Some Things are Complicated, But Others are Bleeding Obvious

bleeding obvious

Fredda Foxy has called my attention to a message from Paul Krugman on the topic of how to run against a bad man. Fredda and Paul seem to have some kind of email relationship. I can’t find the Krugman message on the internet, so I reproduce it below, as Fredda forwarded it to me.* And I want to compare Krugman’s obsesrvations with this alarming news from Jonathan Chait: Democratic Progressives and Centrists Are Both Committing Strategic Suicide.

Now, ladies and germs, some things are complicated, while others are bleedingly obvious and dorically simple. Let me mention a few of the latter.

One. If you are fighting a war, you really need to understand the battlefield. Will you be fighting on the plains? In the hills? In swampy territory? And if you don’t know where your battle is being fought, then you had bloody well better make it your business to find out.

The Chait article has two points, the first of which is that the nice Democratic politicians who are talking about restoring the filibuster, so they can make nice on the playground with the folks from the Republican side of town—those folks really don’t know shit from Shinola.

The plutocrat/racist coalition is in a fight to the death to hang on to power. There are some people you just can’t be nice to. I don’t mean you need to yell at them and hurl bucketsful of epithets plucked from Roget’s Thesaurus. I mean you can’t give ‘em and inch, because, friends and neighbors, they will take a mile.

Two. If your adversary is shooting himself in the foot, then please don’t stop him. Just let him do the work for you.

A great principle of advocacy is Don’t Tell ‘Em, Show ‘Em. Yes, we should not normalize un-American behavior. Yes, we should “call out racism.” But mostly we should just let Donald Trump SHOW everyone exactly what kind of person he is.

Three. It will probably be a close election. But we have a 9.3 percent advantage (fivethirtyeight.com, likely and registered voters, as of this evening). Trump is now at 43.2 percent support. He will keep most of them, but I think a bunch more Nuremburg rallies will peel off a few, and he’ll be down at around 40. At that level, with any luck, his ass is grass.

That said,

Four. We must not press our luck. Chait has it exactly right. We need to push for those parts of the progressive agenda that poll well, and not take chances on those parts that don’t poll well. Chait elaborates:

A new poll by NPR tests most of the ideas Democrats have debated so far. The party has a wide array of proposals that enjoy public support — a Medicare option for everybody, a $15 minimum wage, a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are in the country illegally, a wealth tax, and other things. But several of the issues Democrats are running on poll badly. In particular, decriminalizing immigration laws, giving health-care subsidies to undocumented immigrants, and replacing private insurance with Medicare are ideas that sound bad to most Americans.

Progressives have waved away such objections by insisting people who have private insurance don’t like it and would be glad to be moved onto a public plan. …

Well, we do have polling on this. NPR’s data shows that letting people “choose between a national health insurance program or their own private health insurance” is a 70 percent issue, while a Medicare expansion “that replaces private health insurance” is a 41 percent issue. And that is without accounting either for the large tax increases that would be needed to finance it or the effect of a massive countermobilization by insurers and the entire medical industry. These risks are all the more difficult to fathom given the much safer alternative available to candidates: a Medicare expansion plan that could be financed exclusively by taxing the rich and which would leave employer insurance in place.

Despite these grim numbers, activists have pressured leading Democratic candidates to put themselves on the wrong side of public opinion. Just 27 percent of the public supports decriminalization of the border, and 33 percent favors the extension of health-insurance benefits to undocumented immigrants, yet during the second Democratic debate, the latter position was endorsed by every candidate onstage. …

Centrism is not a political panacea, nor is it a myth. Its value matters in some ways, and not at all in others. Popular opinion is sensitive to high-profile public issues that can easily be reduced to understandable slogans on the news — “take away your insurance,” say. It is not sensitive to obscure Senate traditions — “Senator Jones refused to vote to restore the judicial filibuster” does not sound like a devastating attack. …

For the moment, the Democratic Party is clinging to centrism in the places where it has no value, and throwing it aside in the areas where doing so comes at great cost.

* Paul Krugman, Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The great majority of Americans consider Donald Trump unpresidential. A plurality consider his recent Tweets racist; half believe his campaign coordinated with Russia. It’s fair to say that most of America finds Trump pretty vile.

The question for Democrats is what to do with that reality. The thing is, it’s a lot less relevant politically than you might imagine. Most of the people who consider Trump vile would never have voted for him anyway, and many of the rest will vote for him despite their personal distaste, because they hate liberals more.

Yet it would also be wrong to say that Trump’s unique awfulness is irrelevant. His approval rating is remarkably low given growth over 3 percent and unemployment under 4 percent. And perceptions of character do drive votes: the Clinton email “scandal” — yes, it was fake, but it was relentlessly hyped by the media and fueled by James Comey’s misbehavior — almost surely swung the 2016 election.

So how should Democrats be handling this election? I’ve seen a lot of commentators lecturing the Dems about not making the election all about Trump. But who’s actually doing that? On the campaign trail, the leading progressive candidates barely talk about Trump; Elizabeth Warren, for example, spends most of her time laying out her policy proposals. The only major contender who really does seem to put attacks on Trump at the core of his campaign is … Joe Biden.

On the other hand, not making the campaign about Trump at all — in effect, normalizing him — would surely be foolish. Maybe only a few percent of the electorate can be swayed by reminders that a terrible man sits in the White House, but that could easily be the margin of victory.

The question is how to balance these concerns; and that’s mainly up to Nancy Pelosi, not the presidential candidates. I think I understand why Pelosi isn’t moving forward with impeachment, although she knows as well as anyone that it’s richly deserved: She probably doesn’t have the votes, even in the House, and doesn’t want to give Trump anything he could call a win. On the other hand, it is puzzling how low-energy House Democrats have been at pursuing Trump’s multiple scandals — and his tax returns!

At the same time, Democrats need to sell their policy agenda. For the most part, concerns that they’re moving too far left are, I believe, overblown: centrists may be horrified at proposals to raise taxes on the wealthy and expand social benefits, and they may imagine that the nation as a whole shares their horror. But polling actually shows that such proposals are highly popular.

The one thing that worries me is the rush to embrace a purist version of “Medicare for all” that eliminates private insurance. That seems like an unnecessary political risk on an issue where Democrats have a huge inherent advantage, since there are less disruptive ways to achieve universal coverage.

So can Democrats walk and chew gum at the same time? Can they run mainly on things Americans want, like guaranteed health care, while also reminding voters that a terrible person occupies the White House? The fate of the republic may hinge on the answer.