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“I Have Cherokee Friends!” and Other Points in Jim Webb’s Defense of Andrew Jackson

[ 103 ] April 24, 2016 |


Jim Webb is a great Democrat. If it is the racist southern wing of the Democratic Party in 1957. He goes full Schlesinger in his outraged defense of Old Hickory.

One would think we could celebrate the recognition that Harriet Tubman will be given on future $20 bills without demeaning former president Andrew Jackson as a “monster,” as a recent Huffington Post headline did. And summarizing his legendary tenure as being “known primarily for a brutal genocidal campaign against native Americans,” as reported in The Post, offers an indication of how far political correctness has invaded our educational system and skewed our national consciousness.

This dismissive characterization of one of our great presidents is not occurring in a vacuum. Any white person whose ancestral relations trace to the American South now risks being characterized as having roots based on bigotry and undeserved privilege. Meanwhile, race relations are at their worst point in decades.

Far too many of our most important discussions are being debated emotionally, without full regard for historical facts. The myth of universal white privilege and universal disadvantage among racial minorities has become a mantra, even though white and minority cultures alike vary greatly in their ethnic and geographic origins, in their experiences in the United States and in their educational and financial well-being.

Way to blow off racial disparities Jim. Yeah, race relations are at a low point. I wonder why. Maybe it’s because crazy white people like you are outraged that black people are demanding actual equality. “If only we’d stop talking about our racist past, race relations would improve” is a sort of argument, I guess.

Jackson became the very face of the New America, focusing on intense patriotism and the dignity of the common man.

On the battlefield he was unbeatable, not only in the Indian Wars, which were brutally fought with heavy casualties on both sides, but also in his classic defense of New Orleans during the War of 1812. His defense of the city (in which he welcomed free blacks as soldiers in his army) dealt the British army its most lopsided defeat until the fall of Singapore in 1942.

Gee, let’s not overstate the Battle of New Orleans here! And that’s nice that Jackson allowed free blacks to fight him. He totally learned from that and then freed his slaves at the Hermitage…This is the only time that black people come up in Jim Webb’s op-ed.

As president, Jackson ordered the removal of Indian tribes east of the Mississippi to lands west of the river. This approach, supported by a string of presidents, including Jefferson and John Quincy Adams, was a disaster, resulting in the Trail of Tears where thousands died. But was its motivation genocidal? Robert Remini, Jackson’s most prominent biographer, wrote that his intent was to end the increasingly bloody Indian Wars and to protect the Indians from certain annihilation at the hands of an ever-expanding frontier population. Indeed, it would be difficult to call someone genocidal when years before, after one bloody fight, he brought an orphaned Native American baby from the battlefield to his home in Tennessee and raised him as his son.

Oh holy shit. The Remini discussion of the adoption! I read this book at least 15 years ago and I still remember how much Remini focuses on that adoption to show that Jackson didn’t actually hate Indians. And I’ll bet Jim Webb has some Cherokee friends so he totally isn’t racist! Actually Jim, that argument doesn’t hold water at all. Yes, one can be genocidal and adopt a pet from the exterminated race. That’s a pathetic, awful argument.

The rest is just talking about how much we should love Jackson because he was so tough and manly. Which I guess does appeal to Jim Webb. What it should have to do with us in 2016 is unclear. This is classic Webb. Downplay genocide, not even discuss slavery, totally avoid Jackson’s utterly disastrous economic policies, play up the violence and manliness.

In conclusion, I am amazed that Jim Webb is not the Democratic Party presidential nominee in 2016.

And why the hell not. This song is dumb but is actually less dumb than Jim Webb’s defense.


Anti-Vaccination Idiots Have Been With Us As Long as Vaccinations

[ 27 ] April 24, 2016 |


A useful reminder that not only is the anti-vaccination hysteria not a new phenomenon, but the idea that Americans somehow traditionally believed in science and progress through its history until the recent past is an ahistorical assumption not borne out by a closer examination.

“Also, ‘Little Red Corvette’ urged GM to bust the UAW and Wendy Mevloin’s solo on ‘Purple Rain’ was preemptive capitulation to the patriarchy”

[ 87 ] April 24, 2016 |


In comments, Hob has obtained excerpts from an exclusive advance copy of Jonah Walters’s Prince memorial:

“Raspberry Beret” is obviously an anthem of bourgeois reaction.

The first verse briefly flirts with populist resentment of the boss, Mr. McGee, but that’s just to distract you from the monstrous anti-labor sentiments of the rest of the song– as Prince goes on to praise the object of his desire for wearing a second-hand beret. In other words, why support Americans working in the beret industry when you can just pick up the cast-off berets of well-off bohemians for a few bucks? Worse, her hedonistic lifestyle is basically an excuse to disparage garment workers in general, since other than the beret she wears as little clothing as possible.

There’s another false hint of more promising political content when the young protagonists head for Mr. Johnson’s farm. Is it to organize his laborers? If only. Perhaps they plan to do some farm work themselves? Not even. Their goal is to erase all understanding of a “barn” as a locus of collective economic activity and cultural tradition, and redefine it as simply a private source of entertainment for tourists who want to “feel like a movie star” and vapidly marvel that “the rain sounds so cool.” No wonder “the horses wonder who U are” (and by the way, did U ever stop to wonder who they are?)– this entitled consumerist outlook makes it clear that Prince’s real class identification is with Mr. McGee.

Erik’s analysis of why Walters’s Haggard essay was so terrible is evidently comprehensive. But what’s remarkable to me is how ill-informed and tendentious it is even taking Walters’s approach of treading song lyrics as if they’re op-eds (saying that “Okie From Muskogee” is “hypocritical” because Haggard smoked pot as if the song was autobiographical is such embarrassing philistinism that as Erik notes Richard Nixon literally made the same mistake.) To conclude that he was a “run-of-the-mill conservative” involves reducing arguably the deepest songbook in one of the country’s most vital musical forms to fewer than ten songs, most of them (unlike “Okie” and “Fighting Side”) minor ones very marginal to his canon. In addition to “Irma Jackson,” which Haggard wanted to be the follow-up single to “Okie,” you have to ignore the prison songs, even though his most famous one is also as prefect a single as, er, “Raspberry Beret.” You have to ignore the compassion of working-class portrayals like “If We Make it Through December.” You have to ignore the goofy environmentalist utopinaism of “Rainbow Stew.” And so on. The contradictions and confusions in his political stances can probably tell us something interesting about American politics, but it would have to be in the form of an essay written by someone with some idea what the hell she’s talking about.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 28

[ 78 ] April 24, 2016 |

This is the grave of Robert McNamara.


This is a man who died without any blood on his hands at all. In fact, it’s hard to think of an American who hurt less people than Robert McNamara.

Robert McNamara is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, on the lands of the traitor Robert E. Lee, Arlington, Virginia.

Do We Want Any Aluminum Production in the United States?

[ 68 ] April 24, 2016 |


Do we have any interest in having any industrial production left in the United States? This is not an abstract question. It’s a real one, at least concerning the aluminum industry. China is dumping aluminum on the global marketplace to effectively take over all international production, while Alcoa seeks to close U.S plants and move elsehwere. Prices for it are plummeting. It is seriously risking what is left of the aluminum industry in the United States. The United Steelworkers is urging the Obama administration to act to save their jobs:

An American labor union is pushing the United States to impose broad, steep tariffs on aluminum imports using a little-used but wide-ranging trade law that has riled the country’s trading partners in the past.

The effort by the United Steelworkers union comes with trade increasingly an election-year issue in the United States and elsewhere. More than three-quarters of the United States aluminum smelting industry that existed five years ago will have been idled or shut down by this summer as imports have surged, according to the union’s legal petition.

The union blames China’s rising exports, though if successful its effort would also affect American imports from Canada and many other countries.

The union’s law firm on Monday filed a petition covering raw aluminum imports with an American trade panel. The petition invokes Section 201 of the 1974 Trade Act. The section was last invoked by President George W. Bush in 2001 to start a legal process that led to American tariffs on steel imports the following year.

A Section 201 case covers essentially all imports of a product from all over the world. That makes it more substantial than anti-subsidy and anti-dumping cases against imports from a single country. The European Union objected to President Bush’s use of Section 201, which resulted in American tariffs on a wide range of steel products, until the administration dropped them in late 2003.

Why precisely is this necessary?

China, which already produces more than half the world’s aluminum, is expanding capacity even as its economy decelerates. The result has been a surge in exports and falling prices for aluminum.

Chinese exports of aluminum jumped more than 27 percent in the past two years, Chinese customs figures show.

A spokesman for the government-affiliated China Aluminum Association, who gave his family name as Zeng, said aluminum’s increasing use in high-speed railway equipment, aerospace and electronics justified China’s expanding production capacity and rising exports.

Smelters in Canada and elsewhere, having been displaced in their traditional international markets, have stepped up shipments of raw aluminum to the United States. American imports of raw aluminum from Canada, the biggest supplier, jumped 10 percent by tonnage last year, United States customs data shows.

So the fundamental question as Americans we have to ask ourselves is whether we want some union jobs to survive in this industry, not to mention the industry itself. To answer no has a major impact on the future of any industrial unionism and jobs policy. I know that free trading fundamentalists love to bathe themselves in moralistic language of saving the world’s poor through capitalism, but there’s a very real cost here, a cost that you as an American have to live with in your own country. It’s already contributing heavily to Trumpism. Continued economic instability for the working class is not only a moral problem of its own but a political problem that can’t be solved by vague discussions of more education, retraining programs that don’t provide a path forward, or ideas like UBI that might be a reality in 20 years but sure aren’t now. You have to answers for the USW right now about what happens to their workers.

We do need industry in this country. We need good jobs for people who do not have college educations. There are many positives to global trade, but there are also positives for industrial production at home. The two issues need to be balanced. The United States does need an aluminum industry.

Jacobin: Walking on the Fighting Side of Me

[ 181 ] April 24, 2016 |


Were you thinking, I really need to know what Jacobin has to say about Merle Haggard? Probably not. Unfortunately, Jacobin decided to publish a Merle Haggard obituary of sorts, by Jonah Walters. It is, without exaggeration, the worst essay I have ever seen in that publication and one of the worst essays on music I have ever read. It is essentially an exercise in Aesthetic Stalinism, arguing that Merle Haggard was a terrible person and overrated artist because he was supposedly the voice of American reaction for a half-century. This is not only wrong politically, it’s wrong musically. Let’s break it down.

The America Merle Haggard sang about was an ugly, indefensible place, a revanchist fantasy where the democratizing momentum of the 1960s never swept from sinful coastline cities into the pure heart of the middle country; where history and politics remained untroubled by the presence of non-whites; where women existed only to break hearts and be heartbroken (generally in lonesome small-town diners); and where the most working-class people could hope for was martyrdom, not liberation.

This is ridiculous and just wrong. “Where history and politics remained untroubled by the presence of non-whites.” Huh. Well, what about “Irma Jackson”? What about “Go Home”? Both are songs about interracial relationships broken up by racists. Haggard actually wanted to release “Irma Jackson” instead of “Fighting Side of Me” as the followup to “Okie from Muskogee” but the record company overruled him. Yet such facts never get in Walters’ way. Merle was not singing about black oppression per se, but I don’t think that’s a reasonable standard by which to judge the politics of a musician. Moreover, there are plenty of minor songs that at least express a certain level of solidarity with working people of other races. For instance, “The Immigrant” off Haggard’s relatively minor 1978 album I’m Always on a Mountain When a Fall (“It’s Been a Great Afternoon” was the big hit on this album) is not particularly sophisticated or a great song but it’s a song about undocumented migrants that welcomes them into the country and hopes they will come back when they are inevitably deported. Walters’ argument on Merle Haggard’s catalog is absolutely incorrect.

As for the line about women, welcome to country music. And this is of course the real problem with Walters’ article. He is dismissive of country music as an art form because he doesn’t like the politics and considers the entire genre a revanchist fantasy. More on this later. Songs about heartbreak are the centerpiece of country music songwriting, especially before 1990. Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette sang about women in these terms just as much as Merle Haggard or any other supposedly sexist male artist. One feels that Walters is the type of lefty who makes an exception for Johnny Cash, but dismisses the entire genre otherwise as the music of racists and sexists.

For Haggard, working-class allegiance meant political conservatism. He shape-shifted to suit the times, but never wavered in his reactionary posture. He was a hippie-hating hawk in the sixties and seventies, a dutiful Reaganite in the eighties, and a petulant chest-pounder during the first Gulf War, when he broke a mid-career spell of semi-obscurity with a song criticizing antiwar protesters. There are precious few lyrics in his songbook worth defending.

Now this my friends is what you call a selective timeline. Among other things, I wonder why Walters doesn’t discuss the Iraq War? Actually, he does, later in the article:

But no amount of waffling could challenge the red-blooded conservatism of his some of his fans, including the contemporary country star Toby Keith, whose Iraq War–mongering sing-along “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” was inspired by Haggard’s “The Fightin’ Side of Me.”

He blames Merle Haggard for Toby Keith. Interesting. I wonder if there were any county musicians who opposed the Iraq War? Oh yeah, this guy:

A new Merle Haggard song that is critical of the media’s coverage of the war in Iraq is being rushed to thousands of radio stations around the United States.

Tom Thacker, vice president of Hag Records, says the song “That’s the News” is generating intense interest around the country from media and fans.

“We’re mailing it out as we speak,” Thacker said. “It’s going to a broad range of stations.”

“It’s another one of Merle Haggard’s social commentaries,” he said. “This time it’s kind of opposed to the tone of ‘The Fightin’ Side of Me.”‘

Quite the unreconstructed right-winger there! There are other anti-Iraq War Haggard songs as well.

At the core of Walters’ analysis is that Haggard wasn’t the right kind of political artist. By representing white populism and not engaging in fantasies of global revolution, Haggard somehow sold out the American working class, who clearly didn’t want to hear his messages as he is only one of the most popular artists in the history of recorded music.

The same year, he released “Working Man’s Blues.” This was a year in which workers’ movements all over the world demanded a more just economy, replete with better entitlements and expanded leisure time.

But according to “Working Man’s Blues,” to be a proud member of the working class was to be a dutiful employee, arriving to work on time in the morning, drinking beer in the evening, and denying the need for welfare all the while.

First, saying “workers’ movements all over the world demanded a more just economy” is both true and not true at the same time. Yes, there were uprisings at Lordstown and elsewhere through the 1970s. But that doesn’t mean that a majority of workers believed such things per se, that they felt their popular music had to represent those viewpoints if they did, or that wanting to go home and drink a beer is somehow anti-political or antithetical to their interests. As I have stated elsewhere, one problem the labor left has is that it assumes an empowered worker is a worker who is going to spend their off-hours engaged in meetings for democratic unions or anti-racist meetings. Sometimes it is. It’s also empowering to be able to go home and watch a bad CBS comedy, or have time to watch your kid’s soccer game, if that’s what you want to do. Empowerment is not “do what I think you should do.” Empowerment actually means “you have choices to do what you want to do.”

Walters clearly has not actually read anything on Haggard either, which is too bad since the literature on him is voluminous. He mentions that Haggard played for Pat Nixon’s birthday in 1973 as central to his argument that Haggard was an unreconstructed conservative. What he doesn’t do is discuss how Haggard actually responded to that event. Jefferson Cowie does detail this event, in his great book Stayin’ Alive, which Walters desperately needs to read if he wants to write about the white working-class. Haggard described it as a horrible experience. He remembered, “I felt like I was coming out for hand-to-hand combat with the enemy.” That’s the evidence Walters should be using. But instead, the actual fact of Haggard playing at this event is a sign of his unreconstructed politics in this incredibly shallow essay.

Walters then goes on to somehow blame Haggard’s nostalgic songs about the 1980s as prepping for Reagan’s election but has no evidence at all to even begin supporting this point.

The point of course is not that Merle Haggard is a progressive hero. He’s not. Merle Haggard’s core belief was that he liked money. He acted accordingly. He wrote a wide variety of songs, some of which expressed conservative fantasies, others that expressed quite progressive and nuanced politics.

But for all too large swaths of the left, dealing with the actually existing white working class and their cultural forms is far more difficult than fantasizing about the idealized white working class in their minds. See this absurdity of a paragraph:

It’s a tragedy that Haggard adopted a regressive, individualistic politics of misplaced nostalgia. In other circumstances, his life experience might have guided him toward the opposite, toward a progressive politics of collective action.

This is Jacobin magazine, a magazine hoping to spawn a new revolutionary politics. You might call it a tragedy that white people don’t generally respond to cross-racial collective action, but the point if you believe that should not be that Merle Haggard represents everything wrong with America because he didn’t write songs from the precise political perspective you personally espouse. It should be that we need to learn from Haggard’s songs to tap into tenets of white populism where the left might build a broader class-based politics. But so often on the left, talking about the white working class as they actually exist, turns into a snobbish dismissal, whether of actual people or of their cultural forms. That this essay is being published at the same time that the same magazine has published many essays supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders is quite telling. As the 2016 elections have shown, we are in a moment of an upsurge of white populism. A lot of it has supported Trump. But not all of it. Sanders has had some success among the white working class. He’s the kind of politician that can provide a real voice for white working-class people. Jacobin supports that, but seems to also lack actual white working-class voices that make these people real. It’s easy for the left to talk about the working-class from a generalized perspective. But Walters’ essay shows how quickly many leftists fall into a knee-jerk belief that the actual living breathing white working class is a political failure and thus evaluates their cultural forms from that perspective. Walters attempts to avoid this in his last paragraph:

We can defend the millions of Americans — many of them poor, rural, and neglected — who find comfort and companionship in Merle Haggard’s music without defending Haggard himself, because we understand what Haggard didn’t: together we can build a just, prosperous world for the future, rather than simply imagining one in the past.

“We understand what Haggard didn’t” is perhaps the most condescending phrase of all time. It screams of “let me tell you, poor whites, what the real and correct politics are.” It says that Haggard’s songs, or at least the few cherry-picked songs to support this essay and not the actual catalog of Merle Haggard, are actually wrong and we now know better. In union organizing training, you are taught to listen carefully to the people you are talking to and build arguments for unions based upon their concerns, not your concerns and your talking points. This is good advice. I have to feel that Jonah Walters would be a terrible organizer if that was his job because he would condescend rather than listen, spout talking points rather than consider the real desires of the people he was organizing.

Jonah Walters’ article is a failure as a piece of musical journalism. It’s a failure at understanding that art and the artist’s biography are not the same thing. It’s a failure as a history of Merle Haggard. It’s a failure as a political argument. It’s a failure at understanding anything about the white working class. It is an absolutely terrible essay and Jacobin should be ashamed to have published it. This feels more appropriate to be published with the recent anti-white working-class articles at The National Review than in a leftist publication.

More on Georgetown and Reparations

[ 124 ] April 24, 2016 |


I was prescient yesterday by saying the only answer for Georgetown was to pay reparations for descendants of its slaves. The New York Times editorial board calls for a very specific form of reparation:

Such denials are impossible in the harrowing history of slavery at Georgetown University that Rachel Swarns recounted recently in The Times. In 1838, the Jesuits running the college that became Georgetown sold 272 African-American men, women and children into a hellish life on sugar plantations in the South to finance the college’s continued operation. On that fact, there is no dispute.

The sale by the Jesuits stands out for its sheer size and the directness of its relationship to the existence and fortunes of one of the country’s top Catholic universities. The names of the people who were taken from the Jesuit plantations in Maryland and shipped to New Orleans are known. The fact that some of their descendants have already been found makes this a particularly salient case in the emerging effort to confront one of history’s worst crimes against humanity.

Georgetown is morally obligated to adopt restorative measures, which should clearly include a scholarship fund for the descendants of those who were sold to save the institution.

Many people may be startled to learn that the Jesuits were among the largest slaveholders in the nation. But as the historian Craig Steven Wilder notes in the forthcoming book “Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development,” the Catholic Church was fully involved with slavery in the colonial period. Professor Wilder writes that income from slave plantations gave Catholics the resources to resist colonial-era persecution, allowed the church to survive through the American Revolution and underwrote the church’s expansion.

Visitors to the Jesuit plantations, including an Irish priest who visited Maryland in 1820, documented the violence against the enslaved. Some urged the church to get rid of its slaves. But as Professor Wilder writes, “Rather than retreating from slaveholding, the bishops built their church by tracking the westward expansion of plantation slavery” after the Louisiana Purchase.

Personally, I don’t think this goes far enough, but bringing the descendants into Georgetown for free would at least be something.

As to the idea that reparations is somehow unrealistic, well:

The latter is by Ed Baptist, historian of slavery. White people benefit each and every day from the legacy of slavery and racism. They can move to the suburbs to “give their children the best education” because they have better jobs and histories of redlining, restrictive covenants, job flight, and violence made the suburbs traditionally a white-only space. They benefit from a lack of police violence. They benefit from better jobs and education. They benefit each and every day. The middle class is built on a foundation of slavery and racism. If we are going to accept those benefits, we also need to pay up to even the playing field. Otherwise, we are just continuing to invest and benefit from a racist society.

A Complete and Utter Destruction

[ 58 ] April 23, 2016 |

I very rarely post this sort of click-baity lefty stuff, but watching Socialist Alternative activist Darletta Scruggs utterly eviscerate that gigantic piece of garbage Neil Cavuto is truly a thing of beauty.

Georgetown: Pay Reparations

[ 85 ] April 23, 2016 |


This story about how Georgetown University sold a bunch of slaves to pay off its debts in 1838 is pretty interesting. And it’s great that Georgetown students are forcing the administration to deal with the school’s past. I do have one caution though, which is that the skilled PR people employed by big universities are adept at turning nasty history into an opportunity to make the university look good today, as has happened at Brown in the decade since that school embraced its deep relationship with slavery. There is one thing that Georgetown can do to make up for some of its historical crimes: tap into that $1.5 billion endowment and pay reparations to the descendants. To me, that’s a sign of an institution serious about making some sort of amends and not just seeking to make itself look good in 2016 through some conferences and a statue and a lot of press releases about it all. Reparations would show seriousness and actual leadership, especially for the precedent it would set for other slaver institutions. Which is why it almost certainly won’t happen.

Julian Castro

[ 111 ] April 23, 2016 |


I have nothing to say about the substance of this controversy around Julian Castro. And I don’t care that much who Hillary chooses as her VP. I will say however that it is completely ridiculous the kid gloves which the Democratic Party establishment has used with Castro for the last 5 years. If huge parts of the Democratic Party establishment are taking a line that “under no circumstances can Julian Castro be criticized because we need him too much,” then this is one the pathetic job of the Democratic Party to cultivate Latino candidates.

And you know what is revealing? None of the pushback on our criticism of Castro’s housing policy is saying anything about how or why the coalition of groups that signed this letter are wrong. His defenders are saying we should not criticize Julián Castro because he is Latino; that any criticism of him is wrong. In Joe Velasquez’s words, “an attack on him is an attack on the Latino community.” Well, the seven Latino members of Congress who co-signed that critical letter to Castro and Watt don’t think that. Latino blogger Markos Moulitsas doesn’t think so., the biggest Latino online organization in the country, doesn’t think so. The thousands of Latino leaders and members of the big community organizations Alliance of Californians and New York Communities for Change don’t think so.

Great Brown Hope politics is not exactly a useful strategy, especially when tied to a neophyte with few actual accomplishments.

Fortress Liberalism

[ 98 ] April 23, 2016 |


This is a curious article by the historian Matt Karp, arguing against Hillary Clinton’s “fortress liberalism,” which itself a play of Rich Yeselson’s “fortress unionism” strategy for the labor movement. Karp argues that only a mass politics creates scenarios for major changes. That’s what Bernie Sanders represents and those who dismiss Sanders because there is nothing he can do to make Republicans vote for his policies in Congress are short-sighted. Rather, this so-called fortress liberalism won’t accomplish anything either. It has no potential to do so even if it succeeds.

I guess I am torn about this piece. In some ways, Karp is correct. Change does require mass mobilization and those uncomfortable with protest politics like Jonathan Chait simply don’t understand how large-scale change happens. The Civil Rights Act required baiting Bull Connor to sic dogs on children. The National Labor Relations Act required the 1934 strikes that led to the deaths of workers. The growth in legislation providing civil rights protections for LGBT people required the mass action of ACT-UP in order to spur recognition that queer people were real and suffering. It is workers in the streets who are leading the charge to raise the minimum wage, which is happening in states from California to Arkansas. So yes, more mass action, please!

But Karp either doesn’t recognize or doesn’t respond to two obvious rejoinders. First, all of those mass actions were outside of the electoral system. While it is certainly true that workers responded to FDR, it’s also worth noting that the 1932 election was more a rejection of Hoover and the 1936 election, which was genuinely a worker outpouring of a support for a politician, took place only after FDR’s original intention to allow corporate self-rule through the NRA was thrown out by the Supreme Court, after the 1934 strikes forced his hand to take a stronger stand toward labor, and after the Social Security Act was passed to undermine other retirement-based political movements. In other words, FDR adjusted to workers. He did not lead a workers’ movement. Truman, LBJ, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, any of these presidents were reticent to do much of anything for social and economic justice unless they were pushed. It seems to me that Karp makes the classic mistake of thinking that a president can lead a social movement. I think that is an error. That’s no reason not to vote for Sanders. I am voting for him on Tuesday. But if we think that change happens primarily through electing the right savior, then the inevitable disappointment will result when that individual can’t create that change.

That gets to the second point which is that Karp really doesn’t want to deal with the gerrymandering issue. The reality is that there is simply no reason for most Republicans to care what Democratic president is in power. They aren’t scared because they are gerrymandered into safe districts. They have to care about being primaried from the right. That situation isn’t inevitably stable, but it’s very real. So while Karp talks about how recalcitrant legislators had to be cajoled into supporting reform of the past, he is avoiding the real differences between the past and present on this issue while playing up the different political realities in other forms. It’s not a dishonest argument, but it is a dodge.

It’s not that voters should support a “fortress liberalism,” if that is what we want to call Hillary Clinton’s worldview. It’s that we should a) recognize that any president is going to need outside pressure to accomplish anything, b) that no president will ever save us, and therefore , c) the need for mass action will quite likely be just as necessary and just as effective (or not, depending on the level of mass action) under a Sanders presidency as it is under a Clinton presidency.

The Trades

[ 83 ] April 23, 2016 |
Sep 5, 2015; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff (16) looks to throw the ball against the Grambling State Tigers during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 5, 2015; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff (16) looks to throw the ball against the Grambling State Tigers during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

As interested parties will be aware, both the #1 and #2 picks in the NFL draft were traded away, moves which are interesting for multiple reasons.

One reason it’s interesting is that the players who will go #1 and #2 represent a classic scouts vs. analytics dispute. The analysis suggests that Jared Goff is, in fact, a genuine grade A prospect, getting a lot of starts and showing excellent accuracy against tough competition. Of QBs with similar college performance, two (Manning and Rodgers) are inner circle Hall of Famers, four are stars (Roethlisberger, Rivers, Wilson, McNabb), one a very good QB derailed by injuries (Palmer), one an OK QB derailed by injuries (Leftwich), and Mariota. That’s pretty impressive company. Apparently, though, a lot of scouts don’t like his arm strength. And they could well be onto something; they could also be wrong (cf. “Russell Wilson doesn’t meet an arbitrary height target and therefore isn’t 1st round material. Brandon Weeden, now there’s someone who looks like a quarterback!”) We should probably also remember what happened the last time scouts came up with all sorts of ad hoc reasons to explain why a highly accomplished Cal QB was not really all that great. Scouts prefer Wentz’s physical skills, but his track record (only two seasons as a starter, good but not superlative accuracy, very weak competition) suggests both a lower floor and a lower ceiling — his comps include some solid pros (Flacco, Dalton, Kaepernick(?)), some busts (Smith, Stanton, Lynch) and some unprovens. I wouldn’t read too much into Wentz’s numbers –it’s of course appropriate to discount his numbers because of the competition, but it will produce some false negatives — and given how much scouts like his tools he’s a decent prospect, although I think the Rams are unquestionably doing the right thing if they take Goff, which they apparently will.

Anyway, we can analyze the trades for all four teams:

Obviously, given the rich haul and the fact that they already have a grade A prospect at QB, an absolute no-brainer. A PLUS

CLEVELAND: The only caveat I would have is that the Browns don’t have a QB, and I would be reluctant to pass up the chance to get a franchise player. But, still, 1)a franchise with a ton of holes just got a nice haul of premium draft picks, and 2)most likely they’re effectively trading Wentz, not Goff, and while Wentz is certainly a better bet than any QB on their roster I don’t think you need a top 2 pick to find a high variance gamble like Wentz. (In addition, given that the case for him is based more on raw tools than performance accomplishments, he’s unlikely develop into a franchise player on a team with as little surrounding talent as the Browns.) Building a store of draft picks is the best organization-building strategy overall. Excellent trade for the Browns. A

ST. LOUIS: DAMMIT, LOS ANGELES: This is the most interesting team. I think there should be a strong presumption against giving up as much value as the Rams did. In this specific case, I think it’s at least defensible. 1)Goff is really an outstanding prospect, one with a real chance to develop into a franchise QB and will almost certainly be decent. 2)The Rams have a top 10 defense, and there’s more talent on the roster than their defensive performance reflects. If Goff is even good they could take a major leap forward. 3)They don’t have a remotely acceptable option at QB. 4)Every year they don’t have a credible QB is another year the defensive depth they built through the RGIII trade gets older. 5)They share a division with a championship team with a first-rate QB/coach/GM trinity in place and another very well-run organization, which makes taking a high-upside gamble more attractive. I don’t love the trade, given both what they gave up and that they’re not giving their QB a lot to work with, but it’s reasonable. B MINUS

PHILADELPHIA: Like the Rams, they gave up a ton. But all the mitigating factors that make it potentially defensible for the Rams cut the other way with the Eagles. 1)While the Rams at least have a potentially outstanding defense, the Eagles have one of the worst rosters in the league. (And their decision to tie up a lot of money in an injury-prone, below average QB and his even less palatable backup not only looks even worse now but represents resources that can’t be used to fill any of the team’s many holes.) 2)The Rams are apparently taking Goff and I don’t like Wentz is nearly enough to give up what they did. 3)The case for Wentz is that he has the raw skills to represent a higher upside than Goff. To justify a #2 pick, therefore, he will have to be a development success story. The Eagles will be offering a green head coach, a bad offensive line, and a bunch of replacement-level hacks for Wentz to throw to, plus no first round pick next year. Good luck with that. Unless they get lucky and have Goff fall into their laps, I think there’s a good chance this trade will be a disaster, and I certainly think they gave up way too much. Chip may be gone, but his spirit apparently lingers. D MINUS

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