Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Early Vetting is Vital

Okay look, I get that folks are afraid. But remember your Dune - "Fear is the mind-killer."

I’m hearing a lot of vacuous angsting about “circular firing squads” from people who should certainly know better. Many otherwise smart people seem to believe that early vetting is bad. Both Matt Bors and Matt Lubchansky have done cartoons on this irrational anti-democratic "loose lips sink ships" panic. Bors’ was in 2016, and Lubchansky's was just last February, thus nothing has changed. 

So take a deep breath and pick up your thinking caps up off the ground because this is important.

First and foremost, early vetting is how we avoid getting stuck with a terrible candidate whose weaknesses gets revealed after it is too late. That situation is demoralizing to our side and alienating to the electorate. 

Now, I don’t mean to kink shame, but almost nobody enjoys having to make constant dubious excuses for their candidate. Moral scolds will certainly seize on the word “enjoy” and lecture that elections are not entertainment. I suspect they secretly enjoy making excuses. Maybe they see it as testament to their cleverness. In any case, the rest of the electorate does not share their particular kink and finds it somewhat off-putting. They don’t enjoy feeling like the victim of a bait-and-switch. They are funny like that. And guilting them to the polls only adds insult to injury. Guilt-triped hostages tend to get resentful - especially with repetition. Moral blackmail gets old. Who knew?

Any “serious realists” who cannot acknowledge this dynamic are neither serious nor realists.

Second, early vetting gives campaigns time to debunk slander against solid candidates. Fact-checking takes time. Conservatives play dirty and they love last-minute bullshit. Muting early criticism is a huge gift to them – particularly when you consider the Streisand Effect which dictates that trying to suppress information only gets it more attention. Incidentally, the Streisand Effect didn’t start with the Internet. Everyone has always known that the most effective way to advertise anything was trying to censor it. A century ago, authors loved their books getting "Banned in Boston" because it meant they sold more copies everywhere else. So nobody has any excuse for not understanding this long-established dynamic. 

Suppressing information also looks dishonest. As with the Streisand Effect, it is maddeningly sad that anyone needs this simple thing explained to them.

Also, is once again demoralizing to your troops who don’t enjoy polishing turds. Moreover, it loses potential allies – i.e. undecided voters – and those folks are sort of important to winning elections. Weird how hard it is to win voters’ trust when you are always trying to hush people up. 

I want to expound more on this point before going forward to the next one because it is so important. 

It's a cliché to say "It's not the crime, but the cover up." But what doesn't get said as much is that this rule applies even if there is no crime. It lends credibility to the flimsiest accusations. It's the surest way to make your candidate look guilty, even when innocent. Don't do that.

Any campaign or party operative, official or otherwise, who does so is guilty of political malpractice, if not conscious sabotage. Yet many people seem to sincerely believe that Republicans are incapable of doing their own opposition research and therefore if Democrats can just mute or not mention any uncomfortable information about each other the Republicans will have nothing to use – as if Joe Biden’s creepy behavior had not already been the subject of a 2015 “Daily Show” segment entitled "The Audacity of Grope." 

Ignoring the elephants in the room is not a strategy. Come on. You are smarter than that. 

Additionally, it's ridiculous to expect the press to participate in any cover up. It would not only be professionally unethical, it would defy the media's built-in monetary incentive to generate constant controversy and conflict. You may as well expect a candy company to stop using any sweeteners in their sweets. In short, it's never going to happen and trying is always going to backfire. It makes you look stupid and dishonest at the same time. At best, it makes you look pathetically naïve.

Even considering suppressing dissent to achieve unity is simply ludicrous, which is why it is absolutely bat shit insanity for the DCCC to blacklist any entity that donates to primary challengers. To mix metaphors, it is tin-eared and ham-handed. Jen Sorensen had done a great comic on how utterly dumb this is. The DCCC's move makes the Democratic Party look profoundly undemocratic.  

It’s bad enough that they are overtly opposed to primary challengers: It is worse that they are taking concrete action to discourage them – particularly when it comes on the heels of sabotaging progressive candidates in the 2018 midterms. Indeed, they have a history of this.

After being called-out on such shenanigans, you would think centrists would behave themselves – at least until the outrage blows over. But they cannot cleanup their act even temporarily. Yes, people are creatures of habit and this applies to institutions as much as individuals. But the Democratic Party establishment isn’t even pretending to be on their best behavior. Indeed, they seem to be striving to confirm everyone’s worst suspicions. The only thing missing is mustache twirling and an evil laugh.

And you know what? That behavior is demoralizing. But you knew I was going to say that.

Third, early vetting renders silly, trivial criticisms and micro-sandals stale by election day. This is highly related to the previous reason, but nevertheless separate. Communication is both sending and receiving: Fact-checking takes time, but the electorate needs time to digest corrective information as well. Perspective needs time to sink-in. Non-controversies are strongest when they are fresh and unfamiliar. They then fade when weighed against real issues and the big picture. Last minute fact-checking isn’t as effective as last minute slander. As the saying goes, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” Therefore, the truth needs to get out of bed sooner.

Getting this out of the way early is obviously the smart way to manage any imperfect blemishes. Postponing airing problem areas is obviously irresponsible. We should be proactive rather than reactive and a perpetual defensive crouch is not a good look. Especially not this early.

Suppressing information is a form of procrastination because eventually everything gets out – often shortly before Election Day. And hoping to postpone it past Election Day is not only dishonest, but strategically stupid. After all, how legislatively effective is a president going to be if he or she gets elected but enters office under a cloud of public distrust and resentment? Of course, centrists are not intent on passing any sort of progressive agenda, so I suppose that scenario is actually ideal for them.

The takeaway across all these reasons is that surprises are bad - hence why early vetting is vital and the sooner the better. But there is also a fourth important reason which I have already alluded to a few times: 

Democracy is good.

Criticism is the engine of politics and participatory democracy. Without it, nothing gets fixed. Almost nothing happens without immense public pressure. Yet centrists are temperamentally allergic to any criticism and agitation - both inside the party and out. Remember their bipartisanship fetish and their aversion to protesters making their conservative colleagues uncomfortable in restaurants. And both Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke boosted Republicans during the midterms, thereby undermining the Blue Wave.

Yes, primary-ing incumbents is a direct threat to the chummy establishment power, but they would still disapprove even if it weren't. Whether they are corrupt or not, they just don’t get democracy.

In my book, I write a lot about how conservatives are anti-democratic. Well, so are covert conservatives. Primaries are democratic safeguards. They are performance reviews by the party's rank and file just as general elections are ones by the general public. So, of course well-heeled Hamilton fans are going to oppose primary-ing establishment Democratic incumbents - especially when part and parcel of that process is unflattering intra-party criticism. It all ties together quite tightly.

Election Day is over a year and a half away. Air everything out now for maximum advantage. Revelations are inevitable: We cannot possibly prevent them.

But the longer we postpone them, the worse things will be.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Monstrous Moderates

It probably sounds like hyperbole to say that cartoonist Jules Feiffer nailed today’s insane politics back in the Johnson years, but he did. Across two pages of the collection Jules Feiffer’s America: From Eisenhower to Reagan – 110 to 111 – he analyzed the twin specters of Trumpism and centrism while simultaneously teaching us how to read a respectable mainstream newspaper.

Obviously, Feiffer was not trying to be a soothsayer. He was trying to describe the underlying currents in the politics of his day. But the attitudes and rhetoric he portrayed are undeniably deep in the saddle today.

As I wrote before, Trumpism is just conservatism without apology or subtlety. To deny this is to studiously ignore not only the Tea Party (which I called “warmed-over Goldwaterism” in my book) but over a half century of the GOP’s cynically using Southern Strategy. Seriously, outside of Birtherism, the bulk of their conspiracy theories originate with the John Birch Society in the late 1950s. Their stupidity and bigotry have a long pedigree. You cannot omit this history and retain any credibility as an informed commentator.

Another facet that is impossible to credibly deny or ignore is the fact that the rhetoric of moderation has historically been the respectable face of reaction. In his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King professed his profound disappointment with white moderates, who he felt might be an even greater stumbling block to racial progress than the Klan.

Jules Feiffer also criticized the unreconstructed middle; but where King saw pampered ignorance, Feiffer also saw selfish malevolence. Of course, as a cartoonist, he has no incentive to pull punches.

The strip directly below shows the tone of establishment political opinion whatever the tactics of activists – nonviolent or otherwise. As you can see, each panel shows a newspaper cartoon clipping in which a Klansman shakes hands with a black protester and the caption “Thanks, partner.” Note that the protesters are labeled provocateurs whether they are violent or not. In fact, the March on Washington protesters are labeled “nonviolent provocation.”(1) This may explain why King found white moderates so frustrating.

Of course, moderate opposition to anything that upsets the apple cart or causes any sort of inconvenience or discomfort is predictable. Seeing concern trolling used to preserve the status quo is nothing new. As I wrote before, concern trolling is “the essence of centrism.”

In the very next strip, a reporter interviews an unnamed spokesman for the “Radical Middle.” That man-on-the-street blasts, “Too much spending on the poor, not enough spending on us!(2) Too much freedom for Negroes, not enough freedom for cops!” Again, this was during the Johnson years. Richard Nixon later called such voters “The Silent Majority.” Still later, they would be called “Reagan Democrats” (assuming they were actually Democrats to begin with). Each incarnation was frequently portrayed as “hardhats” to fit the familiar “hippie vs. hardhat” narrative, yet here in Jules Feiffer’s version the unofficial spokesman is clearly a businessman with his suit and briefcase. Funny about that.

In the next strip after that, Feiffer has another reporter interview another businessman in a suit. This one, a Mr. Whitey Backlash, is less thuggish and more polished. While the previous one is blunt, this one insists on discretion about his cynicism. He starts by saying, “Negroes are going too far with their protests.” But he does not want that quoted. Off the record, he cops to all sorts of awful thoughts. When finally asked for a quote they can print, he concern trolls, “For the record, Sonny, you may say that in my opinion extremist tactics are losing the Negroes their many moderate friends.” (emphasis original)

It echoes the second panel of the first strip I mentioned almost word-for-word. 

Both strips vividly illustrate how respectable opinion is routinely packaged. Both show concern trolling. But the first strip shows how quickly any activist tactic is maligned and the third strip teaches you how to read between the lines – how what is on the record relates to what is off of it. It's a decoder ring.

To those who swallow that horseshit known as Horseshoe Theory, the interviewees must seem completely incomprehensible. The first interviewee represents the “Radical Middle,” which must strike them as an oxymoron, but it actually fits perfectly. Trump is a textbook example of what political scientists call an “ideological moderate.” I learned this in a WaPo article entitled “Donald Trump is a textbook example of an ideological moderate.” The second interviewee, Mr. Whitey Backlash, says “On the record, you can even say I am for Democracy, Sonny.” This squares with a study that discovered that centrists are even less favorable towards democratic institutions like freedom of the press than conservatives are(!)

And, again, both are businessmen rather than hardhats. This shouldn't surprise anyone anymore.  In 2010, it was revealed that Tea Party supporters were not predominantly blue collar voters. Instead, they were the same suburban professionals that have always preferred the Republican Party. Therefore they were not voting against their economic interests. The same turns out to be true for Trump supporters. No shit: They are the same people. I guess betraying labor to make a play for their votes is a stupid gambit.

Again, none of this should surprise anyone because both businessmen are precisely the types of voters that New Democrats have always fruitlessly sought to woo – the type the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) was founded to lure. I’d say there is a vast paper trail proving this, but it is more like a five-lane highway with overpasses and suspension bridges.  

The evidence is immense. Bill Clinton's Sister Souljah moment was not just a personal nadir: It was classic centrist strategy. To make extra certain that he would not get Willie Horton-ed, Clinton left the campaign trail to conspicuously attend the execution of a mentally impaired black man. Describing the original DLC in Listen Liberal: Or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People, Thomas Frank wrote, “As the DLC saw it, whenever Democrats lost an election, it was because their leaders were too weak on crime, too soft on communism, and too sympathetic to minorities.” (pg. 57)

You cannot feign disbelief or shock at Jules Feiffer's prescient characterization after decades of centrist arguments courting this type. Mr. Whitey Backlash and the reactionary Radical Middle are all too real.


1) In the very last panel, the black figure is hilariously labeled “Booker T. Washington fanatics.” This added another layer to the humor because, apart from the fact that Booker T. accommodated segregation (“as separate as the fingers on the hand”), he was active in the 1910s – suggesting that the cartoonist in the cartoon had held his post for over a half century and was still mired in the same mindset. I grew up with anachronistic comic strips that were founded in the 1920s, so it is interesting to see political cartoonists like Feiffer already skewering this in the 1960s. I always thought mocking such fossils started in the 1980s.

2) The spokesman's perception was grossly incorrect. As Stephanie Coontz pointed out in The Way We Never Were: American Families in the Nostalgia Trap:

It is important to note that the most dramatic growth in government social expenditures since the 1960s has been in social insurance programs such as worker’s compensation, disability, and Medicare. Most benefits from these programs go to members of the white middle class. Although the programs are very important for the poor they do reach, even at the height of the Great Society antipoverty initiative, between 1965 and 1971, 75 percent of America’s social welfare dollars were spent on the non-poor. The proportion going to the poor has decreased substantially since then. (pg. 79-80)

Coontz’s book was published in 1992 - just before Bill Clinton signed “Welfare Reform” into law. Today, “substantially” would be a titanic understatement.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Long Pro-Choice

I've recently been re-reading some old socialist cartoons from the nineteen-teens. They show that socialists have always fought for feminist causes such as bodily autonomy. Of course, I already knew that. 

For example, this Robert Minor cartoon was published in the socialist New York Call on September 11, 1915. You cannot miss the cartoon's all-caps title, but do not overlook the caption at the bottom which frames the issue in terms of rights. She is being ordered, not exhorted. She is not being urged to make a particular decision - the message is that she has no choice. Misery is depicted all around her ankles, not just in the form of the small coffin but the crutches and her children's skull-like heads. It's a powerful piece. 

Great socialist cartoonist Art Young took a similar, yet different take in a issue of The Masses from December of that same year. Both cartoons show a pointing man and have the word "Breed" in their title capped off with a dictatorial exclamation point. (Here the title and the caption are one.) But Young shows a defiant presumably childless woman determined to avoid the previous woman's fate. We see rising agency which makes this cartoon slightly more optimistic despite its ominous heavily-inked clouds.

Art Young also took an intersectional approach showing the interconnectedness of three different issues - war, capitalism, and women's rights. The reason she is ordered to breed is to produce both cannon fodder and factory fodder for some future war - eighteen years hence. This is not your standard, garden variety anti-war cartoon. The Grim Reaper and Mars the God of War are absent. Instead, the feminist issue is literally in the foreground, whereas the other issues are pushed into the background. The word "WAR" is easy to miss despite being centered next to the capitalist's finger. Of course, the ongoing war was already on everyone's minds. This was an attempt to connect it to an issue that probably wasn't already apparent for most male readers. Young is encouraging the reader to look with new eyes and see a bigger picture.

Both cartoonists were men, but they were clearly trying to raise male awareness of issues that impact women. Women are the protagonists in both cartoons - overtly heroically in the second.

This is only slightly surprising since the feminism of left women is more widely known. Birth control advocate Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) was a socialist. Anarchist Emma Goldman (1869-1940) was another early champion of birth control. Indeed, she mentored Sanger. The first woman to run for President, suffragette Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927) was a Christian Socialist. Etc. Indeed, International Women's Day was a socialist holiday before centrists stole it and made it about glass ceilings and CEOs. (Hint: Most things with "International" in their name have socialist origins.) As I wrote before, free child care is a fairly defining feature of Scandinavian style socialism. So it is good to see more accessible historical examples of male socialists supporting women's issues too.

And few things are more accessible than a cartoon.

EDIT - 12/30/18:

I originally wanted to pull my punches on centrists somewhat in this post, but I have to point something out. There is a reason why leftists are better than centrists on social issues: The centrist temperament is inherently allergic to controversy and taking possibly unpopular, principled stands. This would not be such a problem if they did not assume such a conservative electorate, but it is a centrist article of faith that this is a conservative country and we must message and govern accordingly. It does not seem to occur to them that leading is part of governing - that they should do something to mold public opinion.

Case in point - reproductive rights. Centrists don't like defending abortion. It's an emotional issue. And so centrists counsel playing it down, compromising it away, or abandoning it entirely. As I wrote before, concern trolling on abortion by centrists in both parties is nothing new.

The left does not have this perceptual handicap. This leaves us freer to experiment - and support each other through coalition-building. And this is organic because outsiders often ally with each other.

Nor, for that matter, do conservatives have that particular handicap. Most of their issues are unpopular, but they win elections anyway because their base shows up. That's what happens when you do not hold your signature issues at arm's length. Republicans do not win because this is a conservative country. They win because voter turn out is abysmal so energizing your base is essential.

And you can apply that to virtually any issue. As I wrote before on race, during the New Deal era, "[I]f you supported a federal anti-lynching bill you were probably black, red, or both." Socialists and communists were heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement. This is why so many of its leaders - like Martin Luther King, Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, etc. - were also socialists. LBGT rights were another area timorous centrists held at arm's length. On gay marriage, Bernie Sanders was well ahead of both Hillary Clinton and the country. (Indeed, Clinton was behind Dick Cheney.) Her flip flops were a byproduct of her centrist mindset. There are no such things as a play-it-safe trailblazers.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Voice Over

One of many fine things Donald Trump has soiled by association is his own voice. 

Think about it. Sure, it sounds like fingernails across a blackboard now, but if you can subtract the crass bragging and bigotry it's actually quite soothing. Dial down the volume and he could sell life insurance on the radio. "It's important to look after your loved ones. Everyone agrees. ..."

In an alternate universe, he would be a sought after voice actor and be to life insurance what Wilford Brimley is to diabetes. Of course, he would still be an impossible monster behind the scenes:

Director: "Don, you dropped the last line: 'Enjoy heaven without worry.' It's the company motto, so -"


Friday, August 10, 2018

A Safety Analogy

American politics works like this:

Let's say we all share a house and are having a house meeting on fire safety.

Those "unrealistic purist" progressives insist on getting everyone fire extinguishers for their apartments.

"Sensible" centrists recommend thimbles of water. They had originally suggested paper cups but feared potential conservative opposition to this proposal, so they proactively talked themselves down to thimbles.

Conservatives say we should buy more guns and are virulently against thimbles which they ominously warn is a slippery slope to buying fire extinguishers.(1) Some centrists agree.

And finally, there are the socialists who say we should install a sprinkler system because the "house" is actually a vast high-rise apartment complex and HOW DO YOU NOT KNOW THIS!? IT IS A BIG PHYSICAL THING THAT YOU LITERALLY LIVE IN AND SEE EVERYDAY!(2)

The complex gets gutted by fire every eight years or so.(3)


1) There are not that many conservatives, but they make every meeting so the house now has a vast arsenal.

2) Other scorned and ignored socialist proposals include replacing the fire escapes that conservatives had previously ripped out and melted down to make ammunition. Centrists had supported removing the fire escapes because some tenants were drying their laundry on them, thereby lowering property values.

3) Many tenants strongly feel that the munitions stockpile should not be stored in the boiler room.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Caring About Childcare

Who seriously thinks centrists support free universal childcare more than Scandinavian-style socialists do?

It seems to be becoming an odd talking point among Sanders-bashers. In my previous post, I wrote about Sally Albright's strange claim that free universal college was racist. She insisted it would only benefit the privileged and implied that childcare was not on Bernie Sanders' radar. Of course, she's wrong.

Recently, Jill Filipovic tweaked Alright's argument in a tweet, albeit not enough to realign it with reality:
Feminists have been calling for universal child care for a very long time. It's the men in charge who have decided free college is more important than free child care. Another reason having women in power and at the table is so crucial.
There's a lot to unpack here. Certainly socialist feminists have been calling for universal childcare. Centrist feminists less so. Centrists generally aren't in favor of free universal anything - not college, childcare, or healthcare. Ditto with "the men in charge." They don't want free stuff either. Go figure. While we unquestionably live in a patriarchy, it is also a capitalist one. In short, the men who favor free college are not the same men who are in charge. Otherwise, we would already have free college.

Conservatives love posing false trade offs whether it it liberty against equality or the economy against the ecology. Even if they are not presented as mutually exclusive, one can only progress at the other's expense. Centrists are not much different. Except when they do it, they totally torpedo their stereotype of leftists.

First and foremost, it cannot escape comment that Bernie Sanders put free universal childcare in his economic platform. Item eleven in his thirteen point plan demands, "Enacting a universal childcare and prekindergarten program." Indeed, Sanders had introduced a Senate bill for it in 2011 called the Foundations for Success Act. That was one of the so-called "ponies" he promised. Is Jill Filipovic suggesting that socialists suddenly don't want ponies anymore? The new memo is confusing.

Second, during the campaign, it was learned that Sanders supporters were more in favor of such feminist initiatives than Clinton supporters were. After digging into American National Elections Studies (ANES) Jacobin had discovered much that contradicted the centrist narrative:
Sanders backers, for instance, were more likely to strongly endorse requiring employers to pay men and women equally for the same work. They were also much more assertive in their support for mandatory paid parental leave:

I thought it was pretty interesting that, among those who favored paid leave "a great deal," Sanders men passed Clinton women by one percentage point - 53% to 52%. (Maybe it was a rounding error.) But overall, Sanders supporters favored it more than Clinton ones by almost ten points - 88% to 79%.

That may sound counter-intuitive, but it makes sense if you think about it. As I keep saying, centrists like to pretend to be feminists as long as it does not cost anything or inconvenience corporations in any way. By contrast, Sanders’ socialist supporters don’t have such strange hang ups. Different priorities, I suppose.

Finally, Hillary Clinton’s “We are not Denmark” comment in the Democratic Party debates illustrates who really wants what. She was dismissing the Scandinavian-style socialism that Sanders advocates. As leaked audio of those Wall Street fundraising luncheons revealed, she was even more patronizing behind closed doors. Shortly before saying Sanders supporters live in their "parents' basements," she said:
And on the other side, there’s just a deep desire to believe that we can have free college, free healthcare, that what we’ve done hasn’t gone far enough, and that we just need to, you know, go as far as, you know, Scandinavia, whatever that means, and half the people don’t know what that means, but it’s something that they deeply feel.
Well, few things say “Scandinavian-style socialism” quite like “free universal childcare.” Hence Margaret Thatcher’s disdainful description: the "Nanny State.” You could argue that free universal healthcare is more core or springs to mind before because it is often a matter of life and death. But Thatcher did not call it “the Nurse State.” Perhaps she should have. But the point here is that Thatcher's shorthand sums up the stereotype of such benevolent feminist, child-friendly governments whether you admire them or not. Indeed, providing free universal childcare is damn near definitional for Scandinavian-style socialism.

Yes, I know that Hillary Clinton had a childcare plank in her platform too. As Time magazine noted, her "European-Style" proposal "arrived late in the election cycle" (less than two months before she won the nomination) and the article cautioned "There aren’t details yet exactly how it could work" (which would be considered a fatal flaw if Sanders proposed it). Sounds like another issue where Sanders pushed her to the left. I should add that Clinton's program was just a subsidy to reduce the cost by capping it at 10% of family income. It did not make childcare free, so wealthy families would still get better childcare.

And what does it say about centrist feminists who totally ignore free universal childcare right up until they need a rhetorical truncheon to use against free college?

In short, Jill Filipovic's tweet is a straw man argument that presents a false trade-off and flies in the face of both easily-discovered documentation and longstanding stereotype. That's quite an accomplishment! It's as absurd as saying conservatives are pro-choice and liberals are anti-choice. It's like conservatives saying "Liberals are the REAL racists," which is incidentally exactly what centrists say about progressives. The comparison ain't hyperbole. Warts an all, the left has always been exponentially better than the center on race, sex, and gender. But that's for another post.

The point is a lot of centrists think leftists don't care about free universal childcare. It's phenomenally wrong, but it’s something that they deeply feel.

Still, it is nice to see centrists supporting free universal something even as a pawn in their zero sum game.

EDIT 6/12/18:

Things seem dark now, but I am cautiously optimistic. I can imagine an America, maybe a decade away, that has free universal college, childcare, and healthcare as well.

And no doubt that era's centrists will claim credit and patiently explain how progressive somehow opposed each of these things - perhaps the way conservatives now co-opt Rosa Parks or the way some centrists insist that corporations - and not protests - had won gay rights.

That's okay. We want them to steal our ideas. As Mark Twain wrote, "The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them." After fighting against them, of course.

SECOND EDIT - 10/28/18:

One last comment on "We are not Denmark." When visiting Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Martin Luther King unfavorably contrasted America with Scandinavian nations, suggesting we had no excuse for poverty given our great wealth: "In both Norway and Sweden, whose economies are literally dwarfed by the size of our affluence and the extent of our technology, they have no unemployment and no slums. There, men, women and children have long enjoyed free medical care and quality education. This contrast to the limited, halting steps taken by our rich nation deeply troubled me." Elsewhere, he suggested democratic socialism was the way we must go. (See same link.)

Thursday, May 3, 2018

When Ayn Rand Met Sally

Who is John Galt? - I'm sorry, I meant Sally Albright.

For those who don't know, she was a former Republican consultant
 whose main claim to fame is slandering Bernie Sanders (and using bots). She is also one of many Twitter personalities who exemplifies centrist efforts to conflate fighting poverty with white supremacy. "Divide and conquer” is a favorite conservative strategy and this is an obvious effort to split the left. Moreover, the wealthy are getting wary: They really want to knock the topic of economic inequality off the table - to discredit it as irrelevant.

Many centrists are willing to incinerate their credibility to achieve this ignoble goal.

Last year, Zack Beauchamp argued that European social programs enabled racism - so don't spoil the poor with ponies of any sort. Apparently, those "dark Satanic mills" in days of yore were actually enlightened redoubts of tolerance: They kept the proles too busy for bigotry. Who knew?

Beauchamp's argument combined divide and conquer with another conservative favorite – their claim that social programs invariably have negative side effects or even backfire entirely. Conservatives love claiming that welfare causes poverty or that affirmative action causes racism.

And there are plenty of centrist pundits available to legitimize such gibberish. "Progressive" sweatshop apologist Nicholas Kristof agrees with conservatives that our pathetically threadbare safety net can "entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency." With progressives like these who needs conservatives?

But while such centrists often spin the counter factual as counter intuitive (and therefore "fascinating"), Sally Albright presents the obviously false as manifest fact. So, any new social programs that would definitely benefit minorities most of all are strangely painted as racist assaults on those populations. 

Back in January, Albright claimed that free college was racist. "Does 'free college' specifically benefit women and minorities? Does it benefit anyone who isn't already going to college and just doesn't want to pay? Reinforcing the status quo is racist."

Yes, you read that right: Free college is the new Jim Crow. At least when advocated by Bernie Sanders.

Leaving aside the point that shooting down free college seems more like reinforcing the status quo, metastasizing college costs are a massive drag on minority admissions. Total average costs have grown 
1,120% in 30 years. Obviously, populations that white supremacy has historically worked to keep poor(1) are going to find this barrier even more difficult than whites do. As The Boston Globe reported:
[I]nstead of bridging the racial equity gap by opening the prospect of well-paying jobs, getting a degree can actually widen the gulf in wealth between black and white adults. African-American students who started college in 2003-04 typically owed 113 percent of their student loan 12 years later, according to the most recent data from the US Department of Education analyzed by the Center for American Progress. By contrast, white borrowers had paid down their debt and owed only 65 percent of the original amount, and Hispanic borrowers had knocked down their debt to 83 percent of the initial loan. 
Many aren't "already going" because they cannot afford to. And those who do go are sometimes worse off.

Albright insists that tuition is not an issue, but other costs such as housing and childcare are. While covering housing would be welcome, most poor students already try to save money by living with their parents. That is why Barack Obama's 2015 
free community college proposal did not cover housing either.(2) Admittedly, living at home is not always an option for everyone, but free tuition would obviously be a huge boon for the poor who can. Childcare is indeed another barrier that we should tackle, but it has not risen as rapidly as tuition has - although it has risen.(3) Nobody is saying free college will make higher education totally cost-free, but it would clearly help immensely - and help minorities especially.

It's ludicrous to dispute this. We already know that minority enrollment drops when tuition climbs. A 
2015 study found that "Even with financial aid, several years of staggering tuition increases at four-year public colleges and universities have caused shifts in the racial diversity of schools across the country." 
Yet Albright actually thinks "Free college just makes it free for people who are going anyway and don't want to pay." Inexplicably, she believes universal programs are somehow exclusionary and only benefit the privileged.(4) Her tenacious belief is impervious to both data and poignant personal testimonies

Instead, she doubled-down on the claim again and again. She said she doesn't want to 
subsidize "sorority girls at the University of Texas." That's superficially understandable, but it misses the big picture. Making programs universal reinforce them against conservative efforts to de-fund or repeal them. That's in part why Social Security remains a sacred cow while welfare was vulnerable. Remember Margret Thatcher was unable to get rid of the United Kingdom's actual national healthcare system in part because it is universal. It is harder to attack something that benefits everyone - as everyone in politics should already know.

I’m not sure why Sally Albright is still clinging to this idea. As I noted before, e
ven Hillary Clinton has abandoned the folly of this thinking in her campaign postmortem tome What Happened, admitting:
Democrats should reevaluate a lot of our assumptions about which policies are politically viable. These trends make universal programs even more appealing than we previously thought. I mean programs like Social Security and Medicare, which benefit every American, as opposed to Medicaid, food stamps, and other initiatives targeted to the poor. Targeted programs may be more efficient and progressive, and that’s why during the primaries I criticized Bernie’s “free college for all” plan as providing wasteful taxpayer-funded giveaways to rich kids. But it’s precisely because they don’t benefit everyone that targeted programs are so easily stigmatized and demagogued. ... Democrats should redouble our efforts to develop bold, creative ideas that offer broad-based benefits for the whole country.
Leaving aside Hillary Clinton's decisive participation in the assault on one particular program - thereby giving the term "targeted" a double meaning - this is where Ayn Rand meets Sally Albright.

A few years ago, it came to light that Ayn Rand had applied for Medicare benefits, i.e. Social Security, when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. (Can you see where I am going with this?) Libertarian rationalizations were as absurd as anything Albright might write. I eviscerated them in my 2014 book.(5) But then I pointed out that, as fun as this exercise was, it ignored something infinitely more significant:
But more important than Ayn Rand’s obvious hypocrisy is the fact that she needed such programs. Without them, this wealthy, world-famous novelist could not pay her medical bills. Now, for a moment, forget everything this “moral philosopher” said about government programs. Ignore her rhetoric of “theft” and “parasites” and pretend she was a different celebrity, perhaps an apolitical one. Now, ask yourself something: If she could not afford medical treatment, how could most people? Such programs are unquestionably necessary. And if they were good for Ayn Rand, they are good for everybody else too. Beyond hypocrisy, her philosophy simply does not work. The fact that it did not even work for her, in her privileged position, should only show how totally broken it is.
If you are going to shoot down free college because rich kids can take advantage of it, you may as well say we should end Social Security and Medicare as well because Ayn Rand took advantage of those. One Albright defender reliably raised the conservative specter that some kids might waste that free education: "Plus lots of students ended up not finishing colleges, that means money down the drain. Free tuition sounds good but not workable, and unaffordable. It means higher property taxes, that will never pass!" 

Elsewhere in the thread, the dread prospect of people becoming philosophy majors was threatened. This is a serious risk to consider. We don't need any more Ayn Rands.(6)

Levity aside, I'm totally okay with the fact that Ayn Rand had collected benefits - not because I have copious compassion for those who have none for others - but because I am happy those programs existed for everyone. Likewise, I'm fine with rich kids getting free college because it will better ensure that it is there for poor kids who need it more - and will get more out of it. After all, the poor outnumber the rich.

Tolerating a few flush freeloaders seems like a reasonable operating cost - at least to reasonable people.

First Edit 06/25/18:

I've been in some pretty interesting Twitter threads since typing this. Because 
Social Security initially excluded blacks, one person argued against any new universal programs until we could be sure that would not happen again. I felt compelled to point out that it's not 1935 anymore. African Americans get Social Security. Indeed, blacks benefit from the program more than whites. As a NAACP fact sheet explained:
When looking at African Americans’ overall use of Social Security, a 2003 GAO study found that blacks receive a higher rate of return—receiving more in benefits than what is paid in payroll taxes—than whites, due to their heavier reliance on the full range of benefits offered by Social Security. (emphasis original)
[Edit to the Edit: since the NAACP link is now broken, here is the GAO study with first page summary.]

Incidentally, the legislation that created Social Security did not exclude African Americans by name. Instead, it excluded agricultural and domestic workers. This meant that white agricultural workers were denied and black factory workers were not. But of course blacks were disproportionately left out. These occupational exclusions were removed in the 1950s. Whether the original exclusions were racist in intent is in dispute, but nobody denies that they worsened the racial wealth gap just the same. However, using Social Security to argue against universal programs is lunacy because the fault was that the program was initially not universal. I have written more about blacks and the New Deal here.

The virulence of the insane "free college is racist/sexist" argument is strange. It is an article of faith - like the conservative claim that raising the minimum wage causes inflation. Student debt is unquestionably a greater burden for women and minorities and therefore they would benefit most from making it free.

Second Edit 08/03/18:

I just watched John F Kennedy's 1962 Medicare speech given in Madison Square Garden (text here). I recommend everyone do so as well. During the speech, JFK made many mentions of the orchestrated letter writing campaign against the Medicare bill and all the misinformed and garbled arguments these letters contained. But one bit seems especially relevant to this post:
And then finally, I had a letter last week saying, "You're going to take care of all the millionaires and they don't need it." I do not know how many millionaires we are talking about, but they won't mind contributing $12 a month to social security, and they may be among those who will apply for it when they go to the hospital. But what I will say is that the National Government, through the tax laws, already takes care of them, because over 65 they can deduct all their medical expenses.

Third Edit 09/12/18:

This seemed pretty obvious to me at the time I wrote it so I forgot to emphasize the overtly conservative character of Albright's argument: If you can invoke a group of people who you think should not benefit from a program, then nobody gets to benefit from it. Trot out the exception to prevent the rule.

Oh yes, Sally Albright insists she favors targeted programs - which is a variant of Ronald Reagan's "truly needy" rhetoric. But as Hilary Clinton belatedly admitted above, such programs are vulnerable to assault - and I would add that they are also less likely to get enacted in the first place. 

Also, as I quipped in an earlier post, targeted programs often miss their targets. This is because every time there is a budget fight the qualifications become even stricter because centrists fetishize compromise and love deciding who is deserving just as much as conservatives do. As with abortion rights, conservatives will gradually whittle away what they cannot obliterate all at once.

This also has the nasty side effect of making more conservatives. If you are booted out of a program you need because you are no longer considered "poor enough to qualify," this is apt to make you resentful against those who still do qualify. Divide and conquer is a classic conservative tactic and it sums up much of what Albright does. 

Making qualifications ever stricter is also rationalized as "fiscal responsibility," which is ridiculous because anti-poverty programs are a minuscule portion of the budget and nothing in comparison to the waste in the Pentagon. Moreover - and more importantly - the administrative costs of determining who is and isn't worthy often proves to be a waste of money. Witness the sanctimonious folly of drug-testing welfare recipients as many states have done. Moral scolds promised it would save tax payers money - which made it political catnip for conservatives and centrists alike. Instead, it costed more.

Centrists like the intrusive, moralistic aspect of the "nanny state," just not the providing actual material aid aspect of it. But if a program is universal, the rationale for the nagging aspect vanishes along with the bureaucracy charged with enforcing it. The system becomes more friendly and cost efficient. 

It's really hard not to see centrism as a passive-aggressive species of conservatism that seeks to sabotage progressive programs before, during, and after their implementation. At every stage, they seem to alienate, complicate, and encumber. Their market-friendly tweaks are invariably user-hostile. This may be because conservatives constantly sabotage government to prove that government "does not work" and centrist cannot resist uncritically embracing conservative ideas to prove their bipartisan open-mindedness.

Whatever the explanation, the inept results are infuriatingly similar.


1) Historically, blacks have been white society's economic shock absorbers. Because they are "the last hired and the first fired" they suffer the worst when the economy sours. During the Great Depression, black unemployment was 2 to 3 times higher than white unemployment. And as Bernie Sanders had pointed out, African Americans lost half of their wealth during the financial crisis. And centrist Democrats like Tim Kaine are trying to make things worse by sponsoring a banking deregulation bill that victimizes blacks both directly and indirectly. The indirect aspect is more of the above. The direct aspect is that one of the bill's provisions would rollback "data-gathering requirements intended to prevent lending discrimination."

And well before the crash, studies showed that on average whites inherit seven times more wealth than blacks - that is, if they inherit anything at all. For Baby Boomers, the inheritance disparity is even greater than for previous generations. For every dollar a white Boomer inherits, a black Boomer only gets fourteen cents. Accordingly, the black retirement crisis is even more acute than the white one.

2) Interestingly, when I mentioned this, Albright said she favored Obama's proposal. In retrospect, the dynamic put us on unexpected sides of another, related issue. Prestigious institutions don't really offer better educations: Their true value is networking and getting connections. So, while Obama's plan would boost minority enrollment, it would probably also mean fewer minorities getting into prestigious schools and thus the corridors of power. As the above 2015 study mentioned, minorities are already getting funneled into community colleges by rising tuition costs:
Not only do tuition increases discourage students and families from enrolling at more expensive “first choice” schools, shifts in campus diversity are more pronounced when there are more postsecondary competitors, such as community colleges, in the surrounding area. More precisely, as public four-year institutions grew more expensive, the likelihood that black and Hispanic students would choose to enroll elsewhere also increased
Both Barack and Michelle Obama went to Harvard. Making entry economically easier only at the community college level, would make their inspiring story even less likely to duplicate than Sanders’ plan would. I do not think we live in even a rough a meritocracy and I am against having a ruling class. Yet, ironically, my preferred plan would make it easier for minorities to enter it. So Sally can say I am a bad socialist and I can say Sally is a bad ally to people of color. Oh, wait. I can already say that.

Sally Albright was attacking Bernie Sanders’ free college plan, but Sanders has spoken of the importance of providing childcare on other occasions – and not limited to students. His platform called for universal childcare. No doubt Albright would characterize this as only paying for rich families' nannies.

Moreover, Sanders voters are more likely to support such legislation than Clinton voters. For example, they were far more supportive of paid family leave. The reason is centrists prefer programs that do not cost anything or inconvenience corporations. Actual progressives do not have these hang-ups.

Albright was insinuating that Sanders doesn't care about childcare because he didn't specifically mention it in his college plan. It's a tired tactic of Clinton cultists. For example, when Sanders unveiled his single payer "Medicare for All" plan, he neglected to specifically mention the anti-abortion Hyde Amendment. From that oversight, Clintonistas insinuated that he was anti-choice. Never mind that he has consistently voted to repeal the Hyde Amendment and has a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood. But who needs to read voting records when you can let your fevered imagination run riot reading between the lines? 

4) I suspect Albright's strange take might be the result of some hilariously garbled misreading of Ta-Nehisi Coates. He did indeed argue that New Deal programs contributed to the postwar wealth gap between blacks and white - because blacks were excluded from them. Thus, they were not truly universal.

Should some special effort be made to close the gap? Of course! But that's not the same as saying that America's most vulnerable populations would not benefit the most from a universal program - let alone Albright's strange claim that they would not benefit at all.

Many Clintonites interpreted Coates' criticism of Sanders as an endorsement of Clinton. Quite the opposite. Coates was criticizing how very safe and lame even the "radical" wing of the Democratic Party was. As Coates explained, he singled-out Sanders for criticism because: 
Hillary Clinton has no interest in being labeled radical, left-wing, or even liberal. Thus announcing that Clinton doesn’t support reparations is akin to announcing that Ted Cruz doesn’t support a woman’s right to choose. The position is certainly wrong. But it is hardly a surprise, and doesn't run counter to the candidate’s chosen name. 
Coates has been consistently critical of Clinton and voted for Sanders in the primary. As Coates explained in his Democracy Now interview, "One can say Senator Sanders should have more explicit antiracist policy within his racial justice platform, not just more general stuff, and still cast a vote for Senator Sanders and still feel that Senator Sanders is the best option that we have in the race." Unfortunately, too few straw-grasping Clintonistas ever got the memo. 

5) You cannot deny Ayn Rand’s hypocrisy with any dignity. Every excuse looks ludicrous. Most focus on the fact that she paid into the system. But she was not just taking back what she had put in. First, she had not been paying-in her whole working life and she had very expensive lung cancer. Others subsidized her care. Indeed, this would be the case even if she had contributed throughout her working life because, of course employers contribute. Second, payment does not negate hypocrisy. Consider homophobic pastor Ted Haggard paying his gay gigolo for six years. Third, being forced to pay by the government doesn’t make any difference either. Our tax dollars subsidize the cattle and dairy industries, but that doesn’t mean a vegan can honestly chow-down on a cheese burger. Nor could a prohibitionist do shots of vodka after buying a ticket to an event that s/he later learned had an open bar. Fourth, Rand had called such social programs “theft.” Well, if it is, then she’s a thief too. Or if she is not a thief, then nobody else is either. Either she is guilty or no beneficiary is. The yardstick of hypocrisy is always: "Are you partaking in something you think should not be available to anyone?" And Ayn Rand's apologists of course ignore this.

6) Yes, Ayn Rand is such a ridiculous figure that merely mentioning her name is a valid punchline.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Recalcitrant House Cats

My blog needs more traffic. And that means more cats. So let's mix some metaphors.

Common sense strongly suggests that guilt-tripping non-voters does not work. Yet faux woke centrists still default to it to explain their failures - frequently in the same breath as calling themselves "realists." They setup the board, positioning the pieces pretty stupidly, and then blame the pieces for the dismal results.

Let's see how many metaphors I can pile on. Surely one of them will get the point across. Blaming the straw that broke the camel's back ignores all the anvils that some idiot piled on beforehand. Blaming the last actor in any sequence of events is like building a house of cards and faulting the wind for its collapse.

In short, the setup matters. You want to call recipients/end users stupid? Okay, let's run with that shoddy, self-serving assumption. Here's another analogy using cats, as I promised:

After my previous geriatric cats passed away, I went on cat hiatus for a few years. But this past winter I took in a stray when the temperature dropped to negative one degree Fahrenheit. Since then, I've discovered that I'd forgotten a lot about having a cat. I had to relearn some things.

One thing was not to refill the food bowl while it is still on the floor. The damn cat will only stick his head in the way, giving himself a kibble shower sending the pieces flying all over the kitchen floor.

Yes, I futilely yelled at my cat for interfering with my efforts to feed him. (Spoiler Alert: It didn't work, and he kept doing it.) In retrospect, my previous cats did the same. Eventually, a few seconds' reflection told me that I had to change my ways - not least of all because I had the most control over the situation.

In my frustration, I was being just as dumb as my cat. Now, I pick up the bowl, fill it, and set it back down on the floor. This new/old system works great! Again, the setup matters. What happens first always matters more than what happens last.

And, yes, I just compared non-voters to domestic cats. It's my analogy - but it's the establishment's attitude. I'm just illustrating its inherent stupidity.

Next Day Edit:

To be clear, I have voted in every Federal election since my first in 1988 and urge everyone to vote. I am making a point about motivating people who can be just as contrary as cats. Guilt trips are typically counter productive - particularly when done in advance. Guilt trips are the habit of chronic incompetents trying to shift blame or moral scolds who just love to lecture. Neither type of person is particularly popular, so they probably should not be put in charge of messaging.

Second Edit 06/01/19:

More and more people are pointing out that guilt-tripping voters to the polls is an idiotic tactic.

This tweet by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez nails it. "This is why I say that expanding the electorate is a more effective strategy than burning [money] to win over a tiny slice of people. It’s entitled to demand 'vote blue no matter who' - no matter how 'right' that is. You HAVE to deliver a real platform that improves people’s lives." She's right. Wooing ungettable Republicans is wasted effort.

To that Malaika Jabali added, "a key note: Black voter turnout was down in EVERY ONE OF THESE KEY STATES. In WI it was the lowest ever. If Hillary got just 3 of them (WI, FL, MI), she would have won the election. Guilt tripping doesn’t pull ppl to the polls after a long day of work. You have to win them over." About half of eligible voters don't vote because both parties ignore their material needs. Another centrist nominee won't give them any reason to show up. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Nincompoop Comparisons

This post may not go where you think. Or maybe it will.

In the 1970s, hippies often called hawks "fascists." The Vietnam War was on and protest signs turned the X in Richard Nixon's name into a swastika more-than-once. Conservative critics reacted angrily to this hyperbole. Yet, when militarism and racism are combined, it's an understandable comparison. When most people think of Nazis, they think of bellicose bigots with rigid authoritarian tendencies. In fairness, you must admit that was Nixon all over. He was not an affable chap.

In the 1980s, many progressives called the Reagan Administration "fascist" for such things as stoking nationalism and militarism again, funding death squads in El Salvador, propping up dictators like Saddam Hussein and Ferdinand Marcos, defending South African Apartheid, ignoring or joking about the AIDS pandemic, and busting unions. And then there was his infamous Bitburg Cemetery visit which eventually exposed a host of unsavory associations. Moderates who often went along with Ronnie's policies of course deplored Nazi analogies because he was such an affable nincompoop.

In the 2000s, many progressives called the Bush Administration "fascist" for additional militarism, two formally declared wars and a conceptual "War on Terror” we were told would never end, using torture, the flouting of international law, curbing civil rights at home, and floating the notion of postponing the next elections until things were safe. (Maybe after the forever war.) Moderates who tolerated or voted for these policies tisked progressives' vocabulary again because Dubya was another affable nincompoop.

In 2016, Donald Trump got elected, thanks in large part to moderates’ phenomenal incompetence.

But then something utterly unexpected happened:

Moderates suddenly discovered the word "fascist" and arrogantly presumed leadership of the very same progressive resistance they have been belittling and undermining all this time. This is not because Donald Trump’s policies are terribly different – most have recent antecedents in the Republican administrations I just mentioned – but because he is a vulgar and abrasive nincompoop. And that cannot stand. As I wrote before, there's not much daylight between Ronald and Donald except that the latter acts dickish about it.

It seems a new Cold War is brewing. And just as in the last one, I imagine actual anti-fascists will be branded "premature anti-fascists"(1) by the tardy reluctant ones - especially by the erstwhile collaborators, the centrist quisling officers who ordered decades of demoralizing retreats. In the 1950s, American conservatives who openly praised Hitler prior to Pearl Harbor went after those who always hated Hitler. There was another parallel in France. As the author of this Antioch Review article noted:
My French maquisards had a phrase for the Frenchmen who, in 1944, as the Allied armies broke out of the Normandy pocket and raced across France in pursuit of the retreating Wehrmacht, finally tried to join the Resistance.  Résistants de la dernière heure was their contemptuous name for them-"last-minute anti-Fascists."
But let's be clear: While centrists in "The Resistance" deplore Trump's personality, they apparently adore his legislative agenda because they keep voting for it. And, yes, this includes the racist facets as well.(2) Sorry for the Nazi analogy. I ordinarily advocate avoiding them, but it's the Trump era after all.

However, if you still object, I can go with a Civil War comparison. It's high time we follow Abe Lincoln's example and replace General McClellan with General Grant. Because McClellan's sympathies explain his hesitancy and we need strategists who lack that particular handicap. Or maybe he was a nincompoop.

Either way, fire the centrist idjits because they lack the skill or will to win.


1) The term primarily applies to veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigades - Americans who went to Spain to fight General Francisco Franco's fascists. There is actually dispute as to where the term originated: Whether it first coined by critics, admirers, or mordantly by the veterans themselves. Conservatives think this is significant. It isn't. The point is they were hounded by the FBI.

2) A few months ago, a friend of mine told me I was bringing the word "Quisling" back. So I am amused to see that it is the first word in this article, even though I am probably not really responsible. But I have long been doing my part to boost the signal.

I also advocate calling conservatives "Tories." It is what conservatives are called in the rest of the English speaking world and highlights the left/liberal character of the American Revolution. I elaborate on this in my bookConservatism is Un-American & Other Self-Evident Truths