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.

    THE NATIONALISTS' DILEMMA

    Posted in Rants on January 5th, 2017 by Ed

    An internet friend recently posted an article from November on the rise of a far-right government in Poland. Being descended from four grandparents born in Poland I make a passing effort to stay abreast of its politics, although in practice I usually find that my attention-hands are full with everything the American system throws at us.

    For two years now, astute Americans have seen the rise of Trump on our side of the Atlantic as the American version of something that has been an undercurrent in Europe since the fall of the USSR. Every European democracy has its ultra-right parties defined by enthnocentrism and extreme nationalism. In the U.S., because the rules of our system default us to two very large parties, we have seen this only as a part of the Republican coalition. In the 1980s and 1990s, someone like Pat Buchanan was an aberration. He was part of the Big Tent of the GOP but considered even among his compatriots as the Crazy Uncle. After the Great Recession began in 2007, it started to become apparent that lower-class white nationalism in the form of the Tea Party was not the small component of the American Right that mainstream GOPers wanted everyone to believe. What was once the fringe was clearly on its way to becoming the majority within the GOP, and the appeals they used to gain popularity in the increasingly old, increasingly white, and increasingly socially and economically marginalized Republican masses seemed novel to Americans but were no doubt quite familiar to any European used to the antics of their nation's own far right. Nationalism. Conspiracies. Cries of traitorous intentions. Rejection of anything originating from Liberal institutions like universities, the media, expertise, or reality out of hand. Division of the world into a We and a Them.

    One striking difference, though – and the idea that caused my friend to post this article and raise the question – is the heavy emphasis in the European far right on distributive policies that is totally absent in the United States. In Europe they do as all populist parties, left and right, have always done to solidify and build support: they promise to give people things. They use the resources of the state and of power in an exchange theory of politics; vote for us and you will get X, Y, and Z in return. Sometimes those variables would be intangible things like national pride or increased social status relative to other groups. But they always, as in Poland today, include economic handouts in the mix as well.

    Why is the American right such a stark exception to this pattern around the world? Populism and the distribution of government largesse go hand in hand everywhere but here. Part of the answer is that anti-government, pro-individualism ideology is much more prominent in the U.S. than it is elsewhere. The other, bigger problem is that American society is not nearly as homogeneous as most countries in Europe. And that's a problem because the American nationalists can't figure out a way to shower the poor with money without letting people who aren't white get some of it. Donald Trump would have done what every nationalist-right figure in Europe does, which is campaign with promises of restoring the correct order of things in society (check) and appealing to the economically adrift by promising them money (strike) – if only he could have found a way to give it exclusively to white people.

    The people who respond to Trump's appeals understand this implicitly. Many of them are poor and not the slightest bit opposed to welfare in practice no matter how much they decry it in theory. What they oppose is other people – the wrong people, the not-one-of-us people, the brown people – getting any of what they see as their entitlement. They want the disability and SSI checks, the make-work jobs, the Medicaid, the state-run treatment programs, the school funding, and all the other handouts that Republicans claim they oppose on principle. Trump's appeal to poorer whites has been beaten to death, and they are a demographic that has no problem taking any of these things. The problem is finding a way to promise them more of it without letting any of it fall into the hands of The Other – the immigrants, the blacks and Hispanics, the people in big cities, and so on.

    In a country like Poland this is easier to do because the society is, at least compared to the U.S., sorely lacking in diversity. It's a very white, very Catholic, very ethnically unified country for the most part due to, uh, some stuff that happened between 1940 and 1945. So targeting voters requires only targeting them by economic and social class. Here, where African-Americans, Hispanics, and recent immigrants are overrepresented in the part of the population broadly labeled Poor, railing against The Other and The Outsider is complicated. What happens when The Outsiders are not an amorphous mass outside the borders, but other citizens to whom you are equal in theory but need to feel superior to in practice?

    Well. What happens is, things get tricky. You end up with a president trying to gut the welfare state while somehow preserving it for Certain People, the Right People, wink wink. You end up with a president who preaches the free market but engages in crony capitalism to save, temporarily, the jobs of the Right People. You have a set of policies and actions that conform to no ideology because the ideology underlying it is white nationalism and, well, you can't just say that's the ideology.

    The barbarians outside the gate have always been an effective foil for political rhetoric and populism in particular. In Poland today, the (Muslim) horde at the gate of Europe drives the far right's recent rise. In the United States, the barbarians are not at the gate. They're already inside it. The challenge is not distinguishing Americans from Others, but Real Americans from the Not Real ones. The system for telling which one is which, to the American nationalist, is as uncomplicated as it is unspoken.

    AT CROSS PURPOSES

    Posted in Rants on January 4th, 2017 by Ed

    If someone running for office insists that government is bad you can rest assured that if they get elected the government that follows will in fact be very bad. Anything else would undermine the premise upon which he won support. When we are critical of the government we get from such people we are speaking past one another. A necessary part of proving that private enterprise or the free market or Jesus or rugged individualism or whatever can do something better than the state is setting the bar so low that crony capitalism can't help but trip and fall over it. To tell a modern conservative that what they advocate is bad public policy offers no new information to anyone involved in the conversation; the whole point is to make it as bad as possible.

    The same is true of the consequences of policy changes, which liberals often interpret as bugs when they are in fact the main feature. Repealing Obamacare will cost many people who cannot otherwise afford it their health insurance? Yes, that's the whole point to right wingers. More poor people getting sick and dying is something close to an autoerotic fantasy for conservatives. They lie, including to themselves, and pretend that what they advocate is some kind of solution, but they're not very good at convincing anyone. They know that tax cuts for the wealthy aren't going to Trickle Down and create anything for the rest of the country, but they know they need something better than "Look, we just really want the tax cuts and couldn't give half a shit what happens to working people" when they're on camera.

    The mistake Our Side makes so often (see Obama's first couple years in office) is assuming that the right is acting In Good Faith and earnestly desires the best policy and the best government. This is a poor assumption. They just want to get what is best for themselves, and they believe that their political opponents have the same motivation – i.e., that poor people vote for left wing candidates just to get free stuff from the rich taxpayers and the noise about improving society as a whole is a smokescreen. In this way, politics to the current American conservative is a zero sum game of resource competition. The talk about policy objectives and grand strategies for a better society is a shiny coat of paint over everyone's true motives.

    Keep this in mind as the Secretary-to-be of the Department of Education, Betsey Devos, is approved by the Senate in the coming weeks. Her selection in November brought the moribund issue of charter schools back into the national conversation, if briefly, and will do so moving forward. Since I get a paycheck in higher education, this issue does not affect me directly but I do have an awful lot of K-12 educators in my social circle. I see people argue in circles about charter schools regularly and to no effect. Right wingers chant School Choice like it is the prayer that will get them into heaven; liberals fire back statistics proving that at their top-dollar best, charter schools are roughly as good as public schools once we account for their power to take only those students they choose to take. Again, these two viewpoints are at cross purposes. The left assumes that charter school advocates 1) believe that charter schools are better and 2) are interested in "better schools" as the ultimate goal.

    A full summary of the conservative movement's support for things like vouchers and charter schools is as follows: it's cheaper.

    The way they see it, half the kids coming out of public schools today are basically illiterate. To them, this is fine. We have enough competition for the kinds of jobs a college degree is supposed to qualify one for as it is. Our options are to pump a ton of money into public schools and maybe see some incremental improvement in outcomes, or we can just create a system that selects out the half-decent students for a real education and future and then warehouse the rest until they're no longer minors and they're ready for the prison-poverty-violence cycle to Hoover them up. Vouchers and Charter Schools are not, to the conservative mind, a better way to educate kids well. They are a cheaper way to educate them poorly. What matters is that it costs less to people like six-figure income earners and home owners. Those people can afford to send their kids to a decent school anyway. Public education, to their way of thinking, used to be about educating people just enough that they could provide blue collar or service industry labor. Now that we have too much of that, a public high school is just a waiting room for prison. So why throw money into it? They don't think education "works" anyway; people are born Good or Bad, Talented or Useless. So it only makes sense to find the cheapest possible way to process the students who were written off before they reached middle school. If charter schools manage to save 1% of them, great. If not, well, then they're no worse than public schools. And they're cheaper! Did I mention that they're cheaper?

    When two people are trying to put together a puzzle, it's not going to go very well if one person is pointing at the box and saying, "Look, we're trying to put together a sailboat" and the other is off trying to rearrange the pieces to make a dinosaur. Both will fail, but at least in this case they'd understand that they failed because they had radically different goals. The big difference in our political system is that the dinosaur guy smiles real big and swears he's trying to help you make a sailboat, then resumes his task as soon as he gets his hands on the pieces.

    2016 LIEBERMAN AWARD WINNER: TIM KAINE

    Posted in Rants on January 2nd, 2017 by Ed

    (Editor's note: The Lieberman Award is given annually to the worst example of a human being over a twelve month period. Click the tag at the end of the post to review past winners.)

    medalEnough ink has been spilled over Donald Trump and the people who made his rise to political power possible. I owe you more than to do something as obvious as declare the president-elect the worst human being of 2016. You'd have to go back to Hitler to find an equivalent example of one human being who was so singularly responsible for ruining an entire 12-month period for such a large number of people. But I thought it would be more interesting to take a closer look at someone you heard almost nothing about in comparison, someone you may even have completely forgotten about. Besides, Trump won this award last year.

    Why Tim Kaine? What did Tim Kaine ever do to anyone? He was almost a total non-entity in 2016, yet he symbolizes everything that went wrong with Hillary Clinton's campaign and the strain of Democratic Party politics that has proven itself time and again to be a disaster. In the true spirit of the Lieberman Award, Kaine is the embodiment of the New Democrat centrism that sounds suspiciously like being a moderate Republican. His choice as the running mate is, in hindsight, one of the clearest signs that Clinton still doesn't Get It, writ large.

    Certainly there are some merits to picking Kaine. He has extensive elected experience which made him a good choice for the Clinton campaign's strategy (which I talked about over the summer) of giving Americans a clear choice between Adults in the Room and a disorganized lunatic. Even with the benefit of hindsight it isn't the worst strategy ever conceived; it simply has the fatal flaw of giving the American public a little bit of credit for intelligence. It is premised upon the belief that voters aren't really going to turn the country over to a lunatic just because they're angry and his opponent is short on charisma. That turned out to be a bad gamble.

    Really, what is Tim Kaine but a time capsule from the W Bush era, a Democrat perfectly designed to win a statewide election in a reddish-purple state circa 2006? He is the culmination of the Bill Clinton-led New Democrat movement in the early 90s that posited that the best way for Democrats to win elections was to do most of the things Republicans do but, I dunno, seem a little less bloodless and unhip while doing it? People like Kaine are a way for educated white people to vote for a Republican without having to feel bad about themselves because the name has "D" after it. The turn to Eisenhower Republicanism produced some short-term success for Democrats, but the 2016 Clinton campaign is likely to be its Waterloo.

    As another writer put it, Tim Kaine is Civil Unions. Tim Kaine is every half-assed compromise position that New Democrats have proposed over the past 25 years in the belief that what voters really want is a candidate who thinks a lot and kinda refuses to take a firm position on anything. He is the personification of the belief that trying to please all of the people all of the time is both possible and desirable. Is Kaine the worst human being on Earth? Of course not. But he is an excellent case study in a political ideology so bankrupt that it could not stand up against a candidate who ran literally as a joke and was as shocked as anyone that he won anything.

    For everyone who criticized Hillary as a wishy-washy, right-leaning panderer who sees herself as entitled to the nomination of her party, Kaine is Exhibit A. This guy has zero future. He's an anachronism in 2016; by 2020 or 2024 he will be a fossil. He has no appeal to the kind of voters the Clinton campaign as a whole could not rally to their cause. In an increasingly multiracial, urban country, Tim Kaine is the argument in 2004 that what a candidate really needs to do is appeal to enough soccer moms and NASCAR dads.

    Tim Kaine may be a nice guy. He has done some impressive things for Virginia and as a civil rights litigator. But as a presidential running mate in 2016 he only reinforced the fatal attachment of a lot of the Democratic Party power structure to a thoroughly outdated and failed set of ideas. He is a relic of the time when the Party could conceive of no other way to win better than to be more like Republicans and hope that real GOPers were personally repugnant enough (and they often were) to repulse voters. He is the poster child for a party faction that stands for nothing because it is so eager to stand for whatever it believes you want to hear from it.

    Congratulations, Tim Kaine. You seemingly were cast into the dustbin of history before this campaign was even over, but you will now be immortalized forever as the winner of the 2016 Lieberman Award. Go. Go away. And take Donna Brazile with you.

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