Several members of our Meetup group asked what I had in mind by “elites.” I deliberately left it undefined to make a point. Americans have some very different ways of defining the horrible, no good elite that everyone supposedly voted to overthrow. In fact, I think vast differences in the way we define our elites lay at the core of our political polarization even before we elected Donald Trump president.
Trump’s populism claims to be a call to arms to overthrow the “Washington establishment” and its collaborators here and abroad. As he said in his inaugural address (in between the talk of carnage and despair):
“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. “
Trump’s parasitic elite seems to be our national governing elite, the establishment politicians and the permanent “deep state” that they command. His Hellish vision of a collapsing America sold out by its own elite is pretty stark, that’s for sure.
But, how specific is it, and how accurate? Who exactly are these quislings and what did they do, and to whom? Maybe history helps. When CivCon discussed modern American populism last June, I noted that populist movements everywhere share a basic characteristic. They identify some despicable, self-dealing elite that exploits the virtuous but powerless masses. The elite is not only privileged; it is unfairly privileged. The elite can be a real or imagined; Its victims all of “the people” or just a subset.
Moreover, Right and Left populist movements in U.S. history usually pick a different elite to resent and not quite the same “We, the people” to champion. Left-wing populism’s villain is concentrated private power, like the Robber Barons and their trusts or today’s giant corporations and the 1% that help them rig the game for plutocracy’s sake. Its victims are everybody else (well, except people of color, until recently), but especially the lower classes and the poor. In contrast, right-wing populism has tended to see a conspiracy of both the top and the bottom against the middle. Its corrupt overlords are government insiders helping an undeserving underclass and/or foreigners redistribute wealth and cultural prestige away from hard-working real Americans.
I’m not trying to dismiss this whole topic nor one side’s POV. Quite the contrary. I feel confident in saying that elites have failed the country, as do large majorities of Americans in poll after poll going back years. But, I am pretty knowledgeable about this stuff. I believe I can connect our country’s worst problems to specific failures by the people with all of the power and influence. I picked this topic so we can explore why just about everyone else thinks the same – even though they seem t disagree about who the elites are and what they are doing wrong and why.
We have plenty to talk about on Monday. Here are some discussion ideas and readings.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- Who are America’s elites? Are there multiple elites with different interests and power sources, such as…
- Economic class versus social/cultural elites.
- Racial and ethnic elites?
- Educated and regional/cosmopolitan elites.
- Do our elites perpetuate power unfairly, or are they a meritocracy?
- Why is everybody so mad at elites? Do Americans agree on who to be mad at and why?
- Are elites indeed responsible for the mess we are in? Why?
- Is Trump just scapegoating? What should/could be done to reduce the power of American elites?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- It happens: In many countries corrupt elites use “extractive institutions” to enrich/perpetuate themselves and immiserate everybody else.
- Liberal hatred of elites versus conservatives’ hatred of elitism. Recommended.
- Short: Economic inequality always leads to political inequality.
Long: Politicians deliberately created our “Robin Hood economy.”
- Conservative POV:
NEXT WEEK: A change of pace – What’s going right in the USA these days?
It all began with Fox News, 20 years ago this month.
At least that’s my view. Yes, even before FNN launched in 1996, Rush Limbaugh had been on the air for several years and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had reinvented a much harder-edged Republican Party. Still, I think that Fox made everything we are seeing today possible, from movement conservatism’s takeover of the Republican Party in the 1990s, to the conspiracy theory-driven mutation of the Obama years, straight through to the madness f 2016.
Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps there is not such a straight line to be drawn from that first Fox News broadcast on October 7, 1996, to today’s Trumpian GOP. Many other forces are at work. Either way though, I still think the launch of the mother ship that is Fox News was a watershed event in American history.
Or, maybe Fox News will change its ways. The network is in great turmoil now, as you no doubt have heard. Roger Ailes, Fox’s founder and ideological commissar, is gone after being fired for sexual harassment. Owner Rupert Murdoch named two of his sons as replacements, and they may be more moderate politically than the ex-Nixon aid Ailes. Fox feuded with Donald Trump initially, but lately has backed him to the hilt. So, FNN will be in the crosshairs when The Great Reckoning begins in earnest starting November 9. Maybe chastised and under new management Fox can evolve into something more responsible.
Our first post-election meeting, on November 14, will be “Who is to Blame for Donald Trump?” Obviously, a single TV network watched by only 3 million people in prime time does not bear all of the blame for what we’re seeing. Nonetheless, to me Fox News is so central to the success of movement conservatism that it deserves its own meeting.
I know it is difficult to talk about anything other than Donald Trump personally these days. But, the conditions that allowed someone like him to capture control of the Republican Party were a long time building, and they will remain after the dust settles. I think we need to understand the crucial incubating and magnifying role played by FNN if we want to grasp why and how this happened. Good people who are conservative Americans – not to mention the rest of us – deserve better.
I will give some kind of brief opening remarks on Monday night to frame our discussion, then throw it open for discussion.
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
[Update: This is your best explanation of the Fox phenomenon and right-wing media may be heading. It was not written yet at the time of our mtg.]
Fox News’s Impact –
- How Fox News changed America. Optional, long, 18pp pdf by a conservative.
- The basic problem: Conservatives only trust Fox News among TV networks. Important
- Damage to GOP: .
- Fox News has greatly damaged the GOP. Recommended
- Wrong. Fox greatly helps the GOP because it helps them win (except the presidency). Recommended.
- It’s easy to overstate Fox’s impact – and cable news’s influence in general.
- Fox’s alternate universe is dizzying to watch.
Donald Trump and Fox News –
- Trump is the product of right-wing news media, especially Fox News. A must-read.
- Optional, longer: “They Don’t Give a Damn about Governing.” Conservative Media’s effects on the GOP.
The Future of Fox News –
- It’s a bright future. Recommended.
- No. The twilight of Fox News is nigh. Recommended
- Will a “Trump TV” take down Fox News from the Right?
Next Week (10/31): Franken-future: Will/should we genetically enhance our species?
Well, the Democrats seem united, and with a clear strategy, too. As you know, it’s pretty typical for a party’s presidential nominee to tack to the center after the convention. But, it seems the Dems really are going to try to take advantage of the GOP nominating a nut job for president by moving both leftward and rightward at the same time.
As everybody knows, Bernie Sanders’ surprising success resulted in a party platform that is farther to the left than it has been in living memory. As we’ll discuss on Monday, it’s generational changeover that are driving this bus. Millennials are very liberal (or just incoherent?), on both social and economic issues. The Republican Party has no idea how to appeal to young people and the Dems are trying to cement their loyalty for a generation.
But, the Dem convention made it crystal clear (in that showy and repetitive way party conventions do) that Hillary Clinton’s Democratic Party wants to expand the Obama coalition, not just replicate it. They are making a play to peel off college-educated White moderate voters from the GOP, a group that’s been loyal to the latter since roughly the Reagan era. If they can pull it off over a few back-to-back elections, the Democrats will have pulled off a rare, historic political realignment that could last decades.
Except…how can the Democrats go in both directions at once? Even if they do so successfully this electoral cycle, can it last? Can the Dems satisfy the growing progressive sentiments of Democratic voters and pick off the low hanging fruit of an increasingly extremist GOP without flying apart from the internal contradictions?
I suggest we grope for tentative answers to these questions the same basic way we did last week when we discussed the future of the Republican Party. In brief opening remarks, I will try to lay out how the basic building blocks of the Democratic Party are changing: Its leadership, institutions, and voting blocs. The “emerging Democratic majority” that was confidently predicted in a well-known 1999 book hasn’t actually emerged in a stable form. But, it might, helped along in the near-term by Trump and in the longer-term by other factors that created Trump (last week’s discussion) and within the Democratic Party (this week’s).
Obviously, the future is too contingent to predict with much confidence. But, I think we can have another great discussion like the one we had picking over the GOP’s bleached bones last week.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What does “progressive” mean right now? Policies: Econ + social issues? Rhetoric? Abstract beliefs like size/reach of govt? Inclusiveness? Exclusiveness?
–> Is Left/Right too simple a way to describe our politics, or at least many voters?
- How liberal are Dem right now, in terms of their (1) elected officials and (2) voters? Has the Party really been moving rapidly leftwards recently?
- If so (or if not), why? Leaders, institutions, voters, events?
- Is it permanent?
–> Will the forces moving Dems leftwards last? Will new trends emerge?
–> What about countervailing forces, including the GOP response?
–> If Dem coalition gets bigger, must it get more centrist?
- Ought: What do you think the Democrats should do (morally + strategically)?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Why the “emerging Democratic majority” coalition never happened.
- Demographics do NOT guarantee a new era of Dem dominance. Recommended.
Movement leftwards so far –
- On economics, both Obama and Dem electorate have moved left.
- Conservative POV: Really, really left on everything.
- Wrong. As this graph shows, Dem elected officials even in the House have moved only a little left since 1980. It is House Republicans that moved far to the right.
The future Democratic Party will be…
- More progressive:
- Too progressive: If Dems chase ideological purity like the GOP has. Recommended.
- Less progressive:
Next Week (Aug 8): Is Obamacare working? What comes next?
As I sit here on Thursday night Donald Trump has just finished delivering his shocking, openly authoritarian victory speech at the Republican Party convention. I am beside myself. I have never been more frightened for my country. The Republican Party has destroyed itself and may destroy us all.
Trump’s speech (and entire campaign) is an audition to be America’s dictator. When he paints his terrifying portrait of a helpless and exploited United States preyed upon by criminals and foreigners, he is describing a nation near its final, apocalyptic collapse and arguing that only he can prevent it. “Law and order” is means one-man rule, Constitution and checks and balances be damned. Make no mistake.
So, what is a group called Civilized Conversation to do? Talk seems so pointless now, so strongly must we all fight to stop this monster and the political party he now speaks for. The election will be close – count on it. This man is guaranteed 45% or so of the national vote and the party he is molding in his image holds more legislative power than at any time since the mid-1920s. I think tonight’s speech is so well-written, passionately-delivered, and rousing that the entire GOP leadership will cave in now to his grotesque spell. For now, it’s Trump’s party, body and soul, an enraged, terrified White nationalist party.
But, hold on. The future isn’t written yet. Only with time will we learn whether Trumpism really is a movement or just a man. I think we can discuss in a civilized (-ish) fashion how the Republican Party is likely to evolve from here. The GOP’s future will depend on many things besides November’s outcome. Leadership. Organization. The corporate, evangelical, and other wings of the Party. Media. Events. Even how the Democratic Party comports itself!
On Monday I will give a brief introduction on what the future of the GOP might depend on. This will be future-focused. For “theories of Trumpism” I refer you to our meeting we had on him last November. It is going to be very hard to turn the Republican Party from this path, given Trump’s immense talent at fear-mongering and persuading a crowd that he has the easy solutions he promises. But, maybe it can be done, and maybe the GOP can be something other than what it has become.
(Oh, and we should also discuss the many ways in which Trump is NOT conservative. The man has shredded conservative orthodoxy on trade, foreign policy, immigration, and much else, and I’m not sure what that signifies and where the Party will go.)
Civilized conversation? Always. But, after that strong-man oration and the crowd’s adulatory response? Saving our civilization is a part of the discussion now, too.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- I will write some after I have calmed down a little.
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
Causes and Lessons of Trumpism –
- My opinion: By turning their own voters into suckers, conservative Media and politicians made them vulnerable to a scam artist. Recommended.
- [Update:] Conservative ideology’s three massive failures lead to this moment.
- Other causes of Trump.
- GOP voters don’t really care about conservatism values or policies. Recommended.
- Wrong. Rhetoric aside, Trump’s policies are conventionally conservative and he will implement most of the GOP agenda. Recommended
- The GOP establishment’s lack of ideas is to blame the most.
- Trumpism = ”socialism for Whites only.
Future of GOP and Trumpism:
- Update/A must read: What Trump wants the GOP to become.
- Will Trump go away if he loses? Recommended.
- If he loses big, will GOP learn anything or just lazily blame him and refuse to change?
- Who can change the Party from inside? My thoughts from 2013.
- GOP leaders face a single, impossible choice of their own making: Moderate and lose their angry base, or embrace Trumpism and lose the future. FYI, this was obvious long before Trump emerged. Must-reads.
- Conservative POV:
Next Week: The Democrats’ Turn – How far Left will the Party move?
By my count, Bill Clinton – our 42nd president and possible future First Gentleman – will be the seventh presidency our group has evaluated. We’ve done Jackson, Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, and Obama’s first term. We also debated the best and worst presidents and the power of the office itself. The topic of George W. Bush’s tenure may have come up a few times, too, but my mind’s a blank.
We already know that Bill Clinton never will be on Mount Rushmore. He fought no major American wars nor battled any terrible economic catastrophes. He had to share power with his Republican tormentors and with some conservative Democrats. So, he spent most of his presidency compromising and triangulating. Conservatives despised him and progressives distrusted him.
Yet, Bill Clinton’s presidency was a consequential one. Moreover, he left office still popular, scholars are ranking him in the top 10 all-time presidents (!) these days, and his wife is running implicitly on a platform to bring back her husband’s era’s widely-shared prosperity. I also think we need to rethink Clinton’s presidency in light of 14 years of post-Bill perspective.
As I indicated last meeting, I will open Monday by listing the major accomplishments, good and bad, of President Bill Clinton. Then, I’ll take a brief stab at providing some context I think might be helpful to us in evaluating his presidency (and, maybe his wife’s?)
- What was Clinton elected to do? What did he promise to do?
- Achievements: What was accomplished during the Clinton years in terms of:
- Domestic policy,
- Foreign policy,
- Politics (building an enduring political movement and coalition)?
- Evaluating him:
- Context: How were the domestic and international contexts within which he operated different from todays?
- Credit: Does Clinton deserve all of the credit/blame for these achievements, or do others share both?
- Standards: By what standards was Clinton judged at the time? How might those standards be different today?
- So, how good or bad a president was Bill Clinton?
- Any lessons for how Hillary would or should govern if elected?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
- Wiki ‘presidency of Bill Clinton” entry.
- A better recap of his foreign policy achievements
- Why was he so despised by conservatives? A cultural explanation. (NYT)
- Liberal POVs:
- Conservative POVs (relatively positive ones!):
Next Week: Cry, Robot. Will technology revolutionize the nature of work?
Congressional leaders and state-level elected officials. Tea Party networks. Neocons, Theocons, and Reformicons (I’ll explain). Fox News and the rest of the conservative news-entertainment complex. Upscale libertarian voters. Downscale white working class voters. Southerners. Westerners. Big corporations and rich donors. The Republican National Committee and other formal party groups. “Shadow party” organizations controlled by the Koch brothers and other super-wealthy donors. Ted Cruz. Jeb Bush. Scott Walker. Rush Limbaugh. John Boehner (just kidding).
You get the idea. How can we possibly understand who’s in charge of the Republican Party? Political scientists have spent decades studying how American political parties function and they still disagree (academic paper, pdf) about how decisions get made. In a way, it’s an especially bad time to ask who’s running the GOP, since it’s had no president for six years, 25+ potential 2016 nominees, and a congressional leadership that cannot even control their caucus, much less anything larger.
Still, the 2014 election gave the Republican Party a lot of power, about as much as a party get without holding the presidency. The GOP controls Congress and more than one-half of all state governments. They have vast amounts of money, their own news media, and they are united ideologically (mostly). I think it’s a great time to debate who is setting the Party’s agenda and priorities.
I am not particularly well-versed on the polysci of how our parties operate, and ‘m having trouble finding good links on the subject. Still, I am working on it and on Monday I’ll open with a few remarks on the subject that I hope will help us to understand how different actors influence what the GOP stands for. Then, we can discuss whatever.
Note: I feel that some of our meetings have been a little unfocused lately. So, I’m going to try a little harder to keep us on topic this time. The topic is who runs the GOP and how that may be changing, not what do we think of conservative ideology. I’m going to crack down on people giving long history lessons and personal anecdotes, too.
Note II: A lot of links, but not much yet on the (1) polysci or (2) conservative POV.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- HOW: What does it mean to “run” or “control” a major American political party? How is that attempted and accomplished (e.g., via organizing, activism, money, promoting popular ideas, control of the news media, etc.)?
- WHO: What are the major factions in the Republican Party these days? On what do they agree and disagree?
- WHICH: Which faction has the most influence? Why? Are any major disagreements unresolved or finessed?
- TODAY: So, what does the Republican Party stand for? Has that changed recently? Was it because of new forces, or just the waxing and waning of old factions?
- TOMORROW: Will the factional balance of power within change? How? How will losing or winning the 2016 election contribute?
- How do conservative and liberal answers to these questions differ? Can we learn anything from the other side’s answers?
SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –
Who controls the GOP?
- Nobody. It’s anarchy out there. Recommended
- Wrong. There is no GOP civil war, except over tactics and messaging. The Party is united on substance. Recommended.
- Yes, there is too a GOP civil war, and not just over tactics. (Conservative POV)
- The voters are in charge. But, they do not believe in compromise on anything!
Which faction dominates?
- The Tea Party:
- The Christian Right:
- Big Biz – One ring to rule them all?
Which Individuals Matter Most?
- Paul Ryan is the most powerful Republican.
- Scott Walker is David’s early bet to be 2016 presidential nominee.
- The “reformicon” intellectuals are trying to moderate the GOP from the inside. But, they are failing. Recommended.
Next Week: What can science tell us about Good and Evil?
President Obama still has 783 days left in office. But, like the Christmas lights I just put up, I suppose it’s never too early to start preparing for post-Obama American politics. Even though the Republicans just enjoyed a big mid-term election victory, a lot of political navel gazing in recent years has speculated on whether demographic changes are slowly growing an “emerging Democratic majority” in this country, or even an emerging progressive majority. A lot of people doubt this will happen, and I’m one of them. But, I thought now might be a good time to take stock of how the progressive movement will evolve the res tof the decade and whether a progressive-based majority coalition is even possible.
Below are some discussion questions for our meeting and links to some of the better speculation on where progressivism stands right now and may go in the future. Have a good weekend, maybe peruse a few of them , and I’ll see you on Monday night.
And remember – we will be seated at a different table in our Coco’s. look for us in the back of the main dining room, since they’re using our normal banquet room spot as pie storage for the duration of the holidays.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- MEANING: What’s a good working definition for us of progressivism in terms of (1) a political and moral philosophy, and (2) its major component policies?
- POPULARITY: How large is the progressive voter base right now? Which parts of the progressive vision command majority public support and which parts are unpopular? Why don’t more Americans support progressivism?
- OBAMA: How progressive are his achievements? Did he help to build a stronger (or weaker) progressive movement?
- FUTURE: Are demographic changes ushering in an “emerging Democratic majority?” What could prevent or hasten its rise?
- How will the actions of conservatives affect the future of progressivism?
How progressive was (is – 783 days left!) Obama?
- We discussed this in August and I summed up both sides of the argument.
- It had some pretty good links, I thought.
Progressivism is doomed and already has lost –
- Progressives do NOT control the Democratic Party. Recommended. In fact, they might be purged from it.
- Have progressives already given up on all the big priorities anyway?
Progressivism will triumph –
- Liberalism can and will survive the Obama presidency. Recommended
- The future belongs to liberalism. Recommended
- This is because new voters will bring new values to our politics. More here. Either.
- But, progressives must organize to build that future, not just passively wait for it.
Neither side will triumph –
- There are no inevitable coalitions in American politics. Recommended.
- The culture wars will never end – We’ll just change which issues we fight over.
Next Week The Future of American Masculinity
This is a corker of a topic idea from Ron, although a hard one to get a handle on since it could include most everything that’s happened in national politics in the last six years. Criticism of President Obama from the left gets very little mainstream news media coverage compared to the hurricane of opposition from the right. Yet it has been steady and fierce, even as the President’s critics acknowledge the extraordinarily awful situation he inherited, like a collapsing economy, failing wars, large budget deficits, a broken immigration system, etc. To simplify somewhat for discussion purposes, here’s my take on what arguments Obama’s progressive critics and his defenders make.
THE PROSECUTION’S CASE –
POLICY – Obama is not and never really was a true progressive. In fact, on domestic policy he has governed as just another centrist Democrat like Bill Clinton, trying to push small, incremental changes in a country that’s problems are now so huge that small reforms achieve little. In foreign policy, Obama is little better than Bush-lite. He’s adopted all but the worst of W.’s policies in the war on terror and continued the permanent war footing of the Cold War. Despite Obama’s soaring campaign rhetoric, he has never wanted to be – much less tried to be – a transformational president.
Examples: Bank sector bailouts (too big, no strings attached, let the banks off the hook and more regulatory weak tea). Stimulus (too small) and the budget (too austere and he offered to put entitlements on the chopping block). Obamacare (too timid, not even aimed at single payer as the goal). Domestic spying and assassinations (flatly unconstitutional). War (too much). Immigration (the “deporter in chief’). Education (too anti-teacher). Climate (too little too late). Etc.
Tactics – Obama naively believed his own rhetoric of post-partisanship. During his entire first term, he mainly negotiated with himself, pre-compromising every proposal instead if realizing no compromises were possible with a fanatical GOP dedicated to destroying him and letting the country burn down so they could inherit its ashes. Had Obama been more realistic earlier and/or been a tougher negotiator, and/or better used the bully pulpit to rally the public to his cause, then he could have accomplished a lot more to help the country by moving it in a progressive direction.
Examples: Obamacare (pre-compromised to get imaginary GOP and blue dog Democrats’ support). Stimulus (too scared to propose a trillion dollar one, even though it was needed). Budget cuts and taxes (accepted large spending cuts which rewarded GOP blackmail). Cap and trade (gave up without trying to rally Hill or public support).
STRATEGY: Obama has failed to do all he can to wean the country off of the conservative framing/paradigm that says government is bad and regulation and taxes are evil. Nor has he done enough to cement the emerging Democratic coalition of White liberals, non-Whites, young people, and women.
Examples: In 2011, he allowed the national conversation to change from creating jobs and economic growth to counterproductive fiscal austerity. He never explained in simple language why austerity is a bad idea. Plus, what has Obama actually done to improve the fortunes and futures of young people and Americans of color?
THE DEFENSE’S CASE –
Historical: All presidents disappoint their most leftward or rightward wing. Most presidents also make any major accomplishments in their first couple of years and then spend the rest of their terms defending them from being reversed. Big, transformative progressive change is almost impossible in our constitutional system and only happens rarely. On foreign policy, all the post-WWII presidents have followed the same basic policy of U.S. dominance and policing of global hotspots, even if you hate it.
Examples: FDR and LBJ had huge congressional majorities and giant crises that mobilized public opinion, and even FDR spent most of 1934-39 playing defense. All but one 20th century presidents have lost seats in Congress in year 6 of their presidencies. Conservatives worship Reagan now, but considered him a moderate sell-out at the time. Everybody compromises when they must to advance the ball forward.
Inheritance: Obama had to make saving us from another Great Depression his top priority. This was destined it be a thankless task because the financial system had to be bailed out. Worse, the public was never going to reward Obama for preventing something (depression) that did not happen. Winding down Bush’s wars and slowly extricating us from an open-ended “war on terror” would never be called victories, either, even though they were very important. Much of Obama’s affirmative agenda was swallowed while he put out these fires.
Power of the Opposition: Obama had 60 Democrats in the Senate for only 184 days in his presidency, and that “majority” included a half dozen conservative Democrats that he had to compromise with on everything. This was because Republicans effectively altered the Constitution by filibustering every bill and every routine task of legislating. No president, not Lincoln or Reagan or FDR ever had to play by these rules.
Add these completely new rules for governing and a scorched-earth opposition party to the vastly powerful societal forces that fight all big progressive policy changes (corporations, right-wing media institutions) and you get guaranteed gridlock that no amount of presidential soapboxing could break.
And, lest we forget, liberals are a minority – around 20% at most – of American voters! Many support progressive policies when they understand them. But, most voters reflexively oppose most liberal ideas because they are liberal; i.e., unless and until someone clearly explains to them why they are good ideas. Oftentimes, not even then.
Obama Didn’t Fail: Finally, despite all of these obstacles, Obama has achieved a lot of progress towards progressive goals. That’s why conservatives hate him. Obama has now kept all of his major campaign promises (recommended) in foreign and domestic and has a long, long list of impressive achievements. He is building an enduring coalition, too, that turns out to vote for Democrats every four years. This president is playing a long game and he is winning it. See here or below for a full explanation.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- Who has been criticizing Obama from the Left? What do they want and expect from a Democratic president?
- What are these criticisms, in terms of, say, disagreement with Obama’s (1) policies and priorities, (2) tactics, and (3) long term strategy?
- Have any of these criticism had any impact on the course of action the Obama administration has pursued? Why/Why not?
- What are the major defenses to these criticisms? What more could Obama actually have accomplished if he had listened to his liberal critics? If you think he could not have gotten more out of Congress, what about with his foreign policy decisions or executive actions?
- Could Obama have done more in defeat? That is, by more fiercely attacking conservatives to change the conversation in a more progressive direction?
- What will happen to progressivism after Obama?
Note: There have been dozens of major pieces criticizing Obama from the Left. Here are a few of them and some rebuttals and defenses of the guy.
- Has Obama done a good job? Compared to what? Recommended.
- Attack #1: Obama is obstructing a progressive majority (by Thomas Frank, the What’s the matter with Kansas guy). Recommended.
- Rebuttal to Attack #1, plus another one. Recommended.
- Attack #2: Obama is really a conservative. Recommended.
- Attack #3: Obama has not used his rhetoric to change the story (by Drew Westin, the psychologist and language expert).
- Rebuttal to Attack #3.
- Other important or at least interesting points, IMO
- Obama’s long game will prove his critics – from both sides –wrong. Recommended.
- No, Wall Street has eaten the Democratic Party’s soul, Obama included.
- Obama’s timidity is a response to the huge forces arrayed against progressive change. Recommended.
- The Left is being unrealistic and does not understand the limits of presidential power.
Next Week: The News Media’s Bias
It annoys a lot of American liberals that the word, “freedom” has achieved a kind of totemic status on the political right. Witness last week’s annual Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference, or any Tea Party-oriented gathering. Only conservatives know what liberty is. Anybody that disagrees doesn’t understand freedom or is trying to destroy our freedom. Etc. Really grating.
But, it would be very inaccurate to say the Tea Party is the first American political movement to insist it alone understands the true meaning of freedom. A few years ago I read an interesting book called, The Story of American Freedom. The historian author believes that defining “freedom” has been the central animating struggle of U.S. history. That history, he says, is a more complex story than most of us assume. It has not been a simple, linear march towards greater and greater liberty, or even a story of a fixed set of freedoms being extended to new groups of Americans. Rather, he says, each American era sees its consensus on freedom’s meaning challenged. It gets defended, and a revised definition – usually more expansive, but not always – evolves. How can this be in a country that’s core values are supposed to be fixed in the Constitution and even universal?
Good topic idea, I thought, especially since the way our history works, if the Tea Party wins, their version of freedom becomes the right one. On Monday, I’ll just open up by listing some kinds of freedoms (like economic, religious, etc.) and tracing his basic argument of how freedom’s meaning has evolved. This will be short and with little detail since you all don’t need a history lecture. Then, in discussion we can apply it to our times and our political wars.
Discussion Questions –
- What are the different “types” of freedom: Political freedom, economic, religious, speech, privacy, family autonomy, etc.? How are they related?
- How has the definition of freedom changed throughout American history? How has the concept evolved in the last 4o years, as our politics has polarized along liberal/conservative lines?
- Liberal Freedom: What do you think is the current liberal definition of freedom? Your critique?
- Conservative freedom: Same.
- How do you think most regular Americans define freedom? Do they agree on its main components? How different is that from the definitions liberals and conservatives seem to have and wave around all of the time?
- A bit about the book I read that sparked this topic: The Story of American Freedom. A nasty but still useful conservative critique of it is here.
- Some Tea Party-ish views of freedom.
- A very thoughtful analysis of the conservative and liberal conceptions of freedom, although it favors the latter. Long, but a must-read.
- Fire-breathing, very liberal view of what freedom means and how much of it Americans have lost in recent years.
- What is Libertarianism?
- Two key concepts to understand: Positive liberty and negative liberty.
- Long but good optional read: Do we want to live in the Libertarians’ world? A skeptical but not totally hostile view of the philosophy.
NEXT WEEK: Do/Should International Organizations Have Power Over the U.S.?