Welcome Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, and Host David Callahan, Fortunes of Change.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer-and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class

David Callahan, Host:

One of the maddening riddles of American life is why a country with an egalitarian ethos and the world’s oldest democratic system could allow itself to become a grossly unequal land of haves and have nots in recent decades – a society with a pattern of income distribution now closer to that of Brazil than, say, Germany.

Look no further for an answer to the riddle. This alarming new book by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson offers up perhaps the best explanation so far of how the U.S. got on the path to plutocracy.

The problem, say the authors, is not that unstoppable economic forces have conspired to siphon wealth upwards, with the lion’s share of income gains since the 1970s going to the top of 1 percent. Rather, Hacker and Pierson finger a different suspect entirely: a politics that systematically advantages wealth and privilege.

This exhaustively researched book is structured like a murder investigation, the victim in this case being middle class America. The authors consider and then dismiss the usual suspects who are blamed for inequality. In particular, they exculpate the role of skills and education – typically the principal villain in the inequality story. Hacker and Pierson also argue that the conservatism of Americans – and particularly the white working class – is not to blame, citing polls that show that most Americans are moderate and there has actually been no major rightward shift over recent decades. (A point they explicate in more detail in their 2005 book, Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy.)

The core of Winner-Take-All Politics revolves around an analysis of how politics really works, as opposed to how civic textbooks say it works. Against a backdrop of stunning public ignorance about the most elementary aspects of public policy – for instance, the authors note that only 55 percent of Americans knew the Republicans controlled Congress at the apex of the Gingrich era – Hacker and Pierson show how highly organized monied interests have taken over American politics. These interests have sought not just to keep taxes low on the upper class, with rates now at levels not seen since the 1920s. The hijacking of government has been harnessed to a far more ambitious agenda that has included destroying the U.S. labor movement, gutting any regulations that stand as an impediment to profit, enabling vast increases in executive pay, eviscerating the watchdogs that oversee Wall Street, and much more.

National inaction in the face of a stunning upward flow of wealth might be understandable if the middle class were doing fine. If this were a case of a rising tide lifting not just yachts, but all other vessels, maybe the mystery wouldn’t be so profound. But as we know – and as Jacob Hacker as shown in his other work, most notably The Great Risk Shift – that is far from the case. Even as the top 1 percent has reaped mind boggling income gains, the middle case has gotten slammed with a litany of woes: rising healthcare costs, growing pension insecurity, increased college tuition, and endless predation by a financial sector that has turned usury into a business model.

So why haven’t the masses revolted? Well, as Hacker and Pierson argue, politics is all about organization, and those organizations that used to channel middle class views into the political process have been either destroyed or compromised. Unions are virtually defunct, while the great civic associations of the past have largely disappeared. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party has increasingly been penetrated by big money and long ago ceased to be a champion of working America.

This isn’t a happy story. If you believe the arguments of Winner-Take-All-Politics, America isn’t just on the path to plutocracy; it already is a plutocracy.

Still, one can’t help whether the authors have everything right. In particular, the role of ideology is under-explored in this book. Many scholars have argued that the American Dream ethos, which places the burden of economic success on the individual, is so deeply ingrained in America’s political and cultural DNA that it undermines public will to address economic inequities. Even in the face of obvious structural failures to deliver opportunity, or cabals of the rich to feather their own nests, Americans are apt to just blame themselves for their woes.

It seems that a truly comprehensive picture of what has gone wrong would give more attention to the interplay between the American Dream ethos and powerful business interests. Oligarchical actors have been brilliant at fanning deep-seated ideological currents in the U.S. to create a permissive climate for an upward redistribution of wealth and power. The current alliance between the Tea Party and the Koch brothers is a case in point.

A broader story would stress the need not just to change a politics that favors the rich, but also to change the minds of Americans who keep voting against their own interests.

182 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer-and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class”

BevW February 27th, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Jacob, Paul, Welcome to the Lake.

David, Thank you for returning and Hosting today’s Book Salon.

David Callahan February 27th, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Great to be back!

Congratulations Jacob and Paul on another important and timely book! I’m glad it’s getting a lot of attention. Well deserved.

This project, I gather, is something of a sequel to 2005 book, Off Center: The Republic Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy. Tell us why you wrote this new book?

Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Thanks, Bev. I’m so pleased to be here. David, thank you for that kind opening post.

Elliott February 27th, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Welcome to Book Salon, this should be a lively discussion.

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 2:04 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Hi. Paul Pierson here. Looking forward to the chat. And thanks to David for that very kind introduction to the book. I agree that the issue of ideology and how a “permissive climate” has developed in the U.S. towards inequality is one we could have discussed more. I’ll say something about it in a second once I post this.

David Callahan February 27th, 2011 at 2:06 pm

So tell us how you guys came to write this book?

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 2:06 pm

A broader story would stress the need not just to change a politics that favors the rich, but also to change the minds of Americans who keep voting against their own interests.

There’s no one else to vote for. The vast majority of pols are against their constituents interests, at least at the USG level.

New gov of NYS (Cuomo-DINO) sounds exactly like gov of NJ (Christie-Rcrazy), to name 2 examples at the sub-USG area.

Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 2:07 pm
In response to David Callahan @ 2

Paul and I joke that both Off Center and Winner-Take-All Politics are actually extended responses to a single deep academic question we had about the 2001 Bush tax cuts:

What the #$#$# is going on??

After all, these were big tax cuts that both put other public priorities at risk and were astoundingly skewed toward the well off. Superficially, there was public support. But when you looked beneath that, most Americans were extremely skeptical.

So why did they pass? We argued then that it had a huge amount to do with the power of money and conservative ideology in American politics and with the ability to design policy to obscure its true intentions.

The Bush tax cuts were like a subprime mortgage — designed to hide their true effects until it was too late. We’re still living with the fallout.

dakine01 February 27th, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Good afternoon Jacob, Paul and David and welcome to FDL this afternoon

Jacob and Paul I have not had an opportunity to read your book but as one of the long term un/underemployed, this issue does resonate with me. Forgive the blog/diary whoring but I wrote a post just today “We Are Seeing the Destruction of the Middle Class

In the diary (also posted at my personal blog), I quoted the lede to a story from today’s Washington Post where they quote a supporter of Gov Walker in WI who was supporting him mainly because his own situation had gotten worse over the last ten years.

How do we get back to where the goal is raising everyone up to a higher level rather than exalting the tearing down of folks to lower levels?

SanderO February 27th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

America isn’t about democracy or human rights and so forth… it’s about wealth creation and protection.

Wealth is created by or extracted from working people for the elite. Our values are skewed to worship money and the signs of financial success… so workers are on a treadmill which gets them no where and by the time they realize that the only chance is winning a lottery… they go all despondent and feel there is nothing they can do.

It’s the system and it’s only getting worse. Class mobility as in UP is virtually impossible in this system, unless you lie, cheat and step on someone else to get there.

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

So David, you’re right to say that there seems to be a lot of tolerance for rising inequality in the United States, or at least for the political efforts that are producing it. What Jacob and I would stress is that this has to be seen as closely related to the incredible imbalance of organizational resources that has developed in American politics over the past three decades. One of our main themes is that you need a sustained organizational presence to win the big long-term fights in Washington — business and the wealthy have that presence, their opponents don’t. And that helps them to take a vague public mood, built on understandable frustration and anger, and turn it to their political advantage. In polls, voters say they care about unemployment and they favored letting the Bush tax cuts for top income groups expire. Instead, we get a focus on deficits and an attack on public sector workers. How did that happen?

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 2:10 pm

And of course, after Citizens United, corp ownership of USG will be completed in full view.

David Callahan February 27th, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Your book does much to explain how our political system was hijacked by monied interests who worked to redistribute wealth upwards. But even after reading the book, I still wonder: If the middle class has been so battered, why hasn’t a strong social movement stood up to fight for the interests of ordinary Americans?

Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 2:10 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 7

I think this is a big part of it. As we show in the book, the evidence of a disconnect between voters and politicians is overwhelming. A few examples:

Voters are pretty centrist overall — the two parties are farther apart than at any point since just after the Civil War.

The opinions of low- and middle-income voters, according to a couple recent studies, have surprisingly little impact on the positions of their representatives or on policy outcomes.

Right now, voters say jobs, jobs, jobs. The political elite says deficits, deficits, deficits.

We’ll say more about why this disconnect exists. But a lot of it, in our view, is the organizational imbalance between ordinary voters, on the one hand, and major economic interests and the affluent, on the other.

SanderO February 27th, 2011 at 2:11 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 7

Ain’t that the truth… but it’s part of the system… these guys work for the same interest only tell a different set of lies and put a different spin on their message.

Anyone who can manage to get their name on ballot for a major party already has sucked up to wealth and is waiting for the chance to earn so real brownie points.

David Callahan February 27th, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Yes, but if people have in, fact, been really angry about their economic situation in our emerging plutocracy, why haven’t they taken more action?

It’s not like, on the one side, there is a strong social movement representing the battered bottom two-thirds and on the other side, there are the highly organized monied interests. It looks to me more like a one-sided fight. Why?

Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 2:13 pm
In response to David Callahan @ 13

It’s a very important question. But as we show in the book, there’s nothing natural about the formation of organized counterweights to the affluent. In broad historical relief, the period just after World War II — with labor, fraternal and civic associations, and mass-based parties providing Galbraithian “countervailing power” — looks pretty exceptional. In many ways, we’re back to a pattern more like the Gilded Age, where Big Finance and Big Business have enormous sway in politics.

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 2:15 pm
In response to David Callahan @ 13

Yes, David’s question is a big one — why not more of an outcry? A big part of the answer is that people are crying out, but they have no clear idea of where to direct that anger — that is how they can be furious about bank bailouts and the financial crisis and then end up putting John Boehner in power even while he is openly pleading for the support of Wall Street. A big part of the answer, in our view, is the gradual transformation of the Democratic Party. I’ll say more about that in a second.

SanderO February 27th, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Isn’t a bit naive to think that at this stage we are anything but a oligarchy which serves a very narrow elite group and the rest is kabuki.

There seems to be zero chance to legislate anything to provide equity and fairness in America. It’s all about winning and winners take all.

dakine01 February 27th, 2011 at 2:15 pm
In response to David Callahan @ 16

As a technical note, there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Pressing “Reply” pre-fills the commenter name and comment number being replied to and makes it easier for folks to follow the conversation.

Note: some browsers do not like to let the Reply feature work correctly if it is pressed after a page refresh before the page completes loading.

Gitcheegumee February 27th, 2011 at 2:16 pm
In response to Jacob Hacker @ 14

Thank you for being here.

Does your book address the de facto “psy ops” job that media outlets such as Fox,Limbaugh,et al of their ilk have done on perpetuating and exploiting the disconnect between Main Street and Wall Street?

David Callahan February 27th, 2011 at 2:16 pm

The economic evidence that the working and middle class has gotten hammered since the 1970s is overwhelming. But can you demonstrate through opinion polls that they have been FEELING ever more hammered?

SanderO February 27th, 2011 at 2:17 pm
In response to Jacob Hacker @ 14

Or that the wealthy elites own the media and the messaging. And don’t even care about what the people might think???

PeasantParty February 27th, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Jacob and Paul, welcome to FDL. I have been waiting for this salon. I have not had the opportunity to buy your book because I am one of those 99ers.

My question is a reflection of looking inside Washington from the outside.
I feel like our politicians and their friends/supporters have grouped together like grade school bullies to form their elite little club in which they funnel all our tax dollars to each other.

Do you see it that way?

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 2:18 pm

There is no left left in the U.S.

One factor necessary to pull pols controlled by monied interests to the center is to have an extreme on the left. With the death of the Soviet Union, and the failure of communism, there is no ideology to counterbalance the monied interests.

Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 2:18 pm
In response to David Callahan @ 16

Well, it’s a strange sort of anger — in part because of how we’ve drifted toward plutocracy.

On the one hand, people seem enormously unhappy with government and politics. We cite an National Election Studies poll that shows that in the 1950s, 1/3 of Americans said powerful economic interests ran the show, with 2/3 saying they didn’t. Today, the numbers are reversed.

On the other hand, there’s very little knowledge of the depth of the change or how it’s happened. In particular, most Americans — indeed, most experts — have only a hazy idea of how powerful government’s role was in creating what we call the “winner-take-all economy” (WTAE).

And, lastly, neither party has really spoken to this concern: Republicans because they like the WTAE; Democrats because they’re cross-pressured by their simultaneous need to appeal to business to raise money and get their policy initiatives enacted and historical commitment to “the little guy.”

SanderO February 27th, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Jacob and Paul,

Who do you think will read your book? What do you expect them to do? What do you suggest can be done realistically?

Many of us have observed this problem for decades and it’s only gotten worse and there is not even a justice system capable of reigning in fraud…. but one that warehouses the poor in prisons.

What do we do?

David Callahan February 27th, 2011 at 2:21 pm

And what about evidence that ordinary people have felt increasing levels of pain as the economy has titled upwards? Do you have that evidence?

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 2:21 pm

There are all kinds of voting schemes other than winner-take-all, but even as far back as when Clinton tried to nominate Lani Guinier to some office, the PTB trashed her entirely. They had it figured out long before it got onto most people’s radar.

Scarecrow February 27th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Welcome all. Great book and fine intro from David.

Talk about the importance of having the media captured. Right now, the most important policy debate and political action is taking place in the Capitol building in Madison. yet not a single network/cable tv station is covering it.

How did we get to this point where what matters to many of us can’t get reported?

perris February 27th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

here’a an interesting point;

the upper class, the uber wealthy, already have more money then they can spend, so more wealth doesn’t do anything at all but take it away from those who could use it, would spend it, would invest it back into our economy

that means the economy will suffer not only funds and quality of life but will also suffer lack of growth

lack of growth affects the upper class far more then the middle and lower classes

in other words, they will create a greater divide but they will have less wealth for doing it

by hoarding all the wealth they in fact have less wealth then what they would have had if they did not hoard

here’s an example;

we have all of the inovation, all of the inventions, all of the infrastructure, water, gas, clean air, etc, all that makes for quality of life, we have all of those things because of a robust middle class

had the wealthy hoarded all that wealth before these things were invented/produced/protected then yes their would be a greater divide between the wealthy and everyone else but that wealth would only be represented by about what the middle class enjoys today.

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 2:22 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 24

We do not see it as one big club. We argue throughout the book that there remain big differences between the political parties. The tax policies that you get from Obama are not the same as what you get from Bush (or at least they wouldn’t be if he got more backing on the Hill). Same with health care, same with financial regulation. What we say is that on these issues “the Republicans where Black hats, the Democrats wear Grey Hats.” That is, both parties have been changed by the increasing imbalance of economic power in Washington, but they are not identical. The problem with the Democrats is that while some push for genuine reforms their strength is insufficient. There are many Democrats who are part of the problem. And the party as a whole is too conflicted and too much in need of financial and other forms of support from business to express an effective message of economic reform. Saying that is not the same as saying the two parties are the same.

Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
In response to David Callahan @ 22

We go through the economic evidence in the book, of course, and it’s devestating. Just one fact: 40% of all household income growth between 1979 and 2007 accrued to the richest 1 percent of Americans, more than went to the entire bottom 90 percent combined.

If ordinary Americans don’t feel like they’re being hammered (not saying they don’t — I’ll get to that ), doesn’t that suggest a serious disconnect in our political system? Isn’t one thing a well-functioning democratic system does is help people understand what’s at stake in economic and political debates?

emal February 27th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Thank you all for being here. A great introduction and now certainly on my to buy/read list. (Did you see the book was featured on a poster at the Wisconsin State House Protests- David Dayen posted today).
Now I can fully follow what you’re saying,fully agree with the cause and the course of events that lead to it, but now that we are here, what do we do to change and fix it? As others have said,there are really only two viable political choices (imo that’d be “evil and lesser of two evils” party). Plus with Citizens United in play, well it only appears to me it’s going be even more difficult. So any thoughts about what we non-corporate entity and non wealthy ruling class types do to change it? Thank you.

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

The monied interests have also figured out how to own & control the media, think tanks, academia. I call them the Poison Ivy schools bc it seems like pol wannabes go there only to meet the PTB & get “vetted by” (i.e. show complete obedience to) them at an early age.

flubber February 27th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I wonder how the authors, whom I greatly respect, would suggest responding to the LibDem takeover of the Democratic Party since ’08.

It seems unlikely to me that any progress can be made on the policy goals advocated until that is confronted in some sort of manner…

PeasantParty February 27th, 2011 at 2:25 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 32

Thank you for the response. I understand the Grey hat likeness.

HelenaHandbasket February 27th, 2011 at 2:25 pm
In response to Jacob Hacker @ 14

Isn’t this exacerbated by the cost of campaigning? When it becomes so expensive to run a campaign that a candidate has to focus more on where the campaign money has to come from and they then end up ‘dancing with them that brung them?’

Will this cycle ever change until we have real campaign finance reform or publicly financed campaigns?

allan February 27th, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Thank you, Prof. Hacker and Pierson, for visiting.

I have not read your book, but I wonder whether the successful campaign to paint the reduction or elimination of the estate tax in the late 1990′s, as something of benefit to all Americans, which culminated in their inclusion as part of the Bush tax cuts, emboldened the ruling elites to pursue the same path towards other goals, such as telecom deregulation and union busting. All of these have been successfully framed in terms
of freedom, opportunity and choice. Is there some kind of rhetorical clearing house that the elites make use of?

Scarecrow February 27th, 2011 at 2:27 pm

The argument that we’ve been overwhelmed by a convergence of dominant corporate interests and their capture of much of DC is a theme familiar to many here, so it’s good to see this being developed further. But that view receives almost zero representation in the reporting and analysis of mainstream news. Even the “liberal” shows on MSNBC seem to have an arbitrary cutoff on the guests wrt to how radical a view of reality is allowed time.

Do you agree with that assessment? and what can we do to improve the ability to get this framing into the public?

perris February 27th, 2011 at 2:27 pm
In response to flubber @ 36

we are not going to be able to do anything about concervative democrats until we somehow rescind corporate personhood and unlimited investments into political campaign

we are in tons of trouble till that is over turned

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 2:28 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 30

We spend some time in the book talking about the media. There is one segment, of course, that is basically a wing of the conservative movement (see yesterday’s astonishing story in the NYTs about Roger Ailes’s reported efforts to protect Rudy Guliani). But beyond that, a fundamental problem with the media is that they aren’t at all interested in policy — it makes for dull reporting. So they focus on things that don’t matter but are more entertaining. They also love “he said, she said” reporting that allows them to appear impartial but basically means they transmit politicians’ talking points even if they are wildly inaccurate or misleading. Citizens who don’t follow politics closely are going to have a hard time getting helpful cues from the media about what is really going on in Washington. That is one of the main reasons why organization matters so much.

Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 2:28 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 25

This is a very important point — and one we don’t consider enough in the book, I think. If you go back in history — say, during the New Deal or 1960s — you saw Democrats (and Republicans) pressed by insurgent groups on the left. With labor weakened and most of the organized left focused on non-economic issues, you just don’t see that to the same extent today. You have a right-wing base, but nothing remotely comparable on the other side. I was struck by the polls showing that, after the midterm, Democratic base voters wanted both parties to compromise while Republican base voters deemed compromise to be betrayal of principles. In our 2005 book, we call this “assymetric polarization” — and we’re seeing it play out in every debate, from budget cuts to tax cuts.

David Callahan February 27th, 2011 at 2:28 pm

It seems like when people are actually unhappy, they done a good job of showing it in recent decades. Certainly the Christian right mobilized effectively against the perceived secular drift of the U.S. And the Tea Party has been a very powerful social movement. You don’t actually need a lot of information to see that the lower half has gotten hammered while the rich has gotten richer, but there hasn’t been a lot of anger at inequality it seems.

SanderO February 27th, 2011 at 2:29 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 32

I beg to differ Paul. Obama may have collected nickles and dimes from millions of people, but he collected millions from a few on Wall Street and he has shown whose money he listens to. He was Goldmans Sachs’ boy. And thre Schumer, Dodd and Barney Frank all in with the banksters and not with the middle or working class and forget about the poor.

Scarecrow February 27th, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Jacob (and others) — as a proponent (author?) of the Public Option in health reform, you followed the health care debates closely. How did your analyses in the book change/evolve as you watched that debate play out? What did we learn or validate about your thesis in the health reform battle?

perris February 27th, 2011 at 2:32 pm
In response to flubber @ 36

not sure I follow your question, are you suggesting liberal democrats took over the democratic party in 08?

that would be contrary to the facts, the democratic party has failed because it has become less progressive not because it has become more liberal, the very first thing we need is more liberals

PeasantParty February 27th, 2011 at 2:32 pm

What do you two feel about the enormous support that swept Obama into office and how he has failed to keep that support?

CTuttle February 27th, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Aloha, Jacob and Paul…! Having not read your book, how much of a factor does the ‘divide and conquer’ tactics of the Repugs and Dinos on the social issues(Gay Marriage, Abortion, Immigration, etc…) play in the Oligarchy’s schemata…?

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Civil society has also disappeared in the U.S.

ABA says nothing about lawlessness of USG officials.

APA is wishy washy about torture.

AEA, though 97% of economists surveyed are not neoliberals, says nothing about neoliberal USG, WB, IMF policies controlled by the 3% of the profession who are neoliberals & who determine the economic policies.

SanderO February 27th, 2011 at 2:34 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 50

The elite control all these institutions and promote the interests of their class. Simple as that.

David Callahan February 27th, 2011 at 2:34 pm

It is one thing to say that ordinary Americans SHOULD be unhappy with their economic lot because of a mountain of data showing they’ve been screwed. It is another thing to show that they ARE unhappy, and the political system has been unresponsive. Unless you support the claim that they are unhappy, it is hard to support the claim that the system is unresponsive.

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 2:34 pm
In response to David Callahan @ 44

Comments are flying (which is great, but makes it hard to respond to close to everything). Organization is crucial to channel anger and frustration, and organization is difficult. One important factor (emphasized in a new book by Larry Jacobs and Theda Skocpol) is the timing of the economic crisis, which came very shortly before Bush left office. It gave Obama a boost, but because it was still developing as he took office it may have made it more difficult for him to make an aggressive case for more dramatic (rather than band-aid) reforms. Compare with FDR, where the country was more than 2 years into the Depression when he came to office. He was in a much stronger position than Obama was, and there was much more organized momentum for reform behind him. It is also true that Democrats were encouraged to reform because there were strong popular movements (such as the Townshend movement for old age pensions) pushing them to go further.

Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 2:35 pm
In response to David Callahan @ 44

I said I would consider the polling. So let me just say that as best I can tell, life satisfaction measures have held up reasonably well until the recent downturn (though they’re not remarkably high in cross-national relief). Satisfaction with the economy has ebbed and flowed with the business cycle, but it was low relative to overall economic growth in the 2000s — presumably because little of that growth went to the middle and bottom. One thing to note is that middle-class families have been able to raise their incomes modestly over time by working more hours (mostly by sending a second earner into the workforce), though now they’re pretty tapped out. The more recent response to income stagnation has been borrowing — which isn’t a viable strategy any more either. So the anger is mounting. But, as your mention of the Tea Party suggests, it’s being channeled into anti-government sentiments, not broader demands for reform. Again, that’s our whole point: it’s not enough to be upset with the econonomy; you have to have some idea of what is behind the economy’s failings and how different responses will affect you. It’s that kind of knowledge that is so hard to gain in the current imbalanced organizational environment.

flubber February 27th, 2011 at 2:35 pm
In response to perris @ 41

Money still mattered in politics before ’08. But at least national Democrats had to have the consent of Labour Democrats to proceed. We’re now in an era where LibDems rule the roost throughout the entire Party. And until the Labour constituency has representation in the national Democratic Party, it’s hard to find any leverage to get traction for any of the policy goals advocated for…

perris February 27th, 2011 at 2:37 pm

flubber, I really don’t know what you mean by “ibdem”, if you mean the liberal democrats, those that want to protect the labor class and the labor constituency are the liberals, I think you have your terms mixed

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 2:38 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 49

Social issues have mattered. Republicans have gained a sizable voting bloc of working and middle class voters who vote largely on cultural issues rather than economic ones (and are encouraged by their leaders to do so). Voting is actually much more class-based in the U.S. than people realize, but being an evangelical is like adding $50,000 to a household’s income in terms of their likelihood of voting Republican. That’s a huge effect, and it has helped the GOP get away with being highly responsive to the very wealthy on economic issues.

Knut February 27th, 2011 at 2:39 pm
In response to Jacob Hacker @ 17

With one major difference from the Gilded Age. The Gilded Age was essentially based on the exploitation of America’s vast natural resources. At the beginning of the last century America had overwhelmingly the largest proved reserves of every mineral with the exception (I think) of tin and tungsten. There was also the very recent colonization of the Midwest and the High Plains, all made possible by the railroad, which was in many respects a natural monopoly.

If we look at the current Gilded Age, it seems to me to be based on entirely other factors: mass advertising is surely a central element, mass retailing that goes with it. As Russell Banks has said, the television let the door-to-door salesman right into every American home (and most bedrooms for that matter). And there is also the growing monopolization of the financial sector. Health insurance is monopolized. All of these changes involve the manipulation of people. The earlier Gilded Age manipulated distance and raw materials. The current one is much worse than the first. It destroys people in a way that the first Gilded Age did not.

sybille February 27th, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Thank you for being here!

I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, unfortunately. I did watch your presentation at the New America Foundation, however, and it’s only made me want to read the book.

What with your discussion of the structuring forces of society, class, and the concentration of wealth, I’d be interested to hear if you discuss Marx at all in the book. If so, how do find his theory relevant; if not, why not?

Thanks in advance.

David Callahan February 27th, 2011 at 2:40 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 53

Your book does say much about the fall of mass organizations, as Skocpol has documented. And the sorry story of labor’s demise, of course. But the Tea Party has created a huge decentralized national organization in just two years. The Christian right built new organizations fast from scratch. Creating organization is not hard when people are angry. In fact, it’s easier than ever.

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 2:42 pm
In response to Knut @ 58

I agree with much of this and it is a subject Jacob and I want to write about more. It does seem like more and more of the American economy is less about providing things of value that people want to buy and more about grabbing people by the ankles, lifting, and seeing how much money you can shake out. A lot of health care and finance looks this way for example.

Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 2:42 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 46

Thanks for this question — the answer to which is probably of greater interest to my family than readers of this blog :)

But briefly, the fight over the public option was both bruising and inspiring. Bruising for the obvious reasons: it was a nasty seminar on the power of organized interests; the weaknesses of the Democrats, despite their large majority, due to the filibuster and the kowtowing of the moderates to lobbying pressure; and the intensity of the GOP base.

The fight was also inspiring; it brought together those concerned about the drift of American politics to the right and those who believed that government could play a positive role in providing health security and controlling costs. And the public option captured strong, consistent public support. I also think it pulled the debate toward a more comprehensive solution.

If there’s a lesson in there, it’s what I said before: There has to be a set of clear, simple alternatives coming from progressives. Of course, it would have been nice if the public option had passed!

Scarecrow February 27th, 2011 at 2:42 pm
In response to Jacob Hacker @ 54

Paul, Jacob — a topic not well explained on the left is how to account for the huge Tea-GOP victories in the midterms. It’s easy to tell the story of disappointment with the Democrats in Congress, confusion over why things didn’t get passed, or disillusionment with Obama, etc. But that says people who normally vote Dem just stay home. I don’t see a compelling positive argument for voting FOR the Tea-GOPers, given how crazy and extreme many are. How does your book’s thesis help explain this? Is this just another part of the corporate media duped a lot of people? Or is there something else?

juslin February 27th, 2011 at 2:43 pm
In response to SanderO @ 51

and thats it in a nutshell!

dingusansich February 27th, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Jacob and Paul, agreed on the analysis as presented in the summary.

This is the fundamental electoral paradox: wealth gives a minority power far beyond its voting numbers, but for campaign finance reform to pass, politicians must weaken the very patrons they depend upon for election.

That’s partly why straight-up reform of money in politics seems unlikely to come about through elected officials beholden to (and afraid of) wealthy patrons. Without leashing the malefactors of great wealth, what can the nonrich expect but lip service? A savior would be nice, of course, but as they say, hope is not a plan.

So, if drying up the money supply is a first, necessary step, what are the possibilities for reform via referendums, basically end runs around elected officials through direct democracy?

David Callahan February 27th, 2011 at 2:44 pm
In response to Jacob Hacker @ 54

Given that the working class and middle class started getting killed in the early 1970s, when wage growth stagnated, you’d think there would have been more evidence of anger and insecurity in opinion polling. But as you note, pessimism and unhappiness has been largely cyclical. The anger hasn’t been sustained. Doesn’t that suggest that the pain hasn’t been great as the data would suggest it should be?

Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 2:45 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 21

Not as much as we should have. Since we wrote the book, we’ve grown more and more amazed at the agenda-setting power of conservative media. This was a bigger theme of Off Center, which seems all the more relevant today!

What’s really striking in all this is that abject falsehoods do not get called out.

SanderO February 27th, 2011 at 2:45 pm
In response to David Callahan @ 60

Labor’s demise was because they lost standing. Capital took the jobs overseas. Capital doesn’t need American labor anymore and the laws encouraged them to leave and labor was left to picket abandoned factories.

Jim February 27th, 2011 at 2:45 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 57

Sees like an extremely important point. As these budget cuts and war on Unions advance, can’t help wondering what the Conservative base is thinking. Surely they are not by and large millionaires or billionaires. The demographic is traditionally working class, in conjunct with racist (sorry but it is true) and fundamentalist religious. One must seriously wonder how long it will take until the GOP assault on the Peasants (middle-lower classes) causes sufficient pain that they realize their money and future has been stolen and handed to to the wealthy

flubber February 27th, 2011 at 2:46 pm
In response to perris @ 47

not sure I follow your question, are you suggesting liberal democrats took over the democratic party in 08?

Using the British terms, yes.

Prior to ’08, national Democrats had to at least have the consent of the Labour faction to proceed. Since ’08, LibDems are running the entire show alone.

jawbone February 27th, 2011 at 2:47 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 32

Reply from Prof. Pierson:

The tax policies that you get from Obama are not the same as what you get from Bush (or at least they wouldn’t be if he got more backing on the Hill). Same with health care, same with financial regulation.

Could you explain a bit more about the lack of backing for Obama from the Hill? On tax cuts, it appears to me that Obama not only agreed to compromise with the Republicans, it was reported that the R’s actually were happily amazed that he gave them more than they dreamed they could get. And it was done between the R’s and Obama et al. Not within the Senate or House.

On health insurance reform, it was Obama who took single payer “off the table,” who offered the Romney/Heritage Foundation plan to ensure Big Health Insurers would continue to get big profits through mandating purchase of their products. Any attempts from the Hill to make the plan more liberal were soundly swatted down…by Obama et al. It was Obama who gave the management of this profit protection plan to Baucus and put Baucus’s former chief of staff on Obama’s WH staff.

And…Obama wanted stronger financial regulation but the Hill would’t let him? Puh-leeeze, this does not compute. Just look at HAMP and the new plan being floated to offer the bankster fraudsters’ clemency on their mortgage frauds for a mere $20B!!

Help me here: What am I missing? What did Obama really have in mind, had he been able to constrain the conservatives…or something?

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 2:48 pm
In response to Jacob Hacker @ 43

Or to put it succinctly, once communism was defeated, the monied interests were freed up to fight the real enemy: the middle class.

Knut February 27th, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Mr. Hacker and Mr. Pierson, I haven’t read your book yet, but will shortly. Did you look at Robert Frank’s stuff on ‘winner-take-all ecconomics?’ It looks at the internal economic mechanisms that have been driving inequality at the top (the inequality in the top one or two percent). He has also written a fair amount on positional goods. It seems to me that these factors interact in mutually enforcing ways with the plutocratic takeover of our government.

perris February 27th, 2011 at 2:48 pm
In response to flubber @ 70

well, using the british definition, then I am in the dark but using the american definition, we need more liberal democrats not fewer

jacob and paul, this book looks like a must read, thank you for being here to promote the work

have a good night all

David Callahan February 27th, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Paul and Jacob, you argue that Americans tend to vote their class interests, contrary to reports that the working class has turned conservative while the rich have become more liberal. While this is true in the aggregate, aren’t there important – and decisive – exceptions? Al Gore campaigned as a populist against Bush’s tax cut proposals for the rich and lost the white working class by 17 points. Kerry vowed to roll back Bush’s tax cuts for the rich and lost the white working class by 23 points. Barack Obama lost the white working class as well. Why have Democratic candidates who are clearly against tax privileges for the wealthy so unpopular with the white working class?

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 2:49 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 63

Good question. I think the basic story in 2010 is actually pretty straightforward and wouldn’t surprise many political scientists without considering the specifics of the Tea Party. Democrats held a lot of fragile seats given their victories in the two elections before. First term presidents usually lose ground in the first mid-term. And you had 10% unemployment (actually worse than that probably if you really dig into the numbers). That is a really bad combination and you would expect huge losses.

Two other things to factor in that are more about the current situation. One is that Republicans did a fantastic job of obstruction to make the process look sordid and conflictual, to slow the Democrats down, and to make Dem proposals look partisan rather than bipartisan. Voters were unaware of any of this. Second, Republicans had huge financial resources that allowed them to fund challengers effectively. This is a new aspect of American politics (reflecting the growing role of what you might call organized money) and it makes it easier to produce this kind of “wave” election. To be honest, I don’t think the Tea Party itself had that much to do with it — may have cost the GOP as many races (Delaware, Nevada, etc.) as it gained them.

Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 2:49 pm
In response to David Callahan @ 52

David, I think I’ve fairly answered this question. The unhappiness that is most manifest is disatisfaction with the political system, and it’s getting worse, not better. Moreover, I emphasized that there is a clear disconnect between public and elite priorities. Both raise serious questions about the quality of our democracy. Last, we show in the book that the bottom 90 percent is getting hammered because politicans have been responsive to organized economic interests and the affluent — that, agains, is a basic breakdown of the ideal of political equality.

nahant February 27th, 2011 at 2:50 pm
In response to perris @ 41

I sure agree with that. Corporations are not living breathing people and as such define our Constitution that a “Person” must be born into this world and not just a bunch of legal documents. The other part is that corporations don’t die and live on for years thus their bought influence lives on and on.. Until then we living dying flesh and blood don’t have a chance…

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 2:50 pm
In response to David Callahan @ 60

Oh really, it’s the PTB that set up the Tea Party. And the TP is tiny but controls a gigantic amount of U.S. politics.

It is enormously difficult to organize without money, which pays for organizers, ads, etc. etc.

PeasantParty February 27th, 2011 at 2:51 pm


On that media note: Is it possible for us to go after media for propaganda that is supposed to be forbidden and force them to get back to real news? The past three weeks we have been viewing live internet feeds of Al Jazeera English in order to see what is going on in the world while our cable news outlets are jabbering about deficits and how to cut the problems out of the populace.

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 2:55 pm

There is a direct conflict bet democracy & money. In the former it’s one person, one vote (leaving aside manipulation of votes & winner take all for the moment). In the latter, it’s one dollar, one vote. As the income distribution gets more & more extreme, democracy loses more & more & money wins more & more.

Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 2:56 pm
In response to SanderO @ 27

We’ve been heartened by the positive response to the book. It’s been widely read and cited in DC circles, and among those thinking seriously about the challenge of political reform. We wrote it so it could reach a broad audience, but we didn’t expect it to make the NYTimes bestseller list (although lately I was thinking of retitling it “Battle Hymm of the Egalitarian Fathers”!). Our main goal was to show, in clear terms, how:

1. Our economy has become winner-take-all, with most economic gains going to a very small slice of Americans at the very top.

2. Government played a huge role in bringing this about, through direct redistribution (e.g., cuts in top tax rates), through remaking of markets to favor those at the top (e.g., financial deregulation), and through deliberately failing to update policies to reflect changing economic realties (e.g., failing to rein in distortions in executive pay).

3. This, in turn, reflected a transformation of American politics that weakened the voice and clout of ordinary Americans while strengthening the weight of those benefiting from these changes.

I would like to think that these three points are under discussion in a way they weren’t before our book came out.

Tammany Tiger February 27th, 2011 at 2:56 pm
In response to Knut @ 58

Big money is highly culpable, but I don’t think the American public should go scot-free. They’ve chosen to wrap themselves in a bubble world of celebrity worship, reality shows, and crappy entertainment; and, after 9/11, have been all too willing to sacrifice their civil liberties (and those of their fellow citizens) in exchange for the illusory promise of “keeping you safe.”

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 2:56 pm
In response to Knut @ 73

This is an important topic in the book so I should say something about it here. I like Robert Frank’s work a lot, and have always been fascinated by positional goods. Still, we push back against the idea that the skyrocketing position of the top 1% (really, the top tenth of one percent) is mainly or purely economic. Globalization and technology affect all countries, yet the change in top-end inequality is decidedly more pronounced here. Why? We argue that policy changes have been hugely supportive (financial deregulation, top-end tax cuts, defense of corporate managers’ efforts to increase executive pay). Changes in technology matter, of course, but a big part of the American story runs through politics and policy.

Tammany Tiger February 27th, 2011 at 3:00 pm
In response to Jacob Hacker @ 82

Our celebrity culture also contributes to the winner-take-all phenomenon, and it is all too easy for a large corporation like Disney to deploy its PR skills to manufacture celebrities. I’d be willing to bet that your average-sized high school has at least ten kids with better performing arts skills than Justin Bieber, and that at least nine of them won’t earn a dime as entertainers.

Funnydiva2002 February 27th, 2011 at 3:00 pm
In response to Jacob Hacker @ 67

Worse. When they do get called out, most of the MSM clutches its pearls, falls on its fainting couch and whines about incivility. Glenn Greenwald does a particularly good job of documenting this. As do many posters and commenters here at FDL.

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 3:00 pm
In response to tammanytiger @ 83

Oh stop blaming the victim.

The U.S. public hasn’t ‘chosen’ any of the the things you list. They’ve been force-fed those things by effective propaganda.

Put yourself in the position of a couple who are both working 2 jobs, have 2 kids, and can barely keep their heads above the financial water.

Dya really think at the end of their 12+ hour working/parenting days, they are going to sit down at a computer & search for FDL so they can figure out how they’re being bamboozled.

liberalarts February 27th, 2011 at 3:02 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 29

I believe it was to head the Civil Rights division at DoJ.

Gitcheegumee February 27th, 2011 at 3:02 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 79

There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

All the protestors from the Middle East to Madison did not depend upon money to coalesce their marches..

Motivation can be as powerful a force as money…and universal injustice is enormously cohesive.

Funnydiva2002 February 27th, 2011 at 3:03 pm
In response to flubber @ 70

British political terms applied to US politics only muddy the issue, at best.
Not a good strategy for getting a good discussion, IMO.

David Callahan February 27th, 2011 at 3:03 pm
In response to Jacob Hacker @ 77

Of course, though, as you note, most Americans are centrists and polls show that public is divided on many issues related to economic equity. While people support many specific programs, they tend to be divided on such basics like whether they want to pay higher taxes for more services.

So how about this as a hypothesis: Most Americans haven’t experienced enough pain for sustained enough periods of time to mobilize against inequality. And they have been divided ideologically on the solutions to what pain they have felt in what is, in fact, a quite conservative country. These opinion realties, ALONG with the oligarchical organized interests you stress, is what best explains the failure of our system to respond to soaring inequality.

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 3:03 pm
In response to tammanytiger @ 83

Studying what voters know about politics and policy is depressing. It is not elitist to say that most don’t know much — it is a fact revealed in polling all the time. Most Americans can’t tell you how many votes it takes to maintain a filibuster, or know that every Republican Senator voted against health care reform. A poll the other day showed that a large share of Americans think health care reform has already been repealed. We call this limited knowledge among voters the “dirty little secret” of political science, and much of our discipline seems to be about explaining why it doesn’t really matter all that much. We think it does — it makes voters vulnerable to exploitation by the organized.

But this is nothing new — voters have never been well-informed on the whole about politics. What has changed is not the level of voter knowledge but the vulnerability voters face in an incredibly complex world where they are at an increasing organizational disadvantage.

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 3:04 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 84

I arm wrestled with a troll on FDL about a week back (do it once in awhile for my own amusement & to keep in practice). S/he was arguing income disparities were an incentivizing factor. Finally I pointed out that the only income group to experience a rise in 2010 were those EARNING in excess of $52 million/year, and if my interlocutor was in that group, I didn’t understand why s/he was on FDL at dinner time instead of having a $1000 dinner at Per Se.

Funny thing. I didn’t get a response.

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 3:05 pm
In response to liberalarts @ 88


Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 3:07 pm
In response to tammanytiger @ 83

We talk about the “dirty little secret” of political science in the book — namely, that most people have only the haziest idea of what’s going on in politics. Some of the examples we give are pretty humorous, if you take humor in knowing your fellow citizens are clueless about some major issues and features of our political system. Just recently, I saw a poll showing that a good chunk of Americans believe the health care bill has already been repealed!

But the point is that politics has always been “a sideshow in the circus of life,” as the great political scientist Bob Dahl once put it. The hollowing out of our democracy, with organized groups representing the broad middle all but disappearing from the scene, has meant that the cost of this inattention and confusion is a lot greater.

Tammany Tiger February 27th, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Studying what voters know about politics and policy is depressing.

What is also depressing is how ineffective Democrats are at communications. They’re like a pub softball team taking on the New York Yankees.

PeasantParty February 27th, 2011 at 3:07 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 93

:-D Darn good, too!

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 3:09 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 89

Up in the air who will win.

At this moment, you could make valid arguments that it’s too little too late.

Besides, what about the 40-50 years that the peeps you refer to were royally (pun intended) screwed? Do those count in your “idea whose time has come.”

Last I looked, I was a human being with a 70-80 year time span. So if I have to live under such regimes for 50 years waiting for an idea whose time has come, it seems cold comfort.

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 3:09 pm
In response to Jacob Hacker @ 95

Jacob, we wrote almost identical responses. The bi-coastal Vulcan Mind Meld continues.

Gitcheegumee February 27th, 2011 at 3:11 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 98

Revolutions are fought by those whose ribs are easily counted.

It may come sooner than you think…or hope.

gigi3 February 27th, 2011 at 3:11 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 80

An Appellate Court ruled the media can legally lie. This was in a case brought against Fox.


I do not watch television. Just turn it off. There plenty of sources for reliable information through the Internet. I learn more about what is really happing in the US by reading foreign news outlets.

PeasantParty February 27th, 2011 at 3:14 pm
In response to gigi3 @ 101

I get my news elsewhere too, the problem is that our population is being blocked from hearing/seeing the most important items of their nation.

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 3:14 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 100

You miss my point. If it occurred tomorrow, it is 50 years too late.

econobuzz February 27th, 2011 at 3:14 pm
In response to jawbone @ 71


As long as this meme — that the Hill constrained Obama — is accepted by progressives, there is no chance for progress. His strategy was fatally wrong from the start and guaranteed an R resurgence. Total Fail.

Knut February 27th, 2011 at 3:14 pm

I skimmed Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point a few weeks ago, and one of the things that struck me was his interviews with several people who have an amazing talent for ‘reading’ other people. It’s the same talent that high-stakes poker players have. I wonder if there isn’t something in the nature of the mass-culture that has developed over the past 50 years that has raised the pay-off to that talent. You have to ask why someone as gross as Rush Limbaugh and as thick-headed as Glen Beck can succeed. The rewards for success are so great that you would expect a lot of wanna-bee’s competing for the loot. So there may be something structural in these developments that has sustained the growth of false consciousness among ordinary people. It’s clear that the Right exploited that opportunity first and has a huge head start.

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 3:15 pm
In response to David Callahan @ 91

I don’t agree that it is basically a quite conservative country. I think instead on these issues Americans are conflicted and more than a little confused and thus the agenda is shaped strongly by those who can send sustained, clear messages about where to point their frustration.

It cannot be too strongly emphasized: voters say their priority is unemployment, but they are getting a deficit fixation that Goldman Sachs says will be a huge job killer. Voters wanted the high-end tax cuts to expire. Washington said no. Why are we currently getting this massive assault on public sector unions? Powerful actors may emphasis MAY) be able to drum up support for this, but that is very different from saying that public opinion is a major driver of the politics here.

David Callahan February 27th, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Paul and Jacob, how do you explain the problem of the white working class voting against their interests, especially during presidential elections, as I note above? Democrats have lost this bloc in the past three presidential elections. Why are the people getting hurt the worst by inequality supporting politicians who fan that inequality and voting against candidates who clearly state a desire to address inequality by rolling back tax cuts on the rich?

Knut February 27th, 2011 at 3:18 pm
In response to Jacob Hacker @ 95

The hollowing out of our democracy, with organized groups representing the broad middle all but disappearing from the scene

This is absolutely central. It involves much more than the unions.

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 3:18 pm
In response to econobuzz @ 104

On the Bush tax cuts it is, I think, very clear that the Hill constrained Obama. Blue Dogs revolted in the House during the summer of 2008.

On health care and financial reform it is more complex because the House was more liberal than the Senate. We think the evidence is pretty clear that the administration was focused on the Senate, where they needed 60 and that was going to be a very steep hill to climb. So yes, the Hill constrained the administration. That doesn’t mean that the Hill didn’t have many of the loudest and effective progressive voices. That is true too.

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 3:18 pm
In response to Knut @ 105

The rewards for success are so great that you would expect a lot of wanna-bee’s competing for the loot.

You’re falling for the usual neolibrul bilge that competition will level the field.

Becks, Limbaughs have been chosen by PTB (for reasons that are a mystery to me bc I am completely immune to their appeal). There is NO competition for these positions. They are selected.

dingusansich February 27th, 2011 at 3:19 pm
In response to tammanytiger @ 96

Or the New York Yankees pretending to be a pub softball team. What the Dems say they want isn’t necessarily what they actually want.

What they actually want is cash. Cash means votes. With enough cash they can buy elections; or rather, without enough cash they can’t win elections. They know that. Economic justice and public good are not high on their list of priorities. They’re simply not accountable. The great questions concern how to change that (or just shift it a little).

Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 3:20 pm
In response to David Callahan @ 91

First, I should say that Paul and I are on opposite coasts writing our responses, and so it’s kind of eery that we just wrote exactly the same thing (“dirty little secret,” health care poll, etc.). It suggests we may have been writing together a bit toooo long.

Okay, David, I’ll bite. I agree that there are huge ideological divisions and a lot of ambivalence about governemnt.

But (1) the shift in the economy since the 1970s has more profoundly reshaped American politics than you suggest. Economic issues, including economic security, have become far more important themes than they once were. Mark Smith has an important book on this.

(2) The predominance of self-identified conservatives is a long-standing feature of American politics, so it’s not clear how it explains the shift in our politics that we describe. And we shouldn’t assume that self-identification maps cleanly onto positions. One thing that has happened is that the “liberal” label has been discredited. Lots of opinion data actually suggests a slight shift to the left on economic issues.

(3) One has to come up with some pretty contorted accounts of the public’s views to reconcile the 2008 and 2010 elections as reflecting a consistent set of attitudes. Rather, as Paul suggests, both reflected economic fundamentals (to which I would add turnout effects), plus some ideological shifts driven by dissatisfaction with the prior two years.

We don’t want to discount the role of public opinion (though we do think a lot of analysts give organized interests and elite political dynamics short shrift) — but we’re less inclined to see the FUNDAMENTAL reason for the disconnect as rooted in public opinion.

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 3:20 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 109

On the Bush tax cuts it is, I think, very clear that the Hill constrained Obama

BS. That’s just the kabuki that O set up so he could hide behind it.

Plz stop enabling O by such comments. It advances the argument not one iota.

Gitcheegumee February 27th, 2011 at 3:21 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 103

I understand your point.

This is a very young country.,unlike the foreign nations who have been brutally repressed for many,many years.

I feel this is why they understand the importance of visibly demonstrating in the streets.They understand that power does not relinquish itself willingly.

Americans are just coming to that realization…and to the importance of solidarity. ..which has been undermined by PR since after WWII-just about 50 years,actually..with the high point being Reagan’s dismantling of airline unions 30 years ago.

Gitcheegumee February 27th, 2011 at 3:23 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 110

Not selected…anointed.

econobuzz February 27th, 2011 at 3:23 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 109

Thanks for the reply. Respectfully disagree. Obama never led on either issue. In the last analysis, the Bush tax cuts were extended by Obama to buy another term. But on these issues one’s mileage may vary.

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 3:23 pm

We have a whole chapter (#6) on this central question. We’ve offered a number of pieces of the argument here.

Voting has actually become more aligned with income over the past few decades. The real question is why this is not even more the case given the huge increase in inequality that has occurred. Cultural issues have mattered in winning support of low-to-moderate income voters for the GOP. And it is the case that Democrats have found it increasingly difficult to fashion and sustain a coherent populist message on economic issues. We discuss this at length in the book as well.

Scarecrow February 27th, 2011 at 3:24 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 106

I agree there’s a huge disconnect between what the public says it wants via polling what the Tea-GOP Congress is doing. And there doesn’t seem be a very strong pushback from Dems to take advantage of this disconnect. That just feeds cynicism about the Dems and O that they’ essentially agree, just not as much, (“we suck less”) which is hardly a basis for rallying the country.

Don’t you find it interesting that the groundswell of opposition to the right wing assault, and the resurgence of support for left-union orgs, arose almost spontaneously out of Wisconsin, with little or no help from the DC crowd? What does that tell us about how to redress the organizational inequality you write about? What does it tell us about the Dem party and O’s Administration?

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 3:24 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 114

The U.S. is not a young country. Before it was even a country, colonists invaded Canada.

So your excuses do not ring true. How long is long enuf? If not 200+ years, what’s your number?

David Callahan February 27th, 2011 at 3:25 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 106

All good points. But I think you’d agree that there are structural and historical reasons why the United States has always lagged far behind other advanced countries in terms of fostering a mixed economy and creating the conditions of economic equity. Not only have we not had the class consciousness that comes from a history of feudalism — found in Europe and Japan — but the reigning American dream ideology places the onus of success on the shoulders of the individuals and pooh-poohs the role of structural factors. By international standards, we are a conservative country. It seems to me that the egalitarianism of the mid-twentieth century was more of a historical anomaly brought on by successive crises — depression, war, cold war, civil uprisings — and that the pre-1932 period and the post-1980 period may, in fact, be more the default of American political culture.

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 3:25 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 115

Wouldn’t argue with that.

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 3:25 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 113


I am well aware that there is a lot of Kabuki but in this case I don’t see any evidence that Obama wasn’t sincere. His position on the Bush high-end tax cuts has been consistent from Day 1 and it is a political (and policy) winner for him.

Cujo359 February 27th, 2011 at 3:25 pm
In response to David Callahan @ 44

If by “anger”, you mean refusing to support candidates or incumbents who don’t support their constituents, then I think you’re right. This is one reason we can’t get any progressive policies in DC – no one’s held accountable if they don’t. OTOH, some of the groups you’ve mentioned have done a pretty good job of telling errant politicians that their services are no longer required.

PeasantParty February 27th, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Mr. Spock is here.

Paul and Jacob,

Whichever one responds first…

From your research for the book, if a movement were to start what sector do you think would be most effective in change at this point in time? Against the fraud committed by the financial industries, The weak and less progressive representatives, the corporate hedgemony over politicians?

Tammany Tiger February 27th, 2011 at 3:28 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 109

Blue Dogs revolted in the House during the summer of 2008.

This wasn’t the only time the Blue Dogs have been revolting.

Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 3:29 pm

I coasted by this important question. Absolutely, money changes everything — or at least a lot. You have to view this historically. The crucial period when the positions of the parties (and some enduring perceptions of them) gelled was one in which Democrats were getting their clocks cleaned in the money chase. We show that this created two destructive tendencies: (1) an attempt to be “business-friendly,” which in practice meant me-tooism with the GOP; and (2) a fragmentation of the party as big fund-raising barons basically built their own organizations and war chests. Today, Democrats are much better at fund-raising, but they’ve gotten better by learning to tap into sectors, like Wall Street, that don’t help them distinguish themselves from the GOP on economic issues. (Remember: the bailout was the catalyst for a lot of the Tea Party backlash among voters.)

One small point: for all the money in campaigns, it’s dwarfed by the amount spent on lobbying.

I am a fan of the clean election approach — it’s worked well here in CT. However, I don’t see much hope for national laws of this sort right now (sigh).

Cujo359 February 27th, 2011 at 3:29 pm
In response to Jacob Hacker @ 112

One has to come up with some pretty contorted accounts of the public’s views to reconcile the 2008 and 2010 elections as reflecting a consistent set of attitudes. Rather, as Paul suggests, both reflected economic fundamentals (to which I would add turnout effects), plus some ideological shifts driven by dissatisfaction with the prior two years.

A narrative that fits the two elections is that Democrats were swept into power to end our involvement in a couple of wars and right the economy, and then failed spectacularly to do either one. Why is that contorted?

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 3:30 pm

How do you factor in the whole movement of people to spontaneously help each other during the pioneering period. Barn raising is a symbol that comes readily to mind.

I’m thinking that individualism is just another false propaganda factor that the PTB have been able to exploit to keep the cooperation that would otherwise occur from being effective.

IOW, not ‘fundamental’ in U.S. but rather created by clever propaganda.

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 3:31 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 122

His stated opposition to W tax cuts for the wealthy has not wavered.

The evidence is that O usually does the opposite to what he says.

On edit: The evidence to the contrary also includes that he has always ended up doing what his corp owners demanded. See Paul Street’s books.

frmrirprsn February 27th, 2011 at 3:31 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 106

I agree with you completely on this point. Americans often identify themselves as conservative. But when you get down to the policy level it turns out that they want to conserve the New Deal.

This brings me back to a question someone asked much earlier. Why do you say Obama was constrained by Congress? With a 70% approval rating and people ready to believe that honest government was part of the solution, it seems to me that he could have achieved much more. I don’t know whether he’s one of those Krugman labeled “sensible people” who basically believes that savvy bankers are our path to prosperity; whether he thinks he needs corporate $ and liberals have nowhere to go; or whether he’s an out and out sell out. But any competent politician who wanted what he claims to want could have achieved more. (Speaking of Krugman, he makes an argument similar to yours, debunking concentration of wealth as the result of economic forces in Conscience of a Liberal.”

I look forward to reading your book.

PeasantParty February 27th, 2011 at 3:33 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 128

I know the individualism thing is made up. The elites haven’t done or gotten what they have on their own accord. They are some of the biggest back scrathers and elbow rubbers in the world. In fact, they are the largest welfare recipients in the world. Most everything they do requires our tax dollars in subsidies and grants.

Gitcheegumee February 27th, 2011 at 3:33 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 119

eCAHN,respectfully, compared to Egypt, we ARE a young country.I don’t consider my personal opinions to be excuses

Personally, if their was more skin in the game-say reinstate the draft, the playing field in this country would have been a great deal more level ever since the draft was repealed.

Wall Street and the War Machine,with its inside the beltway enablers would not have had carte blanche to mortgage future generations and reap unbridled profits whilst indenturing its own citizens.

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 3:34 pm

This may be true. The parallels between today’s politics and those of a century ago are certainly striking. But I don’t believe there is any “natural” or default position in a country’s historical development. There is no such thing as a “return” to some more normal setting. For better or worse, history only moves forward. And again, I just don’t see the evidence that we’re getting vastly more unequal because that is what ordinary citizens want. The central part of our book is about massive organized efforts to bring these changes about, often in ways that were as quiet as possible precisely because those groups knew that these efforts would not be popular if they were well understood. As Jacob said, the huge Bush tax cuts were designed like a subprime mortgage — that is, designed to mislead.

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 3:34 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 131

Yes. There is NO individualism in corp welfare. Thanks for pointing that out.

Scarecrow February 27th, 2011 at 3:34 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 122

Well, as Jane Hamsher reported here, there was evidence that when Sen. Schumer floated the $1 million income cap for the tax cut deal, the White House undermined that compromise. The theory is that even though Schumer’s compromise was better than what they finally did, and was apparently gaining support, the White House had concluded that it did not want O signing any bill that could be called a “tax increase,” going into 2012, even if the “increase” was merely letting the Bush cuts expire for those over $1 million.

So the story goes, the WH quietly undermined the compromise, then claimed that they didn’t have the votes to make the cutoff at $250,000, and so they had to given in to extending all the Bush cuts, while claimning: “but we’ll fight really hard next time.”

Do you dispute this interpretation of what happened?

eCAHNomics February 27th, 2011 at 3:35 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 132

So you’re saying that 4000+ years is your number, using your Egypt example? ‘Scuse me if I don’t find that acceptable.

Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 3:36 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 124

What’s happening in Wisconsin suggests to me that a response will have to come from a combination of the old (esp. labor) and the new (the netroots, social media). And we shouldn’t forget that progressive pushback in the past has come from within government as well as outside it. Think Robert Wagner — politicians who made reform their cause for decades. We should worry less about who the next presidential candidate will be and more about who the next progressive leader will be.

We do know what needs to happen: Democratic politicians need to be held to account on middle-class economic issues in the same way that conservative groups like Americans for Tax Reform and the Kochs’ front groups hold Republicans to account on upper-class economic issues.

Gitcheegumee February 27th, 2011 at 3:37 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 131

Ever heard Wall Street or any MOTU’s scream Welfare Queen when they are the ones getting a taxpayer funded handout…or bailout?

David Callahan February 27th, 2011 at 3:39 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 117

While voting has indeed become slightly more aligned with income, it remains true that the white working class has repeatedly sided with the GOP. And the reason is not just cultural issues. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that many of these voters subscribe most fervently to the American Dream mythology that places responsibility on individuals for their own economic success. That outlook is closely linked to an embrace of traditional values which is strongest in more religious parts of the country. The problem with Democratic economic populism is that it typically recommends policy solutions that empower government and seemingly exculpates individuals from responsibility (which is why helping underwater homeowners has been so controversial). Would a health bill with a public option have been more or less popular in the districts of Blue Dogs? I think we know the answer to that question. More populism doesn’t strike me as the answer, unless that populism is refashioned somehow to honor the values of economic freedom and individualism that are so powerful in the heartland. Seems that FDR was good at that kind of kung fu.

Gitcheegumee February 27th, 2011 at 3:40 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 136

As the old saying goes,if we are not a part of the solution,then we are a part of the problem.

Don’t we deserve better than just the worst we can stand?

Whatever the time frame,change begins NOW,and it begins with that person in the mirror-wherever and whoever they may be.

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 3:43 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 135

After the election the political dynamics were completely different and involved calculations of what you could get the GOP to agree to. Without their agreement, no deal. Now one could argue that they should have made no agreement and I am sympathetic to that view although I think given the shakiness of the economy it was a tough call.

Prior to the election, however, they could have forced the issue and let all the top-end cuts expire if House Democrats had been willing to proceed. This is what Obama publicly, consistently advocated.

To be honest I am not used to having to defend the position that Obama is different from Bush and I am not sure in the time we have left I can give a very full answer to this but will try to respond to some of the core issues people have raised in my next comment.

Scarecrow February 27th, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Well, I think Teddy Roosevelt understood how to connect individual populism with support for collective action — and that was by making the trusts the villain and antitrust via govt action the solution. I don’t think Dems have done nearly enough to use that kind of thinking to reconnect.

Individuals have no economic power against massive corporations, and if the market is rigged, they just get screwed; they don’t even get the theoretical benefits of “competition.” You are for individual initiative, but only in the condition in which the market is open, competitive, and likely to give the consumer the benefits; and you apply that concept broadly to how govt is used to make the rules of corporate behavior fair to the individual trying to get ahead. Dems have lost the ability or will to make this argument.

Gitcheegumee February 27th, 2011 at 3:46 pm

helping underwater homeowners has been so controversial…

And to further illustrate the disconnect between the haves and have nots…

WHY was there little to no controversy at bailing out big business that espoused Free Market theory?

Should not they have been the perfect candidate to let them sink as a matter of free market theory?

frmrirprsn February 27th, 2011 at 3:46 pm

You may be right. I’d suggest that the people in question are very angry. Their lives are getting worse. They don’t know why. And the right has been able to channel there anger. The coordinated national attack on public workers gets these people focused on people doing a bit better than they are rather than the people who created the problem.

Try an experiment. The next time you are in a conversation with one of these people, change the conversation to what bankers and hedge fund managers are doing to the country. You might be surprised at the common ground.

David Kaib February 27th, 2011 at 3:47 pm

David – what do you make of the evidence collected by Page and Jacobs in Class War? what Americans really think about economic inequality.

hackworth1 February 27th, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I think given the shakiness of the economy it was a tough call.

The American public was in favor of prosecuting Bush War Crimes, in favor of job creation, taxing the rich, ending the wars, letting some banks fail, cramdowns for mortgages, prosecution of criminals in FIRE sector, and public healthcare option and drug reimportation.

It is more mythology to claim that the American public/electorate cared one iota about bipartisanship after eight years of Bush’s wrecking ball.

Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 3:51 pm
In response to econobuzz @ 104

Before we finish up, I want to weigh in on the questions that seems to concern many of you: Did Obama fail to push hard enough for progressive causes? Did he even believe in those causes? Was he really constrained by the moderates in the Senate? And so on.

Like Paul (do I even need to say this?), I think a fair reading of the evidence is that Obama came into office genuinely committed to political and economic reform.

At the same time, he was quite aware that (a) everything he did would have to run the gauntlet of the lobbyists, Republican obstruction (which became more and more clear), and Senate filibuster; and, as a result, (b) he needed seasoned Washington hands to help him. On (a), the barriers were not fixed — and Obama certainly made some big mistakes (giving an unemployment target, not raising the threat of reconciliation on health care earlier, etc.) On(b), one question is why so many of those hands were so close to Wall Street — as we discuss in the book, that’s a reflection of how close the economic mandarins of the party had gotten to Wall Street.

But I don’t think we can deny that (a) presented real constraints. Our book really unpacks what those barriers were and how they arose, and so in this sense we cut Obama some slack. But we think that there’s a need to be a LOT tougher on our political system.

Last point: complaining about Obama when he falters and pressuring him is mostly for the good — it increases the chance of better policies. But it’s destructive if it distracts us from some of the deeper problems with our politics.

Let the attacks commence (only 9 minutes to defend myself!).

masaccio February 27th, 2011 at 3:53 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 142

Jonathan Rauch argues in Demosclerosis that it takes massive upheavals to shake off the effects of wealth and failed institutions. If the Great Crash didn’t do the trick, what will it take?

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 3:53 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 141

To continue. We believe “winner take all politics” that empowers the economically privileged is deeply embedded in American politics. We see the Obama administration as wearing “grey hats.” They too have to deal with, and are entangled with, the inequalities in power that are obvious in Washington. But rather than pointing the finger at them we see the deeper problem to be a system that gives huge advantages in every setting to powerful economic interests. A lot of this runs straight through Capitol Hill and is especially strong in the Senate where you need 60 to do anything and there obviously are not anywhere close to 60 Senators likely to be in sympathy with progressive policy.

A lot of people think if Obama just used his bully pulpit well the waters would have parted and progressive legislation would have raced through. I don’t think any of this would have made a difference with Joe Lieberman, or Max Baucus, or Mary Landrieu (and the list could go on for a long time).

Still, they passed a stimulus bill, a fin reg bill, and a health care bill that were valuable (and very different from what a Bush administration would have done).

The focus for our understandable sense of the fundamental inadequacy of it all should be on the huge tilt in organized power and the outrageous status-quo bias of the contemporary Senate. Obama isn’t the problem.

jawbone February 27th, 2011 at 3:54 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 141

I understand how you feel–it took me quite awhile to realize that my disappointment in Obama’s actual actions was because he is basically a center right conservative. With some further rightward tendencies in the are of executive powers. Like the assassination proclamation thing.

In some ways he’s like Bush, in some ways more to the right, and in others just plain mushy center. But, in protecting the Uberwealthy, hard to tell the difference.

And while Dems on the the Hill might have fought Bush on the exact same policies, they are unable to do so with Obama et al.

dingusansich February 27th, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Is it not possible the white working class GOP alignment, to the extent it exists, is less a matter of aspiration than of ably stoked resentment?

It’s the idea that the undeserving get something for nothing, and on the dime of the white working class, that really seems to rankle. They may hate the rich even as they want to be them, but they hate even more the notion of handouts to people who are, as they see it, in pretty much the same boat they’re in. (Handouts to them are okay, however, because they deserve them!)

And they hate liberals for not getting that.

BevW February 27th, 2011 at 3:55 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon.

Jacob, Paul, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and politics.

David, Thank you again for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone if you would like more information:

Jacob’s website

Paul’s website

Winner-Take-All Politics (book)

David’s website and book

Thanks all,
Have a great week!!

jedimsnbcko19 February 27th, 2011 at 3:56 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 141

The USA also suffers from SUPERMAN sydrome!

A lot of USA citizens have a deep belief that the USG always does stuff in their best interest.

Most Americans believe that the people in DC and on Wall Street will always do things to make the USA better.

this belief system makes it easy for the elites to rape the USA middle class.

The AMERICAN people are being led to slaughter, this is not your grandfather USA, there are no Walter Cronkites.

the elites have made Network News, Cable News, look and feel like TMZ.

What major news anchor in the USA calls it like it is? None of them

the USA is in a Depression, and our news people tell the masses of the USA we are in a JobLess Recovery, Great Recession.

again most USA citizens think network news people would never LIE to them.

TV made it easy to rape and rob USA citizens.

David Callahan February 27th, 2011 at 3:56 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 133

Certainly the great contribution of your book is that you show just how organized monied interests have been and there is no question that these forces have moved with stealth and subterfuge. They have also been aided by a massive propaganda machine in the form of Fox News and a political party which is supremely ruthless in its use of deception and “politics by other means” (witness Clinton’s impeachment.) My only point is that progressives need a better account of why ordinary Americans haven’t pushed back more against this plutocratic cabal even as other social movements have successfully mobilized new power during the same period that inequality has grown. My explanation locates this failure in deep-seated ideological currents of American political culture that tolerates inequality in ways that would be unthinkable in other advanced societies. I think a plutocracy vs. democracy frame explains a lot, and I greatly value the work you both have done in substantiating this frame. But that frame also risks glossing over other cultural/political realities that we need to confront if we hope to win the future. If we can’t break the grip of the American dream ideology, we’ll still face an uphill battle pressing our case even if we get money out of politics and otherwise curtail the outsized power of a predatory upper class. Thanks for a great discussion and good luck making this book what it should be: Must reading for all Americans.

darms February 27th, 2011 at 3:56 pm

I recently stumbled on to this article by Mark Ames (from 2004!) that to me explains why so many people are seemingly eager to vote against their own best interests – We, The Spiteful
Heres’s a key graf -

If the left wants to understand American voters, it needs to once and for all stop sentimentalizing them as inherently decent, well-meaning people being duped by a tiny cabal of evil oligarchs — because the awful truth is that they’re mean, spiteful jerks being duped by a tiny cabal of evil oligarchs. The left’s naive, sentimental, middle-class view of “the people” blinds them to all of the malice and spite that is a major premise of Middle American life.

Tammany Tiger February 27th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Thank you so much, gentlemen. I enjoyed this evening’s discussion.

David Kaib February 27th, 2011 at 3:57 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 149

I do not think a lot of people think that. I think they believe that having no one make the progressive case with a big megaphone hurts us, and that there was a potential for popular mobilization to pressure those wayward Senators that was used instead to send unthreatening emails.

hackworth1 February 27th, 2011 at 3:59 pm
In response to Jacob Hacker @ 147

Obama said that he had some progressive goals. Obama also said he wanted to work with Republicans. Obama worked with Republicans. Obama spoke about Health Care Reform. Obama enacted the Bob Dole Health Insurance Scheme. The Scheme was an Albatross around the necks of Congressional Democrats in the Mid Terms.

Obama reads Reagan Bios. Obama works with Republicans.

frmrirprsn February 27th, 2011 at 3:59 pm
In response to Jacob Hacker @ 147

Happy to oblige. Transformative elections are rare. I suspect Obama squandered an opportunity that I do not expect to see again in my lifetime. Whether you’re TR, FDR, or Ronald Reagan, you don’t consolidate reform by meeting the opposition 2/3 of the way.

I see no evidence that Obama even tried to push the envelope. On the stimulus package, he could have said “We may need more. This is the most I can get. If employment doesn’t go down, I’ll be back.” He didn’t. What kind of negotiator takes takes his own high cards off the table before the negotiations start? Nothing stopped him from trading single payer for something. Even in the areas under the president’s control, such as civil liberties, he’s been a profound disappointment.

I’m still looking forward to you book!

Paul Pierson February 27th, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I want to thank Beverly for organizing and David for his kind words and very thoughtful prodding. And oh yes, thanks to Jacob for writing my thoughts before I do.

Many, many great comments. I apologize for not being fast enough to respond to all of them. Lots of food for thought for Jacob and me and we’re grateful.

The book is out in paperback March 15th. We hope you’ll want to check it out.

Cujo359 February 27th, 2011 at 3:59 pm
In response to Jacob Hacker @ 147

There are many reasons to think that Obama never had any intention of being progressive. His capitulation on health care reform was almost immediate, as the deal he made in secret with the big medical companies and pharmas shows. He never stood on the principles he said were his. Either the man has absolutely no backbone, which I doubt, or he never intended to be anything other than what he has. There might be some slight middle ground there, but it’s more toward my side of that dichotomy than yours.

Scarecrow February 27th, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Thanks much to David, Paul and Jacob for coming, answering our questions; an excellent Salon.

HelenaHandbasket February 27th, 2011 at 4:00 pm
In response to Jacob Hacker @ 147

I see that Obama is at most a moderate consensus builder, not a progressive, and is happy to get a half a loaf if he can. Clearest example is looking at the type of people he surrounded himself with as advisers and cabinet secretaries.

Dearie February 27th, 2011 at 4:01 pm

I’m tired of apologists, and I won’t read their books. Obama backed Blanche Lincoln, for god’s sake. He’s a blue dog. He is not a Democrat. And he has not exercized the power of his position and simply hangs back waiting to see how things work out. He is not a liberal. And he is no good for the middle class. No excuses. Tired of reading excuses for his malfeasance.

Jacob Hacker February 27th, 2011 at 4:02 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 149

I must assure you that Paul and I are actually two people, not one guy who likes to share the credit with himself.

This has been an enormously instructive, challenging, and fun exchange. Thanks, everyone. And thanks in particular to you, David, for your thoughtful and incisive questions.

My publisher has insisted that I end with three words: read the book!

hackworth1 February 27th, 2011 at 4:04 pm
In response to Paul Pierson @ 149

Joe Lieberman was Obama’s mentor in the Senate. When Lieberman refused to honor the winner of the Conn Dem Primary. Obama and the big D’s supported Lieberman over the winner of their own party.

Nothing Progressive or Democratic.

Obama could have rolled Lieberman then, but he didn’t. Obama is no liberal.

Gitcheegumee February 27th, 2011 at 4:06 pm
In response to Dearie @ 164

It’s the system,Dearie.

Where did I hear that just recently? Oh,last week’s Salon.

Why do we even need a President if they are all victims of the system and powerless to change anything?

masaccio February 27th, 2011 at 4:06 pm
In response to dingusansich @ 151

I think you are right about this. Every working person knows someone they think is gaming the system, and they really hate it. It tarnishes the entire idea of government when one person they think is undeserving gets something.

They don’t know any rich people, and they don’t understand how the rich game the system to their benefit. Those few dollars going to some beat-to-hell person skew their views of fairness.

dingusansich February 27th, 2011 at 4:06 pm
In response to darms @ 155

See 151 above.

When you’ve got a spare hour or three, check out Chris Marker’s Grin Without a Cat, about the protest movements of students and workers in 1968 Paris. Toward the end the narrator reads a memorable passage from the letter by a leftist that says very much the same thing. In essence the letter says it’s a mistake to romanticize the People, but it’s also wrong to despise or dismiss them because they’re capable of pettiness and spite.

masaccio February 27th, 2011 at 4:09 pm
In response to masaccio @ 168

I should add that I agree with our host that part of the problem lies in the ideological crazy pushed by the hyper-rich.

hackworth1 February 27th, 2011 at 4:10 pm
In response to masaccio @ 168

Working People are also spoon fed this propaganda every day. There is someone in their class gaming the system for pennies.

That War Profiteers are stealing billions is not discussed in the MSM.

Gitcheegumee February 27th, 2011 at 4:12 pm
In response to hackworth1 @ 171


Please see my comment @#132.

hackworth1 February 27th, 2011 at 4:12 pm
In response to masaccio @ 170

Yes, this is a big part of the problem. Obama is another part of the problem. Our hosts, nice guys and otherwise very smart, are Obama apologists.

Cujo359 February 27th, 2011 at 4:14 pm
In response to dingusansich @ 151

I used to work with a number of political conservatives. I think you’ve described their opinions in a nutshell. And yes, they’re resentful of the wrong people, but they’re resentful.

darms February 27th, 2011 at 4:18 pm
In response to dingusansich @ 169

Yeah just saw 151 a minute ago. Maybe recognizing the spite & malice driving US politics is no big deal for some but for me (54) it was a profound revelation to learn that there are a large number of voters that do not think like I do in that I try to learn as much as is reasonable about a given position before I make a judgment or cast a ballot. When given a choice between helping myself (& others) or inflicting pain on others, I unlike many of my fellow citizens will vote for the shared benefit.

Thanks to Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson for another thought-provoking book salon. Being a 99er (& then some) a purchase is unlikely but a read, courtesy of the local library, is quite likely.

dingusansich February 27th, 2011 at 4:19 pm
In response to masaccio @ 168

Exactly. The core competency of the political operative in this environment is a talent for redirecting emotional energy, especially anger, from rational to irrational targets, from the rich to the almost as poor. Divide and conquer. Works like a charm.

Gitcheegumee February 27th, 2011 at 4:21 pm

I would be curious to know the effect that the prosperity gospel- preached by so many of the Christian Right- has had upon the acceptance of the reigning Republican ideology of class war.

Their support for all things Republican is well documented.

dingusansich February 27th, 2011 at 4:57 pm
In response to darms @ 175

It’s all about emotions. People may know, in some limited, abstract way, they’re shafted daily by the rich and powerful, but what weighs far more is what they’ve felt most immediately, about someone “close” but “different.” The bogeymen vary. Race could be a focus; so could religion. It hardly matters. What does matter is that emotion can trump thought. There may even be very good evolutionary reasons for that. But it seems fairly evident that you can rile people up about outsiders, and it’s a whole lot easier to kick the dog than the master.

You can just imagine how pleased such people are when liberals as much as tell them they’re behaving childishly. As if they don’t know who their enemies are. If it weren’t a real problem it would be comical.

On the subject of real problems, I hope help is on the way for you and the other 99ers. Best wishes to you all.

darms February 27th, 2011 at 8:56 pm
In response to dingusansich @ 178

As to myself, “help” is needed elsewhere as we have low living expenses, almost no debt, my wife makes good money and our family is cats not kids so financially we are more than alright. But my full-time job was a very important part of my self-image and self-esteem, had that for 38 years but now it’s gone along w/same, now I am shit and feel like less than nothing, dear wife ripped me a new one tonight for not doing housecleaning to her standards yet I do not share her standards and she knows it hence her criticism of me is unwarranted although I dare not tell her. Would love to read an essay as to how ‘repurposed’ spouses like me should find ways to adjust.

tongorad February 27th, 2011 at 11:57 pm
In response to dingusansich @ 169

I’d love to see this flick. Any ideas?

bigchin February 28th, 2011 at 3:40 am

The blame lies with the Democrats.

They COMPLETELY sold out New Deal liberalism for Chicago Schoo laissez-faire neoliberalism and for 30 years rubber stamped Reaganomics (which became Rubinomics under Clinton) while kissing Wall Street’s ass.

Pathetic fucking Democrats.

De-elect the president. Obama’s a dangerous fraud.

Fire all the rotten Democrats who will be running in 2012.

Vote third party progressive… anything but Democrat.

Ralph Nader was right.

darms February 28th, 2011 at 4:47 am
In response to darms @ 155

One cannot hope to reason w/people voting their hatred and their spite. One can only hope they hit their own personal ‘brick wall of understanding’ and it’s likely too late already. Meaning as a people this country is doomed as most of us have a very long way to fall…

Sorry but the comments are closed on this post