Democracy and Empowerment

Micah Sifry writes an important essay about hope, change and disillusionment: "The Obama Disconnect: What Happens When Myth Meets Reality".

[T]he image of Barack Obama as the candidate of "change", community organizer, and "hope-monger" (his word), was sold intensively during the campaign. Even after the fact, we were told that his victory represented the empowerment of a bottom-up movement, powered by millions of small donors, grassroots volunteers, local field organizers and the internet. [...] The truth is that Obama was never nearly as free of dependence on big money donors as the reporting suggested, nor was his movement as bottom-up or people-centric as his marketing implied. [...] 

The problem for Obama and the Democrats today, as they head into 2010, is that much of their activist base appears to have swallowed too much of the wrong half of the myth: they thought that Obama would be more of a change-agent, and never really embraced their own role.

I wrote about this in 2008: "The election of Obama did not empower people. It empowered politicians. ... Hope and Change got people on board the Democratic bus. Political convenience will throw them under it."

Sifry has recognized a deep flaw in the Democratic/Progressive message: Progressives preach "empowerment", yet they constantly move power to Washington, DC and away from local and state government.  As a matter of pure statistics, individual voters have more power at the local level than the State level, and more power at the State level than the Federal level.  Decentralization + voter mobility is even more empowering.

And yet, power continues to consolidate in Washington, DC.

Ezra Klein has been arguing that "a political system too dysfunctional to avert crisis is also too dysfunctional to respond to it."  David Roberts has said that critically important issues rest "in the myopic, sociopathically indifferent hands of Ben Nelson, who represents one-half of one percent of U.S. citizens".  And you know what?  They're right.  While we may disagree on the policies that ought to be enacted - and on whether the problem is the filibuster or the public choice theory problems - it is true that there are many structural, political flaws in our collective decision-making process that make it difficult, perhaps impossible, to address difficult problems effectively.

Progressives continue empowering Washington, DC, but what they are ultimately empowering is a Single Point of Failure.

This discrepancy between the Democratic message and reality represents an opportunity for Republicans to both discredit the Democratic message and pursue a better, more reality-based agenda.  If Republicans want to pick up these voters alienated by the Obama Myth and tap into America's deep, populist interest in limited government and individual freedom, they should take advantage of this opportunity to legitimately "empower the people"

0
Your rating: None

Comments

More reality-based?

This discrepancy between the Democratic message and reality represents an opportunity for Republicans to both discredit the Democratic message and pursue a better, more reality-based agenda.  If Republicans want to pick up these voters alienated by the Obama Myth and tap into America's deep, populist interest in limited government and individual freedom, they should take advantage of this opportunity to legitimately "empower the people"

There is no deep, populist interest in limited government in this country as a whole. There certainly are some regions where this is a commonly-mouthed sentiment - but those states are also the biggest net recipients of government largess. Ask those voters if they want "limited government" while being able to continue to suck of the government teat, and they will say yes; ask those same voters if they want limited government but the flow of funds to their region will stop as a consequence, they will say no.

2005, States Receiving Most in Federal Spending Per Dollar of Federal Taxes Paid:

  • 1. New Mexico $2.03
  • 2. Mississippi $2.02
  • 3. Alasaka $1.84
  • 4. Louisiana $1.78
  • 5. West Virginia $1.76
  • 6. North Dakora $1.68
  • 7. Alabama $1.66
  • 8. South Dakota $1.53
  • 9. Kentucky $1.51
  • 10. Virginia $1.51
  • 11. Montanta $1.47
  • 12. Hawaii $1.44
  • 13. Maine $1.41
  • 14. Arkansas $1.41
  • 15. Oklahoma $1.36

12 of those states are deep red, one (Virginia) is purple.

2005 States Receiving Least in Federal Spending Per Dollar of Federal Taxes Paid:

  • 1. New Jersey $0.61
  • 2. Nevada $0.65
  • 3. Connecticut $0.69
  • 4. New Hampshire $0.71
  • 5. Minnesota $0.75
  • 6. Illinois $0.75
  • 7. Delaware $0.77
  • 8. California $0.78
  • 9. New York $0.79
  • 10. Colorado $0.81
  • 11. Massachusetts $0.82
  • 12. Wisconsin $0.86
  • 13 Washington $0.88
  • 14. Michigan $0.92
  • 15. Oregon $93

Every one of these is a blue state.

Moreover: Ronald Reagan & W both talked about limited government while simultaneously failing spectacularly to deliver it. The "limited government" brand is deeply damaged.

I'd ike to see politicians who want to campaign on the "limited government" line identify the specific departments and agencies they will close and the programs they will eliminate.

But, of course, that isn't going to happen.

Now we know why...

... the Republicans won the recent elections in New Jersey and New York City suburbs.

There's lots of room for Republican pickups in "blue" states.

redistribution of wealth

Here is a more instructive analysis.

Of those states receiving the most in federal dollars:

 

State Rank, Federal Dollars Rank, Per Capita Income
New Mexico 1 43
Mississippi 2 50
Alaska 3 8
Louisiana 4 31
West Virginia 5 49
North Dakota 6 20
Alabama 7 42
South Dakota 8 25
Kentucky 9 47
Virginia 10 7
Montana 11 39
Hawaii 12 15
Maine 13 30
Arkansas 14 46
Oklahoma 15 34

With the exception of Alaska, Virginia and Hawaii, all of these states are poor.  The exceptions can be easily understood as well: Virginia because it houses a great many  number of federal government agencies, so its federal dollar receipts are unusually high; Alaska because of its unique oil revenue, so its per capita income is unusually high; and Hawaii, because of its unique tourism draw and the large naval presence, giving it unusually high per capita income as well.

The point is this, though: according to the central tenet of liberalism, the role of government is precisely to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor.  That's the whole point of these social welfare schemes.  It's to close the gap between rich and poor.  So according to the liberal paradigm of government, transfer of wealth from rich states to poor states is precisely what is supposed to happen!  So it strikes me as a little bit odd whenever I hear liberals complaining that all these red states get so much in federal money.  Umm, that's how you all set it up in the first place.

It strikes me as odd, until I realize that the modern, Jon Stewart-watching, Daily Kos-reading liberal, isn't so much interested in redistributing wealth as they are in punishing Republicans.  They'd rather cut off the red states rather than see the government redistribute the wealth.  We can't have that good blue-state money going to the filthy red-state cretins!

So what this tells me, is that whenever I hear liberals talking about "closing the gap between rich and poor", about using government to uplift those out of poverty, about socialist redistribution schemes, I know that it's all bullshit.  Because here is Prime Example #1 of where the government IS redistributing wealth, IS closing the gap between rich and poor, and what do the liberals do?  They complain about it, because the recipients are those filthy dirty Republicans.

And what, pray tell, is instructive about that?

What you and Joseph Hertzlinger don't seem to get is that it is the red states that are demanding "their" country back and shouting that the gubbiment should keep its hands off their Medicare, crop subsidies, etc; while the OP and others pretend that there is some deep consensus of desire for limited government.  Meanwhile, the blue states are patiently footing their bill for the red states, not complaining about this state of affairs, and neither am I - I simply offered you this example to show the falsity of the position advocated by the OP.

However, what the teabaggers want to do is ride some wave of disaffection into office - where after they will assuredly do absolutely nothing to change this situation. The red states will continue to congratulate themselves on being "real" Americans while the blue states will still continue to shoulder the lion's share of the burden - and they won't be taking the socialist metro to Mall to complain about it.

 

I call BS

Oh please.  How stupid do you think I am?  Every single blog entry of yours on this site - except the one that I insisted you write - offers nothing but ridicule and snark against Republicans, conservatives, and Tea Partiers.  I see nothing of substance from you.  I don't see any insightful analysis.  I don't see where you have criticized anything that Obama or Democrats have done, not even in the slightest.  I don't see where you have praised anything that any Republican has done, not even a little bit.  Instead I see mostly talking points and items likely repeated from Jon Stewart's show.  Consequently, when you write:

Meanwhile, the blue states are patiently footing their bill for the red states, not complaining about this state of affairs, and neither am I

I don't believe you.  I think you are simply assuming this position so that you can portray yourself as the poor helpless blue-state victim of perfidious red-state hypocrisy - which is, once again, a passive-aggressive way of demonizing conservatives. 

In short, you argue in bad faith.

Eisenhower.

I don't see where you have praised anything that any Republican has done, not even a little bit.

I have great admiration for Dwight Eisenhower. And I think the first Geoerge Bush handled Iraq I exactly right.

What is there about current Republicanism that is praiseworthy?

Imagine it is the year 2020. Palin/Beck are wrapping up the final year of their Administration, having enjoyed filibuster-proof majorities by their Teabag Party in Congress throughout.

The Tax Foundation produces a new version of their State-by-State Federal Spending/Federal Taxes Paid report.

What is is going to look like?

Exactly like what I posted above???

That's a very superficial

That's a very superficial analysis.  Yes, obviously, simply cutting existing programs isn't a popular path.  But that's more about people being concerned that the top priority spending will be reduced. Thus, the key is to create systems and policies that preserve the spending the public demands (safety net) while cutting at the spending that does not meet that cost/benefit test.

Or we can go the current route until either (a) we fall off a cliff, or (b) we have to raise taxes by approximately 60% (Paul Krugman's recommendation).  Democrats seem content to do either, but some of us prefer to use a price mechanism, instead.

I'd say it is incongruous, not superficial.

Ironic, even.

The fact that red states are the "winners" in terms of federal funds reminds me of the teabaggers who took the socialist Metro system to their protest on the Mall while complaining that extra trains weren't provided for them.

But that's more about people being concerned that the top priority spending will be reduced.

As was promised by both the Reagan and Bush campaigns - promised, and then not delivered. And so what would make anyone believe the next Republican who comes along promising the same thing?

Thus, the key is to create systems and policies that preserve the spending the public demands (safety net) while cutting at the spending that does not meet that cost/benefit test.

It is all so simple, isn't it? At least, until you contemplate the question of who formulates the cost/benefit test. Farmers love their agricultural subsidies but complain constantly about inner city welfare deadbeats. Chickenhawks and defense contractors want more stealth fighters despite the Sec. Def's protestations, but deride Amtrack as a boondoogle. And so it goes.

 

 

Re:

After a few decades of the War on Poverty, we haven't eliiminated that, either.  I'll quit talking about limiting government if Democrats quit waging a "war on poverty."  And if Republicans quit trying to wage a war on everything else.

If you're not going to stop that, then I think we understand each other's efforts just fine.

The War on Poverty was ended by Bill Clinton in 1996

and the only politician I can think of who campaigns on bringing it back is John Edwards, and lets see, how did he fare in the 2008 Democratic Primary? He landed a grand total of 4.5 delegates, as I recall.

Not a failure either

The war on poverty did not eliminate poverty, but it was greatly reduced.  That is, until Reagan called it off.  You should read Krugman on this, as you read his tax proposals. 

Question

Sounds like Parmenides' Fallacy.  Poverty was falling before the War on Poverty was declared; the operative question isn't whether poverty fell, but how much more or less quickly it would have fallen if the War had never been declared.  That gives us a basis to talk about whether it was good and effective policy.

Do you have any evidence that the War on Poverty accelerated what would have been a slower reduction in poverty, and if so, can you provide a reasonable argument for how much?  I see gigantic costs that contributed to many of the economic woes of the late 1960s and 1970s, and entitlements that were created or expanded in the War on Poverty that have become catastrophic fiscal liabilities.  I am not convinced that the benefits outweighed those costs.

 I don't know what Krugman

 I don't know what Krugman said, but I think the war on poverty failed by the democrats. If you go back to LBJ with the Great Society programs and the war in Vietnam "guns and butter economics", it only created inflation, higher interest rates, and higher unemployment. 

LBJ had the fed print the money and it takes some three years to have inflation show up, depending on the velocity of money, etc. Nixon is president and sees inflation and tried to deal with it with "wage and price controls" and failed. Inflation, interest rates, and unemployment went higher. Ford dealt with inflation with "WIN buttons" and failed. Again, inflation, interest rates, and unemployment went higher. Carter did not know what to do. However, in his last year, he brought in Paul Volcker in as head of the fed. Under Reagan with the highest of interest rates, he beat inflation and we had lower inflation. lower interest rates, and lower unemployment for some 20 to 25 years.

However, this all changed under Bush. The numbers look good on the surface, but his policies of deficits and debt and "guns and butter", the failed ideologies, and the neglect of our country shows we will have high unemployment for years to come. Both parties failed and the only thing you can do is recognize the problems, fix them, and invest in the country, in the people, and in the future. You cannot run the country on the far left or far right. The extremes have no answer.  

That's a very superficial

That's a very superficial analysis.  Yes, obviously, simply cutting existing programs isn't a popular path.  But that's more about people being concerned that the top priority spending will be reduced. Thus, the key is to create systems and policies that preserve the spending the public demands (safety net) while cutting at the spending that does not meet that cost/benefit test.

That's really working backwards, though, Jon. What you're describing is the first step. You come up with a lot of spending to cut, then come out against excessive spending. Right now, though, "smaller government" is like "lower taxes"--they're just buzz-phrases in search of substance. I've always found the talk of lowering taxes particularly offensive in this respect, in that "taxes," properly speaking, are not an issue in and of themselves. They never have been. We elect a government to do x, y, and z. It has to have the revenue to accomplish that. If it can't get the revenue, or we don't want to give it enough, it can't do those things. Period. Right now, the government runs huge deficis, which means taxes should be MUCH higher, if we wanted to be a responsible populace. There's no much of a constituency for that, either. If we want a government that taxes less, we need to elect a government that does less. "John Smith" is quite correct when he says there's no real constituency for "limited government" when that is taken to mean less spending. There is a constituency for that as a buzz-phrase, but it isn't real, either, because its base is made up of the biggest revenue suckers in the U.S..

 

 

 I don't think either party

 I don't think either party has a lock on the "war on poverty." Trickle up welfare does not work as it creates inflation, stagflation, bigger government, and dependence on the government, Trickle down (as we have seen for 8 years) does not trickle down to the bottom 20% to 30% of the population. This is an area where there are multiple problems that are not addressed. The war on poverty is always constant. Today, the problem is globalization and we are losing our standard of living. Both parties have failed.

On an economic level Bush did no differently than LBJ with a "guns and butter" economics. After LBJ we had inflation, stagflation, higher interest rates, and higher unemployment for close to 20 years. With Bush it was deficits and debt, failed ideology, and the neglect of our country,and we will suffer many years of higher unemployment. 

C'mon

Progressives consolodating power in DC? You must be joking? Do you live in DC?

Industry is consolodating power in DC. Everyone is consolodating power in DC. It's a big 3 trillion dollar pie and everyone wants a slice. I love to hear conservatives talk about smaller government. When? Who? How?

Even if you do the Reagan thing and start on a plan of outsourcing . . . actually, as I see it here outsourcing started it. All of a sudden, a boring crapville came alive with industry sniffing for contracts. Take all that away, and people will go elsewhere. Yeah, the government is bad at doing things, but don't think that private industry is going to give you any better.

That's what I think with the healthcare issue. Neither side is right. Would you rather be screwed by the government or by private industry. Look at countries with nationalized health care. They have problems, but none of them are looking to get rid of it.

There's one difference between the parties. I don't agree with a large government, but at least liberals are honest about having it. Republicans have been masters at using a small government schtick to get elected, but I'm waiting for the day you guys deliver it.

Yes. No. Yes.

Progressives consolodating power in DC? You must be joking? Do you live in DC?

All of The Next Right's founders are Beltway professionals.

Industry is consolodating power in DC. Everyone is consolodating power in DC.

Industry is consolidating in the Beltway because the power to make or break their fortunes is consolidating there.

I love to hear conservatives talk about smaller government. When? Who? How?

When?  If we had the power, now.  Who?  Whoever will get the job done.  How?  That's part of the reason for The Next Right: trying to figure out what strategies will actually accomplish our goals.

Would you rather be screwed by the government or by private industry.

Private industry.  I can take private industry to court, and in a free market I'd have the power of exit: finding someone else who won't screw me, or not buying the product at all.  Government, on the other hand, is essentially unaccountable to my particular complaints and very hard to escape.

When government fails, it doubles down -- it commissions a multi-year study that concludes that more resources are needed.  When a single company fails, it goes away and its customers simply switch providers.

Look at countries with nationalized health care. They have problems, but none of them are looking to get rid of it.

Many of them think the US has free-market health care, and they think (for various reasons) that they don't want what we have.  They're wrong on the former, and often ridiculously misinformed about the latter.  They can see the "free" stuff they get; what they can't see is what they're missing out on -- all the other possibilities (innovation, service, money spent on other things) that their government squeezed out of existence.  Why would they want more responsibility for a benefit they know little or nothing about?

Meanwhile, Americans have taken a long look down the barrel of nationalized health care and they've decided that they don't want to get rid of private health care.  Congress presses on without their support.

But if you insist: Sweden has a fully voucherized school system and it's very popular.  Why not pass them here?

When? If we had the power, now.

When?  If we had the power, now.

So those eight years that just passed, six of which you controlled WH, Senate and House were what?

Re:

First of all, when I say "we," I don't mean the Republican Party.  I mean actual small-government types. 

Second, let's not overblow the "control" the Republicans had in Congress early on.  After the 2000 elections, they had a very narrow majority in the House (221-212) and 50 seats in the Senate (for which Cheney could break tie votes).  And the President came into office to shouts that he was illegitimate because of the contested election.  Four months later, Sen. Jim Jeffords left the GOP and caucused with the Democrats, so Daschle became the Senate Majority Leader.

In 2002, the Republicans got 51 seats in the Senate and 229-204 in the House.  At the height of their power, after the 2004 elections, the Republicans had 55 in the Senate and 232-202 in the House.  To get anything done in the first half of the decade, the Republicans had to buy Democrat votes in Congress.

It wasn't until 2005 that the Republicans felt secure enough in their power to try anything really ambitious in terms of conservatism -- Social Security reform -- and they got crushed.  Many Republicans weren't on board.  The Republicans lost their legislative initiative and never got it back, then got blasted in the 2006 elections.

Contrast that with the Democrats' current majority in the Senate (60-40) and House (257-178).  If anything should mean "control", that's it.