Ever hear of the Corwin Amendment? I fancy myself a student of history and I never had until a member of Congress mentioned it to me yesterday, albeit in an entirely different context from the one I want to put to you today. It was proposed as a constitutional amendment on March 2, 1861, basically to prevent the Civil War, a super-worthy goal. (7 Southern states-- South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas-- had already seceded but the killing of American troops by the rebels didn't start until April 12, 1861.)
William Seward (R-NY) and Rep Thomas Corwin (R-OH) proposed the Amendment and James Buchanan, one of America's worst-ever presidents, endorsed it and was so enthusiastic that he signed it even before it failed to be ratified. The amendment was a kind of grand compromise-- telling the Southern States that if they stayed in the Union they could keep slaves in perpetuity and that Congress could never interfere. The amendment was short as easy to understand: "No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State."
It failed in the House but was voted on again on February 28, 1861 and got the necessary two-thirds. Then the Senate passed the amendment with the requisite two-thirds majority, 24-12 after 2 days of debate. It was then sent to the states for ratification. Abraham Lincoln had already been elected and he said, "I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution-- which amendment, however, I have not seen-- has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service... holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable." It was immediately ratified by Kentucky, just a week before South Carolina attacked Fort Sumter. Four other states ratified it, including Ohio and Maryland (which both rescinded their ratification, although in Maryland's case, not until 2014). So it never became the 13th Amendment, which, instead was ratified on December 6, 1865 and abolished slavery. Footnote: Texas Republicans actually tried-- and failed-- to ratify the "slavery forever" amendment in 1963!
What Congress, Buchanan, Lincoln and the state legislatures that ratified it were doing was horrifying-- at least in retrospect and to me. They were offering perpetual slavery in return for the Southern states not seceding and not going to war with the U.S. Not consulted: the black men and women held in bondage.
It isn't quite as existential, but I keep hearing from conservative Democrats and NeverTrump Republicans that we all have to unite and stop talking about progressive ideas so we can stop Trump in 2024. Somehow jettisoning ideas that elevate the working class is going to stop fascism? The Progressive Policy Institute is one of the worst right-wing think tanks in the Democratic establishment, despite the sly appropriation of the world "progressive," which they apparently hope to make unusable the way conservatives made the world "liberal" unpalatable. The PPI knows how to twist words to make their conservative ideas sound sensible to Democrats... unless you read their crap carefully. Example from yesterday's report, turning GOP propaganda into something that's supposed to sound wonderful to reasonable Democrats, especially rich reasonable Democrats:
In recent years, a substantial portion of the Democratic Party has convinced itself that Americans are ready for a political revolution that transforms every aspect of their lives. This assumption has crashed into a stubborn reality: Most Americans want evolutionary, not revolutionary, change. They want more government in some areas but not all, and within limits. And they want government that respects their commonsense beliefs-- for example, that defunding the police is not the path to public safety, abolishing immigration enforcement is not the cure for our southern border, and that it is wrong to exclude parents from decisions about the education of their children.
When we recommended that the party change course in 1989, the alternative was a second term for George H. W. Bush. Today the stakes are much higher.
...A Democratic loss in the 2024 presidential election may well have catastrophic consequences for the country and for the nations that have long depended on our stability for their security. The party’s first duty is to protect democracy by winning the next presidential election, and every other consideration, however worthy, must yield to this overriding necessity.
We fear that the Democratic Party is not positioning itself to fulfill this duty. Once again, it is in the grip of myths that block progress toward victory; it does not recognize the new realities that shape American politics; and it has barely begun to develop an agenda on cultural issues that a majority of Americans can support. This triple failure is what we call the new politics of evasion, the refusal to confront the unyielding arithmetic of electoral success.
High ideals are important, but they mean little without the power to put them into practice. Pursuing them in a manner that undermines public support is self-defeating. In this paper, we seek to administer reality therapy to the Democratic Party to prepare the way for victory in 2024. To this end, we will critique the party’s self-defeating myths, explore the realities that must shape successful political strategies, and offer some guidelines for an agenda that can command the support of a new American majority.
...As Democrats ponder their future, they must face some hard facts about the current structure of American national politics. Put simply, the country is both deeply divided and closely divided, and each of these dimensions limits the party’s strategic options. Many political activists have concluded, wrongly in our opinion, that deep partisan divisions have increased the importance of mobilizing each party’s most loyal supporters (the “base”) while rendering efforts to persuade swing voters increasingly irrelevant. But the second dimension of today’s elections-- how close our national elections have become-- calls the exclusive emphasis on base mobilization into question. Swing voters are critical and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
Too many Democrats have evaded this truth-- and its implications for the party’s agenda and strategy. They have been led astray by three persistent myths: that “people of color” think and act in the same way; that economics always trumps culture; and that a progressive majority is emerging.
...The Democratic Party is a broad coalition of left-wing progressives, center-left liberals, and moderates. In the country as a whole, both conservative and moderate voters are more numerous than are those who consider themselves liberal or progressive. But despite these well-known statistical truths, many Democrats have convinced themselves that a new “very liberal” or “progressive” majority was emerging, in the party and in the country.
There is little evidence that this is true today or that the attitudes of the electorate are moving in this direction. The most recent survey of voters’ ideology found that only 7% of the electorate considers itself very liberal. Another survey found that only 9% of voters associated themselves with policies identified with leaders such as Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, compared to 26% who supported the center-left positions identified with Joe Biden.
It is true that Americans turn to government when problems arise that the market cannot solve (or even exacerbate). Measures to expand investments in infrastructure, education, research, and technology enjoy broad public support, as do efforts to rein in the cost of prescription drugs. When economic inequality becomes blatant, Americans will support efforts to reduce it-- for example, by increasing taxes on large corporations and wealthy individuals.
At the same time, decades of declining trust in the competence and integrity of the public sector have left Americans wary of government as the solution to social problems. Capitalism has its excesses and deficiencies, they believe, but socialism is not the answer. And when government responses to real issues-- such as the hardships created by the pandemic-- contribute to new problems such as inflation, support for an activist public sector quickly wanes. There is scant evidence that Americans will accept the costly government-led economic agenda of which progressives dream.
Nowhere is the myth of the progressive ascendency more powerful than in the sphere of culture. Many Democrats believe that the most progressive cultural attitudes enjoy the support of a popular majority. These Democrats are living in a bubble defined by education, income, and geography. Time after time, Republicans use progressives’ overreach in areas such as crime, immigration, and education to drive wedges between swing voters and the Democratic Party. This pattern will not end until Democrats break out of the mindset that dominates deep blue areas, familiarize themselves with the rest of the country and then carefully craft stances on these issues that move the country forward-- and that a majority of Americans can embrace.
As Danny Goldberg said in his brilliant essay about this era's version of "hippie-punching" yesterday-- in response to Joe Scarborough's and James Carville's very similar twisted attempts to define progressive aspirations using Republican Party frames-- "Tensions and mistrust between progressives and neo-liberals are an even bigger problem for Democrats as they face the 2022 mid-terms with the threat of American fascism looming. Scarborough is not the only mainstream media pundit who is laboring under the delusion that Democrats can win the mid-terms by appealing to the small number of voters who swing back and forth between voting Republican or Democrat while ignoring the need to maximize turnout among people of color, and young people who vote overwhelmingly for Democrats... Real-life progressives prioritize a higher minimum wage, forgiveness of student debt, and lowering prescription drug prices, positions which more than 60% of all Americans support. What is 'pragmatic' about opposing such popular proposals? ... The issues that actually animate the 'left wing' of the Democratic party are disparity of wealth and climate change which effect people in all fifty states and with all levels of education. And what’s with the use of the word 'urban' as a pejorative?"
UPDATE: Course Correction Or Else!
I don't know whether or not "ex"-Republican/conservative Democrat, billionaire Michael Bloomberg finances the Progressive Policy Institute or not... but I bet he does. And right on cue this morning: "I am deeply concerned that, absent an immediate course correction, the party is headed for a wipeout in November, up and down the ballot."