There is no real “social liberal, fiscal conservative” position

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“I believe in certain, but not all, things. Me 2020!”

When Howard Schultz, best known for not being known at all outside of Davos, announced he was going to run for President, a paroxysm of interest staggered the limited number of people who care about such things. While his campaign got off to a, ah, rough start, the pundit class was already analyzing his chances.

Not his chances to win, of course: his “independent bid” was recognized by virtually everyone except Hugh Hewitt and probably Tom Friedman as a load of vanity nonsense. Mostly, people are worried that he might siphon enough votes away from the Democratic candidate to get Trump re-elected.

While this seems possible, it is more likely that this campaign goes nowhere, since I would think most people are too jacked-up and partisan at this point to even pay attention to a third-party gadfly. Beside, to whom does he have appeal? Liberals dying for an inexperienced billionaire who has ruthlessly exploited global supply chains? Or to conservatives for whom “Starbucks” isn’t a byword for effete urbanism?

But I think the Schultz campaign might be good for something, and that is to expose once and for all the myth of the “social liberal, fiscal conservative.” That description, always self-applied, has long been popular in the Acela corridor, and among certain politically-engaged types who like to present themselves in a certain way.

It makes sense: it combines heart with a certain pragmatism. “I care about people, but I also think we can’t go around exploding the deficit and etc.” It appeals to people’s sense of “centrism”. It’s fun to say the parties have been hijacked by extremists, so I’ll take a little from one side and a little from another and present myself as the champion of real people. The forgotten middle. The salt of the dang earth.

The problem is, of course, that it’s all bullshit, not least of all because the Republican Party could never be defined as fiscally conservative. They blow up spending and slash revenue. It’s literally their defining feature, other than cultural warfare (and these are connected, as we’ll get to in a quick second).

It’s bullshit because those two sides are completely contradictory, unless you reduce social liberalism to the merest platitudes. What do you believe in? Social Security? Medicare or Medicaid? How about enforcing the VRA? Having an activist DOJ? A jobs program? Public transportation investment? Fair housing? A robust food stamps program, at least?

These things cost money, which means taxes, especially taxes on the wealthy. It means a progressive tax. And sister, Schultz is not having any of that.

“There are a number of areas here that need to be addressed,” Schultz said, insisting “I’m not trying to dodge any question, but I feel like what we have today is an unfair system.”

But he argued that Warren’s “ultramillionaire” tax — which would create a 2 percent wealth tax on those with a net worth above $50 million and impose an additional 1 percent on net worth above $1 billion — was showboating.

“However, when I see Elizabeth Warren come out with a ridiculous plan of taxing wealthy people a surtax of 2 percent because it makes a good headline or sends out a tweet when she knows for a fact that’s not something that’s ever gonna be passed, this is what’s wrong,” he said. “You can’t just attack these things in a punitive way by punishing people.”

See, he doesn’t believe funding programs, because he doesn’t really believe in the programs.

He said running as a Democrat would be “disingenuous” because he doesn’t believe in some of the issues that many in the party (and certainly many 2020 contenders) support — free college, universal free health care, and guaranteed jobs. He said on those matters, the party “has shifted so far to the left.”

But here is the final series of inanities.

Schultz criticized the 2017 Republican tax cuts for giving a “free ride to business” and said he would have been “more modest” in giving tax relief to those who need it the most. In an interview with CNBC on Monday, he said he didn’t want to get into details on whether he would raise taxes on corporations, which in the 2017 bill got a cut from a 35 percent rate to 21 percent.

“I don’t want to talk in the hypothetical about what I would do if I was president,” he said.

In the Times interview, he expressed concern about the national debt and the affordability of free college and guaranteed government jobs.

“Doesn’t someone have to speak the truth about what we can afford while maintaining a deep level of compassion and empathy for the American people?” he said.


The first quote is, of course, the dumbest thing anyone has ever heard, but the last one is key. “What we can afford” is meaningless when you refuse to take the steps to afford anything. Now, Schultz might just be running to protect his own class, or to lower his taxes, or to send a message to the Dems about how far left the plutocrats are willing to let them move before revolting. Any of those are possible, and the last one is particularly interesting.

But take Schultz out of the equation, and you get to the hollow end of the “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” mental scam. It essentially boils down to “I’m all for fairness, but not if we have to pay for any of it. Can’t have that. Simply can’t afford it.”

At the end, it’s basically just clucking your tongue at racism, homophobia, and systemic injustice, without actually taking any of the steps to fix it, and without recognizing that it takes an activist and well-funded government to undo and fix the vast inequalities and legacy of top-down class warfare on which this country was funded.

We know the GOP doesn’t want to do that; cutting taxes on billionaires enhances those conditions, combining their fiscal recklessness with their social psychopathy. But without actually doing any of the funding, the “fiscal conservative” is enacting the same goals. Maybe they think “leadership” or whatever can make things better. It’s pretty to think so, at least.