The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

The New Democratic Party

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during an event to introduce the “Medicare for All Act of 2017” on Capitol Hill, September 13, 2017. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

It’s a strange news day today to cap off an intense week. Jim Geraghty will be back on Monday. Today we look at the political future of the Democratic party and read from Nicholas Eberstadt’s diagnosis of the North Korea summit.

Democratic Candidates Are Marching Left

Are the Democrats moving leftward? Mike Konczal, a writer and fellow at the progressive Roosevelt Institute, says the answer is yes. In response to a column in The Week by Ryan Cooper, who lamented that Democrats do not “put forward a consistent party line on economic issues,” Konczal perused the campaign websites of a smattering of Democrats. He found large-scale agreement on a set of key economic issues: “Every candidate but one has expanding Medicare on their website, either as a public option or as single-payer. All but one has a living wage, with the majority explicitly stating $15 an hour as the goal. Some version of free college, most notably the ‘debt-free’ model, was represented across the board.”

That Democrats are increasingly embracing radical policies might seem obvious to conservatives who take for granted the party’s leftward orientation. But this is in fact a meaningful shift for the party, which during the Clinton era was defined by marrying social liberalism to center-left, neoliberal economics. A Democratic party whose lodestar is economic populism might be a potent electoral force. A shift in this direction is certainly something to attend to.

But there are obstacles in the way of the Democrats, who increasingly rely on the votes and dollars of upper-middle class whites, from implementing mass redistribution to fund these social programs. Konczal is aware of the uncomfortable fact that raising taxes is simply an unpopular thing to do, hence his admission that “the work is going to get harder.” It’s easy to run on something; much harder to actually pass these laws when you are in power.

Konczal points out another problem: prioritization. Party rhetoric increasingly casts all of these economic policies as matters of basic justice: It simply ought to be the case that people are guaranteed free college, free health care, and a living wage, by the state. But how to prioritize among these policies when you take control of the government? The pressure from progressive interest groups will be immense, and voters might feel bitterly disappointed if something they were told is a basic human right is put on the back-burner.

So there are problems with the new Democratic agenda that make it something other than an inevitability. But the Left has plenty of intelligent people working to solve them. Conservatives should think about what a world where that work pays off will look like. Maybe then the calls for a slight relaxation of GOP orthodoxy — pass some kind of universal catastrophic health insurance, offer larger tax credits refundable against more liabilities, open up the college system to expand online education and loosen accreditation rules — will begin to seem more attractive. For now, recalcitrance is what we’re getting, no matter how risky it might be.

Kim Wins in Singapore

The new print issue of National Review features a must-read cover story by Nicholas Eberstadt on the North Korean summit. Eberstadt, one of the world’s leading DPRK experts, is the bearer of bad news:

Given the hopes that President Trump’s North Korea policy had generated in the roughly 18 months leading up to Singapore, the results were little short of shocking. There is no way to sugarcoat it: Kim Jong-un and the North Korean side ran the table. After one-on-one talks with their most dangerous American adversary in decades and high-level deliberations with the “hard-line” Trump team, the North walked away with a joint communiqué that read almost as if it had been drafted by the DPRK ministry of foreign affairs. . . .

Kim Jong-un’s first and most obvious victory was the legitimation the summit’s pageantry accorded him and his regime. The Dear Respected Leader was treated as if he were the head of a legitimate state and indeed of a world power rather than the boss of a state-run crime cartel that a U.N. Commission of Inquiry wants to charge with crimes against humanity. In addition to the intrinsic photo-op benefit of a face-to-face with an American president who had traveled halfway across the globe to meet him, the Dear Respected Leader bathed in praise from the leader of the free world: Kim Jong-un was “a talented man who loves his country very much,” “a worthy negotiator,” and a person with whom Trump had “developed a very special bond.” Kim even garnered an invitation to the White House. These incalculably valuable gifts went entirely unreciprocated.

Second: Kim was handed a major victory in terms of what went missing from the summit agenda. For the Kim regime’s security infractions are by no means limited to its domestic nuke and missile projects. . . .

. . . Third: Regarding the key issues that were mentioned in the joint statement, the U.S. ended up adopting North Korean code language.

Until (let’s say) yesterday, the U.S. objective in the North Korean nuclear crisis was to induce the DPRK to dismantle its nuclear armaments and the industrial infrastructure for them. Likewise with long-range missiles. Thus the long-standing U.S. formulation of “CVID”: “complete verifiable irreversible denuclearization.”  But because the nuclear quest is central to DPRK strategy and security, the real, existing North Korean state cannot be expected to acquiesce in CVID — ever. Thus its own alternative formulation, with which America concurred in Singapore: “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

In this sly formulation, South Korea would also have to “denuclearize” — even though it possesses no nukes and allows none on its soil. How? By cutting its military ties to its nuclear-armed ally, the U.S. And if one probes the meaning of this formulation further with North Korean interlocutors, one finds that even in this unlikely scenario, the DPRK would treat its “denuclearization” as a question of arms control — as in, if America agrees to drawing down to just 40 nukes, Pyongyang could think about doing the same. The language of “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” ensured that no tangible progress on CVID was promised in the joint statement.

One hopes there is nonpublic information mitigating our losses from the summit. But it is hard to place too much confidence in the administration. Read the whole cover story here.

ADDENDA: Your weekend reading: “Tribal World,” Amy Chua, Foreign Affairs; “The Campus Intersectionality Craze,” Elliot Kaufmann, Commentary; “Send Anarchists, Guns, and Money,” Jacob Siegel, Baffler

Biggest winners from last night’s NBA Draft: Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets. The Mavs were able to trade the rights of Trae Young — who, despite the Steph Curry comparisons, can’t finish at the rim or play defense — and a future first-round pick for perhaps the best prospect in the draft, European guard Luka Doncic. Doncic succeeded at the second-toughest level of competition in the world, the Euroleague, and is a guy Dallas can build around for the next ten years. Meanwhile, the Nuggets, at the 14 spot, picked Michael Porter Jr: a top-three talent who due to injuries slid down teams’ draft boards. But Denver is a budding team that can afford to bring him along slowly. And if he’s ready to play within the next couple of years, he’ll add dynamism and talent to an already-solid core.

Thanks for bearing with me this week. See you around.

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