Vox Pop Archives

June 13, 2007

Cheer up, Doug

Does Father Smiff's pal Doug Henwood really get it?

Sure, he can hit the spot:

What is it with people on the left? So eager to put 30 million people out of work -- the modern equivalent of the 1929-32 rise in unemployment -- to make a political point?
But does he understand how the big system works -- the global TNC express?
Populism is almost always by definition vague; it rarely has an analysis more profound than "somebody's ripping us off," nor a prescription more detailed than a change of personnel. Some resentment against "trade agreements" was mobilized, but legal documents like NAFTA have a lot less to do with the world that has emerged over the last couple of decades than the relentless lowering of transportation and communications costs, which have made global production networks possible, and the deliberate attacks on unions and welfare states.

In any case, the lesson I learned from the 1987 crash was that the ruling class had mastered the art of state--led bailouts. Despite all their talk of market discipline, they would never hesitate to mobilize the full resources of government to keep the economy from imploding. Left untreated, an implosion would impoverish the rich -- and enough other people to threaten political stability. So the savings & loans were bailed out to the tune of $200 billion, with hardly any public debate -- no talk, for example, of turning the failed institutions into democratically controlled development banks. Citibank was quietly nationalized until it could get back on its feet. And Alan Greenspan, that Ayn Rand protege who never shied away from using the state to rescue troubled capitalists, drove interest rates way down and kept them there, which kept the heavily indebted and their bankers alive. Of course, that round of low interest rates helped launch the stock market bubble of the 1990s. And when that bubble burst in 2000, Greenspan & Co. were there again to push interest rates down even lower. And that round of low interest rates helped launch the housing bubble of the early oughts -- ad infinitum.

Sidelight: Doug shares a fond fear of the prudent prog:

What guarantee would there be that people would look to humane collective action in a crisis? They could just as easily fall in step with jackbooted xenophobes.
But here's the rub, a limp reflective causology, bad meme moonshine:
But why has the class war been so easy? Why has there been so little resistance? There are several reasons, among them the atomization and political disengagement of the American masses. But I'd also want to emphasize the durability of that Yankee-Protestant tradition in the culture... American Protestants [palefaced wage class division included -- O.P]... have long had a deep sympathy for The Market. Since they see humans as fallen, corrupt creatures always in need of a good kick in the ass, they revere it as a wonderful mechanism of social discipline, punishing the lazy and rewarding the hard-working. If people are poor, it's because they're immoral, impatient, or wasteful.
He even quotes the great C Wright Mills:
[A]mong the mass distractions this feeling [of rage at the latest 'crisis and scandal'] soon passes harmlessly away. For the American distrust of the high and mighty is a distrust without doctrine and without political focus; it is a distrust felt by the mass public as a series of more or less cynically expected disclosures.
Hell, sez Doug, the smurfy hoi-polloi fools don't even believe its... a struggle!
the electorate despises conflict, and has a naive idea that politics isn't about struggles over principles and material shares, but working for the common good
So cometh a bilious pessimism:
even things that shouldn't involve much shaking, like national health insurance, seem only slightly less impossible than total revolution.
...and yet Isaiah speaks to the nation:
in many areas of political life there is no common good. The normal operation of the economic system requires that some do badly so that a few do well, and any attempt to redress that imbalance is going to provoke conflict. There's no painless way to make the poor less poor or the middle more secure; people at the top will have to be expropriated. It's very hard to say that in public in the USA.
Doug, think a little more about the international angle, and you might brighten your complexion. Pondering the imperial dollar might set your mind into forward struggle gear. You've missed one of the biggest boats of all, and it's a pop boat. Here's your list of job killers: ... relentless lowering of transportation and communications costs, which have made global production networks possible, and the deliberate attacks on unions and welfare states. No mention of the duo of doom, a monstrously overvalued north vs. south forex policy, to facilitate southbound capital export, and a sector-by-sector "open wide" north from south products import policy.

The ready remedy for both is pure populism: dive the dollar, and give us domestic job helots half a chance.

A fair trade dollar is also a high wage dollar -- as we've mentioned ad nauseam -- so we call for a movement that is a true daughter of the classic Bryanism crusade.

All is a-building toward nasty -- the paleface wagery may run, but they can't hide. They will be pushed to push back -- maybe not on your hurry-up schedule, Doug, but they will.

The tower fuckers haven't got the deal "dicked". It ain't gray all the way, just 'cause they'll lay off those 30 million American souls we lefticles dream of, over a Procrustean dollar bed, not a one-off, big-bang, financial '29-type nuking.

Ahh, Clio's million moles, how they tunnel -- even as we gassify and moan. "When will it all end?" When Clio's damn good and ready, and not a decade before or after.

January 23, 2010

Say what?

The AFL-CIA -- sorry, CIO -- commissioned a poll after the Massachusetts debacle. Some of it makes for interesting reading:

1. This was a working-class revolt, and it reveals the danger to Democrats of not successfully addressing workers’ economic concerns.

Coakley won this election by five points among college graduates, but lost the non-college vote by a 20-point margin. This represents a huge swing among non-college voters since 2008, when Obama won by 21 points, for a net swing of 41 points. (The comparable change among college graduates was a net 25-point decline, from +30 to +5).

Non-college men voted for Brown by a 27-point margin (59% to 32%), and non-college women also voted for Brown by 13 points (while college women went for Coakley by 13 points).

Gender dynamics were less important than the class dimension: the 15-point gender gap (men voted for Brown by 13 points, women voted for Coakley by two points) was actually considerably smaller than the 24-point gap in 2008.

2. Voters still have the same goals they had in November 2008: fix the economy and provide affordable health care. But they don’t see the job being done.

Economic dissatisfaction played a large role in Brown’s victory. The majority of voters who said the Massachusetts economy is not so good or poor (52%) voted for Brown by 56% to 39%. However, voters who said the economy was excellent, good, or fair supported Coakley by 52% to 43%. Brown even won voters in the 20% of households in which someone had lost a job in the past year (50% to 45%).

Voters believed the federal government has helped Wall Street—61% say government recession policies have helped Wall Street and large banks a lot or a fair amount—but not average working people (only 18%).

The most important qualities voters were looking for in electing a senator were someone who will (1) fix the economy and (2) reform the health care system. Sending a message to President Obama and Congress about the size of government was much less important.

“Electing a candidate who will strengthen the economy and create more good jobs” (79% single most/very important factor).

“Electing a candidate who is committed to controlling health care costs and covering the uninsured” (54% single most/very important factor).

“Sending a message that President Obama and Congress are going too far in expanding government's role in our lives” (42% single most/very important).

3. Massachusetts voters say that President Obama and the Democrats have done too little, rather than attempted too much.

Voters were not worried about Democratic “overreach”—47% said their bigger concern about Democrats is that they haven't succeeded in making needed change rather than tried to make too many changes too quickly (32%). Even Brown voters are more concerned about a lack of change (50%) than about trying to make too many changes too quickly (43%).

Massachusetts voters significantly are more concerned about Democrats doing too much to help banks and Wall Street (54%) than about imposing too many regulations on business (22%). Even Brown voters are more concerned about Democrats’ helping banks (55%) than about imposing government regulations (36%).

4. The results of this election were not a call to abandon national health care reform.

82% of voters were aware of Scott Brown's opposition to health care legislation supported by President Obama and congressional Democrats, but it had virtually no net impact on the Senate election. Those who knew Brown’s position were as likely to say it made them less likely (39%) to support him as to say it made them more likely to support him (41%).

Brown actually lost among the 59% of voters who picked health care as one of their top two voting issues (50% Coakley, 46% Brown). Brown voters (55%) were less likely to cite health care as a top issue than were Coakley voters (66%).

Two-thirds (67%) favor the Massachusetts health insurance law that ensures nearly universal coverage, including 53% of Brown voters. However, Massachusetts voters did show deep concerns about the possibility that health care reform would tax employer health benefits.

Fully 42% of voters believed the health care bill would tax employer health benefits, and those voters voted for Brown by two to one (64% to 32%) while voters who knew the plan would not tax benefits voted for Coakley (54% to 40%).

Among voters who believed the health care bill would tax employer benefits, half (48%) said this issue made them more likely to vote for Scott Brown (just 14% were more likely to vote for Coakley).

So far so good, eh? Of course it all falls apart at the end:
5. Considerable evidence exists that this election was largely about the individual candidates, Coakley and Brown, more than a referendum on President Obama or the Democratic agenda.
Oh, well, that's all right, then.

* * * * *

This poll caused a bit of head-scratching on some of my lefty mailing lists. For example, one of my rabbis -- call him Pullignus -- wrote:

* Brown voters are mad that Obama hasn't delivered "change" - a largely contentless thing, since the change he {sc. Brown?] would deliver is very different from the fantasies that many Obama voters had about the change he would deliver.

* They liked Brown better than Coakley. They liked Bush better than Gore too.

* They want Brown to be "bipartisan," though he's on the right wing of a party that isn't the least bit interested in cooperation.

In other words, this election was as meaningless as 2008's.

Well, of course it is, P. It's an American election, after all.

But come to think of it this phenomenon is hardly unique to us. Voters have exhibited apparently perverse behavior at least since Aristides the Just was ostracized, when a primitive and aleatory exit poll, with a sample size of one, gave us a glimpse into the mind of the punter.

Pullignus also wondered

Why should likability matter? We're not drinking beer with them, we're giving them state power.
Pullignus is a very smart guy, but I fear he was trained as an economist.

Likability matters if there's not much else to go on -- if there's no real reason to believe that one party is more likely to do anything meaningful for you than the other. Which seems like a pretty well-founded belief; much evidence was served up in recent memory after the '06 midterms, with a big steaming second course of ordure in the last year, B. Obama consule.

Combine that with a general -- and also well-founded -- "throw the bums out" mentality, which is not such a bad heuristic if you accept the limited range of options your civics teachers taught you, as most people unfortunately still do. Then the Mass voters' behavior seems quite understandable.

Incidentally, it isn't just rednecks and Massholes who vote for likability. It's also one of the reasons liberals keep voting for Democrats who never do anything to advance the liberals' pet causes. People of every class vote for candidates who they think are what an aunt of mine called PLU -- People Like Us.

This fact explains a lot of the self-deception that fueled Obamania. In all fairness to Obie, he made it quite plain early on that he wasn't really for many -- any? -- of the things that his rah-rah Mouseketeers wanted.

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