I missed this video when it was released just over a week ago so maybe you did too. NY Times reporter Johnny Harris points out that Democrats are always blaming Republicans for preventing them from making the kind of dramatic changes to society they claim are needed. Everything that is wrong with the world is the fault of right-wing obstructionists.
So what actually happens, Harris wondered, in places where Democrats have complete control of government. Fully a third of the states have too few Republicans to block anything the Democrats in power might want to do. If your party elects the governor and supermajorities in the state house and state senate, you can’t really blame setbacks on the other party.
In the video Harris says there are 18 states like this, but one of the ones on his list is Virginia. As you’ve no doubt heard, things changed in Virginia recently. Still, that leaves 17 states where Democrats have a free hand. So as Harris puts it, “What do Democrats actually do when they have all the power?”
The answer is not much.
He starts by looking at the issue of housing. California has some of the highest home prices in the nation in part because the population (until last year) has grown while the supply of housing has grown much more slowly. That’s partly because most cities zone for single family housing rather than denser multi-family dwellings like apartment buildings. And Democrats also argue that problem is a major cause of the homelessness crisis since this dynamic makes housing less affordable over time.
So, given that they have top-to-bottom control in a state like California, why not change the zoning laws? Harris reviews a case in Palo Alto, California where the city tried to do just that. It sought to rezone a 2-acre plot for a 60-unit apartment complex designed for the elderly. What happened? “The overwhelmingly liberal residents of Palo Alto decided to hold a vote to overturn the decision, to revert it back to low-density single family housing,” Harris said. That proposal, called Measure D, passed. So instead of affordable housing for the elderly, you got a few homes with values upwards of $5 million each.
Next he looks at taxation. The progressive approach is to rewrite the tax code to soak the rich. But it turns out the state with the least progressive tax rates, out of all 50 states, is Washington, another place where Democrats have complete control of policy.
What about education? The approach outlined by the Democratic Party is to make sure every child gets a first class education. But here again, Harris notes that in progressive Chicago, rather than pooling all of the education money raised in Cook County, “have actually decided to divide themselves into more than 140 school districts.” That means schools in some parts of the city have ample resources and schools in other parts have school buildings that are literally falling apart.
Again, you can of course argue with any of these ideas. But the point is that even in places where there are no dastardly Republicans twirling their mustaches to prevent Democrats from making major changes to how things are done, they often don’t make major changes to how things are done.
This clip doesn’t devote much time to health care but it’s the same story. California considered single-payer of the kind progressives always say they want a few years ago. And then it became clear the cost would be significantly more than the state’s annual budget and suddenly they dropped it.
One area where Democrats really have made some changes lately is policing and “mass incarceration.” Defund the police was also briefly very popular in progressive cities but many of those, including Portland and Minneapolis, have now backtracked as the homicide rate has spiked across the country.
To sum all of this up, elected Democrats are a bit like the belligerent guy in a bar who makes all kind of terrible threats while his buddies hold him back and drag him away. But the minute he’s set free and there’s no one stopping him from carrying those out, he suddenly changes his tune and becomes a lot less aggressive.
Here’s the report. I know that the view of Binyamin Applebaum is that progressives should stop being hypocrites and be more progressive, but he and Harris still deserve credit for a piece which basically spends 14 minutes proving Democrats are flaming hypocrites. More of this please.