New Democrats

Bloomberg has an absolutely terrific piece of reporting out today about how the big banks have mobilized to water down the Volcker Rule—the reform measure designed to prevent federally-backed banks from placing bets for their own bottom line. Here’s the gist: To make their case in Washington, banks and trade associations have been pressing a coordinated campaign to get regulators from five federal agencies to scale back the draft of the proprietary-trading rule issued in October, according to public and internal documents and interviews.

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One of the old but vital aphorisms of American politics is that Americans are ideological conservatives but operational liberals. They oppose government in the abstract, but favor it in most of the particulars. (The primary exceptions being programs seen as benefitting only the poor, only the rich, or only foreigners.) A corrollary of that premise is that Republicans have an easier time expressing their views as an abstract ideology. They're against big government. That's a popular sentiment, unless you try to translate it into a governing program.

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The latest intra-progressive dustup over health care reform displays a couple of pretty important potential fault lines within the American center-left. One has to do with political strategy, and the role of the Democratic Party and the presidency in promoting progressive policy goals and social movements. Like others engaging in the traditional year-end essays, I'll be writing about that subject extensively in the coming days. But the other potential fault line is ideological, and is sometimes hard to discern because it extends across a variety of issues.

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Something strange and a little disorienting is happening in the fight to reform Wall Street: It looks like the reformers are actually starting to win. This is not something you could have said as recently as six weeks ago. Back then, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank had just released a proposal to regulate derivatives, essentially bets on the movements of other assets (like stocks, bonds, commodities) or interest rates. Derivatives are in some respects the key battle in the broader regulatory campaign.

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Worth Reading

Alan Blinder: 25% of jobs are offshore-able. So maybe it's not all bad that job openings are down 50% since 2007 peak. MIT or U. of Chicago: Which developed the better economic dream-team. How New Democrats are helping ease proposed derivatives rules. Why there's nothing morally wrong with walking away from a mortgage. Do mustached men earn more than their clean-shaven counterparts?

Barack Obama's new theory of the state.

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Barack Obama is a liberal. Hillary Clinton wants you to know this now; if Obama gets the nomination, John McCain assuredly will, too. “Liberal” has had bad connotations ever since the Vietnam era, when conservatives successfully branded their opponents with the “amnesty, abortion, and acid” label. Now, the word “liberal”--or librul, in its nastiest form--has been cast to the bottom of the linguistic heap, to be avoided at all costs.

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Hardball 101

It is getting increasingly difficult to find any Democrat who backs President Bush's plan for partially privatizing Social Security. Private accounts are now officially out of favor even among New Democrats, the most obvious source of potential administration support. The Democratic Leadership Council and a new centrist policy shop called Third Way both recently announced their opposition. Over in the House, many have been eyeing Adam Smith, the leader of the New Democrat Coalition, which has 67 members in the House.

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The Boss

Robert Shrum, John Kerry's chief strategist and speechwriter, is considered the poet laureate of populism--the man who injected the phrase "the people versus the powerful" into Democratic vernacular. Over his 35-year career, Shrum has been responsible for many of the memorable lines to leave the mouths of such Democratic eminences as Ted Kennedy, George McGovern, and Al Gore. But one of his most telling speeches won't ever be collected in an anthology of great oratory. For many years, Shrum plied his trade on behalf of Richard Gephardt.

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Colored White: Transcending the Racial Past by David R. Roediger (University of California Press, 323 pp., $29.95) "What is a White Man?" asked Charles Chesnutt in the pages of the Independent, a mass-circulation weekly, in 1889. This was no mere academic question.

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