We Are All Tom Steyer Now

I have wanted Cory Booker to be president since back when I was an undergrad, and he was a mayor. I originally envisioned him as a 2016 vice presidential nominee for someone like Andrew Cuomo as a way of building up his experience and name recognition, leading to a presidential run down the road. But now, Booker is out of the running. You might say that he was doomed to failure in a primary with too many candidates louder, richer, more left-wing, and more famous than him. In a race of Socialists and Billionaires, a social liberal-fiscal moderate with a $1.5 million net worth may have been doomed to failure.

With all that in mind, the question for me becomes who to vote for in the primary now. I really like Yang and Patrick. But Yang has somehow managed to promise everyone $12,000 a year and still not pick up much traction, while Patrick wishes he had as much traction as Yang. With Booker out of the running, I would like the next candidate I throw my support behind to have some chance of getting the nomination. Or at least get a percentage of the primary vote that does not start with a decimal point and a zero. For me, this narrows it down to Sanders or Warren. Longtime readers of this blog know my feelings on Gabbard. Suffice to say that defending an anti-gay marriage organization when you are in the process of rehabilitating your image on gay rights is a bit like calling yourself antiwar while criticizing Obama for not bombing enough. Come to think of it, she managed to do both. But perhaps she can win the endorsement of a big money donor such as Bashar al-Assad or Narenda Modi. Biden is a good man and probably one of the top three best vice presidents ever, but there are other people in this race with most of the good aspects of his policy record and less of the drawbacks. Klobuchar has some laudable policy views, but her record on LGBT rights is good-but-not great, and she is so supportive of the Surveillance State that she would probably have the NSA search my Netflix queue. Buttigieg is a trailblazer with some very good policies, but while I consider him to be solidly anti-racist, he has badly mishandled key issues involving police racism and misconduct in South Bend, Indiana. All too often, Buttigieg has discarded the velvet glove for a cat’s paw. 15 years ago, Buttigieg would have been one of the most progressive Democratic candidates on criminal justice issues. But 15 years ago, the special effects in the Star Wars prequels were considered great too. Which brings me to Bernie, Warren, and Steyer. Bernie and Warren are basically tied for my first choice among Democrats who are polling reasonably well. Steyer, however, is me. And he is all of us—all of us who admire both Bernie and Warren, that is.

Why is that? Well, let’s recap. We were treated to the “Game of Telephone from Hell” when anonymous press sources repeated Elizabeth Warren’s private account of a private conversation with no transcript, no recordings, and no witnesses. According to the players, Bernie told Warren in a private meeting that he believed that American sexism, weaponized by Sexist-in-Chief Trump, would prevent a woman from being elected president. The alleged comment, if it was made, was not made in the context of gloating about how a woman could supposedly never make a good president. According to the Warren team’s own account, the comment was made as an indictment of American sexism, not as an indictment of the ability of women to be good leaders. Then, the floodgates of social media opened, and a minority of Bernie and Warren supporters went at each other’s throats. All manner of accusations were hurled. Bernie was working deep cover for the Klan when he protested segregation. Bernie votes on women’s issues like Pat Schroeder but thinks about women’s issues like Pat Buchanan. It’s Bernie’s fault that Clinton lost, Trump won, and Rory got pregnant on the Gilmore Girls revival. No, the minority of angry Bernie supporters said. Warren is a mole from Big Pharma. Warren is a secret white supremacist who rode with the Seventh Cavalry. Warren is an Oklahoma Iago. Warren is a treacherous snake whose fangs drip with private health insurance. Then, those of us who liked both candidates tried to run for the online equivalent of fallout shelters. Meanwhile, Joe Biden stands to make out like a bandit. He has to be liking this dustup more than the Patriot Act. Don’t get me wrong, I love Joe Biden. He’s someone I’d love to go grab a beer—well, in my case, a root beer—with and thank him for the great job he did moving the needle on gay marriage as vice president. But I would like this meeting to take place somewhere in Wilmington, Delaware—not the White House.

Bernie denied ever saying a woman could not be elected but admitted that he warned his old comrade that Donald Trump would subject her to sexist attacks if she ran. Warren declared that the press sources’ version of events was accurate but called Bernie her friend and said she had no interest in litigating the matter further. Which naturally led a CNN debate moderator to litigate the matter further at the following night’s debate. Bernie repeated that he never said a woman could not win. Warren repeated that he had, that he was a friend, and that she wanted to put the matter behind her. They then had an esoteric debate about the meaning of time more fit for a Philosophy seminar than a presidential debate.

I was very pleased that they kept things civil. Then, the aftermath came. Warren approached Bernie. Bernie, for once, chose to extend his hand instead of gesticulating with it. As a gesticulator myself, I sympathize with his plight there. Warren did not shake his hand, which may have been an oversight and may also be my punishment for all the years I spent wishing that the party nominees in the general election debates would stop with the phony handshakes. A phony handshake would have been nice that night. Instead, Warren accused Bernie Sanders of calling her a liar on national television, perhaps implying that calling her a liar on local cable television would have been acceptable. Bernie attempted to deescalate things like only a pugnacious New Yorker can, saying that she had called him a liar and insisting that they have this conversation elsewhere. Normally, I would agree, but in a roundabout way, having a conversation in private with no recordings or witnesses is what started this mess. During this fracas, Tom Steyer came in like manna from Heaven and excitedly said hi to Bernie. Maybe he was oblivious to how agitated the two candidates were. Maybe he was just excited to meet his hero. Maybe he likes photobombing. But in that moment, he stood for all of us who think that Bernie and Warren are both good people, good feminists, and good civil rights advocates generally. Those of us who think that Bernie and Warren would both be great presidents. Those of us who believe that we aren’t experts on an unrecorded conversation we didn’t witness. Those of us who believe that it’s possible for a comment to come across differently than intended or for two people to remember something differently. Steyer should work as a mediator between warring nations, warring spouses, and warring friends. In a world of acrimony, Steyer is the great peace maker.

 

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Areo Article #3

If you’re interested in free speech, check out my latest piece for Areo Magazine!

Enforcing Patriotism, Suppressing Dissent: America’s Neglected Free Speech Crisis

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New Article for Areo Magazine

Everybody should check my new article published by Areo Magazine! If you think the struggle for LGBT rights over, think again.

LGBT Rights in America: Incremental Progress, Ongoing Problems

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Meet the New Conservatives, Same As the Old Conservatives

Readers of this blog should check out my essay, published in Areo, about the history of authoritarianism and identity politics on the Right!

Meet the New Conservatives, Same As the Old Conservatives

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Kevin Williamson Redux, Part 2

Williamson writes that it is “remarkable how far back the ideological-partisan lines of U.S. politics are at least partly visible and comprehensible. In the Wilson era, you have a Democratic party pursuing centralization and central planning, suspicious of free markets and competition, allied with academic elites, and pursuing an agenda of regimentation that Democrats presented as ‘scientific’ and supported by dispassionate, empirical evidence. Against that, you have a Republican party allied with business interests, hostile toward taxes and redistribution, promising a restoration of an idealized prelapsarian American order—the ‘return to normalcy.'” As stated in my previous post, this only deals with economic issues, not social issues–more on that later. But even if we only focus on economics, this is an oversimplification. For one thing, “Progressivism” was promoted and opposed by different members of both parties. As Williamson himself references, Teddy Roosevelt left the presidency four years before Wilson entered it and was also a “progressive.” (“Progressive” refers to those who shared the progressives’ economic vision of greater regulation. A progressive in this era could be a social conservative like Wilson, a social moderate like Roosevelt, or a social liberal like Robert LaFollette, Jane Addams, and John Dewey.) As I discussed previously, some of the major supporters of black rights in Congress during this era were Republican progressives. In the nineteenth century, some Republicans, such as Orville Platt and William P. Frye, supported increased rights for black people and government support for American industry mixed with “up by your bootstraps” capitalism for working class and poor Americans. Others, such as Charles Sumner, Henry Wilson, and George Frisbie Hoar, were economic leftists, sometimes even backing radical labor union groups. Democrats in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were similarly divided. Grover Cleveland, the last Democratic president before Wilson, was a social and fiscal conservative with certain fascist tendencies. In 1924, Democrats nominated another social and fiscal conservative, John W. Davis, for president.

It is certainly true that some socially conservative Republican did defend black rights during these years. For example, Senator Boies “Big Grizzly” Penrose of Pennsylvania was anti-women’s suffrage, anti-Chinese immigration, and pro-suspension of civil liberties in wartime. He also opposed segregation, including bans on interracial marriage. Meanwhile, his 1914 Senate Election opponent, Representative A. Mitchell Palmer, was seen as a progressive Democrat and favored women’s suffrage but voted to ban interracial marriage. Still, close analysis does not support Williamson’s assertion. Firstly, Palmer became infamous as Attorney General for his suppression of leftists’ civil liberties via the “Palmer Raids” that were a precursor to the Red Scare. He may have leaned left, but he was hardly a Robert LaFollette. Additionally, the 1914 Pennsylvania Senate race was a three-way contest. Penrose and Mitchell also ran against Gifford Pinchot. While Pinchot was nominated by the Progressive Party in this election, he spent most of his career as a Republican and was liberal on most domestic issues besides crime. He was also generally supportive of African Americans’ rights. Conservatives like Penrose did not support civil rights because they were conservatives. They supported it because they were Yankee Republicans. I previously argued that Southern Democratic support for segregation was so entrenched that even a liberal Southern Democrat like Bilbo could champion it. I would also submit that support for black rights was entrenched enough among Northeastern and Great Lakes Republicans that even conservative Republicans from those parts of the country often subscribed to it.

What about Warren G. Harding, Wilson’s Republican successor. Williamson says he was “allied with business interests, hostile toward taxes and redistribution, promising a restoration of an idealized prelapsarian American order—the ‘return to normalcy.'” Again, while Harding was fiscally conservative, his social views were moderate. In addition to being markedly less anti-black than Wilson, he voted against the Sedition Act and pardoned Eugene Debs, a Socialist presidential candidate arrested in the Wilson Administration for encouraging draft resistance. Williamson goes on to reiterate his points about Wilson’s and Teddy Roosevelt’s racism, which I have already discussed at length in my previous essay. He then continues conflating social and fiscal liberalism and conservatism, which, again, has already been throughly covered by me. Williamson poses the question: “If the southern Democrats were ‘conservatives,’ then the New Deal was passed on conservative support, which is a very odd claim to make. What do we call the Republican anti-New Dealers, then?” Based on the facts of their record, I believe we should call them social conservative-fiscal liberals or populist authoritarians. But it begs another point. Throughout the bulk of their history, Southern Democrats have generally opposed not only emancipation and later desegregation but also such liberal ideas as women’s suffrage, nonEuropean immigration, Separation of Church and State, and civil liberties for leftist radicals. They generally favored suspension of individual rights in the name of national security, capital punishment, harsh “law and order” policies generally, traditional views on gender, etc. If they are labeled “liberal” or “left-wing,” what, then, do we call the people who disagreed with these social views? Similarly, before the 20th century, many Republicans favored not only more rights for black people but also women’s rights, nonEuropean immigration, environmentalism, ending the death penalty, and Separation of Church and State. They also voted for many of these policies at a much higher rate than Democrats. The support by many Republicans of keeping religion and government separate is worth looking at in some depth. It was Charles Sumner who helped kill a constitutional amendment that would have virtually declared Christianity the State Religion. It was Republican president and 1884 GOP presidential nominee, Ulysses S. Grant and James G. Blaine, respectively, who were some of the most prominent opponents of taxpayer funding for religious schools. In Illinois and Wisconsin, Republican state Supreme Court judges were pivotal in ending or severely scaling back official Bible readings, recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, and Devotional Hymns in state public schools. (This, of course, was different from students choosing to recite and read religious texts themselves, which most social liberals have favored allowing.) My previous post discussed both Teddy Roosevelt’s and Robert Taft’s support for separation of Church and State. If being pro-black rights, pro-women’s rights, pro-nonEuropean immigration, pro-environmentalism, pro-Separation of Church and State, and anti-death penalty in the 19th and early 20th centuries makes one a conservative, then the term loses much of its meaning.

 

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Kevin Williamson Redux, Part 1

I want to first apologize for the lateness of this blog. I have been very busy recently with a 10-day trip to Maine and a new puppy named Wendell Phillips Boyd. IMG_2251.jpeg

Anyhow, I have finally gotten around to responding to another article by National Review‘s Kevin Williamson. I plan on writing another two rebuttals to other essays written within the last couple of weeks or so by James Kirchick and Tom Woods as time permits. I also feel that while the article by Williamson that I am responding to is from June 23, the claims he made are repeated frequently by conservatives and have become effectively a timeless issue. Williamson recently attempted to further argue that segregationist Democrats were liberals. After touting his admiration of William F. Buckley as a disclaimer, Williamson writes that, “Professor Kevin Kruse of Princeton, pretending to correct my assertion that it is a mistake to call the segregationist Democrats of the Roosevelt era ‘conservatives,’ correctly notes that WFB believed he had found a kindred conservative spirit in some of those Democrats and thought that they might be pried away from the Democratic party by the Republicans, among whom self-conscious conservatism was ascendant by the middle 1960s.” Williamson then insists that Buckley was wrong, because “with a tiny handful of notable exceptions (the grotesque opportunist Strom Thurmond prominent among them) the segregationist Democrats remained Democrats.” While I agree that Thurmond was a grotesque opportunist, it is not at all true that only a “tiny handful” of white Southern Democrats left the party. Kruse gave a rather lengthy list of racist Democratic defectors here, while also pointing out the problem with focusing only on politicians who switched parties and ignoring rank and file voters. And it has been demonstrated that racism is critical to explaining why so many white Southern voters left the Democratic Party. It is also worthwhile to consider ticket splitting. In the 1968 presidential election, George Wallace won a plurality of votes in Georgia, with Democrat Hubert Humphrey coming in third place in the Peach State. At the same time, Georgia voters reelected Talmadge in a huge landslide. In North Carolina, voters backed Republican Richard Nixon for president and Sam Ervin for Senator. In 1972, Alabama voters backed Nixon for president and Sparkman for Senate. Arkansas did the same with Nixon and McClellan. Mississippi reelected Nixon and Eastland. Similar patterns could be observed with other segregationist Democratic Senators. Interestingly, a parallel pattern took place with antiracist Republicans in liberal Northern states. In 1968, New York voters supported Humphrey for president and reelected Javits to the Senate. In 1972, Massachusetts was the only state to vote for Democratic presidential candidate, George McGovern, yet also reelected GOP Senator Edward Brooke. In 1976, both Democratic presidential nominee, Jimmy Carter, and Republican Senate nominee, John Chafee, handily won in Rhode Island. In 1988, Minnesota voters backed the Democrat Michael Dukakis for president and Republican David Durenberger for Senate. Thus, even if many racist, white Southern voters did not stop voting for racist Democratic Senators after 1964, they did often begin voting for Republican presidential candidates. And even if many pro-civil rights Republican voters in the North did not stop voting for pro-civil rights Republican Senators after 1964, many voted for Democratic presidential candidates.

After repeating his old points about Dixiecrats’ support for left-wing economic policies–which, as stated in my last post, give no insight into the Dixiecrats’ social liberalism or lack thereof–Williamson writes, “WFB helpfully published a list of those Democrats he thought possibly ready to defect to the Republican party. You would have done well to bet against him. James Eastland? No. John McClellan? No. John Stennis? No. Sam Ervin? No. Herman Talmadge? No. Allen Ellender? No. Spessard Holland? No. John Sparkman? Strike . . . eight.” Let’s consider the 1962 ratings for these Senators by Americans for Democratic Action, a group dedicated to advancing liberal positions in the party. Eastland and Stennis of Mississippi both either abstained or voted against the ADA’s position on every issue used for ratings purposes. McClellan voted with the ADA two times out of twelve. Ervin voted with the ADA one time out of twelve. Talmadge abstained once and voted against the ADA’s position eleven times. Ellender voted with the ADA only twice. Holland voted liberal three times out of twelve. Sparkman voted liberal four times, making him look like the radical lefty of the group. What about some of the Republicans who had pro-civil rights voting records? Were they basically Tom Cottons who just voted liberal on race issues? Not quite. Take Jacob Javits and Kenneth Keating of New York, two of the great civil rights champions of the Senate, both Republicans. Javits voted conservative twice, abstained twice, and voted liberal…eight times. Keating was less liberal but still voted with the ADA half the time. Senator Clifford Case of New Jersey voted liberal eight times out of twelve. Representatives Frank Morse and Silvio Conte of Massachusetts voted liberal four times out of eight. Robert Stafford of Vermont, William Scranton of Pennsylvania, and William Cahill of New Jersey voted liberal six times out of eight. Representative Florence Dwyer of New Jersey voted liberal seven times out of eight. Representatives Seymour Halpern of New York and Stanley Tupper of Maine voted liberal eight times out of eight. Even many pro-civil rights Republicans who received lower ratings scored higher than most of the Dixiecrats mentioned above. Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut voted liberal four out of twelve times. Senator Thomas Kuchel of California voted liberal five times out of twelve. Diehard conservatives they were not. What about the man Buckley referred to as “liberal,” Olin Johnson? Johnson voted liberal four times, abstained once, and voted conservative seven times. Not a diehard conservative voting record, but not a strong liberal one either.

 

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Kevin Williamson Lumps Together Social Liberalism and Fiscal Liberalism With Erroneous Results, Part 2

Furthermore, some of the fiscally conservative Republicans who opposed the Dixiecrats on race and economics in the Progressive Era and New Deal Era were definitely not social conservatives. Williamson does not bring up Robert Taft, but the Ohio Republican was famous for his fiscal conservatism. He was no champion of black people, but as I have argued elsewhere, Taft was a “passionate moderate” on race and one of the few politicians to denounce Japanese American internment. Unfortunately for his modern conservative admirers, Taft’s social views were Centrist. He spoke out against a bill to require daily Bible readings in Ohio public schools, called strict separation of Church and State “the whole basis of the American Constitution,” and opposed public funds for religious schools. Going back further to the Progressive Era, we have New Hampshire Senator Jacob Gallinger. As early as 1902, Gallinger was calling on Congress to investigate lynchings. In 1916, he called for federal protection of black voting rights. For these stances, he was mocked by Southern Democrats. Gallinger also largely opposed the economic reforms of the progressives, favoring the interests of big business. But he was also a believer in women’s suffrage, an environmentalist, and an advocate of animal welfare, including tighter restrictions on animal testing. He spoke out against efforts to further crack down on Chinese immigration and voted against the Sedition Act. If anything, he could best be described as a social liberal-fiscal conservative.

Williamson goes on to approvingly cite the inestimable Ta-Nehisi Coates’s description of rabid Mississippi segregationist Senator Theodore Bilbo as a liberal. On most issues except race, Bilbo was liberal. He even broke with most fellow Southern segregationists by backing women’s suffrage. However, he also came from a very socially reactionary Southern state. And in his case, it might be said that there was a conflict between his Southernism and his liberalism, and his Southernism won out. This is evidenced in part by his decision to call Eleanor Roosevelt “the greatest [n word] lover in the North.” Eleanor Roosevelt, of course, was the bleeding heart liberal that her husband was portrayed as at the time. But unlike Bilbo, she was from the Northeast. Please understand that I am well aware that racism was and is rampant in the North. But there were and are still marked differences in aggregate racial attitudes in the North versus the South. And in the Jim Crow era, white Northern liberals tended to see civil rights differently from Southern liberals. Pro-civil rights white Southern writer, Lillian Smith once estimated that 75 percent of white Southern liberals favored “separate but equal.” But that was not because they were liberal. It was because they were Southern. Indeed, Northern fiscal conservative Robert Taft joined forces with the diehard Northern liberal Senator Glen Taylor to prevent Bilbo from taking his seat after his last election victory. Taylor would go on to run as the 1948 vice presidential candidate for the Progressive Party, which called for civil rights, leftist domestic policies, and an end to the Cold War. During the campaign, he would be arrested for violating Alabama segregation laws.

I would like to close this essay with two final points. In the first place, going back to at least 1860, support for increased rights of African Americans was understood as a liberal or radical position, while opposition was understood as conservative. The New York Times used Abe Lincoln’s stated support for fugitive slave laws and opposition to racial equality as evidence of his conservatism. Lincoln would go on, of course, to back a constitutional amendment ending slavery. To quote Dinesh D’Souza in one of his rare moments of honesty, “that is why the right wing can never forgive him.” During Reconstruction, moderate Republicans who wanted to uphold at least some civil rights for black people while returning sovereignty to the former Confederate states were called “Liberal Republicans.” This title appears to have been their attempt to position themselves to the left of conservative Democrats but to the Right of the “Radical Republicans” who pushed harsh terms for ex-Confederate states and strong federal protection of civil rights. George Wallace had nothing but contempt for liberals in the 1960s. And what about William F. Buckley, the right-wing founder of National Review? By now, many of you probably know his 1957 defense of the Jim Crow South. To hear his old compadres at National Review tell it, he became a civil rights champion in the 1960s. Not quite. According to historian Kevin M. Schultz, “‘My position on the moral aspect of segregation,” Buckley wrote to a sixteen-year-old correspondent in 1964, is that “[s]egregation is morally wrong if it expresses or implies any invidious view of a race, not so if it intends or implies no such thing.’”

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