How background interacts with partisanship

Nice explanation of a really interesting new study via Wonkblog:

That trajectory [impoverished background to Congress] might make [former NC Representative Brad] Miller unusual in modern America, where social mobility isn’t actually as powerful as political rhetoric might suggest. But he went on to serve in a fairly predictable way, according to new research on how class backgrounds affect legislators’ voting behavior: Democrats with humble upbringings tend to favor policies that help lift people out of poverty, like access to health care, welfare benefits, higher minimum wages and more funding for education.

Republicans, by contrast, don’t break down at all by their financial conditions in childhood — perhaps because those who came from poverty tend to credit their rise to personal initiative, rather than social programs.  [emphases mine] That suggests that while the ability of those who came from humble backgrounds to get elected to Congress matters for the Democratic policy platform, it might not have much impact on the issues the GOP decides to emphasize.

“Don’t ask me to explain Republicans,” Miller says…

“You know people who are struggling, because they’re your relatives, people you knew in high school. And that kind of changes your perspective,” Miller says. “I know that I’m less inclined to think that the U.S. is meritocratic, unless you think it is very meritorious to have rich parents.”

I think that last point pretty much nails it.

Photo of the day

From a Telegraph gallery of University of Miami’s Underwater Photo Contest Winners.  Nice work.

Student 2nd Place: Laura Rock Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris), West End, Grand Bahamas

Student 2nd Place: Laura Rock – Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris), West End, Grand BahamasPicture: Roc

Hillary and prison reform

In regards to the many typical end-of-semester queries to how my semester has gone, I generally mention that it has been a great time to teach Criminal Justice Policy as– in addition to flashpoint events, e.g., Baltimore– there’s more sustained and ongoing attention to the flaws in our criminal justice system.  As much as this is good for my teaching, the real benefit is for our country in that maybe we can actually make some serious in coming years in tackling the huge flaws in American criminal justice.

Jamelle Bouie has a nice piece on criminal justice and Hillary’s campaign that provides some hope that there’s important progress in getting this issue onto the political agenda in a meaningful way:

Two days after riots in Baltimore—at a time when most of the presidential field is either silent or contemptuous—Clinton has stepped out front with a forward-looking agenda on bringing people out of prison, a definitive rebuke to the “law and order” politics used by her husband throughout his career. Not only did Clinton call for an end to “the era of mass incarceration,” but she also connected our prison population to broader patterns of inequality. “Without the mass incarceration that we currently practice, millions fewer people would be living in poverty,” she said. “And it’s not just families trying to stay afloat with one parent behind bars. Of the 600,000 prisoners who re-enter society each year, roughly 60 percent face long-term unemployment.” …

Likewise, Clinton is clearly giving thought to how we restructure policing and punishment…

Now, Clinton is on the record, and if elected, she’ll face the kind of pressure that makes policy happen.

On that, it’s worth a final point. Four years ago, body cameras weren’t a priority for national politicians. Now, the Democrats’ presumptive nominee for president—who may win next year—has endorsed them for all police officers. Even if its not a panacea for broad problems of police violence, it’s still a victory. Not just because Clinton has made the commitment, but because she’s sent a powerful signal to other Democrats(and even some Republicans) to treat police reform as a mainstream issue. [emphasis mine] Competitors like Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley may try to outflank her, but potential allies, either in Congress or elsewhere, will support her message and her leadership. Suddenly, police reform is a Democratic agenda item, something a Democratic Congress and a Democratic White House may act on.

Now, that’s good news.  Of course, what would be even better would be if Republicans actually took these issues seriously as well.  Some do, but at this point, not nearly enough.  Nonetheless, if this issue stays in the place of prominence it deserves on the Democratic agenda, we can be cautiously optimistic about some real change in the future.

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