Friday, November 19, 2004

Miscellany and (More) Self-Promotion
Josh Marshall is doing a great job of both keeping tabs on the DeLay Disgrace--which Republican legislators voted for it and which ones didn't (the "Shays Handful," an appellation that reminds me why I'm glad, in the end, that Connecticut Republican Chris Shays, the campaign finance reform crusader who represents Annie's family, pulled out a close win a few weeks ago). If you haven't been reading it, check it out.

Also worth noting is how the corporate media is snarfing up the Republican meme that Austin prosecutor Ronnie Earle is engaged in a "partisan witch hunt" against the uber-partisan Bug Man. For the record, Earle has gone after three times as many Democrats than Republicans for corruption over his long career--not that you'd know it from watching Judy Woodruff or her fellow whores (a non-gender adjective in this case).

I was thinking again yesterday about the Thomas Frank hypothesis: Republicans get "heartland" voters in places like Kansas to pull the lever against their own self-interest, by campaigning on "social issues" and then relentlessly deregulating and concentrating wealth once in office. (Apparently Frank was on the Daily Show a couple nights ago; I missed it.) I think this is a substantially compelling theory, but intellectual honesty demands that we acknowledge the Democrats have a version of this too: we could call it "racial resentment politics." It's how, for instance, Marion Barry has survived multiple incidents that should have ended his career: his voters use Barry to raise a figurative middle finger at The Man, a rationale he encourages with his style of politics, but once in office he acts like a classic Machine thug, enriching friends and allies and irresponsibly spending public money. Sadly, the Democratic Party organization in Brooklyn acts much the same way.

If "spite voting"--the phenomenally descriptive and arguably prescient term used in this New York Press feature from last June--is wrong for the Republicans, it's wrong for our side too.

Self-promotion: I recently wrote a book review of Jason DeParle's magnificent American Dream, a sprawling and richly told history of welfare reform that embraces both the headline-making moves of people like President Bill Clinton and Wisconsin Governor/Bush HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, and three Milwaukee women and their families trying to get ahead after welfare as we knew it was ended. As usual when I write for City Limits, there was a little editorial distortion of my perspective--I wouldn't have used the verbiage of "the myths of welfare reform"--but the real point is, you should read DeParle's book. It's a classic, and should be instructive for both left- and right-wing partisans that nobody has a monopoly on wisdom in this complicated area of policy.

The Center for an Urban Future also released the biggest, most ambitious report of my tenure here last week, on low-income working families in New York. I was a lead author on this project, and we tried to strike a similarly balanced tone here, and got great cooperation from (some) Pataki administration agencies as well as folks in the advocacy community and independent researchers. Hopefully this is the start of something big for our organization, and a step on the road to a more thoughtful debate on how to craft policy that better supports people who are working hard but not getting ahead.

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