On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson

Meyerson
May 31, 2018

The Unhappy (But, Let’s Hope Short) Life of the Jungle Primary. All the recent problems with California’s jungle primary were apparent from the start.

As Tuesday’s California primary approaches, both parties are filled with a specifically jungle kind of dread. Democrats fear that their overflow of candidates who are seeking to turn red congressional districts blue will split the vote so many ways that Republicans—fewer of whom are seeking those offices—will finish one-two and move on to the November runoff. Republicans fear that Democrats will finish one-two in the races for statewide office, given that there are roughly nine registered Democrats for every five registered Republicans in the state. And that if there are no Republicans running for statewide office in November, Republican turnout will be low, imperiling their hold on those congressional seats unless they lock those seats up next Tuesday.

But none of this should come as a surprise. Right after the 2014 primaries—the second conducted under jungle primary rules—I predictedjust such a clusterfuck in an op-ed column in the Los Angeles Times. I pointed out that one heavily Democratic congressional district in the Inland Empire had elected a Republican in 2012 only because each of the four Democrats who sought that office finished behind the two Republicans on the primary ballot, even though the four Democrats amassed more votes, so that the two Republicans were the only choices on the November ballot. (The jungle primary doesn’t allow November write-ins.) Two years later, the chastened Democrats were able to clear the field for the Democrat who two years earlier had run ahead of the other three—and in a testament to just how Democratic the district really was, the rookie Republican congressman didn’t even stand for re-election.

Somehow, the lessons of that 2012 race never registered very prominently with California activists. Even now, as Democrats are frantically scrambling to avoid the very same kind of disaster next Tuesday, references to this grim antecedent seldom come up in print or conversation.

I give the jungle primary ten years. Voters created it by initiative in 2010. With both Democrats and Republicans living in dread of its consequences, I expect voters to repeal it in 2020.

Kuttner
May 30, 2018

America as the Hope of the World. I’m traveling in Europe. And despite the fact that neoliberal governments caused the financial collapse and the economic fallout and political backlash, one looks in vain for a left-wing government. Mostly, the protest goes far-right.

The reason is that the “center-left” governments of the 1990s bought into the hyper-globalism of that era. So when it crashed, their fingerprints were all over the collapse.

Angry citizens looking for a global opposition party to the Party of Davos could not find it on the moderate left. There are just four countries in Europe today with leftish prime ministers: Sweden, Portugal, Greece, and Iceland. Each is either hobbled by weak coalition governments or by the austerity policies of the European Union.

By comparison, I’m kind of an optimist about the United States. When Trump falls—and he will fall—we are likely to see a progressive government follow, and a hopelessly fragmented right.

The energy today is not just with the Democratic Party, but with the progressive wing of the party. If a Democrat does manage to get elected in 2020, he or she will not be another neoliberal centrist, but a progressive in the spirit of FDR, updated for this century.

What would that mean? Well, full employment at good pay, universal health care, massive investment in modern infrastructure and green transition, empowerment of workers, and serious regulation of Wall Street, for starters.

Roosevelt seemed pretty radical in 1933, and he was. We need that sort of radicalism again.

Our friends over at the Campaign for America’s Future are circulating a pretty fine manifestothat spells out the details. This kind of politics and government becomes thinkable only if enough people think about it and act on it. 

Meyerson
May 29, 2018

The Year of the Women Necessitates Pelosi. It’s too early to proclaim this the year of the women at the polls, but it’s most certainly the year of the Democratic women candidates.

According to the Cook Political Report, 65 House primary elections have been held thus far that have featured at least one Democratic woman candidate, and women have won 45 of them, with two more races, in which a woman is considered the favorite, headed to a run-off. In these 65 elections, women were 39 percent of the candidates, yet won 54 percent of the votes.

All this throws into an even more dubious light the stated reluctance of some Democratic candidates and members of Congress to re-elect Nancy Pelosi as their party’s leader in the House. In a year when Democratic voters are tilting heavily toward women standard-bearers, some Democrats want to replace Pelosi with—who, exactly? The most visible anti-Pelosi candidate is Representative Joe Crowley, whose claim, if not to fame, exactly, then a higher level of obscurity, is that he heads the Democratic Party organization of Queens. Another representative in the mix, who’s run against Pelosi before for the leader’s position, is Ohio’s Tim Ryan.

Neither Crowley nor Ryan is notably female.

I’m not arguing that Pelosi should retain her position because she is female. The fact that she’s the single-most effective congressional leader, in either party, in the past century—getting just enough House votes to enact the Affordable Care Act, and a unanimous Democratic vote against the GOP tax cut—does suggest, however, that the Democrats likely have nowhere to go but down if they replace her.

Besides—if they retake the House on the strength of the women candidates who’ve been kicking butt in Democratic primaries, what message would it send to Democratic voters should their congressional caucus bump a supremely accomplished (female) leader for a guy names Joe? Just askin’.

Kuttner
May 25, 2018

How to Screw Up Trade Policy. After Donald Trump was elected, some progressives harbored the hope that he might make a partial constructive difference on trade. At least he recognized that China’s state capitalism was predatory on the system and on American industry and jobs. At least he recognized that NAFTA hadn’t lived up to billing, and that it mattered whether the United States retained more manufacturing. Yes, some of his gambits were mere stunts, but this was a welcome acknowledgment.

Silly progressives. This set of assumptions overlooked both his short attention span and his personal corruption.

Trump's prime trade war right now is with the EU, as fallout from pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. He has sent totally mixed signals on China, evidently to feather his own nest on a business deal supported by the Chinese. The effort to renegotiate NAFTA seems to be collapsing.

Meanwhile, Trump’s true class alliance is expressed in policies like the $1.9 trillion tax cut, mostly for the very rich, and in his deals with every fat-cat industry, from pharmaceuticals to banks.

Almost by accident, Trump got himself a team of trade negotiators who actually knew what they were doing, and who began a long-overdue process of revising U.S. trade policy. Trump thinks nothing of undercutting them, based on changing whims and personal business interests. You have to wonder how long good people like Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s top trade negotiator, will last.

One possible silver lining: Trump has blown up a lot of mistaken premises about the U.S. national interest when it comes to trade. The reform agenda will be there after he is gone. It is hard to imagine any of the Democratic contenders for president reverting to the all too bipartisan corporate/Wall Street trade agenda of the Clintons, Obama, and the two Presidents Bush.

Meyerson
May 24, 2018

What do you get when you put a pipsqueak totalitarian and a wannabe authoritarian in the same room?

We may never know. The Kim-Trump Singapore Summit has been called off.

To any dispassionate observer, the summit’s cancellation should come as no surprise. With John Bolton now guiding what passes for Trump’s foreign and military policy, the prospect of Trump sitting down with Kim was never any better than remote.

My own pet theory is that the summit was cancelled due to the lack of child care. Putting two nuclear-armed leaders with the impulse controls of two-year-olds together in the same room requires the presence of sober, strategically sophisticated room monitors. No such figure exists within the Trump White House, and if there are some in Kim’s entourage, we certainly haven’t seen them.

Of course, the need for such monitors is even greater now that the talks are off. The boys still have nukes, after all, and the boys are very into their toys.

Kuttner
May 23, 2018

Jobs, Income, and the Dems. Want a preview of the next great debate dividing progressives? (Or if we are lucky, uniting them.)

We need to stress jobs and income, right? The average voter knows that the economy is doing well—on average—but life prospects are still lousy for regular people, especially young people, especially young people without well-off parents and a family welfare state.

What to do? Well, in the first ring of the progressive circus we have Guaranteed Jobs, a favorite among some progressive advocates: The government guarantees a job at a decent wage for anyone who needs and wants one.

Sounds great. In fact, this is a little tricky. We had some experience with it in the 1970s, under Jimmy Carter. One of slippery questions is the relationship of temporary public service jobs to regular civil service jobs.

In the next ring of the circus, we have Universal Basic Income. Also tricky. Yes, we need to supplement work-derived incomes. But the impact of robots is exaggerated. There could be plenty of work to go around; the challenge is to create more meaningful jobs that pay well—starting with a base pay of at least $15 an hour for all human service jobs, and a lot more of them.

And then we have a Massive Infrastructure and Green Transition Program. Or, as I like to say, World War II without the war. We didn’t need make-work jobs or income subsidies during the war, because there were more jobs than people, and they paid well.

Basically, we need all three approaches, but for me anyway, the centerpiece is the infrastructure program. It’s a very good debate to have—as long as the protagonists don’t turn on one another.

Could that happen? Democrats divided against Democrats?

Old joke: What do you call three lefties in a room? Answer: a split.

Meyerson
May 22, 2018

Richard Goodwin, 1931-2018. Richard Goodwin, who may have been the last surviving New Frontiersman, and who was actually a good deal better than that, died Sunday at 86.

As a young man, Goodwin checked every meritocratic box there was to check, including valedictorian at Harvard Law, clerk to Felix Frankfurter, and congressional investigator who helped expose the rigged TV game shows of the 1950s. In 1960, he joined Ted Sorensen to write John Kennedy’s campaign speeches, and then shaped U.S. policy toward Latin America in Kennedy’s administration.  With Goodwin’s death, virtually every significant figure who worked with Kennedy is now gone.

But Goodwin didn’t go—didn’t leave the administration—when Kennedy was killed. Lyndon Johnson asked him to join Bill Moyers to write his speeches, and Goodwin did, in the process authoring what is clearly the greatest single presidential speech of the second half of the 20th century. In the spring of 1965, as Martin Luther King Jr. led demonstrations in Selma, Alabama, and television news showed the marchers savagely assaulted by local police, Johnson made an impassioned address to a joint session of Congress, imploring, demanding, with all the rhetorical force Goodwin could put on the page and Johnson could speak to the nation, that Congress enact the Voting Rights Act. Which, shortly thereafter, Congress did.

But the speech was about more than the bill, more even that voting rights. It labeled white racism as America’s abiding curse, and invoked both the best of our values and the lessons of Johnson’s youth, teaching impoverished Latino schoolchildren, to make the case why America had to “overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.” To which Johnson then famously added, “And we shall overcome.”

Here’s the speech.

Later that year, dead set against Johnson’s war in Vietnam, Goodwin left, making another case, this one against the war, in articles and a book, and in 1968 writing speeches for Gene McCarthy, then Robert Kennedy once Kennedy entered the race, then McCarthy again after Kennedy was killed. As an 18-year-old working on the McCarthy campaign, I saw Goodwin a couple of times, most memorably when, on the final night of the tumultuous and horrific Chicago convention, the Chicago cops, having run out of people to club on the by-then-deserted streets, ascended to the 15th floor of the Conrad Hilton Hotel around 2 a.m., to clear out McCarthy’s junior staff, who were domiciled there. (I was ushered into a down-elevator by a nightstick to the chest from one of Chicago’s finest.) When we tumbled out of the elevators into the lobby, there was Goodwin, awaiting and greeting and comforting us, also plainly furious at the cops, at our treatment, at the fate the policies he had worked to shape in his decade in power, which were being swept away in a wave of violence, both abroad and at home.

But not all of it was swept away. The core of the Great Society endures. The Voting Rights Act has been shorn of most of its power, but it remains on the books for future Supreme Court justices to re-enforce its purpose. And Dick Goodwin’s words remain, a standard that future presidents who fight for justice, and the women and men who write the words with which those presidents will wage that fight, will have to match.

Kuttner
May 21, 2018

Felons' Rights for Republican Thugs. One of the issues dividing Democrats from Republicans is the question of whether former felons should ever lose their voting rights, or get them back once they have served their time.

Republicans regularly oppose this. It’s one way of holding down voting by demographic groups such as African Americans who are disproportionately savaged by the criminal justice system—voters who might support Democrats.

Currently, there are 13 states, all of them in the Deep South or heavily Republican areas of the Midwest, where former felons never regain civil rights. At the other end of the spectrum are Maine and Vermont, where convicts retain their voting rights even while in prison. In between are states where you can regain your right to vote after completing your sentence.

Given the partisan polarization on this issue, it is charming to see Republican ex-cons not just regaining their voting rights, but running for office. Exhibit Ais the former representative from Staten Island, New York, Michael Grimm.

He served seven months in the slammer for tax fraud. The actual charges involved hiring undocumented workers, underpaying them off the books, and then lying to investigators. In a fitting contrast, Dan Donovan, the incumbent representative, is a former district attorney.

Grimm is a perfect poster child for the Trump-era Republican Party, though maybe not for re-enfranchising former felons.

It gets even more bizarre in the case of Don Blankenship, the former coal company executive who went to prison for his role in mine conditions that killed 29 workers in 2010. He actually thought citizens would view him as a savory candidate.

Blankenship managed to badly lose the Republican primary to challenge incumbent Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. Now he is threatening to do to the Republican Party what he did to local miners.

Given the wave of new indictments and convictions coming down the pike, maybe we can expect more Republican support for the rights of former felons. Even thugs like these guys deserve to get their civil rights back. They just don’t deserve to be elected to office. 

Kuttner
May 18, 2018

It’s Impeachment, Stupid. Rudy Giuliani, in his role as Trump’s lawyer, has been crowing about an unconfirmed conversation in which Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team supposedly said that an impeachment would have to come before any indictment of the president.

In the upside-down world of the Trump defense, this is presented as a victory. To paraphrase the Greek general Pyrrhus, one more such victory and Trump is finished.

The end game of this presidency has always been impeachment. An indictment after the president’s removal from office would be frosting on the cake. And one can imagine a deal like the one that got Vice President Spiro T. Agnew out of office in 1973, in which a resignation is traded for reduced criminal prosecution.

(Agnew pled guilty to charges of tax evasion, but the more serious charges of corruption were dropped. The Agnew case is precedent for the assumption that a vice president or president can indeed be prosecuted for crimes committed before taking office as well as be impeached.)

For Trump, impeachment will likely come first. That’s why we can expect the 2018 congressional elections to include more voter suppression and dirty tricks than any in memory—because the stakes are so high.

Whether Mueller tenders his final report before or after November, if Democrats take control of Congress, impeachment becomes the first order of business. There is already enough obstruction of justice hidden in plain view to justify an impeachment, compounded by Trump selling out his country for his commercial interests—another likely impeachment count.

Republicans may hope that the threat of an impeachment will animate Trump voters to come to the polls. But as shown by the average swing of more than 20 points to Democrats in the six off-year elections for vacant House seats, there are just not enough diehard Trump voters to guarantee Republicans retain control of the House.

We may yet lose our democracy. But if we retain any semblance of it, expect impeachment proceedings to begin this fall.

Meyerson
May 17, 2018

In his inimitable fashion—that of a bigoted ignoramus—President Trump referred to undocumented immigrants as “animals” in a meeting with similarly anti-immigrant officials on Wednesday.

“Animals” is probably not a term that more politic Republicans would use; it suggests a sensibility too crude for a proper elected official to put on display. But based on their actual treatment of undocumented immigrants, the thought that Trump voiced can’t be all that far from their own thinking.

Consider: Even as Trump was ranting away, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy were meeting on Capitol Hill with the handful of Republicans who’ve initiated the discharge petition that would compel the House to vote on the fate of the Dreamers. (Once a discharge petition has the signatures of a majority of House members, the bill or bills it concerns must be brought to the floor for a vote.) To date, 20 House Republicans have signed the petition; it would only take five more, plus all of the House’s 193 Democrats, who are all sure to sign, to reach the magic number of 218—a majority of the House.

According to an account in The Washington Post, McCarthy told the signatories that,

signing the discharge petition and paving the way for passage of a moderate immigration bill could hurt Republicans in November’s elections by depressing conservative turnout and upending leadership’s plans to focus on tax cuts and other GOP successes.

(What those other successes are is anybody’s guess.)

Ryan and McCarthy assured their off-the-reservation colleagues that they would in time bring an immigration bill before the House. Their colleagues weren’t buying it. “I didn’t hear a plan today,” said Michigan Representative David Trott, who became the 20th Republican to sign the petition yesterday. “Time’s running out. We need to do something.”

Indeed they do. Children are being taken from their parents at the border; law-abiding parents who’ve been in the nation for decades are being deported while their citizen children are left behind; and the Dreamers are condemned to a state of perpetual limbo. In response, Republican leaders do nothing, fearful of dousing the xenophobic and racist passions, stoked by the president, which they believe will drive their voters to the polls.

Paul Ryan would never call undocumented immigrants “animals.” He just treats them that way.

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