End of the Conservative Ascendency

Simon Rosenberg's Foreword to Crashing the Gate

When Jerome and Markos asked me to write this foreword, I was both honored and surprised. While we had collaborated, supped, and fought together, we did not approach our political work from the same place. They opposed the Iraq War; I supported it. They were an important part of Howard Dean’s transformative campaign; I admired their work but did not support the governor’s presidential primary run. They are new to the political arena; I’ve been working in national politics and media for twenty years.

But after mulling it over I decided to write this foreword for three reasons.

First, Jerome and Markos share my sense of urgency about creating a new politics for progressives, one suited to the challenges and opportunities of our time. They know that the twentieth-century progressivism that dominated American politics was a tremendous success—it fostered a stable world and a prosperous America, while supporting the labor, civil rights, environmental, women’s rights, consumer, and other social change movements that made our great nation stronger and more just.

When last in control of the federal government, Democrats demonstrated the power of effective, progressive governance. Under President Bill Clinton’s administration, we saw the largest peacetime economic expansion in our nation’s history, producing 22 million new jobs, higher incomes for many Americans, a decline in poverty, and a radical shift in the national budget from historic deficits to unprecedented surpluses. We reformed welfare, embraced the digital revolution and globalization, invested in public schools, expanded health-care coverage to millions more children, and fought for universal, high-quality, affordable health care for every American. Thanks to a tough but compassionate American foreign policy, the world remained at peace, as we worked with our allies to unite people and nations around common challenges. It is a record to be proud of.

But this politics of progress is no longer dominant, having been challenged by an ascendant Republican Party and conservative movement. Democrats controlled much of the federal government for most of the last seventy years of the twentieth century. In recent years, fueled by billions of dollars of investment in a very modern political machine, these Republicans and movement conservatives have seized Washington and displaced the Democrats, and they now have more control than at any time since the 1920s.

Driving the sense of urgency that many feel, is what has happened to America since President Bush and these new conservatives came to power. Guided by an ideological approach to governing developed in a long political exile, modern conservatives are long on sales and marketing and short on effective governance.

At home, they’ve turned record budget surpluses into staggering deficits. The average family has seen its wages decline while shouldering a greater share of the overall tax burden. Personal bankruptcies, health care costs, college tuition, energy bills and the number of uninsured and poor Americans all continue to rise. The president has shorted his signature education reform effort by over $30 billion, leaving millions of children behind. Under this regime, capital and corporations have prospered, but the American people and their government have not.

Meanwhile, these new conservatives ignored warnings about the growing power of Al-Qaeda, leaving America vulnerable to attack. The new Department of Homeland Security has received failing grades, Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the degree to which we are ill-prepared for national emergencies, and Osama bin Laden roams free. They launched a war on Iraq based on lies and were terribly unprepared to finish the job they started. They have unnecessarily cost Americans our prestige around the world, billions of taxpayer dollars, and thousands of lives. The president’s go-it-alone foreign policy has weakened international institutions critical to tackling common global challenges. In this new era America has become less safe.

Of all the ways modern conservatives have let America down, there is perhaps no greater example or more profound moral failure than the manner in which they have so quickly become corrupted by the power they had sought for so long and have had so briefly. As of this writing, the Department of Justice is conducting criminal investigations deep into the Bush administration, the Senate, the House, and the conservative leadership, uncovering breathtaking abuses of power, illegal activity, and corruption.

All of this has weakened our great country, leaving our people less prosperous, less safe, and less free and our government mired in one of the most extraordinary sets of scandals in American history.

Jerome and Markos understand that as proud and patriotic Americans it is their duty to challenge progressives to reject this unacceptable new conservative era. They have, through their blogs, become important leaders in helping America find a new and better path.

My second reason is that Jerome and Markos have been pioneers in helping progressives master new technologies and new media. As they write so effectively, the twentieth-century ways in which we communicated with one another were largely broadcast—centralized television and radio stations beaming out messages to vast audiences. The communications media of this new century are something else entirely—more iterative, more participatory, more transparent, more personal, more honest, more one-to-one, more global, and more democratic. In this technology-driven era, people are less passive consumers and more active participants.

Blogs like MyDD and Daily Kos have helped create and fuel this new politics. Led by regular people, not political insiders, the blogosphere has brought the great debate that is our democracy to millions of citizens hungry for a more meaningful way to participate in our politics. Unprecedented numbers of Americans now plug into a conversation, a community, 24/7/365, from wherever they are—from their offices, their homes, their local libraries. Extrapolating from a report the New Politics Institute released in the summer of 2005, the progressive blogosphere is now reaching more Americans than such progressive stalwarts as the DNC, MoveOn, Air America and the Sierra Club. Daily Kos itself has more readers than the four big left-of-center newsmagazines—The American Prospect, The Nation, The New Republic and the Washington Monthly—combined.

We saw the impact of this new era in the last presidential election cycle. Record numbers of people participated in the political debate, volunteered, contributed money, and voted. As the party of the people, Democrats should understand and embrace the new technologies and media that allow millions of regular people to join our fight.

As with most things connected to the internet and new media, however, this new politics is disruptive, upsetting old arrangements and displacing people invested in the old ways. It is literally “crashing the gate” of the old system, as Jerome and Markos say. And to that I say, “Amen.” For progressives, our essential mission these days is to honor and learn from our proud past, and set about the business of forging a twenty-first-century movement suited to the new challenges and realities. The blogosphere is an essential part of this effort, as it has brought people, passion, innovation, experimentation, and debate back into our politics—necessary ingredients all, if we are to triumph in the years ahead.

My third reason is that I have come to like and admire Jerome and Markos. As concerned Americans, they jumped off the sidelines and plunged into the political arena. They bared their souls, took their lumps, and made their case. They have repeatedly shown courage and grit. We disagree on some important issues, but I recognize leadership when I see it, and these two guys have been vital, important leaders for progressives in a very dark and difficult period for our politics.

At a critical point in my own life I made a similar leap. I was in college during Ronald Reagan’s first term in the White House, and saw the way the conservatives were effectively challenging our approach. I learned a lot about the American people and Democratic politics traveling the country for Michael Dukakis’s presidential campaign in 1988, and spent five years writing and producing television news shows and documentaries in New York. But in late 1991, some friends introduced me to Bill Clinton, then a young, dynamic governor from Arkansas, and my life changed for good. I joined that inspiring campaign and became a part of a modernizing movement—the New Democrats—which helped us win two consecutive presidential elections for the first time in thirty years, and which produced a government that left America better and stronger than before.

My work, since I joined politics full-time in 1992, has been to modernize progressive politics, helping our proud movement adapt to new and changing circumstances. That quest led me to build the organization I run today, NDN, and its think tank, the New Politics Institute. And all these years of success and failure, trial and error, have made me conclude that if we really want to build a modern movement, then progressives of all stripes and flavors, and from all regions of the country, must learn to work together, to tolerate and respect our differences, to debate but not to fight, to understand that we are all playing different positions on the same team.

So in that spirit, I am excited and proud to stand with Jerome and Markos as they offer a provocative early draft of the new history of progressive politics, and I look forward to working with them for many years in our vital efforts to restore the promise of our great nation.

They Were Who We Thought They Were

The House Judiciary Committee just concluded a 2.5 year investigation into the firings of federal prosecutors under Bush, and the results are pretty damning. Most importantly, the report ties Karl Rove and Harriet Miers directly to the firings: 

The dismissal of New Mexico U.S. Attorney David C. Iglesias in December 2006 followed extensive communication among lawyers and political aides in the White House who hashed over complaints about his work on public corruption cases against Democrats, according to newly released e-mails and transcripts of closed-door House testimony by former Bush counsel Harriet Miers and political chief Karl Rove.

A campaign to oust Iglesias intensified after state party officials and GOP members of the congressional delegation apparently concluded he was not pursuing the cases against Democrats in a way that would help then- Rep. Heather Wilson in a tight reelection race in New Mexico, according to interviews and Bush White House e-mails released Tuesday by congressional investigators. The documents place the genesis of Iglesias's dismissal earlier than previously known.

The disclosures mark the end of a 2 1/2 year investigation by the House Judiciary Committee, which sued to gain access to Bush White House documents in a dispute that struck at the heart of a president's executive power. House members have reserved the right to hold a public hearing this fall at which Rove, Miers, and other aides could appear.

Will Rove be prosecuted? Will this lead to other investigations into how things went so wrong during the Bush years? Hard to say just yet.  In the meanwhile, TPM is raking through all the documents just released, and HuffPo invites you to help them sort through all 700 pages and pick out the juicy bits.

Right Wing Site Features Simon Talking Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck

At an event we held last week, Simon argued that Lou Dobbs's racist, xenophobic blather has gotten so bad that he should be banished from CNN to FoxNews, where Glenn Beck has normalized insane rantings.  He was captured on film by the folks over at CNS News (The Right News. Right Now.), who covered Simon's speech in an admirably impartial manner.

California "Always" Liberal? Ross Douthat Must Be Dreaming

In yesterday's New York Times, conservative columnist Ross Douthat accuses President Obama of "pushing a blue-state agenda during a recession that’s exposed some of the blue-state model’s weaknesses, and some of the red-state model’s strengths."

Asking readers to consider California, which he places against the stellar conservative governance of Texas, Douthat notes:

California, always liberalism's favorite laboratory, was passing global-warming legislation, pouring billions into stem-cell research, and seemed to be negotiating its way toward universal health care.

(his link points to a Time article about Arnold Schwarzenegger's work in this area, who, last I checked, has an R and a 28 percent in state approval rating next to his name)

While California is undoubtedly a national leader in trends of all stripes, understanding the legacy of California governance as being "liberalism's favorite laboratory," couldn't be more wrong. The reasons for California's epic struggles lie, not in the "always liberalism" that Douthat sees, but instead in the Ronald Reagan conservative tax revolt coming home to roost.

In contrast to, say, California's efforts on energy policy, which research shows have created prosperity in the state over the last generation, the tax revolt defining Proposition 13 destroyed a top notch public schools system and, more recently, rendered the state bankrupt. The 1978 ballot initiative, which capped property taxes and mandated a 2/3 rule for the state legislature to pass a budget, has created a structural shortfall in the state budget and a political inability for legislators to craft a solution -- but Douthat doesn't see fit to mention it.

Conservatives love to argue that California has incredibly high tax rates, and, in the case of some specific taxes, that's true. But that's only because Proposition 13 so drastically lowered property taxes as to necessitate raising taxes to compensate for lost revenue. As Ezra Klein, in discussing Robert Samuelson's op-ed on California (which, like Douthat's piece, conspicuously fails to mention Prop 13), notes this morning:

Total state and local taxes take up 11.73 percent of the average Californian's income. The national average is 11.23 percent. And it's been like that for many years:

CAtax

Far from being "always" liberal, California's electoral votes were supposed to be safe for Reagan's Republicans, giving them a generational lock on the White House. Here again, California was ahead of the nation, this time in discovering that conservatives couldn't govern and is now as deep blue as the Pacific Ocean.

Now that the nation has learned its lesson from eight years of red-state governance under Douthat's vaunted Texas leadership, America followed California, this time for the better, in overwhelmingly rejecting failed conservative governance. Blue-staters (a lot of folks these days) have only had six months on the job after eight years of botched "red-state" governance. It will be a lot longer than that if conservatives like Douthat can't even figure out where they went wrong; Proposition 13 was certainly one of the first places.

Update: Ezra Klein just blogged on Douthat's column as well. He does a nice job taking down the argument that Texas is a good model for anything and the broader red-blue frame that Douthat tries to use.

TODAY: Simon Rosenberg Presents The New Dawn

Please join us Thursday, August 27, at 12:15pm for a presentation of "Dawn of a New Politics" by Simon Rosenberg.

This engaging presentation makes a big argument on how politics is changing in America today, and offers ideas and strategies for how progressives can replicate our 20th century success in this new and dynamic century.

Simon has delivered his presentation "Dawn of a New Politics" all across the country over the past several years: At the DNC in Denver, twice for the House Democratic Caucus, on the Google campus, and recently before members and staff of the DSCC and DAGA, among many other gatherings.

We cordially invite you to join us-- either here in our event space, or via Web cast-- to watch and engage with this revamped presentation.

If you plan to have lunch and watch the presentation at NDN, please RSVP.

If you can't have lunch at NDN, have lunch with NDN by watching live online here.

Location

NDN
729 15th St., NW
Washington , DC 20005
United States

Hispanics Have a Wild Card to Play

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"The elephant has left the room Arizona so you’d better get used to it,” emphasized the new Independent voter impact...as well as the increase in the Hispanic vote. NDN believes Hispanic voters could turn Arizona into a Blue state."

Independent Means Nonpartisan: Just Another Washington Myth, Part 2

For Washington pundits not otherwise engaged in dissecting the strength and effectiveness of Barack Obama's reaction to events in Iran or the extent to which he still might use tobacco, the chief topic of conversation during the past week has been about how political independents may be deserting the president, thereby accounting for a modest dip (a fair amount of which already seems to have been restored) in his job approval marks.

One of those writing about the presumably crucial role of independents is the normally highly astute Wall Street Journal columnist, Gerald Seib. According to Seib "independent voters are the canaries in the coal mine of American politics, telling a leader whether the air is safe or starting to fill up with some toxic gases. Bearing that in mind, President Obama and his team ought to start worrying about the health of those canaries."

Citing Wall Street Journal/NBC surveys, Seib indicates that the president's job approval rates among independents fell from 60% in April to 45% in June. What makes this particularly important, according to Seib, is that independents "tend to decide most elections, and they went for Mr. Obama by a 52% to 44% margin" last November.

Independents, in fact, may have been less decisive in the president's victory than, for example, members of the Millennial Generation (voters 18-27) who in 2008 comprised slightly less than one-fifth of the electorate, voted for Obama by a 66% to 32% margin, and accounted for 80% of his popular vote margin over John McCain.

But, the biggest flaw in Seib's commentary is that his portrayal of independents is narrowly focused and shallow. It does not fully account for the demographic, behavioral, and attitudinal diversity of those who tell pollsters that they are "independents" rather than Republicans or Democrats.

As indicated in last week's posting on this site, the large majority (about 80%) of self-identified independents actually "lean" to one or the other of the two parties. Consequently, most independents (and by extension, the electorate) are far more partisan than a cursory overview of poll findings might suggest. Currently, the Democrats hold a solid and increasing lead over the Republicans among the majority of independents who lean toward a party. About six in 10 "leaners" now tilt to the Democrats. Pew Research Center data for the past three months indicates that a majority of the electorate (51%) identifies with or leans to the Democratic Party. A third (34%) is Republican identifiers and leaners. Only 14% (not quite the 20% cited by Seib) is completely unaffiliated or "pure independents." Rather than being the decisive center as Seib and others suggest, non-committed voters actually comprise a small minority of the electorate.

Of course, all of this would simply be interesting trivia if those who lean to one of the parties were not different in important ways from those who lean to the other party and from "pure independents." In fact, the differences among these groups are profound.

Demographic Differences

The following table, based on data drawn from Pew's Political Values and Core Attitudes survey, conducted every two years with a large than normal sample, compares those who identify with, lean to, or are completely unaffiliated with one of the two parties on key demographic attributes.

 

Strong Democrat

Not Strong Democrat

Independent

Democrat

Unaffiliated Independent

Independent Republican

Not Strong Republican

Strong Republican

Gender

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Male

37%

44%

51%

60%

59%

56%

45%

Female

63%

56%

49%

40%

41%

44%

55%

Ethnicity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White

55%

67%

70%

75%

87%

92%

93%

African-American

30%

17%

12%

10%

7%

1%

2%

Hispanic

15%

16%

18%

15%

6%

7%

5%

Age

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18-29

18%

28%

28%

25%

20%

16%

21%

30-49

31%

38%

37%

34%

34%

36%

34%

50-64

32%

22%

22%

24%

28%

27%

25%

65+

18%

12%

12%

14%

16%

20%

18%

Region

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northeast

21%

22%

21%

15%

15%

18%

18%

Midwest

23%

19%

27%

26%

24%

22%

21%

South

36%

36%

33%

36%

40%

38%

38%

West

20%

22%

19%

23%

21%

22%

23%

Much about this data will not surprise anyone who has followed American politics during the past half-century. Democratic identifiers, particularly Strong Democrats, are disproportionately female, ethnic, and reside in the Northeast. In addition, over the past several election cycles younger voters have increasingly affiliated with the Democrats. Republican identifiers are more likely than average to be male and white, especially from the South. Republican identifiers are now also a bit older than their Democratic counterparts, a gap that is likely to grow as greater numbers of solidly Democratic Millennials come of age during the next decade.

But what is most important, and perhaps may be most surprising to DC observers, about these survey results are the differences between independents who lean to the Democrats and those who say they are closer to the GOP. While a majority of both groups are male, the Independent Republicans contain a greater number of men than any of the party identification subgroups (59%). In addition, the Independent Democrats contain nearly two and a half times as many African-Americans and Hispanics than do the Independent Republicans (30% vs. 13%). The Independent Republicans also contain the largest percentage of Southerners and the Independent Democrats the smallest. On the other hand, voters from the Northeast contribute disproportionately to the Independent Democrats. Finally, nearly two-thirds of the Democratic leaners (65%) are under 50 while, by contrast, nearly half (44%) of those who lean to the GOP are 50+. In other words, demographically those who lean to a party look a lot like those who identify with that party.

Voting Behavior Differences

They also vote very much like them. The following table, using data collected by the Millennial Strategy Program of Frank N. Magid Associates about a week before Election Day 2008, displays the presidential and congressional vote intentions of party identifiers, independents who lean to a party, and unaffiliated independents.

 

Strong Democrat

Not Strong Democrat

Independent Democrat

Unaffiliated Independent

Independent Republican

Not Strong Republican

Strong Republican

 2008 Presidential Vote Intention

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obama

93%

56%

78%

37%

2%

19%

4%

McCain

3%

15%

8%

24%

84%

73%

93%

Other candidate

1%

1%

1%

11%

1%

1%

1%

Undecided

3%

27%

13%

29%

12%

7%

2%

Congressional Vote Intention

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Democratic Candidate

94%

63%

64%

19%

1%

5%

3%

Republican Candidate

1%

8%

3%

19%

62%

70%

85%

Other Candidate

*

1%

1%

6%

*

1%

--

Undecided

7%

28%

33%

56%

37%

25%

12%

* Less than .5%

These results lead to a number of clear and important conclusions about the voting behavior of independents, both those who lean to a party and those who don't.

  • The independent leaners are decisively partisan. Upwards of eight in 10 of them indicated the intent to vote for the presidential candidate of the party to which they lean. In fact, they were more likely to do so than those who identify weakly with a party. About two-thirds of independent leaners said they would vote for the congressional candidate of the party to which they lean. Almost none expressed any willingness to cross party lines and vote for opposition candidates.
  • On one level the uncommitted independents are indeed nonpartisan. The choices of those "pure independents" that had made one at the time of the survey were divided fairly evenly. A significant number of them had not yet determined for whom they would vote. However, it is a clear misperception to portray the "pure independents" as voters who were closely observing the political process and carefully weighing their choices. In the face of the social desirability of wanting to appear concerned about a crucial election at a time of major national stress, only about 60% of the uncommitted independents (in contrast to nearly 90% of the other groups) said they were very interested in or that it was very important to them who was elected president. Many, if not most, of the uncommitted independents were nonpartisan simply because they had too little interest in and knowledge of politics to make a choice.

Attitudinal Differences

The clear and persistent partisanship of Independent Republicans and Independent Democrats is also strikingly evident in their political opinions. The table below, containing data collected by Pew in May 2009, portrays favorable attitudes toward a number of political figures and the two parties. 

 

Strong Democrats

Not Strong Democrats

Independent Democrats

Unaffiliated Independents

Independent Republicans

Not Strong Republicans

Strong Republicans

Barack Obama

97%

94%

94%

78%

37%

58%

37%

Michelle Obama

95%

90%

87%

70%

61%

65%

59%

Joe Biden

80%

70%

65%

44%

22%

33%

30%

George W. Bush

7%

15%

15%

38%

56%

65%

83%

Democratic Party

94%

87%

79%

35%

27%

35%

13%

Republican Party

11%

26%

34%

28%

62%

71%

88%

 Again the implications are clear.

  • Independent leaners hold strikingly partisan attitudes. Solid majorities of them have positive impressions of politicians from the party to which they lean and of that party itself. Only a minority of them express favorable opinions about the opposing party and its politicians. While the independent leaners may not be as firmly positive about "their" party as are strong identifiers, they do have a solid sense of partisan connection. They are clearly not uncommitted and easily malleable centrists.
  • The non-leaning independents are indeed broadly nonpartisan in their attitudes. Fewer than half express positive opinions about any political figure other than the president and first lady or toward either party. But this is as much a matter of limited political knowledge and involvement as it is of conscious weighing of options or firmly divided opinion. This is evidenced by the fact that while almost all of the uncommitted independents were able to say whether or not they like Barack and Michelle Obama as people (or celebrities), a third were unable to rate the president's job performance in the same survey.

In sum, almost nine in 10 American voters are currently attached, in varying degrees, to one or the other of the two political parties. Some of those are indeed independents that lean toward a party rather than identifying with that party outright. But in their demographics and, importantly, their voting behavior and political attitudes, these independent leaners more closely resemble committed partisans than they do the small minority of "pure independents."

Together those who identify and lean to the Democratic Party now comprise a majority of voters. This is the first time since the mid-1960s that either party can make that claim. This puts President Obama and his Democratic congressional colleagues in position to break the gridlock that has dominated Washington for the past four decades. To do that, however, they will have to take a new, outside the Beltway, look at the electorate and all of its component parts. They will have to recognize that voters have moved America into a new era and have the fortitude to follow.

Has a New Liberal Era Begun?

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The Rise of the European Right

The results of last week’s European election, when combined with the ongoing slide of Gordon Brown’s Labour government, add up to odd to a puzzle. In America this feels like a progressive moment, as Simon outlined in his new presentation. Just as the injuries of industrialisation boosted social reform in the early part of the 20th century, so two decades of over-confidence in the power of markets in the era of globalisation seemed decisively rejected by the 2008 election, and the economic crisis which followed. With the Republicans in a mess, and Obama boldly making the case for universal health care yesterday, the progressive post-crisis bounce seems almost natural. But in Europe—where the recession is, if anything, worse than in America—the right are doing just fine.

Judging by results it would really be fairer to say the right was booming. Silvio Berlusconi won handily in Italy, despite his marital problems. Incumbent conservative government’s in France and Germany more than held their own. While the mainstream centre-left parties tanked in third place or worse, the extreme right made gains too, from the neo-fascist British National Party to the Dutch Party of Freedom. And no one seems to better encompass all this than Britain’s battered Brown, leading a once impregnable Labour party into poll ratings in the teens. Just as capitalism is questioned more deeply than at any time in a generation, Britain will almost certainly elect a conservative Government next year.

So what’s going on? If, as Simon wrote this morning we’re in a hole dug “by years of reckless, ideological and impractical conservative government”, why vote them back in? This week Paul Krugman dubbed Brown Gordon the Unlucky: it was just his bad fortune to be caught standing when the financial music stopped. Just as Bush is blamed in America, so progressives are in Britain. But that doesn’t explain why Brown has suffered while incumbent European conservatives prosper. One might, instead, make the case that 90s-style centre-leftism of the Clinton / Blair mould was too enamoured of the failed market system to deserve credit now. Certainly this was anti-Clintonite case underlay much of the crowing this week over the defeat of Terry Mcaullife in Virginia.

But better, I think, to focus on three points. First, European voters are angry, confused about the cause of their current predicament, and unwilling to believe that the traditional remedies of the left will fix it. Second, they haven’t made much connection between the crisis, the ideology that caused it, and the parties which most closely reflect that ideology in government. For this one should blame the parties of the centre-left themselves, for failing to make the case clearly. Third, in tough time, outsiders are feared: Europe just voted for a range of parties whose central policy is protecting insiders against immigrants.

It’s a combustible mix, with warnings for America. Economic recovery has pushed other priorities down the list, but these European elections certainly warn of the dangers of letting immigration worries fester. The dismal Bush inheritance, meanwhile, has allowed Obama to make a clear link between the recession and his predecessor. But it’s not a memory that will hold forever. European voters, normally more left wing than in the US, didn’t seem inclined to give any post-crisis electoral gift to tired progressives. Nor might American voters in 2010, or 2012. In this, Krugman was right. Obama was partly lucky to pick up the batton at the right time. The lesson of last week is he’ll have to fight doggedly to keep it.

David Brooks on the Conservative Economic Legacy

David Brooks has a very good column in the NYTimes today about how we got to where we are today, and the daunting economic challenges ahead.   His sober analysis of our economic situation is part of a growing tide of recent analysis looking beyond the momentary crisises, and which are beginning to move the economic debate beyond the stale, brain-dead bromides of the terribly disapointing age of Bush.  

Here’s one way to look at the politics of our era: We’ve moved from The Age of Leverage to The Great Unwinding.

For about a generation, the U.S. surfed on a growing wave of debt. The ratio of debt-to-personal-disposable income was 55 percent in 1960. Since then, it has more than doubled, reaching 133 percent in 2007. Total credit market debt — throwing in corporate, financial and other borrowing — has risen apace, surging from 143 percent of G.D.P. in 1951 to 350 percent of G.D.P. last year.

Charts that mark these trends are truly horrifying. There is a steady level of debt through most of the 20th century, until the mid-1980s. Then there is a steep accelerating rise to today’s epic levels.

This rise in debt fueled a consumption binge. Consumption as a share of G.D.P. stood at around 62 percent in the mid-1960s, and rose to about 73 percent by 2008. The baby boomers enjoyed an incredible spending binge. Meanwhile the Chinese, Japanese and European economies became reliant on the overextended U.S. consumer. It couldn’t last.

The leverage wave crashed last fall. Facing the possibility of systemic collapse, the government stepped in and replaced private borrowing with public borrowing. The Federal Reserve printed money at incredible rates, and federal spending ballooned. In 2007, the federal deficit was 1.2 percent of G.D.P. Two years later, it’s at 13 percent.

The crisis response more or less worked. Historians will argue about the Paulson-Geithner-Bernanke reaction, but the economy seems to be stabilizing. And now attention turns to the task of the next decade: slowly unwinding the debt that has built up over the past generation.

Americans aren’t borrowing the way they used to, but the accumulated debt is still there. Over the next many years, Americans will have to save more and borrow less. The American economy will have to transition from an economy based on consumption and imports to an economy with a greater balance of business investment and production. A country that has become accustomed to reasonably fast growth and frothy affluence will probably have to adjust to slower growth and less retail fizz.

The economic challenges will be hard. Reuven Glick and Kevin J. Lansing of the San Francisco Fed estimate that Americans will have to increase their household savings rate from 4 percent to 10 percent by 2018 to restore balance. That, they write, will produce “a near-term drag on overall economic activity.” Meanwhile, capital and labor will have to flow from sectors that depend on discretionary consumption to sectors based on research and investment.

But it’s the political challenges that will be most hellacious. Basically, everything that a politician might do to make voters happier in the near term will have horrible long-term consequences. Stimulate the economy too much now and you wind up with ruinous inflation down the road. Preserve failing companies and you wind up with Japanese stagnation. Cushion the decline in living standards with easy money now and you just move from a housing bubble to a commodities bubble.

The members of the political class face a set of monumental tasks...

Read on to see his recommendations, all of which are a little less compelling than his narrative on how we got here.  What is most interesting to me, however, is how Brooks' analysis is itself a complete condemnation of the cultural and economic impact of the recent conservative ascendency.  His story rightly points out that this "Age of Leverage," or as Paul Krugman has called it, "The Great Unraveling," was a manifestation of the Reagan Revolution.  Rather than being conservative in the classic sense, Brooks has correctly and helpfully begun the labeling of this era of our history as it will be known to future generations - a terribly reckless, irresponsible time where our leaders, in the grip of impractical ideologies, failed to do what was required to ensure American greatness and success in the 21st century.  

Digging America out from the hole that been dug by years of reckless, ideological and impractical conservative government remains the greatest governing challenge of this early part of the 21st century, a job that increasingly looks like - given its depth - will last long past the Obama Presidency. 

Finally, for all these reasons, I think it is time for us to move beyond the concept of "recovery" as a goal of our economic strategy.  Who wants to go back to what we had? A time of bubbles and declining wages, of a policy designed for the few at the expense of the many? Obama has begun to move beyond this frame with his recent attempts to use the term "new foundation."  But there is an urgency to this mission - for I think very few Americans are interested in recovering - or going back to - that old economy of the late 20th century and this terribly destructive conservative ascendency.

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