Do Democrats have a Pelosi problem?

So, this Atlantic article following Conor Lamb’s win was pretty typical in discussing whether Nancy Pelosi is a serious problem for the Democrats.

My short take… Republicans are going to hate whomever the Democrats’ leader is.  It’s easier to hate a person than an abstract entity like a political party.  In today’s era of negative partisanship, whomever the Democratic leader is will be seen as a drag in Republican-leaning districts, because the hate will attach itself to an individual.  Especially with the help of Fox News, Rush, etc., over the years vilifying the Democratic leader.  And, if the Democratic leader happens to be a woman like, Nancy Pelosi, yes, so much the worse.

So, for Democrats who think Pelosi needs to be thrown overboard just because Republicans use her as a symbol of hate?  Please.  Also, she’s been a very effective and skilled politician.


The challenge to Pelosi has one good reason behind it, and many bad ones. The good reason is that Republicans have made her their most effective campaign message. Democrats running in red seats have faced ceaseless ads tying them to the dreaded San Francisco Liberal, and victorious candidate Conor Lamb had to disavow her leadership in order to squeak through. That’s not a replicable pattern: A handful of the party’s most vulnerable candidates might be able to promise not to support her speakership, but Democrats cannot control the chamber without candidates in 218 districts who will vote for Pelosi.

Would a different Democratic leader prove less of a liability? Probably for a while, yes. Republicans have spent years building up Pelosi as a hate figure, and a newer and less familiar Democratic leader would take longer for Republicans to promote as a target of fear and loathing. It’s also possible that a Democrat who was either from a less famously progressive locale than San Francisco, or not female, would be less threatening to some socially conservative voters. (The latter point is the most fraught: Do Democrats really want to let irrational fear of powerful women dictate their choice of leaders?) It is true, though, that deposing Pelosi would have at least a temporary messaging benefit in some tough districts this fall…

Replacing Pelosi as leader would create the ephemeral benefit of forcing Republicans to rotate in a new cast of villains to star in their attack ads — MS-13? hippies? antifa? — until they could build up the name-ID for her successor. It would bring the significant downside of firing an elected official who is extremely good at her extremely important job.

Paul Waldman:

Conor Lamb, the victor in that Pennsylvania special election, said at the campaign’s outset that he wouldn’t be voting for Pelosi for speaker in 2019 if he were elected, since he thought the time had come for a new generation to take control (Pelosi, who’s 77, has been in Congress for over 30 years). That might not have made Pelosi feel good, but she’s as hard-headed as they come, and if it helped win a seat for Democrats, she wasn’t going to complain.

But we don’t know whether it actually did help. Perhaps Lamb’s stance defused the attack (though it certainly didn’t stop Republicans from making it), or perhaps when people are voting for their member of Congress, they don’t much care who the party’s leader is.

That sounds like a radical thing to say, but the truth is that we have zero evidence that it actually changes any votes when every Republican candidate shouts “My opponent is just a puppet of San Francisco liberal Nancy Pelosi!” There’s no question that Republican voters dislike her, but that’s very different from her actually having an effect on the outcome of any race. But we’ve been seeing those ads for so long we just assume they must make a difference.

Most people would probably be surprised to learn that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is just as unpopular as Pelosi. Both of them have approval ratings of around 30 percent (see here or here), while Mitch McConnell is the really unpopular one; sometimes his approval is below 20 percent…

When you have those ideological divisions, each party’s leadership will inevitably reflect where the party is; you aren’t going to get a presidential nominee or a congressional leader who comes from the Democratic Party’s right flank or the Republican Party’s left flank.

That means that members of each party will come to despise the other party’s leaders, and Republicans have had ample time to get to hate Pelosi; she has led House Democrats for the last 15 years.

But even in that context of polarization, both parties have to compete in places where there are lots of the other party’s voters around. Charging your opponent with being too close to his or her party’s leaders is a good way to rile up your own base. In a district like that one in Pennsylvania, which Donald Trump won by 20 points, it was a guarantee that ads with Pelosi’s face would turn up.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a reasonable argument to be made that it’s time for Pelosi to step aside.

And Peter Beinart takes on the gender angle (and written before Lamb’s election):

Gender scholars would not be surprised. For a 2010 paper in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the Yale researchers Victoria Brescoll and Tyler Okimoto showed study participants the fictional biographies of two state senators, identical except that one was named John Burr and the other Ann Burr. (I referred to this study in an October 2016 article for this magazine called “Fear of a Female President.”) When quotations were added that described the state senators as “ambitious” and possessing “a strong will to power,” John Burr became more popular. But the changes provoked “moral outrage” toward Ann Burr, whom both men and women became less willing to support.

Nancy Pelosi, by leading her party in Congress, has become Ann Burr. A woman can serve in Congress without being perceived as overly ambitious. By climbing to the top of the greasy pole, however, Pelosi has made her ambition visible. She has gained the power to tell her male colleagues what to do. (The pollster Celinda Lake notes that most ads attacking Pelosi show her speaking, not listening.) She has put herself, to quote the anti-Ossoff ad, “in control.”

For John Burr, this wouldn’t be a problem. As the management professors Ekaterina Netchaeva, Maryam Kouchaki, and Leah Sheppard noted in a 2015 paper, Americans generally believe “that leaders must necessarily possess attributes such as competitiveness, self-confidence, objectiveness, aggressiveness, and ambitiousness.” But “these leader attributes, though welcomed in a male, are inconsistent with prescriptive female stereotypes of warmth and communality.” In fact, “the mere indication that a female leader is successful in her position leads to increased ratings of her selfishness, deceitfulness, and coldness.”…

The more successful Pelosi is—the more she outmaneuvers and dominates her male adversaries—the more threatening she becomes. And the easier it becomes to tar the male Democratic candidates who would serve under her as emasculated yes-men. Which makes it harder for Democrats to retake the House.

It would be comforting to think that Pelosi is alienating because she’s a rich liberal Democrat from San Francisco—not because she’s a woman. Yet despite attributes that should make her endearing to cultural conservatives—she is a Catholic Italian American grandmother of nine who entered politics only after staying home to raise her kids—many Americans greeted her rise with, in the words of the Yale researchers, “contempt, anger, and/or disgust.” It was the same for Hillary Clinton: Her deep religiosity, career-long focus on child welfare, and insistence on keeping her family together in the face of near-unimaginable humiliation didn’t spare her in the 2016 presidential election.

Take that you sexist Pelosi haters.  Okay, mostly kidding.  Democrats who want Pelosi to go are not sexists.  But they are enabling Republican sexism.  And looking to overthrow a proven leader for it.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Thanks to EMG for this NatGeo story on fraternal twins where one appears white and the other black (because, honestly, race is entirely a social-cultural construct of which skin tone is just one of many factors):

Historically, when humans have drawn lines of identity—separating Us from Them—they’ve often relied on skin color as a proxy for race. But the 21st-century understanding of human genetics tells us that the whole idea of race is a human invention.

Modern science confirms “that the visible differences between peoples are accidents of history”—the result of mutations, migrations, natural selection, the isolation of some populations, and interbreeding among others, writes science journalist Elizabeth Kolbert. They are not racial differences because the very concept of race—to quote DNA-sequencing pioneer Craig Venter—“has no genetic or scientific basis.”

2) Found this New Yorker article on facial feminization surgery for trans-women pretty fascinating.  Obviously, pretty curious for Nicole’s thoughts on the topic.

3) Why “white Evangelicals abandoned their principles for Trump?”  I’d say because they were only pretending these were there principles when convenient and because PID> religion.

4) Presidential historian Robert Dallek on Trump’s White House:

It’s deadly to a presidency to be surrounded by sycophants who are going to be emphasizing the need to stroke the president’s ego, to make him feel as if he’s always right and ingenious. There are no easy decisions to be made in the White House; everything is difficult and complex and consequential. If ever there was a need for honesty and hard truths, it’s in the White House.

Someone once said that history is argument without end, but so is politics and policymaking. But Trump is someone who is so thin-skinned and who thrives on the need for approval and adulation that it’s got to be hard to maintain an intellectually honest climate around him…

I think you have to go all the way back to Warren G. Harding in 1921 to find a president as unqualified to hold the office as Trump is. Harding was not a very bright guy, and even though he had been lieutenant governor of Ohio and became a senator, he was terribly shallow and unimpressive. He got elected, in part, because he looked like a president and because there was a lot of discontent at the time. But he had no idea what he was doing, and yet he was convinced that he did.

Trump is a reasonable heir to someone like Harding because Trump is uninformed, doesn’t read, doesn’t seem to have much intellectual curiosity, and seems to trust his instincts more than anything else. Like Harding, he thinks he can solve everything by himself, and that’s not a good way to keep the best and smartest team around him.

It also means we’re likely to get people in high-level positions who are insufficiently qualified and who don’t have much experience, but because they make Trump happy or comfortable, they’re able to survive and thrive. That, unfortunately, is where we are today.

5) Love the UMBC coach’s openness about his family’s struggles with his son’s mental illness (OCD).  We need to do so much more as a society to destigmatize mental illness.

6) Peter Beinart on the rise of right-wing foreign policy:

It’s useful to see Pompeo as part of a cadre of influential, foreign policy-oriented, Republican politicians that includes Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. All four were elected to Congress with support from the Tea Party, a movement that depicted moderate Republicans —as Goldwater once depicted Eisenhower and Nixon—as complicit with the welfare state. Pompeo has particularly close ties to the Tea Party’s most important funders, the Koch Brothers.
On foreign policy, the American right has historically oscillated between isolationism and crusading interventionism. The Koch Brothers and Rand Paul lean toward isolationism. Rubio and Cotton lean toward crusading interventionism. What they all share is self-righteousness. The United States is pure; its adversaries are wicked. Thus, America must either shun other nations or dominate them. What it cannot do is recognize that even its adversaries have reasonable fears and legitimate interests, which America should try to accommodate.Because America is pure and its enemies are evil, accommodating them is immoral. Like Goldwater and William F. Buckley, who saw compromise with communist regimes as appeasement, Pompeo has called the Iran deal “surrender” and insisted that the United States make “no concessions” in any talks with North Korea.

7) It’s still somewhat of a mystery of what causes canker sores.  I used to suffer from them quite often until about 15 or so years ago when I started using Listerine twice a day and they became a rarity for me ever since.8) How our collective use of mapping apps could make traffic worse:

In the pre-mobile-app days, drivers’ selfishness was limited by their knowledge of the road network. In those conditions, both simulation and real-world experience showed that most people stuck to the freeways and arterial roads. Sure, there were always people who knew the crazy, back-road route, but the bulk of people just stuck to the routes that transportation planners had designated as the preferred way to get from A to B.Now, however, a new information layer is destroying the nudging infrastructure that traffic planners built into cities. Commuters armed with mobile mapping apps, route-following Lyft and Uber drivers, and software-optimized truckers can all act with a more perfect selfishness.

In some happy universe, this would lead to socially optimal outcomes, too. But a new body of research at the University of California’s Institute of Transportation Studies suggests that the reality is far more complicated. In some scenarios, traffic-beating apps might work for an individual, but make congestion worse overall. And autonomous vehicles, touted as an answer to traffic-y streets, could deepen the problem.“This problem has been vastly overlooked,” Alexandre Bayen, the director of UC Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation Studies, told me. “It is just the beginning of something that is gonna be much worse.”

9) Honestly, this summary of social science research on gun owners comes across a little too much like crack for liberals to me, e.g.,

These are men who are anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market, and beset by racial fears. They tend to be less educated. For the most part, they don’t appear to be religious—and, suggests one study, faith seems to reduce their attachment to guns. In fact, stockpiling guns seems to be a symptom of a much deeper crisis in meaning and purpose in their lives. Taken together, these studies describe a population that is struggling to find a new story—one in which they are once again the heroes.

I don’t doubt some of the very real correlations, but I think there’s a little much cultural judgment being read into this.  I also found, “Why Gun Culture Is So Strong in Rural America” pretty interesting, but problematic in it’s own ways.

To understand why many conservatives in rural America believe this, you must start with first principles, because the argument ultimately isn’t about guns; it runs even deeper than the Second Amendment. At a 2015 campaign event during the Iowa caucuses, J. C. Watts, the former congressman from Oklahoma, spoke about perspectives on original sin. It helps illuminate the differences in worldview between many conservatives and liberals. Mr. Watts said Democrats think people were born basically good, so when good people did bad things, something in society (in this case, guns) needed to be controlled. Republicans think the fault lies with the person — the perpetrator of the evil. Bad choices result in bad things being done, in part because the perpetrator lacks the moral guidance the Christian faith provides.

The reaction to mass shootings highlights this difference. Liberals blame the guns and want to debate gun control. For conservatives, the blame lies with the shooter, not the gun.

To my conservative friends, it’s a matter of liberty and personal responsibility. Even after a horrific event like the school shooting in Florida, where 17 people were killed, more gun control would be compromising those first principles. For them, compromising those principles would be even more horrific and detrimental to society than any shooting. What my conservative friends see is not gun control, but rather control, period.

Yeah, I get it, understand the rural gun owners.  But, I also understand that they are in complete denial of the overwhelming evidence of the relationship between our lax gun policies and our homicide and mass shooting rates.

10) I’ve been pretty curious of the research about Scott Kelly and Mark Kelly after reading Endurance.  This is a nice piece on DNA changes and how it is a lot more complicated than typically reported.


Another somewhat alarming-sounding finding is that Scott Kelly’s DNA “no longer matches that of his identical twin.”

For anyone familiar with genetics, this is possibly the most obvious statement one could make. We humans accumulate random mutations throughout our genomes as we age, and the chances that Mark and Scott’s genetic sequences were randomly modified in exactly the same way are astronomically small. In reality, their DNA hasn’t been identical for most of their lives.

That’s just at the most basic sequence level. All sorts of chemical modifications to DNA can dramatically affect where and how genes are expressed, and those markings—termed epigenetic—are malleable. Genomes add and erase those markings all the time, and they’re not the same between identical twins, either.

Throw in a heaping pile of spaceflight, where exposure to higher levels of radiation necessarily mutates DNA more quickly, and the truly surprising result would be seeing no difference between Mark’s and Scott’s genetic sequences. The fact that they differ, and that Scott’s mutation rate is apparently a bit higher than Mark’s, is totally expected.

“No twin pairs are ever completely identical, and we all do accrue random mutations all the time,” Bailey says. “No doubt, Scott did or does have different or more mutations than Mark—and anyone else not being in space for a year—due to radiation exposure alone.”

11) Love this, “Want to stop climate change?  Educate girls and give them birth control.”

12) Only a Humanities professor would write an impassioned defense of the Humanities titled, “There is no case for the Humanities.”

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