Monday, August 12, 2019

Advocate What's Popular! Don't Advocate What's Unpopular!

These are, respectively, points 5 and 6 of the Common Sense Democrat creed. I was therefore very pleased to come across Yascha Mounk's exceptionally cogent article on the Atlantic site making exactly these points. Mounk opens his article by observing:
"Donald Trump poses a terrible threat to minority communities throughout the country, is deepening the chasm between rich and poor, and is inflicting serious damage on democratic institutions. It’s therefore a matter of the greatest moral urgency to make sure that somebody—anybody—stops Trump from winning a second term in office.
But many of the problems facing the country started well before Trump was elected, and will likely persist even after he leaves the White House. Trump’s unpopularity, coupled with growing support for leftist policies, seems to present progressives with a rare opportunity to win a mandate for real change. It’s therefore a matter of great moral importance to ensure that whoever takes on Trump actually has the determination to address the country’s deep-rooted problems.
Are these two narratives in tension? Not necessarily. To displace Trump and effect radical change, Democrats need to adopt a rather simple strategy: Champion the many progressive policies that are highly popular—and scrupulously resist those that are clearly unpopular."
A simple strategy indeed but many Democrats, bizarrely, continue to resist it. Mounk deals with the most typical objection to this strategy, the ridiculous contention that Democrats can and should advocate the most left possible policies because they will be accused of being crazy socialists anyway. Mounk correctly notes that the effectiveness of these attacks will vary widely, depending on the actual content of the policies being attacked.
"[P]ublic opinion is not infinitely malleable. Indeed, political scientists have also found that most voters are highly loss-averse and deeply sensitive to perceived threats to their material standing. So while they may have only vague opinions on issues that are abstract and feel distant from their daily lives, they are also likely to react strongly when they fear that they may lose a concrete benefit to which they have long been accustomed. This makes it all the more concerning that leading Democratic contenders, including Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and (at various instances) Senator Kamala Harris, have endorsed abolishing private health insurance."
He concludes with a plea for basing progressive politics on the actually-existing views of the actually-existing American public. In his view, this will result in both maximizing the chance Trump will be defeated and the chance that his defeat will result in real change. I agree.
"Most Americans are strenuously opposed to socialism, and instinctively distrust candidates who make breathless promises of political revolution. But they are also deeply dissatisfied with parts of the economic system, and convinced that the people who call the shots—on Wall Street and in Washington—are exploiting that system to serve themselves. As a result, they are simultaneously open to progressive reforms that would help to transform the American economy and deeply protective of the benefits they now enjoy, including their employer-sponsored health insurance.
To appeal to the majority of Americans, Democrats need to offer a principled alternative: a set of policies that promises to fix capitalism by ensuring that everyone truly plays by the same rules—and a narrative that emphasizes the virtues of free enterprise while attacking crony capitalism.
By sticking to progressive policies that are actually capable of winning broad support, Democrats will maximize their chances of defeating Trump and redressing some of the deepest injustices in the country. In 2020, progressives really can have their cake and eat it too—but only if they pay American voters the basic respect of listening to their actual views."
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THEATLANTIC.COM
Voters are more open to progressive economic policy now than in the recent past. But they are not opposed to capitalism.

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