Divided Democrats?

There was a “This American Life” episode last week that was really good, yet, went way overboard in making the case that the Democratic party is hopelessly riven and chaotic.  Honestly, that strikes me as a way to score cheap pundit points.

There’s this idea that the only thing Democrats can agree on is that Trump is bad and that, rather, Democrats need to present a affirmative message.  I’m totally with Paul Waldman in believing that this is wrong on all counts:

That notion is wrong on both counts: they don’t need a “positive” message as it is often defined, and anger at the president is not just sufficient, it’s the most morally and politically appropriate message for 2018.

As a way to think about this, I’d like to look at the Democratic response to the State of the Union, which was delivered last night by Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.). Put aside the stupid questions about him — Should the Democrats be promoting the scion of a royal family? Was he wearing too much lip balm? — and focus on the content. Kennedy’s speech mentioned policy issues, but mostly it was an attack on Trump and the Republicans, delivered through a contrast of values. Here’s a key passage:

This administration isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us — they are targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection. For them, dignity isn’t something you’re born with but something you measure. By your net worth, your celebrity, your headlines, your crowd size. Not to mention, the gender of your spouse. The country of your birth. The color of your skin. The God of your prayers. Their record is a rebuke of our highest American ideal: the belief that we are all worthy, we are all equal and we all count. In the eyes of our law and our leaders, our God and our government. That is the American promise.

You might say: “That won’t persuade the fellas in MAGA hats the New York Times keeps interviewing down at that diner in West Virginia!” And you’d be right. It is an appeal to liberal values of equality, inclusiveness, and common fate and purpose. It won’t convince conservatives to vote for Democrats.

But that’s not what Democrats need right now. What they need, more than anything else, is for their base to get energized, excited, and yes, angry. They need to feel that both their values and their interests are under attack by a reckless, impulsive, cruel, infantile president and his enablers in Congress, and that there is no more urgent task than stopping them. Because that is the truth.

Centrist pundits will insist Democrats have to stand for something apart from Trump. But they already do. Ask a Democrat running for Congress what she would like to do about health care, the minimum wage, environmental protections, taxes, or anything else, and she’ll have answers, roughly the same answers as most other Democrats would give. She might not have a bumper-sticker-ready phrase to wrap it all up with, but if you think that’s her problem, then your argument isn’t that Democrats don’t stand for anything. Your argument is that their marketing ought to be better. [emphasis mine]

And what’s the problem with “I’m against Trump” as a message? It seems to be darned persuasive right now. When people say that Democrats (or anyone else) need an “affirmative” message, what they seem to mean is that the party needs to come up with a bunch of innovative new policy ideas no one has ever thought of before. But why?…

As for being against Trump, what could possibly be more important right now? If Democrats do manage to take back the House or the Senate, their primary task in the subsequent two years — their only task, really — is going to be thwarting, constraining, and investigating this president and his administration.

Meanwhile, Slate’s Osita Nwanevu makes the case that Democrats are hopelessly riven because Joe Kennedy III is pretty dumb about marijuana policy (I’ll give Nwanevu that) and has not endorsed “single payer” health care.  As I’ve argued before and will argue again, the key is affordable, universal health care.  Single payer is just a means, not an ends.  He also hits him for not providing a bunch of policy specifics (sure don’t think that’s a usual think in SOTU responses).  If you’ve got to try this hard to make the Democratic party hopelessly divided, maybe it really isn’t all that divided.

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The case for limiting legal immigration

Is simply very, very weak.  David Brooks:

Every few years I try to write this moderate column [supporting less immigration]. And every few years I fail. That’s because when you wade into the evidence you find that the case for restricting immigration is pathetically weak. The only people who have less actual data on their side are the people who deny climate change.

You don’t have to rely on pointy-headed academics. Get in your car. If you start in rural New England and drive down into Appalachia or across into the Upper Midwest you will be driving through county after county with few immigrants. These rural places are often 95 percent white. These places lack the diversity restrictionists say is straining the social fabric.

Are these counties marked by high social cohesion, economic dynamism, surging wages and healthy family values? No. Quite the opposite. They are often marked by economic stagnation, social isolation, family breakdown and high opioid addiction. Charles Murray wrote a whole book, “Coming Apart,” on the social breakdown among working-class whites, many of whom live in these low immigrant areas…

Over all, America is suffering from a loss of dynamism. New business formation is down. Interstate mobility is down. Americans switch jobs less frequently and more Americans go through the day without ever leaving the house.

But these trends are largely within the native population. Immigrants provide the antidote. They start new businesses at twice the rate of nonimmigrants. Roughly 70 percent of immigrants express confidence in the American dream, compared with only 50 percent of the native-born.

And, there’s a really intriguing analogy comparing the restrictionists to East Germany:

In 1945 Germany was divided. One part went capitalist and the other went communist. After a half-century it was perfectly clear that capitalism was a more successful system than communism.

Over the past few decades America has, willy-nilly, conducted a similar experiment. About 500 counties, mostly in metro areas, have embraced diversity — attracting immigrants and supporting candidates who favor immigration. About 2,600 counties, mostly in rural areas, have not attracted immigrants, and they tend to elect candidates who oppose immigration and diversity.

The results are just as clear as in the German case. Between 2014 and 2016 the counties that embrace diversity accounted for 72 percent of the nation’s increased economic output and two-thirds of the new jobs. The approximately 85 percent of counties that support restrictionists like Donald Trump accounted for a measly 28 percent of the growth.

Republicans’ problem is that since George W. Bush left town they’ve become the East Germans of the 21st century. They have embraced a cultural model that produces low growth and low dynamism. No wonder they want to erect a wall. [emphasis mine]

Damn, that’s good stuff.

Meanwhile, Fred Hiatt brings in the case of Japan:

Message to Republicans: You can be pro-growth. You can be anti-immigration. But, honestly, you can’t be both

But ideally, also, it [an honest immigration debate] would also be conducted with an understanding that those who favor a drastic, absolute drop in the level of immigration, as many Republicans do, would be making a choice about America’s future.

They would be turning us into Japan.

Now, to be clear, Japan is a wondrous nation, with an ancient, complex culture, welcoming people, innovative industry — a great deal to teach the world.

But Japan also is a country that admits few immigrants — and, as a result, it is an agingshrinking nation. By 2030, more than half the country will be over age 50. By 2050 there will be more than three times as many old people (65 and over) as children (14 and under). Already, deaths substantially outnumber births. Its population of 127 million is forecast to shrink by a third over the next half-century.

Japan is a pioneer and an extreme version of where much of the First World is headed as longevity increases and fertility declines. The likely consequences are slower economic growth, reduced innovation, labor shortages and huge pressure on pensions. If you think our entitlement politics are fraught, think about this: In Japan in 2050, the old-age dependency ratio — the number of people 65 and over as a percentage of the number who are 15 to 64 — is projected to be 71.2 percent.

Hmmm.  I think I’ll go with the more open immigration model.

Partisanship is everything: FBI Edition

From Gallup:

Republicans’ image of the FBI fell sharply: While Americans’ overall views about the FBI were unchanged, this masks significant shifts among partisan groups. About half of Republicans (49%) in December said the FBI does an excellent or good job, down 13 percentage points from 62% in 2014.

But Democrats’ views of the agency improved: By contrast, Democrats’ assessments of the job the FBI does were up nine points in December, with 69% saying the FBI does a good or excellent job, compared with 60% in 2014.

The big State of the Union reset

Is, just a BS media frame.  Love this from Conor Friedersdorf:

Karl Rove brings us closer to how pernicious the metaphor can be.

“This is a moment where he can reset,” he says of the State of the Union, “but the reset depends upon him following through in the weeks and months ahead.”

But a real reset does not depend on what follows it.

To draw on the only actual reset button that I can recall using in life, if I forget to have Mario use the warp zone in level 1-2 and reset my Nintendo, the effectiveness of that reset does not depend on what I do going forward. To reset is to be at a new beginning, whatever comes next.

This is not a moment when Trump can reset, because none of us is going to forget his frequently crude, erratic, boastful, emotionally immature way of communicating, no matter what tone he strikes in the most formal speech of the year.

Our attention spans may be attenuated, but few people besides cable-news pundits are inclined to utterly change their professed judgment of a person’s long-observed, persistent traits, based on him once reading words someone else wrote. [emphasis mine]

That partisan Republicans would like the American people to forget Trump’s misdeeds, and would like to pretend that a good State of the Union renders them irrelevant, is understandable. Journalistic complicity in that charade is not.

If Trump ceases to lash out like a man who cannot master himself for six months or a year, I’d have no objection to a backward-looking piece that identifies when that change began.

Until then, every piece of news analysis that touts a reset is far more likely to be misleading than enlightening, because more often than not, resets are invoked by people who want credit for real change without having to do the actual work of effecting the change in question.

The metaphor is meant to do all the work for them.

It’s almost like they got tired of the “pivot” and moved on to the even more inapprorpiate metaphor of the “reset.”  No matter how much certainly journalists may want to follow this spin, Friedersdorf, is right, there’s no forgetting the past year of Trump.  And more importantly, there’s clearly no changing who this 71-year old man fundamentally is.

The reality of the religous right

Okay, Michelle Goldberg is back on my good side with this column about the religious right:

The people who are most disturbed by such theological contortions are earnest evangelicals who fear the disgrace of their religion. Trump’s religious champions, Michael Gerson writes in The Washington Post, are “associating evangelicalism with bigotry, selfishness and deception. They are playing a grubby political game for the highest of stakes: the reputation of their faith.”

I sympathize with his distress. But the politicized sectors of conservative evangelicalism have been associated with bigotry, selfishness and deception for a long time. Trump has simply revealed the movement’s priorities. It values the preservation of traditional racial and sexual hierarchies over fuzzier notions of wholesomeness. [emphasis mine]

“I’ve resisted throughout my career the notion that evangelicals are racist, I really have,” Balmer told me. “But I think the 2016 election demonstrated that the religious right was circling back to the founding principles of the movement. What happened in 2016 is that the religious right dropped all pretense that theirs was a movement about family values.”…

But it seems absurd to ask secular people to respect the religious right’s beliefs about sex and marriage — and thus tolerate a degree of anti-gay discrimination — while the movement’s leaders treat their own sexual standards as flexible and conditional. Christian conservatives may believe strongly in their own righteousness. But from the outside, it looks as if their movement was never really about morality at all.

Okay, the health insurance companies are evil too

So, one of the things you learn when you really delve into health care policy is how much of the greed and the absurd costs in America are driving by the providers, especially large for-profit hospital corporations and medical practices.  (Again, I cannot recommend Elisabeth Rosenthal’s book enough).  Often times, the insurance companies are just the middle-men who get blamed.

But, damnit, sometimes they are pretty bad actors themselves.  Very disturbing story in Vox on how Anthem health has started denying coverage for emergency room visits for what turned out to be non-emergency situations.  They are doing it strictly off the diagnosis code upon leaving the ER.  What this obviously fails to take into account, though, is the presenting symptoms at the ER.  Have the basic symptoms of a ruptured appendix that turns out to be ovarian cysts, sorry you are out $12,000.  Have extreme chest pain that turns out to not be a heart attack.  Tough luck.

Of course, this expects people to be able to accurately diagnose themselves before visiting the ER.  And, it discourages appropriate (and potentially life-saving) ER use by instilling fear you’ll receive exorbitant charges.  No, you shouldn’t go to the ER for the flu or a sprained ankle.  And, yes, insurance companies have a right to disincentive that, but this damn sure ain’t the solution.  And Sarah Kliff’s terrific article does not get into what happens in other advanced democracies, but something tells me this is not happening in pretty much anywhere else with more rational health care policies.

Of course Trump has obstructed justice

It’s all in public, damnit.  Dave Leonhardt lays out the case.

Given last week’s news — that Trump has already tried to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating the Trump campaign — it’s time to put together the same sort of list for Trump. Of course, this list is based only on publicly available information. Mueller, no doubt, knows more.

1. During a dinner at the White House on Jan. 27, 2017, Trump asked for a pledge of “loyalty” from James Comey, then the F.B.I. director, who was overseeing the investigation of the Trump campaign.

2. On Feb. 14, Trump directed several other officials to leave the Oval Office so he could speak privately with Comey. He then told Comey to “let this go,” referring to the investigation of Michael Flynn, who had resigned the previous day as Trump’s national security adviser.

3. On March 22, Trump directed several other officials to leave a White House briefing so he could speak privately with Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, and Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director. Trump asked them to persuade Comey to back off investigating Flynn.

4. In March and April, Trump told Comey in phone calls that he wanted Comey to lift the ”cloud” of the investigation.

5. On May 9, Trump fired Comey as F.B.I. director. On May 10, Trump told Russian officials that the firing had “taken off” the “great pressure” of the Russia investigation. On May 11, he told NBC News that the firing was because of “this Russia thing.”

6. On May 17, shortly after hearing that the Justice Department had appointed Mueller to take over the Russia investigation, Trump berated Jeff Sessions, the attorney general. The appointment had caused the administration again to lose control over the investigation, and Trump accused Sessions of “disloyalty.”

7. In June, Trump explored several options to retake control. At one point, he ordered the firing of Mueller, before the White House counsel resisted.

8. On July 8, aboard Air Force One, Trump helped draft a false public statement for his son, Donald Trump Jr. The statement claimed that a 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer was about adoption policy. Trump Jr. later acknowledged that the meeting was to discuss damaging information the Russian government had about Hillary Clinton.

9. On July 26, in a tweet, Trump called for the firing of Andrew McCabe, the F.B.I.’s deputy director, a potential corroborating witness for Comey’s conversations with Trump. The tweet was part of Trump’s efforts, discussed with White House aides, to discredit F.B.I. officials.

10. Throughout, Trump (and this quotation comes from the Nixon article of impeachment) “made false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States.” Among other things, Trump repeatedly made untruthful statements about American intelligence agencies’ conclusions regarding Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

Obstruction of justice depends on a person’s intent — what legal experts often call “corrupt intent.” This list is so damning because it reveals Trump’s intent.

He has inserted himself into the details of a criminal investigation in ways that previous presidents rarely if ever did. (They left individual investigations to the attorney general.) And he has done so in ways that show he understands he’s doing something wrong. He has cleared the room before trying to influence the investigation. He directed his son to lie, and he himself has lied.

This is a clear and damning case.  And that’s without what Mueller knows that we don’t.  Of course, the Congressional GOP has already shown they don’t give a damn about this.  As I’ve said before and will say again, it’s all about November 2018 for this to matter politically.  But let’s not pretend that there’s not clear evidence of malfeasance a the heart of Trump’s presidency.

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