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Democrats’ Big Tent is Stretched to the Breaking Point

Remember when elections were fun? Each candidate put on their game face and brought their best to the table in attempt to outwit one another on the campaign trail. Candidates promised voters the world — touting how they intend to help families, jobs, education and national security to name a few.

Those days are gone. The old dogs of the Democrat party, in particular, have become visibly cynical. President Biden sternly gazed over onlookers at a recent speech, warning that a vote for a Republican might as well be a vote for an election-denying political extremist. Donald Trump may out of office, yet the post-traumatic stress disorder rages on. Americans may have more pressing concerns — like how to afford their skyrocketing food, energy and housing costs — yet the MAGA-inspired fearmongering continues at MSNBC, CNN and in the pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post. The social media echo chamber does its part to amplify our dire “reality” — which sets the stage for still more self-fulfilling political prophecies of the same.

America is in a funk. For the political establishment, the culprit is not inflation, crime, yet another COVID-19 variant, diesel shortages that threaten to plunge the Northeast into a deadly winter— or even the prospect of “nuclear Armageddon” in Ukraine. The real problem? Democrats refuse to share power with Republicans.

While it is not unusual for Americans to be subjected to hefty-dose of negativity in an election year, what has changed in recent years is that social-media saturated Americans endure election-year mudslinging 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is enough to make anyone cynical, with a majority of Americans convinced, according to a recent poll, that Democracy is in trouble. What is more, when politicians and pundits take to social/media year-around to peddle an endless stream of alarmism, it leaves very little room to raise the ante in the run-up to an election without straying into the weeds of the absurd and downright hysterical.

If nothing more, the Midterm 2022 elections will answer the $64,000 question: Will voters take the bait?

Judging by the furrowed brows and weary looks on the faces of those who have carried the Democratic party the longest, the jig may soon be up. Take, for example, former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, wide-eyed and sounding a familiar alarm: Republicans, she warned, “literally have a plan to steal the 2024 election”.

Even the formerly unflappable President Obama is not immune. The Barrack Obama many of us remember in the mid 2000s carried himself with optimism, flashed a million-dollar smile and transfixed voters with his knack for oration. The Obama of 2022 hit the campaign trail on behalf of Democrats with doom and gloom on the mind. The positive attitude that carried the former president over the electoral finish line not once but twice — financial crisis notwithstanding — has been replaced with a wagging finger. Like his former vice president and secretary of state, campaigning on behalf of 2022 Midterm election candidates has been less about “bringing out the vote” as opposed to an attempt to scare up the vote.

For Democrats, fear is apparently the only tool left in the toolbox.

If the transformation of “The Big Tent” to The Big Party Poopers has left you, too, shaking your head, you are not alone.

What the heck happened?

The economy, for one. But beyond that, Democrats’ devotion to identity politics has left the party fractured and at times incoherent. The DNC has left moderate Democrats, Independents, undecided voters, anti-war voters and faith-and-family-oriented Black and Hispanic voters behind as they battle for the loyalties of a tribalized constituency. Effectively, there is no fringe element within the Big Tent that the party refuses to appease. Nothing is off the table, be it proposals to give convicted felons and non-citizens the right to vote, to ghoulish proposals that go further than any Western country to allow “birthing persons” to abort full-term infants.

In the name of protecting transgendered rights, similarly, Democrats are blazing new trails — just not on behalf of adults. Democrats have instead set their sights on youth with gender dysphoria — with some lawmakers going so far as to argue that parents who refuse to support a child’s chemical or physical alteration should be charged with child abuse. Because Democrats’ default position is an apparent belief that parents cannot be trusted to help their children navigate their way to adulthood, the civil rights frontier in 2022 consists of things like championing the right of minors to adopt a different gender identity at school, under the affirming tutelage of teachers and administrators. So fearful are Democrats that parents do not have their child’s best interests, that progressives are working to enshrine into State, if not ultimately Federal law, the right of children to receive “gender affirming care” (hormonal/surgical gender transition) even without parental knowledge or consent.

In pursuit of what was once called political correctness — known today as “woke” — the modern Democratic party would appear to be in a race to the bottom in attempt to accommodate a never-ending list of diverse — yet nonetheless competing — identity groups. Democrats’ prevailing approach to politics and policy all but demands that anything and everything conservatives oppose, liberals must absorb into the Democratic fold with little thought as to whether or not such “inclusion” is politically advantageous. Americans, to cite another example, are under mounting pressure to redefine what constitutes a sexual predator. Those whom our society once readily and without controversy identified as deviants, creeps and pedophiles, irrespective of how we (or they) may vote, are quietly being rebranded as Minor Attracted Persons (MAP) — yet another fringe identity group that is hellbent on hitching a ride into the mainstream on the Democrat party’s broad coattails.    

Trying to keep everyone in the Big Tent happy means, increasingly, keeping no one happy at all. Democrats, for instance, have begun to lose their most reliable supporters — feminists — many of whom object to biological females being knocked out of the running for scholarships, thanks to liberals’ fear of offending a “micro minority”: transgendered athletes. The very women/girls Democrats past fought to protect via Title IX of the Civil Rights Act are being elbowed out of the way, they argue, by new-and-improved transgender females who, among other things, have been given carte blanche access to women/girls’ sports — and locker rooms — even in the absence of gender transition surgery.

The woke wing of the party has backed mainline Democrats into a corner in which saying No for the sake of preserving credibility among mainstream American voters is off limits. Translating social justice objectives into action, for example, in practice means that prison populations must be emptied into the streets in the name of antiracism. Whereas criminal justice reform advocates started out by promoting sensible reforms — to reduce prison overcrowding and eliminate “three strikes” inspired penalties for nonviolent offenders, antiracism advocates, bound by an ironclad commitment to equity, have dedicated themselves to reform — if not abolition of the prison system entirely — at all costs. Tragically, proponents of such equity make little or no distinction between first-time offenders and repeat, violent felons who abuse their get-out-of-jail-free cards to kill family members and terrorize their communities — often within hours of release from police custody.

Progressive politicians and leftist district attorneys who prioritize ideology over real-world consequences have taken the Democratic party to a place that is not merely offensive to conservatives but unrecognizable to Independents and Blue Dog Democrats. How, for example, do we call it “social justice” if the marginalized communities the Democrat party claims to represent disproportionately stand to become victims of progressive soft-on-crime policies? Assuaging white guilt by vowing to end mass incarceration is no more a form of reparations than abolishing broken windows policing for petty offenses such as public intoxication has delivered on the promise to free up law enforcement to “go after the real criminals”.

However one may feel about these trends, this much is clear: Democrats risk shooting their electoral hopes in the foot by weighing in on ever-more complex, personal and private matters, thereby churning out an endless stream of social and political wedge issues. Agreed-upon aspects of the social contract — in which parents, not politicians, decide how best to raise their own children — have come under assault from the party that non-ironically insists that political extremism is the exclusive domain of the far Right. (One wonders, as an aside, if liberal politicians and pundits ever hear themselves talk? If one subscribes to “traditional values”, it generally translates to the status quo — as in refusing to abandon established customs and values — not attempting, as progressives and self-described radicals do, to re-imagine a litany of issues from law enforcement, gender identity and the nuclear family to any other number of legal and cultural fronts.)

If the far Left could be made to understand their policy failings as much as the far Right has been urged to understand theirs, a liberal epiphany might go something like this: Ideology, no matter how well intended, is not synonymous with progress. Refusing to accept observed, reproducible and irrefutable reality on its own terms — because academic theory and associated ideology are in the driver’s seat of progressive public policy — harms society to the extent it doggedly refuses to acknowledge when the effect (consequence) that follows from the cause (public policy) undermines the stated goal. If, say, the goal is to right the wrongs of systemic racism, dumbing down the public education system so that minority students “feel good” while receiving a lesser quality education in the belief that academic excellence is inherently “white” — effectively a whites-only pursuit! — amounts to an even more insidious form of institutionalized racism.

In short, Democrats have stretched the Big Tent so thin over the past three decades that it is now on the verge of a breaking point. And that begs a question:

How many elections are Democrats willing to risk before they appreciate that to embrace identity politics is to become beholden to everyone yet paradoxically answerable to none?

For liberals, the cost of enablement in the belief that “tolerance” is a political panacea has come home to roost: Not every fringe is worthy of inclusion. Not every academic theory should be mainstreamed. Not every crime should be decriminalized. Not every lifestyle is deserving of becoming the next civil rights battleground. If, for example, Americans overwhelmingly agree that child predators are pariahs, extending the diversity and inclusion umbrella to MAP proponents is hardly a hill worth dying on.

How do Democrats reclaim their party for the mainstream? It begins with reaffirming core principles. At its core, social and therefore political stability is derived from education, economic opportunity, personal integrity and intact marriage and family units. If instead of elevating society to a better place, decades of Democrat-dominated institutions and academia-inspired public policy experiments have paralleled rising levels of homelessness, crime and declining proficiency on the part of K-12 students, it is no longer reasonable, rational or responsible to project blame on political opponents.

Rather than double down in effort to save face, mainline Democrats must insist that their party return to the drawing board.

The American K-12 public education system is by no means a bit player in the downward spiral of poverty, crime, drug abuse and homelessness that has erupted from coast to coast. Accepting the status quo within failing inner-city public schools, arguably, is the single-most best example of systemic racism in 21st Century America. Absent a path out of poverty created by a fully accountable K-12 education system, taxpayers are effectively “investing” in the school-to-prison pipeline. To this end, broken homes do not arise, chiefly, as a result of mass incarceration — but the soft bigotry of low expectations in which at-risk children are thrown away by “the system” at the early stages of life, left with few resources by which to form intact families and thereby go on to enjoy the social mobility afforded by a stable, dual-income household later in life.

The institutionalized racism academic theory proposes as a root cause for mass incarceration and related social ills all but ignores the role of political cronyism and therefore fails to acknowledge the “culture of entrenched interests” as a factor not only in inequality and racism but the broader threat of national decline. “First principles” in effort to improve outcomes within marginalized communities remain unchanged, however, no matter how we assign blame: Community investment, safer streets, pro-family resources (after-school programs, churches, jobs training, etc.) and a fully accountable K-12 education system. These are commonsense objectives liberals and conservatives, alike, can and indeed must agree upon.

To reform a decades-old legacy of Wrong Outcomes, the first order of business, no matter who comes out on top November 8, must be to overhaul the K-12 public school system. Reform does not mean making new demands on teachers’ limited classroom time to promote the social justice objectives embedded in critical race theory and gender theory. It means, simply, first things first: Accountability for under-performing schools.

American political leaders, without fear or favor to status-quo defending interests, must insist that educational outcomes matter again.

The duality of patting schoolchildren on the back with one hand while simultaneously working against the interests of academic excellence to “flatten the academic curve” (racial inequalities) by discontinuing gifted programs and/or taking aim at Advanced Placement classes — if not also barring educators from suspending students who disrupt the learning environment — must be seen for what it is: A defense of mediocrity. And the new face of racism.

Rather than risk this if not future elections — while blaming Republicans for the hole in which they find themselves — Democrats must be willing to engage in serious soul searching. For starters, how is equity a noble social justice goal if the practical consequence of equity-driven public policy is to cement the disadvantages that under-served communities already contend with in the misguided belief that public safety and academic achievement are rooted in “whiteness” and therefore racism?

Liberals need to take a step back and appreciate, if nothing more, this much: Beyond the confines of ivory tower academia, diversity, inclusion, equity and antiracism-derived public policy measures have, collectively, begun to play to the broader electorate as an excuse for local, State and federal governments to work themselves out of the most basic functions of good governance: a functional criminal justice system, a functional public education system and an internationally-competitive economy.

The take-home message is not to deny that inequality and associated social ills exist, rather that woke policy solutions are often as flawed as the systemically racist practices they seek to replace. Is there anything more “systemic” about racism, after all, than the classist double standards for the prep-school offspring of the coastal elite in contrast to declining expectations for the children of the poor, Black, brown and the American middle class at large?

What happened to the Democrat party? The answer may be as far away as China — or as close as the nearest mirror. Republicans, to be sure, have their own problems with extremists among their ranks. But Democrats have some housecleaning to do of their own.

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Coming Soon? Brace for 80% Less Salary or $2-a-Day Pay

She’s the world’s wealthiest woman you’ve never heard of and she’s saying something you probably wish you hadn’t: “Gina Rinehart, world’s richest woman, makes case for $2-a-day pay“,the Los Angeles Times reports.

The Australian mining heiress has a problem. The cost of running a mining operation in Australia cannot compete with Africans willing to work a continent away for $2 per day.

There’s a certain elementary logic to Rinehart’s argument. If the two nations are selling raw materials at vastly different prices because of vastly different costs of labor, her operation loses. In a worse-case scenario, it might not even make sense to go on operating. From Rinehart’s perspective, profit is the objective and benevolence is a job — never mind if the jobs she creates fails to compensate workers well enough to keep the lights on. She’s precariously positioned on that slippery slope so common to today’s political and trade debates: It could be worse: no jobs.

The world’s richest woman has a point. But it doesn’t pass the sustainable-future test.

Some 25-years ago when global “free trade” was hawked by conservatives and liberals as a win-win for business interests and the world’s impoverished alike, the promise was to “raise all boats”. Indeed, in many ways it has. Rural Third World peasants — depending on how one looks at it, born into a harsh or bucolic life — have left land and sea to toil in immense factories, working 12 or more hours for dimes a day to sew our garments, assemble our toasters and televisions, print our books and increasingly, even, to can our food. As a result: An entire generation of aspirational laborers now shares the dream of a more affluent life in the big city — pay no mind to the slums. If not reality, it’s hope that keeps the wheels of progress rolling.

Perhaps out of nostalgia for the past we downplay the social, economic and environmental ramifications of the world’s most populous nations, China and India, following our same choppy path to progress. We were once like them: Fearless, youthful economies, willing to strip entire mountains and topple entire forests for a fast buck (and in some parts of the country, we still are). Still, what needs to be asked at this juncture in the global trade game doesn’t get its due but is having its way with us just the same.

Who says our Third World trade partners must start where we did — to make the same mistakes from child labor and water unfit to drink to the foreign-policy blunders of a voracious economy jockeying for access to other nation’s natural resources?

Whether by romanticism or a misread of history, those of us in the First World rarely pause to question if the type of progress the world has made is the kind of progress that can or must continue unchecked and unchallenged, unrefined and unexamined.

Isn’t the benefit of progress chiefly that it can be shared?

The task, seemingly, was straightforward. Before formalizing trade relationships, establish common human rights, currency and environmental rules of play so as not to touch off the dreaded “race to the bottom”. Instead, we apparently assumed the influx of Western money would do the talking for us, free markets, democratize governments and civilize those who would seek to exploit others.

The massacre of demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, in its time, should have signaled the intellectual and political free-trade hopefuls that something was amiss. The 21st Century ushered in yet another reminder: the promise of the Arab Spring evaporated into something resembling less the democracy we had hoped for, more the sectarian rule we feared. Still we persist in the hope against hope that opportunity, for its own sake, is the best policy.

What if it’s not?

The cracks in the globalized foundation are beyond dispute now: The American Dream is under siege like never before. Europe is straining under the yoke of a common currency and uncommonly high debts. Yet China, for all its recent effort to dominate world trade, is not to blame. The threat of being pulled under by emergent economic powers that share little in common with our political value system is largely a beast of our own creation: Made in the USA.

Presidential candidates, in the worst economy in decades, remain paradoxically vague. The culprits underlying greater income inequality and the perception of lessening opportunity are catchalls: Apparently, just about everything in the West is too pricey: labor, taxes, regulations — even minimum wage. And with 7 percent of American workers represented by unions, on AM talk radio and elsewhere, they nonetheless shoulder the lion’s share of the blame.

With no shortage of conjecture — too often the kind that builds on stereotypes and divides friend, family, “haves” and “have nots” — it is long overdue to put economic dogmas to the test. Can the United States of America, one of the few and the blessed nations to become a freedom- and living-standard envy of the world, afford to downplay diminishing wages, increasing personal and government debts, a widening gap between the rich and the poor, monetary policy that punishes savers, severe trade deficits, and the unrealized hope that the educational and ecosystems can keep pace with these changes and challenges?

The way in which we order our lives, policies and expectations — particularly the role of technology in creating vs. displacing jobs —- must be examined.

Do we produce for the sake of producing and compete for the sake of competing — or should technical and economic progress exist for the sake of improving quality of life? Should our definition of success hinge on that of the few, the highly talented, educated and well connected — or that of the ordinary, everyman in his and her capacity to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives“, as candidate Mitt Romney put it?

Buffeting the chaotic sea of public opinion are prevailing cultural assumptions surrounding old, individualistic aims confronted by new, inadequate financial realities. Our grandparents’ generation was one in which a single breadwinner could support a household working a blue-collar job. Today, particularly in high-cost areas of the country, the gainfully employed, college educated — even childless —- struggle. Others launch seemingly successful households, by all appearances living out the American Dream, only to do so at their parents’ and in-laws’ expense. In other words, instead of one or two breadwinners sustaining a single-family household, increasingly “it takes a village”.

For a culture steeped in tales of striking out on one’s own at a tender age with nothing but the clothes on one’s back, rising from rags to riches in the process, social immobility isn’t a reality we are prepared to accept.

In 2005, for the first time in US history, the average household owed some 130 percent of their annual income, writes Nan Mooney in “(Not) Keeping Up with Our Parents“. Is the cost of a refrigerator or an Internet connection really to blame for our slipping grasp? Does an iPhone or a gym membership endanger retirement planning or place individuals and families one crisis away from financial ruin?

To hear the pundits talk, yes. Americans, who fewer than 30 years ago left public universities without crushing debts, who worked jobs they did not expect to lose, who steadily ascended the income ladder, building equity in their homes and money on their investments, do not seem to fully appreciate how radically things have changed in the 13 years since we fretted over Y2K, crossing the threshold into a new millennium. American families lost nearly 40 percent of their wealth between 2007 and 2010 alone. Grocery prices are on the rise, too. Gasoline represents nearly 10 percent of consumers’ monthly spending, nearly double what we spent in 2004 — and still the price at the pump edges closer to the suffocating $5-per-gallon mark. Healthcare premiums for families have climbed nearly 90 percent in the past decade, Mooney writes. Colleges are turning away students and career changers eager to enroll even as they push the ones they do admit into two- and six-figure debts, crimping graduates’ spending power for decades. Real inflation — as tabulated by the pre-globalization formula that through the late ’80s accounted for rising food and energy prices — reveals still more about why consumers “remain cautious” month after month, quarter after quarter.

Opportunities that were possible for the children of middle- and working-class parents fewer than 15 years ago are increasingly the province of those born to the political elite, successful entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, media personalities, sports stars and celebrities.

That’s not the America most of us grew up in. And it’s not the state-of-affairs most wish to pass on to the next generation.

It is not without irony that the very people who have suffered current-day financial realities the least shout from the highest bully pulpits, insistent that little has changed that a solid work ethic can’t overcome. Who are these people who would have us believe that our eyes and ears deceive us? They are our talk radio hosts, our well-heeled TV commentators; they are our retired parents or grandparents who have successfully cleared the home stretch — they are even our siblings and peers that went into dentistry rather than information technology, finance rather than teaching.

Except they’re wrong.

In her 2008 book Mooney asks: “Why the dramatic change? The economics are simple and well documented. We’re earning less and having to pay for more. Earnings for college graduates have remained stagnant for the past five years, but the cost of housing, healthcare and education have all risen faster than inflation. The share of family income devoted to ‘fixed costs’ like housing, child care, health insurance and taxes has climbed from 53 percent to 75 percent in the past two decades.”

The math doesn’t add up. From little more than 25 percent disposable income comes saving for a rainy day, cash for job retraining and the presumably “irresponsible” act of personal spending — stimulating the economy the old-fashioned way. And yet for increasing numbers of Americans, even those unscathed by a long spate of unemployment, lurks the sinking suspicion that more pain than gain this way comes. According to Rasmussen Reports, just 14 percent of the Americans surveyed in July 2012 — a new low — are of the opinion their children will be better off than they were.

They — you — are not imagining things.

Dong Tao, a Credit Suisse economist, in a November 2010 CNN interview, put it bluntly: To “re-balance” the world economy the Chinese must consume more — and Americans must earn “at least 80 percent less salary”. Shocking though such a revelation may be, the mass media didn’t touch Tao’s statement with a 10-foot pole. The Internet, for all its reputation as a repository for everything ever said or written, is also a place where information disappears. (After a brief spate online, CNN’s interview transcripts for that conversation are nowhere to be found.)

The question that keeps making the rounds in this election year is this: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

In an era fraught with “tied hands”, domestically and globally, it may matter less who occupies the Oval Office — less than the pundits and partisans would have us believe, in any case. Why? Because there are no easy answers, no magic-bullet policy decisions, no quick fixes, no sure bets. Deficits are skyrocketing, money is devaluing, automation and rock-bottom Third World labor continues to undermine First World wages — and, increasingly, our counterparts in the Third World are sharing in the pain as the “sure thing” of Western consumerism ramps down.

The piper is calling.

The erosive economic forces with which we grapple are not personal or even particularly American — they’re global. The year ahead promises to be one in which corporate profits, propped up by deep payroll cuts and unprecedented infusions of liquidity into the realm of high finance, take a tumble as the reality of a weakening consumer class works its way up to Wall Street where, for the moment, the band plays on. The Federal Reserve will exhaust its bag of tricks while Democrats and Republicans, for all their efforts to deflect blame, continue to come up short on solutions.

The two parties have become so good at pointing fingers they’ve forgotten how to make the tough and unpopular decisions — to lead.

For all the uncertainty, it isn’t the election or the political grandstanding that deserves our sole concern. The public mindset matters too. Some three years post recession, one from which we never truly recovered, one wonders how long it will take for the gravity of this worldwide crisis to hold the attention of the percentage of the American population that doesn’t read newspapers, dismisses the “liberal media” out of hand, isn’t all that attuned to the world beyond their own backyards, and yet jumps, stubbornly and often at the price of great personal resentment, on the usual suspects — the freeloading, big-spending “lazy American” who assuredly wants little more out of life than to shamelessly shill for handouts. (Apparently slackers come in spades in Australia, too: Rinehart is purported to have said her fellow Aussies can make a respectable living if they drink and socialize less.)

The 47 percent of Americans Gov. Romney dismisses as “victims” in a May 17 fundraiser will nevertheless be his constituents should he become president. Will the nation’s would-be commander-in-chief acknowledge that years of kowtowing to special interests by those on both sides of the isle who claim the title of public servant has done more to victimize the nation than any basement-dwelling, election-day skipping, moocher ever could?

Seemingly, not.

Former comptroller general, David Walker, put it best during his “Fiscal Wake Up Tour“, documented in the 2008 film “IOUSA”. With the backing of the nation’s best-known liberal and conservative think tanks, he warns that the United States faces the prospect of increasing taxes, dwindling services and a lack of funds for basic expenditures like national defense. His is a prescient call to action issued well before the controversial implementation of TARP and the $16 trillion-dollar deficits of today.

The future is here, ready or not.

The throws of crisis are not the time to launch a witch hunt in search of easy targets. Ours is a time to ask not what one can do for oneself but for the good of one’s country. Over 200 years into the American story, individualism is alive and well — the self-made desire to have more, do more, be more. And yet national pride in this age of global trade and travel, passe though it may seem in today’s climate of privatizing nearly every source of shared glory, deserves its due too. Patriotism, after all, is an inclusive notion. Rather than rationalize a climate of infighting and backbiting, perhaps it’s time we began in earnest to watch each others’ backs.

In the interest of a more perfect union, we’re gonna need all the cohesion we can get. And when tough people encounter tough times, seeing the best in ourselves — one another — is the American way, too.

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RESOURCES

Where Free Market Economists Go Wrong | Reason

So-Called Free Trade — Bad Policy and Wrong Debate | Huffington Post

What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets | Amazon

Myths of Free Trade: Why American Trade Policy Has Failed | Amazon