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Blue Model Death Watch
Who Doesn’t Want to Move America Forward?

Most voters would rather have a president who focuses on “moving America forward” than a president who focuses on “protecting what has made America great.” Does this mean the GOP is doomed if it doesn’t change its ways? That’s the argument political analyst Charlie Cook makes in a recent National Journal column:

One thing that jumped out of [the latest NBC/WSJ poll] spells bad news for Re­pub­lic­ans—and it’s only bound to get worse. It boils down to the two Amer­icas we have now—how the dif­fer­ences in out­look are gen­er­a­tion­al and how Re­pub­lic­ans should worry about align­ing them­selves in ways that, over time, will in­creas­ingly put them at a dis­ad­vant­age. Nos­tal­gia is great in its place. But in polit­ics, get­ting caught up in the past is per­il­ous.

Look at the re­sponses of 828 re­gistered voters when they were asked, “in think­ing about the next pres­id­ent,” which of two state­ments came closer to their point of view. The first choice: “It is time to have a pres­id­ent who will fo­cus on pro­gress and help move Amer­ica for­ward.” Or: “This is a time to have a pres­id­ent who will fo­cus on pro­tect­ing what has made Amer­ica great.” I must con­fess that the word­ing both­ers me a bit, be­cause people can define “pro­gress” and “move Amer­ica for­ward” in dif­fer­ent ways. Not sur­pris­ingly, 60 per­cent of the re­spond­ents pre­ferred to “fo­cus on pro­gress and help move Amer­ica for­ward”; just 38 per­cent chose “pro­tect­ing what has made Amer­ica great.” […]

Re­pub­lic­ans, in oth­er words, risk isol­at­ing them­selves from young­er voters and in­de­pend­ents, in par­tic­u­lar, if they’re seen as cling­ing to the past.

But which party is more guilty of “clinging to the past?” Perhaps because the Democrats have energetically deployed phrases like “making progress”, and “being the right side of history”, and perhaps because issues like immigration and same-sex marriage have taken center stage in the last few elections, Cook seems automatically to associate Republicans with a politics based on the past. But as we have always emphasized on this blog, it’s not nearly that simple.

One of the major issues of our political moment is the ongoing collapse of what we call the mid-20th century blue social model. Thanks to globalization, new technologies, and demographic changes, this model is on its way out, and a more entrepreneurial, competitive, and unpredictable system is taking its place. And on many issues related to the decline of the blue model—propping up public sector unions, for example, or stifling the sharing economy—it is actually Democrats who are more likely be caught up in outdated approaches.

That’s not to say Republicans have a fully formed economic program for addressing the decline of the blue model, or that they are doing a good job pitching a forward-looking agenda to voters. Redsters who just focus on cutting programs and government functions don’t have a holistic policy vision. But they have at least made some promising noises (like Marco Rubio’s speech in New York yesterday about the “on-demand” economy), while the Democrats’ economic agenda often amounts to doubling down on the 1950s economic model at all costs. So its not at all clear which party is stuck in the past.

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  • Silverfiddle

    Excellent commentary. Democrats are much better at staking out the linguistic high ground, and their trademark on the word “Progress” is a case in point.

    I also see Cook doing some strawmanning here. What GOP candidate is running on “pro­tect­ing what has made Amer­ica great?”

  • Gene

    The poll question that Cook quotes is far too subjective and, frankly, meaningless to form the basis for any conclusions whatsoever. I’ll put this post in the “space-filler” category.

  • wigwag

    Democrats and Republicans are equally complicit in the race to double down on yesterday. Democrats want to raise marginal income tax rates a few percentage points, Republicans want to decrease marginal rates a few points; if your goal is to fix America, which you choose doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. Democrats love labor unions, Republicans hate labor unions; it doesn’t matter who’s right. Labor unions have a marginal impact on what ails America; unions are simply not important enough to help America or hurt America. Democrats want to raise the minimum wage, Republicans don’t. Guess what? Our country will still be in exactly the same mess if we raise the minimum wage, eliminate the minimum wage or leave it unchanged.

    In some areas the political elites leading both political parties are in violent agreement. Democratic elites and GOP elites both love the common core and high stakes testing; ordinary Americans of all political persuasions hate the common core and high stakes testing. Elites in both political parties welcome unlimited immigration (despite their transparent claims to the contrary), ordinary Americans don’t. Democratic liberal internationalists and Republican neoconservatives both want to turn everyone in the world into shadow versions of Americans and they keep getting us involved in wars that we never win. Ordinary Americans of all political persuasions want fewer wars but they want to win the ones we undertake.

    The reality is that political elites in both major parties have failed our country in the most profound way. That’s why Trump, Fiorina and Carson are way ahead on the GOP side and it’s why Sanders is giving Clinton a run for her money on the Democratic side. Americans are not stupid; they understand perfectly well that these insurgent candidates may not have the answers for what ails our country, but they also understand that after watching both political parties pile up failure after failure that traditional politicians are leading us to doom. We’ve experienced 15 straight years of failed Presidents (soon to be sixteen); how could they feel otherwise.

    How do you fix America? The best start would be to fix higher education and healthcare, both of which are bankrupting ordinary Americans and destroying the middle class. Fixing higher education and healthcare is less difficult than it looks; the secret is disintermediation. The same principles that dramatically reduced the cost of long-distance telephony, air travel, color televisions, books, movies and recorded music can be employed to significantly reduce higher education and health care costs; the trick is to eliminate the middle-man.

    In health care (especially primary care) it means eliminating insurance companies and allowing health care providers to contract directly with health care consumers probably on a subscription model. It does not mean substituting the government as an intermediary as Democrats want to do with their single payer obsession and it does not mean genuflecting to private insurance companies as the GOP perpetually recommends.

    In higher education it means eliminating the university altogether. Why not let Professors contract directly with students without a bureaucratic behemoth that adds little of value (college and university administrators) get in the way and raise costs? Who needs dorms? Let students rent apartments. Who needs college gymnasiums? There are plenty of health clubs students can join. Who needs college cafeterias; let students learn to cook at home or spend their money in fast food restaurants. 80 percent of what college and universities do has nothing to do with educating undergraduates yet undergraduates underwrite the costs. To be more accurate, their parents underwrite the costs as tuition payers and tax payers. Higher education would cost a fraction of what it does if those who want to learn and those who want to teach forged their own arrangements without the traditional university structure interfering.

    Fix higher education and health care and you’ve done a lot to restore the middle class, allow wages to rise and to dramatically improve the living standards of America. Our economy needs to be “Uberized” but don’t count on the GOP or the Democrats to take us there. After all, both political parties are owned lock, stock and barrel by billionaires who are doing just fine and they are both obsessed with stuffing old wine in new bottles and trying to sell it as a fructifying new elixir.

    • jeburke

      Agree about higher ed. The reason why many European systems are either very cheap or free with manageable government subsidies is precisely that they provide teachers and classrooms. No fancy gyms and swimming pools No 100 sports teams. No “student life” centers with counselors. No dining rooms with extensive menus to suit everyone. And no battalions of administrators pulling down $150,000 and more.

    • Tom

      One could take disintermediation too far. While the role of gatekeeper is often denigrated, it is useful for the prevention of charlatanery and snake-oil sales.
      That having been said, the current crop of administrators in colleges, although there are exceptions, seem to have decided that snake-oil is good medicine, and as a result have decided to use their gatekeeping roles for evil. The university model makes sense, it just needs to stop being something that it most definitely is not. The social change that comes out of universities comes from the free exchange of ideas, not the other way around.

    • f1b0nacc1

      As always, a fine analysis. I was particularly struck by your insight on healthcare, i.e. the potential for a subscription model. This needs some serious investigation….
      Regarding higher ed, I might offer one small addition, that the real trick isn’t to fix it, but to render it largely irrelevant. Get rid of the notion of a college degree as a ticket punching exercise for the middle class (reverse Duke v Griggs, for starters) and take active steps to move to a world where colleges are for 3-5% of the population, not 50% or more… Then get the government out of the higher ed business entirely (no student loans, no regulatory involvement, etc.) and let them clean up their own acts, or simply wither away.

  • Anthony

    Piketty’s question applies: can we imagine a twenty first century where political institutions, nee parties, avoid an endless inegalitarian spiral? And WigWag’s reference to health and education highlights two areas where approx. 10-15 percent of national income is consumed.

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