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The One (Or Two) True Issue Fallacy

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Larry Lessig may have taken his vanity campaign and headed back to Cambridge, but Hamilton Nolan wishes for its fundamental spirit to live on:

Over the course of the next 11 months, here is what you will hear presidential candidates arguing about at length: ISIS; Islam; Mexican immigration; Obamacare; the Iran nuclear deal; gay rights; crime; Black Lives Matter; flat tax proposals; oil prices; charter schools; medical marijuana; Wall Street; abortion; Russia; Israel; guns; and Guantanamo Bay. You will also hear many in the press discussing what the candidates wear; their hairstyles; their accents; the internal management of their campaign staffs; their likability; their poll numbers; their debate performance; and other superficial and subjective measures of winning and losing that keep the political pundit class employed.

Some of these issues are distractions. Many of them are important. All of them are secondary. There are two real issues of primary importance facing America and the world today—two issues that lie at the foundation of many others. Two issues which must be addressed in a meaningful way if we hope to live in a just and thriving nation in the long term. They are economic inequality, and climate change.

Lumping civil rights and civil liberties and foreign policy and access to health care in with superficial horse race coverage is not a great idea, and allowing that some of these issues you’re about to counsel presidential candidates to ignore are “important” doesn’t really save you. But that aside, as with Lessig like attempt to define the One or True Two Issues of the campaign — a cousin of the “dealbreaker” fallacy — doesn’t make any sense. Economic inequality and climate change are indeed immensely important, and are indeed connected to various other injustices.

But the problem is, the “issue x is connected to issue y” cuts all ways. There’s Lessig’s variant, arguing that electoral and campaign finance reform are the Two True Issues because we can’t do anything about the other issues. But we can all play this game. Let me propose that the One True Issue in the upcoming election is the Supreme Court of the United States. Democratic candidates have been paying little attention to the issue. But if President Cruz/Rubio/Trump serves two terms or perhaps even one, we will have a median vote on the Supreme Court that has to turn to his or her left to see Nino Scalia. If this happens, we can forget about addressing climate change or many aspects of economic inequality for a long time, because not only will statutes that attempt to extend the reach of the federal government likely be ruled unconstitutional, the existing regulatory and welfare state will be substantially hobbled as well. Oh, and by the way, many women will be faced with the pain and insecurity and indignity of being forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term and bear a child they may not have the financial and/or personal resources to care for. Mass incarceration and police brutality and other aspects of racial inequality will get worse. Access to the ballot will be restricted. Money will be ever more dominant in the political process. It will be even harder for labor to organize. And I could go on. Conveniently, this happens to be my field of expertise, so you should pay me to write about it for your outlet. And also conveniently, since there wouldn’t be a dime’s worth of difference between the federal judicial appointments of a hypothetical President Clinton or Sanders but there would be billions of dollars worth of difference between those of President Clinton/Sanders and President Cruz/Rubio/Trump, this One True Issue fits my analysis of the Democratic primary (ultimately pretty small stakes, especially compared to the massive stakes of the general) rather than Nolan’s more apocalyptic view of its importance.

I trust you can see that my declaration would be silly. The Supreme Court is an important issue, but it’s important in part because it’s connected to a lot of other important things, and arbitrarily declaring that one matters and the others don’t won’t fly. The next time there’s unified Democratic control of the government we can have a discussion about priorities, but in the meantime we need to be trying to advance the ball forward on a lot of issues that can’t be neatly separated, and we can’t dictate to others what they should consider most important.  And while you might agree with me or Nolan about the stakes of the Democratic primary, I can’t win the debate by declaring a particular hobbyhorse The Only Issue That Matters.

Speaking of which:

There are two real issues. Vote for someone who will do something about them.

Well, the thing is that Republicans will almost certainly control the House for the first term of the next presidency and very likely the second as well. So what Congress will do about economic inequality and climate change is, at best, nothing. What a president can do about them is to address them at the margins through appointments to the executive and judicial branch and through the regulatory state while preventing Congress pillaging the best he or she can. And while I wouldn’t say there’s no difference between what a President Clinton and a President Sanders would do with the available tools, 1)it wouldn’t be very different, and 2)it would be something and not enough. Not inspiring until you remember that if Clinton or Sanders doesn’t become president we will get one who will do what he can to restore McKinleynomics, and unlike his Democratic counterpart he’ll be able to get statues to this effect passed while also letting neoconfederates loose to wreak havoc on the executive and judicial branches. It’s nice to think that declaring Two True Issues will somehow change this calculus, but it can’t.

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  • Derelict

    I think the penchant to try to distill it down to one or two pet issues is kind of endemic. Life is hard, the world is complex, and it’s just too much effort to think about how interconnected it all is and then weigh candidates based on their most likely policies and outcomes.

    But if I can boil it down to “Campaign finance is the only real issue,” then I don’t have to think about much else, nor do I have to weigh the entirety of a candidate’s positions. Makes political thought much easier, doesn’t it?

    • DrDick

      Simple ideas for simple minds.

      • weirdnoise

        Lessig’s mind is far from simple, but I’ve found that intelligent people are just as prone to idée fixe as anyone. See: libertarianism, for example.

    • tsam

      It does make it easier. Just like it’s easier to vacuum 1/3 of the carpet than the whole thing. I mean, who likes changing outlets? If I only vacuum this part, the rest will vacuum itself. Unless bspencer shows up.

    • Halloween Jack

      The only real issue is to have the Green Lantern of Sector 2814 be a human. Everything else is details.

  • joe from Lowell

    If someone were to argue that Scott doesn’t care about campaign finance, or that he is actively promoting the current corrupt campaign finance system, because he refuses to treat it as The One Real Issue, dismiss all other issues as unimportant, or refuse to engage in a balancing act between competing imperatives when that issue comes into conflict with another, that person would be all-but-universally derided a crank.

    Picking one or two things to care about and declaring everyone who doesn’t do likewise to be the enemy is a weak-minded approach to politics.

    • Gregor Sansa

      It’s not that all issues are created equal. Climate change and inequality are legitimately everpresent, things nobody can escape. Campaign finance and voting systems are legitimately pivotal, things that could change the chances of progress on multiple other issues. The SCOTUS is legitimately both.

      But that doesn’t mean you ignore the issues that aren’t everpresent and/or pivotal. Abortion, health care, war, education, immigration, infrastructure: besides being connected to inequality and/or climate change, these are huge in their own right. And even if they weren’t, even if we were talking about retiming stop lights, any issue is a chance to either grow or shrink your coalition. The left should be about solidarity, or it’s about nothing at all.

      • Bruce B.

        Right. The fact is that we all have to live day by day. We need to work on making our lives work as well as possible now and in various long terms.

  • cs

    All other things being equal, isn’t there some value to supporting a candidate that takes “your side” on an important issue, even if that candidate wouldn’t have the power to do much about it in office?

    • Dilan Esper

      There is.

      One of the deep problems lying behind all these posts is that everyone has to vote using the same calculus Scott uses.

      You can decide whether it is a feature or a bug, but democracy allows people to use their votes any way they want to. Symbolic votes, protest votes, votes for Mickey Mouse, etc., are all allowed. (As are, by the way, votes for conservative candidates by conservatives– one of the fascinating things is that Scott basically never blames conservative voters for the failure of any of his preferred DLC-type candidates. It’s always the left’s fault. Left wingers apparently owe him a duty to support his candidates, but right wingers do not.)

      Indeed, we have a secret ballot. We absolutely protect people’s right to cast votes that Scott would consider to be bad. Which again suggests that this is an individual, personal right, a matter of personal identity, that doesn’t carry any duty to do what Scott says. (Indeed, given the size of the electorate, nobody’s vote makes a difference anyway, so it’s basically solely an issue of personal identity. But I digress.)

      So yes, if someone cares about a particular issue above issues, making that issue a priority in voting is perfectly fine. Scott wants a magic formula that cuts through all issues about prioritizing, and about the fact that some people to the left of him have seriously different priorities than he has. But there’s no magic formula– everyone gets to cast their vote anyway they want to, and it’s the jobs of the DLC centrist types that Scott supports to try and move to the left and appeal to voters who might otherwise reject them. The politicians’ job is to appeal to the voters, not the other way around.

      • Malaclypse

        One of the deep problems lying behind all these posts is that everyone has to vote using the same calculus Scott uses.

        I don’t think anybody has suggested you not be allowed to use voting as a narcissistic consumer preference, but we do insist on our right to call you stupid and selfish when you do so.

        • sharculese

          Said it before, will say it again – the mechanism of Dilan and Sarah Palin’s view on the inappropriateness of people criticizing their political preferences may differ, but the underlying logic is identical.

          ETA: Scott beat me to it.

          • Malaclypse

            Except Palin is possibly shrewd enough not to believe her own bullshit.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              fwiw, I really don’t think she is.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        what obligations do the voters have?

      • Hogan

        Awesome little shuffle from “it’s their fault” to “they owe me a duty” there. Your entire argument collapses into that crevice.

        So yes, if someone cares about a particular issue above issues, making that issue a priority in voting is perfectly fine.

        Even if it actually hinders progress on that issue. Because you not only don’t owe Scott anything, you don’t owe anyone anything. Even yourself.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Even if it actually hinders progress on that issue.

          Right. One of the countless things Dilan fails to understand is that in a party system in which wherever you fall on the spectrum from democratic socialist to moderate one party is vastly worse on countless issues and better on literally none, “priorities” are beside the point when casting a general election vote. No mix of priorities will lead you to indifference about the winner.

          • postmodulator

            No mix of priorities will lead you to indifference about the winner.

            Yeah, indifference about the winner really only comes when you have gobs and gobs of rich, chewy privilege.

            • Thrax

              rich, chewy privilege

              Huh. I pictured the texture of privilege as more akin to cake or other soft pastry. Are you sure about this?

              • ChrisTS

                Think double-fudge brownies.

                • Gregor Sansa

                  But how do double-fudge brownies react when you question them?

                • Totally Not Gregor Sansa

                  YOU DARE QUESTION DOUBLE-FUDGE BROWNIES????

                • ChrisTS

                  I think TNGS has answered you properly, Gregor. You monster.

                • Schadenboner

                  Now I can’t stop thinking about double-fudge brownies. Damnit.

          • brewmn

            which wherever you fall on the spectrum from democratic socialist to moderate one party is vastly worse on countless issues and better on literally none, “priorities” are beside the point when casting a general election vote

            This reminds me of when Nick Gillespie acted like he’d triumphed over a liberal on a Bill Maher-show panel by saying “Aha! You admit that there’s no policy on which you’d support [some Republican] over a Democrat!”, proving that the liberal was irredeemably biased (true lefties call it “rooting for the blue team”).

            I have to admit, for a second, I thought old Nick had scored a point there. Then I realized, that no, I don’t vote reflexively for Democrats because I’m biased; I vote for them because voting for a tepid solution to a problem is quite different than voting for a solution that will actually make the problem worse.

            And the day that a Republican actually proposes a remedy to a political problem preferable to the Democratic alternative, and convinces me they are sincere enough to mobilize the political force to see that remedy through, I’ll vote for that Republican. I’m reasonably confident that my 35 year-record of never casting vote for a Republican candidate will remain intact for another 35 years, however.

          • This is the boring truth.

            With a different political mix, you could imagine having strange tradeoffs to make. Whatever remaining moderate Republicans that might exist potentially have a somewhat difficult choice (though given the destructiveness of the current Republican party you have to be pretty far gone for it to be actually difficult).

            But for anyone on the left end of the spectrum, the only possibly reasons for not voting for whatever Dem that’s available are: 1) heighten the contradictions (which is stupid, so don’t do that!), 2) clean hands (which is stupid and morally bankrupt, so don’t do that either!), 3) care about a single issue and be deluded that issue will be better off throwing the election to Republicans (very stupid), or 4) care about a single issue that the Republicans as a whole are “better” (say, lower taxes for rich people) on way more than anything else in the policy basket (which means you aren’t really on the left).

            None of this has anything to do with whether people should have a right to vote stupid or evil. Of course they do.

      • sharculese

        The vast majority of this is fiction. Absolutely nothing about “some ways of using your vote are deeply silly” implies that there’s only one correct way to vote.

        And some ways of voting are, in fact deeply silly. It’s true that the law doesn’t prevent anyone from voting like an idiot, but it also doesn’t prevent anyone from calling them an idiot.

      • Scott Lemieux

        As are, by the way, votes for conservative candidates by conservatives– one of the fascinating things is that Scott basically never blames conservative voters for the failure of any of his preferred DLC-type candidates. It’s always the left’s fault. Left wingers apparently owe him a duty to support his candidates, but right wingers do not.

        This is all my ass.

        Indeed, we have a secret ballot. We absolutely protect people’s right to cast votes that Scott would consider to be bad.

        Yep, apply Sarah Palin’s theory of the First Amendment to electoral politics and it’s still really stupid.

        and about the fact that some people to the left of him have seriously different priorities than he has.

        No matter how many times you assert that Nader or his typical 2000 supporters are to my left, it’s still the rankest horseshit imaginable. Again, most Nader voters were liberals who voted for Kerry and Obama, and Nader himself is a not-particularly left-wing 60s legalistic liberal. Nader differs from liberal Democrats not in his ideology but in his belief that the only reason he can’t get exactly what he wants exactly when he wants it is that everyone else is hopelessly weak or corrupt. I can understand why you want to pretend this is an ideological dispute because the tactics you’re advocating are so obviously indefensible, but repeating lies doesn’t make them true.

        • tonycpsu

          I can understand why you want to pretend this is an ideological dispute because the tactics you’re advocating are so obviously indefensible, but repeating lies doesn’t make them true.

          Atrios with some timely comments along these lines:

          It’s less of a thing than it used to be, but I’m still regularly struck by the desire of Democrats to claim to Not Be Like Those Other Democrats. I’m not talking about failing to march in lockstep with what isn’t an organized political party. I’m talking about the pose. In the post-Bush Obama era it’s actually much harder even to try to pose as a NotLikeOtherDemocrats, but still people do it. It’s weird. None of us are like Those Democrats, because Those Democrats don’t actually exist. It’s silly. Stop posing.

          I wouldn’t go so far as to say that DLC-type “neoliberal” Democrats don’t exist, and will even concede that Obama’s shown some tendencies that one could easily stake out a position to the left of and suggest that the party move toward, but where Dilan and fellow protest vote travelers hide the ball is where any third party candidate they vote for is assumed to have established their liberal bona fides by simply not being the party-backed candidate. By all means, adopt whatever rhetorical posture you like to criticize any Democrat you like, but don’t pretend that your once every two or four year general election votes do anything meaningful to change the system, and don’t try to hide from the very real negative consequences those kind of votes have had in actual elections, as opposed to the hypotheticals you create where your protest votes lead to single payer and the end of the military industrial complex. It’s shameful.

          • keta

            Well said.

          • Brien Jackson

            This is pretty much the epitome of Howard Dean’s entire political persona, for what it’s worth.

            • Scott Lemieux

              Speaking of assholes who opposed the ACA because purity…

      • joe from Lowell

        This notion that recognizing something’s legality, someone’s lawful right to do something, means we support that thing needs to DIAF.

      • McAllen

        (As are, by the way, votes for conservative candidates by conservatives– one of the fascinating things is that Scott basically never blames conservative voters for the failure of any of his preferred DLC-type candidates. It’s always the left’s fault. Left wingers apparently owe him a duty to support his candidates, but right wingers do not.)

        Conservatives voting for conservatives candidates are advancing their own interests. Leftists and liberals voting for third-party candidates are not.

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          the more I think about it, why is *anyone* who puts forth the content of that blockquote taken more seriously than the “416 Days til Trump” idjit?

        • Scott Lemieux

          Shorter Dilan: Seahawks fans were wrong to criticize the irrational play call that cost their team the Super Bowl. Rather, they should have wanted Carroll and Bevell to try to convince Belichick not to try to beat them.

          • Look, if the Super Bowl demonstrated one thing, it’s that the two teams were evenly matched, and the result was down to random chance. All this talk of any single play making the difference is misguided.

            • Scott Lemieux

              If injuries to Seattle’s secondary also contributed to Seattle’s loss, than one cannot discuss the impact of either the injuries or irrational playcalling. It’s science! If you knew how to play poker you’d understand.

              • And something about Lieberman. It makes about as much sense in this context as it does in the original.

            • McAllen

              I’m not sure why the Patriots bothered to spend money on players, since the fundamentals were in their favor.

              • Scott Lemieux

                Also, since one cannot identify any particular Brady pass that led to the Patriots win, it is therefore futile to determine whether Tom Brady is more valuable than JaMarcus Russell. Don’t ever play poker if you don’t understand this.

          • Gregor Sansa

            Sure, they lost by 24-28. But can you tell me which 4 points they lost by? If they had scored the ball from the 1, any one of their other points might not have been there. You can never know.

            • I’m lovin’ all these comments!

              Still waiting for Dilan to yield to your judgement about his causal theories qua non-biased, professional stats person!

        • ChrisTS

          Well, some of those conservatives are advancing their interests, just not the poor fools voting against their own economic interests.

          ETA: More to the point, why should Scott care about how conservatives vote? It’s not as though he can reason with them.

      • DrDick

        Yet another edition of simple ideas for simple minds. I fear that the real world is far too complex for you to deal with.

      • ChrisTS

        The politician’s job is to (a) get elected and (b)try to represent the people who voted.

        Otherwise, it would be just as much Sanders’ duty to move to the middle as Clinton’s to move to the left, no?

      • q-tip

        (As are, by the way, votes for conservative candidates by conservatives– one of the fascinating things is that Scott basically never blames conservative voters for the failure of any of his preferred DLC-type candidates. It’s always the left’s fault. Left wingers apparently owe him a duty to support his candidates, but right wingers do not.)

        I can’t believe you think this argument is convincing.

        Look, when my cat pukes in my shoe, I don’t blame him for making a bad decision. He thought he was doing the right thing at the time. If my girlfriend did the same thing, I’d want a pretty damn convincing argument before I take the “I’ll puke wherever I feel like” argument seriously.

        • q-tip

          Scott basically never blames conservative voters for the failure of any of his preferred DLC-type candidates.

          I should have added that this is Organic Hand-Picked Wrong Two Ways. At least!

          I leave the proof as an exercise for the reader, because I have shit to do. But c’mon!

        • As are, by the way, votes for conservative candidates by conservatives– one of the fascinating things is that Scott basically never blames conservative voters for the failure of any of his preferred DLC-type candidates. It’s always the left’s fault. Left wingers apparently owe him a duty to support his candidates, but right wingers do not.)


          Look, when my cat pukes in my shoe, I don’t blame him for making a bad decision. He thought he was doing the right thing at the time. If my girlfriend did the same thing, I’d want a pretty damn convincing argument before I take the “I’ll puke wherever I feel like” argument seriously.

          You grant too much.

          We all blame conservative voters for their votes all the time. Sometimes it’s “Why did poor Kentucky folks vote against the Obamacare that they actually really like and need?” Sometimes it’s just “Boy, people should be less evil.”

          But of course, we don’t say of the people who are, for example, straight up racist, “Hey, you voting for a racist guy gets you a racist guy which is against your antiracist commitments!” cause they don’t have the last.

      • I call disingenuousness. Whether intended or not, you just can’t claim that Scott is arguing against the legal right to make stupid or evil votes. Bonkers!

        The segue to the idea that voters are not morally culpable for their votes (only politicians are culpable for not appealing enough to the voters!) is similarly risible.

        Embarrassing!

    • joe from Lowell

      I think there is value in supporting my candidate even when I was entirely certain he wouldn’t make it past the primary, never mind “in office.”

    • Scott Lemieux

      All other things being equal, isn’t there some value to supporting a candidate that takes “your side” on an important issue, even if that candidate wouldn’t have the power to do much about it in office?

      Is this in any dispute?

      • Ormond

        You seem to imply that appeals to the value of voting for someone who wants to do something are suboptimal because realistically the next president won’t be able to do much. So I don’t think it’s obviously wrong – including, I guess, wrong enough to provoke a snarky response – that this isn’t in dispute.

        Well, the thing is that Republicans will almost certainly control the House for the first term of the next presidency and very likely the second as well. So what Congress will do about economic inequality and climate change is, at best, nothing. What a president can do about them is to address them at the margins through appointments to the executive and judicial branch and through the regulatory state while preventing Congress pillaging the best he or she can. And while I wouldn’t say there’s no difference between what a President Clinton and a President Sanders would do with the available tools, 1)it wouldn’t be very different, and 2)it would be something and not enough.

        In as much as you’ve now clarified that you do support voting for the person closest to your personal political preferences, I still think your argument with Nolan is off base.

        I don’t think Nolan is arguing that you should vote for, e.g. Sanders in the primary but refuse to vote for anyone but him in the general. Instead, you should vote for the candidate you believe will do the most to address these issues. For Nolan, that is obviously Sanders. But his advice is sound either way. In as much as there is a difference, however slight, why not vote for the person most aligned with your preferred outcome? He’s wrong that there’s One True Issue (indeed, white supremacy and economic inequality are linked, but historically it has been entirely possible to address economic equality for whites only which suggests they must be approached jointly and severally as they say), but identifying a single issue that you see as intimately tied to the good outcomes of all other issues is a very useful heuristic. Letting that guide your decisions through each level of the voting process from local primary to national election strikes me as obviously sound.

        • Scott Lemieux

          In as much as there is a difference, however slight, why not vote for the person most aligned with your preferred outcome?

          Again, I don’t see what the argument is. Where did I say that anyone shouldn’t vote for Sanders?

        • I don’t think Nolan is arguing that you should vote for, e.g. Sanders in the primary but refuse to vote for anyone but him in the general. Instead, you should vote for the candidate you believe will do the most to address these issues.

          Sanders the unelected because riding the write in vote to power won’t happen will do much less than Clinton the elected to most address these issues.

          Hence the rank and obvious stupidity of the proposed voting strategy. If it leads you to write in Sanders, then it’s really a bad heuristic.

          • Scott Lemieux

            In fairness, Nolan isn’t saying not to vote for Clinton in the general. I think he’s directing this at the primaries. Which, OK, but you can make a good case for Sanders without all this ONE TRUE ISSUE crap, which is certainly easier to direct in an H.A. Goodman type direction (although Nolan himself doesn’t go there.)

            • Oops, good point. I confused him with the other guy that Paul? linked to.

              Too many weird theories of politics to track!

  • Ben Murphy

    I think we all know the only true issues are condiment and liquor preferences.

    • joe from Lowell

      But aren’t those both really just consequences of sprawl development?

      • rea

        Certainly, enough liquor will leave us sprawling . . .

        • Ben Murphy

          But is it liquor that we can find easily in Ghana?

          • Gregor Sansa

            We could, if they only used the right voting system there.

      • Malaclypse

        Sprawl is epiphenomenal to bicycle infrastructure. This should be obvious to anybody.

        • postmodulator

          You think bicycle infrastructure is central? Feh. Come back when you’re serious and ready to discuss licensing regimes for barbers.

          • Ken

            Surely sufficient regulation is provided by the simple rule that the barber shaves a man if, and only if, that man does not shave himself.

    • wjts

      I won’t vote for anyone who doesn’t promise to abolish both the Air Force and running backs on Day One of their administration.

  • Hogan

    Everyone stop talking about immigration, Obamacare, flat tax proposals, Wall Street, and access to abortion, so we can talk about economic inequality instead.

    What?

    • Scott Lemieux

      This.

  • Troll

    Troll comment deleted

  • pillsy

    How is paying attention to the issues like civil liberties and abortion rights supposed to hinder progress on economic inequality or climate change? I mean, it seems to be taken as a given by a certain sort of leftish blogger, but no one ever offers a plausible mechanism for it. Indeed, it would seem that a consideration of how party politics actually works in the US would suggest the opposite.

    • sharculese

      Every person is endowed with a finite amount of Care, and it’s important to be judicious with which stats you put those points into.

      • joe from Lowell

        …and that’s when you get Burmese Refugees and Rural Communities Without Internet Access splitting snaps at left corner in the fourth pre-season game.

      • Gregor Sansa

        You’re totally wrong. I have a build for a Half-Elf Progressive Feylock that can filibuster for over 20 DPR despite being totally MAD.

      • wjts

        I dumped a bunch of points into Protean as an out-of-clan Discipline, so I’m incapable of caring about anything. (On the other hand, Earth Meld has saved me a ton of money that I would have otherwise blown on hotels.)

      • Schadenboner

        This is why you guys should use karmagen rather than build points.

    • NonyNony

      How is paying attention to the issues like civil liberties and abortion rights supposed to hinder progress on economic inequality or climate change

      I’m not going to accuse the linked article of this (because I haven’t read it yet) but I’ve seen variations of this argument in the wild. And a LOT of them tend to boil down to “politicians are using divisive wedge issues like abortion and civil rights to keep people distracted from the ‘real’ issues of (insert the hobby horse of person making this argument here)”.

      There’s a basic underlying assumption that certain issues – reproductive freedom issues and civil rights issues especially – aren’t “real” issues but instead are distractors from the “true problems” that the country faces. As determined by the person who is making the argument.

      That this person is almost always male – and almost always white – suggests exactly the root problem for many of the people making this particular flavor of argument.

      • ChrisTS

        That this person is almost always male – and almost always white –

        And straight?

        • Matt McIrvin

          Actually, I think that’s less assured than the others. There are the Andrew Sullivanish gay white guys who get driven out of the Republican Party by the rank homophobia but still can’t resist telling liberals they’re doing everything wrong.

          • I think Sullivan’s a special case. His politics was formed in England, and I have absolutely no idea where his opinions would put him there these days. And he would have probably made a great Democrat if he hadn’t insisted on also being a conservative Catholic.

            edit: and he shares some views with parts of the hard left in the US, but I can only think of one person who fits that description who gets on with him

      • Matt McIrvin

        The single most common one I hear is: “complaining about racism is a distraction from the class war”. The person generally gets that racism serves as a divide-and-conquer mechanism for the lower classes, but for some reason blames anti-racists for perpetuating it. And I hear it both from young white guys who have just discovered Marxism, and old white guys who complain that identity politics ruined the left.

        • Hogan

          The person generally gets that racism serves as a divide-and-conquer mechanism for the lower classes, but for some reason blames anti-racists for perpetuating it.

          As one may blame hardcore feminists for going on and on about abortion rights when that’s a defensive response to repeated rightwing efforts to curtail those rights.

    • How is paying attention to the issues like civil liberties and abortion rights supposed to hinder progress on economic inequality or climate change?

      Short answer: I don’t know either.

      One possible longer answer: Suppose we all know how to address equality and climate change. Suppose we had the kind of government where everybody sat down and talked calmly about their differences, how far they could go and what they could give up, and what they needed to do, and rationally decided what the parameters were, and then someone with leadership skills drew up a plan and directed everybody else to do it. That would require everybody putting aside all their personal interests and wishes for “unreasonable” change and “petty” insistences, and focusing on the most important thing. And since we all do know this, and serious people all really agree on this deep down, for the most part, when you get past emotional reasoning and people who are all riled up by “culture war” issues, this should be possible. So, make it so.

      The question is then, who then are we supposed to vote for and how is this supposed to go? Where are these ideas everybody serious knows about and who are these serious people who are going to discuss everything calmly? And what’s going to happen with all the other issues while this is going on? Whose hands will those issues be in?

  • Thrax

    Nitpick: Janice Rogers Brown is 66 now. She’s not getting a Supreme Court nomination. If Justice Ginsburg steps down during a Rubio/Cruz/Trump administration and the president feels the replacement absolutely has to be female (and I’m guessing that won’t be the paramount consideration), I’d guess Priscilla Owen (though she’s 61), Diane Sykes, Jennifer Elrod, Catherina Haynes, or Kimberly Moore.

    • Ken

      You forgot Sarah Palin.

      • wjts

        What’s Harriet Miers up to these days?

  • Jordan

    ya, that was a very stupid post. Lessig even comes out looking better than that! Presumably, according to Lessig, if you get the electoral reform mandate, then that allows us to elect more representative (and presumably more progressive) politicians, who can address all the other issues he ignores.

    Nolan’s maneuver is in the opposite direction: instead of including groups who might also support your issues of inequality/climate change you are purposefully relegating them to the sidelines. Why?

    • q-tip

      I’m wondering if Lessig’s decision to drop the quixotic one-issue campaign so quickly has redeemed him (partially, at least) in anyone’s eyes?

      I’m always happy to see someone who’s wrong admit it. Did he do so, or was his withdrawal churlish etc.?

      • Warren Terra

        What makes you think he dropped the issue?

        I mean, sure, technically there was a brief period in which he admitted running as a single-issue candidate was a dumbass stunt and even an interim, one-issue-focused President would have to attend to other questions, and promised he’d flesh himself out. But, then again, rather than do so he dropped his campaign, which made the change a little less than convincing.

        And none of this gets past the original, glaring flaw in Lessig’s argument: he claimed that he needed to get elected in order to implement campaign finance issues the major Democratic candidates already agreed with. In effect, he was saying he didn’t believe them, or perhaps that he’d prefer a Republican administration. Either position is sufficiently toxic to earn my opprobrium; what about yours?

  • libarbarian
  • Sly

    Even if we concede the argument that campaign finance reform is important – an argument on which I have some doubts – to say that it is critical to the point of being a foundation stone for all other kinds of reform is a bit far fetched. Activist groups with far more limited access to formal democratic participation than what the barriers that our contemporary election system imposes have, in the past, attained real victories through other means. Hell, of all the reforms pursued by First Wave Feminists, getting the right to vote was one of their last victories, not one of their first.

  • infovore

    I live in a parliamentary system with proportional representation. Despite having more choices, in a general election most people seem to vote either by tribal affiliation or as a protest vote. (I do not exclude myself.) If you want to influence the actual program of a political party, you’ll have to become a member and work from the inside. Which takes time, and effort, and is just plain hard. But heightening the contradictions only ever supported extremists who no-one should wish to be into power.

    • Gregor Sansa

      You have my approval vote.

  • Warren Terra

    Serious question: do write-in votes even get interpreted and tallied? I mean, sure, the number of ballots selecting “write-in” probably does, but would we ever find out how many say “Bernie Sanders” and how many say “Aquaman”?

    Because it seems to me this jackass could signal his intent more effectively by wearing a Bernie lapel button as he votes for Clinton than he would by entering the booth unadorned and writing Bernie in.

    • Gregor Sansa

      If there’s a recount, we learn about “Lizard People”. Otherwise, usually not.

      But isn’t it illegal to vote with a Bernie lapel button on? Wouldn’t that be electioneering within 100 feet of a polling location?

      • Jean-Michel

        As with so much else relating to elections, the rules against that sort of thing vary from state to state, but I suspect no state would allow a Bernie pin inside the polling place. (You can check here to see if my assumption is wrong; on a semi-related note, the plain language of the Missouri statute suggests that the polling place in St. Louis may not have been on ironclad legal ground when they required me to remove my “McGovern” button before voting in 2000. I’d also like to draw everyone’s attention to Ohio’s statute and its requirement that tiny American flags be used to mark the minimum legal distance between the polling place and electioneering activities.)

    • Redwood Rhiadra

      Depends on state. Folks *do* win on write-in campaigns (e.g. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska a few years back).

      • Warren Terra

        Most of this response is complete bullpuckey. Everyone knows that if a possibly decisive number of ballots are scored “write-in”, the write-in ballots will be examined and the names tallied. On the other hand, no-one anticipates write-in ballots for Bernie being so numerous as to risk determining the outcome of the Presidential election in any state, let alone the country, so that’s moot.

  • Thanks for noticing what I think has been driving some odd coverage at Gawker. I like HamNo on some things but there are some odd things there- and they don’t seem to want to admit where they stand.

    • Scott Lemieux

      His stuff on Target, for example, has been great.

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