Some Easy Straw Men: Zack Beauchamp, Sanders, Economics, and Identity Politics

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Zack Beauchamp has written an important though bad piece in Vox, titled “No easy answers: why left-wing economics is not the answer to right-wing populism”. Beauchamp’s piece is important because liberal icon Paul Krugman, in his bullshit-in-a-china-shop way, immediately leveraged it into an open assault on universal benefits like Medicare for All (and also, implicitly, Social Security[1]). Beauchamp’s piece is bad, aside from its policy implications, because it contains major misstatements, major errors of interpretation, and because it both begins and ends with a straw man attack on Bernie Sanders that seriously distorts his views. I’m going to begin with a brief discussion of identity politics, because that will set the context for how Beauchamp strawmanned Sanders.

Justice and Identity Politics

Adolph Reed, in a well-known article, formulates the difficulties of achieving justice through identity politics as follows:

[R]ace politics is not an alternative to class politics; it is a class politics, the politics of the left-wing of neoliberalism. It is the expression and active agency of a political order and moral economy in which capitalist market forces are treated as unassailable nature [TINA]. An integral element of that moral economy is displacement of the critique of the invidious outcomes produced by capitalist class power onto equally naturalized categories of ascriptive identity [for example, perceived skin color] that sort us into groups supposedly defined by what we essentially are rather than what we do. As I have argued, following Walter Michaels and others, within that moral economy a society in which 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources could be just, provided that roughly 12% of the 1% were black, 12% were Latino, 50% were women, and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people. It would be tough to imagine a normative ideal that expresses more unambiguously the social position of people who consider themselves candidates for inclusion in, or at least significant staff positions in service to, the ruling class.

Indeed. Can such a society be just? After all, Reed describes the workings of an oligarchy. Can an oligarchy be just? I argue no:

So, if we ask an identitarian whether shipping the Rust Belt’s jobs off to China was fair — the moral of the story — the answer we get is: “That depends. If the private equity firms that did it were 12% black, 12% Latino, and half women, then yes.” And that really is the answer that the Clintonites give. And, to this day, they believe it’s a winning one.

Now, readers who are on the Twitter — the liberal and/or left parts of it, anyhow — will remember that after the Clinton debacle on November 8, 2016, an enormous and very messy battle immediately broke out, expressed in crude terms as “identity politics” versus “class politics” (shorthand: “economics”), and in more humane terms as what the relationship between class and identity might be, and how to express it. The more vulgar sort of liberal Clintonite would argue — still argues — that economics plays, and should play, no role in the construction of identity; the more vulgar left Sanders supporter, in a move reminiscent of the crude base/superstructure model of the 30s, would argue identity is a mere function of economics. In terms of party leadership, the issue was settled when the left’s candidate, Ellison, was ritually sacrificed by the liberal establishment, but the battle, perhaps attenuated to a heated discussion, necessarily continues today, wherever politics is practiced seriously. With this as context, let’s turn to Beauchamp.

Beauchamp Strawmans Sanders

Here’s Beauchamp’s lead:

On November 20, less than two weeks after Donald Trump’s upset win, Bernie Sanders strode onto a stage at Boston’s Berklee Performance Center to give the sold-out audience his thoughts on what had gone so disastrously wrong for the Democratic Party.

Sanders had a simple answer. Democrats, he said, needed to field candidates who would unapologetically promise that they would be willing “to stand up with the working class of this country andtake on big-money interests.”

Democrats, in other words, would only be able to defeat Trump and others like him if they adopted an anti-corporate, unabashedly left-wing policy agenda. The answer to Trump’s right-wing populism, Sanders argued, was for the left to develop a populism of its own.

Well, I went and looked at what Sanders said. (The complete video of the Sanders speech is at the Boston Globe: “You can now watch Bernie Sanders’s full Boston speech on identity politics and the progressive movement.”) Boston Magazine sets the scene: “An audience member asked if Bernie Sanders, her hero, had any tips for realizing her dream of becoming the second Latina ever elected to the Senate. ‘Let me respond to the question in a way that you may not be happy with,’ Sanders said.” Here’s a partial video, with a transcript (slightly cleaned up) that gives the complete context of Sanders remarks. I have helpfully underlined the portion that Beauchamp quoted, so you can see what he omitted:

[SANDERS]It goes without saying, that as we fight to end all forms of discrimination, as we fight to bring more and more women into the political process, Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans – all of that is enormously important, and count me in as somebody who wants to see that happen. But it is not good enough for somebody to say, “Hey, I’m a Latina, vote for me.” That is not good enough. I have to know whether that Latina is going to stand up with the working class of this country and is going to take on big-money interests. And one of the struggles that we’re going to have right now, lay it on the table in the Democratic Party, is that it’s not good enough for me to say, well, we have x number of African Americans over here, we have y number of Latinos, we have z number of women, we are a diverse party, a diverse nation. Not good enough! We need that diversity, that goes without saying, that is accepted. Right now we’ve made some progress in getting into politics. I think we’ve got 20 women in the Senate now, we need 50 women in the Senate. We need more African Americans. But here is my point – and this is where there’s going to be a division within the Democratic Party – it is not good enough for somebody to say, “I’m a woman, vote for me.” No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel companies…In other words, one of the struggles that you’re going to be seeing in the Democratic Party is whether we go beyond identity politics. I think it’s a step forward in America if you have an African American CEO of some major corporation. But you know what? If that guy is going to be shipping jobs out of this country and exploiting his workers, it doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot if he’s black or white or Latino.

A few points. First, you can see how Sanders’ X, Y, Z trope directly reproduces Reed’s thinking on identity politics (and Reed’s views on justice, as well). Second, Sanders is intervening very directly in the left/liberal battle over identity politics alluded to above. Third, it’s disingenuous of Beachamp to characterize what Sanders is saying as a “simple answer”; anybody who follows these issues knows they’re complex, personally and politically. Sanders knows that, too, since he prefaces his answer with “you may not be happy with.” Finally, Beauchamp rips Sanders’ words from their context to construct his “populism” straw man; what Sanders is advocating at Berklee isn’t “populism” — whatever that means, and Beauchamp never defines it — but a form of (working) class politics that includes and transcends (Hegel might say “subsumes”) identity politics; both/and, not either/or. Which makes perfect sense, because you have to approach people from where they are and how they see themselves, no? Anyhow, if strawmanning and taking out of context don’t bother you, read on!

Beauchamp and the History of Social Democracy

Beauchamp presents the following chart (which I have helpfully annotated in red):

Based on that chart, he asks the following question:

The chart [above], from the London School of Economics’ Simon Hix and the University of London’s Giacomo Benedetto, show how those [social democratic] parties have done in elections in 18 Western European countries between 1945 and 2016. This creates a puzzle: Why did voters who by and large benefit from social democracy turn against the parties that most strongly support it?

Beauchamp, of course, assumes that the social democratic parties pursued the same policies in the 1945-2016 period. But that’s simply not so:

During the inflationary crisis of the 1970s, elite policymakers in Western Europe came to the conclusion that it was no longer possible for the welfare state to operate as it had since 1945. Their project thereafter has been twofold: to convince the public that their diagnosis is right, and to enact (what they consider) necessary neoliberal reforms by any means necessary.

In other words, there’s an inflection point in the mid-70s — I’ve helpfully added the red line marked (1) to the rawther flat curve in Beauchamp’s chart to show it — where the neoliberal dispensation began, just as in the United States. The answer to Beauchamp’s question “Why did voters who by and large benefit from social democracy turn against the parties that most strongly support it?” is that the parties stopped supporting it, even though the voters supported it, there as here. There is no puzzle at all.

Beauchamp and European Immigration

Based on the same chart, Beauchamp also urges:

So it’s not that European social democrats failed to sell their economic message, or that economic redistribution became unpopular. It’s that economic issues receded in importance at the same time as Europe was experiencing a massive, unprecedented wave of nonwhite, non-Christian immigration.

That, in turn, brought some of the most politically potent nonmaterial issues — race, identity, and nationalism — to the forefront of Western voters’ mind [sic].

It’s not clear to me whether Beauchamp regards immigration from 1945-2016 as a single, continuous phenomenon, or not. I doubt that it is; if we limit scope to asylum claims, the numbers look like this:

However, again, Beauchamp leaves out an inflection point — the red line marked (2) shows it — that being the great Crash of 2008, followed by the imposition of years of austerity and grinding unemployment, continuing crises, crapification of services, suicides, etc. Are we really to believe that the European social democrats sold “their economic message” successfully during after 2008? And are we really to believe that “politically potent nonmaterial issues” are not affected by material (economic) issues? And are we really to believe that the material conditions of austerity didn’t affect “Western voters’ minds?” Glenn Greenwald writes:

[E]conomic suffering and xenophobia/racism are not mutually exclusive. The opposite is true: The former fuels the latter, as sustained economic misery makes people more receptive to tribalistic scapegoating. That’s precisely why plutocratic policies that deprive huge portions of the population of basic opportunity and hope are so dangerous. Claiming that supporters of Brexit or Trump or Corbyn or Sanders or anti-establishment European parties on the left and right are motivated only by hatred but not genuine economic suffering and political oppression is a transparent tactic for exonerating status quo institutions and evading responsibility for doing anything about their core corruption.



Beauchamp concludes, and no, I’m not making this up, this is really his last sentence:

If Democrats really want to stop right-wing populists like Trump, they need a strategy that blunts the true drivers of their appeal — and that means focusing on more than economics.

Leave aside the vacuity — what on earth can “more than economics” possibly be, other than vague handwaving? — and go back to what Sanders really said. “Focusing on more than economics” is exactly what Sanders wants to do. SMH.


[1] At this point, we remember this story from David Sirota, from November 2, 2016: “Hillary Clinton Economic Team Planned Secret Meeting With Wall Street Mogul Pushing To Shift Retiree Savings To Financial Firms.” In other words, the Democrat Establishment has never surrendered the idea of a Grand Bargain, and so whatever their first priority may be, it’s not economic justice. As I keep saying, election 2016 has been wonderfully clarifying.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Science Officer Smirnoff

    On first pass a strong piece. On a second it may be a very strong one. Thanks, L. S.

    P. S. Vox has been very interesting since the election in its mixed results shall I say.

    1. Code Name D

      Indeed, and very enlightening. I have recently started looking into some Sam Harris arguments about why the HRC lost to Trump. And he echoes many of the same points; it’s not the economy, and somehow the European refugee crises factored into Trump voter’s calculous. And yes, Harris remains bitter at Sanders for some reason. Before the election, he accused Sanders of having a “moral black hole.” Harris’ argument really is rather bazaar, a whole lot of word salad trying to fill out a vapid argument. Just trying to figure out what he is getting at is proving to be a challenge in this case.

      There also appears to be some kind of feud between Harris and Chomsky that I think may be directly related to identity politics. (Any links I might investigate?) From what I have been able to gather is that Harris seems to be desperately trying to identity a formal underclass – Islomists, because of their violently encoded religious DNA or something that makes them irredeemable. I think. Harris seems to spend more time trying to tell his fans how not-butt-hurt he is than spelling out his argument. Chomsky however is a bit clearer, noting the decades of whole sale death, destruction, and delivered poverty (IE, US foreign policy) tends to radicalize a population. If the Middle East is full of radical jihadists, it’s because we actively killed the progressive and moderate voices in their society. And what was made can likely be unmade.

      1. UserFriendly

        Their beef goes back a while. All explained here and it’s too much to try and summarize. I can’t for the life of me understand why Harris keeps this up, it doesn’t make him look good IMO.

        Basically Harris is convinced that Muslims are inherently more violent than any other religion and tries to justify that belief so they butt heads.

        1. Code Name D

          Ah, Sam’s infamous blog post. Thanks. That will defiantly go onto the reading pile.

          At first glance, bring in Sam’s islamophobia might be pulling the discussion off topic. But I think it in fact exposes a larger pattern here. While I can’t really know what Sam is thinking, or if he was bought off or not. I still get the sense that this is part of the Democratic intelligencia attempting to justify the establishment narrative. In this case, to justify the ever-expanding war in the middle east. Just as Beauchamp is trying to push the establishment narrative that “it’s not the economy, stupid.” It’s classic apologist.

          1. UserFriendly

            Yeah, IMO his whole argument that Clinton was bombing Sudan only for the noblest of reasons is dripping with islamophobia.

            1. Code Name D

              Wow! Just … WOW! I was mostly confused with Harris’ arguments up to now. But this dialog with Chomsky completely exposes Harris pro-Clinton bias and double standard for what it is. I have only managed to go through about half of it. But the discussion quickly focuses on the al-Shifa bombing, a pharmaceutical factory that Clinton claimed was creating bio/chemical weapons, so thus he bombed it.

              Chomsky notes that no evidence has serviced that would justify Clintion’s actions, thus the bombing qualifies as a war crime. Harris recoils at this, arguing that Clintion’s actions were governed by his belief that the plant was creating bio/chemical weapons and his intention was to stop the manufacture of deadly weapons that were destined to be in the hands of terrorists, thus because of his intentions, his actions are entirely benign.

              Any respect I had for Harris has just been shattered.

              1. David Green

                With someone like Harris, the more simplistic and grandiose he is, the more he thinks he can go at it with Chomsky. I’m not sure what Harris has to offer any intelligent person, and that includes pretty meaningless prattle about the “new atheism.”

                1. Code Name D

                  It’s a bit more than that. Harris comes from an atheist/scientific background which places a huge infuses on the scientific method as a means of understanding the world around us. For most issues, such as separating creationism from evolution, this works fine. But once you start messing with politics, not everything can be evaluated scientifically. One needs to start using more philosophy which offers different tools for tackling non-scientific questions, especially morality and ethics.

                  Unfortunately, philosophy is an area skeptics community has little exposure too, or worse sees as being antithetical to science. So, these tools are proving to be absent when tackling these kinds of question. The more of Harris’ works I review, the more I am seeing this pattern, despite the fact that he is alleged to have a background in philosophy.

                  For example, in philosophy, there is something called the reflective argument. Simply swap the conditions of the argument and see if the argument still holds true. Harris argues that Islam is more destructive because of their religion, compelling them to kill infidels. But Clinton’s bombing of al-Shifa is benign because Clinton “believed” they were making bio/chemical weapons.

                  But Chomsky points out (several times in fact) that this fails because Islam also believe they are doing the right thing by killing infidels. Harris correctly points out that believes do produce consequences. But it’s the consequences that mater – not the beliefs that produce them.

  2. Leigh

    ” Bernie Sanders strode onto a stage at Boston’s Berklee Performance Center ..”

    I would have stopped reading after the word “strode” – you know a slam is coming when you see a word like that.

  3. fresno dan

    It strikes me that so much of what the “Voxers” argument is, is not ONLY identitarian as it is simply refusing to acknowledge that who controls the politics – their priorities first, second, third, and all priorities is getting more, more, and finally all the MONEY. Said many times at NC, but economics is a religious belief – and if God is good to you in that belief system, your gonna believe in it – HOW COULD GOD BE UNFAIR???

    Just reading another article today about an increase in CEO pay. How many links were there in the last week in NC alone about how raising pay for truck drivers and tomato pickers just don’t work? (the dogma supposedly of increasing price increases labor supply doesn’t work for wage workers….only for CEO’s) The way it really works, that the rich get more and the poor get less, is never, ever discussed in reality.
    Does Beauchamp know this, or as the Jesuits say, Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man?

  4. ChrisAtRU

    No surprises here. Neolibs hate the left more than they do the right. Both liberal and conservative wings – to quote a (Chinese?) proverb I read articulated as a meme recently – belong to the same bird. They are both rightly afraid of any movement that will unite the downtrodden across race in pursuit of bridging the now chasmic economic (class) divide. Remember Pelosi – “we are all capitalists, and that’s just the way it is”. Economic policy is a weapon of mass destruction used to further divide by race. See the Atwater quote here (“You start out in 1954 by saying …”). What’s happened in the rust belt (and elsewhere, far from either shining sea) has now extended the front of the class war to rural (largely white) America. What Atwater described, having been played out fully in urban (largely black) America, is now being meted out to the heartland. Yesterday’s inner city crack epidemic is now your exurban and rural opioid epidemic.

    I have a great idea for the next Bernie Town Hall: Get two disparate groups of the poor and disaffected. One from a rural community and one from an urban one. Have them look at each other across a (real or virtual) room, and let them talk about job and benefit loss, drug addiction, neglect and government/corporate malfeasance. That would be powerful, and would hopefully wake many people up to the shared realities of the neoliberal onslaught here in the US.

    1. Left in Wisconsin

      This is an excellent suggestion. So far, the best piece of political commentary for the entire election cycle was the SNL skit where bumpkin Tom Hanks gave all correct answers on Black Jeopardy. Now we need to ‘make it real.’

    2. Marco

      “I Have a Dream…”

      Where an African American single mom working at a McDonald’s on the South Side of Chicago identifies more with a white single mom working at a Dollar General in Akron. Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian be damned. Or Jessica Simpson? I dunno. Who’s the white Beyoncé?

      1. ChrisAtRU

        Love the dream! And the question! It’s nice when responses to my posts send me off on Google-Fu adventures! Hahaha!

        So this is the best I could find:
        Most Popular Music Artist By State [Business Insider, 2016]

        It’s based on Spotify, so may not be indicative, but I’ll take guidance from it and say that if we’re looking for someone analogous to Beyoncé, it would have to be …

        Taylor Swift


        PS: apparently a fave of the “alt-right” as well, so there’s that.

        1. Marco

          Ha! Thanks Chris. Great stuff. My point mentioning the music celebrities is that minority over-representation in celebrity pop-culture does much of the heavy-lifting when it comes to creating the appearance of broad societal equality for the Identarians.

          1. ChrisAtRU

            Indeed. They effectively constitute a lopsided inspiration set for the aspirational minority class.

    3. Michael Fiorillo

      Yes, an excellent suggestion, and in true synchronistic fashion it’s seconded in today’s edition of Counterpunch, where there’s a discussion of “The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption In the New South.”

      It’s a book that examines the personal and political relationship between Ann Atwater, a civil rights activist in North Carolina, and C.P. Ellis, a Klansman who recanted his racism and became an ally and union organizer. Their friendship occurred in exactly the same way.

    4. Mary Lou Isaacson

      Your idea is excellent. I have long believed that the rural poor whites have much in common with the urban poor. Finding common ground is the only way forward. Economic, social and environmental justice for all,
      regardless of race has to pull all groups together.

      1. ChrisAtRU

        Thank you! I think I’m going to screenshot this entire exchange and tweet it to Bernie … ;-)

  5. hemeantwell

    Thanks for the dissection. Beauchamp’s terribly lazy argument is an exercise in ideological autoanesthesia. That he could propose Tony Blair = “economic social democracy” requires an analysis free from any sense of history, which is exactly the goal, I guess. I doubt that even Blair would agree with him.

  6. Left in Wisconsin

    You give Beauchamp too much credit. Very early on in his piece, he lays his cards on the table: there is no left/liberal split, only liberal and more liberal:

    A legion of commentators and politicians, most prominently in the United States but also in Europe, have argued that center-left parties must shift further to the left in order to fight off right-wing populists such as Trump and France’s Marine Le Pen. Supporters of these leaders, they argue, are motivated by a sense of economic insecurity in an increasingly unequal world; promise them a stronger welfare state, one better equipped to address their fundamental needs, and they will flock to the left.

    The notion that the Ds are a ‘center-left’ party is hilarious.

    But the bigger point I would take issue with, and it’s one that is not getting nearly the play it should, is the claim that what the left wants is a bigger welfare state. We on the left need to push back strongly against this.

    A welfare state is what provides economic “losers” under capitalism some assurance that they will not have to live in dire poverty when “the economy” leaves them behind. We on the left do not want a more expansive welfare state. We want is a society in which the economy leaves no one behind. Which is exactly what Sanders voters and many Trump voters want. Everyone hates the welfare state except liberals.

    Health care, affordable education, and pensions are not “the welfare state.” Health care and education are rights and pensions are earned income (whether Social Security or private pensions). Food stamps and AFDC (or whatever they call it now) are the welfare state. I personally think Paul Ryan is FOS when he says that our welfare state is enabling; it is way too cheap for that. Plus, virtually no one wants to get food stamps or AFDC. They want a job with benefits that pays enough that they don’t need the welfare state. (And yes, raising children in a single parent household should be a job with benefits.)

    The notion that the left wants a bigger welfare state needs maximum pushback. It is obvious that Krugman, et al will continue to push the “free stuff” meme to try to delegitimize us.

    1. Geoff

      Center-left isn’t something you can ascribe to generally. They may be center-left socially, but economically, they are well into the right of center. The most hypocritical thing now is that they use what is left in their bag of tricks on social liberal causes to distract from what they care about, which is the big money grab.

      The socialism/welfare argument is also disingenuous, and another way of beating down Sanders with his own words (I really wish he never said he was a social democrat, let alone a socialist, as people just love to use that against him.) I think what we need to focus on is investing in people, not bailing them out if they are left behind.

      1. Grebo

        If Sanders had not started by owning the ‘socialist’ tag he would have had to spend every media moment trying to deny it. Instead he gets to talk about real stuff, and people get to see he has no horns.

        1. Ian

          A big part of the appeal behind Sanders in the run up from people that I talked to online was that even though they did not agree with his politics on socialism, that he was honest and genuinely workng in the interests of, and would fight for, the general populace and that alone made him worth voting for despite their disagreement. As the reality was, no one else on the playing field would.

          1. Ian

            A note, these people were a minority among those that would support him, as most I talked too had no issues with his Socialism tag.

    2. dk

      Left in Wisconsin
      The notion that the left wants a bigger welfare state needs maximum pushback.

      This needs to be repeated constantly and consistently, and also developed into a positive position, with specific statements about where we want to go and how to get ther, accompanied by rational and defensible argument and supporting data/literature.

      To start that ball rolling: I would say that the end-goal is equity in the employer. This would means that employees take on risk as company partners. The fact is the employees take on corporate risk anyway, but the pushback will be that the welfare/”safety-net” is protecting workers from risk. There should be a discussion about the difference between a safety-net for emergencies (average rate ~ 3.5%, max rate ~7%), and broader subsidies (primary or supplemental) that partially compensate for poor/stagnant wages.

      Okay so I can see as I’m writing that worker equity is too big for a first conceptual bite, it’s too far from where we are and there has to be a progression of changes of perception, and actions, just to get to the point where worker equity becomes a more immediate option.

      But I would like to hear what others here think.

      1. HotFlash

        Re new perceptions. Was looking over Mr HotFlash’s shoulder today, he was watching Richard Wolff discussing usury and interest (sorry, I don’t have a link…). Rick said that the Catholic Church designated usury a sin (true) because, as he said, if someone needed a loan, a good Christian should lend it to him interest free , “As an act of Christian solidarity.” Blew me away, I was expecting ‘charity’. Yeah, ‘solidarity’, whole new mindset.

        We don’t need charity, neither as givers or recipients, we need solidarity.

        1. Marco

          And then the Protestant Work Ethic came along and now the fruits of my labor are ALL MINE. Thanks Luther and Adam Smith. Property property property!

      2. Grebo

        Risky. The right would run with the ‘end welfare’ part and ignore the socialism part. The non-working welfare recipients aren’t likely to get onboard with either part.

        1. dk

          No argument it’s risky, but and/or ill-defined or poorly articulated positions are an even greater risk. In contrast, doing nothing has a more predictable outcome, less risk, same or worse disaster.

          And the both Reps and Dems will attempt to either acquire, fracture or dilute ANY appealing policy ideas, that’s a given.

          But the more closely specific a proposed policy is, the more difficult it is to co-opt, and the easier to defend. And we must also integrate policies so that they inter-operate in an obvious way.

          Example (and a quick+dirty one, I am not a skilled policy person): infrastructure spending (I) tied to employment opportunities (E) at a wage sufficient to require no further worker subsidy (W), with specific for items like the repair of Flint, MI’s (and so many other places’) water system, a specific local need (L).

          But instead of selling this the establishment way, which is I+E+W+L in Flint as a single program that can be easily compromised later, because it’s just one thing, we say:

          We will do I. Everywhere.
          We will do E. Everywhere.
          We will do W. Everywhere.
          We will support L. Everywhere.

          And we’ll also make sure that I+E+W+L can be done in Flint, in St Louis, in New Orleans, in your county, in your town. Apply it to hospitals (fifty-seven rural hospitals have closed since 2010: ), build out rural internet access, and the hundred other things I just can’t think of right now.

          Will there be fraud and corruption? Will there be mistakes and failures? As with all endeavor, yes, yes, yes. We will be transparent (T) and see problems sooner, learn from mistakes, because that’s what humans do, at least what we can do if we decide to. Fraud and corruption are easier to spot and control the more local administration is.

          And in the context of I+E+W+L(+T+?+?+..), things like fed taxation reform exist in an operation context, not a hypothetical (libertarian?) ideal.

          Do we have to solve for everyone everywhere, all identities, all regions? No, we have to provide the support and resources that let states and counties and municipalities design their own implementations.

          Which is potentially easier and cheaper (per location) than piecemeal targeting of special Fed programs. Of course different regions will have different needs. Guess what the Reps are (kinda) right about? State government matters, the differences between states (and their residents) matter. Life isn’t one-size-fits-all, government shouldn’t be either. Fed provides resources, states do their own implementations (and we have been doing that, moire or less, all along, but media focus on federal maters obscures it).

          Already, some states may have very very different programs and benefits from each other. If people are getting paid decent wages (W), there is more opportunity to move to a location with the programs a specific individual or family wants/needs.

          I hope it’s clear I am talking about how to structure and pitch, and I would expect that a result of a serious policy design effort would look different from my crude examples.

      3. Iowan X

        +1000. This is how the Krugman’s and Brad DeLong’s of the world paint us into a corner. Divide and conquer is a time-tested and effective strategy. We need to be aware it is being used against everybody all the time, from the White House on down.

    3. Deadl E Cheese

      Health care, affordable education, and pensions are not “the welfare state.” Health care and education are rights and pensions are earned income (whether Social Security or private pensions). Food stamps and AFDC (or whatever they call it now) are the welfare state.

      And yet Left In Wisconsin is wondering why Krugman went off the rails into reactionary drivel.

      That is how it starts, my man. Once you start trying applying meritocracy to societal redistribution, you’re only a couple electoral kick in the nuts by a working-class ‘deplorable’ from sounding like a libertarian.

      The notion that the left wants a bigger welfare state needs maximum pushback. It is obvious that Krugman, et al will continue to push the “free stuff” meme to try to delegitimize us.

      If you are against the idea that what humanity needs right now is a bigger welfare state — not even full-on Marxism, but just social democracy — you are not the Left. You’re just a bog-standard Atari Democrat.

    4. Barry Fay

      Left in Wisconsin – this is a really excellent point and a rhetoric that should be promoted wherever possible! Food stamps, though, are as much a farm subsidy as they are welfare – just a minor point.

  7. Geoff

    You have to simply integrate financialization and inequality into this and then the puzzle is really solved. The TINA neoliberal shift of the early 80s is when the the party began to back corporates, and corporate funded government, and just started to be pigs rolling in it, and the people that remain loyal are essentially asset owners, regardless of race. That ownership is unequal in terms of distribution of assets equaling shares by ethnicity is one thing, but the other important thing Sanders points out to very clearly. If by being co-opted into the competition for class rank via asset grab and asset inflation, you are essentially shedding your race to wear your class suit, then identity is almost meaningless, in fact, it is worse than meaningless, because these minorities come to power and then do an actual DISservice to their own identity political class.

    In the end, it’s all about a pie that is growing slower, and a faster growing global populace all trying to get a slice, while the top of the the heap fights amongst themselves to be king and queen of the looting class.

    This will not end well as long as the Democratic party is in denial about what is going on. The problem is, the vast majority of people that write about this issue, or report on it, or are on TV, are also mostly co-opted by the wealthy that own that particular mouthpiece, be it a newspaper, TV show, etc, and they dont even realize when they disrespect blogs and other places where reality, objectivism and truth like to hang out, that they are sewing the seeds of our societal destruction one day from below as more and more of society is marginalized.

    1. Grebo

      other places where reality, objectivism and truth like to hang out

      I guess you mean objectivity. Objectivism is not something I would expect to be linked to reality and truth round here.

    2. Allegorio

      “In the end, it’s all about a pie that is growing slower, and a faster growing global populace all trying to get a slice, while the top of the the heap fights amongst themselves to be king and queen of the looting class.” @Geoff

      Besides divide and rule, the “zero sum game” is a principle technique to turn the working class into right wing populists. All talk of budget deficits, welfare, “entitlements” play the zero sum game. One man’s gain is not another’s loss unless society is structured that way, and the neo-liberal society is structured that way. Without failure there can be no success.

      A remarkable display of Senator Sanders political skills was when he was confronted by an irate Wisconsin woman disparaging the concept of free education. Why should she pay for someone else’s education when she had a hard time paying for her own children’s.

      The “who’s going to pay for it” meme that HRC rolled out when she confronted Senator Sanders in debate. He persuaded the woman that free education would be free for her children as well. The “zero sum game” has been so driven into the American consciousness, drives so much of political debate that it can be the principal explanation for why the dispossessed classes continue to vote against their self interest.

      Finally beware of any Democrat who calls social insurance “entitlements”!

      1. djrichard


        There’s a reason the dem party doesn’t challenge the orthodoxy of the budget deficit needing to be balanced. It’s because it can be used as a tool to create sea changes. You need a crisis to create sea changes, the type that Rahm Emanuel reminds the dem part to never let go to waste. Except in this case, the logic of using the budget deficit to create crisis always results in a sea change that favors the winners and disadvantages the losers.

        [Now finally the dems have a different kind of crisis on their hands: one where they’re losing and the populists are winning. Seems like they’re going to let this crisis go to waste. Idiots.]

        In any case, this is where Sanders does drop the ball to some degree. He needs economists from UMKC to equip him with the talking points for the public, namely that they’ve been sold a bill of goods: the federal deficit doesn’t matter. The Fed Gov can afford the free stuff. And he should shove that down Krugman’s throat in particular.

        It’s clear the GOP knows this already per Dick Cheney to W. Bush. And they keep snookering the voting public regardless. What I sometimes wonder is whether the dem leadership is so stupid that they’re snookered as well. What’s most likely is that the dem leadership finds it to their financial advantage (a la wallstreet) to let themselves be snookered on this as well. And the truly mendacious are like Rahm Emanuel.

      2. Marco

        RE The “who’s going to pay for it” meme…

        It’s not a meme. It’s how 99.99% live their lives. Until the average Joe can understand that Government money…fiat is NOT something in that “big super-duper bank account in the sky” than nothing will change. MMT’ers aren’t doing a good job bringing it down to the masses. Goodness I can barely wrap my head around it.

        1. Allegorio

          “MMT’ers aren’t doing a good job bringing it down to the masses. Goodness I can barely wrap my head around it.” @ Marco.

          MMT is non-intuitive and a difficult sell. Wemar! Zimbabawe! Venezuela! The point being that there is no inflation as long as the money supply matches the productive capacity of society. Weimar, Zimbabawe and Venezuala all have productive capacity rather than monetary explanations for inflation.

          A legitimate concern however is corruption. Who gets the free money? The point being that the Federal Reserve is already practicing MMT passing out the free money to the ethnically privileged. That is why Trump’s trope that the system is rigged was so effective. This would be the most effective approach to selling MMT to the public, quantitative easing for the people! The bank bailouts have opened the door to a discussion and implementation of MMT generally not just for the ethnically privileged.

          Likewise demonstrating that an economic system based on debt cannot work. When all debt is repaid there is no money. That economic growth is essentially linear but compound interest is exponential and will consume the entire economic output, the deflationary spiral, as is our current predicament, $750 trillion in debt on top of $70 trillion world GDP.

          This is the reason that humanity having achieved the productive capacity to give everyone an extraordinary lifestyle by historical standards yet is mired in poverty and stagnation. The constitution gives the government the right to create money. That right has been privatized, the first in a long line of privatizations since the enclosure acts of the 18th century and Henry the VIII’s looting of the monasteries, the horrific birth of neo-liberalism.

          Finally, MMT solves the paradox of thrift. An economy’s woes can all be traced to hoarding. The .001%’s wealth represents hoarding. The hoarded money is taken out of circulation and no longer contributes to productive capacity but is diverted to asset inflation and speculation. Monetary velocity grinds to a halt. Without the burden of interest payments velocity is maintained. The .001% can sit on their hoards of money and it will not affect the rest of society, the zero sum game ends, productive capacity is maintained.

          What needs to be stressed in economic discussions is not budget deficits and debt, but the the shortfalls in potential productive capacity, what the Keynesians misleadingly call aggregate demand. Productive capacity can be increased beyond aggregate demand the only limiting factor being resource depletion and environmental degradation, problems that can be dealt with more cleverly than by market pricing.

          A good start to selling MMT would be to decide that there are societal benefits that are not amenable to market forces, for instance health care, education, security, natural monopolies and use non debt MMT money to fund these, taking care to curb the greed of the practitioners of those fields. Time to shrink the sphere of “….because the markets” neo-liberalism so that we can drown it in a bathtub. This would end the zero sum game and we would all be winners.

          1. djrichard

            At this point, this is a game of credentials: we need our economists to go to the mat with their economists. And at least battle them to a draw so that appeals to credentialed authority can be taken off the table. And then we can appeal to other forms of persuasion.

            1. Allegorio

              Sorry, I have no credentials. I have only reason and empirical reality. Credentials are used to subvert reason and virtualize reality. Credentials are incipient authoritarianism. When the masses have lost the capacity to think for themselves and must defer to experts, it is the first step to social disintegration and hierarchy. If a credentialed authority cannot give an explanation that even the meanest intellect can understand you have jargon and phlim phlamery and you better grab hold of your wallet.

          2. Allegorio

            I would just like to point out, that the above is an explanation for why faux progressive, former Republican, Elizabeth Warren has come out in opposition to auditing the Fed. Heaven forbid that we find out who the ethnically privileged are! Elizabeth Warren seems to be gunning to replace the faux progressive, former Republican, Hillary Clinton. Apparently auditing the Fed would expose MMT in action, can’t have that. Beware the faux progressive, especially when they start calling social insurance “entitlements”!

    3. djrichard


      Something else that was a significant sea-change at the end of the 70s: the Fed Reserve (in concert with the central of England and Germany and presumably all the central banks in Europe) adopting a more monetarist approach.

      Up until that point, it was an inflationary spiral, everybody was enjoying the party (more or less). After that sea-change by the central banks, the party got smaller and smaller with each new “new normal” established during each market recovery (after the bubble/market was tanked by said same central banks).

      Other graphs that are interesting to look at over that same period:

      – progressiveness of tax rates:

      – tax policy on debt interest and how tax relief on that impacted asset prices. In particular price of housing vs income:

      Gee, think there’s any correlation there with what was going through voter’s heads?

  8. JohnnyGL

    This creates a puzzle: Why did voters who by and large benefit from social democracy turn against the parties that most strongly support it?

    This creates a puzzle: Why did PARTIES who by and large benefit from social democracy turn against the VOTERS that most strongly support it?

    There. I fixed Beauchamp’s blockheaded question and asked a more important one. Why/how did neoliberalism come to infest vast swaths of the political sphere in most OECD countries? Why did Social Democratic types allow this to happen.

    Is the answer really just the three Bs? Bribing/bullying/brainwashing of anyone who doesn’t get on board the neoliberal train?

    1. Grebo

      American corporations funded a large network of think tanks to feed Neoliberal policy recommendations to the (corporate owned) media, legitimised by (corporate funded) academia. This started in the early 1950s. By the mid 1970s they had fully infiltrated the IMF, World Bank and most leading economics departments. They had also convinced most of the right-wing politicians and half-convinced ‘moderate’ left-wing ones. The ideology became so pervasive that social-democrats felt they had no choice but to adopt it if they wanted to ever regain power.

      1. Allegorio

        “The ideology became so pervasive that social-democrats felt they had no choice but to adopt it if they wanted to ever regain power.” @Grebo

        Bollocks! Bribery, bribery and more bribery! Politicians playing the “zero sum game”, convinced that more for me, means less for you. Without the contrast of differential social and economic outcomes, the vain and ignorant simply cannot be convinced of their own success.

        Recall the Lyndon Baines Johnson quote, paraphrasing, poor white people forget their poverty as long as there are black people worse off than they. Finally, all is vanity, especially identity politics.

  9. Geoff

    The ironic thing is that the lower class cling to their identity to their detriment, instead of associating with their economic class and creating a broader power base, while those that escape those lower social and econmic identity classes quickly shed the social identity to take on their economic class attire, and then proceed to defecate on their own people via collaboration with the neoliberal economic order. This just seems to be a world where it’s more more every person for themselves before the ship sinks. The USS and global Titanic.

    1. Minor Heretic

      Good point. One of the important tools of the corporate state is exploiting the insecurity (both social and economic) of poor people to direct their attention to the irrelevant. Creating polarized tribal identities is extremely useful in splitting the potential opposition.

      Another important tool is the filtration provided by the education system and the hiring process. It takes a significant amount of practiced conformity and willingness to push others down for one’s own elevation to get through the filters. What the corporate state is looking for is a kind of compartmentalized psychopathy. Donate to charity, raise your children well, be a good citizen, and then go to work and crush the lives of the less fortunate. There’s money to be made, and your loyalty is required.

  10. Deadl E Cheese

    Zack’s class-denialist liberal historical revisionism isn’t even the worst of a well-flourishing genre. Frank Rich’s downright reactionary rambling screed posted earlier this morning easily eclipses it. And this trend is showing no sign of abating.

    I knew that liberals wouldn’t take Mommy Wokest going down in flames so well. But I didn’t expect for them to become so completely feral. Maybe I should have; Jonathirst Chair wrote this rambling screed about the debt ceiling crisis three and a half years ago, which foreshadowed the psychosocial rage coursing through liberal punditry.

    If you watch the video above, you’ll see familiar echoes of the recent events in Washington: far-fetched scenarios, confessions that the effort was worthwhile even if it was doomed, even the Gadsden Flag. Its adherents may have wanted to believe they would achieve their goal, but the lack of any plausible path by which the end might follow the means did not trouble them. The demonstration of outrage was a form of politics well suited for a movement that views itself as a hopeless minority in a democratic process rigged against them. It is a (not the, but a) logical culmination of a movement that loses its now-or-never moment. Everything that has happened since then in Washington: the backlash against Republican efforts at accommodation, the ever greater frenzies of protest, the rejection of traditional notions of compromise and attainability — this is what never looks like.

    Give how 2014 and 2016 turned out, this is deliciously ironic to the point of retroactive projection. The only real difference between the liberalsphere and their characterization of the Tea Party (which unless you buy into the Trump-as-Carter theory, is even more ironically much all-but-ascendent) is that the liberalsphere was and is wholly deluded about how strong their long-term position was. Chait, after all, wrote ‘liberalism is working’ and that ridiculous hagiography on how Obama’s Presidency was audacious.

    Expect the liberals both in the US and in Europe to get more and more volatile, resentful, and reactionary as it starts to sink in just how screwed the liberal consensus is. Wait until the UK breaks up in a couple of years. Then the screeching really starts.

  11. ChrisPacific

    I did click through to the Beauchamp piece after Krugman linked it and was astonished, not only at how bad it was but at how willing Krugman seemed to be to swallow it whole (not only that, but he exaggerated the already-spurious conclusions). Do they not teach critical thinking at Princeton?

    1. Deadl E Cheese

      Liberalism’s transformation into libertarianism is 5/8ths complete. They’ve already completely given up even pretending to care about the < top 20%; when the GOP keeps the House and pads their Senate margin in 2018, expect them to start favorably retweeting CATO screeds.

      That said, something held Paul Krugman’s metamorphosis back. He didn’t go feral as quickly as his contemporaries, so his degeneration is more surprising than, say, Markos’. I think his sublimated resentment at Obama beating back Abuela allowed him to hold on to a few threads of sanity. But much like Two Face’s plastic surgery only buying him a few months of sanity, all it took was the forceful rejection of his New Keynesian (which orthodox liberalism always gave even this weak beer the side eye) to cause him to lose the veneer of rationality.

  12. RickM

    I found that during the campaign, one good way to irritate my liberal friends who thought voting for the woman was good enough reason to support Hillary Clinton was to ask them this: Would you make the same argument for Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann? Liberals are so damned predictable, not to mention humorless.

  13. dbk

    Great take-down.

    I was pretty surprised, though, at the wording above “The more vulgar sort of liberal Clintonite would argue — still argues — that economics plays, and should play, no role in the construction of identity;… ”

    Even assuming that this is modified into something like “…plays, and should play, very little role in …” it’s simply astonishing to me that there are Clinton supporters who actually consider that Identity trumps (sorry) Class (one’s economic station in life, into which one is born, just like one is born into a particular race or ethnic group, or in a given country).

    These individuals, members of the credentialed class as Frank calls them (the 10%, the “praetorians”, whatever) are telling us that it’s not important whether your parents/family had money and therefore, clout and political influence? Do they actually believe this, or is it a gambit which, this time round, they lost?

    Honestly, every single Dem up for re-election in 2018 should be primaried unless they pass a fairly simple litmus test: where do you stand on jobs for all able-bodied men and women? where do you stand on single-payer?

    Because elected officials who stand for these things are standing for people of all identities.

    1. Tom_Doak

      The “credentialed class” attaches so much importance to their credentials precisely BECAUSE it allows them to ignore that their success is often based on where their family started from. And they look for, and highlight, those rare examples where someone without a head start succeeded via education, to show that it was their own education and hard work that put them in the 10%, too.

      Republicans are not much different on this, by the way. Their focus on “hard work” is all about showing that their own hard work put them in the 10%, never mind that they started there!

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > it’s simply astonishing to me that there are Clinton supporters who actually consider that Identity trumps (sorry) Class

      It was astonishing to me, too, but at least on the Twitter, there are plenty of Clinton supporters who deploy this in strong form; that’s why I wrote “no role” as opposed to “very little role.”

    3. JTFaraday

      “I was pretty surprised, though, at the wording above “The more vulgar sort of liberal Clintonite would argue — still argues — that economics plays, and should play, no role in the construction of identity;… ””

      They believe in social mobility, whereas in a past not so distant “biology is destiny,” which while a big claim contains a large grain of truth about some peoples’ “identities.” In a society with social mobility, class of origin is not destiny, predetermining who one becomes in life.

      The labor left complaint about identity politics in the D-Party that it is prioritizing the social mobility of those for whom “biology was destiny” over something called “class based politics.” For liberals, as for Republicans, social mobility is the cure for what the left’s “class based politics” is meant to address.

      It might be better to take a step back to recall and re-examine liberal (and Republican) economic assumptions, rather than continuing fruitless infighting by creating new identity categories to drag into that infighting. (Pity the universally victimized white working class, abandoned flyover country hicks, yada yada). Differing economic assumptions radically precondition this whole sorry “debate.”

      For the record, I very strongly believe that liberal economic ideas about social mobility and “equality of opportunity” very strongly precondition what it possible to think in America, and that this way of thinking was historically constituted (and defended and reconstituted) to create a society of winners and losers. But to place the blame for this foreshortened thought on teh wimmins and the N-ers for attending to the ways in which they were excluded from even this competition is actually pretty uncharitable.

      1. JTFaraday

        Oh, that should be “universally victimized and never victimizing sainted white working class.”

        Just to be clear.

  14. Deadl E Cheese

    Liberals, especially but not only elite liberals, HAVE to deny class. If they acknowledge class as a vector of oppression, then they’re forced to abandon capitalism. And as we’ve seen, orthodox liberalism will abandon and even insult every single Enlightenment principle (even the generally capitalist-friendly ones like nationalism and meritocracy) they claim to upheld before they’ll even think about attacking capitalism.

    Of course, since increasing economic inequality means that they can’t deny class in of itself (which has been their strategy since the 90s) they have to deny it providing a role of it in oppression. Since even a complete political neophyte can see how being non-bourgeois really sucks, they have to say that some other trait causes them to deserve their oppression.

    Of course of course, that is exactly the odious strategy that the reactionaries (whom they claim to hate) use against other subgroups. Take this sentiment: ‘For the greater good, this group of people DESERVES to be cut off from societal help, because their degenerate, tribal culture will just squander any goodwill’. Is that a Clinton Democrat talking about blacks during the 90s’ crime wave or a Clinton Democrat talking about the 10s’ white working class? And if we’re talking about a upper-middle class liberal, of any race, this may in fact be the same person!

  15. PH

    Mr. Z’s article is an effort to put lipstick (high falutin’ international analysis) on a pig (crass money sucking politics of convenience). It is an effort to strike back for an angry and scared Dem establishment. And make no mistake: they have a blind rage toward Bernie and Progressives generally. Those emotions have zero to do with an analysis of Social Democratic parties in Europe over the past 50 years.

    Indeed, at times, commenters here ascribe too much brainpower to the functionaries on Capitol Hill and associated pollsters, etc. they are not deep. And most of them are not highly paid. Mostly, what goes on is a group think enforced by hiring decisions. People quickly recognize the outside limits of acceptable opinion, and soon not only say the right thing but become convinced that those things are backed by inevitable logic.

    For me, the screaming tell in the Z article is the focus on what moves voters.

    Not a focus on what is good policy. Just what propaganda has the best chance to move voters. Sickening to me. And completely indicative of the Capitol Hill mindset, where policy wonks are mocked and everyone walks around smug in the certainty that fluid political statements are just part of the game of politics.

    Almost no one on Capitol Hill really cares about policy. This is considered a good feature of staffing — not a failure.

    They are dipsh*ts.

    Anyway, Z is not completely wrong. Many things factor into winning elections. Including racism. Including a lot of things.

    But wake up! The public is sick of people who have no plan to help and just cynically spout propaganda in an effort to keep their jobs.

    Progressives should start with a sincere effort to help. And then go from there.

  16. Temporarily Sane

    If Democrats really want to stop right-wing populists like Trump, they need a strategy that blunts the true drivers of their appeal — and that means focusing on more than economics.

    This Beauchamp guy is a fool. But he’s not alone, alas. Completely insane viewpoints are depressingly commonplace in these days of solipsistic narcissism. Somebody told me the reason the white working class isn’t “prospering” is because they are racists and hate women and that focusing on economic class is a “dude bro thing” and furthers the oppression of women and minorities. How so? By denying them the opportunity to be as “successful” as Steve Jobs or Elon Musk.

    Talk to some of these people (Clintonite Democrats) and it becomes apparent that they don’t really have a problem with the system itself. They have a problem with, as they see it, minorities and women being frozen out of the upper echelons of power. In other words, they accept the standards for success and power set by the evil patriarchy…essentially they just want more “diversity” at Bilderberg. Yet these neoliberal stooges are referred to, and “self” identify, as being members of “the left.”

    Nothing of substance will change until wealth is somehow redistributed. But there is no sign that anybody, even Turncoat Bernie, is willing to bring up this most taboo of subjects. And for the rabid right neoliberal feminists are beyond the pale “radical leftists”, Obama was a “Marxist” and so on. These fools and their intersectional counterparts are revolutionizing the English language by boldly assigning whatever meaning they want to whatever words they want. Everyone has the right to choose their own definitions…dictionaries and truth be damned.

    The corruption of language and a populace incapable of thinking critically while mindlessly celebrating its own appalling ignorance as a strength is a worst case scenario situation..and that is what is happening now. If people can’t even agree on what commonly used words and terms mean, or think making up a definition to suit their political tastes is valid..well, nothing good can come out of that.

    1. Deadl E Cheese

      Paraphrasing the brilliant Carl Beijer: the most depressing thing about being an orthodox liberal is that elite discourse is the only way under their ideology humans can affect their future for the better. Hence the obsession over getting it just right and the anxiety caused by perceived misuse and even abuse of language. Much like how a pick-up artist agonizes over exacting use of discourse.

      The corruption of language is frankly the least of your worries. I mean, it’s amusing in much the same way Dick Tracy is amusing even though he has no impact on the national or even municipal crime rate. But that’s all it is. An amusement for political elites. Don’t stress too much about it.

  17. Jeff W

    “Focusing on more than economics” is exactly what Sanders wants to do.

    Well, regardless of whether or not that’s what Sanders wants to do, I disagree with Beauchamp that “blunt[ing] the true drivers of [right wing populists] appeal… means focusing on more than economics…” No, it means focusing more on economics.

    Donald Trump had somewhat coherent, if sometimes false, economic narrative: trade deals destroyed US jobs, immigrants took jobs and drove down wages, he would make health insurance cheaper and “for everybody.” He acknowledged and addressed people’s economic concerns. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, insisted that “America’s already great” and, in an era of vacuous, personality-driven Presidential campaigns, her ads were the most policy-free of any in the last five presidential elections, which counts as some kind of achievement.

    If Democrats wanted to “blunt the the true drivers” of Trump’s appeal, they’d be talking more about economics—as Trump did—and tying it back to a narrative where everyone as a whole—and marginalized groups most of all—are helped. But, for the most part, they can’t —they’re not only complicit in the neoliberal policies that have wrought disaster for most Americans over the past 40 years, some, like Clinton and her husband, architected those very policies. So it seems that writers like Beauchamp and Paul Krugman have to invert the narrative and say that people turning to right-wing populism because their non-economic concerns (on immigration, cultural issues) aren’t addressed—in short, “they’re all racists”—when even the most cursory examination would show that, no, the parties supposedly on the left failed to address, and, in fact, exacerbated, their economic woes.

  18. bruce wilder

    I confess I haven’t read all the comments, so someone else may have already pointed out how misleading that Vox graph on the decline of Social Democratic Parties has been.

    When the Economist did a graph last year, it was a bit more dramatic. Take a look! Really.

  19. Oregoncharles

    ” The answer to Trump’s right-wing populism, Sanders argued, was for the left to develop a populism of its own.”

    It may be a “straw man,” but it’s absolutely correct. If Bernie didn’t mean that, he should have.

    It’s past time to revisit the Populists. They were midwest/Great Plains farmers, primarily, banded together to resist the oligarchs of their day: the railroads and, big surprise, the banks. And they were a very successful left-wing movement, electing people to Congress. William Jennings Bryan, who ran for President, was one of theirs. They were, however, what we’d call socially conservative – that’s the same Bryan famous for the Scopes Monkey Trial. Hence, they’re the historical stars of “What’s the Matter with Kansas.”

    From Wikipedia: Bryan “was United States Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson (1913–1915). He resigned because of his pacifist position on World War I. Bryan was a devout Presbyterian, a strong advocate of popular democracy, and an enemy of the banks and the gold standard.” I had to leave in the Presbyterian part, because that’s the now-very-liberal church I grew up in.

    I believe the Populists were the origin of the Farmer-Labor party that merged with the Dems in Wisconsin (or Minnesota?). Except for the Monkey Trial part, we need to be claiming our heritage, here. We certainly shouldn’t be leaving it for the reactionaries to appropriate.

  20. Synoia

    Republican: S…. the Peasants.
    Democrat: F… the Peasants.

    See the difference?

    F… is so much better than S…., therefor I have your interests at heart and you should vote for ME!


    S… is so much curvier than F…, therefor you should vote for MEEE!

    What’s in it for you? What an absurd question, you selfish beast!!

  21. Colin

    In his book on post-war Europe, the late Tony Judt wrote that the European social welfare state was a creation of the European Christian Democrats (center-right) who believed that shared economic prosperity, egalitarian societies if you will, were the best bulwark against the two extremism they feared, communism from the left and fascism from the right. In those years, it was clearly understood that economic deprivations aggravated latent social pathologies and produced very bad outcomes.

  22. Rosario

    Great critique. You have a stronger stomach than I. As of late I’m unable to listen to NPR without needing some mindful breathing during.

  23. djrichard

    Dem circle jerk, “Author, author! We need more advice like this Vox piece! Surely victory will be ours now!”

  24. Moneta

    When you are faced with scarcity, whether natural or man-made, discrimination of all types thrives because it determines who gets what.

    We all realize that to get things we need to work in groups. And those groups can target or become targets.

  25. sharonsj

    The more I read about identity politics, the more I think people made it up as a convenient excuse for more discrimination. The Democrats defend minorities of all kinds and we’re supposed to believe that wanting all people to be treated equally is somehow wrong?

    Democrats didn’t lose to Trump and the Republicans because of identity politics. They lost because they keep putting up crappy candidates and they have become corporate lackeys. Bernie Sanders said it best: “There are some people in the Democratic Party who want to maintain the status quo. They would rather go down with the Titanic so long as they have first-class seats.”

  26. Michael C

    The article, within it though not intentionally, shows one of the main reasons why Clinton was such a bad candidate to put at the head of the Democratic ticket. Wondering why the poor vote against their interests, as we often see people wringing their hands over, is a waste of time. The simple reason is they have no party of any means who represents them to begin with.

    Likewise, I don’t think the problem is that the Democratic Party is clueless, as I often see people state. Its epic failure on both the national and state levels is solely because thanks in a great part to Bill Clinton and Obama (and the deregulation by Carter before him) the Democratic Party cannot change its spots. The party has thrown in completely with the oligarchs and away from support for unions, the working class, and the poor, all who have suffered greatly under the neoliberal and financialization of our economy. Case in point: the drive by Obama and Clinton to install Perez as the head of the DNC. They think they can hold on using identity politics and the fact that the Republican Party is more tainted then they are. And of course, they can’t let go of the big money and its support for an elite class to rule to which their leadership belongs.

  27. jam

    I’ve made this comment here more than once, but using Adolph Reed to critique a straw man argument is… problematic. Just read that first quoted sentence—there’s about as much rigor there as the (ridiculous) Vox article.

    1. JTFaraday

      Adolph Reed is a reactionary Uncle Tom who tells white guys what they want to hear. He is a Clarence Thomas for the Dude Bros.

      I bet you were more polite than that.

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