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The Long, Long, Long Road to Comprehensive Health Care Reform

[ 108 ] May 5, 2016 |

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K-Drum’s history of health care reform attempts is essential, and his conclusion is entirely correct:

This is what politics looks like. Every single Democratic president in my lifetime has tried to pass health care reform. Some of them partially succeeded and some failed entirely, but all of them tried. The two main things standing in the way of getting more have been (a) Republicans and (b) liberals who refused to compromise on single-payer.

Contra Cooper, George Bush did not hand Obama a “great big majority.” Democrats in 2009 had a big majority in the House and a zero-vote majority in the Senate. That’s the thinnest possible majority you can have, and this is the reason Obamacare is so limited. To pass, it had to satisfy the 40th most conservative senator, so that’s what it did.

There’s been a long and ultimately sterile argument over whether Obama could have gotten more. I think the evidence suggests he got as much as he could, but the truth is that we’ll never know for sure. And it doesn’t change the bigger picture anyway: thousands of Democrats—politicians, activists, think tankers, and more—have literally spent decades working their fingers to the bone creating plan after plan; selling these plans to the public; and trying dozens of different ways to somehow push health care reform through Congress. For most of that time it’s been a hard, grinding, thankless task, and we still don’t have what we ultimately want. But in the end, all of these hacks and wonks have made a difference and helped tens of millions of people. They deserve our respect, not a bit of casually tossed off disparagement just because they didn’t propose single-payer health care as their #1 priority every single year of their lives.

Evidently, a lot of people wonder about why Obama/Reid/Pelosi weren’t able to get more. I’m increasingly amazed they were able to pass anything.

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The Essence of Trump

[ 156 ] May 5, 2016 |

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Is misogyny:

Donald Trump holds one core belief. It’s not limited government. He favored a state takeover of health care before he was against it. Nor is it economic populism. Despite many years of arguing the necessity of taxing the rich, he now wants to slice their rates to bits. Trump has claimed his nonlinear approach to policy is a virtue. Closing deals is what matters in the end, he says, not unbleached allegiance to conviction. But there’s one ideology that he does hold with sincerity and practices with unwavering fervor: misogyny.

We have been collectively blithe about this fact. On its face, Donald Trump’s hateful musings about women and his boastful claims of sexual dominance should be reason alone to drive him from polite society and certainly to blockade him from the West Wing. Yet somehow his misogyny has instead propelled his campaign to the brink of the Republican nomination. Each demonstration of his caveman views—about Megyn Kelly’s menstruation, about Carly Fiorina’s face, about the size of his member—produces a show of mock-horror before Trump resumes his march to the nomination. It fits a familiar pattern. Trump rose to fame on the basis of our prurient interest in his caddishness and amusement at his vulgar provocations.

As I’ve said, there are a lot of things not to like about Hillary Clinton as a candidate, but she’s made sexism a lot less egregious than Trump’s a political liability before.

Two Draft Thoughts

[ 26 ] May 5, 2016 |

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A couple of interesting points in Barnwell’s draft writeup. First, on why organizations tend to discount the value of future draft picks:

That’s not an accurate measure. A second-round pick is a second-round pick. Draft picks in the future are treated as though they’re less valuable because the general manager trading the picks might not be around to actually use them, which represents part of the moral hazard incumbent with turning over your personnel department to employees who typically last a few years on the job. Future picks then realistically mean different things to different organizations. Les Snead and Jeff Fisher are probably going to get fired unless the Rams make the playoffs in 2016, which no doubt made it easier for them to trade future picks to move up to the first overall slot. Bill Belichick and Ozzie Newsome aren’t going anywhere unless they want to move on, which is why they can trade for future picks with impunity.

This makes sense. Undervaluing future picks is irrational from an organizational standpoint but not necessarily from the standpoint of an individual GM. Which isn’t to deny people like Belichick and Newsome and Thompson credit — their power gives them a greater ability to play the percentages, but you still have to know what the right move is. The Giants are a stable organization and Jerry Resse won a Super Bowl in his first year — obviously buying him some job security — and yet he’s literally never traded down in the draft. And, conversely, DePodesta/Jackson/Brown can’t be that confident that the Browns won’t decide next year that it’s time for their near-annual managerial and coaching change (Mike Holmgren and Rob Chudzinski: tanned, rested, and ready to trade two first round picks for Melvin Gordon!), and yet they had a pretty much perfect draft day.

Needless to say, I endorse this point about the Solemn Integritude of the teams that passed on Larmey Tunsil because DRUGS:

Tennessee’s move up to grab Jack Conklin is colored by the bizarre fall of Laremy Tunsil, whose social media accounts appeared to be hacked minutes before the draft started. The Tunsil story is still developing as I write this, and it’s entirely possible that teams like the Titans might have preferred Conklin to the Ole Miss product, but the idea that Tunsil was suddenly undraftable because of the suggestion that he smoked marijuana at one point before being drafted is bizarre. The Ravens, who reportedly took Tunsil off their board after the tweet, famously kept Ray Rice on their roster before video of his brutal assault on his fiancée leaked. The Bears, who badly need a left tackle, passed on Tunsil just one year after they signed troubled defensive end Ray McDonald and had owner George McCaskey try to pass off McDonald as a changed man. As Lions general manager Bob Quinn noted, “If we took players off the board because they smoked pot in college or marijuana, like half the board would be gone.” NFL teams chose a bizarre time to get sanctimonious or worried about PR hits.

At least in this case, while it cost Tunsil some money the primary victims of this instance of drug war moralism were the moralists themselves.

There Is No Perfect Way to Design Institutions

[ 102 ] May 4, 2016 |
Republican vice presidential candidate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin winks as she speaks during her vice presidential debate against Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Republican vice presidential candidate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin winks as she speaks during her vice presidential debate against Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

This is a very important point:

Masket’s case, in other words, is that our institutions should have protected us from this undesirable outcome. Brendan Nyhan also raised this point a while back in a series of tweets.

But I think it’s time to interrogate whether this is really true. Can we really design institutions that protect us from anti-democratic ideas?

[…]

One of the reasons advocates for human rights and other freedoms tend to also favor open political processes is that we assume good institutions will choose leaders who will protect freedom and justice. Open elections are certainly better in this regard. But they’re not a guarantee that parties and candidates who rely on bigoted appeals or talk about curtailing freedoms won’t win sometimes.

This is especially important when we talk about American institutions in historical context. I’ve often criticized the anti-partyism and incomplete notions of democracy that have shaped 20th-century party reform in the US. The old convention system, with its brokers and geographic organization, was more pluralistic — it was easier, under the pre-reform convention system, to ensure that a party nominee was acceptable to most factions within a party. As we are now learning, the current primary system allows a candidate to be nominated with a plurality of voters if no strong opponent emerges.

But here’s the thing: While these old institutions were far better at avoiding a conundrum in which a party nominates a candidate that many of its members don’t really like, they were hardly a bulwark against failures of substantive democracy. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with American history can point to at least a few instances of racism, sexism, and xenophobia.

The pluralistic structure of old-school nominations — especially in the Democratic side, where a rule stipulating that nominees had to win two-thirds of delegates held up for 100 years — protected the veto power of the states that became the Confederacy and the Jim Crow South. It wasn’t until after the elimination of the two-thirds rule that the Democratic Party began to take up the issue of civil rights.

In the wake of Trump winning people (especially dismayed Republicans) will tempted to romanticize a period in which party nominations were controlled by party elites. Some already have. But this would be misguided. Proverbial smoke-filled rooms of party elites had a distinctly flawed track record in choosing nominees, both substantively and in terms of reading the electorate. John W. Davis, one of the candidates produced by the rules Julia mentions, was not only substantively illiberal but earned a robust 29% of the popular vote. And unlike certain malfunctioned attempts by Democratic bosses to choose a nominee that I could name, at least nominating Davis didn’t literally lead to civil war. In the last decade, a non-democratic nomination process gave us “Sarah Palin, potential president should something happen to John McCain” with the enthusiastic support of party elites. I’m not sure what the basis for a high level of faith in these elites would be.

Seeing too much democracy as the problem also ignores the extent to which Republican elites made their own bed. As we’ve already discussed, Republican elites have mobilized a variety of racial and cultural resentments to generate support for candidates advancing an agenda whose key priorities notably lack support not only among the public at large but even among Republican voters. This just isn’t a recipe for a stable coalition in the long term.

In this case, the general election is likely to provide a check on the Republican primary electorate. And if it doesn’t — democracy is never a guarantee that the voters will get it right according anyone’s judgement. There’s no institutional framework that can guarantee substantively good results, not least because politics largely involves disputes over what substantively good results are.

The Bottom Line on The Donald and His Party

[ 185 ] May 4, 2016 |

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It didn’t come out of nowhere, no matter what conservative pundits are going to claim as they reconcile themselves with their party’s nominee:

The paranoid mendacity of Joe McCarthy, the racial pandering of Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, and George Bush, the jingoism and anti-intellectualism of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin — all these forces have embodied the essence of American conservative politics as it is actually practiced (rather than as conservative intellectuals like to imagine it). Trump has finally turned that which was always there against itself.

And the paradox is that he has managed to pull off the trick of downplaying or abandoning unpopular orthodox Republican ideas while being highly unpopular with the general electorate:

It is easy to find examples of parties where ideologically orthodox members felt sold out by moderate leaders who softened party platforms. Think of Tony Blair in the UK or Dwight Eisenhower in the US.

But at least those moderate leaders tend to be broadly popular with the public and to win elections. That allows those ideologically orthodox party members to get half a loaf — in the form of implementation of a watered-down version of a party platform.

Trump has somehow found a way to throw away the ideologically extreme ideas that orthodox conservatives cared about while actually making the party less popular. His nomination is a recipe for conservatives to sell out and lose anyway.

And don’t kid yourself: Trump is a terrible general election candidate. I’m not basing that on the head-to-head polls, which show Clinton thumping Trump; they generally aren’t very predictive this far out, and while they might mean more than usual this year because of how well-known both candidates have been for so long, there’s no way of knowing that ex ante. Rather, it’s that 1)the Democrats have a structural advantage in the electoral college all things being equal; 2)his unfavorable ratings are insanely high, putting him in a major hole and negating Hillary Clinton’s own high unfavorables, which should have been a major opportunity for the GOP; 3)Trump is almost certain to mobilize a high minority turnout; and 4)giving sexist boors enough rope is one thing that Clinton does really well. I would never say that it’s impossible for a major party candidate to win an election under the current partisan configuration, but Clinton is a yooooooooge favorite.

Why #NeverTrump Was Never Going to Work

[ 203 ] May 3, 2016 |

The party is coalescing around the nominee:

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International Man of Principle Bill Kristol is getting the message:

“I mean, I guess never say never. On the one hand, I’ll say #NeverTrump, and on the other hand, I’ll say never say never.”

Watching the #NeverTrump crowd move into the Trump camp as his nomination becomes ever less evitable is going to be highly entertaining.

…when he’s right, he’s right:

Today in the War on Culture

[ 62 ] May 3, 2016 |

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Let’s just say that Edroso’s roundup of conservative reactions to Prince 1)starts with Steve Sailer and 2)the examples arguably get worse. And — hey, it’s about Prince, there has to be some choice material left on the cutting room floor — he didn’t even get to Maggie Gallagher’s discussion of Prince’s “secret Christianity.” It’s true — if he wasn’t a member of America’s most oppressed minority, he might have, say, written a song about his faith called “The Cross” and put it on an immensely influential million-selling record. Or he could have put a religious song called “God” on the b-side of one of his most popular singles. But, in America, Christianity is forced into the closet by big POLITICALLY CORRECT.

As an antidote, I’ve very much been enjoying Pitchfork’s retrospective reviews. Maura Johnston on 1999 and Nelson George on Sign O’ The Times are particularly recommended.

There Should Be Plenty More Where This Comes From

[ 92 ] May 2, 2016 |

If you vote for Kelly Ayotte or Mark Kirk or Rob Portman or Ron Johnson or Rob Portman etc. etc. you’re voting for Trumpism. He’s the Republican candidate and they own him. This is a point that the Democratic campaigns in swing states need to make effectively and relentlessly.

The Authoritarian Mind

[ 127 ] May 2, 2016 |

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I can’t describe the worldview of Roger Goodell and his apologists any better than Goodell does himself:

As the NFL continues to bask in the glow of a narrow, 2-1 appeals court victory in the #Deflategate imbroglio, Commissioner Roger Goodell is now defending his handling of quarterback Tom Brady’s suspension by attacking the NFL Players Association.

“I understand when there is a defense of any violation . . . that is part of the game, we all understand that nobody wants to discipline,” Goodell told ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike, via Dan Werly of TheWhiteBronco.com. “I understand the union’s position. The union’s position is to eliminate discipline. That is what they do, we are going to protect the player, right or wrong. And I get that, that is understandable, go at it. My job is to protect the game. We are not going to relent on that, we are not going to compromise at all.”

That’s an incredibly cynical view of the union’s role, and an apparent attempt to counter NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith’s recent explanation on PFT Live about the union’s commitment to fighting for its players. But the union isn’t trying to ensure that players suffer no consequence for wrongdoing. The union wants any consequences to be fair and consistent and within the confines of the labor deal. The union also wants the process that determines those consequences to be fair.

Well, there you go. To Goodell, either you believe that Roger Goodell should have the unilateral, virtually unreviewable authority to issue any punishment to any team or player for anything, or you think that nobody should ever be punished for anything. If you believe in such concepts as “due process” or “proportionate punishments reasonably knowable ex ante” or “judges should not serve as their own appellate adjudicator” or “league officials should not leak prejudicial and false information about people they’re targeting to their court stenographers” it’s because you’re opposed in principle to any rules or punishment at all. If Trump decides to counter Cruz by naming his first Supreme Court nominee, he’s got his man.

I recommend the rest of Florio’s post as well. Since I’ve been guilty of unwarranted criticism of the union for this in the past, I should note that he’s persuasive that there was nothing the NFLPA could plausibly have done about this, even knowing the likelihood that a commissioner would eventually massively abuse his powers. The NFLPA is far from being in an equal bargaining position, the league flatly refused to consider placing more restrictions on the commissioner’s Article 46 powers, and short of a strike that almost certainly wouldn’t have worked anyway it’s not clear what could have been done about it. That the system is bad, though, doesn’t let Goodell off the hook: he has been far worse than his predecessor, which is why he didn’t want Tagliabue anywhere near Ballghazi although he could have let him review it like he did with the New Orleans bounty scandal.

On a related note, Jonah Keri has a good column about some of the reaction to the Dee Gordon suspension. You would think that a draconian suspension for a first time offense would be enough. But for a lot of people, no — it’s outrageous that there’s any appeal process! The team should be able to void his contract! It never ends.

Vote Suppression Laws Work

[ 15 ] May 2, 2016 |

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Whatever disarray the Republican Party might be in at the national level, Republican statehouses are able to pass policy initiatives that quickly fulfill their goals:

Thirty-three states now have ID laws, at least 17 of them — including Texas — requiring not just written proof of identity, but requiring or requesting a photograph as well.

Most research suggests that the laws result in few people being turned away at the polls. But a study of the Texas ID requirement by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy released in August found that many more qualified voters, confused or intimidated by the new rules, have not tried to vote at all.

“What voters hear is that you need to have an ID,” said Mark P. Jones of the Baker Institute, an author of the study. “But they don’t get the second part that says if you have one of these types of IDs, you’re O.K.”

A second study, by the University of California, San Diego, concluded in February that the strictest voter ID laws — those that require an identity card with a photograph — disproportionately affect minority voters.

After Mr. Gallego’s narrow loss in 2014, researchers from the Baker Institute and the University of Houston’s Hobby Center for Public Policy polled 400 registered voters in the district who sat out the election. All were asked why they did not vote, rating on a scale of 1 to 5 from a list of seven explanations — being ill, having transportation problems, being too busy, being out of town, lacking interest, disliking the candidates and lacking a required photo identification.

Nearly 26 percent said the main reason was that they were too busy. At the other end, 5.8 percent said the main reason was lacking a proper photo ID, with another 7 percent citing it as one reason. Most surprising, however, was what researchers found when they double-checked that response: The vast majority of those who claimed not to have voted because they lacked a proper ID actually possessed one, but did not know it.

Moreover, Dr. Jones of the Baker Institute said, “The confused voters said they would have voted overwhelmingly for Gallego.”

The laws are designed to stop racial minorities from voting, and they work. In other words, exactly the kind of law the 15th Amendment empowered Congress to address.

In its last twenty years, the Supreme Court has issued some opinions that combine self-refuting logic with horrible results — Bush v. Gore, the Medicaid holding in NFIB v. Sebelius. Shelby County certainly belongs near of not at the top of that list.

Today In the American Meritocracy

[ 61 ] May 2, 2016 |

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Nice work if you can etc:

Yahoo (YHOO) just disclosed the size of its executive pay packages and Marissa Mayer stands to make millions coming or going.

The CEO of the embattled online news site, currently trying to sell itself, is entitled to severance benefits valued at $54.9 million in case she is terminated without cause, according to a regulatory filing after the market closed Friday. The potential payout would also be triggered by a “change of control,” which includes the sale of the company, according to the filing.

Mayer’s potential payout includes cash severance of $3 million, $26,324 to continue her health benefits, $15,000 for outplacement, and — if that’s enough — nearly $52 million worth of accelerated restricted stock and options.

But wait. That’s just what Mayer gets if she leaves. Mayer was already paid $36 million in 2015 as her regular annual compensation. That total pay package was down nearly 15% from the prior year, but is still well above the median of roughly $12 million paid by executives in the Standard & Poor’s 500. Mayer was paid $42.1 million in 2014, making her the most highly paid female CEO in the S&P 500.

Imagine what she’d be worth if she had been successful!

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.

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