Would ‘liberal populism’ save the Democratic Party? Progressives like to think so, but several studies disagree…. (More)

“Whether we go beyond identity politics”

Back in November, Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke at Boston’s Berklee College of Music about what he believes the Democratic Party must change to win future elections:

It goes without saying, that as we fight to end all forms of discrimination, as we fight to bring more and more women into the political process, Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans – all of that is enormously important, and count me in as somebody who wants to see that happen.

But it is not good enough for somebody to say, “hey, I’m a Latina, vote for me.”

That is not good enough. I have to know whether that Latina is going to stand up with the working class in this country and is going to take on big-money interests.

And one of the struggles that we’re going to have … in the Democratic Party is it’s not good enough for me to say we have x number of African Americans over here, we have y number of Latinos, we have z number of women, we are a diverse party, a diverse nation. Not good enough!

We need that diversity, that goes without saying … Right now we’ve made some progress in getting into politics. I think we’ve got 20 women in the Senate now, we need 50 women in the Senate. We need more African Americans.

But here is my point – and this is where there’s going to be a division within the Democratic Party – it is not good enough for somebody to say, “I’m a woman, vote for me.”

No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel companies … In other words, one of the struggles that you’re going to be seeing in the Democratic Party is whether we go beyond identity politics.

I think it’s a step forward in America if you have an African American CEO of some major corporation. But you know what? If that guy is going to be shipping jobs out of this country and exploiting his workers, it doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot if he’s black or white or Latino.

I know some people might not agree with me, but that is the fight we’re gonna have right now within the Democratic Party. The working class of this country is being decimated. That’s why Donald Trump won. And what we need now are candidates who stand with those working people … We need candidates black and white and Latino and gay and male … we need all of that, but we need all of those candidates and public officials to have the guts to stand up to the oligarchy.

I quoted the entire speech because many of Sen. Sanders’ supporters have complained that specific lines were taken out of context. So there’s the whole context.

“Kind of a liberal myth”

That sounds convincing. In the broadest possible sense, the Democratic Party does need candidates who will “stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel companies … to the oligarchy.”

Except you can’t govern “in the broadest possible sense,” as Republicans are discovering with their disastrous Wealthcare Act. You have to propose specific policies, some detailed mix of taxing, spending, and/or regulation. And when you drilled down to their specific policy proposals, there really wasn’t much difference between Sen. Sanders and Hillary Clinton. In fact, she and most Democrats ran on the most progressive Democratic Party platform ever.

Democrats also gained seats in the U.S. Senate and House, and won the popular vote tally for the White House. It’s not as if we got stomped up and down the ballot.

Even so, we didn’t retake the Senate, didn’t come close to retaking the House, and lost the Electoral College tally and thus the White House. So we’re soul-searching, and Sen. Sanders’ solution seems plausible.

Except the data disagree, as Vox’s Zack Beauchamp explores in a must-read article for all progressives:

That’s a belief widely shared among progressives around the world. A legion of commentators and politicians, most prominently in the United States but also in Europe, have argued that center-left parties must shift further to the left in order to fight off right-wing populists such as Trump and France’s Marine Le Pen. Supporters of these leaders, they argue, are motivated by a sense of economic insecurity in an increasingly unequal world; promise them a stronger welfare state, one better equipped to address their fundamental needs, and they will flock to the left.

“[It’s] a kind of liberal myth,” Pippa Norris, a Harvard political scientist who studies populism in the United States and Europe, says of the Sanders analysis. “[Liberals] want to have a reason why people are supporting populist parties when their values are so clearly against progressive values in terms of misogyny, sexism, racism.”

In fact, as Beauchamp documents, the European countries with the strongest welfare states have also seen the swiftest and strongest rise of authoritarian white supremacist parties:

Providing white voters with higher levels of economic security does not tamp down their anxieties about race and immigration – or, more precisely, it doesn’t do it powerfully enough. For some, it frees them to worry less about what it’s in their wallet and more about who may be moving into their neighborhoods or competing with them for jobs.

I’ll add that sexism plays a role as well, as Europe’s far-right parties also tend to take hardline positions on abortion, LGBT equality, and other gender issues … as does the Republican Party here in the U.S.

Beauchamp cites studies in several European countries that show very little correlation between economic hardship and support for far-right parties, and very little correlation between the primary ‘centrist’ or center-left party’s economic platform and support for far-right parties. In study after study and country after country, the stronger correlation was race-gender-religious-cultural anxiety … a sense that government was doing too much to help The Wrong People.

“Hostility between races limits support for welfare”

And lest you think that might be different here in the U.S., Beauchamp cites other studies that show it’s likely to be worse:

The bigger issue is that America’s welfare state is weak for the same fundamental reason that Donald Trump captured the Republican nomination in the first place: racial and cultural resentment. That profoundly complicates efforts to make left-wing populism successful in America.

In 2001, three scholars at Harvard and Dartmouth – Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote – found that the higher the percentage of black residents in a state, the less its government spent on welfare payments.

This, they hypothesized, was not an accident. People are only willing to support redistribution if they believe their tax dollars are going to people they can sympathize with. White voters, in other words, don’t want to spend their tax dollars on programs that they think will benefit black or Hispanic people.

The United States is marked by far more racial division than its European peers. Poverty, in the minds of many white Americans, is associated with blackness. Redistribution is seen through a racial lens as a result. The debate over welfare and taxes isn’t just about money, for these voters, but rather whether white money should be spent on nonwhites. “Hostility between races limits support for welfare,” Alesina, Glaeser, and Sacerdote conclude flatly in the paper.

Beauchamp contacted the authors to see if that data had changed since 2001. It hasn’t, and he cites other, more recent studies with similar findings. Beauchamp concludes:

The uncomfortable truth is that America’s lack of a European-style welfare state hurts a lot of white Americans. But a large number of white voters believe that social spending programs mostly benefit nonwhites. As such, they oppose them with far more fervor than any similar voting bloc in Europe.

In this context, tacking to the left on economics won’t give Democrats a silver bullet to use against the racial resentment powering Trump’s success. It could actually wind up giving Trump an even bigger gun. If Democrats really want to stop right-wing populists like Trump, they need a strategy that blunts the true drivers of their appeal – and that means focusing on more than economics.

It means focusing the Big Lie beneath so-called populism – its foundation in white male identity politics. Most of the white working class voters that Sen. Sanders claims to represent don’t want the solutions he offers. What they want, in poll after poll, on issue after issue, is for government to take decisions and opportunities away from women and people of color … and give those decisions and opportunities to white men. You know, like things were in The Good Old Days.

“Calling for a feasible system of universal healthcare to replace Obamacare”

Indeed, today’s Big Story is conservative Christopher Ruddy telling the God-King to demand Republicans pass – wait for it – universal, single-payer health care:

As a conservative, I have a real problem with the so-called “private health market.”

Healthcare is regulated by states, and many states have allowed private insurance companies to operate like a racket.

In many states there is no free, competitive market for health insurance since they limit the number of operators, creating near monopolies.

Ruddy sounds like Sen. Sanders, and indeed most progressives. And the parallels keep building:

You don’t need to be Warren Buffett to figure out the biggest financial beneficiary of Obamacare has been insurance companies.

Everyone was mandated to buy private health insurance. The legislation provided no caps on profits or cost controls. Insurance company stock prices soared as Obamacare became law.

Other, big derivative winners of Obamacare were pharmaceutical companies and physicians.

Again, you can find similar arguments on most progressive websites. The difference is that Ruddy doesn’t support the “Medicare for All” version of single-payer. Instead, he suggests Republicans should:

Reject the phony private health insurance market as the panacea. Look to an upgraded Medicaid system to become the country’s blanket insurer for the uninsured.

Tie Medicaid funding to states with the requirement each pass legislation to allow for a truly nationwide healthcare market.

He wants a “Medicaid for All” single-payer system, with private insurers offering supplementary coverage. And Vox’s Matthew Yglesias argues that wouldn’t be a horrible outcome:

[W]hile Medicare is the gold standard of government-provided health insurance for the United States, there is also the cheaper Medicaid for low-income families. Medicaid offers stingier reimbursement rates to health care providers, which makes it less costly to the government. But it also makes Medicaid patients much less desirable to doctors and other providers, many of whom don’t accept Medicaid patients. Yet despite the program’s limitations, the evidence is overwhelming that people who receive Medicaid like it.

Indeed, surveys tend to show that people who obtained Obamacare coverage via Medicaid are happier with their coverage than those who get subsidized private insurance on the new marketplaces.

One could thus imagine “Medicaid for all” as a lower-cost alternative to “Medicare for all.” More affluent people would probably find Medicaid coverage to be excessively restrictive for their taste, in which case they would probably seek to obtain supplemental insurance – a practice that’s common in France and some other countries with national health care systems. But the private insurance system would exist as a layer on top of a basic blanket of security that guarantees health care fundamentals for everyone.

Of course pro-business, anti-government conservatives will never accept such a plan. Yet Beauchamp’s data suggests maybe they should. It would give white male supremacists yet another drum to bang. After all, if everyone in the U.S. gets basic health care as a fundamental right, doesn’t it make sense to keep The Wrong People out? If white guys’ taxes are paying for black and Hispanic children’s basic health care, shouldn’t white guys demand those kids get regular drug tests? If white guys’ taxes are paying for women’s health care – Medicaid covers both contraception and about half of the births in the U.S. – well, shouldn’t white guys get more say in when women are allowed to have sex?

He who pays the piper names the tune, after all … and that’s the monster lurking in the myth of “liberal populism.”

Yes, we should advocate for a stronger social safety net, including (ultimately) single-payer health care as a fundamental right. But we should never delude ourselves with the notion that such policies would solve the real ‘populist’ issue: white male anxiety over even the slightest erosion of white male dominance.

To overcome that, we must confront it directly. So no, progressives must not “go beyond identity politics” … because conservatism never will.


Photo Credit: Jim Cole (AP)


Good day and good nuts