POLITICS AFTER OBAMA : THE COMING 2014 ELECTION

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^ in the post-Obama era, insurgents find common ground : Elizabeth Warren and John McCain

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The 2014 mid-term elections are under way, and both parties are preparing a battle which won’t resemble that of 2012 much at all.

We’re moving into the post-Obama period. Agendas are advancing that the President either does not want or has little to do with. Even in foreign policy he doesn’t have his way undisputed : witness the Senate bill, presented by 13 members from each party, to toughen Iran sanctions if the recent Interim Agreement doesn’t lead to a permanent one. The bill’s point is hard to disagree with, but it’s hard to see how diplomacy is assisted by legislation that feels like interference.

I agree with the Wall Street Journal that the hiring of John Podesta as a Presidential adviser announces that Democrats will campaign 2014 as a “class warfare” election. But it’s difficult to see how that translates into support for Obama’s remaining initiatives : immigration reform, gun control legislation, tax reform. The “class warfare” cry seems geared to invigorating the Democratic party for 2016. Same is true of nominating Senator Max Baucus of Montana to be Ambassador to China. Baucus was up for re-election next year; he had already announced his retirement. Montana was carried by Romney in 2012, by 14 points. Electing a Democrat to succeed Baucus was going to be difficult. Now, however, a Democrat — probbaly Lieutenant governor John Walsh, as the Wall street journal says — will assume Baucus’s seat, by appointment, and run in 2014 as the incumbent. It’s a smart move and a party move. Retaining the senate is a must for their 2016 basis.

Obama has wiggle room to pursue party-building stuff because the Republican Party is having to change as well, in the direction of compromise, so that it can be seen as a realistic governing party and not as obstruction. Republican strategy now accords vital budget and funding agreements, even as Obama concentrates on party-building in opposition.

As I have noted in several columns, Democrats at ground level having been moving for many months now to advance an agenda largely (but not entirely) Left-populist : union workers’ rights, higher minimum wages, banking reform, teacher union control of public education, alleviation of pay inequities, greater public spending on infrastructure and aid to families in need. It was easy to see that the infusion of these priorities into Mayor elections in Boston and New York was not happening only for local reasons. Clearly the leaders of this agenda had in mind the 2016 Democratic nomination for President.

At times the intensity of this movement has threatened to split the Democratic party, and i have decried that. we don’t need the Demotratic party to become “Left-tea’d,” as I have put it. But I wonder now if my warnings have been superseded by events. The 2014 campaign is upon us, the Democratic Party as a whole seems committed to the Left-ing agenda, and this is probably a wise decision for the party to make at mid-term time.

What must not happen is for this agenda to appear the Elizabeth Warren for President campaign. THAT would personalize the issues, and generate all manner of opposition to from Democrats threatened. Speaking of Warren, how come I do not see as much love for Senator Bernie Sanders as for her ? Sanders has been an eloquent voice for a Left-populist agenda — much of it very needed — long before Senator Warren appeared on the scene. My suspicion is that Warren Love arises from the 52 million dollars she raised for her 2012 campaign. It is ironic that the Left-populist movement wants big big money even while decrying its influence.

Readers can now ask me : what, if any, of the Left-populist agenda do I support ? Answer : I support quite a bit of it.

1. We do need a higher minimum wage. Substantially higher. Why should taxpayers have to sbsidize low-wage employers who pay their workers so little that they need public assistance to make ends meet ?

2. Employers should not be allowed to use job seekers’ credit scores as a hiring factor except if the job being sought is a financial one such as a comptroller or bank employee.

3. Financial institutions that specialize in customer deposits should not be allowed to use those deposits to engage in arbitrage trading. Or else such trading should be subject to the Federal Reserve’s margin requirements just as these are already imposed on customer accounts at stock-broker firms.

4. Union workers’ pension and benefit rights, as contracted for, should never be subject to legislative negation.

5. Infrastructure is as communal as anything in our society. Maintaining and improving our infrastructure is a vital economic duty. If tax dollars are needed, they should be granted.

But :

1.Education reform. This was the big divisive issue in the Boston Mayor election. I do not agree that teachers’ unions should control public school reform or that corporations have no defensible interest in school performance. I support school competition, because it is from competition that we find out what works well or not so well. I accord teachers unions a central voice in school reform because it is they who must do the teaching and who must work competigtively. But decsions on how to proceed with education reform must be collegial. Corporations have a vital interest in public education because the jobs they must fill depend on school graduates being prepared sufficiently to do them.

2.Unions in general : as I wrote almost every day during the Boston Mayor campiagn, union workers deserve strong representatipon in the halls of power, but they shouldn’t own the halls of power. Union workers number only about 10 %, nationally, of all employees, and no next-generation jobs in the innovating economy easily translate to unionization because almost all such jobs are individually dfifferent, employed by small units constantly reshaping, and involve pay that isn’t just a paycheck but includes benefits, stock, bonuses, and collaboratives. How to accommodate the innovation economy will be a major challenge for Democratic policy leaders facing 2016. Many in the innovation economy might just find a newly reasonable Republican Party more sympatico than a Democratic party committed to Left Populism. Take the fake-“Christian” stuff, the contempt for needy people, and the anti-immigration bigotry out of the Republican agenda, and the possibility is very real for the innovation community to prefer Republican entrepreneur-ist reform to Democratic Left-Populism.

After all, if Elizabeth Warren and John McCain, insurgents both, can co-sponsor banking reform legislation — and they have — then economic innovators are as free to find a useful home on the McCain range as on the Warren one.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

LEFT-TEA-ING THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY IS A REALLY BAD IDEA

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^ apostasy to party ? to most of us, it’s the way things should be. To the activists, just the opposite

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The Democratic party looks on the verge of cleaving, Left versus Left-center, even though the Left’s avatar, Senator Elizabeth Warren, will not be a candidate for President. I seriously hope this does not happen. The Democratic party’s unity is the major factor holding America steady on forward. Splitting the party can only impede. Sometimes it seems as though those who would move the Democratic party to the Left want America to NOT proceed. This is a huge policy mistake.

One sees the signs. Senator Warren has done a lot of talking, challenging the money interests at every turn, and though much of what she talks about needs saying, at a time when the Congress is finally of a mind to take small, fragile steps forward, Warren’s insurgency seems as ill-timed as Ted Cruz’s in October. Warren acolytes abhor the comparison, but I am hardly the first or only one to make it.

Both Cruz and Warren are fanning flames that want to be flamed and which would likely find other bellows if Cruz and Warren were not stoking. At a lower level, here in Massachusetts, in Boston, the decision by newly elected Councillor Michelle Wu to support the “conservative” — but Democratic — Bill Linehan for Council President has generated a huge flare of Left flame, even though the selection of a Council President has almost no policy consequences.

This Left split is not new. I wrote of it three months ago, during the Mayor of Boston campaign, noting attacks, by Left-minded Democrats, upon John Connolly for his school transformation call — a policy advocated by Democrats for Education Reform as part of what Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Secretary of Education, was seeking. Connolly was also attacked as the candidate of moneyed interests generally : yet the bulk of moneyed interests supporting his candidacy was Democratic. All of this sounded strange in a local, one-City campaign. But there it was.

The polarization of national party politics have no business deciding a purely local election. Yet for the Left, polarizing party politics were a key to victory for their candidate, who, after a primary in which the Left made various personal choices with few partisan consequences, became Marty Walsh. He was well advised to take advantage of the opportunity. By no means do I criticize him or seeking out that support : it’s what he had to do. But at the time, I noted that the potential Democratic party split was a rehearsal for a wider split in 2014 and 2016 and a direct consequence of the Tea Party capsizing the GOP. As I wrote, “you can’t radicalize an electorate in one direction only.”

The timing could not be worse for those who, like myself, desire a workable forward national agenda. Even as the Democratic party split aggravates, the split in the GOP is resolving, in favor of the pragmatists. The Tea Right is under serious attack from all quarters — business, incumbents, centrist money PACs, even from evangelicals — and is losing as GOP House (and Senate) incumbents free themselves from the fear of a serious primary challenge. Many states are considering legislation similar to California’s, in which all candidates run in the same primary and then a final between the top two. This process has already made California’s parties move to the center and away from domination by “base” activists.It would hardly be good for Democrats if the nation and the GOP are moving toward unity while the Democratic party is splitting. But activists do not care about consequences. For them, it’s their way or the highway.

I prefer the highway.

You may argue against me, that in the Budget Deal that passed the Senate today, the Democrats stood united, the GOP quite split. True enough; yet the Budget Deal was criticized often and loudly for its omission of unemployment insurance extension. Democrats voted “yes’ as a bloc because to reject the deal might have made any deal impossible, given the fragility of the House GOP’s new pragmatism. My thinking is that the more the House GOP commits to pragmatism, the more that Left Democrats will feel that they can split the Democratic party without endangering the nation.

The warning signs are there. People continue to Cruz-ify Elizabeth Warren.

All of this you would expect to go away were the President to exert his power of office effectively, as he sometimes knows how : in foreign policy always, during the “shut down” too. His weak management of the Federal bureaucracy — ah, the Annals of Health.gov — has opened an effectiveness  gap, however, into which people are stepping who really don’t like the President’s agenda all that much anyway. It’s a cliche now that President Obama’s most activist supporters wanted a messiah but got a mishugas. In other words, a President ; but they don’t want a president, they still want a messiah. When that happens in American politics, we usually get an anti-messiah instead. With Obama, an Abraham Lincoln saved us. Unless things change, I doubt we’ll be as lucky in 2106.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON ELECTION FINAL : SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT THE OFFICE OF BOSTON MAYOR

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^ to the office of Mayor : which one ? and Why ?

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Ten days ago I wrote that Marty Walsh had to change the conversation big-time or he risked being beaten by a lot. A few days later I wrote of the contradictions and conundrums in his campaign. He has now responded. He has changed the conversation AND resolved the contradictions. He is now the Candidate of The Labor Left

It is likely not a winning hand. It is certainly not a hand for a Boston in which union households in toto amount to about 14 % of the total vote. But it is a better hand than the fuzzy and disorganized hand that he had been playing. And because it is a better hand, it merits a better answer; and that it is getting, from the much more broadly based, more contemporary, more freewheeling campaign of John Connolly.

Here and Sphere, for which I write, has already endorsed John Connolly. My intention now is not to repeat that endorsement. It speaks for itself. My topic today is to examine the office of Boston Mayor itself : what do we expect our Mayor to be ? And not to be ? And why ?

Under the current City charter, the Mayor is all powerful. He (and it will be a he) appoints all administrative heads, oversees all departments, has enormous appointive power all the way down the organizational chart, and thus controls the City budget even though the Charter gives the City Council the final vote — though the Mayor can veto it.

Given the vast powers that a Boston Mayor has, it is small wonder that every interest group in the city wants him on its side. in such situation, there are only two arrangement options ;

1.The mayor can be an honerst broker amongst these interest groups, independent of any of them, or perhaps loosely aligned, from time to time, with one or more.

2.The Mayor can be the captive of one or more interest groups, elected so completely by them that he has no independence, or very little, but is, rather, that interest groups’ instrument.

It doesn’t take very much imagination to see which version of Mayor is portended by which of the two campaigns now hotting up. Personally, I prefer the first version, and I suspect that so do most Boston voters. It is not fun when an office as dominant as Boston mayor is the policy instrument of one interest group — unions especially, given that unions’ sole interest is to increase wages. (Increasing wages is a very worthy goal. But it is the epitome of narrow; a Mayor’s policy goals should be wide.) a major reason why I — most voters — prefer the independent-Mayor version is that interest groups develop an internal momentum of their own leading to either increasing radicalization or to factionalism. Radicalization alienates more and more voters from government (and should). Factionalism makes government a beehive of back-stabbing, a boiler room of inefficiency and contradiction. No one with any sense of civic governance should want a Mayor bullied by radicals or burlesqued by faction.

A City with a powerful-mayor charter can survive these political ills. Most people simply get on with their lives. The City may annoy them, or impede, but because most people live in the private sector and make most of thir life decisions on their own all day long, a mis-mayored city can hardly break them. But wouldn’t it be so much better to have a Mayor who enables rather than impedes ? Gives some aid to every interest group but all aid to none ?

John W Sears

^ John W. Sears, 1967 : “I play center field.” It’s still the model for what a Mayor of Boston should be.

Because so much effort, and so many people, are needed by a Boston Mayor candidate in order to win election to the office, a surge by interested people cannot be avoided. Indeed, the involvement of interested people is a good thing. But all surges risk going too far. it’s up to the candidate to stop that. It is political malpractice to aid and abet it.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere