259 Comments

I do think a "Sister Souljah" moment would be great for Biden on the DEI industrial complex, in particular in schools.

If he went against the de-tracking and watering down standards in the name of "equity" that would make a lot of independent voters, in particular AAPI voters who see this "equity" work often used against them, happy.

I also think it would be good to do it with the uber woke DA's who are going light on crime for "equity" reasons.

These would be almost universally popular.

But as Biden stays quiet, it is easy for the right to associate him with Kendi/DiAngeloism.

Expand full comment

The degree to which the Federal Government seems to have been filled up by DEI-loving progressives is disturbing to me. The tell-tale language (e.g. “harmful content”, “equity”) pops up not just in high-profile social policy areas but in some surprisingly minor places (look at the warning on the National Archives site proposing to de-platform “problematical” historical documents). Whether we can trust reliable Joe Biden not to buy into that stuff is kind of irrelevant, when the people who are the most visibly speaking and acting on his behalf are exactly what the Republicans say they are. It’s not just Fox News at work here.

Expand full comment

I'd have to dig through the archives to find it, but when MattY first started analyzing the prevalence of troublesome DEI, he argued that it was a consequence of college-age activists. If you can convince an administrator that a policy discriminates against the poor, the administrator won't care. But if you argue that it's racist, they'll drop the policy to avoid lawsuits.

I think you're observing the same phenomenon. The government is free to discriminate against the poor (although we would rather it didn't), but it is unconstitutional for the government to generate racism. So DEI-based policy arguments are much more effective within the bureaucracy.

Expand full comment

This feels similar to Richard Hanania's conclusions about civil rights law and "woke institutions": https://richardhanania.substack.com/p/woke-institutions-is-just-civil-rights

Expand full comment
Dec 3, 2021·edited Dec 23, 2021

I would love to sink much of the DEI industrial complex. Let these hucksters get real jobs where they actually have to provide value for their pay instead of spouting off bullcrap that has no science or empirical evidence behind it and can not be questioned.

Stop forcing CVS workers to do privilege ladders or telling Fast Food workers that they have "privilege."

Expand full comment

Biden has achieved nothing, as far as I know, on structural racism or police brutality. I don’t think it’s realistic to see a mass protest movement, do nothing about its concerns, and expect/tell them to just pipe down.

Expand full comment

Whether they pipe down or not is outside the control of the Democratic party. You just need to make it clear that the democratic party is adamantly opposed to the extreme version of that movement in the mind of the public. A mass protest movement that doesn't have the support of the majority of the voting public is nothing.

Expand full comment

+1. Please, Dems! This should be a no-brainer (as well as, obviously, the right thing to do on substance as well as politics).

Expand full comment

Poverty in the U.S. has dropped 45% or by 20M due to the pandemic aid. By far the largest drops are Hispanic and Black races. With hindsight, the ARR was poorly structured. No demand side fiscal stimulus in needed. But poverty is at record low levels.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/28/us/politics/covid-poverty-aid-programs.html

Expand full comment

BTW -- Just using a Kendi anti-racism definition here. The ARR was likely *THE* most anti-racist policy ever implemented.

Expand full comment

Double reply ... I don't know why ARP auto-corrected to ARR. I mean the American Rescue Plan. Ugh to lack of edit.

Expand full comment

It was the Speak Like a Pirate Day version of the ARP.

Expand full comment

Here might be an even better story on the direct impact of the CTC expansion ... 40% drop in child poverty from June to July 2021. This is how you breakdown structural racism.

https://www.povertycenter.columbia.edu/news-internal/monthly-poverty-july-2021

Full brief:

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5743308460b5e922a25a6dc7/t/612014f2e6deed08adb03e18/1629492468260/Monthly-Poverty-with-CTC-July-CPSP-2021.pdf

Expand full comment

What are the specific changes to the law or new programs you think he should get passed?

Expand full comment

I am not legislative expert, certainly not in this area. If I had to, I'd start with 8 Can't Wait. Is your argument that there are no low hanging fruit on reducing systematic racism or police brutality in America?!

And I know he's restricted by Sinemanchin. Activists wants progress. They don't much care which part of their party is blocking the change.

https://8cantwait.org/

Expand full comment

Great example. There was a coordinated national push planned on this (obviously) with a strategy years in the making led by Obama and Brittany Packnett. Signed up Oprah, Ariana Grande, etc. They hit go on it after George Floyd was murdered, and the whole thing was trashed by the ‘Defund’ folks, called everyone sellouts, spouting off about the evils of incrementalism, etc. Everything swung to defund instead, where we got nothing and also provoked a backlash. Squandered the best chance in a generation for police reform and also did damage in other areas.

So, I see folks in this thread calling it hippie bashing and maybe it is. But I care a lot about getting this stuff done so I am angry and if I feel folks are being destructive I’m going to say so.

I see similar dynamics unfolding on homelessness and drug addiction right now, and also on education. The most likely outcome is that a lot of good ideas are set back by another 20 years. It’s frustrating!

Expand full comment

That may be the publicity story of 8CW, but it's not the policy story. The policy story is that Cory Booker and Karen Bass worked hard with Tim Scott on legislation that would've addressed many of the 8CW priorities, at least the ones the federal government has the power to address. But talks fell apart on the GOP side, in part because the National Association of Sheriffs, by far the Trumpiest of the law enforcement unions, opposed the compromises, even where other unions didn't. So if 8CW's nonprofit efforts were scuttled by progressive pushback, the genuine policy reforms were killed by conservatives. Which is a more substantial loss?

Expand full comment

The policy is a more substantial loss.

But how do you get there? I believe you get there by changing public opinion enough that the NaS has to back down or that the incentives are for Republicans to ignore their objections. We have moved farther away from that political climate, not closer. There’s a reason there’s also been very little action at the state or local levels, and that’s because it’s being

If your question is, shouldn’t my bigger beef be with Republicans, then yeah, sure, 100%, which is why I’m a Democrat.

Expand full comment

Thanks. As FrigidWind says, 8CW seems like more of a state level issue.

I'm surprised you didn't mention anything about police accountability and breaking the grip of police unions. For me, they're really at the center of the policy brutality issue, especially the way they prevent holding bad officers accountable. Also, I think qualified immunity reform is low hanging fruit that doesn't get as much attention as it should.

What about laws to address systemic racism?

Expand full comment

Like I said I’m no legislative expert, but you’ve listed plenty of good ideas I think it’d be great for Democrats to enact

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment
author

Hey I just want to chime in here to say I don’t like to see threats to shoot people, even if meant in jest. Chill everyone.

Expand full comment

You’re right, of course. I should rather have said that 8CW cannot be widely passed until the Defund movement is muzzled.

I’ll delete the original post.

Expand full comment

Defund was a false flag operation from the Right!!! \s

Expand full comment

I'm convinced Sunrise is one. That's the only way their inconsistent actions make any sense.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

Dealing with people exhibiting "a lack of intelligence and maturity" is a big part of life. These guys exist and I think your instinct to tell them to "pipe down" is not working and not helping. My personal opinion is delivering some results, including at state level, is the best path forward.

Expand full comment

If they can’t be bothered to “pipe down,” perhaps the forced labor and internal exile they’ll be subjected to after the neo-fascists come to power will shut them up?

Expand full comment

Well, since all future legislation will require 60 votes in the Senate, I'd say no changes and no new laws.

Since the entire goal here is to win elections, then he should do what he can or more precisely sit back and hope for economic and pandemic improvement that will make people feel better, and use his bully pulpit judiciously to define the Democratic party in voters' eyes, and not let it be defined by the most woke.

Expand full comment

There could have been a police reform bill.

Expand full comment

Not one with at least 10 Republican votes in the Senate.

Expand full comment

Nor will he, because this has been outsourced to progressive advocates with incoherent and unpopular policy ideas that pollute the whole discourse. They (we) are discovering that you can't legislate from the street.

Expand full comment

OMIGOD! This is the other thing my circle complains about.

I don't have kids and hence can't speak to it. Schools and teachers are remarkably unpopular with parents. This move away from standardized testing has people up in arms mostly because there are now no rules which will only hurt the most marginalized

I know multiple people who pulled their kids out of school, to home school them, and these are folks who would much rather have their kids at school.

The ones who could, went with private schools and those that could not afford that but could do home schooling went there. The others just bitterly complain

A Democratic candidate, somewhere, anywhere, who pulls a "Sister Soujah" movement against the "DEI industrial complex" will win a lot of moderate support.

Seems to me that the right place for such a move would be in a blue state since that's where the teacher's union types are ingrained

And the "Defense Attorneys pretending to be DA's" have had their movement. Chesa Boudin will be recalled and his "twin" in Seattle lost "bigly" in Seattle

Expand full comment

Agree with this. The regular democratic party needs to start bashing some of the far left stuff on 'wokeism' and do it really aggressively or risk losing moderate middle class voters (both whites and minorities) for a generation. The public impression on this topic is a really big deal and small measures will not be enough to shift it at this point.

Not to mention the near term problems of a Republican takeover in 2022 and 2024 and the risk of the subsequent end of American democracy. No big deal there.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

Here is how weird things have been since the murder of George Floyd.

George Floyd was murdered by police, therefore we must remove gifted programs from schools and tell teachers that even the idea of tests is "white supremacy culture."

George Floyd was murdered by police, therefore we must adopt the ever-changing orthodoxy of the Genderqueer theory and treat it like it is unquestioned divine truth. We must do this in schools, work, and culture.

George Floyd was murdered by police, therefore we must accept thousands of extra black deaths a year and cities become war zones where kids are shot. We must minimize any talk of this.

George Floyd was murdered by police, therefore we liberals must turn our messaging over to complete frauds and grifters in the DEI industrial complex and hand over power to Republicans because they turn everyone off including black voters.

George Floyd was murdered by police, so we must embrace absolute pseudo-history like much of the 1619 Project. We must say patently absurd things like the idea of police comes from slave patrols even though there were police forces in Europe long before there were any in America. Nobody must ever even think to correct this, because you are not "centering marginalized voices of color."

George Floyd was murdered by police, so we must embrace nonsense like the idea that everyone white, black, Asian, Hispanic, who has a Thanksgiving dinner must be lectured to that they are celebrating genocide.

None of this logically followed, but it is what happened.

Expand full comment

Did it happen, though? I don't have any social media accounts, I get my news from CNN, NYT, and local affiliates, and I get my commentary from Slate, The Atlantic, Vox, and this Substack. I have seen some express some of the opinions you find so objectionable. I have seen just as many disagree. To the extent that institutions have pursued any of this, it's primarily private institutions, and it's their right to waste their time how they want. Rumors of the revolution are greatly exaggerated, and most of what you seem to be complaining about amount to little more than press releases.

Expand full comment

Public schools have absolutely embraced this.

Expand full comment

I agree that many of the supposed shifts listed above have mostly been talk in elite-level circles instead of substantive change, but I think it's important to recognize that injecting too many radical ideas into the discourse at once can scare people and generate a backlash. Also, many of the elite-level conversations trickle down to average people who may not fully understand the issue and get a wrong or misleading impression. The people who control the "discourse" have more cultural power than they realize, and they need to use it wisely. I know one of the core tenets of liberal democracy is "open debate", but unfortunately, in politics sometimes just introducing a new idea for consideration can scare people and generate a backlash even if that idea has no chance of actually getting implemented.

Expand full comment

"And yes it is racist to say things like the 'written word' is white supremacist. Children of all types need discipline and structure in schools. You are not helping the most marginalized groups, by turning schools into chaos."

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

As if nonwhite people didn't *invent* writing systems.

Expand full comment

exactly.

Expand full comment

I know that is the strangest thing about this type of DEI nonsense. There is no knowledge of history.

Expand full comment

*hxrstory

Expand full comment

Folx

Expand full comment

I'm white, and I really don't like speculating about what Black voters want to hear, but I don't think it's calling people who marched in protest of a murder "spouting off" and telling them to "wind it down" after achieving zero policy wins. I didn't protest, but if I heard Biden say that about protesters I'd be reluctant to vote for him again. A man died, a lot of people died, and to call justified anger and calls to action "spouting off" is just really gross.

Expand full comment

I think the 2 of you are just talking far past each other and referencing different people receiving this hypothetical message from Biden.

FrigidWind is picturing activists on twitter. You're picturing Black people at BLM protests.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

As I replied to Brklyngrl, viable police reform was scuttled by the GOP. 8CW got some bad press from their left, but as far as I can tell is still an active project.

Expand full comment

So… Fetterman 2024?

Expand full comment

When has Fetterman said any of this?

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

He’s honestly slightly too lefty for me as well, I’m a wonk at heart… but come on, it’s worth it just for the memes!

“Fetterman 2024: Eat the Woke.”

Expand full comment

I think you have a secret agenda to destroy Dems. :-)

Seriously though. I'm not sure how many moderates this gains, but loses a huge majority of Blacks I suspect.

Expand full comment

Absolutely not. My mostly black neighbors have far less truck with this shit than my white work/educational cohort.

Expand full comment

Really. They don’t support talking about Black inventors or working to create more fairness in punishment of black students? I find that hard to believe. What area is this?

Expand full comment

You can make anyone sound reasonable when you cherry pick their two most moderate, sensible positions.

But let’s make no mistake here; this is the same movement that has been at extreme pains to “understand”, excuse, or simply deny the reality of the unrest that resulted in the devastation of two majority-black business districts in Philadelphia last year.

If you think my neighbors, several of whom owned businesses in those districts, have a scrap of sympathy for this movement, you’re delusional.

Expand full comment

That is the strawman that is put out.

If we were simply talking about bringing in more history about black Americans or books by authors we would be fine.

If we wanted fair discipline that would be fine.

But that is not where the DEI industrial complex is. It is basically turning schools into absolute chaotic places where there is no discipline. The curriculum gets watered down more and more due to "equity." Higher tracks are gotten rid of. School becomes a place to heal "trauma" instead of a place of learning and socialization.

Expand full comment

That's how DEI is painted by the conservative media, but not what is happening in most places. For example, in Southlake there was NEVER a call to reduce discipline. Quite the opposite, the call was to INCREASE discipline. But the response was to not apply discipline in the cases that were brought to the school. How does this suddenly get misconstrued as "no discipline". In general DEI doesn't ask to reduce discipline, but to apply it fairly.

DEI is mostly about taking a step back from saying, "the core goal is to make sure these students feel comfortable" and saying "let;s make all students feel comfortable". Which is hard to do when society is centered around straight white males. If you're straight or white or male (or some combination) you'll feel like you have to make space on the couch (weren't they comfortable enough sitting on the floor?). DEI doesn't want to kick straight white males off the couch, but as of yet, they really don't want to give up too much room on the couch either.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

Eric Adams has complained about racism in policing.

Opposing wokeness doesn't mean denying racism, and Black voters certainly do not believe life is equal for Blacks and Whites in the US

Expand full comment

I would dig it.

Expand full comment

Much of my frustration with progressivism comes from being shamed, unfriended and sneered at by college friends who think me insufficiently woke and insufficiently covid cautious. Elected Democrats are not really the problem, indeed there are many issues (crime, military spending, israel) where they are too right wing for my tastes. I wish we could pinpoint what fraction of Democrats’ poor polling is attributable to activists and social media personalities and what fraction flows from bad issue choices by politicians and consultants. I think the political professionals are doing a decent job!

Expand full comment

This is the universal problem. I know good elected Democrats that lost due to the excesses of idiot activists that they got tagged with.

Expand full comment

I wonder a lot about this too; how much people’s voting habits reflect approval and disapproval of a party or administration’s actual stated platform, goals, etc vs. how they feel about the people they see as representatives of that party shouting on social media.

Unfortunately, I suspect that for most people, the closest and most immediate way that they perceive “politics” as affecting them is via people online yelling at them (or the people they see on cable news shows yelling at people they perceive as similar to them. Which I think means that these awful and largely intractable culture war issues have huge salience to most people relative to things government actually can or can’t do

Expand full comment

So are you pro Pelosi anti squad?

Expand full comment

I strongly agree with the squad on Israel, but their positions on climate change scare me and I don’t think they understand that capitalism is a very efficient way of making widgets,

Expand full comment

I think they also seriously underestimate how effective capitalism can be at moving people out of poverty. Which is kinda striking given that they do think of themselves as champions of the downtrodden. And I will be the first to say that capitalism has many problems and does leave many people behind. It’s still better than the alternatives.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

I think, too, that we have Covid to thank for the enormity of the protests. As we al know, there were many George Floyds before May 2020. Young people and well-meaning wealthy homemakers were bored and feeling cooped up, and the young especially needed to get some energy and frustration out. I say this as a former young person who would protest at the drop of a hat in the '80s, but my in-person job confined that activity mostly to weekends. There's only so much disruption you can cause on a random Saturday.

Expand full comment

> While most of the manpower at the BLM 2020 protests was normies who were outraged

Let's be honest, most of the manpower at BLM was normies who wanted an excuse to get out of the house and do something.

Expand full comment

Tax their parents until the pips squeak. Then they’ll have to get *jobs*!

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

"If you are very left wing but temperamentally normie (like me) you're gonna find chunks of the left off-putting and frankly insane."

You just described my sentiments perfectly. (Emphasis on the "frankly insane" part of the comment.

Expand full comment

I don't understand this piece. I don't think anyone is arguing that the Democratic party ought to adopt the policies of Bill Clinton.

The Sista Souljah comparison is relevant because at that time, Bill Clinton understood that it was more important to speak to what was actually popular with the black community than it was to pander to Jesse Jackson and the other activists to get their endorsement. Jackson and the other activists were out of the African American mainstream and that is the reason why Clinton's Sista Soulja moment worked, even though it still seems to piss off some activists today.

So the reason that historical example is relevant is the same - the activist base has gotten way over its skis and is outside of the Democratic mainstream, to say nothing of the national mainstream. Politicians and the political class, therefore, ought to moderate their views, tone, and policy more toward the mainstream.

This is really about adopting the "popularism" stance that you've advocated for. It just so happens that is more "conservative" than where the activist left is currently.

It's also really politics 101 - you go where the people you want to support you actually are (or at least near there), you don't lecture and alienate potential supporters by clinging to narrow and unpopular ideas and telling people who don't support them that they are stupid or bad. Which is one thing too many on the activist left are very good at doing.

Expand full comment

Whenever a more centrist pundit suggests adopting Clinton-like tactics, progressives like to turn the argument into a binary choice between full-on progressivism and full-on Clinton-ism as a way make their position seem more reasonable.

I think this piece is intending to put in perspective what exactly has changed and what hasn't since the days of Clinton.

Expand full comment

Exactly this. Biden could have forcefully broken from the woke craziness. But he refused to do so.

Likewise in Virginia McAuliffe was continuing to suck up the the teachers unions and spouting nonsense about Parents shouldn't have a say in their education, when instead he should have been pushing back against the CRT and school closures.

Expand full comment

Youngkin is a good comparison. He appealed to moderate normies without alienating the Trumpy base. He could give Trump the Heismann but not intentionally piss off Trump voters.

That really what Democrats should be doing as well if they want to do better in elections - they don't need to tell the DEI/CRT crazies to pound sand, but they shouldn't let them control the agenda. Instead, focus on normies and normie interests because that's where the votes are.

Expand full comment

They should make every meaningless gesture possible to appeal to pro-life voters. Have candidates who say they are "personally pro-life" and oppose even good pro-abortion measures that don't stand a chance of passing. This may mean having D purple state governors who support bans on third term abortions and things like that. The salience of abortion as an issue is going to shoot way up once the court rules, and Democrats need to be smart about it and aware of where the public stands.

My nightmare: abortion is banned or nearly banned in 20 states and Democrats get maneuvered into making the national debate about whether the term "partial-birth abortion" is approved by experts. Is there a place for opponents of late-term abortion in the democratic party? Should an associate professor who voted for a state referendum against late-term abortion get tenure at a liberal arts college? etc. The supreme court is in a position to overturn Roe because Democrats have been treading water / losing the abortion debate for the past 30 years (the contrast with attitudes to homosexuality is really striking). I worry that instead of trying to win it they'll deny that there's a debate.

Expand full comment

This. A lot of what you see with more moderate Dems is they want to tell the DEI folks to pound sand. You think Dems have it tough now -- imagine if they split the black vote with Republicans.

But you can moderate without telling, arguably your most loyal base, that we don't think very highly of you. I think you simply focus on pushing justice for everyone, scientific and rigorous thinking, and lighweight fairness -- you move the needle toward the left. And then you paint the people who want to stop affirmitive action or think white males are the oppressed class as the crazies.

It's a really easy social message. The only problem with it is that it looks like it moves slowly. It looks like it isn't tackling the biggest problems of the day. But it is, but just in a way that people are ready to hear it.

Expand full comment

"white males are the oppressed class"

Definitely crazy

"stop affirmitive [sic] action"

Much less crazy. I don't question the existence and effects of institutional racism but affirmative action, while admirable in concept, has a strong tendency in practice to degenerate into BS and quotas in practice. people can see this so it doesn't help to call them crazy

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

I suspect you aren't in the Black community AT ALL. There are probably stupid and offensive ideas, but the core idea that diversity has value and black lives matter (not the org, but the concept) is one that is largely supported by Black people and voters.

Race based messaging doesn't work. Which is why I mentioned in my other post that you responded to that you don't need to do race based messaging. BUT messaging that tells them that diversity, equity and inclusion are stupid and you should pound sand will not be met with indifference.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

The problem is that the core Democratic base is too small. Basically professionals plus left activists plus traditionally Democratic minorities. Not nearly enough normies in it to set the agenda. So Biden doesn't have the power to stop the crazies from controlling the agenda, even if he wants to.

Expand full comment

Your comment makes me think that some enterprising soul (no pun intended) should do a “Sister Souljah moment that we remember” vs “what really happened” story.

Expand full comment

That would be good! I'm too young to actually remember, but according to Wikipedia what she said (in the context of the Rodney King riots) was "If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?" I'm sure she was just speaking in the heat of the moment, I don't think that represents her soberly formulated opinion about what we should do.

Anyway her name has because a byword for repudiating the fringe of your party, but it's not like she was expressing a policy view that some faction of Democrats espoused or something. But she was associated with Jesse Jackson in some way and Clinton was I guess criticizing him for breaking break with her. Although apparently Clinton and Jackson later patched it up.

Lots of potential ways to read this depending on the view you take!

Expand full comment

The 64% approve of interracial marriage from Gallup in 1997 blows my mind. The mid 90s is when a majority of Americans finally got on board with interracial marriage (or were at least willing to say that to a pollster).

It was 48% in 1994, per gallup. The past is a foreign country.

Expand full comment

"The past is a foreign country."

Agree. Bill Clinton was the governor of *Arkansas*. A lot of elected offices in the South were held by Democrats of a generation that got their start in the 60s. They were replaced by Republicans of a generation that itself is now aging out. Who knows what the next 25 years will bring....

Expand full comment

My grandparents were very politically active in the 90's as older people tend to be. They lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the Civil Rights era, Apollo, Vietnam, Staglation, etc. They were older than I am now when schools were desegretated. My parents were in college during the upheaval of the late 60's and yet its impact on their generation was eclipsed by Vietnam. Put those two voting blocs together and mix the apathy of my generation and you end up with public opinon that, by today's standards, looks like a foreign country. Now, my grandparents are dead and my parents (generation) watched their kids grow up and intermarry. And those kids are in their 40's and polling of people under 30 looks like a foreign country to them.

Expand full comment

The difference between 1994 and 1997 is staggering: what happened in those three years? (Or was there a methodological change in how the stats were gathered?)

Expand full comment

From personal experience ... 64% definitely did NOT approve in Ohio in the early 2000s. The looks of disapproval were overt.

Expand full comment

My dad (age 61) has admitted to me that he still finds the site of interracial relationships to be somewhat weird. He has no conscious objection to interracial dating as a concept, but he still has an unconscious reaction to it because he did not get used to seeing it growing up.

Expand full comment

From today's NYT, lessons from Virginia:

"The No. 1 issue for women right now is the economy, and the No. 1 issue for Black voters is the economy, and the No. 1 issue for Latino voters is the economy. I’m not advocating for us ignoring social issues, but when we think broadly about voters, they actually all want us talking about the economy and doing things to help them out economically."

Sounds like "It's the economy, stupid."

I'd say the lesson from Clinton is pretty simple.

Expand full comment

Everything in this piece after the first paragraph is good, but the premise of it seems to be operating off of a pretty idiosyncratic definition (or perhaps lack thereof) of "Sister Souljah." Pulling a "Sister Souljah" just means publicly criticizing the extremists in your coalition. (The real Sister Souljah, for the zoomers out there, was a rapper with some extremist views who had gotten into the news in the early days of the 1992 presidential campaign.) This is a pretty standard move in politics. Bush did it a bit in 2000. Even Trump kinda-sorta did it in his peculiar coalition-scrambling way in 2016.

Obviously what qualifies as "extremist" will vary with changes in public opinion over time. But the principle is sound and has pretty universal application. What makes Democratic versions of "Sister Souljah" a bit more fraught than Republican versions is that right-wing extremists generally understand what Republican politicians are trying to do and don't get as upset about it. Left-wing extremists tend to get more upset. But that's no reason not to publicly criticize them since (a) as Matt has written many times, they don't represent very many Americans, plus they mostly live in deep-blue districts and don't vote anyway, so you lose nothing, (b) swing voters dislike left-wing extremists regardless of faction (intersectional, socialist, anarchist) so them being angry at you is probably politically beneficial.

If Bret Stephens or anyone else out there is using "Sister Souljah" to refer more broadly to Bill Clinton's political tactics writ large, then they're using the term in a weird way. Yes, obviously Democrats should not do exactly what Bill Clinton did on everything, as the times and circumstances have changed.

Expand full comment

Sister Souljah seems to have different meanings for everyone. To wonks it was a preemptive tactical move against Al Sharpton. To centrists it was pushback against extremists. And, I think, to people like Brett Stevens it is code for pushback specifically against the left wing of the party.

In that context, I think "Sister Souljah" means rhetorically kneecapping the left wing of the party by forcing them to defend some of their crazier positions publicly. Like, some of the stuff "the squad" says is really is batshit crazy and it's too easy for Republicans to hang their comments (and votes) around Biden. Presidents used to say and act like "I am president of all Americans, not just the ones who voted for me." Trump famously and repeatedly said and did the exact opposite, which is now the default assumption, so Biden needs to find a way to restore that axiom.

Expand full comment

I see Trump maybe a bit differently here. He did attack a few default GOP positions and they haven't really recovered. Instinctually dovish. Probably best described as "anti-globalist". He took entitlement spending off the table.

Expand full comment

I'd describe Trump as "instinctually isolationist," not "instinctually dovish." There was no evidence he actually thought the US military should be downsized or limited in its potential scope of operations. It just appeared that he thought various recent uses of it weren't in the national interest, which he defined pretty much exclusively in terms of US territorial integrity.

Expand full comment

You're giving too much credit to Trump's "thinking" here. He saw all foreign policy issues in terms of "does this make the US (or me!) *look* like a winner or a loser?" and "are they treating the US (or me!) as a chump?"

Oh, and "I have a real soft spot in my heart for brutish foreign leaders because they look like winners and tough guys."

He wouldn't know a "national interest" if it caused bone spurs in his heel.

Expand full comment

I think it's a mistake to say anyone doesn't think about things. Trump's views were muddled on many issues, but his foreign policy/national security views were pretty well within the bounds of traditional American isolationism (raise trade barriers; raise immigration barriers; strong US military; no overseas operations except where they are specifically for the benefit of the US). The palling around with foreign strongmen thing is the only true exception I can think of. (Traditional isolationists would avoid that because of viewing such types as "unAmerican.") Trump didn't halt existing overseas military operations, but that seems to have been at least in part because he was conned by the foreign policy/national security establishment into continuing them.

Expand full comment

That's probably fair. Still - I think either position would break with GOP orthodoxy.

Expand full comment

I think it is a fool's errand to find any consistency in Trump's policy positions and those adopted downstream by the GOP. His whole presidency was a feedback loop with his most loyal adherents. He would literally get up in front of a crowd at rallies and test lines. The ones that got the most applause turned into positions, which the political apparatus then tried to turn into policy. Eventually, the feedback loop got so tight that the litmus test became "whatever makes the libs angry" because that is what got the biggest applause. The GOP just gave up entirely at one point and had a single plank in their platform: Wut Trump sed.

Expand full comment

Exactly. MY often credits Trump for being smart to toss Republican orthodoxy on cutting entitlements to the side. I think it's more that he just didn't give a damn about those boring issues. He just wanted to stoke ethnic hatred and pump up his own magnificence. He didn't care about anything else. Still doesn't.

Expand full comment

"He just wanted to stoke ethnic hatred and pump up his own magnificence."

You give him to much credit/blame. Don't think he cares about ethnic hatred - it was ALL about pumping up his own magnificence. He used whatever was available to do that, including the ethnic/race issues.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

That's a deeply sobering thought, on several dimensions.

Expand full comment

The other thing to know about Sister Souljah is she was a Rutgers alum and went on to be a bestselling novelist. I remember her first novel getting positive reviews, although I've never read it. According to Wikipedia, her books have made the New York Times bestseller list three times.

Expand full comment

love this argument, which so nicely clarifies the landscape. but, whew, the hippie bashing in these comment threads is getting so tedious.

Expand full comment

"The real problem with the Democratic party today is someone once made a personal criticism of me"

Expand full comment

Yeah, I've spent the last few years in a lot of center-left (but explicitly not far-left) spaces, and it's all kind of tedious at this point. Maybe I should start actually going out and doing things instead of bitching on the Internet.

Expand full comment

I agree, even though I'm probably more on the side of the anti-woke stuff than even the norm here. We all get it. Slow Boring commenters are the choir. Stop preaching to us.

Expand full comment

On abortion, it’s probably also relevant that as party leader, Clinton defined the pro-choice position as “safe, legal and rare,” which might explain the higher support then than now.

Expand full comment

that was a GREAT framing though, right? why did people stop using it?

Expand full comment

Activists lobbied against the “rare” rhetoric because they found it stigmatizing https://www.vox.com/2019/10/18/20917406/abortion-safe-legal-and-rare-tulsi-gabbard

Expand full comment

helpful article, thank you!

It's just that I disagree with the activists. I LOVE abortions! But jeez, sometimes you need to stay just a tad under the radar and meet people where they ARE.

Expand full comment

Abortion rights seem to be an issue where a small group of activists who are out of step with mainstream opinion have actually captured the Democratic Party, unlike say, "defund the police" where the link between the activists and the party as a whole is mostly an invention of the right-wing spin machine. Biden's abrupt about-face on the Hyde Amendment was a clear demonstration of this to me.

Expand full comment

While, I agree with this view and take, let me offer a counter arguments. and then a counter counter argument.

1a. the shift leftwards (less conservative) only happened because liberals pushed on these issues. By "recalibrating" do we risk sliding back to the right, or not advancing the ultimate goals of a social democracy with health care and benefits.

1c. Perhaps the left is pushing too hard, and that will result in a backlash, besides you can only make progress if you win. For example, Obama ran anti-gay marriage, and then when he had the power, then shifted his views. Winning should be primary.

.....................................................................................................................................

On a different subject, one of the most frustrating things to talk about in politics is immigration vs borders.

I suspect most people are sort of like me. I support a complete overhaul of the immigration system that goes towards a generous point system similar to Canada, or New Zealand or Australia. It should not be overly weighed towards education levels, but should concentrate on skill levels. Let's recruit and encourage Indonesian carpenters (random example). We need a wide balance of people and countries to be represented in our immigration system. At the same time I look at the porous southern border situation and think... this is not optimal.

Instead in discourse, everything gets wrapped up in pro-immigration or anti-immigration. With no nuance.

...................................................................................................................................

Gas prices are one of those weird disconnect things for me. I travel for work, so my gas is usually expensed. I don't pay attention. When I am at home, I sort of notice gas prices, but the cost really isn't a big deal since I only drive errands.

However my wife drives every day to work. She is a server. Working class. To her the difference between filling up for $60 a week vs $120 a week is equivalent to half a days wages. That's a lot.

Expand full comment

I think public opinion has moved left on a lot of issues more due to larger structural changes in society than liberals pushing on these issues:

* The financial crisis moved people's views on economics to the left (it even radicalized many young people against capitalism itself).

* Increased visibility of climate change has made people more concerned about it. It is not longer a hypothetical.

* The 1965 immigration act and the Reagan amnesty have led to an ever increasing share of the public growing up in a more diverse country, which has made the public more supportive of immigration.

* The modern knowledge economy has concentrated job opportunities in big cosmopolitan cities. This has increased people's exposure to more types of people and made them more tolerant.

* During the urban decline of the 60-80s the LGBT community and liberal bohemian types took up residence in cities because they were shunned by the rest of society. But thanks to the post-90s urban revival, these communities suddenly found themselves in the centers of economic and cultural hubs, and thus gained a lot more cultural power.

* Relatedly, gentrification in urban cores have increased the diversity of the suburbs, which has helped neuter the power of white flight style race-baiting politics there.

Activists certainly helped push these issues along, but people underrate how much society has changed due to unrelated structural factors.

Expand full comment

Matt is a moderate and "left of center"; way I describe my own positions. As such, he, I am certain finds himself accused of being a fascist at least 1/2 the time.

This would be one of those occasions

As a social progressive, living in a well left of center city, Seattle, I can't emphasize how pained, non activist progressives are with "The Squad" wing of the Democratic Party.

As an example, the guy leading the recall movement against Kshama Sawant is a older, white progressive gay man and that guy is being tarred as "Trumpist". And by the way, Ms Sawant is really indistinguishable from MTG and her ilk

The open question is if we will be more successful in beating them back than the GOP was in the hijacking of their party by the kooks

What is absolutely needed is a reset.

I was a young FOB during the Sister Soujah moment and I can tell you that lilly white conservative suburban types (although I did not quite know this at that time) in Texas were impressed by it.

Another example, that my circle of mostly moderates talk about is this activist obsession with trans right.

Transgendered people represent about 0.7% of the population and that's whose rights the Democratic Party wants to focus on? If it does not resonate with moderates in large urban areas, how does that sit with midwestern suburban types?

Seems like the democratic party is living up to it's reputation of seizing abject defeat from the jaws of victory.

As we saw in VA, a moderate GOP candidate with a fresh face and eschewing the kooks will sweep to victory. The question is if they can do it at a national level

Expand full comment

"Seems like the democratic party is living up to it's reputation of seizing abject defeat from the jaws of victory."

Thus it ever was.

Expand full comment

I think we’ve moved broadly left as a country on social and especially identity issues mostly due to pop culture - starting with earnestly diverse casting in the 80s and 90s and continuing with whatever it is we all talk about happening online today. The politics is mostly downstream of that.

Economically, I think the national mood is mostly haphazard reaction to events and personal circumstances with some knee-jerk anti-incumbency sprinkled in. And voters aren’t picking on policy minutiae - we got Obamacare because of Obama’s charisma more than any coherent shift in national political convictions.

If Biden had blocked permitting and gas prices spiked, I have a hard time thinking that would have broken through because anyone capable of understanding that sentence has already committed to a side - knee-jerk partisanship being one of the things that has definitely increased since the 90s.

Expand full comment

I think the leftward move on social and identity issues is as much if not more a results of shifts in the economy than shifts in pop culture. The post-industrial "knowledge economy" has concentrated job opportunities is big cosmopolitan cities, which has immersed a greater share of the population into cultural liberalism. The "knowledge economy" is propped up by three main groups: mostly white college-educated professionals, mostly non-white "high-skilled" immigrants (largely from Asia), and mostly non-white service workers (including a large share of Latinos). This mix has increased people's exposure to different types of people and fostered a culture of liberalism in these places that makes its way into pop culture.

Add to this the fact that a lot of the millennial generation sought out urban living as a backlash to being raised in the bland conformity of the suburbs, which further expedited the trends listed above.

Expand full comment

"If Biden had blocked permitting and gas prices spiked, I have a hard time thinking that would have broken through"

Disagree. That's a really simple narrative so easy for voters to get. Not to mention voters tend to blame the president anyway, so now they would just have data to back up their predisposition

Expand full comment

I already had an uncle telling me exactly this recently, that Biden has been blocking permits and pipelines. I said that I was pretty sure it wasn't true beyond Keystone XL, but I didn't have anything handy to refute it.

Expand full comment

Am I wrong to think the actionable advice here is, once again, POPULARISM? Clinton did things that people wanted, and pushed back against things that "most people" didn't like, and that was fine. (The failed adventures in healthcare perhaps reinforcing this story by showing what happened when he moved off that formula...)

Expand full comment

This survey data is nice in terms of putting some perspective around the cries about how SCOTUS is supposedly going to immediately move on to overturning Obergefell, Lawrence, Loving, etc. if it overturns Roe.

Expand full comment

One way to think of the Supreme Court is as a lagging indicator of where elected politics has gone. The clean up crew that consolidates into law the consensus, as it sees it, of electoral politics. Sometimes they get it wrong, or don't care, but generally speaking the Court follows the trend of the times, usually just a little behind the times.

Expand full comment

Is there any factual basis for this way of thinking?

Expand full comment

Their decisions over about the last 100 years.

Expand full comment

Any specific examples from the current court? It seems they’ve been on a run of unpopular right wing decisions (Medicaid, gerrymandering) that they’re about to cap by overturning Roe

Expand full comment

Republicans' electoral control of the Presidency and/or Senate over the past 20+ years has left a mark on the Supreme Court that we're going to be seeing the lagging effects of in the S.Ct. for some time, sort of a deep keel on the ship that will temper sudden changes to the rudder and sails of electoral politics. The lagging effect of Democratic dominance under the FDR/New Deal coalition also manifested itself on the Court well past the demise of that coalition. And the effects of prior Republican electoral dominance lasted on the Supreme Court well into the FDR era until giving way to the trend of the times; that shift was unusual in its abruptness.

Expand full comment

I've been reading this thread about the abortion case and what will happen if Roe is overturned, and wondering why is no one considering the possibility, if the Republicans take back Congress next year and the Presidency in 2024, they won't try to ban abortion nationwide. It seems to be an issue that animates a non-insignificant part of their base. Is it that they aren't that crazy (not in evidence on other issues)? That what they objected to in Roe was imposing a nationwide rule by judicial fiat? So doing so by other means would be hypocritical? But doing so by democratic means is different from doing it via unelected judiciary. For those for whom saving the babies is issue number one why would they not agitate and vote for a nationwide ban? Federalism? Over babies?

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

Legalizing is different than approving. You can think that abortion should be legal but personally find it objectionable.

Expand full comment

Matt has had a number of columns recently where the answer to me seems clear. Politicians need to update their game and simply do politics better, meaning better read where the public is, better read where the public can be pushed, and better understand when the public might usefully be persuaded to move outside a comfort zone.

Expand full comment

Good information and insightful analysis. I think SCOTUS will blow up Roe v Wade which will have consequences in ‘22. What those consequences will be I do not know but some will be unintended for sure.

Expand full comment

I think you are right. Reversing Roe vs Wade is going to be one of those Republican wins that has the power to backfire big. It could energize the left. If I was a Republican, I would be praying the SCOTUS didn't decide until after the election.

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

But a lot of swing state progressives will be motivated by the National outrage.

I actually agree with you that roe vs wade won't make a huge difference. I support more local control.

Expand full comment

"But a lot of swing state progressives will be motivated by the National outrage."

I tend to think for anyone with passion about this subject already has their voting preferences pretty set and this isn't going to change them. I think it might get a few marginal votes changed if it impacts close to home, but I think that number of swing voters who consider this change a priority issue will be very small overall. Now in a tight race, that may make all the difference - just a matter of how many tight races there will be.

Expand full comment

I agree with you, but I think it might be more about turnout. I by no means think its certain, just a possibility.

Expand full comment

Good point on turnout.

Expand full comment

There are a lot of voters in the world with teenage daughters. That creates a lot of potential anxiety....

Expand full comment

Parents being voters hasn't been enough to get the CTC benefit prioritized and that puts actual cash in the hands of people.

Expand full comment

As a father of multiple teenage girls, I don't know if that really factors in for dads. Though I think it might for mothers.

Expand full comment

From Wikipedia:

In the United States, twelve states — Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma[1], South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas,[2] and Utah have trigger laws that would automatically ban abortion in the first and second trimesters if the landmark case Roe v. Wade were overturned.[3][4][5] Illinois formerly had a trigger law (enacted in 1975), but repealed it in 2017.[6][7][8] Also, eight states — Alabama, Arizona, Michigan, West Virginia, and Wisconsin as well as the already mentioned Arkansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma, still have their unenforced pre-Roe abortion bans on the law books. Those laws are not currently enforceable due to Roe, but could be enforced if Roe were overturned.[4]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trigger_law

If Roe v Wade gets overturned then there are some swing states where abortions will theoretically immediately be illegal.

Expand full comment

My question is, how big a deal does it actually become.

The states where abortion will be banned are low density with few people.

And then, assuming someone wants or needs an abortion in those states, how far a drive will it be to get access to an abortion.

I am not minimizing the impact, just trying to gauge how likely it is to effect people in significant way.

https://www.businessinsider.com/abortion-access-in-america-maps-charts-if-roe-falls-2018-8#if-the-court-strikes-roe-down-22-states-have-laws-on-the-books-that-could-outright-ban-or-severely-limit-access-to-abortion-and-14-states-have-passed-laws-that-would-explicitly-protect-the-right-to-abortion-3

Expand full comment

Looks like your link is missing Texas, which earlier this year passed a law that makes performing any abortions a felony unless the mother faces death or "a serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant female" back in May of this year.

If someone lives in Houston then it's suddenly ~400 miles to a theoretical clinic in Pensacola, FL or ~350 to something across the mexican border. This is pretty bad man.

https://www.texastribune.org/2021/06/16/texas-abortion-law-roe-wade/

Expand full comment

Yeah. That is a big State. I wonder if it will cause a voter backlash.

Expand full comment

In this great piece from last year, David French cites a study that predicts overturning Roe will lead to only a 12.8% decline in abortions:

https://frenchpress.thedispatch.com/p/do-pro-lifers-who-reject-trump-have

Expand full comment

That piece was written before Texas passed its "Abortions are properly illegal if/when Roe v Wade is overturned" bill, so I'd be interested to know how much bigger the drop would be. Idk how the study he cites did its calculations but presumably the idea was that people in states with bans would just travel to relatively nearby states without bans. Someone living in/around Houston would theoretically be 400+ miles from an American abortion clinic in this context, and of course anyone in a southern state whose access revolved around getting to texas somewhere would run into problems.

Expand full comment

That sounds plausible to me.

Expand full comment

Hard to know.

One of the things that makes politics hard to predict is that sudden events become tipping points with impact far beyond their base reality. George Floyd had infinitely more impact on our politics than Treyvon Martin or Tamir Rice.

It's possible that Roe going down will be met with shrugs, grimaces, and cynicism. It's also possible that it will lead to an explosion that will change all our expectations about 2022 and beyond.

We can't predict any of that beforehand, and so that is why we just have to play the game and see what happens.

Expand full comment

I can understand the George Floyd thing. It was literally on video the whole time. It was sort of more unequivocal that previous publicized incidents. I also think that because it happened during Covid days, there were just a lot more people with time on their hands to protest.

I am also at a loss to predict what happens with Roe v Wade. There will be some backlash from the usual suspects, but I don't know if it resonates intensely with a wider breadth of public.

So yeah... we all universally agree, there is no way to predict.

Expand full comment

Twenty-one states have laws already on the books (often pre-dating Roe) that will either ban abortion outright or limit it to six or eight weeks, if the Supreme court does a complete reversal on Roe. These include Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Ohio. https://www.guttmacher.org/article/2021/10/26-states-are-certain-or-likely-ban-abortion-without-roe-heres-which-ones-and-why

Expand full comment

The fact that such laws weren't repealed in the intervening 40+ years post-Roe in places like Michigan and Wisconsin (less for Georgia and Ohio) really makes a point about how lazy progressives got on actual politics in recent decades and the extent to which they just assumed their agendas could be pushed indefinitely through the courts. This is why I've said that abrogating Roe, while terrible for women's rights in the short run, probably will jeopardize Republican officeholders in a lot of moderate states as a hostile SCOTUS is going to force progressives to figure out how to successfully appeal to voters again.

Expand full comment

Democrats have only had full control of the Michigan legislature for 3 of the last 40 years. They had a Democratic governor for 1 of those years, at which point their State Senate majority was by 2 seats.

Looks like a similar situation in Wisconsin (5 of the last 40 years).

I suppose you're probably saying that they should've done a better job of winning governor's houses and legislative majorities but I wanted to make sure you knew that they weren't necessarily in a position to repeal those laws.

Separately, I don't think it's been common for the Supreme Court to overturn precedent regarding personal rights in the past? So like, leaving laws like that in place is obviously not intelligent but we're sort of headed towards uncharted territory (though it's been clear that conservatives have been trying to get here for decades)

Expand full comment

There was a clear rationale for not repealing abortion laws after Roe v. Wade invalidated them: It would suggest that abortion rights were a matter of legislation and not the Constitution.

Expand full comment

One thing Clinton does not get enough credit for is increasing taxes and the EITC increases and decreasing the structural deficit.

Expand full comment

I'd say Clinton deserves credit for decreasing the structural deficit in conjunction with House Republicans who prevented any major new social spending programs from being implemented post-1994. In fact, the "sweet spot" of American governance, AFAICT, is a Democratic president with a Republican House and a narrow Democratic Senate majority. That decreases the risk of large jumps in military spending and deficit-financed tax cuts, while simultaneously preventing large domestic spending increases.

Expand full comment

Keeping the structural deficit low is always a sweet spot. And the EITC was a major social program. The point is not to oppose transfers, but to pay for them.

Expand full comment

The EITC increase was in 1993 though, so it doesn't rebut my point about post-1994?

Expand full comment