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I'm only selecting two examples, but I see an emerging pattern:

"The New Deal was Good

On its face it seems like we should believe Mitchell and his constituents about this...FDR’s record on civil rights was not good...But African-Americans voted for him because they liked his economic agenda."

"Many more Hispanic voters say education as a very important issue to them than say that immigration is."

Why is it that (white?) liberals are apparently misreading the priorities of the people of color they are trying to champion? My guess is that white liberals of a certain age have grown up with the message that they are failing to be good allies to POCs, and that they need to "use their privilege" to be outspokenly anti-racist. But are they instead talking over the very people they are trying to speak up for?

How popular is "Defund the police" as a rallying cry among Black Americans compared to white, liberal Americans? I'm open to being wrong here, but I suspect that this slogan, even if it didn't necessarily originate among white liberals, only gained traction because it gave white liberals a chance to show that they weren't afraid of putting their own privilege aside (i.e. a generally positive relationship with the police in their communities), in order to vocally oppose injustice against Black and other POCs. But despite the enthusiasm some prominent Black intellectuals may have for defunding the police, it seems now that is was a misreading of Black priorities with respect to police reform.

When it comes to the legacy of FDR and the New Deal, I think white liberals, in their effort not to romanticize a past steeped in racism, have overstepped the mark and inadvertently misrepresent the concerns of Black Americans of that era.

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Yeah, I find this so frustrating. A lot of the conversation about being good allies to POC ends up turning them into monoliths and making assumptions about what they want and need. But there are a lot of POC in the country with diverse experiences and opinions. What bothers me is how moralistic the focus on having specific opinions gets and how it's concentrated in a group of people who think of themselves as highly educated and intelligent despite having an aversion to conflicting opinions.

The most interesting theory I read on this is that it's basically religion for some secular people. It has original sin (racism) and redemption (being woke).

Another interesting one is that there are fewer elite positions on society than there are people who feel they should be elite and a lot of this is competition for those positions.

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There's definitely a class signaling element to this, but I think it's worthwhile thinking about material interests involved. If you're a young, college educated, middle class POC living in an integrated middle class (or gentrified) neighborhood, then you're genuinely far more impacted by discriminatory police contacts, implicit bias at work, and generalized racist sentiment by e.g. store owners than you are by high unemployment and perennial under-policing of non-drug crime in low income neighborhoods. Young white college-educated elites are aligning themselves with the interests of their peers.

Even in cases where you see cross-class solidarity going on follows similar patterns - Fight For 15 has focussed labor sector activism on raising the minimum wage for service workers in high-cost cities rather than on increasing the pressure for wage increases for non-minimum wage non-college workers who've seen their incomes stagnate. (Similarly, see so much of the left lose their minds at Matt Bruenig for suggesting we should give a payment to parents, who for some reason much of the left don't imagine as being a working class on average.)

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That's a good point - there is a lot that is positive about "the great awokening". There is a lot of effort to bring in empathy and solidarity.

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Sure, but I think it's important to recognize that while these priorities are grounded in genuine empathy and solidarity, it imagines a very limited world that doesn't extend much beyond what college educated liberals interact directly with or read about online.

That has consequences both for its ability to build an electoral coalition and for its ability to target useful policies for improving many people's lives.

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For sure. A big part of the limitation is the class issue - a lot of young college educated professionals who want others to adopt their preferences in how to talk and what to believe without trying to understand people who don't agree with them. That is a limitation in a lot of areas. There are policy professionals who behave that way, rich people who behave that way, religious people who behave that way. It is always frustrating but shouldn't wholly discredit the profession, ideology, or religion that person says they represent.

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I'm interested to hear more about competition for elite status as a driver of wokeness. I can't shake the feeling that wokeness is a symptom of class, namely middle-to-upper-middle class values. But that might also be because I'm projecting.

The religion theory holds less sway to me, personally, because at times I find woke cultural criticism persuasive, and at other times I feel allergic to it. In other words, I believe you can vacillate in your wokeness, especially on different issues. But other people are more dogmatic about it, I grant you.

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I'm having trouble finding where I read the elite competition thing.

I definitely think this is partly class. I only hear it from young college educated progressives. That's not class by wealth but I think it's a group (that admittedly I'm part of) that has a lot of people who conceive of themselves as deserving a high-prestige place in society.

There is definitely a lot to learn from wokeness about racism and how to have a better society. At the end of the day, I think there are always people in any religion or ideology who like a black-and-white worldview with purity and heretics. In fact, that's a psychological trait of some people. Whether it's religion or not, I think it's unhealthy.

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As I mentioned in another comment, it's Graeme Wood's "Can History Predict the Future" feature for the Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/12/can-history-predict-future/616993/).

I found that entire article to be like late night post-shroom trip college conversations with philosophy majors in that I'm not qualified to know whether or not it was complete bullshit but it sure was interesting

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You're probably thinking of John McWhorter's writings in comparison antiracism to religion. He and Matt also went over it on The Weeds a few months back.

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Yeah, I think that's it

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I see someone else pays for an Atlantic subscription. I too enjoy the works of John McWhorter and Graeme Wood's "Can History Predict the Future?".

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There was a comment from an interview with Donald Glover (about his show Atlanta, not wider politics) that I felt was a good framing. I don't have an exact quote, but he said something like, "It's all about white people. It happens that right now, white people enjoy seeing themselves in a mirror held up by black people, but don't mistake it, it's all about what white people like."

That's unnuanced, and I don't endorse it as the only truth, but consider strongly how much of white liberal policy is about flattering the white liberals who endorse it, visibly showing themselves as Caring About Antiracism, versus actually amplifying the views of the people they're championing.

It's very easy, also, to tell yourself that you know what's best for someone, even if they don't.

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Does this also suggest a way forward for Democrats trying to stop losing rural and non-college educated voters of all races, regardless of culture wars?

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Yes

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I'd argue this was a way forward about 10 years ago, but with how cultural polarization works it will not be enough. As people like David Shor have pointed out all politics is now nationalized and there's no non-partisan media anymore. Economic populism will help at the margins, but unless you can suppress AOC's radical cultural liberalism or dumb NYT op-eds, we're going to be struggling for at least a decade to shake off culture war baggage.

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I think you are correct in your pessimism, but perhaps the influence of AOC et al is ebbing now that Trump is (presumably) out of office. Maybe Democratic voters will feel like the culture war has outlived its usefulness now that the man who embodies just about everything they stand against is no longer in power.

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"fixing the economy" and taking credit for it would at least slow the bleeding.

I think our boy MattY has attributed Hillary's 2016 loss in part to a slowdown of economic growth and manufacturing output that was localized to the upper Midwest (that mythical blue wall of ours). When elections are won and lost on the margins, stuff like that tends to matter.

But I feel like this might be a bit of a red herring in terms of getting rural voters to come back in any real sense. Keeping the margins relatively close is a good strat, but we probably aren't winning those voters any time between now and the next big realignment (whenever that is).

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The Democrats don't need to win elections in rural areas. But they do need to stop the bleeding and make some gains on the margins. If the trend of Democratic losses in rural areas and with non-college voters continues, the Democrats will become a party that cannot compete nationally, only locally in cities and suburbs. They will never have the Senate or the Courts, so even when they do win the Presidency their Presidents won;t have much impact.

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Given the structure of the Senate and the increasing pro-rural bias of congressional districting, winning presidential elections at the margins won't be enough to deliver meaningful change. It will not be enough to be economic populist, it's also necessary to actively be "not woke." Try convincing AOC or Elizabeth Warren of that.

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Warren, a former Republican, seems to have made a calculated move to be more "woke" to appeal to the Democratic primary electorate. It didn't work and that's now her brand. It's too bad because it overshadowed that, of all the candidates, she was doing the most interesting and creative thinking in terms of synthesizing basic economic justice issues with market-based structural reforms to create a more level playing field for everyone. The sort of message that could tap the best American reform traditions and actually have broad appeal, if presented by a candidate who wasn't focused so much on the primary electorate.

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I agree with everything you've written, but I am not sure how calculated it is. Given her socioeconomic milieu (Boston resident, Harvard professor), she's very likely to have been surrounded by woke cultural politics for far longer than it has been mainstream.

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i'm also not sure Warren is the best example of what you're talking about... the median voter without a college degree outside of Massachusetts has no idea who she is, which is part of why she got creamed in the primary

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also i find her - with a few exceptions - to be an incredibly effective and disciplined at populist messaging. While she is known as a policy geek, when she's interviewed about her proposals she describes them very simply and in plain language. I don't think she gets much recognition for that, in part because she is a woman, in part because of her feud with Sanders during the primary, and in part because unlike AOC she's not a media darling.

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The "exceptions" are many. Go scroll through her twitter feed (here is one particularly egregious example among many: https://twitter.com/ewarren/status/1192526820559785986?lang=en). At some point after deciding to run she pivoted pretty hard into woke messaging for whatever reason.

I was a big Warren fan (I initially saw her as a smart Sanders), but lost more and more faith in her as the campaign wore on.

The only person I have ever encountered with any disciple at economic messaging was Sanders. And he was constantly knocked for not talking up identity issues from the center and the left. The Democratic Party's popular brand (ie. what they sell to their donors) is cultural liberalism, and until that changes we won't exit out of the current paradigm.

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Warren was at one point leading in the polls with close to 20%. I find it hard to believe that the median voter doesn't know who she was. If you follow that logic, no candidate except Biden had any name recognition with the median voter.

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You’re close actually, I still don’t think any primary candidate has recognition with the median voter apart from Biden and Sanders. I know this may come as a shock, but the median voter and the median Democratic primary voter are not the same thing.

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But Bernie 2016 also showed us that Black voters also generally back a more incrementalist approach to class issues. So, Democrats need to avoid both woke-extremism and class-extremism.

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Bernie 2016 shows us that trust and reputation is more important than anything else

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Does this New Deal history (and Trump's strength due to the pre-pandemic economy and pandemic cheques) suggest all that much that class is the right focus, as much as it is about just broad-based economic growth?

The 'white New Deal' argument is about relative racial disadvantage as opposed to core material disadvantages. However, the 'class' focus also seems to just shift the discussion about relative economic disadvantages. A class focus is still more popular than a cultural/race focus though!

I am genuinely curious if taxing the rich is as important for winning the multiracial working class as much as it is about either running a hot economy and reducing poverty (through social assistance or tighter labour market). Did the people who voted for Trump care about the unequal structure of the economy or inequality?

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The Democrats used to talk about full employment a lot. I think they should go back to emphasizing that.

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I think you're right here: running a hot economy is more important then taxing the rich. However, taxing the rich is still a popular policy. I think the Dems can really have their cake and eat it too with something like this happening during the COVID recovery.

1. Get stimulus(hopefully with automatic stabilizers) by getting a couple Republican votes from tax cuts because Republican's like tax cuts.

2. Once the economy is in a strong position, the Dems can complain about income inequality made worse by the Republican insistence on tax cuts.

Dems will both get credit for a good economy, and have a real case to make that Republicans are more worried about their rich friends then the safety and security of regular peoples finances.

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I feel like Dems should do a better job of messaging their programs as investments in society. A lot of welfare programs have positive effects on the economy and families, so it's not wrong. It's also a good thing in any economy, whereas Dems can get tripped up trying to portray an economy that many people like as a bad one. We are the party of continual growth!

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I really like this post and am pretty impressed by how much history you're bringin in, Matt. It's excellent!

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Nice post.

Isn't this another case of the American political need to appeal to activists to win primaries and then hold your most ardent supporters?

It's the folks who are facing primary pressure, including presidential candidates, and even then I don't think it's as much to directly appeal to minority groups so much as it's a fight for the for the endorsement of various activist groups.

Given that basically every cabinet article has a major emphasis on the race/sex of all the candidates and their stance on racial issues it seems like we're quite far away from your goal.

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You're right Democrats are at a huge disadvantage here. Median democrat primary voter is so much further away from the median voter than the median republican primary voter.

So you end up running people like Jon Ossoff in Georgia where a less liberal candidate would be much more likely to win. Then the Democrat has to talk about broadly unpopular things because their base demands it. That really hurts when you're already at a giant structural disadvantage in the Senate.

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I don't think it's about the primary voters, it's a staff level phenomenon.

Most political "work" is done by youngish college graduates who live in big cities. That means GOP staffers are to the left of the GOP base, which naturally pulls GOP politics toward the center. But Dem staffers are to the left of the Dem base, which naturally pulls Dem politics away from the center.

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Republicans also have much easier maps. Democrats routinely win the pop. vote, which could indicate that they are good at appealing to voters but just get screwed by gerrymandering, the Senate, and the EC

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Are there examples of how say Steve Bullock’s staff was an issue?

I was bombarded with Brindisi ads, and went to 2 of his town halls in 2018. He bashed cable companies and talked about cows. I think moderate dems already do what you’re recommending.

It's like the conference call with Spanberger going ballistic on the "defund the police" and "socialism".

...

Now I think you've got a case that in the presidential primary maybe Bernie was given bad advice due to the biases of his staff... but I don't think has much to do with house/senate races.

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The problem is that national media drives the political conversation, and national media are extremely interested in social issues. So rural Dems are stuck talking about issues where they either alienate their base, or alienate swing voters.

The answer isn't to be ostentatiously anti-woke; you'll lose votes either way. Instead, the answer is to change the subject--make sure that when people think about politics, they're thinking about something else. But that's hard to do, partially because of the social-issue fascination of national media, and partially because it's not like Abby Spanberger has any ideas for dramatically transforming the lives of her constituents the way something like the WPA did.

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Yeah, it seems like this effect happened in the Dem primary, where lots of candidates with big potential tried toove left instead of center but it's unclear how this is an issue hostorically in other races. Pelosi always tries to focus House candidates on health care, for example

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Personnel is policy! but where are we going to get mini-Manchins?

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Is Joe Manchin a big fan of aggressively taxing the rich?

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founding

There is no structural disadvantage too large that a candidate who reflects their constituents while holding most (but not all) of the Democratic Party views cannot easily overcome. Tester, Manchin, Sinema for example. The party's requirement to view most issues through the lens of racial equity and all its attendant messaging problems is a larger impediment than any structural disadvantage.

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This problem is exacerbated by the fact that many Democratic primaries in deep blue states and cities have incredibly low turnout rates, often by the design of Democratic politicians that know it helps keep them in power. How many Democratic voters even know when the date for their next Mayoral or City Council primary is?

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Some Democratic cities have important elections in off years that create the same effect. The city we both live in has city council elections in off years which lowers turnout skewing voting population to be more ideological.

It's good to see another person from Minneapolis in here!

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That's part of it, but I think the other piece is that in general Republicans can get away with flat out lying about how they want to do populist things (better health care for all!) and avoid talking about their unpopular stances (cutting corporate taxes) without any blowback from donors.

There is a nod wink agreement between republican backers on certain unpopular stances that just doesn't exist on the democrats side.

A lot of Matt's proposed solutions run into this problem (which he talks about a lot) but I haven't seen a solution.

I'm skeptical pushing on the politicians themselves to change their messaging will help...

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I am also inclined to want to say that Republicans can "get away with flat out lying." I am not sure this is really true. Tribalism also tempts me to think that Republicans are more willing to "flat out lie."

In fairness, I think an argument can be made that Democrats are doing the same thing. We (D's) sell ourselves as pro-worker but recent Democrat presidents have been pretty supportive of big business and weak on "pro-labor" issues.

These decisions may have been politically expedient but they may also have disillusioned large swaths of the electorate.

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> Median democrat primary voter is so much further away from the median voter than the median republican primary voter.

I really don’t think this is true. Quite the reverse, more likely, given the structural advantages for the GOP that allow them to drift ever further from the center.

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It seems like FDR employed a strategy I've heard you argue for before Matt: frame racial issues in more universal values to gain popular support. Like he ended the sharecropping system under the guise of preparing America for war in WWII. The new deal never explicitly targeted African Americans, but helped them implicitly as a way to get America out of the Great Depression. Not to say there weren't a lot of areas that could have been improved, but it seems like he was clearly in a political bind where racial equality issues were going to alienate major portions of his constituency, so he verbally made nods to white southerners which gave him the room to maneuver for better outcomes for African Americans he would never have been able to help if he were more explicit. It's a flip from the current way Democrats do this: talk about everything as a racial justice issue, when those same policies would also benefit the country at large.

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I expect we'll later get a post from Matt discussing income inequality. Matt's main point is that African-Americans benefited from the New Deal based on their prior economic position. "When Affirmative Action was White" focuses more on relative gains vs. absolute gains.

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Is there a summary of the relative vs absolute gains anywhere? Would love to get the basic numbers.

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In the book referenced in the post

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Well, of course. Was wondering if I didn't have to get the book to get the stats.

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***...Trump’s association with generic improved material conditions outweighed both his often-racist behavior and Democrats greatly increased emphasis on centering anti-racism in politics.***

Relatedly, there may be evidence that Trump's positioning of himself as the anti-lockdown candidate (who was fighting Democrats in order return the economy to health) helped his candidacy.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/04/exit-polls-economy-covid-lockdown-trump

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This was a good post, but it's leaving an important element of geography out of the analysis. There is never just one homogenous Black (or anything else) voting community. Black Americans in the '30s are disproportionately in rural agricultural communities in the South, whereas the Black communities in the North are in the urban working class, i.e. industry and service jobs. FDR's New Deal policies tended to provide significantly more benefit to the latter group, which joined the New Deal FDR coalition. The former group, by contrast, gets cut out of a lot of policy (like the exemptions for agricultural workers in the entitlement policies) that is either opposed by or unappealing to the Dixiecrats, whose voting power is partly based on having disfranchised Black voters and, to a lesser but significant degree, working-class Whites.

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This is great history and I learned a lot, but I'm not sure I get the relevance. FDR had a huge majority and did a lot for the country which to some extent also benefited Blacks. Obama had a huge majority (made narrower by keeping the filibuster) and did a lot for the country which to some extent also benefited Blacks (e.g., ACA).

Biden will have at best a 50/50 Senate and is not likely to be able to get much passed, certainly not on the scale of Obama or needless to say FDR. So are we just talking about how he talks about issues? Or trying to reframe debates more toward class than ethnicity? Sure, fine, but I don't think that will mean much to the body politic.

The question is how you get to governing majorities without being able to run on a very successful record so you can help people. The country is deeply split, with a slight bias toward Republicans (i.e., Dems have a slight advantage for President, the R's for the Senate, and probably 50/50 with regard to the House). That's just a recipe for paralysis. Not sure what the relevance of FDR or, frankly, Obama is for that situation.

I don't know how to change this dynamic. E.g., Biden was a perfectly-built Democratic candidate to win back those historic Democratic strongholds in, say, smaller cities in Pennsylvania (like Scranton!) which in 2016 for the first time broke solidly R with Trump running. And he did *barely* better than Hillary. If Scranton Joe can't win back Scranton for the Dems, it's not likely to happen. And without that kind of change, I suspect we'll be looking at 50/50 government for a long time.

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I think an appropriate course of action would be to nationally adopt more centrist policies to win back the Senate. I think Biden *could* have done that but he moved left on nearly every issue vs. Obama.

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I think when 156 million are motivated to come out to vote (up from 136 million in 2016), it's not issues that are drawing them to the polls. It was Trump (for and against) and a deep tribal opposition to the other side.

Adopting more centrist policies would have been lost in the noise.

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I think Biden *did* do that and won, in part, because of it.

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I'm sorry. I don't think I'm tracking your comment.

I said Biden is more progressive than Obama. I don't think that's in dispute. My position is because he is more progressive, our likelihood to win the Senate decreased.

As Obama said recently, Iowa didn't become "more Republican". It's hard to explain this 17 point move there vs. Obama. I interpret Obama as saying it was the Democratic party that move left, leaving states like Iowa behind. And we need Senators from states like Iowa.

https://www.vox.com/21322478/joe-biden-overton-window-bidenism

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Sorry, yes, the party has moved left of Obama, but I feel that Biden was seen as closer to the center. I don't have data to back it up, but just an impression. Note that a lot of attacks on him didn't claim he was a radical leftist but rather that he would be controlled by "radical leftists".

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Closer to the center than the current state of the democratic party that is (I'm having a heck of a time explaining myself clearly today!).

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It's a question of how Dems run elections. Giving people things is a really underrated strategy as opposed to talking about big, overarching issues. Biden might have a harder time getting things done but it's still relevant. For example, he could give people student loan relief and make a lot of noise about minimum wage to show that R's are opposed.

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the fundamental problem with this narrative is that while Harding and Coolidge were good on civil rights, Hoover was a massive and monumental reversal. It was Herbert Hoover that *really* started the racial realignment of the parties.

He heavily backed the Lily White movement, which was a concerted effort to break the power of Black people in the Democratic Party. Unlike both his GOP predecessors, he refused to advocate for civil rights. He even nominated a hardcore segregationist to SCOTUS.

So it wasn't a matter where Black voters abandoned a racially tolerant party for "material interests" (and holy shit, how is anti-racism NOT a material interest of Black people?), it was a matter where Black voters abandoned a party that was getting more racist, for a party that was getting less racist.

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*good on civil rights relative to their time

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The problem with the emphasis of Democrats rhetorical emphasis on "identity" issues is in

framing them (or allowing Republicans to frame them as zero sum. Status is zero sum but freer trade, more immigration (especially high skilled immigration), allowing transgender people to serve in the military, reducing racial, ethnic, religious biases, better access to health insurance materially favors (almost) everyone, not just the the immediate beneficiaries. And to the extent that some boat don't rise with the tide, that's what progressive taxation, especially targeted progressivity like a much higher EITC and Child Tax Credit, is for.

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All this good policy discussion and I'm hung up on how ordinary Matts apartment/house/condo looked in the video discussion. Tastefully decorated and neat though.

I wasn't ever aware that Dems had an issue with FDR. Maybe I'm too much of a pragmatist. I have never understood the need to judge historical figures with modern social woke standards.

Matts point about how Latin/Hispanic specialists over emphasize immigration as an issue. Having lived with/worked with Hispanic Americans all my life, I'm always dumbfounded by the issue.

I assumed it was because east coast elites just weren't around Hispanics in any large numbers like those of us from California and the South West. Even my undocumented friends (wife is in Restaurant industry) aren't as concerned about immigration policies as much as my upper middle class progressive brothers and sisters.

The difference between what is a hot topic on social media (usually driven by vocal minority activists) and what is important among real working middle class people is astounding.

This is one area where I think Republicans have an advantage over Democrats.

For instance... Republicans hot issue right now (mandates, opening businesses, Covid stuff)... lots of people care about in daily life.

Whereas things like Student Loan Forgiveness and defunding police just aren't important to most peoples daily lives.

I really am curious as to what will happen if the Democrats win the two Georgia seats. I imagine it could actually hurt the Democrats in a small way. They can paper over internal policy differences when they have the Republican Senate to blame, but if they have a path through the Senate, the moderate vs progressive disagreements really will be magnified.

All I know is sending money to people is always a winning strategy.

Also... the weed episode with Karl Smith is great. First time Ive listed to the weeds podcast.

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The point about leftists' view of FDR is also true about Lula. I came of age in Brazil in the Lula years, and I clearly remember that "true" leftists despised the guy as a sellout to neoliberalism and corrupt. That's why I think it's hilarious when today I see progressives both in Brazil and the US idolizing the guy.

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Come on Matt, we can't compare Japanese internment camps to what Obama did to Yemen. The human rights violations are not of the same order of magnitude.

On the global stage, FDR was unambiguously a good guy and helped save the world from the Axis. Obama, on the other hand, was bad! And now we have to listen to him complain about how "the system" coerced him into drone striking shepherds.

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You're right, they're not comparable. One was a military action that ended up killing civilians by accident, the other was isolating entire groups of civilians due to their ethnicity

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Yemen is a modern day Holocaust.

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According to New America - 116–149 civilians in Yemen were killed by drone strikes. 225 according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Each of those are a tragedy but not a modern day holocaust.

If you are referring to the current Yemen civil war, it is indeed horrific and numbers in thousands and thousands dead and destitute. However, not sure how Obama was responsible for that?

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The main person responsible for the hundreds of thousands of dead are the United States and Obama. Their proxy (Saudi Arabia) has been slaughtering people, blowing up school buses, etc. with US weapons, intelligence, and approval.

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For anyone looking for additional discussion of the New Deal and related issues around race/class/inequality: https://catalyst-journal.com/vol1/no4/between-obama-and-coates

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It seems pretty significant here that Democrats will be unable to deliver meaningful material support unless they win control of the Senate. After all, Trump seems to have received credit for economic policies (stimulus checks/enhanced unemployment) that Democrats advocated.

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