Sunday, May 03, 2020


This weekend's email to Charlie Pierce's subscribers is an interview with former presidential candidate Julian Castro, who think Reaganism may finally be on the verge of dying a well-deserved death:
CPP: I was ... thinking that you don't know the vast ramifications of inequality until something like this [coronavirus pandemic] that touches on everything. Touches on healthcare and education and food safety and everything.

JC: That's true. You think about everything from the concrete effect of the digital divide that this has exposed to the long line we've seen at food banks around the country to the panic that people are feeling because it's going to be the first of the month in a couple of days and they're not going to have the rent payment. Across the board, it's been an example of why we need to make much greater investments in broad prosperity in our nation, and why we finally need to get out of this Reagan era that says smaller, weaker government is always good.

CPP: I mean I was going to say the two things that have taken the worst beating in terms of politics are the concept of American exceptionalism and supply-side Reaganomics.

... How long do you think it would take to break down the inculcated distrust of government on which the Republicans have prospered for 40 years? To get back to thinking it's the same thing that gave us the interstate highway system and environmental regulations?

JC: I think that's been happening gradually for the last 15 years, at least. And I say that because in late August, we're going to mark 15 years since Katrina. And you remember after, Katrina was this moment nationally where I think a lot of people, especially the youngest generation at the time—it did not have the experience with Reaganomics—realized that hey, you actually need a strong, competent government, especially in situations like this.

So to me it's been happening little by little over the last decade and a half, and this is going to accelerate. These young people, look at what not only millennials but Generation Z folks think. They're not stuck in Reaganomics. Now, they don't vote at the same rate as my generation and your generation, but that's happening already to a large extent to the youngest two generations.
I'd love to believe this. But post-Reagan-era young voters are still a minority of those who actually turn out, and even they don't reliably vote for the party that recognizing the usefulness of government.

In all age groups, there were too many Obama-Trump voters in 2016, and even Sanders-Trump voters. There are too many voters who recently chose Democratic gubernatorial candidates in states like Kentucky and Kansas while continuing to back Republicans for all other offices. That tells me that many of the voters who've swung recent elections in favor of Democrats were voting for "change" and not necessarily for a return to affirmative government. These voters gave us a Democratic House in 2018, and flipped some statehouses and state legislatures' the same voters might give us a Democratic president and even Senate this year. But I see no sign yet that they're committed voters in favor of government activism.

In September 2019, Gallup asked voters this question:
Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country's problems. Which comes closer to your own view?
In the survey, 49% said government is doing too much; only 47% said it should do more. That 49% figure is lower than in earlier Gallup surveys, but "do more" hasn't been the preferred response since October 2001, a month after 9/11. This is despite the fact that majorities of voters also say they believe government "should have total responsibility" for making sure that all Americans have adequate healthcare, protecting consumers against unsafe products, preventing discrimination, and protecting the environment. Voters think government is too intrusive, and yet they want government intervention. This means they're responsive to activist-government rhetoric at some moments, but can be swayed by small-government rhetoric at other moments.

It would be nice to think that young progressives are more solidly committed to the idea of using government power for good, but there's a different problem in this generation: Many of them don't see a good reason to vote for the party that regularly acknowledges the usefulness of government. Voters who don't see a dime's worth of difference between Democrats and Republicans are overlooking the fact that Republicans regularly agitate for cuts in social spending, routinely deregulate business and finance, and choose judges based on their willingness to make life as easy and lucrative as possible for large corporations and the rich. It's true that Hillary Clinton wasn't as left-wing as Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden isn't either. But the GOP has moved so far to the right that Clinton and Biden are now significantly to their left. If Biden becomes president, he'll use the power of government to do good things -- maybe not as reliably as Sanders voters would like, but he certainly won't hand over every agency to people determined to make sure that it does as little as possible for ordinary citizens.

I hope voters eventually form a solid, stable bloc in favor of using government power on ordinary citizens' behalf -- but I don't think we're there yet.


And yes, I know that the USA Today/Suffolk poll recently asked voters that Gallup question and found that "50% say the government should do more; 40% say it is trying to do too much." Maybe that's a sign of a permanent shift -- but more likely it's a temporary response to the coronavirus crisis, and it'll be reversed whenever America gets back to normal. The Gallup numbers in October 2001 were very similar -- 50% said government should do more while 41% said government does too much -- but by September 2002 the "too much" number was 50% and the "should do more" number was 43%. This will be a longer emergency, but when it ends, we might be right back where we usually are.

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