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Monday, June 17, 2019


It is not yet the summer of 2019 and even the most indolent of political observers grows weary of the campaign.  Here in Paris, where the competition of rival electric scooter companies seems urgent and compelling, I try to achieve some perspective on what may, if things go badly, be the death throes of American democracy.  Herewith a few thoughts after an absence of a month from the blogosphere.

1.  Within two months of his inauguration, Trump’s disapproval rose above 50%, his approval, which has never been positive, sank to between 44% and 37%, and that is where the numbers of have remained for 27 months.  Nothing that goes right for him gets him to 45% approval, and nothing that goes wrong for him gets him below 37% approval.  This constancy is, I believe, unprecedented in the modern polling era and very strongly suggests that nothing much will change in the fifteen and a half months that remain until the 2020 election.  The good news is that a majority of American voters disapprove of Trump.  The appallingly bad news is that well over 100 million adult Americans approve of Trump.  Trump is an odds-on favorite to lose in 2020.  This fact may well influence the choice of a Democratic candidate.

2.   I am increasingly doubtful that Biden will in the end secure the Democratic nomination.  Never mind what is, from my point of view, wrong with him.  He is carrying more baggage than the cargo hold of a 747, and history suggests that he is an awful campaigner.  If he does not remain the clear front runner six months from now, I think he is toast.  One can but hope.

3.  Buttigieg is a flash in the pan.  At the moment, he is sucking up rating points that some of the one percenters need, but I do not believe he is viable.  His secret flaw, I am sorry to say, is the homophobia of the older Black community.

4.  Sanders, I am afraid, won’t make it.  His best shot was as the bearer of all the hopes of young progressives, but his success has been his undoing, for too many other candidates now espouse the policies he reintroduced into Democratic politics after their half century long disappearance.

5.  Warren against all the odds, may make a serious run for it.  The random allotment of debate slots seems to have been handcrafted to help her.  We shall see how the polls look after next week’s debates.

If everything else was not enough to demonstrate the world-historical decline of the American empire, the NBA championship went to foreigners. 

I will let you know how the dinner with Leiter goes.


Chris said...

Why is 4 your conclusion? Sanders is, as far as I can tell, the only one demanding 'no middle ground' on the progressive platform, something no other candidate is doing, and should attract people at a later date.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the foundations of America's empire are shifting? The US women seem to be doing quite well in the world cup.

s. wallerstein said...

Off topic, but I found this podcast on Machiavelli to be fascinating.

This is the third of three long podcasts, the first two having to do with Machiavelli's life and with different trends in Machiavelli scholarship.

In this one Toby Buckle, the podcaster, goes into the relevance of Machiavelli for contemporary society, using the Discourses much more than the Prince. According to Buckle, Machiavelli affirms that freedom is non-domination and points out that elites not only seek power for obvious privileges and economic benefits, but also in order to dominate and humiliate the rest of the population. Thus, in this context, the number one political virtue is not justice, but freedom in the sense of non-domination or rather in the sense of the struggle against domination, since the tendency of elites to dominate and humiliate the rest of us will appear in all social systems, even revolutionary ones (look at the Soviet Union or Cuba) and so the struggle against domination is a never ending one.

s. wallerstein said...

I forgot the link to the podcast.

talha said...

Chris, I don't think it makes sense to expect any rhyme or reason on that front. Recall Prof. Wolff has already indicated he prefers Warren to Sanders without giving the slightest reason, plausible or otherwise, for why a lifelong committed socialist would prefer a liberal-managerial candidate with a wonkish program of regulating markets (yes, yes, all decked out with so many details!!) to a full-throated democratic socialist with an actually grassroots mobilizing program of putting markets in their place. Even though the latter is advanced by someone who has successfully changed the entire terms of debate within the mainstream of the Democratic party.

Chris said...

I don't, but nevertheless, I inquire!

(Warren still refuses to back medicare for all, and her stance on Israel has always been, well, let's just say, past commentators on this blog wouldn't jump to call her an anti-semite).

s. wallerstein said...

Hello Chris,

Warren still refuses to back medicare for all? I didn't know that, but I don't follow U.S. politics as closely as most of you do.

Medicare for all seems the sine qua non for political support from the left in the primaries. I still believe that whichever Democrat wins the primaries should be supported against Trump.

talha said...

What is with this bizarre tick that everyone seems to have--whoever wins from the Democrats must be supported against Trump? Who has suggested otherwise? The only reason I can infer for insisting on saying this time and again is a subtle policing action: given that whomever emerges triumphant must be supported against Trump, we should probably mute any criticisms of them during the race to get the nomination. I.e., the upshot of this tick seems clearly--at least in most cases, if not that of you SW--to be to downplay the serious, massive, internal debate within the Democratic party (between, simply, neoliberals and the left) for the sake of premature "unity." This closing ranks position is not serious about the current political situation, not just in the US but the advanced industrial world more generally, where the rise of right-wing populism can only be understood against the backdrop of neoliberalism and to argue for business as usual (e.g., Biden or Harris) is, frankly, simply to court defeat.

Chris said...


Talha, I agree with your assessment as to the origin of this all too early claim, although to be candid, I will not just vote for anyone in the Democratic party over Trump. Biden would probably never get my vote, nor would anyone within the Clinton circuit. And before anyone says I'm responsible for Trump if I don't vote for a Democrat, just remember, if I do vote for a Democrat, I'm DEFINITELY DIRECTLY responsible for their crimes. Whereas, if I don't vote for them, at most you can accuse me of being indirectly responsible for his victory. I'll take indirect blood over direct blood.

As an aside, another reason not to just vote for any Democrat is that when the Obamas and Clintons of the world win, massive sectors of the left are silent, apologetic, and non-active for 4-8 years. If Trump had drone striked an American citizen a la Obama, there would be blood in the fucking streets - mark my words. When Obama does it, four people care. So, at least with Trump in office there is constant mobilizing, activism, coordinating, etc. With Biden, expect 4-8 years of 'left' snoozing followed by another right wing populist assault.

s. wallerstein said...


I don't know how long you've been following this blog, but I've been here since the 2016 primaries and while everyone here supported Sanders in the primaries, as far as I can recall, there was a debate here about whether people should support Clinton against Trump, Clinton being a neoliberal corporate Democrats and a hawk.

Professor Wolff, who had supported Sanders enthusiatically in the primaries, urged us to back Clinton against Trump and most of the regulars with name or alias (you can never tell which anonymous is which) agreed with him.

Thus, I and others here tend to mention, for the record, that we will support any Democratic candidate against Trump. I'm sure that everyone here is aware of the political differences between, say, Sanders and Biden.

s. wallerstein said...



Chris said...

For the record I did not support Wolff's conclusion, and I'm willing to admit I may have been wrong, but I still stand by what I said in the above post.

talha said...

Wallerstein, when you say (as you recently did in another thread) that

"I know some people here are going to scream at us for saying that we'll support any Democrat, including Biden, but the main goal is to get Trump out of the White House. After that, we'll worry about the color of the curtains."

You articulate with pitch perfection the view that is my target here. This is a head-in-the-sands position that fails to understand (a) the neoliberal roots of the rise of Trumpism; and (b) that replacing Trump with Biden is precisely to return to those neoliberal roots, with all-too-predictable results.

None of this is to say what should or shouldn't be done should Biden emerge as the nominee--on that, I get both your view and where Chris is coming from. But to go on and on about this as the main priority--support whomever wins or else!--at this stage when, for the first time in decades (if not longer), we have a genuine left debate within the Democratic party, is, again, simply to fail to be serious about where we are politically today. It is, whatever you may think, a counsel of business as usual.

s. wallerstein said...


I think that I'll stand by my head-in-the-sands position.

I've said this before in response to your political analyses. It is almost impossible to foresee future events in politics, except in the very near future. We simply cannot know what the effects of a Biden presidency will be because so many things can happen in 5 years, a major financial crisis, a war, an unforeseeable change in the zeitgeist (and the zeitgeist is now globalized, that is, the change in the zeitgeist can begin almost anywhere and spread to the U.S.).

All that I can clearly see is that Trump is toxic, mentally unbalanced, completely lacking in wisdom, prisoner of a childish machismo and a danger to the environment (which is something to take into account).

So for me the main idea is to get rid of Trump. I would prefer Sanders or Warren (I haven't gotten around to reading the article Chris linked to, but it may negatively affect my view of Warren), but I would prefer business as usual, to use your expression, to Trump, who is worse than business as usual.

talha said...

Interesting that the balance sheet of problems with Trump fails to mention a single concrete political/policy concern. Instead, we are treated to a laundry list of personality traits that discomfort you (with the exception of "a danger to the environment"). It's striking how common that view is--i.e., the sheer visceral distaste for Trump on a personal level (which of course I fully share, though I can sometimes not even bring myself to take him seriously enough even to loathe so much as merely ridicule him) takes precedence over everything else.

And, sorry, blanket hand-waiving of the unforseeability of the future cuts both ways: I can also say things like "who's to say, maybe with Trump staying in power, we'll get the first reversal of a five-decade long decline in American society along the dimensions inequality, insecurity, racial brutalization and climate catastrophe, since the Dems haven't lifted a finger to address these ills since Carter." Who knows?!

Chris said...

Wallerstein, I won't belabor anti-Warren critiques here, you can e-mail me if you want them, and I would finally vote for Warren in the general (not the primary) without grinding my jaw, but she has more problems than just medicare for all. Let's not forget her not picking Bernie in the MA primary. Like Obama, always trying to appease Republicans while abandoning progressives, Warren has a penchant for trying to appease neoliberals, at the cost of progressive gains (she let Obama neuter her consumer protection bureau, without public vocal opposition, in a way Sanders or Kucinich would never tolerate).

Also, to be frank Wallerstein, your refutation of talha makes no sense. You first say who knows what a Biden presidency would be like, but then say you know a continued Trump one would be bad. How do you know this? Because of Trump's character. Okay, well we also know the character of Biden, Booker, Harris, Clinton, etc., and it sure as hell isn't Aristotle's golden mean! Hell, it isn't even minimally decent! So if you know Trump from 2021-25 would be bad based on character, why can't you know Biden would be too?

[Honestly, I barely understand your argument at all even divorced from character. Why would it be irrational to make inductive claims about how Biden would handle wars and finance given how he handled them in the past? If you want to go full blown Humean skeptic on such issues fine, but then I repeat, we might as well say we have no clue what Trump will do in 21-25, and you again, trap yourself in a vicious circle].

Love you Wallerstein!

talha said...

Chris put it much better than me.

Chris said...

Okay, but everything else was put better by you talha!

s. wallerstein said...


Thank you. I love you too.

I wasn't very clear above. You can reasonably foresee how any given person in politics with declared political views will react. That's why I support Sanders (the link about Warren and her views about Medicare for all convinced me to prefer Sanders). We all can be fairly clear about Biden's limits and at his age he is not likely to change much. Ditto with Trump and by the way, my laundry list of his personal traits has to do not only with my "sheer visceral distaste for him" (Talha's words), but also that he is president of a superpower, in a position to start a nuclear war or to withdraw from important international pacts about climate change.

I also can reasonably foresee how most adult people whom I know will react during the next 5 years: my son, my sister, my ex-partner, my good friends, the neighbors down the hallway, etc.

What is almost impossible to foresee is how humanity in general will react, how people whom we do not know well (we know Trump fairly well because his behavior and comments are in the news every day) will behave politically in five years time. Professor Wolff, a guy with a very high IQ and who spends a good deal of the day informing himself about politics, predicted that Hillary would win the election as did most of the experts. I could list list hundreds of examples of how often the political experts, on the left, in the center and the right, have erred in their political predictions. Now if someone as smart as Professor Wolff after reading all the polls is wrong about the results of an election which will occur the next day, how the hell can we know how the electorate, the masses, the citizens will react in five years time? We can't. We can guess, we can make educated guesses, but in general, there are too many unforeseeable events that may affect people whom we don't know, except as sociological abstractions (the working class, African-Americans, etc.) to ways that we cannot foresee.

David Palmeter said...

If Medicare for All means single payer and doing away with private insurance, the chances are zero that anyone elected President in 2020 could get it that through Congress--even with Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate.

Not only will the insurance lobby and the Republicans be against it, but so will a large number of Democrats, particularly those with strong union ties, who like the policies they’ve gotten through collective bargaining. And the people working in the insurance industry--processing claims, looking for ways to deny claims--they don’t want to lose their jobs, neither do their communities or those who represent them in Congress want them to lose their jobs.

Even with the Democratic majorities Obama had in his first two years, he couldn’t get a public option through. The “Cadillac tax” on gold-plated health policies was delayed, and to this day hasn’t gone into effect.

But if Medicare for All means Medicare that is open to anyone who wants to buy in, the situation might be very different. Essentially, that is Obama’s public option: if you have insurance and like it, you can keep it; but if you don’t, you can buy into Medicare.

It should cost much less for essentially the same coverage. Medicare doesn’t employ armies of people to deny claims; it doesn’t generate profits for shareholders or pay lavish salaries to its executives. Last year, the CEO of Blue Cross/Shield in Michigan made $19 million. The administrator of Medicare makes less than $200K. There’s lots of room for cost savings.

talha said...

There is no such thing as "Obama's public option" since Obama was too feckless to keep it on the table (more accurately: he and his advisors simply couldn't be bothered to fight even for that). And the rationalizations for that were precisely the same as those given here: the political "realities" given "unmovable" entrenched interests, etc. I.e., all the usual fatalisms given by those who seem temperamentally (or is it ideologically? or materially?) unable to imagine politics as anything but the art of incremental tinkering. Despite the glaring evidence that all substantial change happens through discontinuous transformations, often made possible by those who operate with a view of politics as the art of changing what is taken for granted.

Chris said...

Talha, why bother, this guy still hasn't learned the definition of self fulfilling prophecy after we last talked to him. He's exactly one of the people I referred to who would be quiet when Obama drone strikes someone, but raises hell when a Republican does it. DP, your comments won't be addressed by me ever again, I consider you to be a gate keeper liberal, and rear guard protector of the establishment. As Professor Wolff once said, existentially we must first ask 'which side are we on', and you and I? - not the same sides.

(There's a reason we are trying to replace the existing democrats who wouldn't pass single payer healthcare even with a majority, with those who will. And there's a reason you're trying to stop us with 'realities'. People like you are always the first to man-splain to african americans, women, the poor, and anyone else who historically was disenfranchised, why their time cannot yet come. Gross.)


Wallerstein, I agree, but there's an obvious discrepancy between predicting the fate of large scale interconnected institutions, and human behavior. I agree the former is outside of any serious predictive scope, but the latter isn't, and the latter covers Biden and neoliberal democrats. So, your response still does not provide any compelling reason to vote for Biden (I'm not saying there are not compelling reasons, just this isn't one of them).

s. wallerstein said...


First of all, I'm hardly trying to get people to vote for Biden. I merely stated that if he is the Democratic candidate, I'd vote for him against Trump.

Let me make a confession. This whole thing started before Professor Wolff had returned to blogging in the thread entitled "This is not a blog post". I threw out a couple of ideas hoping to stimulate a debate and thinking that if I said something that was sure to start an argument such as "I'd vote for Biden", someone would try to refute it and then someone would defend it and we'd have a discussion going in the absence of Professor Wolff. No one appeared to refute that statement there, but Talha read it and commented on it here. I was right that it would start a debate.

I don't doubt that Biden is and will be neoliberal. My only affirmation is that he is better than Trump, the lesser of two evils.

s. wallerstein said...


First of all, I'm hardly trying to get people to vote for Biden. I merely stated that if he is the Democratic candidate, I'd vote for him against Trump.

Let me make a confession. This whole thing started before Professor Wolff had returned to blogging in the thread entitled "This is not a blog post". I threw out a couple of ideas hoping to stimulate a debate and thinking that if I said something that was sure to start an argument such as "I'd vote for Biden", someone would try to refute it and then someone would defend it and we'd have a discussion going in the absence of Professor Wolff. No one appeared to refute that statement there, but Talha read it and commented on it here. I was right that it would start a debate.

I don't doubt that Biden is and will be neoliberal. My only affirmation is that he is better than Trump, the lesser of two evils.

s. wallerstein said...

I sent off that comment before I finished it.

Anyway, my difference with you and Talha is your affirmation that 4 years of Biden will produce "another rightwing populist assault" (your words above). We don't know what four years of Biden will produce. Who in 1963 could have imagined 1968? Who in 1984 could have imagined that in 5 more years the Soviet empire would collapse? Who in 2011 could imagine that in 2016 a conman and TV reality star like Trump would be elected president?

Depending on how the zeitgeist mutates and depending on the economy, 4 years of neoliberalism under Biden could produce a swing towards the left among voters. Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know and no one really does.

David Palmeter said...


In an earlier post you noted a lack of concrete political/policy concerns with Trump as opposed to personality traits that we may find objectionable. I admit to finding many of his personality traits objectionable--he is a racist, a religious bigot, a mocker to people with handicaps, a misogynist and more and more. Among the many political/policy concerns I have are his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and from the nuclear agreement with Iran, as well as his appointment of Gorsuch and Kavanagh to the Supreme Court. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

As to Obamacare, you say that neither Obama nor his advisors bothered to fight for a public option. I wasn’t on the inside, so I don’t know precisely what they did or didn’t do, but I certainly did not get the impression that they were feckless and didn’t fight for it. Perhaps I missed it. What could they have done that they didn’t do to have gotten enough of the 39 Democrats who voted against the bill to go for the public option? Which Democrats? What would you have done that Obama and his team didn’t do--and whose votes would you have gotten thereby?

Guy Tennenbaum said...

“People like you are always the first to man-splain to african americans, women, the poor, and anyone else who historically was disenfranchised, why their time cannot yet come. Gross.”

A total smear. Gross.


Also, I find it interesting that Obama and company are being chastised here for their “fecklessness” in not going to the mat for a public option, yet here we are twelve years later and the public option represents the baseline in terms of healthcare policy proposals from the Democratic candidates. If Democrats take the White House and the Senate, the public option stands a very good chance of becoming reality. (If Warren wins, it almost certainly will.) The fact is that Obamacare was greeted with tremendous skepticism by the public before it became implemented; now that it has been, it’s popular, and so the public and the politicians who (putatively) serve them are more ready to accept further tweaks in the right direction. What is that if not an example of positive incremental change?

I will support Sanders in the primary, but I wouldn’t fault Warren (or David Palmeter) for perceiving that his approach to health care could concievably cause damaging backlash from union constituencies, especially when so much of what she proposes strike me as a huge step forward.

talha said...

No, actually, the public option represents what backsliding (Warren) or useless (Biden) Dems are holding onto for dear life in the face of popular support for Medicare for All--while their donors' make clear their fierce resistance to same.

Chris said...

"I find it interesting that Obama and company are being chastised here for their “fecklessness” in not going to the mat for a public option, yet here we are twelve years later and the public option represents the baseline in terms of healthcare policy proposals from the Democratic candidates."

There's some serious logical dissonance here. It's precisely BECAUSE people chastised Obama and the Democrats for not going far enough, and it's precisely because Obamacare failed overall (e.g., still left 30+million people uninsured, and many that it did insure [like myself] are financially worse off with crap coverage as a result), that the debate has shifted in focus.

So before we the let the DPs and EBs of the world invoke the never convincing 'reality' principle, let's remember the obvious and empirical fact that medicare for all is a success basically everywhere but the United States, hence Talha is right, the public option is backsliding or a cheap middle ground to appease private insurance donors.

Chris said...

"What could they have done that they didn’t do to have gotten enough of the 39 Democrats who voted against the bill to go for the public option? Which Democrats? What would you have done that Obama and his team didn’t do--and whose votes would you have gotten thereby?"

Start negotiating at medicare for all, and give in at the public option? Maybe not ask MAX BAUCUS TO DRAFT THE BILL!? That guy's seat in the senate was literally paid for by the healthcare industry, and that's who Obama asked to be the architect of his healthcare plan. Some of his staffers were literal insurance lobbyist and employees. So, uh, yeah, Obama's attempt at universal coverage via a state option was feckless and insincere from the start. Reread the history of Obamacare.


case closed.

Chris said...

Testiclies said...

These comments on the seriousness of individual voters remind me of the elaborate, sophisticated and formidable machinery of algebraic topology, a discpline that takes years of concentrated effort at great opportunity cost to master, and for which the result of any computation, relying on some of the most complicated and theoretical mathematics ever developed, is as impressive as a tiny mouse.

Even this is more substantial than the effect the individual voter has on a presidential election. (Voting blocs in swing states that might decide an election are excluded.) The "seriousness" of the individual voter amounts to an investment in the study of politics at the level of a political scientist; of economics at the level of a professional economist (assuming this is sufficient); and of more history than the average voter knows--which is to say nothing--before casting or not casting on principle a negligible vote into the void.

Guy Tennenbaum said...

“There’s some serious logical dissonance here”

I don’t know what faulty logic you’re perceiving in my comment. I was addressing the fact that talha was poo-pooing those whom s/he says are “unable to imagine politics as anything beyond the art of incremental tinkering,” and cited their quashing of the public option as evidence of such. Yet now *support* for the public option is, according to talha, indicative of that very same poverty of imagination. This seems contradictory.

The fact remains that the current seeming inevitability of the public option is proof that 1) “incremental tinkering” can lead to positive change, and 2) the mainstream of the Democratic Party can serve as the instrument of that change, despite all its many historical sins.

Also, you cite the fact that “30+ million” people have been left uninsured by the ACA (it’s actually less than 30 million), but what of the nearly 50 million were uninsured prior to it? That’s roughly 20 million people who have been saved from potential financial ruin or even premature death. It’s not trivial. Your standard of “overall” success and failure is arbitrary.

Also, you’re own distaste for the ACA notwithstanding, the law is popular. People rightly percieve it as much better than what came before. Republican demagoguery has failed. And now the Democrats can use that popularity to make the case for something that’s incrementally better — or, if Medicare for all becomes a reality, vastly better. That is a positive instance of reform. How is this controversial?

Regarding the history of the ACA, there’s undoubtedly many reasons to fault Obama. But I see no evidence to support the idea that advocating for Medicare for all would have been politically feasible (it’s not what Obama campaigned on in 2008, after all), and more importantly I see no evidnece that the Blue Dog Dems who opposed a public option could have been whipped into supporting it. My guess is that they couldn’t have been, and an ACA that included a public option would have been defeated on the floor. Which would have led to a host of other problems.

David Palmeter said...


Baucus was chair of the Committee. There wasn't much Obama could do about that.

Chris said...

The mainstream does not serve as the instrument of that change, period. Activists and progressives on the ground who are frothing at the mouth, using megaphones, removing their donations, voting for progressives, doing sit ins, etc., are the ones who are coercing parts of the democratic party to implement change, and they're doing it not by using the main stream of the party as an instrument, but by changing the party itself.

You're right, it's 27.7 million, the number has been going up the past few years. Going from 50 uninsured to 27 uninsured isn't even covering half the people who weren't insured. Now the usual ACA apologist will instantly start to argue, as you did, that still 23 million new people insured is good. Sure, if just being insured is a good, but it's not. It’s the quality of the insurance and what it does for the consumer that may or may not be good. The NYTimes actually did a pretty robust study - look it up - of what role ACA insurance was playing in peoples' lives (Bill Clinton accidentally gaffed about this in 2016), and it was demonstrated that although MORE people were insured, it is not at all clear that their economic health, or physical health, had improved. This is because, people like me, while forced to be insured, derive no health benefits from the insurance, but do derive net detriment from the increased expenditure. For instance, if ever did need to go to the hospital for something serious, my co pays are too high, and my deductible is too outrageous, such that I would go bankrupt with or without insurance, whereas at least without insurance, I wouldn’t be stuck paying literally useless premiums. The NYTimes did conclude though that the insurance industries profits are better than ever. So it's not at all clear the ACA is objectively good by any reasonable metric, unless your metric is capital (which it shouldn’t be), or just having insurance (which it shouldn’t be). So no, my standard is not arbitrary, its grounded in some pretty basic moral principles, yours however is arbitrary since its granted in capital and numerics.

That people believe the ACA is good for them, well some people, not all, SHOULD BE CONTROVERSAL, since they’re objectively wrong (if you refute this you need to refute my data claim, not appeal to popular opinion). It shows just how apologetic and ideological the democratic party and its supporters have become. No surprise there though.

“But I see no evidence to support the idea that advocating for Medicare for all would have been politically feasible”

No one here argued it was, I EXPLICITLY argued the opposite, I said he should have STARTED with Medicare for all as a gambit, in order to secure the public option as an appeasement. However, bracketing out that strategic component, the fact that with a democratic president, and a democratic congress, medicare for all remained infeasible, shows just how corrupt the MAINSTREAM of the party (the part you’re lionizing) is! Which shows again, change will not come from our masters and overlords, nor should we praise them, laud them, or be apologists for their undeserved reign. Change will come from RESISTANCE to the mainstream party. (And when we resist we will no doubt be met again with the reality principle by those suffering from the worst forms of reified consciousness)

Chris said...

Oh look more ideological untruths from the rear guard liberal. Shocking. Obama PROMISED in the presidential debates that he would PUBLICLY debate and confront the insurance industry and the American people would always be privy to the haggling process. Instead, he privately met with the insurance industry, and then affirmed to them that Baucus would take control with his staff of, well, former insurance industry employees, and this was at the time that Baucus was publicly vocalizing that for him the public option was dead. At that point Obama took a backseat in the debates and let Baucus and the blue dog Dems take charge. Stop defending rank corruption!

evidence: (Yes I know it's the post but it's not wrong)

Chris said...

EB and DP, hell just read this article if the others are too daunting:

talha said...

I have nothing to add to Chris's sound demolition job of this latest round of establishment complacencies by EB and DP, but I should address this one specific passage by EB:

"I was addressing the fact that talha was poo-pooing those whom s/he says are “unable to imagine politics as anything beyond the art of incremental tinkering,” and cited their quashing of the public option as evidence of such. Yet now *support* for the public option is, according to talha, indicative of that very same poverty of imagination. This seems contradictory."

Seriously? Does it really seem contradictory to you that something in one political climate may be pushing against the mainstream/donor consensus while in another, radically different one when the goalposts have moved, it is now securely within said consensus? Is the poverty of the Dem-centrist mind really at this level? Or just the grasping at straws to make a point, any point at all, when there is really nothing to be said in favor of your silly defense of complacencies?

Guy Tennenbaum said...


I thought it would be clear that when I said the mainstream of the Democratic Party can serve as the “instrument” of change, I meant that the public can effect change via the Democratic Party — just as it’s not the cello that produces the music so much as it’s the cellist. In that sense, there’s no contradiction between, as you put it, using the party as an instrument and changing the party itself.

Everyone here agrees that the public option was (relatively speaking) a good policy in 2009 and that it remains so. Today only one political party has integrated the public option into its basic platform, the Democratic party. If nothing else, this proves that the Democrats, unlike their rivals, are at least capable of shunting off their cravenness. You can call this “lionizing” power if you want, but it’s simply a fact.

You say I need to refute your “data claim.” What data claim? You mentioned a NY Times study, but as far as I know the Times does not conduct studies. What I found was an article titled “For Some, the Affordable Care Act Is a Lifesaver. For Others, a Burden,” but that is just a collection of anecdotes. I also found this article ( from February 2017. It poses the question “Has Obamacare worked?” and offers an ambiguous answer. But this bit of information from the “pro” column particularly struck me: “It is still early to measure the health law’s full impact, but several studies have found that low-income Americans have become less vulnerable to health-related financial shocks. Studies have found that fewer people struggled with medical bills or avoided medical care because of cost, and that medical debt and bills in collections have declined.”

It seems you’ve fallen into the unfortunate gully of people who are both too healthy and too poor for the ACA to do any good. If you can cite hard evidence that the majority of people on Obamacare are in your same situation — or, better, that the costs to people like you outweigh the benefits to others — then I will reevaluate my assessment of it. But based on what I’ve read — including in The NY Times — I see the act has having done more good than harm. Also I think it’s important to keep in mind that, exchanges aside, 12 million people have benefited from Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

And for what it’s worth I know someone who’s buys insurance on Obamacare and has found it beneficial, simply because she has as common a condition as asthma and can now have it affordably treated. What’s more, she says that with her caps, she would never end up paying more than $10,000 per year on premiums plus copays and deductibles, no matter how catastrophic her illness or injury. (She has a silver plan from Blue Cross). My friend does not have that amount of cash on hand, but she says she would be able to finance it if needed (or borrow from her parents). So in her case, at least, yes, having insurance beats not having it, especially considering that medical expenses can easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Look, I think Obamacare is a disaster (worsened by the current administration). It’s only marginally better than the catastrophe that preceded it. I don’t need a lesson in how monied interests control our politics, thank you. However, I continue to believe that it was (probably) the best we could have gotten at the time given the politicians who were in power, and that the law’s current broad popularity has paved the way for better reforms, hopefully ones that might improve your situation.

Guy Tennenbaum said...


Maybe contradictory wasn’t exactly the right word. “Obtuse” would be better. You said “substantial change happens through discontinuous transformations.” Maybe you don’t perceive a public option as substantial change, but you rather undermined that point by mentioning it literally in the same paragraph as something that was unfortunately opposed by the meek incrementalists.

And I’m not even sure of your claim about discontinuous transformations, as debates about continuity-versus-discontinuity are notoriously impossible to resolve in historical studies.

Chris said...

The evidence you cite from the pro column is quickly countered by the evidence from the failure column, which is why 8 years after the bill was passed, the establishment times (proponents of the ACA by the way) can justifiably only conclude that the answer is at best ambiguous! Notice the first failure is that healthcare is MORE expensive than pre-ACA-care (which harms your cited pro choice), and notice too the Times directly states that actually it's not at all clear anyone is healthier overall. You're cherry picking one bit of data and hoping it clouds out the rest. The total conclusion of the report was my total conclusion above, it's not at all clear the ACA netted out positive results, and people who say it was positive are just genuflecting.

"this proves that the Democrats, unlike their rivals, are at least capable of shunting off their cravenness."

Quite the opposite, the Republican party has been brazenly authoritarian without giving a flying fuck where public sentiment is, or how voters perceive them (largely because they have rigged the local and federal level of state functioning to ensure their continued dominance). It's specifically the Democrats that need eons and sit ins to budge on over to minimally decent more platforms, which they only do AFTER they have tried to appease 'moderate' and 'sane' Republicans.

talha said...

Ed said:

"Maybe you don’t perceive a public option as substantial change, but you rather undermined that point by mentioning it literally in the same paragraph as something that was unfortunately opposed by the meek incrementalists."

Let me write this slowly so perhaps you can follow.

I was not the one who brought up the public option--David did. Full stop.

I then said it was misleading to speak of "Obama's public option" because his administration dropped it at the first sign of resistance. Full stop.

I then said that doing so--dropping the mildest of reformist measure at the first sign of resistance, so as to keep tacking rightward--was characteristic of the DLC/centrist/corporate/neoliberal Dems in general. Full stop.

I then said that those now embracing the public option--in a radically changed political and discursive climate--are precisely backsliding or worse (i.e., either backsliding on their own announced support for M4A, per Warren, or sticking with their continued resistance to it, per Biden), hanging on to the public option for dear life to stay afloat while embracing what their donors want in face of strong support for M4A.

What part of this is difficult to follow? You can disagree with any of this, but please try doing so without mischaracterizing what I said, or trying to pin some internal contradiction on what I said as a sad attempt at "gotcha!".

As for the general point about substantial change requiring more than incrementalism, that's fine you keep sticking with your guns and head-in-the-sand, but the merest look at recent American political history might disabuse you of this particular religion: the entire right-wing revolution from the late 1970s on was pushed by folks who made radically discontinuous claims that ultimately become the new common sense.

Guy Tennenbaum said...

“Healthcare is MORE expensive than pre-ACA care.”

The Times article says nothing of the sort. In fact, it explicitly states that healthcare costs of DECREASED since the ACA was passed.

Or maybe you mean insurance costs. But that’s also false, and the article nowhere states it. Obviously, for those receiving insurance through Obamacare (either the exchanges of the Medicaid expansion) costs are much lower than they were prior to the act’s implementation. Plus, comparing pre- and post-Obamacare insurance is apples to oranges given that battery of reforms the law instituted. For example, per the Kaiser foundation, if the law were repealed, it may be possible for someone young and healthy to buy relatively cheap (and watered-down) insurance in the marketplace, but 52 million people with preexisting conditions would be denied coverage outright.

“It’s not at all clear anyone is healthier overall”

Yes, because, per the article, health outcomes take more time to judge than has elapsed so far.

“It's specifically the Democrats that need eons and sit ins to budge on over to minimally decent more platforms, which they only do AFTER they have tried to appease 'moderate' and 'sane' Republicans.”

How does this represent “quite the opposite” of what I wrote? It seems an affirmation of it. But in any case we agree that the Democrats are stupid if they’re going to keep trying for Republican appeasement

Guy Tennenbaum said...


In the past when the conversation here has devolved into petty insults, Professor Wolff has written entire blog posts telling people to cut it out. So to honor his wishes I’ll keep the tone polite.

I said your comment seems contradictory (or at least tension-ridden) because you made a point about the necessity of sweeping change after having just mentioned the fate of the ACA’s public option, which is one area where an incrementalist approach actually seems to have effected a positive outcome.

You say this is not a contradiction because the terms of the debate have “radically” changed. All right. Fair enough. My hope was merely that we could pause and appreciate that this positive change has taken place. And I would argue that insofar as we do find ourselves in a radical, wonderful new world, it’s owing at least in part to the dreaded incrementalists who brought us the original ACA. I remember when Paul Krugman was advocating for the ACA, he cautioned people not to worry too much about the public option (which he supported) because, he claimed, the law’s political popularity would allow the public option to be added at a later date. As much as i hate to admit it, Krugman may have been exactly right.

You interpret Warren’s backsliding on M4A as an act of deference to her corporate donors, similar to Obama’s backsliding on the public option. To that I would say, first, if the likes of Warren do indeed represent the new version of the corporatist Democrat shill, then we should all rejoice. Second, the fact that Warren and Sanders are so close policy-wise — at this point, she has no more Wall Street donors than he does (though she won’t commit to not taking corporate cash in the general) — causes me skeptical of your claim.

Maybe Warren is just making a strategic calculation. M4A is not actually as popular among the general electorate as a first glance at polls would have us believe; and it’s quite easy to see how Republican scaremongering, abetted by the media, could turn it into a winning issue for them, what with the prospect of Democrats having to defend higher taxes, slower services, and the disappearance of employer-based insurance. David points out that union members, especially, will be reluctant to give up their “Cadillac plans,” which already provide them with excellent health care that is, oftentimes, free at the point of service. People can snark about this all they want, but it’s a real concern.

I don’t know if any of this adds up to a wise calculation, but if it is indeed where Warren’t mind is at then she has my sympathy. For example, in Orange County, California, near where I live, the Democrats narrowly flipped all five congressional seats in the last election. Historically this has been a notoriously conservative part of the country — Reagan Country. Do I think it’s possible that a T***p-led campaign against the evils of “socialism” will flip those seats back (and especially if the candidate at the top of the ticket is Sanders)? Heck yes I do.

You can call this false consciousness or complacency or whatever, but it’s simply a nod to where much of the electorate currently is.

You bring up the Republican “revolution” of the late 70s, but that adjective hardly seems apt. Barry Goldwater, the progenitor of that ideology, lost to Johnson in a landslide way back in 1964. I’m all for propagandizing and paradigm shifts, but if it’s between a “new” corporatist Dem like Warren and 4 more years of T***p, I’ll gladly take the former

talha said...


Fair enough, happy to drop the snark myself--and thanks for taking the first step (I'll admit being called "obtuse" doesn't bring out the best in me).

Let me briefly reply to three things.

First, I'll just say that my own view is diametrically opposed to with your Krugmanesque assessment: it is Sanders planting a flag for M4A, against, predictably, the constant opposition and naysaying of Krugman and his ilk, that changed the political landscape. As it did on minimum wage, education policy, and so forth. On each front we could do a "before and after": look at the Dem establishment view circa early 2016 and today, and compare it to what Sanders called for and stood for, in 2016 and today. I mean, this is hardly controversial--for god's sake, the fact that he's pushed the entire party to the left is now precisely what is being used *against* him, on the specious reasoning that no real difference remains between him and others.

Which brings us to point number two: I completely reject both the statement "that Warren and Sanders are so close policy-wise" and its underlying implication. That is, I reject that the content of their current proposals are "so close"--Warren's program is a liberal managerial one of regulating markets, Sanders' is a social-democratic one of putting markets in their place (decommodifying access to fundamental goods as universal entitlements is radically different than means-tested subsidies)--and to whatever extent that gap has indeed closed in recent times that still does not have the implication that their underlying visions and commitments as politicians are "so close." One is a former Republican who couldn't even be bothered to stand for this platform four years ago, for fear of strategically losing out on a chance for advancement, while the other is a lifelong democratic socialist who has been plugging away with incredible consistency and dedication on these issues for five decades. The point being: one of these is much more likely to fight for the program they are both supposedly converging toward than the other. None of this is to say I don't like Warren and wouldn't be ecstatic to have her be the nominee if Sanders couldn't. But she remains a very distinct option (and clear second choice for me).

I don't understand what your point about Goldwater is supposed to be. Mine I thought was clear but in case not, let me make it more so: the positions taken by the architects of the right-wing revolution--e.g., Hayek, Friedman, Buckley, Goldwater, Powell, Meese, Scalia--were in no way "incremental" but indeed thought by most as totally "off the wall" at the time. Only to become, by the time of the DLC Dems and "Third Way" Labor, the common sense of both ruling parties. Again, a hardly controversial claim I'd have thought. But one with implications that centrist Dems are, for obvious reasons, hell-bent on evading.

Chris said...

"Health insurance remains very expensive.

Obamacare’s marketplaces and Medicaid expansion make health coverage a good deal for those near the poverty line, but those earning not much more still often struggle to pay health plan premiums, and face deductibles that are much higher than those seen in a typical employer health plan. In the law’s first three years, premiums were lower than expected and grew slowly. But prices shot up this year, causing financial shocks for buyers who don’t receive government help in paying their premiums. Several analysts believe the increases resulted from recent policy changes and too-low early pricing and may represent a one-time market correction. Insurers have also said that they have found the pool of Obamacare enrollees to be sicker and less predictable in their health care needs than expected. Some people who earn enough to qualify for meager or no subsidies find health care unaffordable"

Chris said...

To further defend Talha, it's doubtful Sanders would ever:

1. Keep silent during a Vermont primary vote between a progressive and a neoliberal, as Warren did to him in the MA primary. (Sanders lost MA by 2%, if she had endorsed him he may well have won, and who knows what impact that would have had)

2. Sanders would NEVER do this:
(Warren dodged Israel questions for years!)
((She has a track record of running from questions unlike Sanders:

3. As Talha points out Sanders is the same today as he was 40+ years ago, Warren is only now finding her voice as a progressive.

4. Warren made her entire Senate run, and Senate tenure, and now Presidential run, on the principle that she was going to restore the "middle class". Notice that in desiring to restore the middle class one is accepting an underclass and an elite class. Sanders doesn't operate that way.

However, it is true that if Warren was in the general, I would presently vote for her without gritting my teeth, but that's only now, after a decade of her slow evolution.

talha said...

And, as if on cue, we have an article describing how Dem centrists "who once said the senator [Warren] would lead the party to ruin are coming around to her as an alternative to Bernie Sanders."

Making, in other words, *precisely* the two points I have been hammering home here (as has Chris, but I don't want to speak for him), namely: (a) It is precisely Sanders non-incrementalism that has massively shifted the political landscape; and (b) the gulf between him and Warren remains massive, significant enough for the "never Sanders" crowd to embrace her.

Guy Tennenbaum said...


Thanks for your last reply. I had interpreted something you said previously as needlessly passive-aggressive, however now I see I was probably just irked by the tone the conversation had taken generally.

I regret using the term “incrementalist” because I don’t mean to imply something like the classical conservative notion that effecting change little by little is something we are duty bound to do. By all means, articulate your radical democratic-socialist principles and do whatever’s possible to implement them — but realize that there’s the rub: you can *only* do what’s possible. If I am conservative it’s in the mundane sense that I think electoral politics is the only game in town, and that this inevitably involves a good deal of compromising, coalition-building, settling for second or third-best, biding your time as you build your movement and get your message out. Many people (some who comment here) absolutely refused to vote for Clinton against T***p on the hopes that somehow a groundswell fo support for Jill Stein would lift her to victory, or, alternatively, they thought a victory for the Republican candidate would be a much-needed palate cleanser. Those people, I gather, are so disillusioned with the Democratic establishment that they almost think a any “mainstream” Democrat — any policy to the right of Sanders — would constitute a positive hindrance to the cause of advancing democratic-socialism. Only full-scale and immediate revolution will do. I don’t agree. I don’t think a Clinton presidency would have hindered the movement represented by Sanders and AOC any more than the election of Nixon and Ford hindered the march of Goldwater conservatism. And in fact if Clinton were president we wouldn’t have half the horrors we’re seeing now, and we would have some very needed reforms, like, for example, a public option to add another support pillar to the ACA. So when I percieve that people are maligning Warren with the same rhetoric they used against Clinton (despite their great differences) it gives me flashbacks to the 2016 Purity Brigade. By all means criticize Warren where it’s due, but I don’t think it’s fair to imply that she’s somehow a fifth-column within the progressive movement (not saying that’s what you were doing — just airing my general feelings).

It looks as if Sanders vs. Warren will become a primary topic in the months to come, so I’ll be brief. I agree with what you wrote about their respective core convictions. However, they do still strike me as very similar policy-wise (putting aside Warren’s backsliding on M4A), though perhaps some key differences will come into focus later on. Given a choice between the two of them I’d ask, Who’s more electable? And as it happens I’m not convinced Warren bests Sanders on that front, at least not yet. I will support him in the primary. He is an amazingly talented politician and his critique of the current state of American capitalism aligns with my core convictions better than any other candidate.

By my lights, Goldwater isn’t a revolutionary not because his ideas weren’t markedly far afield of his contemporaries, but simply because his grassroots movement built slowly (Reagan was governaor of California before he was the runner-up before he was the nominee, etc.). It’s probably the case that “revolutionary” is, strictly speaking, an improper adjective to apply to an political movement in the United States, where political dissent is tolerated to a degree not seen in other places. But in any case, with Goldwater we should remember that even as his ideas set a certain segment of the electorate on fire and he managed to secure his party’s nomination, he still got beat, badly. Maybe not the best analogy we want to attach to Sanders, if only not to jinx him.

talha said...

Thanks for this Ed.

I get where you are coming from re Clinton and now Warren but two points: (a) I myself didn't take that view (i.e., better Trump than vote for Clinton), even if I also do understand how some can feel so disgusted with neoliberal war-hawks as to take that position; and (b) in any case, I think even those who did re Clinton would be hard-pressed to make any such case re Warren. For myself, as I already stated above, *if* it's not to be Bernie, then I'd be ecstatic if she was the nominee (though, to be emphatically clear, though the intensity of my preference for her over the rest is huge, it's still dwarfed by that of my preference for Bernie over her).

I remain puzzled by the Goldwater references. My point was and remains that the architects of the right-wing revolution in the US staked out radical out-of-the-box positions that soon enough become the consensus.

Last point: I think it's not only wrong but kinda unbelievable to think that "in the United States [...] political dissent is tolerated to a degree not seen in other places" if by other places we are including, say, Western European countries. If not, fine--agreed if the comparison is with authoritarian or Stalinoid countries. But if the comparison is meant to include other capitalist democracies, then I think that is wildly off: the spectrum of American politics during the last century or so is a joke compared to that of, say, England or France or Italy or Sweden or...on and on. And this is in no small part due to the stifling suppression of radical dissent in this country, both legally or formally and, as or more important, structurally as a matter of access and policing discourse in the public sphere and elite cultural institutions.

Guy Tennenbaum said...

I know what you’re saying. I read Manufacturing Consent (actually, only watched the movie). In fact, I was referring to the Stalinoid countries. My idea is that a proper revolution requires the complete overthrowing of a monolithic form of government, and usually the imprisonment or execution of the former elites. So to speak of, say, a Reagan revolution is somewhat metaphorical. For all our faults, here in the U.S. we don’t toss radicals like Barry Goldwater or Bernie Sanders into the gulags; instead we allow them a seat at the table, and if they win local elections they can build support to make an impact at the national level. The U.S. is still a free and open society in that regard. And even if Bernie does manage to win the presidency and enact much of his agenda, it will look like a very paltry revolution compared to, say, the Bolshevik Revolution.