On the Democratic Party's Messaging Woes


    Nice, Hal. Here's the text link to your letter: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/pushing-back-against-the-democra...

    Thanks Mike.

    To all, I offer a challenge. Let's have this discussion without mentioning Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or their supporters, by name or implication. If we pull it off, I predict a much more substantive and constructive discussion. On the other hand, if people start re-litigating the primary or engaging in personal attacks, I will shut down the thread.

    So to kick it off, let's address the central questions: Do rich donors have lopsided influence over the Democratic Party, and is this influence detrimental to the party's long-term fortunes?

    Why does the public policy response to nearly five decades of rising economic inequality remain so tepid, even as large majorities of Americans consider inequality excessive, and even under a two-term Democratic president? Our study, published Thursday in the journal Science, co-authored with colleagues Pamela Jakiela and Shachar Kariv, proposes an answer: Regardless of party, the elite donors whose money dominates politics, and the elite officeholders whose decisions set policy, don’t value economic equality. When the American government abjures egalitarian policies, it is implementing the bipartisan preferences of the American elite.


    So the answer to the first question is yes, at least if you believe the arguments in the cited Slate article, rich donors have a lopsided influence over the Democratic party.  Did anybody think I'd answer any other way.

    Is this a problem for the party?  Well, it's certainly a problem for the nation if you believe decision makers should by and large heed the preferences of the majority of constituents.  Since the Republican party is even less responsive to the wishes of the American people, neither party is a true ally to the vast majority who are non-elite.

    Reading PP's defense of big money and its influence, I'm reminded of what an older retired family friend once told me.  This Yale Law School graduate enjoyed an extremely successful legal career which included a long sting as a top partner in a large law firm.   During a political discussion, I pointed out to him that the majority of Americans disagreed with the neoliberalism of Clinton/Obama advisors like former Harvard President Lawrence Summers.  His reply "when it comes to economics, I'll take Larry Summers over the American people every time." 

    Yes, many elites feel that way.  As the cited "study" from Science Magazine notes, Yale Law School students are far less concerned with equality than efficiency.  Perhaps they're right.  Perhaps, a super large pie with wildly differing sized slices is better than a somewhat smaller one that is divvied up in relatively even portions. 

    I would counter that the preferences of my retired attorney friend, PP, and Larry Summers shouldn't count for any more than those of less well-heeled, less well-connected, less . . . well . . . "elitey" people.

    But again, is this a problem for the party?  If you define a problem for a political party as a dynamic that keeps people from voting for its candidates, then how can it not be a problem?  People do tend to vote for candidates who they believe share their values and care about them.  If Democratic candidates don't do what their constituents want, then obviously they are less likely to attract voters and are thus less likely to win elections.

    I am very sensitive to PP's concern that refusing money from corporate donors will make it more difficult for Democrats to compete.  The problem is that the Democratic party is right now close to moribund despite bending over backwards to placate its wealthiest donors.

    30 states are completely in thrall to the Republican party.  The Republicans have, or soon will, control all three branches of government.  Obviously, the party isn't competitive now. 

    Maybe, just maybe, Democratic candidates should consider a different way of campaigning.  When they attain power, they might want to consider acceding to the economic preferences of the 99% when they conflict with the 1%.

    First, I'd suggest the term "elite" is a very loaded term that can distort results.

    Second, if you re-read what I wrote, I think it's less of a "defense of big money" than a "where and how big money's needed". We need some rain for crops to grow - we don't need flashfloods and tsunamis. The amount we need depends on the type of crop, the expected yield, etc. My name is Chauncey Gardener.

    Third, I tried to expand the parameters to see the parallel fields. Tall slender good-looking white people have undue influence in our society. Males fitting that mold will get preference on leadership abilities whether they have them or not. Females fitting that mold will get a number of other breaks. Those fitting 2 or 3 of those factors do better than those fitting 1.

    Kim Kardashian gets paid a ton of money for sitting there and looking (to some) attractive. Unfair! cries Donald, he only had $1 million to start with plus tall, slender, white, male, reasonably good looking once, & a father to help him with all the ins.

    You might ask what is Richard Gere doing leading our conversation on Tibet, or what Roseanne Barr and Susan Sarandon's qualifications are as progressive leaders, or how did Arnold Schwarzenegger go from weightlifter to actor to politician or why did a football player become our standard bearer on police brutality. The short answer is we let them, we empower them, and yes, these "elite" personalities have a lobsided undue effect on government and our public debate. Part of it's popularity, prestige, privilege, or good ol' fandom. Ashton Kutcher was up speaking to Congress yesterday. Is that from qualifications, or because he's rich and famous for an unrelated occupation?

    Funny thing is, people at the DNC were regularly insulted for thinking they deserved a greater say through merit - work for the party over many years, vs. the voices of people who'd joined the party for a few months or for some not at all. Then again, it is rather understood that devoted activists wield much greater power over the party than those who just show up to vote. Is that fair or not?

    The "common man", Joe and Joanne SixPack, often look down on those from the coasts in major media regions, who influence the news more, who get invited on talk shows. Then again, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and 1 of the Carolinas seem to drive the early part of campaigns, and Ohio & Florida always get the love towards the end - what's fair about that?

    If we ask why Iowa farmers predominate, we get the 5 answers: Energy, Manufacturing, Transportation, Healthcare, Agriculture. But even those usually pale next to military spending - unfair!

    PP - the studies to which I cite demonstrate the close correlation between the economic preferences of the wealthiest Americans and the economic policies that both parties pursue even when those policies conflict with the preferences of the great majority of Americans.  What progressive activists, Joe and Joanne SixPack, and even Iowa farmers (unless they're wealthy and well-organized), want in terms of economic programs and policies generally receives short shrift in the halls of power around the nation.

    The questions Mike posed (which I personally believe are very important ones) are whether the wealthy exercise too much sway over the economic policies supported by Democrats and, if so, whether this is a problem for the party.  My sense is that you think the answer to the first question is no and to the second is that the party's problem isn't that it raises too much from the rich and powerful but that it doesn't raise enough from them.

    I can't access the study, and I believe there's some valid criticism of it, so it's hard to say it proves anything. (Nate Silver in his book Signal & Noise references the fact that most academic studies are actually invalid - it's hard to figure out what's valid or not.

    Again, I dislike that term "elite" - it's largely a pejorative that ignores a lot of basics. Is it elite to be able to own your own home, or one over $500K or one more expensive?  What correlation between economic preference & policy is there, and can you give a concrete example? Shutting down health care, getting a pipeline rerouted, box seats at the Knicks, ???

    Speaking of Nate Silver, this Twitter thread from him including his own replies to it at this link is thought-provoking along the lines of this thread. I just happened across it googling his name because you planted it. Here's the first post, I don;'t know how to capture the rest:

    The county (pop 50K+) where the presidential vote best matched the rest of the country was Cobb County, GA (wealthy, suburban, 25% black).

    — Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) February 16, 2017

    Good challenge! Except I would say it this way: can everyone stay away from sounding like Trump re-litigating the election all the time?.wink

    I know it's hard to believe, but small donors can be as demanding as large.

    We should start discussing private labor unions vs. public ones, since the 2 have largely diverged, with private ones largely dying off.

    What are the protections foreseen for bricks-and-mortar companies against eCommerce? Will consumers (typical citizens) support an Amazon tax? Won't it hurt rural and shallow suburban consumers the most, the ones who are already complaining the most?

    When you propose a penalty on a provider such as above, how to you steer that provider towards offering jobs in areas where you think we need to grow the economy, rather than more shops downtown while people live 20 miles away?

    Aren't independent operators often relying on Internet distribution as a David-v-Goliath strategy? Aren't work-at-home moms supplementing their income via sales in this way?

    TPP was largely designed to balance other Asian countries' caccess and production against China. What is the progressive stance on global poverty, helping 3rd world countries build economies and create jobs, access to the US market, and how much is expected they'll allow the US access to theirs?

    In 2015 the US exported $120 billion in financial service, with a trade surplus of $47 billion. Is the Democratic party to tilt the economy against the F.I.R.E sector in favor of manufacturing or something else, and what is the justification? FIRE represents over 7% of GDP with nearly 1 million employed in finance, over 2 million in real estate, etc.

    IT & similar service industry has gone international, with great difficulty getting them to pay their share of taxes instead of leaving profits offshore (often in a rather unfair tax haven). What's a practical way to reverse this trend without having companies immediately find a workaround?

    A hard look at health care, the rising number of personal care assistants & basic nurses, etc. - what are the economics of these till-now low-paid largely grunt positions in the scheme of the economy for the next 30 years?

    A current Politico poll has Trump losing to a generic Democrat in 2020. The same poll shows Trump beating Warren in 2020. Should we pay attention to this as reflecting an anti-Progressive or anti-woman position of American voters, or ignore the poll as worthless?


    Just my humble opinion that the answer is kind of simple. Lots of people react negatively to shrill anger in a politician. They want at the very least a calm, positive daddy. Even better if generally sunny, but if they are angry, it needs to be an alpha type of expression. Women with high voices cannot effect this. I know, it happens to me dealing with authority figures, I sound shrill and ready to freak out when I'm not. Part of the problem is cultural, part maybe even innate from the way women talk to babies and children. It's just the way it is and it will take a long time to change. If you think about it, a lot of successful female politicians worldwide have calm demeanor and steady if not deep voices, they even might do the male thing and lower their voice when angry.

    P.S. Know I'm sort of breaking the thread rule here, but it's a great example of what I am talking about. Just realized that Hillary is one who mostly does the calm thing well. And it's not new for her, think back to how she said the famous line "well, I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies". It was in a lowered voice. Not shrill.

    Forgive me, but the kindest response I can muster to your totally correct comment is:  GRRR.

    excellent, good girl! alpha!

    PP and rmrd, you have both ignored the question. Do rich donors have lopsided influence over the Democratic Party, and is this influence detrimental to the party's long-term fortunes?

    I didn't ignore it - I was just writing a comment while you were posting this. I didn't even notice yours until hours later.

    Fair enough. I'm being overcautious to try to keep the discussion from going off the rails and was reacting more strongly to rmrd's criticism of Warren (which is more or less a restatement of the primary debate using Warren as a foil instead of Sanders).

    Where did I criticize Warren? I have pointed out that Warren received much needed exposure to the black community after she was shut down for reading Coretta Scott King's letter. All I did was report on the results of a poll. I did not attack Warren. I did not mention Sanders. Your analysis is wrong.

    The first part of the question is, "like duh". If people didn't feel they got something for their money, they likely wouldn't give. If they give more, they likely expect something more. In the case of this past election (if I may), there was a bargain basement/cut-rate special going, so price of admission appeared to super low for same access. However, Black Sunday specials can't be run every week or typically the venue goes out of business. Typically someone who gives up to the max $2700 or whatever it is doesn't really feel much more entitled than someone paying $100, but if someone's helping bundle $100K or more, yeah, they think at some level they'll be heard as needed.

    There were several similar issues re: preferences, as relates to people who work for the party, including the superdelegates as well as party pecking order, along with a more elitist but exciting & dynamic caucus system of voting.  And then there's the imbalance of whether you live in a swing state or early Iowa/NH/NC state that get a lot of love, vs a New York or California that get are too in the bag to get more than hit up for cash. There's of course usually some pecking order for who gets invites to the convention & what happens there....

    Then there's the question of how you feel about money and influence. In the IT world, there are a lot of conferences with various levels of suck-up-ness; a company like HP can pay a million bucks to rent out say a nice venue in Paris, or another company will hire a once-trendy band like Duran Duran for a private gig. Few I'd guess would regard this kind of spending as payola, even though it is trying to buy some loyalty at some kind of price. The same thing happens with pharmaceutical conferences, open houses & launches, etc.

    So what are major donors buying with their much larger contributions? *Is* it an issue that Soros might have an agenda related to the money he gives, and is that bad? In that particular case, I'm rather a fan of him stepping up when no one else will - helping rebuild East Europe and helping Democrats win key races. His rhetoric and ideals largely fit the party message as well, so I think of it as a win-win. 

    Dustin Moskovitz of Facebook ponied up $20 mill in this last election round just cause he's a nice guy and as he notes:

    "This decision was not easy, particularly because we have reservations about anyone using large amounts of money to influence elections," Moskovitz and his wife, Cari Tuna, wrote in a post on Medium. "We hope these efforts make it a little more likely that Secretary Clinton is able to pursue the agenda she's outlined, and serve as a signal to the Republican Party that by running this kind of campaign — one built on fear and hostility — and supporting this kind of candidate, they compel people to act in response."

    Moskovitz said $5 million would go to a super PAC run by the League of Conservation Voters, an environmentalist group running advertising and canvassing campaigns; and another $5 million to For Our Future PAC, an effort by organized labor and environmentalists to run a consolidated, high-powered field program.

    Other donations will be split between a joint fundraising committee for Hillary Clinton; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee; a political arm of MoveOn.Org; Color of Change PAC; and "several nonpartisan voter registration and GOTV efforts."

    So part of it gets heavily into *how* it's spent, transparency, and values that people can understand. But that $20 million is roughly 800,000 voters giving $27. That's a huge support for stuff that needs to be done. Much has been made about the difference in spending last year, but 1 candidate largely didn't need to buy TV advertising because he had free TV publicity 24x7. Another candidate complained that he wasn't given any TV publicity and that the media basically ignored him. So money is the equalizer, a sometimes enabler of democracy, but not always.

    Obviously tacky, over-the-line or just cringeworthy buying of influence is going to be a turnoff, as should be blatantly illegal stuff (a quaint nostalgic hat-tip to the naive past). But this continual self-flagellation over money is self-defeating, and it's only 1 side that plays this game. If JK Rowling came around offering a billion bucks for some ear-time, she'd have it in a flash - she's cool, she has values, and the money can help. If the head of Whole Foods did, I'd beg off (even though I have no problem him speaking out on his thoughts about healthcare & what not - I'm pretty open on First Amendment ideals). 

    Frankly, I think the hush-hush, scandal approach to money *HURTS* us - we're so goddamned panicky about it that we always feel like we're doing something wrong and sneaky, and then half of the party like famed lobsters keeps reaching up to grab tail of anyone that has a nickel more (or a better seat at the table). I don't rightly care about all that. I'm much more interested in making sure a concerted effort is made to give people what they need to survive and the opportunity to do much more. Part of that is money - money is great. It's hard to paint money as evil and then turn around and want $500 billion of it to do something heroic like fix education, healthcare or police abuse..

    Be consistent. Our party spends so much of its time looking for businesses and wealthy people to attack, and it's missing the point. De Niro and Beyonce and Rowling and Moskowitz and Soros and Bloomberg and Oprah are all great, but also all very wealthy business people with mixed motives at times, mixed behavior at times... But it's most important that the ones we embrace, the heavy hitters, largely have the heart and message of what we want to deliver.

    Regularly we get these news blips that oh, the finance industry is supporting X to the tune of $100K or something trivial, and then people clutch pearls and faint and we go through another round of squeamishness. There's seldom any perspective on any of it, which is why a $300 haircut or a $600 pair of shoes turn into equivalents of a $20 million piece of fraud. We set ourselves up for it, and then wonder why we never seem to talk about issues, only stuff about money and corruption. 

    Stuff costs money. As I noted before, one of the alternative candidates blew a lot of his contributions on traditional media - there wasn't much time or availability to do much else, so despite the message of something new, that part was business as usual. Am I critical? Hardly - a bit amused, but realistic - there are only so many ways to skin a cat, most illegal, so you're stuck with a few tried-and-true options unless really creative.

    Anyway: people like money, we all want to be rich or at least self-sufficient and without fear. Make money a positive message. Class warfare isn't about who has more money - it's about who uses wealth and position and other power advantages to oppress the rest. Also, accept that many of the conflicts are unresolvable, that it's always a case of trying to balance the 2 ends or multiple points of interest, and some of the "obvious" solutions can do more harm than good. I saw earlier today on LinkedIn that Google had lost much of its workforce dedicated to cars. Why? They paid them too much. People found it too easy - they could roughly retire or choose other options. So much for trying to pay your workers a good wage (not that this case happens often).

    Government costs money - take it away, and it shrivels up till you can drown it in a bathtub. Campaigns are just 1 part of government, but arguably the most important - where there's the most review, the most discussion of ideas, the most vetting of candidates, or perhaps better, where we push our candidate to the hilt in the hope they'll beat their flawed awful candidate. Lose the election, it's years in the wilderness. There's not a lot of upside to losing. If you can guarantee you can keep winning elections by running against money, well, I might be convinced. So far the argument's not resonating. And if you're going to run a bunch of programs like a hundred billion dollar health initiative among hundreds of activities, getting bent out of shape over a million or less is largely illusory, especially since the other side will never-ever-ever express remorse in the way we'd like them to. Scratch that, they'll never express remorse period.

    Build the dream up, not down. Yes, it's great  to engage people, to provide your followers a real platform to have a voice in, to make government responsive not just to the millionaires and well-dressed, to get real things done that affect people on issues that they understand. But we get so wrapped up with symbolism, we often confuse it with what it stands in the way of. Half of the criticisms last year were things like "the appearance of", "what could be", "potentially a problem with", etc. Now we're faced with a losing proposition where *OUR* coulda-should-wouldas became *THEIR* without-a-doubts and just-grin-and-bear-it. Cold shower time. A little imperfection is okay - better than a gross disaster.


    The article you are responding to spoke of the "lack of a coherent economic message" in the context of the last election cycle:

    Less clear is how Democrats will convert political action into electoral results. Much has been said about the failures of 2016 — chief among them the flawed belief that bashing Trump was enough, and the absence of a coherent economic message.
    Yet even now, at every level of national Democratic politics, the discussion of how the party can win back voters it lost is subsumed by the argument about how to oppose Trump.

    Weigel and Tumulty are saying that as important as that lack may have been, the conditions that has led to the development of new messages in the past has been subsumed by an element not present in those previous defeats. The authors are challenging your representation of the unfolding dynamic.

    Furthermore, their recounting of previous messages measured their coherence by whether enough voters understood it. By this measure, cases where the Democrats won, show when the message was more coherent than when they lost. Now, I well understand that you take exception to the underlying principles and merit of many of those policies. I encourage you to challenge them on that basis. I do not think you will advance your point of view by ignoring the use of "coherence" as referring to statements made X whose meaning is intelligible to Y.

    In regards to your proposition regarding campaign donations, when you say: " raising sufficient funds to compete without solicitations to big money", are you suggesting the DNC only give their support to candidates who ask for big donations or receive any? Or is this not about party process per se but a litmus test that would identify who is a "Democrat in Name Only" in the style of the Tea Party?

    If the goal is to decrease the power of corporations, the problem of influence reaches into how much our governance is entangled in the fortunes of enterprises competing against each other. All that big money is playing against each other. I do not think you can cancel the power of the playing field by just making some of the players wear scarlet.



    MOAT - you write that the authors dispute my view that the absence of a coherent political message is a significant problem for Democrats since they are now focusing exclusively on how to respond to Trump.  I don't see how the current exclusive focus on Trump undermines my thesis.  I would argue that Democrats are repeating their previous error by avoiding a serious conversation about what their economic message should be.  They are mistaken in the belief that all that is necessary is to train a bright enough spotlight on Trump (and by extension the morally and intellectually bankrupt Republicans).

    If you are saying that the Democrats had a coherent message before this election cycle, then I respectfully disagree.

    Regarding your argument that big money cancels itself out, this is true to a significant extent when it comes to social issues but not when it comes to economic issues.  Big Democratic donors, just like Republican donors, are far less concerned about economic equality than the rest of the country.

    I did not say the authors' focus undermines your thesis. They are saying that the situation is different from other defeats. The squabbling that took center stage in the past has been superseded  by an extraordinary event. I did not read them as claiming that resistance to the Trump administration was in any way "all that is necessary." I do think they clearly disagree with you when you say that Democrats are repeating the error they made before the election. The authors call it an opportunity. It can be squandered like any other.

    If you cannot agree on the distinction I made about the use of "coherent", I will never know if we agree with each other or not when you use the term. Your loss, I think.

    I am not saying that big money cancels itself out. On the contrary. Whoever gets elected is not just a bundle of intentions and a plan. The work they do is involved with the means of production that drives our economy. The challenge of forming policy that is not merely the scrimmage match of competing interests requires more than making sure those workers are not corrupt. It certainly helps. I don't dismiss the factor as irrelevant. But the quality does not have a magical power to countervail the status quo by itself.

    Who are these donors of which you speak, and what *are* they interested in? This is all so anonymous and conspiratorial. I discussed 2 specific donors, Soros and Moskowitz (sp?) who seem on the side of the common wage-earner. Who are the specific Simon Lagrees who are overriding the humanitarian inclinations of the party, and what are the elite causes they're replacing them with?

    Do rich donors have lopsided influence over the Democratic Party, and is this influence detrimental to the party's long-term fortunes?

    Of course rich donors have too much influence in both parties and that influence is particularly detrimental to the democratic party. The other part of the question is if democrats refuse all large donations will that be detrimental the the party and to what degree? Considering, in a post citizen's united world, that the republicans usually have a cash advantage and have no intention of refusing large donations.

    We know that a popular national candidate can get enough small donations to be competitive in a democratic primary. That's all we know. We don't know is if that's transferable. If Sanders hadn't run would O'Malley have gotten an equivalent amount of small donations? Would another candidate have run and gotten that money? I doubt it.

    What a candidate spends in a primary is a fraction of what candidates spend in the general election. Both Obama and Romney raised 3,300 times as much for their general election run as Sanders raised for his primary run. Since almost any republican can and likely will raise that much we have to ask if any democrat, even Sanders, could have raised that much money in small donations for the general. I doubt it and I think that money disparity would be detrimental.

    But it's not just the president that's important. Senators, Representatives, governors and democrats all down the ballot are as important as the presidency. We don't know that down ballot democrats can get sufficient funds to be competitive with republicans. Sanders fund raising success on the national level sheds no evidence on that since even he took DSCC money for his senate campaign, most of which comes from large donors.

    I'm not trying to criticize Sanders. I'm just pointing out that his fundraising success in the democratic primary still leaves all these questions unanswered. Imo unilateral disarmament in all democratic races is more detrimental than the undue influence from taking the money. I believe it will leave democrats underfunded compared to republicans. It would take a tremendous fight within the party to force all democrats to comply. Better to use that energy for other purposes. We need to push democrats to unequivocally denounce Citizen's United and to pledge to legislate campaign finance reform and accept the necessity of democrats taking large donations in the meantime to keep the playing field somewhat even. We need to hold their feet to the fire on this issue but not handicap them so they can't run a competitive campaign.

    eta: Looking at this comment and at some of the others I'm noting that we actually had this conversation in depth during the primary. Remove the pointed attacks against Hillary or Sanders and we really said all this back then.


    Well said.

    Thanks O-K.  We debated this before the general election but the results of that election provide additional evidence which both the pro and anti-big money forces are using.  I would argue that the money advantage enjoyed by the Democrats may have ultimately harmed the party.

    From a practical standpoint, multiple Democratic candidates will have to prove that they can win without big donors. The field is free for them to do that and prove your hypothesis true.

    You make a very good point RMRD.  While Democrats are losing big now, individual economically progressive Dems competing in primaries who forsake corporate funds will still be at a huge disadvantage when confronted with the combined might of Democratic and Republican donors.  That is why leaders in the party, who have the power of both name recognition and incumbency, need to lead the charge to rid the party of corporate influence.  This means a relatively even playing field in Democratic primaries and a unified party, working with grass-roots organizations, labor unions, and progressive faith groups, etc., in support of democratic nominees in general elections.  This may not work.  But how much worse could it be than the current state of affairs?

    I'm confused if Progressive candidates who eschew corporate funds are at a disadvantage, why wouldn't the entire party be at a disadvantage compared to Republicans?

    If you are not certain that this will work, why put the entire party at risk.Find these bold Progressives and let them run on small donations. That would be the test that your hypothesis is valid.

    Hal, a candidate had a chance this year. Money wasn't the problem. And for me, I'm concerned that candidates know how to work with money and monied interests, because once in office, that's largely what they do - horsetrade whose pocket to pick, existing or new tax dollars, to pay for something new.

    There may be better ways to cultivate new progressive Democratic leaders, but pulling down all their barriers won't do it - you'll just get a bunch of loudmouth gasbags who don't know how to fight back against impediments drowning out the few who do.

    First off, I want to thank everyone for taking my challenge seriously and engaging in a serious conversation. Ocean-kat is right that we've discussed this issue before, but it was more vitriolic and clouded by the heat of the primary race.

    My own view, which I've expressed previously, is that it's a matter of consistency. No one is shocked when pro-corporate Republicans take money from corporations or when pro-labor Democrats takes money from unions. The problem arises when you take money from interests that you've professed to oppose, especially when you do it surreptitiously. Imagine if it came out that Sanders had secretly taken money from Goldman. He'd be ruined. (Sorry, I know I violated my own rule, but it's just a hypothetical!) So politicians who campaign for banking regulations should avoid taking money from banks, and those who campaign against SuperPACs should not take money from SuperPACs.

    The primary question for the Democratic Party is not where to raise money but whether to return to its early 20th century roots as a populist party that resists corporate power or to continue along the path of the late 20th and early 21st century as a technocratic party that focuses on good government and economic growth. If they choose the former, then politicians must avoid taking corporate money. If the latter, then it's not as big a deal. As I said, this question is the primary one. You don't choose an identity based on whether it allows you to raise money. First you choose the identity and then adjust your fundraising and political tactics to cohere to it.

    So in some ways, this battle over campaign finance is just a proxy for the real battle over the soul of the party.

    How are you defining populist? Populism can be a negative.


    Populism means appealing to the masses as opposed to the elite. It can be a force for good as it was in the Progressive Era or a force for evil as it was for Nazi Germany. FDR was a good populist; Donald Trump is an evil populist.

    Isn't the person who won most of the popular vote the true populist? In several cases Democrats win the popular one but are gerrymandered out of victory. Democrats appear to be the populists.

    He's talking about methods of manipulating public opinion and voters. This from I Bear Witness, a Diary of the Nazi years,  by a multilingual German professor from the advent until the end of the Reich, an entry from 1933:

    The aim of education in the Third Reich and of the language of the Third Reich, is to expand the popular stratum in everyone to such an extent that the thinking stratum is suffocated. (Festivals, meetings, press, national emotions , Der Sturmer, etc', etc

    This is Trump in particular, and the GOP's technique. The Democrats appeal to the 'thinking stratum' may need to be enhanced or popularized.

    But how much populism is good? Chavez? Castro? Mandela? Jesse Jackson? Obama? it's a rather arbitrary yardstick.

    Anyone else see the irony that Obama was largely elected on populism that sadly went largely unfulfilled once in office, but our solution is "more populism"? It may be needed, but there's much much more. Trump is a wonderful example why populism and just winging it aren't the solution unto itself.

    Fight the next war, not the last one - the groundrules are changing even now.

    It is frankly likely the ground rules relating to human nature and politics have not changed.  To the extent the 'thinking stratum' in a population is displaced by the 'popular stratum' bad consequences of some sort eventually follow.  FDR and Obama had a heavy thinking element behind their populism.

    We have the Republican Party as example  of modern day Machiavellian behavior. There is no morality in their anti-democratic obstruction, hypocrisy and execution of politics.

    In case you didn't notice, you're largely pushing the "benign king" theory in slightly different clothes. Yeah, it's great when it works, but the chances of it going off the rails is pretty huge.

    Benign king is a poor analogy. The wise and benevolent ruler is the idealized version of elitist rule, not populist rule.

    Perhaps you mean a double-edged sword. I agree with that. Populism is a potent political weapon. In can accomplish ground-breaking reforms or unspeakable catastrophe.

    The same is true of elitism, of course. There are well-functioning technocracies and stagnant and corrupt elitist regimes.

    I was thinking a wise and benevolent populist ruler.
    In a way, I thought Hugo Chavez was getting there, even though many people seem to hate him (aint' it always so...).

    But yes, it's a double-edged sword. I think of both the elitists and populists insufferable, if I'm glomming onto the right stereotypes.

    Anyway, there's not that much brilliance out there - if we teach a few stock lines to the mediocre, will that suffice?

    BTW, is it possible that Trump's the perfect elite+populist we've been waiting for to square the circle? Loved & hated in equal measure by all people...


    The Pope must have heard me - he came out with a stinging rebuke against populism & xenophobia. I think he's trying to get me back to church - ain't gonna happen.

    Thanks for the link. We need a better term to define exactly what characteristics we are praising or condemning when we say "populist".

    I honestly don't think your average voter spends alot of time worrying about how much money a party raises/spends and how/why they do it.  They're more interested in the money in their pocket.  Do you really believe that Trump voters chose him because he said he didn't need Wall Street, etc. money?  If they did it was only because it made him seem richer and less tied to the "establishment" - not because they were concerned about money in politics.  That's a liberal thing.  It's a talking heads and progressive wing thing.  The ordinary people that both sides claim to love couldn't care less who pays for the politician that promises to get them what they need as long as they get it.

    The ordinary people that both sides claim to love couldn't care less

    Yeah, you'll need some evidence to back up an assertion like that. Here is some counter-evidence:



    The bigger question is Why? What are our real objectives based on what scenarios? 1900 populism arose out of a specific set of circumstances. The current situation may or may not be similar - though I don't recall the results for populism that attractive, at least not in Europe. What are the outcomes we'd like in 40 years, the positioning of the party, the priorities in terms of jobs, health, environment, etc, and what are possible ways to get there and keep up the excitement and buy-in along the way.

    I was thinking yesterday that our traditional model of work is broken and will stay broke. Economics from Marx and Ford and the rest has been based on capital, work, materials. The leverage workers had was their value in that production, and the Marxist value-add was to seize the material resources to up the workers' margin - unions could leverage demand for farm hands and factory workers. That makes sense with coal and farmland. It no longer flies so well with a few computers in a building with a Google or Twitter business model - the beauty of cloud software is its scalable without resources, and investors desperately want new models that don't require people and resources - it's like shoveling gold. I just sat down with a guy who started a new food chain that needs 1/4 the resources of KFC - lean and mean. Sure, there will be some jobs that have to pay well, but many more will be commodity, as the labor element will continue to be a smaller and smaller part of the service value. We cannot pretend that workers should be paid more than their value, the worth of their contribution, and have a logical economic system. But as humans we need a system that grows the sustainability and comfort of humans amidst this progress. Which means probably we need 2 systems working side by side with different *but not completely opposite* goals. There will be less and less a link between work and profits, but those profits need to fund the human side along with personal profit. We *want* big and lean successful companies, but we need them structurally set up to fund the other stuff that's falling behind, and we need the demands for the humanitarian side defined coherently and scalable as well. It's not a free lunch - it's an even more precarious transition onto redistribution than we've ever witnessed.

    I have 1 idea I'm working on that would destroy the economic activity of a good chunk of humanity but save a huge amount of daily effort as well. Someone else will likely manage it before me, but my biggest concerns revolve around not the development of the tech, but who will get the profits and what happens to the rest. Our basic services as humans are no longer very valuable to this economic machine we've built, and we likely shouldn't just hobble the machine, but instead figure out how to use it for the greater good. And that includes how to deal with the money "vultures" or traders or whatever their new term shall be.

    I've been thinking about this too. Fighting a trade war to bring jobs back to America won't work even if it works. A larger and larger percentage of those jobs will be done by robots. We're going through a transition period with automation and when we come out of it there will not be nearly enough work to employ the population. We're going to have to come up with a new model when all the goods we could possibly want are mostly made by robots and the unemployment rate is 30 or 40 or 50 %.  I'm more concerned about how we are positioned to deal with that new reality. Put people to work building solar, wind, and geothermal so we have a large renewable energy source. Upgrade the energy grid. Put in high speed internet. Keep the people busy building things for the new reality instead of fighting for the old. Get as many people as highly educated as possible. Because if we're able to keep from destroying the planet and ourselves our kids are about to enter some version of the scifi worlds some of us have been reading about for decades.

    I agree with you, and this my biggest hesitation about going with the old progressive labor line. The old working class narrative doesn't really fit anymore. Ultimately, I think Democrats need a new message for the 21st century. That said, I don't think they or the public are well-served if they just cede the populist ground to the right. Ordinary voters have to believe that Democrats are speaking for them, not to them.

    I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on whether the "old working class narrative" does or does not fit any more.  From Thomas Edsall in the NYT - hardly a firebrand in a rabble-rousing newspaper:

    The nation’s displaced work force includes not only the white working class but millions of Hispanics and African-Americans who are loyal to the Democratic Party. Effective and muscular policies focused on reversing the devastation that globalized trade, automation and competition with foreign workers have inflicted on middle and lower income Americans are essential to encourage defecting whites to return to Democratic ranks — and they are also crucial for reviving Election Day enthusiasm among the nation’s growing population of minority voters. In this regard, the political desires of the two groups are not irreconcilable.


    Hal, the article also notes the following

    The problem facing Ellison, Sanders and their allies is that despite the success of Sanders’s presidential campaign, the Democratic electorate has actually become less receptive to populism over the past two decades.

    Mark Muro, the director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, analyzed the differences between those communities that supported Hillary Clinton and those that backed Donald Trump. The findings of Muro and Sifan Liu, a Brookings research assistant, suggest that Democrats who are calling for a return to progressive populism will encounter more hurdles than they expect.

    In their Nov. 29 essay, “Another Clinton-Trump divide: High-output America vs low-output America,” Muro and Liu determined that:

    The less-than-500 counties that Hillary Clinton carried nationwide encompassed a massive 64 percent of America’s economic activity as measured by total output in 2015.

    In other words, the Clinton counties are the ones in which the economy is booming; they are hardly fertile territory for a worker insurrection.


    Murphy adds:

    The basic fact is that a huge portion of the nation’s globally competitive economic activity occurs in those blue places. Dominated by highly productive, export-oriented advanced industries, high-tech enterprises, and professional services including the management of companies, this Democratic base is already biased toward globalism — with trade something of a core tenet. Moreover, these places are winning at trade.

    You're right RMRD.  Edsall points out that Democratic voters have tended to become more enamored of free trade rather than less.  He suggests that this is because they live in areas which have benefited from it.  My response is that the majority of Americans living in Silicon Valley, New York, LA, et al., haven't necessarily benefited from free trade so much as they haven't been as harmed by it as Americans living in other parts of the country.  I would also posit that a good many Democrats have become more receptive to free trade because they are Democrats and the party's leaders have embraced it.  Finally, one cannot ignore the fact that many who were in the party who opposed the practice have since left it.  This means, of course, that the remaining Democrats are more solidly in favor of "free trade". 

    One more quote from Edsall: "The 2016 election demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that ducking and weaving around the anguish of displaced workers guarantees sustained minority status."

    Hal, this article isn't relevant to my argument. I never suggested that working class voters aren't receptive to anti-globalization themes. Many obviously are, as demonstrated by populists on both sides of the aisle domestically and around the world. Conservative populists have woven these sentiments into a comprehensive platform and narrative that includes immigration, taxes, trade, race, religion, nationalism, and "crony capitalism." Modern progressive populists are working with thinner gruel--mainly corporate power and trade. That may be enough for many people, but it's not as compelling as the conservative version, which is growing its faction much faster than progressives. The same thing is happening in Europe. Leftist populists are gaining strength there but not as fast rightist populists.

    That said, I'm not sure that the old progressive working class politics won't work in the 21st century. I'm just a bit skeptical. I think the movement needs some extra juice that it hasn't found yet. I will be more than happy to be disproved.

    PS I know Tom Edsall. He endorsed Unreasonable Men. He is unquestionably progressive (as am I ftr)

    The hollow progressivism represented by the followers of Clintonism and their party is only capable of producing the fingernails scraping on a blackboard sound that we have been hearing since and even before the election. There is no harmony here just discord and none of the howlers leading and speakijg for this tribe have been replaced with rational beings capable of changing this identity.

    Developing a new message (lies) about a self destructive spent party will not woo the rubes as it has done in the past, their disease is too evident and publicly/proudly displayed now.

    Your parody of the Breibart narrative is spot on.
    Keep up the good work.

    The "added value" in the Marxist model was not about who controlled material resources as much as it was a theory of profit. Das Capital tried to prove this theory through an analysis of prices for commodities of products compared to the price of Labor required for them to be produced. Maybe Marx (and numerous other people) would have been better off if he had put more energy in the idea of work. But he rolled the bones on explaining the nature of the market as the final arbiter of who got what.

    The arguments surrounding these ideas have passed through many iterations since they were introduced. What strikes me as the most important thing is the desire to not be exploited. Marx said wanting that meant eliminating an entire class of transactions, getting rid of the principle of private property.

    While that option has the appeal of being coherent in the terms it sets out for itself, it puts the individual in a place without any control of the future.

    Maybe that should be the definition of exploitation: No control of the future.

    The belief that powerful people control your life is one of the fundamental ingredients of populist movements.

    Also fundamental to paranoia ;-) Substitute robots or technology it gets no better. But can we spin this whole discussion to the positive, what *can* we do and for what good reasons, rather than always the receiving end of something dire? It gets exhausting getting poked by da man.

    Is there any doubt that powerful people control millions of Americans' lives and those of billions around the world?  Where a corporate board chooses to place a manufacturing center, a colonel's decision whether to drone a wedding party, a prosecutor's discretion, all exemplify this.

    That belief is also the driving force behind the idea that class struggle is a process that is history until history is done. But this emphasis on the value of labor as a commodity does not throw into sharp relief the way that means of production themselves define and shape what is possible for individuals and communities.

    Managing the system to provide more equitable outcomes doesn't mean that the power those means of production have over our future has been addressed or even perceived.

    This Frontline series of articles I just posted on the news thread is good on the kind of issues and voters Peracles and ocean-kat are discussing at the end of this thread.


    The kind that the Democratic party used to "own" that has migrated to Trump. The series is trying to get at exactly the mystery we label as Trump's populist appeal. I see it to really be about the people his campaign targeted in order to win. I don't know for sure if they help with Hal's issue of Dem messaging and how to pay for it, or the larger picture of Dem coalitions. Depends upon how your brain works, if individual stories help you understand and provoke new thinking.

    I for one, don't see how the formerly successful Dem coalition of urban elites with working class can continue to exist successfully for the foreseeable future, no matter how much money is spent on campaigns.I think that the Bill Clinton presidency was the last chance for that coalition, and with a lot of the second group, they weren't that happy with what happened for them with him, and they are not going to try left of center again. Their children might, if they get decent education. I also think that Obama's skin color worked against him with this group, even though he was pretty much centrist and tried to be a president of "all the people", only because they buy into a reverse racism meme where the black community gets all the preferences and they don't. It's not just whites that think like this--think Indian immigrant families working the motel circuit across the country, for one example. The fact that a black American was now able to rise to the presidency and serve eight years is proof to them that urban blacks don't need any more help than they do, however mistaken those on the left think that is, it's something that's been reinforced by Obama's presidency.

    If you look on his site today, you'll note projections of the Rust Belt losing *6* electoral votes in 2020 - MN, MI, IL, Ohio, PA, WVa. So gearing up to fight last year's demographics next time is probably a bit insane.

    Elsewhere, he analyzes internet memes from Reddit, and notes that "I'm With Her" hugely outpaced "Stronger Together" for mentions. The latter might be more pleasant and inclusive, but the former slides off the lips, is more memorable, etc.

    Third is their evaluation of Bernie's faction's view of where the party is going - no time to read it at the moment, but I was struck by the line "not beholden to special interests". I"m not sure that's good. We used to be beholden to union interests, minority interests, etc. Maybe I'm quibbling, but a level playing field is a bit unexciting and inexpressive - people who can't set priorities or tell the better from the worse or not-quite-as-good.

    Thanks Mike for trying to keep away from the messy last election memes.  

    One thing the Democrats can do is spend more time in their districts, talking to their voters.  At town halls listen to the shouting and the issues that is being brought up. Local party officials need to be there to listen because they will do a better job in fielding candidates.  The voters are going to tell you what they want and need from the government.  The economic message short term and long term should include what the voters are asking for. 

    The Democrat office holders right now need to be careful about voting against popular programs like lowering drug costs, jobs, SS, Medicare, building inforstucture and universal health care. The no votes are being watched and reported on in social media including how much this benefits their corporate donors. Those reports get plenty of traffic and comments.  It is not enough to have a good message but then do the opposite with voting. You don't build trust that way.  

    I honestly think the reforms won't come from the technocratic top without the reformers pushing from the bottom.  

    "Let's address the central questions: Do rich donors have lopsided influence over the Democratic Party, and is this influence detrimental to the party's long-term fortunes?" Fascinating discussion, but totally irrelevant question. The issue is "Do rich donors have lopsided influence over (U.S. politics), and is this influence detrimental to (democracy's) long-term fortunes?"

    The answer to both questions is, of course, yes. It's clear no Democratic candidate can reject big donations when his opponent embraces them. Campaign financing limits were already ridiculously lax, but the Citizens United ruling crowned free speech (in the form of cash) as the deciding factor in U.S. elections, now and forever. Until and unless it's overturned, the 1% will call all the shots.

    I realize that Trump probably ran on a far thinner war-chest than Hillary did (seemingly disproving that theory). But look at his cabinet appointees: more CEOs and Goldman-Sachs alums than Clinton would have dared propose. He's already decided he wants a second term.

    Why does Canada have more progressive laws and policies on virtually everything? A complete ban on ANY corporate or labour-union campaign contributions, for starters; strict limits on individual donations and rigid caps on what any candidate's campaign can spend (plus a shorter time they can spend it in). At one point, we even reimbursed candidates part of their expenses, based on the proportion of the vote they received. The result is TV that's remarkably free of election ads, and candidates that go out of their way to promise voters what they want to hear.

    The U.S. (thanks to its Supreme Court) has embraced a very different model, but our democracy remains strong. I hear the argument that voters don't care about campaign financing, but Democrats need to make them care. And first, they need to put the country above their own electoral interests. It does seem unlikely.

    We always get in these double bind thingies like "If Al Gore cares so much about the environment, how come he takes polluting airplanes". Guarantee you that "if the Democrats are against money in politics, let's see them denounce it" will continue to be a heavy hit. Trump even managed to succeed as he got tons of free air time from making ridiculous statements. Who knew it was gonna be like white Jesus to a recovering alcoholic.

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