Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Politifact and Fiction

Hopefully, this will be my last blog post on this catastrophic election. No promises though.

One of the more annoying talking points that Clinton supporters were parroting during the election was that Secretary Hillary Clinton was the most honest politician around. Ironically, it was an obvious lie which undermined their point and probably eroded support.

Certainly, Secretary Hillary Clinton was more honest that Donald Trump who constantly spouts outrageous falsehoods. (I believe it is how he breathes.) But making her more honest than Senator Bernie Sanders took some cherry-picking. Clinton supporters pointed out that she has the highest percentage of “True” statements on Politifact - twenty five percent. But they ignored all the site’s other categories: Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False, and Pants on Fire. Combine the True and Mostly True statements and her percentage is exactly equal to Bernie Sanders at fifty one percent. In fact, at one point, Sanders enjoyed the highest combined rating of all politicians in both parties: fifty four percent (see chart).

But shouldn’t winning the top category still give Clinton a slight edge?

Well, it would, if not for her Pants on Fire statements like her strange claim that as First Lady she was under sniper fire in Bosnia. This was a stupendously stupid lie. Hillary Clinton was in Bosnia for a photo op and the press was traveling with her: If a sniper had fired on the tarmac it definitely would have been major international news. Any database search would have pulled up tons or articles. Why would anyone tell a lie that is so easily checked? Had she beaten Barack Obama in the 2008 primary, you can bet that John McCain would have hammered that obvious whopper all the way to the White House.

That last paragraph is foreshadowing. File it away in your brain for later.

Interestingly, the only politician to never get a Pants on Fire rating was Bernie Sanders – something that Politifact’s editors felt compelled to remark on in an article devoted to that fact. If I wanted to cherry-pick Politifact, I would post a link to that article and claim Sanders is the most honest on the sole basis of that.

What makes Bernie Sanders’ flame-retardant pants so remarkable is that Politifact’s standards of truth are often ridiculously difficult to meet – especially when the candidate in question is Bernie Sanders. Time and again, they downgraded indisputably true statements of his to Half True and Mostly False.

Let’s start with a “Half True.” Take when Bernie Sanders’ said that “It costs a hell of a lot more money to put somebody in jail than send them to the University of Virginia.” 

This is a pretty obvious and uncontroversial claim, yet Politifact still took issue with it. They contacted the campaign, which responded with incarceration and tuition figures, so Politifact then took Sanders to task for ignoring housing and other college costs.(1)

Okay, if we're playing that game, Politifact left out a lot more costs on the incarceration side of the ledger.

In his speech, Sanders was obviously talking about the total societal costs of prioritizing prisons. This would include everything from court costs to the inmate’s lost income potential. Making jeans for pennies an hour is not exactly a Keynesian stimulus for the economy - especially since it costs jobs to people on the outside, thereby increasing crime as employment opportunities shrink. And never mind that college students are less likely to become criminals in the first place which was clearly implied. Otherwise, why mention them together? Granted, Sanders did not enumerate these costs in his speech. Indeed, he did not enumerate anything. But he was clearly talking broadly about the economy, employment, and society.

This is Politifact playing stupid, plain and simple. Education is an investment that will pay future dividends for society. Even Republicans agree mass incarceration of nonviolent offenders is a burden to the taxpayer and a drag on the economy that will never pay for itself - let alone profit society in the long run. They may remain skeptical of education's benefits and balk at Sander's free college proposal, but now they finally admit that harsh sentencing is a human and budgetary tragedy.

To illustrate this dynamic, consider recidivism costs. As even the famously conservative US News and World Report acknowledged, "each dollar spent on funding prison education programs reduces incarceration costs by $4 to $5 during the first three years after an individual is released, the period when those leaving prison are most likely to return." Imagine if these inmates weren’t sent to prison in the first place. And that is just gen ed and vocational training - not college - but it is the same principle.

I imagine the Sanders campaign did not anticipate Politifact's tack and simply answered in the shortest, most article-friendly fashion they could. That's what you do when a question is a total no-brainer. Had Politifact followed up with "Does that include housing and other expenses?" the campaign would have sensed the trap and realized that a longer response was required.

Now let’s now move on to a Bernie Sanders statement that Politifact rated “Mostly False.”

During the Iowa Democratic primary debate, Sanders said, "[C]limate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism." This claim was also made by President Obama, the Pentagon, and various academic studies - as Politifact acknowledges. So how did they spin it "Mostly False" when Sanders said it?

By pouncing on the word "direct." Never mind that Sanders was speaking extemporaneously in a debate. I'm not going to address the absurdity of that because Sanders was actually using the language correctly. Sanders was not arguing that global warming was the sole cause of terrorism, but rather that it was a proven contributing factor. That's what a direct link is.

Consider this medical comparison: As a pre-diabetic, I have a list of dos and don'ts in order to avoid getting Type 2 diabetes. Some are obvious such as watching my sugar intake. Others are not so obvious such as not skimping on sleep. (Who knew?) Each of these things I should avoid has been shown to contribute to my chances of getting diabetes - i.e. each has a proven direct link. Part of the scientific method is weeding out other possible factors and narrowing it down to those that actually have an impact.

Do you want another biology analogy? Okay, smoking causes lung cancer. Does that mean it’s the only cause of lung cancer? No, maybe it is genetic in a particular patient's case. Maybe he is the dying physicist in Repo Man. But that does not get smoking off the hook. There is a direct link that only the Tobacco Institute - and perhaps Politifact - would dare deny. Each factor is a direct link.

This shit is ridiculous and I would hope that most Clinton supporters would agree. If such indubitably true statements get downgraded to Half True and Mostly False it is obviously going to water-down Sanders' score. In fairness, I have not looked for similar nitpicking of Hillary Clinton's statements. Perhaps Politifact applies the same impossible "Gotcha!" standards to all politicians on the premise that it will enhance their reputation for hard-assed exactitude. (Except Politifact's sometime penchant to prioritize the appearance of even-handedness over the practice of it tends to benefit conservatives.) If so, then comparisons between the candidates' scores are equitable - if deceptive - and it all comes out in the wash.

But I strongly suspect Politifact was harsher on Bernie Sanders because the corporate press has always been so toward socialist proposals of any sort. Talk about, say, single payer healthcare and pundits and editors alike will talk themselves into pretzels to dismiss you and your ideas. They always have and they always will. Establishment spin is a given and Politifact is no different. 

But whatever you think of Politifact's integrity, it seems that Sanders' and Clinton's scores were roughly equal overall overtime. If only Clinton's supporters had just said that and not succumbed such to overt, number-fudging overreach.(2) Like Clinton's stupid sniper lie, it was easily debunked and thus just disheartening. It made it a lot harder for voters to give her the benefit of the doubt even though the claim was not being made by Clinton herself because it was repeated so relentlessly that it was an obvious talking point. Moreover, it made her supporters look like out-of-touch zealots - which is of course how they routinely portrayed Sanders supporters. There was a lot of projection going on there.(3)

If they had simply likened Clinton's Politifact score to Sanders' they might have piggybacked on, if not co-opted, his reputation for blunt earnestness. By overplaying their hand, they by association confirmed Clinton's reputation for dishonesty instead of debunking it. I'm not arguing that the election hinged on such obviously shoddy talking points. But they sure as hell didn't help.

But, more importantly, fuck Politifact.


(1) No doubt the Politifact writer was hoping the reader would nod in agreement reflecting on how college housing has become more spa-like as tuition rises. Don’t worry, folks: The poor kids still live in shitty concrete bunker dorms which were built in the seventies – if not the fifties. The more modern, comfy, condo-like accommodations are for rich kids and athletes. These fancy Potemkin dorms are anything but typical, no matter what the brochure says. They just want you to spend unnecessary extra money. Cruise ships use the same sales strategy.

(2) It was similar to the overreach to calling her the most qualified candidate to ever seek the presidency. Yes, I know Obama said that. That does not automatically make it true. Politifact should get on that. Ever? In over two centuries? She didn't invent résumé building. Holding multiple federal posts before seeking the presidency is actually pretty normal. She is not even the first Secretary of State to try. That would be our first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, who was also our Minister to France, a delegate to the Continental Congress (where he wrote the Declaration of Independence) - and Governor of Virginia at the state level. Before entering the Oval Office, George Bush Sr. was a Congressman, our Ambassador to the U.N., Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office to the People's Republic of China, Director of the CIA, and Vice President. But he was not exactly an excellent president, was he? Of course, I am not the first to notice Obama's hyperbole. Or to realize that experience is a poor predictor of performance.

(3) How else would you explain self-identified "realistic pragmatists" claiming that charisma and popularity do not matter in an election (and are sexist to mention)? How else would you describe people who insisted that Hillary Clinton could "get things done" in Congress when obstructionist Republicans hate her as much as they hate Obama? As I kept saying, no Democratic president would accomplish anything if the GOP held Congress. The key is to flip Congress and you do that with enthusiasm and coat tails. Their beliefs were either extraordinarily quixotic or pathetically desperate. Before June, they made my eyes roll. By July, they made my stomach freeze. I then knew the rest of the year would be grueling.

Monday, November 21, 2016

An Honest Postmortem

Can we be candid about the cadaver yet?

What happened last election day should be obvious to everyone. But, as Upton Sinclair noticed, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." So, of course, corporate pundits are in total damage control mode.

Their take on the election is either earnest blind denial or conscious obfuscation. Whether malevolent or incompetent, these are the same sweatshop apologists who helped sell us deregulation, privatization, and the Iraq invasion. And let's not sugarcoat this: They also sold us Donald Trump with two billion bucks in free publicity.(1) Yes, they said there was no way that Trump would prevail in the GOP primary. And then he did. They then said there was scant chance he could beat Clinton in the general election. And, of course, he did. These colossal fuck-ups are chronically wrong without ever facing any professional consequences and therefore they constantly fail-upwards. Ronald Reagan would envy their many layers of Teflon.

And so those who so spectacularly mis-predicted this election are now going to explain it to us. There will be the usual pro forma soul-searching, of course. They will admit "mistakes were made" in their signature passive voice that "officer involved" shootings have familiarized us with. But their remedies will be tweaks. Their fundamental assumptions will remain unshaken - and certainly not stirred. At the end of the day, they will be as arrogantly unrepentant as Wall Street was after the 2007 crash.(2) If Thomas Friedman still laments "irrational" hatred of investment bankers and Iraq war architects are still welcome anytime to opine away on Sunday morning talk shows, what suggests the press will be any stricter with itself?

To paraphrase Mel Brooks, it's good to be the Fourth Estate.

This election was obviously catastrophic for Democrats. The reason why is just as overt: The Rust Belt remembered whose spouse pushed NAFTA and the candidate in question did not do enough to jettison this obvious political albatross. LBJ lost the South for a just cause - the defense of African Americans' civil rights. By contrast, Bill Clinton lost the Rust Belt to court business interests. The compare and contrast writes itself: Losing the Sun Belt was righteous but losing the Rust Belt was unconscionable, and that demographic double-whammy ultimately proved to be doom at the polls. We cannot win without North or South: We need at least one of them because the coasts alone are not enough.

Both regional losses were gradual, taking time to reach full effect; but that’s what happened. Bill Clinton was the last Southern Democrat to inhabit the White House and that was a while ago. Before that, we had Jimmy Carter. But that will not ever happen again since Southern Democrats have now gone the way of the dodo. In the meantime, business-friendly centrist Democrats got busy losing a new region. They were like medieval physicians confidently bleeding a patient. And after they had neglected and disrespected labor for decades, the Republicans finally ran a candidate who spoke to working class pain - or at least pretended to. This was slow poison suicide, plain and simple. We should probably stop shopping at that apothecary.

This was, incidentally, by design. As Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) predicted earlier this year, “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.” Of course, it didn't quite work out that way. But, again, this has been establishment Democratic strategy for decades. It has been handicapping us since the 1990s - and yet they keep bleeding the patient.

Who knew betraying your base was bad strategy? Michael Moore had predicted this, Nate Silver didn't. (For a longer analysis of what happened, see Thomas Frank’s last book, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?) Incidentally, I also predicted this election would be difficult and rife with centrist self-sabotage. I'm not bragging: Everyone who actually cares about working people and/or the poor acknowledged the horrific possibility, even if they prayed they were wrong. Rust Belt Democrats pleaded with the Clinton campaign to take this threat seriously. The writing was on the wall. Even some of the culpable saw problems. Ironically, Bill Clinton repeatedly complained internally that Hillary's campaign was ignoring working class voters, but his criticisms were dismissed.

Comfortable pundits and click-bait site hacks alike are already making similarly flimsy arguments to minimize rising economic inequality and the collapsing middle class as factors in the election's horrific outcome. Seriously, only their urls separate them at this point.

I'm sorry, did I say minimize? I meant ignore entirely. Shoddy, sophomoric Nader analogies are already appearing in Time magazine and Paul Krugman’s tweets. And right now, the Internet is rife with either/or arguments implying that race and class are mutually-exclusive explanations. I'm in academia and we have been talking about the intersectionality of things like race, sex and class for decades now. So it is difficult not to think that the purveyors of these either/or arguments are playing dumb. But, hey, simplistic, binary conflict is more entertaining than complex multifaceted analysis. Actual accuracy doesn’t get clicks. Just cherry-pick the straw you think broke the camel's back and ignore the rest. Hell, ignore the anvils.

Of course, noting the importance of working votes invariably highlights the argument that Bernie Sanders would have beaten Trump. Sanders would not have lost the Rust Belt. I was not surprised to hear this on outlets like Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now!" But surprisingly, I have also heard this on establishment outlets as well. I was watching CNN on election night and the anchor mentioned that Sanders would have fared better. This assessment was also echoed in the Washington Post and in the British newspaper The Independent. Even establishment Democrat Harry Reid concedes the party needs "new thinking" and has endorsed Bernie Sander’s pick for the new head of the DNC.

This predictably triggers the tired claim that America would never elect a socialist. That argument hinges on the assumption that most people don't know that Bernie Sanders is self-identified democratic socialist - which is sort of absurd considering that is the first thing everyone learns about him. If you know his name, you know at least that. Sanders tells everyone who will listen. And if that is not enough, Anderson Cooper had repeatedly hammered this point home during the first Democratic debate. Indeed, it was mentioned ten times in nine debates. I think his secret is out. The claim that his socialism is a serious handicap might be valid if Sanders' popularity had dropped as more people got to know him, but it did the opposite and now he is the most popular politician in America - even more than Barack Obama. That does not sound like socialism is slowing Bernie Sanders down.(3)

Hearing this electoral skepticism coming from suposedly feminist Clinton supporters is odd because socialism and feminism are similar in many ways.

For openers, you can't really be one and not the other. As Thomas Frank wryly noted toward the end of Listen Liberal, Hillary Clinton's CEO-celebrating observances of International Women's Day pointedly ignore its socialist origins. Feminism and socialism are historically-linked, but the two -isms are logically linked too. Hillary Clinton's terrible feminism illustrates this: "Welfare Reform" disproportionately hurt women - especially women of color. Hillary Clinton lobbied for it and bragged about it long afterwards. Similarly, the Clinton Foundation promotes predatory micro-lending, touting it as a means to empower poor women in the Third World. It actually does the polar opposite, profiting banks in the process.

But more important here is that both socialism and feminism are things that most people actually want but they don't know it because their labels have been slandered to the point of radioactivity. (Or so some assume.) You may as well say that nobody self-identifying as a feminist could get elected because the exact same dynamic is in play. The attitude is basically cynicism towards every group's goals but your own's. As you can imagine, that sort of sabotages solidarity. But it dovetails neatly with "pragmatic" No-We-Can't defeatism where others' claims are concerned - an effort to show solidarity with the mythical middle.

Clintonista skepticism is as familiar as it is hypocritical. Recall their take on Barack Obama in 2008. They insisted that Obama could not possibly win because he did not appeal to the white working class!

Roll the irony of that assumption around in your head for a moment: Not only did Obama crush both his GOP opponents in 2008 and 2012, he carried many Rust Belt districts that Clinton had lost this year. Working folks felt that Obama understood their struggles. (Saving the auto industry when Mitt Romney said we should let it go bankrupt also helped.) But this year, things flipped. Clinton not only had the baggage of NAFTA but clutched it to herself in the first debate. She touted her husband's record and promised more of the same: "I think my husband did a pretty good job in the 1990s. I think a lot about what worked and how we can make it work again." Trump then spoke of the "devastation" it wrought across the Rust Belt. The states that Trump named-off all went to his column on election night.

"A black president?" Clinton campers laughed back in 2008. "Yeah, like that will happen."

EDIT - 12/14/16:

This Politico piece on how Clinton lost Michigan is absolutely astounding. The previous links on how her campaign arrogantly ignored repeated pleas from Rust Belt Dems were just the tip of the iceberg. They were pouring cold water on supporters. It was as if they were trying to widen the enthusiasm gap.


(1) So, I was in a local liquor store picking up beer for a chili cook-off I was going to and the TV was on. After a segment on the anti-Trump protests, the anchor sneered, "I wonder how many of them voted." Fuck you, coiffed talking head. As I said, the media gave Trump two billion in free publicity. (That's what happens when entertainment drives coverage. It’s a strong argument for requiring all news organizations to be non-profits.) The same study confirms that Clinton got over twice as much coverage as Sanders. Your industry's preferences forced this choice between two unpopular candidates. You helped suppress voter turnout. Your cynicism eclipses even the most jaded non-voter's, so you don't get to lecture anyone.

(2) Of course, why should they be repentant if they are never punished? Thomas Frank wrote some about this in Listen Liberal. Consider the case of Larry Summers, the enfant terrible Harvard economist whose deregulatory zeal helped set up the 2007 crash. Barack Obama appointed Summers to be Director of the National Economic Council shortly after winning the 2008 election. Apparently without irony, Henry Kissinger suggested that Larry Summers should "be given a White House post in which he was charged with shooting down or fixing bad ideas."

Summers had appeared on my radar earlier when, as World Bank head economist, he wrote an infamous memo suggesting that poor countries were under-polluted. He claimed it was actually written by an aide and meant sarcastically. (Checkout Michel Kinsley's reptilian defense of Summers. With liberals like these, who needs conservatives?) Then there was Summers' sexist suggestion that women’s simple brains could not handle complex mathematics - hence, he reasoned, their scarcity in these fields.

But these are all easily forgivable sins when you hold the right magic sheepskin. The quality of your ideas and the results you get are irrelevant. You are of the club. You might be an arrogant fuck up who illustrates the Dunning-Kruger Effect, but you are our arrogant fuck up.

Thomas Frank suggested this blind credentialism was something akin to the British aristocracy. It reminded me of reading about an interview that former spy turned novelist John le Carré did with Kim Philby’s Oxbridge-educated MI6 colleagues. Philby famously gave secrets to the Soviets for years making the spy agency a laughing stock. At one point, Philby fell under a cloud of suspicion and was sidelined to a less sensitive area. But then his old college chums lobbied to get him back in the game. Le Carré asked one aged agent why MI6 never tried to kill Philby. The unexpected question ruffled the interviewee:

“My dear chap,” he answered. “One of us.”

(3) You could, perhaps, argue that there are not yet enough Millennial voters to help a socialist candidate prevail. There are many people who can say “I like Bernie’s ideas too, but -” without it sounding like some “I’m not a racist, but -” bullshit. (See also Clinton's "I love Denmark" remark in the first Democratic debate.) However, those who wrote these ideas off as "not serious" or something that Milennials would eventually mature out of obviously do not qualify. After all, Sweden has not outgrown their system. And Canada has not rejected single payer anymore than the United Kingdom has abandoned actual socialized medicine. Moreover, voters' core economic assumptions are shaped by actual life circumstances. Do you really think things are going to get any better in the near future? If you think unregulated capitalism is going to pull us out of the hole it dug, you have abdicated any claim to call yourself any species of realist. You are just another dangerous cultist who fetishizes greed and chaos. Funny how the comfortable suburbs breeds so many. I suspect it is the result of their distance from the destruction.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Inane Nader Analogies

Almost nothing makes centrists sound like conservatives quite like Nader analogies.

The bogus notion that Ralph Nader had cost Al Gore the 2000 election has long been utterly debunked. Nevertheless, this brain-dead narrative still shambles on like a zombie. It just will not die. It is essentially the Birtherism of passionate establishment Democrats: A ridiculous, desperate attempt to square their worldview with the world. There is an honest argument buried in there if you tweak the language, but more sober precision robs their favorite narrative of much of its emotional punch - of its addictive appeal. The argument is a potent rhetorical narcotic that continues to poison our politics and this is an intervention.


Have a seat. Let's start the detox with a little math. We can agree that's a thing, right? 

In 2000, Nader got 1% of the Democratic vote and 1% of the Republican vote, so he had no net effect. One minus one equals zero. Yes, Nader got 3% of Independents but most of those voters would have probably stayed home otherwise. Nader mainly mobilized people who don't ordinarily vote - those folks disgusted with the system. He certainly did not cost Al Gore those votes. Nader just got them out of the house. And if Nader had not run and those people showed up at the polls anyway, they would have voted for some other third party candidate. Yes, there were other third party candidates. As Michael Moore had sarcastically quipped, we should "Blame Monica" instead - Workers World Party standard bearer Monica Moorehead who got 1,804 votes in Florida. That's quite a bit more than the 537 that separated Bush and Gore.

"Who? The Workers World what?" you ask. "Never heard of them." No doubt. But surely you know that third parties exist: They always have and always will. They just do better and become conspicuous when the big two neglect and insult their constituencies. So, don't do that. You can object to hostage analogies all you want, but I'm just explaining electoral physics. Guilt-tripping your victims will not change it. It may move the needle a little in a close election, but it wears thin, breeds resentment, and makes people wonder why elections are so close in the first place. You may as well be yelling at gravity.

Oh, and speaking of captive analogies, we have locked the door.

Ordinarily, third parties do not pose a problem. But that ceases to be the case once you give them issues by creating bipartisan "consensus" around ignoring important issues like trade. Freeze out peoples' concerns and elections become dangerous games of "chicken" between the two major parties: How many voters can you alienate and drive off and still win? Today, we have the lowest voter turn out in the developed world and it has been worsening. Business-friendly bipartisanship trumpets comity but foments volatility. You had to know it would eventually. How long did you think you could do this?

But the point here is that third parties are a permanent part of the political landscape and all strategies should accept that as a given. George W. Bush had third party issues in 2000 too. In addition to Ralph Nader siphoning off votes, Bush had Pat Buchanan running on his right. Remember that? Who can forget the confusing butterfly ballot causing that infamous antisemite to get 3,000 Jewish votes? Even Buchanan himself admitted, "[M]ost of those are probably not my vote and that may be enough to give the margin to Mr. Gore." The GOP also had to contend with the Libertarian and Constitution parties. There were ten different parties on the Florida ballot and all of them beat the 537 vote margin between Bush and Gore. The point is that third parties are par for the course in any election. If they become a bigger problem than normal, you only have yourself to blame for growing them.

For example, frothing establishment Democrats pilloried Ralph Nader for saying there was "not a dime's worth of difference" between the two major parties. This was obviously false on social issues like abortion and gay rights; but on many other issues - such as, well, anything that had to do with money - it was spot-on. Centrist Dems where eager to prove to big business that they were indistinguishable from Republicans. Remember that passing NAFTA and "Welfare Reform" were Bill Clinton's first signature legislative accomplishments. They signaled his fiscal seriousness and willingness to discipline labor and the poor.

Bill Clinton had pandered to both economic and social conservatives and Gore sought to outdo him. This explains his tapping Joe Lieberman for VP on the ticket. Gore ran as a competent, moderate Republican - like Bush but smart and presumably apt to give social conservatives slightly less. And of course everyone presumed Bush Jr. was going to govern like Bush Sr. He had daddy's staff and we all thought that Colin Powell would keep him from doing anything too crazy. In other words, both Bush and Gore ran as the former's father. I half expected Gore to say "a thousand points of light" at some point. In short, both Gore and Nader portrayed the Democratic ticket essentially the same way: Nader's narrative was also Gore's.

Let's get real here. Ralph Nader did not put George W. Bush in the White House: Purging the voter rolls did. Throwing out black votes did. And the Supreme Court did by retroactively stopping the Florida recount already in progress. Without a 14th Amendment violation, the Federal government has no authority to intervene in how states run their elections. The Bush campaign had no legal standing to bring their case in the first case, but of course Republican-appointed justices decided to ignore their "states rights" principles and the Constitution to boot. Of course, there were outrageous 14th Amendment violations - but the Bush campaign was not the victim of them: black voters were.

I am not playing cute. I know you are trying to make a "straw that broke the camel's back" argument. But you are studiously ignoring all the other, more important straws. And those straws actually constitute wrongdoing by public officials. But you only want to discuss the solitary, innocent straw of ordinary voters expressing their honest, un-coerced political preferences. To focus on the later implies perverse priorities and an unconscionable comfort with corruption. I'm not playing "Yes, But" - you are. My argument does not ignore inconvenient facets to focus only on one - yours does. And what's worse, yours punches down. Of course, most scapegoating does. That's how scapegoating works.

How out-of-control is your Nader analogy addiction? It is so bad you were unthinkingly making them against Bernie Sanders as soon as he started running. I enumerated the problems with this is a series of tweets back in March. Here they are in more readable paragraph form:
Clinton supporters should not make 2000 election analogies. The comparisons are incoherent and their candidate is Al Gore in all of them. For openers, the fact that Sanders is running as a Democrat makes the metaphor totally moot. Moreover, using that as a springboard for blaming Nader for Bush’s wars only highlights the fact that Clinton voted for both those wars. It also re-emphasizes Hillary Clinton's unfortunate association with the failed "New Democrat" brand which her husband championed. Indeed, Al Gore's VP pick, Joe Lieberman, should have buried that brand when he embraced G.W. Bush. The 2000 election is an object lesson in how running to the right depresses Democratic turn out. [As Harry Truman said,] "Given a choice between a Republican and a Democrat who acts like a Republican; the voters will pick the Republican every time!" Plus, the analogy is awkward for the misogyny narrative. Last I checked, Al Gore was a man. And yet the Democratic base [still] rebelled.
Shall I unpack a few points in that paragraph for greater clarity? Okay, let's be perfectly cynical – i.e. realistic and pragmatic, as centrist Clintonistas imagine themselves. You want your candidate to look like a winner and, towards that end, you do not want to associate them with proven losers. And, sorry, Al Gore was a total loser and that's not a comparison you want to invite. Admittedly, the election was stolen from Gore, but he was not exactly a winner to begin with. Unlike his predecessor, he was famously wooden and uncharismatic. Bill Clinton had The Gift.(1) Long story short, Bill Clinton was a hard act for Al Gore to follow. Likewise, I think following Barack Obama with Hillary Clinton is ridiculously risky – particularly since she follows his “Yes We Can” with dismissing progressive aspirations as unrealistic. This familiar letdown effect is invariably an election handicap for both parties. George Bush Sr. similarly had difficulty following Ronald Reagan.(2) Of course, as we know now, it is sexist to discuss charisma at all; so I suppose Al Gore was the victim of sexism. Likewise, mentioning the electric enthusiasm Senator Elizabeth Warren ignites is considered sexist as well. But I must say it's awfully odd to damn Nader for putting a hawk in office when you are now trying to do the same yourself.

So, where is the aforementioned honest argument buried? Well, you could at least tweak the language to make it arguable by saying Nader could have cost Gore the election under those circumstances. But the fact of the matter is that he didn't. You could still honorably argue for caution, calling Nader's actions reckless, but that does not pack quite the same punch.

Two posts ago, I made the progressive case for sticking with the Democratic Party and growing the Warren Wing. In that post, I also called-out political scolds for trying to shame those who chose to vote third party. Most of us live in safe states, so our votes are wasted regardless. The argument definitely has value in swing states - and Trump is so grotesquely abhorrent that he has turned some traditionally red states purple. I live in one, so I will likely vote for Hillary Clinton rather than Jill Stein. But elsewhere, shaming is at best ineffective self-satisfied lecturing and at worst counter-productively divisive. And such shaming is especially ineffective when it comes from those known for making phenomenally shoddy arguments that are more mythology than anything else. I could rattle off a host of other examples, but I will leave that for another post.

And if you still cannot quite grasp the absurdity of making Nader analogies, let me put it another way.

If you hate Ralph Nader but still admire Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, you obviously have no notion who put George W. Bush in the Oval Office. Yes, she has gradually evolved since casting the tie-breaking vote in Bush v. Gore. Well, arguably evolved: In 2011, she said the decision was not "the end of the world." Since then, she has admitted the vote may have made things worse. However, her language remains consistently agnostic: It's posed as a possibility. She has never expressed formal regret or admitted the decision was wrong or unconstitutional. But at the time of the vote, O'Connor was a longtime, Bush family supporter:
[W]hen NBC declared for Democratic candidate Al Gore, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor told the guests at an election party that the Democrat’s election victory was “terrible.” (Of course, her criticism was a little premature, as we now know.) She then went on to participate in making sure nothing so terrible would happen, casting the crucial fifth vote in Bush v. Gore without blinking an eye. O’Connor had a long history of rooting for the Bushes in presidential elections. In 1988, she wrote to longtime political ally Senator Barry Goldwater, in a letter now in his public archives, that she “would be thankful if George B wins. It is vital for the Court and the nation that he does.”
Of course, blind bipartisanship prevents acknowledging such inconvenient facts. What, one must wonder, was so "terrible" about Al Gore to Sandra Day O'Connor? Bill Clinton believed that traditional New Deal Democrats were too liberal. Al Gore thought Clinton was still too liberal. What was she afraid of?

Well, among other things, she wanted to retire and did not want any Democrat to appoint her successor. "Sensible" centrists saw her as a pragmatic, objective moderate. Obviously, she was not. As Jefferey Rosen wrote in the New York Times in 2001 before she retired:
Over the years she has emerged as the leader of the federalism revolution that may be the Rehnquist court's most distinctive legacy, returning power from Washington to the states. And although she is not a committed social conservative, she is a committed antigovernment conservative -- a justice eager to second-guess the judgments of state and federal lawmakers and executives. By refusing to defer to Congress and the president, she has enhanced not only her own power but also the power of the court itself. If she is, in fact, nominated as the next chief justice, her generally moderate votes should give less pause than her view that no branch of government is entitled to respect except the one to which she belongs.
I'm no lawyer, but that strikes me as curious jurisprudence. Such a states rights federalist logically should have let Florida officials complete their recount without federal interference. But apparently she had no problem with federal interference as long as it was her own and she got the partisan results she desired.

Sandra Day O'Conner's vote perfectly illustrates the "bipartisan" blind spot in centrist ideology and how it serves conservative purposes. It's the same establishment horseshit that insists that Ayn Rand-fan Paul Ryan is a "courageous" "serious thinker" on the budget. Yes, Sandra Day O'Connor clashed with Antonin Scalia, but she was a protégé of William Rehnquist. Today, Paul Ryan clashes with Donald Trump - but so does Ted Cruz. Will perennial press swooning over Ryan resume after election day or will his mercurial cowardice on endorsing Trump preclude his political rehabilitation?

Well, is Henry Kissinger a pariah yet? Does Dick Cheney still appear on "Meet the Press"? If Ryan's star has truly fallen, another Ayn Rand fan's will rise. The corporate press will just anoint another. After all, the Fourth Estate has hedge mazes to manicure. They are not going to trim themselves.

Ultimately, Sandra Day O'Conner had cast the only vote that mattered in 2000 - the straw that actually shattered the camel's back. Isn't it high time we stopped flogging the Nader scapegoat?


(1) Like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton was preternaturally likeable – a “Great Communicator” – and his personal popularity eclipsed the profound unpopularity of his policies. (Reagan assaulted popular social programs like Social Security and Medicare. Clinton dissed and betrayed crucial Democratic constituencies like labor and minorities, but many forgave him. Al Gore did not enjoy this latitude. Indeed, he inherited the public skepticism and ill-will Clinton had built.) This meant that both Reagan and Clinton had at least some latitude to nudge the country in either direction, left or right. Both chose toward the right. For Reagan, it was a simple advantage. For Clinton, it was a scandalous waste (if not a conscious abuse) of great political talent. To put it as charitably as possible, it was lost opportunity to repair the damage done in the previous twelve years – which was, after all, what he was elected to do in 1992.

(2) Recall Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan’s wistful lecture/pep-talk to George Bush Sr. in 1992: "Some of your staff used to walk around calling the Reagan years 'the pre-Bush era.' There are many names for such people; 'historical idiot' is one. You know and feel that Ronald Reagan was, is, a great man. When your delegates hear his voice Monday night they will erupt in joy. They will shake their heads and say, 'I miss his voice.' They’ll mean: I miss belief." Ideologues, of course, emphasize ideology: It flatters their profession and affirms their importance. But sometimes things are more shallow. In 1988, Poppy Bush was saved from himself by Lee Atwater’s blatant race-baiting and having a similarly uncharismatic opponent in Michael Dukakis. But in 1992, Atwater was dead and Bush faced a more formidable opponent in the form of Bill Clinton. If Hillary Clinton loses, it will be a replay of 1988 rather than 2000.