I share a lot of political views with Al Franken and think that he was an effective Senator. He's also a serial sexual harasser who has no business holding a position of authority in our government and his resignation is welcome.
Governance and politics is about policy, not personalities. No figure in a democracy is irreplaceable. Do not make heroes out of politicians. If tossing one to the curb imperils your movement, your movement is flawed.
Today Paul Ryan made clear what many of us long knew was coming: he and Republicans in Congress plan to use the massive deficits created by the pending tax cut as a pretext for slashing Medicare, Medicaid and various anti-poverty measures:
"We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit," Ryan said during an appearance on Ross Kaminsky's talk radio show. "... Frankly, it's the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements -- because that's really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking.
This as he and his Republican colleagues begin to finalize a tax cut that will increase the deficit by at least $1 trillion over the next decade, primarily by giving massive breaks to corporations and the wealthy. People who, you know, are not dependent upon Medicare, Medicaid and various anti-poverty measures.
As is the case with the examples I cited in my previous two posts, such a scheme is not conservative. Rather than principled, it's a sketchy two-step in which Congress plans to foment a massive fiscal problem by giving handouts to people who do not need them and attempts to solve it by torpedoing programs which are time-tested, massively popular and upon which millions rely as a matter of basic survival. It's likewise not traditionally partisan, as we've come to understand partisan politics, in that it harms just as many Republicans as it does Democrats. Possibly more.
It thus makes no sense to think of it as a conservative or a Republican position. It can only be understood as an act of class war. An attack by rich and powerful interests against the poor and middle class.
Not all attacks launched by powerful forces are successful however.
Ask yourself how many current members of Congress ran on a platform of gutting Medicare. Ask yourself how many voters support the gutting of Medicare. The answer: few if any and a tiny minority at best. Almost anyone who thought to run on this sort of platform would be slaughtered at the polls. People don't like it when you attack popular programs and threaten the things upon which they depend for survival.
A candidate who is willing to point this out in clear terms -- a candidate willing to defend the poor and middle class against this attack on their vital interests -- will do well, even in a district that leans Republican. A candidate who pulls their punches on this shouldn't even bother.
The battle lines could not be more clear. Start fighting.
In my last post I wrote about how current policy debates do not make a ton of sense if you try to understand them through a lens of traditional conservative-liberal policy preferences as we have come to know them over the past 50 years or so. They do make sense, however, if you look at any given policy in terms of whether it helps or harms Americans, and which Americans it helps or harms.
The fault line of most political debate these days divides those policies which are aimed at helping the rich and privileged and those aimed at helping the poor and disadvantaged. There is some degree of crossover here -- on some issues the rich have successfully co-opted the middle class, on others they have not -- and across all issues, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and ethnicity are deployed, strategically, to divide people. The common denominator, though, is a politics in which those with power and privilege seek to dominate those without it.
In short, we are in an era of class warfare that has rendered our familiar concepts of what a conservative or a liberal is and what a Republican or a Democrat is obsolete. It's a political realignment in progress, which I believe will lead to a dramatic shift in voting and political identification in the near future.*
In the last post I outlined how that is playing out in the tax policy debate, but the fact is that it's playing out in virtually all areas of policy and society. Indeed, once you begin to look at various policy proposals and preferences through the lens of the new class warfare, things start to make a lot more sense.
Here's a good example from just this morning. It comes from Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who plans to introduce legislation that would impose drug testing on food stamp recipients.
Various states have flirted with such programs in the past. The thing is, though . . . they're useless. They likewise further no traditionally conservative goal:
So, why would Walker propose such a thing? Because doing so serves the political end of consolidating the support of the wealthy and the middle class while demonizing the poor and people of color.
Rich and middle class white people love it when politicians go after welfare and food stamp recipients. It confirms biases and prejudices they hold against the poor. That they're lazy and shiftless and drug-addled and that they are responsible for their plight. It provides the holder of the view a sense of superiority. It likewise provides them a sense of comfort in that it allows them to believe that they cannot, themselves, ever fall into poverty. It's been an amazingly potent political message for decades, going back to the mythical "welfare queens" and beyond. Such a view is outrageously common among comfortable white people. I grew up surrounded by people who talked about the poor in these terms and still encounter such people often. That it has a clear racial element to it makes the message even more effective.
Walker knows this. He likewise knows that drug testing food stamp recipients is useless as a matter of public policy and that it is not a conservative measure by any definition. It remains amazingly useful, however, in allowing him to consolidate support of the wealthy and the middle class by demonizing the poor. It will likewise make the middle class far more ripe for the picking when, as he did a few years back, he pursues policies that hurt working people. It's textbook class warfare. It's dividing and conquering, with the ultimate goal of doing the bidding of the wealthy people who support him and who, ultimately, will provide his living both while he remains in office and afterward.
Once you start looking at politics in these new terms, it's not hard to see how it all lines up. It's likewise not hard to see how it can be combatted. In order to combat it, of course, we must fully recognize it for what it is and convince voters that they are being played in the way in which they are being played.
To that end, as time goes on, I'll continue to point out examples of this, under the heading "Class Warfare Update." If you see examples of it yourself, by all means, drop me a line and I'll highlight them here.
*While I've been casting this as a new political alignment, it's only new to us. Looking back it's fair to say that, if anything, it's a reversion to a political alignment that has far more often been the norm in our history than the exception. From colonial times through 1929 Wall Street crash and the early days of the Great Depression, there were clear haves and clear have-nots and the former asserted regular dominance over the latter. We all just happened to come of age, however, in a time when those class distinctions and its attendant class warfare were at an all-time ebb by virtue of the New Deal and America's post-World War II dominance and prosperity, each of which allowed our country to ignore class distinctions in ways most countries don't. Now, however, we're returning to that ages-old divide.
The tax bill passed by the Senate last night -- which will ultimately be reconciled with the House bill and signed into law by President Trump -- is the most egregious act of class warfare in recent American history. One that strongly suggests we are well into a political realignment that should change the way people think about partisanship and ideology.
At the outset, let us agree that there is nothing "conservative" about the tax bill, at least as far as that term is typically and objectively employed. Indeed, it is directly hostile to all of the values for which conservatives usually claim to stand:
That something else is class. The tax bill is, unquestionably, an attack by those who are rich on those who are poor, aimed at the former acquiring benefits at the expense of the latter. Indeed, this view of it is the only way in which it makes any shred of coherent sense.
It is not a conservative bill, as demonstrated above. It is not even a Republican bill, really, given that it does not serve the interest of even a majority of Republicans who aren't in Congress. We'll see this even more vividly when, as already threatened, those who supported the tax plan seek to pay for its budget-busting measures via drastic cuts to domestic programs like Social Security and Medicare on which the middle class and the poor depend, both Democrat and Republican alike. The bill can only be seen, logically, as the rich taking from the poor.
People want to pretend that political fights in this country don't line up along class lines. They want to believe that, unlike most other countries, ours is a classless society. We've prided ourselves on it and have long acted as if the United States is exceptional in this regard. I certainly grew up believing it.
It may even have actually been true for a few decades, as America did, in fact, experience a time where social and economic mobility was far more possible here than it was in most other countries and the standards of living for working people and wealthy people roughly corresponded with one another. We were, from the end of World War II until some time in the 1980s, I think, a society in which we were generally speaking, in it together.
That no longer holds. We've seen it empirically in the exploding level of wealth and income inequality over the past 25 or 30 years. We've experienced it anecdotally as, however high the Dow Jones climbs and however low the unemployment rate sinks, the standard of living and the future prospects of so many in this country have stagnated or declined. There is a disconnect between the well-being of the wealthy and the well-being of the rest of America that puts lie to the notion that our society is a classless one in which everyone is in the same boat, heading in the same direction.
At the moment, it just so happens that most of the support for this new America comes from Republican politicians, but there is nothing inherently partisan about being in the bag for the rich. Lots of poor and middle class Republicans, in fact, are going to be hit hard by this law and many wealthy Democrats, while superficially opposing it, will not consider it to be as serious a matter as bills that do effect them directly. Silicon Valley and Wall Street, after all, are filled with Democrats who will benefit from it and who are actively behind its passage.
In this, Republicans in Congress have finally brought to the surface that which has been bubbling just beneath for some time. The interests of the wealthy are the priority, the interests of the poor and middle class are meaningless. The philosophical and ideological tenets which, at one time, formed the political fault lines in this country -- conservatism and liberalism, Republican values and Democratic values -- are now mostly empty labels which have lost substantive meaning. Politicians will still give lip service to those familiar concepts, but we are what we do, not what we say we are. Based on the actions of this Congress, the fault lines are now newly and clearly marked.
On one side are those who are interested in making the lives of most Americans, the poor and the middle class included, better. On the other side are those whose primary interest is doing the bidding of the wealthy. It's that simple and that clear.
Every politician must choose their side, just as the members of Congress just chose their sides this week. Every voter must take note of which side their representatives stand. Once that happens, I strongly suspect our political system is going to realign itself in historic ways, as it has every 40-50 years or so throughout our history.