Monday, February 9, 2015

The Judis Enlightenment

Way back when, in 2002, Democrats thought that they were going to own the future, and so John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira wrote a book about it: The Emerging Democratic Majority.

It was simple, they said. A new coalition of minorities, women, the educated, and the young was forming and they were going to be Democrats.

But now, with the Republicans in the best position they've held in Congress since the 1920s, John B Judis has changed his mind in "The Emerging Republican Advantage."

What has happened to change Judis' mind, other than the facts on the ground: a Republican Senate joining the Republican House to make up the most Republican Congress in 80 years.  It's the thesis of the emerging middle:
[There are] two trends that have emerged in the past few elections—one surprising, the other less so. The less surprising trend is that Democrats have continued to hemorrhage support among white working-class voters—a group that generally works in blue-collar and lower-income service jobs and that is roughly identifiable in exit polls as those whites who have not graduated from a four-year college...

The more surprising trend is that Republicans are gaining dramatically among... middle-class Americans. These are voters who generally work in what economist Stephen Rose has called "the office economy." In exit polling, they can roughly be identified as those who have college—but not postgraduate—degrees and those whose household incomes are between $50,000 and $100,000.
Golly!  You think that maybe the Republican Party is not the party of the rich, as the Democrats keep telling us, but really the party of the middling sort of person, neither rich nor poor, neither uneducated or super-educated, not exactly brainy, but certainly not stupid? Who could have figured that out?

Of course, that's what conservative brainiacs have been saying for years. The Democratic Party is an over-under coalition, of the rich and the credentialed in an unholy alliance with the poor. The Republican Party is the party of the responsible middle class.

OK. So John B. Judis has seen the light on party alignment. But he is still as dumb as bricks when it comes to the economy.
After the 2008 election, I thought Obama could create an enduring Democratic majority by responding aggressively to the Great Recession in the same way that Franklin Roosevelt had responded in 1933 to the Great Depression. Obama, I believed, would finally bury the Reagan Republican majority of 1980 and inaugurate a new period of Democratic domination.
See how he got it completely wrong? That's because he doesn't care about science and hasn't cracked a book to get beyond the straight liberal narrative on the Great Depression. First of all, President Bush was already "responding aggressively" to the Great Recession. He let Nancy Pelosi have whatever stupid Keynesian stimulus she wanted, and then he had Hank Paulson in at Treasury to make sure that "this sucker" didn't go down in the Fall of 2008. All the heavy lifting had been done before Obama was inaugurated, and if John B. Judis knew a thing beyond the usual liberal shibboleths about the Crusades he'd know that.
In retrospect, that analogy was clearly flawed. Roosevelt took power after four years of the Great Depression, with Republicans and business thoroughly discredited, and with the public (who lacked any safety net) ready to try virtually anything to revive the economy. Obama's situation was very different. Business was still powerful enough to threaten him if he went too far in trying to tame it. Much of the middle class and working class were still employed, and they saw Obama's stimulus program—which was utterly necessary to stem the Great Recession—as an expansion of government at their expense.
Oh really. Business powerful enough to threaten him? Obama's stimulus "utterly necessary?" You mean the one that kept teachers' salaries going? For God's sake, John B. Judis, get out of your liberal hidey-hole and get out more.  Obama's economic policy has been a failure because it tried to emulate the glory days of FDR, which some commentators think deepened and extended the Great Depression.

The Obama problem is that the natural reaction of all politicians at all times is to throw money at their supporters, and he's too cloistered to know that there is another way. The way the economy works is that when you lose your job you must get on your bike and go find a job. The more people are sitting around on a government check (I am talking about both workers and crony capitalists) the slower the economy will rebound. The real job of a government in a financial crisis is to supply endless liquidity until the panic is over, and then clear the decks of regulations and onerous taxes to grease a swift recovery.

As a coda to John B. Judis' partial emergence from the ignorance and superstition of the liberal Dark Ages, there is Henry Olsen's "Submerging Democratic Majority." He points out that, if the Democratic majority idea is flawed, so is the counter idea of a "natural Republican majority," because "simplistic proponents of the “natural Republican majority” counter-thesis also overlook the elements of white-working-class and middle-class psychology that makes them quintessential swing voters." For Olsen, you can explain every election since 2008 on the idea that the "white-working-class and middle-class" voters are up for grabs. Writes Olsen:
Judis basically gets them right when he notes that they are suspicious of, but not hostile to, government. They no longer trust government to automatically act in their interest, but neither do they think that all government is evil — especially those aspects of government they can feel most directly in their lives: police, public schools, and mass entitlement programs.
Too true. The problem for right-wingnuts like me is to persuade the white working class and the non-credentialed middle class that reform of public schools and entitlement is really just what the doctor ordered for them. And the problem starts with the fact that even though public education and the entitlements stink they still make the white working class and the middle middle class feel safe.

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