Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Crunch Time for the Brahmin Left

The Democrats are no longer a working class party; that's clear from any fair reading of the data. The next six months will tell us a lot about whether the Democrats are capable of broadening their base and pushing back against their status as a party dominated by highly educated and professional voters. In short, they will have to decide whether they want to continue down the path of what Thomas Piketty describes as the Brahmin left or whether they want to begin the healing of the divorce between the working class and America's party of the left.
From Piketty's latest blog post on Le Monde:
"According to a pessimistic reading, supported by many of the most educated groups who henceforth vote for the Democrats (which allows the Republicans to present themselves now as anti-elite, even though they continue to include a good part of the business elite, if not as yet appealing to the intellectual elite), Republican voters are described as « deplorable » and ‘beyond redemption’. Democratic administrations are said to have done everything they could to improve the lot of the most disadvantaged, but the racism and acrimony of the white working classes apparently prevents them from seeing it.
The problem is that this vision leaves little room for a democratic solution. A more optimistic approach to human nature might be as follows. For centuries, people from different ethno-racial backgrounds have lived with no contact with each other except through military and colonial domination. The fact that they have recently been living together in the same political communities is a major civilisational advance. But it continues to give rise to prejudice and political exploitation that can only be overcome by more democracy and equality.
If the Democrats want to regain the popular vote, whatever its origin, then more needs to be done in terms of social justice and redistribution. The road ahead will be long and arduous. All the more reason to get started now."
Meeting this challenge will not be easy in a brutally divided country controlled by a very thin Democratic majority. The key is focusing on the health and economic crisis and pursuing fast, effective solutions in a politically realistic but tough-minded manner. Whatever happens with impeachment and a subsequent trial, the Democrats' chance of breaking out of the Brahmin left trap depends almost entirely on this. As well summarized by Richard North Patterson in The Bulwark:
"In the Georgia runoffs that cost Republicans control of the Senate, Democrats turned out a coalition of African Americans and whites who responded to a mainstream message rooted in combating COVID and providing economic opportunity. Here, too, Trump helped—by complaining that Georgia’s presidential election was rigged, he suppressed the GOP’s vote.
Overall, the Democrats’ hard-won victories underscored their internal tensions and contradictions. However ardent and important, progressives are not a majority within the party; the belief that demographic change will overrun Republicans is belied in the near term by an Electoral College map which, combined with gerrymandering, means that Democrats need moderate voters to succeed. Inevitably, this promotes a less ideological agenda than progressives desire....
The blue-collar voters Democrats need to reclaim may respond to a progressive economic message but, quite often, resist the social liberalism congenial to both progressives and moderate suburbanites. To keep the party together, Biden must find the economic and social sweet spot which gives this uneasy amalgam reason to cohere—and, more than that, a hope for the future shared by enough of the electorate to renew our common future....
Biden’s first imperative is his best chance to be the transformative president who provides effective governance for all Americans, including minorities: combating the ravages of COVID-19.
That requires succeeding where Trump is failing so miserably: ensuring that Americans are vaccinated as quickly as possible. For government to become a force which saves lives, instead of squandering them through murderous neglect, would by itself uplift the country.
Beyond this, Biden must supplement the patchwork pandemic relief bill diminished by the GOP’s lost senatorial majority. Thus he is moving swiftly to present a comprehensive plan. Financially hamstrung cities and states, already hemorrhaging jobs and essential services, need urgent relief. Unemployed and underemployed Americans need more assistance; struggling businesses need a longer bridge to recovery; overmatched healthcare workers and underserved communities need help. The national economy requires genuine stimulus to avoid a recession caused by the rising toll of COVID. If, by the fall, Biden can restore America’s public and economic health, and therefore its optimism, he can build on that spirit to undertake much more.
Despite the filibuster, the reconciliation process for budgetary matters opens the door to spending on infrastructure; expanded healthcare; a climate change program which creates jobs; an increased minimum wage; and taxes on businesses and wealthy individuals to help pay for these proposals. This is what Biden promised; now he has a chance to deliver.
But first, he must help America recover from the pandemic, and from Trump. From that, much good could follow—including a country which believes, once again, in its better self."
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