Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Quick Thoughts Following the Shooting of Steve Scalise

Perhaps we need to stop accusing our political opponents of being a threat to our democracy? 
Perhaps we need to stop using the language of war when discussing politics? 
Though a thriving democracy demands a loyal opposition to any governing majority it does not need a resistance - losing an election (whether 1992, 2000, 2008, or 2016) is not the same as living in occupied territory. 
There are too many people out there who will take this heated rhetoric as a call to arms - arms that are plentiful and readily available.
This current era of treating the opposition as the enemy really took hold under Clinton, grew under Bush, exploded under Obama, and has now simply become commonplace.

What can we do? 
We can start by calling out our friends, family members, and elected officials when they choose to go down this path.
We think before we speak or type.
We can realize that those things that unite us as Americans are far stronger than those that divide us.
We can refuse to give in when others seek to divide us for political gain.

We can agree that this must to stop. We are not at war.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Left's Anti-Intellectualism Problem

Much is made of the anti-intellectualism on the Right. But I think there's a deeper story there and the recent campus "incidents" brings that deeper story to light. Conservatives aren't anti-intellectualism, they're anti-intellectual. And who can blame them? Those who proudly wear the banner of intellectual are often the same self-righteous and self-appointed guardians of of what can and cannot be said and who cheer when anyone who challenges liberal orthodoxy is chased off of a college campus. The real problem I see is that the Left, for all it's "I believe in Science" bumper sticker chanting, is pro-intellectual but anti-intellectualism. Intellectualism means that one is dedicated to study, reflection, and speculation - reflection and speculation.

But when it's decided that Charles Murray's words must not be heard or that a progressive professor cannot question the appropriateness of asking an entire class of people to leave a campus or that anyone less than a progressive must not be permitted to speak at a commencement there is no reflection going on. Speculation and reflection encourages free thinking and can result in people questioning established dogma. Too often now this is not tolerated. One must toe the line or be ostracized and declared an enemy.

It's like watching the Mountain Jacobins battle the Girondins - talk of moderation or inclusion are met with the guillotine of exclusion and condemnation. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of ridiculous stuff going on with the Right. Their complete willingness to become cheerleaders and apologists for a man who has absolutely no commitment to conservative principles is but the tip of the iceberg. But watching the Left react to being powerless (they control no aspect of the federal government and very few state governments) has been illuminating. Those with the loudest voices are using those voices to reinforce the anger of like-minded souls. Efforts to empathize or to reach out and build the coalition are met with angry dismissals - "why should we talk to those people? why should we care what they think?" So instead, the energy is dedicated to actions that only reinforce the worst aspects of what "those people" think about the Left.

If their goal is to attract new adherents and win back power then the tactics are all wrong. If their goal is to commiserate with an insular group of dedicated followers... then job well done.

I encourage all of the true believers to read this excellent essay by Freddie DeBoer.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Don Rickles' Final Message to Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell

On a related note, here's a quick test to determine whether or not you are a part of the problem.

Read the following statements:

The filibuster was justified, but the nuclear option was unacceptable!

The nuclear option was justified, but the filibuster was unacceptable!

If you agreed with either one of those statements, then yes, you are a part of the problem - and you need to go away.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Trump's Unnecessary Travel Ban Simply Repeats Our Past Mistakes

I've noticed a lot of folks on social media have taken to posting images and memes of 9/11 as "justification" for Trump's travel ban. So I think it's important to point out that the countries that the 9/11 hijackers came from are not included in the ban and no one from the country's covered by the ban have ever attacked anyone in the United States.
I am reminded of a quote offered by General John L. DeWitt, head of the U.S. Army’s Western Defense Command during WWII, in which he defended the forced internment of Japanese Americans. It was a policy driven by racial prejudice and ignorance masquerading as national security. It is also considered to be among the greatest injustices ever perpetrated by the U.S. government.
DeWitt said, "The Japanese race is an enemy race and while many second and third generation Japanese born on American soil, possessed of American citizenship, have be come ‘Americanized,’ the racial strains are undiluted.
…It, therefore, follows that along the vital Pacific Coast over 112,000 potential enemies, of Japanese extraction, are at large today.
The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken."
Pay especially close attention to that last sentence - the lack of any hostile actions was portrayed as "proof" that such hostile acts will happen. Today, we're banning refugees from Syria and travelers from several majority Muslim countries and the justifications is very much that the lack of any hostile acts committed by folks from those countries is simply proof that such hostile acts will happen.
We can choose to learn from our past mistakes or we can ignore those lessons and repeat our past mistakes. Trump appears to be committed to repeating past mistakes. History will likely be very unforgiving in its assessment of the choice he made.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Democrats Cannot Win By Employing Republican Tactics

I understand the urge among Senate Democrats to oppose all things Trump and make most of his nominees party line votes. They are replicating the GOP strategy under Obama. But Democrats need to be cautious when using Republican tactics. Republicans made major legislation under Obama appear to be very partisan by turning most votes into strict party line votes. Republicans filibustered Obama's lower court nominees to the point that Democrats decided to eliminate the filibuster.
But Republicans had a clear strategy - undermine confidence in government. Make people question the legitimacy of Obama policies. As the party of small government, the anti-statists, Republicans improve their electoral chances when confidence in government is low. Voters doubt government so they look to candidates that share their doubts and advocate limited government.
But Democrats are the pro-statist party. They believe in the positive power of government. As such, they suffer when confidence in government is low. Democrats need for people to have confidence in government. It was an upsurge in confidence following the 2008 financial collapse that delivered unified control of Congress and the presidency in 2008. Republican obstruction of the stimulus bill, the Affordable Care Act, and Cap and Trade very effectively undermined confidence in government - leading to their victories in 2010 and again in 2014 and 2016.
So when Democrats employ Republican tactics they actually imperil the electoral strength. People will not vote for a pro-statist if intense partisanship, party line votes, and attacks on the legitimacy of Trump actions convince voters that government is still ineffective and broken. As contradictory as it may sound, Democrats would actually improve their electoral chances by finding areas of common ground where they can vote to support some policies and nominees. Unfortunately, that's not what the party's activist base wants them to do.So in the Senate, Chuck Schumer is in a real bind - does he look to bolster Democratic prospects in 2018 or does he give in to the demands of "the resistance?"

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Will the Women's March Become a Sustained Movement?

I'm seeing a lot of folks asking "will the Women's March" be more like the Tea Party and have a sustained impact or be like Occupy Wall Street and quickly fade. There is of course no way to tell. Certainly Trump will exist as a catalyst for a sustained movement, but Trump being Trump wasn't enough to keep the Obama coalition together for Clinton. The numbers yesterday, in DC and in other cities around the world, were incredibly impressive. Amazing. To dispute that would be folly. But one of my first thoughts was not of Tea Party v Occupy Wall Street. It was of the February 2003 anti-war protests that took place in over 600 cities and involved roughly 30 million participants. The invasion of Iraq came 5 weeks later and President Bush was re-elected in 2004 and Tony Blair in 2005. The protest never became an influential political movement. When I looked at the posters at the protest I certainly saw indications of the challenges it may well face when trying to influence politics. Much like the Democratic party, the protest was clearly an alliance of different groups with different agendas - unified by opposition to Trump. Yes there were folks there for equal pay and for reproductive rights. But there were also folks there for Black Lives Matter, immigration reform, refugee relief, and in support of Muslims. Can such a coalition remain unified? Trump won because many of the white working class voters who had been part of the Democratic coalition decided that they no longer fit in. The challenge for Democrats has always been the agenda diversity of their coalition. It's true that opposition to Obama helped to unify factions within the GOP, but the GOP has a much less diverse coalition. And the political geography of 2018 suggests that even a sustained movement may not be enough to change the balance of power. So would the movement survive an electoral defeat? So much remains to be seen.

As Women March on Washington, It's Also a Great Time for them to Run for Office

Of the many explanations offered to explain Hillary Clinton's loss to Donald Trump, few are as ubiquitous as the belief that she lost due to the electorate's unwillingness to elect women. Yesterday, millions of people participated in the Women's March so I think today is good day to explore the question of gender's impact on electoral success in American Politics. The answer to the question is likely to surprise a lot of people, but it should inspire them as well.  A landmark study by the National Women's Political Caucus issued in 1994 determined, based decades of evidence from state assembly races and a decade of Congressional races, that gender had no impact on electoral success in US elections.

In state Assembly races, incumbent women won 95% of the time, while incumbent men won 94% of the races. Women challengers won 10% of the time and men challengers won 9% of the time. Women and men running for open seats each won little more than half the time.

In state Senate races, incumbent women won 91% and incumbent men 92% of the time. Women running for open seats won 58% of the races; men won 55%. Female challengers won 16% of the time; men 11%.

The findings were essentially the same for U.S. House races as well as U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races. A 2003 study by Fox and Oxley, published in the prestigious Journal of Politics, confirmed that women likelihood of victory does not vary based on the office sought.