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Wednesday, December 06, 2017


Raising some boats and sinking others

by Tom Sullivan

"Inequality between red and blue states persists despite booming economy"

Politics is about power. Who has it. Who doesn't. That seems pretty straightforward, except power is one of those things we don't talk about in polite company unless we mean the military. We are forever nibbling around the edges of it.

The Harvey Weinstein and other workplace sexual harassment scandals are built on imbalances of power. The New York Times details how he used his to both get what he wanted, keep it, and use it as leverage to silence his victims.

Power is why plutocrats and their pet politicians loathe unions; unions counterbalance the power of capital. Whether it is money or civil rights or geopolitics, the specifics are secondary. Power is the bottom line? Congress is filled with alpha males who dream of being the alpha dog.

Republicans know this on a gut level. Democrats think we should all just get along, and government action should lift all boats. What matters more to their rivals is whose boats get lifted most. To the point of sinking their rivals' dinghies if that's what it takes to show who's yacht is master of the seas.

Michael Tomasky almost gets at that in a post at Daily Beast. Tomasky observes that as much as conservatives and the press hammer on Democrats being "out of touch" with red-state America, that cuts both ways. It is Republicans who are out of touch with blue-states.

CBS News:

Over the past year, only a handful of red states have increased their employment-to-population ratio faster than the U.S. as a whole.
Utah Republican Sen. Orin Hatch is Exhibit A in Tomasky's lesson. Now, don't get him wrong, Hatch says, speaking about restoring funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP). He's as compassionate as anyone about helping those who really need it, but:
I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything.
"When you first saw the Hatch comment," Tomasky writes, "you probably thought he was talking, consciously or subconsciously, about black people. And maybe on some level he was. But I have an alternate theory. He was talking about some Utahans he knows." In his book, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse provides anecdote after anecdote about shiftless youth in Nebraska. Tomasky argues that Sasse and Hatch extrapolate what they know to people they don't. Particularly to blue states they don't represent:
There’s a problem in rural Utah and Nebraska, but it’s not really one of shiftlessness. It’s one of structural economics. These are places that have been carpet-bombed by the global economy. As I noted in the Review, if young people today in these places have less initiative than the young people of 30 years ago did, maybe it’s because they see less opportunity for themselves. It would be nice to see Sasse and Hatch thinking about that, but addressing that would require some public investment, and, as Hatch said, sorry, there’s just no money. Have to cut rich people’s taxes.

Meanwhile, the problem in blue America is precisely the opposite one. There’s too much striving, too much pressure, too much initiative. But as problems go, I’d rather have this one. This is the America that produces the vast majority of our innovators and thinkers and scientists and creative people. This is the America that creates most of the nation’s wealth. Hillary Clinton may have won only 15 percent of the country’s 3,100-odd counties, but the 472 counties she did win account for 64 percent of GDP. This is the America that invents and designs and engineers; the America where there already really is so much winning.
Pushing back against the "out of touch" with Real America™ knock against Democrats is something long overdue. Every time it comes up, blue state dynamism ought to be thrown in accusers' faces. But Tomasky explains why Republicans are out of touch with blue America this way:
Republicans know the Americans they represent: rural people and (especially) uber-rich donors. They give rhetoric about religion and values to the rural folk and trillions of dollars to the rich. They don’t know about the awesome dynamism of blue America. Indeed they seek to punish it. To wit, those obscene provisions in the House version of the tax bill that would tax people out of pursuing graduate degrees, which constitute nothing but a petty jab at a class of people whose values they don’t like.
But it's not just pettiness. It's strategic. Politics is about power. The GOP playbook isn't about lifting all boats. It's about lifting the right's boats or, alternatively, sinking the left's. If their heartland states are so righteous and all-American, why aren't they doing as well the blue ones where the premiere economic magic happens? Hatch, Sasse, and their fellows who should be spending more effort to improve the lives of their constituents spend time and effort instead trying to undermine their rivals. To that end, they'll drill holes in the boats of blue cities and states that are driving the economy. Because if they can't raise the living standards of the Americans who keep them in office, they'll lower those of Americans who threaten their status. And that's just fine with some of their constituents. It's one reason they elected elected a loudmouth incompetent for president — because he hates the people they hate.

A core conservative narrative is that taxes are about envy. But who's really envious of whom?

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Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer, at tom.bluecentury at gmail.