Can we handle one more rehash of the election campaign that wouldn’t die? “As the Democratic Party goes through its quadrennial self-flagellation process, the same tired old consultants and insiders are once again complaining that Democratic elected officials have no national agenda and no message,” writes David J. Sirota in this month’s American Prospect.

Yet encrypted within the 2004 election map is a clear national economic platform to build a lasting majority. You don’t need Fibonacci’s sequence, a decoder ring, or 3-D glasses to see it. You just need to start asking the right questions.

Where, for instance, does a Democrat get off using a progressive message to become governor of Montana? How does an economic populist Democrat keep winning a congressional seat in what is arguably America’s most Republican district? Why do culturally conservative rural Wisconsin voters keep sending a Vietnam-era anti-war Democrat back to Congress? What does a self-described socialist do to win support from conservative working-class voters in northern New England?

The answers to these and other questions are the Democrats’ very own Da Vinci Code — a road map to political divinity. It is the path Karl Rove fears.

Although Sirota’s recommended plot line for Democratic hopefuls won’t produce a bestseller, it is sweeping in scope: fight the class war, champion small business over big business, protect the small farmer, turn hunters and the exurbs green, become a Teddy Roosevelt clone, clean up government and use the values prism.

As the toll from the December 26 tsunami continues to grow, Time localizes the disaster, with this breathless headline: “Could it happen here? You bet.” And, for good measure, the magazine adds a sub-hed worthy of the best tabloids: “A tsunami striking the U.S. is not a question of if but when.” Buried deep in the story — and we mean deep — is the fact that an early-warning system in place in the Pacific Ocean quite likely would give those at risk on the West Coast advance warning of disaster.

If Americans want to sit up nights fretting about something, they’d be advised to check out James Surowiecki’s article on disasters in this week’s New Yorker.

Surowiecki writes that, despite the massive loss of life and property, global insurers will come out unscathed. “The obvious reason is that the affected countries are relatively poor, which means that the people and the businesses there are less likely to have insurance.” The same can’t be said for much of the rest of the world.

In truth, the catastrophe-insurance market is not set up to deal with catastrophe. A major earthquake in Southern California could easily cost more than two hundred billion dollars; at present, insurers are covering only half of that, yet many of them would still be done in by the claims. Someday, the financial markets may pick up the burden — you can now buy “catastrophe bonds,” though the market for them is tiny — but investors would have to learn to think of disasters in much the same way they do pork bellies and the price of oil.

And if the prospect of trading on disasters doesn’t induce insomnia (or nightmares), we leave you with this report on a sea change, courtesy of The Economist. America is suffering from “social sclerosis.” The idea that we live in a mobile society, where individuals rise on who they are versus whom they know, is, well, as fusty as Queen Elizabeth’s hats:

A growing body of evidence suggests that the meritocratic ideal is in trouble in America. Income inequality is growing to levels not seen since the Gilded Age. … But social mobility is not increasing at anything like the same pace: would-be Horatio Algers are finding it no easier to climb from rags to riches, while the children of the privileged have a greater chance of staying at the top of the social heap. The United States risks calcifying into a European style class-based society.

Europe, without the castles and cathedrals. Now, that’s scary.

Susan Q. Stranahan

 

Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.