Quick hits (part I)

1) Guest post at Noah Smith’s blog on what American environmental groups get wrong about climate:

But as the pace of electrification picks up, new clean energy projects are facing opposition from what seems like an unlikely source: large environmental organizations. 

America’s biggest green groups are over and over again lining up on the wrong side of decarbonization. The Audubon Society is suing to block California wind farms. The Natural Resources Defense Council campaigned against new clean-energy transmission lines in Maine. The Sunrise Movement is supporting a moratorium on large solar projects in Amherst, MA. And the Sierra Club has organized opposition to solar projects in Florida, California, Maryland and elsewhere.

In Nevada, the Sierra Club and groups like it were the primary challenger to a 14-square-mile solar project. The reason? Affection for the plot of land, which also shelters endangered tortoises.

Big environmental groups frequently say they are ardent supporters of decarbonization. But all too often the groups also say that the tradeoffs needed to construct clean energy infrastructure are too great.

What’s going on here?

The core of the problem is that these groups were founded on principles of conservation—an inherently small-c conservative concept. That’s dangerous during a climate crisis that calls for radical action. Meanwhile, their structure has also made them vulnerable to NIMBYism—raising the temptation to value the fate of a few acres of land over potentially game-changing climate solutions.

2) If you haven’t watched Station Eleven yet– do it!  So good.  And, when you are done the series, read this terrific Alan Sepinwall interview with the showrunner, Patrick Somerville

3) Drum has been pushing national ID cards for a long time. He’s right. Here’s his latest case for them:

Longtime readers will recognize this as a hobbyhorse of mine that I haven’t mentioned lately. After all, what’s the point? Everyone hates the idea.

But we shouldn’t. A national ID card would be a huge convenience, especially for those at the bottom of the income ladder who don’t have driver licenses or credit cards. It would be great for identifying yourself to vote and for proving your work status when you apply for a job. Those are both things that conservatives should appreciate.

The US already makes a passport card, good for traveling to Mexico and Canada. Why not issue them to everyone?

And the downside? Virtually nothing. The main objection is that national ID is a sign of living in a “Papers please!” police state, but that’s nonsense. Lots of countries—including Spain, Germany, Denmark, France, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and dozens of others—provide national ID cards and have nonetheless managed to remain free and democratic. That’s especially true since no one would be required to have a national ID. It would simply be available to everyone.

The other big objection is that a national ID card is a way for the government to keep track of you. But that ship sailed a long time ago. The government already keeps track of you. They assign your Social Security number. They keep track of your criminal record. They dole out driver licenses. A national ID card does nothing to change that.

There’s really no reason to object to a national ID and every reason to think it would be a great convenience. There would be a certain number of extremists on both sides who would resolutely refuse to cave in to the deep state and get one, but that’s fine. It would still be nice if the other 95% of us could have one.

4) Love this twitter thread from Omar Wasow on the foolishness of green activists working against nuclear power.  Honestly, if he’s ever tweeted out something I disagree with, I don’t remember it.

5) Sadly, this sounds more than likely as an explanation, “Mystery of the wheelie suitcase: how gender stereotypes held back the history of invention”

As humans, we strive for the difficult, grandiose and complex. Technology – such as having wheels on suitcases  may appear obvious in hindsight, but that doesn’t mean it was obvious.

Similarly, in management and innovation literature, the late invention of the rolling suitcase often appears as somewhat of a warning. A reminder of our limitations as innovators.

But there is one factor that these thinkers have missed. I stumbled upon it when I was researching my book on women and innovation. I found a photo in a newspaper archive of a woman in a fur coat pulling a suitcase on wheels. It made me stop in my tracks because it was from 1952, 20 years before the official “invention” of the rolling suitcase. Fascinated, I kept looking. Soon, a completely different story about our limitations as innovators was rolling out.

The modern suitcase was born at the end of the 19th century. When mass tourism first took off, Europe’s large railway stations were inundated with porters, who would help passengers with their bags. But, by the middle of the 20th century, the porters were dwindling in number, and passengers increasingly carried their own luggage…

Resistance to the rolling suitcase had everything to do with gender. Sadow, the “official” inventor, described how difficult it was to get any US department store chains to sell it: “At this time, there was this macho feeling. Men used to carry luggage for their wives. It was … the natural thing to do, I guess.”

Two assumptions about gender were at work here. The first was that no man would ever roll a suitcase because it was simply “unmanly” to do so. The second was about the mobility of women. There was nothing preventing a woman from rolling a suitcase – she had no masculinity to prove. But women didn’t travel alone, the industry assumed. If a woman travelled, she would travel with a man who would then carry her bag for her. This is why the industry couldn’t see any commercial potential in the rolling suitcase. It took more than 15 years for the invention to go mainstream, even after Sadow had patented it.

6) As someone who well remembers the Beanie Baby bubble (and my stepmother paying ungodly sums, sadly convinced it was a good investment), I really enjoyed this Vox piece on that bubble and the current one on NFT’s.

An entire media ecosystem of Beanie Babies emerged, from early-stage blogs to magazines to trade shows. Estenssoro was one of the first avid collectors with her neighbor, Becky Phillips, in the Chicago suburbs. “At first, we didn’t know it was going to be this big old thing,” Estenssoro says. Once the toys began to catch on, the pair began documenting them and building early collections, eventually launching the first Beanie Baby price guide.

Beanie Babies were among the first big internet fervors, and their rise coincided with eBay’s. In May 1997, eBay auctioned off $500 million worth of Beanie Babies, accounting for 6 percent of its total annual sales. When the platform went public in 1998, Beanie Babies accounted for 10 percent of total company sales. That same year, the New York Times Magazine chronicled the proliferation of Beanie-related crimes, declaring, “A world gone Beanie mad!

7) I sat through a whole meeting with a variety of professors the other day where they used “Latinx” the whole time.  Not worth it to say anything, but so tempting.  Loved this, “Call ‘Latinx‘ What It Is: Lexical Imperialism”

I’ve always found the the term “Latinx” irritating, and a new nationwide poll of Hispanic voters by Politico told me something I already knew: I’m not the only one from my community who does. The poll found that just 2 percent of Hispanics use the term “Latinx” to define themselves, while 40 percent found it offensive.

So why are we witnessing the ascendancy of a term loathed by 40 percent of the population it’s purported to describe? Because its use has nothing to do with them to begin with. Those who employ it are speaking over us to someone else else entirely—specifically, to activists.

I, like 98 percent of other Latinos, didn’t need a Politico survey to tell me this. I know it because the one thing that truly unites the gloriously diverse Hispanic community is our language. And Latinx is not part of that language.

It’s true that there are many things that unite the myriad groups, cultures, and ethnicities that make up the Hispanic and Latin community. We have a lot of the food, religion, and music in common; but there’s just as much food, religion, and music that we don’t share. The one true common thread is the Spanish language itself—and it’s all gendered. Nouns either end in “o” to indicate masculinity, or “a” to indicate femininity. Plural nouns of mixed genders take on the masculine form. That’s how Spanish is structured, and it’s the foundation of how our art manifests itself—from Gabriel Garcia Márquez to Frida Kahlo to Juan Luis Guerra…

I call it lexical imperialism. However well-meaning it might be, it’s actually imposing a foreign worldview on an entire people. It’s telling them, in essence, “We’re going to take your savage, backward language, force it to adhere to our superior gender norms, and impose this change upon you so that you can be good, right, and just—like us!”

So much for being anti-colonization, and not mislabeling others based on preconceived notions about their identity! As if bigotry can be eradicated by breaking a language. The gesture is as empty as it is insulting.

The key point is that the use of Latinx isn’t an organic evolution happening from within, the way terminology shifted from within the Black community from “Negro” to “Black” to “African American” to “Black” over time. Neither is it a refinement of the English language to more accurately and effectively describe the group from without, as the Politico poll numbers clearly show.

No, the term “Latinx” is almost exclusively a way to indicate a particular ideological leaning, and proponents seem happy to not only force it upon an unwilling populace, but pervert the grammatical structure of their language in order to do it.

Nothing makes this clearer than the realization that, all this time we’ve been arguing over “Latinx,” the word “Latin” has been sitting right there, genderless and grammatically correct, just waiting to be picked up and used to much greater effect. “Latin” is clear, concise, accurate, and unlikely to be objected to by anyone labeled as such. It also deftly sidesteps the entire issue of gendered language, satisfying the desires of people on either side of the divide.

So why don’t we see that used instead?

Also, for the record, Yglesias has been pushing “Latin” for a while.  Works for me.  But, that doesn’t matter.  What matters is what works for actual Latinos.

8) This is pretty cool, “Scientists Capture Airborne Animal DNA for the First Time: Researchers filtered the air around two zoos and identified genetic material from dozens of species, a technique that could help track and conserve wildlife.”

9) This is just a very clear, very handy guide on what to do if you get a Covid diagnosis from Dear Pandemic, ‘Welp, I have COVID. When can I stop worrying about giving it to other people?”

10) Quite enjoyed this from Yglesias.  I look forward to him writing more about food and nutrition, “Is healthy food actually more expensive?”

Starchy, less healthful stuff really is cheaper

Starchy plant-based foods (potatoes, wheat, rice, corn) are cheaper than real fruits and vegetables. At $2.70 for a five-pound bag, russet potatoes are much cheaper than broccoli.

And the traditional peasant diets based on very heavy consumption of these staples are not very nutritious. We know that people between the neolithic revolution and the industrial revolution were generally quite short, with height seeming to vary according to the quantity of available agricultural land. Basically, “grow a bunch of grain” is the most land-efficient way to produce calories, so when land is scarce, that’s what people do. When land is more plentiful, you have more fruits and vegetables and meat and dairy to round out a healthier diet. Some grain-based diets can, in fact, be downright dangerous. In northern Italy, lots of people used to get pellagra, a niacin deficiency that develops when you are reduced to eating an all-corn diet. Mesoamericans nixtamalized their corn to make masa, making niacin nutritionally available and preventing pellagra. But when the use of maize spread, Europeans didn’t understand that nixtamalization was nutritionally important — an all-tortilla diet is a little nutrient-poor, but an all-polenta diet will kill you.

But the well-established notion that a grain-heavy poverty food diet will leave you malnourished is different from the paleo/Atkins hypothesis that it will make you fat

Some research!

Back in 2013, researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health did a meta-analysis of studies on the food cost question and found that if you standardize to 2,000 calories per day, the healthiest diets cost about $1.50 more per day than the least-healthy.

This to me feels like it would be a good explanation for some other situation than the one that actually exists in the United States. Like, suppose you have a society where few people are overweight, the overweight people who do exist are disproportionately affluent, and the health outcomes of the poor are bad. You might explain that by saying that low-income people are struggling to afford the adequate nutrition that is enjoyed by the upper classes since more nutritious food is more expensive on a per calorie basis. But in the real world, Americans are not on the whole struggling to obtain 2,000 calories; we are struggling with overconsumption.

But beyond that, the extra cost amounts to less than $550 per year, which is small relative to the absolute food expenditures even of the poor and tiny compared to the Consumer Expenditure Survey’s report of class differences in food spending…

Time and stress

One obvious potential culprit here is time.

Planning, shopping for, and preparing healthy meals takes time. Eating mostly premade meals is much easier and more convenient.

But Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst have found a marked increase in overall time spent on leisure activities (i.e., not market work but also not housework, child care, or cooking) over the past couple of generations, and the leisure gains have disproportionately accrued to people with less education. Aguiar and Hurst were also co-authors on an infamous paper arguing that improved video game quality explained the decline in labor force participation observed during the sluggish recovery from the Great Recession. That was wrong, and I think their overall interpretation of the significance of these leisure trends is largely backward, but for the purposes of this discussion, the key fact is the raw data.

Milan even got the 2019 numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they show that working-class people spend somewhat more time on leisure activities.

I think a more plausible culprit than time is stress. A bunch of studies link weight gain to stress with a few different causal mechanisms at work, but the key mechanism is that stress increases cortisol, cortisol causes insulin spikes, and insulin makes you fatter (sugar, bread, and other simple carbohydrates also cause insulin spikes).

And the evidence for more stress — and especially more chronic stress — among lower-income people seems pretty clear. Annie Lowrey wrote a great piece recently about the “time tax” that administrative burdens in social programs place on the poor. But I think that to integrate that with Aguiar and Hurst’s findings, we should see this resulting primarily in aggravation rather than lost time per se.

11) Have you been blaming over-use of antibiotics for MRSA?  Alas, it’s hedgehogs! “Hedgehogs Are a Source of Drug-Resistant Bacteria, Study Finds: Scientists chart how a battle between fungus and bacteria living on the skin of hedgehogs led to the emergence of a strain of MRSA that can infect cows and humans.”

12) This is pretty cool.  Muscle memory works not just for remembering how to do physical activities (I love how well I can still play the piano after basically taking almost 30 years off), but for actual muscles, “How ‘Muscle Memory’ May Help Us Get in Shape: Muscles develop a lasting molecular “memory” of past resistance exercises that helps them bounce back from long periods of inactivity.”

After two years of Covid-19 and its disruptions to our exercise routines, many of us may feel like we have forgotten how to be fit. But an encouraging new study suggests that our muscles remember. The study involved mice, but it builds on similar experiments with weight training and people. It found that muscles developed a pervasive and lasting molecular “memory” of past resistance exercises that helped them bounce back quickly from long layoffs.

In the study, animals that completed a rodent form of resistance training developed changes in their muscles’ DNA that lingered long after they stopped exercising. The mice then packed on muscle mass much faster than other animals when they began training again. And as an encouraging side note to those who are taking up weight training for the first time, the findings also suggest that we should be able to build new muscle memories, regardless of our age.

13) Rick Hasen, “No One Is Coming to Save Us From the ‘Dagger at the Throat of America’”

Let’s begin by reviewing some of the key problems. Those who administer elections have faced threats of violence and harassment. One-fourth of election administrators say that they plan to retire before 2024. Republican election and elected officials who stood up to Mr. Trump’s attempt to rig the 2020 vote count, like Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, who refused Mr. Trump’s entreaties to “find” 11,780 votes to flip the election to him, are being pushed out or challenged for their jobs in primaries by people embracing Mr. Trump’s false claims, like Representative Jody Hice.

The new Republicans running elections or certifying or counting votes may have more allegiance to Mr. Trump or his successor in 2024 than to a fair vote count, creating conditions for Democrats to join Republicans in believing the election system is rigged. If Mr. Hice is Georgia’s Secretary of State in 2024 and declares Mr. Trump the winner of the 2024 election after having embraced the lie that Mr. Trump won Georgia in 2020, which Democrats will accept that result?

Trumpist election administrators and Mr. Trump’s meddling in Republican primaries and gerrymandered Republican legislatures and congressional districts create dangerous electoral conditions. They make it more likely that state legislatures will try to overturn the will of the people — as Mr. Trump unsuccessfully urged in 2020 — and select alternative slates of presidential electors if a Democrat wins in their states in 2024. A Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2025 could count the rogue, legislatively submitted slates of presidential electors instead of those fairly reflecting actual election results in the states. In the meantime, some Republican states are passing or considering additional laws that would make election sabotage more likely.

The federal government so far has taken few steps to increase the odds of free and fair elections in 2024. Despite the barely bipartisan impeachment of Mr. Trump for inciting an insurrection and the barely bipartisan majority vote in the U.S. Senate for conviction, Mr. Trump was neither convicted under the necessary two-thirds vote of the Senate nor barred from running for office again by Congress, as he could have been under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment for inciting insurrection. While the Department of Justice has prosecuted the rioters — obtaining convictions and plea agreements for hundreds who trespassed and committed violence — so far no one in Mr. Trump’s circle, much less Mr. Trump, has been charged with federal crimes connected to Jan. 6 events. He faces potential criminal action in Georgia for his call with Mr. Raffensperger, but neither indictment nor conviction by a jury is assured…

Here are the three principles that should guide action supporting democratic institutions and the rule of law going forward.

To begin with, Democrats should not try to go it alone in preserving free and fair elections. Some Democrats, like Marc Elias, one of the leading Democratic election lawyers, are willing to write off the possibility of finding Republican partners because most Republicans have failed to stand up to Mr. Trump, and even those few Republicans who have do not support Democrats’ broader voting rights agenda, such as passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Flying solo is a big mistake. Democrats cannot stop the subversion of 2024 election results alone, particularly if Democrats do not control many statehouses and either house of Congress when Electoral College votes are counted on Jan. 6, 2025. Why believe that any legislation passed only by Democrats in 2022 would stop subversive Republican action in 2024? A coalition with the minority of Republicans willing to stand up for the rule of law is the best way to try to erect barriers to a stolen election in 2024, even if those Republicans do not stand with Democrats on voting rights or other issues. Remember it took Republican election officials, elected officials, and judges to stand up against an attempted coup in 2020…

Second, because law alone won’t save American democracy, all sectors of society need to be mobilized in support of free and fair elections. It is not just political parties that matter for assuring free and fair elections. It’s all of civil society: business groups, civic and professional organizations, labor unions and religious organizations all can help protect fair elections and the rule of law. Think, for example, of Texas, which in 2021 passed a new restrictive voting law. It has been rightly attacked for making it harder for some people to vote. But business pressure most likely helped kill a provision in the original version of the bill that would have made it much easier for a state court judge to overturn the results of an election.

Business groups also refused to contribute to those members of Congress who after the insurrection objected on spurious grounds to Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes for Mr. Biden. According to reporting by Judd Legum, “since Jan. 6, corporate PAC contributions to Republican objectors have plummeted by nearly two-thirds.” But some businesses are giving again to the objectors. Customers need to continue to pressure business groups to hold the line.

Civil society needs to oppose those who run for office or seek appointment to run elections while embracing Trump’s false claims of a stolen election. Loyalty to a person over election integrity should be disqualifying.

Finally, mass, peaceful organizing and protests may be necessary in 2024 and 2025. What happens if a Democratic presidential candidate wins in, say, Wisconsin in 2024, according to a fair count of the vote, but the Wisconsin legislature stands ready to send in an alternative slate of electors for Mr. Trump or another Republican based on unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud or other irregularities? These gerrymandered legislators may not respond to entreaties from Democrats, but they are more likely to respond to widespread public protests made up of people of good faith from across the political spectrum. We need to start organizing for this possibility now.

14) You can get your free/insurance reimbursible rapid tests… today!  Though, there’s this, “Insurers Say Saturday Is Too Soon to Meet White House Goals on Rapid Tests.”  I got an email from my insurer last night saying they are ready and I can actually get them for free at local pharmacies with my health insurance card.  That’s good. 

15) How some of the anti-woke started as liberals and have just gone completely insane is really pretty fascinating.  Thus, I enjoyed that’s how this Seth Moskowitz Persuasion essay started out, “The Reactionary Trap: It’s not just a right-wing phenomenon. Thinkers on the left, beware.”

I found James Lindsay’s Twitter account in March, just after finishing a book he co-authored about “how activist scholarship made everything about race, gender, and identity.” Like me, Lindsay considered himself a left-leaning liberal critical of the progressive turn towards identity politics. But the man I found on Twitter was not the level-headed fellow traveler that I expected. Online, Lindsay was engaged in a crusade against what he saw as society’s paramount menaces: critical theory and radical progressivism.

Looking through Lindsay’s Twitter history is like watching a train coming off its tracks. In 2018, Lindsay’s critiques of the left were mostly constrained to measured and thoughtful commentary. Now, alarmism predominates. Towards the end of 2021, he warned that “a literal death cult is running the Western world (into the ground) right now” and claimed that “Critical Theory approaches to education are meant to psychologically damage your children so they can be used in a revolution that will rob us all of our freedom.” He has gone so far as to declare that “inclusion,” “covid policy,” and “justice” are trojan horses for communism.

While Lindsay’s evolution is particularly striking, he is just one of a growing number of prominent reactionaries coming from the political left. Given that reactionaries can come from across the political continuum, each of us—particularly those of us on the left who have assumed that reactionaries always originate from the right—needs to take seriously the fact that we are vulnerable to the pitfalls of reactionary politics. After all, if we do not know the reactionary trap even exists, how are we to avoid falling in? …

The recognition that no one, regardless of political persuasion, is immune to reactionary tendencies should leave us all asking the uncomfortable question: have I, too, fallen into the reactionary trap?

There is no clear-cut answer to such a subjective question. Still, many thinkers have managed to oppose certain forms of social change without becoming reactionary themselves. Whereas reactionaries are guided by reflexive opposition, these thinkers are driven by a positive vision and substantive principles. Whereas reactionaries inflate threats to the point of hysteria, these thinkers maintain a sense of proportion. I emailed several of them for advice on steering clear of a reactionary mindset. Here are the five best recommendations that came from those conversations.

  1. Do not let the illusions of social media trick you. Matthew Yglesias, who writes the political newsletter Slow Boring and co-founded Vox, told me that “the set of people who talk a lot about politics on the internet is much, much, much, much more left-wing than the American electorate. At the same time, the structure of American political institutions … [means that] electoral outcomes are meaningfully to the right of the actual electorate.” This dynamic, according to Yglesias, leads reactionaries to lose “sight of who in fact holds power in the United States” and respond “primarily to vibes on Twitter rather than to the realities of the political situation.” 

  1. Learn to recognize and avoid “us-vs-them” thinking. This tribalist instinct leads to hostility and reflexive opposition towards those deemed the “other.” Chloé Valdary, the founder of an anti-racist and diversity training company, said that “to escape an us-vs-them mindset, it’s […] helpful to be able to pause and ask yourself when you’ve entered into a counter-dependent relationship with someone or some idea, where your identity has become dependent upon countering someone else.”

  1. Be skeptical of convenient narratives. Ben Dreyfuss, a journalist who writes a newsletter called Good Faith, told me that he tries to interrogate his “beliefs to see if they are conforming to easy narratives. And if they are, I try to push back against myself more […] whenever it looks to me like people are reaching hardened consensuses because of social media mobs I have a knee jerk ‘slow down and think about this.’”  

  1. Avoid the “zeal of the convert.” Newcomers to a philosophy often take it to an extreme. Zaid Jilani, a journalist who has worked for various progressive organizations and now writes a newsletter called INQUIRE, told me that people shouldn’t “be shy about being open-minded and being willing to change their beliefs. But they should consider the idea that jumping from one extreme to another is unwise because there may be just as many flaws to the other side as there were to the one you originally were on.”

  1. Take seriously the possibility that you are wrong. This is by far the most common bit of advice that I received. Valdary said that “everyone is susceptible to self-deception, because we are all human beings. It’s not a left/right thing”; Dreyfuss told me that “you don’t need to be right all the time but the one thing you do owe people is attempting to be intellectually honest”; and Jilani said that it is important “to be curious and be vigilant about flaws in your own thinking.”

16) Great stuff from Aaron Carroll, “To Fight Covid, We Need to Think Less Like Doctors”

Caring for an individual and protecting a population require different priorities, practices and ways of thinking. While it may sound counterintuitive, to heal the country and put our Covid-19 response on the right track, we need to think less like doctors.

I can speak to both ways of approaching health problems. As a physician, I was trained first and foremost to think of the individual in front of me. When seeing a patient, I take a long history, consider all relevant personal information and weigh the benefits and harms of any treatment decision I might take. As the chief health officer of Indiana University, I need to make population-wide decisions that take into account the needs of the university as a whole, not any one person.

Physicians tend to be conservative in their practice of medicine. We fear a bad outcome disproportionately and will do almost anything to prevent it. Although doctors often credit the threat of being sued for the practice of defensive medicine, extra tests and procedures are often ordered because making a mistake would be devastating, both to the patient and to our own understanding of ourselves as healers. This mentality also leads to the thinking that every test and treatment must be the best. Physicians cannot tolerate anything less, because we are who will be held to account if anything goes wrong.

But blown to the scale of a whole country, that kind of focus on individuals has often led us in the wrong direction during the pandemic. Much of my frustration at the response to Covid is that too many officials in senior positions at the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seem to be thinking this way — if something isn’t close to perfect or doesn’t maximize the safety of each individual person, it’s not worth it at all. Some of the greatest initial and continuing failures of public health policy have stemmed from this view.

A population-level view, on the other hand, often focuses on reaching as many people as possiblerather than perfection. This view argues that repeated and regular testing is preferable, and that’s more easily done with tests taken at home even if they’re less sensitive than P.C.R.s in some ways. That the F.D.A. and the C.D.C. have trouble recognizing the utility of at-home tests as a public health tool, as opposed to purely a clinically diagnostic one, shows the shortfalls of always seeking the best. More frequent imperfect testing may pick up more cases, even if we miss a few we might have caught with perfect tests. Getting many people to be somewhat safer might achieve more than getting fewer people to be really safe.

17) And a great newsletter this week from Brian Beutler:

First and foremost, it’ll require disqualifying the Republican Party.

A progressive organization conducted news-making focus groups this week with soft Biden and Trump voters, and, to my eye, the findings neatly captured how Democrats managed to cede preservation of democracy as a galvanizing issue to Republicans less than a year after Republicans mounted a failed coup d’etat. 

Read through this thread for more detail, but the capsule summary is that these voters  registered almost no familiarity with “January 6” when prompted, but, once nudged, they slowly and organically forged a consensus that the insurrection was terrible. At the same time, though, they didn’t reflexively connect the events of January 6 with the GOP.

A flash consensus thus began to form: Voters don’t care about democracy! Democrats who think the only way to beat Republicans is with bland kitchen-table appeals claimed vindication, and those who fear we’re living through the last gasps of democracy were demoralized. 

But to me it told almost the opposite story: one that suggests many voters understand in their guts that January 6 was beyond the pale, but still don’t realize—because their political leaders haven’t adequately hammered it home—that Republicans are to blame. To conclude otherwise, you have to construct a theory of human psychology under which Benghazi and emails intrinsically capture the passions of the public, but unleashing a deadly riot at the Capitol does not. 

Relatedly, the January 6 committee has held one (1) public hearing so far. 

I don’t say that to deride the committee. It has unearthed troves of information about the attempted coup, and will reportedly resurface all of those details and more in a lengthy series of public hearings in the coming weeks, just as it should. But activating January 6 in the minds of voters as a political crime that disqualifies this Republican Party requires relentlessness on all fronts. Particularly after Democrats spent over a year deluding themselves into thinking they could fix America by working with non-insurrectionist Republicans on an infrastructure bill. Even more particularly if their legislative efforts to protect democracy fail. 

Mitch McConnell put a fine-if-infuriating point on how badly Democrats undermined themselves in the democracy fight this week when he observed that Democrats had subordinated their voting-rights agenda to Build Back Better. “It must not be that much of an emergency!” he said. He was trolling, of course, but he’s also making a point that a lot of people will find quite intuitive: Democrats set their own priorities, and if they really believed what they said about the threat to democracy, they would’ve settled those matters as a first order of business, not a year later when they’d derailed the agenda items they seemingly cared about more. 

Still, I think Democrats can shake the etch-a-sketch and redraw the choice in the coming midterms around the violent coup attempt. But it’ll require lasting discipline. 

Biden gave a great speech at the Capitol on the anniversary of the riot; he gave another great one this week in Atlanta, where he framed the democracy fight in simple good vs. evil terms. “Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?  Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor?  Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?” That’s more or less the pacing and the tone he needs to maintain if he wants the midterms to be about democracy. He’ll also need the rest of the party to be similarly focused and unsparing. 

Instead, Republicans pretended to be mad, and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said, “perhaps the President went a little too far in his rhetoric.” That’s a recipe for making the instant conventional wisdom about those focus groups self-fulfilling. And without any other legacy items to run on, it’s also a recipe for electoral disaster. As long as they’re unable to govern, the easiest concession in the world Democrats could offer the young voters abandoning the party in disgust is to stop treating fascists, liars, and seditionists as people deserving of comity.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Quick hits (part I)

  1. Jim Danielson says:

    10) “Starchy plant-based foods (potatoes, wheat, rice, corn) are cheaper than real fruits and vegetables.”

    Potatoes aren’t real? Who knew about this and why wasn’t I told? Is this an extension of “birds aren’t real”? Are potatoes spying on us for the government?

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