Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
They Said It:
With opinions, possession is more than nine points of the law. It is next to impossible to dislodge them. Institutions which one generation regards as only a makeshift approximation to the realization of a principle, the next generation honors as the nearest possible approximation to that principle, and the next worships the principle itself. It takes scarcely three generations for the apotheosis. The grandson accepts his grandfather’s hesitating experiment as an integral part of the fixed constitution of nature.
Even if we had clear insight into all the political past, and could form out of perfectly instructed heads a few steady, infallible, placidly wise maxims of government into which all sound political doctrine would be ultimately resolvable, would the country act on them? That is the question. The bulk of mankind is rigidly unphilosophical, and nowadays the bulk of mankind votes. A truth must become not only plain but also commonplace before it will be seen by the people who go to their work very early in the morning; and not to act upon it must involve great and pinching inconveniences before these same people will make up their minds to act upon it.
Woodrow Wilson, “The Study of Administration,” Political Science Quarterly, July 1887.
IS THE DEATH OF PROGRESSIVISM CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION?
Over the holiday weekend, we saw two news items that, for us, signaled something sad, almost pathetic, but also deeply concerning about the evolution of our politics in just the few weeks since Donald Trump was elected president. Like it or not, Trump’s election represents a watershed moment in American politics, both cathartic and ominous at the same time.
Believe it or not, neither of the stories that “triggered” us have anything directly to do with Trump. With respect to the President-Elect, we remain optimistic. Indeed, we are probably more optimistic today than we were two weeks ago. Since his election, he is proving himself diplomatic, restrained, and pragmatic, all characteristics that we want in a president, and all characteristics that his critics said he didn’t possess. Good for him, we say. And good for all of us, hopefully.
No, the two stories that set us a’thinkin’ were both about rich, old white women ostensibly from New York. The first of these was the most “important” domestic news event of the weekend, the announcement made by the ghost of Hillary Clinton’s campaign that the worst-candidate-in-American-political-history has decided to prolong her and the country’s agony by joining the recount effort launched by Green Party candidate (and certified loon) Jill Stein in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. By the Clinton campaign’s own admission, there is approximately zero chance that these recount efforts will change anything at all. Nevertheless, Hillary is in, because . . . well . . . why shouldn’t she be?
The second story is a little more interesting and, we’ll admit, about a rich white woman from New York who is a little less “old” than Hillary is. It comes from the New York Post’s “Page Six” gossip column, which, on Thanksgiving morning, read as follows:
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is already reaching out to top Hillary Clinton donors about the 2020 presidential race. Sources tell us that the New York senator has been personally making calls to some of Clinton’s biggest backers to “talk about the direction of the country.” One source said, “She isn’t directly asking donors about her chances in 2020, but it is implied.”. . .
If she were to run, it could set up an interesting clash of New Yorkers for the Democratic nomination. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already made it clear he wants to make a run for the White House.
This is fascinating stuff. Gillibrand, of course, is a competent enough politician. And, as the outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid never failed to remind us, she is also far more . . . ummm . . . telegenic than Mrs. Clinton. But she doesn’t have a prayer. And neither, for that matter, does her fellow New Yorker, Governor Andrew Cuomo. To be honest, the Cuomo bit made us laugh out loud when we read it. We get that the guy thinks he’s a great political talent from a great political family. But he’s not. He’s a yutz. And for the record, we think that he has a far better chance of spending January 2021 in the Big House than he does of spending it in the White House.
In any case, we should also note that the presidential prospects of Senator Gillibrand are almost nonexistent, but not because of her own failings. You see, Hillary, for all practical purposes, killed the chances of anyone like her – rich, white, economically isolated – from ever winning the Democratic nomination again. To understand what we mean and why we believe this, we have to begin with Hillary’s reasons for getting involved in this manifestly quixotic recount.
Trump won the states in question by reasonably comfortable margins – at least compared to Florida in 2000. He won Michigan by more than 11,000 votes, Wisconsin by some 27,000-plus, and Pennsylvania by a whopping 68,000, all of which is to say that the only way the recounts will have any effect is in the exceptionally unlikely event that someone purposefully tampered with the vote counts.
Hillary Clinton herself does not appear, at least publicly, to believe that this is case. According to her ghost-campaign’s ghost-spokesman, she is just doing what she can to comfort her supporters, the thousands of people who worked hard to help her win the White House and are convinced, somehow, that it is impossible for their efforts not to have yielded the intended results (more on that psychosis and the Clintons’ enabling of it at a later date). Call us cynical, but we kinda doubt that this is the real reason.
Moreover, we also doubt the reason offered by some outside observers that her goal is to replay the presidency of George W. Bush by convincing at least half the country that Trump was “selected” not “elected.” John Steele Gordon put forth this theory in Commentary:
Richard Baehr at The American Thinker thinks the purpose . . . is to delay the recounts in these states — hand recounts can, apparently, be demanded — beyond December 13th, when “certificates of votes” are prepared. The electors then meet in each state capital and vote for president on December 19th. . . . If all three states are unable to produce final vote counts by then, there would be no electors appointed in those states and thus no votes cast.
With Trump now having only 260 electoral votes (to Clinton’s 232), he would still win the election. The 12th Amendment states that “the person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed.” With 538 electoral votes, the majority is 270. W ith only 492 electoral votes, the majority is 247.
But by reducing his Electoral College vote to less than a majority of 538, Donald Trump would seem even less legitimate, at least in the eyes of the left, especially as he lost the popular vote by about two million. It would inevitably reduce his political capital.
This is conceivable, we suppose. The Left seems to think that the “narrative” matters more than reality, and we wouldn’t put it past the Democrats to try control the narrative from the start. Of course, controlling the narrative didn’t exactly help them with Bush. Moreover, the whole thing is incredibly costly, incredibly silly, and likely to be reputation-damaging – narrative or not. So why would Hillary want any part of it?
In a piece for Fox News, Brian Dean Wright, a former CIA operations officer and a Democrat, takes a different but equally popular tack, positing the Clinton is desperate, that she is in a terrible spot and has no choice but to take one, last, reckless shot to salvage her lifelong ambitions. “I suspect,” Wright notes, “that this is the last, embarrassing gasp of a flailing politician, unable to accept defeat with grace.” He is not alone. As Politico reports, even most of Hillary’s closest friends and advisers think the whole thing is crazy and are worried about the impression that the candidate is bitter and desperate. They are beside themselves worrying about how the campaign’s participation will make them and their political leader look.
For our part, we think that this is about half-right. Hillary and her ilk are indeed desperate, but we doubt very much that the problem is their inability to grasp defeat. Rather, we think that they’re desperate because they know they have been defeated and, more to the point, they know what comes after the fall. In short, they want desperately to prove that they’re not entirely useless. They want everyone to believe that they still matter, that rich, white, old women – and old men – still have a place in the Democratic Party.
In our estimation, the best way to explain the transition through which the Democratic Party is going is to return to an idea that we have cited before in these pages. The notion was first posited by Tocqueville but was later, and more famously, arrogated by Hannah Arendt. In the French Revolution and then in interbellum Germany, the people who became the villains in popular culture, the scapegoats on whom the revolutionaries blamed all of the nation’s ills, were people who were once respected or at least tolerated by the masses. They lost this respect/toleration when they lost their power, when they lost the ability to affect political circumstances. Arendt put it this way:
According to Tocqueville, the French people hated aristocrats about to lose their power more than it had ever hated them before, precisely because their rapid loss of real power was not accompanied by any considerable decline in their fortunes. As long as the aristocracy held vast powers of jurisdiction, they were not only tolerated but respected. When noblemen lost their privileges, among others the privilege to exploit and oppress, the people felt them to be parasites, without any real function in the rule of the country. In other words, neither oppression nor exploitation as such is ever the main cause for resentment; wealth without visible- “function is much more intolerable because nobody can understand why it” should be tolerated.
Anti-semitism reached its climax when Jews had similarly lost their public functions and their inﬂuence, and were left with nothing but their wealth. When Hitler came to power, the German banks were already almost judenrein (and it was here that Jews had held key positions for more than a hundred years) and German Jewry as a whole, after a long steady growth in social status and numbers, was declining so rapidly that statisticians predicted its disappearance in a few decades. Statistics, it is true, do not necessarily point to real historical processes; yet it is note-worthy that to a statistician Nazi persecution and extermination could look like a senseless acceleration of a process which would probably have come about in any case . . . .
Only wealth without power or aloofness without a policy are felt to be parasitical, useless, revolting, because such conditions cut all the threads which tie men together.
Hillary Clinton. Elizabeth Warren. Nancy Pelosi. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. These are all women who have dominated Democratic politics for the last two decades or so. These are the women who asked the entirety of the party to trust them, to let them lead the faithful into the post-Obama utopia. These are the women who were supposed to have the power to bring “change,” to right the wrongs of past eras, and to make things better for everyone in the “coalition of the ascendant.” But they failed. And now they are next to useless.
Oh sure, Nancy Pelosi will likely win her fight to be elected Minority Leader again. And Elizabeth Warren is still a Senator with a high public profile. But their time has passed. It’s over. They are done and everyone knows it. Do you remember who challenged Pelosi for the leadership slot after previous elections? Neither do we, largely because no one did. No one ever had the guts to challenge her and then face her wrath. But this year, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan is challenging her. And he could, conceivably win. And even if he doesn’t, what’s a 76-year-old, eight-time grandma from Pacific Heights gonna do to him? Not a damn thing.
Over the weekend, National Review’s Kevin Williamson put his finger on the problem that the Democratic Party faces going forward. And it just so happens that it’s the same problem that Tocqueville and Arendt identified. The formerly respected doyens of the party have no power:
The Democratic party is an odd apparatus in which most of the power is held by sanctimonious little old liberal white ladies with graduate degrees and very high incomes — Hillary Rodham Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Randi Weingarten — while the manpower, the vote-power, and the money-power (often in the form of union dues) comes from a disproportionately young and non-white base made up of people who, if they are doing well, might earn one-tenth of the half-million dollars a year Weingarten was paid as the boss of the teachers’ union. They are more likely to be cutting the grass in front of Elizabeth Warren’s multi-million-dollar mansion than moving into one of their own. They roll their eyes at Hillary Rodham Clinton’s risible “abuela” act, having actual abuelas of their own.
As in the Republican party, the Democrats have a restive base that is more radical than its leadership, more aggressive, and in search of signs of tribal affiliation. The Democratic base is not made up of little old liberal white ladies with seven-, eight-, and nine-figure bank balances, but the party’s leadership is. It is worth noting that in a year in which the Republican candidate painted Mexican immigrants with a rather broad and ugly brush, Mrs. Clinton got a smaller share of the Hispanic vote than Barack Obama did in 2012. She got a significantly smaller share of the black vote, too. Interestingly, Mrs. Clinton’s drop in the black vote came exclusively from black men. Many black Americans had very high hopes that an Obama administration would mean significant changes in their lives and in the state of their communities, but that has not come to pass. There is nothing about Mrs. Clinton that inspired similar hopes. “She’s not right, and we all know it,” the comedian Dave Chappelle said.
It is far from obvious that Senator Cherokee Cheekbones or anyone standing alongside Debbie Wasserman Schultz will feel more “right” to Democratic voters who have almost nothing in common with them. A coalition in which elderly rich white faculty-lounge liberals have all the power and enjoy all the perks while the work and money come from younger and browner people is not going to be very stable.
Especially when it has been stripped of the one thing that has held that coalition together so far: power.
Like us, Williamson focused his critique on the white women of the Democratic Party because they are the most obvious targets for criticism at this particular moment. And indeed, Hillary Clinton’s current desperation is the matter that piqued our interest this past week. That saidthe problem is NOT one confined to the fairer sex. The entire Baby Boom cohort of Democratic power brokers is at risk here. And so, for that matter, is the entire ideology of Progressivism.
Late last week, the Washington Post’s resident hysteric Dana Milbank began his column as follows:
Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, will be 77 next year.
Steny Hoyer, her deputy, will be 78.
Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 Democratic leader, will be 77.
Their current ages, if combined, would date back to 1787, the year George Washington presided over the signing of the Constitution.
It is time for them to go.
One could, of course, focus here on the fact that Milbank needs either a few weeks off or a refresher course in basic writing skills, since this may be the dumbest rhetorical flourish we can recall penned by a journalist not named “Thomas Friedman.” Or one could focus on the fact that even Milbank, one of the most obtuse, water-carrying establishmentarians in the business, gets it: the old Progressives are done. Their time is over. They have no power, and therefore they need to go away. Quickly.
Note that Milbank didn’t write such a column two years ago, after the Democrats suffered their second landslide midterm defeat in a row. He believed that said landslide was a temporary setback, a mere bump in the road to Hillary Clinton’s triumphant return to the White House. He believes differently today, however. He believes that old Progressives have outlived their usefulness and now must be relegated to the dustbin of history.
It is important to remember here that Progressivism is very similar to many of the rest of the “-isms” that arose around the same time – during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like communism, socialism, fascism, and National Socialism, Progressivism is a collectivist ideology, which is to say that it is an ideology intended to bring about the greatest possible happiness in society through communal action. As the political scientist and Wilson scholar Larry Walker put it, “progressivism was a rebellion against limited government and the individualism of nineteenth century liberalism. It accepted collectivism, the welfare of the community as a whole, as a positive value.”
Unlike its collectivist counterparts, though, Progressivism depends not on the advancement of scientific historicalism, the wisdom of the masses, or even the power of the volk, but on the proficiency of the experts. The progressives believed – and believe – that the most important component of collective happiness is the efficient, specialized, and collective administration of the state’s business. Or to put it another way, progressivism relies heavily on the notion that the people should be sovereign, but only superficially. The real power is to be held by the “experts,” – the Guardians, if you will – who have the specialized knowledge to create and maintain the conditions necessary for communal “progress.”
We will spare you the details, but Progressivism is, at its core, remarkably similar to British Fabianism, in that it proffered peaceful “change” and the reorganization of the existing society rather than outright revolution. Like the rest of the –“isms,” however, Progressivism and Fabianism are utopian, which is to say that they were eventually bound to collapse under the weight of their unfulfillable promises. Roughly a year-and-a-half ago, the British Labour party finally gave up the ghosts of its Fabian founding and surrendered to the hard-Left tribalism of Jeremy Corbyn. And this, we suspect, will be the fate of the Democratic Party as well. In the wake of its ongoing losses and relegation to rump-party status, the Democrats will give up their Progressive heritage, will turn on the Progressives with ferocity, and will adopt a far less peaceable form of Leftism.
For much of the past year, the intellectual powers that be in this country have focused on the collapse of traditional American conservatism and the rise of a more European-like version. American conservatism, you see, has always been classically liberal, which is to say temperamentally cautious but dedicated to individual and economic liberty. European conservatism, by contrast, is far more nativist, far more “right wing,” and concerned far less with economic liberty and more with economic “justice.” Pat Buchanan’s conservatism – i.e. economically populist, protectionist, and isolationist – has morphed into Trumpian conservatism, which is frighteningly “European.” Or so we’ve been told.
For our money, the real “europeanization” is taking place not on the Right, but on the Left, where the placid, technocratic Leftism of the Progressives is giving way to something far darker, far more aggressive and unrelenting. You see, as with conservatism, Europe and the United States have historically had differing versions of Leftism. The American version is – or was – religious in its origins, generally peaceful in its actions, and at least nominally dedicated to the preservation of wealth and private property. The European version, by contrast, has been violent, radically atheistic, more aggressively collectivist, punitively anti-colonialist, and ruthlessly anti-Semitic.
Nothing, we think, better captures the post-Obama, post-Progressive nature of the Democratic Party than Congressman Keith Ellison’s candidacy for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. If Ellison wins the spot – and right now, he has no serious challengers – then the leadership of the party apparatus will have passed, in the course of a few months, from a Progressive Jewish woman to a radically Leftist Muslim man with historical ties to the overtly anti-Semitic Nation of Islam. In a recent column for the Jerusalem Post, the inimitable Caroline Glick laid bare the choice facing the Democrats as they enter their political exile:
The Democratic Party stands at a crossroads today. And so do the Jewish Democrats. Out of power in the White House and both houses of Congress, the Democrats must decide what sort of party they will be in the post-Obama world. . . . They have two basic options.
They can move to the center and try to rebuild their blue collar voter base that President-elect Donald Trump captivated with his populist message. To do so they will need to loosen the reins of political correctness and weaken their racialism, their radical environmentalism and their support for open borders. This is the sort of moderate posture that Bill Clinton led with. It is the sort of posture that Clinton tried but failed to convince his wife to adopt in this year’s campaign.
The second option is to go still further along the leftist trajectory that President Barack Obama set the party off on eight years ago. This is the favored option of the Bernie Sanders wing of the party. Sanders’s supporters refer to this option as the populist course. . . . For the Democrats, such a populist course will require them to become more racialist, more authoritarian in their political correctness, angrier and more doctrinaire.
It will also require them to become an antisemitic party. Antisemitism, like hatred of police and Christians, is a necessary component of Democratic populism. . . .
From the party’s initial post-election moves, it appears that the Democrats have decided to take the latter path. Congressman Keith Ellison from Minneapolis is now poised to be selected as the next leader of the Democratic National Committee. . . . Ellison’s association with the Nation of Islam dated back at least since 1989 and stretched at least until 1998. During that period, he not only knew about the Nation of Islam’s Jew-hatred, he engaged in it himself. . . .
After the September 11 attacks, Ellison likened the attacks to the Reichstag fire in 1933, intimating that the al-Qaida strike was an inside job. He then agreed with an audience member who said that “the Jews” gained the most from the attacks.
As a member of Congress, Ellison has been among the most hostile US lawmakers toward Israel. He has close relations with Muslim Brotherhood-related groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America. Both groups were unindicted co-conspirators in the Holy Land Foundation terrorism funding trial, implicated in funding Hamas and al-Qaida. . . . Ellison, a supporter of the antisemitic BDS movement, has libeled Israel by likening the Jewish state to apartheid South Africa. Under his leadership, we can expect for Democratic politicians to veer even further away from Israel and to embrace the slander that Zionism is racism.
Note, it is not just Jews and supporters of Israel who have much to fear from the Democratic Party’s populist tilt. The Wall Street Big Shots who supported Obama and Hillary, the wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and, of course, the rich powerful Baby Boomers who have run the party for the last quarter century will all be personae non gratae in the populist, post-Progressive Left.
Needless to say, we are not especially optimistic about the future of the Democratic Party. For all the hand-wringing over the future of the GOP, the real question, we think, is the course that the Democrats will chart in their attempt to return from exile. We hope we’re wrong about the future of the party, about its reaction to its powerless Progressives, and about the form of Leftist populism that will take the place of the soft-Leftism of the Clinton and Obama eras.
The key, we’d guess, is the DNC race. If Keith Ellison wins, then Kirsten Gillibrand can kiss her 2020 presidential hopes goodbye. She’ll be lucky if she can get the party’s endorsement for reelection to the Senate, much less its nomination for the presidency. If Ellison loses, however, if another candidate can appease both the Progressives and the populists, then we will not despair.
It seems strange to us to hope for a Progressive victory, having spent the better part of the last two decades pointing out Progressivism’s failures. But in the current atmosphere, it is by far the lesser of evils.