Politics Isn’t The Culture War

Why is presidential politics so messed up? One thing I’ve started to think a lot about is that some people see it as a part of the culture war instead of choosing over policies.

If we were simply picking someone to run the government, an awful lot of what we talk about wouldn’t come up. Character issues might be there in extreme cases, but I doubt it would be as front and center.

It’s what the candidate stands for. Polls seem to show that a lot more people think Hillary is qualified to be president, but a huge portion of that group will not vote for her anyway. Why? Trump is a wildcard and a hothead. He has no experience.

But he stands for a no apologies version of pressing pause on the culture wars and perhaps even reversing them.

To liberals, that last sentence means that he wants to do damage to civil rights. You’re right. But what’s important to understand is why would someone do that?

Why would a man like Dennis Prager support Trump when he’s spent his entire career being a moral scold? I don’t agree with Prager about much. I don’t think someone saying the word ‘fuck’ is a mortal sin.

It’s the culture of irresponsibility. It’s the culture of “fat activists” who claim medical science is biased against them and people who want to do whatever they want and you have to like it. It’s the culture of safe spaces and “inter sectionalism” and “microagressions” and all of the other vapid garbage people do to avoid hearing dissent.

Not put up with it. Like it. It’s the make your problem my problem, but don’t make my problem your problem culture. Since we don’t have an alternative remedy to this that comes from a group careful with civil rights, the package deal from the right is all there is.

It’s easy to analogize this to austerity policies like welfare. Some people do want to not work. And I don’t think their lives should be luxurious, but it only makes problems if they aren’t fed and sheltered. Abortion too can be portrayed as lazy irresponsibility.

Until there is a Democratic candidate that loses her/his patience with this babyish mentality, people who have lost their patience will only be drawn to the right and the baggage that its solutions bring.

 

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Kapernick

I’m going to please no one in expressing what I think about this.

We should be taking police violence seriously. I think most police do. And certainly, the man can express himself how he wants. But let’s look at the context.

Kapernick was an overhyped quarterback who was on the cusp on winning something under very talented coach Jim Harbaugh, but he was never able to round out his game. He had trouble getting plays off in time. I don’t think he ever mastered a real NFL offense. As a result, he was benched for a guy who would be the third stringer on a lot of teams.

Now suddenly he is woke?

Without getting into all of the silly questions about his level of “privilege” and his complicated racial identity, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say all of this is just part of some soul searching he’s been doing. He still fucked up.

Why? By choosing to exercise his speech in the way he did he guaranteed that all he would do is give each side in this particular culture war fuel for their fires. Linking patriotism to police violence and the like has always been a strange choice to me. Why aren’t the victims symbolized by the flag? They were Americans. Why are the people you’re protesting symbolized by the flag? They were bad Americans. This I don’t understand. The only linkage here is that in the tribes of the American culture wars, one side has claimed the flag and the other has not.

So now one side can say, “See?!?!!111? These people HATE America!!!”

In the current lexicon on the left, I can be accused of all kinds of neologisms for this opinion: whitesplaining, tone policing, and so on. But in reality, I just don’t like it when a laudable goal is pursued with bad strategy. Again, he’s free to do what he wants, but if the goal here is really to change the debate, he did it wrong. The people that need persuading here, for one thing, are largely white. Most minorities already get it.

If you want to make change you have to be hyper-aware of the reactions and consequences not just to your statement or action, but to your persona, your circumstances and understand how it will look even if those aren’t genuine reflections of how you feel.

I would also add that the last thing we need in this country is more divisiveness. It’s to the point now where bad policies will be pursued just in order to “slap down” actions like this regardless of whether it’s going to be good or bad for policing.

We all need to start giving each other a break.

The Cancer That Is Killing The GOP

Imagine this alternative history.

It’s mid-December, 2000. Al Gore has just conceded the election and asked his supporters not to contest the slates of electors in Congress. An aide walks into his room and tells him that it’s Governor Bush on the line. He picks up the phone and says, “Congratulations, Mr. President-elect.”  Bush is flattered by the title. He says, “Listen, Mr. Vice President, I’m worried about the legitimacy not just of my presidency, but of the government in general after this. Is there a possibility of you joining my government?” Gore thanks the President elect, but declines. His advisors, of course, had mentioned the possibility of brokering a solution where Congress picks him for Vice President and Bush for President as a resolution to the crisis, but it’s mostly over now. Gore, however, does offer to be a sounding board for anything the new president needs, totally confidentially. Bush says, “OK, then, first one: I want to have a meeting with President Clinton and I want his advice on a unity agenda for our country. It wouldn’t hurt if you were in on it too.”

Gore is stunned but promises to set it up.

The Vice President and President meet with the President and Vice President elect early in January, after the new Congress is sworn in. “I need to govern from the center. It’s the only way to make my presidency legitimate and heal the republic at this point, and I need your help.” Clinton and Gore talk with Cheney and Bush for a few hours. One of the sticking points is whether the mid-term elections would an appropriate point to change course if the results favor the Republicans. Clinton is hesitant on this issue. Bush finally agrees to govern as a unity president for his entire first term.

Bush is concerned that he ran on a tax cut and feels like he has to deliver. In the end, he agrees to promote the Greenspan plan that includes deficit-based triggers and to a sunset after 4 years. Bush promises to name a Democrat as Attorney General and as Treasury Secretary. He agrees to announce all of this in a joint press conference with President Clinton.

Now even if I haven’t already set the table here for avoiding 9/11 by placing someone other than Ashcroft in as attorney general, someone who would seriously heed Richard Clarke’s warnings about al-qaeda, imagine Bush takes the same approach on 9/11.

“Gentlemen, Bush says, we are going to catch Osama bin Laden immediately and we are not going to rest until we’ve disrupted his terror network. This means we have to set aside our concerns about Saddam for now.”

In this scenario, Bush’s approval ratings never fall below 60%, Bin Laden is captured in late 2001 before entering Pakistan, the economy comes to a much softer landing with less worries about future deficits and no savings glut looking for quick bucks in the real estate market.

Bush is re-elected by a landslide in 2004 and decides that his ticket into the history books is continuing his strategy of moderation and reconciliation between the parties. Enough Democrats and Republicans buy into this to produce some decent legislation, including education reform that doesn’t imagine total proficiency for all students by 2014, and Bush vetoes bankruptcy reform.

In his second term, he delivers further on his massive tax cut proposal, but it is much more progressive than his original version. He shocks everyone by pushing for a carbon market reminding people that it’s similar to the system used by his father to tackle ozone depletion. Bush leaves office with very high approval ratings having accomplished much and led the country through 9/11 and ending the war on terror after 1 year and only having endured one moderate recession. He did not ever get around to reforming health care, even though he admired another market-based solution that a Massachusetts governor had tried.

Why didn’t this happen? It didn’t happen because whatever impulse Bush may have had to write himself into the history books wasn’t stronger than the partisan impulses that surrounded him. Many conservatives felt that this was their chance to reverse serious mistakes and actively enact legislation they otherwise could never dream of, and, of course to settle some foreign grievances as well.

It’s the same reason they couldn’t accept the reasons they lost in 2012. They won’t moderate because they are still successful enough at the state level and, for now, in Congress. And because they are beholden to ideological funders who demand extremism.

This isn’t to say that Democrats aren’t beholden to interest groups, but the Democratic coalition is varied enough to let you form different constellations of them and still succeed. You cannot be a Republican that is willing to raise taxes, however.

A 20-year old demographic shift has taken away their majority and a disastrous nomination may cost them control of Washington. But will they moderate?

I doubt it. A small faction may. We’ll see.

 

Both Extremes in America Are Intellectually Bankrupt But The Mushy Middle Still Needs Leadership

The American left has never been as left or as strong as the left in other countries. Today, it has become dominated by white grievance just as much as the right. On identity issues, it is white self-grievance; on other issues, it’s a laundry list of more social spending that benefits the already-middle class. Almost all of it is deeply infused with the politics of complaint and monday-morning quarterbacking. It’s very obvious, for example, that leftist critics of Obama would not be involved in any manner with the Syrian conflict, but they don’t explain why this would be effective in any credible manner.

It’s too much to criticize the agenda of the far left as that of a fifth column but before anyone agrees with dismantling the American Empire, they must explain what will replace the incumbent world order, the pax americana, if you will. I don’t support empire for its own sake, but I’m skeptical everything suddenly fixes itself if we disengage from the world.

On the economic front, it is certainly the case that the American safety net is too weak. But is free college part of the safety net? So many problems stem from poverty and malnutrition, yet those issues have taken a backseat to restoring the middle class to the perks that only the upper middle class now have instead of lifting the bottom out of poverty.

The one exception to this has been the largely union-backed campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15. While this only helps people with jobs, it’s actually treating the problem.

Unlike many, I have no problem with things that sound like “class warfare.” I’m not squeamish about higher taxes on wealth and incomes, but where I differ is that I believe this should be done in the name of social welfare, not punishment. Punishing “Wall Street” simply to punish them might feel good, but it won’t bring us back to the post-war middle class unless the program is tuned to raise incomes. In general, punishing the corporate class is largely not all that different than criticisms of the government from both sides that aren’t constructive, are monday-morning quarterbacking, and in the case of the left are basically just critiques of capitalism in general.

The reason this is getting worse on the left is that it has turned into its own echo chamber in a way that it wasn’t 10 years ago. When Dolores Huerta and Paul Krugman are rejected because of their choice of candidate, it’s clear that any dissent isn’t tolerated. If you propose an idea that seems like a compromise to win an election, you’re selling out. When the election results bear that warning out, it was rigged, or it was the media—anything other than the fact that Americans aren’t who they are.

Americans are not all Ph.D.s in some liberal arts subject. They are not all sweater-wearing NPR listeners. Nor are they all NRA members who worship Ayn Rand. America is more complex than that.

I focused on the left because a I generally believe that capitalism requires a safety net—if that’s socialism, then I whatever; but I do not believe the government should own the means of production.

The right in this country is beyond saving. They too fail to realize that they will never win a majority for many of the ideas they won’t compromise on, like trickle down economics. Their conversion into white Christian nationalists is complete.

The problem is that the technocratic center, to the extent that it exists, is still far too partisan to be called a “center” and does not really exist in the Republican party. There are a few left here and there, but for the most part, the Republican of governance was purged.

This leaves the Democratic party divided between the governance wing and the activist wing and in our system those divisions leave it vulnerable to losing even when the ideas of the other side aren’t great.

It also means that the Democrats too will eventually feel the centrifugal force pulling them to the extreme and they will probably overreach with policy.

Two areas where this may occur, in my opinion, are crime and identity politics. Crime is low. If that changes, those to blame for it will suffer a huge political price. In the identity politics realm, the continuous insistence that campus notions of equality can translate to the population at large will stall out. “I was born this way” appeals to basic American fairness. Self-flagellation and expecting to do whatever you want without consequences do not.

The problem here is that new things happen and new challenges will occur. If the only two solutions on offer come one each from a rigid fantasy world where all ideas must conform to doctrine, eventually there will be no effective governance.

 

Do a UK Trade Deal Now.

Trade deals are unpopular. Lurking beneath the froth is a bunch of special pleading for industries that are worried about competition. The froth is mostly comprised of claims that pertain more to capitalism in general than to international trade. For example, what Paul Krugman calls the “sweatshop fallacy”: we hear a lot about how bad conditions are in “sweatshops” but little about how worse those workers are before the work.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t problems with capitalism. Of course there are and they require the presence of a meaningful social safety net. And of course there are problems with trade. Also, there is nothing wrong in politics with special pleading for industry. It just doesn’t need to be cloaked in the bleeding heart language of the sweatshop fallacy.

That particular problem doesn’t apply much to trade between developed countries. There, it pretty much does come down to protecting your special interests.

So, why not go all in for a free trade pact with the UK right now? or if not immediately, as soon as they invoke Article 50 of the EU treaty? It would give them leverage in their negotiations with the EU which would be a nice carrot, and the fact that they need to do something about their loss of status with the EU is also the stick.

I wouldn’t even mind seeing the UK join NAFTA.

Polemic Forecast

Hillary Clinton will win the presidency, but have a very short Honeymoon period to win voters over because she will be badly bruised by the election which, though she will win, will be given next to no credit for doing so. Trump being a bad candidate, Obama being popular, Bernie Sanders ultimately throwing his weigh behind her, and the economy will all be mentioned as “reasons” for her success with the notion that people support her agenda and don’t hate her as much as is advertised almost unmentioned.

In the end, the map will look very similar to the last two elections with only North Carolina moving into HRC’s column varying from 2012. However, though they will stay red in the end after third party voters come home, the races in Arizona and Georgia will confirm they are swing states going forward.

The Democrats will win a bare majority with 50 senate seats with holds in all states and pickups in Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire.

In the House, a modest pickup of 16 seats will leave the Democrats shy of a majority in the House by 9 votes.

With Congress on such a razor’s edge, she will have to decide between controversial appointments and consensus legislation like her proposed jobs bill.

With the likelihood that the TPP and Merrick Garland are approved in the lame duck session, some intra-party disputes will be quashed for her, but it will be increasingly difficult to hold the left flank of the Congressional party together with the demands of the 10 or so Republicans in each house she will have to work with to accomplish anything. The only thing that will be attempted will relate to the economy and jobs. Nothing of the liberal social agenda will be attempted including guns. The public option will not get a vote, though Obamacare will finally receive a technical fix bill.

Whether there even are 10 such senators and representatives remains to be seen. The GOP will tell itself that Clinton’s election, by less than the landslide many foretold, was both a rejection of Trumpism and only a tepid endorsement of Clinton and that she will be easy prey in 2020. There will be a strong urge to reinvoke the McConnell doctrine in an attempt to oust her in 2020. Amnesia will set in in the GOP, who still retain the House and filibuster veto points, and the scandal machine used against the last two Democratic presidents will continue. The anti-Trump Republicans will rejoin the fold and attempt to hold the party out as the conservative party despite its animating principle being white nationalism just as it was before Trump.

Any kind of disruption—another Supreme Court vacancy, a economic shock, a terrorist attack, a political scandal—will erase any likelihood of broad Clinton agenda in Congress. The best hope for that is a strong rebuke by voters in 2018 in a beefed up Democratic party at the state and Congressional district level to take advantage of voter disgust with gridlock in time to reverse some 2010’s gerrymandering in the 2020 census. Though it is likely that intraparty conflict in primaries in 2018 could do to the Democrats what it did in 2010 and prevent the degree of victory, (I am not a witch!)

In short, this election will do little to change the political equilibrium set out in the electoral college since 2000 and in Congress since 2010.

What will it take?

Trump’s going to get away with the stochastic terrorism of his “Second Amendment” comments—somehow a well-regulated militia has become code for a guerrilla army that will overthrow the government when they decide their “rights” have been hurt.

I have a very bad feeling about this.

Martin Luther King’s last speech contained this element:

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life — longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything, I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

The very next day, he was shot.

2016 isn’t as crazy as 1968 or even 1966, but there are muted parallels. There is heightened racial tension. There is a growing unease with the government at all levels. This is enough to make people who are already nuts go nuts.

I hope there are no further parallels, but I worry. And I worry what the consequences of further parallels would be for our country.