I just watched the 30 minute spot. Very well done. In case people have been worrying that Obama’s secret socialist ‘spread the wealth’ scheme hasn’t gotten enough play, maybe because the MSM has been trying to keep it under wraps – well, Obama has gone and broken through that silence from the other side. He has gotten the socialist message out loud and clear. He is definitely in favor of raising taxes somewhat on the wealthy to offset tax cuts for the hard-hit middle class. If this be European-style socialism, if Obama wins handily on election day, then I take it conservatives will acknowledge that the American people have handed Obama a clear mandate for wholesale abandonment of American values in favor of European-style socialism. Right? (I mean: I don’t think it will be a mandate for that. I’m a sensible sort of person. But conservatives will surely see an Obama victory as a mandate for socialism. Right?) [click to continue…]

Nixonland: The Panel

by Henry on October 30, 2008

As I’ve mentioned before, I organized (a fancy word for inviting a number of people who did all the talking) a panel on Rick Perlstein’s recent book _Nixonland_ for the American Political Science Association in September. The commenters were Paul Krugman, Paul Pierson, Nolan McCarty and Eric Rauchway – Rick provided a response. I’ve now written up the transcript of the panel, editing it lightly for style. The PDF of these transcripts can be found “here”:http://www.henryfarrell.net/nixonland.pdf. The panel’s content is licensed under a Creative Commons license – those who want to roll their own can find the .tex file “here”:http://www.henryfarrell.net/nixonland.tex.

As I’ve said before, I think that this was a great panel which really shows how both history and political science can speak to contemporary issues. While it’s worth reading in its entirety, these two pieces can give a flavor of its current relevance. First, “Matt Yglesias”:http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2008/10/the_party_of_race.php and “Ross Douthat”:http://rossdouthat.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/10/heads_youre_a_racist_tails_you.php have been engaged in a debate over whether or not McCain talk of redistribution does or doesn’t have racist undertones. September-2008-Eric-Rauchway steps out of his time machine to say that even political scientists who discount the role of race are really saying that Matt’s side of the argument is right.

Even one of the political science books most associated with the `it’s class not race’ theory – _The End of Southern Exceptionalism_ by my friend and former colleague Byron Shafer and his co-author Richard Johnston points out that although among whites (and you have to leave blacks out of the picture for this class story to make sense) class is the determinant of partisan voting in the post-Nixon era, racial attitudes are also highly correlated with partisan voting in the South. What do Shafer and Johnston mean by racial attitudes? They mean willingness or unwillingness to have the federal government use its authority to help African-Americans. Republican voters – richer voters – are less willing to see the federal government act that way; Democratic voters – poorer voters – are more willing to see the federal government acting that way among blacks. So you look exclusively at income inequality in the South and you say aha! – it’s rational politics. If richer whites are more likely to vote Republican, it’s because they don’t want their taxes raised. They don’t want their money taken away; they’re strictly protecting their economic interest. That’s an incomplete story. You have to say they don’t want their money taken away _because_ they are afraid that it will be given to black people.

Perhaps Republican spinmeisters are _unaware_ of this pattern of attitudes among racist Southern voters when they craft messages about distributing our wealth away, or perhaps they merely don’t think that it’s _relevant_ to their political strategies. Or, perhaps, not.

Second, Paul Pierson makes a really useful distinction between electoral politics and policy regimes, pointing out the former don’t necessarily correlate all that well with the latter, and that the latter are really, really important.

I think that here are two critical things that ought to be integrated in a core vision of what modern politics is about that are pushed to the side here. One is policy, and the other is interest groups. … I think there’s a puzzle for those who see the Sixties as a crucible. If you were to look not at elections, but at what the government was actually doing, the role that government was playing in the lives of Americans, especially with respect to domestic policy, would 1968 or 1972 be seen as a turning point? I think the answer is clear – absolutely not. 1968 and 1972 come right smack in the big bulge of government activism, the rise in government activism that takes place rougly between the early 1960s and the late 1970s; I would say 1964 to 1978. If anything, all this \{textit{accelerates} while Nixon is in the White House. Social spending increases more rapidly under Nixon than it does under Johnson; you get a massive expansion in Social Security; you get the nationalization of food stamps; you get the nationalization of old age assistance. There are lots of other examples. …

When does it stop? It doesn’t stop in 1981. Roughly, it stops in 1978. The defeat of key domestic initiatives like industrial relations reform and health care reform; the passage of a completely different kind of tax bill, much more oriented towards business and the affluent than the tax bills that had come previously, but a tax bill that would look very familiar to more recent discussions in American politics. You see also the beginnings of a deregulatory push that would eventually remake government and the connection between government and the economy. And all this comes _after_ the huge Democratic electoral victory of 1974, and the recapture of the White House in 1976.

This makes it quite clear that a Democratic victory on its own, doesn’t mean much, unless there is a consequent or simultaneous shift in basic assumptions about government and the role of policy. It also presents an interesting way of thinking about the questions that “Chris raises below”:https://crookedtimber.org/2008/10/30/expectations-for-obama/. The ‘circumstances’ that politicians and policy makers face aren’t set in stone – they are the result of politicians’ beliefs and expectations. If Obama wins, as seems very likely, do we (as some libertarians, such as Ilya Somin fear) face a substantial increase in the role of the state, and in the willingness of politicians to use political power to redress economic and social inequalities? Or should we expect a more cautious managerialism? The kinds of factors that Paul highlights suggest that the answer will depend both on the willingness of external groups to push for serious ideological changes, and on the willingness (or lack of same) of Obama and the people around him to use the current crisis as a way to remake basic understandings about the role of government in American society.

Expectations for Obama

by Chris Bertram on October 30, 2008

In “Maria’s thread below”:https://crookedtimber.org/2008/10/27/liberte-egalite-celebrite/, commenter Iain Coleman writes:

bq. My hopes about Obama are limited to my expectation that he will be much like Bill Clinton, but with a bit more political capital and fewer illicit blowjobs. If Obama can just achieve that much, I will be delighted.

Much concurring and Clintonista apologetics followed, from the likes of commenter MQ.

Well like Coleman, I’m not an American, nor an American resident. But, of course, I have lived under the Blair government, which overlapped with Clinton’s and shared some of its (non-blowjob) characteristics. And I’m inclined to say, “not good enough, people”. It is an exaggeration to say that every child can recite the achievements of the Attlee government in Britain or the New Deal in America, but if we had decent education systems, it wouldn’t be. It is hard to imagine even a well-educated child in a social-democratic future being able to tell us what Clinton or Blair managed in their time (except, of course, the bad stuff, in each of their cases).

There’s also a good deal of “in the circumstances” excusing in that thread. Well the circumstances included the post-Cold War dividend, with which they did almost exactly nothing. Clinton managed capitalism a bit better than the Republicans; Blair cemented the post-Thatcher consensus, spent some extra money in public services rather ineffectively, tried to micro-social-engineer using a confusing system of tax credits that no-one understands, and increased the independence of the Bank of England. Well, terrific.

There is a criterion that any progressive government ought to meet. It is one that I might quibble with in a seminar but not in life. A progressive (left, liberal, social-democratic government) ought to alter social arrangements so that they work significantly more to the benefit of the the least-advantaged members of society that they did when that government came to power. Well, The Wire is fiction, and I’ve never visited the West Side of Baltimore, but did Clinton make a difference in places like that? And are the Valleys of South Wales less (or more) hopeless places than they were ten years ago?

Clinton’s eight years and New Labour’s eleven were disappointing. They led (or will lead) to cynicism and demoralization and to renewed periods of conservative government. People can thrash around and find this or that good thing that they did (and no doubt will in comments) – but on the criterion I just gave their achievements were nugatory.

So I don’t think it is too much to hope that Obama will do better. Because doing better wouldn’t be doing much. And if Obama can’t do just a bit better, then we had better just stop all those seminars on theories of justice and “realistic utopias” and so forth, because it will be hard to imagine the possibility of any government making significant progress toward the goals we pointy-headed liberal academics discuss in seminars.