America’s Four Parties

Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans truly represent most Americans. Fixing that is exceedingly unlikely.

Washington Post columnist Perry Bacon Jr. argues “The U.S. has four political parties stuffed into a two-party system. That’s a big problem.”

The United States right now has four political parties stuffed into a two-party system — and that’s increasingly a big problem for the country.

This reality becomes clear if you set aside the long-standing catchall labels “Democrat” and “Republican” and look at the fissures actually animating our politics. Importantly, by “party” I’m referring to an informal group of elected officials, intellectuals and institutions with a shared ideology and policy positions. Rank-and-file voters do play some role in shaping the views of these parties, but I think the process is largely driven by political professionals.

This is a recurring theme here at OTB and, especially, in Steven Taylor’s analyses. Whether there are three, four, six, or twenty ways to divide the American polity is open to debate, as is which politicians fit into any given category. (Indeed, while I can see the justification for grouping the eight pols in the graphic above as he did, my natural inclination would be to group Nancy Pelosi into the Progressive wing; I think she’s a pragmatist only because her role as Speaker demands it.) Regardless, our electoral system essentially guarantees that there will be, at most, two electable alternatives and that most voters will not see themselves represented by either.

Indeed, Bacon agrees that the groupings as both artificial and fluid:

In 2017, immediately after Donald Trump’s election, I viewed America as having essentially four political parties, too, but the contours were different then: There were the Democrats, the anti-Trump Republicans, the Old Guard Trump-skeptical Republicans and the Trump-aligned Republicans. I thought the Old Guard represented more Republican voters and was more powerful than the Trump faction, which I believed had lucked into winning the Republican primaries and the general election.

Five years later, a different party structure has emerged. The Trump Republicans and the Old Guard remain distinct. But the Trump Party clearly has the upper hand, in part because evangelical Christian activists, Fox News and conservative talk radio are firmly rooted there, as well as influential GOP politicians including Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and, of course, Trump himself.

But the Old Guard, perhaps best embodied by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), news outlets such as the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, remains influential. A small bloc within the Old Guard, such as Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, isn’t just Trump-skeptical but outright anti-Trump.

I think that’s right as far as it goes but how influential are WSJ and the Chamber in the grand scheme of things? Less so than Fox News, surely. And, while I could see myself voting for Hogan, I don’t see how he has a path to the nomination.

But, again, that’s the dilemma of the system: I’m still fundamentally an Old Guard Republican but my choice is between voting for Trump (or a Trumper) or the Democrat or staying home (or voting Libertarian or some other protest vote, which is functionally the same). For all intent and purposes, I’ve become a Democrat even though I’m not particularly aligned with that party. And most Old Guard Republicans are effectively Trumpers, since that’s what the primary system delivers.

And, indeed, Bacon reaches a similar conclusion:

Meanwhile, “Never Trump” Republican activists and intellectuals have largely been absorbed into a third party, the Center-Left Democrats. This is the party of, for instance, President Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), New York City Mayor Eric Adams, the policy group Third Way and the MSNBC show “Morning Joe.”

That’s right. But, again: that’s a function of a dearth of acceptable choices, not a natural alignment.

Finally, the surprisingly strong 2016 campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) reignited the left wing of the Democratic Party and created our fourth party — a Left-Left Democratic Party. This party includes Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, publications such as the American Prospect and the Intercept, and groups such as the Working Families Party. My own views are closest to this group.

There is an ideological divide between the two Democratic parties, certainly, but their differences are also generational and attitudinal — the Left-Left Democrats tend to be younger, newer to politics and more confrontational with the Republicans than the Center-Left Democrats are. “Much of the divide is about approach, confrontation, urgency, as well as policy,” said Daniel Schlozman, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University.

I think that’s largely right, although I tend to think of the Prospect as more mainstream. The Progressives were always there, of course, but years of defeat at the national level brought the New Democrats, represented by the Clintons, to dominance at the national level. Obama was to their left and, despite his being older than all of them, Biden is even further to the left. But they’re much more pragmatic and politic than the Sanders-Warren-AOC wing.

There is nothing new or inherently bad about America having a two-party system with each of those parties being internally divided. But right now, this structure is a huge problem, for three reasons.

First of all, it is empowering the Trump Republicans. Most voters are not that ideological but are quite partisan. So whoever wins a Democratic or Republican primary will have the support of the overwhelming majority of that party’s voters in a general election. That’s how Trump, whom many GOP voters were fairly wary of at first, ended up president. It’s likely Sanders, if he had won the Democratic nomination in 2016 or 2020, would have won the overwhelming majority of Democratic voters in a general election, even though many centrist party leaders were wary of him.

That makes it all too easy for Trump Republicans to gain power in our current four-parties-in-two arrangement. They simply have to win low-turnout primaries and then reap the benefits of partisanship, which vault them to victory in general elections in many places. And that’s where the biggest problem comes in. We are seeing the worst kind of governance in states such as Florida and South Dakota, where Trumpian officials have gained power and are mirroring the terrible tendencies of the former president.

Further, because the Trumpian Party is gaining strength, the Old Guard is also moving in a radical direction to compete. For example, former U.S. senator David Perdue, once a Republican in the McConnell mode, is now running as the Trump-aligned, election-results-questioning candidate for governor of Georgia. Defeated in his Senate reelection bid in 2021, Perdue correctly sees a clear path back to political power by running as the Trumpian candidate against incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who angered many conservatives by refusing to go along with Trump’s scheme to overturn the state’s election results.

Right. But, absent the elites taking control of the party from the primary electorate, which is unlikely to happen, I don’t see a way out of this problem.

The second problem with our current structure arises on the Democratic side, where we now have two ideologically distinct blocs unhappily stuck together under the same banner. Center-Left Democrats view people with very left-wing ideas such as Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) as tarnishing the party’s brand. Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez, who in 2020 correctly noted that she and Biden would be in different parties in many countries, regularly complains about what she describes as the lack of urgency coming from the Center-Left Democrats on major issues. This tension shows up on issue after issue, and it seems intractable.

This strikes me as a problem of a different order. Progressives are a minority of the Democratic Party and a tiny minority in the country as a whole. That they have to settle for half, or even a third, of a loaf and are frustrated by that is, well, politics. The dynamic in the GOP is far worse: it’s empowering a minority that may be even smaller than the progressives to the detriment of the country as a whole.

Third, many voters, particularly anti-Trump Republicans and people with a mishmash of views that don’t fit into one of these four groups, have fairly little representation in this structure.

Again, that’s been true of American politics forever. And, even if we eliminated primaries, enacted proportional representation, and all manner of other reforms, the views of those well outside the mainstream aren’t going to get a lot of traction in a representative system.

But, naturally, Bacon would like to try:

What can be done about these problems? Our predicament makes me long for ranked-choice voting, proportional representation, multi-member congressional districts and other ideas being pushed by political reformers. Those reforms would make it easier for candidates who aren’t Democrats or Republicans to win legislative seats, thereby hastening the creation of the true multiparty system we desperately need — and under which these four parties could be their true selves. Maybe the Center-Left Democrats and Old Guard Republicans would occasionally unite in a coalition of the moderates; perhaps the three other parties would join forces against Trumpism.

Maybe. But, as Bacon acknowledges, none of this is going to happen any time soon.

So, naturally, he gets even more fanciful:

Center-Left Democrats and Left-Left Democrats are increasingly running competing candidates in Democratic primaries, recognizing that it matters what kind of Democrat represents a given district. After Biden’s State of the Union address last week, a prominent Left-Left Democrat (Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan) delivered a response laying out a more progressive vision for the country, while a more conservative Democrat, Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, also gave separate remarks, urging Democrats to work more with the GOP.

In his Senate campaign in Utah, Evan McMullin is running as an anti-Trump independent, smartly trying to build a coalition of anti-Trump and Old Guard Republicans, Center-Left Democrats and Left-Left Democrats to win in a red state.

Similarly, the idea that was floated by some Center-Left Democrats to put Vice President Harris on the Supreme Court so that Biden could make an Old Guard Republican such as Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) or Romney his No. 2 shows a laudable desire to try to build a broad coalition that can unite against the Trump Republicans. (It would, of course, be a mistake to push the first-ever woman of color out of the vice presidency.)

This sort of thing drives me nuts. Cheney and Biden have very different visions for the country. She would have very little power, indeed, in shaping policy as Vice President. And, of course, were Biden—who would be 81 at his second inauguration—not survive the term, he would be replaced by someone with a completely different domestic agenda. How would that be good for the country?

FILED UNDER: Comparative Democracies, Democracy, Democratic Theory, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    Progressives are a minority of the Democratic Party and a tiny minority in the country as a whole.

    This may be terms if you mean people who self-identify as progressive, but if you are talking in terms of their policy goals, many of them (like universal health care, higher taxes on high earners, etc.) are popular with a wide majority of the population.

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  2. Stormy Dragon says:

    I’m also amused that Warren and Ocasio-Cortez are the ones who ended up in the separate bubble from Biden and Pelosi, and not Manchin and Sinema.

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  3. Fortunato says:

    Trump and DeSantis don’t represent a ‘political party’. They are the Ring Leaders of a Carnival Sideshow.
    Theirs is the bastardization of a political party.
    The metamorphosis of the special interest owned Do Nothing, Know Nothing GOP, to the party of Grifting Obtuse People.

    Elmer Gantry would blush.
    Lonesome Rhodes would recoil.

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  4. Tony W says:

    One of the more innovative things some (mostly Western) states have done to mitigate this, at least somewhat, is to implement the Top 2 Primary system.

    This helps to get moderates elected, rather than crazy three-letter/rifle-diner types, by isolating the crazies and forming a bloc in the general election that comprises the entire opposition, rather than enabling vote-by-jersey-color, which is the norm in the rest of the country.

    Tactics like these can only go so far while the parties remain entrenched in a dichotomy of power sharing, ultimately our system of government requires such a duality.

    My kingdom for a parliament.

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  5. I may or may not get around to talking more about this piece, but a few things.

    1. It is 100% the case that there are political divisions in the US that would form more than 2 parties under the right circumstances.
    2. It would be a great boon (but would not fix everything, not even close) for governance in the US to be dislodged from everything being a binary, zero-sum contest.
    3. The main obstacle to all of this is the single seat district, plurality system we use to elect most legislative bodies in this country. Presidentialism contributes but, it is not as important as the way we elect legislatures (especially the House, but also state legislatures–the Senate also, but it raises a host of other issues as well).

    And I would add that while yes, the behavior of the GOP is a proximate problem (and that is a loaded statement in and of itself), the reality is that for democracy to really take a step forward in the US, the Democrats need to adopt more a far more pro-democracy position than that have. While I support things like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, those are bandaids compared to the overall state of representation in the US.

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  6. @Tony W:

    One of the more innovative things some (mostly Western) states have done to mitigate this, at least somewhat, is to implement the Top 2 Primary system.

    This helps to get moderates elected

    That’s the promise. I am unaware of any evidence that actually confirms this. Although I am open to seeing it.

    My kingdom for a parliament.

    Indeed, but without electoral reform, too, you won’t really get the results you want (although it would be an improvement).

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  7. @Tony W: @Steven L. Taylor: I would add, things like Top Two and other reforms that make the parties even weaker and candidate-centered are, I would argue, steps in the wrong direction. I would recommend the work of Jack Santucci on this count. The reality is that the weaker the parties get (defined here by not controlling their labels) and the more candidate-centric they are, the more you run the risk of crazies.

    Again (and this is a complicated observation being made in comment box that requires further elucidation, but it is something I have repeatedly written above): part of why the GOP has morphed as it has is because the party as an institution does not really control its label, and hence the Trump nomination and all that had followed. Again, note, the main driver of people like DeSantis is his knowledge that he needs to please a small slice of the GOP in the primary to be nominated.

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  8. Kylopod says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    This may be terms if you mean people who self-identify as progressive, but if you are talking in terms of their policy goals, many of them (like universal health care, higher taxes on high earners, etc.) are popular with a wide majority of the population.

    Universal health care and higher taxes on higher earners aren’t “progressive” positions per se. Many centrist Dems support those things. Single-payer health care and a wealth tax are better examples of specifically progressive positions.

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  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Amazing that there is nary a mention of Manchin and Sinema, without whom the Democratic Party would be unified and accomplishing massive things. Things that have overwhelming majority support among Americans of all stripes.
    So yeah…not taking this op-ed seriously.
    Right now I see but two factions in American politics; pro-Democracy and anti-Democracy.

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  10. Scott says:

    I see things slightly different. The Trump-DeSantis faction is very similar to the George Wallace faction. Remember, George Wallace ran for President as a Democrats and gathered a lot of votes. Even though when he ran as an independent and he just won the old Dixie states, he had a lot of votes from all over the country.

    The George Wallace crowd used to be in the Democratic Party where there was always an uneasy coalition between the Southern Democrats and Northern Democrats. Nixon, through his Southern Strategy peeled them off.

    This racist, anti-democratic, Christian nationalist crowd has not changed in the history of this country and they rise up every couple of generations to create trouble.

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  11. R. Dave says:

    @Stormy Dragon: This may be terms if you mean people who self-identify as progressive, but if you are talking in terms of their policy goals, many of them (like universal health care, higher taxes on high earners, etc.) are popular with a wide majority of the population.

    Only until people are told the cost, then support tends to crater back down toward “self-identified Progressive” levels. Saw a tweet yesterday, though I can’t remember the source now, that captured this dynamic nicely. The gist was that basically every poll of American voters looks like this:

    75% support X
    35% support policies required to achieve X

    Also, I’d say identity politics issues are the main cleavage between self-identified progressives and the broader Democratic / left-leaning public these days rather than the old economic/class issues that used to divide them.

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  12. Lounsbury says:

    @Stormy Dragon: As Kevin Drum likes to convey with data, vaguely possibly approving in theory or in the abstract, such support melts away when actual price and taxes are attached.

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  13. Lounsbury says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Leftist fantasies, if not for bogeymen, you’d have achieved all despite a no-margin… contrary to any history of what hung or narrow coalition parliaments or congresses can historically achieve.

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  14. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Kylopod:

    This is a circular argument: there are no popular progressive policies because any progressive policies that do become popular are then no longer progressive

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  15. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    You’re assuming that there weren’t other Senate Dems who were hiding behind the skirts of Manchin and Sinema.

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  16. Kylopod says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    This is a circular argument: there are no popular progressive policies because any progressive policies that do become popular are then no longer progressive

    I made no such argument. Your reading comprehension isn’t at its finest today.

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  17. Mu Yixiao says:

    @R. Dave:

    Only until people are told the cost, then support tends to crater back down toward “self-identified Progressive” levels. Saw a tweet yesterday, though I can’t remember the source now, that captured this dynamic nicely. The gist was that basically every poll of American voters looks like this:

    75% support X
    35% support policies required to achieve X

    I’ve discussed “free college” with some young progressives. They hold up Germany as the example we should follow. And then I inform them that the entrance requirements for German colleges are such that about 60% of Americans now attending wouldn’t have been able to get in. And, based on several conversations with my German boss in China, the tax rate for the middle class is over 40%. When I ask these young progressives if they’d be willing to give up 40% of their income so that fewer kids can go to school… they just sputter and change the topic. 🙂

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  18. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    I’m sure there were, but what would they have done without the cover Manchin gave them?

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  19. Michael Cain says:

    On a different axis, there’s room for a western fire-and-water party. The legislature in deep red Utah, a state that has seldom seen a water diversion project it wouldn’t approve, is passing several bills this session with the intent of balancing urban and rural needs and keeping more water in the rivers. The Colorado River water emergency declared last year is going to hit Arizona farmers hard, and put the Republicans there in a bind. The most destructive wildfire in Colorado history hit this past December, well out of the usual fire season. One of the consequences of the big fires on federal lands is that it gets quite expensive to maintain surface water supply quality.

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  20. Neil Hudelson says:

    James,

    The paragraph that starts “Finally, the surprisingly strong 2016 campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) reignited…” should be block-formatted. Normally I wouldn’t care, but in this case the formatting error makes the post a bit confusing. It makes it sound like you’re claiming your policy views are in line with AOC.

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  21. Michael Reynolds says:

    The progressive political theory crashed and burned. They did not turn out the voters they thought they’d turn out. They have not come close to achieving the fabled intersectionality between Black, Hispanic, LGBTQ and White college kid voters. And they blew their brains out with a single word: Defund.

    Progressives failed to take the mayoral spot in Portland, FFS. They failed to take the NYC job. What do they win politically? Nothing. Even San Francisco is sick of them. And from the polls I’ve seen (sparse, admittedly) they’ve gained no ground and attracted no new numbers. They are a niche party centered in Brooklyn, Berkeley and West Hollywood.

    Yes those parts of their policy positions which mirror mainstream Democratic positions are popular. Who doesn’t like universal health care? But progressives are all about who they are, and not so much about what they do. What the country needs is more do, less be. If progressives want to be taken seriously they need some real world accomplishments: let’s start with homelessness in San Francisco, because if they cannot cope with that one problem in the heart of a fantastically rich progressive city why should anyone listen to their national policies?

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  22. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    If progressives want to be taken seriously they need some real world accomplishments: let’s start with homelessness in San Francisco,

    That’s easy! Universal Basic Income! Just give every adult in the US $1,000/mo and all those problems will go away. Who cares if that $3.6 trillion/year is a 76% increase in spending. We’ll just tax the rich.

    (This is my sarcasm face. Can you see my sarcasm face? Because this is it.)

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  23. Gustopher says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    When I ask these young progressives if they’d be willing to give up 40% of their income so that fewer kids can go to school… they just sputter and change the topic.

    That 40% buys a lot more than free college for a smaller number of people — health insurance, a social safety net, etc.

    And isn’t our effective tax rate about 30% on the middle class? Once you factor in sales, state, local, property…

    Your young progressives are either uninformed idiots, or you are mistaking the sounds of eye rolling and “ok boomer” as sputtering.

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  24. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    If progressives want to be taken seriously they need some real world accomplishments: let’s start with homelessness in San Francisco, because if they cannot cope with that one problem in the heart of a fantastically rich progressive city why should anyone listen to their national policies?

    I would offer the same challenge to every party that holds a city government anywhere.

    The only places that have “solved” their homelessness problem are the places that have just driven them off to somewhere else. And with rents rising like mad basically everywhere, it’s going to get worse.

    We need to reform zoning rules, and build a lot more housing at a higher density so people can live where the jobs are. Not even low-income housing, or affordable-housing, or anything like that… just a lot more housing. Even more luxury housing will make the problem less worse.

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  25. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    I’m confused James. First you said:

    I’m still fundamentally an Old Guard Republican

    Then an excerpt and couple paragraphs later:

    a Left-Left Democratic Party. This party includes Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, publications such as the American Prospect and the Intercept, and groups such as the Working Families Party. My own views are closest to this group.

    Italics mine. But how can an old guard Republican have their views closest to the left-left Dems? My first thought was this is another example of the discussion in some other comments here about how popular progressive policies tend to be in the abstract, but I can’t really see that in your case. Can you clarify please?

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  26. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    This is the formatting error I mentioned in my comment. That paragraph is from the WaPo author, not James, just formatted incorrectly.

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  27. Scott says:

    @Gustopher: The homeless “problem” can only be mitigated, not solved.

    Here in San Antonio, we have a lot of services for the homeless. The main one is called Haven for Hope. The problem is there is a hardcore group who won’t avail themselves (for a multitude of reasons) of the services.

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  28. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Gustopher:
    I was about to mention SLC as a place that had solved, or at the very least functionally mitigated homelessness. Turns out, that’s not quite the case: https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2020/05/11/utah-was-once-lauded/ (formatting buttons, including links, have disappeared).

    It looks like Utah functionally DID solve it…for awhile. But once you stop building housing for the homeless, the problem rears up again. And continuously building housing is not a budget item most city councils have. Also, something happened at the end of 2019 that really messed with peoples’ mental health, and homelessness rose.

    “Even more luxury housing will make the problem less worse.”

    Yup. I dabble in real estate development. My very lefty cousin’s husband tried to castigate me as a gentrifier. I pointed out that the houses I’ve bought, I’ve subdivided AND added carriage houses.

    “Sure, but you are still renting them for a profit.”
    “Of course, but for every property I’ve bought I’ve tripled the supply of housing.”
    “What does that have to do with anything?”

    I realized I could either try to explain basic market economics, or just end the conversation. I chose the latter.

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  29. gVOR08 says:

    I’ve in the past noted that we should always differentiate between the amateurs, the voters, and the pros, the politicians, staffs, and funders. Bacon is explicit that he’s talking about the pros.

    Importantly, by “party” I’m referring to an informal group of elected officials, intellectuals and institutions with a shared ideology and policy positions. Rank-and-file voters do play some role in shaping the views of these parties, but I think the process is largely driven by political professionals.

    A week or so ago I quoted a Bacon piece. In that piece he argued that things like defund and CRT made much less difference in elections than generally thought. That piece was heavily data driven. this piece not so much. But the earlier piece was about voting. Much harder to get data on the pros. But the observation that given only two parties, they will tend to be broad, and somewhat uncomfortable, coalitions strikes me as kind of “duh”.

    I tend to see the GOPs as less a broad party than a schizophrenic one. It’s common for an “Old Guard” establishment conservative party to campaign on blood and soil conservatism. Trump didn’t invent the Southern Strategy or astroturf the Tea Party. My beloved Guv DeSantis is, like so many “populist” pols, a graduate of Harvard Law. But, after a generation of FOX “News” we are seeing pols like Boebert and Taylor Green who actually believe the bull.

    Ds strikes me as more of a broad coalition of activists; labor, immigration, environment, BLM, voting rights, LGBTQ, etc. Maybe even broader as LGBTQ and defund came within the Overton Window and business interests alienated by the GOPs drifted in. And as commonly observed, we don’t have real left. We just barely allow a carefully self-styled Social Democrat, socialists and communists are beyond the pale. I think I’m somewhat typical D in that I think the country needs a stiff dose of socialism, but in a primary I always vote for the most electable D.

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  30. CSK says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican: @Neil Hudelson:
    Thanks. That puzzled me as well.

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  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I’m still fundamentally an Old Guard Republican

    Finally, the surprisingly strong 2016 campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) reignited the left wing of the Democratic Party and created our fourth party — a Left-Left Democratic Party. This party includes Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, publications such as the American Prospect and the Intercept, and groups such as the Working Families Party. My own views are closest to this group.

    It seems to me that these two statements can’t be true (or maybe honest) at the same time. Then again, it may be that “Old Guard Republicans” have been voting for the wrong candidates since Reagan (or even earlier).

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  32. CSK says:

    @Scott:
    Back in the 1980s, Phillips Brooks House in Cambridge, Ma. set up housing for the homeless. The homeless were perfectly happy to avail themselves of the food and bathroom facilities, but they left at dusk to reclaim their grates.

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  33. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:
    Yes, we need more high density housing. We also need more rehab. We need to stop pretending that everyone living under a freeway is an economic refugee when a very significant number are drug addicts and the mentally ill.

    Top Ten homeless problem cities: New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Jose, San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland, Phoenix, the District and Boston – not a lot of conservative hotbeds in that group. You could point at that these are mostly warm, dry places which certainly helps homeless people. But Houston, San Antonio, Atlanta, Miami, Lauderdale, etc… are also warm.

    This is a problem concentrated in Democratic states and in progressive cities. I don’t know about the fiscal issues in Massachusetts or or Washington, but California is drowning in tax revenue and spending it on a stupid railroad from nowhere to nowhere that will solve zero problems.

    Nothing succeeds like success, as they say. If a progressive San Fran or LA found a way to cut their homeless population by two-thirds they’d have some standing. Failure to address this issue even when money is abundant, is not a good look for the people who want to completely overhaul the American economic system.

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  34. Jay L Gischer says:

    Apparently in the court case over redistricting in PA, the Rs pushed for an “at-large” election, which appears to be what the laws of PA require if the maps aren’t redrawn in time. (The link first discusses a similar case in NC. Scroll down for the PA stuff.)

    But an “at-large” election would seem to be exactly what Steven has been advocating, and maybe just the sort of thing that would encourage the emergence of more than two parties.

    And I seriously doubt that the parties that emerge would look all that much like those described in the OP.

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  35. Mister Bluster says:

    @Scott:..The problem is there is a hardcore group who won’t avail themselves (for a multitude of reasons) of the services.

    I suspect that alot of those reasons have to do with the woefully inadequate care available to citizens who experience mental illness.
    Including but not limited to schizophrenia.

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  36. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Gustopher:

    And isn’t our effective tax rate about 30% on the middle class? Once you factor in sales, state, local, property…

    All of which Germans pay on top of their income tax.

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  37. Kylopod says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    But an “at-large” election would seem to be exactly what Steven has been advocating, and maybe just the sort of thing that would encourage the emergence of more than two parties.

    I’m also puzzled by why Republicans would consider this an own, from their perspective. The entire purpose of partisan gerrymandering is to skew the map in their favor, relative to the popular vote–so for instance they’d win 52% of the statewide popular vote but pick up 60% or more of the seats. Wouldn’t at-large (that means statewide, right?) elections instantly deprive them of that ability?

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  38. Gustopher says:

    @CSK, @Scott: Imagine what a shitty place it has to be if a grate on the street is better.

    That’s a service that is not meeting the needs of the intended customers. Is it not safe because of the crazy people? Is it so restrictive with rules that the crazy people cannot successfully stay there?

    The homeless population is incredibly diverse, and one size fits all solutions are not going to work.

    A large portion is the working poor who used to have an apartment, but either fell behind on rent after an emergency, or were finally priced out of apartments anywhere near where they work. They’re not the drug addicted lunatics… yet. They’re definitely not on a good path though.

    I don’t know what to do about the drug addicted lunatics, except to try to catch as many people before they get there as we can — build more housing, offer emergency cash assistance to those who have an emergency and get behind on their rent, fix the entire American economy, etc.

    Right now, most cities have rising property prices (buy and rent) and low vacancy rates. That’s the easiest problem to solve. Still very hard, but the easiest.

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  39. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: You just listed the largest cities. And your counter examples all have rapidly rising housing prices and are just a few years behind the curve. Miami’s rents are up 30% year-over-year.

    You might as well be saying that Progressivism is a failed political movement because it hasn’t solved cold fusion. If that’s your metric, all political movements have failed of late when given the chance to lead.

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  40. Mister Bluster says:

    Salt Lake City
    Saw these a few years ago when I finally made it to SLC just so I could say that I have been there. I guess they were supposed to mitigate panhandling. I wonder how that worked out?

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  41. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:

    You just listed the largest cities.

    No, the ten largest cities are NYC, LA, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philly, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas and San Jose. San Francisco and Seattle are smaller than Indianapolis and Charlotte. Washington is the same size as Nashville or Oklahoma City.

    As far as we know cold fusion is not possible. Are you saying that solving homelessness is equally impossible? And if homelessness is cold fusion, what’s climate change, FTL travel?

    Progressives can’t solve actual real-world problems because doing so often requires compromises and measures that would be too icky for idealists. What they’ve accomplished so far has been in the vital fields of pronouns and the re-naming of schools. Their main advance on homelessness has been to re-label homeless people as unhoused people. Identity is not action. Euphemisms are not action. Narcissism is not action. If you can’t do X why would I believe you can do 10X?

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  42. CSK says:

    @Gustopher:
    The Phillips Brooks facilities weren’t in the least bit shitty. Preferring a sidewalk grating to a warm, clean, dry cot in a warm, clean, dry space is a sign of mental illness, not fastidiousness. If offered a suite in the Ritz-Carlton, these poor souls would spurn it. They had to hurry back to their grates for fear someone else would usurp them.

    That’s mental illness. It requires treatment.

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  43. Scott says:

    @Gustopher: You totally miss the point. The majority of the homeless needs are being taken care of and taken care of well. The services are being provided. And yet you say they must be “shitty services” if a small minority prefers to be on grates? At the same time you don’t know what to do about the “drug addicted lunatics”? Kind of incoherent.

    The public problem is that the hard core rejectors of services are the public face of homelessness and are the ones the public does not (nor should have to) interface with.

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  44. CSK says:

    @Scott:
    We seem to be making the identical point.

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  45. Scott says:

    @CSK: Yep

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  46. Modulo Myself says:

    The idea that cities can solve homelessness is mind-numbingly obtuse. What’s SF going to do–create their own mental-health system which provides good free care for adults, but only for SF? Our medical system is a network of huge corporations. Progressives have spent decades arguing for free health care. I don’t know of any other way to deal with mental health and addiction for people on the margins. Same goes with housing: we have a housing shortage because housing is not a public good. It’s an investment for NIMBYs and developers who want a high rate of return. All cities can do is strip away a few zoning regs here or there and try to get developers to dial in some ‘affordable’ housing as tax-giveaways.

    We can go on and on about progressives and how out-of-touch they are, but I don’t see any other political ideology in this country trying to deal with reality. Defund may have been a dumb slogan, but it has nothing to do with the rise in crime. I can believe that bail reform might, but our system was an inhumane mess before that. That’s the problem with 4 or 8 or 33 parties. The big divide is between the morbidly-dumb inept status quo waddling in circles like the dullest cop on earth while feeding itself on stories of how bad poor people are and the other people who understand how bleak and lost the operation is.

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  47. MarkedMan says:

    : @Gustopher: I come across a lot of panhandlers in my area (I live in downtown Baltimore), and most of those appear to be functionally homeless as they sleep on the street unless the weather is really bad. The significant majority are users of one kind or another, i.e. “drug addicted lunatics”.

    FWIW, a smaller but still significant portion of the homeless in my area are obviously severely mentally ill and so their choices about whether to go to a shelter or not might have more to do with what their voices are telling them than what makes the best sense for their well being. And I suspect a yet smaller but not insignificant portion are “professional homeless” and not actually homeless, i.e. they view panhandling as a job they commute to. (I have no hard numbers for how prevalent this is, rather it’s a vibe, and based on a couple of cases over the years where a reporter had followed such a person home and saw them walk a good distance away, get into a reasonably nice car, and then drive to a nice home, park and go in.)

    No doubt people who are unemployed and driven out of an expensive housing market contribute to the homeless problem, but at least in my area I guess that a hefty majority are drug addicts and/or alcoholics, or mentally ill. Those are by far the hardest to deal with. By far.

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  48. BugManDan says:

    @Kylopod: If you have 52% of the voters and they get a separate vote for each race, your %win goes from the original 60% to much closer to 100.

    Not sure if this is how it would be in PA or not

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  49. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    And if homelessness is cold fusion, what’s climate change, FTL travel?

    FTL Time travel.

    Normal time travel is easy, but you keep going forward one second for every second you go back (well, every chroniton length times the Planck constant to the square of the Farnsworth parabox, in 5-dimensional spacetime adjusted for relativistic effects, if you want to be simplistic).

    So you need to travel FTL through time backwards in order to go back and kill hitler when it will do any good. Apparently no one has done this yet. There’s also the matter of whether we would even know if it happened.

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  50. Just nutha says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Interestingly, Neil’s comment posted in the interim between when I finished reading the comments available and when I posted. It would have been good to reload the page, but I didn’t. Thanks for the clarification.

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  51. Scott says:

    @MarkedMan: A not insignificant percentage of homeless people (not the ones we see on the streets) are those women and children fleeing an abusive relationship. Housing, job aid, legal services, child care are all required. Getting people back on their feet is a large part of the job. However, they are not the public face that get people riled up.

    As a side note, my daughter volunteers on getting folks IDs. Just a large part of being able to function in a modern society. We tend not to think of this as a huge barrier to moving forward.

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  52. senyordave says:

    @Mu Yixiao: There are no local income taxes in Germany. Property taxes are very complex to calculate, but they are considered extremely low, typically .36% to 1% of assessed value, but this is then multiplied by a location coefficient of between 2.6% to 5% for former West Germany and 5% to 10% for former GDR. The article I looked at had this to say: Most apartments in Berlin will only incur between 80 and 150 euros in yearly property taxes.

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  53. grumpy realist says:

    @Mister Bluster: One of the major problems with the homeless is the high percentage of addicts and mentally ill among them.(Many of who have both problems.)

    Plus there’s the fact that a lot of mentally ill individuals can’t or won’t admit that they need help, and unless they’re an immediate danger to themselves or people around them, can’t be institutionalised. (Not to mention the number of people who decide to stop taking their medication because of side effects/I feel okay now and spiral back down into the abyss.)

    We’re not going to get anywhere with homelessness until we figure out a way to deal with this.

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  54. Mu Yixiao says:

    To illustrate Michael’s point:

    According to a new [Los Angeles] audit, the program is “still unable to meet the demands of the homelessness crisis,” and the total number of housing units built so far is “wholly inadequate.” While the project is more than halfway to its projected completion date, the city is nowhere near halfway done building, and costs are skyrocketing. The initiative was pitched as delivering 10,000 housing units, but so far, only about 1,100 have been built. And even though more than 87 percent of the planned units are studio or one-bedroom apartments, the audit found that some units are costing more than $700,000 to build, with some costing as much as $837,000 apiece.

    [emphasis added]

    Meanwhile in Austin

    The Good Samaritan had been dispatched by Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a faith-based charity that delivers food to needy Austin residents. The organization had also constructed a village nearby for homeless people. Urged on by the socks-and-food-delivering stranger, Click applied for residency and was accepted. He drove the vehicle where he had been sleeping to Community First! Village, a neighborhood with neat rows of micro-homes and R.V.s situated on the outskirts of town, northeast of central Austin. Freshly paved roads and tree-covered walking paths passed by wooden porch swings, a community center, and gardens bursting with produce. There was a barbershop, an art studio, a chapel, and an outdoor movie theater. Click moved into a single-room cottage with canvas walls, essentially a glorified tent—”the cheapest thing going,” he says—and found work on-site. After years of wandering, he was home.

    Set on a 51-acre parcel of land eight miles from the Texas State Capitol, Community First! Village opened its doors in late 2015 and has become one of the nation’s most renowned private programs for alleviating homelessness. The property houses more than 180 formerly homeless people in a tightknit neighborhood. Each residence has a porch facing a public space that encourages interaction with neighbors, a crucial design feature for a vulnerable population recovering from years of isolation.

    Once again, private people do what government can’t.

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  55. EddieInCA says:

    @Scott:

    The problem is there is a hardcore group who won’t avail themselves (for a multitude of reasons) of the services.

    This. No city will ever solve the homelessness problem as long as a sizeable amount of people WANT to live in the streets. Every winter between 2000 and 2006, I worked with a charity that would roam the street, literally, every night the weather dropped below 40 degrees, and look for homeless people to put into a shelter. The shelters had space, yet you’d all be shocked at how many refused even a little bit of help. As MR says above, alot of them were dealing with mental issues, but too many of them just had made a choice to live on the street, and were never going to take help because it took away from their “personal choice to be free”. After six years, I couldn’t do it any more. I was very sanguine and idealistic when I started. Six years later, I really stopped caring because I realized too many of the people on the streets wanted to be there.

    The charity I used to help, Hope of the Valley”, has moved on to creating “Tiny Home Villages” rather than focusing on shelters. The tiny homes have multiple beds, a desk, air conditioning an dhead, and onsite showers, food, job training. They’re a 501-C doing amazing work. If you have any extra funds laying around, consider donating.

    https://www.hopeofthevalley.org/tinyhomes/

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  56. gVOR08 says:

    Via Digby, Steve M. does a thorough review of Perry Bacon’s piece. He mostly agrees about Dems, but disagrees about Republicans. Sure, there are two Republican parties, but not an Old Guard and Trumpists split on policy, just a difference in style.

    The only split right now is between the Trumpists and the batshit crazy Trumpists

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  57. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    So you need to travel FTL through time backwards in order to go back and kill hitler when it will do any good. Apparently no one has done this yet. There’s also the matter of whether we would even know if it happened.

    Who’s Hitler? Never heard of him.

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  58. Scott says:

    @EddieInCA: @Mu Yixiao: That seems to be the trend these days. A similar community in Austin (Esperanza Community ) (actually the organizer, Chris Baker) was the subject of a Season 6, Queer Eye episode – Gimme Shelter this year.

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  59. DK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    If a progressive San Fran or LA found a way to cut their homeless population by two-thirds they’d have some standing.

    “If only California found a way to change its climate to Minneapolis and Chicago temperatures.”

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  60. Matt says:

    @Mister Bluster: That would be what I witnessed when I took my time to talk to some of the homeless in San Antonio and Corpus Christi. There were some people who just simply got fcked by the economy or businesses closing down at inopportune times. A lot of them though clearly needed help with mental issues..

    I also got to hear about some abuses and poor staff interactions at that Haven mentioned earlier.. Also you can drive down to the Haven and find people who would love to have coats or any warm clothing during winter. Their needs are NOT being taken care of as claimed… Or you know they wouldn’t be desperately looking for work, housing or basic clothing..

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  61. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “And they blew their brains out with a single word: Defund.”

    Doesn’t matter how many times this has been debunked, you will never stop believing it. And you say you don’t like religion!

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  62. Matt says:

    @MarkedMan:

    a couple of cases over the years where a reporter had followed such a person home and saw them walk a good distance away, get into a reasonably nice car, and then drive to a nice home, park and go in.

    Yeah I’m going to need a link to that because I keep running into people online making those claims and they always end up referring to a comedy..

    Last time I had someone make that claim in front of me they litterly described a scene out of “Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood” including the car and suit.

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  63. DK says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    When I ask these young progressives if they’d be willing to give up 40% of their income so that fewer kids can go to school… they just sputter and change the topic.

    A bit of a dishonest argument, since even if we were to subsidize college tuition for every student — which no one is asking for — it would not require 40% tax rates across the board. Those kinds of tax rates would be required for Bernie’s universal-and-unrationed single payer healthcare delusions, but not for “free college” alone. Total college tuition is a drop is a bucket compared to total military and healthcare spending.

    The bulk of the income young workers are giving up already goes to defense spending and subsidizing the retirements of their parents and parents, who are now stealing from young peoples’ Social Security and Medicare trusts to cover for their generation’s fiscal irresponsibility and socioeconomic selfishness: cutting taxes for themselves while spending like drunken sailors on unfunded wars.

    This after, getting degrees and real estate on the cheap in the 60s-80s then jacking up prices exponentially when they became landlords and executives, refusing to index wage growth, refusing to do anything about climate change, and raising white supremacy from the dead at the ballot box.

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  64. wr says:

    @Mu Yixiao: “When I ask these young progressives if they’d be willing to give up 40% of their income so that fewer kids can go to school… they just sputter and change the topic. ”

    Ah, the uncheckable personal anecdote that proves that anyone who disagrees with the speaker is naive or a hypocrite. Most commonly used in the form of conversations with a cab driver or some other popular iteration of the common man, but a group of students is good too.

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  65. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “If progressives want to be taken seriously they need some real world accomplishments: let’s start with homelessness in San Francisco, because if they cannot cope with that one problem in the heart of a fantastically rich progressive city why should anyone listen to their national policies?”

    Sure. Just as we make conservatives show their real world accomplishments. Let’s start with opioid addiction and poverty in their rural districts.

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  66. Matt says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    Once again, private people do what government can’t.

    More like private people do what the government run by Republicans refuse to do. You’re talking about the state of Texas here the state that has the highest rate of uninsured, one of the highest rates of households experiencing hunger/poverty/etcetc…

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  67. wr says:

    @Modulo Myself: “We can go on and on about progressives and how out-of-touch they are, but I don’t see any other political ideology in this country trying to deal with reality.”

    Yes, but progressives try and fail, we must hate them for it so that we don’t notice we’re not trying at all.

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  68. Thomm says:

    @wr: but some progressives we’re mean to him on Twitter so everything they do is wrong

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  69. wr says:

    @Mu Yixiao: “Once again, private people do what government can’t.”

    Yes, you should read the article in today’s NY Times about the lovely privately owned non-profits that Minneapolis was forced to use to feed poor people during the pandemic. It seems like they hardly stole more than 80 or 90% of what they received. Private is always better, man.

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  70. Sleeping Dog says:

    @DK:

    Minneapolis has a horrid homeless crisis. On a per capita basis it is likely as bad as LA or SF, so cold weather isn’t a solution.

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  71. mattbernius says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    I suspect that alot of those reasons have to do with the woefully inadequate care available to citizens who experience mental illness.

    Long-term mental illness is part of the challenge. It can also be acute emotional problems (like depression) created by the situation. It can also be the result of complex trauma (in particular, trauma experienced in childhood aka ACEs).

    The challenge with our system is so many of the safety net options are (1) stretched beyond capacity to effectively triage acute issues and (2) place a significant administrative burden on people to go through the process of accessing services.

    The reality is that most of the personal issues above make it very difficult to successfully do things like *fill out forms* or *make the interviews* that are often required to get access to services.

    Equally problematic is that its really difficult to quickly get aid when things are *starting* to go bad, meaning that folks have to be on the down slide for a while before they can often get the aid they need. Which creates emergency situations.

    Another thing that is worth noting is a lot of these folks have had BAD interactions with the State and that also leads them to avoid getting help as well (for honestly rational reasons).

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  72. Just nutha says:

    @wr: It’s only my religion he doesn’t like. 😉

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  73. Just nutha says:

    @DK: Ayup! Fortunately for my generation, no body believes you.

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  74. Fog says:

    #1 I can’t help but think this discussion would be more fruitful if it was informed by information on the tax rates of large, industrialized countries (including our own) and summaries of what those taxes buy the taxpayer. The topic of “what taxes buy” has a cropped up several times in this thread. We should know all this already, shouldn’t we? How else can see if we are getting our money’s worth? Economy of scale is a real thing, and I would like to know if privatization has been a good deal for the taxpayer or not. It’s been going on long enough. There should be enough numbers. From where I sit in Tallahassee I know private prisons were not, drug testing all welfare applicants was not, but that’s only two examples off the top of my head.
    #2. Stop me if I’m wrong, but my belief is that capitalist economies run on money, and the vast majority of that money comes in the form of consumer spending (c.70%). Therefore the tide that raises all boats is increasing workers wages, not handing tax cuts to people whose only qualification is not needing one. High levels of wages coincide with high levels of economic growth. More money buys more products and the standards of living rise across the board. But yet we have the people who advocate for higher wages being cursed as socialists and communists and businessmen who are doing their level best to hold wages down, excepting their own. Now just who is the real enemy of capitalism here? Who is working for prosperity and who isn’t?

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  75. Gustopher says:

    @CSK: Shitty from the perspective of the potential clients.

    Getting people off the streets can be hard. Getting the right level of services that they are able to accept.

    You either require sobriety which drives some away, or others feel unsafe. Etc.

    And then there are a few schizophrenics. And urban campers. But those are a vanishingly small part of the problem.

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  76. gVOR08 says:

    @Fog:

    Stop me if I’m wrong, but my belief is that capitalist economies run on money, and the vast majority of that money comes in the form of consumer spending (c.70%).

    The other components of GDP are business investment, government, and net exports. Quick Google says you’re right, consumer spending is about 70%. And business investment is about 18%. It’s a pet peeve of mine that business investment is discussed as though it’s a separate thing, perhaps even competing with consumer spending. But why do businesses invest? To collect consumer spending. Consumer spending and investment driven by that spending are essentially the entire economy.

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  77. Mister Bluster says:

    @grumpy realist:..a lot of mentally ill individuals can’t or won’t admit that they need help, and unless they’re an immediate danger to themselves or people around them, can’t be institutionalised.
    @Matt:..A lot of them though clearly needed help with mental issues
    @mattbernius:..Long-term mental illness is part of the challenge.
    Thank you for your remarks.
    My mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the mid 50s when she was in her 30s and I was 8 years old. I am very familiar with the behaviors and circumstances you have all mentioned. Fortunately for her my father stuck with her til the day he died some 40 plus years after her diagnosis. My siblings and I did what we could to assist in the management of her disease once we understood what was going on and drugs were developed to mitigate her symptoms but dad was her main support. Every day I see women pushing their shopping carts full of their possessions up and down the city streets and think that could have been my mother but for my dad and his loyality to her.

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  78. Matt Bernius says:

    @Mister Bluster:
    Thank you for sharing. That was a lot to deal with.

    The reality is, intentionally or not, systems have historically not been designed to handle folks with needs like your mother.

    There are efforts to try and change that. And it is very slow work.

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  79. Tony W says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: This link describes a particular district in Washington that seems to be positively affected by the top two primary.

    Herrera-Buetler is a moderate from a very conservative part of the state, who may well get away with putting “country first” by voting to impeach Trump – solely because of the top-two primary system.

    While the Republican ‘brass’ would love to punish her, they can’t control the ballot the way they can in other states. They can certainly put a three-letter-name-type candidate on the ballot, and that person might even win the primary – but they won’t win the general election against Herrera-Buetler, who will pick up D support as well as opposition R votes.

    It’s just one example, but it’s one I see cited often.

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  80. Michael Reynolds says:

    @wr:

    Sure. Just as we make conservatives show their real world accomplishments. Let’s start with opioid addiction and poverty in their rural districts.

    Did you think this brilliant riposte would stun me? Obviously conservatives should be held to account. Liberals likewise. Everyone, everywhere, of every political persuasion, every class, every religion, every ideology or philosophy should be judged by what they do, not by what they profess.

    Duh.

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  81. Michael Reynolds says:

    @wr:
    How has it been debunked? Republicans aren’t making hay off that word? Because it kind of seems like they are. Why do you think Biden had to call for more funds for the cops? Why do you think Dems all over the country are having to bend over backward to be generous on police funding.

    Defund was a fantastically stupid bit of self-harm and if you can’t see that you’re just delusional.

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  82. @Steven L. Taylor: Thanks, Steven (and Google Alerts), for referencing my work! Here is what I wrote on Final Five. There are derivative and/or related blog posts floating around, but that piece was written for elite FFV supporters.

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  83. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “How has it been debunked?”

    Here is a specific debunking, if you care to have your cherished prejudices challenged:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/03/01/democrats-republicans-2022election-midterms-wokeness-defund-education/

    Probably the key paragraph in an analysis that is worth reading all the way through:

    “But defund was also a convenient story for Democratic leaders to embrace — they could blame activists for the party’s worse-than-expected performance instead of examining the decisions of Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other party officials who barely managed to defeat one of the worst presidents in American history.”

    Blaming defund just works for everyone. Republicans get a new boogeyman, the “moderate” dems get to claim once again after getting everything they wanted that any failure comes from those darn lefties, and you get to hate on progressives. At that point it doesn’t really matter what’s true as long as it feels good to keep saying it.

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  84. @Jack Santucci: Google Alerts is kind of like the Batsignal!

    Thanks for posting the link.

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