Monday, June 30, 2008


Political statistician Andrew Gelman has produced very interesting graphs of economic and social politics by state. Graph 1 plots the average economic social and economic positions of adults. Some of the results are obvious: Massachusetts is the most liberal and Idaho (those black helicopters are coming) is the most conservative of states. For Democrats hoping to make inroads into Southern states like Georgia, the data are not promising. But swing states Nevada, Virginia, New Mexico, and, yes even North Carolina, show up right in the middle. They could be in play.

When the data are broken out by party (graph 2), the results are a reminder of the biggest difference between Democrats and Republicans: the economy. "Democrats are much more liberal than Republicans on the economic dimension: Democrats in the most conservative states are still much more liberal than Republicans in even the most liberal states," writes Gelman. "On social issues there is more overlap (although in any given state, the average Republican is more conservative than the average Democrat)."

Republicans since Nixon have played the faux populist card, but the GOP is the party of economic special interests. McCain is not anywhere close to winning over swing voters on economic issues. But I worry that the Obama campaign's bipartisanship will consist of ceding ground on the economic issues that still define grassroots Democrats' sense of what is right, while continuing to let the Republicans define the terms of the debate. I hope not.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


I have just a few minutes this beautiful but very hot Saturday afternoon. Here are a interesting detours along the information superhighway where I encourage you to linger for a few minutes.

Phil Klinkner at the Monkey Cage follows up his discussion of race and the election with an analysis of data from a recent Roper Poll. His finding: Obama might lose four to five points against McCain in the polls because of white racism.

Kai Wright at The Nation writes a brilliant, sobering piece on the devastating consequences of the mortgage crisis for blacks.

Jericho Parms (great name) at the Brooklyn Rail introduces Clayton Patterson, a documentary photographer who captured New York's Lower East Side as it went through the throes of gentrification and struggle against it. Also worth reading is editor Theodore Hamm's interview with hip hop politico Kevin Powell.

Friday, June 27, 2008


I spend a lot of time exploring urban neighborhoods. As much as possible, I drive down side streets and avoid expressways. The back way is invariably the most interesting way. When I visit cities for the first time (or the first time as a sentient adult), I find a well-informed, historically and sociologically savvy tour guides to show me around. And in cities that I know well, I gladly reciprocate. For those who can't join a tour, I try in my prose--as well as I can with words--to put the visual into text.

I wish I were a decent photographer, but alas I'm not. Fortunately, I have had the gift of spending hours driving around Detroit, Camden, and Philadelphia with photographer Camilo José Vergara. Several years ago, Camilo won a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant." Usually when the list of MacArthur winners is published, I scratch my head wondering what went through the minds of the selection committee. But not with Camilo. In my reckoning, a genius is someone who can introduce you to a whole new way of looking at the world. Whether the view is from the roof of one of his dinged up rental cars or in the pages of one of his subtle photo essays, Vergara leads me to see familiar places through a completely different pair of eyes. I know Detroit better than all but a handful of people, but still Camilo takes me to places that I thought I knew and forces me to reinterpret them altogether. From closeups of security bars to panoramic views of decaying streetscapes over time, Vergara captures the essence of the Rustbelt in both the micro and macro. His series on urban billboards in his monograph, American Ruins, re-interprets urban life through one of its most ubiquitous and banal forms. His photographs in How the Other Half Worships of storefront churches, converted synagogues, decaying cathedrals--along with graffiti murals of Christ and Martin Luther King, Jr.--capture the vitality of urban religion, whose practices and forms are too often reduced to bland generalizations about red states and blue states, values and morality.

Vergara is, at heart, a romantic: someone who finds sublime beauty in decay. His photographs of Camden, New Jersey's long-closed Carnegie Library, a beaux-arts monument constructed in 1903, captures the grandeur of a building whose architecture reflects its grand aspirations as a great civic institution and the loss of that vision over the last half century. (Vergara's Camden photos, especially his historical series, capture the transformation of the Rustbelt brilliantly). Vergara is not solely or primarily a photographer as social commentator, though some have compared him to Jacob Riis. He is a visionary, an artist of the highest order. His stunning vision of the interior of the library, showing three symmetrical trees growing from what was the floor of the main reading room, is the freshest and most interesting contribution to one of the oldest genres in art: the four seasons. Above is "summer."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


There are still rumblings of bitterness about the Obama campaign among some former Hillary supporters (or more likely McCain supporters engaged in the Nixonian art of "ratfucking" and pretending to be Hillaryites). And the McCainiacs, led by shill Carleton Fiorina, are doing their best to fan the flames of victimhood (identity politics is bad unless, of course, it benefits the G.O.P.). But when it comes to the issues--and to questions of fundamental respect for women--Obama is so obviously better than his Republican opponent. For those who need to be reminded of McCain's chronic sexism, TPM just reposted the video of McCain's infamous response to the "bitch" question last fall. His smarmy, snarky, smirky response is damning. Watch it.

More to the point, Obama's speech on women's issues yesterday makes the distinction between the two candidates unambiguous. Obama supports equal pay, anti-discrimination protections, and most importantly paid family leave. Amen. Here's an excerpt:

Now Senator McCain is an honorable man, and we respect his service. But when you look at our records and our plans on issues that matter to working women, the choice could not be clearer.

It starts with equal pay. 62 percent of working women in America earn half – or more than half – of their family’s income. But women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. In 2008, you’d think that Washington would be united in its determination to fight for equal pay. That’s why I was proud to co-sponsor the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which would have reversed last year’s Supreme Court decision, which made it more difficult for women to challenge pay discrimination on the job.

But Senator McCain thinks the Supreme Court got it right. He opposed the Fair Pay Restoration Act. He suggested that the reason women don’t have equal pay isn’t discrimination on the job – it’s because they need more education and training. That’s just totally wrong. Lilly Ledbetter’s problem was not that she was somehow unqualified or unprepared for higher-paying positions. She most certainly was, and by all reports she was an excellent employee. Her problem was that her employer paid her less than men who were doing the exact same work.

John McCain just has it wrong. He said the Fair Pay Restoration Act “opens us up to lawsuits for all kinds of problems.” But I can’t think of any problem more important than making sure that women get equal pay for equal work. It’s a matter of equality. It’s a matter of fairness. That’s why I stood up for equal pay in the Illinois State Senate, and helped pass a law to give 330,000 more women protection from paycheck discrimination. That’s why I’ve been fighting to pass legislation in the Senate, so that employers don’t get away with discriminating against hardworking women like Lilly Ledbetter. And that’s why I’ll continue to stand up for equal pay as President. Senator McCain won’t, and that’s a real difference in this election.

As the son of a single mother, I also don’t accept an America that makes women choose between their kids and their careers. It’s not acceptable that women are denied jobs or promotions because they’ve got kids at home. It’s not acceptable that forty percent of working women don’t have a single paid sick day. That’s wrong for working parents, it’s wrong for America’s children, and it’s not who we are as a country.

I’ll be a President who stands up for the American family by giving all working parents a hand. To help with childcare, I’ll expand the Child and Dependent Care tax credit, so that working families can receive up to a 50 percent credit for their child care expenses. I’ll double funding for afterschool programs that help children learn and give parents relief. And I’ll invest $10 billion to guarantee access to quality, affordable, early childhood education for every child in America.

And with more and more households headed by two working parents – or a single working parent – it’s also time to dramatically expand the Family and Medical Leave Act. Since more Americans are working for small businesses, I’ll expand FMLA to cover businesses with as few as 25 employees – this will reach millions of American workers who aren’t covered today. We’ll also allow workers to take leave to care for elderly parents. We’ll allow parents to take 24 hours of annual leave to join school activities with their kids. And we’ll cover employees who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.

I’ll also stand up for paid leave. Today, 78 percent of workers covered by FMLA don’t take leave because it isn’t paid. That’s just not fair. You shouldn’t be punished for getting sick or dealing with a family crisis. That’s why I’ll require employers to provide all of their workers with seven paid sick days a year. And I’ll support a 50-state strategy to adopt paid-leave systems, and set aside $1.5 billion to fund it. I have a clear plan to expand paid leave and sick leave, Senator McCain doesn’t, and that’s a real difference in this election.

Monday, June 23, 2008


The question of race and electoral politics is the subject of much speculation, but little hard evidence. Yesterday's WaPo presents the results of the first detailed survey of race and public opinion since Obama became the presumptive Democratic nominee. The findings: "nearly half of all Americans say race relations in the country are in bad shape and three in 10 acknowledge feelings of racial prejudice..." The findings follow patterns in most previous surveys of race relations: namely a divergence between black and white assessments of the state of race relations in the United States. The WaPo found that most whites (53 percent) think that race relations are good, but that only a little more than a third of blacks (36 percent) agree.

The most relevant finding was on the impact of racial attitudes on white support for Obama and McCain. The WaPo constructed a "sensitivity index," combining answers to survey questions on prejudice, the existence of racial discrimination, and cross-racial friendships and found that those who ranked lowest in those three categories support John McCain two-to-one.

At the Monkey Cage, two political scientists offer different opinions on the question of the impact of race on white electoral behavior. One of the country's best scholars of race and politics, Phil Klinkner, highlights the WaPo's finding that "racial attitudes have a big impact on whites’ candidate preferences, even when you control for partisanship." His colleague John Sides, by contrast, cites three studies of white preferences for black candidates and offers a more optimistic prognosis. But those studies might not shed much light on this year's election. One comes focuses on white voters in cities whose experience with black mayors leads them to change their voting behavior, a group that accounts for a very small segment of the white electorate. Most white voters in America have never had the chance to respond to a black incumbent because they live in overwhelmingly white communities, state legislative districts, and Congressional districts. The second, of House races in 1996 and 1998 found that white voters were not less likely to vote Democratic when the candidate was black. But it is quite likely that those districts are atypical: whites who live in majority black districts are quite different than their counterparts who have chosen to live in overwhelmingly white places. The third study--of black candidates in statewide races--draws from only 12 races--is too thin.

For now, I think Phil probably has it right--but there's a lot more research to be done.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


The always astute Kathy G. has a post on Barack Obama that everyone should read and circulate widely.

Her take home point is grounded in an understanding of the limitations of the presidency and a realistic view of the critical role that social movements have played in fostering progressive change in the American past. Our political aspirations should be greater than throwing the bums out of office. As the great A. Philip Randolph put it, social change comes about through "pressure, pressure, and still more pressure." Regime change is necessary but not at all sufficient.

The nub of Kathy's argument is here:
If we want real change in this country, the place to look for it is not in our so-called leaders, but in ourselves. What we need, in short, is a movement. Without such a movement, President Obama is not going to be able to achieve a whole lot more than President Clinton or President Carter did. But with such a movement, we may actually get somewhere. FDR was able to achieve great things because he had the strong support of a powerful labor movement. Similarly, the civil rights movement was the wind at LBJ's back. But I ask you, what will President Obama have?

It's time to organize.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Rustbelt urban life is full of juxtapositions, often jarring. The great cities of the Northeast and the Midwest were the boomtowns of the industrial age. Their cityscapes reflect the tremendous capital of the robber barons and industrial titans of a century ago. It's a risk to romanticize the corporate leaders of yore, for the Gilded Age was a time of staggering inequality. Working conditions in turn-of-the-century factories were abysmal. Debilitating industrial accidents were commonplace and, in the era before workers' compensation and insurance, a severed hand or a lost eye meant a lifetime of abject poverty. And urban environments were appalling and degraded because of unregulated industrial pollution. Rivers ran multi-colored with effluvia from factories, coal soot fell like black snow, and city skies were often dark with sulfur-laden pollutants. You can still see the traces of the industrial past on unrenovated limestone and marble buildings, discolored by pollution and often scarred by the effects of years of acid rain. But Robber Barons expressed their vanity by engaging in great civic ventures. Nearly every Rustbelt city, big or small, is chock full of museums, symphony halls, and--especially--libraries, open to the masses but bankrolled by the classes.

Cleveland, my Rustbelt Place of the Week, embodies this history. Its cityscape is littered with abandoned houses, ruined commercial districts, and rotting factory buildings. Like many industrial cities, it laid waste to much of its waterfront. The Cuyahoga River, so polluted that it once caught on fire, was the butt end of Cleveland's industry. Large stretches of the Cuyahoga, between the semi-gentrified Flats downtown, and the parkland south of the city, are still ruined by decades of industrial neglect. And the Lake Erie shorefront from downtown several miles eastward, is mess of highway, industrial and commercial land (much of it unused), and a little-trafficked airport. The disinvestment that has ravaged most Rustbelt cities has left its mark on Cleveland's downtown, though some of the fine nineteenth century, buildings once home to warehouses and factories, has been converted into apartments and restaurants. Still, it is striking, coming from the East Coast, at how little retail exists in downtown Cleveland. Other than the Tower Center (which has had a troubled recent past) it's damn nigh impossible to shop downtown.

Still, Cleveland is a beautiful city--one that does not deserve its long time moniker, "the mistake by the lake." It's West Side Market (pictured above) is one of the great urban markets in America. Last fall, I had a fabulous bratwurst sandwich from a little stall there, before heading over to the nearby Great Lakes Brewery to wash it down with a locally-brewed ale. Cleveland has some quirky and characterful neighborhoods. Just south of downtown is the Slavic Village, a neighborhood that is a hodgepodge of worker-built homes from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And the jewel of Cleveland is the cultural district around Case Western Reserve University, home to all of the institutions built and richly endowed by Cleveland's once mighty upper class. There is enough cultural vitality in that part of Cleveland to support a lively Cinemateque, a weekly gathering of cineastes who can watch classic, obscure, and recent films that would never, never make it into a suburban multiplex. And Cleveland is home to one of the most robust movements for community economic development--a fact visible in the new housing and rehabilitation in many of its working-class neighborhoods.

Cleveland has more than its share of problems: chronic crime, deteriorating schools, housing abandonment, an inadequate tax base, and a deep and still-unresolved history of racial segregation. Yet, like all troubled cities, a visitor can find there too the signs of a great past, a vital present, and maybe, just maybe a more promising future.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


From the blogosphere into space...Rustbelt Intellectual will be on satellite radio this evening.

Listen to Sirius Satellite Radio Indie Talk Channel 110 for the Rustbelt Intellectual in real time, talking about blogging. The program is "Blog Bunker," 5:30pm EDT, Thursday, June 19.


I am still worried about the ways that race is going to play out in the fall election. Today a friend from Blue Jersey reported his conversations at a recent party with a mix of middle-aged and older white New Jerseyans. There were some die-hard Republicans and unwavering Democrats in the mix. Their political preferences were clear. But many of the folks, those independent voters, expressed concerns about supporting a black candidate. My friend was amazed that in a non-media, non-political wonk, non-blogging South Jersey crowd how many people spontaneously raised the spurious Michele Obama "whitey" story. Clearly they missed her witty response:
"I mean 'whitey'? That's something that George Jefferson would say."

The most worrisome question came from one of the party-goers, a moderate who will probably support Obama, opined that he expects that many whites will find it unacceptable to vote for a black candidate no matter what his positions. The question for him--and for the country--is how big is the "some"?

The polls are looking good for Obama right now, including in swing states like Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. But it's early--and a lot can happen between now and November. In the meantime, I'm going to worry.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


All of the talk about "post-racial" America and the dawn of the "post-civil rights era" is belied by grim statistics on race and the mortgage market just reported by the Economic Policy Institute. Blacks and Hispanics are nearly twice as likely as blacks to hold high-cost, subprime home loans. In fact, more than half of home loans to blacks and just a little less than half of home loans to Hispanics in 2006 were subprime. The table above compares the percentage of each group holding subprime mortgages.

The cause: persistent discrimination in the home loan market. The EPI's analysis is sobering.

"Recent studies suggest that creditworthiness—alone or in combination with factors other than race—cannot account for these disparities. When researchers from the Federal Reserve and the Wharton School of Business conducted an analysis that took into account the percent of adults in a neighborhood who were a very high credit risk, they still found a positive relationship between the prevalence of subprime loans and the share of minorities in a neighborhood. An analysis by the Center for Responsible Lending found that even after taking into account individual credit scores and other characteristics, Hispanic and African American borrowers were more than 30% more likely to receive higher-rate subprime loans. These and other studies, coupled with the long history of racial discrimination in lending, raise the prospect that discrimination may be a factor in the high rates of subprime loans among Hispanics and African Americans."

We have a long way to go before we can claim that we have overcome.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Seventy-five years ago, just a month before my father was born to working-class immigrants in the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the National Industrial Recovery Act, one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history. The NIRA created the minimum wage. In soaring rhetoric that recognized the dangers of inequality in America, FDR argued that a "self-supporting and self-respecting democracy can plead no economic reason for chiseling workers’ wages.” Amen.

Check out today's Times for a superb op-ed by Adam Cohen on the New Deal and the troubled history of the minimum wage. We are no longer a "self-supporting and self-respecting democracy" in the Rooseveltian sense. Cohen points out that the net effect of the Bush administration's economic policies has been chiseling workers' wages. (At the same time, Republican tax giveaways have lined the pockets of the richest with the proceeds). Cohen makes the sensible argument that "there should be talk of tax credits and health care — and the minimum wage. Advocates for the working poor argue for a better raise than the one Congress passed last year — perhaps one set at half the national average hourly wage, which would bring it roughly to where it was in the 1960s, and tie it to the rate of inflation." That Cohen's argument sounds radical is a reminder of how impoverished our political discourse has become after decades of neoliberal economic policy, especially after seven plus years of Bushism.

One of the unexpected benefits of the prolonged Democratic primary is a renewed interest in the problem of economic inequality. This week's issue of The Nation is indispensible reading for those concerned about the growing gap between rich and poor. Emanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, two superb economists, find that the the economic gap in the United States has not been as high since the Great Depression. Their data are presented in the graph above, available in a larger, more readable version here. Left Business Observer's Doug Henwood, a rigorous economic analyst who knows Wall Street from the inside and outside, contributes a piece comparing today with the Gilded Age which ends with the sober reflection that the major difference between the two is the lack of robust social movements challenging inequality today. The expansion of regulation in the Progressive era took the form that it did because of pressure from below. The same goes for the Great Depression and the New Deal. The take-away point from the sum of The Nation articles is this: if we elect Barack Obama in the fall, pressure from the left is necessary to pave the way for systemic reform. If there is a Bush/McCain White House--with a renewal of tax and economic policies that favor the richest segment of the population--one can only hope that the left does not remain quiescent on economic issues. We can't afford to be silent as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, while the ideal of economic democracy languishes.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Several times a year, early and often as the machine pols would say, I make my way to Chicago. The Windy City is an incomparable place, home to some of America's greatest architecture--including Frank Lloyd Wright's most important houses and the exquisite Monadnock Building, an early skyscraper built with load-bearing masonry walls. Chicago is also one of America's most diverse cities: it has a white minority, a large African American population still concentrated in some of America's most segregated neighborhoods, a rapidly-growing Hispanic population--mainly Mexican--and sizable enclaves of immigrants from South and East Asia. Chicago is a gritty place, despite the glitz of the Loop, the Miracle Mile, and the luxury apartments of Lakeshore Drive. Its economy was ravaged by deindustrialization and the remnants of its once-mighty past as the workshop of the world can be found hulking over the South and West Sides. Chicago has staggeringly high rates of poverty and unemployment, especially among its African American population. It's a city that embodies the contradictions at the heart of modern American society: wrenching poverty amidst great wealth, racial segregation and extraordinary diversity, disinvestment and conspicuous consumption.

The Windy City--or a little section of it--is the subject of a cloying article in the current Weekly Standard. Andrew Ferguson jetted into Chicago to visit Barack Obama's neighborhood, Hyde Park, assiduously gathering material to offer another version of the tired but endlessly recycled conservative argument that the Democratic presidential candidate is an out-of-touch elitist. In Ferguson's telling, Hyde Park is a weird place peopled by an "alarmingly high number of men wandering about looking like NPR announcers--the wispy beards and wire rims, the pressed jeans and unscuffed sneakers, the backpacks and the bikes." (I don't know many NPR announcers, but my guess is that there isn't a dress code there. And who wears pressed jeans?) "The place seems unrooted," continues Ferguson, in a stream of blather that I won't keep quoting.

Although Hyde Park is one of the few racially diverse neighborhoods in the country, Ferguson finds even that problematic. Ferguson substitutes coffee shop ethnography for real research and points out that: "It's not often noted that the neighborhood's diversity has its limits. 'In Hyde Park,' a resident told me, '"integration" means white people and black people." The nation's fastest growing ethnic group, Hispanics, is scarcely represented at all; same for Asians." Rustbelt Intellectual Standard Warning No. 1: Andrew, data is not the sum of anecdote. Hyde Park, as one of its more rigorous social scientists and sharp-tongued bloggers reminds us, has a sizable Asian population and some Hispanic residents. It's also class heterogeneous in a way that most American neighborhoods are not.

To highlight Hyde Park's "isolation," Ferguson drives the half hour from Obama's "mansion" to Trinity UCC, Obama's former church, which is in a blue-collar, African American neighborhood--to Ferguson further evidence of Obama's out-of-touch lifestyle. Should Obama be living in a little, rundown bungalow instead of Hyde Park? Then, somehow, he would be one of the people.

In his prattle about Hyde Park's "isolation," Ferguson misses a very important point. Hyde Park is a distinctive place that contrasts with the surrounding, mostly poor and working-class black neighborhoods that dominate Chicago's South Side. But Hyde Parkers, unlike residents of America's truly isolated suburban communities, are part of a polity that is economically, socially, racially, and ethnically diverse. They pay their taxes to Chicago--rather than skipping across city lines and, in the process, avoiding responsibility for the city, its poor and elderly populations, and the social services that they require. They are called to serve on juries whose composition reflects, to some extent at least, the diversity of their city. In other words, Hyde Parkers are not in the slightest bit isolated politically.

The real elitists are people like John and Cindy McCain who live in a $4.72 million luxury condo in Phoenix. Or George W. Bush, who pretends to be 'jes folks, but lived in lily white, upscale Highland Park, Texas before he made it to the White House and spends his spare time at the "Western White House," usually described as a humble ranch, but which includes two 4000 square foot houses, one custom built for the Bushes, a large swimming pool and more--all on a property of more than 1100 acres. Bush is still a member of the posh Highland Park Methodist Church, in one of Dallas' richest suburbs. He doesn't see little bungalows on his way to worship. His God dwells in the land where yes, the camel and the rich man can both find their way through the eye of the needle and make it to heaven. McCain and Bush are the true, out of touch elitists. To them: get real: move to Hyde Park.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


In the campaign season of 2008, regulation is a decidedly unsexy topic. Yet the outcomes of the presidential and congressional races this fall matter because of the divergent positions that Republicans and Democrats take on the question of the regulatory powers of the state.

The collapse of two construction cranes in New York, the fact that sports utility vehicles are not subject to the same anti-pollution controls as smaller passenger cars, tomatoes infested with salmonella, lead-painted Thomas the Tank Engine toys, the spread of subprime lending and the ensuing foreclosure crisis, and downer cows in meatpacking firms--these are all diverse examples of regulatory failure.

Changing Society, one of the smartest academic blogs, offers an astute analysis of the "two imperatives that work against public health and safety in most modern societies: the private incentive that the provider has to cut corners, and the perennial temptation of corruption that is inherent within a regulatory process. On the providers’ side, there is a constant business incentive to lower costs by substituting inferior ingredients or materials, to tolerate less-than-sanitary conditions in the back-of-restaurant areas, or to skimp on necessary maintenance of inherently dangerous systems. And on the regulatory side, there is the omnipresent possibility of collusion between inspectors and providers."

Changing Society poses three key questions: "how effective are the systems of regulation and inspection that we have in our key industries — food, pharmaceuticals, hospitals, transportation, and construction? How much confidence can we have in the basic health and safety features of these fundamental social goods? And what sorts of institutional reforms do we need to undertake?"

Regulation is one of the most important issues at stake in November. Since the late 1970s, and accelerating during the Reagan/Bush years and again in Bush II, the Republicans have worked assiduously to limit the regulatory power of the federal government on the grounds that it creates inefficiencies and hinders capital accumulation. Liberals justifiably fret that Republican-appointed federal judges will whittle away at the precarious right to reproductive freedom. But Bush's newest appointees are, above all, characterized by their suspicion of federal regulatory agencies and their power.

John McCain is not as intensely anti-regulation as our current president, although on the financial industry, he holds his own with the deregulators--or as he put it earlier this year, “our financial market approach should include encouraging increased capital in financial institutions by removing regulatory, accounting and tax impediments to raising capital.” That doesn't bode well for a McCain administration. It's also highly likely that should he be elected, McCain will continue to fill the federal bench with judges hostile to regulation.

We have seen the negative consequences of the deregulatory impulse, particularly over the last seven and a half years. It's time to stand in defense of regulation.

Monday, June 9, 2008


Paul Krugman should stick to writing about economics. In today's Times he joins the "we have overcome," "America is a postracial society," there's no more need for divisive civil rights politics bandwagon.

Krugman writes: "Fervent supporters of Barack Obama like to say that putting him in the White House would transform America. With all due respect to the candidate, that gets it backward. Mr. Obama is an impressive speaker who has run a brilliant campaign — but if he wins in November, it will be because our country has already been transformed. Mr. Obama’s nomination wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago. It’s possible today only because racial division, which has driven U.S. politics rightward for more than four decades, has lost much of its sting." Wishful thinking Paul. Maybe in Princeton and New York, but spend a little time in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. It's not quite so pretty out there.

And then the predictable bouquet: "Part of the credit surely goes to Bill Clinton, who ended welfare as we knew it. I’m not saying that the end of Aid to Families With Dependent Children was an unalloyed good thing; it created a great deal of hardship." It's true that the GOP doesn't welfare bait anymore, but I don't think its good policy to sell out poor women and their children for the sake of silencing GOP critics of welfare.

More evidence for the change: "I don’t think a politician today could get away with running the infamous 1988 Willie Horton ad."

No doubt there have been significant changes in racial discourse in the United States in the last twenty years. In fact, since World War II, there has been a steady redefinition of what can and cannot be said in polite company and in print about race in American society. But racial practices, such as where you live and where you go to school, have changed much, much more slowly. Rates of black-white residential segregation declined somewhat in the 1990s throughout the U.S., but most major metropolitan areas in the country have very high rates of segregation. Rates of segregation are particularly high in big metropolitan areas in many of the key battleground states. Public education has resegregated since the 1970s. The results are reflected in the still staggeringly high gaps between blacks and whites by nearly every measure: socio-economic status, health, mortality, poverty, unemployment, and joblessness.

Quick note to Paul: Reverend Wright is the Willie Horton of 2008. The ads are already out there. Poke around a bit on the web. The worst is yet to come. And remember Harold Ford. A DLC type Democrat, in tune with his state politically, but undone (in part) by a race-baiting ad. Obama might run a brilliant campaign and he might be elected. But it's going to be despite the racial politics that run like a bitter current through American society, not because we have overcome.

My advice to Paul: Stick to economics.

PS No time for links today. But check out my previous posts on race for some of the sources that back up my arguments here.

Friday, June 6, 2008


In 1968, before political campaigns were completely scripted, Robert F. Kennedy insisted on taking his entourage through some of the country's most impoverished neighborhoods. These were not just pass-throughs or convenient photo ops, but chances to get out and meet people. RFK disregarded the advice of his advisors and campaigned in impoverished Indian reservations. He spent real face time in places like Bed-Stuy. He spent hours with Cesar Chavez and strongly supported the cause of Mexican-American farmworkers. Even though RFK had begun his career with a spotty record on civil rights and had authorized the FBI wiretap of King as attorney general, Kennedy's openness to the plight of impoverished and poor blacks won him widespread support among black voters in 1968.

The night that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, April 4, 1968, RFK had one of his most extraordinary and unscripted moments, breaking the news to a stunned crowd. In a preternaturally low voice, haunted by his brother's death, he nearly wept as he recited a poem from Aeschylus. Listen to it. It's profoundly moving. The crowd listened in stunned silence. Such powerful moments are rare in American politics.

Flash forward. John McCain has taken his superficial tours to Selma, Alabama; Inez, Kentucky; Youngstown, Ohio; and New Orleans. And Obama started his career on Chicago's South Side, still one of the grittiest and most troubled neighborhoods in the country. But in this years' highly scripted campaign, expect both candidates to spend most of their time "hunting where the ducks are," that is in mostly white, suburban and exurban places.

I'm scribbling these notes from Baltimore, one of my favorite Rustbelt cities (now immortalized on HBO's brilliant series, The Wire). As I do in every city, I ride public transportation (today, the bus) across Baltimore. It's the best way to get to know a city and its working-class and poor population. I sat next to a guy who looked like Stringer Bell (who would never set foot on a bus) and across the row from someone who looked like Omar's grandmother, minus her shot-up Sunday crown. In the mid-afternoon, the bus was full of elderly people, many with canes and coughs. I struck up a conversation with a young woman in a security officers' uniform heading to work the 3pm-11pm shift who supports Barack Obama but isn't sure if she's going to vote in November. The bus headed up Charles Street, passing the shabby but still grand architecture along the ungentrified stretches of Charles north of Penn Station.

If I had my way, I would ask all of our leading candidates to stand around waiting a long time for the bus, riding down the potholed streets, and striking up conversations with the people they met. For sure, they would be reminded of the critical importance of the public transit for millions of Americans. And maybe, just maybe, they would see the need to bolster the meager federal spending for our woefully underfunded bus and train systems. And if they could get a few moments of quiet and stare out the window, like I did, they would see a beautiful city whose physical resources are unnecessarily wasted and whose people are still suffering too much. But I dream. But maybe, on this anniversary of Bobby Kennedy's untimely death, I can dream of a country where poor and working people aren't left at the back of the bus--a bus that is running too slow and too late on a road that is very bumpy. We should hope and fight for better.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


The grim consequences of racial and economic inequality in the United States are especially visible in our health care system. By every measure, the health gaps between blacks and whites are stark. And to a great extent in the United States, where you live determines your access to goods and resources, the quality of social services, and the accessibility of affordable and decent health care. That America is still balkanized by race, despite the gains of the long struggle for civil rights, plays an important role in the maldistribution of resources by place. But just as important are wide disparaties in health, social services, and education by state and, within states, by locality, the long term consequence of America's distinctive form of governance that relies on the states to bear much of the cost of social provision.

As for the impact of place on health care, George Washington University researcher Bruce Siegel has it just right: “health care is local, just like politics, so you’re going to see a lot of differences in what communities do.”

Two pieces in today's NY Times make clear the high costs that being born the wrong color or being born or living in the wrong place have for health care. One reports on a Dartmouth medical school study of medical disparities found that "blacks typically were less likely to receive recommended care than whites within a given region" and also that health care outcomes ranged widely from state to state. Not surprisingly, some of the grimmest outcomes are in those Southern states that have spent relatively little on medical care. For you real wonks, the 2008 Dartmouth Atlas is available here.

The other Times piece offers a bleak report from California--a stark reminder that health care opportunities vary widely from place to place. LA hospitals, like USC, Cedars-Sinai, and UCLA, offer some of the best medical care in the world. But for residents of the mostly black and Hispanic South Central neighborhood, health care has gotten worse. Since 2000, 15 hospitals have closed, most of which serve the city's poorest and sickest residents. The result is that sick and often uninsured people have flooded local health clinics. Adding insult to injury, Governor Arnold Schwarznegger is threatening to cut state Medicaid funding, which will both limit health care options for the poor and cut revenue into the dwindling number of hospitals that serve them. California's Medicaid payments are already low.

These stories highlight the need for universal health care. One difference between the Obama and Clinton campaigns was that her health care reform proposals were more far reaching than his. I'm hoping that candidate Obama visits an inner-city hospital or two, talks to some of the doctors and nurses serving impoverished communities, and puts forth a set of reforms that looks more like Clinton's. It's the least he and we can do for places like Mississippi and South LA.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Over the years, I've had substantive differences with political journalist Jim Sleeper. I won't outline them here because I'm way, way late with a book review. But Sleeper deserves props for his eloquent take on Obama and the possibility that his candidacy offers a third way between racial particularism and false universalism, via Habermas from Turkey.

Here in Istanbul, as Habermas held forth against two perils facing Europe -- the Scylla of a radically racialized multiculturalism that assumes that merely having a color means having a culture, and the Charybdıs of an absolutist, secularistic universalism that arrogantly rejects the ineluctable lure of ethno-racial belonging and the allure of religion -- I couldn't help but think of Obama as an American Odysseus, steering a wise and crafty course between those extremes.

Obama will have other rocks and hard places to navigate, especially the treacherous Scylla of globalization and the Charybdis of economic isolationism. To mix my Homeric metaphors, let's hope that he resists the Siren song of neoliberalism.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Civil rights, the New Deal, affirmative action. I thought I knew a lot about these topics. But it's time to completely revise my work.

I refer to Professor Rush Limbaugh and his arguments that 1) The smashing political success of Barack Obama is the consequence of affirmative action, a program that is barely hanging on by a thread because of sustained challenges in the legislatures and in the courts by the right; 2) Women's suffrage is responsible for "big government." If we only hadn't given all of that power to blacks and women, then America could be great again.

From Media Matters (which includes a lengthy transcript from Rush's show):

On the June 2 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, while discussing Sen. Barack Obama's presidential candidacy, Rush Limbaugh asserted that the Democratic Party was "go[ing] with a veritable rookie whose only chance of winning is that he's black." As Media Matters for America noted, Limbaugh said on his May 21 broadcast that "Barack Obama is an affirmative action candidate" and asserted during his May 14 broadcast that "[i]f Barack Obama were Caucasian, they would have taken this guy out on the basis of pure ignorance long ago."

Also during the June 2 broadcast, while referencing a May 26 column written by John Lott Jr., Limbaugh stated, "John Lott Jr. has this theory. He's done some research and found out that the growth of government can be traced to when women got the vote." Limbaugh later asserted, "The one observation you can make about this whole business, because he proved it. I mean, it's -- the growth of government started like crazy when women got the right to vote. Which just proves: Size does matter to 'em."

I'm gonna preregister for Professor Rush's constitutional law class next. Seriously, this is but the beginning of what will be a long, ugly campaign of politics by smear. I'm not looking forward to a whole political season of white male victimology. But expect it to start now.


Barack Obama, as I have argued, needs to spend much of the next few months reaching out to women voters to repair some of the damage from the primary campaign. And now John McCain and his team are cultivating disaffected Hillary supporters. Yesterday, McCain threw a bouquet at Hillary, stating that "she has inspired generations of American women to believe that they can reach the highest office in this nation." I'm verklempt. And McCain advisor Carly Fiorina (former Hewlett-Packard CEO) is joining the fray, defending Hillary against sexism. The McCainiacs are even reaching out to women bloggers, hoping to stoke the anger of die-hard Clintonites who feel that Hillary was unjustly denied her place as the Democratic frontrunner.

It's more likely, however, that McCain will give Obama an assist in bringing Hillary supporters into the Democratic camp. McCain came up in the intensely anti-female culture of the military, ditched his first wife rather unceremoniously, and has, of course, been a member of a party whose more prominent spokeswomen include Phyllis Schlafly. The Republican Party is infused with a boy's club culture of which he is a part, one that tolerated his appalling sexist joke about Chelsea Clinton at a 1998 Republican Senate fundraiser. "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno." It's important to remember that the anti-Hillary vitriol that came out in the Democratic primaries has deep roots in the GOP. The woman who called Hillary a bitch at a McCain town meeting in South Carolina was not speaking just for herself. Any sexism that may have emanated from the overzealous, misguided Obama supporters is nothing compared to the decades of anti-woman bile and Hillary hatred that has poisoned the GOP. But even more so than his stupid slurs, McCain has to account for his opposition of legislation to protect of women workers against discrimination and retaliation in the workplace, his belief that the pay gap between men and women is a result of women's own educational deficiencies, and his longstanding opposition to reproductive freedom. Anyone who cares about women's issues can't seriously consider supporting McCain.

Monday, June 2, 2008


The results in Saturday's Puerto Rican primary have led to handwringing about Barack Obama's supposed Hispanic problem. Clinton campaign chair Terry McAuliffe, in another last ditch effort to revive Hillary's candidacy, argues that "It was a 100 percent Hispanic primary and it shows that he has a problem with the Latino community.... He cannot close in this key core constituency."

It's not at all clear that Obama really has a Hispanic problem. A recent Gallup Poll shows Obama leading McCain by 24 points among Hispanic voters in a hypothetical matchup.

And the Republicans are between a rock and a hard place with Hispanic voters. Since the 1970s, when Nixon attempted to capture Hispanic voters with his embrace of bilingual education, the GOP has mostly failed in its attempts to win over Hispanics--Cuban Americans excepted. The Republican hope has been that Latin American immigrants, who tend to be conservative on family, gender, and sexual issues, could be drawn into the "values voter" coalition. But Hispanic Catholics cannot be easily pigeonholed as religious conservatives. Hispanic Catholicism has a strong leftish current running through it, most notably in the grassroots community organizing efforts in Texas, largely funded by the Church. In addition, the Catholic hierarchy has strongly opposed immigration restriction and Catholic clergy and activists have been prominent supporters of the immigration rights movement. As for Pentecostals, a rapidly growing segment of the Hispanic population, they have not generally gravitated toward the religious right. Hispanic Pentecostals have put more energy into individual conversion, healing, and spirit-filled worship than they have toward political activism on the issues dear to conservative evangelicals. The religious right remains overwhelmingly white.

McCain is in a particularly awkward position, having repudiated his immigration reform position to win the support of the GOP base. There are signs that McCain is moving back toward the center on immigration issues as the election draws closer, but he risks depressing the fervor of the still-suspicious right-wing base of his party. The GOP's nativist, xenophobic mainstream can't be won over by any immigration compromise that would abet the Hispanic "menace" to "American" values. And a McCain flip-flop on immigration matters will provide ammunition for those who want to undermine his reputation as a straight talker.

Still there are grounds for Obamaphiles to be concerned. Studies of Mexican-Americans in Chicago and Los Angeles have shown that even immigrant newcomers usually adopt anti-black sentiments relatively quickly upon arrival in the United States. The subtle gradations of color that give race relations in the Caribbean and South America a different form than the one-drop rule that still prevails in the United States mask still strong prejudices against people of African descent. (31 percent of primary voters in Puerto Rico told pollsters that race mattered in their decision). And black suspicion of Hispanic immigrants and worries of economic competition also play a role in fostering intergroup hostilities. But whether these will all add up to problems for Obama is an open question.

Many states with large Hispanic populations (California, New York, Illinois) are likely to go to Obama, regardless of the Hispanic vote. He'll probably lose Texas, unless something extraordinary happens between now and November. (Harold Ickes has made the outrageous argument that Hillary might actually be able to be the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter (1976) to pick up Texas should she be the nominee, but I'll buy drinks for all of my readers if the Democrats pick up the Lone Star state). But the Pew Hispanic Center found that "Hispanics constitute a sizable share of the electorate in four of the six states that President Bush carried by margins of five percentage points or fewer in 2004-–New Mexico (where Hispanics make up 37% of state's eligible electorate); Florida (14%); Nevada (12%) and Colorado (12%)."

Of these, Florida is going to be a tough haul for Obama, unless he makes real inroads into the Cuban vote (unlikely) and wins over those older Jewish voters, usually reliably Democratic, who fear that Obama (despite his record) will sell them out on Israel. Helping Obama might be a depressed turnout in the suburbs and exurbs of the I-4 corridor, where a high turnout among evangelicals and conservative whites pulled Bush over the top in 2004. Obama is showing well in Colorado right now, but McCain's western "maverick" appeal cannot be underestimated. The election's outcome in Nevada might well hinge on the efforts of trade unions (which have made bigger inroads in Las Vegas than in nearly any other city in the country) to get out the Democratic vote. What is clear is that Obama will not only have to think about winning over women, he will also have to carefully craft an appeal to Hispanics in a handful of key states. Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada might be this election's equivalent of Ohio in 2004 or Florida in 2000.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


The forever bitter Geraldine Ferraro has done it again. In a Boston Globe op-ed published on Friday, she argues that the Dems should launch an investigation of sexism and racism in the primary campaigns. Maybe this would be useful, but I worry a lot more about the Republicans' anti-women, anti-family policies and the GOP's long and sordid history of race baiting than I do some vile Hillary haters and nasty Obama baiters. But, though Ms. Ferraro couches her argument in the high-minded rhetoric of healing, her piece is really just another chance for her to pontificate on what she thinks is the justifiable "racial resentment" of working-class, white voters.

She writes: "As for Reagan Democrats, how Clinton was treated is not their issue. They are more concerned with how they have been treated. Since March, when I was accused of being racist for a statement I made about the influence of blacks on Obama's historic campaign, people have been stopping me to express a common sentiment: If you're white you can't open your mouth without being accused of being racist. They see Obama's playing the race card throughout the campaign and no one calling him for it as frightening. They're not upset with Obama because he's black; they're upset because they don't expect to be treated fairly because they're white. It's not racism that is driving them, it's racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don't believe he understands them and their problems. That when he said in South Carolina after his victory "Our Time Has Come" they believe he is telling them that their time has passed.

Whom he chooses for his vice president makes no difference to them. That he is pro-choice means little. Learning more about his bio doesn't do it. They don't identify with someone who has gone to Columbia and Harvard Law School and is married to a Princeton-Harvard Law graduate. His experience with an educated single mother and being raised by middle class grandparents is not something they can empathize with. They may lack a formal higher education, but they're not stupid. What they're waiting for is assurance that an Obama administration won't leave them behind."

Let's unpack this a bit.

1. "If you're white, you can't open your mouth without being accused of being a racist"? Well, in my experience, it depends on what you say when you open your mouth. In the 1980s, Ferraro argued that the only reason Jesse Jackson was a national candidate was because of his race. In 2008, she made nearly the identical argument regarding Obama. I think it's too much to take these utterances as evidence of Ferraro's racism. We waste too much time fretting about the "hearts and minds" of alleged white racists and not enough time ferreting out real institutionalized, structural racism, in places like the mortgage market, in real estate practices, and in hiring decisions. Compared to these deep-rooted injustices, Ferraro's ill-chosen words are minor.

But did Ferraro inject racial politics into the race in a divisive way? Of course. And she should be criticized for doing that.

2. "Obama's playing the race card..." In fact, what is noteworthy about this campaign is how little Obama has mentioned race, except in the context of calling for unity and the bridging of racial divisions. Stanford Law professor Richard Thompson Ford has written a smart little book, The Race Card, in which he argues against the misuse of charges of racism, which he argues divert attention from the larger issues of deeply entrenched, institutional racism. In my opinion, Obama hasn't spoke enough about deep-rooted racial inequalities in America, probably because of the fear of being branded as a "black" candidate who will pander to the supposed "special interests" of black folks. And Obama has refrained from calling out his critics for being racially insensitive. On the race card, Ferraro really has it wrong. Obama has played his hand close rather than resorting to the race-baiting that Ford so powerfully demolishes in his book.

3. " frightening..." I can understand how some white Americans (particularly those who have never set foot in a black church or had anything resembling a meaningful conversation about politics and religion and everyday life with a black person) could find Reverend Wright or Father Pfleger's words frightening.

Ms. Ferraro what, what has Obama said that is the least bit frightening?

4. "They are not upset with Obama because he's black..." I'm afraid, to some extent, this is wishful thinking. I spend a lot of time every summer sitting around the campfire with my Reagan Democrat relatives. Most of them think that Bill Clinton was a far-out socialist. But after a few beers, it's hard for them to contain the barely beneath the surface racial resentments. If I want to rile em up, I just have to evoke the memory of the late Detroit Mayor Coleman Young--the "Coal Man" is the least of the harsh epithets that fly his way.

The sum of anecdote is not data. The statistics on racial inequality are grim. Today, the fifteen most racially segregated metropolitan areas in the US are in the North. It's important to remember that the Rustbelt North has a long and troubled history of racial conflict. Northern whites fought fiercely to keep their neighborhoods racially pure. They picked up and fled when even a few blacks moved in. Segregation prevailed--in movie theaters, amusement parks, and restaurants--well into the 1960s in many parts of the North. This is the world in which I came of age. Things have changed a lot in the last forty years, but there are still deep, deep currents of racism and racial resentment that we can't wish away, and not just in the deep South.

Ms. Ferraro (and other politicians and pundits who opine about race) need to confront the forgotten history of racial inequality in the North and the unfinished struggle against it. To deny the existence of racism does not help.

5. "They don't identify with someone who has gone to Columbia and Harvard Law School..." This is a version of the Obama as out-of-touch elitist argument. Versus what? Wellesley and Yale, the White House and upper, upper class Chappaqua married to a Georgetown and Yale graduate who gets $250,000 a speech? Or a privileged son of military brass who surrounds himself with lobbyists, and is married to a beer-distributor heiress? Or our current president, Yale, Skull and Bones, and Harvard? My parents, who have not voted for a Democrat since 1964, loved that Harvard-educated, Hyannisport sailor, and international jetsetting president elected in 1960. My bus-driving Irish immigrant grandfather and hard-working Irish immigrant grandmother had portraits of the truly elite John and Jackie hanging in their kitchen. It's not the pedigree that should matter. It's the politics.

By playing up the charge that Obama is an elitist, Ferraro is playing into the hands of Republicans who have spent most of the last forty years accusing Democrats of being out-of-touch, even as the GOP pushed through all sorts of policies that benefited the elites and screwed people like my grandparents.

To Ferraro et al: Enough of this politically problematic, historically inaccurate discussion of race and elitism. It's time to focus on the issues.