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

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?

Hi, how’s it going? Thanks for reading; attwiw wouldn’t exist without you! If you enjoyed this or any other posts here, please share widely and help build our audience. You can like this site on Facebook or follow me on Twitter as well. Most critically, if you’re a regular reader I hope you’ll read this and consider helping this place to stay alive.

Things that don’t matter except when they do

perez_ellison

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.

Hi, how’s it going? Thanks for reading; attwiw wouldn’t exist without you! If you enjoyed this or any other posts here, please share widely and help build our audience. You can like this site on Facebook or follow me on Twitter as well. Most critically, if you’re a regular reader I hope you’ll read this and consider helping this place to stay alive.

With Democrats like these…

Prices for prescription drugs in the United States are out of control and multiple times higher than they are in other countries around the world:

U.S. prices for the world’s 20 top-selling medicines are, on average, three times higher than in Britain, according to an analysis carried out for Reuters.

The finding underscores a transatlantic gulf between the price of treatments for a range of diseases and follows demands for lower drug costs in America from industry critics such as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

The 20 medicines, which together accounted for 15 percent of global pharmaceuticals spending in 2014, are a major source of profits for companies including AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Merck, Pfizer and Roche.

Researchers from Britain’s University of Liverpool also found U.S. prices were consistently higher than in other European markets. Elsewhere, U.S. prices were six times higher than in Brazil and 16 times higher than the average in the lowest-price country, which was usually India.

The United States, which leaves pricing to market competition, has higher drug prices than other countries where governments directly or indirectly control medicine costs.

Big pharmaceutical companies have lots of answers when they’re questioned about this. These prices don’t include insurance company discounts! Which aren’t large enough to make up the disparity. Health care in the US is more expensive in general? Well, sure, and medicine costs are a big part of the reason why. The high prices are necessary to fund research! OK, but then why is all that research being funded entirely on the backs of American patients? Why not spread that burden out to other countries?

The answer is pretty simple: every other industrialized country negotiates drug prices with pharmaceutical companies directly, instead of letting “market forces” determine them. Continue reading

Just Us

During one of my myriad recent stints sitting around in either an airport gate or a hospital waiting room, I saw this “feel-good story” from CBS:

When a hungry Cameron Nelson walked into a Chick-fil-A in Avon, Indiana, last week he looked toward the counter and couldn’t help but stare — not at the menu, but at the young employee standing in front of it.

The teenager, Jakeem Tyler, was counting change on one hand. His other arm was wrapped in a sling and he was wearing a neck brace.

“We sneeze too hard and decide to call in, but he’s workin’ like nothing’s wrong,” Nelson thought to himself.

As soon as Nelson stepped up to the counter and placed his order, he asked Tyler, “What happened?”

Tyler explained he was recently involved in a car accident.

“He [said he] was working cause he needs the money and also wants to feed the homeless for Christmas,” Nelson wrote in a Facebook post that has since gone viral with more than 5,000 shares.

Nelson was impressed.

Jakeem Tyler seems like an impressive human being, so I can understand being impressed by him. But I have to say my immediate reaction to this story was mostly disgust, at CBS, for taking the story of a teenager forced to go right back to work after a car accident and turning it into some uplifting tale of perseverance instead of the absolute indictment of the 2016 United States of America that it actually is. What kind of a nation is this where we deny people the right to heal from a serious injury before they have to go back to work?

Continue reading

If you read only two things today…

I’m fighting off a bug and have a sick child home from school, so unless something moves me greatly I think the blog will be quiet for the rest of the day. But if you’re looking for something to read I’ve got a couple of suggestions. First, Atrios’s righteous anger is pretty good:

Monday morning quarterbacking – figuring out went wrong, with hindsight – is a certainly fair to engage in, but it isn’t necessarily an indictment of the people involved. Hindsight makes everything clearer, or so it seems at least.

But a bunch of people assumed the responsibility of protecting the nation from Donald Trump. This wasn’t a game, a sportsball contest, this, you know, mattered. And they lost. Jeebus help us all because of it. Most of them aren’t going to see their family members be deported or die of pregnancy complications. With great responsibility comes great responsibility. They took on a job, and they fucked it up. They lost the election to Donald Fucking Trump.

As for all of the absolutely horrible non-campaign surrogates, I suppose it depends on what they thought their job was. That’s the problem with the modern cable news and twitter campaign. I used to think Dems needed to close the hack gap, but that assumed our hacks would be any good. They weren’t.

Not very constructive, I know, but still necessary. But here is something more constructive, from New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz, on the ways Bernie Sanders (who wasn’t the best messenger, as Levitz acknowledges and I concur) is right about where the Democratic Party needs to go:

Without question, the non-economic dimensions of disadvantage in the United States — which women, LGBT, and nonwhite voters are acutely aware of as a function of their identities — must be addressed by any political party that considers itself progressive. And identity-based social movements like Black Lives Matter helped the Democratic Party better earn that label in 2016, by forcing both its presidential candidates to adopt platforms more representative of their voters’ interests.

But racial justice and gender equality cannot be achieved without confronting economic inequality — not when people of color and women are overrepresented among the financially disadvantaged. And it’s difficult to see how the Democratic Party will ever take aggressive action to combat inequality, unless its downscale wing becomes both larger and more class conscious.

This is really a thoughtful piece and well worth a read.

TIP JAR

What he said (second in a series)

So the piece I wrote yesterday got a lot of attention, and a lot of positive feedback, for which I’m grateful. When I stray beyond foreign policy and world affairs I’m the first to admit that I’m out of my comfort zone, and I certainly didn’t intend that post to be anything more than a collection of thoughts loosely organized around a particular theme. But some of the reaction I got on Twitter was about the Democratic Party’s policies–aren’t those policies intended to be good for workers? Isn’t the Democratic Party manifestly better on economic issues for anybody outside the top 1% than the Republican Party?

My answer to this is two-fold. First, the fact is that “better than the Republicans” is a low bar, and the Democrats only barely clear it in a lot of cases. “Free” trade, as it’s been fetishized in Washington by the establishments in both parties, hurts people all over the country, and the usual Democratic solution, throwing money at “training” that demonstrably doesn’t help, is arguably worse than doing nothing at all. Obamacare, while a necessary first step compared to what came before, was a grotesque compromise of basic principles that is hurting people all over the country. That compromise was unavoidable given the political constraints that existed in 2010, but the Democratic Party should be talking loudly and often about how much more work needs to be done, and how obstructionist Republicans are blocking any improvements. So no, the policies need work.

Obamacare actually leads me to the second part of my answer, which is that it’s not all about policies. The Democratic Party can have the greatest, most just, most sensible policy platform ever conceived, but we’ve learned over the last several elections that when your default campaign strategy is simply to point at your Republican opponent and say “man, can you believe this guy?” people are going to stop paying attention. It’s not enough to be against things, and it’s not enough to throw a collection of policy ideas up on a website and direct people to it when they have questions. Your political movement, your party, has to stand for something, it has to have a story to tell. And no, that story can’t be “look at how experienced I am,” particularly not in a cycle when many voters are clearly not interested in experience. You have to have some basic principles–and sure, maybe we won’t all agree on how to achieve those principles, which is fine, but we should all be able to agree on what the principles are, shouldn’t we? It seems to work for the other folks.

“Black lives matter,” that’s a principle. “LGBTQ people should have the same rights and protections as the rest of us” is a principle. “We should fight, everyday, for justice–economic, environmental, in our courts, in our foreign policy, everywhere, because we live in a system that, left to its own devices, is manifestly unjust,” that’s a principle too. Whether they’re the “right electoral principles” should matter less than whether they’re the right principles, period. I don’t know what all the principles should be. We’ve already seized on some, but there need to be more, and the political left in this country needs to talk about them, all the time, to everyone. Which means forming a political party that campaigns on them, all the time, in every race, without exception. No more complaining about gerrymandering and leaving dozens of Republicans unopposed every cycle. Gerrymandering is bad, and hard to overcome, I get it, but I’m tired of giving my money and my votes to a party that won’t even try to contest the really tough races.

With only a few quibbles, basically I agree with what President Obama said in his press conference yesterday: Continue reading