Saturday, March 27, 2010

Progressives, Populists and Pissed Off White Guys

I never drink coffee at lunch. I find it keeps me awake for the afternoon.
Ronald Reagan

From time to time, EasyYolk will pick a fresh trifecta of articles to offer our readers who are yearning for some deep (but not too lengthy) political insight as they sip on their morning (or afternoon) coffee. They are designed for 30 minutes of reading, meditation, weighing, praying and dialogue.

First over at Salon, David Sirota explains the difference between "liberal" and "progressive." Many conservatives are calling the Democratic Party's bluff when they use "progressive" instead of the L-Word (Sirota admits they are mostly correct). However, Sirota pinpoints some key differences, citing 3 key issues over the past decade: the 2003 Medicare drug benefit legislation, the 2008 bank bailout and this week's health care legislation. To be progressive is to advocate for the use of government to regulate and limit the often out-of-control consequences that the unfettered free market's profit motive inevitably brings (think food safety laws, the minimum wage and bans on insider-stock-trading). Liberalism's strategy is to throw government money at the problem and hope the incentive works (think Medicare, new home-owner tax credits and corporate subsidies).

Second over at Forbes, Bruce Bartlett reports on a little informal poll that conservative David Frum put together at a recent tea party protest in DC. His findings would be comical if the "movement" wasn't getting so much publicity. But it is (getting pub) it isn't (funny). In short, the "partyers" thought that federal taxes were 3x what they actually are and 2/3 thought that Obama has raised taxes (he has actually lowered taxes for 90% of working families). Bartlett analyzes:

...tea parties just represent unfocused anger at current economic conditions. Those who feel this way have latched on to the Tea Party movement not because they really believe that their taxes are too high, that taxes are rising or that taxes are at the root of our economic problem. Rather, they have joined because it's the only game in town; the only organized force with at least the potential of bringing about change that might make things better.

This kind of populism usually phases out and is not very successful come election time. We'll see this November.

Lastly, author David Paul Kuhn reflects on a recent poll that shows that white male voters are experiencing some buyer's remorse over their selection of Barack Obama in 2008. Their support has fallen from 41% to 35%, while the female and minority vote has steadied. Why are the white guys so pissed? Kuhn puts it this way:

Think about the average working man. He has already seen financial bailouts for the rich folks above him. Now he sees a health care bailout for the poor folks below him. Big government represents lots of costs and little gain.

71% of white male voters want smaller government with less services rather than vice-versa and Obama, in a way different than FDR, has favored a safety net over direct job growth and health, environmental reform over financial reform, and a stimulus package that focused on social services like teaching and the health sector rather than jobs like construction and manufacturing that have taken a huge hit.

Read, sip and enjoy.
Palm Sunday morning addition:
Frank Rich writes a provocative essay in the New York Times connecting the Tea Party upsurge to race. It is historical and well-documented. Of course, race is extremely sensitive and practically the worst thing anyone can claim about anyone else is to attach the label "racist." One can simply dismiss Rich as "liberal," but he supports his argument quite well and should be taken seriously, not as a name-calling or fear-mongering tool of the Democratic Party, but as courageous reporting. Despite electing the first black President and all of our hope-filled dreams, the United States is anything but "post-racial."

--Theological Autopilot

1 comment:

  1. How do progressives weigh the tradeoff between efficiency and equality?

    In the paragraph in which you state, "To be progressive is to advocate for..." you mention three examples of regulation that progressives advocate: food safety, minimum wage, and bans on insisder trading.
    At what point do progressives no longer advocate for such regulations?

    For example, consider a minimum wage law that mandated a minimum of $100 / hour. I assume that like me, progressives would find such a law to be ridiculous because the disemployment effects would certainly overshadow any equality this law might intend to effect.

    Similarly, should unpaid internships and apprenticeships also be illegal? It is easy to say that such jobs help people build skills that allow them to earn more money in the future despite the fact that they do not meet the minimum wage requirements, and should therefore be legal. But what do we do with an unskilled, uneducated teenager who might have difficulty finding a job that will pay him a legally mandated minimum wage? If employers cannot justify his lack of skills to be worth at least the minimum wage, what motivation, beyond charity, do employers have to hire him? Should the teen volunteer his time to gain experience?

    Since progressives believe that a legal minimum wage of $0 / hour is too low, and $100 / hour is too high, what is the right minimum wage?

    I'm not really interested in what the actual dollar amount is, or the minimum acceptable level of food safety, or the complete profile of what a perfectly legal stock trader looks like.

    I am more interested in how progressives answer this questions: how do we weigh the tradeoff between efficiency and equality?