever ideologue pulls her strings is pulling Education out of civil rights enforcement, they'll have given up on it already). No, if I remember right the federal government always needed some kind of leverage to enforce civil rights law. If they tried just saying "Come on guys do the right thing" I believe it didn't work.

And then again maybe local government isn't expected to do anything either, and you can call is those millionaires, because there's another book: Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak The New Localism: How Cities Can Thrive in the Age of Populism, of which Brooks says,
Part of the solution is devolving power to towns and cities, but as Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak write in their book, “The New Localism,” “New Localism is not the same as local government.”
Across the country, power is being most effectively wielded by civic councils — organically formed groups of local officials, business leaders, neighborhood organizations. The members may have different racial, class and partisan identities, but they have one shared identity — love of their community. 
Only he may not be reading that exactly right: Katz and Nowak don't actually recommend that the federal government abandon its power:

New localism is not a replacement for the vital roles federal governments play; it is the ideal complement to an effective federal government, and, currently, an urgently needed remedy for national dysfunction.
They're aware, as Brooks apparently totally is not, that the federal government has been abandoning its power, over most of the last 40 years, through domestic spending cuts and deregulation, with the cooperation of many state capitols and their enablers in the lobbies and organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). What Brookings Institution scholars like Katz and Nowak understand is that many or most state capitols haven't picked it up; that's not what ALEC is paying them for. What they hope for isn't a Burkean devolution of power from the wicked town to the gentle village, but a compensation in the local realm for the center's failure to act.

Similarly with Hais, Winograd, and Ross, for that matter, as quoted by Stephen Beale in The American Conservative:
We argue that Constitutional Localism, by shifting more public decision-making to the community level, is more than just an expedient way to temporarily escape the enervating and potentially democracy-threatening deadlock in Washington, though we believe that this is an important near-term payoff for a country in urgent need of renewed confidence in democratic governance. We also advocate for it as a fundamental democratic adaptation for Americans who increasingly expect to be able to choose from among different social mores, life styles, political philosophies, and economic opportunities without sacrificing either self-government or membership in a great nation.
Beale's worried that this movement is a liberal Trojan horse, moving in to collect more taxes, refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, and encourage weed-smoking:
is the liberal embrace of localism a cynical strategy—the last stronghold of a liberalism that has lost the three branches of the federal government and most of the gubernatorial seats? Or is there more to this trend?
So maybe Brooks's secret overlords are sending him to worm his way under this scary possibility and undermine it with smarm.
We also need a national leader to tell a different national story. During the 20th century, a superpower story emerged. In that story, the nation moved as one, and a ridiculous amount of attention got focused on the supposed superhero in the White House. A third-party candidate who shifted attention to local people actually getting stuff done might lose, but he or she would begin to define a new and more plausible version of American greatness.
President Prospero, who will break his staff and throw his book into the sea, leaving the sprites and monsters to take care of themselves.

One other thing I'd like to mention in this context, from a Vox piece by Lee Drutman, last May:
The overwhelming majority of Americans consume disproportionately more news about national politics than about state and local politics. In one analysis, 99 percent of respondents in a typical media market never visited websites dedicated to local news. In a typical local election, fewer than one in five citizens bother to vote.
There are at least half a million elected officials in the United States. Only 537 of them are federal. And yet almost all of our collective attention is on those federal officials and in particular, just one of them: the president. As a result, elections these days, at every level of government, increasingly operate as a singular referendum on the president. Candidates matter less and less, party more and more.
A more serious approach to the issue, perhaps, is the lack of democracy at levels below the presidential because the presidential contest is the only one we pay attention to and participate in fully. "I'd suggest," as Brooks would say, conservatives have been spending decades taking over  local government as a place that's ripe for them because nobody's paying attention, and in a lot of states, as opposed to cities, they've made terrifying inroads. Liberals and progressives need to watch out, and to get involved.

Driftglass came up with the best name for Brooks's current ideology: Magic ruralism.

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