Memo to a frustrated libertarian

So, I was about to write a fairly lengthy response to a text message from a long-time friend and blog reader.  I hate typing on my phone, so I was going to switch to email.  But then I decided I should just make it a blog post.  Here’s your context:

Friend: Since your posts have been more balanced lately, I’ll fill out your hippy liberal survey.  Can you say outlier?

Me: I reject your premise of “balance.”  There’s WAY more awfulness on the right to call out.  That’s an empirical reality.  That said, some stuff on ton the left really bugs me, too, and that gets called out.  Thanks for taking the survey…

Friend: I know you don’t like the term balanced, but it’s one thing to want Trump called out unequivocally and another to turn a blind eye to the hypocrisy and problems with the Democrats.  You’ve done a good job recently addressing some of those.  Kudos!  Trump should go, but I don’t like the alternatives.  In my uneducated opinion, the system is designed to prevent 3rd party candidates from having a chance.  Keep ’em out and split the spoils.

As for the “blind eye” hypocrisy and such.  Sure, there’s problems with Democrats.  But, honestly, when compared to Trump, here’s my analogy.  Trump is a psychopathic kid purposely taking a crap in the swimming pool.  The Democrats are kids violating the squirt gun and splashing rules.  You don’t want the latter to get out of hand and should step in to enforce the rules before things get too bad, but only one of these things leads you to kick out a kid, shut down the pool, and “shock” the water with chemicals.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again.  There is quite literally only one “rule of law” political party (with any chance of winning elections) in America right now.  Forget racism, forget crude bigotry, xenophobia, and misogyny (all of which are far too prevalent and excused in today’s GOP).  Right now, to vote for the Republican Party is literally to vote against the rule of law.  Needless to say, that should come before pretty much everything else.

Yeah, it’s frustrating if you really want lower taxes on all your wealth which you 100% deserve because the financial sector is commensurately rewarded with it’s value to society.  Or, you really want less environmental regulations because clean air and water are overrated.  Everybody is fine in China.  Or yes, those damn woke, LGBTQ teenagers are the most important political issue liberals are so annoying.  I get that.  But, right now, the only way at all to hold the present-day obscenely-corrupted Republican party accountable is to vote for Democrats.

I would love it if there were actually a sane, rule-of-law-respecting, not-racist Republican party out there in America right now.  Our democracy would be so much healthier.  Alas, that party does not exist and is basically an on-line only presence loosely categorized by the name of NeverTrumpers.

And, the system was “designed” to reflect the electoral rules in Britain in the 18th century with first-past-the-post voting and single member districts.  We have since learned that this almost inevitably leads to a two-party duopoloy.  But, the reality is that this was “designed” before the existence of political parties as we know them.

For the record, I’m all for a proportional voting system.  But, we’ve got to work with the system we’ve got.  And in this system, the only way to get back to sanity is for the Republican Party as we know it to be thoroughly rejected and burned to the ground.  And, the problems with Democrats?  Yeah, that’s a thing.  But in the present context, it really is kids splashing too much in the shallow end.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Thomas Edsall talks to seemingly every political scientist on American politics worth talking to in this excellent piece asking, “Is Politics a War of Ideas or of Us Against Them?”  For the record, I’m firmly in the “us against them” camp.

Engelhardt’s findings lend support to the views of Alexander Theodoridis, a political scientist at the University of California-Merced, who contended in an email that

For most people, party identity appears to be far more central and salient than particular issue positions. We see increasing evidence of people adjusting their issue positions or priorities to fit their party allegiance, more than the reverse. We are very good at rationalizing away cognitive dissonance. More important than this chicken-or-egg question is the reality that ideology and party have become very highly sorted today. Liberal and Conservative are now tantamount to Democrat and Republican, respectively. That was not always the case. Furthermore, all sorts of descriptive and dispositional features (ranging from religion and race to personality type and worldview) are also more correlated with political party than they were in the past. All this heightens the us-versus-them nature of modern hyperpolarization.

This debate is sometimes framed in either-or terms, but the argument is less a matter of direct conflict and more a matter of emphasis and nuance.

Yphtach Lelkes, a professor of political communication at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote me that “ideology and partisanship are very hard, and likely impossible, to disentangle,” but, he argued, the larger pattern appears to be that

while both seem to be occurring, ideology driving partisanship only seems to be occurring among those that are most aware of politics, while partisanship driving ideology seems to be happening among everyone.

Similarly, Leonie Huddy, a political scientist at SUNY-Stony Brook, wrote me that the debate “is more complicated than simple tribalism versus consistent ideology.”

There is “clear evidence of partisan tribalism,” Huddy observed, “especially when it comes to a potential win or loss on matters such as impeachment, presidential elections, and policy issues central to electoral victory or defeat,” but at the same time

Democrats and Republicans have become increasingly divided on social, moral, and group-linked issues and are less likely to follow the party on these matters.” She pointed out that the tribal loyalty of many Republican voters would be pushed beyond the breaking point if the party abandoned its opposition to abortion, just as it is “difficult to imagine feminist women continuing to support the Democratic Party if it abandoned its pro-choice position on abortion.

2) Catherine Rampell, “The GOP tax cut failed. Their response? Let’s do it again!”

Faced with a slowing economy and waves of factory closures and farming bankruptcies, President Trump and Republican lawmakers are finally going back to the drawing board.

So far, this brain trust has come up with . . . the exact same failed policy formula that got us these results in the first place.

U.S. economic growth slowed again in the third quarter, down to an annualized pace of just 1.9 percent. Thankfully, this reading (coupled with the ultra-low unemployment rate) doesn’t yet seem to signal recession. In fact, under other circumstances, this growth rate would seem downright respectable. It’s in line with what independent forecasters at the Federal Reserve and elsewhere consider to be the long-run rate for the U.S. economy, given our aging population.

Still, 1.9 percent is a far cry from the “4 percent, 5 percent and even 6 percent” growth rates that Trump once promised to deliver.

More to the point, the rate is way lower than you’d expect given the massive fiscal stimulus policymakers have been pumping into the economy. We were told that the GOP’s corporate tax cuts alone would permanently turbocharge growth to at least 3 percent.

Instead, Trump spent $2 trillion in deficit-financed tax cuts for the rich to get us basically the same growth rate we had before he took office.

The mechanism by which Trump’s signature legislative achievement was supposed to turbocharge growth, according to the tax cut’s advocates, was by stimulating business investment. Instead, business investment fell last quarter, in the second consecutive quarter of contraction.

Now, some of the problem might be due to another core plank of the Trump economic agenda: his trade wars. Trump’s tariffs have introduced tremendous new costs and uncertainty for U.S. companies whose supply chains span the globe. U.S. businesses have also seen foreign demand for their products plunge as trading partners in China and elsewhere retaliate with tariffs of their own.

3) Isn’t this headline pretty much just peak contemporary GOP?  “E.P.A. to Roll Back Rules to Control Toxic Ash from Coal Plants”

4a) This was such a great essay from a from prisoner turned reporter, “Can We Build a Better Women’s Prison? Prisons and jails are designed for men. What would a prison tailored to women’s needs and experiences look like?”

Men and women have similarly abysmal recidivism rates — five out of six prisoners released from state lockups are arrested again within nine years, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics — but women are incarcerated for different reasons and bring with them different histories. They’re more likely to commit nonviolent crimes, involving theft, fraud and drugs. They have slightly higher rates of substance abuse than men, are more likely to be the primary caregiver of a young child, and typically earn less money than their male counterparts before getting locked up.

The system does little to account for such differences. Women tend to pose a lower risk of violence, but they’re still subject to the same classifications as men — so they’re often ranked at a higher security level than necessary, and, as a result, can be blocked from educational and treatment programs. And when violations do happen, they’re often nonviolent offenses, like talking back to a guard. Whereas men might alter their clothes to show gang affiliation, women might do the same for style or fit, yet both could result in disciplinary action. On top of that, women often have fewer programming options, such as education, job training and 12-step programs. This is, in part, a matter of economy of scale. Because there are fewer women in prison, there are fewer rehabilitative and training programs for them.

These are all things I’ve experienced firsthand. Before I became a reporter, I did time.

4b) Reminded me of a terrific 99% Invisible episode about how so many public policies fail to account for women.

5) One of the most pathetic things about Trump and his enablers, “Six times Trump’s allies downplayed Trump’s actions by pointing to his incompetence”

6) So much evidence Mr. “Grab ’em by the pussy”/”moved on her like a bitch” is a serial sexual predator.  And yet…  Megan Garber, “Why the Assault Allegations Against Trump Don’t Stick”

Instead, the stories themselves become subsumed in what I have come to think of as the fog: the cloud that hovers around Trump, invisible but omnipresent, made of ignored accusations and stifled voices. In its vapors lurk all the miasmic misogynies that are at this point extremely well known—I moved on her like a bitchblood coming out of her wherevera big, fat pig—and that, in their very familiarity, have lost the ability to shock. The fog surrounds Trump, but it also protects him: Every new allegation against him—of groping, of harassment, of humiliation, of rape—diffuses into its ether. Just as Trump himself has achieved a kind of atmospheric ubiquity, the cloud that covers him manages to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It expands, but is never expended. Assault is intimate; it is violent. The cloud absorbs those facts, transforming allegations of physical horror into airy notions.

The fog is at work when Trump and his defenders say, with straight faces, that every single woman who has made a claim against him is a liar. In the fog’s haze, it becomes possible for a weary public to learn that the president has been credibly accused of rape—and to throw up its hands. One more woman.

7) Good stuff from Yglesias, “Republicans’ smear campaign against Joe Biden is devastating to his theory of politics.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden has an idea about how things are going to change in 2021 when he’s sitting in the Oval Office — freed of the spell of Trump, a newly reasonable GOP will come to the table to make some deals.

The results of this may not be the kind of sweeping progressive change that Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are promising, but Sanders and Warren aren’t actually going to be able to deliver that change. What Biden argues he can offer is meaningful steps in the progressive direction, plus the return to some semblance of normalcy in American politics that so many people crave.

It’s an appealing vision in many ways and one that Biden has articulated repeatedly on the campaign trail — saying an “epiphany” is coming that will unlock the potential to get things done in Washington…

Biden hasn’t served in the Senate since 2008, but nearly 20 Republicans — including key figures like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, moderates Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, and dealmakers Lindsey Graham and Lamar Alexander — served alongside him. What’s more, precisely because of this history, Biden often served as an emissary from the Obama White House to Senate Republicans when the exigencies of governance required one.

If Senate Republicans sat down one day and decided that what they wanted to do was have a good-faith negotiation about how to strike some win-win deals that advance the main policy priorities of both sides, Biden would be a good person for them to sit down with.

But in terms of how likely that is, all Biden needs to do is look around at the current impeachment controversy. Senate Republicans know that Trump was trying to frame Biden. Heck, several Republican senators specifically and publicly urged the exact course of action on Ukraine that Biden took.

And on the Ukraine issue there is no ideological division between Biden and mainstream Republicans — they all share the US national security establishment’s hostility to Russia and support for the idea that the US should back efforts to pull Ukraine out of the Russian sphere of influence. It’s Trump who is the ideological outlier here, as well as the guy trying to smear one of their friends and former colleagues.

Yet nobody in the GOP is standing up for Biden or seeking to clear his good name. And the reasons aren’t mysterious: It’s politics. And in 2021, it will be politics, rather than epiphanies, that carry the day. [emphasis mine]

8) Apparently, parrots just waste a ton of food when they eat.  Scientists are trying to figure out an evolutionary explanation for why that should be.

9) The headline oversells it, I think, but this is a nice summary of research on the benefits of a meditation practice.  It’s based on as little as 15 minutes a day.  I suspect they would’ve found benefits at 10 minutes a day.  That’s what I do, and I definitely benefit.

10) Very nice piece from political scientist David Karol on the perils of living by “the plan” as Elizabeth Warren does:

More recent studies suggest that vagueness has value. In a 2009 article, the political scientists Michael Tomz and Robert Van Houweling showed via a lab experiment that participants did not punish and sometimes even rewarded candidates who remained relatively ambiguous on policy.

The value of vagueness might seem especially clear on a policy like Medicare for All, which is not popular with the public as a whole and—with only 14 co-sponsors, including Warren—stands little chance of becoming law in anything close to the form the senator from Massachusetts proposes.

Yet if vagueness has its virtues, Warren had little choice but to release a detailed health-care plan. Start with the fact that her political brand is “I have a plan for that.” She entered politics with a reputation for mastery of detail. She leveraged this wonkish image by releasing plan after plan, generating favorable news coverage that helped her rise from a low poll standing this spring and summer to a top-three candidate. She polls best among highly educated voters who are most attentive to policy discussion.

11) Fewer than normal because I spent my Friday evening with my firstborn at the Black Keys (and Modest Mouse).  Great show.  This whole song is great, but for my money, pretty much nothing rocks like the last two minutes of “Little Black Submarines.”  Damn was that great to experience live.

%d bloggers like this: