Sterling Newberry Does a Jeremiad

Over at The Agonist, Sterling Newberry does a three-part Jeremiad about the state of modern politics.

Bottom line is that we're into a new politics of scarcity and fighting over a pie that isn't growing and may shrink. Rather than try to assemble a progressive coalition, however, the leading Democrat is playing to the (richer) suburbs.

I'm sympathetic to the claim that a big difference between progressives and neo-conservatives is one favors universalizing programs (rural electrification, health care) and the other thinks it saves money by leaving poor people behind (give the unemployed tax breaks for health care). I am not as persuaded by the description of the coalitions:

Let me summarize then the different cleavages:

1. Within the Democratic Coalition there was a three fold divide: rural Democrats, suburban Democrats, Urban Democrats. The first Republican victory was to cleave the Dixiecratic, if not in location, in cultural pattern vote away from the Democrats, by having resource inflation and big defense budgets. Reagan then cleaved away the suburbanists as a bloc and formed a coalition.

2. Within the surburbanists, there is a division between those that make their money from cities, and those that make their money from defense, resources and sprawl. It was the Rovian understanding that the resource suburbanists were more closely tied to the resource exurbanites than the city suburbanists were to the urbanists. That in a series of political conflicts, the resource bloc would vote as a bloc against two blocs that could easily be divided over a variety of issues.

3. Within the present Democratic coalition, there is a conflict between whether the urbanist or suburbanist wing of the party will be dominant. This division is rapidly closing, because Iraq and corruption are seen by all of them as benefiting the exurbanists.

4. Within the Republican coalition there is a division between the resource extractionists tied to oil, and those tied to agriculture. The agricultural rural voters have been slapped silly by both the war, which has bled them of precious young people, and by high energy prices.

I think it is too economically determinist, for one thing.

But this part sounds right:

Washington is out of touch with, however, a fundamental, and essential, indeed crucial change that is happening: the rift between cities and financial suburbs is rapidly healing, over issues which are in the short term more important than the dwindling wins of offshoring and the rapidly disappearing differences over inflation containment of health and education versus universalization. For one thing, both groups are pro-immigration: since both groups rely on waves of new entrants. For another, off-shoring is now gutting suburbanist jobs as fast as urbanist jobs. For a third thing, the urbanists have an ideology which makes cities, not rural hinterlands, seem the cutting edge of political, economic and social values.

And I worry that this might be right too:

It is into this environment that Hillary Reagan Clinton steps. On one hand she is the only figure in the Democratic party that can unify the suburbanist bloc of the party. The only one. This gives her a base of between 35% and 40% of the party. Enough to win the nomination doing nothing but playing defense. …

In short, Hillary moved far enough to the left to convince self-deluded suburbanists that she won't gut the cities. But she is proposing exactly that, and the cities, and the rural voters, understand this. She offers exactly nothing.

…However, the very “no brainer” road to the White House as a liberal Reaganite dooms Hillary in the short Thousands as much as it makes her the obvious choice in the long Thousands. This for the simple reason that while the city facing suburbs can defeat the rural and urban elements of the Democratic party as long as those elements are divided, it cannot govern. It cannot govern because of the packing of urban districts, which are now filled with legislators who are immune to suburban pressures, since they have almost no suburban voters any more. A generation ago the pizza slice districts combined urban and suburban votes. It cannot govern because the suburbs do not float above the rest of the planet. It cannot govern because the oil resource Republicans are going to demand enormous, and unpayable, concessions to not attack Hillary into the ground.

There is not enough money in the treasury to bribe the hinterlands, and fix the suburbanists problems with medicare and social security.

Sterling promises a part four, that sounds like it might be more optimistic. But then, what good Jeremiad doesn't end with a path to redemption, while of course lamenting that it is unlikely to be followed?

Worth a read, even if it raises your blood pressure.

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2 Responses to Sterling Newberry Does a Jeremiad

  1. Nell says:

    Right, Sterling. That’s why Reagan kicked off his campaign in freaking Philadelphia, Mississippi.

    “Too economically determinist” is a nice way of saying: totally ignores the blatant racist appeal that was 90% of Reagan’s draw for Dixiecrats.

  2. shmuel says:

    All that is true if one buys the artificial concept that being in suburb means a conflicts with those who live in cities, etc. This geographical politics may have made limited sense in the 80s. Now, the borderlines between urbia and suburbia is fuzzy, ideas dealt with are national, e.g. health care, terrorism scarism, North and South issues are quite crucial as well.

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