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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

What Truman Can Teach Trump The politically astute Cold Warrior knew how to navigate the tides of populism at home while maintaining America’s leadership abroad.

Walter Russell Mead writes in The Wall Street Journal:

The foreign policy of the United States hasn’t seen a strategic crisis this profound since 1947, when President Harry Truman summoned the American people to fight Soviet ambitions in Europe. The Cuban missile crisis was more dramatic and the agony of Vietnam more wrenching, but since Truman, American presidents have believed that a global, outward-looking, order-building foreign policy was the necessary foundation for U.S. strategy and a peaceful, prosperous world.

No longer. President Donald Trump, backed by a substantial segment of the American public, has distanced himself from some of the key foreign-policy assumptions and policies of the postwar era. Longstanding pillars of American strategy—free trade, alliances in Europe and Asia, defense of human rights, commitment to international institutions and the rule of law—have come into question as the new president denounces today’s global architecture as a bad deal for the U.S.

Responses to the shift have ranged from bewilderment to outrage. Mr. Trump’s exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a carefully negotiated trade agreement intended to lock the major Asian trading states into a relationship with the U.S. that would exclude China—shocked free-trade advocates and Asia experts. His repeated descriptions of NATO as obsolete and his refusal (until his recent trip to Poland) to endorse the mutual-defense commitment at NATO’s heart left many wondering whether Mr. Trump still considers the alliance essential to U.S. security. A drumbeat of news stories pointing to alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign has further muddied the waters, with many concluding that the president’s Russia policies have more to do with his personal concerns than with the national interest.

What explains this reversal in America’s priorities? A chorus of observers has identified the problem as “populism.” As they see it, ignorant voters, angry about domestic economic conditions and cultural trends, were beguiled by empty promises of prosperity and driven by racism and xenophobia to back an agenda isolating the U.S. from the rest of the world.

But populism is nothing new in American politics. In 1947, when Truman, George Marshall and Dean Acheson laid the foundations of postwar U.S. foreign policy, populism was every bit as strong a force in our politics as it is now. Determined to engage with the wider world but also deeply aware of their political situation at home, Truman and his team acted pre-emptively to head off a populist revolt. They modified their rhetoric and policies to address the concerns of a skeptical public and found ways to make their assertive Cold War policies appealing to, among others, angry heartland populists.

This is something that foreign-policy leaders in both parties have failed to do in recent years, and the election of Mr. Trump was in large part a consequence of that failure. His populist attacks on the sacred totems of establishment foreign policy probably attracted more voters to his candidacy than they scared off, and the Trump administration now threatens to undo many of the historic accomplishments of the Truman years.

For those of us who continue to believe that the policies and institutions devised after World War II served the U.S. well and remain essential today, the question is what to do now. In a best-case scenario, Mr. Trump’s impressive foreign-policy team would convince their chief and his more populist advisers that Trumanism makes sense, and the president would work to make this case to his political base. Failing that, the best alternative is to convince the American people themselves that Trumanism is a better choice for the U.S. than Trumpism. Whatever the case, those of us who want to conserve the achievements of postwar American policy will need to do what Truman did: meet populists on their own turf and engage them.

In the winter and spring of 1947, as the White House followed the dismal economic and political news from Europe, Truman and his team knew that American public opinion stood firmly opposed to any big new overseas commitments, including foreign aid. Republicans had captured control of Congress, and an angry GOP majority that included the communist-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin was intensely skeptical of foreign involvement and entangling alliances.

The Truman team was clear about its own strategic priorities. The U.S. needed to block Soviet expansionism in a shattered Europe at a time when the continent’s traditional great powers had collapsed and could neither defend themselves nor rebuild their economies without massive American help. The U.S. also needed to take on the global role that the British Empire had played at its zenith: The dollar would replace the pound as the world’s reserve currency, the U.S. Navy would replace the British fleet as the guarantor of freedom of the seas, and American power and diplomacy would replace the British in building international institutions to manage the global economy and the emerging postcolonial world.

This was all very well in theory, but Truman faced widespread political resistance to this agenda. On the left, many liberals still wanted to conciliate rather than to confront our wartime ally Stalin. On the right, many conservatives were isolationists or unilateralists who had just cut U.S. spending on foreign aid. “Mr. President,” Sen. Arthur Vandenberg told Truman in a meeting at the White House about the urgent need for American aid to Greece and Turkey, “the only way you are going to get this is to make a speech and scare the hell out of the country.”

Truman and Vandenberg understood something profound about the politics of American foreign policy. While foreign-policy professionals in government, the academy and the media are often motivated by hope—the prospect of building a global trading order, for example, or of making the world more democratic—the public at large tends to be more focused on fear. If the American public had no fears about emerging threats elsewhere in the world, it would be very hard to get public support for an activist foreign policy with high-minded ambitions. Truman took the fears of the public seriously and tried to give them constructive expression: They were a crucial source of the political energy needed to power America’s global engagement.

To this end, Truman and his team summoned the specter of a global communist conspiracy directed by the Kremlin and told the American people that defeating this enemy was its highest priority. Administration surrogates painted a terrifying picture of communist advances across Europe and warned that if Europe fell, America would be next. And it worked. Congress appropriated the funds and passed the key legislation that gave Truman the foreign-policy tools he needed. American public opinion would continue to support a strong anti-Soviet foreign policy through the long years of the Cold War.

The Truman administration’s anticommunist rhetoric was denounced by many intellectuals and academics as crude, naive and counterproductive. George F. Kennan, one of the architects of the administration’s strategy, was so distressed by what he saw as the militarism of America’s subsequent containment policies that he left government and became an eloquent critic of U.S. foreign policy. Walter Lippmann, the most influential foreign-policy pundit of the day, made known his displeasure with Cold War fearmongering again and again. Sophisticated Europeans shuddered at what they saw as an excessively harsh and Manichaean view of communism—even as they gratefully accepted the American aid and protection that Truman’s rhetoric made possible.

Truman’s secretary of state, Dean Acheson, defended the administration’s approach in his memoirs. An official trying to gain public support for foreign policy, he wrote, is not “the writer of a doctoral thesis. Qualification must give way to simplicity of statement, nicety and nuance to bluntness, almost brutality, in carrying home a point.” Acheson estimated that the average American with a job and a family had perhaps 10 minutes a day in which to think about foreign policy. “If we made our points clearer than truth, we did not differ from most other educators and could hardly do otherwise.”

Today’s advocates of continuing U.S. global leadership and engagement need to keep in mind both parts of Truman’s achievement: formulating a farsighted national strategy to address the issues of the day and then educating the public to support it.

The world is more complicated today than it was in 1947. America’s challenges are more complex and, in some ways, harder to address, even if no single threat is as urgent and overwhelming as the one posed by the Soviet Union under Stalin. But the fears of the American people are also more complex, and a national strategy that clearly addresses those concerns can succeed both in domestic politics and in the world at large.

The threat of jihadist terror on a mass scale, the growing danger of nuclear weapons in the hands of radical regimes, the possibility of debilitating cyberwarfare, the economic and political challenge posed by a rising China, the impact of globalization on American jobs—these are widely shared concerns for millions of Americans. Even in our current moment of populist retreat, such fears, together with abiding popular attachment to trusted allies such as the U.K. and Israel, are strong enough and real enough to serve as the political foundation for a new wave of American global engagement.

The same cannot be said, however, for a cause dear to many in the foreign-policy establishment: There is today very little popular support for the Wilsonian belief that the spread of democracy can solve America’s most urgent foreign-policy problems.

Promoting our values abroad remains important to many Americans, and our foreign policy cannot succeed in the long run without a clear moral basis, but the serious, recurring failures of this project since the end of the Cold War have gravely damaged its credibility. President George W. Bush turned the Iraq war into a war to make the Middle East safe for democracy. President Barack Obama tried to build democracy in the Middle East by embracing Turkey’s Islamist leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and again by supporting the 2011 revolution that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Mr. Obama then sought to make a humanitarian gesture by helping to overthrow Moammar Qaddafi in Libya.

The disasters that have unfolded in all of these countries in recent years have driven home the idea, for many Americans, that foreign-policy experts have no idea what they are doing. It is useful, in this regard, to acknowledge that it’s not just populists who sometimes get foreign policy wrong.

A Trumanist approach—popular but not populist, moral but not moralistic—would start by showing some trust in the foreign-policy instincts of the American people. To take one obvious instance where popular and elite views diverge: Ordinary Americans are inclined to favor a firm, decisive response to jihadist threats, while foreign-policy elites tend to worry much more about the possible effects of American overreaction.

This, too, follows a familiar pattern. The same arguments were made about anticommunism in Truman’s day. But just as you could then be worried about communism without wanting to nuke Russia, you can be deeply concerned about the growth of jihadist ideology and violence today without wanting to start a war with Islam.

Indeed, it is when people think that their leaders don’t share their fears, or are incapable of acting on them, that popular fear often turns to populist rage. If the average American thinks that the political establishment isn’t really worried about terrorism, the public is likely to become more xenophobic, not less. If the public thinks that American trade negotiators don’t put the protection of American jobs first, people are more likely to become protectionist than to study the economics of the issue. If the average American thinks that the political class doesn’t really care about illegal immigration, the demand for border walls will grow, not diminish.

Truman and Acheson could have joined the intellectuals and the pundits who scoffed at the public’s “naive” and “simplistic” views of the communist threat and the other challenges of the day. But they had better sense than that. They understood that connecting their strategic goals with public fears was the key to success—even if there was a certain cost to be paid at times in policy. They preferred a blunt, accessible strategy that the public and Congress would support to a more intellectually sophisticated one that could never take hold in the real world. As a result, they were able to set the U.S. and the world on a course that, for the past 70 years, has yielded an extraordinary stretch of prosperity and peace.

We must hope today that American leaders, from the president on down, can be informed and inspired by the example of that historic success. Truman’s combination of strategic vision and political pragmatism is exactly what the U.S. and our turbulent world need right now.

Mr. Mead is a distinguished fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., a professor of foreign affairs at Bard College and editor at large of the American Interest.

The Democrats’ Biggest Problem Is Cultural Since 1968, the party has been alienating working-class voters. President Trump is the latest result.

Ted Van Kyk writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Six months into the Trump presidency, congressional Democrats have begun to frame an alternative agenda. Recognizing their abandonment in 2016 by so-called working-class voters, they have unveiled a handful of spending and tax-policy benefits targeted to that constituency.

A much larger, comprehensive policy package is needed. Beyond that, Democrats need to recognize a profound voter shift that has been under way since 1968 and is centered on cultural issues.

Three statements in recent years illustrate why former Democratic voters have abandoned their party. First, Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign remark that small-town Americans “cling to guns and religion.” Second, Michelle Obama’s statement, also in 2008, that “for the first time in my adult lifetime I am proud of my country.” Third, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 characterization of Trump supporters as “deplorables”: “They are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”

None of these statements had anything to do with national security or economics. They revealed a mind-set that many voters find offensive—a huge cultural chasm that cannot be bridged by offering voters economic goodies.

The Democratic voter exodus began in 1968 when millions of traditional blue-collar and middle-income voters moved to Republican Richard Nixon or third-party candidate George Wallace, a Democratic former governor of Alabama. Alienated by street and campus riots and disorder, these voters bought into the Nixon/Wallace law-and-order themes. Some also were attracted to their message that Great Society programs had overreached.

As Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s assistant, I stood with him on election night when we learned that he had lost both Ohio and New Jersey, and the national election, because old-style Democrats had defected in those key states. I recalled visiting Democratic Rep. Pete Rodino’s campaign headquarters weeks earlier in New Jersey and seeing posters of Rodino and Wallace but none of Humphrey.

The shift, and the margin of Democratic loss, became far more dramatic in 1972. I was policy and platform director for George McGovern’s campaign. Our organizers and convention delegates were mostly from the generation that had come of age during the 1968 protests. They opposed the Vietnam War. But they were mostly interested in cultural and lifestyle issues—“acid, amnesty and abortion,” as Republicans called them, picking up a line that turned out to have originated with McGovern’s first running mate, Sen. Thomas Eagleton. Those Democrats gave short shrift to jobs, economic growth, public safety and other traditional voter concerns.

Their successors in the party have continued to focus on cultural issues with limited appeal. Their focus on political correctness and conformity has left an impression on traditional Democrats that their party leaders care more about transgender bathroom access than employment, the cost of living, education or public safety. Mrs. Clinton’s “deplorables” reference struck home with these voters.

The Democrats’ post-1972 evolution also has turned upside down the party’s approaches to racial and economic justice. The Great Society approach was to enact laws, such as the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, removing legal obstacles to justice. Medicare and Medicaid provided a health-care safety net to the elderly and poor. Job training, early education, nutrition, health and other War on Poverty programs were provided to the poor and only incidentally benefited minorities disproportionately. They were designed to help lift disadvantaged Americans to an equal place at the starting line—never to guarantee equality at the finish line. We also talked of “equal law enforcement,” which would protect citizens in minority neighborhoods while at the same time assuring race-blind treatment of offenders and suspects.

Decades later, urban black communities in particular are in crisis. School dropout and incarceration rates, high black-on-black murder and other crime rates, births out of wedlock far outnumbering intact families, pervasive drug dealing and use, and a disgraceful poverty rate should shame all of us.

The answer to this crisis does not lie in cries of black victimization by police or other authorities. It lies instead with tangible, practical programs like those we launched in the 1960s. We purposely sought bipartisan sponsorship in Congress and enlisted labor, business, academic and other support in society more broadly. We did it that way because we believed we were all in it together and had to address priorities together. Most Americans today would agree this is the way to go, but their leaders are offering mainly partisanship and polarization.

Political scientist V.O. Key famously observed that “the voters are not fools.” Millions of them, including traditional Democrats, driven by anger and frustration, abandoned their political roots last November to make Donald Trump president. Many probably sensed that chaos and fumbling would follow. By their lights, it was an acceptable price to pay to rid themselves of leaders who had forgotten them.

Congressional Democrats are right to begin construction of an alternative agenda. But as they do so, they must recognize that most Americans are not racist, sexist, ignorant or opposed to alternative lifestyles. Most largely accept the cultural and social changes of the past half-century. To recapture traditional Democratic voters, and attract new ones, Democrats must learn empathy for those who believe they are being mocked for working hard, going to church, serving in the military, and trying to instill moral standards in their children.

Back in the day we spoke admiringly of officeholders and candidates who were “for the people.” Those same people now must come to feel again that there are Democrats who understand them, their values and their aspirations and do not view them as cultural inferiors to be manipulated in campaign years. President Trump is not our problem.

Mr. Van Dyk was active for more than 40 years in Democratic administrations and campaigns.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Democrats’ Broad Challenge: Middle-Class Appeal - As the party debates its path forward, its pitch to the political sweet spot is losing resonance

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

Democrats have entered a summer of discontent, in which their disdain for President Donald Trump is matched by their frustration at an inability, so far at least, to notch an election victory that would show they can translate anti-Trump sentiment into success at the ballot box.

They are troubled most immediately by their failure to capture a seemingly winnable vacant House seat in suburban Atlanta last week. That has precipitated a round of backbiting and second-guessing, and a debate about whether the party’s success lies in staking out the political center, to claim the votes of independent and moderate Republicans put off by the coarseness and unpredictability of Mr. Trump, or in moving left to capture and spread the passion of those who want a clean and sharp break from the status quo.

Democrats might want to pause, though, to consider a broader problem: Why has their hold on the middle class loosened?

This is the trend that made the Trump phenomenon possible, and that Mr. Trump in turn appears to have exacerbated. The scope of Democrats’ problem is visible in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Less visible is what the party can do to reverse it.

For more than a quarter of a century, the Journal/NBC News poll has been asking Americans which party—the Democrats or the Republicans—would do a better job of looking out for the middle class. In 1990, the Democratic advantage was enormous: By a whopping 29-point margin, 47% to 18%, Americans said the Democrats would do the better job for the middle class.

By 2011, the Democratic margin had shrunk to 20 points. Now, in the latest survey completed last week, the Democratic advantage has shrunk to 13 points, the smallest gap ever.

This isn’t an incidental data point. In American politics, the middle class occupies hallowed ground that parties yearn to control. Americans with lower incomes want to become part of the middle class, and thus are drawn to the party that can pave the way there. Those already in the middle class want to be assured they won’t slip backward and out of it. And at least some of those who have risen above the middle class are grateful to whichever party and policies gave them the chance to do so.

So just about every economic policy from both parties is pitched as a magic elixir for the middle class. The question for Democrats is why their pitch doesn’t have the same resonance as before.

Part of the answer may lie in the party’s priorities. Democrats’ signature domestic achievement in recent years, the Affordable Care Act, was designed in large measure—and admirably so—to extend health coverage to Americans who couldn’t otherwise afford it. But while providing health security to many low- and middle-income people, it also produced a fair amount of health insecurity to others in the middle class, through higher insurance premiums and shrinking coverage options.

Similarly, Democratic efforts to raise the minimum wage speak more loudly to low-income Americans than to the middle class.

By contrast, middle-class worries trend more toward finding a way to buy a home and paying for college costs. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says that’s a reason one of the most politically successful initiatives he has pursued has been a program to provide tuition-free community-college educations to city high-school graduates.

Increasingly, middle-class voters also worry about job security. That’s where Mr. Trump has sapped away some of Democrats’ middle-class appeal, particularly with his tough trade rhetoric.

“Especially in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, there is a real belief the country hasn’t stood by them,” says Larry Cohen, chairman of Our Revolution, an activist group that has absorbed much of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign. “In Iowa, somebody said to me, ‘We like to make things and grow things.’ Well, good luck making things today.”

Part of the issue is cultural. As the Democratic Party has become more centered in urban areas and along the coasts, it has cemented its connection to younger and more highly educated Americans but has lost its appeal to some middle-class and would-be middle-class voters.

Hints of all these effects lie within the Journal/NBC News poll. Belief that Democrats are the champions of the middle class is notably low in the Midwest (33%), among rural voters (31%) and among white men with less than college educations (25%). Taken together, those voters make up the core Trump constituency.

The problem as well as the potential for Democrats can be found in another set of numbers. Just 20% of self-identified political independents say Democrats do a better job at looking out for the middle class. But belief in the Republicans is almost identically low. Perhaps the Democrats’ challenge is less to move left or right than to craft a message that appeals to them.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Peggy Noonan - On Health Care, a Promise, Not a Threat

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

We are coming up on a great American holiday. There will be fireworks and children frolicking in pools; there will be baseball games, cookouts and flags. America will be looking and acting like America. So this is no time for gloom.

This moment in fact may be, perversely, promising. The failure so far of Senate Republicans to agree on a health-care bill provides an opening. Whatever happens the next few days, moderates and centrists on both sides can and should rise, name themselves, and start storming through.

The difficulties the Republicans have faced were inevitable. They are divided; they don’t have the will or the base. The party is undergoing a populist realignment, with party donors, think-tankers and ideologues seeing things more or less one way, and the Trump base, including many Democrats, seeing them another. The long-stable ground under Republican senators has been shifting, and they’re not sure where or how to stand. The president, philosophically unmoored and operating without a firm grasp of the legislation he promotes, is little help. He has impulses and sentiments but is not, as the French used to say, a serious man. He just wants a deal and a win, and there’s something almost refreshing in this, in the lack of tangled and complicated personal and political motives. It makes so much possible.

Many Republican senators see that the American people are not in the mood for tax cuts to the comfortable and coverage limits on the distressed. Democratic senators, on the other hand, are increasingly aware that ObamaCare is not viable, and in some respects is on the verge of collapse.

This gives both parties motives to join together and make things better.

Republicans believe they must repeal ObamaCare because they’ve long promised to do so. Keeping promises, especially in our untrusting political climate, is a good thing. But polling suggests America isn’t eager that promise be wholly kept. The Senate’s repeal-and-replace bill is deeply underwater in most polls, barely above water even with Republicans. If you campaign promising mayonnaise but once you’re in office voters start saying they prefer mustard, Politics 101 says, at least for now, hold the mayo.

Here again is our big wish: that both parties join together and produce a fix. It would no doubt be ungainly and imperfect, but it would be better than the failing thing we have. And Americans, being practical, will settle, for now, for better.

The GOP’s donor class would likely hate the eventual bill, as the Democratic Party’s nihilist left, which wants no compromise, would hate it. But their opposition would suggest to everyone else the bill must be pretty good.

There is the beginning of a movement in the Senate for a bipartisan approach. Republican Susan Collins of Maine has it exactly right: Asked if she thinks it necessary for both parties to work together, she said: “That’s what we should have done from the beginning.” Republican Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said on Fox News Wednesday night: “I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and work with the Democrats.” Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin says it’s a ‘mistake’ to attempt a partisan fix. Democrat Joe Manchin, also of West Virginia, says he’s “ready” for a bipartisan effort. The New York Times reports senators from both parties met privately weeks ago to discuss core issues. Mr. Manchin was there along with Democrats Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Among the Republicans were Sens. Capito and Collins, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

That’s a good start.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, disappointed in the GOP failure earlier in the week to get to yes, told his own members, in front of the press, that if they can’t get it together, they’ll have to work with the Democrats. It sounded like a threat, not an invitation; he seemed to be saying Republican voters wouldn’t like it. Many wouldn’t, but the polling suggests many would.

This column respects history and tradition. I’ve banged away on the fact that any big legislative change that affects how America lives, especially on something so intimate and immediate as health care, has to receive support from both parties or it will never work.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, in creating Social Security in 1935, knew he had to get Republicans behind it and owning it, or America would see it as a Democratic project, not an American institution. In the end he persuaded 81 Republicans to join 284 Democrats in the House. So too with the creation of Medicare in 1965: Lyndon Johnson wrestled and cajoled Republicans and got a majority of their votes.

Every president until Barack Obama knew this. He bullied through ObamaCare with no Republican support, and he did it devilishly, too, in that he created a bill so deal-laden, so intricate, so embedding-of-its-tentacles into the insurance and health systems, that it would be almost impossible to undo. He was maximalist. His party got a maximal black eye, losing the House and eventually the Senate over the bill, which also contributed to its loss of the presidency.

Is it fair that both parties must fix a problem created by one party? No. But it would be wise and would work.

Here is a thing that would help: a little humility from the Democrats, and a little humanity.

It would be powerful if a Democratic senator would go on the Sunday shows this weekend and say something like this: “Republicans have proved they can’t make progress. They’re failing in their efforts, and I’m not sad about it, because their bill is a bad one. But I’m not going to lie to you, ObamaCare has big flaws—always did. It was an imperfect piece of legislation and it’s done some things my party said wouldn’t happen, such as lost coverage and hiked deductibles. The American people know this because they live with it. The answer is to do what we should have done in the past, and that is joining with Republicans to hammer out changes that will make things better, that we all can live with, at least for now. We’ll make it better only by working together. I’m asking to work with them.”

That person would be a hero in the Beltway, which prizes compromise and constructiveness, and admired outside it. “My God, it isn’t all just partisan for her.”

The Democratic Party made this mess. It’s on them to help dig out of it. If they show some humility, Republicans would look pretty poor in not responding with their own olive branch.

Show some class, help the country. When it’s over, use whatever words you want: “We forced Democrats to admit the bill was flawed and dying.” “We forced Republicans to back down.” America won’t mind the propaganda, they’re used to it. Just make a bad thing better.

Don’t give what you produce a grandiose name. Call it the Health Reform Act of 2017. There will be more. Wait till we’re debating single payer in 2020.

But move now. Do the work, break Capitol Hill out of its shirts-and-skins stasis. Solve this thing.

A happy 241st anniversary to America, the great and fabled nation that is still, this day, the hope of the world.