The Way We Were


As anyone who knew me in college can tell you, I’ve always been a political science nerd. I loved the inside baseball details, I loved the social norms, I loved The Process. And like any good political science nerd, I took it as an article of faith that the way to win elections and especially the way to govern was right down the middle, avoiding the extremes of both sides. I believed in bipartisanship, I believed in seeking common ground, I believed in working together. Not anymore.

I remember the first time I realized something was very seriously wrong. It was 1995. Like most Democrats, I cheered the election of Bill Clinton. I thought, finally we have a New Way. Finally, we have a candidate who can shake off the stale liberal past and chart a new course. And then I watched the Republican Party go completely and utterly insane. There were the dark, paranoid emails about the Clinton Murders. There were the insane black helicopter conspiracy theories about the UN coming to “take our guns.” There was the rise of incendiary, nearly psychotic Right Wing talk radio. And then came Oklahoma City. The worst terrorist attack on American soil, innocent people, women and children, callously murdered by a Right Wing terrorist with strong militia ties and anti-government views. And what was the response of the Republican Congress? They invited the militia to testify before a special hearing, concerned that they were getting a bad name. Because little children had been murdered. It was as if, in the wake of 9/11, Democrats had invited Hamas to address Congress and lay out their concerns. That was the last time I ever cast a ballot for a Republican. Any party that would willingly ally with such creatures will never get my vote. And then it got worse: impeachment, the stolen 2000 election, George W. Bush, The PATRIOT Act, Iraq, being told that any questioning of the president was treason.

When Barack Obama was elected, the GOP went completely off the cliff, pledging themselves to his defeat before he’d even taken office. And, partly due to Obama’s political naïveté, they were rewarded, first with the House in 2010, then the Senate. Why? Because the fundamental assumption of Postwar politics, that there was a vast moderate middle, had vaporized. Karl Rove, the evil genius, figured it out early with his 51% nation strategy. There is no Middle; 90% of the voters are comprised of people who will never vote for a Democrat under any circumstances (overwhelmingly white) or people who will never vote for a Republican under any circumstances (mostly nonwhite). Elections are won by whichever side turns out its base. The ultimate result of this bitter divide, and all the hatred and insanity and racism and xenophobia used to produce it, is Donald Trump.

Lessons the Republican Party has taught me:

  • Elections are NEVER over
  • Elections NEVER have consequences unless my side wins
  • The other party is ALWAYS the enemy
  • Cooperation or bipartisanship equals treason

If ANY other Republican had won in November, even someone as odious as Ted Cruz or as incompetent as Rick Perry, I wouldn’t feel this way. But Trump represents an existential threat to the very survival of the republic. As long as he squats in office, all bets are off. The only way to prevent Trump from permanently damaging if not destroying democracy in America is for Democrats to win control of Congress, an uphill battle already. The only hope the Democrats have of winning is to convince the base to turn out and the only way to do that is to fight Trump at every turn. This strategy mostly only has a chance of success under the Byzantine rules of the senate: Filibuster everything. Deny unanimous consent. Walk out. Break quorum. March with the protestors. Attack Trump for his rampant, obvious corruption. Will they win? Not in the short term, no. People who think Mitch McConnell won’t do away with the filibuster are living in a fantasy world; McConnell would literally personally burn the senate chamber to the ground to win a vote. But Senate Democrats should be under no illusions that collaboration will help them win elections; Democrats who vote to confirm Neil Gorsuch or Rex Tillerson will be blasted as traitors, terrorist-lovers, and communists just as hard as Democrats who vote no.

Yes, it’s sad that our democratic norms of governance are dead. There are a variety of reasons for it that I’ll talk about in another post. For now though, we have to concentrate on the task at hand: saving America. And to do that, Democrats must learn to fight like Republicans.

Published in: on February 1, 2017 at 11:12 am  Leave a Comment  

The System IS Rigged (Against Third Parties)

More political science geek ranting:


Why does America have a two party system? Why has there never been a third party president? Because it’s an unintended consequence baked into the Constitution.
Look at countries with stable, multiple-party systems: Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Israel. What do they all have in common?  They’re Westminster-style parliaments, meaning the head of government (the prime minister or chancellor) is elected by majority vote of the legislature. That means minor parties that can never win a majority on their own can wield power by winning enough seats that a major party will have to form a coalition with them in order to form a government.  The minor party then gets rewarded with cabinet seats and power over the major parties’ agenda. If the major party goes too far, the minor party can threaten to leave the coalition and cause the government to fall.

The United States by contrast has a unitary executive (the president is both head of government and head of state) who is elected separately from the legislative branch. That’s why we can and frequently do have divided government, one party controlling Congress and one the White House, something unheard of in other countries. Coming in second in a presidential election gets you exactly the same as coming in third or twentieth: nothing. How much influence did George Romney or John McCain have in the Obama Administration? George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 but you didn’t see him appointing Al Gore to the cabinet. Since there’s no reward for almost winning a presidential election, third parties can’t really do much of anything except (rarely) serve as spoilers.

So should third parties just give up? Not necessarily but they should stop wasting scarce resources on vanity presidential campaigns that are never going to win. Instead, in my opinion, they should concentrate on House elections. Coalitions matter in the House, since the Speaker is elected by majority vote. The last really successful third party, the Populists, wielded at least some power in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries by winning seats in Congress, while never really getting that close to the White House. Thanks to modern, hyper-partisan gerrymandering, the majority of House districts aren’t the least bit competitive. This suggests that a party like the Libertarians might win in some Republican districts with a coalition of Democrats and Republicans who are put off by social conservatism and the Religious Right. There might be some Democratic districts where Greens could be competitive, though that seems less likely.

Sadly for them, the Libertarians have blown a golden opportunity to at least make a decent showing this year. With two historically unpopular major party nominees and most Americans desiring change, the Libertarians are getting more media attention, and thus more free publicity, than at any time in their history, maybe more than any third party candidate since Ralph Nader or H. Ross Perot. Rather than capitalize on this, they nominated a doofus like Gary Johnson who consistently embarrasses himself every time he’s interviewed by stumbling over softball questions and then poutily declaring that his ignorance is somehow a virtue. They’d have been better off with former Massachusetts Governor William Weld at the top of the ticket, but instead he’s pretty much written the whole thing off to concentrate on defeating Donald Trump. Yet another example of how third parties can’t seem to win for losing.

Published in: on October 12, 2016 at 9:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Trump Agonistes, Part 2

So I’ll freely admit to being surprised that Trump wasn’t quite as batshit crazy as I thought he’d be. No doubt that creepy, sniffly, stalkery performance was his idea of subtlety. Maybe if this had been the Trump we saw at the first debate (an asshole, but not a dangerously unhinged asshole) he wouldn’t be in free fall now. But it’s pretty clear after last night’s checklist of long discredited conspiracy theories, he’s only interested in his base now, which mercifully for the Republic is not nearly enough to win. It’s also clear that the campaign is being run pretty much exclusively by the Neo-Nazi (they prefer “altright”) Breitbart wing of the far lunatic fringe. 

As the Trumpkins turn their fury on Boy Speaker Paul Ryan, and the GOP’s idea of good news is that their nominee has never sexually assaulted his campaign manager and their vice presidential nominee isn’t quitting, the big remaining question is what happens on November 9? Since it’s looking increasingly likely that Hillary will win in a landslide, what will Trump do? It seems completely out of character for him to throw himself on his fainting couch and poutily concede like Romney. Would he simply refuse to concede, concession speeches being a gentlemanly tradition of the sort he normally shits on anyway? Or would he go full Robert Mugabe and insist he’s really the president? As bizarre as this election has been, there’s almost nothing outside the realm of possibility, from him forming a “shadow cabinet” ensconced in Orthanc to him actively encouraging his legions of Frogmen to “take back” the White House or disrupt the inauguration. And here’s where we get into the danger zone. I can’t see his fat keyboard kommando twitter-warriors storming a barricade but what about a handful of deranged lunatics? Lone wolves? I have to admit, the thought worries me. It’s replaced the the dread that a moron like Trump might get his tiny hands on nuclear weapons, but it hasn’t diminished.

How far will he go?

Published in: on October 10, 2016 at 4:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Trump Agonistes 

The BEST case scenario for Trump tonight is that he only performs as badly as he did in the first debate. Actually, I take that back; the best case scenario is that he fakes a stroke and simply doesn’t show up. As for the worst case…well, given his recent angry retweets about “traitors,” it’s not hard to imagine him suffering a total meltdown on stage and getting into a screaming match with an audience member or storming off the stage, or otherwise completely losing his shit.


And then what happens? With his creepy ‘Moon Over Parador’ style rally in front of Orthanc, Trump already puts me in mind of Nixon right before he resigned, stumbling around the White House drunkenly ranting at the portraits while Kissinger tried to hide the nuclear codes. Would Trump go even further and exhort his deplorable army of Frogmen to actual violence? There’s almost no scenario too far-fetched at this point, unfortunately.

Finally, another prediction: one of the weirder legacies of this election will, I think, be a record number of faithless electors. Many states, including Texas, have laws against them, but those are almost certainly unconstitutional.

Published in: on October 9, 2016 at 10:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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First Takes

  1. Trump won’t drop out. I can’t imagine his colossal ego allowing him to entertain the notion;
  2. If he does, the GOP is screwed. The ballots are already printed. It’s too late to even add a write-in in most states;
  3. This will be spun to delegitimize Hillary Clinton, e.g., she only won because of those tapes;
  4. The always remote chance the GOP would learn anything from this election is even more remote, e.g. he only lost because of those tapes. We can double-down on the racism, white nationalism, and xenophobia;
  5. The chances his psychotic followers will do something violent & stupid have increased to a frightening degree.
Published in: on October 8, 2016 at 5:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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