Brand New Yr Retro

Amanda Marcotte re: the need for liberals to finally capitalize on the emerging progressive zeitgeist:

The road ahead, for liberals, is long and hard. Our social safety net and investment in ordinary working people who actually run this country is in tatters, decimated by years of Republican efforts and Democrats letting (or even making) it happen, incorrectly believing that’s what the country wants. The Affordable Care Act was saved last night, and it’s got a lot of good stuff in it, but it needs to be built upon. (But if we didn’t pass it, we couldn’t build on it, something that a lot of people who attack Obama from the left fail to understand.) We need to continue to push for a public option and lowering of the Medicare age to 55. We need to push for more government spending to get this economy healthy again. We need serious legislation to address climate change, and we need to start investing in infrastructure to protect ourselves against future disasters like Hurricane Sandy. We need to get serious about liberalizing our immigration laws. We need to help expand access to abortion and contraception. There’s a lot that needs to be done.

But last night proved—and I hope Democrats are paying attention—that this is what the country wants. We’re not a bunch of conservatives who only vote for Democrats by accident. This is a liberal nation. It’s only going to become more liberal. Democrats can move to the left and they will be rewarded at the polls. After all, conservatives have been calling Obama a “socialist” for four years now, and the public basically responded by saying, “Sounds good to me!” We’re liberals. Time to start governing like it.

Not so fast, says John Judis:

There are two different systems that are at work in American politics. The first is the electoral system. It was on display last night, as Barack Obama won re-election, and the Democrats held onto the Senate and the Republicans the House. The second is the pressure system–a term used by the great political scientist E. E. Schattschneider to describe the competition between lobbies and political organizations to influence not just who wins elections, but what politicians do in office.


While retaining some of the New Deal white working class in the North and far West, the Democrats have built a largely post-industrial coalition of blacks, Latinos, Asians, working women, professionals, and youth. Its outlook is socially liberal, egalitarian, and supportive of positive (as opposed to “big”) government. The Republicans are increasingly the party of the white evangelicals, white Southerners, nouveaux riches suburbanites, and narrow business interests opposed to government taxes and regulation. The Democratic coalition is growing; the Republican shrinking. Republicans can still win national elections, but only when a Democrat stumbles badly.

The pressure system, however,  looks very different. Think back to the pressure system at the end of Franklin Roosevelt’s first term. There was enormous ferment on the left–from a growing industrial labor movement to Huey Long’s populism. Republicans were shell-shocked, and business was divided and discredited. In 2012, Obama and Democrats can command the loyalty of single interest groups on the environment, gay marriage and gun control. There are also some internet-based campaign groups. But the only group that can provide money and volunteers and that can battle for a comprehensive agenda between elections is the labor movement. And it is on the decline and on the defensive.

By contrast, the Republican pressure system has, if anything, grown more powerful over the last two decades. It includes major business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business, political organizations like the Americans for Tax Reform, the Club for Growth, Freedomworks, and Americans for Prosperity, and a loose network of activist groups identified with the Tea Party or the religious right. Their power to raise money and wield influence has been enhanced by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.


In states and congressional districts where a Republican is expected to win, they have backed the most conservative candidates. But they have also punished Republicans like Lugar by backing primary challengers. That tactic cost the Republicans a chance to win back the Senate in 2010, and it cost them the Indiana seat this year, but it also has put the fear of retribution in elected Republicans who contemplate compromising with Democrats. It has increased the likelihood of gridlock in Washington.

IOW, don’t hold yr breath in anticipation of a thundering herd of Democratic ponycorns looming on the legislative horizon (alas). Kevin Drum nails it: “It’s going to be four years of faux drama and trench warfare, and that just doesn’t seem very appealing.”

Related: Steve M: ‘Why the Election Ought to Break the GOP Fever (And Why it Won’t)‘ h/t Brad Delong

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"I don't fuck much with the past but I fuck plenty with the future."

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I’m on board with this analysis. I like the idea of the “pressure system” – it’s a good way to name the big money players who want politicians to bend to their will at the expense of the citizenry.

    Obama knows he has a popular mandate, but he also knows the pressure system is nearly diametrically opposed to the public mandate.

    The public has to pressure the Dems harder, and also to use their consumer preferences to jerk profits away from the pressure system operators. Solarize your home, bank with a credit union, help workers organize in your area. Boycott Walmart, Chase, and pull your investments back out of fossil fuels.

    You don’t have to be a radical. Just realize you can apply pressure to the system also, and start finding the ways to do it that fit with your values, budget, and lifestyle.

    Becoming informed about your local politics and voting according to your values is a good start. Political parties change, when they do change, it is as a result of grassroots, local efforts. Get the mayor you want. Get the local justices you want. Get the school superintendent you want. Then it will be easier to get the senators, representatives and governors you want. Then it will be easier to get the president you want.

    Starve the coal and oil companies while you do this. Vote with your wallet, day after day, one purchase at a time. Multiply by millions of other citizens. That’s how change happens.

  • I’m cautiously optimistic. I think a progressive movement can form (especially if we can coax the non-voting population out of the shadows) but it’s a lot easier to tear down than to build up and if anything, conservatives have spent the past forty years tearing down.

    If I could go back to the Founders and incorporate one policy into the basis of this nation, I would institute a parliamentary system of government, where we could have proportional representation, thus allowing for minor parties of all stripes to participate in the legislative process. This would mitigate the frustration people feel when, say, they vote for Nader, and may even give a Nader a shot at real power, instead of working on the fringes to fuck things up.

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