Why right-wing populism works

Friday, November 20th, 2009 · 49 Comments »

(This started out as a paragraph in the working session thing I’m knocking together, but it got so big that I decided it needed its own post.)

Why does right-wing populism work? Short answer: because left-wing populism is dead.

Or, to put it another way, and more accurately: Republican cultural populism — which is all Republican populism really is — works because Democratic economic populism is dead. Neither party is addressing the economic needs of the citizens. Both parties are essentially corporate-owned oligarchies that merely perpetuate the status quo. The only difference between them, the only thing for voters to latch onto, is the red meat social issues.

When I was a child, the Democrats still commanded what was called “the working man’s vote.” That constituency migrated over the years to the GOP, so that now working-class folks in many parts of the country are far more likely to vote Republican than Democrat. How did this happen? Many people point to the racist southern strategy and the growing cultural liberalism of the Democratic party in the 70s as the turning point. And there’s real truth in that. But that’s only half the story. Working people may have been attracted to the conservative cultural messages on the right, but there wasn’t much economic meat on the left to keep them home.

In terms of the basic economic structure of our country, there is now very little daylight between the two parties. Economically, the Democrats have become more and more Republican every year. Welfare is despised. Labor unions are passé. Keynesian economics is out of fashion. Everybody worships the free market. Democrats are still marginally better on economic issues than Republicans, but the margin is thin. Most people don’t perceive much of a difference. In that kind of vacuum, voters go for whoever pushes their buttons on cultural issues. And the Republicans have become masters at pushing people’s buttons. God, guns, and gays.

The Republicans have also pulled off one of the greatest propaganda coups in American history, and that’s convincing working-class folks that Republican economic policies are good for the little guy. It’s really an amazing feat. Republicans have never had anything to offer working people on the economic front; they’re the party of businessmen and bankers. They are, almost by definition, the party that is against the little guy. And yet at some point in the past few decades, buoyed no doubt by their success in attracting people to their conservative social message, Republicans decided to try convincing working folks that the party of rich white bankers was on their side economically, too. And that the Democrats — the party of labor laws, unions, Social Security, and Medicare — was out to pick their pockets.

It’s goddamn amazing that they have succeeded. Really, just think about that. Take it in. Acknowledge it for the extraordinary propaganda achievement that it is. Not only did the Republicans succeed in making working people suspicious of good government, they also succeeded in deflecting traditional resentment of rich businessmen. In the mill towns of the Southern piedmont, for instance — which is where some of my folks are from — the traditional focus of resentment was the company store. Or the mill owner himself, with his Rolls Royce parked ostentatiously outside. Or the supervisor, with his fancy house. People worked hard and knew damn well they were being exploited. They knew that rich businessmen and bankers weren’t their friends. They voted Democrat because they knew that that was the only way for working folks to have a say, or to even get a chance at having a say.

The Republican propagandists managed to turn that good common horse-sense upside down. They took people’s natural suspicion of The Powers That Be and re-directed it to the government. Re-directed it away from the profiteers, away from the rich white businessmen and bankers. Away from themselves.

And this is why you can now walk into one of the old mill villages in the South and find people making $11 an hour who will tell you that the Democrats are evil socialists who just want to spend our hard-earned money, and that what this country really needs is a laissez-faire free-market economy with tax breaks for corporations.

Fricking amazing.

49 Responses to “Why right-wing populism works”

  1. SHV says:

    It’s goddamn amazing that they have succeeded. Really, just think about that. Take it in.
    ******
    It is amazing…Last year a school teacher friend (A Republican) was telling me how great the British system is. When she was a grad. student at Univ. of London in the mid-70′s, her daughter was born prematurely. At her birth weight, at that time, there weren’t many places in the US where she would have survived with a good outcome.

    So my friend was saying what great care she got, didn’t cost anything and she got to have follow-up with the best Harley Street specialists for free. I said “That why we need an similar single payer system here.” She was shocked: “that would be socialized medicine and we don’t want that here.”

    Go fucking figure!!!

  2. RKMK says:

    Vi, have you read Benjamin Friedman’s book, Moral Consequences of Economic Growth?

    Ever feel like you just can’t get ahead with the bills? You’re not alone. More than half of Americans believe the American dream has become impossible for most people to achieve. And two-thirds think this goal will be even harder for the next generation. (One reason for the gloominess–average full-time income has fallen 15 percent since 1975.) All this has Benjamin Friedman worried. In his hefty, 549-page tome, The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, the acclaimed Harvard economist and advisor to the Federal Reserve Board says economic stagnation is bad for the moral health of a nation. Friedman, a former chair of Harvard’s economics department, argues that economic growth is vital to social and political progress. Witness Hitler’s Germany. Without growth, people look for answers in intolerance and fear. And that, Friedman warns, is where the U.S. is headed if the economic stagnation of the past three decades doesn’t soon reverse. It’s not enough for gross domestic product to rise, he says. Growth also has to be more evenly distributed. The rich shouldn’t be the only ones getting richer.

    I went to hear him speak (for work) at the Business School of my Major Canadian University a few years ago. I was unfamiliar with him before going in, and had expected a more Reagan-esque type of lecture. It was actually really satisfying watching him shake all of the MBA students out of their Ayn Rand-y stupor. Heh.

  3. cwaltz says:

    It’s hard to argue that the government is your friend when they perpetually seem to be out to screw things up. I mean how many of us are praying at this point that health care reform doesn’t get passed because when all is said and done what they have created in committees is a joke and will destroy a chance at real reform down the line?

  4. Violet says:

    And that’s because the healthcare bill is just a corporate bailout, an industry-driven Republicanist load of crap. The Democrats are so far from FDR and LBJ it’s pathetic.

  5. cwaltz says:

    I know Violet but how do you argue from the left side of the aisle that government works when you have bridges falling appart or reports of billions of dollars being lost in Iraq or studies that show our education system is falling behind…… if all the Democrats AND Republicans do is pass crappy legislation and mismanage and they are the only two parties we can get to run things then we pretty much end up having to concede that the government as it exists today is not the friend of the average American and our relationship with it might be better served to be adversarial. It’s all very troubling because I believe that government can do good and I believe that it has the ability to provide services to benefit the average American. That being said neither party seems interested in actually doing just that and we seem miles away from getting a third alternative that might not suck as badly.

  6. Keri says:

    Yeah Violet, and it makes me sick how far the Democrats have sunk. I’m Green Party in all but name because they are the only third party that speaks to my liberal ideals. Sadly, the two big parties are hand in hand with corporate interests and the media is owned by corporations as are the fauxgressive media people and bloggers. This huge machine blocks the Green Party from reaching people like the way they can in Europe.

    No party is perfect, but I think our only hope for a real liberal party to gain power is via the Green Party. I know you and I were amongst the bloggers who urged people to vote Green Party (I had to do a write in in my state because the two big parties played games keeping the Green Party off the ballot, only allowing the Green party to be write ins (other states blocked even that option. Clearly the two major parties know the Green party would be a threat if they were actually on the ballot. The corporate owned media and fauxgressive bloggers too, having a policy of either completely ignoring or making dismissive comments. And last year I saw some fauxgressive obots making some of the same attacks on McKinney- she was the “crazy” c word. Yes, she was called that too by that crew.

  7. RKMK says:

    how do you argue from the left side of the aisle that government works when you have bridges falling appart or reports of billions of dollars being lost in Iraq or studies that show our education system is falling behind…

    Well, not to speak for Violet, but REAL arguing from the left would mean advocating to take the billions of dollars being spent in Iraq and instead diverting that to pesky things like bridges and schools and infrastructure, instead of chronically underfunding the public works that people rely on and that create a healthy functioning society.

    “Government” isn’t necessarily bad. American government has devolved into something more accurately described as corporate oligarchy, rather than democracy.

  8. Swannie says:

    The Insuracare/Pharmacare
    bill as written by this administration has people frightened . Even without help from the right, the public support for this bill would be decreasing , because the leadership is so lacking in direction and coherency.
    Not to mention that they do not mind selling out women in order to pass this bill .
    We just could not have a decent health care bill…nooo
    We had to have a notch in the BO belt, at whatever cost .
    There is so much resentment some people are running, not walking to the other side . Where else do they have to go ?

  9. cwaltz says:

    RKMK

    I understand what you are saying but I think you are missing my larger point. Even if I argue on behalf of governing from the left and explain perfectly how it would benefit people what good does it do if there aren’t any parties willing to implement those ideas? I get the whole elect better Democrats thing but I’m starting to feel a bit like Sisyphus.

  10. Violet says:

    Actually, cwaltz, I think we’re all on the same page here, just perhaps saying things differently. The Democrats have abdicated. There is almost no real difference between the parties anymore; that’s the vacuum that enables Republican “populism” to thrive.

    How to re-inject genuine economic populism into American politics is one of the problems we’re facing.

  11. Violet says:

    For example, we have to fight three decades of Republican propaganda that government is evil. We also have to fight three decades of failure by Democrats to really do anything on that front. Those are big obstacles to making the argument that good government is possible and can make an enormous difference.

    The fact is, American 20th century prosperity was built on the New Deal and the GI bill and high tax rates and all that other stuff. It was built on an aggressive program to harness capitalist wealth and share it among the citizenry who actually created that wealth. The rot began for real with Reagan, who simply turned the country over to the bankers and the military-industrial complex to be ransacked.

    But very few people understand this, because the Republican propaganda is all-encompassing. Speaking of Sarah Palin: she’s peddling that same propaganda in her book. The Wall Street Journal review quotes her as saying (roughly) “we tried growing government back in the 30s, but it didn’t work then, either.” Which is just head-explodingly WRONG. But she’s preaching to a choir that’s been hearing that message for decades and thinks it’s true.

  12. Briar says:

    That hit the bull’s eye.

  13. janicen says:

    The mission of Fox News and the Republican party is to move the “center” to the right. That’s why the right wing extremists are so extreme. They march out lunatics like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh who make outrageous statements and the rest of us decide that we are not like them, but the other Republican talking heads look reasonable by comparison.

    On a side note, my daughter learned in school yesterday that, if the country had been able to continue Bill Clinton’s budget plan, our national debt would be zero today.

  14. LV says:

    Pretty much the exact same redefinition of socialism as something against ‘the common man’ was accomplished by the right in the UK in the 1980s. Under Thatcher, the average person saw their unions eroded, their welfare and public services slashed, even their tax burden rise thanks to stealth and regressive taxes – yet many of these same people turned out in droves to vote Conservative because the corporate tabloids told them ‘Labour is the party of high taxation’.

    Of course, the same mega corps that fund the right own the media. The one who pays the piper calls the tune.

  15. Aspen says:

    I think what you’re saying, Violet, is, that there is more than one reason for the shift of the white working class from Democratic to Republican. We have known for a while now about the cultural identity propaganda. Religion, Guns, Abortion, etc. have been used to bring the white working class to the Republicans.
    But there’s another side to it, right? And that is what we are all realizing more and more is that the Democratic party is WILLINGLY complicit with the Right’s economic program. First the Democrats can’t push any liberal policies because they don’t have majorities in congress. Then the Dems have 50/50, but they can’t push any liberal policies, because Bush will veto. Then the Dems can’t push any liberal policies because the Right will filibuster. Now the Dems have a filibuster-proof majority, the white house and both branches of congress and they STILL WON’T fight for any liberal policies!!! How much more proof do we need!
    No wonder the Right is the only side that can drum up much passion.

  16. yttik says:

    I think Republican populism works so well over and over again because people want to feel good about themselves and their country.

    Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

    People don’t want to be called racist and bitter and they don’t want to hear about what a mean country America is. When people complain about elitist liberals, they’re complaining about being dismissed and demeaned by government snobbery. People want to feel pride in their struggles, in who they are, and in the country they live in.

  17. Aspen says:

    But someone would have to first buy into the frame that right wing = American, left wing = Anti-American, in order to conclude that the way to feel good about their country is to have right wing values/politics.
    A lot of people buy into that frame, but a lot of us don’t.

  18. anna says:

    I don’t know if you did this on purpose to make a point Violet, but your post does not have very gender inclusive language. It’s all “the little guy” and “businessmen” and “his.” I realize men are much more likely to be rich but there are some rich women who don’t give a damn about the poor you have to admit. And women are much more likely to be “the little guy” at the bottom rung than men are.

  19. Swannie says:

    Democrats have forgotten how to engender pride in the fact that the USA is the leader of the free world. I heard someone on NPR discussing how the Chinese government is at an advantage over the USA because they have more high speed railways ; and they are more easily able to construct their infrastructure . I always wanted high speed railways over freedom .. didnt you ? Lets ask the Tibetans what they think …the Dalai Lama ???

    The Democrats are busy looking down their noses at the working class ; and women. Now there is a populist message …. tell those people of the “better be there when we need you class ” nurses, teachers, firemen, policemen, farmers etc etc .. well that they better be there if the “creative class ” needs them dammmit !
    They have sneered at the republicans embrace of patriotism ; and instead glommed onto the religious approach , with the growth of faith based initiatives , to show the little folk they are on their side in spirit, if not in other ways…

    How can you send a populist message simultaneously with an elitist one?
    I heard Donna Brazile loud and clear when she said

    BRAZILE: Well, Lou, I have worked on a lot of Democratic campaigns, and I respect Paul. But, Paul, you’re looking at the old coalition. A new Democratic coalition is younger. It is more urban, as well as suburban, and we don’t have to just rely on white blue-collar voters and Hispanics. We need to look at the Democratic Party, expand the party, expand the base and not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    The democrats did just that .. they threw out the baby, the bathwater, and, for good measure.. the bathtub .
    They ae the arugla eaters ; second cousin not removed at all from the lotus eaters…

    ” The lotus eaters were a race of people from an island near North Africa dominated by “lotus” plants. The lotus fruits and flowers were the primary food of the island and were narcotic and addictive, causing the people to sleep in peaceful apathy.”

  20. bob coley jr says:

    @#4..AMEN Violet Amen!

  21. lambert strether says:

    #19 Yep, I read that from Donna Brazile as an invitation to leave the Democrats (and the OFB and the “creative class” access bloggers had been acting the same way for months). So I did. And now… What?

    * * *

    #10 Violet, you write:

    How to re-inject genuine economic populism into American politics is one of the problems we’re facing.

    If I could agree more than 100% I would. How would you integrate these two “ism”s — economic populism and feminism? This post seems very much parallel to your other work, as opposed to intersecting or branching from it. What am I missing?

    NOTE We’d better figure this out, or the populist right will get there first.

  22. Topper Harley says:

    @4 I’d say the Democrats aren’t too far at all from LBJ. Privately LBJ was quoted as saying “We’ll have those [derogatory racial slur deleted] voting for us for 100 years” when talking about passing the Civil Rights Act. LBJ moved the Social Security Trust Fund into the regular budget to hide the magnitude of deficit spending from Vietnam. The current crop of Democrats still subscribe to race pandering and accounting tricks, no?

    @11 How much of that mid-20th century prosperity was purchased on the backs of minorities and women? How much was a “one shot” deal of us profiting from the Marshall Plan and lack of competition from Europe. Furthermore, if you open your eyes to the wider world, what were the effects of that economy on people in other countries? ~ 2 billion people in China and India living as subsistence farmers. Africa brutally exploited by the lasts gasps of colonialism. We’re citizens of the world, and frankly it seems bad form for folks to whine that someone won’t pony up the $40K for a hip replacement when that same amount of money would provide healthcare 400 Africans or Indians and give them a shot at a fuller, healthier life. The differential in greed between that and the standard Republican caricature of wanting poor people to die in streets isn’t nearly as far as you’d think.

    @13 So what your daughter learned was that if we could have extended the dot com bubble for another ten years, we’d be home free. Right. If you give me the winning Powerball numbers, I’ll split the jackpot with you — promise!

    The Democrats could easily take back moral authority from the Republicans by stopping their fucking around with the 2nd Amendment. Just come out and say “Yes, it’s an individual right, it’s subject to incorporation, now let’s move on from there.” Instead they fear-monger, and talk out of both sides of their mouth, causing trust issues.

    Furthermore, they could reach out to religious moderates by showcasing how their platform of “help for the little guy” (snicker) correlates pretty closely with the New Testament. I’m not saying that they’re admitting to governing from the Bible, merely that the two ideologies aren’t nearly as far apart as one might think.

  23. scott says:

    Dead on. If neither party can do anything for you economically but one pays tribute to you as the salt of the earth and celebrates that, you’re going to go with that party. The conservatives have filled a void left by our liberal “leaders” (as Somerby would call them). Truth be told, I don’t think guys like Obama or A-list bloggers in the sphere like Yglesias or Ezra Klein really give much of a shit about economic justice.

  24. scott says:

    http://www.joebageant.com/joe/2009/11/one-party-has-no-heart.html.

    The title says it all: One party has no heart, the other has no spine.

  25. jackyt says:

    Key to changing priorities and conversation is (mandatory) public financing of elections and rock-solid laws re equal air time for all candidates. Corporations now so control access to public discourse that any populist expression is immediately disparaged and shut out, while vested interests enjoy free reign.

  26. HeroesGetMade says:

    If there is such a thing as to how right-wing populism works, Joe Bageant has probably written it, and it’s called Deer Hunting with Jesus. Yes, I’m serious. For those not familiar with Bageant, he’s sort of a redneck socialist preaching redneck liberation theology. As someone who still speaks redneck, I can tell you that he’s onto something; as someone who’s been a long-time feminist, I can also tell you that Bageant doesn’t quite get it that women are full human beings in their own right, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn something from him. Probably the thing that I came away from his book with, besides some serious laughs, was that the GOP is succeeding wildly in the redneck hinterlands because despite being from a different class they are from the same tribe, so speak the same language and know how to connect with them.

    Many people have made reference to the elitist thing, and right now the liberal section of Dude Nation owns and operates it as far as the rest of the nation is concerned. I don’t know that there’s any way to rehabilitate the Dem party’s reputation any time in the near future as their elitist prick antics during the unfortunate election haven’t really abated since. Unfortunately, the GOP understands all too well how to exploit elitist prick antics to their benefit, but also unfortunately, they don’t have any economic policies that work for people who work for a living.

    Independent candidates would have a slam-dunk by exploiting the disgust with elitist prick antics and then putting forward economic policies that work for working people and are easy to understand. No one who has to work for a living likes the fact their taxes have been used to bail out banksters who are nothing but failed gamblers who refuse to pay their debts, and want us to cover not only their debts but their golf fees and spa vacations! Somebody needs to preach the gospel that taxpayer money is the people’s money and needs to be spent on the people, not greedy bloodsuckers like casino bankers and parasite health insurance companies. Personally, I have no problem demonizing people who have actually broken everything and looted the rest of us in the process. But at the same time, to get the left-wing policies advanced and out there, we need candidates who speak plainly and also know how to properly package democratic socialism for rednecks.

  27. Clay says:

    @RKMK:

    Economic “growth” is a cancer that is destroying the planet. Growth is dependent on increasing levels of consumption by the wealthy, the military, etc; it is part of the problem. Capitalism and endless exploitation of the Earth are directly connected to patriarchy. Fortunately growth is over; the end of growth in the oil supply means the end of economic growth.

  28. Aspen says:

    Clay, what you’re saying reminds me of an article I read a while back called Money and the Crisis of Civilization. by Charles Eisenstein.

    From the article:
    The crisis we are facing today arises from the fact there there is almost no more social, cultural, natural, and spiritual capital left to convert into money. Centuries, millennia of near-continuous money creation has left us so destitute that we have nothing left to sell. Our forests are damaged beyond repair, our soil depleted and washed into the sea, our fisheries fished out, the rejuvenating capacity of the earth to recycle our waste saturated. Our cultural treasury of songs and stories, images and icons, has been looted and copyrighted. Any clever phrase you can think of is already a trademarked slogan. Our very human relationships and abilities have been taken away from us and sold back, so that we are now dependent on strangers, and therefore on money, for things few humans ever paid for until recently: food, shelter, clothing, entertainment, child care, cooking. Life itself has become a consumer item.

    HeroesGetMade, that book sounds really good.

  29. Violet says:

    scott @23, yep, that was the point I was trying to make. In a nutshell.

    I firmly believe that if the Democratic Party today were led by someone like FDR — someone with a genuinely populist economic program to help common folks, who was also (this is important) on the airwaves every week explaining that program and pulling no punches about what the rich corporations were really about — then the working class vote would go Democrat by a landslide.

    People vote on guns and gays because there’s nothing else. If the Democrats were really offering bread-and-butter help for working people, folks would put aside the cultural stuff. Really. People would not vote for Republicans just because of gay marriage if the other party was clearly the party of economic fairness and prosperity.

  30. Violet says:

    HeroesGetMade, the genius of Republican propaganda is that they capitalize on people’s natural, well-based suspicion of The Powers That Be. Working folks are right that the big shots don’t care and that the elites despise them and that somebody out there is making off like a bandit. What the Republicans have done, though, is persuade working folks that the bad guys aren’t Republicans/rich bankers/corporations, but Democrats and socialists!

    It is as if somebody persuaded the mill strikers in 1935 that the unions were out to get them and the mill owners were their friends.

  31. Violet says:

    Hey, Topper dude @22, my eyes are more open than you think. I’m well aware that global capitalism is mostly a looting of the poor by the rich on a world-wide scale. And modern western wealth is built on slave labor and plastic.

    But I was really thinking of mid-century prosperity, which was less grotesque. Yes, the west was still riding on the backs of everyone else: no question. But it wasn’t quite the wholesale looting that it is now. America was still a producing nation. A high standard of living meant an 800 square foot house and very little stuff. American prosperity was a product of the socialism of the first half of the 20th century — the same socialism that was at work in Europe, and that potentially could be exported to the rest of the world.

    If I had a time machine, I’d pop back to about 1950 and start the world on a path to share that kind of modest prosperity all around the world. Healthy economies, labor protections, liberal social values, etc. No one would be as rich as Americans are now, but I think everyone could live reasonably comfortably.

  32. angie says:

    Aspen:

    But someone would have to first buy into the frame that right wing = American, left wing = Anti-American, in order to conclude that the way to feel good about their country is to have right wing values/politics.
    A lot of people buy into that frame, but a lot of us don’t.

    I have to say I don’t agree. I’ve not only never bought that framing, I’ve vehemently & loudly opposed it my entire life. But even I am getting sick of hearing from the “left” lately. Pelosi calling protesters “UnAmerican.” Reid complaining about the “smell of the tourists.” Obama acting like a complete moron when he goes overseas. The media literally saying that only racists hillbillys voted for Hillary and/or oppose Obama. The “left” seems intent on proving that framing to be true.

  33. lambert strether says:

    #28, Eisenstein’s Money is awesome. Thanks for the link.

    Here again (#21) I’d like have (as an analytical tool) a/the feminist account of money (and finance (and the latest financial crash)). I should stress that I’m not saying “What about the menz” and I’m not trying to hijack the conversation (at least consciously…). But if money is a patriarchal construct, how is it? (Seems to me, given the outcomes, it must be: Look at all those male bald headed Masters of the Universe.) But how? Where’s this discourse taking place if not here?

  34. HeroesGetMade says:

    Completely agree that the genius of the GOP is in re-directing the righteous anger of the working class. It’s not hard to do when the mill owner understands the language and culture. They just buddy up to the mill worker and point out that not only have those ball-breakin’ commies never done a thing for nobody, they’re all the time talkin’ down to us when they bother to recognize that we exist at all. Also completely agree that someone advancing real solutions to real problems would get these supposed racist, homophobic gun nutter’s attention. They want what everybody else wants – an economy that works for them, a way to take care of themselves when they get sick, and a decent place to live. If they had a future that included a decent job to take care of themselves and their families, they wouldn’t much care about what’s going on in somebody else’s bedroom or church.

    The weekly media presence for left-wing populism is also well-proven, by Reagan of all people. I remember my dad, life-long GOP voter listening to Reagan’s radio show talking about how the stupid government wastes money on studying why monkeys clench their jaws and the such. He was a big Reagan fan until he ‘started getting up in everybody’s business’. We need somebody on the radio and tv talking about how health insurance death panels kill Americans each and every day, and how banksters are looting the American taxpayer with the help of their bought and paid for politicians. The thing that will resonate very well with redneck America is the fact that these people are very good at grabbing other people’s money, but aren’t very good at making themselves useful, as in doing any real work. Redneck America has an amazing work ethic and doesn’t believe in handouts and not paying your debts. Someone needs to start pointing out that it aint the welfare queens in Cadillacs that bogarted all their hard-earned green backs, and yeah, it needs to be done on a regular basis in places they already frequent – the workplace, church and their living rooms.

  35. Miranda says:

    “People would not vote for Republicans just because of gay marriage if the other party was clearly the party of economic fairness and prosperity.”

    This was proven in the last election. People voted on the economy, not social issues. If McCain hadn’t been so tied to the Bush administration/economy, he probably would have taken the election.

  36. lorac says:

    I think we need to get the ERA passed. Does anyone have a link to its text? This bill has been languishing my entire adult life. It was re-presented to Congress early this summer – heard any press about that? (crickets)

    I’d like to reaquaint myself with what it spells out, and what TRAGIC things will happen to (man)kind if it passes (ie, what’s the problem here, DUDES?). If we really want to move ahead with working for women, I truly believe the ERA ratification needs to be a building block.

  37. mikedc says:

    Violet @ 31: How, exactly, would you put the world on a path to “modest prosperity”? Does that mean actual, measurable economic growth? What sort of policies, exactly, are we talking about here?

    Because when I study the data, I notice several pretty unmistakable trends.

    1. In places that generally made themselves friendly to market economics, free trade, and relatively limited government, prosperity and freedom have generally been the result. Countries that have pursed generally socialist policies have become generally less prosperous and less free.

    2. The path of many places, circa 1950, was not all that hot. Even in the US, the poverty rate was about 20% of the population, which is quite a bit higher than the approximately 10% it’s been since the early 70s. In the rest of the world, measures of things like child labor, literacy, and the like were downright frightening.

    3. I thought fondness for the past was a conservative trait anyway. Really, things weren’t that great. It’s possible to live a 1950s or 1960s lifestyle today and there are good and obvious reasons why nobody does.

    3. I don’t think the issue is “good government” or even the size of the government, but the scope of its power. Short of imposing a dictatorship, there’s an obvious reason we want strong limits on government power; the other side will get a say in it. The cost of having your way today in some respect is usually compromising and giving someone else their way on something else.

  38. Dreaming of Diocletian | Reclusive Leftist says:

    [...] for the third category, see Economic Populism, non-existence of (here and here); and Healthcare Reform, complete screw-up of [...]

  39. Violet says:

    1. In places that generally made themselves friendly to market economics, free trade, and relatively limited government, prosperity and freedom have generally been the result. Countries that have pursed generally socialist policies have become generally less prosperous and less free.

    Stop right there, because that makes no sense. What data are you studying, and on what planet?

    Free market economics + limited government = Dickensian England.

    Socialism means pretty much everything that makes capitalism bearable for workers: labor laws, an eight-hour day, overtime, the right to bargain, anti-trust laws, pensions, Social Security, Medicare. That’s socialism.

    We’ve been gradually dismantling our socialist programs, while countries like Norway and Sweden have continued to nurture theirs. And guess who has the higher standard of living.

  40. foxx says:

    The reason both parties are disasters is because they are both bought. The democrats are completely bought by the banks and corporations. Obama certainly is.

    Until we have public campaign financing and outlaw contributions by EVERYONE else, a third party will just create another opportunity for corruption.

  41. Linden says:

    A high standard of living meant an 800 square foot house and very little stuff.

    I recommend watching Elizabeth Warren’s presentation “The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akVL7QY0S8A, for a complete explanation of what’s happened to the middle class over the last 50 years. The problem isn’t people buying “stuff” — the problem is a decline in the standard of living brought about by slumping wages and the high cost of housing, transportation, health care, and education.

  42. Tomecat says:

    @ Iorac:

    I think we need to get the ERA* passed. Does anyone have a link to its text? This bill has been languishing my entire adult life.

    Not just your adult life, but your mother’s, your grandmother’s, and likely your great-grandmother’s. The ERA was first proposed in 1923, IIRC.

    Interesting (not) that we are still being asked to put our needs on the back burner in favor of the “greater good” (read men’s needs)

    *ERA Link

  43. John says:

    Just a thought on the Democrat vs. Republican economic space. You’ve talked about how there is very little real space between the two, and you are correct in practice. But in “over the air yammering” there is one core difference that is spotted by the working class. Democrats talk about “helping people with improved government services.” Republicans talk about “lower taxes and less government.”

    For Republicans to be seen as successful, they have to deliver lower taxes. For Democrats to be seen as successful, they have to create government services, and those services have to be good and helpful. Republicans fail every time someone pays more tax. Democrats fail every time a government bureaucracy spends more time and energy writing reports for other government departments than they spend delivering services.

    Anyone that sees the government as being overall unhelpful, overall unproductive and overall ineffective will take hope for lower taxes over more low quality high cost services.

    It’s not just a social gulf. That’s significant, but it’s not the only emotional factor.

  44. monchichipox says:

    I’ll tell you why it works for me. I am solidly middle class. Outside of the basic services I really don’t get anything else from the government. There is no special program for me. I’ve done the math. After federal taxes, state taxes, city taxes, sales tax, and any other “life style fee(that’s what they call the new one in NY)” 31% of my income goes to the government. Frankly I’m tired of that. I can’t help but think how much better my family would be If I got to keep a little bit of that 31%.

    I’m all for paying my fair share but do you really think 31% is my fair share? Especially when I see how there isn’t a single government run entity that works well. Not a single one.

    So I don’t think more more more is the answer. If I were to fall out of the middle class do you think it would be because I was taxed too little or too much? So I’m voting for anyone who lets me keep more of what I work hard for.

  45. Violet says:

    After federal taxes, state taxes, city taxes, sales tax, and any other “life style fee(that’s what they call the new one in NY)” 31% of my income goes to the government.

    Aggregating like that makes analysis impossible. You seem to be complaining about federal government programs, but how much of your 31% is going to the feds? How much is going to the state? How much to the city? Depending on where you live, you may be served by an extremely expensive infrastructure (New York City?). As for the lifestyle/luxury/excise taxes, again, how much? Are you spending a significant portion of your income on cigarettes?

    And how much do you make? Are you a millionaire? 31% isn’t unfair by any standards if you’re in the top percent of earners.

  46. Aspen says:

    I can’t help but think how much better my family would be If I got to keep a little bit of that 31%.

    I never understand why some people think this would be good, unless you imagine you are the only one who doesn’t pay income tax. If everyone didn’t pay income tax, we’d all have more money, in a reverse-progressive way*, so you’d be in the same place in the income hierarchy compared to others. The rich would be richer and the poor would be poorer, but your place in line, as it were, would be the same as it was before taxes. How would that help you?

    *pretending for the sake of argument that the income tax is progressive in the first place, and simplifying a bunch of other stuff for the sake of discussion.

  47. Aspen says:

    Anyone that sees the government as being overall unhelpful, overall unproductive and overall ineffective will take hope for lower taxes over more low quality high cost services.

    Part of the problem is, people don’t tend to notice the absence of bad stuff. Did you notice how many bridges did not fall down today?

  48. blondie says:

    1. In places that generally made themselves friendly to market economics, free trade, and relatively limited government, prosperity and freedom have generally been the result. Countries that have pursed generally socialist policies have become generally less prosperous and less free.

    This is incorrect.

    Witness the recent debacle of the stock and financial markets. The more free the wealthy and powerful were from “government interference,” i.e., regulation, the closer they came to bringing down the global economy.

    Witness also the earlier-American traumas wrought by the robber barons.

    Then contrast that with the prosperity and freedoms that came to the U.S. after the programs of the New Deal.

    And don’t try to bring up Russia as the “evil” socialist empire. Blaming Russia’s human rights problems on socialism ignores its long history, well before its 20th century revolution.

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