Excited About Beinart and Frum? Not Me!

December 24, 2015

My Left-Leaning friends are very excited about two long essays in The Atlantic: Why America Is Moving Left by Peter Beinart, and The Great Republican Revolt by David Frum. (The Frum piece led the Wednesday Curator post a couple of days ago.) Me? Not so much! Messrs. Beinart and Frum are smart guys, fine writers, and professionals. (I am not a professional commentator, and that’s all I have to say.) At best, though, their theses have been oversold.

The cover page for Mr. Beinart’s essay carries this subtitle: “Republicans may have a lock on Congress and the nation’s statehouses—and could well win the presidency—but the liberal era ushered in by Barack Obama is only just beginning.” Alas, amongst about 7000 words, here are the 80 which address the first part of Mr. Beinart’s sentence:

That doesn’t mean the Republicans won’t retain strength in the nation’s statehouses and in Congress. It doesn’t mean a Republican won’t sooner or later claim the White House. It means that on domestic policy—foreign policy is following a different trajectory, as it often does—the terms of the national debate will continue tilting to the left. The next Democratic president will be more liberal than Barack Obama. The next Republican president will be more liberal than George W. Bush.

Mr. Beinart offers detailed, interesting observations about a left-moving populace. Young people don’t notice differences the way many of their parents and grandparents do.* An economy tilted toward the wealthiest of the wealthy leaves many self-identifying conservatives unhappy. Even hard-ass types are recognizing the folly of imprisonment for almost every crime. (Doubt me? Read Unlikely Allies, by my 50-year friend Sari Horwitz for the Washington Post in August 2015.)

So here’s the rub. The long-term fix is in. Republicans control the House of Representatives by 247 – 188. The Ds need to flip 30 seats in 2016 to regain control, and gerrymandering makes that almost impossible. Then there are those state legislatures. In seven states the Ds control the legislature and the governor’s office. The Rs have the same level of control in 24 states, and are much stronger than the Ds in the other 19 states.

So what? Reapportionment is coming in 2020. The system reinforces itself. State legislature seats are protected, and those protected seats help protect seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Unrestricted campaign money and the move to the extreme edges of the parties’ natural comfort zones exacerbate the problem.

The Supreme Court matters too. Decisions have been mixed of late, but the arc bends to the right. There will be new faces on the Court, too, but the skew tends to be moderate (when a D lives in the White House) to hard right. (Without regard for party control of the WH and the Senate, the notion that anyone will get confirmed for a seat on the Supreme Court in these times feels like magical thinking.”)

Mr. Beinart pays little attention to the very conservative, fire-breathing base which controls the Republican Party. Maybe liberalism has more than a toehold, but I think the Rs are in control of Congress, the Court, and the states for a long time. We may see President Clinton (II) in 2017, but even if we do, I expect that she will face challenges that make us think President Obama and the Congress got on very well. Call me a curmudgeon, but I think Mr. Beinart wears rose-colored glasses.

Now for Mr. Frum. As the Curator noted, the history is great, but his prescriptions for closing the divide between the Establishment and the regulars are unsatisfactory. Options One (Double Down) and Two (Tactical Concession) both focus on immigration, as if making a choice on this issue will bring everyone together. It’s not happening, and Mr. Frum says so.

Option Three (True Reform) involves the Republican Party looking at policies, broadly, for real! Not going to happen! No way! Democrats do nuance, and they govern, too. Really focusing on taxes, regulations, healthcare, and infrastructure in smart ways will not happen in the bumper sticker party.

That leaves Option Four (Change the Rules of the Game), where Mr. Frum posits that the elites can change the rules to stop Donald Trump. Right. Uh huh. Sure.

So, the Republican Party Establishment built itself a Frankenstein-like monster which it can no longer control. But, the fact that the Republican Party has “gone rogue” should not comfort Democrats, for the monster is in control. I hope I’m wrong, truly, but electing Donald Trump or Ted Cruz next November will not surprise me at all.

*I was mostly done with the writing here, and then I heard In 2015, Race And Tolerance Permeated The National Dialogue, a great discussion between Gene Demby and David Greene. It brought home—in the forehead, as if I’d been hit by a two by four—that I don’t really know anything about how most Americans—those less privileged than I am—live their lives.

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