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Tuesday Morning: Melange

There’s no consistent theme in this collection of posts.  Or maybe there is but I can’t find it yet.

To start off, let’s say for a moment that Democrats actually get their $#@% together and decide to primary Obama.  (not exactly a fantasy and not nearly as remote as it was last week at this time)  Who is the most likely person to succeed, I mean, besides the obvious?

My guess is Jim Webb, Senator from Virginia.  Now, Webb has a few liabilities and I’ll get to them in a minute.  But with Webb versus Obama, you would get the classic matchup between the Stevensonian and Jacksonian parts of the Democratic party.  The Stevensonians have their hands on power right now, or what’s left of it, since they’ve made a total mess of things.  But the Jacksonians have the votes the Democrats need to win next time.

RealClearPolitics featured a conversation with Webb yesterday about how to win back the Reagan Democrats.  I actually don’t like the term “Reagan Democrat”, which is why the media is probably going to use it every chance they get.  I’m certainly no fan of Reagan and have been a liberal all my life.  But Webb actually gets it better than most people who are sticking a label on disaffected Democrats:

We’re talking about why voters didn’t come around. Webb is weighing my report the morning after the election: Democrats won the smallest share of white voters in any congressional election since World War II.

“I’ve been warning them,” Webb says, sighing, resting his chin on his hand. “I’ve been having discussions with our leadership ever since I’ve been up here. I decided to run as a Democrat because I happen to strongly believe in Jacksonian democracy. There needs to be one party that very clearly represents the interests of working people … I’m very concerned about the transactional nature of the Democratic Party. Its evolved too strongly into interest groups rather than representing working people, including small business people.”

[...]

Webb seems less at home today. He identifies himself as a Democrat. But he has few Democratic leaders to identify with. He won’t say this. His criticism is discernibly girdled. He begins to tell a story about a conversation with a Democratic leader and pulls back. “I don’t want to talk about that,” he mutters. “I have had my discussions. I’ve kept them inside the house. I did not want to have them affect this election, quite frankly. I didn’t want to position myself in the media as a critic of the administration.”

But criticism is in order. Democrats’ suffered historical losses from Congress to the state houses last week. It’s an apt moment for Webb to step in. He is an atypical politician. Politics is not his alpha or omega. He’s authored more than half a dozen books, succeeded as a screenwriter and won an Emmy for his coverage of the U.S. Marines in Beirut. This success outside politics empowers him to be less political. Yet what suits Webb to criticism is not that. It’s the political sociology he embodies.

Webb represents an endangered species. It’s more than his red state Democratic stature, although that would be reason enough. The moderate House Democratic coalition lost more than half its lawmakers last week. But that Blue Dog set is still more common than Webb.

Webb’s one of the last FDR Democrats. An economic populist. A national security hawk. His Democratic politics are less concerned with social groups than social equality (of opportunity, not outcome). His values were predominant in the Democrat Party from FDR to JFK, the period in the twentieth century when Democrats were also dominant.

Before we go on, notice how the conventional wisdom saturated media, in its quest to shape a narrative (or under orders from someone else) positions Blue Dog Democrats as “moderates”.  Anyone who has been paying even a minimal amount of attention to politics knows that Blue Dog Democrats are just as conservative as their Republican colleagues.  But I digress.

In some respects, Webb is similar to Hillary Clinton.  (He could have lifted that last paragraph right out of our credo.) He’s got enough governmental experience to make Obama look completely unqualified: Combat vet, former Secretary of the Navy, Congressional liaison, novelist, journalist, Emmy winner, lawyer, Senator.  His son enlisted and served in Iraq, yet he is not an Iraq War proponent.  In 2008, there were rumors that he was up for consideration as Obama’s VP.  But he made it clear that he wasn’t interested in the VP position.  Is it because he had concerns about Obama or because he wanted the top position some day?  As far as superdelegates go, I think he held out as uncommitted for a long time.  Actually, I wish all of them had waited but that’s besides the point.  Karma will take care of the ones who jumped aboard the Obama bandwagon early.

Now, for his liabilities.

Continue reading

Monday: Connexions

Remember when Lady Catherine De Bourgh condescended to pay Miss Elizabeth Bennet a visit to warn her not to quit her sphere because she had no connections (or connexions in my edition) to benefit her wealthy young nephew?  I always wondered what the heck she meant by “connections”.  It seemed to mean more than just embarrassing relatives.

I didn’t really get it until recently when I listened to my podcast of the day recommendation, The Aristocracy- How the Ruling Class Survives by BBC-4’s Melvyn Bragg.  You’ll note that although the aristocracy in England had its salad days back in the 18th century, Melvyn is using the present tense in his title.  But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

The aristocracy took hold in England after William the Conqueror lucked out at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  The Norman ruling style was radically different from the Anglo-Saxon’s.  To the victor go the spoils might not have originated with the Normans but they did have an efficient way of administering and organizing it as the Doomsday Book will attest.  By the time the aristocracy finally reached their zenith, a little over 700 people owned more than two thirds of all of the land in England.  Pretty sweet if you were an aristocrat; not so much if you were a tenant farmer who owed your lord’s fields more attention than your own measley strips of land.  And since the land was all when agriculture was everybody’s business, you could say the aristocracy had a lock on the country’s wealth.

The English  did hang on to one nasty little artifact of Norman administration a bit too long however.  Primogeniture was the practice of bequeathing estates to the first born, preferably males. This was a way to keep the land intact and power undiluted.  The artistocrats who were peers were also ensured seats in The House of Lords.  The problem with primogeniture was that it left out a lot of very well-born children who had inherited no wealth or title.  These children became commoners and their only hope of advancement was through good marriages and connections, which I interpret as some sort of patronage system.  Meanwhile, the eldests went on to lead lives of wealth and privelege regardless of intelligence or character.  They spent lavishly because, well, it was their money and they deserved it.

Those younger sons, some of them tired of waiting around for their older brothers to die off so they could get an instant promotion, took matters into their own hands.  They couldn’t become members of the House of Lords but lo and behold! the House of Commons was wide open!  What better way to rig the game in their favor than to run for office.  And so many of them did.  Before long, both houses of Parliament were run by aristocrats.  Then the peasants started to get restless in the 19th century and pointed to the French Revolution across the channel.  That lead to the Great Reform Acts of the 19th century that allowed more commoners the right to vote.  The rest, as we say, was history.

Which leads me to the second podcast for the day.  (Whoo-hoo! a twofer!)  This is a recent podcast from Planet Money about the compensation of the busy little worker bees in the finance industry.  Oh, these poor souls, so put upon, moving columns of numbers around a spreadsheet and forced to make the same trades day after day.  Certainly they deserved those multi-million dollar bonuses.  Turns out, not so much.  These modern day aristocrats and their connections who have cornered the country’s wealth in their 1% sphere are ridiculously overpaid according to studies.  They just might not deserve it after all.  But the way they got their greesy little mitts on all that money is very instructive.  It all has to do with deregulation that happened in the early eighties when Ronald Reagan was in office and Congress was amenable to a little experimentation.

And then it hit me.  I made my own connection.  Hasn’t the Republican party been the party of entrenched wealth?  By American standards, the GOP is the home of the Rockefellers and the Forbes.  But in the past couple of decades, we’ve seen a lot of very wealthy businessmen buying their way into the Democratic party as well.  Jon Corzine, multimillionaire and former CEO of Goldman-Sachs is a prime example.  These days, you can’t even start a campaign for Congress or the Senate without a massive warchest.  If it turns out that Congress is not responsive to the wretched poor and middle class anymore, it could be that for the most part, they have no connection with us anymore.  We’re in the grip of the aristocrats.

It may seem obvious but the connection goes deeper than one of mere money.  It’s a mindset, a social sphere.  They won’t respond to us because it’s not our country anymore.  It’s theirs.  They own it now.  They appoint the judges to look after their wealth.  And we are going to have to be very clever and tenacious to get it back.

Like, what would happen if everyone who has a 401K stopped contributing en masse?


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