Franken thoughts

The whole thing just leaves me feeling a little uneasy.  Al Franken is a super-smart, thoughtful, liberal and I hate to see him leave the Senate.  Al Franken is also a man who, evidence suggests, on several occasions has inappropriately touched women during photos and tried to kiss them when he should not have.  I’m just not convinced the punishment for this necessarily needs to be the end of a political career.  I’d like some sense of proportionality.  No, it’s never right to put your hand on a stranger’s butt when taking a photo with them, or to go for tongue during a comedy skit, but as sexual misconduct goes, I’d hope we could agree this is towards the more minor end of things (as opposed to forcing yourself onto a 14-year old).  Similarly, it’s never right to steal, but we treat sneaking snacks out of a convenience store differently than robbing the cash register at gunpoint.  I’d like to think that there could have been a punishment for Franken short of him leaving the Senate (the clear damage to his reputation plus official censure, maybe?).  And, I am admittedly concerned that the next Democrat who lives in a state with a Republican governor will also have to go, and that undoubtedly sets back the cause of women’s rights.

At least among liberals, we seem to have rapidly reached a point of zero tolerance.  And, if you’ve been reading me a while, you know that I’m generally not a fan of zero tolerance approaches.  Life is full of nuance and gray areas and zero tolerance invariably tosses these aside as everything becomes a black and white distinction.

All that said, I look at this (like I look at most everything) as a matter of costs/benefits.  There is a huge benefit to this #metoo moment we are having.  There is absolutely real progress being made on women’s rights and protecting women from harassment and assault right now because of all this.  A cost is that we lose room for nuance there may times when the correcting pendulum swings too far.  I don’t know whether Franken going down is too far, or not, but sometimes it will go too far.  But, in the end, I am actually okay with that.  Because I do believe that the progress this represents for women’s rights definitely does outweigh the costs.  And we’re not going to get that progress without it going too far sometimes.

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Democracy for realists

I’ve read lots of good stuff about eminent political scientists Larry Bartels and Chris Achen’s recent book, Democracy for Realists, but I had not actually cracked the pages until this week.  Vox has a number of articles (Yglesias, Illing, Klein  (most I’ve probably put in quick hits) that hit on some of the key facets.  Here’s some from Ezra’s take:

Achen and Bartels believe we’ve spent so much time listening to what voters say that we’ve lost sight of what they actually do, and why they do it. “In thinking about politics,” they write, “it makes no sense to start from issue positions — they are generally derivative from something else. And that something else is identity.”

This is a profound statement, and the authors don’t shy away from its scope. “A realistic theory of democracy must be built, not on the French Enlightenment, on British liberalism, or on American Progressivism, with their devotion to human rationality and monadic individualism, but instead on the insights of the critics of these traditions, who recognized that human life is group life,” they write.

In this telling, democracy is less a contest between ideas than a contest between identities, with both parties constantly trying to activate the basket of identities that will lead to a vote for their tribe. Are you a Republican or a Democrat? Urban or rural? Catholic or Jewish? White or black? Male or female? Liberal or conservative? Rich or poor? …

There is one overwhelming fact that structures American politics, and it is this: People who vote for Republicans vote for Republicans, and people who vote for Democrats vote for Democrats. It might sound tautological, but it isn’t. A few decades ago, people who voted for Republicans often voted for Democrats, and vice versa. Split-ticket voting was common, and even hardcore, self-described partisans were often persuadable.

Not anymore. There are a few findings that rocked my understanding of politics, and one of them came from political scientist Corwin Smidt. Looking at decades of election data, he found that self-described independent voters today are more loyal to a single party than voters who described themselves as “strong partisans” were in the 1970s. This bears repeating: The people who say they’re free from either party today are more partisan in their voting habits than the people who said they were strong loyalists of a single party in the ’70s.

Anyway, after coming across something else about the book this week, I decided I’d at least read the final chapter that very nicely lays out and summarizes their main arguments.  So much good stuff in just that chapter.  That said, the section on what voters want in a leader (written well before Trump) really struck me:

The comforting view that there was something particularly evil about Germans and that the rest of us are immune will always have appeal for some. In truth, however, the desire for a strong leader who can identify domestic enemies and who promises to do something about them without worrying overmuch about legalities—those germs, mutated to fit the particular local subcultures, are latent in every democratic electorate, waiting for sufficiently widespread human suffering to provide conditions for their explosive spread.  [emphasis mine]

Whoa.  And the day after I read that, I saw this new PRRI survey (so much great stuff, I’ll come back to it) which includes:

Similarly, the Never Trump and Always Trump camps have mirror opposite opinions about the need for a leader willing to break the rules. Roughly two-thirds (66%) of Republicans in the Always Trump group agree that “because things have gotten so far off track in this country, we need a leader who is willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes to set things right,” while only about one-third (35%) of those in the Never Trump group agree. Roughly two-thirds of those in the Never Trump group (65%) disagree.

Short version– Trump supporters prefer an authoritarian strongman to the rule of law.

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