How Liberalism Loses

An inflexible agenda and a global retreat.

But what if American liberals, while unfortunate in the Electoral College, are luckier than they think in other ways? The fact that populism is flourishing internationally, far from the Electoral College and Fox News, suggests that Trump’s specific faults might actually be propping up American liberalism. If we had a populist president who didn’t alienate so many persuadable voters, who took full advantage of a strong economy, and who had the political cunning displayed by Modi or Benjamin Netanyahu or Viktor Orban, the liberal belief in a hidden left-of-center mandate might be exposed as a fond delusion.

.. The strategic flaw in this reading of the liberal situation is that politics isn’t about casually held opinions on a wide range of topics, but focused prioritization of specifics. As the Democratic data analyst David Shor has noted, you can take a cluster of nine Democratic positions that each poll over 50 percent individually, and find that only 18 percent of Americans agree with all of them. And a single strong, focused disagreement can be enough to turn a voter against liberalism, especially if liberals seem uncompromising on that issue.

A pattern of narrow, issue-by-issue resistance is also what you’d expect in an era where the popular culture is more monolithically left-wing than before. That cultural dominance establishes a broad, shallow left-of-center consensus, which then evaporates when people have some personal reason to reject liberalism, or confront the limits of its case.

None of this needs to spell doom for liberals; it just requires them to prioritize and compromise. If you want to put climate change at the center of liberal politics, for instance, then you’ll keep losing voters in the Rust Belt, just as liberal parties have lost similar voters in Europe and Australia. In which case you would need to reassure some other group, be it suburban evangelicals or libertarians, that you’re willing to compromise on the issues that keep them from voting Democratic.

Alternatively, if you want to make crushing religious conservatives your mission, then you need to woo secular populists on guns or immigration, or peel off more of the tax-sensitive upper middle class by not going full socialist.

But the liberal impulse at the moment, Buttigiegian as well as Ocasio-Cortezan, is to insist that liberalism is a seamless garment, an indivisible agenda that need not be compromised on any front. And instead of recognizing populism as a motley coalition united primarily by opposition to liberalism’s rule, liberals want to believe they’re facing a unitary enemy — a revanchist patriarchal white supremacy, infecting every branch and tributary of the right.

The death of the liberal class can destabilize the entire democratic system.

A future without a liberal class will prove to be a problem not only for the people it is supposed to protect but also for the integrity of the American democratic system as a whole.

Indeed, the government needs to have a liberal functioning class, as it acts as a safeguard against policies that are too harsh. A liberal bulwark too is often the last hope for those whom the government has wronged.

It was the liberal class, for example, that pushed reforms such as workers’ rights, saving people from complete exploitation under an unfettered free market or despotic government.

A functioning liberal class also acts as an attack dog, battling radical movements that might wish to topple a government by instituting the moderate reforms that discredit more radical action.

The liberal class can claim, rightly or wrongly, that its policies can improve a social situation without the insecurity and chaos that can come with radical change.

Furthermore, Americans have become disappointed and restless without a functioning liberal class.

The failed liberal class in the United States provides no new meaningful reforms and is thus no longer a safeguard against governmental controls. Consequently, today’s working class feels disappointed and angry.

We can also find examples throughout history of how the disappearance of a functioning liberal class has caused the collapse of entire governments.

At the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany, for example, the liberal class failed to satisfy the needs of its citizens, such as providing job security and a stable economy. With their needs unmet, the public turned to extremists on both sides of the political spectrum for support, which eventually allowed the Nazi party to rise significantly in power.

The failure of the liberal class weakens an entire political system, the consequences of which are much harsher and broader than you might initially think.

Many of today’s liberals have been bought off with wages or promises of a luxurious life.

Many liberals were simply bought off.

Indeed, many liberal thinkers have become extremely wealthy, and have no desire to change the system that gave them their wealth.

Institutions that were always a home to liberal thinkers, such as universities and churches, now offer salaries large enough to encourage liberals not bite the hand that feeds them by criticizing the system.

Professors at elite schools, such as Harvard University or Princeton University, can earn up to $180,000 per year. With an income like that, it’s tempting to abandon advocating for reforms that could end the gravy train. They’re also less likely to pass on liberal values to their students.

Of course, non-liberal institutions, such as corporations, are just as eager to buy off critics by offering huge rewards to those who remain on the sidelines and stay out of a corporation’s way.

Labor union leaders, for instance, can earn huge salaries or even become junior partners at large companies, but only if they promise to keep their criticism of corporate interests to a minimum.

The perks of a cushy job might make it easy to stay quiet, even if you know that your fellow workers are being exploited.

Whether a consequence of blind faith, big wages or corporate promises, however, the result is the same: the liberal class has failed to protect us from corporate domination.

But what does this mean for the future?

A Democratic Narrative Misses the Reality of 2018

As Democrats move from success in the 2018 midterms to the early stages of picking a 2020 presidential candidate, a narrative is taking root. It holds that the key Democratic voter today is young, liberal and rebellious—in short, a version of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old activist who became the youngest congresswoman ever and who appears to be pushing the party to the left.

There is one problem with this narrative. It largely misses the story of the voters who actually delivered success to Democrats last year—and who may determine the outcome of the next presidential race.

It’s certainly true that there was a lot of energy among young, liberal Democrats in 2018, and that figures to be true again in the new presidential cycle.

Yet the Democratic electorate in 2018—the one that swung House seats and governor’s offices from Republican to Democratic—was neither as young nor as liberal as popularly imagined. AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 115,000 self-identified 2018 midterm voters, found that just 15% of those who voted Democratic last November were aged 18 through 29. The largest contingent of Democratic voters—36%—actually were ages 45 through 64.

All told, 60% of Democratic voters were aged 45 or older.

In ideological terms, there is no doubt that the party is moving to the left. An increasing share of Democrats are identifying themselves as liberal. Yet that movement also can be overstated. While half of Democratic voters last year identified themselves as liberal, 48% called themselves moderate or conservative. And moderates outnumbered “very liberal” Democratic voters by two to one.

The attention may be focused on the left, but the actual energy and votes came from the mainstream and the center,” says Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at Third Way, an organization that supports moderate Democrats.

As has been widely noted, the key voters in 2018 were white suburban women, who showed up in large numbers to vent their anger at President Trump by voting Democratic. Yet many of these suburban women weren’t fired-up liberals, but rather centrists who previously supported moderate Republicans in their districts.

Their switch is why many of those moderate Republicans washed out to sea; their fate was sealed more by moderate women rising up to vote Democratic than because of a left-wing insurrection. Indeed, candidates endorsed by the moderate New Democrat coalition flipped 33 of the 42 House seats that went from Republican to Democrat.

Geographically, the keys to Democrats’ success came not in the party’s coastal enclaves—such as Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s district, which was held by Democrats long before she arrived—but rather in the industrial upper Midwest swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. All three states were won by Mr. Trump in 2016, but Democrats won the popular House vote in those states last fall. Democrats also nominated moderates for governor in all three states—and all three won, by a margin of 1.3 million votes.

This reality is important for Democrats as candidates begin drifting onto the 2020 presidential battlefield. The prevailing narrative suggests not only that the advantage goes to a fresh face who excites the party’s young progressives—think former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas or Sen. Kamala Harris of California—but that such a choice has the best chance of success against Mr. Trump.

And maybe that’s the case. But consider the alternative, suggested by the reality of the midterm election results: The votes that will spell the difference for Democrats lie not on the left and on the coasts, but in the center and in the industrial Midwest.

That’s where Mr. Biden enters the picture. Perhaps the 76-year-old former vice president is too old. He certainly doesn’t meet the desire for “new blood” in politics cited last week by former President Obama.

On the other hand, if the Democrats’ key votes in 2020 will lie among centrists in the industrial Midwest, the more moderate profile of the favorite son of Scranton, Pa., will be an attractive one. Moreover, if voters generally are looking for somebody who knows how to get things done rather than simply create controversy, the guy who once prevented a government shutdown by cutting a big budget deal with Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell may have some appeal.

It’s too early to know, of course—but there is more than one narrative at work for Democrats.

Democrats Haven’t Turned Back From 1968

The politics of identity and attack have supplanted the old liberal tradition, which favored national unity.

The next big change came in 1992 with the nomination and election of Bill Clinton. His moderate platform was similar to his peers’, but his political style was a departure. The concept of a permanent campaign came to the White House. Every move was measured against its short-term political value to the president. The Clinton team launched personal attacks against policy dissenters and against women who brought charges of sexual misconduct against the president. In 1996, Mr. Clinton accused Republican nominee Bob Dole of “trying to destroy Social Security and Medicare” through his support of a bipartisan entitlement-reform effort Mr. Clinton himself had previously praised. By 2001, when Mr. Clinton left the scene, say-anything attack politics had become the normal order of the day in the Democratic Party.

President Obama brought hope of a more tolerant, less deeply partisan politics. But he was surrounded by Clinton alumni who, for the most part, kept on as before. His signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, was introduced and passed only by Democrats—a sharp contrast to the bipartisan approaches taken by Johnson with his Medicare and Medicaid proposals, and by Ted Kennedy with his Medicare prescription-drug legislation. To pass ObamaCare, the White House and its allies launched a full-court press against all House Democrats, including moderates with doubts about its cost and coverage. The legislation passed narrowly, but 63 House Democrats lost their seats in the 2010 midterm elections. That left the body sharply divided between Republican and Democratic partisans, stalling the administration’s legislative agenda for the remaining six years of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

Mr. Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign labeled his opponent, the temperate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, as antiminority, antiwoman, anti-middle-class and a financial predator. The theme continued against Republican congressional candidates in 2014. Hillary Clinton tried to replicate it in her campaign against President Trump but did not comprehend the electorate’s determination to reject political establishmentarians, including herself.

Democrats and many in media now accuse Mr. Trump of totalitarian methods and objectives. There is much to fault in the Trump presidency, but the totalitarian tendencies appear to flow from our own party. Its present presidential aspirants appear to be emulating Robespierre in their over-the-top denunciations of Mr. Trump and all others they deem unworthy.

The White Strategy

Trump’s winning coalition and its weaknesses.

.. In the aftermath of the 2012 election, when just about everyone assumed Mitt Romney lost because he didn’t win enough Hispanic votes, the election analyst Sean Trende produced a dissenting take. A close look at the results across the Midwest and Appalachia revealed a large population of what Trende called “missing white voters” — a mostly working-class constituency that simply declined to turn out in the Romney-Obama contest, and that a future (and more populist) Republican might win.
.. explicit “double down on white voters” argument has circulated for years on the margins of conservatism, and it had obvious influence over Donald Trump’s campaign strategy in 2016. His mix of economic populism and deliberate racial polarization was supposed to be demographically foredoomed — but instead it won him precisely those regions Trende’s analysis had highlighted, and the presidency as well.
.. Compared to exit polls, a couple of things stand out: First, Pew has whites at 74 percent of all voters (CNN’s exit poll had them at 71 percent), and second, it has whites without a college degree, Trump’s key constituency, at 44 percent of all voters (compared to just 34 percent for CNN).
.. Turning out disaffected whites is more politically effective than most people imagined after 2012, but white voters are ultimately too divided to make a “white strategy” work as a foundation for a real governing majority.
.. A performative anti-whiteness is common among white lefties seeking a rhetorical cudgel against blue-collar Archie Bunkers and popped-collar frat bros.
.. And some conservative-white anxiety about the browning of America reflects a fear that minority votes will put the real enemy, white liberals, into power permanently.
.. So even with a slower immigration rate, a slower pace of demographic change, the Republican Party would still need either some of the white voters Trump alienated or some of the minority votes he didn’t really try to win — and neither can be delivered by the white strategy alone.
.. nstead of a white strategy pursue a populist strategy shorn of white-identity appeals.
  • Keep the infrastructure promises and
  • drop the birther forays;
  • pursue E-Verify but
  • forgo the child-separating cruelties;
  • be tough on China but
  • stop vilifying black athletes;
  • embrace nationalism but
  • stiff-arm Confederate nostalgia.

.. Some Republicans really welcome racial polarization; others, a larger group, are hoping to simply return to the ideological comforts of zombie-Reaganism once Trump has vanished from the scene. Meanwhile Trump himself seems mostly content to fight from within the redoubt the white strategy built for him rather than expand it.

 

 

Goldberg: Seeking Tolerance and Reprieve from Culture Wars

.. the Offended Wars are a kind of Potemkin conflict for the true battle over double standards.

The assumption is that liberals’ hearts are in the right place, thus, when they stray off the path rhetorically or in some other way, it’s not seen as revelatory of something darker or more sinister. Of course, conservatives do the same thing. We assume the best of our own tribe and can dismiss a joke or errant tweet quite easily from one of our own.

.. I think one of the reasons we got here is that liberals were truly blind to the double standard they benefit from and the norms they were happy to see violated when the people violating them were “the good guys.”

.. the principle of religious tolerance was a last resort, an utterly utilitarian practical compromise, after the combatants in Europe’s religious wars recognized what C. V. Wedgwood called “the essential futility of putting the beliefs of the mind to the judgment of the sword.”

.. First, we need to return to the idea of ideological and theological pluralism but moral consensus. People are free to believe whatever they like, and they are free to act on those beliefs so long as they don’t harm others. Second, we need a lot less nationalism (for want of a better term). What I mean by that is that the federal government and various national elites need to stop thinking that the whole country needs to think and act in one way.

..  Fox News likes to do stories that boil down to “Can you believe someone in San Francisco believes X!?” MSNBC likes stories that boil down to “We have troubling reports that someone in Wyoming believes Y!” The underlying assumption is that in America everyone is supposed to think alike. Well, unless someone is actually being harmed — and I don’t mean in the terminally asinine construction, “words hurt”

.. Lastly, we need to get as much power out of Washington as conceivably possible.

.. As long as we think that the federal government, especially the executive branch, has monarchical power to impose a vision on the whole country, we will turn political contests into cultural warfare. The Whigs couldn’t abide a Catholic on the throne because they believed the king would impose his vision on all of England. The Catholics felt the same way about the prospect of a Protestant crown. The solution is to restrain the power of the crown — so that the faith of the monarch doesn’t matter.