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The Seriousity Of Paul Ryan, Washington’s Most Principled Man of Principle

[ 62 ] May 13, 2016 |


Being a prominent Republican means, among other things, that your self-descriptions always matter more than your actions:

Politico, reporting on Ryan’s meeting today with Trump, notes, “The speaker even brought charts and slides illustrating the nation’s budget woes to help Trump understand the problem he has spent 20 years trying to solve.”

In reality, Ryan’s record in public life supports a very different conclusion. Over the last two decades, he has supported all of the major deficit-increasing legislation: the Bush tax cuts, the Bush-era defense buildup, and Bush’s debt-financed Medicare drug benefit. During the Bush administration, Ryan distinguished himself from the president by demanding even larger tax cuts — and, during the fight over privatizing Social Security, advocated a plan that the administration rejected because it would have exploded deficits by too much. Likewise, Ryan has opposed all of the major deficit-reducing legislation during this period — ending portions of the Bush tax cuts, ending overpayments to private tuition lenders, and enacting the deficit-reducing Affordable Care Act, especially its cost-containment measures. Ryan also voted against the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction framework, and torpedoed bipartisan efforts to negotiate a deficit-reduction compromise between the Obama administration and Congress.

To be Scrupulously Fair, the fact that Ryan doesn’t actually care about deficits led him to torpedo any Grand Bargain, so he will always have performed one valuable public service for the republic.


However Did an Ignorant Crank Win the Republican Presidential Nomination?

[ 52 ] May 13, 2016 |


Donald Trump will be getting exceedingly appropriate advice for his tax plans:

But what’s really interesting is whom, according to Politico, Mr. Trump has brought in to revise his plans: Larry Kudlow of CNBC and Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation. That news had economic analysts spitting out their morning coffee all across America.

For those who don’t follow such things, Mr. Kudlow has a record of being wrong about, well, everything. In 2005 he ridiculed “bubbleheads who expect housing-price crashes in Las Vegas or Naples, Florida, to bring down the consumer, the rest of the economy, and the entire stock market” — which was exactly what happened. In 2007 he predicted three years of “Goldilocks” prosperity. And on and on.

Mr. Moore has a comparable forecasting record, but he also has a remarkable inability to get facts straight. Perhaps most famously, he once attempted to rebut, well, me with an article detailing the supposed benefits of state tax cuts; incredibly, not one of the many numbers in that article was right.

Surely he needs to work with the Dow 36,000 guys too, but there’s still time. Krugman sees one implication of this:

But my guess is that the explanation is simpler: The candidate has no idea who is and isn’t competent. I mean, it’s not as if he has any independent knowledge of economics, or even knows what he doesn’t know. For example, he keeps asserting that America has the world’s highest taxes, when we’re actually at the bottom among advanced nations.

Obviously, this is true. And yet, as Krugman said earlier, Trump (like Moore and Kudlow) is firmly within the Republican mainstream on taxes. Whether the plans are literally crafted by Moore or Kudlow or not, every remotely viable Republican candidate for president proposes a massive upper-class tax cut paired with unspecified spending cuts and pretends that this will actually create a surplus because the plan will UNLEASH the entrepreneurial genius of the American people, just like it has in the Kansas and Louisiana miracles. Trump is probably right to just cut out the middleman.

And given this Republican consensus, the precise details don’t really matter. If Trump becomes president, he’ll sign whatever loony upper-class tax cut the Republican Congress puts on his desk. And this tax plan will be one that Stephen Moore and Larry Kudlow will be very happy with. In conclusion, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The Non-Existent Non-Incrementalist Golden Age of the Democratic Party

[ 292 ] May 12, 2016 |


With apologies in advance for two Freddie-related posts in 24 hours, I can’t resist this (and it’s worth discussing because it’s a particularly bald version of a fallacy shared by people with much deeper historical learning):

As the historian Kevin Kruse (whose book One Nation Under God is strongly recommended) observed, the obvious answers are “yes,” “yes,” “yes,” and “this is not a thing but assuming you mean the Fair Housing Act, yes.” The idea that the Social Security — which not only offered modest benefits but intentionally excluded large numbers of African-Americans — was not an example of incremental reform is quite remarkable. Even more revealing is the Medicaid example. Nothing makes it clearer that this fake-nostalgia for the REAL LIBERAL Democratic Party of yore is just a rhetorical cudgel with which to beat Democrats and not any kind of serious historical analysis than this. Apparently, a public health insurance program that required states to cover only a subset of people well below the poverty line was REAL, UNCOMPROMISING LIBERALISM while a public health insurance program that required states to cover everyone up to 138% of the poverty line is the hopelessly compromised neoliberal work of useless corporate sellouts. Right.

Some people tried to salvage deBoer’s hilarious wrongness by arguing that while the end products of the New Deal and Great Society might have been incremental reform rather than uncompromising triumphs, the process behind them wasn’t. But this is just as false. The Social Security Act did not arise only after FDR tried to ram an expansive, racially egalitarian version right down Congress’s throat. FDR was not, you know, a moron; he didn’t think he would be able to persuade the Southern Democrats whose votes he needed to provide generous public assistance to African-American constituents. Similarly, LBJ Didn’t. Even. Try to get comprehensive health care reform. Medicare and Medicaid were what he asked for, watered down by the conservative Democrats and Republicans whose votes were necessary to pass it. People who think that important legislation gets passed by presidents making opening bids far outside the expected negotiating space have no idea how presidential power works. (And, for that matter, have no idea how negotiating works. If the Mariners phone up the Angels and offer Mike Zunino for Mike Trout, that doesn’t mean that the Angels will then offer to accept Leonys Martin for Mike Trout; it means the Angels GM will stop taking your phone calls.) To say that a president “pre-comprimised” is often used as an insult, but it is in fact a sign that he knows what he’s doing. The lessons of FDR and LBJ — and now Obama — are the opposite of what this faction of the left thinks they are.

Anyway, we needn’t dwell on this because Freddie abandoned his inept history in record time, and pivoted to an equally terrible argument:

I see. So, having abandoned the claim that the liberal victories of the New Deal and Great Society weren’t “incremental,” we now have an argument that they prove that incrementalism is always a mistake. But this is insane, not to mention monstrous. (That Freddie was last seen arguing that if you point out that racists constitute a significant amount of Trump’s support you therefore ipso facto want the working class to suffer makes this extra special.) The options faced by FDR were “a horribly compromised Social Security Act” or “nothing.” The idea that FDR should have chosen the latter is nuts. If LBJ had held out for comprehensive health care reform, he would have gotten nothing. But of course this is the whole underlying fallacy of the argument (which, again, is worth discussing only because it’s far from unique to Freddie.) “Incrementalism” is not a choice FDR and LBJ made; it was a necessity. Majority coalitions to get the legislation you think the country needs in exactly the form you want aren’t something you can just declare by fiat. The fact that deBoer’s only remaining example of change that isn’t “incremental” literally involved a civil war that killed upwards of a million people tells you everything you need to know.

And this is why too many people are vastly overestimating the stakes of the 2016 Democratic primaries. The choice between Clinton and Sanders is not a choice between “incremental” change and an uncompromising “political revolution.” If Republicans control the House, we’re not going to get significant progressive reform, incremental or otherwise. If Trump drags the GOP down so much that Democrats take the House, that doesn’t mean that President Sanders would be able to get universal free public college education and single-payer out of Congress — the Democrats in marginal Senate and House seats that allowed for Democratic control of Congress will not, to put it mildly, be social democrats, and you need their votes to pass stuff. This doesn’t mean that there’s nothing at stake in the outcome of the primaries — the incremental change of a Sanders administration would probably take a different form than that of the Clinton administration — but the differences are just far, far less than many people think. There are real choices being made, but the choices are not about whether reform should be “incremental.” That’s the form that major reform legislation takes even in unusually favorable circumstances in the Madisonian system.

The Smug Style in American Leftism

[ 290 ] May 12, 2016 |


Freddie tries to horn in on Emmett Rensin’s racket:

As I said the last time we encountered this kind of assertion, name one liberal of any significant prominence or influence who thinks that “people who are not like them deserve suffering.” Rensin still hasn’t. And deBoer hasn’t either. He cites Jeet Heer’s twitter feed, which as you note if you scrawl down says absolutely nothing remotely resembling this. In a blog post, he cites Paul Krugman, who says…absolutely nothing remotely resembling this, and two other writers who say absolutely nothing resembling this. deBoer’s readings go well beyond uncharitable to outright dishonesty. If you read his own post carefully, you’ll note that he effectively concedes that he doesn’t have the goods:

More, I am here asking that we consider whether we want to adopt the basic logic of conservatism: that some people’s distress is deserved and thus safely ignored. Because that is the inevitable consequence of thinking like Krugman.

Krugman and the other writers, do make the point — which deBoer does not contest — that Trump’s support is largely a product of white supremacy. What he absolutely does not say is that poor white people with white supremacist beliefs “deserve to suffer.” deBoer has to smuggle in an assertion that this is an “inevitable” logical outgrowth of the arguments of Krugman et al. The first problem with this assertion is that it is risible, anti-intellectual nonsense on its face — there’s no logical contradiction in observing that white supremacy is driving a lot of Trump’s support and supporting policies that help many Trump voters. And the second problem is that, in practice, Krugman et al. do in fact support policies that will help (inter alia) economically suffering Trump supporters in West Virginia — increased wealth transfers, access to health care, infrastructure spending that would increase access to decent jobs, etc. etc. The idea that honestly analyzing the basis for Trump’s support entails a desire to punish Trump supporters just could not be more wrong.

I conclude with one of the less self-aware sentences ever written:

Nor did I get interested in politics for the righteous thrill of lording it over the wrong.

This from a man who believes this believes that the left should simply absent itself from electoral politics — leading inevitably to Republican governments that really would inflict devastation on the economically suffering, including economically suffering Trump voters — until a party nominates a presidential candidate who publicly agrees with Freddie deBoer about everything. Projection is a hell of a drug.

Textualism Is Not A Theory of Constitutional Interpretation

[ 150 ] May 11, 2016 |


I’ve been planning to do a post about judicial review and the implications of legal realism to so I don’t have to keep repeating things that perennially come up in comments threads. In the meantime, I’ll address some lower-hanging fruit — namely, the idea that one side in disputes over constitutional meaning can be meaningfully labelled “textualist.” Combining two comments from Sebastian H:

This thread makes all those discussions about how textualists don’t understand the huge importance of stare decisis to a living constitutionalist order look a little bit silly…No, the stare decisis critique of modern textualist theories is a legitimate critique–far more so than the typical critiques. It is about law as a system, rather than a single point of reference. The problem with the approach of this thread is that it undermines all of the common law/system defenses of living constitutionalism which are essentially the only strong defenses that it has.

To state the obvious, “textualism” is abjectly useless as an interpretative method for the vast majority of constitutional cases of any interest. It’s not that the text of the Constitution doesn’t resolve some issues. It certainly does dispositively resolve questions like “is Mark Zuckerberg eligible to run for president in 2016?” or “Does Wyoming get the same number of Senators as California?” But of course you don’t need any kind of grand theory to resolve questions like this, which is why questions like this don’t end up in the Supreme Court. Everyone is a “textualist” when the text of the Constitution does not leave any meaningful room for dispute. Here, too, we can see the not-very-subtle self-aggrandizement in the self-application of the “textualist” label: “I am following the text of the Constitution and you are ignoring it.” It’s just nonsense.

On the questions that are actually in enough dispute to end up at the Supreme Court, however, “textualism” brings absolutely nothing to the table. We can read the text and see that it prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments” and “unreasonable searches and seizures” and abridgments of the “privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” and guarantees the “due process of law.” What do these deliberately broad and abstract phrases tell us about how to apply them to concrete cases of enough interest to reach a federal appellate court? Absolutely nothing, needless to say. (The framers of the 14th Amendment nearly universally understood that which judge was doing the interpreting was far more important than the precise wording of a constitutional provision, creating a serious meta-problem for “textualists” who also call themselves “originalists” where questions concerning the 14th Amendment are concerned.) Judicial review involves discretionary choices made my judges; it’s just that some people admit it and some don’t.

I would also note that there is one live constitutional controversy to which the text of the Constitution provides a nearly definitive answer: whether the 11th Amendment bars suits against state governments without the consent of the state by citizens of that state. The answer the text provides is “it doesn’t” — Hans v. Lousiana and its Rehnquist Court progeny are an example of cases that a liberal Court should find were wrong the day they were decided, are still wrong, and should be overruled. Most people who call themselves “textualists,” however, insist that it does, which should tell us something about “textualism.” Many “textualists” also call themselves “originalists.” I’ll leave that for the next post, but the tl; dr is that 1)orignialsm is unattractive as a normative theory; 2)in the vast majority of interesting constitutional disputes it does not provide determinate answers, because different levels of abstraction and the ambiguities of historical evidence provide multiple answers to most questions; and 3)in the rare cases where “originalism” seems to provide a definitive answer in practice “originalist” judges don’t feel constrained to apply it anyway.

With respect to stare decisis, it’s crucial to distinguish between the vertical and horizontal application of precedents. Obviously, lower courts applying the precedents of higher courts in good faith is an important part of the judicial system, and not doing it is bad judicial practice (with the understanding that there are always going to be marginal cases where there is good faith disagreement about what a precedent requires in a particular case.) In terms of the Supreme Court dealing with its own precedents, virtually everyone agrees with Tushnet in principle. That is, there are some precedents that should be overruled (whether explicitly or sub silentio — I think the former is almost always preferable), there are some precedents that should be narrowed but aren’t worth overruling even if a majority would have decided them differently in the first instance, and some precedents that should be upheld. Courts have to be able to correct what they see as their mistakes in constitutional cases; the only question is when they should do it. And, like determining the meaning of the cruel and unusual clause, this inevitably entails judicial discretion.

…as a couple of commenters noted, Shelby County is another excellent example of “textualists” refusing to apply the text even in a rare case where the text would appear to foreclose the argument made by the majority. As with the “sovereign immunity” cases, the text was trumped by a structuralist argument inferred from the text — “the equal sovereign dignitude of the states.” And while I have no problem with structuralist arguments in principle this is of course a really, really bad one.

Today In Highly Principled Libertarianism

[ 51 ] May 11, 2016 |


This New York Times profile starts out like a puff piece written by one of the Maoists who edit the Styles and Real Estate sections:

“I want to be first on Success,” said Carl Barney, standing up from the breakfast table after a final sip of tea at Deer Valley, a luxury resort with a view of Utah’s mountainous rooftop.

Mr. Barney, who had arrived in the dining room wearing his custom-made orange ski boots, was referring to the trail named Success, with its early-morning blanket of freshly groomed, untouched snow.

He could just as easily have been referring to himself.

Mr. Barney, who turns 75 on Monday, arrived in the United States in the 1960s as a jobless British immigrant and went on to amass a fortune running for-profit colleges. All the while, he was guided by the heroic entrepreneurial creed of Ayn Rand, a champion of unalloyed selfishness and remorseless capitalism.

“She taught me how to live,” Mr. Barney said.

He credits Rand’s brand of antigovernment libertarianism, hard-nosed rationality and unapologetic self-interest with helping him realize his own American dream — an achievement he sells to the students at his schools. But his inspiring story is not without contradictions.

Personally, I find “a Randroid got obscenely wealthy bilking desperate students and the American taxpayers” to be the antithesis of an “inspiring story.” But, as the twist at the end of the last sentence above suggests, Cohen does go on to point out the obvious:

Mr. Barney, who opposes government-backed loans and grants on principle, has made his fortune in a business that is almost wholly dependent on them. His students borrow heavily to pay for their studies in hope of replicating Mr. Barney’s up-by-the-bootstraps success, but often find themselves dropping out and burdened with loans. And while he invokes a rigorous Rand-inspired ethical code of fair dealing, he is in an industry with a history pockmarked by fraud and abuse.

Congress, state prosecutors and federal regulators have opened investigations into numerous schools — including some of Mr. Barney’s — saying that they have misled students, leaving them deeply in debt without providing the training and job placements that would enable them to pay it off.

The troubles in for-profit higher education have fed a mountain of student-loan debt, totaling $1.3 trillion. The sector enrolled 10.4 percent of students but received 19.3 percent of federal aid, according to the latest figures from the Education Department. The prospect of a taxpayer bailout for defrauded students could run into the billions of dollars depending on eligibility rules.

Sure, his diploma mills would all close instantly if the federal government stopped guaranteeing the loan money students need to attend them, but that doesn’t change the fact that Barney is a rugged individualist who totally pulled himself up by his bootstraps!

America’s Least Necessary Pundit Offers Penetrating Insights About the 2016 Election

[ 99 ] May 10, 2016 |


Here’s what you’ll “learn” if you read the latest emission from Maureen Dowd’s sinecure:

  • Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination has caused some measure of tension with Republican Party elites.
  • When you think about it, in terms of their substantive views Donald Trump is like Bernie Sanders and Paul Ryan is like Barack Obama.
  • Maurren Dowd really likes typing the words “Lena Dunham,” referring to an actor, writer and star of a rather good HBO series who many pundits seized on as a symbol of young feminists in 2012.

It’s sort of a perfect template of a Maureen Dowd column, in other words. The content runs the gamut from banal to transparently wrong, often in an offensive way. The cliche-saturated prose perfectly reflects the content. It’s a simple shtick, really: take one of the 3 or 4 points you choose from every week (in this case, “there are no meaningful substantive differences between the parties worth considering, but at least Republican men are Authentic Real Men, unlike Democratic men who are women, and Democratic women, who are men.”) Then you have your interns look for the references that America’s hackiest comedians finished running into the ground a minimum of sixth months ago to lard your column to make it look all with it. Through these references into the column without any worry about whether they’re apropos of anything. That dreary 45 minutes out of your week done and done, sherry with Leon Wieseltier in Georgetown. Nice work if you can get it!

The New Liberal Constitutional Agenda

[ 93 ] May 10, 2016 |


Very interesting post from Mark Tushnet. It’s worth reading the whole thing and I won’t go through every point, but I’ll excerpt a few:

A jurisprudence of “wrong the day it was decided.” Liberals should be compiling lists of cases to be overruled at the first opportunity on the ground that they were wrong the day they were decided. My own list is Bakke (for rejecting all the rationales for affirmative action that really matter), Buckley v. Valeo (for ruling out the possibility that legislatures could develop reasonable campaign finance rules promoting small-r republicanism), Casey (for the “undue burden” test), and Shelby County. (I thought about including Washington v. Davis, but my third agenda item should be enough to deal with it.) Others will have their own candidates. What matters is that overruling key cases also means that a rather large body of doctrine will have to be built from the ground up. Thinking about what that doctrine should look like is important – more important than trying to maneuver to liberal goals through the narrow paths the bad precedents seem to leave open.

Agreed 100%, and a minimalist, sub silentio ruling of Shelby County would be particularly inappropriate. Also glad to see he’s included CaseyRoe‘s trimester framework was infinitely superior, and the rejection of “diversity” being the only acceptable rationale for affirmative action. My own additions to the list would start with San Antonio v. Rodriguez and McKleskey v. Kemp.

The culture wars are over; they lost, we won. Remember, they were the ones who characterized constitutional disputes as culture wars (see Justice Scalia in Romer v. Evans, and the Wikipedia entry for culture wars, which describes conservative activists, not liberals, using the term.) And they had opportunities to reach a cease fire, but rejected them in favor of a scorched earth policy. The earth that was scorched, though, was their own. (No conservatives demonstrated any interest in trading off recognition of LGBT rights for “religious liberty” protections. Only now that they’ve lost the battle over LGBT rights, have they made those protections central – seeing them, I suppose, as a new front in the culture wars. But, again, they’ve already lost the war.). For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That’s mostly a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking a hard line (“You lost, live with it”) is better than trying to accommodate the losers, who – remember – defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. Trying to be nice to the losers didn’t work well after the Civil War, nor after Brown. (And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.) I should note that LGBT activists in particular seem to have settled on the hard-line approach, while some liberal academics defend more accommodating approaches. When specific battles in the culture wars were being fought, it might have made sense to try to be accommodating after a local victory, because other related fights were going on, and a hard line might have stiffened the opposition in those fights. But the war’s over, and we won.

Yup. Tushnet has made the point about Brown in more detail, but the amount of attention given to the non-accusatory tone and nominal unanimity of Warren’s opinion has always puzzled me. Given that the vast majority of southern politicians declared Brown constitutionally illegitimate and resisted any implementation of it for a decade, we can safely declare the causal impact of Brown being 9-0 instead of 8-1 and not overruling Plessy explicitly as being less than trivial.

Also see Tushnet’s follow-up on how some people have misread the “hard line” comment.

 Finally (trigger/crudeness alert), fuck Anthony Kennedy. I don’t mean that liberals should treat him with disrespect. But defensive-crouch liberalism meant not only trying to figure out arguments that would get Kennedy’s apparently crucial vote (not so crucial any more), but also trying to milk his opinions – and more generally, obviously conservative opinions – for doctrines that might be awkwardly pressed into the service of liberal goals. (Think here of how liberal constitutional scholars treated Kennedy’s [truly silly] concurring opinion in Parents Involved [“You can deal with the consequences of segregated housing patterns by locating new school construction carefully” – in districts that are closing rather than building schools], or his “views” about affirmative action, or recasting the Court’s federalism cases as actually good for liberals.) There’s a lot of liberal constitutional scholarship taking Anthony Kennedy’s “thought” and other conservative opinions as a guide to potentially liberal outcomes if only the cases are massaged properly. Stop it. (See agenda items 1 and 3 for how to treat those opinions.)

Replacing Anthony Kennedy as the median vote of the Supreme Court with a liberal — preferably one that can actually write coherent opinions — is in itself ample justification to pull the lever for Democrats for President and Senate in 2016.

Trump Is Really a Terrible Candidate Who Is Very Unlikely to be President

[ 386 ] May 9, 2016 |


Jamelle Bouie has more detail about why Donald Trump is an obviously terrible candidate for president. For starters, I think anyone who thinks Trump has a path to victory barring extraordinary circumstances needs to explain 1)how Trump can win barely white-majority Florida or 2)how Trump can win without Florida. I don’t think there’s a remotely good answer to either question.

Still, people like to play Eeyore, and I admit that it’s sometimes my instinct. So it’s worth addressing the various forms of way in which Democrats who feel the need to be panicked will express it. To deal with the most easily dismissed first, there’s one argument that Trump is in fact a terrible candidate but liberal writers shouldn’t say it because it would be bad for the Clinton campaign. Leaving aside the rather dubious causal logic (“we were going to build a serious ground operation, but since I read that article about how Trump is a bad candidate let’s all go to Antigua!”), nuts to that. This is just the flip side to how so many Republican pundits acted in 2012  — if you UNSKEW THE POLLS and COUNT THE YARD SIGNS IN YOUR SUBURBAN NEIGHBORHOOD by gum Romney has it in the bag. Reflexively pessimistic hackery is no less hacky than reflexively optimistic hackery. If you’re not giving your honest analysis but trying to write what you think is best for the party, you’re not worth reading, period.

Some more common counters:

  • “But the Republicans always find a way to steal the election.” If you’ve predicted 6 of the last 2 Republican Electoral College winners, I wouldn’t say your analysis has much value. Plus Bush didn’t “steal” 2004 either.
  • “They will suppress the vote.” This is worth taking seriously, because it’s a real thing and one with real effects, and it’s also a really bad thing that should be fought with every available weapon irrespective of the partisan consequences. In 2016, however, the effects of vote suppression will primarily be felt downballot. First, vote suppression tactics matter at the margin, and whatever effects they have are likely to be swamped by the increased mobilization of women and minority voters. Also, vote suppression is not uniform, and some of it will occur in states that the GOP will win anyway (Texas) or than are just gravy for Democrats (North Carolina.) It’s not going to save Trump.
  • “But this Clinton messaging is very ineffective.” This stuff only matters much if an election is very close, and it’s also very difficult to know ex ante what messaging will be effective — must discussion of it this far out is just reflexive pessimism or a pundit’s fallacy. It’s really not worth worrying about at this point.
  • Sanders voters won’t vote for Clinton. The #BernieorBust crowd is very, very annoying, but it’s not likely to be very significant. The PUMA movement looked considerably bigger in 2008, and we know how that turned out. The small subset of Sanders voters who are fools or narcissists is almost certainly greatly overrepresented online.
  • But the Republicans have won a lot of elections lately.  I can understand looking at recent results in statehouses and Congress and seeing an electoral juggernaut. But this is a fallacy. Just as it’s wrong to assume that the Republican Party is doomed because it’s not very competitive at the presidential level right now, it’s wrong to assume that because Democrats haven’t done well in state election in off years and in the gerrymandered House they’re in trouble in presidential elections. The electorates are different. As Corey Robin recently observed, the Democratic Party was in fine shape at the state level and in Congress in 1972.

This doesn’t mean that Democrats should be complacent, or that anything is guaranteed. But Trump is a bad candidate that a party that’s already at a significant disadvantage in presidential elections can’t afford.

The Dream of the Pain Caucus Savior

[ 75 ] May 9, 2016 |


Brian Beutler has a good piece about pundits who dream that massively overrepresented views will get representation by a third party candidate:

The most recent variation on the theme, which ran in The Wall Street Journal one week ago, resembles its antecedents in many ways. Written by former Politico CEO Jim Vandehei, the article was widely criticized on the political internet, and for many reasons: Vandehei described two overwhelmingly white, rural towns as “Normal America,” when America is an ethnically diverse, urban, and suburban country that also happens to have a lot of empty and sparsely populated land in it. His forays into these outposts left him with a reasonable sense that both Trump and Sanders were on to something—“The best and perhaps only way to disrupt the establishment is by stealing a lot of Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’s tricks.” But he also concluded that we should dismiss their popular appeals out of hand—“Trump’s vulgar approach to politics is a terrific middle finger to the establishment but a terrible political and governing paradigm. Same goes for Sanders-style socialism.”

What ails our political system can be cured, according to Vandehei, with a familiar mixture of rogue militarism, austerity, and genuflection to tech and finance titans. “Why not recruit Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg to head a third-party ‘Innovation’ movement? Maybe we can convince Michael Bloomberg to help fund the movement with the billions he planned to spend on his own campaign—and then recruit him to run Treasury and advise the president.”

These ideas don’t just lie outside the overlap of a Trump-Sanders Venn diagram, but outside the Trump and Sanders sets entirely. Trump and Sanders have arguably gained large constituencies in part by rejecting precisely this kind of thinking, and for embracing American political and ideological traditions that long predate modern political conflict.

Beutler does us the service of reminding us about the Politico primary. Remember that? VandeHei/Allen’s entry on Erskine Bowles is definitive:

The most depressing reality of modern governance is this: The current system seems incapable of dealing with our debt addiction before it becomes a crippling crisis. Few have the courage to propose specific cuts to entitlements, gut military spending, raise taxes or take away government goodies. Instead, most politicians play it safe and dabble around the edges or propose ambiguous ideas, all in the name of political self-protection.

But there is a decent chance conventional politicians playing by conventional rules are playing it all wrong. Many voters seem open to, if not hungry for, a real discussion about tough changes. Ask Republicans and Democrats alike to name a serious and responsible thinker who could lead this discussion and the name Erskine Bowles often tops the list.

Of course, mainstream Democrats are perfectly willing to raise taxes and in some cases even to cut military spending, so what this is really about is “specific cuts to entitlements” and “government goodies.” V/A simply assume as fact that these are desirable policy objectives. But on this the public is right and they’re wrong.

The punchline is that Politico’s readership happened to vote for the best of the candidates in the hypothetical primary — Hillary Clinton. But now that she’s actually running, VandeHei has figured out that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Obama and Clinton on economic policy, so he wants a Great White Guy Hope who will really be able to get big cuts to Social Security through.

The Presidential Election Will Not be Decided by the House of Representatives

[ 174 ] May 9, 2016 |


Now that pundits don’t have a BROKERED CONVENTION to dream about, they can use discussion of a potential right-wing third part to fantasize about a election THROWN TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. And of course Republican elites would love to think that the House could undo the choice of their primary electorate and impose someone more to their liking on the American public. As I think we’ve discussed before, however, this has no chance of happening for obvious reasons:

Right now Clinton has the inside track to a majority of the Electoral College. Polls are a little dodgy at this early stage of the race, but most forecasters assume Clinton would win something like the states President Obama won in 2012, and perhaps some more if Trump fails to consolidate his party. That assumption isn’t terribly important. What’s important is that adding a right-wing splinter candidate would not reduce Clinton’s share of the Electoral College at all. It would increase it. Every state gives its electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most votes. If Clinton wins 51 percent of the vote in Florida, she gets all 29 electoral votes from Florida. Crucially, states do not require a candidate to have a majority in order to win the state. And a right-wing independent candidate will draw overwhelmingly from Trump’s support. So an independent would not take any states away from Clinton.

Instead, that candidate would make it possible for Clinton to win a bunch of states without a majority. States where Clinton might otherwise fall a bit short of Trump would become blue states. Suppose in a two-candidate race that, say, Texas would give Trump 53 percent and Clinton 47 percent, giving Trump all 38 electoral votes from Texas. Then Ben Sasse jumps in the race and takes 10 percent of the vote, all of it coming from Trump. Now Texas is 47 percent Clinton, 43 percent Trump, and 10 percent Sasse.

Now, Halperin raises a different possibility — that an independent like Sasse could win purple states like Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado. But that scenario is completely fantastical. Winning purple states that Democrats have won each of the last two elections is hard. Doing it without a major-party label, and while splitting the vote with the Republican candidate, is impossible. Neither Ben Sasse, Bill Kristol, nor the reanimated corpse of Ronald Reagan is going to win a three-way race against Hillary Clinton in any purple state when Donald Trump is taking conservative votes and running under the Republican banner. The third-party candidate could push any number of states to Clinton, depending on how well they perform, but they’re not going to take any states away, which is the element required to make the plan work.

I don’t think the Texas example is the best one — even Trump will probably get more than 53%, and Clinton probably wouldn’t win it even in a three-way race. But North Carolina? Georgia? Indiana? Sure, at least. Facing an unfavorable electoral map with a weak candidate, Republicans don’t have a very good hand in any case. If a third party candidate from the right gets any traction at all, Republicans will be drawing dead.

In conclusion, as a liberal I find a Ben Sasse third part run very scary and the prospect makes me very angry. Think of how he’d bully pulpit the Overton Window! I sure hope he doesn’t run. And if he doesn’t, I hope Republicans will remember that not voting is a life-affirming consumer choice that will give you clean hands while preventing your brand from being diluted.

Come Back HA!, All Is Forgiven

[ 122 ] May 8, 2016 |


Salon has dug up yet another random hack to get in on the “if you’re an affluent white guy, there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Clinton and Trump” racket:

Anecdote: There is a little lunch club in my village, guys who gather for soup and BLTs once a week just to get out of the house during our nine-month winters. It is a mixed bag. Yesterday a kindly, confirmed Republican of the old school brought me up short with this: “I’m sitting this one out. I’m not getting my hands dirty with either of them. I don’t want to have to say I helped make the mess.” This from an ex-State Department official with a long record of service.

I have long considered not voting a legitimate position—whether for the sake of clean hands or for any number of other reasons—but the stance now grows defensible among people who might have cursed it even an election or two back. Not voting is one form of political participation among countless others—an argument I have made scores of times. Look, we applaud people in other countries when they boycott elections that present no substantive choices. Low turnouts, depriving those contesting high office legitimacy, are viewed as honorable in such cases. They are political assertions, verdicts.

1)Clean hands is a particularly dumb argument for not voting; 2)the idea that Clinton v. Trump does not provide voters with a “substantive choice” is insane; 3)his sample of former Republican State Department officials is such a wonderfully self-refuting touch I’d assume it was parody at a different publication. Hopefully his next column will feature someone who used to be a liberal but was insulted at an apocryphal cocktail party and now favors ruling the Clean Air Act unconstitutional.

And now the punchline:

What about Téa Leone for president, on the other hand? Reagan cut the trail for entertainment stars and they named airports and parks after him when he was done. Téa has a lot of experience, given her show consults with State regularly. (Oh, yes. The long arm of official propaganda has many fingers.) And Téa, Madame Secretary, has far better hair than The Great Communicator’s. It deserves a casting credit all its own, in my view.

What a wit! I’m not sure if Salon doesn’t just doesn’t have editors anymore, or if an editor decided to let him keep misspelling Leoni’s name because there was certainly no chance anything else in the article was going to be funny.

So who is this guy?

Patrick Smith is Salon’s foreign affairs columnist.

Seems about right. And give him this: at least he’s not Paglia.

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