Bring Us Together, Prof. DeLong! Brad DeLong has written a Twitter thread — and given an interview — in which he explains why his kind of “market-friendly, ‘neoliberal’ Democrats who have dominated the party for the last 20 years” [Vox’s description] should now pass the “baton” to “colleagues on the left.” Three quick reactions:
1. DeLong’s “Rubin Democrat” approach — “Economic growth first, redistribution and beefing up the safety net second ” — seems a dreary, bloodless, economistic vision of politics, a species of Money Liberalism, gliding over questions of social equality, community, dignity, family. No wonder it’s a political dead end. ‘Maximize GDP and compensate the market’s losers’ wouldn’t have much political appeal even if we tried to compensate the losers (often we don’t) and even if we were good at it (we aren’t). That’s because a dollar redistributed to an unemployed worker through Trade Adjustment Assitance or some kind of Universal Basic Income isn’t the same as a dollar earned through dignified labor. Unearned redistribution is usually at least a bit demoralizing and dole-like — typically more than a bit, unless it’s conditioned on actual work (as Social Security is but the UBI isn’t).
2, DeLong blames himself for thinking there were Republicans who might cooperate with his ‘neoliberal’ efforts, only to find the opposition party was filled with vicious partisans! But he also admits that Rubinesque policies were “rather less effective” than he’d expected. So maybe there was a reason for the lack of political cooperation? In particular, the crash of 2009, even though it occurred on the GOP’s watch, was obviously a powerful repudiation of an overreliance on self-correcting market mechanisms. (See also Mike Konczal’s blog post on this theme.)
3. DeLong laments that “John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell” were “the leaders of the Republican Party” and they “decided on scorched earth.” But Boehner and — critically — Ryan aren’t there anymore. Meanwhile the party’s led by an idiosyncratic hybrid figure with at least some Democratic instincts, most obviously when it comes to protecting New Deal entitlements, which Trump has done, but also on trade and (sorry) infrastructure — and at least in the past, on health care. Isn’t there at least some chance of striking a compromise with Trump, or with his hands-off-my-Medicare supporters, at the expense of the Ryanesque GOP establishment? The former group is a good chunk of the electorate, the latter a fading think-tank elite. DeLong instead recommends reaching out only to NeverTrumpers. (“[R]estrict yourself to #nevertrump. Trumpists are either morons, grifters, or deluded.”) Then he gratuitously savages the Never Trumpers (for not bailing earlier). Anyone familiar with DeLong’s Jekyll/Hyde internet style — he’s a hair-trigger blocker, for one — knows that there are few people less likely to cobble together a winning Democratic electoral coalition. Charlie Sheen would have a better shot.