Ok, I like this graph:
“we are at the frontier of history, confronting problems that no large society has ever faced before. How to maintain a mass middle class when both manufacturing and white collar work faces challenges from automation and outsourcing; how to maintain large and expensive old age programs when demography shifts and population growth slows; how to provide dramatically greater quantities of health care and educational services when these sectors are low-productivity and costs are exploding: the answers to these questions aren’t in the old good governance textbooks.”
But has America ever had a President who led us to the promised land? Ike built the freeways I suppose. They led to the suburbs. FDR did rural electrification. Who else?
Several months ago I registered at Americans Elect. I vaguely recall getting midway through some sort of questionnaire that was suppose to identify key issues. I soon figured out that the possible answers were sort of silly and I lost interest.
If it couldn’t engage a politically-consumed person like me, I kind of got the idea that the train wasn’t leaving the station and I got off to mope by myself waiting for the next “Great Man.” Sigh.
WRM, I have heard the AE argument that a broad-based national party could command the vital “center” – standing for effective government; but that view, in my opinion, is impracticable in 2012 and any time soon. However, no one can deny something must be done vis-a-vis U.S. governance.
Generally, two unequal strains have been woven through American politics from the beginning – Jeffersonianism and Hamiltonianism.; we generally talk Jeffersonian but act Hamiltonian and therein lies AE’s problem. Yet as politics is the realm productive of public policy, AE is correct to trace country’s troubles back to politics – and we certainly need a populace seriously concerned about is destiny via democratic governance. WRM, your statement that “we are at the frontier of history, confronting problems that no large society has ever faced before” ought to give impetus to not only new Mugwumps but also engaged Americans.
“The group boasts the backing of big names, including Admiral Dennis Blair and former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer,..”
Those are the big names? Surely you’re joking.
“our contemporary Mugwumps are wrong, I think, when they think that the solutions to our problems are all known, and that it is just a question of reason and willpower.”
To the contrary, they are absolutely right. The solutions to our problems are indeed known, and all that is needed is sufficient willpower to override the perverse opposition of the [insert other side’s name]! Arf!
Peter Akerman – A Traitor to His Class!
But why doesn’t the nation know this?!
Here is why:
The PR contractors muddled the AE brand in two big ways. First, they let fear-driven suspicions about a Wall Street trick fester in the public’s mind. They should have had a fast moving, sharp tongued response team. (All they had was a general news magazine sent out by email and called rapid response.)
Second, by letting Americans think that AE is a “third party” they really screwed up. Americans yawn at the prospect of yet another party on the political scene. Of course, it’s not a “party” at all. It has no policy slate, or issue positions. It’s a PROCESS for holding an online primary w/o the domination of the two-party system elites.
AE should have been presented as what it is – a bold challenger to the status quo. Instead, the PR people sent out a couple of soft spoken Mr. Nice Guys who didn’t want to offend anyone, but who wanted to be Everyman’s Friend. That’s not the spirit that drives political reform!
Now, AE has to recover from the PR damage its paid contractors have caused its brand. We have to make it known that our focus is on Political Reform, and that we are the up-coming challengers to the dominant two-party system. We should NOT present AE as Everyman’s Friend, because we don’t want to be friends with the Established Elites – we want to kick their butts off the political stage!
Once folks start hearing that message, they will start to pay more attention. So, changing the AE image should be at the top of our long term agenda. (For more,
William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.
Email: [email protected]
Author of Internet Voting Now!
“We need Daniel Boones, these days, as we step uneasily into unknown terrain, rather than earnest city managers who want to run everything by the book”
Hmmm. This isn’t “unknown terrain.”
I mean, we know what the unwinding of debt looks like. We know what banking and financial sector reform looks like. We know what oligarchy looks like, and what happens to nations that squeeze the middle class between growing populations of oligarchs and IPO lottery-winners at the top and a massive, dysfunctional underclass.
The problem here is pretty simple, albeit devilishly difficult to fix.
We have a bread-and-circuses mentality, deeply ingrained in both pols and public alike, whereby our form of democratic capitalism substitutes artificially cheap consumer credit for any serious attempt by the state at ensuring economic security for US workers and families.
This bread-and-circus debt spree originated in the wake of the 1981-83 recession, and Volcker’s root-canal approach to killing inflation that prolonged that recession.
It was decided by our elites (the issue was never explicitly framed this way, or debated or voted upon) that the US cannot ensure people have access to health insurance, or decent schools, or a stable, non-binge prosperity.
Instead, both US parties by the late 1980s settled on a contemporary bread-and-circuses policy of artificially cheap money and cheap mortgages, as if to say, We can’t ensure you’ll have a job, or health insurance, but here’s a bunch of credit cards and zero-money-down mortgage on a house.
This debt-happy core policy was backed by brave, bold, innovative theories from the world of finance that held that fancy new financial products, and a scaling back of the US state, would permanently lower everyone’s cost of capital. To paraphrase that 1980s anthem, for the political class and the public elite, this was Money fuh nothin’ / votes fuh free.
The crowning achievement, hailed as such by pols from BOTH parties and finance experts from our leading academies and business schools, was that distinctively American target of 65% home ownership (with 62% of subprimes backstopped by the feds) – in a country where more than half the households had negative net worth.
Another, less-celebrated achievement of this new consensus was both parties’ commitment to a de facto open borders immigration policy that let in over 14 million illiterate or semiliterate dropouts fleeing a corrupt and desolate rural Mexican economy.
Whenever Europeans would bash American capitalism’s relatively harsh treatment of folks on the bottom, our elites would always come back to these two aspects of the bread-and-circuses consensus: Americans have no security, but they can buy big houses and fill them with lots of stuff; Americans are kind, generous and open-hearted toward Mexico’s poor – unlike those supposedly racist and cruel Europeans.
Everyone except the far left wing of one party and the far right wing of the other was happy.
And now we have a complete collapse of the American bread-and-circus consensus.
Just to review: We’re facing YEARS of financial unwinding, the permanent disenfranchisement of both millions of old (55+) and recently-graduate workers, schools packed with illiterates who have forced up the dropout rate in our largest states and eroded decades of educational progress and that, consequently, will not even be able to fill the few advanced jobs categories that actually are expanding.
And US workers and families have neither access to mortgages – they’ve been frozen by our zombie banks – nor employment or retirement security, nor secure access to health insurance, nor good schools for their kids.
How different our trajectory would have been if we had not rejected outright an interventionist capitalist model on the lines of
– Germany’s, where the government leans heavily on employers to keep people employed, or
– Canada’s or Sweden’s, where the government leaned heavily on the banks to clean up their act after the 1990s meltdown, or
– all of the above countries plus Holland and the rest of the nordics, which ensure that working families’ security is backstopped by efficient, effective universal health insurance.
This isn’t that complicated. We need to reject the bread and circus mentality and replace it with something closer to the traditional American ethos based on frugality and mutual provision.
But first, we need to stop pretending that our form of capitalism is bold, progressive and cutting-edge. It’s not. It’s a reactionary cop-out by a political class that is distinguished from its northern cousins by its greed, cynicism and insularity.
A modest proposal: whoever is recruited to head up this or that Purple Party or Committee of Public Centrists needs to SPEND A YEAR OR TWO STUDYING THE NORDICS, GERMANS and CANADIANS.
And swear something like a solemn pledge that we will scrap the bread and circus policy that encourages Americans to buy stuff they don’t need with money they don’t have to one based on intelligent intervention to rein in the banks, get US companies hiring onshore, and above all, remove the nightmare of insecure access to decent health insurance from the minds of US workers and their families.
In short, we need a party committed to building an economy based on:
– less consumer stuff, smaller houses, less debt, broader prosperity including all-of-the-above energy production; and
– lower unemployment, tax reform, incentives to hire and retain employees, points-based immigration + border security, and that most crucial backstop for families, universal health insurance.
Also, re. Daniel Boone – all due respect to his backwoods heroics, but don’t you think a failed land speculator is a bit, er, inappropriate as a symbol of American revival today?
Anyway, what we need from our political class now is much more, not less worldliness: an awareness of other, thriving models of capitalism such as those to our north and northern Europe.
And a healthy dose of what Orwell identified as Charles Dickens’ supreme virtue, his “generous anger.”
What we need is a generation of worldly, humble, Nicholas Nicklebys.
The first target of this anger – the Murdstones and Podsnaps of our era – should be that unitary class of banksters and their admirers within the political elite, the pols of both parties who positively itch to get their unfair share of the big-money action snagged by their former classmates who hit the jackpot in Greenwich and Wall St and Silicon Valley.
Look at the naked greed of our era’s pols, who’ve followed such golden paths as
– rechristening themselves as big swingin’ D’s in the world of high finance, snaring partnerships in well-connected VC firms or hedge funds (cf Al Gore at KP, advocating for favors that juice up the ROI for KP’s greentech portfolio, or John Edwards joining a hedge fund as an “adviser” – on what, class-action arbitrage?),
– scoring stock options and board seats at corrupt companies (cf former HHS Sec’y Donna Shalala at United Health),
– landing media perches for their clownish political theatrics and entrepreneurial ventures (Palin, Gingrich),
– beclowning themselves with shameless lobbying (Daschle & wife, Gingrich again, Trent Lott et al.),
– arbitraging their access to inside info, enabling hundreds of trades in their 9-figure personal accounts (cf Kerry and Teresa in Sept 2008 – shameless), or
– smiling and dialing their political donor lists on behalf of investment banks (Rahm E. at Wasserstein Perella in 2000-2002).
Does any of this ever happen in Sweden or Denmark? I know that Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder did his own post-office grab for the gold, joining Merrill Lynch and shilling for the Russian thieves, after he left office, but I can’t think of any other German pols who behave like ours.
We really need a new political class.
Many of the comments long for something that ain’t gonna happen, like “we need a new political class,” or, “we need to act like Germans/Dutch/Nordics.” WRM is, alas, correct: we will come up with a distinctly American solution, which will offend all of us who thrive on a pure petit-bourgeois sensibility.
We will NOT create a new political class–although we will force some turnover–and we will NOT impose a foreign culture upon ourselves. Instead we will generate something unique and historically progressive, and until it shows up we can say almost nothing about its structure. Post blue, indeed; but we don’t know yet the new color. As a pragmatic people, we will be making it up as we go along. And then one day we will look back and name it.
I’m slightly more impressed by the Campaign for Primary Accountability. (Pretty short order, that.)
The polarization that is mentioned here is because the American people are searching for the way forward, and this is what it looks like. No one knows what life after the Blue Model is going to be like. Finding that way forward is more a matter of eliminating those ways that are not the way forward. And so we have frequent changes in leadership, as one party after the other fails and gets fired, and the other party gets a chance to design the future. This competition serves America well, it reduces corruption by disrupting the systems of patronage and corruption that take years to safely build, it spurs the party’s to find an acceptable way forward that will keep them in power, and it’s flexible in that we can start down a path (like Obamacare) decide it is the wrong path and turn away.
I personally think that American Culture including its Political System are superior to any mankind has ever evolved (mankind’s bleeding edge culture), and until America’s “Special Providence” abandons it, I will continued to think so, as all the evidence supports this conclusion. I also think that in the TEA Party (a political movement no other culture has spawned) we see the way forward and America will soon give the TEA Party the opportunity to design the way forward.
Speaking of broccoli: Back in 2008, there was an attempt to resurrect The Whig Party as an advocate for “fiscal responsibility, strong national defense, and social progression.”
Though it would be a unique national experience to see the party of William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor – the one political party that could take legitimate pride in having feet of Clay – regain power after 160 years of extinction, the Modern Whigs seemed overly intoxicated by the scent of broccoli to ever become a legitimate player on the current political scene.
With the distinctly uninspiring prospect of an Obama-Romney battle stretching endlessly across an infinite series of news cycles all the way to November..
Henry Adams’ said of the 1892 contest between Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland: “Harrison has no friends, and Cleveland only has enemies.” In 2012,I think, Romney has no friends, and Obama only has enemies.
But it will be the first US presidential election in which both candidates’ names end in vowel sounds….
Thibaud implies, in relation to essay’s theme, our politics (Demos) have been dominated by a particular type: purchasable men. How has this come about (he who pays the piper calls the tune) and what can be done to change it (given that aims of both political parties are to maintain status quo – existing politico-economic system)? He offers definitive suggestions; yet bread and circuses are derivatives of defective political understanding while utilizing the franchise – new political class without new electorate…
The democratic system thus comes full circle and in the United States presents a parody of itself on the governmental level – the entire land is officially plunged into bread and circuses nonsense (Madison Avenue). So, what we are really talking about is an operative and a formal political legal system – perhaps unknown political terrain for those effected the most.
It is time for us to put an end to partisan politics. Believe it or not, an Obama-Huntsman ticket running under the AE and Dem parties could legitimize the AE approach and set the stage for replacing partisan congressional representatives in 2014 with nonpartisan reps who respond directly to the views of the voters. By 2018 we will have a Congress that represents the will of the majority of the people instead of any political ideology.
A little elementary math and history will show why this AE effort will not work as it is now structured. It will attract only the political failures and nobodies. Every political star or genuine potential star will avoid AE as toxic suicide.
History and simple polling or political reality dictates that a third party candidate for president cannot win. The commitment of most Americans to their family party and the facts of life of the electoral college make it virtually impossible for a third party success. A third party can only, at best or worst, depending on your point of view, spoil the election, giving it to the less popular Democrat or Republican candidate.
For that reason, any politician who hopes to have a political future will not destroy his status by becoming a spoiler, damning his own party by splitting the votes of that party’s base.
And, if an AE candidate were to be elected president, it would be the worst four years of his life. He would have no party support in Congress. Both Republicans and Democrats would be the “opposition.” Whichever party he originally came from would hate him worse than the other one.
When the Republican party formed and replaced the Whig party, it did not do it by first seeking to win the Presidency. It began electing Congressmen. By the time Lincoln won, the Republicans already had members in Congress and the GOP was not a “third” party anymore. It was the first or second party in the nation.
That is what AE should have done. Start at the Congressional level and build a party base, a party platform, and a party structure. Then it will be ready to elect a president.
“as politically formidable as a basket of bunnies.” What a brilliant line. Vivid and provocative stuff. On the other hand, it would still be better to fix things in response to early warnings than wait for 10-year Treasury yields to go up 400 bp in a matter of weeks. It’s not just a matter of exploring new models. It’s also about avoiding crises.
In a de facto 2-party system, any 3rd party simply robs from its closest ideological neighbor, and pretty much guarantees the election of its strongest ideological opponent. In short, it’s fratricide.
Or, to quote Mitch Berg, “Third parties are to “parties” what near-beer is to beer.” (http://bit.ly/y6qAGi)
@9 Marty Keller – you’ve got it backwards: it’s the nordics and Germans who are now upholding the traditional yankee ethos of frugality and mutual provision. We’re the ones going the other way.
When I say “we need a new political class,” I’m really just arguing for a return to the mores of the US politicians of a prior generation such as Daniel Pat Moynihan and John Danforth.
In that era, our pols didn’t leave office in order to sell their influence as wannabe venture capitalists, or march directly into 7- or 8-figure lobbyist positions on K Street.
There was corruption, but it was truly petty stuff compared to John and Teresa Kerry’s stock trades, or the Fisker loan guarantee. A scandal in the Moynihan-Danforth era was Rostenkowski using the franking privilege for $20k worth of free postage.
As example after example shows – from our hack-ridden pension system to our Frankenstein health-care kludge to our zombie TBTF banks to our broken tax system that punishes onshore hiring and rewards offshore activity – we have fallen way behind the Canadians, nordics and Germans.
It’s pretty rich to say that we should be ignoring the experience of culturally-similar advanced democracies that are kicking our behind in terms of almost every relevant economic measure: growth, employment, fiscal soundness and pension sustainability.
“Surely there is some common sense, middle of the road option”
You mean like the one that worked so well, the half-slave, half-free nation?
There’s no middle ground between the “kick the problem down to future generations so long as I don’t lose my office/job” party and the “we’re going off the fiscal cliff” party. One’s poseurs; the other problem solvers. One’s a criminal conspiracy masquerading as a political party; the other a bunch of puny handwringing technocrats who will one day solve the real problems facing this country, even if it makes some furious and others cry.
Let’s start a new political party and call it the Broccoli Ice Cream Party. We could round out the scene by inviting the Tea Party and the Coffee Party to join us is the soiree.
The basic problem, the REAL problem that nobody wants to admit and face up to, is that our present constitutional government – our precious, beloved Constitution! – no longer works, and can’t be made to work. It doesn’t matter who we elect, just as changing drivers won’t make a broken-down car run. One way or another our system of government will end up being replaced. How, and what with? Well, if we the people want to have any say in that, then we have a lot of work to do and had better get started on it immediately. Otherwise, it will be decided for us, and not in a good way.
(By the way, the powers that be don’t want you to know about this, but the present Constitution CAN be legally replaced. It is all right there in Article V. The states can call a constitutional convention, and that convention can propose an entirely new constitution, along with a proposed amendment that, if ratified, would terminate the existing constitution and replace it with the new one. This can all be done without any approval or input from Congress, or the President, or the Supreme Court. In other words, the States retain the power to do pretty much the same thing that was done when the original Articles of Confederation were replaced with the present Constitution. The Constitutional convention went to some care to make sure that the door was left open for a repeat to be legally possible if ever needed.
Whether such a scenario acually ever comes to pass depends entirely on the American people and their state governments. The people elected to Congress or the Presidency would be totally irrelevant to this.)
Americans Elect misses the point (it consisting mainly of unprincipled [prostitutes]…err..I mean “moderate” politicians, is there any surprise?). There is no way to democratically govern 300mm+ people of all races, creeds, and regional differences in a way that would satisfy or be “fair” to all. Certainly not while insisting on equal outcomes across a variety of criteria and applying silly one-size-fits-all solutions to regional and local problems. If we insist on maintaining this bloated monstrosity that is the United State Federal Government, there are by definition going to be groups that strenuously object to one policy or the other. This is a natural by-product of 1) mass immigration, particularly unassimilated 3rd worlders, and 2) identity politics. All that has changed recently is that various state and regional entities are starting to find their credit cards cancelled, and in the case of the Tea Parties the tax-paying middle class that nobody in government cares about (a middle class made up largely, though not entirely of Whites) decided it was tired of being ignored except when it’s time to pick up the check.
The ancient Greeks’ concept of democracy was for city-states rarely exceeding 10,000 in population. Only a fool would think an unconstrained leviathan (and let’s be honest – the US federal government is effectively unrestrained) can admirably govern 300mm people – Whites, Blacks, Asians, Moslems, Roman Catholics, Atheists, Jews, Atheists, Homosexuals, Fundamentalists, Southerners, New Englanders, etc, etc. We’re governed by fools though, so I suppose this makes sense.
When speaking of the American people at large, people need to start by acknowledging that there is no “we”. 225 years ago there wasn’t either, but they knew that and were wise enough to govern accordingly. We don’t need “Americans Elect” or to “break the duopoly”. We need to break up this absurd conglomerate into more manageable chunks, or else learn to enjoy the roller-coaster ride.
It’s paychecks for the Ackerman family and friends plus blathering platforms and party invites all around. Silly and meaningless really, but what else are people like this to do with their copious free time.
Related material: THE SUBMERGED STATE by Suzanne Mettler adroitly addresses some of the issues roiling the body politic – “The submergence of the state is a significant problem for American society because it obscures the role of the government and exaggerates that of the market.” The book gives insight into democratic tension that has become distinctive feature of American political scene.
@Stefan: So, what do you propose we replace the Constitution with?
Robert@17: “In a de facto 2-party system, any 3rd party simply robs from its closest ideological neighbor, and pretty much guarantees the election of its strongest ideological opponent. In short, it’s fratricide.”
The 3rd party proponents often do so while claiming that their ideological neighbor isn’t ideologically pure enough. But then, if they actually manage an eventual successful fratricide, driving their “neighbor” out of business, they typically find out that in order to actually gain power, they must water down their ideology. Surprise!
[I don’t claim that this is always true, but the burden of proof in any particular case lies on the 3rd party proponents.]
William@20: “Let’s start a new political party and call it the Broccoli Ice Cream Party. We could round out the scene by inviting the Tea Party and the Coffee Party to join us is the soiree.”
If you wanna play at such a party I wish you lots o’ luck, but I’d rather drive a truck.
Stefan@21: Neither this nor any other constitution is some talisman that can protect us from bad governance. “A republic, if you can keep it.”
@18thibaud: I certainly agree with the key elements of your analysis, and only wish you had read my comments more carefully. I said we won’t be replacing our political class, but we will be changing it. I also said we won’t be adopting a political economy foreign to our own, no matter how compelling it might be in theory. (Cf. Tom Friedman’s love affair with China.) I did NOT say to ignore useful policies from other nations. That we should learn and/or shamelessly steal good ideas only makes sense and is entirely in the American tradition. But we will do so in a quintessentially American way, which will include that pragmatism that drives policy purists nuts.
Stefan Stackhouse is like:
By the way, the powers that be don’t want you to know about this, but the present Constitution CAN be legally replaced
No way would that notorious Constitutional zealot Ruth Bader Ginsburg ever want the hoi polloi dissing the Supremes’ judicial authority.
I’m all ears to hear from Mr. Stackhouse how we can transcend those mediocrities Hamilton, Madison and Jay. Perhaps Mr. Stackhouse could commission the Federalist Papers II, a compilation of the deepest thoughts of Nancy Pelosi, Johm Boehner, and Mitch McConnell (we have to exclude Henry Reid, due to his membership in an extremist sect).
“The basic problem, the REAL problem that nobody wants to admit and face up to, is that our present constitutional government – our precious, beloved Constitution! – no longer works, and can’t be made to work.”
If you think we have constitutional government now, you are certifiable. Just to throw a metric out, prior to WWI the federal government consumed, on average, about 7% of GDP. Today, over 35% [not counting state and local spending]. The generational theft that is Socialism Security [and nowhere enumerated as a power in said Constitution] enabled the growth of the federal government. As to what “works” means, it’s clear we have a very different definition of that word.
@ thibaud (re #7):
Whatever the merits of the alternate models you propose (I confess to mixed feelings about the degree of their applicability to our “peculiar” – and by no means superior – US conditions), many heartfelt thanks for an extremely accurate summary of the bipartisan world of the past generation. Or at least of the world I THOUGHT I was living in for 3+ decades.
@27 Marty – fair points, thanks for the clarification. Of course “replace” is an aspirational term. Substitute “throw the bums out” if you like.
@30 JR – different world, yes. Even the Keating Five scandal looks tame compared to the money-grubbing behavior we now take for granted from our pols. Our biggest problems are moral, not political or financial.
A commentor at my sight observes:
“It’s obvious: Americans Elect are a bunch of false flag Axelrod stooges, whose purpose is to fracture the rationally ignorant mushy middle. So Barry get his 50% of the undecideds, and Mitt gets his 25%. And Barry wins again.”