Wednesday, December 1

To sell this bill to the people, Democrats must stop playing the right-wing game | Jan-Werner Müller

PPolitics is not just talking, but no major political project can do without someone who creates persuasive language. Democrats have done a singularly bad job defending what is still known as “the 3.5 trillion dollar bill.” Neither symbols nor even comprehensible concepts have advanced about what this supposed monstrous law is really about. As a consequence, it has become too easy to discredit the bill as an incoherent progressive wish list from which items can be arbitrarily subtracted. Worse, the right wing has been able to present the bill as inherently anti-americanas it supposedly erects a – God forbid – European-style babysitting status “from cradle to grave.” It may sound counterintuitive, but Democrats should base their plans on the same value that conservatives love to claim for themselves: freedom.

The fact that the bill is so large and combines what is now commonly described as strengthening the social safety net and addressing the climate emergency is not just due to the strategic failures of the Democrats: it is in part dictated by limitations. of the reconciliation process. But putting together two seemingly disjointed agendas has also made the legislation incoherent; it has provided self-described “centrists” (mostly self-centered, rather than offering a principled notion of “center”) a politically gratuitous way to call for cuts to what they characterize as a bulky bill. Similarly, the high price is an opportunity for lazy journalists they continue to describe as “moderates” to demonstrate their fiscal rectitude and adherence to a zombie spirit of bipartisan “accountability.”

However, the crucial question is not about numbers, but about what is perceived as legitimate. We don’t put numbers on horrendously large defense bills (and we’d probably be surprised if we did); We also stopped discussing the Affordable Care Act in terms of costs a long time ago. It’s true that many of the individual initiatives in Biden’s core bill are popular (even in West Virginia, as no leftist expert will fail to mention). But it is naive to assume that consent to certain policies will amount to overall legislative success. Without powerful symbols and a moral language that resonates with citizens, not only will the whole seem less than the parts, the whole could be thrown out altogether.

In recent decades, the right has generally been better at what is sometimes dismissed as “token politics.” Many people thought that the financial crisis would usher in a golden age of social democracy; Instead, the Tea Party ended up making the most of the crisis and paved the way for Trump. Today, again there are many people, including distinguished scholars, who are warning that things like better access to child care and community college are somehow anti-american – and, more particularly, that American citizens will end up working fewer hours and therefore poorer, just like those ignorant and lazy Europeans.

Many empirical comparisons with Europe are selected and ignore the fact that many Americans lead more stressful and significantly shorter lives in a society that for decades has not invested not only in roads and bridges, but also in shared-use civic infrastructure. assets such as affordable dependent care. Many parts of the Build Back Better agenda actually aim to create more options for workers: they could choose how to raise their children and care for their elderly relatives, with obvious implications for their ability to enter the job market; they would also have more resources to use as they see fit, if drug prices fell. Describing such measures as antithetical to freedom has things exactly backwards; Instead of the state dictating to citizens what to do, it creates more options for them.

The reply on the right is quite predictable: To call tax increases freedom, they will say, is positively Orwellian; coercing citizens to give more of their income to the state and calling it freedom is a treacherous sleight of hand. Here a new Democratic weakness becomes apparent: If they had really tried to get the owners of concentrated wealth to pay their fair share, they would have forced their opponents to go out and present a very different case: namely, that the essence of being an American consists of buy the fifth vacation home with money that is simply not available to people who cannot afford the services of what the social scientist Jeffrey winters has called on the property defense industry: expensive accountants and lawyers who can establish that tax haven in the Cayman Islands that lesser mortals won’t even understand because of its complexity. Going after income rather than wealth is already a victory for the kind of people exposed in the Pandora Papers, as is the fact that there is no serious effort to strengthen the IRS arsenal in its battle with nuclear weapons. of the wealth defense industry.

And the weather? It’s also about freedom. If we do not act now, future freedoms of how to live, and not least where to live, will be drastically reduced. But again, the case would be easier if the owners of concentrated wealth were made to pay for a livable future world; after all, they will have to live in it too, unless they can go to Mars or do that. luxury retreat in New Zealand weather apocalypse proof.

Even if they defended philosophically how their proposals would liberate many Americans in their daily lives, the Democrats would still lack a powerful symbol of what their plan is about. Maybe Trump’s speechwriters just put “Build the Wall” to remind him which should always mention immigration (and, not forgetting, add some racist dog whistles). But, as a political symbol, it was brilliant: even if no one really knew the details of Trump’s plans (of course, often there were none), people understood what it was about, and that he was serious. Yet even Bernie Sanders, with all his criticism of the “billionaire class,” has never found anything as effective as Trump’s image. The task of linking the fight against inequality with a symbol of freedom remains pending.

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