Bernie the Republican

As I’ve written before, one of the things I least like about Bernie Sanders is his unseriousness about policy.  Much like Republican budget and tax plans, there’s a lot of good rhetoric that has pretty much zero relationship to the pragmatic world of actual public policy.

Presumably, it’s okay to some degree for Bernie to just be a big picture guy, but damnit you’d think a candidate would have a better grasp of the details on the fundamental issue of his campaign.  Jonathan Capehart on a recent (and seemingly disastrous) interview Bernie gave to the NY Daily News:

Nine moments in the Sanders conversation left me agape. From his own plans for breaking up too-big-to-fail banks to how he would handle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to dealing with the Islamic State, the man giving homegirl Hillary Clinton a run for her money seemed surprisingly out of his depth.

Three of the nine moments are about dealing with banks/the financial system and we get a lot of “I don’t know.”

And the Atlantic’s David Graham:

There’s little doubting Bernie Sanders’s core political convictions—he’s been saying the same things for decades, with remarkable consistency. But turning convictions into policy is the challenge, and the Vermont senator’s interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News raises some questions about his policy chops.

Throughout his interview, Sanders seemed taken aback when he was pressed on policy—and not just on the matters that are peripheral to his approach, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or interrogation of detainees, but even on bread-and-butter matters like breaking up the big banks, the Democratic presidential hopeful came across as tentative, unprepared, or unaware. [emphasis mine] …

A moment later, he was asked why he didn’t support Palestinians using the International Criminal Court to try to prosecute Israeli leaders. “Look, why don’t I support a million things in the world? I’m just telling you that I happen to believe,” the exasperated senator replied.

That’s just the problem, though. It’s important for leaders to know what they believe in, and Sanders has been unusually consistent and forthright about that. But Sanders isn’t running for chief ideologue—he’s running for chief executive, and so it’s also important for him to know what policies he would use to turn those beliefs into practice.

Now, this may look particularly bad in comparison to HRC, a wonk among wonks, but seriously, this is the kind of policy emptiness I expect from a typical Republican candidate (“we’ll balance the budget by eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse!”) not somebody running for the Democratic nomination.

Photo of the day

From Telegraph animal photos of the week:

This is the moment two thirsty flamingos stopped for a drink and cast a stunning reflection in the water. The pair were photographed by 24-year-old wildlife enthusiast Vishwanath Madhukar Shinde in New Mumbai. He travelled to Sewri Creek and Seawood Darave to catch a glimpse of the pink birds - 20,000 of which migrate there each winter. 

Addiction as learning disorder

Dana Goldstein with a nice review on a new book that conceptualizes addiction as a form of learning disorder.  Very interesting:

“We never get out of this ‘It’s a disease or it’s a choice’ debate,” Szalavitz tells me. “But addiction is not brain damage or a pathology like Alzheimer’s. It really is misguided learning.”

What she means is that the path to addiction—which she defines as compulsive behavior despite negative consequences—depends on learning that the problematic substance can help soothe some other problem in a person’s life, such as depression, social anxiety, physical pain, or, in Szalavitz’s case, what she believes was an undiagnosed childhood autism-spectrum disorder.

Looked at this way, 12-step programs don’t necessarily make a lot of sense (and, the research, of course, shows their ineffectiveness).  I also really like how this dovetails so nicely with the argument from Johan Hari:

Understanding addiction as a learning disorder calls for a different set of interventions. Though 12-step orthodoxy preaches that friends and family ought to step back and allow addicts to hit rock bottom, Szalavitz demonstrates that close, loving relationships are, in fact, key to sobriety. “[P]eople are actually more likely to recover when they still have jobs, family, and greater ties to mainstream society, not less,” she writes, because learning is more likely to take place in the context of supportive relationships. [emphasis mine]

Yes!  Let’s start supporting and helping addicts instead of treating them like pariahs.  We’ll all be better off.

Race and guns

Here’s some provocative new research I cannot say I find all that surprising.  Via Wonkblog:

Racial prejudice could play a significant role in white Americans’ opposition to gun control, according to new research from political scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In their paper, published in the journal Political Behavior in November,  Alexandra Filindra and Noah J. Kaplan found that whites were significantly less likely to support gun control measures when they had recently looked at pictures of black people, than when they had looked at pictures of white people. The study, which surveyed 1,000 white respondents, also found that the higher they scored on a common measure of racial prejudice, the stronger negative effect the photos of black people had on the respondents’ support for gun control.

Taken together, those two findings “demonstrate that racial prejudice influences white opinion regarding gun regulation in the contemporary United States,” Filindra and Kaplan conclude.

Not surprised at all.  Nice caveat/explanation, too:

Filindra and Kaplan say their research does not imply that all white gun owners are racist, nor that all support for gun control carries racial baggage.

But for a certain subset of white gun-rights supporters, particularly those who are inclined to hold certain prejudicial beliefs, messages about individualism and liberty and rights are understood in a very specific way.

In the mind of this type of gun owner, “I am showing my white nationalist pride in a sort of generic way through gun ownership,” Filindra posits. “This is my way of expressing my ‘more-equal-than-others’ status in a society where egalitarianism is the norm. I can’t say that some people are better and some are worse in terms of racial groups. But I can show it symbolically. I can show I’m a better citizen.”

Trump reality check

Obviously we hear a ton about Trump’s popularity with working class white voters, but it should be noted that these are working class white voters that vote in Republican primaries.   Nice recent piece in the NYT looking at Trump’s difficult road to a general election win:

Even among the working-class whites, who have been the foundation of his success in the Republican primaries, Mr. Trump would enter the general election with substantial difficulties. He is viewed unfavorably by a majority of whites without college degrees, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll early last month.

It should also be noted, that it is highly unlikely he can offset his relative popularity with this group without losing others:

It is possible that Mr. Trump could improve his standing with blue-collar voters who are crucial in Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where polls now show him faring worse than Mr. Romney did in 2012. But doing so would not be cost-free.

“By leaning into white grievance politics, you give back whatever gains you made as you move up the economic scale,” said Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist who has written extensively on Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities. “There just aren’t enough votes left in the places where Trump could be strong, like rural areas, to offset the vote-rich places where Trump repels.”

Or, as Mr. Olsen put it, referring to Michigan: “If you bring in 30,000 blue-collar voters from Flint, but you lose 50,000 from suburban Detroit, you’ve not helped yourself very much.”

This losing trade-off has been largely overlooked because of Mr. Trump’s success so far and the failure of more affluent Republican primary voters to unite behind any of his rivals.

Of course, maybe a big loss in Wisconsin today changes everything and I start posting a lot more about Ted Cruz.  That said, Ted Cruz is perhaps almost as bad a candidate as Trump.

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