On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson

Kuttner

What Would Cause Republicans to Break With Trump?For the most part, Republicans have been far too willing to enable Trump’s personal corruption, his sellouts of the national interest for personal gain, and a broad array of impulsive and incoherent policies. But even Republicans have their limits.

The big red line is still firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. It would provoke an open break. Even Trump, in his stupor of Fox News fawning and genuflecting aides, knows that.

Lately, there have been other encouraging signs. A bipartisan discharge petition forcing House floor action on DACA is very close to having sufficient signatures. Trump’s implacable opposition is actually increasing support.

On Trump's sellout of national security policy to quarantine the Chinese telecom producer ZTE, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida led a bipartisan bloc of 27 senators to protest.

And Trump’s general incoherence on trade policy is producing unified big-business opposition. However much Republican legislators find it expedient to align with Trump, they will not abandon big business.

One other factor could turn Republican legislative distancing from Trump into a stampede—the scent of an election blowout in November. In hard-core Tea Party territory, Trump is still an asset. But in the dozens of suburban House swing districts held by Republicans, he is increasingly toxic. The more of a liability he seems, the more Republicans will feel free to attack him.

The year 2018 will be remembered as the moment when Americans lost their democracy, or took it back. 

Meyerson

Paul Schrade: Not Just the Other Guy Who Was Shot in the Ambassador Kitchen. Today’s New York Times has a story on the 50th anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s murder, featuring interviews with Kennedy staffers and supporters. But the piece misidentifies Paul Schrade, who was also critically wounded when Kennedy was shot, as “a campaign aide” (in the caption) and doesn’t quite get it right in calling him “a labor organizer who worked on the campaign” in the text of the article.

It’s important to get Paul Schrade’s actual identity right, though—because he was a key figure in California and union history during the pivotal decade of the ‘60s.

As a young man, Paul had worked as an assistant to United Auto Workers (UAW) President Walter Reuther, who headed what today has to be viewed as by far the most important progressive union in American history. In the 1950s, Paul headed a UAW local at North American Aviation in Los Angeles, and became the UAW’s western regional director in the early 1960s. As such, he became, in 1965, the first established union leader to provide resources and assistance to the fledgling union of farmworkers that Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta were organizing. That same year, in the aftermath of the Watts Riots, he devoted union resources to establishing the Watts Labor Community Action Council and the East Los Angeles Community Union (TELACU), which became longstanding political powerhouses in LA’s black and Latino communities, respectively.

One year later, Paul put Chavez in touch with Robert Kennedy, who came to California to champion the farmworkers’ cause. Paul also opposed the Vietnam War early on—and when Kennedy declared his presidential candidacy in early 1968, Paul became his most prominent labor backer. By so doing, he also became the odd man out on the UAW’s national executive committee, on which he was by far the youngest member. Reuther certainly had profound misgivings about the war, and had helped form Negotiations Now, an organization that sought to bring the war to a halt but stopped short of advocating a unilateral withdrawal of U.S. troops. But Reuther was also an old friend and comrade of Vice President Hubert Humphrey, with whom he had founded Americans for Democratic Action in 1948. Humphrey was a solid liberal, but was tethered to Lyndon Johnson’s war policy and refused to break with it. Like most labor leaders, Reuther supported Humphrey’s presidential bid when Johnson announced in late March that he wouldn’t seek re-election.

The Kennedy-Humphrey rift between Schrade and Reuther was the UAW’s top-level, in-house version of the rift between the New Left and the Old. Over the next couple of years, Schrade grew more critical of UAW practices, and in 1970, Reuther’s successor as president, Leonard Woodcock, made sure that Paul wasn’t re-elected to the executive committee or the western regional directorship.

That hardly ended Paul’s work in and for labor. For some years, he returned to the assembly line; he also founded and led the California ACLU’s Worker Rights Committee and played a significant role in a host of worker causes. After the Ambassador Hotel (where Kennedy had been assassinated and Paul shot) closed down, he spent several decades leading the fight to build a badly needed high school on the site. That required defeating a number of other proposals, including one for a towering high-rise from Donald Trump. In time, Paul prevailed: The Robert F. Kennedy High School now stands where the Ambassador once stood. More controversially, Paul has also long believed that there was more than one shooter that June night 50 years ago in the Ambassador kitchen.

Paul’s sidelines are almost as interesting as his primary endeavors. He became an expert on Italian bread baking, and became a de facto consultant to LA’s tony La Brea Bakeries. A Wagner devotee, he made annual pilgrimages to Bayreuth. And as a longtime resident of Laurel Canyon, during one stretch in the ‘70s, his next-door neighbor on one side was Jerry Brown, and on the other side, Timothy Leary.

Kuttner

L’État, C’est Moi. It is almost reassuring to learn that Trump truly believes he is above the law.

Arguing that the law does not apply to the president is the essence of dictatorship. It’s good to have that claim in black and white—reaffirmed by the even more bizarre claim by Rudy Giuliani that Trump could not merely fire James Comey but murder him and not be legally to called to account.

When Trump said that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters,” people dismissed that as hyperbole. It turns out that he meant it literally.

This is the stuff of impeachment and removal. If it isn’t, we rapidly cease to be a democracy.

Kuttner

In Search of Principled Conservatives. In the era of Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, there seems to be no such thing as principled conservatism. Long-hallowed conservative tenets such as budget balance, states' rights, and free markets, to name just three, have given way to enlarged deficits driven by tax cuts, opportunistic federal pre-emption of liberal state and city policies, and Russian-style klepto-capitalism.

There was also a time when at least some conservatives were skeptical of costly foreign adventures and massive military buildups. That’s gone, too.

Any shred of principle has been sacrificed to defending Trump, whatever he does—a feat that is hard to reconcile with any sort of principle, since you don’t know what he will do from one day to the next. The absence of principled conservatism becomes more ominous as Trump’s behavior becomes ever more flagrantly impeachable.

One exception worth looking at is the magazine The American Conservative. Yes, they take some positions that would make a good liberal cringe. But they are willing to challenge the abuses of klepto-capitalism and to express some skepticism about Trump’s behavior and his bizarre military adventures.

There is a debate worth having with conservatives about what markets can and cannot be trusted to do. But defending the efficiency of markets is not the same as excusing markets rigged by corruption. If we are ever to regain common ground in this country, a good place to begin would be by reclaiming first principles from sheer opportunism.

Meyerson

The Unhappy (But, Let’s Hope Short) Life of the Jungle Primary. All the recent problems with California’s jungle primary were apparent from the start.

As Tuesday’s California primary approaches, both parties are filled with a specifically jungle kind of dread. Democrats fear that their overflow of candidates who are seeking to turn red congressional districts blue will split the vote so many ways that Republicans—fewer of whom are seeking those offices—will finish one-two and move on to the November runoff. Republicans fear that Democrats will finish one-two in the races for statewide office, given that there are roughly nine registered Democrats for every five registered Republicans in the state. And that if there are no Republicans running for statewide office in November, Republican turnout will be low, imperiling their hold on those congressional seats unless they lock those seats up next Tuesday.

But none of this should come as a surprise. Right after the 2014 primaries—the second conducted under jungle primary rules—I predictedjust such a clusterfuck in an op-ed column in the Los Angeles Times. I pointed out that one heavily Democratic congressional district in the Inland Empire had elected a Republican in 2012 only because each of the four Democrats who sought that office finished behind the two Republicans on the primary ballot, even though the four Democrats amassed more votes, so that the two Republicans were the only choices on the November ballot. (The jungle primary doesn’t allow November write-ins.) Two years later, the chastened Democrats were able to clear the field for the Democrat who two years earlier had run ahead of the other three—and in a testament to just how Democratic the district really was, the rookie Republican congressman didn’t even stand for re-election.

Somehow, the lessons of that 2012 race never registered very prominently with California activists. Even now, as Democrats are frantically scrambling to avoid the very same kind of disaster next Tuesday, references to this grim antecedent seldom come up in print or conversation.

I give the jungle primary ten years. Voters created it by initiative in 2010. With both Democrats and Republicans living in dread of its consequences, I expect voters to repeal it in 2020.

Kuttner

America as the Hope of the World. I’m traveling in Europe. And despite the fact that neoliberal governments caused the financial collapse and the economic fallout and political backlash, one looks in vain for a left-wing government. Mostly, the protest goes far-right.

The reason is that the “center-left” governments of the 1990s bought into the hyper-globalism of that era. So when it crashed, their fingerprints were all over the collapse.

Angry citizens looking for a global opposition party to the Party of Davos could not find it on the moderate left. There are just four countries in Europe today with leftish prime ministers: Sweden, Portugal, Greece, and Iceland. Each is either hobbled by weak coalition governments or by the austerity policies of the European Union.

By comparison, I’m kind of an optimist about the United States. When Trump falls—and he will fall—we are likely to see a progressive government follow, and a hopelessly fragmented right.

The energy today is not just with the Democratic Party, but with the progressive wing of the party. If a Democrat does manage to get elected in 2020, he or she will not be another neoliberal centrist, but a progressive in the spirit of FDR, updated for this century.

What would that mean? Well, full employment at good pay, universal health care, massive investment in modern infrastructure and green transition, empowerment of workers, and serious regulation of Wall Street, for starters.

Roosevelt seemed pretty radical in 1933, and he was. We need that sort of radicalism again.

Our friends over at the Campaign for America’s Future are circulating a pretty fine manifestothat spells out the details. This kind of politics and government becomes thinkable only if enough people think about it and act on it. 

Meyerson

The Year of the Women Necessitates Pelosi. It’s too early to proclaim this the year of the women at the polls, but it’s most certainly the year of the Democratic women candidates.

According to the Cook Political Report, 65 House primary elections have been held thus far that have featured at least one Democratic woman candidate, and women have won 45 of them, with two more races, in which a woman is considered the favorite, headed to a run-off. In these 65 elections, women were 39 percent of the candidates, yet won 54 percent of the votes.

All this throws into an even more dubious light the stated reluctance of some Democratic candidates and members of Congress to re-elect Nancy Pelosi as their party’s leader in the House. In a year when Democratic voters are tilting heavily toward women standard-bearers, some Democrats want to replace Pelosi with—who, exactly? The most visible anti-Pelosi candidate is Representative Joe Crowley, whose claim, if not to fame, exactly, then a higher level of obscurity, is that he heads the Democratic Party organization of Queens. Another representative in the mix, who’s run against Pelosi before for the leader’s position, is Ohio’s Tim Ryan.

Neither Crowley nor Ryan is notably female.

I’m not arguing that Pelosi should retain her position because she is female. The fact that she’s the single-most effective congressional leader, in either party, in the past century—getting just enough House votes to enact the Affordable Care Act, and a unanimous Democratic vote against the GOP tax cut—does suggest, however, that the Democrats likely have nowhere to go but down if they replace her.

Besides—if they retake the House on the strength of the women candidates who’ve been kicking butt in Democratic primaries, what message would it send to Democratic voters should their congressional caucus bump a supremely accomplished (female) leader for a guy names Joe? Just askin’.

Kuttner

How to Screw Up Trade Policy. After Donald Trump was elected, some progressives harbored the hope that he might make a partial constructive difference on trade. At least he recognized that China’s state capitalism was predatory on the system and on American industry and jobs. At least he recognized that NAFTA hadn’t lived up to billing, and that it mattered whether the United States retained more manufacturing. Yes, some of his gambits were mere stunts, but this was a welcome acknowledgment.

Silly progressives. This set of assumptions overlooked both his short attention span and his personal corruption.

Trump's prime trade war right now is with the EU, as fallout from pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. He has sent totally mixed signals on China, evidently to feather his own nest on a business deal supported by the Chinese. The effort to renegotiate NAFTA seems to be collapsing.

Meanwhile, Trump’s true class alliance is expressed in policies like the $1.9 trillion tax cut, mostly for the very rich, and in his deals with every fat-cat industry, from pharmaceuticals to banks.

Almost by accident, Trump got himself a team of trade negotiators who actually knew what they were doing, and who began a long-overdue process of revising U.S. trade policy. Trump thinks nothing of undercutting them, based on changing whims and personal business interests. You have to wonder how long good people like Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s top trade negotiator, will last.

One possible silver lining: Trump has blown up a lot of mistaken premises about the U.S. national interest when it comes to trade. The reform agenda will be there after he is gone. It is hard to imagine any of the Democratic contenders for president reverting to the all too bipartisan corporate/Wall Street trade agenda of the Clintons, Obama, and the two Presidents Bush.

Meyerson

What do you get when you put a pipsqueak totalitarian and a wannabe authoritarian in the same room?

We may never know. The Kim-Trump Singapore Summit has been called off.

To any dispassionate observer, the summit’s cancellation should come as no surprise. With John Bolton now guiding what passes for Trump’s foreign and military policy, the prospect of Trump sitting down with Kim was never any better than remote.

My own pet theory is that the summit was cancelled due to the lack of child care. Putting two nuclear-armed leaders with the impulse controls of two-year-olds together in the same room requires the presence of sober, strategically sophisticated room monitors. No such figure exists within the Trump White House, and if there are some in Kim’s entourage, we certainly haven’t seen them.

Of course, the need for such monitors is even greater now that the talks are off. The boys still have nukes, after all, and the boys are very into their toys.

Kuttner

Jobs, Income, and the Dems. Want a preview of the next great debate dividing progressives? (Or if we are lucky, uniting them.)

We need to stress jobs and income, right? The average voter knows that the economy is doing well—on average—but life prospects are still lousy for regular people, especially young people, especially young people without well-off parents and a family welfare state.

What to do? Well, in the first ring of the progressive circus we have Guaranteed Jobs, a favorite among some progressive advocates: The government guarantees a job at a decent wage for anyone who needs and wants one.

Sounds great. In fact, this is a little tricky. We had some experience with it in the 1970s, under Jimmy Carter. One of slippery questions is the relationship of temporary public service jobs to regular civil service jobs.

In the next ring of the circus, we have Universal Basic Income. Also tricky. Yes, we need to supplement work-derived incomes. But the impact of robots is exaggerated. There could be plenty of work to go around; the challenge is to create more meaningful jobs that pay well—starting with a base pay of at least $15 an hour for all human service jobs, and a lot more of them.

And then we have a Massive Infrastructure and Green Transition Program. Or, as I like to say, World War II without the war. We didn’t need make-work jobs or income subsidies during the war, because there were more jobs than people, and they paid well.

Basically, we need all three approaches, but for me anyway, the centerpiece is the infrastructure program. It’s a very good debate to have—as long as the protagonists don’t turn on one another.

Could that happen? Democrats divided against Democrats?

Old joke: What do you call three lefties in a room? Answer: a split.

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