10 June 2007

Campaign Observations

Here, are comments by Timothy Garton Ash, drawn from his brief reflections on the recent debates among U.S. presidential candidates:

"What remains fundamentally different from the old continent is the way American politicians not merely have religion but wear it on their sleeve. ... Jesus -- I found myself inwardly exclaiming, as a post-Christian European -- Jesus, what century are we in? ... Next to the Atlantic ocean, this is perhaps the greatest European-American divide."

And Garton Ash is talking about candidates of both parties, not just the Republicans!

With that as background, here, from today's New York Times is the gist of a long story about John Edwards, he of the putatively extreme-left-of-elect-ability among Democratic candidates:

"The significance of what Edwards is saying, though, goes well beyond messaging and tactics. As the first candidate of the post-Bill Clinton, postindustrial era to lay out an ambitious antipoverty plan, he may force Democrats to contemplate difficult questions that they haven’t debated in decades — starting with what they’ve learned about poverty since Johnson and Kennedy’s time,
and what, exactly, they’re willing to do about it. ...

The main economic debate in Democratic Washington revolves around how to do this [mitigate economic inequality]. It is a debate over the tools of economic policy — taxes, trade, welfare — and how to use them. The argument here breaks down, roughly speaking, along an ideological continuum from doctrinaire conservatives on the right all the way to reborn populists on the left. And the challenge for John Edwards, if he really wants to reset the national agenda on poverty and inequality, is to figure out where on this continuum he’s going to live. ...

This word — “populist” — is thrown around a lot in connection with John Edwards and his presidential campaign. The New Republic titled its Edwards profile “The Accidental Populist,” and the word has been used to describe him, at one point or another, in virtually every major newspaper in the past several months. It is a word with a specific meaning to the historians who study political campaigns: it describes someone who appeals to deep-seated resentments against corporate interests and the wealthy. Attaching the populist label to Edwards implies that he has planted himself on the far left of the inequality continuum, alongside the antitrade, anticorporate, predistribution Democrats. ...

Aside from the price tag, however, what stands out the most about Edwards’s antipoverty ideas is their familiarity. It’s as if he has taken most of the proposals that have been talked about in policy groups and at university forums since the 1990s and thrown them all together into one comprehensive and expensive package. The individual proposals themselves, far from being radical or populist, basically sound — there’s no other way to put it — Clintonian. ...

In fact, the more you talk to Edwards, the more apparent it is that the populist label doesn’t quite fit. While he talks incessantly about economic injustice, Edwards isn’t proposing anything ... that would strike a serious blow against multinational corporations or the top tier of American earners. Even in his rhetoric, Edwards seems to deliberately avoid stoking resentments or pitting one class against another the way a true populist would, unless you count taking a few easy shots at Wal-Mart."

The Dems, Edwards included, simply are averse to actually talking about the large and increasing mal-distribution of income and wealth in the country. They clearly have no persuasive diagnosis of its sources. Nor do they surely have any interest in running deficits to address it (unlike BushCo who are happy to run deficits in pursuit of their insane agenda) or interfering with the sanctity of "the family" in order to try to set young kids on something like an equal economic footing. Perhaps, like the sanctity of the family, economic mal-distribution is ordained by God. That, perhaps, would account for the theocratic leanings of all our candidates. What is remarkable is that the right has succeeded in mapping - actually circumscribing - the terrain of political possibilities here in such a frightentingly narrow and skewed a way.
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PS: I lifted the unattributed photo at the top from Alternet.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think they are necessarily averse to discussing it, they just don't think its going to be helpful politically. And if that is indeed what they think, they're probably right.

Edwards is doing a service to even talk about it and get it into the headlines. His actual plan at this point is probably irrelevant anyway. Let him get elected first and then try to get something drafted that might pass, then we'll worry about his plan. Who is this guy anyway? Anyone remember the "centrist" Edwards of 2004?

11 June, 2007 21:16  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

My view is that Edwards simply is a centrist at best. None of the things he is proposing is more than palliative. Even The Times notes that! What will happen if he gets elected (which I doubt will happen anyway) is that his administration will decelare a "war" on poverty or inequality, will then fight it with his half-hearted policies, and lose. In other words we'll have an unsuccessful skirmish with poverty & inequality. The we will hear (as we have since Lyndon Johnson) that government policies cannot work on such problems. Poverty & Inequality will then be off the political agenda for yet another generation.

12 June, 2007 08:36  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the statement, "Perhaps, like the sanctity of the family, economic mal-distribution is ordained by God. That, perhaps, would account for the theocratic leanings of all our candidates. What is remarkable is that the right has succeeded in mapping - actually circumscribing - the terrain of political possibilities here in such a frightentingly narrow and skewed a way," how much of this do you think is due to something like what Roemer describes in "Why the Poor do not Expropriate the Rich: an Old Argument in New Garb" (1998)?

I don't know about you, but I'd also have to say that a big part of the problem that "The Left" has had in dealing with religion is that politicians on "The Left" have just plain been sissies when it comes to these issues (although I will exempt from this criticism those who have been elaborately threated with physical harm by fringe types).

Side note: I just read "Why Churches Cannot Endorse of Oppose Political Candidates," by James D. Davidson (1998). It's a fascinating account that makes the claim that the prohibition on churches endorsing canidates has nothing to do with the Constitution. Rather, the prohibition was a byproduct of Senator LBJ trying to shut up some McCarthyist types that were making use of tax-exemptions. Who woulda thunk? I'm certainly don't want to encourage the opacity in policy making that LBJ made use of, but at least he was not a sissy in terms of pursing what he believed in (and, of course, reelection).

12 June, 2007 10:03  

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