Sunday Morning Coffee

Thoughts on a couple of things I read this morning over coffee:

American Rescue Plan Passes – Cosplay Socialist Complains

Yesterday the US Senate passed the Democrats’ $1.9T stimulus legislation on a 50-49 vote. It’s too bad this bill did not include a minimum wage increase of some kind, and I would not have means-tested the direct payment checks. But this legislation will put money in the pockets of people who will spend it, and includes changes to the way we support low-income families that should help reduce child poverty. It also provides funding to accelerate the pace of Covid-19 vaccinations.

It’s also excellent politics because passage keeps a campaign promise that will boost the economy while bringing the pandemic to an end that much more quickly. It will embed new support for poor families that will be difficult to withdraw later. I think Biden learned something from the 2010 midterm election catastrophe: Republicans cannot be trusted to negotiate in good faith, and in the end the won’t, so push through the most you can without their help.

To be sure, this shifts power to conservative Democrats like Manchin and Sinema. But I’m not sure “Democrats could have gotten everything they wanted in this bill but they didn’t even try so they don’t really care about poor people” hot takes from cosplay socialists like Walker Bragman help very much. This single tweet reflects a profound misunderstanding about how US politics works in the 21st Century – and one Bragman shares with a lot of the online left.

The American Republic operates under a system designed to protect property and wealth. Building a truly egalitarian society depends in the long run on reforming and reducing the anti-democratic effects of institutions like the US Senate. The growing reactionary backlash among those on the Right suggest that we’re slowly moving in that direction, but this isn’t happening because we elected a progressive President (though I think Biden is more progressive than some think).

It’s happening because a broad coalition of American voters and groups have continued fighting for democratization in the US by expanding the franchise and political participation where it counts. We didn’t get this important legislation just because we have a liberal President. We also needed Stacey Abrams helping more people vote.

In any event, Bragman’s 2016 article making “A Liberal Case for Donald Trump” tells you all you need to know about how poorly Bragman understands American politics and the fragile nature of our (sort of) democratic Republic. I completely misread the political situation at the time with respect to whether Trump could win, but the idea that electing him might not be so bad never entered my mind.

By the way, I agree with Jeff Stein of the Washington Post that passage of this bill reflects changes in the way people think about government action in a crisis and the importance of budget deficits since President Biden managed the 2009 response to the housing bubble recession. More on this in a future post.

Dr. Suess and Mr. Potato Head

We’ve known for a long time that the Republican Party has no interest in policy except insofar as “the state exists to protect existing wealth” counts as policy, and now they’ve gone full cult. Conservatives have worked to convince Americans since the Seventies that we should be working to “drown government in a bathtub” because it doesn’t work anyway, and when they hold power they use it to make this come true. People who complain about the DMV always forget to mention that their cable TV company rarely performs any better, despite their profit motive.

These conservatives also remind us constantly that the magic invisible free market hand will structure society in the fairest way possible. So it should surprise us to hear conservatives complain when a for-profit publishing house stops trying to sell books people don’t want to buy and a toy company rebrands its Potato Head dolls in an effort to boost sales.

In both cases these corporations have come to understand something conservatives seem to miss: Americans are more sensitive to discrimination on the grounds of race or sexuality these days. And American children play with toys differently today than during my Mr. Potato Head days 60 years ago. This has, to be sure, happened because grassroots organizations have raised awareness of these issues. But it’s also happened because more and more Americans know someone who has experienced discrimination of these kinds, and have raised their children differently. And if it cuts into the bottom line, corporations will act to keep customers happy.

Conservatives have used these events to drive home an argument that “cancel culture” is a grave threat to American liberty and distract from their efforts to protect their power by suppressing votes and helping the already wealthy hoard more cash. While Democrats work to find solutions to a pandemic-driven economic crisis while also attempting to address anti-democratic voter suppression efforts and social justice issues around policing, Republicans do their best to defend free speech when it offends their political opponents. Not so much when it’s something they don’t’ want to hear.

This is not a functional political party. It’s a reactionary movement focused on blocking social change. In the long run they’ll lose, but this movement will cause a lot of pain while it goes down.

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