Map of the day

Via Nate Cohn.  Draw your own conclusions.  Actually, lots of great stuff from Cohn you should read, but the maps are a good start.

trump1 Trump2


Quick hits (part II)

1) Vox’s Amanda Taub has come to the same conclusion as me… Trump is using “political correctness” as an excuse for just being a jerk.

2) When you consider how common wisdom teeth extraction is, it almost has to be an overused medical procedure (I had mine out when I was 23 and it took me out of commission for the better part of a week).  What I really want to know is what are the outcomes in poor countries where people are not routinely having these teeth removed (though, surely there’s a lot of confounds with that).  Still, I cannot believe this many Americans have been this poorly served by evolution.

3) Loved this column on how the lead in Flint problem is a direct result of “small government” ideology.

4) Really interesting summary of a new book that focuses on American slavery as a slave breeding industry.

5) Michael Tesler on what a new poll shows about the populist appeal of Trump.

6) NPR story on the new research finding systematic bias against women in teaching evaluations.  I don’t doubt this is a genuine problem we should think about, but I’m still waiting for professors who get good evaluations to say they are worthless and professors with poor evaluations to admit maybe there is some value to them:

“That the situation is Really Complicated,” Philip Stark writes in an email to NPR Ed, and, he adds, it won’t be easy to correct for it. In fact, the authors titled their paper “Student Evaluations of Teaching (Mostly) Do Not Measure Teaching Effectiveness.”

These results seem pretty damning, but not everyone is convinced.

Michael Grant is the vice provost and associate vice chancellor for undergraduate education at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He says there’s a lot of research supporting the effectiveness and usefulness of student evaluations.

“There are multiple, well-designed, thoughtfully conducted studies that clearly contradict this very weakly designed study,” he says, citing this study from 2000 andthis study conducted at his own university. His personal review of student ratings from one department at CU Boulder over nine years did find a bias in favor of men, he says, but it was very small — averaging 0.13 on a 6-point scale.

7) Teller of Penn & Teller was a high school Latin teacher before becoming a famous magician.  His take on how teaching is like performing magic.

8) Some common-sense recommendations for being more humane with how we wean cows.  Good for the cows; good for the farmers; good for the conscience of conflicted meat-eaters.  We really should do far more to ensure that our meat food supply is generated in a humane manner.

9) Really interesting piece on the evolution of single-sex bathrooms:

Today’s most-prominent arguments against inclusive restrooms are remarkably consistent with the Victorian notions that led to sex-segregated bathrooms in the first place. When the ideology of separate spheres for male and female, public and private, the market and the home reigned, the growth of women’s presence in public life led to the desire to protect women from the crude dangers of the male world. Among the legal effects was the 1873 Supreme Court holding in Bradwell v. Illinois that it was not unconstitutional for a state to deny women admission to the bar on the basis of their sex, with a famous concurring opinion that stated, “Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life.” The same separate-spheres paternalism led to the designation of certain physical spaces for women apart from those for men, including bathrooms in public venues. These were safe spaces, if you will, tucked in a world in which women were vulnerable. As our society is currently experiencing a resurgence of paternalist concern about women’s sexual vulnerability—especially in the context of that great equalizer, education—it is no surprise that there would also be a new emphasis on the Victorian phenomenon of separate restrooms.

10) Great story on the Virginia Tech professor who was crucial to uncovering the Flint water problems.

11) I’m planning on reading Neurotribes and I expect to learn a lot from it.  That said, based on articles about the book and interviews with the author, the book seems to very much elide how substantially and severely very many people and families are affected by autism.

12) Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates on foreign policy of Republican presidential aspirants:

Robert Gates , a Republican stalwart and former US defence secretary who served under eight presidents, has derided the party’s election candidates for a grasp of national security issues that “would embarrass a middle schooler”.

An ex-CIA director who first joined the White House under Richard Nixon, Gates joked that if frontrunner Donald Trump wins the presidency, he would emigrate to Canada. He condemned the media for failing to challenge candidates from both parties on promises he believes are unaffordable, illegal or unconstitutional.

“The level of dialogue on national security issues would embarrass a middle schooler,” Gates said of the Republican contenders at a Politico Playbook event in Washington on Monday . “People are out there making threats and promises that are totally unrealistic, totally unattainable. Either they really believe what they’re saying or they’re cynical and opportunistic and, in a way, you hope it’s the latter because God forbid they actually believe some of the things that they’re saying.” [emphasis mine]

13) Can’t say I’m all that surprised to learn that exercise far surpasses all other treatments in effectively reducing back pain.

14) Loved this John McWhorter piece on how it is not at all simple to separate a language from a dialect.  I had no idea.  It’s been sitting in an open tab deserving it’s own post for too long:

I have a Swedish pal I see at conferences in Denmark. When we’re out and about there, he is at no linguistic disadvantage. He casually orders food and asks directions in Swedish despite the fact that we are in a different country from his own, where supposedly a different “language”—Danish—is spoken. In fact, I’ve watched speakers of Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian conversing with each other, each in their own native tongues, as a cozy little trio over drinks. A Dane who moves to Sweden does not take Swedish lessons; she adjusts to a variation upon, and not an alternate to, her native speech. The speakers of these varieties of Scandinavian consider them distinct languages because they are spoken in distinct nations, and so be it. However, there is nothing about Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian in themselves that classifies them as “languages;” especially on the page, they resemble each other closely enough to look more like dialects of one “language.”

15) Nice Pew summary with cool charts of demographic trends affecting politics.

16) Good piece on how Trump represents a disappearing America from Heather Digby Parton.

17) I want my genetically-modified mosquitoes!  A great way to fight mosquito-borne disease, but facing great resistance from un-trusting populations.  Yes, there’s uncertainties and things could go wrong.  If I lived in an area where people were regularly facing death and debilitation from tropical disease, I’d take the chance.

18) Just finished re-reading Animal Farm for the first time in about 30 years.  What an absolutely delightful and brilliant book.  My only complaint is that it was too short– I didn’t want it to end.

19) Nice Wonkblog summary on what scientific research can tell us about marijuana.  Short version: not a lot to worry about.  There is a reasonable debate to be had about legalizing drugs such as heroin and cocaine (and I’m increasingly of the legalize everything perspective), but with marijuana, it’s hardly even a reasonable debate anymore.  In a country where alcohol is legal, it is preposterous that marijuana is not. Also, the Wonkblog post on the research suggesting that marijuana does not, after all, affect IQ from teenage use (not that I’ll be giving it to my own teenagers any time soon).

20)And your Sunday long-read– terrific piece from John Judis on Trump, Sanders, and the meaning of populism in America.

We’ve got addiction all wrong

So, as mentioned, I’m reading a terrific book on the War on Drugs called Chasing the Scream by Johan Hari.  As evil and stupid as I already thought the war on drugs to be, I know realize it is even far more evil and stupid than I had already realized.  I truly think 100 years from now, society will look back on this with a “what the hell where people thinking?!”  Among the most compelling sections of the book is on the science of addiction and how our basic models of addiction seem to be largely wrong.  It’s not that drugs ruin lives (they do), but that people with ruined lives turn to drugs.  The vast majority of people who use most drugs– including opiates– never become addicted.  That should tell us something, but we cling to this model of purely physical addiction.  (Now, go and read that Rat Park comic I linked in quick hits).  Hari has a nice piece at HuffPo summarizing all the evidence on addiction.  Well worth your time to read:

If you still believe — as I used to — that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander’s theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection…

But the Office of the Surgeon General has found that just 17.7 percent of cigarette smokers are able to stop using nicotine patches. That’s not nothing. If the chemicals drive 17.7 percent of addiction, as this shows, that’s still millions of lives ruined globally. But what it reveals again is that the story we have been taught about The Cause of Addiction lying with chemical hooks is, in fact, real, but only a minor part of a much bigger picture.

This has huge implications for the one-hundred-year-old war on drugs. This massive war — which, as I saw, kills people from the malls of Mexico to the streets of Liverpool — is based on the claim that we need to physically eradicate a whole array of chemicals because they hijack people’s brains and cause addiction. But if drugs aren’t the driver of addiction — if, in fact, it is disconnection that drives addiction — then this makes no sense.

Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction. For example, I went to a prison in Arizona — ‘Tent City’ — where inmates are detained in tiny stone isolation cages (‘The Hole’) for weeks and weeks on end to punish them for drug use. It is as close to a human recreation of the cages that guaranteed deadly addiction in rats as I can imagine. And when those prisoners get out, they will be unemployable because of their criminal record — guaranteeing they with be cut off even more. I watched this playing out in the human stories I met across the world.

Great stuff.  And huge implications for how we think about what we do with drugs.  Also, a nice TED talk on the matter if you are so inclined.

Quick hits (part I)

Lots of good stuff.  Let’s go!

1) A friend with a nice piece on the true story behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

2) Bill Ayers on America’s fear problem:

I make this point because the gap between the macro-level facts and our fears is enormous and seems to be growing larger. Contrast this to past periods in history when people were legitimately frightened of important things. In the early 1800s, for example, there was a worldwide epidemic of crop failures and famines (caused, as it turns out, by amassive volcanic eruption in the South Pacific that was barely noticed at the time). Thousands died of starvation, millions became refugees, and the political and cultural landscape of much of the world was rewritten. In Europe, authoritarianism made a comeback against the early revolutionary gains of the Enlightenment as people decided that freedom could be sacrificed for food and safety.

Compare that world to our time – and then to the rhetoric we hear every day. Donald Trump and Daesh do share something in common – they have found ways to elevate people’s fears, to paint a picture of a world gone not just wrong but horribly wrong, so wrong that radical and formerly unthinkable action must be taken. These dystopian views are so far removed from reality that those of us who don’t share them are left shaking our heads at the insanity of it all.

3) Vox on how America’s lead problem is far more than Flint.

4) Why are humans the only animals with chins?  (Who knew?!)  Good question.

5) On Rubio’s blinders when it comes to Cuba policy.

6) Texas 8th grader suspended for helping classmate during a serious asthma attack.  The people who did the suspending and the teacher who wanted to wait for the school nurse to answer an email should be out of jobs.

7) I’ve probably linked this before, but I was reminded of it in a conversation with a student the other day.  I first came across it in an article proclaiming it the best TV ad ever.  It sure is damn good.

8) Nice Molly Ball piece on why so many in the Republican Party loathe Ted Cruz:

But a Republican policy expert close to a number of top GOP operatives and donors insisted it’s not about Cruz’s style or his positions. It’s his disingenuousness—and inability to produce results. “He knows his tactics are bound to fail, but pursues them to debase his Republican colleagues under false pretenses and endear himself to the base as the only authentic conservative,” said the expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he runs an organization that does not endorse candidates. But the effort doesn’t result in smaller government or the end of Obamacare—all it achieves is drawing attention to Cruz. “He is incapable of delivering anything but theater,” the expert added.

9) A Pennsylvania judge was sentencing teenagers to jail in a money-making scheme.  Seriously.  Now that he’s been caught, that judge should never leave prison again.  I’d let out several drug dealers to make room for him.

10) How Jimmy Carter made the Iowa Caucuses what they are today.

11) If only we could regulate guns for safety like we regulate cars for safety.  The absolute worst part is that when people try to make safe guns, they are little ostracized by the gun nuts.


Sixteen years ago, after Bill Clinton’s administration announced a partnershipwith gunmaker Smith & Wesson to improve firearm safety, the National Rifle Association led a boycott of the company. Smith & Wesson had agreed to a number of safety requirements, including making trigger-locks standard and adding a hidden set of serial numbers to new handguns to make it harder for anyone to scratch off identifying marks. Other gun manufacturers blasted the company as a sellout. (Part of why Smith & Wesson agreed to the deal in the first place was because the federal government agreed to drop a number of lawsuits against the company in exchange for its cooperation. This was, of course, before Congress agreed to give all gunmakers protection from various litigation.)

The backlash nearly ruined Smith & Wesson, the nation’s oldest manufacturer of handguns. And before long, it had retreated from key parts of the deal. One aspect of the agreement that never came to pass: a requirement that gunmakers move forward with developing authorized-user technology—the same kind of technology that President Barack Obama pushed for earlier this month, and that McNamara and others are trying to build.

12) Love this project that is provides data on how common particular books are across millions of college syllabi.

13) How the Koch brothers are using their money to try and influence students.

14) Loved this piece on the evolution of movie special effects in movies and how “practical” effects are all now the rage:

The rebooters would tell you those old feelings can’t be summoned with new tools. Trevorrow explained to Wired UK that his animatronic dinosaur “drew a beautiful performance out of the actors—we couldn’t have done it with a computer.” (The apatosaurus had been mortally wounded by a rampaging C.G.I. dino—a perfect metaphor for the state of the movies.) As the producer Patrick Crowley put it, “Colin said we needed to have a working animatronic in this movie because that’s how this series of movies was built.”

That’s the rub. We’ve reached a point where directors and audiences no longer derive authenticity from what looks “real” but from what looked real in seventies, eighties, and nineties blockbusters. And real is an awfully flexible word. George Miller, the director of “Fury Road,” was hailed for sending a hundred and fifty vehicles clattering through the Namibian desert—just like the old days! But as Andrew Jackson, the movie’s visual-effects supervisor, toldfxguide, “I’ve been joking recently about how the film has been promoted as being a live action stunt-driven film.… The reality is that there’s 2,000 VFX shots in the film”—out of about twenty-four hundred shots total.

15) So, this is a few years old, but new to me.  Jesse Eisenberg and Marv Albert performing “Marv Albert is my therapist.”  A slam dunk.


16) The FEC does not properly regulate campaign finance because Republicans don’t want it to.

17) Yes, the system is set up to make it too easy for college students to go way too far into debt, but it still doesn’t seem right to blame the system to think it is a remotely reasonable idea to go $240,000 in debt for degrees in music performance and bioethics.

18) Young people are getting drivers licenses at much lower rates these days.  My 16 year old doesn’t even want to get one.  I made him go get a Learner’s Permit yesterday, in fact.

19) I actually totally agree with Radley Balko that we should not have mandatory seat belt laws as a primary offense (I still think it is a fine idea as a secondary offense):

But there’s another argument against seat-belt laws that’s much more pertinent to the policing issues now in the news: Seat-belt laws create an entirely new class of police-citizen interactions. They’re another excuse for pretext stops. Moreover, unless there’s clear dash-camera footage, whether you were wearing a seat belt at the time the police officer spotted you is basically your word against the officer’s. It’s another opportunity for police to look for probable cause for a search, or for behavior that could justify a forfeiture of your cash, your car or anything inside of it. And as we’ve seen inSouth Carolina, Indiana, California and elsewhere, they create more interactions that could potentially lead to escalation, violence and even death. (Note that the article in the last link is from Florida.) The U.S. Supreme Court has even ruled that police can arrest you, handcuff you and jail you even if your only crime was to fail to buckle your seat belt. In 2012, the court ruled that you can be strip-searched, too

Our highways have gotten remarkably safer over the past 30 or so years. Fatalities have dropped dramatically. Even the most ardent libertarian can’t help but admit that federal efforts had something to do with it, though I tend to think public education and PR safety campaigns have been more effective than more punitive policies. But we should also be cognizant of unintended consequences, especially with laws that are more about protecting people from themselves than from other people. If a seat-belt violation causes a low-income man to be pulled over, searched, fined and fined again for nonpayment, then results in a suspended license, and then arrest and incarceration for driving on a suspended license, the state is no longer protecting him — it’s ruining him.

20) Important read from Nate Silver arguing that the Republican Party is failing.

21) I’m reading a fabulous book about the war on drugs.  More on that later.  For now, familiarize yourself with Rat Park, if you have not before.  And even if you know Rat Park, this comic version is pretty awesome.  Seriously.

The GOP as failed state

Love this Will Saletan piece.  Nice metaphor:

The disaster, the blame game, and the establishment’s surprise at what’s happening are related. Since President Obama’s election, the GOP has abandoned its role as a national governing party. It has seized Congress not by pursuing an alternative agenda but by campaigning and staging votes against anything Obama says or does. The party’s so-called leaders have become followers, chasing the pet issues of right-wing radio audiences. Now the mob to whom these elders have surrendered—angry white voters who are determined to “take back their country” from immigrants and liberals—is ready to install its own presidential nominee. The Trump-Cruz takeover is the culmination of the Grand Old Party’s moral collapse.  [emphasis mine]

In foreign policy, there’s a term for governments that don’t govern. We call themfailed states. A state can fail for many reasons, but weak or clueless leadership is usually a factor. In a failed state, insurgencies grow, warlords arise, and chaos reigns. That’s what the GOP has become…

Republicans no longer have a policy agenda. They have a scapegoating, base-stoking agenda. Their economic plan is to blame legal immigrants for the demise of upward mobility. Their social policy is to defund the nation’s leading birth-control providerand promote disobedience of court orders. Their foreign policy is to carpet-bombSyria, insult the faith of our anti-ISIS partners, and void Iran’s pledge to abstain from nuclear weapons production…

In the race to the right, yesterday’s conservatives can’t keep up. John Boehner, a right-wing rebel in the House 20 years ago, has been purged as speaker by the GOP’s new hardliners. Kasich, another House rebel from the Boehner era, is now ridiculed in the presidential primaries as a liberal…

When you run a party this way, chasing after your most radical constituents—in Republican parlance, leading from behind—you shouldn’t be surprised to find that the audience you’ve cultivated doesn’t match your original principles…

Good stuff, but one I think should really scare establishment Republicans is this:

Trump is leading almost every national and statewide Republican poll. Together, he and Cruz are drawing the support of 60 percent of Republicans in the latestCNN/ORC poll, 58 percent in the ABC News/Washington Post poll, 54 percent in theFox News poll, and 53 percent in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. In Iowa, Trump and Cruz are splitting 60 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers. In New Hampshire, they control 47 percent of the vote. In South Carolina, they’re drawing 61 percent.

Even if all the establishment candidates pooled their support, they wouldn’t win. Together, Rubio, Bush, Christie, and Kasich are attracting only 18 percent of the Republican vote in the CNN/ORC poll, 22 percent in the ABC/Post poll, and 22 percent in the Fox News poll. The NBC/Journal poll found that even if the Republican field narrowed to Trump, Cruz, and Rubio, Rubio would still finish last by 5 percentage points. With Cruz removed, Trump would still beat Rubio, 52 percent to 45 percent.

Now that’s a huge problem for Republicans.  Sure, polling in primaries can change fast, but presumably within certain logical paramaters, e.g., we shouldn’t expect to see Cruz support ever go to Jeb.

Lastly, given that I was talking about the affective polarization of partisanship in class yesterday (i.e., the hatred between Democrats and Republicans) I actually feel a little funny writing so much negative stuff about Republicans.  But, I don’t actually have a problem with Republicans.  There’s many that I personally know and respect and there’s plenty that I think hold truly reasonable, just different, political views in my own (e.g., Frum, Douthat, Gerson).  What’s so frustrating to me (and many Republicans) is that the party has largely been taken over by a fact-free, insurgent outlier force with virtually no interest in capable governing or smart policy.   And right now that faction is looking quite ascendant in the primaries.

Help me Marco Rubio, you’re my only hope

At 538, Dave Wasserman argues that Republicans are doomed unless they are smart enough to suddenly get their act together and unite behind Rubio:

There are a lot of complex analyses of the 2016 election floating around. My own theory is quite straightforward: If Hillary Clinton is the nominee — and she remains a heavy favorite over Bernie Sanders — her fate largely rests with Republican voters’ decisions over the next few months.

If Republicans nominate Rubio, they would have an excellent chance to beat Clinton by broadening their party’s appeal with moderates, millennials and Latinos. [emphases mine] The GOP would also have an excellent chance to keep the Senate, hold onto a wide margin in the House and enjoy more control of federal government than they have in over a decade.

If they nominate Ted Cruz, Clinton would probably win, the GOP Senate majority would also be in peril and GOP House losses could climb well into the double digits. A Donald Trump nomination would not only make Clinton’s election very likely and raise the odds of a Democratic Senate; it could force down-ballot Republicans to repudiate Trump to survive, increase pressure on a center-right candidate to mount an independent bid and split the GOP asunder.

In other words, if you’re a member of the Republican Party who wants to win in November, it’s basically Rubio or bust. The “Rubio or bust” theory relies on a process of elimination rather than an assessment of his biography, skills or ground game.

There are seven Republican candidates polling above 5 percent in Iowa, New Hampshire or nationally. Three of them — John Kasich, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush — are competing for moderate GOP voters in New Hampshire, but their appeal remains so tepid with conservative Republicans who dominate most other primaries that they lack a plausible path to the nomination.

On the other hand, Trump and Cruz are more popular with conservative Republicans. But either could turn into the most disastrous GOP presidential nominee since 1964.

Yep.  I think Wasserman may oversell Rubio’s general election strength a little bit– he’s the Republicans’ best bet alright, and a skilled politician– but economic and party fundamentals still matter a lot.  Honestly, I think so many people are convinced Rubio will still pull this out because it seems so obvious to those of the non-insane portion of the Republican party (e.g., Democrats, plus sadly, a minority of Republican voters these days), that Rubio is such an obvious choice.  Now, of course he may still pull this out, but just because he seems the most obvious and logical choice is far from a guarantee that this will persuade the majority of Republican primary voters.  And right now, a clear majority of Republican primary voters support Trump or Cruz.

Now, if I had real skills, I’d create the Marco Rubio version of this.  But, I don’t.

Photo of the day

I’ve seen lots of great snow photos from the recent blizzard in the Eastern US, but wow do I feel for this poor snow shoveller.  Via a nice snowy gallery from In Focus:

A resident shovels snow from the entrance to his home in Union City, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Midtown Manhattan, after the second-biggest winter storm in New York history, on January 24, 2016.

Rickey Rogers / Reuters


Bernie vs. Barack

Nice take from Jon Cohn:

But lurking behind this argument about the future is a dispute that’s really about the past. It’s a debate over what Obama accomplished in office — in particular, how significant those accomplishments really are. And it’s been simmering on the left for most of the last seven years.

On one side of this divide are activists and intellectuals who are ambivalent,disappointed or flat-outfrustrated with what Obama has gotten done. They acknowledge what they consider modest achievements — like helping some of the uninsured and preventing the Great Recession from becoming another Great Depression. But they are convinced that the president could have accomplished much more if only he’d fought harder for his agenda and been less quick to compromise.

They dwell on the opportunities missed, like the lack of a public option in health care reform or the failure to break up the big banks. They want those things now — and more. In Sanders, they are hearing a candidate who thinks the same way.

On the other side are partisans and thinkers who consider Obama’s achievements substantial, even historic. They acknowledge that his victories were partial and his legislation flawed. This group recognizes that there are still millions of people struggling to find good jobs or pay their medical bills, and that the planet is still on a path to catastrophically high temperatures. But they see in the last seven yearsmajor advances in the liberal crusade to bolster economic security for the poor and middle class. They think the progress on climate change is real, and likely to beget more in the future…

To be clear, these differences of emphasis belie the relatively similar views that Sanders and Clinton have when it comes to what America should really look like. Both are committed progressives. Both want government playing an active role in guaranteeing economic security, setting rules for the economy, protecting traditional victims of discrimination and preserving the environment. Both think Obama advanced this agenda, but that there is still more to do…

In this [Sanders’] view, voters within and outside the Democratic Party are craving a radical change, something more sweeping and transformative than anything Obama achieved. And while enacting such an agenda may not be politically possible in the next two years, Sanders can use the inevitable Republican resistance to rally the public behind Democrats in the 2018 midterms — a point a top Sanders adviser made to The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein earlier this week. In the meantime, Sanders supporters, he will be generating support for a much more liberal agenda, and setting the terms of debate in a way that pushes legislative compromises further to the left. It’s not a crazy argument.

But ignoring or denying the progress of the Obama era also carries risks, as Clinton supporters point out. Republican politicians and their allies in the conservative movement speak in one consistent voice, arguing that the Obama agenda has been not just a failure, but a catastrophe. Absent a strong defense of these programs, average voters may listen and conclude that his programs must not have done much good. In the long run, that can undermine the public’s faith in government activism of any kind. It can also set up liberals for a perpetual cycle of disappointment, as they discover over and over again that the compromised progressive reforms coming out of Washington don’t match their lofty expectations.

Reasonable argument.  Reasonable people can disagree.  My experience and knowledge put me firmly in the Clinton camp.  Maybe I’m wrong, but we’ll very likely never now as I still think it highly unlikely Bernie could ever get the nomination, much less win the presidency.

Understanding Trump’s alpha-male appeal

Okay, so forget my last post about Trump’s issue based appeal (no, I really do agree with Frum’s points), but oh man do I love this take from Josh Marshall:

In the present context I would put it like this: Pundits and political obsessives tend to get distracted by process and policy literalism. But politics generally and especially intra-Republican political battles are really about demonstrating dominance – not policy mastery or polling leads but a series of symbols and actions that mark the dominating from the dominated. [emphases mine]

I’ve seen various people say, ‘Well this is awful for Trump. He’s missing his opportunity to make his closing argument to Iowa caucusgoers!’ But that’s not getting what’s happening. Maybe this will be a disaster for Trump. But it won’t be because he missed out on 15 minutes of airtime.

The misunderstanding is similar to all the other times over the last six months when observers thought Trump had tripped himself up by violating some political taboo, showing he didn’t understand some basic policy issue or just flat out lying about something in a easily demonstrable way. Focusing on these indicators is like watching an opera and fixating on the libretto rather than the score. Yes, it’s part of what’s happening. But it’s not what’s generating the energy and motion. It’s just a ripple on the surface of a deep sea. How much do you need to know German to get Wagner?

When I first wrote about this a dozen years ago I called it the “bitch slap theory of politics.” I’m no longer comfortable using that phrase. But I do think the heavily gendered, violent nature of that phrase is one of the only ways to really capture the nature of what’s happening in these dramas.

Take Trump’s evisceration of Jeb Bush.

Trump’s comment about Jeb’s being “weak”, “low energy”, “pitiful” … these are demeaning and denigrating phrases. They seem frankly gross, with an emotional tenor we’d expect from street toughs or frat boys trash talking each other. It’s raw and primal and all about dominating by denigrating. But what has really hurt Bush is not so much that Trump is calling him names. It’s that Trump has used these attacks to demonstrate that Jeb is unable or unwilling to defend himself. Trump hits him and Jeb takes it…

Trump doesn’t apologize. He hurts people and they go away. He says things that would kill a political mortal (ban members of an entire religion from entering the country) and yet he doesn’t get hurt. Virtually everything Trump has done over the last six months, whether it’s a policy proposal or personal attack, has driven home this basic point: Trump is strong. He does things other people can’t.

This is why Trump has so shaken up and so dominated the GOP primary cycle, at least thus far. As I’ve said, this kind of dominance symbolism is pervasive in GOP politics. It’s not new with Trump at all. Most successful Republican politicians speak this language. And yet somehow for most it is nonetheless a second language. But it’s Trump’s native language.

Yes!  Marshall’s column perfectly captures ideas which I’ve had inchoately floating around my brain and it’s one of those things that you read it and just know that it is true.

Why Republicans love Trump

Nice piece from David Frum:

One question has been asked over and over about the 2016 Republican contest: Where is the cavalry? When does the fabled Republican establishment use its vast reserves of cash to fill the airwaves with negative ads against Donald Trump? This was how Mitt Romney overwhelmed Gingrich’s brief surge in 2012. Trump is surely an even more vulnerable target than Gingrich, right?

But Donald Trump has come under repeated attack…

The attacks have been fired. They failed.

There’s certainly room for plenty more, but that still doesn’t explain the unique appeal of Trump.  This does:

For a very long time, the voting base of the Republican Party has been signaling desperate economic and cultural distress.

A poll published on Tuesday in The Washington Post sounds the klaxon again:

The Republican electorate is in a sour mood as its members prepare to begin the process of picking a presidential nominee. Almost 9 in 10 say the country is seriously off on the wrong track, and more than 8 in 10 are dissatisfied with the way the federal government works, including nearly 4 in 10 who say they’re angry about it.

Two-thirds worry about maintaining their current living standard, more than 6 in 10 say people with similar values are losing influence in American life, and about half say the nation’s best days are behind it. Half also say immigrants mainly weaken American society, compared with 55 percent of the overall population who say immigrants strengthen America.

Donald Trump’s response to this dilemma is protectionism, immigration restriction, and a big helping of his own often-claimed superhuman toughness and competence. It’s maybe not a very adequate answer, but it’s an answer. What’s Marco Rubio’s answer? What’s Jeb Bush’s? What’s Chris Christie’s? [emphasis mine]…

Listen to Marco Rubio describe his priorities for his first day in office. They include repealing Environmental Protection Agency rules, repealing the Common Core, and canceling the Iran deal.

Ted Cruz’s first priorities are ordering the Justice Department to investigate Planned Parenthood, ordering the IRS to stop persecuting religious liberty, canceling the Iran deal, and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Jeb Bush’s first priorities include repealing Obamacare, lifting regulatory burdens on businesses, and eliminating gun restrictions…

Or maybe it’s time for the party’s elites to let go of some of their cherished inward-facing policy priorities, as the boy released some of the nuts from his grasp. Instead, they might try actually addressing the fears and anxieties of the American middle class: jobs, wages, retirement security. Negative advertising has been aired without success. Perhaps a positive program would do better? Before it’s too late?

Definitely something to that.  Donald Trump is certainly offering something different from more tax cuts (though, that he is offering, too, of course), and less regulation.  Clearly, there’s a good-sized segment of the GOP electorate who wants a lot more than that to assuage their concerns.  And, not that Trump is the answer, but you can certainly see why people are not going to get all fired up by the all-purpose and ever-lasting call for less taxes and less regulation.

The Oregon nuts

Great post, per usual, from Bill Ayers:

The chief question, one raised every time a group of citizens finds itself opposed to a government policy, is: how is opposition to be legitimately expressed? If I don’t like a government policy, what should (or shouldn’t) I try to do about it, and what are the limits to my opposition? …

Setting aside their views on the particular issues of federal land management and ownership, their strategy was both ridiculous and doomed to failure from the start. It was ridiculous in that no government and no society can function if the means of opposition is to take up arms and issue demands. If groups did this every time they didn’t like a policy decision, we would quickly become a country of armed camps. It’s an absurd way to conduct politics.

No government, of any kind, is going to give in to demands under such circumstances. To do otherwise would set a precedent in which groups would know that if they want to win on their pet issue, they need to arm themselves and find some federal building (or set of employees) to take hostage. The idea of any government – democratic, authoritarian, or anything else – meeting such a demand is extremely difficult to entertain.

What the Bundy boys did was not just misunderstand the law, or the Constitution. They misunderstood politics fundamentally. In any society, there is ultimately a choice to be made about how resources will be allocated and distributed and how rules will be established and maintained. Either there is a process for establishing those rules that involves consultation and assent from some (or all) of the population, or the rules are established and enforced by whoever has the most and biggest guns. Law and violence are the basic choices here. Either we agree on something, or we fight it out.

Good stuff.  Now let’s put these guys in prison for a long time.  I’m quite content to let out some non-violent drug dealers to make room.

Democrats’ best friend? Jeb

Apparently, Bush’s “Right to Rise” pack has been working hard on trying to take down Rubio under the presumption that Jeb will be able to pull off his voters and be “the” establishment guy.  Seems unlikely to work, but as Rubio seems to clearly be far and away the most electable candidate with an actual chance at the GOP nomination, this is great for Democrats.  Ryan Lizza on the case:

As Bush sank and Rubio rose in the polls last fall, Bush’s theory of the race was that Rubio, the candidate many mainstream conservatives have championed as their best chance to defeat Trump and Ted Cruz, was his immediate obstacle. The Bush onslaught against Rubio may end up being the most expensive and sustained negative attack of 2016….

But, by late December, the group had mostly given up running pro-Bush ads or mentioning any candidate but Rubio. In “Briefing,” Rubio is depicted as an absentee senator who skipped crucial intelligence briefings after the Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks in order to raise money in California and New Orleans. “Politics first, that’s the Rubio way.” Then, in “Promotion,” the Super PAC continued the attack on Rubio’s missed votes, calling Rubio a “Washington politician” who “doesn’t show up for work but wants a promotion.”

Most recently, the group depicted Rubio as a weathervane who “opposed amnesty,” “flipped and worked with liberal Chuck Schumer to co-author the path-to-citizenship bill,” “threatened to vote against it,” “voted for it,” and then “supported his own DREAM Act” before “he abandoned it.” The tag line was the toughest yet: “Marco Rubio. Just another Washington politician we can’t trust.”

The funniest anti-Rubio ad, which reveals a bit of Murphy’s mischievous sense of humor, is called “Boots,” and features an actor wearing a suit and a pair of Rubio’s famous thick-heeled shoes—a Christmas present from his wife—dancing in front of a psychedelic backdrop to the music of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.” The lyrics have been modified:

These boots are made for flippin’
And that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days young Marco’s
Gonna flip, flop, flip on you
You keep spinnin’ when you oughta be truthin’
You keep flippin’ when you shoulda not flop
You keep leavin’ when you oughta be votin’
Now what’s work is work, but you ain’t earned it yet.

Ahhh, good stuff!  And doing the Democrats work for them because it is really hard to see Jeb winning this thing:

Bush and his allies can hardly be faulted for pursuing what they believe is their best strategy to secure the Republican nomination, and recently Rubio’s allies have been returning fire with their own anti-Bush ads. But the two sides may end up in a murder-suicide pact similar to the one on the Democratic side, in 2004, when the Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean campaigns tore each other down before the Iowa primaries, allowing John Kerry to rise.

If Bush somehow gets his way and the Republican nominating contest does turn into a two-way race between Bush and Trump, Republican voters would be choosing from the two most unpopular candidates that the party has offered up this year. Trump’s average unfavorability rating is fifty-four per cent, just a point above Bush’s.

Even though it has taken a hit recently, there’s one Republican candidate’s unfavorability rating that has remained relatively low, at just forty per cent: Marco Rubio. It probably won’t stay there, and, each point that it goes up, the odds of a Trump nomination increase. At that point, a lot more Republicans are going to have to shift to an unfamiliar stage in the cycle of grief: acceptance.

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