Saturday, January 30, 2021

Bernie Moved the Overton Window, Biden Stepped Through It

From my new post on The Liberal Patriot:
"Bernie Sanders and his movement had quite an impact on American politics in 2016 and 2020 but it is almost inconceivable that he will run again in 2024. At the dawn of the Biden administration, what should we make of his campaigns and the potential of his brand of politics going forward?
It is a mixed record. On the positive side, it seems entirely fair to credit him with moving the Democratic party and the entire political conversation to the left. He has been a veritable Overton window-moving machine....But there was failure as well, most critically in the coalition-building and political power area."
Read the whole thing at The Liberal Patriot. And subscribe--it's free!
Bernie Moved the Overton Window, Biden Stepped Through It
Bernie Moved the Overton Window, Biden Stepped Through It
The Success and Failure of the Sanders Campaigns

Friday, January 29, 2021

Hey Leftists--Obamacare Has Actually Been Pretty Great!

David Leonhardt reminds us of the impressive success of Obamacare, now being built on by Biden, with a public option in the offing. Despite the view of many on the left that the ACA was an intolerable sell-out and their conviction that Trump would easily succeed in nuking such a flawed program, the program is alive and well and headed down the road to universal coverage.
"Obamacare endured a grueling first decade of existence. Its launch was famously clunky. It was unpopular in its early years. It narrowly escaped repeal at both the Supreme Court and in Congress.
But the law — passed in 2010 and more formally known as the Affordable Care Act — has survived. It’s more than survived, in fact. It now stands as a monument to a particular theory of progressive lawmaking: When the federal government enacts a new benefit that makes life easier for millions of people, the program tends to endure. That describes universal high school, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and now Obamacare.
President Biden yesterday signed a package of executive actions on health care, and many experts described them as steps to undo Donald Trump’s attempted sabotage of the law. Which they are. But the modest scope of the actions is also a reminder of how little progress Trump made in undermining the law."
He concludes his article with a quote from Jonathan Cohn, perhaps America's best health care journalist, from Cohn's forthcoming book The Ten Year War:
"The Affordable Care Act is a highly flawed, distressingly compromised, woefully incomplete attempt to establish a basic right that already exists … in every other developed nation. It is also the most ambitious and significant piece of domestic legislation to pass in half a century.”
Yes indeed. And very hard to get rid of, as I have consistently argued, as well as very likely to be built on to get us closer and closer to truly universal coverage. From some of my writing on this topic in the early Trump era:
"Over time, the left has accomplished many things, from building out the social safety net to cleaning up the environment to protecting public health to securing equal rights for women, black people, and gay people. These and many other gains of the left have a very important thing in common: They are “sticky.” That’s a term borrowed from economics that means, simply, they will be hard to reverse. They provide benefits that people do not want to lose — and, what’s more, they shift norms of what is right and wrong.
Social Security and Medicare are great examples of policies that once seemed radical and now are simply a part of life. The Affordable Care Act’s core innovations may turn out that way, as well, despite the controversy that has dogged the program from its inception — and the declared intent of the current administration to eliminate it.
The ACA has provided benefits to millions who don’t want them taken away, and helped to establish the principle that every American has a right to health care, guaranteed by the government. That’s why the Republican attempt to radically downsize the program hit a buzzsaw. To be sure, Republicans will keep trying, and they’ll do some damage. But they will not be able to “repeal and replace” with a fundamentally less generous program.
Instead, it’s more likely that the ACA, either under that name or another, will get more generous over time. As conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer...noted: “A broad national consensus is developing that health care is indeed a right. This is historically new. And it carries immense implications for the future. It suggests that we may be heading inexorably to a government-run, single-payer system.”
Krauthammer was despairing, but the left should be heartened by the observation. Indeed, at this point, Trump and the GOP have been reduced to hoping that if they neglect the ACA, it will collapse on its own — yet that doesn’t seem to be happening...The very desperation of this “strategy” is a sign that Krauthammer may well be prescient about where American health care policy is headed."
And there's this:
"Trump and the Republican Congress have declared their intention to roll back [Obama-era] advances and then some. The president has already signed executive orders that seek to weaken Dodd-Frank and undermine the ACA. But can Trump and his GOP allies really get rid of these programs, as opposed to nibbling at their edges? It will not be as easy as they expect and as many on the left fear.
The chaos surrounding Republican efforts to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act illustrates just how difficult this rollback would be. The idea of repealing the ACA first and coming up with a replacement later died quickly, forcing Republicans to confront the fact that they cannot agree on what the new plan should be. Some want to keep the Medicaid expansion, some balk at requiring higher deductibles, some worry about reducing subsidies, and many fear political damage from throwing millions of people off health insurance. The disunity of the repeal forces is so palpable that former House Speaker John Boehner, who once led the charge to repeal the ACA, now admits that repeal is “not going to happen” and that “most of the framework of the Affordable Care Act” will remain in place.
Trump and the Republican Congress fail to understand, and the left would do well to remember, one of the most enduring features of American public opinion. The dominant ideology in the United States is one that combines “symbolic conservatism” (honoring tradition, distrusting novelty, embracing the conservative label) with “operational liberalism” (wanting government to take more action in a wide variety of areas). As political scientists Christopher Ellis and James Stimson, the leading academic analysts of American ideology, note: “Most Americans like most government programs. Most of the time, on average, we want government to do more and spend more. It is no accident that we have created the programs of the welfare state. They were created — and are sustained — by massive public support.”
That’s why, now that the ACA has delivered concrete benefits for many people, it is so very hard to get rid of. As a constituent of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) put it: “I’m on Obamacare. If it wasn’t for Obamacare, we wouldn’t be able to afford insurance. With all due respect, Sir, you’re the man that talked about the death panel. We’re going to create one great big death panel in this country if people can’t afford to get insurance.” In the long run, it is far more likely that the ACA will be built upon and improved, so that it extends coverage and tamps down rising medical costs even further (that will be the “something terrific” Trump has talked about), than truly be eliminated."
Looking back on these writings and that period, I'd have to give myself a pretty good score.
And what else you need to know today.


On That Unity Thing

My colleagues John Halpin and Peter Juul have an excellent piece up on The Liberal Patriot (where else?) discussing concrete, practical steps to developing real, not rhetorical, unity on some important issues. Also--please subscribe. It's free!
"We’ve previously written about what it will take to make President Biden’s inaugural call for practical national unity – not some gauzy summons to unanimity, but the ability to disagree constructively across partisan and ideological lines – a reality. Even though the bulk of the responsibility lies with the right, those of us on the center-left ought to do our part to turn down the temperature of our domestic politics. But there remain a number of concrete domestic and foreign policy issues where conservatives and liberals can and have already shown a willingness to work together productively toward common national goals.
These issues should not and cannot displace the overriding national priorities of beating the COVID-19 pandemic and promoting a rapid economic recovery. If the pandemic does not subside and the economy fails to recover, little else will matter. It’s nonetheless important to identify several potential areas for practical cooperation that transcend ideology and partisanship.
On the domestic front, there are several existing or potential areas for genuine cooperation and bipartisan legislation. These include:
* Infrastructure. The eternal promise of “infrastructure week” became the butt of a million jokes about bipartisan comity over the last four years, but rebuilding America’s infrastructure still remains the single most promising area for true cooperation. Biden wants it; most congressional leaders want it; state and local officials desperately need it; and businesses want to get involved to make it happen. So let's get moving on universal broadband, new roads and bridges, clean energy production and distribution, improved transport, modernized schools and other public buildings. It will help Americans in rural and urban areas and bolster our businesses as they compete with China and other nations in the global economy."
Read the rest at The Liberal Patriot!

Democratic Party Prospects and Challenges

I did the Against the Grain podcast with Josh Kraushaar for an hour or so of chewing on some my favorite subjects. As usual, you will nod appreciatively or howl with derision depending on your viewpoint.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Give the People What They Want!

Pew has fresh data out on the public's policy priorities. The data provide a good sense of what voters would most like to see out of the Biden administration. Pew provides the data both for the public overall and for the public broken down by partisanship, race, age and education, which provides much additional useful information.
As one might expect, the top issues by far are dealing with the coronavirus epidemic and fixing the economy. These are followed by fighting terrorism, improving the political system, reducing health care costs, securing Social Security, improving education and helping poor people. These issues all get over half of the public (and for the first five issues much more than that) designating the issue a top priority.
Significantly, some of the issues nearest and dearest to Democratic hearts fail to crack the 50 percent mark. Both addressing issues around race and criminal justice reform fall below that level and two other key Democratic issues, immigration and climate change, fall below 40 percent. That does not mean of course that Democrats should not attempt to address these issues, but it does indicate that they would be well-served by an initial focus on the very top issues (COVID, economy) which both have high public support and general unity across key demographics, as Pew's other tables show.
Successful performance on the public's top priorities can create political space to address less salient issues. But, conversely, unsuccessful performance will likely doom the rest of the Democrats' agenda.
In short: give the people what they want.
No photo description available.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Want to Fix the Police? Show Me the Money!

President Biden has just signed a series of executive orders designed to address racial justice issues. We'll see how those go but eventually we will get to the issues of police reform and accountability which, after all, was what the protests over the summer were most directly about. Making real progress on fixing the police would help poor communities of all colors and go a long way toward lowering the overall temperature on racial issues.
But what would really do the job? When criminal justice/policing reform does move onto the agenda (and I hasten to say that time is not right now) it is important that ineffective solutions, no matter how popular with activists, be sidelined and actually effective solutions embraced. Matt Yglesias in a lengthy, but very worthwhile, post on his Substack directly confronts this issue:
"Defunding the police is a bad idea that, wisely, the voters and political system have rejected.
But it was so thoroughly successful as a slogan that a situation has emerged online in which a willingness to embrace it is widely seen as the key sign of one’s commitment to taking complaints about police misconduct seriously.
The reality is just the opposite."
The reality, Yglesias argues, is that we need more cops better cops and easier ways to get rid of bad cops. And none of this is cheap. So instead of defunding you need more funding.
He notes:
"The prevalence of repeat offenders in brutality cases and special lists of unreliable officers underscores that, as is pretty much always the case with human malfeasance, a majority of the wrongdoing is being perpetrated by a minority of the people. A huge USA Today review of misconduct allegations found that “less than 10 percent of officers in most police forces get investigated for misconduct. Yet some officers are consistently under investigation. Nearly 2,5000 have been investigated on 10 or more charges. Twenty faced 100 or more allegations yet kept their badges for years.”
In terms of reducing abuse, posting ACAB on social media and advocating for arbitrary budget cuts is going to drastically underperform actually identifying the perpetrators of misconduct and purging them.
It is understandable that some people will look at this catalog of dysfunction and decide they are not enthusiastic about investing public resources in these kind of institutions. But I also think it’s not a coincidence that the people most enthusiastic about defunding are young and highly educated — i.e., people with limited lived experience of the much higher crime rate of the 1980s and 1990s and who are relatively insulated from urban violence.
As I’ve written several times, it’s pretty overwhelmingly clear that more cops on the beat means less violent crime. Yet another paper on this came out recently, comparing crime trends in New Jersey’s two largest cities during a period where one of them had big police layoffs and the other didn’t. They found that “police layoffs were associated with significant increases of overall crime, violent crime, and property crime in Newark as compared to Jersey City in the post-layoffs period. Supplemental analyses found the overall crime and violent crime increases become progressively more pronounced each year following the police layoffs.”
He concludes with a list of reforms that could actually work to solve the problem:
" * Police should be completely stripped of all special procedural rights and investigated with the same investigative tools that they use against anyone else.
* These arbitration panels should be scrapped; officers should have some basic civil service protection against being fired for no cause at all, but the goal should be to build an effective police force not a sinecure for officers.
* Compensation structures should feature much higher starting salaries, but not escalate so much over the course of a career. You want way more people to consider a career in policing, but also make it lower stakes to counsel-out someone who finds it frustrating or can’t do the job well.
* Quitting one department and going to work in another one should be more normalized than it currently is, where officers instead seem to respond to directives they disagree with by acting surly. But officers dismissed for actual misconduct should not just get hired elsewhere as a shortcut.
* Departments need bigger recruiting budgets to invest in securing high-quality job candidates, including those who are Black, female, or fluent in Spanish or other locally relevant languages.
* Politicians should acknowledge that when we ask officers to be more restrained with the use of force, we are asking them to take risks with their lives that most people would not want to take and that cops should be compensated accordingly.
* But politicians should also insist that taking risks for the greater good of the community literally is the job, and officer fear can’t be an all-purpose answer to questions about brutality.
In the aggregate, we should hire more detectives, so non-fatal shootings get investigated as rigorously as fatal ones. There is also a whole bunch of studies that show when cops work long hours, they get tired and generate more use of force problems. Departments should hire more officers both as a means to boost diversity, and simultaneously to dramatically cut down on the reliance on overtime, long shifts, and other fatigue-inducing scenarios. And while putting beat cops on the street reduces crime, aggressive stop-and-frisk tactics appear to have no benefit over and above the basic benefit of the officers being physically present.
You want a large, diverse, well-compensated police force that is staffed to be present in high-crime areas without necessarily doing all that much, and then you want to hold the officers to a high standard of conduct rather than treating the job as make-work. It’s going to be expensive. But both police misconduct and crime itself are much too important to address in stingy ways or with superficial solutions."
In other words, show me the money! We should be funding, not defunding, the police if we want the improved policing pretty much everyone advocates these days.
To underscore the case here, policing reform that eschews defunding in favor of increased funding where needed hits the sweet spot in public opinion. Consider:
Defund the policy is most assuredly not popular. It has been tested again and again and since normal people assume that what defund the police means to prevent the police from continuing to receive funds, they oppose it. Even black respondents are unenthusiastic. Why? Because people are not really interested in even cutting funding for the police; therefore they have even less interest in defunding them. They show far more interest in reforming police conduct.
Pew did some great research along these lines. Besides showing very strong support across racial lines for various policing reforms, we have this result on whether spending on policing should be increased, decreased or remain the same. The results by race are white 77 percent increase or stay the same/21 percent decrease; Hispanic 76 percent to 24 percent and even blacks 55 percent to 42 percent (just 22 percent want to decrease spending "a lot").
So why do activists and a considerable number of their liberal supporters keep raising this demand, despite the lack of support it generates? Perhaps they are neglecting the important fact that police, however flawed, are critical to public safety, a matter of great importance to the public at large and certainly for black citizens who live in working class and poor communities. That helps explain why, in the midst of all the protests about policy brutality blacks approve of the job policy are doing in their community 52-42 (Qunnipiac) and say they're favorable to the police in their community by 47-38 (Economist/YouGov).
There you have it. In this case, doing the popular and doing the right thing coincide. One hopes that when criminal justice/policing reform gets higher on the agenda this important truth is remembered.