Video of the day

Held the camera on my daughter and me while sledding down the driveway this morning.  I think the results are pretty cool (and brief).

Bernie and change

One of my longer posts, but this is a really important issue now and I’ve been thinking a lot about it, so stick with me.

First, I’ve yet to see any evidence to convince me that Bernie is remotely electable in a general election.  Sure, maybe I’m motivated reasoning, but when Political Scientists start telling me Bernie can win a general, I’ll start to take it seriously.  So, as a Democrat, that’s plenty of reason for me to support Hillary.  Secondly, I think Hillary will be a better president because Bernie is not going to start a revolution.

Now, I don’t claim to be a political historian, but it strikes me that the country’s rightward shift on economic issues and scope of government in recent decades has been the result of a long, hard, incremental slog on the part of the right.  Look at the issue of the Constitutional status of guns and the 2nd amendment.  This goes back decades of building up organizational support and intellectual frameworks and just pushing, pushing, pushing.  No revolution.  Now, Reagan made some fairly dramatic changes in economic policy, but I would argue that this was the result of lots of long-term work on the conservative side.

Now, maybe Bernie is just the beginning of this on the left, and that’s what we really need.  I got a kick out of a post on FB, “”Hillary’s message: “Your cages aren’t so bad, she yells. Stop being such babies.”  Nice metaphor.  But I don’t think we are in cages, and to the degree that we are, I think we need to slowly file away on the bars and dig a tunnel or whatever.  I don’t think we’re going to just burst our way out.  Anyway, lots of good stuff on this from others.

Greg Sargent:

Sanders has also said: “The major political, strategic difference I have with Obama, is it’s too late to do anything inside the Beltway. You gotta take your case to the American people, mobilize them, and organize them at the grassroots level in a way that we have never done before.”

This theory of change is perhaps unrealistic, given the structural realities of how our political system works and of the GOP grip on the House of Representatives. It may not be sufficiently nuanced to do justice to the lessons of our history: major change has arguably been won both from the outsideand the inside. It has sometimes been the product, in part, of very ugly exercises of inside manipulation, dealmaking, logrolling, bullying, and ethical corner-cutting, and has required not just inspiration, but fighting, bloodshed, and death…

Still, it’s worth noting that the differences between Sanders and Clinton go beyond policy, to the very core of how change can be secured. Clinton has come to see politics as essentially a form of trench warfare. Clinton’s closing ad in Iowa vows to “stop the Republicans from ripping all our progress away,” an implicit acknowledgment that a new Democratic president (whoever it might be) would be deeply constrained from realizing his or her agenda, meaning the 2016 election is mostly about whether Dems can prevent total Republican rule from rolling back the gains of the Obama years. Clintonacknowledges the true nature of the structural impediments to change; that the country is deeply divided ideologically; and that we will probably remain stuck in a grueling holding pattern for years — meaning legislative advances will be ground out on the margins, thorough difficult, painstaking efforts to peel off Republicans and forge compromises that will look dirty and will really, really suck.

That’s not very inspirational, but it’s probably accurate — dispiritingly so, in fact. Meanwhile, Sanders wants people to feel swept up in a movement. [emphasis mine]


Meanwhile, on the left there is always a contingent of idealistic voters eager to believe that a sufficiently high-minded leader can conjure up the better angels of America’s nature and persuade the broad public to support a radical overhaul of our institutions. In 2008 that contingent rallied behind Mr. Obama; now they’re backing Mr. Sanders, who has adopted such a purist stance that the other day he dismissed Planned Parenthood (which has endorsed Hillary Clinton) as part of the “establishment.”

But as Mr. Obama himself found out as soon as he took office, transformational rhetoric isn’t how change happens. That’s not to say that he’s a failure. On the contrary, he’s been an extremely consequential president, doing more to advance the progressive agenda than anyone since L.B.J.

Yet his achievements have depended at every stage on accepting half loaves as being better than none: health reform that leaves the system largely private, financial reform that seriously restricts Wall Street’s abuses without fully breaking its power, higher taxes on the rich but no full-scale assault on inequality…

And the question Sanders supporters should ask is, When has their theory of change ever worked? Even F.D.R., who rode the depths of the Great Depression to a huge majority, had to be politically pragmatic, working not just with special interest groups but also with Southern racists.

Chait (who clearly does not see the bars of the cage):

Sanders’s core argument is that the problems of the American economy require far more drastic remedies than anything the Obama administration has done, or that Clinton proposes to build on. Clinton has put little pressure on Sanders’s fatalistic assessment, but the evidence for it is far weaker than he assumes. Sanders has grudgingly credited what he calls “the modest gains of the Affordable Care Act,” which seems like an exceedingly stingy assessment of a law that has already reduced the number of uninsured Americans by 20 million. The Dodd-Frank reforms of the financial industry may not have broken up the big banks, but they have, at the very least, deeply reduced systemic risk. The penalties for being too big to fail exceed the benefits, and, as a result, banks are actually breaking themselves up to avoid being large enough to be regulated as systemic risks…

Sanders’s worldview is not a fantasy. It is a serious critique based on ideas he has developed over many years, and it bears at least some relation to the instincts shared by all liberals. The moral urgency with which Sanders presents his ideas has helped shelter him from necessary internal criticism. Nobody on the left wants to defend Wall Street or downplay the pressure on middle- and working-class Americans. But Sanders’s ideas should not be waved through as a more honest or uncorrupted version of the liberal catechism. The despairing vision he paints of contemporary America is oversimplified…

Against these liabilities, Sanders offers the left-wing version of a hoary political fantasy: that a more pure candidate can rally the People into a righteous uprising that would unsettle the conventional laws of politics. Versions of this have circulated in both parties for years, having notably inspired the disastrous Goldwater and McGovern campaigns…

The Sanders campaign represents a revolution of rising expectations. In 2008, the last time Democrats held a contested primary, the prospect of simply taking back the presidency from Republican control was nearly enough to motivate the party’s vote. The potential to enact dramatic change was merely a bonus. After nearly two terms of power, with the prospect of Republican rule now merely hypothetical, Democrats want more.

The paradox is that the president’s ability to deliver more change is far more limited. The current occupant of the Oval Office and his successor will have a House of Representatives firmly under right-wing rule, making the prospects of important progressive legislation impossible. This hardly renders the presidency impotent, obviously. The end of Obama’s term has shown that a creative president can still drive some change.

But here is a second irony: Those areas in which a Democratic Executive branch has no power are those in which Sanders demands aggressive action, and the areas in which the Executive branch still has power now are precisely those in which Sanders has the least to say.

Now, Jedidiah Purdy says this is all wrong.  That Krugman, in particular, misunderstands Sanders’ theory of change as well as the history of FDR:

Krugman’s mistake is very basic. He’s wrong about the Sanders campaign’s theory of change. It isn’t that a high-minded leader can draw out our best selves and translate those into more humane and egalitarian lawmaking. It is that a campaign for a more equal and secure economy and a stronger democracy can build power, in networks of activists and alliances across constituencies. The movement that the campaign helps to create can develop and give voice to a program that the same people will keep working for, in and out of election cycles. In other words, this is a campaign about political ideas and programs that happens to have a person named Bernie at its head, not a campaign that mistakes its candidate for a prophet or a wizard (or the second coming of Abraham Lincoln, who gave us the now-cliché phrase about better angels, but had no delusion that words could substitute for power).

The campaign whose loyalists made this idealistic mistake was, of course, Obama’s 2008 run…

Yes, F.D.R. governed “pragmatically,” in the sense that he counted votes and cut deals. Everyone does this, with the occasional exception of Daenyras, Mother of Dragons. But what made it possible for him to pass sweeping changes in economic regulation and social support, changes so radical that his enemies accused of socialism, of being un-American, of destroying the country and becoming an American Mussolini? The answer is in two parts: ideas and power. His administration stood at the confluence of two great movements. The first was the labor unions, which had been building power, often in bloody and terrible struggles, since the late nineteenth century. The second was made up of the Progressives, generations of reformers who worked in state, cities, and universities — and occasionally in national government – to achieve economic security and update political democracy in an industrial economy that had transformed the country in the decades after the Civil War. Ideas, programs, and power swirled around Roosevelt, gave his agenda shape, and pressed it forward.

Sounds good.  But still, I think it fairly safe to say that FDR was a somewhat unique political leader, and I have a really hard time seeing Bernie in this role.  Furthermore, if Purdy is right, we need Bernie to keeping pushing hard on all these things so that in 10 or 20 years we can have the ideas and power in place for a new FDR to dramatically realize them.  That would be a really good thing.  But it also strikes me that 2017 is absolutely not that time and what we need in a Democratic president for the next 4-8 years is to lead under very constrained circumstances.  While it is great to have Bernie and people liking him trying to advance the liberal project for the long term, in the short-term electoral calculus, Hillary seems to be far more suitable to the present day needs of modern liberalism.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Watched Aliens yesterday for the first time in 20+ years so my 16-year old son could see it (we watched Alien a few months ago).  He loved it.  And I still did.  Holds up great.  A terrific movie and we both marveled at how impressive the old-school special effects were.  Here’s a nice essay on it.

2) Smart James Surowiecki piece on what’s wrong with our corporate tax code and how to fix it.

3) Nate Silver on Trump’s unpopularity with general election voters.

4) Love this Drum piece on the problems with twitter:

This is the basic problem with Twitter: It’s too damn big and too damn easy to use. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, people had to do some work if they wanted to casually trash you. Maybe write a letter to the editor. Or dig up your home address and write a letter to you. On rare occasions, they might even call you on the phone.

Then email made the ALL CAPS insult genre a lot easier: just click a link, pound out a few sentences, and hit Send. Easy peasy. Still, no one saw your brilliance except the target, and you rarely got a response. It was progress, but still not very satisfying.

Then came Twitter. It was even easier than email. Just hit Reply or RT and do your thing. You’re limited to 140 characters, so it’s not very much work. Everyone who follows you gets to see it, and your target knows it—so they sort of feel obligated to defend themselves. And to make things even better, while the 140-character limit is great for random vituperation, it’s a tough limit for reasoned response. And to make things even more better, getting a mob of fellow outrage junkies to follow your lead isn’t just easy, it’s almost inevitable. It practically happens on its own…

Anyway, in the end this is a lesson about economics. What happens when you vastly reduce the cost of being an asshole? Answer: the supply of assholes goes up. That’s what Twitter has done for us.

5) Really nice Max Fisher post on how our debates about Iran are really about much bigger debates of how we conceive of our foreign policy.

6) Ross Douthat’s act of contrition for ever supporting Sarah Palin.

7) Saudi Arabia’s top cleric has forbidden chess as the work of the devil.  Good to know this country is our close ally.

8) A UNC Economist analyzes the Republican approach to unemployment policy in NC and finds it has come up short.

9) I had not heard about this first amendment case at the Supreme Court.  Potential implications are disturbing.

But Heffernan did allege expression protected by the First Amendment. He lost because two federal courts actually ruled that picking up a political campaign sign doesn’t count as speech under the First Amendment unless you really mean it. By playing along with the fiction that Heffernan didn’t exercise a First Amendment right, the Supreme Court may miss an opportunity to make sure that cases like his really are rare.

10) Interestingly, self-made billionaires seem to be much more generous than those who inherited their money.

11) Andrew Cohen on the Supreme Court’s (absurdly) strong recent death penalty stand.

12) Really liked this Frank Bruni column on re-thinking elite college admissions:

The report recommends less emphasis on standardized test scores, which largely correlate with family income.

It asks colleges to send a clear message that admissions officers won’t be impressed by more than a few Advanced Placement courses. Poorer high schools aren’t as likely to offer A.P. courses, and a heavy load of them is often cited as a culprit in sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression among students at richer schools.

The report also suggests that colleges discourage manic résumé padding by accepting information on a sharply limited number of extracurricular activities; that they better use essays and references to figure out which students’ community-service projects are heartfelt and which are merely window dressing; and that they give full due to the family obligations and part-time work that some underprivileged kids take on.

That’s a great thing to say to our children, and just as important a thing to say to ourselves.

13) Drum on the latest global temperature report.  Just maybe conservatives can stop trying to fool people based on the outlier year of 1998 now.

14) Somehow, I had never learned of the great famine of 1315.  Thanks to Amy Davidson’s recent New Yorker comment, now I have.  Good stuff.

15) Believe it or not, I’ve put a fair amount of thought into what I would say in my interview if I were ever a Jeopardy contestant.  And I can never come up with anything good!  I love that there is a twitter account that subtly mocks these interviews.

16) Vox on how dogs are smarter than we think.

17) I’ve never paid that much attention to deflategate, but was interested to learn that independent science strongly suggests the Patriots did not do anything wrong.

17) Listened to a great This American Life this week about a woman who made amazing discoveries about her genetic disease.  Here’s the written version (and with much-needed photos).  A worthy long-read for your Sunday.

%d bloggers like this: