Divided Democrats?

There was a “This American Life” episode last week that was really good, yet, went way overboard in making the case that the Democratic party is hopelessly riven and chaotic.  Honestly, that strikes me as a way to score cheap pundit points.

There’s this idea that the only thing Democrats can agree on is that Trump is bad and that, rather, Democrats need to present a affirmative message.  I’m totally with Paul Waldman in believing that this is wrong on all counts:

That notion is wrong on both counts: they don’t need a “positive” message as it is often defined, and anger at the president is not just sufficient, it’s the most morally and politically appropriate message for 2018.

As a way to think about this, I’d like to look at the Democratic response to the State of the Union, which was delivered last night by Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.). Put aside the stupid questions about him — Should the Democrats be promoting the scion of a royal family? Was he wearing too much lip balm? — and focus on the content. Kennedy’s speech mentioned policy issues, but mostly it was an attack on Trump and the Republicans, delivered through a contrast of values. Here’s a key passage:

This administration isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us — they are targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection. For them, dignity isn’t something you’re born with but something you measure. By your net worth, your celebrity, your headlines, your crowd size. Not to mention, the gender of your spouse. The country of your birth. The color of your skin. The God of your prayers. Their record is a rebuke of our highest American ideal: the belief that we are all worthy, we are all equal and we all count. In the eyes of our law and our leaders, our God and our government. That is the American promise.

You might say: “That won’t persuade the fellas in MAGA hats the New York Times keeps interviewing down at that diner in West Virginia!” And you’d be right. It is an appeal to liberal values of equality, inclusiveness, and common fate and purpose. It won’t convince conservatives to vote for Democrats.

But that’s not what Democrats need right now. What they need, more than anything else, is for their base to get energized, excited, and yes, angry. They need to feel that both their values and their interests are under attack by a reckless, impulsive, cruel, infantile president and his enablers in Congress, and that there is no more urgent task than stopping them. Because that is the truth.

Centrist pundits will insist Democrats have to stand for something apart from Trump. But they already do. Ask a Democrat running for Congress what she would like to do about health care, the minimum wage, environmental protections, taxes, or anything else, and she’ll have answers, roughly the same answers as most other Democrats would give. She might not have a bumper-sticker-ready phrase to wrap it all up with, but if you think that’s her problem, then your argument isn’t that Democrats don’t stand for anything. Your argument is that their marketing ought to be better. [emphasis mine]

And what’s the problem with “I’m against Trump” as a message? It seems to be darned persuasive right now. When people say that Democrats (or anyone else) need an “affirmative” message, what they seem to mean is that the party needs to come up with a bunch of innovative new policy ideas no one has ever thought of before. But why?…

As for being against Trump, what could possibly be more important right now? If Democrats do manage to take back the House or the Senate, their primary task in the subsequent two years — their only task, really — is going to be thwarting, constraining, and investigating this president and his administration.

Meanwhile, Slate’s Osita Nwanevu makes the case that Democrats are hopelessly riven because Joe Kennedy III is pretty dumb about marijuana policy (I’ll give Nwanevu that) and has not endorsed “single payer” health care.  As I’ve argued before and will argue again, the key is affordable, universal health care.  Single payer is just a means, not an ends.  He also hits him for not providing a bunch of policy specifics (sure don’t think that’s a usual think in SOTU responses).  If you’ve got to try this hard to make the Democratic party hopelessly divided, maybe it really isn’t all that divided.

The case for limiting legal immigration

Is simply very, very weak.  David Brooks:

Every few years I try to write this moderate column [supporting less immigration]. And every few years I fail. That’s because when you wade into the evidence you find that the case for restricting immigration is pathetically weak. The only people who have less actual data on their side are the people who deny climate change.

You don’t have to rely on pointy-headed academics. Get in your car. If you start in rural New England and drive down into Appalachia or across into the Upper Midwest you will be driving through county after county with few immigrants. These rural places are often 95 percent white. These places lack the diversity restrictionists say is straining the social fabric.

Are these counties marked by high social cohesion, economic dynamism, surging wages and healthy family values? No. Quite the opposite. They are often marked by economic stagnation, social isolation, family breakdown and high opioid addiction. Charles Murray wrote a whole book, “Coming Apart,” on the social breakdown among working-class whites, many of whom live in these low immigrant areas…

Over all, America is suffering from a loss of dynamism. New business formation is down. Interstate mobility is down. Americans switch jobs less frequently and more Americans go through the day without ever leaving the house.

But these trends are largely within the native population. Immigrants provide the antidote. They start new businesses at twice the rate of nonimmigrants. Roughly 70 percent of immigrants express confidence in the American dream, compared with only 50 percent of the native-born.

And, there’s a really intriguing analogy comparing the restrictionists to East Germany:

In 1945 Germany was divided. One part went capitalist and the other went communist. After a half-century it was perfectly clear that capitalism was a more successful system than communism.

Over the past few decades America has, willy-nilly, conducted a similar experiment. About 500 counties, mostly in metro areas, have embraced diversity — attracting immigrants and supporting candidates who favor immigration. About 2,600 counties, mostly in rural areas, have not attracted immigrants, and they tend to elect candidates who oppose immigration and diversity.

The results are just as clear as in the German case. Between 2014 and 2016 the counties that embrace diversity accounted for 72 percent of the nation’s increased economic output and two-thirds of the new jobs. The approximately 85 percent of counties that support restrictionists like Donald Trump accounted for a measly 28 percent of the growth.

Republicans’ problem is that since George W. Bush left town they’ve become the East Germans of the 21st century. They have embraced a cultural model that produces low growth and low dynamism. No wonder they want to erect a wall. [emphasis mine]

Damn, that’s good stuff.

Meanwhile, Fred Hiatt brings in the case of Japan:

Message to Republicans: You can be pro-growth. You can be anti-immigration. But, honestly, you can’t be both

But ideally, also, it [an honest immigration debate] would also be conducted with an understanding that those who favor a drastic, absolute drop in the level of immigration, as many Republicans do, would be making a choice about America’s future.

They would be turning us into Japan.

Now, to be clear, Japan is a wondrous nation, with an ancient, complex culture, welcoming people, innovative industry — a great deal to teach the world.

But Japan also is a country that admits few immigrants — and, as a result, it is an agingshrinking nation. By 2030, more than half the country will be over age 50. By 2050 there will be more than three times as many old people (65 and over) as children (14 and under). Already, deaths substantially outnumber births. Its population of 127 million is forecast to shrink by a third over the next half-century.

Japan is a pioneer and an extreme version of where much of the First World is headed as longevity increases and fertility declines. The likely consequences are slower economic growth, reduced innovation, labor shortages and huge pressure on pensions. If you think our entitlement politics are fraught, think about this: In Japan in 2050, the old-age dependency ratio — the number of people 65 and over as a percentage of the number who are 15 to 64 — is projected to be 71.2 percent.

Hmmm.  I think I’ll go with the more open immigration model.

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