How to Debate a Populist

In the 1960s, much like today, people with opposing viewpoints struggled to communicate with one another. Yet there was a civility to that era’s public debate that is nowhere to be found today, owing to liberal elites’ understanding that refusing to engage would only reinforce the “us versus them” mentality that fuels radicalism.

.. Dutschke tried to “unmask” Dahrendorf – the liberal establishment intellectual – as exploitative and undemocratic; Dahrendorf countered that Dutschke’s revolutionary rhetoric was naive, more hot air than substance, and ultimately dangerous.
.. The debate began with Thadden detailing his political views, offering an unapologetic assessment of Germany’s role in WWII, and explaining the rise of the NPD. Dahrendorf, a sociology professor, followed with an analysis of the NPD’s diverse membership, which included old Nazis, disillusioned identity seekers, and opportunistic anti-modernists.
..  Dahrendorf was adamant that the NPD’s fate should be decided by the voters, rather than the courts, which had declared the Communist Party illegal. Kaul reiterated this idea in a passionate statement (which had undoubtedly been agreed in advance by East German leaders) about the exclusion of West Germany’s Communists from the debate. Other panelists agreed. A liberal democracy, Dahrendorf concluded, cannot exclude radicals on one side, while tolerating those on the other.
.. It is hard to imagine today’s mainstream politicians and public intellectuals engaging publicly in such profound and mutually respectful debates with today’s radicals and upstarts, whether populists, economic nationalists, Euroskeptics, or something else. Those on the far left and the far right certainly are not engaging one another in this manner. Each side would rather preach to its own audience, accessible within media bubbles where there is little demand for genuine discussion of opposing views.
.. Many establishment leaders nowadays – the so-called elites who are the standard-bearers of the liberal democratic order – seem to believe that the risks of engaging with radical figures are too great: more exposure could mean more legitimacy. But this stance is itself highly risky, not least because it has translated into a willful blindness to the social changes that have fueled extremist ideologies – an approach that comes across to many as arrogant.
.. Recall US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s flippant assertion that half of her rival Donald Trump’s supporters comprised a “basket of deplorables.”
.. One cannot simply wish away extremists. Letting radical movements run their course, as some have suggested, is both reckless and dangerous, given the amount of damage they can do before they fail. To fulfill their responsibility as stewards of the public good, cultural and political “elites” must eschew elitism and find formats and formulas that enable more constructive engagement among diverse groups, including – as difficult as it may be – radical and populist movements.
.. Dahrendorf rightly proclaimed that extremists’ success was a measure of democratic elites’ failings. Like the NPD in the 1960s, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) owes its success in last September’s federal election to the refusal of the country’s political, economic, and academic elites to engage constructively with the public, much less with those the public believed were willing to address their concerns.
.. Defenders of liberal democracy must debate the populists not to change the populists’ minds, but to make the public understand what each party really stands for, not simply against. Yes, this could mean giving populists more airtime, and it risks normalizing extreme views. But the threats associated with an aggressively polarized public sphere – one that extremists have proved adept at exploiting – are much greater.

Cruelty, Incompetence and Lies

Graham-Cassidy, the health bill the Senate may vote on next week, is stunningly cruel. It’s also incompetently drafted: The bill’s sponsors clearly had no idea what they were doing when they put it together. Furthermore, their efforts to sell the bill involve obvious, blatant lies.

The Affordable Care Act, which has reduced the percentage of Americans without health insurance to a record low, created a three-legged stool:

  1. regulations that prevent insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions,
  2. a requirement that individuals have adequate insurance (and thus pay into the system while healthy)
  3. and subsidies to make that insurance affordable. For the lowest-income families, insurance is provided directly by Medicaid.

Graham-Cassidy saws off all three legs of that stool.

  1. it eliminates the individual mandate.
  2. sharply reduces funding relative to current law, and especially penalizes states that have done a good job of reducing the number of uninsured.
  3. And it effectively eliminates protection for Americans with pre-existing conditions.

Did Graham-Cassidy’s sponsors know what they were doing when putting this bill together? Almost surely not, or they wouldn’t have produced something that everyone, and I mean everyone, who knows anything about health care warns would cause chaos.

Republicans are trying to ram the bill through before the Congressional Budget Office has time to analyze it — an attempt that is in itself a violation of all previous norms, and amounts to an admission that the bill can’t bear scrutiny.

.. Lindsey Graham, Bill Cassidy, and the bill’s other sponsors have responded to these critiques the old-fashioned way — with lies.

.. Cassidy has also circulated a spreadsheet that purports to show most states actually getting increased funding under his bill. But the spreadsheet doesn’t compare funding with current law, which is the relevant question.

.. That’s actually a well-known dodge, one that Republicans have been using since Newt Gingrich tried to gut Medicare in the 1990s. As everyone in Congress — even Cassidy — surely knows, such comparisons drastically understate the real size of cuts, since under current law spending is expected to rise with inflation and population growth.

.. Republicans are desperate to destroy President Barack Obama’s legacy in any way possible, no matter how many American lives they ruin in the process.

.. most Republican legislators neither know nor care about policy substance. This is especially true on health care, where they never tried to understand why Obamacare looks the way it does, or how to devise a nonvicious alternative.

.. the evasions and lies we’re seeing on this bill have been standard G.O.P. operating procedure for years. The trick of converting federal programs into block grants, then pretending that this wouldn’t mean savage cuts, was central to every one of Paul Ryan’s much-hyped budgets.

.. Graham-Cassidy isn’t an aberration; it’s more like the distilled essence of everything wrong with modern Republicans.

.. But even if the handful of Republican senators who retain some conscience block it — we’re looking at you, John McCain — the underlying sickness of the G.O.P. will remain.

The Right Way to Resist Trump

Mr. Berlusconi was able to govern Italy for as long as he did mostly thanks to the incompetence of his opposition. It was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared; it focused only on personal attacks, the effect of which was to increase Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity.

.. There will be plenty of reasons to complain during the Trump presidency, when really awful decisions are made. Why complain now, when no decision has been made? It delegitimizes the future protests and exposes the bias of the opposition.

.. Only two men in Italy have won an electoral competition against Mr. Berlusconi: Romano Prodi and the current prime minister, Matteo Renzi (albeit only in a 2014 European election). Both of them treated Mr. Berlusconi as an ordinary opponent. They focused on the issues, not on his character. In different ways, both of them are seen as outsiders, not as members of what in Italy is defined as the political caste.

.. And an opposition focused on personality would crown Mr. Trump as the people’s leader of the fight against the Washington caste. It would also weaken the opposition voice on the issues, where it is important to conduct a battle of principles.

.. with Mr. Trump’s encouragement, the Republican platform called for reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, which would separate investment and commercial banking. The Democrats should declare their support of this separation, a policy that many Republicans oppose. The last thing they should want is for Mr. Trump to use the Republican establishment as a fig leaf for his own failure, dumping on it the responsibility for blocking the popular reforms that he promised during the campaign and probably never intended to pass. That will only enlarge his image as a hero of the people shackled by the elites.

.. Finally, the Democratic Party should also find a credible candidate among young leaders, one outside the party’s Brahmins. The news that Chelsea Clinton is considering running for office is the worst possible. If the Democratic Party is turning into a monarchy, how can it fight the autocratic tendencies in Mr. Trump?

Judge Substance, Not Style

Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana clearly made a decision before last night’s vice-presidential debate. He was going to defend Donald Trump with style rather than substance.

.. So Pence took a different approach. He used his performance skills, built up over years as a successful television host and politician.