Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Bloomberg Democrats

I am a craven addict, and as hard as I try to stay on the wagon, I just can't help myself and fall off.  My addiction is following electoral politics, especially presidential elections.  I am fully aware that the monied interest really call the tune, and that most Democrats are just softer-edged purveyors of neoliberalism, and Republicans its 180 proof version.  Perhaps it's the real life drama that draws me in, or the knowledge that despite our system's limited options, elections do indeed have consequences.

The Republican party in recent years has found itself in a bit of a paradox.  By firing up their base and spending a free flow of corporate dollars, they can handily win midterm elections, which usually have low turnouts.  They lose in presidential elections with a more moderate electorate, and are harmed by their shriller appeals to white racial resentment.  Some have wondered whether it is possible for the Republican party in its current iteration to win a presidential election.

The key for GOP success can actually be found in New York City, supposedly a liberal bastion.  While the Big Apple has traditionally been a Democratic stronghold since the party's birth, between 1994 and 2014 no Democrat held the office of mayor.  Both Giuliani (1994-2001) and Bloomberg (2002-2013) won office by emphasizing "law and order" and economic growth.  Both sought support from the gay community, and Bloomberg also became a national voice on gun control. Essentially, Bloomberg embodies the "socially liberal but fiscally conservative" consensus that I discussed awhile back.  He also illustrates some deeper and more disturbing facts.  White "liberals" will vote for a man who vigorously supports "stop and frisk" and other aggressive modes of policing that rely on racial profiling.

There are a lot of affluent (or at least middle class) Democrats who fervently believe in meritocracy and are highly skeptical of any social solution that involves helping those below them on the social ladder.  At the same time, they are cool with gay rights, pro-choice, skeptical of religion, in favor of gun control, and against strict enforcement of drug laws.  They aren't vulgar Randians who want to privatize Social Security or destroy the state university system a la Paul Ryan or Scott Walker, but nonetheless prefer lower taxes over reducing inequality, which actually threatens their position.  At the same time, they find the likes of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul to be completely unpalatable.  In the olden days, pre-Reagan and Gingrich, these people would have been liberal Republicans.

In the current climate, the GOP needs a presidential candidate who can peel off some of these voters if it wants to win.  This is difficult, because in order to get the nomination, Republican candidates have to take positions on gay rights, abortion, immigration, and guns to the right of Attila the Hun.  This, of course, is why the big money donors are going wild for Jeb, despite America's lack of enthusiasm for another Bush presidency.  As seemingly moderate as he is, Jeb is still not going to attract enough of these voters, and if Hillary gets the nomination, he will have no chance.

The Clintons are the ultimate triangulators, constantly selling progressives out if it means making a claim to be the representative of "moderation."  Bill Clinton did more to achieve a balanced budget than any other president in decades, deregulated banking, signed NAFTA, and slashed welfare.  He occasionally threw a bone to progressives with signing the Brady Bill and his failed health care proposal, but his legacy looks an awful lot more like Eisenhower than LBJ.  You can expect more of the same from HRC, which means the Democrats could keep winning electoral battles at the national level while losing the war against conservative ideology.

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