The size of the tent doesn’t matter

FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten wrote a piece yesterday on Joe “I Vote With Donald Trump Two-Thirds Of The Time” Manchin (D?-WV) and his value, much evidence to the contrary, to the Democratic Party:

So I can see why progressives would be peeved with Manchin. But it’s sort of silly to compare Manchin to the median Democrat. He represents West Virginia! FiveThirtyEight’s “Trump Score,” which ignores party and instead compares how often members vote with Trump to how often we would expect them to based on Trump’s share of the vote in their state, shows Manchin as one of the Democrats’ most valuable members. Manchin votes for the Trump position occasionally, but he does so about 33 percentage points less than senators from similarly red states.

In other words, Manchin’s real worth to Democrats is that he’s a Democrat, because a Republican from West Virginia would probably vote GOP far more often. In fact, West Virginia’s other senator, Capito, has voted with Trump 100 percent of the time.

The use of the word “occasionally” to describe something Manchin does 67 percent of the time is…interesting phrasing, but I’m not here to argue about vocabulary. The big problem with this analysis is that it compares Manchin to Republican senators, who you would obviously expect to vote Trump’s way almost all the time. But Enten has adjusted for that, a bit: Continue reading

Paul Ryan: Policy Wank

OH. MY. GAWD. He’s so wonky and neat! And so smart! Other politicians don’t get into the policy and really understand it the way Paul–I’m allowed to call him Paul, he told me one night while I was staring into his eyes on TV–does. What brilliant thing did he say today?

Well, he’s not wrong–healthy people subsidizing sick people is the “whole idea of Obamacare.” In fact, it’s the whole idea of health insurance. Policy genius Paul Ryan doesn’t know how insurance works. Paul’s solution to this problem, amazingly, isn’t to get rid of health insurance and adopt true universal healthcare like every other industrialized nation on the fucking planet. His solution, now with three times the wonkiness, is apparently that the government will “subsidize” health care for sick people so that the insurance market can strictly deal with healthy ones. That’s…not how insurance works, and there is no way in hell that his plan will actually appropriate enough money to pay for the health care of anybody with a pre-existing condition.

What Ryan is doing is, in some dialects of English other than Media English, called “lying,” which is this thing where somebody says something they know not to be true in order to convey a falsehood to his or her audience. As long as we insist on maintaining the supremely fucked up private for profit health insurance business, the only way that insurance companies can afford to take on sick people is if they also take on a bunch of healthy people who probably don’t want to buy insurance. This leads to all the shittiest parts of the ACA–the mandate, the garbage high deductible policies, etc. But if you want to get rid of those shitty parts, you have two choices: enact genuine health care reform, like single-payer, or tell people with pre-existing conditions to go fuck themselves. Republicans won’t do the former, obviously–hell, Democrats don’t even want to do the former–and they can’t do the latter because Politics.

So instead, Ryan has to play this game where he pretends to care about people with pre-existing conditions with his pretend fix that can’t work, knowing full well that when the rubber hits the road, he and the rest of his party would gladly stick every sick person in America on an ice floe in the Arctic Sea if it meant they could finance another massive tax cut for Paul Singer et al. But they have to bullshit the public for now, and despite the fact that they’ve collectively fallen for the same completely made-up “Paul Ryan: The Wonk Who Cares” myth over and over and over again for the better part of two decades, our media still hasn’t learned that Paul Ryan isn’t a wonk and doesn’t actually care.

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Why Ellison matters

Yesterday I tried to make the argument that it matters who the DNC chair is, insofar as that person should be up to the job of running the Democratic Party. I’ve seen people argue that the party chair is mostly irrelevant, and it seems pretty clear to me that that’s not the case. I do agree that the DNC chair’s personal politics aren’t particularly relevant as to whether or not they can manage the party–paid MEK lobbyist Howard Dean, for example, has some pretty awful political ideas, but he was an effective DNC chair because he understood the need to grow the party at the state level and field candidates all over the map. Ideally you’d like to have a party chair with better politics than Dean but who also understands tactically how to build the party, but my point is that the latter is more important than the former. The Democratic Party’s political leanings are going to be determined by elected Democrats and the party’s rank and file, not the DNC chair, and to that point it’s up to us to make sure the party looks more like Elizabeth Warren’s party than Andrew Cuomo’s. Party chairs aren’t even the chief spokespeople for their parties, unless you think that Reince Priebus was the face of the Republican Party for the past eight years and not, say, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney, or Donald Trump.

With all that said, though, there is a compelling political argument for Ellison as DNC chair. It doesn’t have to do with his politics versus Tom Perez’s politics so much as it has to do with what Ellison represents to some crucial Democratic constituencies:

“Keith Ellison had incredible support from the quote-unquote establishment side of the party, the progressive side of the party, the grassroots and the elected officials. Nobody was clamoring for another entrance, and yet we got one foisted upon us,” said Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, an organization fighting to expand Social Security benefits.

“If Tom Perez were to win, the message that would send to the grassroots, to labor unions that endorsed Ellison before Tom Perez joined the race, [is] that their voices, their muscle, their enthusiasm and turnout doesn’t matter,” Lawson added.

Ellison backers acknowledge that the liberal protest movement that has taken shape since President Donald Trump’s inauguration ― not the DNC race ― has become the focus of grassroots energy. A loss for Ellison now could limit the party’s ability to tap into that enthusiasm, but it wouldn’t stop the movement.

“If Perez wins, we’re not gonna come out with pitchforks and say, ‘No, no, no,’” said Murshed Zaheed, political director of Credo Action, an online progressive heavyweight that has experienced record growth since Trump’s inauguration. “But people are going to roll their eyes and just keeping doing what they do. It’s going to keep the DNC what it is: an irrelevant, old, stale entity that hasn’t been re-serviced since the Howard Dean days.” (Zaheed noted that he spoke to HuffPost in his personal capacity, since Credo isn’t endorsing in the race.)

There is one thing about Perez’s politics that does matter here: his support for TPP and what that means to organized labor. But even that’s symbolic. TPP is gone and it’s not coming back, at least not in anything resembling the form it had before. But more to the point, the DNC chair’s position on free trade isn’t really that important. What is important is that traditionally Democratic constituencies that have become disenchanted with the Democratic Party over the past 25 years might finally feel like they’re being heard if Ellison gets the job, in a way that they say they won’t if Perez gets it. And yes, if Ellison wins there are going to be constituencies upset about that too. But I would argue that Ellison will have an easier time patching things up with those constituencies than Perez will have with the constituencies his election will alienate, if only because they’ve got less pent up resentment toward the national Democratic Party.

Now, you could argue that this seems an awful lot like blackmail, or a mafia protection racket, that these groups are threatening the Democratic Party to get what they want. But isn’t that essentially what politics is? Do what I want, support the policies I like, address my problems, or else you don’t get my vote. That’s a message the Democratic Party should be getting loud and clear after November, and after an eight year period that saw it lose control of, well, almost everything. If electing Keith Ellison as DNC chair can win the party some goodwill with voters who could help right the Democratic Party’s electoral ship, then why wouldn’t you want him in that job?

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Things that don’t matter except when they do


I have to be completely honest: I don’t care very much who winds up as DNC chair. What I mean by that is that I would like to see Keith Ellison get the job, and I would not like to see Tom Perez get it, but if Perez does get it I’m not going to be that mad about it.

At least, not yet.

I don’t know much about Perez’s politics. Erik Loomis (who supports Ellison) says he was a very good Labor Secretary, and Loomis knows Labor issues quite well whereas I care about those issues but am not very well-informed about them because, well, there are only so many hours in the day. So I’ll stipulate that he was a good Labor Secretary in part because I don’t think it matters when evaluating his candidacy to run the DNC. His Israel-Palestine politics are shitty, but he’s running for DNC chair, not Secretary of State, and moving forward it’s going to be harder and harder for the Democratic Party to remain as anti-Palestinian as it currently is, regardless of who the DNC chair may be.

I know Ellison’s politics better, and I like them, but even if you like his politics you have to bear in mind that he’s running for a job where personal politics aren’t supposed to, and usually don’t, matter. I don’t think Reince Priebus, for example, had much effect on moving the Republican Party toward the nativist hard right, and in fact it seems pretty clear that he was along for the ride. What should matter in a party chair is how they manage the party apparatus.

Where I disagree with Loomis is in the notion that it doesn’t matter who’s running the party or that Debbie Wasserman Schultz didn’t do a fair amount of damage over her ~5 year tenure. The evidence of her apparently willful decimation of state parties is splayed all over any 2016 electoral map you can find and written in any piece you read about the number of legislative seats in this country that simply go uncontested in any given election cycle (yes, the Republicans choose not to contest seats too, but they’re not the minority party). It’s clear when every other tweet out of the DNC’s Twitter account is a GIF of Leslie Knope rolling her eyes that something in DWS’s Democratic Party was broken, and I’m not sure how you can argue that it didn’t matter come election time.

So given that, what worries me most about Perez is that some of the same people who left DWS in charge of the party even as it was clear she was running it into a ditch are the ones pushing Perez’s candidacy. If Perez gets the job and revitalizes state parties, recruits candidates all over the map, and fixes the national party’s messaging operation while staying out of the way on policy, then he’ll probably be OK. On the other hand, if he gets the job and keeps weakening state parties, keeps restricting the party’s messaging, and/or tries to use his perch to drag the party to the right, that will be shitty. I feel pretty confident that Ellison knows what’s wrong with the DNC and has a plan to fix it. That, much more than their relative political viewpoints, is why I would like to see Ellison get the gig. I really have no idea if the same is true of Perez, but I also don’t know that it’s not true, so I guess if he gets the job I’ll take a wait and see position.

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Sensible Centrism


Rahm Emanuel is a Good Democrat:

In the first three weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency, mayors across the country became some of his most vocal opponents and vowed to fight his discriminatory executive orders. But there’s at least one city leader who wants to work closely with the new administration: Democratic Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

On Monday, Emanuel sat down with Attorney General Jeff Sessions to discuss “topics from public safety to public transportation.” According to the mayor’s office, Emanuel specifically asked for a federal crackdown on gun violence in the city.

“Public safety is a top priority for everyone, and over the course of the day the mayor reiterated his request for added federal resources including ex-offender programs, mentoring and increased federal gun prosecution in Chicago, as well as additional federal agents,” Emanuel spokesman Matt McGrath said of the meeting.

The request comes three weeks after Trump spewed false data about Chicago gun violence and threatened to send “the Feds” to “fix the horrible ‘carnage,’” and two weeks after the mayor replied, “Just send them.”

Instead of looking, say, at his punitive economic and social policies to try to find some answers for the wave of violent crime hitting Chicago’s south and west sides, the Democratic Mayor of Chicago would rather appeal to Donald Trump and his racist Attorney General to send in the feds and crack some skulls. Glorious bipartisanship, it truly is an end in itself.

The next time somebody asks you why liberals and leftists keep fighting with one another, one way you could explain it is to say that the people responsible for giving Chicago “Mayor Rahm Emanuel” are very angry that their 25 year stewardship of The Left in American politics is suddenly being called into question for reasons they can’t quite understand. That’s a pretty decent summary.

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Protest works

I have very little interest in getting in to debates over how best to protest and otherwise resist the extremism of Donald Trump and his administration. But I will note that when people try to tell you that protesting the administration at all isn’t worth it or isn’t “sufficient,” you might want to respond with two points:

  1. Nobody thinks protest alone is sufficient
  2. Check out what’s happening in Romania right now

The Romanian government is teetering on the brink of collapse, because of massive public protest. Last Tuesday, the still very new (sound familiar?) left-wing (OK, that part is new) Romanian government took steps, specifically a decree (the better to bypass parliament) from Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu, to decriminalize corruption offenses if the money involved in said corruption totaled less than $48,000. It also halted all current corruption investigations and cleared some people who had already been convicted on corruption charges.

Surprisingly, the Romanian people, who live in a country that has a bit of a corruption problem–they’re far from the most corrupt country in the world, but neither are they among the least–didn’t appreciate this effort to “bring the law in line with decisions by the country’s Constitutional Court,” which was the explanation offered by their government. The public figured, and I know this sounds crazy, that corruption is corruption, and should be punished even when it’s on the cheap. Maybe they also figured, and again I know this might seem radical, that their new government was preparing to nickel and dime them to death. That the leader of Grindeanu’s Social Democratic Party is currently under corruption investigation and stood to personally benefit from the decree probably helped fuel the public anger.

So, in response, people took to the streets. A lot of people took to the streets. Or, to be more precise, they took back to the streets–there had already been some protests as far back as January 18, when rumors began to circulate that Gindeanu’s government was considering these anti-anti-corruption measures. But once the government acted, the protests grew considerably. At least 500,000 Romanians rallied across the country on Sunday in opposition to Grindeanu’s decree–a percentage that, in the US, would equate to something like 8 million people. For reference, the recent Women’s March, thought to be the largest single day protest in American history, brought out about 3 million people by the estimates I’ve seen. It may have been the largest protest in Romanian history–if it wasn’t, it was only superseded by the protests that accompanied the 1989 Romanian Revolution, which overthrew Nicolae Ceaușescu.


Protests outside the government building in Bucharest on February 1 (Wikimedia | Babu)

And you know what? It worked. On Saturday, Grindeanu announced that he was scrapping the decree. That may be too little, too late, though–protests have continued despite Grindeanu’s reversal, and it may be that nothing will satisfy the protesters short of bringing his government down. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis is politically aligned with the opposition, so he’s been happy to twist the knife and would be very happy to accept Grindeanu’s resignation, but his powers are very limited. But regardless of what happens to the government, the point is that corrupt people pushing a corrupt agenda can, even as they evade any political roadblocks, still be moved by public opposition.

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It’s challenging for me to write about things like Donald Trump’s immigration executive order, which has by now gone through so many clarifications and legal challenges that it’s hard to say exactly what it is beyond red meat to his terrified white nationalist base. My instinct is to talk about policy on the merits–in terms of its likely effects, chances of success, that sort of thing–in addition to or sometimes (I have to work on this) instead of talking about its moral ramifications. And the problem with policies like this immigration ban is that to talk about them on the merits is in some sense to legitimize them as rational and even defensibly moral policy choices. George Bush’s torture–er, enhanced interrogation, sorry–program presented a similar choice. Should opponents talk about the fact that torture doesn’t work, or does even allowing that such a discussion could take place cede too much moral ground?

So let’s be clear: there is no moral justification for this policy. Continue reading