Blow and Krugman

In “Activists ‘Feel the Bern’?” Mr. Blow says responses to disruptions at Bernie Sanders’ events raise issues about the relationship between moderate whites and black activists.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “Republicans Against Retirement:”  Why have most Republican candidates vowed to limit Social Security? He says it’s because they really answer to the relatively few people who oppose it.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Bernie Sanders is an unlikely phenomenon.

He is attracting massive crowds. His message of economic populism has infused his insurgent candidacy with an Obama-like level of electoral enthusiasm, only his base isn’t as broad (As CNN put it last month: “A June CNN/ORC poll showed just 2 percent of black Democrats supporting Sanders, a figure that has remained unchanged since February. Among nonwhite voters overall, Sanders polls at 9 percent, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 61 percent.”)

Still, Sanders’ candidacy has become something of a movement. But two times in recent weeks, Sanders’ appearances at events have been disrupted by supporters of another movement: Black Lives Matter.

The most recent disruption came at an event in Seattle last weekend, where two female Black Lives Matter supporters prevented Sanders from speaking. Sanders has responded well to the most recent disruption, issuing a thorough and utterly impressive “Racial Justice” agenda that liberally quotes from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and even includes the line: “We need a societal transformation to make it clear that black lives matter, and racism cannot be accepted in a civilized country.” Further reiterating his commitment, he said at a rally in Los Angeles, “There is no president that will fight harder to end institutional racism.”

But, not all of Sanders’ supporters could muster his magnanimity. Some were outraged. The protesters were seen as disrespectful and indecorous. Sanders was not only seen as a bad target, he was one of the worst targets because he has a long history of civil rights activism, including participating in the 1963 March on Washington and hearing the King himself.

Some irritation was understandable. But some went too far, repaying what they saw as rudeness with what I saw as crudeness. The conspiracy theories began to swirl and the invectives — including some racist and sexist ones — began to flow. It exposed something that isn’t discussed nearly enough: a racial friction on the left.

There were sweeping condemnations of the Black Lives Matter movement itself, a sense that benevolence had been rebuffed, that allies had been alienated. Some people sympathetic to the protesters responded by making a King reference of their own, pointing to this passage from his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

It all quickly became an arms race of overheated accusations.

But, I must say that I, too, found some of the responses to the protesters troubling.

First, some people said that the disruption had caused the movement to lose their support. This seemed strange and extreme to me. How fragile must your support for black lives have been if a rally’s disruption caused it to crumble?

Secondly, centering one’s disapproval of the protesters on white allegiance, rather than black agency, seems to me a kind of cultural narcissism.

The movement, to my mind, isn’t a plea for pity, or appeal to comity, but an exercise in personal and collective advocacy by an oppressed people.

It says to America: You will not dictate the parameters of my expression; you will not assign the grammar of my pain; you will not tell me how I should feel. For these young activists, it’s not ideological but existential; it’s not about a political field but a battlefield, one from which they cannot escape, one on which their very bodies are marked and threatened with destruction.

This is not an esoteric, intellectual debate about best practices, but quite literally a flesh and blood struggle for equal access to liberty and longevity.

In this movement exists a kind of urgency that only proximity to terror can produce, and yes, that urgency can be extreme and discomforting, because it must be. The sedative of all normalcies and niceties are the enemies so long as lives are in danger. The movement is revolutionary out of necessity. Some people operating under those auspices will inevitably employ tactics and select targets with which you disagree. That too is understandable.

But, those who object must be careful not to become “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Something strange is happening in the Republican primary — something strange, that is, besides the Trump phenomenon. For some reason, just about all the leading candidates other than The Donald have taken a deeply unpopular position, a known political loser, on a major domestic policy issue. And it’s interesting to ask why.

The issue in question is the future of Social Security, which turned 80 last week. The retirement program is, of course, both extremely popular and a long-term target of conservatives, who want to kill it precisely because its popularity helps legitimize government action in general. As the right-wing activist Stephen Moore (now chief economist of the Heritage Foundation) once declared, Social Security is “the soft underbelly of the welfare state”; “jab your spear through that” and you can undermine the whole thing.

But that was a decade ago, during former President George W. Bush’s attempt to privatize the program — and what Mr. Bush learned was that the underbelly wasn’t that soft after all. Despite the political momentum coming from the G.O.P.’s victory in the 2004 election, despite support from much of the media establishment, the assault on Social Security quickly crashed and burned. Voters, it turns out, like Social Security as it is, and don’t want it cut.

It’s remarkable, then, that most of the Republicans who would be president seem to be lining up for another round of punishment. In particular, they’ve been declaring that the retirement age — which has already been pushed up from 65 to 66, and is scheduled to rise to 67 — should go up even further.

Thus, Jeb Bush says that the retirement age should be pushed back to “68 or 70”. Scott Walker has echoed that position. Marco Rubio wants both to raise the retirement age and to cut benefits for higher-income seniors.Rand Paul wants to raise the retirement age to 70 and means-test benefits.Ted Cruz wants to revive the Bush privatization plan.

For the record, these proposals would be really bad public policy — a harsh blow to Americans in the bottom half of the income distribution, who depend on Social Security, often have jobs that involve manual labor, and have not, in fact, seen a big rise in life expectancy. Meanwhile, the decline of private pensions has left working Americans more reliant on Social Security than ever.

And no, Social Security does not face a financial crisis; its long-term funding shortfall could easily be closed with modest increases in revenue.

Still, nobody should be surprised at the spectacle of politicians enthusiastically endorsing destructive policies. What’s puzzling about the renewed Republican assault on Social Security is that it looks like bad politics as well as bad policy. Americans love Social Security, so why aren’t the candidates at least pretending to share that sentiment?

The answer, I’d suggest, is that it’s all about the big money.

Wealthy individuals have long played a disproportionate role in politics, but we’ve never seen anything like what’s happening now: domination of campaign finance, especially on the Republican side, by a tiny group of immensely wealthy donors. Indeed, more than half the funds raised by Republican candidates through June came from just 130 families.

And while most Americans love Social Security, the wealthy don’t. Two years ago a pioneering study of the policy preferences of the very wealthy found many contrasts with the views of the general public; as you might expect, the rich are politically different from you and me. But nowhere are they as different as they are on the matter of Social Security. By a very wide margin, ordinary Americans want to see Social Security expanded. But by an even wider margin, Americans in the top 1 percent want to see it cut. And guess whose preferences are prevailing among Republican candidates.

You often see political analyses pointing out, rightly, that voting in actual primaries is preceded by an “invisible primary” in which candidates compete for the support of crucial elites. But who are these elites? In the past, it might have been members of the political establishment and other opinion leaders. But what the new attack on Social Security tells us is that the rules have changed. Nowadays, at least on the Republican side, the invisible primary has been reduced to a stark competition for the affections and, of course, the money of a few dozen plutocrats.

What this means, in turn, is that the eventual Republican nominee — assuming that it’s not Mr. Trump —will be committed not just to a renewed attack on Social Security but to a broader plutocratic agenda. Whatever the rhetoric, the GOP is on track to nominate someone who has won over the big money by promising government by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent.

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One Response to “Blow and Krugman”

  1. Ode to a dying speech Says:

    Conde Nast regularly gets off at the finger pointing stop before it goes home to a multi million dollar condo. So Mr. Blow u r what the hecklers r angry about. You’re not above it. You r it.

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