Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Costs of Brainwashing

Occasionally I try to write about a deeper feminism that goes beyond things like equal pay and reproductive choice (as important as those things are). Along those lines, I was absolutely blown away by what Dustin Hoffman said about what he learned while making the movie "Tootsie." Please watch.

Oh, and here's a little message to the men who watch this: There is absolutely NOTHING sexier to a woman than a man who understands us this deeply!

The Effects of Anti-Knowledge on Democracy

Mike Lofgren, former Republican Congressional staffer, has written an important article titled: The GOP and the Rise of Anti-Knowledge.
In the realm of physics, the opposite of matter is not nothingness, but antimatter. In the realm of practical epistemology, the opposite of knowledge is not ignorance but anti-knowledge. This seldom recognized fact is one of the prime forces behind the decay of political and civic culture in America.

Some common-sense philosophers have observed this point over the years. “Genuine ignorance is...profitable because it is likely to be accompanied by humility, curiosity, and open mindedness; whereas ability to repeat catch-phrases, cant terms, familiar propositions, gives the conceit of learning and coats the mind with varnish waterproof to new ideas,” observed psychologist John Dewey.

Or, as humorist Josh Billings put it, “The trouble with people is not that they don’t know, but that they know so much that ain’t so.”...

At present, however, a person can be blissfully ignorant of how to locate Kenya on a map, but know to a metaphysical certitude that Barack Obama was born there, because he learned it from Fox News. Likewise, he can be unable to differentiate a species from a phylum but be confident from viewing the 700 Club that evolution is “politically correct” hooey and that the earth is 6,000 years old.

And he may never have read the Constitution and have no clue about the Commerce Clause, but believe with an angry righteousness that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

This brings us inevitably to celebrity presidential candidate Ben Carson. The man is anti-knowledge incarnated, a walking compendium of every imbecility ever uttered during the last three decades.
Lofgren goes on to take Christian fundamentalists to task for the fact that the Republican Party is mired in anti-knowledge. While it's true that the candidacy of Ben Carson draws heavily on his support from Christian fundamentalists, I'm not sure that he's reached the source of the problem yet.

When I read this column I was reminded that a local conservative radio host used to refer to his own take on the world as "garage logic." It was his way of poking at the "elites" who actually knew stuff and embracing what Stephen Colbert later called "truthiness."

Recently Carson took a cutesy pot-shot at those elite professionals who actually know things by going on twitter to say, "It is important to remember that amateurs built the Ark and it was the professionals that built the Titanic." One has to wonder whether Dr. Carson would suggest that amateurs take up the practice of pediatric neurosurgery - or if his particular brand of professionalism is simply exempt from this kind of derision.

What that radio host and Dr. Carson are espousing (and Colbert was mocking) is the tendency of conservative media to attract viewers/listeners by appealing to their feelings about what must be true rather than the facts. When facts intrude on our "garage logic" it makes us uncomfortable because it creates what we call cognitive dissonance. We are comforted by the alternative of simply blaming the elites and rejecting the facts.

That's why I'd suggest that the root cause of an attraction to anti-knowledge was the creation of Fox News. What Murdoch managed to do with that network was to pose the proposition that facts were merely the liberal media at work. So on one side of the "debate" you have the conservative garage logic and on the other you have liberal facts. The rest of the media - in an attempt to prove they weren't liberal - accepted this frame, giving credence to anti-knowledge as a legitimate position. That traps us into things like having to argue over whether the science of human's contribution to climate change is real because denialism is given credence as the opposing conservative view.

Interestingly enough, this legitimization of conservative anti-knowledge has also had a corrosive effect on liberals. It has stripped the dialogue between liberals and conservatives of their legitimate differences and leaves us only arguing against nonsense. Liberals can be self-righteous in our positions and eschew what the Dewey quote above embraced about humility, curiosity and open-mindedness.

This is why Marilynne Robinson's concern about the danger this dynamic poses to our democracy rings so true.
I think that you can look around society and see that basically people do the right thing. But when people begin to make these conspiracy theories and so on, that make it seem as if what is apparently good is in fact sinister, they never accept the argument that is made for a position that they don’t agree with—you know?…because [of] the idea of the “sinister other.” And I mean, that’s bad under all circumstances. But when it’s brought home, when it becomes part of our own political conversation about ourselves, I think that that really is about as dangerous a development as there could be in terms of whether we continue to be a democracy.
It is important to recognize the effect an embrace of anti-knowledge has had on our political discourse. But shutting down curiosity and an open mind are too high a price to pay in response. That is a sure-fire route to inertia - which is anathema to liberalism.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Republican Debate: Post-Policy Trumps Post-Truth

As a way to highlight the differences between Republican establishment and insurgent candidates, I have sometimes referred to the former as post-truth and the latter as post-policy. As a reminder, here's how David Roberts defined the traditional Republican approach of post-truth politics.
Republicans thus talk about “taxes” and “spending” and “regulation” in the abstract, since Americans oppose them in the abstract even as they support their specific manifestations. They talk about cutting the deficit even as they slash taxes on the rich and launch unfunded wars. They talk about free markets even as they subsidize fossil fuels. They talk about American exceptionalism even as they protect fossil-fuel incumbents and fight research and infrastructure investments.

In short, Republicans have mastered post-truth politics. They’ve realized that their rhetoric doesn’t have to bear any connection to their policy agenda.
On the other hand, post-policy means not even having to bother with rebranding policies that Americans oppose. It simply means fighting anything and everything the opposition attempts to do while ginning up the outrage. You simply demand a repeal of everything from Obamacare to the Iran Deal and executive actions on immigration and threaten to shut the government down if you don't get it.

Donald Trump has absolutely mastered post-policy politics. He says that he's going to deport the 11 million undocumented people in this country and when asked how he will accomplish that - he simply says..."management skills." Ben Carson's, "when I talk about a 10% flat tax, I don't really mean 10%," is another great example.

Going in to last night's debate, John Kasich signaled that, as a post-truther, he'd "had it" with the post-policy folks and was ready to take them on. He actually said that deporting 11 million people, taking health insurance away from millions and ending Medicare were "crazy" ideas. Kasich came out of the gates swinging on all of that last night. And it was at that point that I realized why the post-truthers are doing so poorly in this primary.

On the one hand, they can point to the crazy ideas of the post-policy candidates. But then they have to offer an alternative. Kasich did OK on the first part. Here's what he offered on the second.
I don’t know if people understand, but I spent a lifetime with my colleagues getting us to a federal balanced budget. We actually did it. And I have a road map and a plan right now to get us to balance.

Reforming entitlements, cutting taxes. You see, because if you really want to get to a balanced budget, you need to reduce your expenses and you need to grow your economy. So what I will tell you about our incentives — our incentives are tight, and at the end of the day we make sure that we gain more from the creation of jobs than what we lose.

And you know what? Ohio, one of the best growing places in the country — I not only did it in Washington, I did it in Ohio, and I’ll go back to Washington, and there will be no more silly deals...if I become President because we’ll have a Constitutional Amendment to require a federally balanced budget so they will do their job.
To grasp just how ridiculous that last point is, I'll suggest you read BooMan's take. But here's the bigger point: after Bush/Cheney ran up the federal deficit and left us the legacy of a Great Recession, all that "trickle-down" post-truth stuff didn't sell very well anymore. That's why - in the Obama era - the entire Republican Party initially went post-policy (i.e. obstructionist). They had nothing! Now their establishment candidates are back to the same old post-truth trickle-down nonsense.

Trump laid waste to all of that by pointing out that Ohio's success had more to do with fracking than anything Kasich had done and brought up his time working for Lehmans. It's probably true that Trump stretched the truth about Kasich's role with Lehmans, but simply bringing it up reminded everyone of the connection between post-truther Republicans and the Great Recession.

I'd say that after last night's debate, the Republican establishment's post-truther candidacies of Kasich and Bush are on life support...if not dead. Even though Rubio is considered to be an establishment candidate, he is increasingly sounding pretty post-policy - which may explain why so many folks are beginning to think that things will eventually come down to a contest between he and Cruz (the standard-bearer of post-truth politics).

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Bipartisan Budget Deal. How Did That Happen?

We all know by now that Congress is gridlocked and dysfunctional. But those who say that Republicans have become too extreme to negotiate with are taking a huge risk. We all saw how Republicans were unable, on their own, to come up with a plan to avoid a government shutdown and/or default on our debt. And we also know how devastating it would be to sit by and let one (or both!) of those things happen. So talk, we must. As a result, we now have a bipartisan budget and debt ceiling deal. Here are the big steps along the way that got us there:

Movement towards a common sense caucus

Back in early 2013 the development of a common sense caucus was something President Obama began to work towards. Most of the media got sidetracked on what this was all about and reported it more as a social endeavor by the President to assuage rumors of his aloofness. But here's how he described it:
I do know that there are Republicans in Congress who privately, at least, say that they would rather close tax loopholes than let these cuts go through. I know that there are Democrats who’d rather do smart entitlement reform than let these cuts go through. So there is a caucus of common sense up on Capitol Hill. It’s just -- it’s a silent group right now, and we want to make sure that their voices start getting heard.

In the coming days and in the coming weeks I’m going to keep on reaching out to them, both individually and as groups of senators or members of the House, and say to them, let’s fix this -- not just for a month or two, but for years to come.
More recently, this is what Martin Longman was referring to when he wrote about the "responsible caucus."
I’ve pointed out, over and over again, that the coalition of representatives in the House that votes to pay our bills and fund our government is the real majority in the House. And that majority has been made up mostly of Democrats since John Boehner became Speaker in 2011. We’ve been able to limp along with this odd situation where Democrats are responsible for voting for Republican appropriations bills because the “responsible caucus” in Washington has been able to keep the government going and willing to act in bizarre ways in order to keep it going.
It will be interesting to watch - as the Freedom Caucus becomes for demanding and disruptive - if that opens up more opportunities for the common sense caucus. We're already seeing that happen with the Ex-Im Bank.

McConnell promises no shutdowns 

When Republicans took control of the Senate in 2014, right out of the box Majority Leader McConnell promised that there would be no government shutdowns on his watch and no defaults on our debt. Just after John Boehner announced he would leave Congress, he added his voice to that promise.

These two veterans are keeping their eye on the general election campaign that will commence next fall. They know that if either of these things were to happen, Republicans would be blamed and it would deal a devastating blow to their presidential prospects (and could lose them their majority in the Senate).

Negotiations commence

Last month Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders began meeting with the White House to negotiate a deal. It is interesting that, even with news reports like this, those who oppose the deal are calling these meetings "secretive."
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), a longtime Boehner ally, said it was no surprise that the budget talks would upset the House’s right flank.

“There’ll be some people that will be unhappy with it. But the reality is, we have to get a budget deal somehow,” he said, adding that “we’ve all known for six months, eight months” that negotiations would have to happen.

Simpson said that he believes Boehner wants to get a broader budget deal before he departs at the end of October, to give lawmakers a chance to work out the details before December.

“It’s one of the things he’s going to try to clear off the table for the next Speaker.”

GOP leaders are seeking to strike a deal that would set top-line budget numbers for the next two years. Congress also faces pressure to raise the debt ceiling, and Boehner on Tuesday didn’t rule out taking care of that issue before the end of next month.
Obama vetos NDAA

Just last week President Obama sent a signal that he was serious about his negotiating position by vetoing the National Defense Authorization Act. Knowing that the one thing Republican hawks wanted in any budget deal was a lifting of the sequester caps on Defense spending, that veto maintained the Democrat's leverage in these negotiations. The result is that - just as sequestration cut equally from both defense and domestic spending - this budget increases them both.

It would be nice to see more of this kind of governing going forward. Whether or not that happens will primarily be up to Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan.

Left's Populist Leaders Endorse Clinton

A couple of years ago, all the talk on the left was about the emerging populist movement as evidenced by the election of Senator Elizabeth Warren and NY Mayor Bill de Blasio. Since then, some of the biggest battles President Obama has faced have been - not with Republicans - but with leaders of this populist movement over budget agreements and trade policy. In those fights, Sen. Warren has been joined by politicians like Senators Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown. All of that was the groundwork that led to the presidential candidacy of Sanders.

That's why the big news on the Democratic side of the presidential primaries is that Senator Sherrod Brown has endorsed Hillary Clinton.
"As Ohio’s working families continue to recover from the worst economic recession in our country’s history, we need a president who’s committed to growing our economy by lifting up the middle class,” Brown said in a statement. “I am proud to endorse her today because I know she will keep Ohio moving forward."
It is also pretty clear that an endorsement by Mayor de Blasio will come shortly.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign, is reportedly ready to finally endorse a presidential candidate after months of saying he was still thinking about it, so stop asking him.

Politico New York reports that de Blasio is expected to endorse his former boss before the presidential forum in Iowa he's hosting this December.
I suspect that Sen. Warren will keep her powder dry until a Democratic nominee is chosen. But who knows?

I personally don't think these endorsements are important as a way to actually sway voters. But they definitely ARE important as a statement of the endorsers view on where the electorate is going. While Clinton's style and approach are very different from Sanders', her campaign has articulated the message that fueled the populist movement on the left. Endorsements by Brown and de Blassio confirm that.

House Freedom Caucus is Unlikely to Stop Budget Deal

In the lead-up to the news that the White House and Congressional leaders had reached a sweeping 2-year agreement on both the budget and the debt ceiling, there was a fair amount of hand-wringing over the latter - with rumors that Republicans couldn't even round up the 30 votes needed (in addition to 188 Democrats) to pass a clean debt ceiling bill. Of course it's always hard to pin down the source of rumors like that. But frankly, it never passed the smell test for me.

The reason I was skeptical is that I had previously read a very informative breakdown of the various House Republican factions by David Wasserman and Amy Walter at The Cook Political Report. They looked at 5 votes this session and plotted the various Republican factions based on how often they voted with Speaker Boehner:

* 46 "Dependables" 5 out of 5 times,
* 40 "Allies" 4 out of 5 times,
* 59 "Helpers" 3 out of 5 times,
* 52 "Skepticals" 2 out of 5 times,
* 25 "Agitators" 1 out of 5 times, and
* 19 "Rebels" 0 out of 5 times.

Washerman and Walter summarized these divisions further by calling the first two groups the "Coalition of the Willing" (86 members), the second two the "Deciders" (111 members), and the third two the "Coalition of the Unwilling" (35 members).

What is really interesting is that they also compared these divisions to a similar breakdown they did in the last Congress prior to the 2014 midterms. While it's true that Republicans gained seats, the shift that happened isn't in the direction that is commonly assumed.
So far in 2015, the distribution of House Republicans looks less like a bell curve and more like a see-saw in which the ranks of Republicans willing to vote for bipartisan measures have tilted up and the ideological, anti-spending flank has tilted down. The "Coalition of the Willing" has increased from 61 to 86 members, while the "Deciders" - the critical group to watch in upcoming fights - have remained stable and the "Coalition of the Unwilling" has fallen from 63 to 35.
Just in case you are wondering, the likely next Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is one of the Dependables. So it should come as no surprise that - while he criticized the process that led to the budget deal - he plans to vote for it. If Boehner simply rallies the rest of the Dependables to vote with him, the deal will likely pass (as long as it gets broad support from Democrats). If anyone is worried about the left flank of the Democrats in the House, Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Keith Ellison has announced that he's a "yes" on the deal.

There is no way of knowing what the final vote tally will be (Rep. Bill Flores predicts 70-90 GOP votes for the deal). But this information tells you a lot about why John Boehner had the confidence to negotiate an end to the chaos created by the Freedom Caucus as his parting "gift" to the malcontents.

Daylight Video

Chances are that if you know a young girl who is involved in sports, you've seen this video clip.

Yesterday, when President Obama welcomed the World Champion U.S. Women's National Soccer Team to the White House, he echoed those sentiments.
This team taught all America’s children that ‘playing like a girl’ means you’re a badass. Perhaps I shouldn’t have used that phrase. Playing like a girl means being the best. It means drawing the largest TV audience for a soccer match –- men or women’s –- in American history. It means wearing our nation’s crest on your jersey, taking yourself and your country to the top of the world. That’s what American women do. That’s what American girls do.
And we all look forward to the day when this happens:

Monday, October 26, 2015

We Could Learn a Thing or Two from the Mosuo People of China

If I was younger and could more easily handle traveling to difficult-to-reach places, this spot on Lugu Lake in the westernmost regions of China would be at the top of my bucket list. That's not just about the gorgeous scenery. Amy Qin tells us some of the history of the uniquely matrilineal culture of the Mosuo people that developed along these shores.
Known in Mandarin as zouhun, or walking marriage, tiesese is an alternative to matrimony in which men visit women at night to fulfill the need for procreation and sexual gratification. Traditionally, a Mosuo woman might have several tiesese relationships during her life, sometimes simultaneously...

With tiesese, sex is kept separate from family, and men and women are generally expected to spend their lives in the houses in which they were born. As a result, sexual partners rarely occupy the same dwelling. Household harmony is valued above all else, including conjugal relationships.

In traditional Mosuo culture, family life is structured around the basic social unit, known as the “grand household,” in which children are raised by their mother and her side of the family. And while children typically know their biological fathers, maternal uncles are responsible for taking on the paternal role, helping to raise and provide for their sisters’ children.
Years ago I read about the Mosuo culture in a book titled: Leaving Mother Lake: A Girlhood at the Edge of the World by Yang Erche Namu and Christine Mathieu. What Qin fails to point out in the article quoted above is that this family arrangement grew out of the reality that Mosuo men had to be away from home on hunting expeditions for extended periods of time. And so centering family life around mothers and their relatives made sense.

But perhaps more significantly, getting away from the whole notion of children being some kind of patrilineal status symbol (the norm that developed in patriarchal cultures) allowed other forms of family and care-giving to develop.

What we know from our own cultural history is that patrilineal norms eventually developed into the establishment of the nuclear family as the basis for childrearing. That was already a leap away from the idea of "it takes a village to raise a child." And now it is more and more common for children to be raised by single mothers. So the unit that cares for children has gotten increasingly smaller.

Especially in the world of conservative politics, you'll find a lot of talk about how - for the sake of the children - we need to go back to the nuclear family as the basic cultural unit. While I'm sure that the structure of 2 parents raising children will survive long into our future, I suspect that cultures evolving backwards is simply not realistic. We might, like the Mosuo did a long time ago, figure out something that works even better. As long as it keeps the needs of children front and center, I suspect that could be a good thing.

So...the next time you hear a politician bemoaning the breakdown of the family, ask her/him if they've ever heard about the Mosuo culture.

What Makes Ruth Bader Ginsburg So "Notorious?"

It is very likely that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will retire during the administration of our next president. That is one of the big reasons why elections matter. Nominating her replacement will be critical in terms of the future of the Supreme Court.

As Irin Carmon points out though, that will not simply be because of her recently acquired reputation as the "notorious RBG." I found this broader look into the way Ginsburg approaches her goals to be extremely instructive.
One day last May, while receiving an award, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court was asked to give advice to her younger female admirers...

“My advice is fight for the things that you care about,” Justice Ginsburg said. Fair enough — banal enough, really. Then she added, “But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
Contrary to the image of the "avenging angel" we often see associated with Ginsburg, Carmon presents this:
But Justice Ginsburg would prefer a more delicate tool, having no patience for confrontation just for the sake of it. “Anger, resentment, envy and self-pity are wasteful reactions,” she has written. “They greatly drain one’s time. They sap energy better devoted to productive endeavors.”
Here's how Carmon lays out Ginsburg's approach:
Her vision for the world is transformative, but instead of broad sweeps, she has urged slow, incremental steps to that change. Rather than capitulation, this is about playing a long game...‘Present the court with the next logical step,’ she urged us, and then the next and then the next. ‘Don’t ask them to go too far too fast, or you’ll lose what you might have won.’...

It may seem strange for a feminist to counsel against anger when those of us who are not straight, white men have had to fight just to have room to express it. But the risk of burnout over fast-flaming conflicts is real. Our current conversations value catharsis over strategy. This doesn’t mean picking the middle point of two poles and calling it common sense; it just means thinking past instant outrage and doing sustainable work.
Speaking of our "current conversations," it is clear that justices like Antonin Scalia would like to do to the Supreme Court what the Republican insurgency is doing to our presidential and Congressional politics. Here is how Carmon says that Justice Ginsburg approaches that:
On the court, Justice Ginsburg has tranquilly preached collegiality, a savvy move given that she and her colleagues are stuck together for life. In victory, Justice Ginsburg now tells her clerks, never demonize your opponents. She would rather win cases than go out dissenting in glory, which means, she said in a 2012 talk, “an opinion of the court very often reflects views that are not 100 percent what the opinion author would do, were she writing for herself.”
As someone who has followed the words and actions of President Obama extremely closely over the last 8 years, all of this sounds extremely familiar. It is basically a recitation of his approach to politics. From what I've read about Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, it also seems to capture how they approach their work on the Supreme Court as well. Here's what Sotomayor wrote about that in her book, My Beloved World:
I could see that troubling the waters was occasionally necessary to bring attention to the urgency of some problem. But this style of political expression sometimes becomes an end in itself and can lose potency if used routinely. If you shout too loudly and too often, people tend to cover their ears...

Quiet pragmatism, of course, lacks the romance of vocal militancy. But I felt myself more a mediator than a crusader...Always, my first question was, what's the goal? And then, who must be persuaded if it is to be accomplished?...If you want to change someone's mind, you must understand what need shapes his or her opinion. To prevail, you must first listen...
And so it prompts a few questions for me. If this is an approach to democratic processes that is embraced by some of the most brilliant minds in our midst, why is it not a strategy more consistently discussed? Is that because it is more aligned with the practice of law than it is of politics? Is it merely a coincidence that the three women on the Supreme Court share these views? Does that say something about a view of change that differs from our traditional patriarchal approach? What does that say about men like Chief Justice Earl Warren and President Obama - who embraced the same ideas and tactics? Is it possible that it is the combined efforts of Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan that have kept the Supreme Court from devolving into the same chaos as we've seen recently from a Republican-controlled Congress?

I'll leave all of those questions for you to contemplate. But I'll simply add one more: if we move out of the practice of law, how does this approach differ from what Martin Luther King, Jr. said about how "hate cannot drive out hate...only love can do that?" Or when Nelson Mandela espoused the African notion of Ubuntu?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Remembering Paul and Sheila Wellstone

Today is the 13th anniversary of the day that little airplane went down taking the lives of Paul and Sheila Wellstone (along with their daughter and four others). I usually shed a few tears on this anniversary and try to find a way to commemorate it. That’s not just because I had the distinct privilege of meeting both Paul and Sheila. It is because they will forever represent the very best of what all of us hope for in public servants.

In order to honor their memory, I could post the campaign ad Paul put out when he first ran for Senate. It does a great job of capturing the spirit he brought to politics. Or perhaps we could look at the tribute his Senate colleagues put together after his death. I’ve always loved what Ezra Klein wrote about Paul Wellstone on the sixth anniversary of his death.

But perhaps my very favorite tribute to this great man comes from a friend of mine - Pakou Hang - who worked with him on his last senate campaign. And yes, she is still very active in the community sending out the ripples. I think that is the message Paul and Sheila would want us to remember today.

Why Racial Profiling is Still an Issue

Back in the early 1980's, I remember having heard the term "racial profiling." But it didn't mean much to me because, given that I'm white, it never happened to me or anyone I knew. One of my good friends at the time happened to be Native Hawaiian (often mistaken for being Mexican) and started telling me stories about how he couldn't walk across the courtyard at his apartment complex without being stopped by security and escorted to his door to verify that he actually lived there. That's when I started paying attention to the issue.

I suspect that my experience is probably not that different from a lot of other white people in this country. It's easy to dismiss the issues around racial profiling if it doesn't happen to you or anyone else you know. And so, this week when President Obama hosted a panel discussion at the White House on criminal justice reform, he took a few extra minutes at the end to say that, when it comes to the Black Lives Matter Movement, the issue is real and we need to pay attention.

I thought of that need to convince white people that racial profiling is real when I saw that the New York Times published a front-page above-the-fold story by Sharon LaFraniere and Andrew Lehren on the reality of "driving while black." To be honest, I had mixed feelings when I saw that. On the one hand, I am thrilled to see such an important topic tackled in a way that puts it all front and center. But I also get discouraged. How long do people need to keep pointing this out before we finally get the message and do something about it? I can only imagine the reaction of African Americans who have lived with this issue for decades. This is not something that started in Ferguson. Eight months before the shooting of Michael Brown in August 2014, the Washington Monthly published an article that reached the very same conclusions we find in the NYT article today.

I don't take a lot of pride in the fact that it took a friend of mine experiencing racial profiling for me to wake up to the fact that it is a real issue that we need to address. It reminds me of a column Leonard Pitts wrote years ago when Dick Cheney had a change of heart about marriage equality because his daughter is lesbian.
In such circumstances, injustice ceases to be an abstract concept faced by abstract people, but a real threat faced by someone who is known and loved. Makes all the difference in the world, I guess...

Unfortunately for Cheney, conservativism has no place for him on this issue. It does not strive to be thoughtful or even noticeably principled where gay rights are concerned.

To the contrary, being persuadable is seen as weakness and being persuaded proof of moral failure. In Cheney's world, people do not seek to put themselves inside other lives or to see the world as it appears through other eyes. Particularly the lives and eyes of society's others, those people who, because of some innate difference, have been marginalized and left out.

Then someone you love turns up gay, turns up among those others.

One imagines that it changes everything, forces a moment of truth that mere reasoning never could. And maybe you find yourself doing what Dick Cheney does, championing a cause people like you just don't champion. Doing the right thing for imperfect reasons.
As Pitts goes on to say, getting to freedom is going to take a very long time if it requires every conservative home to have a lesbian daughter. And if every white person needs to have a best friend who experienced racial profiling in order for us to finally take the issue seriously, justice comes too slowly.

So in the end, I'll celebrate that the NYT is highlighting this problem once again and that President Obama continues to tell us that the concerns of the Black Lives Matter Movement are real. I just hope that more of us are listening.

News from Iowa's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner

I watched the Democratic presidential candidates give their speeches last night at Iowa's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. And I have to say that not much news was made. They all gave pretty familiar stump speeches.

The one thing some pundits are talking about is that Bernie Sanders "attacked" Hillary Clinton. But when it comes to these kinds of things, too few people note the difference between going after someone's record vs going after them personally. Last night Sanders did what any candidate in his position would do - highlighted the distinctions between himself and the front-runner. I don't consider that "negative" campaigning. It's exactly what Sanders needs to be doing right now. Otherwise, why be in the race at all.

O'Malley was...well...O'Malley. Nothing new and therefore it probably doesn't matter much.

Clinton gave a speech anyone who has followed her campaign has mostly heard before. As the front-runner, she didn't focus on her competitors. Instead, she's paving the way for the general election by highlighting the difference between Democrats and Republicans. The one smart move Clinton made last night that neither of the other candidates bothered with was to give a shout-out to Vice President Joe Biden. Of course that was her way of inviting any of his supporters who had been holding out to caucus for her.

In some ways it was the crowd that actually made the biggest news last night. Clinton was the last to speak. And as she came to the stage, reporters who were in the arena noted that the Sanders section emptied out. That was not a good look for them at a Democratic Party event. I doubt very much that the Sanders campaign organized the walk-out. But this is exactly the kind of thing that gets him in trouble with the Democratic base he needs to appeal to in a state like Iowa.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Team Bush in a Fog

As Ed Kilgore noted on Friday, Jeb Bush’s campaign is facing tough times right now. It has been widely reported that the Bush family and Jeb’s major donors are getting together in Houston this weekend and its not entirely clear whether their time will be spent rallying the troops or answering some very difficult questions.

In light of all that, I’m not sure Jeb helped himself today with some extremely revealing remarks he made at a rally in South Carolina. As tweeted by Jake Tapper, here’s what he said:
If this is an election about how we’re going to fight to get nothing done, I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to be elected president to sit around and see gridlock just become so dominant that people are literally in decline in their lives. That is not my motivation. I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around being miserable, listening to people demonize me and me feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.
In some ways, that might be one of the most honest things Jeb has said this campaign. But letting folks know that he has other cool things he’d rather be doing than fighting for the nomination reeks of the kind of entitlement folks have come to expect from the Republican establishment.

It appears that the entire Bush clan really doesn’t know what to make of this Republican Party they have long assumed was their creation. In an article by Jonathan Martin and Matt Flengenheimer about Bush, Sr. and his circle of friends/advisors, we get this telling quote:
“I have no feeling for the electorate anymore,” said John H. Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor who helped the elder Mr. Bush win the 1988 primary there and went on to serve as his White House chief of staff. “It is not responding the way it used to. Their priorities are so different that if I tried to analyze it I’d be making it up.”
One has to wonder just where Mr. Sununu has been these last 7 years. Oh yeah, he’s been busy doing stuff like suggesting that President Obama’s trip to Kenya was merely at attempt to incite the birthers. And NOW he wants to scratch his head and wonder how his party went off the rails after a nativist like Donald Trump? Really?

Overall I get that folks like Bush, Sr. and many of his team are probably shocked at the GOP’s response to Jeb’s presidency. But the truth is, they would be in much better shape right now if they had stood up to all this nonsense a long time ago (like before Jeb decided to run for president). At least then it wouldn’t have come off so self-serving and entitled.

House Freedom Caucus Demands

It is looking likely that Rep. Paul Ryan will be elected Speaker of the House next week. Who knows what has transpired behind closed doors, but the word is that he and the Freedom Caucus reached a deal that won enough of them over for him to be elected.

What we also know is that the Freedom Caucus designed a questionnaire for speaker candidates. Kevin Quealy and Carl Hulse have done us all a service by translating those demands into plain English.

In looking at the list of 21 items, a lot of the things they are pushing for would simply undo the reforms instituted by Newt Gingrich that put power in the hands of the House Leadership - specifically the Speaker. In that way, they grant the insurgents continuing power to be disruptive.

But there are a few things that would mean pretty immediate chaos. For example:

Item 13: Are you willing to hold the debt limit hostage until we prevail on other issues? Specifically, the Freedom Caucus wants "structural entitlement reforms" in the 2016 budget and the Default Prevention Act (which President Obama has promised to veto) included in any legislation that raises the debt ceiling.

Given that the Treasury has informed Congress that the debt limit will be reached November 3rd - exactly one week after the House votes for a new Speaker - that doesn't give Paul Ryan a lot of time to work this one out.

Making that job even harder is Item 7 which seeks to institutionalize the so-called "Hastert Rule." It would require that Republicans consider only legislation that has the support of the majority of their party. That would eliminate the possibility for Ryan to develop a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats to raise the debt ceiling.

If all that weren't bad enough, item 15 demands that the new Speaker refuse to pass a budget that contains funding for Planned Parenthood, "unconditional amnesty," the Iran deal and Obamacare. In other words..."We demand a government shutdown!"

There are several other interesting items, like a demand to impeach the IRS Commissioner, turn the highway program over to states, stick to the spending caps in sequestration, etc. But in a deliciously hypocritical move, item 6 demands that Republicans who signed the discharge petition to fund the Ex-Im Bank be punished, while items 4 & 5 demand that members who oppose rule changes and/or vote their conscience not be punished.

If Rep. Ryan has in any way agreed to these demands, things are going to blow up in the House very quickly. If he and the Freedom Caucus simply put off dealing with them, things are going to blow up in the House very quickly. Get my drift?

The Way of the Whigs?

Previously I suggested that John Judis wrote the definitive historical comparison that helps us understand Trump-mania. But now Kathleen Frydi has given us another very interesting look at how, as she says, our present might be mirroring our past.

Frydi draws a comparison to the mid-nineteenth century rise of the "Know-Nothings" (otherwise known as the American Party) that sprang from the Whigs.

Doesn't this sound strikingly familiar?
When it came to Catholics, Know-Nothings recorded a lurid, paranoid imagination in fictional accounts of seditious sex acts and infanticide, stoking the enmity of nativists already not kindly disposed to people they denigrated as "papal slaves" bound to follow their priest's orders in the voting booth. The longstanding native suspicion of Catholics deteriorated to a new low in the mid nineteenth century, as 3 million immigrants escaping famine and persecution in Europe poured into cities along the Eastern seaboard. Almost half of the new arrivals were Irish Catholics...

Anti-immigrant feeling was the sole requisite for the spread of Know-Nothings, who eventually organized in full public view as the "American Party," and, for all we know, vowed to "make America great again"...But the Whigs soon found that, having fanned the embers of bigotry to bind divergent interests together, they could no longer control the flame. Someone could always be more anti-immigrant.
The parallels with what is happening today continue into the current chaos the Republicans are experiencing over the election of a Speaker.
When California Republican Kevin McCarthy dropped out of the race to elect a Speaker of the House, the media scrambled for historical precedents. Yet they ignored one of the most apt (though imperfect) comparisons: the 1854 election for Speaker, thrown into chaos by Know-Nothings, then at the height of their power. Though Democrats held a plurality, a coalition of Know-Nothings and the "Opposition" (mostly Whig) Party eventually banded together, over the course of many votes. Still no single candidate received a majority. After nine weeks of polling, it occurred to legislators that the contest was taking time away from regular duties. To bring the election to a close, the House agreed to elect a Speaker based on a plurality rather than a clear majority.
How did that all end for the Whigs and the Know-Nothings?
In a sense, the 1854 Speaker election was the final (tortured) act of a fractured union between the Whigs and the Know-Nothings they had spawned...

Historically, the American Party was an electoral flash-in-the-pan. As the slash-and-burn Know-Nothings diminished in influence, a newly formed Republican Party took root in the clearing.
 The rising star of the newly-formed Republican Party? Abraham Lincoln. We should only be so lucky.

Friday, October 23, 2015

President Obama: GOP are Like Grumpy Cat

It is very true that President Obama can be inspirational as a speaker. And he has the ability to get all wonky on just about any issue. But let's face it...the guy also has a great sense of humor. Enjoy!!!

His grumpy cat impersonation isn't bad either.

What I Learned From Watching the Benghazi Hearing

Yes, I watched the entire 11 hours - although I must admit that my attention lagged every now and then. The Republicans on the committee threw everything they had at Hillary Clinton. Here are my two big take-aways from all that.

The line of questioning that came from Rep. Jim Jordan wasn't's been the big accusation against President Obama, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton from the get-go. The claim is that all of them tried to fool the American people into believing that the anti-Muslim video that was sparking demonstrations all over the Middle East (both peaceful and violent) was the cause of what happened in Benghazi, when it was really a "terrorist" attack. I guess they forgot about the shellacking Romney took during the 2012 presidential debate when Obama allowed him to dig a disastrous hole with, "Please proceed, Governor."

But overall, this argument tells us a lot about Republicans. Clinton got into a lot of trouble during a previous Congressional investigation about Benghazi when she basically asked why all that mattered. From a reality-based perspective, she had a point.

It seems that for Republicans, the death of a U.S. Ambassador and 3 other Americans wouldn't matter as much if they were the result of protests rather than a terrorist attack. That kind of thinking is exactly why they get so perturbed that President Obama won't call ISIS "radical Islamists." It's all about the words you use rather than the actions those words describe.

For as long as I can remember, Republicans have been trying to scare us with the words they use to describe our adversaries. During the Cold War and McCarthy hearings, it was all about "communists." Reagan called the Soviet Union the "evil empire" and George W. Bush talked about the "axis of evil." And instead of going after those who were responsible for 9/11, the Bush/Cheney administration launched the "global war on terrorism."

Given all that, Republicans know that Benghazi isn't an adequate vehicle for fear mongering unless we call it a "terror attack." If, instead, it was the result of an angry mob reacting to an anti-Muslim video, that dilutes the message. But in the end, as Clinton said, what difference does it really make? Would our response be any different if there was a slight change in what we learned about what motivated the attackers? I'd suggest that a reasonable response (not the kind we got from Bush/Cheney to 9/11) would not.

As is often the case, reality is a bit more nuanced than Republicans try to paint it. We learned that when one of the leaders of the Benghazi attack - Ahmed Abu Khattala - was captured.
Despite extensive speculation about the possible role of Al Qaeda in directing the attack, Mr. Abu Khattala is a local, small-time Islamist militant. He has no known connections to international terrorist groups, say American officials briefed on the criminal investigation and intelligence reporting, and other Benghazi Islamists and militia leaders who have known him for many years...

On the day of the attack, Islamists in Cairo had staged a demonstration outside the United States Embassy there to protest an American-made online video mocking Islam, and the protest culminated in a breach of the embassy’s walls — images that flashed through news coverage around the Arab world.

As the attack in Benghazi was unfolding a few hours later, Mr. Abu Khattala told fellow Islamist fighters and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video, according to people who heard him.
In other words, one of the leaders of the attack had no known connections to international terrorist groups and used the video as a tool to recruit fighters to join in the attack. On the other hand, it was not a spontaneous reaction from protesters. It was a planned attack. People like Rep. Jim Jordan seem incapable of grasping that kind of nuance. Here he is lecturing former Secretary Clinton:
"You picked the video narrative. You picked the one with no evidence. And you did it because Libya was supposed to be...this great success story," he said during one of his filibusters. "You can live with a protest about a video. That won't hurt you. But a terrorist attack will."
That, my friends, is the best distillation of Republican confusion about Benghazi that you'll find anywhere.

The other thing I learned from watching these hearings is all about Hillary Clinton. I've always known that she is smart. But two things I've heard about her - especially during this campaign - is that her age is an issue and she tends to be evasive rather than direct when she feels challenged. Those two critiques were banished as completely irrelevant yesterday.

The kind of stress a president is under is only secondarily physical. It is mostly emotional. We need to know that the person we elect to that position is capable of keeping their cool when a lot of difficult things come their way. At 67, Hillary Clinton just withstood 11 hours (minus breaks) of people coming at her with every kind of attack and negative insinuation they could find. She did something I'm pretty sure I couldn't have done under those circumstances...kept her cool and answered every question with intelligence and patience. Here's how Jeb Lund summarized it:
She didn't lose her cool under circumstances that would have sent any of us screaming for the exit or climbing over the dais to try to brain someone with a shoe. She was by far the most prepared person at the hearings and the most fluent in the details. She said the two funniest lines of the day, broke into a big natural grin, delivered a fairly riveting account of the fog of war during the events of the compound attack, and became visibly affected when talking about those harmed during it. The Republicans on the Benghazi committee just inadvertently put her through an 11-hour stress test of her intelligence, patience and composure as a leader. They just vetted their own opposition, and they did it through such a protracted, disingenuous, confused and obnoxious display that even people who have every right to feel ambivalent about her doubtless felt a twinge of sympathy.
People will continue to have their policy differences with Clinton. But no one can doubt that she's got what it takes to do the job.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dubya is Right to Worry About Cruz

You might have seen that recently George W. Bush went after Ted Cruz at a fundraiser for his brother Jeb. Some pundits found that odd given the fact that Trump and Carson are the one's making all the headlines these days. Perhaps the former president was just sounding off on his personal animosity for a fellow Texas Republican. But there might be more to the story. Let's take a look at what's going on.


According to Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight, this is how things stood for Cruz in the polls last week:
He is polling fourth in an average of the last three live-interview polls, at 8 percent. That’s higher than he was when he launched his bid, which is impressive given how much oxygen Donald Trump is taking up.
Beyond that, in a poll of grassroots activists conducted by Huffington Post and YouGov, Cruz is in second place behind Trump - with a +53% favorability rating compared to Trump's +19%.


Among Republican candidates, Cruz comes in second to Bush in the total amount of money raised so far (campaigns + super pacs). Only Bush's super pacs have raised more than Cruz'. When it comes to donations to the actual campaign, Cruz comes in second to Carson. And when it comes to campaign cash on hand, he leads the field. Finally, Cruz also comes in second to Carson on the amount of money raised from donations of $200 or less. No matter what metric you use, he's doing extremely well on bringing in the money.

Campaign Organization

Here's what Nick Corasaniti reported earlier this month:
For every county in the first four voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, the Cruz campaign has locked down county chairs in charge of not just lending their names to the campaign, but of spearheading outreach and organizing efforts...

The focus on the ground game should come as no surprise, as the Cruz campaign has been heavily focused on building leadership teams...It has also focused on building issue-based teams in the early states, such as their “99 Iowa Pastors” initiative, which seeks to tap into the networks to build more grass-roots support.
Primary Calendar

Cruz is expected to do well in Iowa because of his strong support among Christian conservatives. The next three states - New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada - will likely be a mixed bag. Here's how Eliana Johnson says it will go from there:
Cruz also has a plan beyond Iowa. He has referred to the March 1 “SEC primary,” in which eight Southern states go to the polls, as his “firewall”: that is, a backstop against whatever losses he might sustain beforehand. This year, these Southern states will go to the polls before Florida and before the traditional Super Tuesday, a change in the primary calendar instituted by RNC chairman Reince Priebus. Most of those contests, unlike the ones that precede them, are not winner-take-all, and Cruz’s goal is to win the most delegates rather than to take entire states.
The Kicker

You might be thinking - as I have over these last few months - that Ted Cruz has made so many enemies in the Republican Party that he could never be their candidate. However, Jamelle Bouie outlines a possible path that depends on Trump and Carson dropping out - leaving Cruz as the insurgent champion to take on the the winner of the Bush/Rubio rivalry.

But think about this as a back-up strategy: Lay low while the insurgent candidates stir things up. Don't criticize the leaders - Trump and Carson - because they keep things volatile while the establishment candidates struggle to get their act together. Be ready with enough money to go the distance and start gathering up as many delegates as possible in the primaries. Even if that is not enough to get the nomination, it might position you very well if this whole mess ends up in a contested or brokered convention. At that point, you are well-positioned to play the role of kingmaker (or make other demands on the Party/candidate).

Doesn't that sound like exactly the kind of role Ted Cruz would craft for himself...all the attention for threatening to blow things up with none of the responsibility for cleaning up the mess?

Obama and Biden Speak as One (updated)

In the midst of rampant "Biden will run" speculation on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, a lot of pundits pointed to the fact that Obama and Biden were having lunch together on Tuesday - as they always do - and that the specter of whether or not the Vice President would run was likely to be discussed.

Watching President Obama stand alongside VP Biden during his announcement today, I tend to think that they were right. I suspect that the two of them planned - not only the timing - but the substance of what Biden would say. That's because Biden's speech was quintessential Obama. And yes, that goes for his remarks at about 6:06 when he talks about the need to end divisive partisan politics in this country.

I believe that we have to end the divisive partisan politics that is ripping this country apart. And I think we can. It's mean spirited, it's petty, and it's gone on for much too long. I don't believe, like some do, that it's naive to talk to Republicans. I don't think we should look at Republicans as our enemies. They are our opposition. They're not our enemies. And for the sake of the country, we have to work together.

As the president has said many times, compromise is not a dirty word. But look at it this way folks, how does this country function without consensus? How can we move forward without being able to arrive at consensus? Four more years of this kind of pitched battle may be more than this country can take. We have to change it. We have to change it.
That was a warning shot directed at Hillary Clinton who, in the Democratic debate, called the Republicans her "enemies." It was also directed at Bernie Sanders who has repeatedly suggested that it is "naive" to talk to Republicans.

I'm sure that both Obama and Biden will endorse Clinton once she is nominated and they'll campaign all-out for her election. But the message is clear...don't get into the gutter with Republican divisiveness. Instead, present the American people with an alternative that takes the high ground.

I know this is something that disturbs a lot of people on the left. But Biden is suggesting that the only way to end this ugliness is for one Party to heed the words Barack Obama penned about 10 years ago.
I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate...

Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will. This is more than just a matter of "framing," although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It's a matter of actually having faith in the American people's ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter.
It's also about allowing the American people to clearly identify the cause of our polarization - Republicans who are intent on demonizing the opposition - and to ensure that they have an alternative in Democrats who stayed above the fray.

The Terrifying Prospect of Dreams Coming True

Two years ago I decided to "retire" early. That required some hard choices. I had to sell the home I'd lived in for over 20 years and drastically cut back on my budget.

But those weren't the hardest things I had to do. The toughest question I faced was, "What do I do now?" I answered that question by avoiding it. Instead of dwelling on what came next, I spent my time doing what I love to do...writing about politics right here.

Then about a year ago, something pretty amazing happened. I got asked to write part-time for Washington Monthly's blog, Political Animal. I've had a blast doing that. And in the next print edition of their magazine you'll find a book review written by me - another first.

Now I've been asked to write an article for the NYT's blog, Campaign Stops. Wowza!!!!! Overall, its been amazing to see that simply by doing what I love to do, a whole new path is beginning to open up for me.

But it's also important to recognize that at each step along the way I have found myself gripped with terror. It reminds me of this poem by David Whyte titled, "The Soul Lives Contented."
The soul lives contented
by listening,
if it wants to change
into the beauty of
terrifying shapes,
it tries to speak.

That's why
you will not sing,
afraid as you are
of who might join with you.
I'm very grateful for the things I've learned from David Whyte. I now know that the terror gripping me at this moment is not something to be avoided, but a sure sign that I am on the cusp of changing "into the beauty of terrifying shapes." That's what happens when you are lucky enough to be able to follow your passion and your dreams start coming true.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"This is a No-Brainer...It's Just Math"

Tierney Sneed at TPM has written about an interesting report on the costs of Medicaid expansion.
A new Kaiser Family Foundation report released last week suggests that the Republican-controlled non-expansion states are seeing their share of Medicaid costs rise more sharply than expansion states.
Here's the graph that tells the story.

In summary, not only are the non-expansion states covering fewer people, their state's Medicaid spending is rising at a higher rate than the expansion states.

Sneed describes the non-expansion states as "Republican-controlled" for a reason. Just imagine if we were to overlay this map with one showing red and blue states.

According to a report by Wade Goodwyn at NPR, if you want to see a state that is willing to throw money away in order to satisfy a political agenda, you need look no further than the red state of Texas. Not only does that state have the highest rate of uninsured people in the country (25%), refusing Medicaid expansion has some of their business leaders hopping mad.
"It's our money that we are sending to Washington, D.C.," says Bill Hammond, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, which includes many of the state's richest and most powerful business owners. "We are not getting it back," he says. "We pay for it with corporate income tax, we pay for it with our personal income tax and we pay it in the fact that our premiums are higher than they would be if everyone was insured."

Texas has the second-highest health insurance premiums in the country, right behind Florida...

He says if the state expanded Medicaid it would save Texas business billions of dollars a year that could be invested in upgrading equipment, hiring new employees, providing raises and rewarding shareholders.

For every dollar the state would pay into Medicaid expansion, it would earn back $1.30 from the economic activity created, according to an analysis by Ray Perryman. He's an economist who has consulted for the Texas Legislature and six governors. That economic activity would top out at $3 billion in 10 years, creating 300,000 new jobs each year, he says.
One of the reasons health insurance rates in Texas are so high is that, with the implementation of Obamacare, the federal government stopped subsidizing uncompensated care at hospitals...assuming that with Medicaid expansion, that would no longer be necessary. For states like Texas that refused expansion, hospitals are hurting and passing the pain on in higher insurance premiums and property taxes. For example:
Last year it cost Parkland Hospital three quarters of a billion dollars to provide what is called "uncompensated care" — mostly treating patients without health insurance...

Texas has the third-highest property taxes in the country. In Dallas...more than half of property owners' county property tax bill goes to reimburse Parkland Hospital for the uncompensated care it has to provide.
This quote pretty well sums it up how states should be looking at Medicaid expansion:
Totally aside from the health benefits, Perryman says, when you look at the numbers, "You look at them and you say, 'This is a no-brainer. We need to be doing this.' It's really an apolitical situation. It's just math."
One wonders when/if the voters of the great state of Texas (and all the other red states that refused Medicaid expansion) will finally wake up to the fact that their representatives are selling them down the river simply to make a political point.

There are times I think that at some point pragmatism will have to break through on issues like this and finally start to break up the red/blue divide that is so prominent in our politics today. But then I remind myself of the economic costs the South was willing to pay in order to maintain Jim Crow. Much as we often assume that money is God to conservatives, that's not always the case.

Monday, October 19, 2015

An Explanation for Why Trump is Ahead Right Now

After the second Republican debate, I saw something happening among GOP voters that I attempted to define as the difference between Trump supporters and what I called "Goldwater Republicans." Then, along came John Judis with his description of the former as Middle American Radicals (MARS). Ultimately, what this is all about is the difference between blue collar and white collar Republicans. When it comes to actual voters, rather than the candidates or their degree of experience or their connection (or lack thereof) to the establishment, or even their religious affiliation, this is the difference that matters when analyzing the current contest for the Republican presidential nomination.

Apparently Ron Brownstein (with an assist from GOP pollster Glen Bolger) has come to the same conclusion.
The blue-col­lar wing of the Re­pub­lic­an primary elect­or­ate has con­sol­id­ated around one can­did­ate.

The party’s white-col­lar wing re­mains frag­men­ted.

That may be the most con­cise ex­plan­a­tion of the dy­nam­ic that has pro­pelled Don­ald Trump to a con­sist­ent and some­times com­mand­ing lead in the early stages of the GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion con­test.
Here is why that is important.
That dis­par­ity is crit­ic­al be­cause in both the 2008 and 2012 GOP nom­in­a­tion fights, voters with and without a four-year col­lege de­gree each cast al­most ex­actly half of the total primary votes, ac­cord­ing to cu­mu­lat­ive ana­lyses of exit poll res­ults by ABC poll­ster Gary Langer. With the two wings evenly matched in size, Trump’s great­er suc­cess at con­sol­id­at­ing his “brack­et” ex­plains much of his ad­vant­age in the polls.
You might recall that Judis pegged the number of MARS voters at approximately 30-35% of Republican voters and 20% of the electorate.

For those who are either convinced of Trump's eventual demise or think that he can't be beat, here's what it comes down to:
Bol­ger pre­dicts that up­scale and white-col­lar Re­pub­lic­ans will even­tu­ally uni­fy around a single al­tern­at­ive to Trump after the early vot­ing culls the field. “Giv­en how much Trump is dom­in­at­ing the cam­paign, the fact that he does so much worse with col­lege gradu­ates un­der­scores that they are not buy­ing in­to either his mes­sage or per­sona,” Bol­ger said. “That’s not who he is tar­get­ing his mes­sage to.”

But be­cause so many can­did­ates are run­ning com­pet­it­ively with those voters—in­clud­ing Car­son, Fior­ina, Ru­bio, some­times Bush, Kasich, Christie, and Trump him­self—they face the com­mon risk in the race’s early stages that they will splinter the white-col­lar vote so much that they can’t over­come Trump’s blue-col­lar sup­port. If that pat­tern al­lowed Trump to win not only Iowa, which has fre­quently favored con­ser­vat­ives, but es­tab­lish­ment-friendly early states such as New Hamp­shire and South Car­o­lina, a more cent­rist op­pon­ent may find it dif­fi­cult to re­verse his mo­mentum.
In other words, either white collar Republicans coalesce around a Trump alternative soon, or he starts winning primaries and becomes difficult to beat. How's that for pinpointed political prognostication? It might not be terribly definitive. But it just so happens to be spot-on when it comes to the Republican presidential nominating process right now.

Yglesias Gets it Wrong About Which Party is in Trouble

Matt Yglesias has written a column that is sure to ignite a discussion (Ed Kilgore and djw at Lawyers, Guns and Money have already weighed in). His title tells you a lot about where he's going: Democrats are in denial. Their party is actually in deep trouble. Here's the gist of the point he's trying to make.
Yes, Barack Obama is taking a victory lap in his seventh year in office. Yes, Republicans can't find a credible candidate to so much as run for speaker of the House. Yes, the GOP presidential field is led by a megalomaniacal reality TV star. All this is true — but rather than lay the foundation for enduring Democratic success, all it's done is breed a wrongheaded atmosphere of complacence.

The presidency is extremely important, of course. But there are also thousands of critically important offices all the way down the ballot. And the vast majority — 70 percent of state legislatures, more than 60 percent of governors, 55 percent of attorneys general and secretaries of state — are in Republicans hands. And, of course, Republicans control both chambers of Congress.
Yglesias is right to highlight this problem. But in doing so, he hypes it so out of proportion that it becomes hard to take him seriously. For example, to draw the contrast between "complacent" Democrats and the success of Republicans, he actually writes this sentence.
Not only have Republicans won most elections, but they have a perfectly reasonable plan for trying to recapture the White House.
Given that he just mentioned the fact that the GOP's leading candidate to accomplish that task right now is a "megalomaniacal reality TV star," and that none of their establishment candidates seem capable of holding their own against him, it's hard to take that sentence seriously. But later on in the article, Yglesias get's more specific about that "perfectly reasonable plan."
The GOP, by contrast, has basically two perfectly plausible plans for moving its agenda forward. One is to basically change nothing and just hope for slightly better luck from the economic fundamentals or in terms of Democratic Party scandals. The other is to shift left on immigration and gain some Latino votes while retaining the core of the party's commitments. Neither of these plans is exactly brilliant, innovative, or foolproof. But neither one is crazy.
I don't know that it's crazy for a political party to count on an economic downturn or the possibility of finding and hyping a Democratic scandal as their plan for winning the White House. But it's a pretty good indication that their agenda is weak and inept if that's all they've got. And please...wake me up when Republicans decide to shift left on immigration. The entire Trump-mania phenomenon has been based of shifting right on that issue (look no further than Marco Rubio's flip-flop on that one).

While everyone else is noticing that the Republican Party is in chaos right now, Yglesias actually thinks they're doing just great.
Much of the current Republican infighting — embarrassing and counterproductive though it may be at times — reflects the healthy impulse to recognize that the party lacks the full measure of power that it desires, and needs to argue about optimal strategies for obtaining it.
I fail to see how the efforts of the Ted Cruz and Freedom Caucus wing of the Republican Party to stall any attempt to actually implement an agenda since 2014 are a "healthy impulse."  At the beginning of this legislative session Majority Leader McConnell hoped to pass legislation that would force vetos from President Obama and make him look like the obstructionist. The chaos sparked by the Republican insurgents kept that from happening.

Yglesias is right to point out that Democrats have a problem with losing control of Congress as well as too many state legislatures and governor's races. But his analysis of why that has happened and what to do about it is deeply flawed.

First of all, he suggests that they haven't even admitted the problem and are instead focused on the competition in the presidential race between Clinton and Sanders about how far left to go. My response to that is that we are in the midst of a primary and that's what happens during this phase of an election. But here's how Yglesias sees things:
Consequently, the party is marching steadily to the left on its issue positions — embracing same-sex marriage, rediscovering enthusiasm for gun control, rejecting the January 2013 income tax rate settlement as inadequate, raising its minimum wage aspirations to the $12-to-$15 range, abandoning the quest for a grand bargain on balancing the budget while proposing new entitlements for child care and parental leave...
Yes, the Democrats are embracing a platform that has broad-based appeal among voters while the Republicans continue to paint themselves into a more extremist corner. You are going to have to convince me how that is a problem.

While it's true that Democrats have done poorly in the 2010 and 2014 midterms (and there has been no shortage of handwringing in the Party about that), Yglesias does a good job of summarizing why that happened.
1. The natural distribution of population in the United States tends to lead the average House district to be more GOP-friendly than the overall population.

2. GOP control of most state legislatures lets Republicans draw boundaries in a way that is even more GOP-friendly than the natural population distribution would suggest.

3. Incumbents have large advantages in House elections, and most incumbents are Republicans.

4. So-called "wave" elections in which tons of incumbents lose are typically driven by a backlash against the incumbent president. Since the incumbent president is a Democrat, Democrats have no way to set up a wave.
Too few of the people analyzing this issue have acknowledged #4. Our memories sometimes don't take us back far enough to remember that the 2006 midterms during the Bush/Cheney presidency were a bit of a wave in the other direction.

The problem with midterms is that we seem to have come to a place where anger at an incumbent president is the motivating factor for the few who actually turn out to vote. That is not only what happened in terms of control of Congress in '06, '10 and '14, it also has an effect on state elections. That is a problem we should all be concerned about.

But we're not facing a midterm election in 2016. Control of the Senate is in play this time around, but Democrats probably won't win a majority in the House (even though they are likely to pick up House seats as they did in both the 2008 and 2012). Rather than complacency, the Democratic presidential front-runner is offering a platform that not only provides a vision for going forward, she is making a clear distinction between the Democratic agenda and the Republican extremist fear-mongering. The choice for voters going into 2016 cannot be more clear.

If, as so many did in 2014, Democrats shy away from that distinction going into the 2018 midterms, we can raise the specter of complacency and denial.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Why Jeb Bush is in Trouble (updated)

The latest news from team Jeb! is not looking good.
Jeb Bush’s campaign slashed hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries over the last three months as the struggling candidate's fundraising machine slowed to a more middling pace, new campaign-finance reports indicate.
So what's the deal here? Isn't Jeb the "shock and awe" candidate when it comes to campaign cash? Didn't his superpac pull in the largest stash ($100 million) ever recorded in campaign history? Aren't we living in an oligarchy where the guy with the most cash from the 1% automatically wins?

It's true, Jeb Bush's superpac is the largest war chest ever captured in U.S. presidential history. But as we've discussed before, that money can't be used to pay for the nuts and bolts of his campaign. Hence, if you work for Bush, you're likely getting a pay cut right about now.

When it comes to cash for the actual campaign operation, so far Bush is hauling it in at about the same rate as Rubio and Cruz (all in the $24-$26 million range so far). But I suspect that someone in Jeb's finance team noticed the same thing I did about the huge difference between these campaigns. Of the money raised so far, only 5% of Bush's has come from small donations (under $250). For Rubio that number is 27% and for Cruz it's a whopping 42%.

If my assumption is correct that the majority of the large contributions came in the form of the maximum allowed - $2,700 - Jeb could be in big trouble because his donors have already given as much as they can until after the convention. Hence, all the cutbacks right now. On the other hand, Rubio and Cruz have a larger cadre of supporters/donors who can continue to give money to their campaigns.

That is precisely why one Bush supporter nailed it with this statement:
“We’ve reached one million people [via voter contacts] and we’re in fifth place nationally?” said one Bush supporter who didn’t want to be identified. “I trust the campaign. I just don’t know about the voters. It’s like the more Jeb is out there, the less well he does.”
If, for one, take heart in the fact that no matter how much money a candidate's superpac is sitting on, it's still the voters who get to decide in the end.

UPDATE: Confirming my assumption that Bush raised most of his contributions from people who gave the maximum amount ($2,700), Paul Blumenthal at HuffPost provides this chart (based on July - September contributions).

This chart also suggests that Christie (and perhaps Kasich) might run into the same problem.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Elizabeth Warren: Glass-Steagall as Symbol

Wow, I'm not sure how I missed this one. Back in 2012, Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote a column about how Glass-Steagall wouldn't have affected the 2008 financial crisis which led to the Great Recession. As part of that, he had a phone conversation with Elizabeth Warren on the topic. Here is what she said at the time:
In my conversation with Ms. Warren she told me that one of the reasons she’s been pushing reinstating Glass-Steagall — even if it wouldn’t have prevented the financial crisis — is that it is an easy issue for the public to understand and “you can build public attention behind.”

She added that she considers Glass-Steagall more of a symbol of what needs to happen to regulations than the specifics related to the act itself.
And yet, here she is in July 2015 introducing the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act on the Senate floor using all the scary things that happened during the financial crisis as a backdrop.

We also know that reinstating Glass-Steagall is one of the five things she prioritized for Wall Street reform. One has to wonder if anything else on that list is "more of a symbol."

But perhaps most importantly, during the Democratic debate, both Sanders and O'Malley jumped all over Hillary Clinton for not including the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall as part of her own proposal for Wall Street reform. That's what happens when the patron-saint of "populist anger" toys with the public by using symbols to ratchet up an emotional reaction.

The basis for much of Elizabeth Warren's appeal has always been that she is both smart and sincere. This is the kind of thing that calls one or both of those things into question.

Obama as the Quintessential Anti-Trump

How can I fail to respond when my favorite pearl-clutcher-in-chief comments on the reason for the rise of Donald Trump? I give you Peggy Noonan at her best:
The only thing I feel certain of is how we got here. There are many reasons we’re at this moment, but the essential political one is this: Mr. Obama lowered the bar. He was a literal unknown, an obscure former state legislator who hadn’t completed his single term as U.S. senator, but he was charismatic, canny, compelling. He came from nowhere and won it all twice. All previously prevailing standards, all usual expectations, were thrown out the window.

Anyone can run for president now, and in the future anyone will.
Steve Benen suggests that this might be the ultimate "Thanks, Obama" meme. But, as I often do, I get a kick out of his way of using understatement as a kind of delicious irony.
Noonan complains, “Anyone can run for president now.” Well, yes, and anyone could run for president before. President Obama has had an enormous impact on the nation’s direction, but eligibility standards for the White House remain unaffected.
I just have to add that, for this writer, Barack Obama as presidential candidate was the quintessential anti-Trump. The opposite of "the Donald's" pattern of labeling anyone who disagrees with him a "looser" or "stupid," was this:

And when it comes to Trump's message based on fear mongering about what it is that makes America great, that Obama guy inspired us with something pretty different.

If Republicans had ever bothered to learn something from the power of messages like that, we'd be in a very different place today.

The Real Effect of Citizens United on the GOP (updated)

Regular readers might have already figured out that I am extremely skeptical of the conventional wisdom that is currently embraced by many people about the effects of the Supreme Court's decision on Citizens United. It has certainly changed things. But not always in the way we've been led to believe. Here are some of the things I'm paying attention to in terms of how it's impacting the 2016 presidential race.

Insurgent Candidates

What we saw happen in the 2012 Republican presidential primary is that several insurgent candidates were able to hang on longer than they would have otherwise because of funding from their big superpac donors (i.e., Newt Gingrich). This is at least one of the reasons why 17 candidates threw their hat in the ring this time around.

A Weakened RNC

RNC Chair Reince Priebus has tried his best to reign in the extremism currently gripping the Republican Party. But because candidates no longer need the Party establishment to survive (see above), he's pretty much been neutered. The Koch brothers are even threatening to set up their own "shadow party" when it comes to some of the functions normally carried out by the RNC.

SuperPacs Can't Replace Hard Money

While donors can make unlimited contributions to superpacs, they are limited to $2,700 for a candidate's campaign. As we saw with Scott Walker when he dropped out of the race, his superpac still had approximately $20 million in the bank. But he wasn't raising much of anything when it comes to the hard money candidates need from donors to operate their basic campaign functions.

We're now hearing some of the same issues with Jeb Bush's campaign - even though his superpacs are likely sitting on something like $100 million. Jeb might be running into the same problem Hillary Clinton faced in her primary against Barack Obama. Once a donor has given the limit to the campaign, they can't give again until after the convention (when they can give another $2,700). Based on the latest fundraising report, Jeb is only getting 5% of his campaign cash from small donations. So I suspect that a lot of his supporters have already maxed out. If he can't widen his donor base, he'll continue to be in trouble.

What Can All That Superpac Money Buy?

The traditional view is that superpacs are all about buying expensive air time for TV ads. But we're seeing more and more reports indicating that those ads aren't making any difference. And yet, Republicans continue to invest...big time.

The question becomes, if not TV ads, what do you do with all that superpac money? Some candidates, like Carly Fiorina, are experimenting with "creative" ways to get around the laws about campaigns not coordinating with superpacs. I'll be watching to see, not only how far Republicans are willing to push those limits, but how successful the strategies will be.

Overall, it's beginning to look like Citizens United has had a pretty de-stabilizing impact on the Republican Party. There are plenty of places to point when looking for the source of the chaos they're currently experiencing. But I think we miss a big one if we don't consider the impact of this Supreme Court decision that everyone assumed would simply be a windfall for them.

UPDATE: It's interesting to note that Rachel Maddow is one of the few people in the media who are just beginning to ask some of these questions.

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