The North tolerates more ideological diversity

Last year’s mid-term elections marked the end of a decades-long transition as white Southerners abandoned the Democratic Party en masse. For a decade or so as this process gained momentum, it looked as though the South might, for the first time ever, be moving toward an open, multi-party political system.

That has not occurred. This transformation has proved to be less of an opening to competitive politics than a long flag-changing ceremony. Southern politics remains as racially-driven and monolithic as ever.

A few samples of precinct-level data from northern cities can provide a helpful contrast. Even in states behind the “Blue Wall,” solidly beyond Republicans’ reach in Presidential elections, multi-party politics remains relatively vibrant. There is no similar example of “ticket-splitting” in the South.

Chicago’s Ward 43 covers the city’s affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood along the North Shore. The ward is overwhelmingly white and Democratic. Republican Bruce Rauner’s 2014 victory in the race for Governor of Illinois demonstrates the willingness of voters in northern states to disregard party affiliation in pursuit of quality leadership. The numbers of Chicago’s 43rd Ward are just one example of this flexibility.

Solidly Democratic Ward 43 gave half their votes to the Republican candidate in the 2014 Governor’s race. Rauner took no position on culture war issues, declared himself pro-choice, and ran a campaign rigorously focused on the fiscal and ethical issues facing state government. He outpolled Republicans farther down the ballot by a stunning margin.

Illinois Republicans nominated social conservative Jim Oberweis for the 2014 Senate race. He drew only 32% in Chicago’s 43rd Ward. Rauner won his race while every other statewide Republican, including Oberweis, lost. Republicans failed to gain a single seat in the State Assembly.

The same pattern of ticket-splitting could be seen in the heavily Republican districts in Chicago’s collar counties. In my DuPage County precinct, Oberwies trailed fellow-Republican Rauner by 13 points, a gap that was pretty consistent across the suburbs.

This kind of ticket-splitting is a tradition in Northern states, where a more open political culture leads to more competitive party politics. Minnesota has given its Electoral votes to a Republican Presidential candidate only one time since the 1920’s. Across the same period more than half of its Governors have been Republicans. Similar patterns are evident in New York and Massachusetts. Since Reagan, California has had three Republican and three Democratic Governors.

Massachusetts in 2014 sent a Democrat to the US Senate in a rout while a Republican won the Governor’s race. Republicans have held the Massachusetts Governors’ office as often as not over the past few decades.

At the state and local level, personalities can be more of a factor and the narrower range of relevant issues gives a minority-party candidate less baggage. Vermont has a US Senator who left the Democratic Party to openly embrace Socialism. A Republican there came within one point of winning the 2014 Governor’s race. Needless to say, that Republican is not close to Ted Cruz on the issues. It also goes without saying that he wouldn’t have been competitive as a Republican in a Senate or Congressional race.

It is tough to find a comparison to the voting patterns in Chicago’s Lincoln Park anywhere in the South, in part because it is difficult to find any genuinely competitive races there. Looking at precincts in Houston or Charlotte or Atlanta you find partisan voting preferences that are inextricably tied to demographics all the way up and down the ballot.

In Houston’s Harris County, Romney won 50% of the vote in 2012. Ted Cruz also won 50%. McCain carried 62% of the vote there in 2008 while Republican Senate candidate John Cornyn carried 62% of the vote. Atlanta’s Fulton County gave 34% of the vote to the GOP’s 2014 Senate candidate and 34% to the GOP candidate for Governor. This pattern of rigid partisan ideological consistency is evident across the South.

Northern states that haven’t voted for a Republican Presidential nominee in a very long time and aren’t likely to do so anytime soon, still consistently elect Republicans to state and local offices. There is no comparison in the South. Very few Northern states are under one party control. All of the Southern states apart from Virginia are controlled by the GOP from top to bottom.

As the solid South has increasingly come to dictate the GOP’s national priorities the White House has slipped out of Republicans’ reach. Scott Walker can squeak out a win in a Governor’s race in Wisconsin, but he would lose the state by a wide margin as a Presidential nominee. Likewise, Chris Christie could not expect to compete in New Jersey. The same ticket-splitting that put these guys in office behind the Blue Wall would doom their Presidential ambitions.

The increasingly solid Blue Wall voting pattern of urban and Northern states in Presidential elections does not reflect a similar Democratic monopoly over state and local politics. Those states support a far more open, complex, and diverse political climate than Mississippi or Georgia. Why Southern party politics tolerates so little ideological diversity is a tough question to answer. It deserves its own post.

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Posted in Election 2016, Illinois, Neo-Confederate, Political Theory

The stubborn legacy of one party rule in the South

Mississippi’s first Governor was a Democrat. Apart from the period of occupation after the Civil War, every subsequent Governor of Mississippi was a Democrat across a stretch of nearly 200 years.

With a handful of caveats and outliers, that pattern holds across every Southern state, extending up and down the government structure to every elected office. Never in our history have the Southern states tolerated a sustained, competitive multi-party system. Popular will has always been contained through single-party rule.

Last year’s election marked the end of a four-decade period which some imagined would break that deadlock. It was not an interruption of the traditional pattern, but merely an extended flag ceremony, a passing of the baton.

With the last white Southern Democrats removed from Congress, the South has now completed a remarkable transformation, converting a one-party white racist alliance under the Democratic banner to a one-party white racist alliance under the Republicans. This unprecedented mass movement has brought radical changes to the two parties at the national level while allowing the South to continue its political traditions almost uninterrupted. Politics in the South today more closely resembles southern politics in the mid-20th century than it has at any point since.

There’s far more here than can fit into a single blog post. It may take a while to get through it all. As near as I can tell, here are the questions that need to be addressed in order to understand the state of politics in the South:

– Is Southern politics really less competitive than elsewhere in the country?

– Why the “Southern Strategy” is a myth.

– How did the flight of the Dixiecrats change the two major parties?

– What makes Southern culture so hostile to political competition?

– How did religion become a proxy for white supremacy?

– Why does a repressive culture love “libertarian” rhetoric?

– How is capitalism finally sucking the South into the United States?

These may not go in a straight line, but I’ll try to work my way through them over the next few weeks.

For a quick comparison, here are graphical representations of political party strength over time for a variety of states:



New York




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Posted in Civil Rights, Neo-Confederate, Race, Republican Party, Texas

Hottest Year on Record

Of the four inescapable realities that Republicans are forbidden to acknowledge, climate change is by far the most lethal. After so many millennia of expanding dominance, nature has set a trap for us that we are uniquely ill-suited to avoid.

Climate change takes all of the cultural and technological adaptations we have so successfully incorporated and converts them to a deadly weakness. Now, unless we find a way to collaborate as a species in a manner we have never accomplished before, the natural world will, within an extraordinarily short blink of time, remake itself in ways likely to wreck much of what we have built.

Last year was the hottest on record, again. The last serious scientific dissent over the basic mechanics of climate change faded out twenty years ago, but the problem remains near the bottom of major lists of public priorities.

Carbon pollution is so perfectly designed to defeat our finest strengths as a species that it almost suggests that nature wants us dead. It is invisible to our senses. It emerges at a pace too slow to detect by any means other than science. It mimics a feature that occurs naturally – climate fluctuation. It arrives at a moment when we’ve achieved unprecedented global wealth and freedom through highly individual cultural structures, and demands an intensely collective, collaborative response.

This is how evolution operates. Each disruptive new accomplishment by a species triggers a natural response that brings forth new, more difficult challenges. The more dominant a species becomes, the more daunting the next threat to its existence. We will adapt or we won’t. Ironically, adapting to climate change requires a fine understanding of another of the four inescapable realities Republicans are forbidden to acknowledge – evolution.

There are good solid proposals available that would help us wean ourselves off of carbon fuels. We have technology available that could allow us to ride out or even mitigate much of the damage that will emerge while the Earth absorbs the carbon we’ve already released. That is perhaps the most frustrating element of this problem. We have solutions available, we just lack the cultural adaptations necessary to implement them.

Perhaps as Miami becomes America’s Venice, public opinion will start to shift. Maybe not. Miami already deals with the regular occurrence of what’s called “sunny day flooding.” We’ll see.

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Posted in Climate Change

Bobby Jindal, WTF?

Why do smart Republicans say stupid things? It’s the central political question of our era and it demands an answer.

In London Monday Bobby Jindal built an entire speech on the idiotic premise, already disavowed by Fox News, that European cities include sections specifically ceded to Islamic extremists.

That isn’t even the dumbest thing he said. He repeated all the usual racist tropes about how Muslims fail to “disavow” violence, implying rather strongly and ignorantly that they do not. He also launched into a surprising diatribe about the mortal danger posed by immigrants who refuse to “assimilate.”

There are only two credible explanations for this speech. Either Jindal is an idiot in the Michele Bachmann mold, or he is making a cynical, calculated career decision to abandon credibility in pursuit of power.

Let’s be absolutely clear – Bobby Jindal is not stupid. He’s a Brown University graduate in Biology who went on to complete a degree at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. Jindal has in the past flirted with the idea of coming out of the closet as a smart person by suggesting once that Republicans should stop saying stupid things. In that speech two years ago he chastised the party for embracing precisely the kind of “identity politics” he so forcefully endorsed on Monday.

Being a smart guy he has apparently come to some conclusions about his career. He learned some lessons from his experience trying to be a principled leader.

Why do Republicans keep saying stupid things? Well, some of them are idiots. Louie Gohmert and Sarah Palin and a laundry list of other daffy cartoon characters who should hold public office, or for that matter be trusted to look after your pets while you’re out of town.

Jindal represents something darker and far more disturbing. Bobby Jindal knows better.

It’s that intersection between cowardice and greed for power that is corrupting a whole generation of Republican leadership. Clearly, Jindal looked at the road ahead for himself and made some calculations about the cost of being a credible leadership figure. He has made his choice.

Dumb is far less dangerous in the long run than craven or cowardly. Bobby Jindal, more than Rick Perry or Steve King or Louie Gohmert, embodies the worst forces at work in the party right now.

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Posted in Election 2016, Religious Right, Republican Party

Monday is Confederate Heroes Day in Texas

Enjoy your day off

Enjoy your day off

In 1973 the Illinois Legislature was the first in the nation to create an official holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. That same year, the Texas Legislature responded to calls for a celebration of MLK’s life and work in a very different manner.

Since the ’30’s Robert E. Lee’s birthday on January 19th had been a minor state holiday. In 1973 the Texas Legislature consolidated it with a celebration of Jefferson Davis’ birthday to create a brand new, totally race-neutral Confederate Heroes Day. Take that you Hippie, Commie, agitators. Of course, any overlap on the calendar with MLK’s birthday was pure, race-blind coincidence.

It should be noted that the Legislature in 1973 was under the control of Democrats. Now that Republicans, the Party of Lincoln, control every arm, leg, finger and other appendage of state government, the bill to repeal Confederate Heroes Day is probably working its way through committee as I write this.

It should also be noted that in 1973, Rick Perry was still a Democrat. Again, pure, race-blind coincidence.

Contact your Legislator and ask him or her (probably him, really) about the current status of Republicans’ efforts to either repeal Confederate Heroes Day or move it to a less obviously spiteful location on the calendar. Enjoy the tense silence.

Monday in Texas you’ll enjoy a leisurely rest from your labor, an opportunity to honor a man who gave his life to end racist oppression or to honor those who gave their lives in a bid to preserve violent white supremacy. Take your pick. In Texas you still have a choice. Liberty!!!

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Posted in Civil Rights, Neo-Confederate, Republican Party, Texas

Why Jeb will probably lose

Jeb Bush is being treated as though he is the presumptive frontrunner for the GOP Presidential nomination, a semi-official title that all GOP nominees take on about two years out from the election. In fact, it looks as though it will be nearly impossible for him to win. Here’s why.

This is what it takes to win the Republican nomination, ranked in order of importance:


Republicans have a significantly thinner presence on the ground than Democrats. That leaves Republican candidates woefully stretched as they search for bodies to help man the primary process. Ask Rick Santorum how difficult it is to find a local nominee who can qualify to serve as your delegate in every district of Illinois. Win all the primaries you want. They don’t matter unless you can get delegates sent to the convention.

Every state has its own arcane rules for assigning delegates. How do make sure your voters know polling places, dates, and procedures that vary all over the country? How do you make sure they show up and understand the procedures that determine a caucus outcome?

Winning means mastering those rules nationally. Mastering those rules requires more than lawyers. You need an organized presence on the ground – everywhere. That’s probably the single largest reason that Republicans always nominate the guy who finished second in the previous primary – he’s the guy who has built the most capable organization.

No one will go into the 2016 with a powerful organizational advantage and no one has enough money to buy all the ground organization needed for a national campaign. Having a committed following, even if it’s a motley bunch, makes a big impact. That’s why Ron Paul outperformed in 2012. Bush cannot draw an enthusiastic grassroots following. He will have whatever organizational support he can purchase which will leave him desperately short. That brings us to the second most important resource in the campaign.


It costs a lot to run a successful national nominating campaign. Romney spent about $75m to win the nomination in 2012. Romney spent a lot more in ’08 to lose.

A particularly weak field in ’12 combined with a mature organization made for a cheaper campaign. Also, an assumptive front-runner benefits from a battery of dark money contributions by supporters outside the official campaign structure. Not all of that spending is even counted.

Bush will certainly raise more money than the Wacko Birds, but it remains to be see whether he’ll out raise the other Gray Round contenders. With no existing organization and no presumptive frontrunner, the cost of buying this election outright would be stellar. Fundraising advantages will not be enough to sew this up. Without a strong organization in place and with the price of victory far too high to be simply bought with a check, a fundraising edge cannot save him from his worst weakness – his absence of grassroots support.

Grassroots support

Since the Bush I campaign in 1992, the gap between minimally competent candidates and candidates that the base will support has been growing. In ’16 it promises to open into a yawning chasm.

We have always assumed that a candidate with sufficient money and organization can take the votes for granted. Historically, the nominating race is generally over by the third contest in South Carolina, leaving too little time for a dark horse candidate to build the support and recognition needed to establish himself. The outcome of the 2012 race broke that assumption.

Unlike ’08 & ’12, no one enters the ’16 race with a decisive combination of money and organization. For the first time in decades the preferences of the party base actually matter in a way likely to determine the outcome.

Jeb Bush has zero support among the Republican base. In fact, with his comments and legislative achievements on subjects like immigration and education, he has put himself more painfully at odds with the base than Romney did. This bit of bad news for the Bush & Romney campaigns becomes truly serious when considered in light of the final criteria.


The last bolthole of the establishment candidate in Republican primaries is the assurance that the Wacko Birds will self-destruct. Romney trailed a litany of weirdoes in ’12 without every really facing a threat. Each one choked on their words and actions in steady, drum-beat succession. Dr. Ben Carson’s goofy campaign is already melting and the race hasn’t even warmed up.

It is not easy to operate a national political campaign. No other race compares. If you want to know what the demands of a Presidential campaign do to a person of moderate intellect who is otherwise minimally qualified to be a Congressman, or Senator or Governor, go ask Sarah Palin or Rick Perry.

Neither McCain nor Romney faced any minimally competent competition. Mike Huckabee’s Hee Haw act had broad base appeal, but he was never going to master the basic administrative demands of a national campaign.

Jeb Bush is facing a very different field than his brother confronted in 2000 or that Romney faced the last time around. The Wacko Bird Caucus is stronger than it has ever been. Yes, this field will include a sizable collection of Fox News contributors and talk radio jerks, but they are not the core.

Ted Cruz is dangerous and extreme, but he is no Michele Bachmann. Figures like Cruz, Paul and Walker may be ideologically batty but they are absolutely competent operators.

This year’s clown car primary is likely to produce an ideologically bizarre figure otherwise fully capable of meeting the administrative and organizational demands of a national campaign. That’s a deadly combination we’ve not seen since Goldwater. Figures like Cruz, Paul and Walker are unlikely to disqualify themselves in a way that would matter to Republican primary voters. They may be crazy, but they are not crazy enough to hand Bush the nomination.

When these factors are weighed out, the only Gray Round figure with a shadow of a chance is actually Mitt Romney, and only because he has some administrative experience with a national campaign and a skeleton of an organization remaining in place. And yes, unless everyone else implodes he can’t win.

The person who comes out of this analysis with the best odds is Ted Cruz. He’s crazy enough to line up with every passionately irrational priority of the current GOP base. He’s as well known among Republican primary voters as any other candidate. As ideologically batty as he is, he is a ruthlessly savvy operator who is unlikely to make stupid mistakes. No other wacko bird can stack up the same dark list of qualifications.

Jeb Bush will probably lose because he’s using a well-worn playbook whose relevance has expired. Could he adapt? Yes, but probably the only way a sane, rational Republican candidate can win the nomination in 2016 is to use the 2000 playbook – the other one. McCain’s 2000 campaign would be a blockbuster today.

The atmosphere is absolutely ripe for a Republican candidate willing to unapologetically embrace the four inescapable realities that the base insists on denying. By doing so, a candidate could expand the Republican primary pool in ways that would not only change the outcome, but potentially challenge the assumptions behind the Blue Wall.

Jeb Bush is not that guy. He’s going into this race using the wrong 2000 playbook. We’ll all have to wait for a Republican figure that can finally change the map.

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Posted in Election 2016, Republican Party

How pluralism threatens lower income whites

flagDemocrats are seeing a steady erosion of their traditional support among low and middle-earning white families. That drift contributed heavily to the outcome of the 2014 mid-terms, but it has been in motion since the Civil Rights Acts of the Sixties.

Voices on the left consistently blame Republicans for duping white voters. They claim that Republicans are using a racially tinted “culture war” to persuade low earning whites to vote against their interests.

People do not generally vote against their interests. When it seems that they are, it generally means we have misunderstood their interests. Under current conditions, lower income and rural white voters are absolutely right to be concerned about the death of white supremacy and oppose it with all their energy.

Replacing white supremacy with a genuine pluralism is not only just, it promises massive cultural and economic benefits. The good news is that white supremacy is dying. Unfortunately, we are threatening to replace it with a long era of racial and ethnic political rivalry. Dismantling white supremacy successfully requires us to recognize its role as a load-bearing wall in the structure of our democracy. Until we take seriously the practical consequences of dismantling white supremacy, an authentically post-racial America will elude us.

White supremacy is not merely an outdated bigotry to be banished by the light of reason. It is a pragmatic ideology that for centuries has protected low income whites from being subjected to the same miserable fate as blacks in this country. If racial justice only delivers an equal opportunity to be looted by a powerful elite, then there is no rational reason for low income whites to get on board.

White Americans have always enjoyed the benefits of a powerful shadow welfare state. Fears stirred by the death of racial preferences have deep roots, but they are also practical and material. Ignoring those practical concerns is just as politically dangerous as stoking them.

In America we have succeeded in delegitimizing racism, but this has had the perverse effect of terminating dialogue. Racism comes from somewhere. Race, after all, is a social construct that has no existence anywhere but in culture. It has a logic and a practical purpose. We have largely lost the ability to discuss it in any constructive way. Now it persists as an undercurrent, unacknowledged and elusive yet deeply influential.

Racism has both an emotional and a practical dimension, like two sides of a coin. Its emotional roots are deep, historic, and practically subliminal, bubbling up from long-forgotten sources. They are entwined with very practical benefits that protect economically vulnerable white communities from being exploited in the same manner as minorities.

We like to imagine that we are all self-created from scratch, a pure result of our individual choices. That idea blinds us to the ways that our social and political assumptions, especially the deepest ones associated with identity, actually form.

What we know about the world, or more to the point, what we think we know, mostly comes to us from places we cannot readily identify. What it means to be a good man or a good woman. What habits, food, even clothes are familiar and acceptable or strange and suspicious. Across most of the country, a man does not simply decide one day that a purple shirt would be better than yesterday’s white one. He doesn’t get out of bed one morning and decide to wear a dress instead of jeans. The “why” of the matter isn’t important. That’s just how it is.

We do not construct these assumptions deliberately on the fly. We don’t generally ask where they come from. When powerful forces from the wider world challenge the legitimacy of these assumptions, few of us take time to reassess them. Instead, we push back as hard as we think we can afford to. We resist with whatever means are reasonably, and sometimes unreasonably, available.

Cultural traditions offer security and stability. Security and stability are particularly vital to communities with few options or opportunities. The more dangerous and exploitative the economic environment, the more stubbornly culturally conservative lower income citizens will be.

White supremacy evolved as an absolutely essential survival strategy for whites with little political power or property. Our history glosses over the fact that slavery did not evolve in North America as an exclusively black institution. As early as the 17th century laws were being enacted that assumed that any dark-skinned person was a slave, but until slavery was outlawed for everyone the only protection against potential enslavement rose from white racial solidarity.

Until the early 18th century one of the main sources of slaves for the American colonies was Ireland. As late as 1800 we have a record of an enslaved white woman in North Carolina appealing to the legislature for freedom. Her request was not granted. At the height of the slave period, the case of Alexina Morrison in Louisiana demonstrated that being obviously white was not an ironclad protection against enslavement.

What made slavery for whites increasingly rare was not legal protection – it did not exist – but rather a generally accepted notion of white racial supremacy. For politically and economically vulnerable white citizens, unquestioned collective acceptance of racist ideology was the only reliable guarantor of their liberty.

No one need even remember slavery to inherit that culture. That tradition refuses to fade away because it continues to be relevant in practical ways.

White drivers are not subjected to “stop and frisk.” White schools get privileged access to the best tax base. Almost every college in the country offers preference to “legacies,” students whose families benefited from an era in which only white men were allowed to compete.

The Civil Rights era has threatened those prerogatives without replacing them with something more just. Efforts at desegregation weakened the ties that gave lower wage white families access to schools supported by the resources of wealthier families. They scrambled to find alternatives to busing while the affluent re-sorted themselves into all white school districts where they could further concentrate their resources.

Affirmative action in government hiring has meant that an entire class of relatively secure middle income jobs which had once been reserved for whites (white males, specifically) were now subject to fierce competition. Affluent whites with ready access to education have been largely unaffected by affirmative action while white families of limited means saw opportunities for their children disappear.

Talk of gun control threatens a loss of security, even if that security is an illusion. With their ties to white elites weakening, suspicion of authority is expressed in a futile race for self-protection.

White supremacy means low income whites don’t worry about their kid being killed by George Zimmerman or Darren Wilson. If their white son foolishly carries his Airsoft gun to the park, they don’t worry that police might kill him. White supremacy grants immunity to many social problems that minority communities are left to endure.

Until a few decades ago nearly every job of any economic or social importance was set aside for white men. Still today, the networks built on that heritage still make it easier for whites to access the best jobs in the economy. Lower income whites have consistently enjoyed better access to economic, social and political opportunities by virtue of their race than they would have had by virtue of their income or education. Race matters less than it used to, but it remains a vital shield, a hidden yet powerful social safety net.

Understanding white supremacy as a sort of shadow safety net helps explain one of the icons of the Obama Era. Tea Party groups angrily protest the President’s supposed “socialism” while just as vehemently threatening anyone who might endanger their Social Security or Medicare benefits. The Tea Party movement makes no sense as a reaction to government spending or social programs. It makes absolute practical sense as a movement to preserve an unofficial white social welfare state with all its stated and unstated benefits.

What remains of that shadow safety net matters enormously because life at lower income levels in this country is becoming increasingly precarious. The Middle Class is largely a dead concept. Access to good paying work is highly dependent on education. Getting an education is more expensive than ever while free public schools are increasingly sorted by household income.

Higher income urban whites might retain some distant recognition of what white supremacy meant at one point in our history, but they have shed most of their overt attachment to it. For them, the end of a monolithic cultural domination has brought new opportunities for profit, new music, great food, interesting movies and cool new places to visit. With their race-based alliance with lower income whites melting, they are more closely aligned culturally and politically with an emerging global professional class than with whites in the exurbs.

For lower and middle income white households that did not make the transition from the old economy to the new over the past generation, the picture is stark and legitimately frightening. For large swaths of rural and suburban America, the decline of white supremacy has meant the arrival of competition they were unprepared for. Big metropolitan centers are growing vastly richer, but they are not growing bigger. They are no longer the kind of places you go to live a middle income existence, but globalized centers of excellence where few people can afford to compete and survive.

The countryside is descending into poverty. Farming and resource extraction, the only economic activities that still make sense there on any meaningful scale, require little or no labor.

As bad as conditions are in rural areas, poverty is expanding most quickly in the suburbs. Cheap to build, expensive to live in and expensive to maintain, sprawling suburbs made sense in an era when successful white professionals were looking to protect their racial dominance by hiding from “urban” problems. Now, suburbs place residents far away from emerging opportunities, making it hard to exploit the best that a new era of globalized prosperity offers.

Just as Republicans are largely blind to the conditions and concerns that affect black communities, Democrats are increasingly baffled by the demands of white voters. In particular, Democrats fail to recognize the ways that their social welfare policies intensify white fears.

The left is blindly tearing down a race-based shadow welfare state that once delivered a reliably middle class existence for whites. They are offering to replace it with a centralized social welfare state that compromises middle earners’ interests while only providing relief to those who are financially ruined.

The Affordable Care Act may be the signal example of this failure. Health care reform could have split low and middle income white workers from their alliance with elite whites. Instead we got a program very much like the rest of the safety net.

Most middle and low income whites have some access to health insurance through their employers. The ACA extended Medicaid coverage to the very poor while middle earners who are disproportionately white were excluded from subsidies. The structure of the Affordable Care Act placed a new mandate on struggling middle-earning households while excluding them from most of the benefits of the Act. No one should be surprised at the political result.

The characterization of the Democratic Party as a force for “dependence” makes perfect sense through this lens. White families struggling to hang on to their economic status correctly understand that Democratic policies will do little for them until they’re destitute. Lower income whites are not voting against their interests. With no political options on the table that could reasonably be expected to level the economic playing field, low income whites are making a rational choice to remain tied in racial solidarity to wealthier white households for as long as possible.

The world will be a better place when the concept of white supremacy becomes a matter for the history books. We could take a large step in that direction by recognizing that white supremacy was never merely a matter of ignorance. Living in an environment that respected white culture above all others created an absolutely real, economically meaningful, and yet largely invisible social safety net that elevated opportunity and dignity for lower earning white citizens at the expense of minorities. Offering to tear down a shadow social safety net based on white supremacy and only replace it with a social safety net for the desperately poor is, and will continue to be, a political non-starter.

To clarify, white supremacy is deeply unjust. Whites benefited in the past and continue to benefit from systematic violence aimed at looting the resources of racial minorities. It is also unjust that lower income whites are being made to suffer largely alone for the end of a white supremacist system while wealthier elites who benefited most from that system escape largely unscathed.

There are no major voices for Civil Rights that respect this valid grievance. That is a problem which is presenting dangerous political opportunities to dangerous people. If either party is going to lead us beyond the politics of racial polarization, they will have to find a way to build a replacement for the white shadow safety net that eases conditions for all. If we could deliver credible access to justice, opportunity, and advancement for everyone with the talent and determination to compete, white fears about the decline of their privileges might ease.

Failing to consider the needs of economically vulnerable whites who are suffering from the decline of racial preferences isn’t just bad policy, it is an injustice. Justice requires us to see the wider picture. Thus far the story of Civil Rights in America has excluded the valid concerns of white Americans who have depended on white supremacy for protection from a fundamentally oppressive system. Genuine pluralism requires more than eliminating bigotry. Pluralism depends on delivering a fundamentally just economic and political system in which those bigotries lose their practical relevance.

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Posted in Civil Rights, Neo-Confederate, Political Theory, Race, Religious Right, Tea Party

Why is Abbott firing the Director of the TMO?

Over the past two decades Texas, specifically Austin, has developed into a legitimate contender to Nashville as the second pole in the music world. Much of the credit for this development comes from an unusually tight cooperation between the state and leaders in the arts industries.

The Austin American Statesman reports that Abbott has notified the longtime Director of the Texas Music Office, Casey Monahan, that he’ll be removed in February. Monahan was appointed by Bill Clements in 1990. Ann Richards moved the organization into the Governor’s office to raise its profile and influence.

There’s been no statement from Abbott on the reason for removing Monahan. It’s a bit of a puzzle. Anybody have any clues?

Here’s a little Texas music to help you think on it:

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Posted in Uncategorized

Staten Island, Ferguson, and the Democrats

policeWhen Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at the funeral of slain New York City police officers, thousands of officers in attendance turned their back on him. Since then they have engaged in a series of work stoppages.

Their grievance? The mayor, in the wake of the Garner case, expressed sympathy toward protestors concerned about police violence. New York police, and more specifically the police officers’ union, is threatening to compromise public safety over the mere suggestion that they be subject to additional oversight by the people they serve.

Police brutality is not the central issue at stake in the wave of demonstrations in New York and elsewhere. Dig deeper and you find a core disagreement about the accountability of our public servants and the unassailable power of public employee unions. Substitute teachers for police officers and this problem has exactly the same contours, featuring the same political alignments and the same exploited victims.

Republicans are being handed the kind of wedge issue that comes along once in a generation and they are utterly oblivious to the gift. The last great Democratic Party constituency, African-Americans, is pitted against the party’s last great organizational bulwark, public employee unions. The waves of protests over police brutality that ignited nationwide over the killing of Michael Brown have focused on race. Protestors so far have failed to appreciate why police, like so many other public employees, are consistently shielded from accountability to the people they serve.

No one seems to have thought to combine the protests over an unaccountable police force with the protests by some of the same people in some of the very same neighborhoods, over the failure to provide a decent public education to poor and minority communities. Both problems have the same root cause – unions that shield their members from accountability.

Media narratives have simplified these protests to fit stereotypical party alignments. Republicans are seen taking their usual law-and-order stance alongside the police while Democrats advocate for social justice and civil rights. That divide is not so clear on the ground.

All of the major officials involved in the Ferguson case, from the Governor down to the local DA are Democrats. The officials investigating the Tamir Rice case in Cleveland (keep an eye on that one) are Democrats. Only in the Staten Island case are there any Republicans in decision-making roles.

Debates over urban access to effective public safety or effective public education are exclusively intraparty fights among Democrats. Despite the black community’s importance as a Democratic voting bloc, African-Americans always lose that fight with the unions. Every. Single. Time.

When the Democratic Party is faced with a conflict between a public employee union and a black urban population desperate to gain access to the public services that union is supposed to deliver, the union wins. This is the civil rights logjam that has blocked black communities from access to the prosperity that they deserve. Republicans do not own this problem and they should not help perpetuate it.

Unions provide workers with higher incomes and job security. They impose costs not only in wages, but in inertia, making it difficult for a unionized industry to adapt to changing conditions and serve its customers. A union collectivizes power, but along the way it also collectivizes accountability, creating an inherent incentive toward mediocrity and shielding the worst actors from the consequences of their actions. It is very hard to fire a worker who is protected by a union.

In an old-fashioned labor union for coalminers or steel workers, the costs of a union are born by wealthy capital owners. The benefits flow to lower income workers who otherwise have little access to power and limited opportunities to support their families. That’s an outdated vision of a union’s mission which died a long time ago.

Now turn those conditions around. What happens when the beneficiaries of the union are college educated, white professionals and the people bearing the cost of unionization are politically powerless and economically exploited? Try to fire an incompetent or crooked police officer and watch what happens.

An institution that collectivizes the benefits and accountability of factory workers imposes some moderate, but generally tolerable costs. An institution that collectivizes the pay and accountability of police officers gets people killed.

African-Americans and other low-income, under-represented constituencies find themselves on the losing end of a carefully structured racket. More-affluent white citizens can flee to suburbs that have been structured to limit the power of public employee unions. Smaller municipalities and school districts combined with well-connected, well-educated voting population help level the playing field for white suburbanites with money. Meanwhile back in the city center, those most in need of public services to enable upward mobility find themselves at the mercy of institutions with far more political muscle than they can match.

This is an historic opening for Republicans to profit by doing the right thing. We could defend the basic civil rights of an oppressed community. Along the way we could we undermine a policy we generally loathe, mandatory unionization of public employees. In the process we would further our goal to broaden the opportunity for all to seize opportunities in a market economy. We haven’t been able to recognize, much less exploit this opportunity due to some very serious problems we are unlikely to address.

Louisiana Republican Congressman Steve Scalise made news over the holidays when his deep, old ties to white supremacist organizations surfaced. This is important because it is the rest of the story.

We are all supposed to pretend that the Republicans won the South because Southerners coincidentally discovered some fresh interest in low taxes and “liberty” at the same time that the Federal government started enforcing Civil Rights legislation. It’s a lie and everyone knows it’s a lie, but it has taken on a Santa Claus quality as a sort of public myth necessary to maintain the basic legitimacy of our political order.

Republicans now control Congress, something that eluded us across most of the 20th century. Almost half of that majority comes from Dixie. Sixty percent of it comes from places that failed to outlaw slavery prior to Lincoln. None of it comes from a major urban area. The party isn’t going to do anything substantive about Steve Scalise because it lacks the leverage to free itself from white supremacist ideology. And that brings us back to our problem.

There are too few Republicans who possess even the most distant understanding of the concerns of the black community to even recognize the shape of this opportunity. And if they did, it would be monumentally difficult to muster a core political bloc inside the GOP that cared. For Republicans, white supremacy will not pay the bills forever. Somehow the party will have to find a broader base on which to build a political appeal. Despite the sugar-high of the 2014 election, the clock is ticking and the outlook is miserable.

An opportunity exists and there are a few Republicans in the North with some potential to tackle it. New Gov. Bruce Rauner in Illinois could be particularly well-positioned to win on this issue if he has the insight to even recognize it. That remains to be seen. Most Republicans seem content to respond this historic political opening by keeping their backs turned.

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Posted in Civil Rights, Neo-Confederate, Race, Republican Party

Random facts for a slow week

As college bowl season cranks up, here’s an interesting random fact. Of the NFL’s 32 teams, 11 have a starting quarterback who played high school or college football in Texas (two from Westlake High if you count the injured Nick Foles). With oil prices cratering, NFL quarterbacks may soon be the state’s most valuable export.

Nineteen of the NFL’s starting QB’s come from a Southern state. Mississippi produces seven times as many NFL players per capita as Massachusetts and almost four times as many as New York. America’s favorite sport is overwhelmingly Southern.

Another interesting note. Every year about 80 college players make an NFL roster. About 30-35 college students earn a Rhodes Scholarship. Louisiana has by far the largest number of players who make an NFL squad, almost twice Texas’ percentage. Going back through more than a decade of listings I can’t find a single Rhodes Scholarship winner from a Louisiana university.

More detail comes from this analysis from Sports Illustrated:


Sports Illustrated


Happy New Year.

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