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Bernie's definitely gonna have to run

This very long article by Franklin Foer is worth a read, but i'm very skeptical of the framing. It seems to very much want to pit the "identity politics" of Cory Booker against the economic populism of Elizabeth Warren.

One thing the article does is kind of twist around the findings of a study of a bellwether county in the suburbs of Detroit called Macomb.

Once upon a time, Macomb was a testament to the force of the New Deal, a vision of middle-class life made possible by the fruits of American industry. The county rewarded Democrats for this prosperity in overwhelming numbers. John F. Kennedy carried it with 63 percent of the vote. But over the years, Macomb grew distant from the party, and then furious with it. The state's party organization asked Greenberg to figure out the roots of voters' estrangement.


Many political analysts who puzzled over Democratic losses described how the backlash against the civil-rights era had propelled white voters away from liberalism, but none gave racism quite the same centrality as Greenberg did. He found "a profound distaste for black Americans, a sentiment that pervaded almost everything" that Macomb residents thought about government and politics. Denizens of Macomb--the county was 97 percent white--did little to disguise their animosity. African Americans, they complained, had benefited at their expense. Their tax dollars were funding a welfare state that plowed money into black communities, while politicians showed no concern for their own plight. (That plight was real: The auto industry, which provided the undergirding for middle-class life in Michigan, had collapsed in the face of foreign competition.)

Greenberg's study of Macomb became a canonical text for Democrats attempting to recover from a decade of pummeling. Bill Clinton hired him in 1992, and in his presidential campaign he spoke directly to the racial anxieties revealed in the focus groups. Clinton distanced himself from the welfare state, which he damned as bloated and inefficient. He promised to pour money into the middle class itself, through tax cuts and spending on education and health care. "Let's forget about race and be one nation again," he told an audience in Macomb. "I'll help you build the middle class back."

Clinton's pandering to their racism won him the county, and the Democrats kept it after that. But then Trump won it back.

Not only did Trump reclaim Macomb for the Republicans--trouncing Clinton by 12 percentage points there--but he turned the Democratic establishment back to Greenberg's central question about working-class whites: Did racism put many of them beyond reach? When Greenberg traveled to Michigan in February, to conduct his first focus groups in Macomb in nearly a decade, he was genuinely unsure of what he might find. Trump's naked appeals to racism were far more intense than anything he had ever witnessed. The scenes from Trump's rallies created a plausible impression that the president had activated long-suppressed feelings of hatred. To probe their disaffection, Greenberg pulled together voters who, for the most part, had defected from Obama to Trump, who had gone from voting for the first African American president to siding with his racist successor.

...Over the years, Greenberg had heard the worst from Macomb. Back in the '80s, he knew precisely the buzzwords that could ignite a torrent of racism. The mere mention of Detroit would send people into paroxysms of rage. Decades later, Detroit didn't provoke any extreme expressions of animus, only comments marveling that the city finally picked up the garbage and cleaned the streets of snow. When the moderator mentioned Flint, the largely African American city whose drinking water had been steeped in lead, the focus groups professed sympathy for the community. The lack of angry responses seemed to shock Greenberg. "There's so much less about race," he leaned over to tell me.

Prejudice, however, remained very real. The old complaints about African Americans had affixed themselves to immigrants. Dearborn, which has a thriving Muslim immigrant community, is a short drive away. Just as Macomb's whites had once accused African Americans of prospering at their expense, members of Greenberg's focus groups spoke openly about being displaced by immigrants. "We need to take care of home first," one participant said, as if the immigrant neighbors weren't also living at home. When asked to explain their greatest hopes for Trump, many cited his promise to build a border wall.

There was a strong element of self-loathing in the hostile view of immigrants. A 60-year-old woman described her work as a cashier at Kroger. What she hated, she said, was waiting on immigrants who didn't bother to smile. "They act like they can't do that, even." Another woman described going to sign up for Medicaid: "I'm looking around at all these people that can't even say hello to me in English." Greenberg's subjects had expected to occupy a higher rung in society. That they exist on par with newcomers to the country feels like a betrayal of what they thought to be the natural order.

The way that the county's residents have (over generations, granted) managed to shift their racism from one target to another suggests that the racism is the symptom, not the cause. As Foer notes in only parenthetical passing, the county was in economic decline thanks to neoliberal policies, including Clinton's NAFTA (not "foreign competition") and the tax cuts he promised, coupled with his dismantling of the social services that would have cushioned the fall. And that makes people looking for answers susceptible when offered scapegoats by demagogues like Trump (and Fox news, talk radio, etc.). Maybe a 60 year old woman can get bitter because she's working a cash register in a county where people used to have good paying manufacturing jobs, not because she had some inherent views about a "natural order".

The other thing the article does is make me like the prospect of Warren running even less. One little tidbit i wasn't aware of:

Interviewing Sanders requires some fortification--and my exchange ended when he peremptorily dismissed me from his office for asking a question about his political relationship with Elizabeth Warren. (Sanders had expected Warren to endorse him in the 2016 primary, and her failure to do so sent him into a funk.)

Warren's failure to endorse Bernie has grated on me. I don't know how Foer knows that Sanders "expected" Warren to endorse him (i haven't heard that elsewhere), but if she did let him down in more than just a general way that's going to be hard for me to get over.

And then there's this:

Nor is Warren's driving obsession wealth redistribution. That's important politically, because many Americans simply don't begrudge wealth, and "inequality" as a clarion call hasn't stuck. (Indeed, Democrats have begun to shift away from inequality as a label for what ails America's economy and culture. Some fear that white voters who are predisposed to racial resentments hear the word as code for a desire to transfer wealth from whites to blacks.)

Rather, Warren is most focused on the concept of fairness. A course she taught early in her career as a law professor, on contracts, got her thinking about the subject. (Fairness, after all, is a contract's fundamental purpose.) A raw, moralistic conception of fairness--that people shouldn't get screwed--would become the basis for her crusading. Although she shares Bernie Sanders's contempt for Wall Street, she doesn't share his democratic socialism. "I love markets--I believe in markets!" she told me.

Blech to multiple items in the above quote. Blech to Dems shying away from talking about inequality. Double blech for doing so as a way to pander to whites (similar to Bill Clinton on welfare). Blech to the bland concept of "fairness". Double blech to "I believe in markets!". Blech blech blech.

min: I wasn't going to vote for Warren anyway. She's been a disappointment, in general. I hold out hope that Bernie is training disciples to take his place because i agree with Sarah Jones' article (linked 2 posts down) that a movement cannot rely entirely on single person to keep it going. We're dead if Bernie is the only thing making this work.

By fnord12 | June 20, 2017, 9:53 AM | Liberal Outrage