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Archive for April, 2016

Maureen Dowd’s Greatest Bong Hits, An Ongoing Series

[ 208 ] April 30, 2016 |

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As has observed more than once in this space, that Maureen Dowd not only somehow maintains a sinecure in the nation’s most prominent op-ed space but actually receives industry honors is a classic illustration of the poor taste and judgment of America’s overpaid and underachieving elites. She has yet another abysmal addition to her canon of hot takes:

IT seems odd, in this era of gender fluidity, that we are headed toward the most stark X versus Y battle since Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

It’s the perfect MoDo first sentence — a meaningless generalization and dated pop culture reference combined to produce an banal, shallow point. It’s done again and again. Like this, after the inevitable and not actually very appropriate comparison of Trump and his cronies to the Rat pack:

Hillary Clinton’s rallies, by contrast, can seem like a sorority rush reception hosted by Lena Dunham, or an endless episode of “The View,” with a girl-power soundtrack by Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Demi Lovato. The ultimate insider is portraying herself as an outsider because she’s a woman, and the candidate who is considered steely is casting herself as cozy because she’s a doting granny.

Sometimes, you hear that even if Dowd’s ideas are lame, you have to admit she can write. No I do not. It’s all cliches and references and phrases that seem to take the form of humor while never, ever being funny. Also, as Charlie Pierce said about Bill Simmons — only it applies much more forcefully here — Dowd’s “vaunted pop-cult knowledge is carved out of a very thin loaf of Wonder Bread.” The one billionth lazy, meaningless reference to Lena Dunham — Dowd sure is on top of the zeitgeist.

Clinton and Trump have moved on to their mano a womano fight, leaving behind “the leftovers,” as Trump labels deflated rivals.

“Mano a womano” is witless, and what this sentence — like the entirety of the column to this point — is telling us is that each major party will field a candidate in the upcoming general election, one of them a man and one a woman. Maureen Dowd makes a six figure salary.

Now we reach the point where the column stops becoming merely something too banal to be worthy of publishing alongside the onion dip recipes and profiles of B-list celebrities in the Sunday supplement in the local paper and becomes actively offensive:

“It’s going to be nasty, isn’t it?” says Obama Pygmalion David Axelrod. “Put the small children away until November.”

It sure is great that “Barry” Obama knew a white guy who could teach the former president of the Harvard Law Review how to act in polite society.

A peeved Jane Sanders called on the F.B.I. to hurry up with the Hillary classified email investigation.

Does Sanders seem “peeved” to you here? Anyway, she’s probably dowdy like that awful Judith Steinberg Dean!

We can only hope that Cruz, who croons Broadway show tunes, and Carly, who breaks into song at the lectern, will start doing duets from “Hamilton.”

I have to give her this: she never misses the opportunity to include the most obvious pop culture reference in a way that doesn’t say anything. It’s impressive in its own way. You’d think one of them would be funny one time if only my accident, but nope.

Longtime Dowd watchers will note, however, that she’s been playing against type here, unprecedentedly arguing that Hillary Clinton is a woman. So you already know the twist that’s coming: in fact, all Democratic men are women and all Democratic women are men:

On some foreign policy issues, the roles are reversed for the candidates and their parties. It’s Hillary the Hawk against Donald the Quasi-Dove.

Just as Barack Obama seemed the more feminized candidate in 2008 because of his talk-it-out management style, his antiwar platform and his delicate eating habits, always watching his figure, so now, in some ways, Trump seems less macho than Hillary.

He has a tender ego, pouty tweets, needy temperament and obsession with hand sanitizer, whereas she is so tough and combat-hardened, she’s known by her staff as “the Warrior.”

The idea that a “tender ego” and “needy temperament” (or, for that matter, “obsession with hand sanitizer”) are inconsistent with masculine bluster is hilarious. One amazing thing about Dowd is how inept the Judy Miller of love is even on the only subject she actually cares about, gender stereotypes.

And finally, what would a Maureen Down column be without a massive factual howler that benefits the Republican candidate:

The prime example of commander-in-chief judgment Trump offers is the fact that, like Obama, he thought the invasion of Iraq was a stupid idea.

Trump’s assertion that he opposed the Iraq War ex ante is an utter lie, and since it’s the sole basis for asserting that Trump is any kind of “dove” that’s kind of a problem. But it’s a lie that fits the narrative, and that’s all the Pulitzer winner has ever needed.


Teach For America Applications Declining

[ 37 ] April 30, 2016 |


Seems as if young people are starting to realize that Teach for America is a scam that puts them in educational settings for which they have no preparation in order to bust teachers’ unions, a position that might not make sense to some who want to become full-time teachers.

Applications to Teach for America fell by 16 percent in 2016, marking the third consecutive year in which the organization — which places college graduates in some of the nation’s toughest classrooms — has seen its applicant pool shrink.

Elisa Villanueva Beard, TFA’s chief executive, announced the figures in an online letter to supporters Tuesday morning, describing the steps that the organization is taking to stoke interest and reverse the trend.

“Our sober assessment is that these are the toughest recruitment conditions we’ve faced in more than two decades,” she wrote. “And they call on us all to reconsider and strengthen our efforts to attract the best and most diverse leaders our country has to offer.”

TFA received 37,000 applications in 2016, down from 57,000 in 2013 — a 35 percent dive in three years. It’s a sharp reversal for an organization that grew quickly during much of its 25-year history, becoming a stalwart in education reform circles and a favorite among philanthropists.

Teach for America now boasts 50,000 corps members and alumni; some have stayed in the classroom and others have gone on to work in education in other ways, joining nonprofits, running for office and leading charter schools. Its alumni include some of most recognized names in public education, including D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and her predecessor, Michelle Rhee.

But as Teach for America’s influence has grown, so has resistance to it. The organization — which trains prospective teachers for five weeks and demands just a two-year commitment — has drawn criticism for creating instability in troubled schools that could benefit from sustained efforts with more experienced educators.

She blamed the decline on a number of factors that are driving enrollment drops in many teacher-preparation programs, including the improving economy, which offers young college graduates more options than they had during the recession. In addition, she wrote, the public debate about education is polarized and “toxic,” driving away talented people from a profession that needs them.

“Anyone concerned with the future of our nation should be alarmed by the staggering decline in enrollment we’re seeing across the country in teacher preparation programs,” she wrote.

She tacitly acknowledged that some of the recruitment problems are due to increasingly vocal critics of TFA, including some alumni. “The toxic debate surrounding education — and attacks on organizations that seek to bring more people to the field — is undeniably pushing future leaders away from considering education as a space where they can have real impact,” she wrote.

Who Rejects the Science Behind Climate Change?

[ 64 ] April 30, 2016 |


Why, it’s old white men! Younger people accept climate science at rates far higher than older people and both African-Americans and Latinos at rates far higher than whites. Unfortunately, this piece doesn’t specifically break it down by gender as well, but it definitely places the blame on what it calls “the white male effect.”

The ethnicity gap (and the age gap) can likely be explained in part by certain groups’ general preferences for maintaining the status quo. Social scientists have identified what they’ve termed the “white male effect,” describing the fact that white males tend to be less concerned about various sources of risk than minorities and women. Scientists have speculated that this effect largely stems from the fact that mitigating these risks could result in restrictions on markets, commerce, and industry that have historically tended to disproportionately benefit white males. In other words, if you are already doing well from the system, you’re less inclined to change it—no matter how much the ice melts and the oceans rise. In their 2011 paper “Cool Dudes,” Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap concluded: “The unique views of conservative white males contribute significantly to the high level of climate change denial in the United States.” And climate change denialism is largely—but not exclusively—a US phenomenon.

In fact, their research found that conservative white males who express the highest confidence in their opinions about climate science and risks are the most wrong, and in the most severe denial. McCright and Dunlap concluded that “climate change denial is a form of identity-protective cognition, reflecting a system-justifying tendency.” This may also contribute to the age gap, since younger Americans have not yet benefitted from the societal status quo to the same degree as older Americans.

Minorities also tend to be disproportionately affected by the negative consequences of climate change, and realize the benefits of addressing it. For example, minorities are more likely to live in close proximity to coal power plants and their associated air pollution. Cutting carbon pollution would result in fewer coal power plants, and hence cleaner air for these populations. Many minorities have also recently emigrated from countries that are more vulnerable to climate change impacts. In other words, some minority groups (particularly Latinos) are more likely to have “transnational ties,” and an awareness of how people in other countries think about and are affected by climate change.

It’s almost like old white men may not be the cause of many of this nation’s intractable problems!

The Worst Spot in America

[ 38 ] April 30, 2016 |


Stone Mountain, Georgia is an abhorrent place, one of the single most reprehensible spots in the United States. A beautiful geological formation, unfortunately it has served as a center of American white nationalist ideology for over a century. It was the meeting point for the founders of the second Ku Klux Klan in 1915. In 1916, the owner deeded the north side of the mountain to the United Daughters of the Confederacy so that figures of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis could be blasted into the side, the largest and most ambitious of the new monuments to white power erected in the South during the late 19th and early 20th century. It didn’t really go anywhere for a long time, with various architects, including Gutzon Borglum, failing to make much progress. The KKK took over fundraising for it and in 1923, the owner granted the KKK an easement to hold rallies there at any time. But it still stalled out until the civil rights movement led to a new spasm of white nationalism in the South. In 1958, the Georgia legislature passed a law to buy the mountain and in 1964, the carving of the slaver heroes started. It was completed in 1972, shortly after Jimmy Carter, who won the Democratic primary against someone to his left in part by criticizing his opponent for supporting Martin Luther King, replaced the arch-segregationist Lester Maddox as Georgia’s governor.

It’s now surrounded by a theme park and a cheesy light show shines on our Treason in Defense of Slavery leaders nightly, but that doesn’t mean that the tackiness means it shines less brightly in the meth-addled eyes of current white supremacists. In fact, there was a racist rally just last weekend, which of course led to the counter-rally and then the real horror, the canceling of the evening’s laser light show.

The Democrats Will Never Win the White House Until They Run a Zell/Webb Ticket

[ 94 ] April 30, 2016 |


Remember Mudcat Saunders, the “Democratic strategist” who was once very briefly a thing among the kind of Democrats who fret about the party abandoning the SCOTS-IRISH faction who properly own the party in perpetuity? The Daily Tucker wishes to share his Deep Thoughts about the forthcoming elections:

“I know a ton of Democrats — male, female, black and white — here [in southern Virginia] who are going to vote for Trump. It’s all because of economic reasons. It’s because of his populist message,” Mudcat told The Daily Caller Wednesday.

Yeah, I totally believe that Mudcat has lots of African-American Democratic friends who are voting for Trump. Their front lawns all have unicorns that gently prance around statues of Jefferson Davis and George Wallace. And then they go to sleep under a Rebel flag quilt, just like Mudcat.

Saunders has experience working with Jim Webb, helping getting him elected to the U.S Senate in 2006 and advised his failed bid for the presidency in 2016. Saunders was also an advisor to John Edwards in his 2008 presidential bid. The Democrat strategist is renowned for connecting politicians to “Bubbas” — white, working class Southerners.

Yes, there are few people with a better line on the pulse of the Democratic electorate than “strategists” involved with the Jim Webb ’16 juggernaut.

“I know less than half a dozen white male Democrats in my part of the world who are going to vote for Hillary,” Saunders told TheDC.

Yes, I’m really terrified that the many southern white men who enthusiastically supported Barack Obama will now defect and support Trump.

He added, “Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have very similar messages; they’re just dressed in different clothes. I think you’re going to see a lot of Sanders people jump to Trump.”

Yes, the overlap in their platforms is remarkable. Mudcat should expand this to 600 words and submit it to Salon under the name “Brogan W. Bragman IV” and it will be online before the end of the afternoon.*

He thinks Trump will win the general election and said, “he’s going to knock her around like a baby seal.”

A metaphor as tasteful as it is politically astute! That is one BLISTERING take.

*Incidentally, Young Master Bragman has thoughtfully curated the comments to his latest Salon entry and has uncovered what he believes to be the smartest comment:

So, to be clear, the fact that a Republican House would not pass progressive legislation under a Democratic president means that it would also refuse to pass conservative legislation under a Republican president. Hard to argue with that logic! I’d hate to see what Bragman considers the dumb comments. I should also commend you to Rebecca Schoenkopf’s post, which inter alia observes that Bragman argues that Democrats should want Trump to win in 2016 because there might be a Supreme Court vacancy in 2020. The sheer density of derp in these things is truly remarkable.

Ohio Remembers…

[ 74 ] April 30, 2016 |

Yesterday I visited the Queen City Club in Cincinnati for the opening of an honorary regional Estonian consulate. On the one end of the hall:

File Apr 30, 7 55 08 AM

“We’re going to good cop-bad cop this. I’m not the good cop.”

And on the other end:

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“I’m not the good cop, either.”


Who Died on the Job Today and Why?

[ 11 ] April 29, 2016 |


Who? Probably a Latino immigrant or someone working for the fossil fuel industry.

 Latino workers remain among the most vulnerable, with a job fatality rate about 9 percent higher than the national rate, partially reflecting Latinos’ prevalence in high-risk, low-wage manual labor jobs. The total number of Latinos killed at work is up slightly, from 707 in 2010 to 804 in 2014; nearly two-thirds of those killed were immigrants.

Among industries, the oil and gas trade seems deadlier than ever: Workers perished at a devastating rate of “15.6 per 100,000 workers, nearly 5 times the national average,” resulting in an unprecedented 144 deaths in 2014. Despite the global decline of the natural-gas market in recent months, Rebecca Reindel of AFL-CIO’s Safety and Health Department says via e-mail that even if the fracking sector sheds jobs, the occupational dangers might not decline, but instead, rise as bosses tighten budgets: “While there might be fewer workers in the industry due to those changes, experience in safety and health tells us that when businesses need to cut corners for cost, safety and health is often the first and hardest hit. So even with lower employment, safety and health hazards could get worse for workers.”

Why? Because legal and regulatory enforcement is so lax that there’s no good reason for employers to care about worker safety.

 Yet, even when regulators respond swiftly, employers have little to fear: In fiscal year 2015, the average penalty for a federal OSHA violation was $2,148, and just $1,317 for a state-level violation. A dead worker doesn’t cost much more: The median penalty for a lethal federal violation was $7,000. And while tens of millions have been injured or killed at work since the Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in 1970, the study notes that “only 89 cases have been prosecuted under the act, with defendants serving a total of 110 months in jail. During this time, there were more than 395,000 workplace fatalities…about 20% of which were investigated by federal OSHA.” Meanwhile, the report notes, under another beleaguered federal regulatory protection, the Environmental Protection Act, fiscal year 2015 alone saw “185 defendants charged, resulting in 129 years of jail time and $200 million in fines and restitution.”

Although there have been a few high-profile criminal prosecutions for worker deaths, sometimes under other federal or state statutes, generally corporate impunity shields even the most scandalized bosses (see Massey Coal executive Don Blankenship’s tiny misdemeanor conviction last year for his role in West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch Mine disaster). Workers’ lives are cheap, so the ultimate economic burden of unsafe jobs is drastically socialized onto the public, as occupational injury and illness costs the country an estimated “$250 billion to $370 billion a year.”

It is true that workplace fatalities have declined over the years. But this is more about the offshoring of dangerous labor to the world’s poor as it is employers caring about workplace safety. In fact, a far more telling statistic would be workplace deaths in products made by and for American companies than the number of workers specifically who die in the United States. In a fully globalized economy, that really matters more.

Game of Thrones Podcast: Season 6, Episode 1, “The Red Woman”

[ 60 ] April 29, 2016 |


After nine months off the air, we’re back, folks! In this episode, SEK and I discuss Alliser Thorne and Trump, the first signs of weakness in House Bolton and the very beginnings of Sansa’s rise to power, why the Dorne plotline makes precisely zero sense, where things might be going in King’s Landing, and the dodgy gender and racial politics of the Dothraki, and the difference between implied nudity done for shock with Dany and actual nudity done for plot and character with Melisandre:

Who Is the Lesser Of Salon’s #BernieorBusters? The Answer Is Unclear

[ 227 ] April 29, 2016 |
Dumb and Dumber (Screengrab)

Dumb and Dumber

With the outcome of the Democratic primaries no longer in doubt, Salon is turning its #BernieorBust amps up to 11. Sure, we get HA! Goodman’s latest plea for the FBI to indict Hillary Clinton which they will as he will explain in his friend’s Kickstarter for a fan tribute to Game Of Thrones starring a Bernie loolalike. But forget that, we have new Walker Bragman material!

That said, now that the race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, with the former secretary of state essentially guaranteed the nomination, many liberals and progressives are preparing, once again, to vote for the lesser of two evils. The choice may not be as clear as some Democrats believe — especially if Democrats can take back the Senate and assure themselves of a check on a GOP House.

Right of the top, we have dispositive evidence of someone who knows less than nothing about American politics. The chances that Democrats could retake the Senate in an election with structural conditions favorable enough to Republicans for Donald Trump to win the White House are somewhat less than the chances that the Atlanta Braves will win the World Series this year. Any meaningful discussion has to assume a unified Republican Congress.

Once you’ve let that sink in, try this: There is a liberal case to be made for Donald Trump.

Do tell.

Like Sanders, Trump is neither beholden to special interests, nor coordinating with a Super PAC. This alone sets him apart from the other candidates in the race — especially Hillary Clinton. If he wins the presidency, it will send shock waves through our political system, much like what would happen if Bernie were elected, but with a twist.

Um, OK. And that exciting twist will be that “he will sign pretty much every horrible piece of legislation that a Republican Congress puts on his desk.”

Trump’s brand of populism has been enabled by the roughly 40-year decline of our middle class that both parties have facilitated through the abandonment of Franklin D. Roosevelt in favor of Ronald Reagan. Trump may not offer policy specifics, but he does not need them because the political establishment on both sides of the aisle, have failed the American people so badly, and the people have caught on.

“We must do something about economic inequality. Massive upper-class tax cuts, repealing the Affordable Care Act, and deregulating business are something. Ergo, Trump ’16!”

If he were to be elected, it would force our leaders to have a real conversation about these problems that they simply won’t have if the people elect an establishment candidate like Hillary Clinton.

Hahahahaha, yes, whatever the atrocious material consequences of a Trump administration would be, we would have a Real Conversation. At this point, my working assumption is that “Walker Bragman” is a pen name for Jim VandeHei, which he ordinarily uses for one of his characters when writing Gossip Girl fan fiction.

In all likelihood, Trump will not accomplish anything. He has made serious enemies in both parties and the media, whom he feels have slighted him, and I cannot see him working with those people. Trump holds grudges. He has filed more frivolous lawsuits than anyone in the public eye — or maybe we just hear about them more. Either way, politics do require compromise to one degree or another, and without it, nothing gets done. As such, when Trump finds himself up against institutional and bureaucratic resistance, it is unlikely he will deliver. For example, his wall — paid for by Mexico — is never going to happen. Ban all Muslims from entering the U.S.? Not a chance.

I agree that his “ban all Muslims” policies will not be enacted (although there’s plenty of room for discriminatory law enforcement that doesn’t reach that level.) His massive tax cut policies? Now those will be enacted. The executive branch federal judiciary packed with neoconfederate cranks? You betcha.

The Senate with its filibuster and cloture rules is enough of a check on that, even if Democrats do not have a majority.

Yes, and the Republican Party would never, ever adjust the cloture rules, Scout’s Honor. Also, tax cut bills can bypass the filibuster, as perhaps Young Master Bragman was unaware happened under the Bush administration twice.

Moreover, rightly or wrongly, he represents America’s crypto-fascist element. The best way to discredit both of these groups is to let them fail on their own.

Just like eight years of George W. Bush killed the Republican Party forever.

The last consecutive two-term presidents from the same political party were James Madison and James Monroe. In other words, Democrats face long historical odds if Hillary Clinton wins in 2016, of winning again in four years.

This argument is just as dumb as it’s ever been. The misleading historical factoid is irrelevant, and the idea that it’s possible for Donald Trump to win in 2016 but impossible for him to win as an incumbent is silly, and the same of course goes for Hillary Clinton.

Trump now would enable the Democratic Party to regroup, and reform under a more economically populist banner in order to tap into the American zeitgeist. Perhaps 2020 could see President Elizabeth Warren.

If history has taught Young Master Bragman anything, it’s that 1)it’s unpossible for incumbent presidents to win re-election and 2)the Democratic Party always responds to defeats by moving to the left. I’m not sure what history this is, but it’s not of the United States of America.

Trump will not transform America’s oligarchy into a fascist dictatorship, nor is he the second coming of Hitler.

As long as neither candidate is literally Hitler, the outcome of elections doesn’t matter. OK.

I would not be the least bit surprised to see Trump run to Clinton’s left on economic policy in a general election

I believe that you wouldn’t be! But it won’t happen, and more to the point the economic agenda that would be enacted by a Republican Congress under Trump would make Hillary Clinton look like a radical leftist.

Trump’s foreign policy talk has alienated our allies like the United Kingdon, and that isn’t something to take lightly. However, it has also earned praise from Vladimir Putin.

Shorter Walker Bragman: “Trump may not be Hitler, but he might be Putin. I’m OK with that.” I think Ed Schultz has tonight’s lead guest lined up now!

Finally, let’s talk about the Supreme Court.

Yes, let’s.

We have no way of predicting who Trump would appoint,

Well, we actually can make a pretty good guess.

While she has said that her litmus test for nominees will be commitment to overturning Citizens United v. FEC, there is little reason to trust her given how much she benefits from the current campaign finance system that is a product of that ruling and others.

I mean, wow, even by Bragman’s standards this is amazing. First of all, the fact that Clinton benefits from the current fundraising system is irrelevant to this question — Bill Clinton and Barack Obama raised plenty of money and their nominees have consistently dissented from bad campaign finance rulings. And even if we were to grant the fantastical assumption that Hillary Clinton secretly wants Citizens United upheld and can somehow identify plausible Democratic nominees who will agree with her, there are of course countless other remaining issues on which Democratic and Republican nominees predictably differ. Are you a woman who might want to obtain an abortion in somewhere other than a blue state urban area? Young Master Bragman has bigger fish to fry! But don’t worry, Donald Trump will ensure that at least we have a National Conversation about the issue!

President Barack Obama’s recent Supreme Court nominee, Eric Garland,

Oh dear. I would forgive this, however, if it wasn’t a fair representation of Young Master Bragman’s grasp of how the judicial system functions:

which gave us Super PACs, and upheld Citizens United.

An appellate court ruling failed to overturn a higher court’s campaign finance ruling, and somehow created Super PACs. This is central to Bragman’s point that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Democratic and Republican judicial nominees. Fascinating.

But, hey, it could be worse — he could be Camille Paglia.

Privatizing Hope, Individualizing Politics

[ 30 ] April 29, 2016 |


Ronald Aronson has an interesting, if rather lengthy, essay about the privatization of hope, adapted from his forthcoming book. I don’t agree with all of it. He falls into the frequent trap of bipartisanism when discussing the mid-20th century without taking into account the party alignments of that time in order to say “bipartisan solutions were once possible and now aren’t and isn’t that bad,” which is a question with an actual answer that is usually ignored. And I think the New Left gets too much blame for individualizing activism, as those activists were already a creation of postwar consumerism who turned that consumer lifestyle toward activism. There are other things to nitpick about the history as well–the late 20th century didn’t invent advertising and his example of baseball and consumerism falters in the significant, if less bright and loud, advertising of prewar baseball.

But the overall essay is really interesting in thinking about how strong a role the atomized, empowered individual plays in our culture and in our politics. A couple of excerpts:

The most stunning instance of this shift is the eruption of the Tea Party in early 2009. By what political alchemy did the only movement generated during the first three years of the Great Recession demand more of the same policies that caused the crisis? The financial collapse of September 2008 refuted thirty years of deregulaton and dismantling of the welfare state but provoked little action at the other end of the political spectrum, which was busy electing the new president and celebrating his victory but not pushing him on policy or giving him needed support. Still, wouldn’t the next activist wave—after thirty-five years of top-down class struggle and increasing inequality—be a movement of the unemployed and foreclosed demanding collective action for jobs, relief, and punishment of the business executives and regulators behind the financial collapse?

Instead, the most successful activists to emerge from the recession called for even less regulation, even lower taxes, and an even flimsier safety net. Were these self-styled patriots wearing three-cornered hats out of touch with reality? Not their reality: the Tea Party is a sour, middle- and upper-middle-class wave of resentment, comprising mostly college-educated white males over forty-five years old, one-fifth of whom earn more than $100,000 per year. We must take stock of the ironies of history that brought us to this point, where the first mass mobilization with teeth since the New Left turned out to be the “libertarian mob.”

Attending to this history reveals an unmistakable irony. That mob is in important ways fueled by the spread of freedom and equality since the 1960s, often reckoned a progressive undertaking. Since the social revolutions of that era, the individual and his or her rights and responsibilities have come to count for far more than collective tasks such as combating global warming and eliminating poverty. With social revolution has come economic: the expansion of consumer society, the proliferation of personal electronic devices, the growth of free-market ideology, the defeat of alternatives to unregulated capitalism. All foster a scenario of detachment, in which each of us is free to ignore our sense of belonging to a larger society. Citizenship is being reduced to participation in regular elections that rarely offer genuine alternatives to the prevailing system, to moments of cheering for our side and honoring “our heroes.” Even such collective action as exists is increasingly pitched in terms of the self-interest of millions of mes.

The privatization of hope, then, is not simply a matter of focusing energy and attention on oneself and one’s family. It is the withdrawal of personal expectation from the wider world, the rejection of even a possible democratic solidarity on behalf of a collective life encompassing and fit for all.

And the conclusion:

Today what must command our attention is not the radical falsity of the privatization of hope, which denies everyone’s deep social being, but its debilitating consequences. We are collectively losing the ability to cope with the most urgent problems. People who experience themselves as random, isolated individuals will never find the wherewithal to understand or agree upon, let alone master, the reality of climate change. The increasingly dangerous effect of two centuries of uncoordinated actions and dangers blurred by self-interest can be brought under control only if we accept that there is an us that has transformed nature and our relationship to it. To protect our common home from disaster, humans must form a responsive global collective. We must recover and enlarge social hope in the name of survival. But how to do this if a critical mass is in denial about the problem and lacks the ability to form a consensus and act together?

Our need, according to French social theorist Francis Jeanson, is for “citoyennisation”—the transformation of isolated and impotent individuals into active, militant citizens who experience their fate collectively and are willing to act on it democratically. Those trying to make this happen will have to negotiate not only the privatization of hope, but also the widespread acceptance of the maelstrom of progress and the pervasive cynicism of today’s advanced societies. Those who are already invested in political struggle will have to work their way beyond the boundaries inherent in identity politics and the thousands of other good causes clamoring for attention.

But no matter how privatized or narrowly focused we become, our latent capacity for generosity and need for connection remain only a tragedy or a disaster away from activation. In A Paradise Built in Hell (2009), Rebecca Solnit describes those utopian moments of hope, few and far between, when catastrophes lead to the breakdown of normal order and thereby demand that people collectively take control of their lives. Her examples reach from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to Hurricane Katrina. Let us hope other collective challenges—from the Syrian refugee crisis to global climate change—do not have to reach disastrous proportions before we overcome our passivity and isolation and recover our capacity to act together.

This focus on the individual versus the collective is I think pretty central to how a lot of the left thinks about politics. As I have said many times in the past here, politics should not be about you. Really, you don’t matter, or you shouldn’t think you do. It’s not about what you want. It’s about the people around you, your family, your friends, your coworkers, society at large. Self-centeredness is a terrible way to approach politics. Yet it is too common in an era where people, and here I’m talking specifically about the left, show off their politics like their new tattoo. “If Candidate X doesn’t support my positions of GMOs, vaccinations, and foreign policy, then there is no way I will vote for that person.” As much as I respect Bernie Sanders, this sort of formulation is pretty common among a lot of his supporters, as applied to the Great Satan of Hillary Clinton. This is the core of the third party vanity campaigns of Ralph Nader that still are attractive to large numbers of people. It’s this idea of the collective over the individual, an idea with deep roots in the labor movement, that leads me so strongly to reject an electoral politics of purity so that “I can teach the Democrats a lesson.”

Rather, the greatest good for the greatest number is a much more productive, if significantly less satisfying, way to approach politics. Yet that requires compromise and a lack of personal fulfillment. At the core of this whole problem is that we consider ourselves empowered consumers who need to be personally appealed to in order for us to grant our vote, and thus we often make personal demands of politicians who of course cannot follow through on them. Sometimes this gets channeled into a mass movement that leads to inevitable disappointment (Barack Obama), sometimes this gets channeled toward a single candidate who doesn’t quite make it (Bernie Sanders), and quite often it leads to people either not voting or voting for protest candidates (Nader, Jill Stein, staying at home talking about the need for socialism or the evils of vaccinations on Facebook).

Ultimately, we need to break this extreme version of individualism that postwar culture has created to work toward collective solutions to our societal problems, ranging from unequal schools that are exacerbated by people moving to the suburbs for their kids to climate change to a fair and equal economy. That’s a big challenge and probably not one where we will make any progress.

Should Black Lives Matter Compromise? No.

[ 130 ] April 29, 2016 |


Meant to say this a few days ago, but I will now: Barack Obama is flat out wrong about Black Lives Matter.

At a youth town hall in London Saturday, President Obama said that activists, specifically Black Lives Matter activists, need to be willing to compromise and that sometimes, the tone of the activism can turn people off to their message.

While answering questions from students and young people, Obama praised the Black Lives Matter movement for bringing to light the issues of police brutality and racial discrimination, but he says, their tone can mean that sometimes the message gets lost.

“You can’t just keep on yelling at them and you can’t refuse to meet because that might compromise the purity of your position,” Obama said. “The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table, get you in the room and then start trying to figure out how is this problem going to be solved. You then have a responsibility to prepare an agenda that is achievable —that can institutionalize the changes you seek and to engage the other side.”

Obama brought up compromise often in his speech, imploring youth activists and political hopefuls to learn how to compromise and to not see opponents or those on the other side of the aisle as enemies.

“If you spend time with people who just agree with you on any particular issue, you become even more extreme in your convictions because you’re never contradicted and everyone just mutually reinforces their perspective,” he said. “That’s why I think it is so important for all the young people here to seek out people who don’t agree with you.


I get why Barack Obama is saying this. It’s the world he lives in. And that’s fine. At some point, compromise happens on any piece of legislation. That’s how one kind of politics works. But that politics doesn’t happen unless people are out on the streets demanding it, refusing to compromise, and causing problems for politicians until they do something about it. The recent minimum wage increases are directly connected to the Fight for $15, for instance. That sort of direct action moves the party left and takes incredibly lame insiders like Terry McAuliffe and forces them to do the right thing, increasing people’s rights. We need an electoral politics and we need a protest politics and they don’t have to be completely intertwined. Without direct action on the street demanding complete capitulation to a given agenda, the partial victories won’t happen. Obama wouldn’t even be talking about these issues in London if activists weren’t yelling in Ferguson and Baltimore and Cleveland.

You know how you get Black Lives Matter to tone down its message? Allow black lives to matter. These activists might inconvenient the president. Good. Do something about it. He should advocate for the legislation you want and then accept the inevitable compromise that at least moves the ball forward. Even then, the activists should not. This is how change takes place. Those uncomfortable with protest politics need to understand this. Including the president.

Thankfully, the 90s Are Over

[ 33 ] April 29, 2016 |


The lesson of Terry McAullife’s susprisingly progressive record as governor of Virginia is that the executive branch is generally where party change ends, not where it begins:

What’s interesting about this is that before assuming office, McAuliffe seemed like the ultimate political hack. The Clinton crony and prodigious fundraiser seemed worth voting for only because the Republicans were running the odious former state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli against him. As New York’s Jon Chait put it at the time, “McAuliffe is the Democrat Democrats have been dying to vote against, except they can’t, because he’s running against a falling-off-the-right-edge-of-the-map Republican.” And yet, he’s been a good Democratic governor—not a hero by any means, but you won’t find enfranchising former felons in the DLC risk-aversion playbook either.

Skeptics might say that the order was just a cynical attempt to expand the potential Democratic electorate in a swing state. But this would be unfair. Many important progressive achievements, up to and including the Emancipation Proclamation, were also politically expedient. If expanding the electorate helps your party, there’s nothing wrong with that! More to the point, there are many potentially politically expedient initiatives—such as expanding Social Security and substantially increasing the minimum wage—that elite Democrats have nonetheless failed to embrace. Showing that these ideas have a real constituency is one reason Sanders’s run has been so valuable.

The real lesson of McAuliffe is that leaders don’t govern in a vacuum. Political context matters. If McAuliffe had been elected governor in the 1990s he likely would have been much more timorous and inclined to compromise with Republicans. But it ain’t the ‘90s anymore, and McAuliffe has gotten the message.

We have seen this play out in more historically consequential administrations. When Kennedy selected Lyndon Johnson as his running mate, progressive groups nearly revolted, given his frequently conservative record as a legislator and legislative leader. Had LBJ become president in 1952, it is enormously unlikely that he would be remembered as a progressive giant on domestic policy. But assuming office in the context of 1963, he went on to preside over the widest-ranging and least compromised collection of progressive legislation to be passed by Congress since Reconstruction.

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