More Nones than Republicans?

by John Quiggin on August 28, 2013

19 per cent. That’s the proportion of respondents to the latest Pew poll who say they identify as Republicans, an all-time low. It’s also Pew’s 2012 estimate of the proportion of the US population who describe their religious affilation as “atheist”, “agnostic”, or “nothing in particular”, or in the current shorthand, “Nones”.

These results need to be qualified in lots of ways (see over fold). But they still suggest that the ground is shifting against the kind of Christianist politics long exemplified by the Repubs.

The two main qualifications are

  • Self-described atheists are a minority within a minority, still a mere 2.4 per cent of the population. People who are “nothing in particular” are unlikely to respond positively to Christianist appeals, but won’t necessarily react with hostility
  • The sharp recent decline (during 2013) in self-identified Republicans mostly involves a shift to “Republican-leaning”. I’d interpret this as people who are unimpressed by the antics of the Republican party, but haven’t changed their general political views as a result. The total proportion of Republicans+leaners has been much more stable, though the current 38-47 split with the Dems is near the bottom of the historical range

{ 94 comments }

1

Hector_St_Clare 08.28.13 at 5:21 am

The ground is certainly shifting against conservatives on the same sex marriage issue, and that’s likely to continue for the foreseeable future, barring some very unusual events. On abortion, though, public opinion has been close to a stalemate for about 20 years now, and there are reasons to believe both sides might be hopeful for the future. The country is getting less religious, which would make one expect a decrease in pro-life sentiment, but abortion views seem to be largely heritable (much more so than views about birth control or gender roles in general), and pro-life people also have substantially higher birth rates, which would make you expect the opposite. (I think personally the latter trend is going to be more influential).

I think people who are going to self-identify as ‘nothing in particular’ are pretty reliably going to be hostile to ‘christianist’ appeals.

2

bad Jim 08.28.13 at 5:54 am

Considering that Republican+Lean Republican is still 38% of the electorate, the survey numbers are pretty scary. Considering how extreme Congressional Republicans are on the issues, it’s disheartening to find that on government spending, 41% think the party’s about right and 46% think it’s not conservative not enough. In other words, 87% of them, a third of the country, more or less want to shut the government down entirely.

Considerable allowance has to be made for sheer ignorance, of course, but the sentiment seems pretty plain.

3

Niall McAuley 08.28.13 at 8:28 am

Self-described atheists won’t necessarily react with hostility either, and are quite likely to answer None to questions of the form “What is your religion?”.

4

John Quiggin 08.28.13 at 8:49 am

@Niall I have the impression that this is culturally specific, and also depends on the form of the question. The Pew survey doesn’t include anyone with an explicit answer “None” or “No religion”, which would be the normal answers for atheists and agnostics in Australia. They are all classed as “atheist”, “agnostic”, or “nothing in particular”/”No particular religion”.

5

Salem 08.28.13 at 8:53 am

The sharp recent decline (during 2013) in self-identified Republicans mostly involves a shift to “Republican-leaning”. I’d interpret this as people who are unimpressed by the antics of the Republican party, but haven’t changed their general political views as a result.

But in all likelihood a lot of those people are dissatisfied from the right. Tea Party-types are especially likely to describe themselves as “Independent” when in fact being fiercely partisan.

6

pedant 08.28.13 at 12:11 pm

Niall, the question is not whether atheists are hostile in general, or whether they are hostile to Christians, religious people, or religion in general, but whether they will “respond positively to Christianist appeals,” or instead “react with hostility to Christianist appeals.”

Given that Christianists in the U.S. want to disenfranchise non-Christians and turn the U.S. into a right-wing Fundamentalists sharia state, I would say that most atheists will not respond positively to these appeals, and may even react with hostility.

To the appeals, that is. Not to the Christians. After all, atheists are just as capable as anyone else of hating the sin while loving the sinner.

7

ajay 08.28.13 at 12:25 pm

But in all likelihood a lot of those people are dissatisfied from the right. Tea Party-types are especially likely to describe themselves as “Independent” when in fact being fiercely partisan

This, as they say.

8

Niall McAuley 08.28.13 at 12:31 pm

@pedant, I am thinking of Republican/leaning Republican atheists and their reaction to Christianist appeals.

As long as the practical results line up with Republican goals like further empowering the rich, immiserating the poor and keeping “those people” down, most Republicans seem to be OK with spittle-punctuated Jesus talk.

Some of those Republicans must be atheists, but if they are privately hostile to Christianism, they keep very quiet on the subject.

9

Main Street Muse 08.28.13 at 1:01 pm

I live in a state that has floated the idea of a state religion, has shut down most of the abortion clinics, and has passed a law that keeps state residents “safe from foreign (i.e. sharia) law.”

Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager was quoted as saying “I’m holding my nose” in working for McConnell and was doing it to benefit Rand Paul’s upcoming campaign. McConnell has not fired this subordinate worker for fear of reprisal from the Tea Party.

The Republican Party may be losing members, but the extreme right-wing seems to be growing in strength.

If you look at the Pew link, it notes: “By 54% to 40%, Republican and Republican-leaning voters want the party’s leaders to move further to the right.”

The Republican Party exists today as a party apparatus for a radical right-wing extremist group to effect its policies. This extremist group, however, is not diminishing in its appeal to Americans. That is a serious concern.

10

pedant 08.28.13 at 1:01 pm

Ah, thanks Niall. I had misunderstood your cavil.

Yes, I agree with your point. Although, on second thought, the Republicans who are privately hostile to Christianism while being very happy to work for the Republican agenda are also fairly unlikely (I should think) to proclaim themselves atheists or nones, even on an opinion poll. Religious affiliation is also a tribal marker, and no one who wants to be a member in good standing of the rich white right-wingers will risk being seen publicly as anything other than a Christian. (It’s impossible, for instance, to be elected to office on those terms).

11

SamChevre 08.28.13 at 1:31 pm

Given that Christianists in the U.S. want to disenfranchise non-Christians and turn the U.S. into a right-wing Fundamentalists sharia state

There may be a non-zero number of politically active Christians who have this as a goal.

However, the majority of politically conservative Christians would like to see a legal environment something like that of 1965, which I think is not well described as a “right-wing sharia state.”

12

Rmj 08.28.13 at 1:46 pm

However, the majority of politically conservative Christians would like to see a legal environment something like that of 1965, which I think is not well described as a “right-wing sharia state.”

Pre-, or post-, Voting Rights Act 1965? (LBJ signed it on August 6 of that year). And frozen in ’65 would mean most of the implementation of Brown v. Board would not attain (it finally hit Boston in 1974). There might also be some severe limitations on implementation of the Civil Rights Act of ’64; I’d have to study the history more carefully.

I’m not holding you rigidly to 1965, by the way. Just pointing out that was also the year of “Bloody Sunday,” which finally made a lot of whites realize just how vicious racism was. Not that it left an indelible impression, though; we just decided racism was bad, so we would always denounce “racism.” Always easier to be against an abstract idea than to work to effect concrete change. But if we return to the legal environment of 1965, do we continue to allow Bull Connor to act as he sees fit under the law?

Lots of Christian churches were involved in not supporting those concrete changes, as Dr. King pointed out in 1963. Not too many more of them active in supporting concrete changes in 1965, especially the ones Christians who want to return to something like 1965 today, would feel comfortable in (and I write this as a Christian pastor, not an atheist critic of religion).

So maybe not a “right-wing sharia state,” but certainly a more right-wing state than we would still want to acknowledge today (although we are now, again, effectively without a Voting Rights Act.). And Loving v. Virginia wasn’t handed down until ’67. I’m pretty sure a lot of people thought “miscegenation” was against Christian principles, too; at least in 1965.

There was a great deal of pressure based on Christian principles for change in 1965 (King was a pastor and head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; and his famous letter from Birmingham Jail was addressed to the churches of Birmingham, and their pastors). There was also a great deal of resistance, also based on (so-called, I’d say) Christian principles; again, as King pointed out in his letter.

Not quite “sharia” (whatever that scare word actually means); but not purely secular, either.

13

Sancho 08.28.13 at 1:54 pm

As others have noted, a large proportion of standard-issue Republicans, who never fail to vote for the the GOP, now consider themselves “libertarian” because the Republican Party isn’t far enough to the right for them, which skews the figures.

It’s a fad.

The local variety is even more comical, because in Australia “libertarian” is all but synonymous with “Catholic monarchist”. So you’ve got these conservatives all over the internet demanding freedom (financial deregulation) and liberty (guns for everyone), but also insisting that bishops in Italy should be dictating morality laws and that it’s a good thing for a German woman living in London to have absolute legal authority over a modern democratic nation on the other side of the planet.

14

MPAVictoria 08.28.13 at 1:57 pm

“However, the majority of politically conservative Christians would like to see a legal environment something like that of 1965, which I think is not well described as a “right-wing sharia state.”

Man you ain’t paying attention. Go check out the Red State article on Miley Cyrus. You will be horrified.

15

js. 08.28.13 at 2:03 pm

“sharia” (whatever that scare word actually means)

I believe it means law, funnily enough. (Good points @12, though.)

16

Barry 08.28.13 at 3:06 pm

Salem 08.28.13 at 8:53 am
” But in all likelihood a lot of those people are dissatisfied from the right. Tea Party-types are especially likely to describe themselves as “Independent” when in fact being fiercely partisan.”

Seconding ajay – this is rather important. Think of the ‘for/against’ numbers for ACA, where the ‘against’ includes a large proportion who think that it doesn’t go far enough.

17

SamChevre 08.28.13 at 3:20 pm

RMJ et al

Picking a date is tricky, and different people have different flashpoints. However, I’d say that substantially all the politically conservative, politically active Christians are more OK with 60′s changes on race than on sex and religion. I picked 1965 because it is before Abingdon Township(school prayer) and Griswold(contraception)–I’d have probably been better off to pick 1963, though, to also exclude the Equal Pay Act and Heart of Atlanta.

18

SamChevre 08.28.13 at 3:26 pm

I should note–Heart of Atlanta is important not because of its racial aspect, but because of its extension of what the government can require–it’s the case that makes “the only legitimate concern of businesses is making money, not acting according to some non-monetary principle” the law. (And it is thus critically important in the current quarrel over whether religious business owners must provide benefits directly that they believe to be wrong to provide.)

19

AcademicLurker 08.28.13 at 3:27 pm

Seconding what Sancho said. I’m not sure how people self-identify is all that meaningful.

I know of plenty of people who vote a straight Republican ticket in every election but nevertheless like to call themselves “independents” because they think that makes them sound thoughtful.

20

mpowell 08.28.13 at 3:47 pm

This news is not that significant itself, but is a reflection of important trends. The Republicans are losing voter share, not because that many people are changing their minds, but because of demographic shifts and because the white youth vote is less Republican leaning (and that cohort will grow older). The hope for Republicans is that young white Dem voters will become Republicans as they grow older and hispanics will start voting for Republicans. And maybe this will happen. But the toxicity of the Republican brand, exemplified by the unwillingness of people to identify as Republicans even though they vote straight ticket, makes this less likely than it would otherwise. I would be astonished if the bottom dropped out of Republican electoral support. There is just too much infrastructure providing the informational environment that keeps people voting for Republicans. On the other hand, a continued trend of 1-2 pts less support each election cycle is my expectation for the next decade or so. That still leaves the Republicans in a position to do damage (and thus avoid a true viability crisis) until at least 2020.

21

ajay 08.28.13 at 3:49 pm

Further to the point made in 5, the original post backs it up by saying ” The total proportion of Republicans+leaners has been much more stable”.

If the antics of the Republican party were driving people away, surely you’d expect to see two things: “Republicans” would change to “Republican-leaning”, and “Republican-leaning” would change to “no preference” or “independent”. The first is happening, but not the second. It may be, in fact, that what these people want is more antics!

22

William Timberman 08.28.13 at 3:49 pm

An argument I frequently have with my astonished liberal friends: the crazy Republicans of all flavors in the U.S. — including none aren’t the problem. They’re a clown show, a symptom rather than a cause. This morning, after a brief visit here, I went and read in succession the current articles by Hans-Werner Sinn, Tony Blair, Martin Feldstein, and Stephen S. Roach at Project Syndicate. Now there’s a clown show that’ll really give you nightmares.

23

Bruce Wilder 08.28.13 at 4:56 pm

Of course, political and religious agnosticism and cynicism is rising. What’s to believe in? Who is to be trusted? The Republicans in Congress and on Fox News are a clown show, but also a foil for the most conservative Democratic Party since Grover Cleveland. Obama has moved the Democrats so far to the Right, that the Republicans don’t need to be anything but a clown show; being a clown show furthers the agenda both politicians in both Parties agree upon, by herding Democrats into support of authoritarianism and corruption and war and redistribution of income upward, always upward.

Most people do not have much interest in, or understanding of politics, even in the best of times. Occasionally, a critical issue may focus attention for a sustained period, and the mass of people will engage, but that’s relatively rare. I’d say we live in a period of general disengagement, of atomism in politics and religion. Even the political news junkies are disengaged without necessarily knowing it, feeding on the unrooted distractions and ritual formulas of cable news.

In religion, American culture nurtures highly individualized, personalized religions of one. (CT discussed the work of a sociologist, who passed recently, on this phenomena — my senile brain is blocking the name.) This is the synthesis of 19th religion of conscience with 20th century culture of Self. There’s no real theology — an identity without membership or obedience or cooperation with others. I expect something similar has happened in politics, as the sense of betrayal seeps in, after years of government for and by the plutocracy. The Republican Clown Show, whatever its other vices, at least focuses on responding to that sense of betrayal among its constituents, by attempting to pose as ever more inflexibly principled and committed. For Democrats, it is apparently enough to ask, “What’s your alternative?” to shut down any recognition of the betrayal. Musing about demographic trends running against the Republicans strikes me as supremely self-deceptive, about the likely seismic consequences of a system undergoing general collapse.

Much of the country is deeply frightened in ways that make authoritarianism the political default. It is kind of silly to ask about political party affiliations when your vote no longer matters, because politicians don’t need your vote, only the money necessary to buy the whole system, just as religion as a label for idiosyncratic, personal sentiments and pep talks from a fast-talking salesman, is kind of silly.

24

Barry 08.28.13 at 5:47 pm

mpowell: “On the other hand, a continued trend of 1-2 pts less support each election cycle is my expectation for the next decade or so. That still leaves the Republicans in a position to do damage (and thus avoid a true viability crisis) until at least 2020.”

IMHO,that’s not an unreasonable goal for voter suppression – lever each current bit of power into the ability to suppress low single digits of opposition votes. Which, of course, leads to more power.

25

Marc 08.28.13 at 6:11 pm

The Democrats are so far to the right that they enacted universal health care, ended the war in iraq, and are ending the war in Afghanistan. The federal regulatory agencies are actually working again. They’re so far to the right that they reversed the Clinton-era polities on gay marriage. They increased taxes on the rich. I could go on, but what’s the point? There is apparently some desire to project a fantasy where everything is always getting worse, and facts have nothing to do with it.

“Not as radical as I am” is not the same thing as “conservative”.

26

Layman 08.28.13 at 6:36 pm

Marc @ 25

Democrats enacted a (near) universal health care plan modeled on a proposal by the conservative Heritage Foundation, over the objections of liberals who wanted a single-payer program. To say Democrats ‘are ending the war in Afghanistan’ is an odd way to describe the decision of Democrats to extend that war for nearly 8 years after taking power, and in fact to double down on it by increasing the size of the war for several years. Democrats refused to act on gay marriage in any useful way until the shift in public opinion and several key court cases at the state level made it electorally safe for them to do so. Democrats certainly forced the issue on raising taxes for the wealthy, but not after first caving on that issue several times; and in any event they failed to hold out for the tax levels which were in effect during the Clinton years.

As a liberal and a Democrat, I certainly understand the difference between George Bush and Barack Obama; or between Ted Cruz and Chuck Schumer; or between Mitch McConnel and Harry Reid. But it can be true both that they are different, and that the latter in each pair is a massive disappointment to liberals. When hacks decry the socialism of Obama, I find myself wishing only that it were a bit more true…

27

mpowell 08.28.13 at 6:49 pm

Layman@26: Wherever the ACA came from it was a move left from the prior status quo.


Democrats refused to act on gay marriage in any useful way until the shift in public opinion and several key court cases at the state level made it electorally safe for them to do so.

So when the country moved to the left on the issue, so did the Democratic party? That still equals the same thing: a move to the left. There is something baked into the kind of thinking that could provoke a statement like this. The left wants to see politicians who are brave and will do unpopular things for the cause. Here’s the thing: that person doesn’t get elected.

28

MPAVictoria 08.28.13 at 6:53 pm

What Marc said. Bruce is a smart person and a very interesting writer. He also has a skewed view of American politics that is way too hard on democrats and way too easy on republicans.

29

Layman 08.28.13 at 7:05 pm

mpowell @ 27

“The left wants to see politicians who are brave and will do unpopular things for the cause. Here’s the thing: that person doesn’t get elected.”

I’ll thank you to point your generalizations elsewhere. On specific matters, I expect people who campaign on matters like upholding the rule of law to use their election to, well, uphold the rule of law.

We’re not having a conversation about hypotheticals here, are we? Obama was elected as a liberal, by a majority who wanted a liberal, because he said liberal things. He has governed as a moderate Republican.

The ACA may in fact be more liberal than what came before, but it is not a liberal law; it is a conservative law, originating from conservative thinking about market solutions to the problem. That it was forced into law by Democrats as their preferred solution is the best illustration of all that the Democratic party has gradually moved to the right.

30

Layman 08.28.13 at 7:12 pm

MPAVictoria @ 28

Whether or not Bruce is too hard on Democrats is no reason to reject the obvious – that the Democratic party is to the right of where it was 20, or 30, or 40 years ago. Which party currently propounds the theory that the President is empowered as Commander in Chief to use flying robots to kill American citizens, at his or her sole discretion and without oversight by any court of law?

31

Layman 08.28.13 at 7:14 pm

@ 30

Meant to add: You may well answer my rhetorical question with ‘both’, and you’d probably be right. But that would support the idea that Democrats have moved rightward into the realm of such crackpot ideas, wouldn’t it?

32

js. 08.28.13 at 7:14 pm

We’ve had this argument on previous threads, like, a lot. Maybe more fun to talk about teh Crazy? Speaking of which, Salem @5 and seconders/thirders, etc. are definitely on to something I think. And Barry’s ACA comparison seems on point.

33

MPAVictoria 08.28.13 at 7:24 pm

“But that would support the idea that Democrats have moved rightward into the realm of such crackpot ideas, wouldn’t it?”

Are flying death robots right wing?

The democratic party is to the right of where it was in the past on some things but also to the left of where it was on others. The Republican party on the other hand has moved to Crazytown on pretty much every issue.

“We’ve had this argument on previous threads, like, a lot. Maybe more fun to talk about teh Crazy?”

I completely agree and am sorry I posted a response to Bruce. I am not going to change his mind on this one.

34

pedant 08.28.13 at 7:24 pm

Anyway, why all this bollocks about mid-afternoon prayer time?

35

Salem 08.28.13 at 7:32 pm

Obama was elected as a liberal, by a majority who wanted a liberal, because he said liberal things. He has governed as a moderate Republican.

It’s very hard to know why any given politician is elected; the ballot form doesn’t contain an essay section to explain your vote. It’s at least as plausible a narrative that Obama was elected as a centrist, by a majority who wanted a centrist, because he said centrist things. In fact, I know some people who campaigned for Obama in the primary because they thought he was more liberal than Clinton, and others who campaigned for him because they thought he was more centrist. A good politician is all things to all men.

After all, a large part of the reason for the 2010 meltdown was that many people felt that he had campaigned as a centrist but governed as a liberal. As long as everyone feels equally betrayed, that’s politics working. :)

36

William Timberman 08.28.13 at 7:38 pm

Bruce can defend himself without any help from me, but my take on the view he’s expressed repeatedly in these threads, insofar as I’ve understood it, goes something like this:

1. We need clarity about our situation, and we aren’t getting it from the usual suspects.

2. This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans, free market capitalists or social democrats, atheists or believers. It’s about seriously considering an Umwertung aller Werte. We need to take all the pieces apart and put them back together again in a less toxic configuration — the pieces which by accretion since the beginning of Hobsbawm’s saga, or perhaps even Gibbon’s, have hardened into a pattern of human development which we’ve accepted, however reluctantly, as normal.

Ah, say the custodians of the status quo — smart and successful every one — winking at one another, and looking around for the guy in the white jacket with the champagne, but of course we can’t actually DO that, you know….

I suspect that Bruce would reply, You don’t really have a choice. Be that as it may, we can’t have a real argument if we artificially limit the premises. Perhaps we do have a choice, perhaps we don’t, but from my perspective, the odds against all the customary choices now look more or less insurmountable.

37

John Quiggin 08.28.13 at 7:43 pm

As a general response, while it’s hard to get really good citations, my reading of the literature suggests that

* On average, Republican leaners are more like “weak Republicans” than like “strong Republicans”, and this is particularly marked among young people who say “Republican leaners”

* There aren’t very many self-identified libertarians, but there are a lot of Republican leaners who see themselves as liberal on social issues, conservative on economic issues – that’s pretty much the default position among, say, journalists. To restate the point of the original post, an expansion of this group will be bad for Christianism, though it doesn’t help the left/centre-left on economic issues

* A related point can be made about the Dems. They’ve mostly moved to the left on social issues, most obviously equal marriage, but also things like the war on drugs. And they’ve clearly moved to the right on economics, at least until very recently.

38

Layman 08.28.13 at 8:04 pm

@33

“Are flying death robots right wing? “

Yes. Notions of an executive authority which stretch this far are right-wing notions. Of course, those notions are now being adopted by Democrats: QED.

But I’ll say no more. Don’t want to bore everyone…

39

Trader Joe 08.28.13 at 8:14 pm

@37
The chart/table on page 7 of the referenced Pew report would suggest that both tea-party republicans and “regular” republicans see the party’s primary deficiency as being “Not conservative enough” on a wide range of issues as compared to being too conservative. That would somewhat belie the notion that the Republican “leaners” would like the party to move towards the right in order that they would have to “lean” less.

Perhaps said differently, as others have intimated, from the other direction – a “leaning” republican might see the rightward shift of the Democrats as close enough to a right of center position that they don’t strongly identify with the Republican base as much as they did.

40

Marc 08.28.13 at 8:23 pm

@30: The claim that the Democratic party has been moving steadily to the right is simply wrong. There are many issues where it emphatically has not, and even the definition of left and right is malleable. Gay rights wasn’t even on the radar 50 years ago and people were debating interracial marriage and the legality of birth control. I think that the national conversation on inequality, taxes, gay rights, and gun control has moved substantially to the left in the Obama years. I think that Obama is well to the left of the prior Democratic president on a lot of issues. This doesn’t establish an absolute position – the Democrats are well to the right on the Western European spectrum – but if you’re claiming a trend it matters if you get the sign right.

41

Main Street Muse 08.28.13 at 8:30 pm

To JQ # 37 “There aren’t very many self-identified libertarians, but there are a lot of Republican leaners who see themselves as liberal on social issues, conservative on economic issues – that’s pretty much the default position among, say, journalists. To restate the point of the original post, an expansion of this group will be bad for Christianism, though it doesn’t help the left/centre-left on economic issues.”

Where are these GOP leaners who are liberal on social issues? In what elections are we seeing moderate GOP winners? Is this group really expanding? I am not seeing that.

42

Lee A. Arnold 08.28.13 at 8:37 pm

Candidate Obama was obviously a centrist. It ought to be pointed out that the Democratic Party has moved to the right since the Reagan years largely because the left cannot explain its way out of a paper bag. The left got sideswiped by the neoliberal putsch and then their brains turned to jelly. The only redeeming quality of the left is that the right is even stupider.

43

js. 08.28.13 at 8:45 pm

Anyway, why all this bollocks about mid-afternoon prayer time?

You have an odd way of pronouncing A-C-A?

44

parsimon 08.28.13 at 8:58 pm

Where are these GOP leaners who are liberal on social issues?

Libertarian leaners, no? Paulites, but also Reason types. People who are pro-legalization of marijuana, pro-same sex marriage, pro-civil liberties in general, keep the government out of our private lives, but also out of our economic lives — so they’re simultaneously pro-capitalism, anti-regulation. It can be a bit schizophrenic, as most things libertarian are, since this can also lead to a resistance to affirmative action or, god knows, the Civil Rights Act, but that’s the general shape.

45

Substance McGravitas 08.28.13 at 9:08 pm

There aren’t libertarians in government.

Paul is a rank-and-file Republican according to GovTrack’s own analysis of bill sponsorship.

46

Lee A. Arnold 08.28.13 at 9:13 pm

On the Pew poll, I think the current Republican low numbers are probably a blip — they might do very well in the next election if they can figure out a way to say that the lower prices and convenience of Obamacare are not due to Obamacare. But in the longer run the Republicans are running into an historical dead-end. They are a bane, but worse for their own fortunes, they have no real reason to exist. They have been inventing a phony reason by promulgating Reaganomics (a.k.a. neoliberalism), a program which finally isn’t going to work: the government is going to grow a little bigger, because inequality is increasing, and there may never be enough good-paying jobs, so we are going to get a little more redistribution to forestall a street revolution. However, the GOP has been selling this goofy Reaganic formulary as the gospel truth to a bunch of boneheads who actually believe in it, i.e. their most reliable voters, now called the Tea Party. Thus the GOP has set-up a self-contradictory logic — as we pointed out long before Obama was ever elected. This has played out as a succession of short-term lunacies (such as trying to block a Republican-written healthcare reform) in service of the real political object, which is to block any electoral credit going to the Democratic Party. That’s the whole point. When they get into power, all is forgotten, they send money to their friends and placate the oldsters by passing Medicare Part D or whatever. However, — and this is a big HOWEVER — now that the Tea Party has gained seats in the House as a strong Republican faction, they are giving their own leaders the headache that they well and truly deserve for being such pandering swine, and the chickens have come home to roost. In short, a barnyard smelling to high heaven, so even some voters have noticed.

47

Anderson 08.28.13 at 9:25 pm

it’s the case that makes “the only legitimate concern of businesses is making money, not acting according to some non-monetary principle” the law

Actually, it’s the case that puts a non-monetary principle first. See the New Mexico Supreme Court’s concurring op in the recent case of the anti-gay-weddings wedding photographer:

In the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public
accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. That compromise is part of the glue that holds us together as a nation, the tolerance that lubricates the varied moving parts of us as a people. That sense of respect we owe others, whether or not we believe as they do, illuminates this country, setting it apart from the discord that afflicts much of the rest of the world. In short, I would say to the Huguenins, with the utmost respect: it is the price of citizenship. I therefore concur.

Citizenship, SamChevre. That’s what the pre-1965 world would like to shun.

48

js. 08.28.13 at 9:42 pm

Paulites, but also Reason types. People who are pro-legalization of marijuana, pro-same sex marriage, pro-civil liberties in general, keep the government out of our private lives, but also out of our economic lives

Assuming this is closer to a intersection than a union (largely because the Paulites are a varied bunch and bunches of them are not necessarily pro civil-liberties/gay-rights), I’m wondering if the numbers of these people are really all that different from the number of people whose views more or less correspond to mine (= way left of Elizabeth Warren).

I mean, they are rather loud on these internets, but consider MSM’s very good point (@41):

Where are these GOP leaners who are liberal on social issues? In what elections are we seeing moderate GOP winners? Is this group really expanding? I am not seeing that.

Right! If there are all these, well, what were called moderate Republicans, and are now hypothesized to be “R-leaners”, shouldn’t we be seeing some evidence of these people in Republican primaries, etc., some tiny little shoots of grassroots clamor for a more moderate party?

49

lupita 08.28.13 at 9:49 pm

the Democrats are well to the right on the Western European spectrum

And Western Europe is well to the right of the non-Western world, which is making it increasingly difficult for Washington and its allies to declare themselves the planetary guarantors of peace, financial stability, economic growth, private telecommunications,, and all that is good with the exception of social justice. The empire does not do social justice.

Once Western hegemony is lost, very soon I guess, Democrats and Republicans will be able to focus on organizing and integrating the nation instead of running around demented trying to save the country’s face and and its privileges, which is what we are witnessing at the moment, the end of an era.

50

John Quiggin 08.28.13 at 10:03 pm

“Right! If there are all these, well, what were called moderate Republicans, and are now hypothesized to be “R-leaners”, shouldn’t we be seeing some evidence of these people in Republican primaries”

Almost by definition, R-leaners don’t vote in primaries, most obviously because many are registered Independents which keeps them out of closed primaries. That’s why the R primary electorate is so extreme.

51

SusanC 08.28.13 at 10:05 pm

Democrats refused to act on gay marriage in any useful way until the shift in public opinion and several key court cases at the state level made it electorally safe for them to do so.

One way to look at this is that political activity is shifting away from parties towards issue-specific pressure groups. In an party-centred view of politics, to achieve a political goal you consider desirable, you’ld support a party that had that goal as a core value, and then if that party gets into power you could rely on it working towards that goal. This runs into a problem when the issues people care about aren’t core values of one party or the other. Then, to get progress on an issue, you need to join some pressure group outside of the parties that is doing the work of campaigning to change public opinion etc., and can play the parties off against each other. So you become a “gay rights activist” rather than a “Democrat” or a “Republican”.

52

Bruce Wilder 08.28.13 at 10:13 pm

Marc: There are many issues where it emphatically has not, and even the definition of left and right is malleable. . . . the national conversation on inequality, taxes, gay rights, and gun control has moved substantially to the left in the Obama years.

What is this “malleable” thing, which you so “emphatically” insist has not changed, or has moved “substantially”[!] to the left? Do you even have a concept?

I object to many of Obama’s policies, because he’s a conservative (or corrupt centrist) and I’m not. Where he is, on the historic spectrum doesn’t really matter to anything except the partisan division of opinion, where partisan identity and loyalty might be influenced by history. What gets me into trouble — trouble I obviously invite — on these threads, is that I object to people, who support Obama, claiming that he’s not conservative or not promoting and enacting (and — this is very important — ratifying) conservative policies, where “conservative” means, generally, promoting authoritarianism and the economic interests of the rich and corrupt at the expense of everyone else.

The American political system as a whole has been tending to become less and less responsive to the economic interests of the mass of people, poor or middle class, at least since LBJ’s War on Poverty and enactment of sweeping Civil Rights legislation marked the high point of a politics responsive to mass, middle-class concerns. This isn’t just my subjective impression; lots of others have elaborated and even quantified the observation of this trend. At least until the second Clinton Administration, the Democrats were the trailing edge of this trend — that is, the Republicans served the rich and paid lip service to “moral” and social issues exciting various groups of reactionaries: racist, religious or whatever; while the Democrats would rally their base with economic promises to “fight for you”, while allowing the powers-that-be to bribe them into being ineffectual in the fight. But, I digress.

So, there’s a broad trend in economics, of bi-partisan cooperation in making the rich much, much richer at the expense of everyone else. And, however one feels about it — there’s data, and some of the data is in the form of results: massive concentration of wealth at the top and declining median wages. People with conservative leanings or moderate leanings or progressive leanings can look at the data and see the same things, even if they choose to feel differently about them.

The objection I want to emphasize on this occasion is to thinking one is entitled to a different set of facts, because of how one feels about politics and one’s adopted political identity. It is pretty clearly deranged, when a Republican or conservative refers to the “radical socialist” Obama. I think it is also pretty deranged to adopt (and I’m not accusing Marc of doing so, but if anyone needs to pin a name to this behavior, let’s pin Brad DeLong) the viewpoint of Michael Grunwald, in his book, The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era, where a kind of Aaron Sorkin fantasy White House, where a wonderful caring, intelligent man is struggling to do all the things one might wish in response to the country’s very real and deepening problems, is substituted for the reality, where Obama subverts and delays and ignores.

We’re story-telling animals, we humans. We want to understand things as dramatic narratives, with good guys and bad guys and plots of heroic perseverance leading to resolution of conflict in a moral verdict. We can spin out a story so easily, so quickly, so effortlessly often. The spectrum of Left and Right in politics has a foundation in opposed interests and psychological attitudes, but it is enacted by spinning out stories with approved narratives and emotional resonance, where the main business is just reinforcing tribal identities and commitments. “Socialist” is a pejorative, Obama represents the other political tribe, so “socialist” is applied to Obama. And, vice versa, Obama is black and a Democrat; he must care, and it is so sad that he’s so ineffective, or whatever.

53

Kenny Easwaran 08.28.13 at 10:17 pm

Re Marc @40: “This doesn’t establish an absolute position – the Democrats are well to the right on the Western European spectrum – but if you’re claiming a trend it matters if you get the sign right.”

There are a lot of issues on which this is true. But I find it quite frustrating that people think that the Democrats are to the right of the European center on every single issue. There are actually quite a few issues on which even lots of Republicans are to the left of mainstream European opinion. For instance, adoption of children by same-sex couples has generally been permitted in most US states for decades, while in Europe it’s only very recently that places like Germany, Iceland, and I believe even Sweden, have allowed it. (Even now, it’s been explicitly affirmed in places like Indiana and Arkansas, while it’s not yet allowed in Finland, Austria, or Italy.)

Also, immigration policy in the US has generally been far to the left of nearly anywhere in Europe. Very few Republican party leaders want to make it harder for legal immigrants to naturalize, or make it harder for people to immigrate legally. However, in much of Europe, legal immigration (at least, from a non-EU country) is quite a lot more difficult than in the US, and naturalization in some nations is nearly impossible. Birthright citizenship is only questioned in the US by ultra-hard-liners, while no country in Europe is prepared to grant it without conditions like the parents having been legal permanent residents for many years before the birth.

Even things like minimum wage law and gender equality are better protected in much of the US than in some western European countries.

Of course, I’ll definitely admit that in the most visible and perhaps most important policy areas, like human rights, environmental protection, and so on, Europe is generally to the left of the US. But there’s not just a single spectrum that you can measure this on.

54

Uncle Kvetch 08.28.13 at 10:19 pm

the Paulites are a varied bunch and bunches of them are not necessarily pro civil-liberties/gay-rights

And even if some of his followers are pro-gay marriage, Paul himself is most definitely not.

55

Bruce Wilder 08.28.13 at 10:51 pm

SusanC @ 51

Historically, in American two-party politics, major issue activism runs orthogonal to partisan identification, and success on one’s issue is expressed by competition among the Parties to enact what you desire.

Partisan division on ideology is historically abnormal. Well into the 1970s, there were liberal Republicans (Rockefeller) as well as moderate (Ford) and conservative Republicans (Goldwater, Reagan). And, there were conservative and liberal Democrats. In the days of Progressive politics, there were Progressive Democrats (Wilson) and Progressive Republicans (T. Roosevelt), as well as Populist Democrats (Bryan) and Conservative Republicans (Taft). When temperance and prohibition were big issues, there were Wet and Dry Democrats. People in both Parties opposed and then supported the enactment of women’s suffrage. When slavery was a big issue, there were pro and anti-slavery Democrats and Whigs.

I’d offer the hypothesis that what’s different today is that there’s so little issue politics, and organization around issues is so weak, that the Parties simply compete for the money, and the rest is just show and brand management. The Parties appear to be ideologically pure, because that’s a convenient fiction for brand management purposes.

When I say issue organization is weak, what I mean is that grassroots membership organization is weak — very little in pursuing an issue depends on organizing a membership, and responding to the concerns of that membership or even instructing the membership, except in the most superficial and manipulative ways. The gun lobby stands out as an example to me. The National Rifle Association was once a mass membership organization, made up mostly of hunters and collectors of antiques, and the organization’s leadership reflected and processed the interests and views of the membership. Now, the NRA is just a component of lobbying and political effort run by and for gun manufacturers and gun dealers; it’s little more than a mailing list used to propagandize a “market” in which a relatively small number of crazed people buy huge numbers of guns. The changed nature of the connection to the membership is part of a pathology, which is, nevertheless and unfortunately, political potent, in the absence of organized opposition.

56

js. 08.28.13 at 10:58 pm

Almost by definition, R-leaners don’t vote in primaries, most obviously because many are registered Independents which keeps them out of closed primaries.

I thought of this response right after I posted, but I still think there are some missing premises in the argument. It looks like you want to argue that the “Christianist” politics of the party is driving away significant numbers of people (in terms of membership or identification)—i.e. that the rightward shift of the party is what’s causing decline in membership. But: it looks like a very good part of the rightward shift is a result of grassroots pressures (primary voters are electing candidates that are making Karl Rove even balder, etc.). And this is a set of people who also often identify as “Independent” or some nonsense, but “lean Republican”.

So the declining membership it would seem is at best partially explained by the rightward shift (these moderates do exist—so yes, some explanans there), but a bigger part of the explanation is quite likely people who’re pissed off that banning greenbacks isn’t part of the party platform.

57

lupita 08.28.13 at 11:08 pm

But there’s not just a single spectrum that you can measure this on.

Of course there is, capitalism. When Latin America is deemed leftist and Cuba and Venezuela far left, it has nothing to do with abortion and gay rights and everything to do with anti-imperialism and anti-neoliberalism. Since there is no anti-capitalist movement in the West (no, not Occupy, not the Indignados) left and right denote two factions of a single party regime adamant on prolonging the agony of Western capitalist supremacy.

58

Main Street Muse 08.29.13 at 12:06 am

“Almost by definition, R-leaners don’t vote in primaries, most obviously because many are registered Independents which keeps them out of closed primaries. That’s why the R primary electorate is so extreme.”

Who bears the standard of the moderate Republican these days? Where are the moderate Republicans in the House, Senate, local level?

Again, I am not seeing them – but perhaps I’m blinded by the radical shift to the right in NC, where I now live – and it is quite a frightening thing to witness (voter suppression, closing of abortion clinics, destruction of public education, desire for state religion, etc.)

What would be worse would be for people to feel this subversion of democracy would not happen elsewhere.

59

chris murphy 08.29.13 at 3:29 am

mypowell@27

“The left wants to see politicians who are brave and will do unpopular things for the cause. Here’s the thing: that person doesn’t get elected.”

Here is one leftist who would like to see the Democrats do some things that are in fact popular. Such as prosecuting the financial class criminals who drove us into depression or refusing to act as the world’s policemen. But I’m not holding my breath.

60

Layman 08.29.13 at 3:48 am

@ 59

Yes. Or directing bailout funds to homeowners rather than the banks who foreclose on them. Or breaking up too big to fail banks. Or restoring banking regulations. Or decriminalizing drugs. The list is pretty long, isn’t it?

61

Lee A. Arnold 08.29.13 at 5:17 am

I think a big problem is that you can’t find any leftists who can make a simple statement that will convince most voters that, e.g., regulating the financial sector will not “hurt the economy”, as the financiers claim. The voters are easily misled because they don’t understand economics. It’s pretty clear that they don’t trust Wall St., but they also don’t trust the government, and it is also clear that they don’t trust the left’s explanations of how regulation won’t hurt the economy. There is a fundamental rhetorical problem. This is why I am so critical of the left. The performance doesn’t meet the aspirations. Then you actually engage some people on the left about the issue, and it is evident that many of them (our host excepted) really do not understand economics. So the default cultural ideology (such as it is) comes from very short, readable bestsellers that have been around for a while and appear to successfully explain things, i.e. Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, and Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, plus a healthy dose of “you don’t know what you are talking about.”

62

John Quiggin 08.29.13 at 5:32 am

@61 My next book is supposed to be a counter to this kind of thing, if I can only get properly started on it.

63

Lee A. Arnold 08.29.13 at 5:45 am

Before you start, give me about one more week to get my next two animations finished, because I think I may know part of the answer to the riddle. Here are the first five:)

64

Bruce Wilder 08.29.13 at 7:23 am

Lee A Arnold: There is a fundamental rhetorical problem.

Yes. And, you’ve identified it: trust.

You can certainly find leftists, who will assert that financial regulation will not “hurt the economy”. It’s the convincing part that needs work. But, the problem is not wholly with the rhetorician; the audience is not easy to convince, because the audience does not have convictions about much of anything; their capacity for grounded belief has been worn down, overloaded, or never developed. If people choose their beliefs for comfort, perhaps, they’ve rarely had an experience of choosing their beliefs on any better basis.

And, the truth is, proper financial regulation would “hurt the economy” in some very real, immediate and concrete terms. There would be job losses, and losses of nominal wealth, as well as miscreants going to jail. I submit the problem is not the lack of “simple statements” which wouldn’t be true, but the organization necessary to produce the power and political will to impose those losses for the greater good. The American left isn’t nearly bloodthirsty, resentful or righteous enough, without the support of the authoritarian followers, whom they disdain.

65

Trader Joe 08.29.13 at 11:49 am

@61 and @64
“It’s pretty clear that they don’t trust Wall St., but they also don’t trust the government, and it is also clear that they don’t trust the left’s explanations of how regulation won’t hurt the economy.”

Building on this point – Your average person may not understand economics, but they quite clearly understand that regulation has a cost – its the one reality everyone comes in contact with on a daily basis from filling their tank with mandated 10% ethonol gas, to paying a meals tax on top of their sales tax at the McD drive through to all those small charges at the bottom of the cable TV bill that collectively add $10 a month to the price tag and no one remotely knows what they are there for.

Polls constantly show that a plurality of Americans are in favor of “cutting red tape” or “reducing the size of governement” since they equate these things with bureaucracy and ineffeciency. They don’t as Lee Arnold suggests equate these things with the policy’s of say – protecting the environment or controlling Wall Street that the electorate also says they support.

When a candidate comes along D or R, that convinces voters that they can actually have a more efficient government that can both enact policy and control cost – read Barrack Obama the candidate – that figures to be a quite popular platform, because its just what “people” want to hear, in part because they suspect its possible.

The problem is, as Bruce added, no one trusts it to be true and there is an active poitical machinery preventing its truth even if it were possible. If, for example, the ACA does in fact bend the cost curve and allows healtcare to do more with less, which some states have shown is possible – it would be just what people say they want. Some people “trusted” this was possible back when the law passed but 4 years of bickering about every aspect of it – all of which is still hypothetical – have left most not “trusting” the possibilities the law presents.

The Rs have lost plenty of trust, but the Ds will go the same way if they can’t turn at least a few policies into visible success that doesn’t just add another cost to people’s daily activities.

66

Random Lurker 08.29.13 at 1:35 pm

@Trader Joe 65

I think there is a problem in your argument: when the government taxes, it uses the tax money to pay wages, that then re-enter the economy as “demand” when government employees buy stuff.

So, for example, suppose that I own a pizzeria. I have to pay some 50% net revenues in taxes(*).
But, many of my customers are government employees, or people on social security, or people who take advantage of some government program who wouldn’t have money to buy my pizze without those government programs (for example, here in Italy most health services are statal).

How do I know that the amount that I pay in taxes is higer than the amount of revenue that I would lose without those expenses?
I cannot know it, but since I see the taxes I’m paying now, but I can’t see the amount of revenue I could theoretically lose without taxes, I think that without taxes I would be much richer.
For example, I’m sure all government employees are against taxes on oil.

But this isn’t really a problem of government efficiency, it is more a sort of rethorical problem.

(*) In my experience, people tend to double count taxes a lot here in Italy, where the VAT is quite high (20%). The owner of the pizzeria sells a pizza at 5€ and knows that 1€ will go away in taxes, the buyer of the pizza buys it and knows that 1€ is not really the pizza, it’s just the government taking its thite. So they both sigh and think they are paying 1€ to the government, but the government gets 1€, not 2.

67

reason 08.29.13 at 2:25 pm

Bruce @64, Lee @61

isn’t it, as it so often seems to be, that the metaphors that we are using are inappropriate or misleading. In particular there is this tendency to athropomorphise concepts. So saying something is “good for the economy” is a nonsense. The economy is a tool, we should only care about what is good for people.

http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Buy-It-Trouble-Nonsense/dp/1610391772

68

Chatham 08.29.13 at 2:32 pm

@55
True. A politician who gets to the top does so by getting the most votes; once there, they will continue to do what they can to get as many votes as they can.

Large numbers of organized voters can trump money, but we don’t have that many people who are politically engaged. Politicians have little incentive to cave to a dozen activists that can round up a few hundred votes when on the other side there’s a corporation offering enough money to buy advertisements that will bring in several thousand votes. That’s why I see money in politics more as a symptom than a root of the problem. If individuals weren’t swayed so much by paid advertisements, or if more people were involved in grassroots organizations, it would be much less of an issue.

69

Trader Joe 08.29.13 at 3:44 pm

@66
That wasn’t really where I was going, so let me explain using your pizza analogy where you pay 5 for a pizza of which 4 is for the pizza and 1 is for the government.

I think most would say – gee, maybe if we didn’t have so many regulations and governmnet workers running around we could either cut that 1 down to 0.8 or have a smaller deficit or have more money for education (or healthcare or whatever someone fancies as the best use of a marginal revenue dollar). The 1 is viewed as completely dead-weight cost that pays for nothing but bureaucracy.

On the other hand, if you asked people – would you like to have more or fewer food health inspectors and more or less disclosure of ingredients in food and more or less inspection of farms and evaluation of genetically modified foods – the polls will say most people answer “More” – and never draw that link back to the 1 that they pay for their pizza.

Its true economically, that there is a feed back via the spending of the government employees but I don’t think most voters think in those terms when concluding that government is too big.

70

Marc 08.29.13 at 5:06 pm

@53: Good points; I was really surprised that France didn’t allow gay couples to adopt, for instance.

71

Marc 08.29.13 at 5:15 pm

@52: Bruce, you’re not responding to my point. You are making a claim that Democrats are marching “to the right”, despite explicit evidence of substantive areas where they are not. If you’re a gay couple you can now get the legal protections of marriage. Tax increases on the rich actually happened at the federal level – for the first time in 20 years. Universal health care has been a goal of liberals in the US for decades. And the relevant point of comparison isn’t utopia; it is the system as it was prior to Obama. the conversion in the US has changed; not enough, but the trend is real. A decade or two ago I would have agreed that it was rightward ho!, but times change.

Calling Obama a conservative in the US sense of the word amounts to a redefinition of the word. There is a large faction in the US that uses this word to describe their politics, and the people who self-identify as conservatives have almost nothing in common with Obama. If you’re adopting some Olympian absolute perspective then you end up being like libertarians calling themselves “classical liberals”, unaware that this word describes people who agree with them on nothing.

72

Bruce Wilder 08.29.13 at 5:28 pm

Back in GWB’s second term, as the President’s approval ratings were falling pretty steadily, some anonymous pollster put up a website graphic, where they demonstrated the correspondence between GWB’s approval ratings and the price of gas. Price of gas goes up; GWB’s approval rating goes down. It held true from the high 50′s down into the 20′s, when only the diehards were left to claim they approve of the President’s performance.

On the one hand, it makes for some pretty shallow politics. (It’s probably worth noting that a terror alert or two would improve GWB’s ratings slightly, and there were terror alerts issued just before the 2004 election, when his approval ratings approached the 50% mark for the last time, and just long enough to get elected.) On the other hand, the price of gas is real, not theoretical economic performance, for people living in the suburbs paycheck to paycheck, driving to work, driving to Wal-Mart, driving their kids to that “good” school, driving to the house with a yard — the goodness of your whole life, all your aspirations, is tied to the price of gas. Would it surprise you to learn that the price of bread in Paris reached a new high on July 14, 1789?

Don’t you think conservative propagandists know this stuff? Isn’t it the conservatives, who insist that the sales tax be printed on the receipt? Back in the New Deal day, the architects of Social Security decreed that only half of the FICA tax would appear on the paycheck, and that people would have a Social Security “account” and would receive a report of all the money they paid in. And, as for Trader Joe’s cable TV bill (@ 65), it’s a mark of how weak public utility regulation is today, that the cable people probably just invent some of those “taxes”, and pocket the money, and no one is empowered to stop their lying on your bill. An inkling of that kind of behavior undermines the credibility of government, too, though that might seem a perverse result.

Back in 1997, the LA Board of Supervisors, embarrassed by a tv news show expose on restaurant practices, which were being detected but not curbed by a health inspection system, which fail to publicize the results, instituted a system in which restaurants had to display a placard, with a letter grade, reflecting the results of their most recent inspection. One of the first restaurants to get a failing grade was “The Pantry”, a landmark restaurant, famously owned by the Mayor, who showed up on the 6 o’clock news scrubbing his own kitchen. No one presses harder for frequent inspections than restaurants, who have had the misfortune to receive a “B” and to be displaying that in the window, until the next inspection, though, of course, there’s also an active lobby protesting fines and “arbitrary” citations.

It may be that Obama will receive great credit for adopting a health insurance reform designed by people, sponsored by the health insurers, who opposed health care reform. Is that a rhetorical problem? I suppose it is, when his supporters insist that this Rube Goldberg contraption, barely stumbling across the finish line after 4[!] years is the long promised, “universal health care” come to life.

73

Layman 08.29.13 at 5:35 pm

Marc @ 71

The rightward movement of the Democratic party manifests itself in the areas of economics, national security, and authoritarianism. That’s why the terms of the debate about HOW to achieve universal health care are limited to how we might tranfer money from taxpayers to corporations. And the relative terms of comparison are with the party that championed the rights of workers over capital; that used government intervention to ameliorate the effects of the Great Depression; that prevented moneyed interests from destroying the economy again through aggressive and effective regulation; that invented the social safety network; and so on. That Democratic party is largely no more. Today’s Democratic party thinks government is too large and needs to be reduced; that future Social Security benefits should be curtailed; that unions destroyed themselves; that the first duty of government in a crisis is to save the capitalists and their assets; that government has little or no role in, and should try, ameliorating the effects of economic turbulence on the working class and the poor.

74

Trader Joe 08.29.13 at 6:12 pm

@71
With respect to the Gay marriage portion of your point.

If over 50% of the populace now favors gay marriage – despite Federal level hinderance to that position, I’d describe that as a centrist view, not a liberal one (and agreed not a conservative one). I’d equally be hard pressed to give any political party direct credit for whatever confluence of forces led to this shift in thinking. I’d suggest this is one of those somewhat uncommon instances where society’s views moved despite political action/in-action, not because of it.

(I’ll leave BW to defend the other points)

75

Lee A. Arnold 08.29.13 at 6:55 pm

Trust is for the rhetor to earn; the audience is not to blame. Trust is by being logical and correct and stop blaming others for your own failures. For example, it might be easier to trust leftwingers if they got it correct about Obamacare. Obamacare looks to everyone who supports it as the first step towards single-payer or a public option. It was impossible to get there in one step in the Senate, so we do it in two steps. Now we have a system that quickly reveals the cost of the private insurers for no value added. Why will everyone be sure that no vlaue is added? Because the coverages have been standardized.

This shouldn’t be so difficult to understand. Certainly the idiotic Republicans understand it, which is the main reason they hate it. It leads to state public options, then a single payer (or a two-tier system). Perhaps we can also trust the left to miss the boat when it come time to agitate for the next step. Because they are angry that we didn’t listen to them the first time, or some other stupid thing. The left is like the right. Unless we listen to them, we don’t know what we are doing.

76

Bruce Wilder 08.29.13 at 7:13 pm

Marc, you’re right that I don’t think liberal and conservative should be solely used as relative terms. They have some philosophical content. That both Parties are dominated by conservatives and corrupt centrists is an important bit of data, which is hard to communicate, if you insist that “liberal” is so relative a term, that Obama is a “liberal”.

Step back a bit, and observe what Obama does. Observe what he fails to do. Observe what he accomplishes by failure and compromise. Take off the Manichean filters, and put on the Machiavelli model.

I’m heartened by the progress on gay rights. I don’t think Obama had much to do with that, over all. I do give him credit for artfully not getting in the way, and not being aggressive, as some activists wanted — I think he handled don’t ask/don’t tell pretty much exactly right. On gay marriage, he was a typical weasel, until the shift in public opinion freed him. I don’t fault him for being a weasel — all politicians are, an occupational hazard. Obama is a very impressive politician. So, yes, score this one, Obama = liberal.

I put a lot of weight on how Obama responded to the financial crisis. A liberal protects the middle class; a conservative protects the wealthy and powerful corporate businesses, no matter how predatory. I score that one, Obama = conservative. The biggest financial crisis in history and (almost) no one goes to jail!? That’s quite a tell against Obama. The first Bush sent hundreds to jail in the Savings & Loan debacle. Did he break up the TBTF banks? No, they got still bigger. Did he act aggressively to protect home “owners” against foreclosure? Well, he established the HAMP program, which helped pretty much no one, but big banks. And, he’s done his level best to neuter the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the one consumer protection feature of Dodd-Frank.

Shall we consider the Fiscal Stimulus? First of all, Larry Summers, architect of the financial crisis, was running the meeting, no? On that point alone, I score, Obama = conservative. The Federal debt increased by about $6 trillion under Obama, more than any other President — more than most of them put together, but somehow, with all that borrowing going on, with infrastructure crumbling all about us, all he could squeeze out in terms of a fiscal stimulus, with unemployment rising rapidly and overwhelming Democratic majorities in Congress, was $800 billion spread over two years. Again, I score this one, Obama = conservative.

Over at the Federal Reserve, Obama re-appointed Bush’s Fed Chair, Ben Bernanke, whose policy negligence contributed to creating the crisis. Presidents, who appoint conservatives to the most powerful posts, are conservatives. Did I mention that his first Treasury Secretary staffed that department from Goldman Sachs? And, many of his subsequent advisers and staffers have been associated with other big, bad banks?

Shall we turn to foreign policy? Obama’s first Defense Chief was Gates, Bush’s last Defense Chief. Again, Presidents, who appoint conservatives to the most powerful positions are conservatives; not a hard and fast rule, but a clear indication. Marc gives Obama credit for ending the Iraq War on the schedule and according to the terms negotiated and established by his predecessor. (I guess we’re not supposed to notice that he tried to get an extension from the Iraqis, and failed.)

How do you want to score the murder-by-drone program, in which Obama asserts the divine right to assassinate people in foreign countries (with which we are not at war)? I’d say, Obama = conservative authoritarian on this one, for sure. Obama’s role in pursuing whistleblowers, to the point of being admonished by a U.N. official on the mistreatment of Bradley Manning? The hunger strikers at Guantanamo? Obama = conservative, once again. Obama loves him some big-time secret government and the limitless authority that goes with it. Obama = conservative.

On the tax increases on the rich, I noticed that he worked long and hard to reduce the tax increases relative to what Bush had written into law. Through Obama’s efforts, estate tax rates were reduced, and increases in the top rates were reduced. The health care reform is paid for by some fairly substantial surcharges on the tax rates of the very wealthy. That doesn’t get a lot of attention. On that, I would score a provisional Obama = liberal, because the redistribution seems fairly substantial and direct. We’ll see if he makes it stick; I think it might be designed to fail; and it remains to be seen whether the redistribution is really to recipients of Medicaid, or whether it turns out to be a redistribution among the rich, to medical service providers and insurers offering crappy coverage “mandated” by Obama. I look at the Medicaid eligibility requirements and the “Bronze” plans, and I wonder if the situation of working people will really improve. It seems like it is pretty easy to fall thru the cracks, because there are a lot of cracks in this scheme, and out-of-pocket on private insurance is still substantial enough to create real hardships. For the complexity — and keep in mind that the complexity was a “feature” of the baseline Romney-Heritage plan he adopted — I score this aspect as Obama = conservative.

The bottom line, here, is that neoliberal is not liberal, it is “conservative”, right-wing, authoritarian, furthers the interests of the rich and powerful, against the interests of everyone else. It’s not hard to see it for what it is, if you open your eyes.

77

Barry 08.29.13 at 7:20 pm

Lee, could you please write that so that it makes sense? To me, you seem to be blaming leftists for being right. Which is, of course, a Great American Tradition.

78

Bruce Wilder 08.29.13 at 7:25 pm

Lee A. Arnold @ 75

Obamacare will fail, in a great many ways. Who that discredits remains to be seen, I think; I’m not hopeful. I certainly hope it fails forward, in the end, but that may be more about the desperation it engenders than the rhetoric or insight.

The argument from practical politics — “It was impossible to get there in one step in the Senate” — has worn out with me.

79

Bruce Wilder 08.29.13 at 7:35 pm

Trader Joe @ 74

I think one could make a good argument that Karl Rove’s political strategy of getting out the religious right evangelical vote, by means of state ballot initiatives regarding gay rights and gay marriage, was an important factor in accelerating the shift in opinion. The distinctive moral status of gay, for traditionalist conservatives, involves a taboo, which is to say, something we don’t talk openly about. Debating it as a political policy issue erodes the power of the taboo pretty quickly.

80

Trader Joe 08.29.13 at 8:45 pm

@79
So you’re suggesting the American shift on gay marriage was a backlash against the most conservative parts of the Republican party (i.e. Republicans oppose gay marriage, I oppose Republicans, ergo – I support gay marriage)?

I suppose that can be part of it – I view it more as a gradual erosion of resistance on numerous fronts. Average Americans saw gays portrayed on TV, at the movies, in songs, celebrities, some athletes …it just ceased being as taboo as it was. If Rove contributed, maybe score one for him.

81

David 08.29.13 at 9:06 pm

The country as a whole is moving to the left socially and the right economically. This should surprise no one. The power of Capital is not threatened by homosexual marriage or a few joints.

82

Bruce Wilder 08.29.13 at 9:13 pm

Trader Joe @ 80

I’m saying that Rove contributed a part of the gradual erosion of resistance on numerous fronts. Rove’s contribution is notable, because it specifically targeted the people, the subcultures really, who felt most strongly about it, strongly enough to come out and vote on that issue. They were the ones, who felt the taboo, and by their extreme reactions, kept conventional what it was. But, being a subculture somewhat detached from the mainstream, without the political activism, they might never have engaged in the kind of discourse, which would abrade the taboo, even if such discourse pervaded the mainstream. (Though, Glee! is on Fox, isn’t it?)

83

Marc 08.29.13 at 9:27 pm

“On the tax increases on the rich, I noticed that he worked long and hard to reduce the tax increases relative to what Bush had written into law.”

This appears to be from a reality different than the one that I saw. Obama is not a king, and there are other power centers in the US system. But, I suppose, if you’re determined to treat him as an evil genius it doesn’t change the underlying point.

Regardless of the motives, we have a more progressive tax system, and there was enough support for this policy reversal in the Democratic party to make it happen. A decade ago there wasn’t enough support to prevent the tax cuts. The system could have been more progressive, but now we’re moving from an argument about whether the direction changed (my point) to a question of whether it has changed far enough (obviously not, from either of our perspectives.)

84

Lee A. Arnold 08.29.13 at 9:29 pm

Barry #77, No one can tell if the left is right or wrong. Because they almost never know how to get from Here (where we are now) to There (where we want to be). However, this inability is always someone else’s fault, not the left’s fault. It must happen by a Marxist-style revolution, but the masses just won’t listen to reason! The left’s reaction to Obamacare is a case in point. A single payer did not happen in the Senate, yet the left insists it could have happened, but did not…why? Because Obama didn’t push hard enough, or he wasn’t the man they thought he was, or something like that. I’m not sure who else cares, but that is the stated reason. So now it’s all finished! Why? Because the capitalist forces of evil always win, that’s why! And now a single payer cannot evolve out of Obamacare…why? Because…[fill in the blank]. Let’s see, because it didn’t ALREADY happen, so therefore it can never happen, so it could never have happened, so… Obama could never have had a chance to begin with? But we were told he didn’t try hard enough! It is the left’s version of “spinning”, in the old psychological sense of never breaking out of self-justification.

85

David 08.29.13 at 9:32 pm

“And now a single payer cannot evolve out of Obamacare…why?”

Because the Republicans have already demonized Obamacare as Radical Stalinism. Moving beyond that to single payer isn’t going to happen this generation unless the Republican party collapses spectacularly.

86

Layman 08.29.13 at 10:01 pm

Marc @ 83

“Regardless of the motives, we have a more progressive tax system, and there was enough support for this policy reversal in the Democratic party to make it happen.”

It seems to me that you’re talking about a ‘trend’ which has played out over the last 5 years, where I’m talking about a trend which has played out over the last 50. To use your example, our tax code is more progressive than it was 5 years ago; but it is more regressive now than it has been at any other time in the past 50 years EXCEPT for the interval between 2002 and 2012.

This to me is a bit like the debate about global warming, where some people point to the decades-long trend, and say it’s warming; while others pick out the last year or two, and say it’s cooling. I know which side of that argument resonates with me.

“A decade ago there wasn’t enough support to prevent the tax cuts. “

Precisely, because Democrats won’t fight tax cuts for the rich. They want tax cuts for the rich, because they are rich, and they represent the rich. What happened recently was inherent in the crafting of the original Bush law. The tax cuts expired, which changed the nature of the legislative leverage the President has; so they had no choice but to accept his ‘slightly more progressive’ tax plan. Why didn’t tax rates revert to where they were before the Bush tax cuts were enacted? Because Democrats wouldn’t fight for that. They may not believe in tax cuts, but they aren’t willing to fight them.

Watch what happens when a Republican becomes President. We’ll have a ‘stimulus’ tax cut proposal which reduces tax code progressivity, and the Democrats will go along with it, just as they did before.

87

David 08.29.13 at 10:08 pm

“Because Democrats wouldn’t fight for that. They may not believe in tax cuts, but they aren’t willing to fight them.”

This is what gets me about the Democrats. They have not staked out a clear affirmative position. One can name dozens of things the Republicans would enact if they had total power, but what would an America in which the Democrats ran things on a scale even larger than 2008 look like? Does Obama support single payer healthcare? Who knows. He certainly wasn’t willing to give even the impression that he did.

88

Lee A. Arnold 08.29.13 at 11:25 pm

David #85: “Moving beyond that to single payer isn’t going to happen this generation unless the Republican party collapses spectacularly.”

Well, the second part of that may be in process, but it isn’t necessary. Obamacare does four things that make a single payer inevitable in a lot sooner than one generation: (1) it standardizes coverages (into bronze, silver, gold, platinum), (2) it compels everyone to be covered, (3) it forbids insurers from discriminating against, and from dropping, anyone, and (4) it makes insurers list their prices side by side on the same page, so all prices are driven (by market competition) to the same price.

What this makes inevitable, is the realization amongst almost the entire population that the private insurers are simply performing an accounting transfer function. That is all. The coverages are already standardized and they have to cover everyone. Obviously, there is no value added by the private insurers.

So why are they getting 20% for a simple accounting function? Medicare does the same thing for 2%!

But that question doesn’t exist in most minds right now. It has to be formed there, by events. Then it becomes the question.

In other words, AFTER prices are equalized and all are covered, everybody in the country is going to sit around their dinner tables and ask, “Why in hell are we still paying the private insurers 20% under Obamacare (before, it had been as high as 40% in some cases!) for a SIMPLE TRANSFER ACCOUNT FUNCTION, when Medicare overhead costs are only 2%?”

Of course we will need everybody ready, to make help make the point, and push the message.

In the next election after that, single payer will be a very viable issue. Remember, around 70% of the population already wants something like a public option, and around 45 U.S. Dem Senators already signed a letter in favor of one. Those numbers will increase.

I would imagine that the real message of Obamacare to the private insurers is, “Take the money and get out now, because you are not going to survive in this.” The message cannot have been lost on them.

More broadly though, this is what I don’t get about much of the left wing: I think they should be CHAMPIONING the safety-net and the welfare state in every country, and every and ANY move toward (for example) universal healthcare. This is because it changes people’s preferences in the future. Most people cannot think from A to B to C. They get to B and their brains boggle. You have to get A-to-B accomplished in the real world, then, and only then, can they think from B to C.

I remember back when George W. Bush wanted to privatize Social Security and the only reason he brought it up was because he thought he had the Democrats on board (and of course he did; the Dems had been talking about privatization for years) much as Obama figured he had the Repubs on board for healthcare reform. Well it took a lot of people screaming on the internet that this was not only a bad idea, it also was not in the Dem’s political interest as a successful party. They got the message, in some cases the Dems started using rhetoric as written days before by commentators on certain blogs. But here is what I also remember: a lot of people on the left were dismissive of Social Security and dismal on the prospects for saving it. That was a real lesson, all the way around.

89

Main Street Muse 08.30.13 at 1:23 am

Still want to know where those socially liberal GOP leaders live and lead…

90

js. 08.30.13 at 1:54 am

And the relevant point of comparison isn’t utopia; it is the system as it was prior to Obama.

Well, sure, lets all gang up and beat up on poor old utopia for all a while, but once we’re done with that, the question remains why the platforms of the Democratic party from several decades ago, as well as what they implemented/tried to implement in the relevant contexts aren’t a perfectly good point of comparison. To say that the point of comparison has to be a Bush or Reagan administration when the other person is forwarding an argument about how the Democratic party has changed over time is a bit ridiculous frankly.

91

graham 08.30.13 at 10:23 am

I’m personally surprised at how liberal the instincts of most Christian republicans are.
I could give many stories but suffice it to say that the extremism of the right in America rarely reflects the extremism of individual positions people have. Why is this? One easy and naive answer is Murdoch. But Murdoch has to have a message to exploit.
Listening to people it seems that Christians who are often greatly pro poor people are conservative for one or more of the following reasons
1. A fear of communism. Communism affects the Christian psyche as much as the holocaust affected the Jewish community. The church is very international in its communication and missionaries from the west would often sneak into communist countries to smuggle bibles. Stories would return to churches of horrific persecution with game of thrones level of detail. One which stands out in my mind is of a mother being forced to watch her babies boiled alive unless she renounced her faith. I cannot understate the numeracy or graphic nature of the accounts and how little they were covered in the media which created resentment toward the media. Of course communism involved a violent overthrow of a bourgeois and the implementation of a one party state and that communist countries dont come about by raising minimum wage and increasing health care spending. Explaining this to Christians has a lot of traction but the message usually given to Christians is ‘you are stupid and hate the poor’ which usually results in more charitable giving but doubling down on conservatism
2. Christians seem to have genuinely been convinced that taxes that pay for welfare are steeling. The logical conclusion to this is that taxes that go to the military are also stealing usually has traction when pointed out.
3. ‘if u dont work you dont eat’ is another one you hear a bit. Point out that the context is toward disciples that had been in a church for a while and similar standards arent applied when we are folded to give to those outside the church.
4. The media is even more biased against southerners than fox is biased to the right. It may not be a political bias but it is an astonishing cultural bias. How many positive portrayals are there in movies of the south? They are always portrayed as stupid inbred hicks. The media also has cartoonist portrayals of Christians. Compare this to BBC portayels of Christians (father brown, vicar of dibley, episodesof Jonathon creek). Christians in the south are very open to a message that says the media is biased and untrustworthy. People who would normally be pro a minimum wage rise can be convinced that it’s good idea but can’t be done now, or that universal healthcare is good just not now or not this manifestation. Etc. They arent hearing the otherside because they are ‘untrustworthy’
What astonished me is how little attempt by the American and even the foreign lefthahas made to understand these factors

92

JeanJean 09.01.13 at 2:20 pm

The young right-wingers are shifting from conservatism to libertarianism,as least from my experience.

I see a large number of liberals happy about this fact, for some strange reason liberals believe that libertarians represent “The Respectable Right” instead that a poisonous ideology that legitimize the worst excess of capitalism and market ideology.

93

cambridgemac 09.01.13 at 8:10 pm

#25 Marc – Nixon proposed a negative income tax ( a far more radical move than universal health insurance), created the EPA and signed a slew of environmental regs, and ended the War in Vietnam. This puts him to the left of Obama. If Nixon is to the left of Obama, doesn’t that mean the Dems have moved to the right at some point – and rather markedly so?

94

Norwegian Guy 09.03.13 at 12:52 am

I’m an atheist, but i have to say that secularization isn’t exactly a panacea that will be the solution to all political worries on the left. It can be beneficial on a few issues, but the political right will not disappear, or even change to the better. At least I’ve seen locally how mild-mannered, centrist Christian Democracy(*) has given ground to right-wing populism as church attendance has declined, even in my hometown in the Norwegian Bible Belt.

And while the Christian Right may use the state to enforce their religion on everyone else, it’s not always much better when the Secular Right wants to use the power of the state to keep religion down. Though they know how to choose their targets, starting with the least popular minority religions.

(*) The question “Why Is There No Social Democracy in America?” is sometimes asked, but it’s worth asking why there is no Christian Democracy either.

Kenny Easwaran @40:

“For instance, adoption of children by same-sex couples has generally been permitted in most US states for decades, while in Europe it’s only very recently that places like Germany, Iceland, and I believe even Sweden, have allowed it. (Even now, it’s been explicitly affirmed in places like Indiana and Arkansas, while it’s not yet allowed in Finland, Austria, or Italy.)”

Same-sex couple adoption has been more controversial than same-sex marriage in many/most European countries, but the latter is also a prerequisite for the former in the countries where adoption by unmarried couples is generally not allowed. When it was passed (along with legalizing artificial insemination for same-sex couples) by the Norwegian parliament in 2008, it was with a smaller majority than the changes in the marriage law. “Think of the children!” and all that.

Also, immigration policy in the US has generally been far to the left of nearly anywhere in Europe.”

Funny enough, American immigration policy is often held up as an ideal by people on the anti-immigration right in Europe. I’ve discussed the issue with such people, and they usually refuse the admit that opposition to immigration even exists in the US, except perhaps very narrowly directed against illegal immigrants.

The liberal/left variety of this is decrying the militarization of the US southern border, while failing to notice that we also have a border to a large middle-income country, and that this eastern border is far from open and demilitarized.

Bruce Wilder @55:

“Partisan division on ideology is historically abnormal.”

True enough, but it is comparatively normal. The United States has moved towards what is usual in the rest of the world.

Comments on this entry are closed.