Sunday, June 30, 2019

What Do the Simple Folk Think?

"What part of 'ordinary people' do you not understand?"

What conclusions, Mr. Bret Stephens would like to know, should "ordinary people" draw from the first round of Democratic debates last week, as to what Democrats stand for?
Here’s what: a party that makes too many Americans feel like strangers in their own country. A party that puts more of its faith, and invests most of its efforts, in them instead of us.
They speak Spanish. We don’t. They are not U.S. citizens or legal residents. We are. They broke the rules to get into this country. We didn’t. They pay few or no taxes. We already pay most of those taxes. They willingly got themselves into debt. We’re asked to write it off. They don’t pay the premiums for private health insurance. We’re supposed to give up ours in exchange for some V.A.-type nightmare. They didn’t start enterprises that create employment and drive innovation. We’re expected to join the candidates in demonizing the job-creators, breaking up their businesses and taxing them to the hilt.
Unfortunately readers didn't all recognize that that was an op-editorial "we", and stumbled into thinking Bret Stephens was himself an ordinary voter, which was just beastly of them!

Nothing could be further from the truth! There's nothing ordinary about Mr. Bret Stephens! Why, he speaks Spanish fluently! And his father was vice president of a Mexican dyes and polyester firm, General Products, so he's virtually raised in Mexico himself, except for the time he spent boarding at the Middlesex Academy in Concord, Mass., getting his secondary education (I don't know where he did his primary school but I imagine it was somewhere like The American School in Colonia Las Américas, which currently costs just under 140,000 pesos or $20,000). Bret's basically an immigrant!

And he didn't vote for Trump, probably, and it's even less likely he voted for Obama, so he can't be one of those ordinary voters.

I assume that, not being an ordinary voter, he knows that undocumented workers pay plenty of taxes, sales, property, income, and payroll, with no hope of getting anything back on the last, according to current law, unless they regularize their situations, and are thus subsidizing Mr. Bret's future Social Security and Medicare. It would have been nice if he'd said so instead of giving the impression that it isn't the case.

But in the meantime, I guess we should accept that he's just sharing his vivid intuition for how the simple folk think: resentful about all the taxes they pay while some other unnamed people hardly pay any, fond of paying health insurance to private companies instead of taxes, and full of respect for America's entrepreneurs and the jobs they miraculously create with their innovations, such as the use of robotics and offshoring. All emotions that Mr. Bret may well share, but you shouldn't just assume that he does, because he does after all take a liberal position on immigration, which is quite true. He's just talking about ordinary voters, who he believes are racists, and who he thinks should determine the positions of the Democratic party as they've determined those of Republicans for half a century.

And all he's asking is that we should make more use of his valuable intuitions about these unfamiliar but densely ordinary folks in order to achieve our common goal of getting rid of Trump. Not at all that we should be looking for a candidate he particularly likes himself; after all we couldn't hope to satisfy a voter as extraordinary as he is.

You all know about my own view that there are far fewer of those Obama-to-Trump voters than the exit polls from 2016 suggested, mainly because of the very solid evidence that an awful lot of the respondents lie—not because they're racists, but because they're embarrassed to admit how often they don't vote at all, so that a lot of Trump voters who told the pollsters in 2016 that they had voted for Obama in 2012 had in fact stayed home, while we know that a lot of people who did vote for Obama in 2012 stayed home or were unable to vote because of GOP suppression efforts in 2016, because that's what accounts for the low turnout in places like Detroit, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia.

And then those who do believe in the significant existence of the Obama-to-Trump voters don't suggest that the way to their hearts is through grousing about taxes, returning to the 2010 health insurance system, and lionizing the so-called job creator:
Shortly before the 2016 election, The New York Times reported that Obama voters who now planned to vote for Trump felt that Trump was now the embodiment of the "change" they had hoped for when they voted for Obama.[6] Multiple focus groups of Obama-Trump voters convened by the Roosevelt Institute and Democracy Corps in early 2017 showed that, in general, these voters wanted to change the status quo, and had skeptical views of Congressional Republicans and their proposals. The same focus groups also indicated that these voters hoped that President Trump would help reduce health care costs for working-class Americans, and that they were anxious about some immigrant groups.[7] A survey conducted by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group found that Obama-Trump voters generally had liberal views on economic issues, but conservative views on social issues.[8] Data from the CCES indicate that 75% of Obama-Trump voters supported repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.[9]  (Wikipedia)
It suggests to me those voters, if they existed, would have to be won by an approach like that of Bernie Sanders in 2016, trying his best to ignore race, gender, and immigrant status altogether and focus on government spending, including the most radical replacement possible for the ACA. Which even Sanders knows he can't do this year: he has to pay nearly equal attention to the needs of women and minorities.

Also this year, you either believe that Trump has achieved the "change" you were hoping for, in which case you are a Trump fanboi and not reachable by rational discussion, or you aren't, in which case you might well be interested in some of the kinds of transformation Democrats have traditionally advocated and Trump falsely suggested he advocated as well, like the infrastructure we discuss every week. As far as the ACA goes, we know it's a good deal more popular than it was last year, and we are being told all the time that employees want to keep their private insurance, and it looks like the most politically attractive approach is to make the existing law work infinitely better, along the lines of Warren's original plan, which she may have suddenly abandoned the other night, or Klobuchar's.

I'm newly interested in the resistance of some trade unions to getting rid of private insurance, on the grounds that they've earned their "Cadillac plans" through collective bargaining and owe it to the workers to keep them. This is an issue Democrats need to take seriously, and so are the 500,000 jobs the health insurance industry provides (which Stephens mentions too).

Other than that, and the usual Republican complaints about spending and the associated taxes  (universal child care, universal college and/or debt relief, foreign aid, and the enormously job-creating climate change plans), immigration seems to be pretty much all Stephens wants to talk about.
Promising access to health insurance for north of 11 million undocumented immigrants at a time when there’s a migration crisis at the southern border? Every candidate at Thursday’s debate raised a hand for that one, in what was surely the evening’s best moment for the Trump campaign.
Actually the question was, "Raise your hand if your government plan would provide coverage for undocumented immigrants," and I can't understand how they could answer any differently. They're willing to pay for it, and in the cases of Medicaid and Medicare already do pay for it, and it's beneficial to public health. The point got lost in Biden's crazed dithering on the Thursday night, but Buttigieg put it succinctly enough:

Because our country is healthier when everybody is healthier. And, remember, we are talking about something people are given a chance to buy into, in the same way that there are undocumented immigrants in my community who pay, they pay sales taxes, they pay property taxes, directly or indirectly. This is not about a handout. This is an insurance program.
And how is it of any relevance to the crisis at the border? Beyond the obvious point that they need health care too (and supposedly get it, for free, as detainees, though at the moment it's iffy how well that's working, as children are starting to die).
Calling for the decriminalization of border crossings (while opposing a wall)? That was a major theme of Wednesday’s debate, underlining the Republican contention that Democrats are a party of open borders, limitless amnesty and, in time, the Third World-ization of America.
This, the thing Julián Castro got so excited over, is about what caused the crisis in the first place, as I've been trying to explain for I don't know how long, when Attorney General Sessions decided that every adult who crosses the border at an unauthorized point has to be tried for a criminal offense and jailed until the trial can take place and children traveling with them must be separated from them (you can't have children staying with criminal parents) with a cruelty that the US had never used before, as Castro said:
My plan also includes getting rid of Section 1325 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, to go back to the way we used to treat this when somebody comes across the border, not to criminalize desperation, to treat that as a civil violation.
And here’s why it’s important. We see all of this horrendous family separation. They use that law, Section 1325, to justify under the law separating little children from their families.
Though as Castro acknowledges the annoying bit had existed for years without ever being used this way (crossing at the wrong place has long been a deporting matter, not a jailing matter, but these asylum applicants couldn't be deported until their case had been heard by a judge; the novel use of section 1325 was Sessions's trick way of essentially creating a new law.) The discussion itself wasn't tremendously significant in any case; it was basically a food fight between Castro and O'Rourke, who wanted to speak in more generalities, and Castro's bid for a place in the sun, which was somewhat successful, but none of the candidates actually took the bait. Stephens and the gang are trying to build it up into a cause for foaming at the mouth, but it really shouldn't be. It's certainly not as important as the thing, the abominable mistreatment of children, that it's a response to.
Switching to Spanish? Memo to Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker: If you can’t speak the language without a heavy American accent, don’t bother. It just reminds those of us who can that the only thing worse than an obnoxious gringo is a pandering one.
Look at Mr. Fancypants italicizing "gringo", to show how much foreignness he has personally absorbed, and "those of us who can", unlike slobs like O'Rourke who are stuck talking the way they did as little kids playing in their neigborhoods, not too elegant (while Stephens picked up a more refined style in classes in Colonia Las Américas, and chatting with the maid). I personally thought both O'Rourke and Booker (not to mention George W. Bush, as Steve reminded us) sounded like people who care enough to try really hard, something ordinary people (Spanish speakers are mostly pretty ordinary) usually appreciate, though your extraordinary specimens like Mr. Bret Stephens may turn up their noses.

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