On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson

Kuttner

In case you missed it, Rep. Adam Schiff channels Pastor Niemöller. In the middle of a Washington Post opinion piece the other day, Rep. Schiff, who heads the House Intelligence Committee, wrote this:

To my Republican colleagues: When the president attacked the independence of the Justice Department by intervening in a case in which he is implicated, you did not speak out. When he attacked the press as the enemy of the people, you again were silent. When he targeted the judiciary, labeling judges and decisions he didn’t like as illegitimate, we heard not a word. And now he comes for Congress, the first branch of government, seeking to strip it of its greatest power, that of the purse.

And now he comes for Congress... You may recognize the echo, presumably intended, of Pastor Martin Niemöller, who famously wrote this poem after his arrest by the Gestapo in 1937:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Now Trump is not Hitler, but he has alarming dictatorial tendencies, and the expedient failure of Republicans to speak out is appalling. Schiff is correct to flag the assault on one of the most fundamental pillars of American democracy, Congress’s power of the purse--yet still most Republicans refuse to speak out. It is to their everlasting shame.

Many people assume that Pastor Niemöller perished in the camps. In fact, he narrowly escaped execution, and survived the Nazi regime, living to the ripe age of 92. American democracy may yet survive, but it will be no thanks to most Republicans.

Kuttner

About that North Carolina Do-Over Election. As you have probably read or heard by now, the ballot fraud in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional district was so brazen and so toxic that even the Republicans on the state election commission felt compelled to order a new election.

Think about this for a moment. For years, Republicans have been justifying voter suppression measures on the bogus premise that ballot fraud was rampant among Democrats. A presidential commission on the subject, headed by former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Vice President Mike Pence, was abruptly shut down because, despite heroic efforts, no fraud was found.

Well, the Kobach commission was looking in the wrong places. The fraud was on the Republican side. 

And consider this. Ballot fraud of the sort that was rampant in North Carolina’s Ninth is the flip-side of voter suppression. You can actually go to jail for stuffing ballot boxes, but nobody goes to jail for suppressing the right to vote—even that steals votes just as surely as ballot tampering.

Indeed, if North Carolina were not one of the champion voter-suppressors, that election would not have been close. Now, with the Republicans having been caught red-handed, the Republican candidate shamed and the whole world watching, the Democrat might even win. 

Meyerson

The Two Emerging Types of Democratic Presidential Candidates. It’s still way early in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, with a mere ten major candidates having entered the race while another half-dozen are still making up their minds. But it’s not too early to divide the field into two categories: The Yes-We-Can Democrats and the No-We-Can’t Democrats.

Leading the Yes-We-Cansters are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—champions of policies that would bring some systemic change to the way America works. Identifying himself as a democratic socialist, Sanders has always supported more democratic and egalitarian alternatives to American capitalism, but those alternatives have never really gone beyond those adopted by European social democrats. Indeed, in his 2015 speech at Georgetown University, he illustrated his concept of democratic socialism by referencing the reforms put through by Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson—Social Security and Medicare—and the aspirations voiced by Martin Luther King Jr. Warren also points to Roosevelt as a model—the reformer who had to reform capitalism in order to save it—but her social democratic proposals, such as that for universal child care, which she unveiled earlier this week in California, as well as her tax plans are often as far-reaching as as Sanders’s. He calls himself a socialist and she calls herself a capitalist, but both fall well within the social democratic ambit.

That said, it’s their proposals (and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s) that are driving Democratic discourse. In 2016, Sanders pried open the Overton Window of acceptable policies and found that a clear majority of Democrats had been just waiting to embrace such ideas as Medicare for All, free college tuition and a $15 minimum wage. AOC and Warren are now finding similar levels of support for a Green New Deal and a fairer tax system. All three have also won substantial public backing when they’ve gone after the super-rich for their takeover of America’s economy, politics and government—a theme not sounded this clearly on the presidential campaign trail since Franklin Roosevelt’s re-election campaign of 1936 (which culminated in the most sweeping victory in U.S. electoral history).

Already, the 2020 Democratic primary process is shaping up as a referendum on the sweeping changes that the Yes-We-Cansters are proposing. The other candidates are being compelled to give their responses to both the spirit and the letter of the Cansters’ ideas. In the process, some have already become No-We-Can’tsters—their messages often being reduced to explanations of why we can’t afford free public college or universal public health coverage. Amy Klobuchar is bidding to lead the No-We-Can’tster pack, with seemingly daily cautions as to which reforms are unreachable. Joe Biden, should he enter the fray, may well strike a similar posture.

Kamala Harris and Sherrod Brown (should he run) have generally inclined toward the Yes-We-Can side of the party, though neither has expressed comfort with a Roosevelt-‘36-style excoriation of the plutocratic rich. Cory Booker’s career-long coziness with Wall Street plunks him down on the Can’tster side of the party, though he has embraced some halfway-house proposals—full-employment pilot programs, for instance—that suggest he understands he’s in need of reinvention.

Can’tster-ism isn’t a platform, however; it’s not even a basis for a candidacy, and certainly not at a time when more Democrats say they have a favorable assessment of socialism than they do of capitalism. In an early attempt to fill this void, Booker is opining that the nation needs universal love, while Klobuchar is turning out daily announcements of mini- or micro-reform pieces of legislation she has introduced with Republican co-sponsors—a reading of the Democratic zeitgeist I find bewildering, and one which holds unfortunate echoes of Hillary Clinton’s penchant for multiple policy-adjustment proposals, which didn’t exactly work wonders for her campaign.

As I noted at the top, it’s still way early, and there’s ample time for reformulating messages. The polls tell us that Americans are more in the mood for big, system-altering ideas than they’ve been in eons. No-We-Can’tsters, take heed.

Kuttner

Back to the Progressive Future. Elizabeth Warren keeps getting whacked by the right for proposing big, bold public programs. The latest is universal, high-quality child care

But take a close look, and you’ll see that Warren’s program is actually a bit more modest than the proposed Mondale-Brademas Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1971. That act was passed by both houses, overwhelmingly in the Senate, and was ultimately vetoed by President Nixon. 

In the proposed 1971 act, subsidy and certification of a range of local arrangements were viewed as a way station to universal public child care. In the nearly five decades since then, a wide range of makeshift arrangements have taken root, from family daycare to church basements. These will be hard to displace with a full public program. Thus Warren’s supposedly “radical” bill is less radical than the consensus bill of 1971.

So we’ve had five lost decades of right-wing dominance, with five decades of deferral of what the public really wants if given the option. Only with the allegedly radical leadership of figures like Warren and Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown are we at last heading back to the future that most Americans want. 

Kuttner

Remind Me, Why Does Amazon Get to Own Everything? Good for New York, especially for New York’s unions, for making it clear that the town was not for sale.

But everything else seems to be. I admit that I patronize Whole Foods, now owned by Amazon. There’s one in my neighborhood, and if you shop carefully and also go to the supermarket, it needn’t be Whole Paycheck. 

But lately, since Amazon bought the chain and started cutting corners to maximize profits, I’ve noticed a distinct deterioration in quality and variety, as house brands (“365”) crowd out competitors’ shelf space, and some items have been dropped. 

They’ve also just announced price hikes for some 700 products. I have vowed to shop there as little as possible.

There is a larger point here. It’s not good for the economy when a single company was so much market power to crush competitors. There is also a common carrier doctrine that you don’t get to provide the platform and also compete with (and crush or buy out) rivals who need to use the platform to market their wares.

Alert followers of my work may have discerned that I and a couple dozen other columnists just got unceremoniously dumped from HuffPost. That’s because the bean counters at Verizon (!) which now owns HuffPost, decided that we evidently were not enough of a profit center. But how does a phone company get to buy a media organ in the first place?

Ever since Reagan, the whole idea of anti-trust and fair competition has been euthanized, and the only rule is anything goes. Antitrust needs to be revived and brought up to date. Maybe the Warren-Brown Administration will do just that.

Meyerson

Which Presidential Hopefuls Understand That It’s Progressive Breakthrough Time? As Prospect readers have doubtless noticed, we seem to have entered a golden age of breakthrough progressive proposals. Democratic presidential candidates and members of Congress are advancing proposals for universal Medicare, wealth taxes and much more progressive income taxes, full employment, co-determination, more upper-bracket payroll taxes to fund more adequate Social Security payments, and a Green New Deal. Unions and think tanks are promoting a system of collective bargaining that covers all workers in a sector—whether unionized or not. And in California, Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed requiring social media companies that monetize their data to share the proceeds of that monetization with their users.

That which was off the table, or nowhere even near it, is now on.

Historians will doubtless credit Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign for prying open this Overton Window, as they credit Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign for injecting rightwing ideas into the national discourse. They will also surely credit the 2008 financial crash and its long, unequal recovery for moving millions of Americans, particularly millennials, leftward, as they credit the 1929 crash and the ensuing Great Depression for creating the vibrant and powerful left of the 1930s.

As progressives and Democrats view the emerging 2020 Democratic presidential field, it seems to me the most important criterion (in addition to electability) by which to judge the candidates is simply whether they’re part of this dynamic. Do they grasp the need for curtailing our plutocracy, which requires not just political reform but serious taxes on wealth such as those that Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have proposed? Do they understand the disaster that shareholder capitalism has visited upon our middle and working classes, and seek to give workers much more power to bargain and steer their own companies? Do they get the need to break up the big Wall Street banks and establish a range of public banking alternatives? Do they understand that creating a healthier America requires moving to a Medicare for All system (which can be done in a multiplicity of ways)? Do they realize that the oncoming threat of catastrophic climate change requires something like the Green New Deal?

Some current presidential candidates (Warren) and some likely to become presidential candidates (Sanders) have checked off most if not all of these boxes; others (Sherrod Brown) have checked off many of them; and others (Kamala Harris) just some. Still others—Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke—are largely missing in action on these issues, which seems a sure way to depress Democratic turnout in November 2020. However, it’s early yet. 

Kuttner

Embarrassment of Riches. The word on the street is that Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders will soon join Elizabeth Warren as economic populists contending for the Democratic nomination. 

There has been a lot of argument in the press and among Democratic operatives and kibitzers about whether the party is better off with a populist or “someone who can win.” That’s a lot of hooey. It’s precisely a populist message and candidate who has what’s needed to win.

The risk is that Warren, Sanders, and Brown will crowd each other out and allow a more corporate Democrat to be nominated. Normally, a large field is winnowed down faster than one might imagine, because there is only so much money and so many volunteers to go around.

But these three could stay in for a while. Sanders has his loyalists from last time. Warren has an army of enthusiasts. And Brown will get a lot of labor backing. All will raise small money.

For almost half a century, not a single economic populist made it to the front of the pack. Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Obama, and Hillary Clinton were all moderate liberals—decent people, but not committed to radical change. 

The result of the inattention to profound structural power grabs, rigged rules, and the steady erosion of economic prospects for regular working Americans was Donald Trump.

If ever America was ready to elect a progressive economic populist, 2020 is the year. But now we will very likely have three, and three's a crowd. 

If anybody can think of a way for two of these good people to unite behind one, speak now.

Meyerson

Saturday Shutdown? Then Saturday Stayaway! The same 800,000 federal workers who went without pay last month are still in the Republicans’ crosshairs. While Congressional talks have arrived at a border-related compromise—reportedly, 55 additional miles of fencing, costing roughly one-third of Trump’s wall proposal—it’s not yet clear that Trump will accept that deal. Should he not, the federal workers and their families and the four million federal contract workers and their families could again fall victim to the president’s hostage-taking.

To short-circuit such an outrage, a number of workers’ advocates have proposed a suitable response: A mass stay-away from work. Sarita Gupta and Erica Smiley, the co-directors of Jobs With Justice, have pledged that if Friday’s deadline passes with no resolution and workers are again rendered income-less, they will help organize a stay-away from work, which could be particularly effective in the sector where staying away compelled Trump to end the shutdown the first time around: air travel. In this, they’re expanding a proposal voiced by Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants (which is affiliated with the Communications Workers, CWA), in which her members would demonstrate at airports across the country on Saturday. A number of activist unions, including CWA, Unite Here and the American Federation of Teachers, have appeared to warm to this idea, as have leaders of such groups as People’s Action, the Center for Popular Democracy, Our Revolution, and Greenpeace.

Congressional Republicans are clearly reluctant to shutter the government after the political beating they took for the first one, and while Trump himself seems to grasp a second closure would redound against him as well. Even if they decide to keep the government up and running, however, the actions that Gupta, Smiley and Nelson have proposed signal a welcome intensification of labor’s transformation into a more solidaristic movement, at a time when red-state teachers have won groundbreaking victories outside the confines of collective bargaining laws.

For their part, federal employees are forbidden by law from striking, but the last shutdown ended just a few hours after air traffic controllers in the DC area called in sick (as Georgetown University history professor Joseph McCartin had suggested they do in a piece on the Prospect website), which paralyzed air traffic throughout the Northeast and led to the suspension of flights for several hours at LaGuardia. A similar sick-out would be an appropriate way to kick off Saturday’s action if there’s a Saturday shutdown, and there’s no law preventing flight attendants, pilots and other airline workers—none of whom are federal employees and hence faced with firing if they strike—from walking off the job that day, too. Nor is there a law prohibiting Americans who are indignant about the Republicans’ inflicting such arbitrary misery on federal workers from flocking to airports and demonstrating, too, as many did during the Muslim travel ban.

Indeed, there may be some informational pickets at airports on Saturday even if a shutdown is averted, to affirm the importance of federal employees’ work and to caution against a return to Republican shutdown-ism.

What we really need to forestall the Republicans from shutting down the government—now, or in the future—if they don’t get their way on an unrelated policy issue is a general strike of federal workers and their supporters, though given the constraints of the law, it would have to be a de facto general strike that takes the form of a de jure mass sickout. Coincidentally, yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the concluding day of the nation’s first general strike, which closed down Seattle in 1919. The Seattle workers—who kept the city running through their own endeavors at the centers they established—were seeking better pay and conditions. Today’s federal workers would be seeking something more elemental than that: not better pay, but simply the pay to which they’re entitled for the work they’re required to perform.

Plan your Saturday accordingly.

Kuttner

Kevin McCarthy's Strange Love of the Jewish People. What a pleasure to see House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy deploring anti-Semitism in the context of Representative Rashida Tlaib’s comments about AIPAC. The suddenly philo-Semitic McCarthy tweeted:

“Anti-Semitic tropes have no place in the halls of Congress. It is dangerous for Democrat leadership to stay silent on this reckless language.” 

How very neighborly of the Republican leader, how very Christian. So let’s see, where was Kevin McCarthy and the rest of the Republican leadership when…

Donald Trump used a graphic straight from an alt-right site to pin a Star of David and a pile of money on Hillary Clinton, and then claimed it was a sheriff’s star. 

Or when Trump contended there were “good people on both sides” in the Charlottesville riot, where neo-Nazi marchers chanted “Jews will not replace us.”

Or when Trump somehow failed to mention Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

A search reveals not a peep, much less a tweet, of protest from McCarthy.

Or, for that matter, when McCarthy himself tweeted (and then withdrew) a campaign slur demanding: “Don’t Let Soros, Bloomberg and Steyer BUY the election.” 

And a long, long, long, list of other Republican, Jew-baiting dog-whistles.  

No place for anti-Semitic tropes, indeed.

Kuttner

This Just In: Mother Teresa Will Not Be On the Ballot. Could we please get real about Elizabeth Warren and the great DNA brouhaha?

The story so far: Warren listed Native ancestry on a questionnaire and on a Texas bar application. It’s already been thoroughly documented that none of this furthered her career. 

Every university that hired or promoted her assumed she was a white women—in that era of gender discrimination, this was barrier-breaking all by itself.  

And she never claimed tribal identity, only some Native ancestry. Which happens to be true. She has apologized for the confusion. 

But the press, abetted by a whispering campaign by Warren’s rivals and of course by the Republicans, won’t let this go. She has been pronounced fatally blemished on several occasions. Yet Warren persists, to coin a phrase. 

Gentle readers, Donald Trump has been caught in over 7,600 documented lies by The Washington Post, and that’s only since he became president. His State of the Union address all by itself was a lie-fest. All of Trump’s mendacity includes far worse sins than some confusion about his ancestry.

Can you imagine a debate between Warren and Trump on the subject of truthfulness or on the subject of whose policies help ordinary working Americans?

And if you think that the rest of the Democratic field will not be raked over the coals for similar canards, please think again. Mother Teresa will not be on the ballot (and Republican operatives could probably find something on her). 

There is nobody in public life who hasn’t goofed up at some point. The point is their career, values, and leadership taken as a whole.

The press, alas, is superb at blowing up minor flaws into major sins. Warren’s gutsy stances on the issues, making heretofore radical ideas mainstream, remains her most compelling asset, and the dust-up over her ancestry is trivial by comparison.

Would that all Democratic politicians had such minor blemishes—and that the public and the media had a sense of proportion. Warren officially declares for the presidency on Saturday. We can expect that she will continue to persist

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