Thursday, December 31, 2015

As 2015 Closes, Gonzo Matt Deconstructs The Real Meaning Of Der Trumpster

It's hard to top Gonzo Matt for LOL-snark. The Gonzo-Man performs an ante mortem autopsy on Der Trumpster and the "movement" he has spawned. The results are sobering and say much about the electorate. If this is a (fair & balanced) dissection of a "goofball billionaire mirror-gazer," so be it.

[x RS]
In The Year Of Trump, The Joke Was On Us
By Gonzo Matt (Taibbi)

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It started out as a joke: Donald Trump running for president! What better way to spoof the thinness of the Republican field than to shove a bombastic reality star with orange hair, a sixth-grade vocabulary and no behavioral filter onto the debate stage with the likes of Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Scott Walker and Lindsey Graham? The only thing more perfect would have been to add a head of lettuce and Koko the signing gorilla to round out the candidate slate.

Trump seemed like a perfect foil in particular for Jeb Bush, a hesitating, gelatinous aristocrat who lacked the cocksure brainlessness the previous Bush used to sell himself as a "regular guy." In an era when Republican voters were more distrustful than ever of the Same Old Politics, stiff, birthright-bearing Jeb was exactly the wrong candidate for the party elders to back.

And they seemed to realize it, too. Once the Republican race got going, the party appeared too disorganized and fractured to throw its institutional weight behind anyone. This left a comically enormous cast of hopefuls to duke it out in the equivalent of a schoolyard rock fight. And without the gravitas of party and media support, the candidates on the Republican side turned out to be just a bunch of chattering, defenseless, fourth-rate flesh-bags, exquisitely vulnerable to any strong personality. The entrance of Trump into the race on June 16th therefore offered the potential of an entertaining car wreck of awesome proportions.

But things turned ugly less than 45 minutes into his run. In his announcement, Trump told the world that Mexican immigrants were "rapists" who needed to be stopped. Then, in an interview with CNN's Don Lemon, he doubled down on the remark instead of recanting. "Well, somebody's doing the raping," he seethed. A week later, Mexicans, to Trump, were not just rapists but "rapists and killers," and he was now adding a proposal to build a giant wall across the Mexican border to stop the "Army of Darkness"-style invading rape-murder horde. The wall would be "tall" and building it would be "easy," he said, adding that he would get Mexico to pay for it, because he knew the "art of negotiating" and wasn't a "clown."

To the astonishment of most observers, Trump soared to second place in Iowa and New Hampshire, and was the clear frontrunner by mid-July. Except for a brief surge by crazy-ass Ben Carson in the fall, he's remained there ever since. Heading into the holiday season, he was pushing 40% in some national polls, more popular than ever.

The appearance of a onetime Spy magazine punchline and WWE performer as the real leader of a real screwball nationalist movement has been at least partly an accidental phenomenon.

The ancient report that he used to keep a book of Hitler's speeches by his bedside notwithstanding, it's very likely that Donald Trump never in his life thought seriously about things like nativism, fascism, eugenics, or any kind of ideology at all. This was not someone who likely ever dreamed of cattle cars and rivers of blood. Trump is a narcissist, not a demagogue; his pathology is himself, not politics.

A pre-2015 Trump fantasy was probably something like romping with models after simultaneously winning the Nobel Prizes for Peace, Literature and Physics (they love me in Sweden – scientists were amazed by the size of my skyscraper!). He almost certainly would have been grossed out by a Ghost-of-Christmas-Future-style image of his 2015 self being feted by crowds of rifle-toting white power nerds.

But shortly after Trump jumped into the race, he stumbled onto a secret: whenever he blurted out forbidden thoughts about race, ethnicity or gender, he was showered with the attention he always craved.

A sizable portion of the country seemed appalled at the things he said. But at the same time he was suddenly attracting huge and adoring crowds at down-home sites like Bluffton, South Carolina and Mobile, Alabama, pretty much the last places you'd ever expect the Trump brand to take off.

Trump had spent his entire career lending his name to luxury properties that promised exclusivity and separation from exactly the sort of struggling Joes who turned out for these speeches. If you live in a Trump building in a place like the Upper West Side, it's supposed to mean that you're too cosmopolitan, stylish, and successful — too smart-set — to mix with the rabble.

But the rabble — white, working-class, rural, despising exactly those big-city elites who live in Trump's buildings — turned out to be Trump's base. They're the people who hooted and hollered every time he said something off-color about Muslims or Mexicans or Asians ("We want deal!" Trump snickered earlier this year, in a Chinese-waiter voice) or "the blacks."

It was a bizarre marriage, but it made sense from from a clinical point of view. Attention is attention. Patient with narcissistic personality disorder discovers massive source of narcissistic supply, so he sets about securing its regular delivery.

So one comment about Mexicans turned into another about Megyn Kelly's "wherever," which turned into a call for a Black Lives Matter protester to be "roughed up," which turned into an insane slapstick routine about a Times reporter with arthrogryposis, and so on. By December, you had to check Twitter every few hours just to see which cultural taboo Trump was stomping on now.

The presidential campaign Trump began as just the latest in a long line of zany self-promotional gambits has now turned into the long-delayed other shoe dropping from the American civil rights movement. This goofball billionaire mirror-gazer has unleashed a half-century of crackpot grievances about the post-civil rights cultural landscape that a plurality of seething white people felt they never had permission to air, until he came along.

White America has been talking about race in code for more than half a century. You can trace the practice back to Barry Goldwater's 1964 acceptance speech, when he talked about "law and order" and the need to restrain "marauders," after a series of race riots in east coast cities. The speech struck a chord with white voters.

Goldwater's discovery that you could use crime as a proxy to talk about race helped define the next half-century of major-party politics in America. Later generations of pols used other issues like immigration, tax reform and "income redistribution" to achieve the same end.

We called it "dog-whistle politics" because after the Civil Rights Movement, the party line was that we were now all partners in Dr. King's famous dream of racial harmony. So there were certain things you were no longer supposed to say out loud.

You couldn't just come out and say black people were lazy anymore. But you could talk about how "good people" in "small towns" do "some of the hardest work," as Sarah Palin did in 2008. And you could hint that there was another group of people who preferred just to get "free stuff," as Mitt Romney said in 2012.

But people get tired of talking in code. In this sense Trump's campaign isn't repudiating the Civil Rights Movement per se, but the Republicans who give fake lip-service to it. Even the worst race-baiters of the recent Republican past conceded that racial appeals had to be cloaked.

"You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger,'" strategist Lee Atwater, the creator of George H.W. Bush's infamous Willie Horton ad, once said. "By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states' rights."

Trump made the Republican field look weak by blurting straight-out what they would only say in code (Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie all parroted Romney's pathetic "free stuff" line this year, for instance). This part of Trump's act has to thrill Democrats, since he's stealing away from Republicans the illusion of centrism. Future Republican nominees will have a tough time remembering how in the world George W. Bush ever won 44% of the Hispanic vote, as he did in 2004.

But Trump's act isn't all about race. He's also scoring points by mining the same mainstream frustrations over language-policing and political correctness that made Sam Kinison and Andrew Dice Clay famous. Trump's broadsides about Megyn Kelly aren't that far off from the Dice-Man's "Pattycake" routine.

The difference is, Clay and Kinison and comedians like them were trying to make a point about the absurdity of policing away forbidden thoughts, while Trump is basically a cretinous dinosaur who doesn't understand why slurs about periods or the disabled or "the blacks" were ever made taboo in the first place. He's not pushing back with a laugh, from a nightclub. He wants to do it from the Oval Office. Even Dice Clay thinks he's nuts.

All comedy is about misunderstandings. A little town gets word that a government inspector is coming, so it mistakenly rolls out the red carpet for a visiting drunk on a gambling spree.

2015 was the same kind of mistaken-identity tale. The Silent Majority has been waiting 50 years for a prophet, but this year it settled for a billionaire loudmouth with a comb-over and a personality disorder. Like all comedies, this one is bound to end with an explosion of unintended consequences. What we won't know until 2016 is whether this joke will end up being on all of us — or just those of us who waited too long to take Trump's accidental war seriously. Ω

[As Rolling Stone’s chief political reporter, Matt Taibbi's predecessors include the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and P.J. O'Rourke. Most recently, he has written The Divide (2014). Taibbi received a BA (journalism) from Bard College.]

Copyright © 2015 Rolling Stone

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Welcome To Music Appreciation 101, Redux

This blogger most closely resembles his bĂȘtes noires (Dumbos/Teabaggers) when it comes to appreciation of opera, but when he first heard songs and music from "Porgy and Bess" in an 8th-grade music class.... "Summertime," "I Got Plenty O'Nuttin'," and "It Ain't Necessarily So" are works of genius and they have become standards in jazz and blues in addition to their original operatic setting. Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Aretha Franklin liked those songs and that's good enough for this heathen-blogger. If this is (fair & balanced) classical music, so be it.

[x WQ]
"Porgy And Bess" At 80
By Blair A. Ruble

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Eighty years ago, on October 20, 1935, New York’s Alvin Theatre hosted one of the most important performances in the history of American musical theater: the Broadway premiere of "Porgy and Bess," an “American folk opera,” with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin and based on Charleston literary notable Dubose Heyward’s best-selling 1925 novel Porgy.

Those in attendance knew that they were witnessing history. Gershwin’s reputation and ambition suggested that his opera could be a work for the ages, and everyone who was anyone in the New York cultural and social scene wanted to be present for it. The opera’s creators sat nervously toward the back of the orchestra-level seats that first night, trying to discern how others were reacting to their creation. They waited until the finale brought an explosion of boisterous curtain calls that seemed to last forever.

For the next eight decades, one question has hung over everything that transpired on stage that evening: What, precisely, is "Porgy and Bess"? A musical? An opera? Is it high art or middlebrow culture? A sympathetic and path-breaking treatment of African American life, or a racist regurgitation of demeaning stereotypes.

Enthusiastic audiences aside, critics were divided about the show, often disparaging George Gershwin as little more than an overly ambitious pop music parvenu. If he had written an “opera,” why was it being staged in a music hall like the Alvin Theatre? One undeniable dimension of the Porgy and Bess tale was answered definitively as soon as Abbie Mitchell launched into the opening notes of the show’s first melody, “Summertime.” No one could deny the transcendental beauty of George Gershwin’s score.

Theater is a product of collaboration among many artistic associates. This was especially true of "Porgy and Bess." The story’s original creator, DuBose Heyward, inherited considerable social prominence and little wealth from his distinguished Charleston family (his great-great-grandfather, Thomas Heyward Jr., signed the Declaration of Independence). Deciding to become a writer, Heyward tossed aside a career in selling insurance to devote time to his new craft.

Looking for a tale to tell, he picked up a local Charleston News and Courier on his way to have breakfast one morning at his sister’s place down the street from “Cabbage Row,” an 18th-century courtyarded building inhabited by African American workers and servants. In the paper, Heyward read a story about how a crippled beggar named Samuel Smalls — well-known for getting around town in a cart drawn by a goat — had been arrested for aggravated assault after having attempted to shoot Maggie Barnes. The tale inspired the plot of Heyward’s novel.

DuBose and his wife Dorothy collaborated in writing what became one of 1925’s top literary hits, the novel Porgy. Dorothy saw Porgy’s theatrical potential and adopted the tale for the stage. Produced by New York’s prominent Theatre Guild, the play proved to be one of the great successes during Broadway’s successful 1927–28 season.

Porgy’s accomplishments rested on more than a compelling, if melodramatic, story. Since childhood, DuBose had been fascinated by the African Americans on whom every white person in Charleston depended in any number of ways. His mother Jane had become something of an amateur specialist on the region’s distinctive “Gullah” language and culture, handed down from generation to generation among the descendants of West African slaves who had been brought to South Carolina to farm rice. The term “Gullah,” probably derived from the word “Angola,” refers to a form of English infused with vocabulary and grammatical structures preserved from several West African languages. Like all Charleston children of his social station, DuBose grew up surrounded by Gullah-speaking nannies, servants, and workers.

DuBose’s stories, which included other African American oriented works as Jasbo Brown and Other Poems (1924), Mamba’s Daughters (1929), and the screenplay for Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones (1933), appeared at a time when white Americans knew little or nothing about African American life and culture. Although DuBose’s works are now dated and have long been open to charges of promoting derogatory stereotypes, they stand out among other white writings of the era as unusually knowledgeable about and sympathetic to African American culture.

Around that same time, George Gershwin, set on writing an American opera, began looking for a story to put to music. One night, unable to fall asleep, he picked up Porgy. The next morning, he wrote to the Heywards, initiating a creative journey that would last nearly a decade. Gershwin labeled his masterpiece a “folk opera,” a term that has deeply confused American critics ever since. Slavic creators like Modest Mussorgsky would have needed no explanation for the concept, as they simultaneously drew on local “folk” music and traditions to create distinctive national operatic traditions. Gershwin was well aware of these connections, comparing "Porgy and Bess" to Mussorgsky’s "Boris Godunov" as well as Georges Bizet’s "Carmen" (indeed, the plot of Gershwin’s opera closely tracks that of Bizet’s "Carmen").

Once "Porgy and Bess" had gained greater recognition following World War II — having been validated enthusiastically on the stages of Milan, London, and Paris through touring performances — Americans could no longer deny its significance. After circling the globe and being performed across the United States, George Gershwin’s monumental “folk opera” finally entered the repertoire of New York’s exalted Metropolitan Opera in 1985, more or less simultaneously with its first performance in Charleston and a full half-century after it premiered. Three decades later, there is no longer any question about the importance of this work. "Porgy and Bess" has become an American classic. Ω

[Blair A. Ruble is vice president for programs at The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and director of the Center’s Urban Sustainability Laboratory. He is the author of Washington’s U Street: A Biography (2010). Ruble received an AB (highest honors in political science) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as well as an MA and PhD (both in political science) from the University of Toronto.]

Copyright © 2015 Wilson Quarterly/The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

If Hope Doesn't Float, Does It Sink?

Today's post by Professor Tim Tyson concludes with a feel-good reminiscence about the late John Hope Franklin.Tyson was a grad student at Duke during John Hope Franklin's latter years there and Tyson admits that he "adored" the old fellow. Unfortunately, this blogger has a different view [PDF] of John Hope Franklin. If this is a (fair & balanced) hope for historical accuracy, so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
Can Honest History Allow For Hope?
By Tim Typson

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Historians find it hard to be peddlers of hope. A classic New Yorker cartoon shows a bearded historian lament to his psychiatrist: “Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it, but those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it.” With much wisdom comes much sorrow, saith the psalmist. History is the story of human error battling plaguesome if not overwhelming structural forces, and things generally not going as well as we wish they might have.

And then there are the massacres. When I march in a demonstration and begin to chant, “The people, united, can never be defeated,” it makes me want to lie down in a puddle of tears. Historians might chant, “The people—united, deluded, indifferent, bamboozled—have often been defeated.” Of course, then we’d all give up, and how would that work out? My political life as a professional historian from 1994 to the present offers at least one notable lesson: If you think that things can’t get worse, you’re sorely mistaken.

To tell the sunnier story is a slide toward futility and perhaps a kind of insanity, a march into a circus mirror. This also leads toward disillusionment for those who would model themselves on Martin Luther King, Jr., and find they cannot live up to his legend. (Neither did he, for that matter.) Forcing the happy story means embracing delusions about who Americans have been, which inevitably lead to delusions about who Americans are. You may as well lie to your psychiatrist. “An invented past can never be used,” James Baldwin writes, “it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.”

Traditions of struggle; now, those are a different matter. They are real and they matter and they must be embraced; they speak to our highest aspirations as a species. “The struggle of humanity against power,” writes Milan Kundera, “is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” It would be both misguided and mistaken to leave those traditions out of the story. They are a force in history and often a source of hope, in personal lives and sometimes even in works of history. But again and again, things fall apart, the best hopes are dashed, and history does not offer a happier lesson very often.

Sure, as the poet Seamus Heaney said, sometimes “hope and history rhyme,” and all that. But the poet also said in the previous lines, “History says don’t hope on this side of the grave / But then, once in a lifetime / The longed for tidal wave / Of justice can rise up,” and that right there tells you that the poet, though he hears history’s lecture, is nevertheless smoking moonbeams. Anytime a writer uses the metaphors of meteorology to describe human history, he or she simply has no idea what happened.

In human history, tides don’t rise and fall, floods don’t sweep the land, prairie fires don’t spread. People, usually people working in a tradition of struggle, are sometimes able to organize and mobilize enough people, and those people are able to educate themselves enough through their own experience to make a movement that changes things for the better, for a time, in a place—and these are history’s high points. But they are not the weather. The weather, if relevant, is often bad news, and the best weather won’t help if people don’t manage to raise a sail. Human striving is not pointless, as a rule, but even necessary and noble campaigns don’t often go as intended.

I am a civil-rights historian but also a weary activist of sorts, and I will admit that these roles are sometimes at odds with one another, especially where hopes arise—or don’t. Writing op-eds is a particular challenge. The activists press me to tell a triumphant tale, and I mostly can’t. Historians often aren’t politically useful enough to suit me—I don’t want them to sing “On the Good Ship Lollypop [sic],” just help out like other citizens often do. Speeches and press releases need writing, the movement is always broke, the young people need attention, organizing is hard work and so on. Historians have useful skills. Many are good cooks, for example.

I joke about historians being politically useless, but many make a difference. The 1965 Selma march was packed with historians. In North Carolina, I’ve seen two former presidents of the Organization of American Historians, Bill Chafe and Jacquelyn Hall, along with Bob Korstad, Nancy MacLean, and several other historians hauled off in handcuffs in acts of civil disobedience in the “Moral Monday” movement. Historian E. P. Thompson was a great peace activist and Gerda Lerner a founder of the National Organization of Women. John Hope Franklin helped do the research for Brown v. Board of Education. The crafts of history and citizenship can coexist under one roof, like plumbing and accounting, both of them necessary but without much in common. Few people are good at both. Historians like to think our scholarship is an act of citizenship, of course, but I would hate to try to make a thumping historical case for its effectiveness.

Historians often undermine the hopes that activists live on. We’re like bugs in the breakfast cereal, ruining everything with our digging. Nell Painter’s lesson about the persistence of white supremacy is a case in point. White supremacy has proven itself malleable and persistent enough to say that it will be with America for a long time. It has been compelled to change shape in this era, but not entirely so, and the new manifestations are likely as tenacious as the old. If the unfinished work of Black Power—to create a whole new Black sense of self, or what Dr. King called a sense of “somebodiness”—continues to be taken up with vigor and skill, I think that a serious hit on internalized white supremacy is possible. Some of that has been accomplished, though there is far to go.

But the external structures of white supremacy—not the slogan, not the political program, but the economic, societal and political structures of it—have displayed remarkable flexibility and strength. The engrained white supremacy of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “people who believe they are white” has learned to conceal itself in some ways and has weakened in others. But Coates makes a strong case that the essence of white race politics is self-exoneration and that this truth goes marching on. As in hope and historical narratives, self-exoneration as a driving force will make the bearer crazy, and much of our culture is an illustration, from the well-meaning liberal to the vituperative bigot. As the sociologist Eduardo Bonita-Silva says, America suffers from racism without racists.

Twenty-five years ago, when I was a graduate student, I was marching against some war or other on a cold day, carrying my newborn daughter, Martha Hope Tyson, in my arms in a furry pink bunny suit. (Her, not me.) John Hope Franklin, who must have been about 75 years old, with two good decades left in him, was marching nearby. I was too shy to speak to the great historian. Sam Reed, a veteran activist even older than Franklin, took the baby from me for a moment and stepped over to him. “John Hope, this is Tim Tyson’s new baby girl,” Sam said, gesturing toward me, “and she’s named after you! Martha Hope!” Hope was actually named after her aunt and her grandmother, but I didn’t correct Sam because I didn’t really mind if John Hope Franklin knew that I adored him. We didn’t stop that war, or the next one, either, but I still love Hope. And I have hope, too, history or no history. Ω

Copyright © 2015 The Atlantic Monthly Group

[Tim Tyson is the Visiting Professor of American Christianity and Southern Culture at Duke University. He has written Blood Done Sign My Name (2004). Tyson received a BA (history) from Emory University as well as a PhD (history) from Duke University.]

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Hip, Hip, Hooray For The Last Of The 2015 Retrospectives (Image Or Text)

Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins) has the honor of observing the "best" events in the 2nd half of 2015. And, in the last panel: Tom Tomorrow's predictions for 2016 — more gun massacres, more wars, and more Der Trumpster! If this is (fair & blanced) breathless anticipation, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
2015 The Year In Review — Part The Twoth
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

Copyright © 2015 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

For The Second Successive Day, Here's ANOTHER Treat For Our Dumbo/Teabagger Readers (Using That Term Loosely)

We live in a time when it seems that the media is reflected in amusement park mirrors. Der Trumpster is the defacto POTUS 45 and POTUS 44 belongs among the lowest of the low: Harding and Buchanan, yada yada yada. Today, Bill Scher offers a corrective view as POTUS 44 enters the final year of his second term. If this is a (fair & balanced) antidote to Dumbo/Teabagger nattering negativism, so be it.

[x RealClear Politics]
Obama Has Broken The Second-Term Curse
By Bill Scher

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Presidential scholars have a term to describe the typical experience of a chief executive who wins re-election to the White House. It’s called the “second-term curse.” There’s evidence for it. Midway through their second terms, George W. Bush suffered Hurricane Katrina and the Iraqi quagmire, Bill Clinton was impeached, Ronald Reagan was staggered by the Iran-contra scandal, and Richard Nixon was run out of town.

At the risk of jinxing our current president with one year left to go, he appears to have broken the curse.

Not everything has been smooth sailing. His party lost the Senate in the 2014 midterms. He failed to pass gun control despite a series of tragic shootings. His immigration executive actions are tied up in court. He has yet to arrest the threat of ISIS or resolve the underlying crisis of the Syrian civil war.

But Obama, unlike all of his second-term predecessors in the last 40 years, has not been knocked off course by scandal. Even if something truly awful happens in his last year, he has already been able to pocket several significant wins that will burnish his legacy.

In 2013, the president’s year began with the repeal of the Bush-era tax cuts for the top earners, creating a tax code The New York Times called the “most progressive since 1979.” Later that year, he stared down the Republicans’ attempt to defund Obamacare via government shutdown, permanently weakening his opponents’ bargaining leverage.

Fast-forward to this month: Obama used that leverage to secure a budget deal that includes permanent extensions of lower-income tax credits from the 2009 stimulus, support for Obamacare insurance plans, long-term tax incentives for renewable energy and funding to carry out the recent international climate agreement. Not only has the Republican Congress effectively relented on the climate deal, it previously admitted defeat on Obama’s other major foreign policy achievement: the Iran nuclear deal.

Even the president’s second-term bully pulpit showed some punch. Since he called for a higher minimum wage in his 2013 State of the Union address, 17 states have followed suit.

What did Obama do right that escaped past second-termers?

The most obvious lesson: Don’t have an enormous scandal. Iran-contra, Watergate, and the Lewinsky affair became all-consuming because of serious allegations that the president personally violated the law. Obama may have pushed the boundaries of what he can do via executive action, but those are constitutional questions that can, should, and are being adjudicated in court. He never came to close to being charged with a crime.

Obama also mastered the art of scandal management, while his Republican opponents lost credibility by transparently politicizing every investigation. Transgressions are inevitable at some level in any administration, and Obama was prepared to minimize fallout. He was quick to force out compromised underlings, including Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, and knew when to patiently work through a problem, such as with the initial website glitches.

In contrast, Republicans never learned how to calibrate their reactions. Instead of following the facts before drawing conclusions, they proclaim the worst—and then fail to prove their allegations. That’s why the pursuits of wrongdoing in Fast and Furious, Solyndra, the IRS audits and Benghazi have all fizzled.

Obama also avoided the trap of second-term hubris. Before Katrina walloped Louisiana, Bush’s political capital had already taken a hit when he overreached with his failed proposal to partially privatize Social Security.

Obama may have come up short with his 2013 gun control push (a heavy lift he would not have prioritized if not for the Sandy Hook school massacre) but his position wasn’t wildly out of step with the public and the effort didn’t severely damage his poll numbers. Any loss of political capital was recouped by winning the shutdown standoff later that year.

Although Obama didn’t succumb to overreach, he did not remain passive. He tapped a tireless secretary of state hungry to forge agreements. He pressed for as much he could with the Republican Congress, silencing doubters who said bipartisanship was futile. When the legislative branch would not oblige, he turned to the executive branch.

Love him or hate him, the man is not idle and his second term never was plagued by atrophy, let alone scandal. Future presidents, in either party, will do themselves a favor by following the Obama model. Ω

[Bill Scher is executive editor of LiberalOasis, a contributor to RealClearPolitics, and a contributing editor at Politico magazine. Scher received a BA (political science) from Oberlin College. He has written Wait! Don't Move To Canada (2006).]

Copyright © 2015 RealClearPolitics

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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Yo! Dumbos/Teabaggers! Read On — You're Gonna Love Today's Post

Peter Beinart offers a big-picture survey of the national dynamic and argues against Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s cyclical theory of US politics. If this is (fair & balanced) revisionism, so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
Why America Is Moving Left
By Peter Beinart

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Over roughly the past 18 months, the following events have transfixed the nation.

In July 2014, Eric Garner, an African American man reportedly selling loose cigarettes illegally, was choked to death by a New York City policeman.

That August, a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot and killed an African American teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. For close to two weeks, protesters battled police clad in military gear. Missouri’s governor said the city looked like a war zone.

In December, an African American man with a criminal record avenged Garner’s and Brown’s deaths by murdering two New York City police officers. At the officers’ funerals, hundreds of police turned their backs on New York’s liberal mayor, Bill de Blasio.

In April 2015 another young African American man, Freddie Gray, died in police custody, in Baltimore. In the chaos that followed, 200 businesses were destroyed, 113 police officers were injured, and 486 people were arrested. To avoid further violence, a game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox was postponed twice, then played in an empty stadium with police sirens audible in the distance.

Then, in July, activists with Black Lives Matter, a movement that had gained national attention after Brown’s death, disrupted speeches by two Democratic presidential candidates in Phoenix, Arizona. As former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley fidgeted onstage, protesters chanted, “If I die in police custody, avenge my death! By any means necessary!” and “If I die in police custody, burn everything down!” When O’Malley responded, “Black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter,” the crowd booed loudly. Later that day, O’Malley apologized. Donald Trump, who had ascended to first place in the race for the Republican presidential nomination while promising to represent the “silent majority,” called O’Malley “a disgusting little weak, pathetic baby.”

Anyone familiar with American history can hear the echoes. The phrase by any means necessary was popularized by Malcolm X in a June 1964 speech in Upper Manhattan. In the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in April 1968, Baltimore burned, as many cities did amid the racial violence that broke out every spring and summer from 1964 to 1969. In November 1969, in a speech from the Oval Office, Richard Nixon uttered the phrase silent majority. It soon became shorthand for those white Americans who, shaken by crime and appalled by radicalism, turned against the Democratic Party in the ’60s and ’70s. For Americans with an ear for historical parallels, the return of that era’s phrases and images suggests that a powerful conservative backlash is headed our way.

At least, that was my thesis when I set out to write this essay. I came of age in the ’80s and ’90s, when the backlash against ’60s liberalism still struck terror into Democratic hearts. I watched as Ronald Reagan moved the country hard to the right, and as Bill Clinton made his peace with this new political reality by assuring white America that his party would fight crime mercilessly. Seeing this year’s Democratic candidates crumple before Black Lives Matter and shed Clinton’s ideological caution as they stampeded to the left, I imagined the country must be preparing for a vast conservative reaction.

But I was wrong. The more I examined the evidence, the more I realized that the current moment looks like a mirror image of the late ’60s and early ’70s. The resemblances are clear, but their political significance has been turned upside down. There is a backlash against the liberalism of the Obama era. But it is louder than it is strong. Instead of turning right, the country as a whole is still moving to the left.

That doesn’t mean the Republicans won’t retain strength in the nation’s statehouses and in Congress. It doesn’t mean a Republican won’t sooner or later claim the White House. It means that on domestic policy—foreign policy is following a different trajectory, as it often does—the terms of the national debate will continue tilting to the left. The next Democratic president will be more liberal than Barack Obama. The next Republican president will be more liberal than George W. Bush.

In the late ’60s and ’70s, amid left-wing militancy and racial strife, a liberal era ended. Today, amid left-wing militancy and racial strife, a liberal era is only just beginning.

Understanding why requires understanding why the Democratic Party—and more important, the country at large—is becoming more liberal.

The story of the Democratic Party’s journey leftward has two chapters. The first is about the presidency of George W. Bush. Before Bush, unapologetic liberalism was not the Democratic Party’s dominant creed. The party had a strong centrist wing, anchored in Congress by white southerners such as Tennessee Senator Al Gore, who had supported much of Ronald Reagan’s defense buildup, and Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, who had stymied Bill Clinton’s push for gays in the military. For intellectual guidance, centrist Democrats looked to the Democratic Leadership Council, which opposed raising the minimum wage; to The New Republic (a magazine I edited in the early 2000s), which attacked affirmative action and Roe v. Wade; and to the Washington Monthly, which proposed means-testing Social Security.

Centrist Democrats believed that Reagan, for all his faults, had gotten some big things right. The Soviet Union had been evil. Taxes had been too high. Excessive regulation had squelched economic growth. The courts had been too permissive of crime. Until Democrats acknowledged these things, the centrists believed, they would neither win the presidency nor deserve to. In the late 1980s and the 1990s, an influential community of Democratic-aligned politicians, strategists, journalists, and wonks believed that critiquing liberalism from the right was morally and politically necessary.

George W. Bush wiped this community out. Partly, he did so by rooting the GOP more firmly in the South—Reagan’s political base had been in the West—aiding the slow-motion extinction of white southern Democrats that had begun when the party embraced civil rights. But Bush also destroyed centrist Democrats intellectually, by making it impossible for them to credibly critique liberalism from the right.

In the late 1980s and the 1990s, centrist Democrats had argued that Reagan’s decisions to cut the top income-tax rate from 70 percent to 50 percent and to loosen government regulation had spurred economic growth. When Bush cut the top rate to 35 percent in 2001 and further weakened regulation, however, inequality and the deficit grew, but the economy barely did—and then the financial system crashed. In the late ’80s and the ’90s, centrist Democrats had also argued that Reagan’s decision to boost defense spending and aid the Afghan mujahideen had helped topple the Soviet empire. But in 2003, when Bush invaded Iraq, he sparked the greatest foreign-policy catastrophe since Vietnam.

If the lesson of the Reagan era had been that Democrats should give a Republican president his due, the lesson of the Bush era was that doing so brought disaster. In the Senate, Bush’s 2001 tax cut passed with 12 Democratic votes; the Iraq War was authorized with 29. As the calamitous consequences of these votes became clear, the revolt against them destroyed the Democratic Party’s centrist wing. “What I want to know,” declared an obscure Vermont governor named Howard Dean in February 2003, “is why in the world the Democratic Party leadership is supporting the president’s unilateral attack on Iraq. What I want to know is, why are Democratic Party leaders supporting tax cuts?” By year’s end, Dean—running for president against a host of Washington Democrats who had supported the war—was the clear front-runner for his party’s nomination.

With the Dean campaign came an intellectual revolution inside the Democratic Party. His insurgency helped propel Daily Kos, a group blog dedicated to stiffening the liberal spine. It energized the progressive activist group MoveOn. It also coincided with Paul Krugman’s emergence as America’s most influential liberal columnist and Jon Stewart’s emergence as America’s most influential liberal television personality. In 2003, MSNBC hired Keith Olbermann and soon became a passionately liberal network. In 2004, The New Republic apologized for having supported the Iraq War. In 2005, The Huffington Post was born as a liberal alternative to the Drudge Report. In 2006, Joe Lieberman, the Democratic Party’s most outspoken hawk, lost his Democratic Senate primary and became an Independent. In 2011, the Democratic Leadership Council—having lost its influence years earlier—closed its doors.

By the time Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, in part because of her support for the Iraq War, the mood inside the party had fundamentally changed. Whereas the party’s most respected thinkers had once urged Democrats to critique liberal orthodoxy, they now criticized Democrats for not defending that orthodoxy fiercely enough. The presidency of George W. Bush had made Democrats unapologetically liberal, and the presidency of Barack Obama was the most tangible result.

But that’s only half the story. Because if George W. Bush’s failures pushed the Democratic Party to the left, Barack Obama’s have pushed it even further. If Bush was responsible for the liberal infrastructure that helped elect Obama, Obama has now inadvertently contributed to the creation of two movements—Occupy and Black Lives Matter—dedicated to the proposition that even the liberalism he espouses is not left-wing enough.

Given the militant opposition Obama faced from Republicans in Congress, it’s unclear whether he could have used the financial crisis to dramatically curtail Wall Street’s power. What is clear is that he did not. Thus, less than three years after the election of a president who had inspired them like no other, young activists looked around at a country whose people were still suffering, and whose financial titans were still dominant. In response, they created Occupy Wall Street.

When academics from the City University of New York went to Zuccotti Park to study the people who had taken it over, they found something striking: 40 percent of the Occupy activists had worked on the 2008 presidential campaign, mostly for Obama. Many of them had hoped that, as president, he would bring fundamental change. Now the collapse of that hope had led them to challenge Wall Street directly. “Disenchantment with Obama was a driver of the Occupy movement for many of the young people who participated,” noted the CUNY researchers. In his book on the movement, Occupy Nation (2012), the Columbia University sociologist Todd Gitlin quotes Jeremy Varon, a close observer of Occupy who teaches at the New School for Social Research, as saying, “This is the Obama generation declaring their independence from his administration. We thought his voice was ours. Now we know we have to speak for ourselves.”

For a brief period, Occupy captured the nation’s attention. In December 2011, Gitlin notes, the movement had 143 chapters in California alone. Then it fizzled. But as the political scientist Frances Fox Piven has written, “The great protest movements of history... did not expand in the shape of a simple rising arc of popular defiance. Rather, they began in a particular place, sputtered and subsided, only to re-emerge elsewhere in perhaps a different form, influenced by local particularities of circumstance and culture.”

That’s what happened to Occupy. The movement may have burned out, but it injected economic inequality into the American political debate. (In the weeks following the takeover of Zuccotti Park, media references to the subject rose fivefold.) The same anger that sparked Occupy—directed not merely at Wall Street but at the Democratic Party elites who coddled it—fueled Bill de Blasio’s election and Elizabeth Warren’s rise to national prominence. And without Occupy, it’s impossible to understand why a curmudgeonly Democratic Socialist from Vermont is seriously challenging Hillary Clinton in the early primary states. The day Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy, a group of Occupy veterans offered their endorsement. In the words of one former Occupy activist, Stan Williams, “People who are involved in Occupy are leading the biggest group for Bernie Sanders. Our fingers are all over this.”

Arguably more significant than the Sanders campaign itself is the way Democratic elites have responded to it. In the late 1980s and the ’90s, they would have savaged him. For the Democratic Leadership Council, which sought to make the party more business-friendly, an avowed Socialist would have been the perfect foil. Today, in a Democratic Party whose guiding ethos is “no enemies to the left,” Sanders has met with little ideological resistance. That’s true not only among intellectuals and activists but among many donors. Journalists often assume that Democrats who write big checks oppose a progressive agenda, at least when it comes to economics. And some do. But as John Judis has reported in National Journal, the Democracy Alliance, the party’s most influential donor club, which includes mega-funders such as George Soros and Tom Steyer, has itself shifted leftward during the Obama years. In 2014, it gave Warren a rapturous welcome when she spoke at the group’s annual winter meeting. Last spring it announced that it was making economic inequality its top priority.

All of this has shaped the Clinton campaign’s response to Sanders. At the first Democratic debate, she noted that, unlike him, she favors “rein[ing] in the excesses of capitalism” rather than abandoning it altogether. But the only specific policy difference she highlighted was gun control, on which she attacked him from the left.

Moreover, the Occupy-Warren-Sanders axis has influenced Clinton’s own economic agenda, which is significantly further left than the one she ran on in 2008. She has called for tougher regulation of the financial industry, mused about raising Social Security taxes on the wealthy (something she opposed in 2008), and criticized the Trans-Pacific Partnership (a trade agreement she once gushed about). Overall, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias has written, Clinton appears “less inclined to favor a market-oriented approach than a left-wing approach, a real change from the past quarter century of Democratic Party economic policymaking.” Her “move to the left,” notes Kira Lerner of ThinkProgress, “distances her policies from those of her husband and Obama.”

The same dynamic is playing out on criminal justice and race. Disillusioned by Obama, activists are pushing left. And they’re finding that Clinton and the rest of the party Establishment are happy to go along.

If Occupy is one of Obama’s unplanned legacies, Black Lives Matter is another. The movement, which began when a jury acquitted George Zimmerman of the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2013 and exploded in 2014 after the death of Michael Brown, has multiple roots. It’s a response to a decades-long rise in incarceration rates and to a spate of police killings, some caught on video.

But it’s also an expression of disillusion with Obama. State violence against African Americans is nothing new. Yet the fact that it continued when an African American was ostensibly running the state convinced young African American activists that Establishment liberals, even black ones, would not, of their own accord, bring structural change. Only direct action could force their hand.

“Black Lives Matter developed in the wake of the failure of the Obama administration,” argues the Cornell sociologist Travis Gosa, a co-editor of The Hip Hop & Obama Reader. “Black Lives Matter is the voice of a Millennial generation that’s been sold a bad bill of goods.” This new generation of activists, writes Brittney Cooper, a Rutgers University professor of Africana studies and women’s-and-gender studies, “will not invest in a nation-state project that hands them black presidents alongside dead unarmed black boys in the street.” And they take a dim view of veteran activists, such as Al Sharpton, who defend Obama. “The most faith they have, hubristic though it may turn out to be,” Cooper argues, “is in themselves to be agents of change.”

Had Black Lives Matter existed when Bill Clinton was seeking the presidency, he probably would have run against the group. In January 1992, less than three weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Clinton flew back to Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, an African American man so mentally deficient at the time of his execution that he didn’t even realize the people he had shot were dead. Then, in June 1992, in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots, Clinton plucked a rapper named Sister Souljah out of relative obscurity and publicly lambasted her for reportedly saying, in response to a question about African American rioters who attacked whites, “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?” Eager to emphasize his centrist credentials, Clinton found African American militancy an invaluable foil.

Today, by contrast, the Democratic Establishment has responded to Black Lives Matter much as it responded to Occupy: with applause. In July, at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix, Black Lives Matter activists repeatedly interrupted and heckled Sanders and his fellow candidate Martin O’Malley. At one point, an activist came onto the stage and declared that the event was occurring on “indigenous land” whose border “was drawn by white-supremacist manifest destiny.” For roughly 15 minutes, O’Malley stood in silence as the activists onstage gave speeches.

Afterward, liberal pundits mostly criticized O’Malley and Sanders for not expressing more sympathy for the people who had disrupted their events. “Both candidates fumbled,” argued The Nation. “Frankly,” MoveOn announced, “all Democratic presidential candidates need to do better.”

The candidates themselves agreed. Later that day, O’Malley publicly apologized for having said that “all lives matter,” which activists said minimized the singularity of state violence against African Americans. He soon unveiled an ambitious plan to reduce police brutality and incarceration rates, as well as a constitutional amendment protecting the right to vote. Sanders apologized too. He hired an African American press secretary sympathetic to Black Lives Matter, added a “racial justice” section to his Web site, joined members of the Congressional Black Caucus in introducing legislation to ban private prisons, and began publicly citing the names of African Americans killed by police. Hillary Clinton, having already vowed to “end the era of mass incarceration” that her husband and other Democrats helped launch in the 1990s, has now met with Black Lives Matter activists twice. Bill Clinton has said he regrets his own role in expanding the incarceration state. And the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution supporting Black Lives Matter—which the movement itself quickly disavowed.

During presidential primaries, candidates often pander to their party’s base. So what’s most remarkable isn’t Hillary Clinton’s move to the left, or the Democratic Party’s. It’s the American public’s willingness to go along.

Take Black Lives Matter. In the 1960s, African American riots and the Black Power movement sparked a furious white backlash. In April 1965, note Thomas and Mary Edsall in their book Chain Reaction (1992), 28 percent of nonsouthern whites thought President Lyndon B. Johnson was pushing civil rights “too fast.” By September 1966, after riots in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Cleveland, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s turn from racial integration toward Black Power, that figure had reached 52 percent.

This time, however, the opposite is happening. In July 2014, the Pew Research Center reported that 46 percent of Americans agreed with the statement “Our country needs to continue making changes to give blacks equal rights with whites.” By July 2015, after the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore and the rise of Black Lives Matter, that figure had risen to 59 percent. From the summer of 2013 to the summer of 2015, according to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who declared themselves “satisfied with the way blacks are treated in U.S. society” dropped from 62 percent to 49 percent. In 2015, public confidence in the police hit a 22-year low.

Much of this shift is being driven by a changing mood among whites. Between January and April alone, according to a YouGov poll, the percentage of whites who called deaths like those of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray “isolated incident[s]” dropped 20 points. There’s even been movement within the GOP. From 2014 to 2015, the percentage of Republicans saying America needs to make changes to give blacks an equal chance rose 15 points—more than the percentage increase among Democrats or Independents.

That’s not to say Ferguson, Baltimore, and Black Lives Matter have sparked no backlash at all. Donald Trump has called “the way they [Black Lives Matter] are being catered to by the Democrats” a “disgrace.” Ted Cruz has accused the movement of inciting the murder of police, a theme also promoted on Fox News.

Still, even as some Republican politicians attack Black Lives Matter, others are working with Democrats to promote an agenda of police and prison reform. Last year, then–Speaker of the House John Boehner declared, “We’ve got a lot of people in prison that frankly, in my view, really don’t need to be there.” In October, a group of conservative Republican senators—Chuck Grassley, John Cornyn, Mike Lee, and Lindsey Graham—joined Democrats in introducing legislation to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, roll back harsh “three strikes and you’re out” sentencing laws, end solitary confinement for juveniles, and allow teenagers to have their criminal records expunged.

Even among the Republicans running for president, the policy agenda is moving away from the punitive approach both parties once embraced. Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Ted Cruz have all condemned the excessive imprisonment of nonviolent drug offenders.

Most interesting—because he is the Republican candidate with the keenest sense of how to appeal to the general electorate—has been the approach of Senator Marco Rubio. In August, a Fox News anchor asked him about Black Lives Matter. Instead of condemning the movement, Rubio told the story of an African American friend of his whom police had stopped eight or nine times over the previous 18 months even though he had never broken the law. “This is a problem our nation has to confront,” Rubio declared. Then he talked about young African Americans who get arrested for nonviolent offenses and pushed into plea deals by overworked public defenders. The government, he said, must “look for ways to divert people” from going to jail “so that you don’t get people stigmatized early in life.”

Conservative Republicans didn’t talk this way in the ’90s. They didn’t talk this way even in the early Obama years. The fact that Rubio does so now is more evidence that today, unlike in the mid-’60s, the debate about race and justice isn’t moving to the right. It’s moving further left.

What’s different this time? One difference is that in the 1960s and ’70s, crime exploded, fueling a politics of fear and vengeance. Over the past two decades, by contrast, crime has plummeted. And despite some hyperbolic headlines, there’s no clear evidence that it’s rising significantly again. As The Washington Post’s Max Ehrenfreund noted in September after reviewing the data so far for 2015, “While the number of homicides has increased in many big cities, the increases are moderate, not more than they were a few years ago. Meanwhile, crime has declined in other cities. Overall, most cities are still far safer than they were two decades ago.”

And it’s not just crime where the Democratic Party’s move leftward is being met with acceptance rather than rejection. Take LGBT rights: A decade ago, it was considered suicidal for a Democratic politician to openly support gay marriage. Now that debate is largely over, and liberals are pushing for antidiscrimination laws that cover transgender people, a group many Americans weren’t even aware of until Caitlyn Jenner made headlines. At first glance, this might seem like too much change, too fast. Marriage equality, after all, gives gays and lesbians access to a fundamentally conservative institution. The transgender-rights movement poses a far more radical question: Should people get to define their own gender, irrespective of biology?

Yet the nation’s answer, by large margins, seems to be yes. When the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law examined polls, it found that between two-thirds and three-quarters of Americans now support barring discrimination against transgender people. It also found a dramatic rise in recent years in the percentage of Americans who consider anti-transgender discrimination a “major problem.” According to Andrew Flores, who conducted the study, a person’s attitude toward gays and lesbians largely predicts their attitude toward transgender people. Most Americans, in other words, having decided that discriminating against lesbians and gay men was wrong, have simply extended that view to transgender people via what Flores describes as a “mechanism of attitude generalization.”

That is why, in the 2016 presidential race, Republicans have shown little interest in opposing transgender rights. In July, the Pentagon announced that transgender people will be able to serve openly in the military. One Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, denounced the move. Another, Jeb Bush, appeared to support it. The remaining contenders largely avoided the issue.

There has been little public backlash on economics, either. President Obama has intervened more extensively in the economy than any other president in close to half a century. In his first year, he pushed through the largest economic stimulus in American history—larger in inflation-adjusted terms than Franklin Roosevelt’s famed Works Progress Administration. In his second year, he muscled universal health care through Congress, something progressives had been dreaming about since Theodore Roosevelt ran as a Bull Moose. That same year, he signed a law re-regulating Wall Street. He’s also spent roughly $20 billion bailing out the auto industry, increased fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, toughened emissions standards for coal-fired power plants, authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the production of carbon dioxide, expanded the Food and Drug Administration’s ability to regulate the sale of tobacco products, doubled the amount of fruits and vegetables required in school lunches, designated 2 million acres as wilderness, and protected more than 1,000 miles of rivers.

This intervention has sparked an angry response on the Republican right, but not among Americans as a whole. In polling, Americans typically say they favor smaller government in general while supporting many specific government programs. When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, Americans said they favored “a smaller government providing fewer services” over “a bigger government providing more services” by 37 percentage points. When Obama took power in 2009, the margin was a mere eight points. And despite the president’s many economic interventions, the most recent time Pew asked that question, in September 2014, the margin was exactly the same.

On health care, the story is similar: no public backlash. When Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in March 2010, most polls showed Americans opposing it by about eight to 10 points. Today, the margin is almost identical. Little has changed on taxes, either, even though Obama allowed some of the tax cuts passed under George W. Bush to expire. The percentage of Americans who say they pay more than their fair share in taxes is about the same as it was in the spring of 2010 (Pew does not have data for 2009), and lower than it was during the Clinton years.

It’s true that Americans have grown more conservative on some issues over the past few years. Support for gun control has dropped in the Obama era, even as the president and other Democrats have pursued it more aggressively. Republicans also enjoy a renewed advantage on combatting international terrorism, an issue whose salience has grown with the rise of the Islamic State. Still, in an era when government has grown more intrusive, African American activists have grown more confrontational, and long-standing assumptions about sexual orientation and gender identity have been toppled, most Americans are not yelling “stop,” as they began doing in the mid-1960s. The biggest reason: We’re not dealing with the same group of Americans.

On issue after issue, it is the young who are most pleased with the liberal policy shifts of the Obama era, and most eager for more. In 2014, Pew found that Americans under 30 were twice as likely as Americans 65 and older to say the police do a “poor” job of “treating racial, ethnic groups equally” and more than twice as likely to say the grand jury in Ferguson was wrong not to charge Darren Wilson in Michael Brown’s death. According to YouGov, more than one in three Americans 65 and older think being transgender is morally wrong. Among Americans under 30, the ratio is less than one in five. Millennials—Americans roughly 18 to 34 years old—are 21 percentage points less likely than those 65 and older to say that immigrants “burden” the United States and 25 points more likely to say they “strengthen” the country. Millennials are also 17 points more likely to have a favorable view of Muslims. It is largely because of them that the percentage of Americans who want government to “promote traditional values” is now lower than at any other time since Gallup began asking the question in 1993, and that the percentage calling themselves “socially liberal” now equals the percentage calling themselves “socially conservative” for the first time since Gallup began asking that question in 1999.

Millennials are also sustaining support for bigger government. The young may not have a high opinion of the institutions that represent them, but they nonetheless want those institutions to do more. According to a July Wall Street Journal/ABC poll, Americans over 35 were four points more likely to say the government is doing too much than to say it is doing too little. Millennials, meanwhile, by a margin of 23 points, think it’s doing too little. In 2011, Pew found that while the oldest Americans supported repealing health-care reform by 29 percentage points, Millennials favored expanding it by 17 points. They were also 25 points more likely than those 65 and older to approve of Occupy Wall Street and 36 points more favorable toward socialism, which they actually preferred to capitalism, 49 percent to 46 percent. As the Pew report put it, “Millennials, at least so far, hold ‘baked in’ support for a more activist government.”

This is even true among Republican Millennials. The press often depicts American politics as a battle pitting ever more liberal Democrats against ever more conservative Republicans. Among the young, however, that’s inaccurate. Young Democrats may be more liberal than their elders, but so are young Republicans. According to Pew, a clear majority of young Republicans say immigrants strengthen America, half say corporate profits are too high, and almost half say stricter environmental laws are worth the cost—answers that sharply distinguish them from older members of the GOP. Young Republicans are more likely to favor legalizing marijuana than the oldest Democrats, and almost as likely to support gay marriage. Asked how they categorize themselves ideologically, more than two-thirds of Republican Millennials call themselves either “liberal” or “mixed,” while fewer than one-third call themselves “conservative.” Among the oldest Republicans, that breakdown is almost exactly reversed.

In the face of such data, conservatives may wish to reassure themselves that Millennials will move right as they age. But a 2007 study in the American Sociological Review notes that the data “contradict commonly held assumptions that aging leads to conservatism.” The older Americans who are today more conservative than Millennials were more conservative in their youth, too. In 1984 and 1988, young voters backed Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush by large margins. Millennials are not liberal primarily because they are young. They are liberal because their formative political experiences were the Iraq War and the Great Recession, and because they make up the most secular, most racially diverse, least nationalistic generation in American history. And none of that is likely to change.

One can question how much this matters. America is not governed by public-opinion polls, after all. Congressional redistricting, felon disenfranchisement, and the obliteration of campaign-finance laws all help insulate politicians from the views of ordinary people, and generally empower the right. But despite these structural disadvantages, Obama has enacted a more consequential progressive agenda than either of his two Democratic predecessors did. And there is reason to believe that regardless of who wins the presidency in 2016, she or he will be more progressive than the previous president of her or his own party.

According to Microsoft’s betting market, Predictwise, Democrats have close to a 60 percent chance of holding the White House in 2016. That’s not because Hillary Clinton, whom the Democrats will likely nominate, is an exceptionally strong candidate. It’s because the Republicans may nominate an exceptionally weak one. According to Predictwise, in early November Marco Rubio—widely considered the GOP’s strongest general-election candidate—had a 45 percent chance of winning his party’s nomination. But according to Predictwise, there was also a 37 percent chance that Donald Trump, Ben Carson, or Ted Cruz would win the nomination. And if any of them did, Clinton’s election would be all but assured.

If Clinton does win, it’s likely that on domestic policy, she will govern to Obama’s left. (On foreign policy, where there is no powerful left-wing activist movement like Occupy or Black Lives Matter, the political dynamics are very different.) Clinton’s campaign proposals already signal a leftward shift. And people close to her campaign suggest that among her top agenda items would be paid family leave, debt-free college tuition, and universal preschool.

This agenda flows naturally from Clinton’s long interest in the welfare of children and families. But it’s also the product of a Democratic Party that leans further left than it did in 1993 or 2009. If elected, Clinton will have to work with a Senate that contains two nationally prominent Democrats, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, both of whom are extremely popular with liberal activists.

Already, Obama has felt liberals’ wrath. In 2013, Lawrence Summers withdrew his name from consideration to be the chairman of the Federal Reserve after Senate liberals protested his nomination. In 2015, Obama’s pick for Treasury’s undersecretary for domestic finance, Antonio Weiss, withdrew his own nomination after Warren attacked his Wall Street ties.* Clinton will face this reality from her first day in office. And she will face it knowing that because she cannot inspire liberals rhetorically as Obama can, they will be less likely to forgive her heresies on policy. Like Lyndon B. Johnson after John F. Kennedy, she will have to deliver in substance what she cannot deliver in style.

Just as Clinton would govern to Obama’s left, it’s likely that any Republican capable of winning the presidency in 2016 would govern to the left of George W. Bush. In the first place, winning at all would require a different coalition. When Bush won the presidency in 2000, very few Millennials could vote. In 2016, by contrast, they will constitute roughly one-third of those who turn out. In 2000, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians constituted 20 percent of voters. In 2016, they will constitute more than 30 percent. Whit Ayres, a political consultant for the Rubio campaign, calculates that even if the 2016 Republican nominee wins 60 percent of the white vote (more than any GOP nominee in the past four decades except Reagan, in 1984, has won), he or she will still need almost 30 percent of the minority vote. Mitt Romney got 17 percent.

This need to win the votes of Millennials and minorities, who lean left not just on cultural issues but on economic ones, will shape how any conceivable Republican president campaigns in the general election, and governs once in office. It could tempt a President Rubio to push for immigration reform that, while beginning with toughened enforcement, lays out a path to legalization, and eventually citizenship—something he still supports, despite the fury of his party’s base. (So does Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.)

If America’s demographics have changed since the Bush presidency, so has the climate among conservative intellectuals. There is now an influential community of “reformocons”—in some ways comparable to the New Democratic thinkers of the 1980s—who believe Republicans have focused too much on cutting taxes for the wealthy and not enough on addressing the economic anxieties of the middle and working classes.

The candidate closest to the reformocons is Rubio, who cites several of them by name in his recent book. He says that partially privatizing Social Security, which Bush ran on in 2000 and 2004, is an idea whose “time has passed.” And unlike Bush, and both subsequent Republican presidential nominees, Rubio is not proposing a major cut in the top income-tax rate. Instead, the centerpiece of his economic plan is an expanded child tax credit, which would be available even to Americans who are so poor that they don’t pay income taxes.

Although liberals praised his plan for “upend[ing] the last half century of conservative thinking on taxes,” as The New Republic put it, Rubio included new cuts on taxes of capital gains, dividends, interest, and inherited estates, which overwhelmingly benefit the rich. But despite this, it’s likely that were he elected, Rubio wouldn’t push through as large, or as regressive, a tax cut as Bush did in 2001 and 2003. Partly, that’s because a younger and more ethnically diverse electorate is less tolerant of such policies. Partly, it’s because Rubio’s administration would likely contain a reformocon faction more interested in cutting taxes for the middle class than for the rich. And partly, it’s because the legacy of the Bush tax cuts themselves would make them harder to replicate.

A key figure in passing the Bush tax cuts was Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who in 2001 warned that unless Washington lowered tax rates, surpluses might grow too large, thus producing a dangerous “accumulation of private assets by the federal government.” Greenspan’s argument gave the Bush administration crucial intellectual cover. But the idea now looks laughable. And it’s hard to imagine the current Federal Reserve chair, Janet Yellen, endorsing large upper-income tax cuts in 2017.

The Bush tax cuts also passed because a powerful minority of Democrats supported them. But the kind of centrist, Chamber of Commerce–friendly Democrats who helped Bush pass his tax plan in 2001—including Max Baucus, John Breaux, Mary Landrieu, Zell Miller, Max Cleland, Tim Johnson, Blanche Lambert Lincoln—barely exist anymore. The Democrats’ shift left over the past decade and a half means that a President Rubio would encounter more militant opposition than Bush did in 2001. That militant opposition, along with a changed electorate and the reformocon faction, doesn’t mean Rubio wouldn’t cut taxes. He likely would. But he would face greater pressure than Bush did to keep the cuts from too blatantly benefiting the rich.

As president, Rubio could gut the regulations imposed by Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency. His big donors would certainly push him to, even though doing so would hurt him among younger voters. But he’d be unlikely to repeal health-care reform. The plan Rubio has proposed would strip millions of Americans of their insurance. In other words, it would commit the same sins that Rubio and other Republicans attribute to the Affordable Care Act. Republicans, notes Vox’s editor in chief, Ezra Klein, “have spent the past four years attacking Obamacare for its tough trade-offs and unpopular decisions, but the moment they begin pushing a serious alternative, they’ll suddenly have to deal with Democrats doing the same to them.” Which makes it unlikely Rubio would pick that fight early in his first term.

Would Rubio be a more conservative president than Obama? Of course. An era of liberal dominance doesn’t mean that the ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans disappear. It means that on the ideological playing field, the 50-yard line shifts further left. It means the next Republican president won’t be able to return the nation to the pre-Obama era.

That’s what happened when Dwight Eisenhower followed Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Ike moderated the growth in government expansion that had begun in the 1930s, but he didn’t return American politics to the 1920s, when the GOP opposed any federal welfare state at all. He in essence ratified the New Deal. It’s also what happened when Bill Clinton followed Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. By passing punitive anticrime laws, repealing restrictions on banks, signing NAFTA, cutting government spending to balance the budget, reforming welfare, and declaring that the “era of big government is over,” Clinton acknowledged that even a Democratic president could not revive the full-throated liberalism of the 1960s and ’70s. He ratified Reaganism.

Barack Obama sought the presidency hoping to be the Democrats’ Reagan: a president who changed America’s ideological trajectory. And he has changed it. He has pushed the political agenda as dramatically to the left as Reagan pushed it to the right, and, as under Reagan, the public has acquiesced more than it has rebelled. Reagan’s final victory came when Democrats adapted to the new political world he had made, and there is reason to believe that the next Republican president will find it necessary to make similar concessions to political reality.

This political cycle, too, will ultimately run its course. A sustained rise in crime could breed fissures between African American activists and young whites or even Latinos. Slower economic growth and a rising budget deficit could turn the public against government in a way that Obama’s policies have not—and force Democrats to again emphasize the creation of wealth more than its distribution. How this era of liberal dominance will end is anyone’s guess. But it will likely endure for some time to come. Ω

[Peter Beinart is a contributing editor at both The Atlantic and National Journal, an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York, and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Beinart received a B.A. (history and political science) from Yale University and was a Rhodes Scholar at University College, Oxford University, where he earned an M.Phil. in international relations. His books include The Good Fight: Why Liberals—and Only Liberals—Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again (2006), The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris (2010), and The Crisis of Zionism (2012).]

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