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writing for godot

The Mistake that could have Progressives Tripping Up Democrats, Identity Politics and Economics

Written by Tom Cantlon   
Thursday, 27 July 2017 12:50

The internal debate on whether identity politics should be watered down by Democratic candidates is a false choice. With Senator Schumer's release of his "Better Deal" plan, and new attacks on rights, this debate is going to get hotter.

Amanda Marcotte at Salon just wrote a piece criticizing the approach of pushing an economic plan. It's a good launching point for describing what's off-point in this criticism.

Two clarifications. One, the Better Deal plan is in the right direction, but so far is weak, off aim, and had a pathetic (a word carefully chosen) PR launch. I've written numerous pieces on ReaderSupportedNews about what the Democrats should do, specifically on economics, and on PR.

Two, we of the left have a bad habit of framing anyone we disagree with as utterly wrong, horrible, and to be cast beyond the outer wall. Real debate is about refining our thinking as we go. That's what this is.

Marcotte's main critique is that Democrats should not chase white, rural, Trump voters because they are bigoted and won't respond to any message from Democrats. True, any voter who is more interested in white supremacy, or a general fear that the culture around them might change, even more than they care about their own pocket book, is not worth chasing. The Inferno had no special place for them, but being trapped in their own minds must be a hell in itself.

Marcotte is not against an economic message, but what she says would lead Democrats to three mistakes: painting a whole group and region with the same negative brush, something that's contrary to the values of the left; abandoning some votes even if from people we disagree with; and conflating an economic message with abandoning the identity message.

A key point here is that Hillary won. Adding even a small portion of the Trump voters, or the discouraged non-voters, by pushing an economic message in parallel with the identity message, means Democrats gaining that much more in 2018.

We know that there were many who voted for Obama, but then voted for Trump. (About 4-6 million, net (Rasmusen), and "accounted for more than two-thirds of the reason Clinton lost" (McClatchy)). These are voters who went against Democrats for reasons other than racism or party loyalty. They are votes that can be won back.

To write-off all of middle America, or all of rural America, or all rural whites, as Marcotte does, is contrary to liberal principles. We wouldn't condone doing that with any other race or region. Certainly plenty have to be written-off, like those who would never vote for a candidate who supports gay rights, but accusing all rural, white Americans of that is wrong. Just wrong.

Identity politics, the rights of minorities and gays and women, and all of the other social justice issues, are at the core of left ideals and need to be pushed even stronger in the face of ugly backlash, but there is no more a need to choose between social justice and economics than there is to choose between supporting gays or minorities. It was Barack who said we should walk and chew gum at the same time. It was Dr. King who made such a point of economic justice being a key part of social justice. Even voters who focus on social justice issues will be glad for any economic improvements.

The problem is that Democratic leadership has been derelict on economic issues. Yes, they pushed the Dodd-Frank changes years ago. Yes, a few rabble-rousers, Bernie and Elizabeth Warren, push the issue. Yes Hillary had some modest proposals. But do you have a clear impression that if Democrats were back in the majority they would rush through a host of big economic changes on behalf of people? And not just sit on the status quo? No, neither do I. Schumer is trying to change that but people are sure to be skeptical, and rightly so.

There is no reason not to both correct that, and push social justice. I suspect that candidates who push both would win the most votes. Some won't vote for them out of rejection of the social justice issues. Fine. Let them go.

Some will vote for them even though they disagree on social justice issues. This is an important point for Democrats, both leaders and voters. That's okay. If some think the Democrats have the winning economic plan, and vote-in candidates who push both that and social justice, even though some of those voters are prejudiced and against the social justice part, that gets our candidates into office, who can then make advances in both economics and social justice. That's political reality. It's how progress is won.

Pushing an economic plan does not need to mean pushing social justice issues less. Rather, it completes the missing piece of the progressive agenda.

I can not speak to the intentions of Democratic leaders. I can speak to what is needed. That is, for the social justice message to continue and even grow, while adding the desperately needed economic message.


See my core piece, The Plan for the Win


Tom Cantlon has the interesting challenge of being a left-leaning writer for the paper in a small, right-leaning Western town, in a right-leaning state. He can be reached at comments at TomCantlon dot com. your social media marketing partner


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+1 # Paul Bunion 2017-07-28 21:19
"we of the left have a bad habit of framing anyone we disagree with as utterly wrong, horrible, and to be cast beyond the outer wall. Real debate is about refining our thinking as we go." Right on. We need to get over that bad habit, and have a little more humor and flexibility.

About Schumer, if working for the economic betterment of regular people is the music, he don't know how to dance. I saw him on TV the other day, standing near Elizabeth Warren as she went on one of her populist riffs, and he appeared to be deeply uncomfortable.
+1 # librarian1984 2017-07-30 00:56
I agree Democrats can, and should, multitask but disagree that Clinton's 'win' is meaningful. Establishment Ds are using that as an excuse to stick with the same old strategies.

Hillary was running against Donald Trump for goodness sake! She spent twice as much and she had the collusion of the entire msm. She should have beaten him by 20 million votes or more. It's a mistake to generalize from Clinton's performance. She is a unique character in American politics; other than her husband I can't think of anyone who could mobilize the opposition more, and she made so many bone-headed moves it was almost as if she was trying to lose.

It's more instructive to look at the special elections. One was a Goldman Sachs alum. He lost. No one talks much about this race, but maybe lets not run any more millionaire bankers. Two of the races were progressives. They received little to no help from the DNC. They made impressive strides, outperforming HRC, but lost.

Ossoff, a 'centrist', was showered with party money but the candidate had no message, economic or otherwise. He lost by more than Clinton did.

One thing's clear, money alone isn't the answer -- but no money for progressives is wrong and is one indicator the party still isn't willing to adopt a progressive agenda -- even if that means losing.

Neoliberals continue to manufacture lame reasons not to adopt a progressive economic message because their corporate masters wouldn't like it.
+4 # librarian1984 2017-07-30 04:11
Four groups we can try for:

1) Obama-Trump flippers, willing to vote for a Democrat but not Clinton. These people are waiting to hear a populist economic message.

2) Nearly 50% of voters who've dropped out of the electoral process.This group will have a variety of reasons for opting out and will be scattered ideologically: some libertarians, some left, some right. We can get a few of these.

3) Independents, including many unaffiliated young people who wanted to vote in the primaries but were not allowed to participate. This group is progressive.

4) Hillary supporters

The Democrats have, for years, tried to cobble together a winning percentage by appealing to educated suburban Republicans. But why would those people vote for GOP-lite when GOP is on the menu? They wouldn't. So why do the DNC and DP keep going for these people rather than trying to earn the votes of progressives? Because it gives them an excuse to move right.

In the last eight years neoliberals have lost 1000 state seats, 13 Senate seats, 13 governorships and 68 House seats. THEY ARE NOT WINNING. Their strategy has not worked for a long time.

Contrast that with the stadia Sanders filled multiple times a day. Anyone who ignores Sanders' popularity and wants to hew to a neoliberal message is not acting in good faith.

Economic and social justice work together quite well; the former appeals to working class voters, while the latter is insufficient on its own.
+1 # Tcan 2017-07-30 12:27

Glad you agree that the message should be real economic progressive change and social justice combined, as described in the piece.

The point about Hillary having won was not that we should emulate her. It was that, even with her off-target message, there are that many people who want to vote for progress, so drawing in some more has the potential for a huge change in 2018, if Dems go boldly progressive/pop ulist.
-1 # Depressionborn 2017-07-30 15:27
try ideas, not people. We here will vote for jobs, gov off our backs and no warmongering- like in stop planning to invade Russia. And stop with the social justice crap too. It is not social and hardly just to want to live off someone else.

We go rid of slavery once. Learn to make your own way. You will feel better about life and you can quit complaining so much.
+1 # Tcan 2017-07-31 10:48
There's nothing in this about living off of others. Social justice is about not being discriminated against. The economic policies I've pushed in related pieces are specifically ones that help working people and simply help them get all they should, for instance combating wage theft by employers. Perhaps you meant to comment on a different piece?
+2 # Depressionborn 2017-07-30 14:42
tax the rich?

The fix is in. Did you know, corporations like General Electric Co. (GE) spend more money on lobbyists than they pay in taxes?

The federal government currently taxes corporations at 35 percent. While many argue the rate is too high, you don’t hear companies like GE complaining about it. That’s because they aren’t paying it.

Over the past 15 years, GE’s federal income tax rate averaged only 5.2 percent. General Electric paid no federal taxes in 2010, despite earning $5.1 billion in U.S. profits. Instead, the company claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.

Meanwhile, GE executives awarded themselves more than $75 million in compensation and paid lobbyists a total of $39 million that same year- all while laying off their own employees.

How was this possible? It was an inside job. General Electric’s tax planning team includes former employees from the Treasury, IRS, and congressional tax-writing committees. GE doesn’t have a tax compliance team, it has a tax defiance team.

This is how the revolving door of power works in Washington.
0 # Tcan 2017-07-30 17:02
True, and a good observation. So how do you apply it to the material in this piece?
0 # Depressionborn 2017-07-31 17:39
Quoting Tcan:
True, and a good observation. So how do you apply it to the material in this piece?

identity politics-

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