• A Marxist Explains Why the Middle 20 Percent Is So Important

    Joe Biden is the only candidate who is keenly aware that the middle 20 percent is the key to victory in November.Adam Schultz/Biden/ZUMA

    Mike Davis is a Marxist and, as Jonny Coleman and Molly Lambert put it in an interview today, the author of several influential “proto-doomer urban theory classics.” But even taking that into account, this is an odd thing for Davis to say:

    We need to face certain facts. It should be obvious—and I must say I was critical of Occupy Wall Street in this sense, right from the beginning, this idea of the 1 percent. In the elections, over the past hundred years where Democratic presidential candidates have had the largest margin of victory, still, the Republicans are able to count on 37 to 41 percent of the vote. Alf Landon in 1936, at 37 percent of the vote. Barry Goldwater got almost 39 percent of the vote. Trump’s popularity ratings are still about 40 percent. But you need to ask yourself—why this constant percentage in American political history? What does it say, particularly about the upper middle class, the local country club elites? Today the hedge funds and private equity people are a very large base in this country for conservative politics. This was true in the 1930s. It was true to some extent in the ’60s with the Goldwater–massive white resistance brigade. And it’s true today. So when we talk about bringing people together, we shouldn’t be talking about it in some vague populist sense, believing that there is this great basis of unity. It’s the 60 percent that we’re talking about and creating a class unity that is based on full recognition of structural racism and systemic discrimination.

    Surely somebody must have a law named after them that explains this, or maybe it’s just so obvious that no one has ever bothered taking credit. But common sense dictates that in a two-party system—especially one like ours that practically demands two parties and no more—neither party can ever fall much below 40 percent support for long. That means permanent irrelevance, after all, and there are only two possible resolutions to that: either the party shrivels away and is replaced by another one or else the party changes its tune enough to start breaking 50 percent with some regularity. The Republican Party was born from the former and regained relevance after World War II via the latter. So the fact that neither the Republican nor Democratic parties has ever fallen below 40 percent support for more than a few years doesn’t say anything about our upper middle class or our local country club elites. It’s just an inevitable result of our political system.

    Beyond that, of course, Davis makes the usual Marxist mistake of assuming that economic power and class conflict are everything. They are surely important, probably more important than any other single social dynamic, but they aren’t all-consuming, especially in a rich country like the United States. People will sometimes fight hard for economic equality when their incomes are truly immiserating, but once they start earning money on a livable scale—not lavish, just livable—it’s hard to motivate them to rebel over their lot in life. This is especially true when the liberal party (ahem) is unable to offer any plausible plan that would make more than a modest difference in their circumstances.

    But despite the 40 percent barrier not truly being important, Davis is right in the end: we shall always have the 40 percent with us, which means that it’s a waste for any progressive program to focus on the 99 percent. At most, we should focus on the 60 percent. But my guess is that about two-thirds of that 60 percent is already on board with most progressive ideas, which means we really need to focus on the remaining 20 percent.

    In other words, we need to focus most of our attention on the conflicted middle fifth of the American electorate. Which is probably what most of us have assumed all along. American politics is mostly a matter of gaining and losing the support of the middle 20 percent, and it has been for at least the past century.

    Needless to say, this is the real limit on political extremism in this country, and also the real limit on radical change of any kind. Neither Marxists nor progressives (nor tea partiers, for that matter) want to hear that, but it’s as true today as it’s ever been. It follows almost geometrically from Davis’ remarks that if you want a durable, winning coalition, it’s that middle 20 percent you have to appeal to.

  • Coronavirus Growth in Western Countries: October 12 Update

    Here’s the coronavirus death toll through October 12. The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here.

  • A Lot of People Are Being Misled About Amy Coney Barrett

    October 12, 2020, Washington, District of Columbia, USA: Judge Amy Coney Barrett, gives her opening statement during the first day of her Senate confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 12, 2020 (Credit Image: © Erin Schaff - Pool Via Cnp/CNP via ZUMA Wire)

    The coverage of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings is annoying me more than I thought it would. I understand that mainstream news outlets have to cover it straight, but at the same time it means that news consumers who aren’t politics junkies never get the real story, namely:

    • Barrett is very conservative and will almost certainly vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, Obamacare, and Chevron if she gets a chance. These will not necessarily take the form of explicit overrules, but the practical impact will still be to get rid of them.
    • Barrett will, of course, refuse to comment on any of this as a nominee. But it hardly matters since everyone already knows her opinions.
    • In any case, the entire hearing is just kabuki anyway. Republicans will all vote to confirm Barrett, and Democrats will all vote to oppose her.
    • None of this has anything to do with judicial philosophy. It’s because Barrett will almost certainly support Republican positions and oppose Democratic positions. There have been cases in the past when Republicans have nominated candidates who turned out to be only weak partisans, but those days are long gone. Nobody with questionable loyalties makes it past their filters any longer.

    Anyone who cares enough about politics to read this blog already knows this, and also knows that all the words being spilled on both sides are little more than a charade. Republicans will vote for Barrett because she’s a Republican and they have enough votes to confirm her. That’s it. That’s the whole story. 

  • Lunchtime Photo

    I was getting low on animal pictures, so on Friday I spent the day at the San Diego Zoo to restock. The weather was lovely and the sky was lightly overcast, which provided perfect, even lighting for most of my pictures. Later in the day, however, the sun started to peek out occasionally, producing some dramatic shadows here and there. That’s how I got this picture of a Great Blue Turaco in one of the zoo’s many, many aviaries.

    Coming up eventually: lions and tigers and bears! And lots more colorful birds.

    UPDATE: I’ve added a second picture of the Turaco for those of you who want a better idea of what it actually looks like.

    October 9, 2020 — San Diego Zoo, San Diego, California
    October 9, 2020 — San Diego Zoo, San Diego, California
  • Trump and Pelosi Are Very Close to a Stimulus Deal

    Andrew Harnik/AP

    Now that Donald Trump is off the dex, he’s changed his mind and suddenly wants a stimulus deal with Democrats. Here’s his latest proposal:

    The new $1.8 trillion offer is an increase from the White House’s most recent proposal of around $1.6 trillion, which Pelosi had dismissed as too meager. Among the changes: The new offer proposes $300 billion for cities and states, up from $250 billion in the earlier proposal; it maintains a $400 weekly enhanced unemployment insurance benefit from the previous version, but for a somewhat longer duration, according to a person familiar with the contents who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss them.

    The White House’s offer on stimulus checks includes $1,000 per child, instead of the $500 per child provided in the original Cares Act approved in March, according to two people with knowledge of the plan. The increase in the payment to children appears to be intended as a compromise measure for rejecting tax credits for children pushed by Pelosi in negotiations.

    Apparently this is actually a $1.88 trillion offer. And honestly, it’s not that bad. Pelosi should ask for $400 billion for cities and states, which would bring the total to $1.98 trillion, and call it a day. Trump would get to say that he kept Democrats under $2 trillion but still came through for the American people. Pelosi could basically say the same. And if the assistance to cities and states is too small, it’s at least a decent start.

    It’s not clear if Republicans would pass a $2 trillion bill, but I imagine Trump still has some pull even as far down in the polls as he is. In any case, if Biden wins the election Republicans obviously won’t do anything, so this is our last chance to do something to help the people most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s well worth a try.