Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Polls

Recent polls have shown an essentially tied race between Clinton and Trump.  This is to be expected.  Trump has sewn up the nomination and is consolidating his control over the GOP and winning the loyalty of GOP voters.  Clinton still has the Bernie or Bust crowd to deal with.  At this point in 2008, McCain led Obama for the same reason.

Polls in the early spring are usually pretty predictive.  Then we enter a weird period during the summer where all sorts of strange numbers appear.

After the conventions and Labor Day, the numbers will again make more sense.  That isn't to say that the poll numbers aren't saying anything, they are.  They are noting that Trump is shoring up his support on the Right, while Clinton continues to fight on the Left.

But there still aren't enough Republicans to elect Donald Trump, and he still polls horribly with too many different groups.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

New England

Days like this can single handedly make up for a fortnight of winter. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Friday, May 20, 2016

History Or Poli Sci?

There are two theories about where this ends up with Sanders and Clinton.

The first notes that the 2008 campaign was much more vicious and hard fought than this one.  Josh Marshall has a nice sampling of emails from back then that shows how toxic is was.  And that worked out fine.

Jon Chait makes an equally reasonable argument that Sanders - unlike Clinton 8 years ago - has no investment in the Democratic party.  For him, the system is broken.  For Clinton against Obama, the system failed her, but she wasn't trying to overthrow the system.

So, is Sanders sui generis? Or will his pragmatic side show up and bridge the current rhetorical chasm between his most adamant supporters and the Democratic party?

UPDATE: Markos also lays the blame at Sanders' feet.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Berning His Bridges

Josh Marshall sums up the state of the Sanders campaign pretty well.  Marshall especially feels that this current toxicity is coming from Sanders - as opposed to those who blame Jeff Weaver.

Whatever the source, after the Nevada incident and Sanders' refusal to tone down the rhetoric, there is a growing backlash, especially among left-leaning Democrats.  Plenty of people I know who said, "I support Sanders/I voted for Sanders, but I'm really OK with Clinton and desperately want to win in November" are now saying, "Screw Sanders."

Sanders is not a Democrat.  Never has been.  That is integral to his appeal.  But that means he was never going to win the Superdelegates.  Now, he's both pitching a strategy that relies on the Superdelegates, all the while shitting all over the party that they represent.

Sanders ran originally on an issue agenda.  His campaign has now collapsed into an ego-filled squid cloud of butthurt.  Any credibility and sympathy he had from people like me evaporated a while ago, but now he's alienating his softer supporters.

What hill (pardon the pun) is Sanders will to die on?  What are the one or two issues that he needs to insist make it into the party platform?  Because that's all he's got right now.

If I were advising Sanders, I'd demand a substantial reduction in superdelegates and more primaries rather than caucuses.  I'd demand a plank on the minimum wage and maybe a public option.  But those latter two he was going to get anyway.

But Sanders pushes this much further and he won't get anything.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Primary Is Not The General

Donald Trump's ability to win a plurality of the GOP voters has been followed up by many Republican voters coalescing around his candidacy.  Meanwhile, Sanders threatens to burn down whatever gains he's made within the Democratic party by refusing to accept that sometimes you lose elections.

However, Trump's success and Sanders' current disruption doesn't alter the dynamics of the race.  Trump has not brought in "new voters." And I can't see Clinton losing a state that Obama won.

So it's not a surprise that the Clinton team is going to play it safe.

Of course, playing it safe probably means they forfeit any chance of winning the House, but...

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Sanders Is Dancing Up To A Line

The brouhaha in Nevada over the state convention is threatening to create rift with the Sanders people.  And it's the Sanders people who are inflaming this.  Sanders lost the fucking process.  He won a bunch of geography, but not enough people.  John Cole uses his typically intemperate but on-point language to describe the Sanders people as entitled students who want their grades raised for no real reason.

Martin Longman suggests that Clinton be magnanimous, and perhaps she should.  But only to a point.

Sanders needs to decide if this is really a movement or a cult of personality.

Poop Anywhere

The freakout over protecting transgender students in schools is typical of politics in 2016.

First, there are very few transgender students.  There are more than we commonly thought,  because many transgender people simply identified in the broader world as "gay" when they were in fact transgender.  So, there is a non-neglible population of trans people, but hardly a lot of them.

Second, they've been using these bathrooms for years in the broader world.

Third, liberals have asserted a battle over this issue that is likely to hurt them in the short term and help them in the historical long run.

Fourth, the conservative reaction is so freaking over the top that it defies categorization.

Is this THE most important issue in the world?  No.  Is it really important for trans students and their parents?  Yes.  Will it lead to child predators going into bathrooms?  Hell, no.

But this is the state of our politics today.

Monday, May 16, 2016


Today on the NPR, I heard Donald Trump picking a fight with David Cameron, saying he wouldn't get along with him.

Meanwhile, he likes Putin's style.

I've always assumed that most Republicans will either kiss his ring or ignore him.  Only a few have actively rebelled, but I wonder if he will cross some bridge that finally creates the all out rupture that seems inevitable.  Meanwhile, I no longer feel sorry for Boehner, because he's on K Street living the dream.

Now, I feel sorry for this guy.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


A couple of weeks ago, my students asked me to give them a class where I would lay out my entire worldview.  It was flattering.  I said it might surprise them to learn how optimistic I am about things in general.

My optimism is born of the basic liberal idea of progress.  Things in any given moment might seem bad, but overall, things are getting better and will continue to get better as long as we try to improve them.

It is also part of being a historian (as opposed to a cheerleader).  Having some understanding of the past is a powerful endorsement of the present and the future.

Gregg Easterbrook is an unusual writer who has seemingly come in and out of my line of sight over the past fifteen years.  He's written a defense of optimism that is sorely needed.  However, he tends to glide by the structural and institutional reasons people are pessimistic and focus on the fact that pessimism is cool and optimism is not.  As he writes sarcastically: "If you don't think everything is awful, you don't understand the situation."  He then goes on to use empirical data to note how much better things have gotten.

Job growth is robust, America is remarkably safe - both externally and internally, clean energy is expanding rapidly, America's industrial output is near record highs, disease and pollution are declining.

And he is right, both in his data and his assertion that if you point this out, "you just don't get it."  Job growth is good and unemployment low, and we are producing more industrial goods than just about any time in our history.  BUT... that increased productivity comes with fewer jobs.  Just as the mechanization of agriculture led to fewer farm workers, so has the automation of industry reduced industrial jobs.

Real wages have stagnated, but it's not quite as bleak as the Sandernistas suggest. Easterbrook writes: "Gary Burtless of the Brooking Institute has shown that when lower taxes and higher benefits are factored in, middle class buying power as risen 36 percent in the current generation.

We are surrounded by marvels, and all we see are the things we lack.

Last night, the missus and I took in a fantastic movie, Sing Street, about a dorky kid who starts a band in 1985 Dublin to "get the girl."  What was striking was how awful things were in Ireland back in the '80s.  Today, Ireland's standard of living has risen incredibly.  And the same is true today in the US.  Think back to the Reagan '80s: AIDS, cigarettes everywhere, lead poisoned youths on a crime wave, terrorist attacks and hostage crises in Lebanon, the Cold War, the routine sexual harassment of women in the workplace and on and on.

Every day, we are making the world a slightly better place.  And Easterbrook is right to point this out.

However, I do think there are structural and psychological issues at play that he ignores.  Most profoundly, one of the great wonders of the age - the Internet - has created a cycle of reinforcing pessimism.  I once tried to argue that things were getting better on Facebook, and it was like I was defending the KKK.  I "just didn't get it."

Some of that is cultural, as Easterbrook rightly points out.  The structure of that culture is built on epstimological closure. People only talk to people who agree with them and that creates reinforcing beliefs. But there also seems to be some psychological component at play.

As we get more and more removed from survival conditions, as we enjoy more and more comfort, we get more and more uncomfortable with it.  It's like the line in The Matrix, where Agent Smith notes that they tried to make the matrix more pleasant, but the human mind rebelled against it.  So they made it gritty and uncomfortable.  That fit the human mind better.

We are hard-wired for threat and survival.  Now that those things are largely gone, we create them where they don't exist or we squander or waste what we do have.  In our unhappiness, we medicate ourselves with alcohol and drugs, and this turns our abundance into loss.

One other point Easterbrook makes that it really important: progress is impossible without optimism.  To be a progressive or a liberal is to believe that your applied reason and effort can improve the world.  That is the essence of liberalism.  But if you believe the "system is rigged" or that "we are all doomed" then it is too easy to give up.

This is the crux of Barack Obama's speech at Howard.  Read this:

Given the current state of our political rhetoric and debate, let me say something that may be controversial, and that is this: America is a better place today than it was when I graduated from college. (Applause.) Let me repeat: America is by almost every measure better than it was when I graduated from college. It also happens to be better off than when I took office -- (laughter) -- but that's a longer story. (Applause.) That's a different discussion for another speech.

But think about it. I graduated in 1983. New York City, America’s largest city, where I lived at the time, had endured a decade marked by crime and deterioration and near bankruptcy. And many cities were in similar shape. Our nation had gone through years of economic stagnation, the stranglehold of foreign oil, a recession where unemployment nearly scraped 11 percent. The auto industry was getting its clock cleaned by foreign competition. And don’t even get me started on the clothes and the hairstyles. I've tried to eliminate all photos of me from this period. I thought I looked good. (Laughter.) I was wrong.

Since that year -- since the year I graduated -- the poverty rate is down. Americans with college degrees, that rate is up. Crime rates are down. America’s cities have undergone a renaissance. There are more women in the workforce. They’re earning more money. We’ve cut teen pregnancy in half. We've slashed the African American dropout rate by almost 60 percent, and all of you have a computer in your pocket that gives you the world at the touch of a button. In 1983, I was part of fewer than 10 percent of African Americans who graduated with a bachelor’s degree. Today, you’re part of the more than 20 percent who will. And more than half of blacks say we’re better off than our parents were at our age -- and that our kids will be better off, too.

So America is better. And the world is better, too. A wall came down in Berlin. An Iron Curtain was torn asunder. The obscenity of apartheid came to an end. A young generation in Belfast and London have grown up without ever having to think about IRA bombings. In just the past 16 years, we’ve come from a world without marriage equality to one where it’s a reality in nearly two dozen countries. Around the world, more people live in democracies. We’ve lifted more than 1 billion people from extreme poverty. We’ve cut the child mortality rate worldwide by more than half.

All of this is empirically true. And believing in this is how you make progress.  Not through a revolution that is based on false premises.  And certainly not by building walls.

Hillary Clinton must find a way to make America optimistic again.  Her husband was phenomenal at this, but it is not her forte.  She needs to find the music for these words.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Normalizing Hate

This is what worries me most about Trump.  As we are seeing, as he solidifies his grip on the nomination, he solidifies his grip on the GOP message.  That message is steeped in hatred and dehumanization.  It is precisely his ability to tap into that hatred of the "other" that has catapulted him to the nomination.  There are still voices like Gerson's in the GOP to call him out on that, but Trump was never the first voice that dehumanized non-white non-Christians.

As Gerson points out in the article, Hungarians responded to the rise of ethno-nationalist rhetoric by changing their own minds.  The racist party of that country gave license to other Hungarians to adapt exclusionary rhetoric and ideas.

I don't think Trump wins.  I can't see the math.

He could do severe damage to pluralism in this country before he loses though.

Friday, May 13, 2016

If It Quacks Like A Duck....

There is some debate over whether or not Donald Trump represents some form of fascism.  Probably not the Hitler-kind, but maybe the Mussolini-kind?  This goes to the idea that he represents some form of American authoritarianism.

Certainly, threatening to go after newspapers because they print things about you that you don't like isn't really in the spirit of American democracy and civil liberties.  Unfortunately, the press is held in almost as low esteem as Trump himself, so I'm not sure attacking them will really change many minds.  People who respect the freedom of the press aren't voting for Trump anyway.  The fact that Trump's attacks on WaPo are factually illiterate won't matter either.

With Sheldon Adelson becoming the first mega-donor to endorse Trump, we are going to see some movement towards Trump.  Paul Ryan has begun his inevitable capitulation before the Great Orange Satan.

The question becomes what happens when Trump says something so outrageous - or allegations surface from his past of criminality - that you really can't justify Trump to yourself or the world at large?

And will the press be willing to abandon their "both side do it" reflex - and their tendency to wilt in the face of charges of bias - and hold people accountable?

I have my doubts.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

West, By God, Virginia

Some really good analysis of the West Virginia primary, and the nature of Sanders voters.  The key bit is that many Sanders voters are not voting at all for the specific agenda of Sanders' "Revolution."  In fact, this might explain why Sanders' agenda has never received much scrutiny.

Sanders - and Trump - are really running as insurgents, not ideologues.  This is readily apparent in Trump, but often gets hidden in looking at Sanders, because Sanders himself is ideological.  But for many of his supporters, Clinton is simply the paramount example of the "corrupt system."

Ultimately, they are more fixated on tearing stuff down, rather than building a truly new system.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

OK, Sandernistas. What Do You Want?

Greg Sargent flags Clinton asking the Sandernistas to join her coalition.  He wonders what this might look like.  As Stephen Stromberg notes, Sanders actual proposals are unrealistic.  In particular, Sanders has suggested that he can expand the welfare state, especially in health care, without taxing the middle and working class at the levels necessary for it to work.

So, Clinton has sort of laid down a gauntlet: Why do you want from my election?  Let's say they ask for the $15 minimum wage.  Let's say that somehow Clinton get a $13 minimum wage through Congress.  Will people see this as a necessary progress?  Or will it simply disillusion the people who are waiting for their revolution?

Many - though certainly not all -  Sanders supporters suffer from the same unicorn problem that afflicts the far right.  They want what they want, and they are unwilling to accept that sometimes you only get half a loaf.