Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Oy, Reich

I'm not gong to get full-on cranky at Robert Reich's column today...only somewhat cranky.

Reich's complaint is that politicians are happy to follow public opinion when it comes to marriage equality, guns, and immigration...but on raising taxes for rich people politicians ignore public opinion. To his credit, he cites real research, from Page and Bartels, on the question of politicians ignoring the poor and even the middle-class. So I won't get too cranky.

But really...well, I'll give you some context before I complain:
Who says American politics is gridlocked? A tidal wave of politicians from both sides of the aisle who just a few years ago opposed same-sex marriage are now coming around to support it. Even if the Supreme Court were decide to do nothing about California’s Proposition 8 or DOMA, it would seem only matter of time before both were repealed...

It’s nice to think logic and reason are finally catching up with our elected representatives, but the real explanation for these changes of heart is more prosaic: public opinion...

The exception is in the economic sphere, where public opinion seems beside the point...

Before January’s fiscal cliff deal, for example, at least 60 percent of Americans, in poll after poll, expressed strong support for raising taxes on incomes over $250,000. As you recall, though, the deal locked in the Bush tax cut for everyone earning up to $400,000.

Yes, legislative deals require compromise. But why is it that deals over economic policy almost always compromise away what a majority of Americans want?
Yes, well. It is absolutely true that Senate Democrats have gone stampeding on marriage...enough that there are almost a majority for it. Which is still far short of what they would need to actually do anything.

Also: they haven't actually done anything on guns.

Also: they haven't actually done anything on immigration.

And that's the Senate. The easy side, for these policies!

In other words, Congress did, after all, raise taxes, albeit after compromise. They haven't done these other things that Reich compares them to at all.  And yet Reich somehow managers to believe that it's raising taxes and other "big money" items, in particular, that politicians refuse to do despite public opinion.

The problem is that when you talk about things this way, ignoring what actual politicians are actually doing on actual issues, you lose the ability to effectively criticize -- and the opportunity to potentially do something about it. Anyone reading Reich's column would have no idea that the parties differ on all of these issues; that 51 Democrats in the Senate just voted for a budget which raises revenues; that Republicans not only oppose revenues, but that low taxes for rich people may be their highest priority, while (once again) most Democrats support Reich's position on this, and have voted for it in the House and the Senate; and that not all Democrats are the same on this or any issue.

All of which is a terrible message to send to activists and potential activists. People who read Reich and believe him wouldn't realize that there's any point to getting active in primary elections or even in general elections; his story is one of "politicians" in general who don't care about what anyone thinks on any of these issues. Even worse, he's portraying a world in which there are only two things: politicians moved by public opinion on most things, and by the rich on others. Nothing about parties, interest groups (outside of those representing the rich), or activists. It's a world in which individual political action doesn't make a difference.

That's not true. It's not true on marriage, it's not true on guns, it's not true on immigration...and it's not true on "big money" issues.

15 comments:

  1. You're right about all of this.

    But it makes me think, why specifically is SSM an issue where GOPers are so willing to flip? Is it just the trajectory of public opinion? Is it the fact they can change their public stance without likely having to actually cast any votes on the issue? Is it simply the fact that the part of the GOP coalition that cares about SSM is much less influential than it used to be? Raw public opinion numbers don't explain it, or else as Reich says, many in the GOP would be fore background checks, assault weapons bans, path to citizenship, higher taxes, etc.

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    1. Which GOPers are willing to flip? Two senators and a handful of House reps don't make a trend.

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    2. Well the pols are part of it. I suspect we'll see more GOP legislators flip in the coming months. But also we've seen a bunch of party actors flip or admit they have held this position previously. And many pols and party actors have, without changing their official stance, admitted that the party will eventually embrace it or that SSM is inevitable or otherwise suggested that they/their party may evolve.

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    3. Yup, we'll see. I suspect they would have happy to have the Supreme solve it for them, but I would be very surprised if, say, DOMA repeal (if needed) could get through a Republican House any time in the next, say, six years.

      Remember, there were plenty of outsiders (including Simpson, Domenici, and others pressing for higher taxes. Not too many votes were flipped, though.

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  2. Also you can't have a "tidal wave of politicians," that's just bad writing. You can have a "tidal wave" or support for an issue, but if you are talking about individuals you should have a stampede or rush or something like that.

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    1. If politicians are like jellyfish, can you have a tidal wave then?

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  3. I found Reich's piece compelling. It's *Republicans* who have moved more easily on gay marriage and immigration and gun control in the last few months than on taxes. Granting your point that the action hasn't happened yet, their movement is still more pronounced n those fronts than on taxes. They agreed to that too-small hike in Jan only under the compulsion of the Bush tax cuts (which in my view could have been leveraged to compel a twice-as-big revenue increase -- would like to know your thoughts on that).

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    1. Exactly. On this issue they didn't need to do anything to return taxes to a previous level. They just needed to sit back and let it happen while spouting any rhetoric they pleased.

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    2. Yeah, I've read your (ASP) posts on that...I don't know. I'm inclined to go with the apocryphal Mao answer, too soon to tell. Let's see how the debt limit plays out, and then the next fiscal year CR. At least.

      My second-best answer is: the deal Obama cut was probably not the best they could have got -- but the downside risk was pretty severe, and it's hard to know what the right move is when the upside of holding out longer is real and likely but not enormous, and the downside is an unknown and unknowable but probably very large risk. That's not to say I agree or disagree with the choice, just that if that's how it appeared to them it's a hard call. Remember, some of the downside would have been, or at least might have been, real economic harm to real people.

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    3. To finish that thought: which they wound up getting some of anyway, with the sequester going through. Which was, if not purely predictable on Jan 1, at least a very plausible outcome.

      But the cliff could have been worse.

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    4. It was Zhou En Lai who said it was too soon to tell about the significance of the French Revolution (though he might have been talking about the 1968 student revolts). Mao (though it might have been his missus) said, "What Obama should do is put Boehner and McConnell in stocks on the capitol steps, with signs identifying them as plutocrat-pamperers and capitalist-roaders, and have the entire Dem congressional caucus file by and rub rotten fruit in their faces until they agree to raise taxes and vote for single-payer health insurance."

      As to substantive question, I have no idea. Andrew's arguments are compelling, but we're also working with limited information, particularly about the solidarity of Senate Dems. In addition, there just aren't a lot of precedents to compare to the current situation where one party, with historically low approval ratings (but a majority in the House, and veto power in the Senate), with legitimate hope to gain a majority in both Houses in the next election no matter how low its approval ratings are, is willing to crater the economy if it doesn't get its way.

      Real hostage negotiations never achieve win-win results - if the hostage survives, the negotiator has done her job; the fate of the hostage-taker is secondary. Maybe stocks on the capitol steps are the best idea after all.

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  4. Harvey Milk's strategy was sound, and in the end, it is what will make the difference. But it's specific to SSM and not really generally applicable.

    Milk argued that if people knew who was gay, they wouldn't be able to demonize them anymore. Because most gays are just regular people trying to live their lives and do the best they can.

    At 3% of the population, if they're raising children, one set of parents in my kid's class is gay. If they're in the PTA, I know them. My kid knows their kid. I'm supposed to tell my kid that they're the Anti-Christ? That this "gay lifestyle" is harmful and wrong? How is it different then what we're doing, except that Angelica's dads dress her fabulously? (that part was true.)

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    1. Yes, that's a sound strategy to avoid demonization, but it doesn't mean large parts of the population will ever relent on other less extreme forms of gender and sexual orientation hierarchy. Yes, the persecution will gradually stop, but I don't see why one party can't indefinitely support a vision of society in which, so to speak, moderate forms of patriarchy and heteronormativity (for lack of more succinct, mundane terms) persist and are praised.

      Just like with women's rights and egalitarian feminism, I think the likely path of GOP evolution on homosexual rights and cultural recognition is toleration and minimalist but subtly second-tier inclusion, but holding a firm line against a left-of-center vision of full legal and cultural equality in either theory or practice.

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  5. Jon, re your response to the cliff deal: granted that the burden of inflicting or risking harm to the economy and large #s of Americans is not to be engaged lightly, the question is then, what do you do when hostage-takers know you're extremely reluctant to risk harm to the hostage? My thought is simply that the Bush tax cut expiration was the single best point of leverage for Obama, and that it won't come again. And somehow, his risk aversion has saddled us with the sequestration cuts, which could be a long term vice-grip. Acknowledging, as you say, that it's too early to tell: the vice-grip of various groups pressuring Republicans as they feel the sequestration could push them to deal. But it's a lot harder for me to imagine them yielding significant revenue in response to that pressure than to imagine them having acceding to a total of say $1.2 trillion in tax hikes over ten years in order to get the post-Bush-tax-cut rate hikes shut off for most Americans. And I would really like to find a detailed defense, or delineation, of the admin's thinking around last Jan. 1. I remember a paragraph or so, probably in TPM, as it was happening, but no real post-mortems.

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    1. Just like with senate reform, hasn't this always been a question of whether one could trust the whole democratic caucus to be as mainstream liberal as the Obama admin?

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