Sunday, July 23, 2017

Shop Trump

There is a whole Trump world out there.  It is big and important.   The fact that it might have been invisible to you makes it even more important.

My political tourism brought me close up to multiple Republican candidates for president:  Trump, Cruz, Kasich, Rubio, all of them.   When a person attends a political event one signs in with name, mailing address, phone number, and email address.   A key purpose of in-person rallies is to collect contact information.

Curiously enough, those names apparently did not get transferred over to the Republican Party.  The names are collected by the candidates themselves, and saved for themselves.  I get almost no mail from the RNC.  I got lots of email from the various individual defeated candidates and I still get email approximately weekly from Ted Cruz.   

Of course, Trump is visible in the public way:  news conferences, rallies, presidential briefings, tweets.   But there is also a private channel:  from Trump to his e-mail contacts.

I get daily emails from Donald Trump.   It is a world that might well be invisible to non-Trump readers, similarly to the way that Fox News might be near invisible to a person who does not watch television or who lacks access to cable news.

The e-mail outreach from Trump consists of at least three dimensions.  One is Trump being "presidential".   It is a daily message from President Trump.  It is written as a friendly but somewhat formal daily report.  An example is below.  Note the White House style letterhead.  It is "official business" not "campaign business."   Here are two examples from this week:

Formal and Presidential

Another example

A second channel is the Trump Pence campaign, a campaign that did not end with the election.  This effort is a daily reminder that Trump is the embattled soldier fighting for the American people against the forces of Democrats, DC corruption, the fake-news media, Muslims, illegal immigrants, liberals, foreigners, and people who hate America.   

Here are two recent examples, one on "Fake News" and the other a more generic campaign appeal.   Each daily email has two or three buttons which bring one directly to a donation site.

Fake News Themed

General Campaign appeal for money

There is a third channel of Donald Trump campaign messaging:  his store.  Several times a week I receive appeals directing me to the Donald Trump campaign store.   Below is a typical ad, and then a screen shot of the opening page of the Trump campaign store where the ads link you.

Note that there are multiple Donald Trump official stores.  One is a joint partnership with Spaulding:   Another is a joint store done cooperatively between Trump-Pence and the RNC:

The Ad for the Store

An official Trump campaign store

Meanwhile, there are other stores selling Trump gear that are not affiliated in any way.  

An example is an online store "The Art of Trump".  It uses a logo that closely mirrors the Trump-Pense design.  

Example of non-affiliated store

Shirt from on-line unaffiliated store
There are tiny explanatory disclaimers explaining they are not affiliated.  These are entrepreneurs and their gear are sometimes aggressively transgressive or funny, making an appeal to base Trump attitudes.   The tone of the ad copy is Trump-style in your face populism.   

This mirrors what I observed at Trump rallies in New Hampshire and Florida, an active environment of Trump camp followers, pure entrepreneurs selling tee shirts and buttons with home-made Trump gear, with no pretense that they were Trump affiliated.  They were businessmen, not political activists or volunteers.  Their gear tended toward stronger, angrier messages, e.g. Lock her Up!, Hillary for Prison, Bill prefers Monica, too, Bomb the Shit out of Them, etc.  
Ad copy for a shirt "Impeach This!"

Boca Raton vender outside the Trump rally

Saturday, July 22, 2017

De-legitimizing Mueller

Trump is preparing the way to fire Mueller.   It has been obvious for some time, and getting more so.

A quick look at the other media:  Fox and Breitbart partners and allies of Trump.

Readers of this blog who mostly follow so-called mainstream media are missing a big part of the picture.   Fox, Breitbart, and talk radio are the news sources for Trump's base and they are getting a very different understanding of the world.

   ***Mueller is a deep state operative, who is putting a witch hunt into place.    There is nothing to investigate and there has never been anything to investigate.  There are no ties between Trump and Russia.

   ***Mueller has deep ties to Democrats and has hired Democratic operatives as assistants.  Mueller is a Democrat in FBI clothing.

   ***The whole special prosecutor thing is a bad idea.  Look at how poorly the Kenneth Starr thing operated, with him outrageously going on for 7 years and looking for trouble with Paula Jones.  Terrible!

   ***There are major conflicts of interest with Mueller.  He was a friend of Comey. He isn't part of Trump's legitimately elected team.  His professionalism is a problem, not a solution, because he will want the Justice Department to find something even when there is nothing.

   ***Mueller will invade Trump's financial privacy and it is a fundamental breach of privacy in an area where voters have already consented not to look, i.e. Trumps taxes and other financial affairs.

   ***Looking into Trump's children is an outrage.  They are criminalizing politics.

   ***This is a concerted effort to distract Trump from the agenda he outlined in his campaign and which the public overwhelmingly supported.  It isn't an investigation; it is a device to cancel out the Trump agenda.

   ***Hillary is way worse!  Democrats are way worse!  Uranium!   Loretta Lynch!  What about Bill Clinton's speeches?  The mainstream media is looking at nothing instead of something way worse.  Way, way, way worse! 

Democrats take comfort in a statistic they misunderstand.  What is important is not that Trump is disapproved of by some 60% of the people currently.  What is important is that 40%  of the people do approve of him and that 40% are Republicans.   Republican officeholders criticize Trump at their peril.   Trump's "joking" to Heller about his wanting to stay a Senator was a transparent threat.  Trump's frank conversation with the New York Times regarding Jeff Sessions was a clear message that past loyalty buys you nothing.

The Trump base does not think Trump or his campaign had inappropriate connections to Russia, not in the campaign, not in his presidency, and not in his prior business dealings.   They perceive Trump as the set-upon victim of Democratic sore losers.

Democrats need to get their heads around that reality if they are going to understand the current situation.  It means that when Trump fires Mueller the Democrats will call it a Saturday Night Massacre but Republicans will not pile on.   They will sit back.  

This won't be a constitutional crisis.  It will be Trump getting his way.  


Friday, July 21, 2017

This American Carnage

Are Americans ready for Hope and Change?

Democrats have two fundamental choices to make as they figure out their message.   

One is the decision outlined yesterday.  Who is the core constituent for the Democrats?  Is it the educated woman sitting at a computer terminal or is it the industrial worker anxious about a potential layoff?   Does the Democratic Party represent the rising class of knowledge workers and embrace a growth and technology agenda that sees big businesses as partners in greater prosperity (i.e. Atari Democrats like the Clintons), or does the Democratic Party embrace redistribution as the centerpiece of the agenda and use government to force businesses and stockholders to share a bigger piece of the pie with workers and the poor (i.e. Sanders.)

The second question is whether America is in decline or whether it is morning in America.   What mood must the Democrat project.

Of course, the Democratic candidate will say that if he or she is elected things will be better.  The question is how to describe the present and future.  Thad Guyer writes below that Trump has the correct view of the popular mood: Trump is throwing people a life preserver.  Voters want to hear that the candidate understands their fear and pain.  They will turn off anything utopian or optimistic.

Trump helped create this and he profited from it.
Trump's message, as I heard live in rallies and as Guyer reiterates below, is that the core voters of both parties are worried.  Worried about radical Islam.  Worried about North Korea.  Worried about staying in the middle class in the face of foreign competition and automation. Worried about the cost of educating their children.  Worried about Medicare and Social Security because for younger Americans the news that the programs are actuarily sound until 2032 is not re-assuring; it is frightening.

The history of the past 75 years is mixed, but my sense is that the key is not whether the future is grim or rosy.  The electoral key is the projection of confidence that the leader can manage it.  We want to know that the president knows what to do when in a fight.   (Dukakis and Kerry complained to the refs, which the public correctly saw as weak.)   John F. Kennedy warned of missile gaps and powerful enemies.  His inauguration spoke of bearing any price and burden.  He looked confident as he described a long, dangerous trudge.   FDR exuded happy confidence that better days were ahead, spoken from the depths of the Depression..  Reagan spoke of morning in America while Carter warned of malaise.  Obama was hope and change.  

A frequent theme of this blog is that Donald Trump's success comes from his demeanor.  It is not what he says--because he sometimes says directly contradictory things within seconds--it is that he appears completely to believe what he is saying while he is saying it.  He is persuasive to his base because he himself seems so persuaded.

The Democrat will have a harder sales job than will Trump.  No Democrat can win the primary election without returning to the key Democratic theme that government is a force for good and that government might help make things better.   The Democrat has a tool to assist him or her.  Donald Trump.  In the campaign Trump suggested he had worldly know-how.  The presidency so far has been a managerial mess, with White House in-fighting and Trump disrupting his own GOP team with criticisms of various House Members and Senators and, now, cabinet officers.    There is room for a Democrat confidently to say that government looks like a mess because Trump is messy.

The theme would be that happy days will emerge once government is returned to solid hands.  This sets up the cage fight between Trump and the Democrat.  Trump would say the government disfunction demonstrates the depth of the swamp and the grim problems ahead only Trump can address; the Democrat would say Trump is part of the problem and that once Trump is gone government can help make things good again.

Here is how Thad Guyer puts his warning to Democrats.  He thinks Trump's argument is by far the stronger.

"Call a Cop!"

[I read how Peter's progressive correspondent supports]: "credit unions rather than banks, locally owned grocery stores rather than chains, local food, re-negotiate NAFTA". That's a strong nostalgic "make America great again" (MAGA) message.
Indeed, the subtext of the progressive message is to halt, reverse and restore to the status quo ante, to re-empower the previously enfranchised, to return to America's former mantra of success: expand the middle class. MAGA cuts away the flowery progressive rhetoric that voters distrust and says the immediate task is stop the decline-- to survive. Progressivism is grounded in hope and futurism, MAGA is based on the threat of drowning. 

Trumpism sells survival and rescue, progressivism sells a hopeful vision and impossible dreams of occupy Wall Street and single payer fantasies. Trump has a way easier job-- throw a life preserver, enforce immigration laws, and drain the swamp.

Worried middle class voters could care less about his vulgarisms and Russiagate, and they won't be sold again on Obama-like progressive idealism and rosy futures. "They're stealing your stuff, call a cop", i.e. MAGA, will be even more appealing in 2020. That's the reality Democrats need to get their heads around.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Atari Democrats

Democrats were at at crossroads in the 1980's.   

Prescient February 2016 article.
Private sector unions were losing numbers and strength.  Democrats chose to replace the political gap with educated professionals.   They chose to be the knowledge and opportunity party, embracing progress.

"Atari Democrats" used to be a thing.

Colorado Senator Gary Hart was an early leader of the movement but it came to include essentially all Democrats who had national aspirations: Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry.   These were people who had credibility with business people.   They could raise money.  They were new.  They were the future.

The decision to turn away from industrial labor was forced onto them in part by the civil rights movement of the 1960's.  Democrats became the party of integration and racial inclusion.  The tone put them in conflict with industrial workers in the so-called rust belt.   Industrial union members were not looking forward. They understood they faced competition, primarily then from Japan. They were in a defensive mode, hanging on to what they had.  They were defending their turf both from global competition and from racial integration that was happening at an uncomfortable pace.  White union workers were moving to white suburbs.  In Boston whites were protesting "forced busing" to integrate schools.  Detroit was burning; Michigan whites were moving to Warren.

A party of progress was out of touch with them.  They wanted to hear about tradition, not new.

Democrats also had a race problem.  A great many voters in those industrial states of the upper midwest--troublesome Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania with those crucial electoral votes--were as much concerned about race as about economics, and they accurately perceived themselves to be part of a past social structure as well as a past industrial era.  It was a one-two punch.  White industrial union members had privilege and they wanted it protected.  

Michigan voters voted for George Wallace in the Democratic primary of 1972, a point I cited in this blog two days before the election, in which I predicted a Trump victory.    My pre-election warning about Michigan.

The Democratic Party made a policy choice, endorsing the themes of meritocracy, technology, pro-growth policies, free trade, openness to diversity, and support for education as the avenue into prosperity for anyone and everyone.  It was simultaneously a choice over which political interests and policies to support and who to support.

The archetypal Democrat was no longer a white man working in an industrial factory in the Upper Midwest.   It became an educated woman at a computer in a coastal city.   The policy goals were no longer protection from foreigners; it became equality of opportunity for that worker, against social traditions of racial or gender tradition.

The gap could be bridged.   Highly skilled, emotionally engaging candidates who spoke eloquently about hope and opportunity--Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama-- could do it.  They appealed to workers playing defense and who see the future as ominous.   Bill Clinton was good ol' Arkansas trailer trash, Barrack Obama saved the auto industry in 2009 when Mitt Romney said drop-dead to Chrysler and GM, so their message of hope had credibility.  Democrats of lesser political appeal and skill (Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry, Hillary) lost those voters.

Gary Hart: prosperity, growth, progress.
Trump's Make America Great Again eloquently states that the future is that happier past.   Trump earned enough of those industrial workers and won the upper midwest the same way Wallace did in 1972, with a mix of nostalgia, subtle racism, and a promise to fight for traditional industrial jobs with salaries that support a middle class American family. 

Hillary Clinton did not get the expected crossover votes of Main Street Republicans even though she was essentially one of them.   Democrats differed from traditional Republicans in supporting community more vigorously, in being comfortable with higher taxes, greater progressively, and with greater social tolerance and acceptance of the inclusion of women in the workforce and ethnic and gender diversity everywhere.   But Republicans stuck to party and Democrats did not.  So-called rust belt Democrats knew that Hillary was an Atari Democrat, not a factory worker Democrat.

Democrats had become the progress party; Republicans the traditional party.

Democrats have a problem--unless it is an opportunity masked as a problem.   The greatest political energy among Democrats is among those who are Sanders-oriented progressives, ones who condemn the Democratic embrace of technology, economic growth as the source of a growing middle class, of education as the cure-all, and of accommodation with big business.   Two of this blog's correspondents see the prosperity-pro-business policies of Democrats as a sell out and political disaster.   

One correspondent mocks the accommodationist Democrats who attempt to serve both interests and constituencies.  "Join the oligarchs, win their affection, play nice, gain their cooperation, smile, pat their heads, lift a cocktail to their success, break a bottle of champagne over their new bank and sweat shop in Indonesia. . . . All hail Fortune 500!  All hail big pharma!  All hail container ships bringing distraction and comfort belching out the smoke and mirrors of everlasting profit and greed.  ALL HAIL!"  (Ralph Bowman of Grants Pass, Oregon.)

Another correspondent says that this blog's citing of Apple, Pfizer, and even Exxon as examples of companies attempting an image of "good corporate citizenship" demonstrates how fundamentally wrong is the Democratic analysis of the problem.  He notes Apple is a tax avoider, Pfizer and its donations corrupt the Congress andcharges the US higher prices than it does Canadians, and Exxon destroys the planet.  His solution: credit unions rather than banks, locally owned grocery stores rather than chains, local food, re-negotiate NAFTA.   The Democrats' embrace of globalism and belief in the legitimacy of markets caused them to be concerned for stockholders, not workers.  They should change policies and constituencies.  Big business is the enemy, not the ally.  

If a majority of voters are ready to accept that position then, in fact, this is an opportunity for Democrats.  (I think it is the opposite, unrealistic utopianism, which will be widely rejected as socialism by the public which considers government to be ineffective and corrupt.  The policy direction runs counter to the American ideal of opportunity, of hope and change.  It is pessimistic not optimistic.  Americans are suspicious of wealth, but they don't dislike it.  They seek it and admire it.) 

The underlying premise of the establishment Democrats is that workers will be simultaneously employees, valued for their knowledge, and stockholders.  That perhaps-utopian dream is that the conflict between labor and management, between workers and ownership of the means of production, would be blurred by employees being both.  The goal has not been achieved, which is part of why Democrats have lost elections.   Not everyone is well prepared to compete in that global, worker-empowered environment.  Indeed, a great many people flail unsuccessfully in it, and they are angry about it, and they vote.

Meanwhile, the perhaps-utopian dream of my two correspondents who represent those Democrats looking for radical change is that there is a realistic future that creates sustainable wealth in a globalized economy where great institutions lose out in competition to boutique, local ones, and the future is in small business, in co-ops and worker owned businesses,  and tariff walls, not Amazon and the other great business consolidators.  It is a future in which workers get power, possibly from unionization but if not from protection barriers, from minimum wage laws, from guaranteed health and income benefits.  The government can help share the proceeds of prosperity; the leaders of industry and their stockholders will not do it willingly.   In this view, we create a more fair and just society because government takes it from the powerful interests and redistributes it as a benefit of citizenship.

Simple.  Clear.

This blog reported its own conclusion: progress in the form of automation and global integration is inevitable so the task of a political party is to develop policies to manage them, not retreat from them.   A candidate who can marshall the energy of my progressive correspondents while advancing an establishment Democratic approach will lead a powerful coalition.   That is the opportunity.

But if the progressives reject an accommodationist Democratic candidate and that is the new voice of Democrats then their challenge will be to promote the efficacy of government. Government disfunction and political gridlock have made this a tougher sell.  The bad rollout of Obamacare made it harder.  A majority of voters distrust Trump, but they also distrust Congress and government in general.  In three years "the government" will be Trump.   People may be ready for a change.  The question is whether voters will want more government, but a different one.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Trump: "Let Obamacare Fail. I'm not going to own it."

Trump is a master of branding others as failures.   

"We're not going to own it.  I'm not going to own it.  I can tell you, the Republicans are not going to own it."

Democrats should beware.  It is not an idle threat.   

A great error made by Trump's opponents has been to underestimate how successfully he can brand them.   Ted Cruz spent millions of dollars promoting the brand TrusTED.  Cruz the reliable, trusted conservative.   It was for naught.  Trump put a far bigger and mentally stickier idea out there: Lyin' Ted.

There is a graveyard of opponents labeled by Trump: Little Marco, Low Energy Bush, Crooked Hillary.

Note that Trump has already created two elements of the "blame Democrats" message.  He refers to Obamacare as the catastrophic failure, as if that is an acknowledged fact, not an assertion, and he has already put out there the idea that the ACA is collapsing on its own.   "Let Obamacare fail."

Without the subsidies, the ACA dies.

In fact there is a reason the GOP majorities could not repeal or replace Obamacare, and that is because the ACA (i.e. Obamacare) actually has such important and popular elements that the legislators cannot repeal them.  Too many constituents would be hurt.  Their rural hospitals would go bankrupt.  Repeal of the ACA would be a disaster, but repeal of "Obamacare" was a political necessity.  The uncertainty over the ACA's future is a key element that is proactively unsettling the insurance markets.   The ACA is not collapsing on its own, but it can be pushed into collapse.

Liberal view: Trump won't get away with passing blame.
Democrats seem to be counting on the idea that Trump and Republicans will own the political fallout if insurance markets fail.   Democrats should watch out.  Shifting blame is what Trump is best at.   Historically Democrats have been bad at fighting back.

Democrats have their own media bubble.  They overestimate the power of "informed opinion."  Michael Dukakis let George H W Bush define him as a commie.  He couldn't believe anyone took that seriously, and no doubt few people in the wide circle of his friends and confidants did so.  John Kerry let himself get swift boated.  He couldn't believe that reasonable people would believe the accusation that his surviving getting shot at and sprayed with shrapnel, winning a medal for bravery and two purple hearts, made him a coward.  He criticized the criticism but thought the accusation was beneath contempt; the accusation stuck.

Trying to sell the Democratic position
Democrats will need to make the clear, angry argument that the GOP is killing the ACA, that Trump is an active agent, not a passive one, and that if insurance markets fail it is because the GOP is doing something.   Democrats have an advantage here.   People are ready to blame the GOP Congress.   Congress is held in low esteem and Trump is loyal to himself, not the GOP.  Trump blamed Congress.   Even Sean Hannity is now openly blaming the weaklings and prima donnas of the GOP.

Democrats have the disadvantage, though, of having no one, clear spokesman and the second disadvantage that the leaders of the party are members of the House and Senate themselves.  The complete failure of the Congress makes defining the health care system as Trumpcare difficult.   Republicans can be blamed for failure, not for a bad plan that is on the table because the law on the table is the ACA.

Protect Trump, not the GOP.
Can Democrats accuse the GOP and Trump with as much vigor and clarity as Trump is already condemning Obamacare?   It is their task, but it will be a difficult one.  Trump has the big head start and he is the center of all political discourse.  Trump has every advantage.

The best hope for Democrats is Trump's own personality.  He will save himself, not the GOP.  "I'm not going to own it" was his first thought.   "Republicans aren't going to own it" was his second.  Trump already positioned himself as ready to sign something.  

The failure wasn't his.  It was the Republicans in the Senate.  The Democrats can work with that.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Guest Post Proposal for Democrats: Go Radical Change

One path for Democrats is to face the fact that they need to choose a different path.  

Serve the middle class and those aspiring to be in it.  Understand that the enemies are the oligarchs of American power: Big Business, Big Finance, and Big Military.

Guest post author Herb Rothschild, a retired university professor and current peace activist, lives in southern Oregon.  He reads this blog and accepted its challenge to define the pathway for Democrats going forward.   I believe this approach reflects a significant vein in American leftist thinking and it is generally consistent with Bernie Sanders' approach, as I heard him make it, that "the billionaires" are the enemy because our laws and our economy serve their interests, not the interests of the vast majority of American citizens.  

In this analysis, the remedies would be more progressive taxation, breaking up banks, stopping or reversing corporate mergers, prosecution of financial and white collar crimes, renegotiating trade deals including NAFTA.

This is a profound--radical--change from current Democratic orthodoxy.   There is significant disagreement on the root cause.  The Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Mike Dukakis, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden, John Kerry establishment Democratic party has not defined our own leading institutions as the enemy.  They worked with those power centers.  They attempted a great coalition in which those organizations were sometimes leading advocates for employment diversity and inclusion,  for environmental cleanup, for progressive change.   

Often big corporations had the wherewithal and vision to be progressive; the problem wasn't them.  The Apples and Googles and Pfizers and even the Exxons had too much at stake to be a "bad corporate citizen."   Often those big businesses--"oligarchs" as Rothschild terms them--are leaders in innovations environmentalists and progressives support: solar energy, smart grids, climate change, build out of the internet, electric cars, support for education, racial and ethnic diversity, and opposition to prejudice.   The problems came from the  little guys, often from the heartland, the Koch Brothers from Wichita and the small town baker who didn't want to make a cake for a gay couple.  The modern Democratic establishment made peace with wealth and turned their focus onto behaviors, not class.  The problem wasn't "bigness"; the problem was ignorance and prejudice, as they defined it.
Is General Electric the enemy--or an ally?

Rothschild says the Democratic establishment's accommodation to wealth became service to it and thereby they turned their back on the middle class.  They couldn't serve two masters.  It was a moral loss, a policy error, and a political disaster for them.

My own view is that Rothschild is wrong in his diagnosis.  My sense is that the oligarchs of power reflect the realities of the modern economy and that it is as impossible for Democrats to make America great again by returning to Teddy Roosevelt and Trust Busting as it is for Donald Trump to make America great again by returning to Eisenhower and the post-war 1950s.  I think the policy remedies of progressive taxation, etc. are necessary because those great power centers are inevitable, not because they are the enemy.  Democrats have no choice but to make peace with the oligarchs because the oligarchs are the great engines of American prosperity.   The job is to distribute that wealth, not fight the source of it.

But I will let Rothschild speak for himself:

Guest Post by Herb Rothschild:  "Who Will You Serve?"

Herb Rothschild
In political as well as personal life, answering this question is foundational to any new beginning. Up Close has rightly challenged Democrats to find a unified self-understanding as a prelude to renewed electoral success. But has it appreciated how radical (meaning “back to the root”) that quest must be?

Early in Sunday’s blog, Sage quoted a reader who said that he thought he understood what Republicans stood for but he criticized Democrats for lacking a comparable clarity: "Republicans value initiative, individualism, self determination, and freedom from government intervention and regulation (unless it comes to drugs and sex). Republicans define themselves as people in opposition to Democrats. As framed above, Republicans mostly win when talking of values because they sound so, well, American.  Democrats have had so many factions, such a 'big tent,’ that they seem to be stuck with 'identity politics' -- policies and programs for a rainbow coalition of different identities.” There are two reasons why this observation cannot serve us as a starting point. First, it confuses what it calls values (Republicans purportedly have them) with policies and their beneficiaries (Democrats purportedly have too many of both). Second, it seems to accept that Republicans’ values guide their behavior in office.

Actually, it’s easy enough to draw up a list Democratic Party values: A fair shot for everyone to move into the middle class; equal care and concern by government for all Americans regardless of status; an unwillingness to let anyone in America die for lack of food or health care; affirmation of diversity; protection of the natural environment. It would be hard to find a Democratic candidate unwilling to espouse these values publicly. Further, there is a smaller gap between these values and Democrats’ behavior in office than is the case with Republicans.

Only when we return to the root question—Who will you serve?—can we identify the basic obstacle to a unified Democratic self-understanding and self-presentation. Those who have been in control of the Democratic Party, perhaps since Jimmy Carter’s presidency and certainly since Bill Clinton’s, have been trying to serve two masters. They have served Big Business, Big Finance and their global enforcer, Big Military, while simultaneously trying to remain loyal to the middle class and those aspiring to enter it.

Serving two masters
But it cannot be done, and whenever the impossibility becomes stark, they go with the oligarchs—e.g. Clinton’s deregulation of Wall Street, Obama’s almost cost-free bailout of it in 2009, their pitifully small readjustment upwards of the top marginal income tax rates, Clinton’s willingness to maintain military spending at high levels and Obama’s escalation of it beyond what Congress was willing to approve, and both of them on international trade pacts.

Some of the impacts of these policy choices on those people that the Democratic Party claims to serve are obvious. Reduced tax revenue and increased military spending constrain spending on the domestic discretionary programs essential to the well-being of low-wage workers. So, for instance, in 1979 the HUD budget was $32.6 billion; in 2014 it was $31 billion. In constant dollars it had shrunk by two-thirds. Since only federal intervention in the market can create enough affordable housing to meet the need, there is an acute shortage of it across the country, one of the key components of low-wage workers’ struggle for survival. It’s true that Republicans devastate such programs when given the chance, but the point is that Democrats are merely inflicting less pain, not offering the positive alternative that they may think they are. Similarly, NAFTA and the bi-lateral trade  agreements that Obama pushed through as unfinished business from George W’s time in office helped shrink the blue collar component of the middle class.

But even when Clinton/Obama Democrats aren’t making obvious choices between the interests of the two masters they wish to serve, their service to the Big Money that handsomely funds their personal campaigns and the DNC they have controlled means support for a system of grossly asymmetric economic power in which the majority cannot thrive. For example, their tolerance of mega-mergers has led to a constriction of free enterprise and, in the case of mega-mergers in the communications industry, a constriction of meaningful debate about economic and foreign affairs. The voice of their other master has been muted.

It’s true that Democrats can win some elections without making a fundamental choice of masters. Since at the national level both parties have been disappointing, the hopes of the majority of Americans for many years, the volatility of dissatisfaction almost guarantees that the two parties will continue to swap control of the White House and Congress. But if Democratic strategists will stop thinking about how to win in the next two to four years and begin thinking about how to become the nation’s dominant political party once more; if they stop thinking about how important it is to beat Republicans and begin thinking about how important it is to save U.S. democracy from oligarchic subversion and the human race from climate disaster, then we will find a starting point from which to work our way toward unity.