STATUS QUO JUSTICE

Posted in Quick Hits on January 31st, 2017 by Ed

Tuesday's Supreme Court appointment appears to have the Court picking up where it left off before Scalia died. Gorsuch, according to judicial politics researchers I trust, is basically Scalia. Some sources claim he is more conservative than Scalia, a distinction which, if even humanly possible, should make very little practical difference. The only way to make the data show that anyone is more conservative than Scalia is to include that justice's votes from the 80s and up to the mid-90s, before he lapsed into complete self parody. It was as if he laid down a track record for a few years of writing well thought out opinions and then, figuring he'd done enough, took off his suit, relaxed in some sweat pants, and let his inner asshole take over. In his last decade he was everything his critics always claimed he was, and worse. This is the man who pontificated about Strict Constructionalism and then, when same sex marriage was on the docket, started babbling about the ancient Babylonians and "judeo-christian tradition." Yeah, that must be in Article Give Me a Break.

Essentially, the GOP took an enormous risk when Scalia died and it paid off. It was risky because at the time, the prospects of any of the Republican field winning the White House seemed very slim. And they knew the option in front of them, Merrick Garland, was likely a better pick than whoever they would get out of a president Hillary Clinton. They also gambled (wisely) that literally any form of obstructionism and hypocrisy is OK if Republicans do it, because they do it to like, protect Freedom from the totalitarianism of moderate centrist Democratic presidents.

Senate Democrats appear to have zero will to fight this in a meaningful way. I'm not sure what it's going to take to get through to those people, but right now they're failing to grasp that the only rational response to this disaster is to bring the Senate to a grinding halt and oppose everything – which, coincidentally, is exactly what Republicans in the Senate did for six years while Obama was around doing things that were usually routine and, at their top dollar best, qualified as mildly interesting.

I've never been a "Let's take to the streets!" person. I dislike being in large mobs of people. But with the Senate Democrats ready to lie down for Gorsuch – who, it should be noted, is 49 and we will be stuck with him for probably three decades – I suppose the only useful course of action is to try to scare them the same way GOP incumbents are terrified of their base.

MARSHALL LAW

Posted in Quick Hits on January 29th, 2017 by Ed

Someone posed a question to me over the weekend that may soon be relevant. In fact it seems inevitable that it will be relevant given the current president's shall-we-say rather unilateral conception of his legal authority. What happens when the Federal courts issue an order and the Executive branch simply ignores it?

It has been some time since I've taught Presidency, so I'm rusty on Andrew Jackson and Worcester v Georgia (the source of the infamous misquote, "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!" He actually said the more mundane but identical in spirit, "the decision of the Supreme Court has fell still born, and they find that they cannot coerce Georgia to yield to its mandate.") With that caveat…

First, failing to execute a Court order would be as clear cut as grounds for impeachment could get. Since Article II requires the Executive to "take care that the laws are faithfully executed," failure to do so would be an open and shut case. Impeachment is not an automatic process, of course. So it is conceivable that the House GOP would not make an indictment even if the situation demanded one. That's where things get more complicated.

A Federal Court has the power to issue an arrest warrant through its quasi-enforcement branch, the United States Marshall Service. While issuing such a warrant for the President would be unprecedented and frankly sensational, the holder of that office is not above the law. I imagine that a president would have to push a court pretty far before it came to this, but it is not impossible. The President failing to follow a court order is not quite the same as the court issuing a warrant for someone who violated a statute, obviously, so there would no doubt be a lot of parsing of technicalities involved. Another (less likely) option is the Justice Dept., which resides in the Executive branch, bringing criminal charges of some sort against the president. There would be attempts to block this from the top, but one has to imagine that someone in the Department seeks glory and attention enough to run the risk of trying it and hoping to god that it works.

This would qualify as a clear example of the overused term "constitutional crisis." The functioning of our system depends on the very basic division of powers and responsibilities upon which the Federal government is built. Sadly, and without lapsing into undue alarmism, it appears that the current president is of a mindset to refuse to take orders from anyone other than himself.

Or the Kremlin, obvi. He takes plenty of orders from them.

COMIC RELIEF

Posted in Quick Hits on January 26th, 2017 by Ed

From Elizabeth Warren on social media:

Yes, I have serious, deep, profound concerns about Dr. Carson’s inexperience to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Yes, I adamantly disagree with many of the outrageous things that Dr. Carson said during his presidential campaign. Yes, he is not the nominee I wanted.

But “the nominee I wanted” is not the test.

Millions of American families depend on HUD programs, including tens of thousands of families in Massachusetts. For many of them, HUD assistance is the difference between a safe, stable home and life on the street. As someone who has spent a lot of time working on housing policy in this country, my focus is on helping these families – and the countless others who could benefit from a stronger agency.

During the nomination process, I sent Dr. Carson a nine-page letter with detailed questions on a whole range of issues: Section 8 housing assistance; lead exposure in public housing; programs to prevent and end homelessness; programs to help victims of domestic violence; fighting housing discrimination; HUD’s role in preparing for and recovering from natural disasters; and, more broadly, the standards he will use for managing the department, including the steps he will take to protect the rights of LGBT Americans.

Dr. Carson’s answers weren’t perfect. But at his hearing, he committed to track and report on conflicts of interest at the agency. In his written responses to me, he made good, detailed promises, on everything from protecting anti-homelessness programs to enforcing fair housing laws. Promises that – if they’re honored – would help a lot of working families.

Can we count on Dr. Carson to keep those promises? I don’t know. People are right to be skeptical; I am. But a man who makes written promises gives us a toehold on accountability. If President Trump goes to his second choice, I don’t think we will get another HUD nominee who will even make these promises – much less follow through on them.

If Dr. Carson doesn’t follow through on his commitments, I will be the very first person he hears from – loudly and clearly and frequently. I didn’t hesitate to criticize past HUD Secretaries when they fell short, and I won’t hesitate with Dr. Carson – not for one minute.

Don't worry, guys. We extracted a totally unenforceable list of promises from this guy who serves entirely at the leisure of the President once the Senate confirms him.

The rhetoric on the left generally counts Warren as one of The Good Ones, so this line of reasoning is particularly alarming. I do understand that part of this is a hat-tip to reality – these nominees are going to be confirmed anyway, and you have to pick your battles if you truly intend to try to stop an appointee from the position of the minority in the Senate. But at some point we have to wonder what exactly it would take before the Democrats in the Senate would actually do one time what the GOP has done as a matter of routine every single time a Democratic president has made an appointment. Does the nominee have to show up at the hearing wearing an actual Nazi uniform before they can amass the backbone even to cast a symbolic, meaningless No vote? Warren is correct that voting No would accomplish little here; the GOP has a majority on the committee and in the chamber. So why is that not a reason in favor of voting No? If it doesn't matter, why sign your name onto the impending disaster in any way, shape, or form?

Ben Carson is the very definition of a warm body. He will do nothing. HUD is 99.9% civil service and any "orders" would be coming from the White House anyway. I get that. What makes less sense is the outright refusal of the Democratic Party to offer any serious resistance (or even the pretense thereof) to anything. If Donald Trump isn't "bad enough" to warrant the kind of procedural obstructionism that congressional Republicans have applied to everything Obama or Clinton ever attempted to do, who is? Trump is not popular. He lost the popular vote and a majority of the country sees him as some combination of idiot and monster. Yet the Democrats still cannot bring themselves to offer anything like opposition to him – even just play-acting token opposition. We see the same "Let's show the public how Bipartisan we are and find areas where we can work with him!" logic that has reduced the party to almost total irrelevance in contemporary politics. They don't have the House. They don't have the Senate. Or the White House. Or the states (currently 17 have Democratic govs and 18 have Democratic legislatures). Part of this is beyond their control. Part of it is not beyond their control.

Standing up and saying "Fuck this guy, we're going to try to torpedo him at every turn" is the most obvious possible play in this situation. Failing to do it will be fatal. Imagine a redux of the 2002-03 era in which every future Democratic candidate, having lacked the balls to oppose Bush in even the most obvious opportunities, is saddled with the baggage of having voted to support the impending trainwreck.

Voters aren't responding very well to overtures of working together. Perhaps try actually standing for something – anything – and voters might find that more appealing.

RETURN OF SHIRT OF THE ZEITGEIST

Posted in Quick Hits on January 23rd, 2017 by Ed

So after running out and canceling a bunch of your orders last time around, I decided to restock the "Everything is Terrible All the Time" t-shirts. The only change is that there is a separate button for international orders – at $12-15 per shirt to ship to other countries, I was kinda paying international buyers to take the shirts. While I am not looking to become a titan of commerce here, I do have to avoid selling these at a loss. Sorry, Europe and Canada and Asia and basically the whole world.

Shirts will arrive in my hands in the first week of February, and I will have them in the mail to you as soon as I get them. I appreciate your patience. My warehouse and shipping operation is me. Details about the shirts are the same as before:

Canvas brand, screenprinted (no print on demand BS), no text on the reverse side, women's v-neck and men's/unisex crew neck available. Simple. Black. Bleak. Let everyone know how you feel. Let everyone know your favorite blog. Canvas sizing guides for unisex and women's v-neck shirts. Won't fall apart or fade after one wash. Black hides tears, too.

eitatt

Please use the correct order button, Domestic or International. Anything outside of the U.S., even Canada, must use the International button.


Domestic Orders (USA)





International Orders




They go quickly. Don't be left out!

LIGHTSABER SECURITY COUNCIL BLUES

Posted in Quick Hits on January 23rd, 2017 by Ed

It is crucially important over the next (however long the Trump-Pence administration lasts) to be vigilant against outrage fatigue. The GOP has long since mastered the strategy of throwing so many horrible things at the left, one after another, that it becomes nearly impossible to keep up with them all. And it works. Eventually the ability and will to fight back succumbs to a kind of numb "Everything is Terrible All the Time" feeling. Most of us are not professional activists. We can only handle so much.

So, it would be useful to avoid getting in a huff about things that have almost no conceivable chance of happening. Much will be Proposed in the near future. It's not difficult to introduce a bill in the House. Remember, thousands of bills are introduced in every Session and few even get to a floor vote let alone sent on to the President.

As an example, a bill to withdraw the U.S. from the U.N. was introduced this weekend. Terrible, right? I have a better chance of being nominated to the Supreme Court than this bill has to become a law. We may live in an age in which the most implausible things seem possible, but there is a limit. A small amount of logic will lead you to the conclusion that this bill is DOA.

First, without its seat on the Security Council, how will the U.S. continue to be the special protector of Israel? Does Israel carry a lot of weight in political circles in the U.S.? Are Republicans staunchly pro-Israel in Congress? Yes, that's what I thought.

Second, several "old school" Republican Senators have already stated that they will not under any circumstances vote to remove the U.S. from NATO or the U.N. Not only do these guys loathe Trump – Graham, McCain, Rubio, etc. – but their hawkish positions on foreign policy run directly contrary to removing the U.S. from these institutions.

Finally, the Republicans have a majority in the Senate of exactly two seats. The slightest amount of defection on any bill will torpedo it. Even with full party support they will have a hard time working around threats of filibuster.

I wouldn't be surprised by much of anything at this point. Mitch McConnell could pull off a mask and reveal Andy Kaufman and we'd all shrug and say, "Yeah I suspected as much." Nonetheless at a time in which there will be more crises than any reasonable person could handle it makes sense to bear in mind that tons of bills are introduced and tons of policy changes are proposed. Unless I missed something and Congressional Republicans suddenly don't care about Israel and want to abandon it to its fate, this bill is unlikely to be worth losing sleep over.

NOTEBOOKS OUT

Posted in Rants on January 22nd, 2017 by Ed

Even without teaching experience it must not be hard for you to imagine that smartphone (and to a lesser extent, laptop) usage is an impediment to teaching in a college classroom today. It is an impediment to all classrooms, I'm sure, but unlike K-12 teachers, in college we can't simply harvest their phones at the beginning of class like a middle school teacher might be able to. Accordingly, when I notice that students are not paying attention / absorbed in the many wonders of the internet, I often use the phrase "notebooks out" to try to snap their attention back to class. By that I mean, this is kind of an important thing you're about to miss, and I'm doing you a favor by letting you know that you should pay attention to it. I don't recall where I first picked this up – no doubt some teacher I had years ago – but I do it to myself as well when I want to make sure I'm paying attention to something. Getting distracted, after all, is incredibly easy these days.

On Friday and Saturday, especially the latter, I was Notebooks Out all day. It was hard to miss the sense that we are watching some pretty important history being made right now, good or bad, and here are a couple of things I think the coordinated marches on Saturday have demonstrated for us.

1. Zero Arrests by the D.C. police on Saturday despite hundreds of thousands of people showing up. This is interesting, as it represents the fact that police seem biased to resort to force more quickly and often with men than women, but also (and more importantly) that large numbers of women seem to be better at having a large gathering without resorting to juvenile property destruction that gives the police an excuse to intervene. I have news for all the Anarchy Bros out there: Starbucks has insurance and doesn't really give a shit that you broke their window. The only thing property destruction accomplishes is to delegitimize protests in the right-wing media, to give the police an excuse to start swinging batons, and to allow the perpetrators to engage in some kind of exhibitionism – play-acting revolutionary or something. If women (although men participated on Saturday too, in smaller numbers) can have such a large event without resorting to that kind of idiocy, then that suggests that men are largely (but not exclusively, so don't bother posting a link to a picture of a woman kicking a garbage can over) responsible for the "Hey, let's go get into a fight with the cops" aspect of protest. I'm not blind to the fact that the police are the ones responsible for instigating physical confrontations in many cases. All I'm thinking right now is, somehow a couple million women pulled this off without any batons meeting skulls and I think we all need to think very carefully about what should be learned from this.

2. That was awesome to see on Saturday. The crowd sizes were something to behold. Now. Can we sustain something? One weekend isn't going to get it done. They – the They we're all protesting – rely on the fact that we will lose interest quickly. "Let them have their rally, and in a few weeks everything will be back to normal." Here is, as I watched on Saturday, a list of things that all of us, regardless of resources, can commit ourselves to doing moving forward. It is not a complete list. Smarter people than me have come up with better lists, no doubt.

  • Attend school board meetings. The woman who thinks the Earth is 6000 years old will be there. The Dad whose idea of sex ed is to call your daughters sluts and lead the class in prayer will be there. Can you be there as well?
  • Attend city council or county board meetings. Again, the nutcases and seniors complaining about taxes and teenagers and loud music (code words!) will be there. When question time comes around, your voice could help balance that.
  • Write one or two letters to the editor of your newspaper per month. This seems apocryphal, but with older voters, elected officials, and heavy news consumers, print journalism still carries a lot of weight. True, the 40 and under crowd hardly pays attention to them anymore, but the people most likely to vote – older voters – treat newspapers like the Bible. Opinion editors seeking that all-important "balance" will be looking for cogent letters to run alongside the right-wing conspiracy screeds they receive in volume from their elderly audience. This is free and doesn't demand a ton of your time.
  • Can you donate your time to a local elected official's re-election? Municipal elections are already coming up soon here in Illinois, even though the previous election seems like it's barely finished. Republicans executed to perfection a strategy of focusing on local races where it is easier to win because voter turnout is so exceptionally low. Congress and Senate candidates already have tons of resources, although there's no harm in pitching in there either. The state legislators, judges, board members, and so on can benefit even more from your help.
  • Can you run for a minor local elected office? Just throwing your name on the ballot for something like a small town elected office position could affect races. This obviously is not a commitment everyone can make. But if you are a person who can…
  • Speak up. This is not for everybody, as many of us no doubt justifiably feel unsafe in many public settings. But if you feel comfortable doing it, add your two cents to things you observe in public. On many occasions, for example, when I'm at the gym or walking around campus I overhear people use gay slurs or derogatory language and a combination of solid eye contact and "Is that really necessary?" or "What are you, 12?" is not a big commitment for me. Does it change their attitudes? Probably not, but hopefully if they hear it enough it will make them think a bit harder about their words and beliefs. Again, being confrontational is not for everyone. But if you feel comfortable, speak up. People need to hear "That is not cool" a lot more than they do currently. They certainly aren't hearing it inside of their right wing bubbles.

    This is a difficult issue because, by design, over the past three decades we have all had to work more for less in return and that makes it difficult to devote time to civic activity. I know how you probably feel, and I feel the same way: tired, busy, and ready to accept any excuse to avoid going to something like a school board meeting after a long day of work. Don't beat yourself up if you can't do it. Like the marches on Saturday, you're not a bad person if you didn't or couldn't go. Everyone contributes in different ways and in different amounts. At the same time, we all have to recognize that nobody promised us a rose garden. Nobody said this would be easy. Conservatives have sucked it up and packed local government meetings for decades and it has gotten them what they want. If you're like me and you're sitting at home on a weeknight thinking, man I do NOT want to go sit through a school board meeting right now…well, this would be a good time for us to suck it up. I'm as guilty as anyone of succumbing to Too Tired, Too Busy. Can we do better? I have plenty of room for improvement. I bet you do too. So what are we going to do about it?

  • THREE CARD MONTE

    Posted in Rants on January 18th, 2017 by Ed

    For those too young to remember the Cold War or who simply didn't bother to retain marginal information for three decades, let me give you a quick run-down on nuclear arms reduction deals. This is important, because the minute he gets into office Trump has announced his intention to cancel economic sanctions on Russia in exchange for reductions in the Russian nuclear stockpile.

    If you don't want to read the long version, the short one is that arms reduction deals are a charade. And this one, being essentially a cash-for-arms swap rather than each side decommissioning nuclear weapons in kind, is even worse than most.

    There are three reasons why such a deal is terrible even though (by design) it sounds good if you don't understand it. You can already hear him braying about his colossal deal-making skills; Look! I got the Russians to reduce their nuclear stockpile! What a hero I am! Don't be deceived.

    1. Arms reduction deals simply reduce the orders of magnitude on a spreadsheet. If Russia has sufficient nuclear warheads to kill every living thing on Earth 30 times over and they agree to reduce that to 20 times over, are we safer? On the far margins, yes. Fewer warheads in the stockpile means fewer that could accidentally go off, be stolen, get lost, and so on. But there is no benefit in the grand scheme. Russia will retain a stockpile of staggering size.

    2. Arms reduction deals are to the military what the donation bin is to your wardrobe. They will volunteer to give up the oldest, most obsolete stuff. The things that are more trouble (and more cost) than they're worth in upkeep. A cash-for-arms swap essentially pays them for their old garbage they were probably going to throw out sooner rather than later.

    3. When you put your old boots in the donation bin, what's your goal? Is it to help the poor? No, it's to clear out the space occupied by something you no longer want or use. And the best part is that once you've gotten rid of a bunch of old clothes…you can justify buying new ones! History has shown that arms reduction talks are followed immediately by generals lining up, hat in hand, intoning gravely that the nation has a fundamental weakness that needs to be addressed promptly and at staggering cost. "We no longer have (whatever was scrapped)! We are now vulnerable. To fill that gap in our strategic doctrine, we must move full speed ahead on Project Fuck the Taxpayer led by our good friends at Raytheon." Politicians and the public are a pushover for this argument. The arms reductions create the perfect opportunity to warn of Weakness and Vulnerability, the fear of which then easily justifies a new spending spree.

    So, in essence, Donald Trump wants to pay the Russians billions of dollars to throw out the obsolete nuclear weapons they no longer want and then, shortly down the road, replace their on-paper strategic value with something new and expensive. Because when you really want a new winter coat, the best way to rationalize it is to donate your oldest coats to the Salvation Army bin and then replace the space they occupied. You're turning old, used coats into a shiny new one. Now imagine that as you're about to dump them in the bin, someone offers you several billion dollars for them. That person is Donald Trump.

    But relax, that talk of him being the Kremlin's stooge is just liberal claptrap.

    THE SUBTLE ART OF LOWERING EXPECTATIONS

    Posted in Rants on January 16th, 2017 by Ed

    I have a lot of Canadian friends and readers (hi!) who have contributed to an increase in the amount of attention I pay to politics up in America's northern ally. Among Americans I am no doubt in the top 0.01% in knowledge of Canadian affairs, which sounds impressive until you realize it means that I can 1) Name the PM, 2) Locate Canada on a map, which some Americans seriously cannot do, and 3) Offer a basic description of the party system and type of governing institutions they use. And I've even been there – several times! American Knowledge of Outside World Level: Expert.

    Post-Harper (a man whose sole purpose seemed to make Brian Mulroney look dashing in comparison) the Canadians elected Justin Trudeau. Here's what people know about Trudeau in the U.S. One, he's hot. Two, he and Obama are friendly (which is a heuristic device that probably leads people who know this to assume, correctly as it happens, that they have some ideological similarities). Three, he's some kind of progressive liberal messiah.

    Were any American able to explain Justin Trudeau or any foreign leader in this much detail it would be a small miracle and a victory for the forces of cosmopolitanism. However, there is one problem with this summary of Mr. Trudeau, a problem that I suspect exists both in Canada and in the U.S. He's not really much of a progressive. Sure, in the American political spectrum he'd count as a flaming leftist, but…he's really pretty center-left. From what I read, I conceive of him as a sort of Canadian Clinton. Which Clinton? Eh, take your pick. Trudeau is likely to the left of either, yet his actions in office leave little doubt that he is cut from the same "We are all neoliberals now" cloth. His positions on cultural issues are pretty solidly left, but in many of the more practical areas of governing he lines up with, as the commies used to say, the moneyed interests of…Canadian Wall Street. Is Canada's Wall Street just Wall Street? Wait, it's Bay Street. Well isn't that the cutest!

    Part of the mistaken impression that Trudeau is a Left Wing Dreamboat comes from the broad erosion of what liberalism is since 1990, the "New Labour / New Democrat" movement's long term effects on the rightward drift of the center point on the ideological spectrum. There are adults – adults with voting rights – who literally believe that people like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair are hardcore Communists, or whatever language they would use to describe the most extreme left-wing political positions imaginable. This is frightening and amusing in equal measures, and it is solely the fault of the mainstream liberal parties in the affected countries. The Democratic Party didn't just wake up one morning and find itself Republican Lite. They chose to throw in the towel and wrap their arms around NAFTA and "Welfare reform" and everything else that makes Bill Clinton literally the most effective Republican president of the 20th Century.

    That said, one of the most worrying aspects of this new Age of Nationalism, with far right movements and their leaders flourishing in Europe, India, Asia, Russia, and now the United States, we will shift the ideological spectrum even further to the right. Far enough that basically anyone who isn't a fascist is going to look like a progressive. While it is fair and accurate for observers to claim that just about anyone would be better than Trump, when Paul Ryan starts to look like a reasonable statesman or Rick Perry stands out among the Cabinet as a voice of reason and professionalism, you've seriously lowered your standards. And just as the public got used to centrist Rockefeller Republican types like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair as the most extreme conceivable political left, give this five or ten years and we may be living in a world where Paul Ryan is a liberal firebrand. No, I don't mean that Ryan will be moving to the left. I mean that if you stare at the Le Pens and Trumps and Putins and Dudas and Modis of the world for long enough, just about anyone is going to look like Eugene Debs in comparison.

    What this means, in essence, is that a further erosion of what "the left" and "liberal" mean is as likely to be the result of this as any kind of left wing rebirth and resurgence. I can attest that it is indeed possible to walk around comfortably in a t-shirt in 50 degree weather once the body has acclimated to several months of Chicago winter.

    ON THE PROPERTIES OF WIND

    Posted in Rants on January 11th, 2017 by Ed

    If you've read about, or are old enough to remember living through, Watergate one of the interesting aspects of it is that even in less hyperpartisan times Republican support for Nixon was pretty firm. At least it was right up until it wasn't.

    It's not surprising that Democrats were howling for blood from the moment the scandal became a radar blip. Nixon was something akin to a monster in the eyes of liberals (which is pretty amusing in hindsight). Republicans, some of whom were quite a bit more liberal than any Republican you'll find in Congress today, took a more measured approach. Most weren't exactly wild about Nixon themselves. He was not a very easy man to get along with. But they expressed measured support for him throughout the scandal. Few of them gushed into the cameras of their burning love for Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon. Most, however, took a "Let's not have this wild-eyed talk of impeachment before we even see any evidence of wrongdoing."

    Then the audio tapes came out and the indictments were handed down. Tape transcripts circulated widely. The Republicans around the Capitol didn't waste time looking for the exits.

    enate Republican Leader Hugh Scott said the transcripts revealed a "deplorable, disgusting, shabby, and immoral" performance on the part of the President and his former aides. The House Republican Leader John Jacob Rhodes agreed with Scott, and Rhodes recommended that if Nixon's position continued to deteriorate, he "ought to consider resigning as a possible option."

    There was a sense throughout that Republicans were trying to be supportive of Nixon without really sticking their necks out for him. Lots of "Wait until all the facts are in" stuff. No doubt they would have liked to rid themselves of the scandal sooner and more emphatically, but politicians have (not surprisingly) good instincts for these things. You could sense the mental calculations taking place. A strong note of support for Nixon would have been a bet on the scandal getting better rather than worse. And Republicans in Congress at the time were pretty damn sure that getting worse was more likely. A legislator's #1 goal is reelection. They might care about helping Nixon and strengthening the Republican brand. When the chips are down, they care about protecting themselves a lot more.

    Since it was assembled as opposition research we should assume that not every bit of this new dossier on Trump's Russian ties is true. But it's not all false, either. And you can bet that people in Washington with insider knowledge are feeling like an uncomfortably significant amount of it could be true. The instinct of every Congressional Republican will be to downplay this, to defend him without sticking their necks out too far. But if you're a GOP in Congress right now you're also asking yourself two pertinent questions right now.

    1. How much am I willing to risk to help this guy I don't like?
    2. How likely is it that this is the worst news that's going to come out about Trump and the Russians?

    Your answers right now are 1. Not much, since most of them didn't want this guy winning the nomination in the first place and 2. It depends on how much of an optimist one is. They hear the whispers. They know what potential exists for this to get worse. And they also don't believe or trust Trump any farther than they can throw him. They're not quite ready to throw him under the bus, but they have to be getting a little nervous. Not heading for the exits, but at least scoping out a path should the exit become necessary.

    I don't think Republicans are going to defect en masse anytime soon, but it's clear that there is more information coming out and more is probably going to continue to come out in the next weeks and months. They will make gestures of support with sweaty palms and weak praise for now. The point of the Watergate analogy is that when the end comes and they abandon him, it is likely to happen with stunning quickness. No one can say with certainty right now that more damaging information is on the way. If you had to wager your political career on it, though, how confident could you be at this moment that we've already seen the worst of it?

    Yeah. Me neither.

    INTO THE VOID

    Posted in Rants on January 8th, 2017 by Ed

    One of the most well known contemporary political scientists attempted to provide a practical guide to rebuilding the Democratic Party on Vox over the weekend. As these Vox-style wank pieces go it's not bad, and does indeed deliver on what the title promises – a guide with some specific recommendations for action. For that reason alone it's a useful piece, since the liberal tendency is to make an argument and assume that its logic or fundamental correctness will win over hearts and minds if repeated enough. The author correctly points out that a big part of the success that groups like the Tea Party have had is the less glamorous stuff. Here's a spoiler: it involves showing up to a lot of meetings.

    Does that paragraph read like a setup for a "But,"? I guess I hide my cards poorly.

    Two statements in the article, when taken together, point to a flaw in the underlying logic.

    Compared with previous presidential contests, the partisan gap between big-city and non-big-city voting patterns widened. Trump won because he rang up unusually high margins (although not unusually high turnouts) among voters across all social strata in suburban, small-city, and semi-rural counties, especially in the Midwest. In many of those places, Democrats are not an organized presence at all.

    And:

    On the left, labor unions used to be the most far-reaching federated organizations cooperating with and bolstering the Democratic Party. But both private and public sector unions are now in sharp decline after years of conservative attacks — and their current dues-collecting arrangements face legal deathblows under the incoming regime. Unions aside, most center-left organizations are professionally run advocacy groups headquartered in New York, DC, or California and devoted to many separate causes and constituencies. Democrats tend to organize across the entire country only temporarily for presidential campaigns.

    Neither statement is false, but the problem of the second is embedded in the first. We've talked to death the fact that America's rural areas have been emptying out and filling up the big urban areas across the country. Within those urban areas, liberals are not well represented in the suburbs in most cases; voters there tend to be older, married, white homeowners of a distinctly reactionary bent. In other words, the author is right that there is little organized liberal presence in a lot of these places…because most of the liberals are gone.

    Where, then, are these liberal ground-up organizations supposed to come from? As the second quote reveals, Democratic campaigns have a kind of "surge and recede" dynamic; they fan out across the country for election years and then pack up and return to California and the East Coast until the next election. That's ineffective. The problem is that there's a reason all of those people live in California, New York, Boston, and DC – they're probably from the Muncies and Rockfords of the world and they got out the second they could. Going back simply reminds them of why they left.

    Not to make the author personally responsible for solving this problem, but there must be some reason she's at Harvard. Certainly University of Illinois would be equally happy to have her. Oh, right, I forgot: central Illinois sucks. That's why she's not there.

    Who's left on the liberal side of the spectrum in these unorganized places where the Democratic presence has atrophied? You've got younger people who are itching to get out and generally do so at the earliest opportunity. Then you have the 30-55 aged liberals who are living in a sea of red for job-related or personal reasons. Most of them are pretty tired of showing up to school board meetings in Keokuk, being outnumbered 25 to 1 and ostracized for suggesting that maybe the Bible isn't a science textbook. If you've never had the experience of being in a small town and being one of a small percentage of educated liberals, you very well might believe that it's possible to rally these people into action. But if you've had that experience, you're probably not eager for more of it.

    In short, none of the logic of this argument can deal with the fact that the problem of the collapse of Democratic ground organization in the rural and suburban South and Midwest is a natural outgrowth of the lack of liberals living there in critical masses. Democratic campaigns function as temporary affairs manned by staffers who fan out from the Beltway and Bay Area and Chicago and Brooklyn and then retreat to their safe spaces because that's where Democratic campaign and liberal group operatives live. It makes sense for political groups to headquarter in DC, but when they try to establish a nationwide network of local orgs FreedomWorks is a going to have a vastly easier time than (insert liberal org here) setting up the local chapter in Paducah. The reasons for that reality are not necessarily a failure of liberal / Democratic organization. It's hard to build a base of support in a place your most likely supporters want nothing to do with for good reason.