Modern conservatism was created to oppose Civil Rights

New Jersey holds its primary elections on Tuesday, though voters have been casting mail ballots for the last several weeks. (Donald Trump has told his advisers that the presidential election will be decided in October, so he’s not terribly worried about how badly he’s losing now. But that doesn’t factor in mail, which means that voting really begins in early October. This year, September is the new October, and it’s already July.)

A number of incumbent Democrats are getting challenged, including Albio Sires and Josh Gottheimer in North Jersey. Gottheimer, who is being challenged by a former volunteer of his, Arati Kreibich, put out a poll several weeks ago showing him up by 41 points. That obviously makes him a strong favorite, but Kreibich has picked up steam recently and Gottheimer may have miscalculated what the electorate is going to look like. He is proud of having voted routinely with Trump, and is one of the least popular Democrats among his own colleagues, even those in his own New Jersey delegation. There are plenty of Democrats in Congress with their fingers privately crossed for a Kreibich victory. To get a sense of who Gottheimer is, this story I wrote on how he treats his staff gives more than a few clues.

Joe Biden is starting to put his transition team together, and it’s worth taking a close look at whom he’s empowering to get a sense of what a Biden administration would look like. For national security staffing, he’s leaning on Avril Haines, who was a top lawyer in the CIA and the Obama White House, whose job it was to decide whether people on the drone programs kill list were legal to kill. She was also a major backer of Trump’s pick to run the CIA, Gina Haspel. More recently, she’s been working for the controversial firm Palantir and, as my colleague Murtaza Hussain recently reported, she tried to scrub her connection to the company. We covered her on Rising as well

A new book by former Mitt Romney campaign manager Stuart Stevens, now a NeverTrumper, started a ruckus with the magazine National Review, which took extreme exception to Stevens’ claim that the party has been exploiting white grievance since (at least) the early 1960s, and rode to the defense of Barry Goldwater and his intellectual champion, National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. As it happens, I had written an entire chapter of We’ve Got People on the role National Review, and Buckley specifically, played in forging a coalition of Southern defenders of Jim Crow and Northern opponents of the New Deal. That chapter got cut for length and relevance to the broader narrative, but when I saw National Review  trying to whitewash (?) its own history, I decided to resuscitate it. 

It’s a fascinating and important history, and I’m glad I found an outlet for it. Nothing in this essay is truly original -- scholars and other  journalists have gone over this terrain before, but it remains an obscure part of our political history. You can read it here. One reader, Brad Miller, who used to represent Greensboro, N.C. in Congress, notes that I left out Buckley’s role in organizing Young Americans for Freedom, who were the footsoldiers for Goldwater. The group was founded specifically in opposition to the lunch-counter sit-ins, and the individual liberty at the heart of modern conservative was constructed so that owners  of diners could justify, on the grounds of liberty, their refusal to serve Black customers. Modern conservatism was created in opposition to the Civil Rights movement.

Speaking of history, Woodrow Wilson is back in the news, with Princeton announcing they’re taking his name off their public policy school. I guest-hosted Rising last week, and we did a segment on Wilson, and I told a story that more people ought to know, about Robert Smalls, who was born into slavery, ended up escaping by stealing a Confederate ship and piloting it out of Charleston harbor, going on to fight for the Union and then serve five terms in Congress. There’s a Wilson tie-in, and I don’t want to spoil it. The story starts around the 12 minute mark here.

Tulsa massacre

Donald Trump is reportedly “furious” at the embarrassingly low attendance at his Tulsa, Oklahoma rally, initially scheduled for Juneteenth but moved to the next day in response to the obvious criticism. Tulsa, of course, is the site of one of the most violent pogroms against a blossoming local black community, part of a wave of violence kicked off after the movie Birth of a Nation marked (and also inspired) the resurrection of the Klan.

Teenagers across the country strategically RSVP’d for the rally, leading the campaign to boast of the massive expected numbers. That, in turn, probably dissuaded some people from attending. Why stand in the heat with 200,000 people, many of them infected with the plague, just to get turned away from a packed arena? Trump is said to be livid with his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, who is already on thin ice, blamed for Tump’s poor polling. That’s good for Democrats, because, this snafu aside, Parscale is dangerously good at his job. The more he’s marginalized, the better for Biden. 

New York and Kentucky have primaries on Tuesday, with a whole slew of progressives challenging incumbents up and down the ballot in New York. Here’s a rundown of the most interesting races. Jamaal Bowman is angling to knock off Eliot Engel (who is getting help from Republicans), and Yvette Clarke and Carolyn Maloney might lose to challengers too. And Mondaire Jones, heavily backed by the institutional progressive world, might win an open primary just outside the city.

In Kentucky, Amy McGrath has spent $30 million to find herself trailing in the primary to Charles Booker, who had raised less than a million until the last few weeks. Mail in voting has been going on for some time, so  if she somehow survives, it’s because he surged just a bit too late. But his campaign is confident there are enough votes outstanding to eclipse her. Much of it, sadly, will come down to the mechanics of voting on Election Day. There is only one polling location in all of Louisville. If there’s chaos, it helps McGrath. Booker’s closing add -- “From the Hood to the Holler” -- is a contemporary version of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, and it’s quite something, one of the most effective closing ads I’ve seen.

A couple pieces from earlier you might like: 

One of the nation’s top federal judges sent a bizarre, court-wide email mangling the history of the Civil War to give it a “both sides” kind of feel, and a clerk responded to him, also replying-all. Very, very much worth the read.

And with Matthew Cunningham-Cook, I have a piece on the legacy of Juneteenth, and the importance of understanding the central role the enslaved people themselves played in their emancipation.  

This piece in Foreign Affairs (which I did not write), The Rise of Strategic Corruption, is quite important, and awfully frightening.

Some decent news

Amid a pandemic and a national uprising coupled with a series of police riots, cities and states across the country held elections on Tuesday. There were a number of races that we’d call “closely watched” if we weren’t spending our energy closely watching much more pressing events. But in Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Washington, DC, progressive challengers scored the kind of impressive victories that suggest the left is gaining when it comes to down ballot strength. And the wins in Pennsylvania bode particularly well for Democrats in November, as increased turnout fueled by progressive energy and organizing could help Biden close the 2016 gap with Trump in the Keystone State.  

In New Mexico, a coalition called “No Corporate Democrats” took on a group of five incumbents who consistently stood in the way of the progressive agenda. Four of those five challengers won, which will majorly shakeup the state legislature. (A fifth incumbent was also beaten by a progressive challenger, though not an official part of the coalition.)  In Pennsylvania, a democratic socialist won an iconic South Philly Senate seat, ousting a longtime incumbent. (The race was won by Niki Saval, a democratic socialist and writer/editor for the literary magazine n+1.) Democratic socialists in Pittsburgh picked up new seats and held on to the ones they won earlier. Progressives in Allentown might knock off Peter Schweyer, a part of the local machine in the state House. And in Coatesville, PA, progressives elected a founder of Chester County Stands Up, an offshoot of the group Lancaster Stands Up, which I’ve written about before

Even here in Washington, DC, a democratic socialists took out the business-friendly ally of the city’s mayor, busting up a machine that had controlled the Ward 4 seat for a very long time. She was helped along by an endorsement from Elissa Silverman, who I’m proud to say is also an alum of Washington City Paper. More alt-weekly writers in a position of power is a good thing. 

Judging by the traffic analytics on a story I wrote earlier this week with Aida Chavez, you may already have seen this one, but the head of the Minneapolis police union, Bob Kroll, in an interview in April, boasted about how he’s been involved in 3 shootings and over half of his board has been involved in at least one, and none of them are bothered by it. This is the kind of story where, as you dive into it, the context of his quotes makes the comments look even worse than they might out of context. That story is here

Run The Jewels rushed out its latest album, RTJ4. I haven’t listened yet but I hear it’s tremendous, and it’s also free -- but gives an opportunity for you to donate to the National Lawyers Guild, which is representing protesters getting swept up by police (and which you can give to here as well).

Unusual House coalition flips the script...New AOC endorsement...

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez jumped into another open three-way Democratic primary, endorsing Nabilah Islam in her quest to flip a suburban Atlanta seat. If you recall, I did a walk-and-talk with her on Capitol Hill when she came to D.C. back before the pandemic. She’s impressive, and if she wins the primary, she has a decent chance of flipping this district. AOC debated her own primary opponent last night and there was this one highly amusing moment.

Washington is still largely in denial about the economic damage being wrought by the pandemic, which is reflected in the phrase “re-open the economy,” and Mitch McConnell’s sole focus on obtaining immunity from liability for businesses who behave negligently during the pandemic. The fight over the Paycheck Guarantee Act, which Nancy Pelosi kept out of the most recent relief package, is another clue to how clueless Congress is. Even though policymakers around the world learned from the last economic crisis that it is much smarter, cheaper, and more humane to keep people on payrolls than lay people off and pay the unemployment benefits, the policy choice out of Washington has been to focus on relief for the unemployed rather than to prevent there from being so many unemployed. In most European countries, they’ve chosen to subsidize employment, and as a result, unemployment rates there are low, and they’re high here. It’s a choice.

I have a story up this evening about an unusual coalition of swing-district Democrats and progressives who have linked up to support the paycheck measure, authored by Pramila Jayapal. If they can successfully organize together, it could upend the power balance on the Hill. That story is here.  


AFTER HOUSE SPEAKER Nancy Pelosi excluded a plan to keep unemployment down by subsidizing firms to keep workers on payrolls from her relief package last week, dozens of progressives have banded together with 10 “front-line” Democrats from swing districts to introduce it as a standalone piece of legislation. 

The Paycheck Recovery Act, authored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., aims to make sure that paychecks are flowing from employers to workers during the coronavirus pandemic. A previous version, the Paycheck Guarantee Act, had been a priority of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, of which Jayapal is a co-chair. The bill subsidizes struggling companies’ payrolls in order to discourage layoffs and keep unemployment down. While Pelosi had said she was open to considering the idea, she ultimately kept it out of the HEROES Act, the coronavirus relief bill passed by the House on Friday, which includes an extension of unemployment subsidies. Jayapal confronted her on a private caucus conference call over the decision, and Pelosi aides later pushed back, criticizing the measure for not having official legislative text or Republican co-sponsors.

Jayapal ultimately voted against the legislation, along with eight other progressives, citing the exclusion of her program. They were joined by five front-liners, some of whom objected to the paycheck measure’s omission, others of whom opposed it from the right, complaining of a lack of bipartisan buy-in. 

The stampede of front-liners toward Jayapal’s new bill, according to people involved in the negotiations, is driven by an intersection of policy and electoral concerns. The front-liners are concerned that Pelosi’s rejection of the paycheck bill, and her focus on unemployment, makes for poor politics, and they have complained that they are getting hammered at home by Republicans, who are dubbing Democrats the party of unemployment. 

The alliance of swing-district Democrats and the progressive wing of the party represents a new threat to House Democratic leadership’s domination of the caucus. Because of the stark partisan divide in the House, Pelosi can’t rely on the few remaining moderate Republicans to push legislation over the top. Instead, leadership typically shapes legislation to appeal to the swing-district bloc of Democrats — there are 42 front-liners who the party considers in need of electoral protection — then bludgeons progressives into supporting it, arguing that whatever is being offered is better than nothing and promotes the necessary goal of maintaining the majority, without which progressives have no power at all. Efforts by progressives to organize enough no votes to extract leverage in negotiations over coronavirus relief have so far not come to fruition, but teaming with front-liners opens up a new potential strategy as the pandemic scrambles political calculations. 

For years, Pelosi has insisted that if it were up to her, the party would go further left than it does, but that the imperatives of reelection require moderating legislation for the members she calls “majority makers.” But if those majority makers get out ahead of Pelosi, that rationale would evaporate, and the dictates of making and keeping a majority would militate in their direction.  


And you say there are no heroes left

The Senate is looking increasingly in play for Democrats, as Trump’s horrifying inability to respond with a modicum of seriousness to the pandemic continues to drain support from the Republican Party, and, not incidentally, to kill people at a rate of thousands per day. Trump’s push to reopen the country appears driven by a simple political calculus: Opening the country will lead to a surge of deaths, but, from a political perspective, it’s better for Trump if those deaths occur now rather than closer to the election, giving the economy time to improve. I know that sounds sociopathic, but there is simply no other plausible logic to it.

Recent polls have found close races or non-trivial Democratic leads in Maine, Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Iowa, and Montana. Democrats would need to win four of these, assuming they lose Doug Jones’ seat in Alabama and hold Gary Peters in Michigan. 

That brings us to Georgia, where Democrats have not one but two shots at a seat. One GOP primary pits scandal-plagued Kelly Loeffler against the far-right Doug Collins. Both are beatable for different reasons. The other seat is held by Republican David Perdue, the former CEO of Dollar General who was elected in the ebola year of 2014. Perdue, like Loeffler, is under fire for his stock trading, and today I published an investigation into his relationship with an Atlanta-based startup that changed the terms of his compensation package after he was elected to the Senate in a way that ended up benefitting him to the tune of millions. 

The story is here, and here’s my appearance on Rising this morning to talk about it.

The question of why precisely the U.S. hit a shortage of N95 masks for healthcare workers, which has resulted in countless needless deaths, comes down to a deliberate choice by HHS superiors to ignore pleas to get ahead of the situation. In January and February, the masks were available, but the Trump administration did everything they could to make sure we didn’t produce or acquire them. This horrifying story was first reported by Sharon Lerner, and has to be read to be believed.

I also have a recent piece, with Akela Lacy, about a fun race going on in North Jersey, where an obscure machine politician is being challenged for a congressional seat he’s quietly held for 14 years. It’s kind of a crash-course in the insanity of New Jersey politics. (And thanks to several readers who live in the district for helping me with the context of the race.)  

House Democrats are out with their opening offer toward a new round of coronavirus relief, and they’re calling it the Heroes Act. It’s being called a $3 trillion package, and progressives are frustrated that some of their key priorities, such as Pramila Jayapal’s Paycheck Guarantee proposal, were left out. In a testy caucus conference call, Jayapal challenged Pelosi, and leadership aides later said that one problem with Jayapal’s idea was that it didn’t have legislative language yet. (Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, who faces a primary challenge from Alex Morse, kept Jayapal’s legislation out, he said, because it was too expensive.) Yet House leaders have been explicit that this is a messaging bill, not intended to go immediately into law, so the precision of the language shouldn’t matter.

But also, the Office of Legislative Council, which produces legislative language, is bottlenecked and only leadership priorities are being handled. That’s a neat Catch-22: Leadership will only put your idea into the major package if legislative language is already written, but you can only get the language written if leadership approves of the idea. The centralizing of power in the “people’s House” is getting quite extreme. At least the House is doing something, finally. 

Still, our entire political and economic system remains in denial. A piece by James Galbraith puts it in stark and simple language:

Even if the pandemic is now contained the economy will not revert to “normal.”  The United States is a premier producer of energy, aerospace, advanced information technologies and financial services. It assembles many million automobiles, appliances and other consumer durable goods every year. The oil sector has suffered a price collapse and borders now on mass bankruptcy; when fracking wells are capped they will sand up and become very costly to reopen, so the US energy-based economic expansion is over. Airplanes are lined up in parking spaces; no new civilian passenger airliners will be needed indefinitely. Households who are either unemployed or working from home (and therefore not commuting) or that face deferred rent and mortgages will not soon be in the market for new cars; in any event the old ones will last longer as they are being driven much less. As office buildings remain empty, new ones will not be built. Similarly for retail stores, already driven to the wall by on-line ordering and deliveries.  The banking sector is on the hook for energy loans gone bad, and for household debts, and for corporate loans that will be at risk once the bailout money runs low. The debts built up during the pandemic will be defaulted in many cases, ruining credit for the households affected. All of which foretells a long depression even under the best foreseeable public health conditions. A cycle of infections and lock-downs will make all of this that much worse.

There is an illusion about, that the recent prosperity can be revived by “reopening.”  But many industries – aircraft, airlines, hotels, automobiles, appliances, commercial construction, energy – will definitely shrink, whatever happens now and no matter how much money they receive. The bailouts were a measure predicated on the idea that these industries were facing just a temporary interruption. But it is difficult to see how bankruptcies and liquidations can be avoided if there is no revival in the demand for product. And large-scale production relies on interlinked supply-chains, so that if a single major producer (for example one of the majors in the automotive sector) fails, there is a risk of cascading liquidations (for example in auto parts), making operations difficult – perhaps impossible – for the survivors.  In these industries the supply chains and subcontractors are much larger in the aggregate than the assembly operations of the final production firm.

Higher education, a large sector in America, faces a crisis of high costs, collapsing enrollments and the actual alternative of cheap on-line instruction in many fields. This was already in the works for demographic reasons, and is now being accelerated by the loss of household wealth. Health care, ten times larger, also faces financial difficulties as millions are losing their insurance and – for the moment anyway – as accidents, other infectious diseases and such are down, depriving doctors and hospitals of reimbursements. Service industries from restaurants to retailers cannot function profitably at one-quarter of capacity; bars, nightclubs, and most sporting venues cannot reopen at all.

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