Friday, December 28, 2007

Time to stick it to the Gipper

"The surge from nowhere of Mike Huckabee(...) threatens to split and even destroy the Republican coalition, by dividing social conservatives from economic conservatives."
Clive Crook -FT

"The strategic failure of a whole generation of economists, bankers, and policy-makers has been so enormous that it may now take a strong draught of socialism to save the Western democracies."
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard - Telegraph
David Seaton's News Links
I have been writing a lot about Mike Huckabee lately, not because I'm endorsing him but because I find his sudden appearance, his explosion, so significant.

It seems to me that he has discovered and is exploiting for all it's worth, what is in effect a "contradiction" within the Republican, conservative coalition that Reagan built. He is speaking to the working poor of America but without the nauseating, implicit racism of Reagan's state's rights, anti-welfare, rhetoric.

I don't believe that Huckabee is really a serious populist. He isn't because he wishes to abolish income tax and substitute it with a sales tax. Progressive income tax: taking wealth from the wealthy and redistributing it to the poor, is the heart and soul of social justice and sales taxes favor the wealthy and penalize the poor. Everything begins there. So to advocate eliminating income tax while bombastically attacking the "The Wall Street to Washington axis" is either cynical or weird.

I think it's cynical, and I prefer it that way. If he is cynical it is because he is shrewdly exploiting a lifetime of knowledge of his audience (flock?) and their fears and resentments and this is knowledge that progressives could profit from acquiring for themselves.

What Huckabee is for sure doing is taking control of the social conservative wing of the Republican Party. And even if he isn't the candidate, without his enthusiastic support, no Republican anywhere will win much of anything in November of 2008.

It is really difficult to talk about class conflict in American English because all the words like, "class struggle", "contradiction" etc are taboo or sound foreign to American ears. This is as if a doctor would have to use awkward euphemisms when making a diagnosis. Imagine a
gynecologist writing, "the patient reports experiencing severe discomfort whenever a dime is inserted in her pay phone." Communication would suffer. The march of science would be arrested. Probably the most significant thing that will happen in the coming months in America will be the rebirth of progressive politics and the language of progressive politics among the working poor.

Any real change has to come from people who feel oppressed and victimized. Mike Huckabee is probably nothing but a red herring, but we should encourage the "red*" and discard the "herring".
If the Democrats cannot exploit the goldmine that Huckabee has opened then others will come along who will. DS
*Notice how the language of American politics has been deliberately deformed. In every other language in the world including British English, "red" means "left" and "blue" means "conservative". In the US they mean exactly the opposite. DS

Clive Crook: America in 2008: Populism calls the shots - Financial Times
Abstract: If the elections give Democrats the presidency and increased majorities in both houses, as seems likely, the US is going to see one of the most radical alterations in its political outlook for decades. As things stand right now, the politics is all good for the Democrats and all bad for the Republicans. The time-series of national opinion-poll ratings for the Republican presidential candidates looks like the read-out of a patient having a stroke. The lines jerk up and down, as party supporters search desperately, and so far in vain, for a candidate they like. The surge from nowhere of Mike Huckabee – to join a three-way tie with Rudolph Giuliani and Mitt Romney – is partly a sign of this desperation. It threatens to split and even destroy the Republican coalition, by dividing social conservatives from economic conservatives. Mainly, though, it underlines something even more significant than that: the growing appeal of economic populism among supporters of both parties. Mr Huckabee is an evangelical – his faith leads him to reject the theory of evolution and to favour constitutional amendments to ban abortion and gay marriage – but he is an economic populist as well. On trade, on the tyrannical power of Wall Street and sometimes even on public spending, he sounds more like John Edwards than Mr Romney. Trade must be “fair” not free. There must be an end to “shipping jobs overseas”. He rails against outlandish CEO pay. He is not averse to more regulation, or to spending (financed with higher taxes) on many social programmes. Immigration complicates the picture: as governor of Arkansas, his treatment of illegal immigrants was too soft for many Republicans. But he is making up for it now, promising to fence the border and deport (and bar from re-entry), immigrants who fail to register within 120 days. “The Wall Street to Washington axis, this corridor of power, is absolutely, frantically against me,” he boasted this week. To be sure, for many Republicans, his main attraction is his religious conviction; he is also a likeable, funny, easy-going man and good on television. Nonetheless, the economic populism is all upfront and has plainly struck a chord.(...) A recent poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC found that 58 per cent of Americans think that globalisation has been bad for the US and that only 28 per cent believe that it has been good. Ten years ago the split was more even: 48 per cent thought that globalisation was good and 42 per cent that it was bad. The biggest surprise is that supporters of the two parties are no longer far apart on the question. Globalisation has been bad for the US according to 55 per cent of Republicans and 63 per cent of Democrats.(...) the real question is what happens in 2009, when (let us suppose) the main obstacles to a populist turn in policy have been removed. How far left, in economic policy, might America then veer? The answer is a long way. As a rule, the stridency expressed in the primaries fades once the nominees are chosen and the general election approaches. Debate gets tugged back to the centre as candidates try harder to appeal to independents. That cyclical correction will happen again next year, but it will be milder than usual because populist economics is selling so well across the board. It is striking, too, that the growth of anti-trade and anti-corporate sentiment has happened up to now in a relatively benign economic environment. Stagnation in middle-class living standards, erosion of manufacturing employment, financial stress, alarm over the cost of health insurance and a college education – all these concerns came to the fore with interest rates, inflation and unemployment low, with the stock market strong, and with aggregate output (until very recently) growing at a reasonable pace. Add an election-year slowdown, already begun or even an outright recession to this mix. Add rising unemployment. Add an accelerating fall in house prices and a gathering wave (counter-measures notwithstanding) of mortgage foreclosures. If populism had material to work with in 2007, just wait for 2008. READ IT ALL

1 comment:

mnuez said...

Dave, I wish that I had your optimistic powers. Alas, I lack them.

I have no faith in Huckabee's populism or what it portends.

I have no faith in any coming revolution, at the ballet-box or otherwise.

I have no faith in roving bands of work-hungry criminals turning toward repairing the economic system.

Maybe you know something that I don't? I sure hope that's the case.