ALL IN ONE

The problem of police violence is underscored by the fact that protests over one killing are still ongoing when the next high-profile incident happens. Such is the case with the killing by Atlanta PD on Friday of Rayshard Brooks, whose crime was falling asleep (allegedly) in a Wendy's Drive-Thru.

The Brooks incident struck me not because it is unusual – sadly, it is a story every American whose head is not buried in sand has heard many times over the years – but because it so perfectly encapsulates everything that is wrong and cannot be fixed with blandishments about "reform."

The APD version of events was so stupid that even if it were correct – which history tells us these things almost never are – it would still demonstrate that they acted inappropriately. If Brooks was unarmed, whether or not he "got belligerent" when approached by police they flat-out murdered him; shooting a man fatally because he, what, didn't put his hands behind his back fast enough? Told a cop to fuck off? Pulled his arm back when they reached for it? That's straight-up murder.

However, they've attempted to cover their asses by claiming Brooks reached for their Taser, i.e. that he was "armed" theoretically, in that they thought he might have a weapon in a moment. Now answer this: if police had justification to shoot every single person they encounter armed with something – gun, knife, pepper spray, taser, medieval halberd – they'd be gunning down dozens of people in every city every day. Being armed is a hobby for a lot of Americans. Police encounter people – especially white people, obviously – who are armed all the time. If they can arrest a white guy with three loaded handguns on his person without shooting him, they can apprehend a man they outnumber 3-to-1 who might be, allegedly, kinda sorta reaching for a stun-gun.

The point is, even the version of events given by the police and carefully crafted to justify what the police did fails to do so. Even their lies, as I am comfortable assuming the Official Version of Events will once again turn out to be, incriminate them.

Most of all, the Brooks incident highlights something that is only rarely given much attention in these stories: why would *anyone* feel the need to call the police because a man seemed to be asleep in a car? This is an obvious example of bringing police into a situation in which, knowing everything we know about the racial aspects of policing and police violence in this country, a bad outcome was more likely than a good one. This situation seems like it could have been handled with five hard taps on the windshield by one of the drive-thru employees. What, you're going to tell me people working the weekend overnight shift at the Atlanta Wendy's drive-thru have no experience with or ability to problem-solve drunks? Or people who are just tired, or whatever?

These situations are always described as "tragic" or "sad." Murder isn't "sad" so much as it is infuriating in these cases. What is tragic, and sad, and dumb, and so completely unnecessary is that the police were involved in this situation at all. Their actions are the second of two problems here. One is that they cannot handle a simple incident without shooting someone. The other is that this situation was somehow judged to require armed cops to show up to address it.

I know we are all wary of each other in this country, and especially late at night when people may be drunk or whatever, but for christ's sake, if the guy in the drive-thru seems like he is asleep just go tap on his fucking window. If we don't figure out some way to start interacting with other people except to call the cops to come and deal with them this problem is only going to get worse. I know there's no easy answer here, and it's a slippery slope to vigilantism if you take this argument too far. But this is serious. We can carp about how cops act – with good reason for carping – but we, all of us, need to contribute to a solution by not calling 9-1-1 at the drop of a fucking hat.

THIS IS AN US PROBLEM

It is human nature for groups of people to see themselves as right and other groups as wrong. This is especially true when the groups are defined in opposition to each other, as with political parties. Republicans are bad, Democrats are good.

When it comes to the problems with policing in this country, Democrats seem fundamentally unable to conceive of themselves as a big part of the problem. At best there is an argument about the Republicans being worse – which is true, and is almost universally true – that is used to deflect criticism. It is necessary to face up to the reality that many of the places with the worst problems with police violence are, and have been, controlled by Democrats at the local level for a long time. If you look at protesters and don't understand why they burn property rather than channel their anger into voting, the very obvious answer is that there is no imaginary future in which voting for Joe Biden and whoever they just elected Mayor will actually solve the problem. Republicans offer pure authoritarianism – they actively *encourage* police to be brutal – while Democrats have done nothing to stop them, or in many cases abetted them.

In my lifetime Chicago has elected one Democratic mayor after another, backed by a lockstep Democratic county board and city council and a veto-proof Democratic state legislature in many cases. All that has happened with the Chicago PD is that it has gotten worse. Much the same can be said for Minneapolis, St. Louis, New York, Los Angeles, and other places with notoriously bad police departments.

For decades Democrats have offered solutions that simply do not work. Training sessions that are ignored. Rules and regulations that are not followed. Oversight boards that do little more than rubber-stamp police. Always something technocratic, always something that sounds like a waste of time and money the moment it hits people's ears. People have been getting Oversight Boards and Investigations and Committees for as long as anyone can remember, and it has done nothing. With regularity, another person's name becomes a hashtag and a horrible video.

So when you watch senseless rioting and think "Well VOTE, silly!" is an answer, consider what the ostensibly liberal party has achieved on this issue and imagine how hollow that has to sound to the people most directly affected by police brutality. Ferguson and Freddy Gray happened under Barack Obama and Eric Holder. So did the rapid, expensive militarization of American police. Obama called looters "thugs" too. Democratic mayors around the country today are smart enough not to say that, but their criticisms lean far more heavily on protesters than on police. The truth is they are terrified of their own police forces, and they are terrified of the most reliable voters – old white people – who adore law enforcement to an extent that is pathological.

No one, from Joe Biden to the Senate to the local mayor, is coming out and saying the obvious here: the problem is that American police are totally out of control, operating under their own rules and effectively independently of any meaningful control. The courts coddle them. Prosecutors coddle them. The public coddles them. Legislatures coddle them. Local politicans coddle them. Democrats are not The Good Guys here, and it is idiotic to expect voters to flock to Joe Biden, a lifelong proponent of tougher policing and tougher criminal justice, in response to these events. No one has been The Good Guys. That is the problem. The party that is supposed to care about police brutality has gone all-in on the kinds of Management tactics that look like action but accomplish nothing (town hall meetings, "community engagement", training, fake "oversight") and even now, that seems to be the extent of what they can offer.

This problem is too big and too serious to fix with some spackle and paint. Nothing is left but to defund law enforcement until they begin to rein in their excesses, to end practices like qualified immunity that let them act with impunity. If defunding them does not work, these departments must be disbanded and rebuilt from the ground up. It has been done. It can be done. What's totally absent is the will to do it.

If the best Joe Biden can do is tell people he wants to set up an oversight board and to train police to shoot people in the leg rather than in the heart, you cannot continue to be surprised that Democrats fail to get people to come out for them on election day. The thing about politics that they seem to have forgotten is that you don't get people to vote for you by screaming at them that they have to, especially when you have promised them things again and again that you have not delivered. You have to offer them something that is appealing to them and then actually deliver on the promise.

Forming a committee or "having a conversation" is what your boss does when he wants the employees to feel like problems are being addressed while nothing actually changes. Four decades is plenty of time for everyone to figure out that nothing that goes into the Suggestion Box or is said at Town Hall Meetings is actually taken seriously.

Democrats have exhausted the number of times they can tell people, vote for us now and we will deliver for you later. Deliver, and cynical non-voters will come back. And most of all, stop framing police violence as an issue where We are good and virtuous while the GOP is evil. The second half of that statement is true, but if you believe the first is then your mindset is part of the problem.

STANDARDIZED

I understand and accept the validity of the major criticism of standardized testing in higher education. Research has found repeatedly something that, subjectively, we all know: test scores are sensitive to the amount of test-specific preparation that the student receives. I do believe that standardized tests measure some useful academic skills, but the truth is that the difference between an ACT 25 and 29 is often thousands of dollars of expensive test prep courses and tutoring rather than a meaningful indicator that the two students are different. In short, money and resources can readily turn a 22 into a 25 or a high-20s to a low-30s.

The reason is simply repetition and familiarity with the exam. No test prep is going to prepare you for the exact questions you will see on the test, but they're excellent at drilling students on what each part of the test is and how to analyze the possible answers. Test prep is possible outside the confines of a paid prep course; however, that requires a very young person to be disciplined enough to figure out what needs to be done (lots of practice questions / sections / tests), how to find them, and regular application of time to them. Not a lot of high school kids lacking guidance are going to do that on their own.

So, with many high profile universities going "test optional" for admissions, the enormous (and very good) University of California system has followed suit and announced plans to phase out the tests. This met with predictable widespread applause from everyone who has internalized the message that testing is bad, testing is racist, and testing is classist. All of these things are true.

At the same time, I think the UC move highlights some of the extreme disingenuousness of the testing-optional trend, and how the headline news stories misrepresent what is actually happening when reporting that another school has made the change. There is a lot going on here, so bear with me.

First and foremost, in the specific case of UC the faculty voted to *replace the SAT/ACT with a new standardized test of the system's own devising.* That option was not endorsed by the regents but it is currently "being studied." Sounds an awful lot like the UC's major concern is not that standardized testing is bad, but that the money devoted to admissions testing by schools and students in California is leaving the state. If standardized tests have the flaws that critics have repeatedly highlighted, replacing one standardized test with another offers no improvement. "But if only the ACT were better" is not the argument; the argument, which has ample support, is that on any standardized test it is possible to game the outcomes with parental wealth.

Second, I have never heard a convincing explanation of what is going to replace standardized testing in admissions. High school grades? Come on. Not only are they inflated (and uneven among different schools) beyond any meaningful interpretation, but in what world are they not subject to boosts from parental wealth? Are the kids who do not have to work during the schoolyear not at a significant advantage to poor kids who do?

What about other applicant attributes? Well, extracurricular activities are a great proxy for family/parental resources. They require time and money, sometimes in very large amounts.

Written application materials? The hiring of coaches, tutors, and editors can dramatically improve an application essay much more than they can boost performance on a test.

A final important point is to read "optional" literally. Every student who thinks his or her SAT/ACT score is impressive is going to submit that score anyway. All the rich people will still have their kids taking the tests. If it helps your file, you will include your score. Nobody's going to ace the SAT and keep it a secret on principle. Not reporting a test score will quickly become a way to identify the files of applicants who didn't feel like their test score was impressive, or assumed they'd do poorly so didn't take it.

In short the process of trying to improve admissions always runs into the same wall. Once we all agree standardized tests have problems, we either do nothing (because we can't think of a better alternative) or we switch to something that has all the same inherent biases and flaws as the SAT.

I have heard all of the same things you have, about how a new and better admissions process needs to consider each applicant's file holistically. It doesn't sound persuasive in my experience. It sounds like a subjective system that creates the ability to see whatever an admissions committee wants to see out of any file. And if you think lawsuits are a problem now, with testing, wait until you see the legal fees and battles that result from "We will read and interpret each file individually and holistically." So either that will turn into a rubric (a score system awarding points for various criteria the applicant meets) or it will be essentially subjective but with some reference to objective criteria that – see above – are all biased on parental income anyway.

I don't have the answer. I wish I did – I would sell it, at great expense for academia. What I do have is enough cynicism about the system to believe that this is a lot more about money than it is about improving admissions. Going test-optional is appealing to two types of schools in particular. One is the low end of schools struggling to get bodies in classrooms, schools hoping that waiving the test will net them a few extra apps and admits. The other is high-end schools (University of Chicago, Harvard, Vanderbilt, etc.) who can afford to do whatever they want because they'll never stop receiving tens of thousands of extremely high-quality apps every year anyway.

For all the publicity the UC decision received – and god knows any media attention is short-lived these days – I'm afraid it created an inaccurate impression of what was decided. "Ahh, no more SATs!" is the gist of the headline scanned quickly on Twitter. But not only will the most well-off and ambitious students continue to take standardized tests in an effort to help themselves, the UC system whispered the part where they are tiptoeing toward making their own standardized admissions test – for which all expenses and revenue would flow to the system instead of out of state. "The pie is bad" is a different argument than "But what if we make the pie, then it's good."

I understand and have always understood exactly what it is about standardized testing that is problematic and biased. What I have never heard is a remotely convincing explanation of what is better. Every part of a student's academic life in high school is influenced by parental resources. Everything. Not just the ACT/SAT. The current arguments about the specific ways in which college admissions are unfair are going to grow substantially in volume and quantity if the ultimate replacement for testing amounts to, well, we just kinda look at the applications and take who we want to take.

Maybe that's a better system – certainly no worse a system – than the status quo of "We take kids based on their parents' ability to buy them a slightly better SAT score than the kids we don't take." The current system is a real hard system to defend, no doubt. It seems terribly basic that entities like the enormous UC system should have a firm idea of exactly what kind of new system they will be using in place of the current one before announcing a plan to jettison it. If, in a couple of years they cannot come up with a plausible alternative and revert to a different, in-house standardized test, then all they have done is pour the old wine in new bottles. Maybe that's the best that can be done, but it's certainly nothing to get excited about. It's not much of an achievement.

THE LIMITS OF LYING

It's well and good to point out that these "Re-Open" protests are astroturfed nonsense, fifty dipshits who would show up to protest literally anything if Fox News encouraged them to. The only reason these events receive media coverage is because the journalists (who outnumber the attendees in some cases) can't say no to a good circus. Other than that, what is the news value? I've seen bigger crowds at a Scrabble tournament.

These people are being used (quite willingly, it must be said from the looks of it) to push the narrative that The People demand a Great Reopening, a resumption of all levels of activity that were normal three months ago as a matter of Freedom or The Economy or Coronavirus is Fake or whatever. Bret Stephens wrote his predictable NYT column about how "people" are eager, so eager, to get things going again. There is zero evidence of this in any data, of course. Poll numbers differ depending on the source and sample, but stay-home orders are not unpopular. Far from it. They are supported by solid to overwhelming majorities, as high as 85% in some surveys. The only people eager to "get back to work" are small business owners who, screwed by the Republicans and their President out of meaningful economic assistance, want the power to force their employees to return to work. That's all this is – they want other people, the people who work for them or provide them with services, to get back to work. It's a temper tantrum from people who are being inconvenienced or are losing money.

I sympathize with people who are losing business. The government should be providing them with assistance. It chose not to. They need to take that up with the people in power, not with their minimum wage workforce.

The lie that people are desperate to get back to work, to shopping, etc. is only useful when the bluff cannot be called; that is, in states where business shutdowns and shelter-in-place are still in effect. But all it takes to destroy the illusion is to give these people what they want. Georgia's "re-opening" was a gigantic wet fart for businesses. The owner of one hip Atlanta bar was told to expect business at 10% of normal levels for the first weekend; instead he got two customers. Two. For the entire weekend. It would have been better financially for him to remain closed. Two customers didn't pay for having the lights on. Unless you sincerely believe that there was a bar around the corner that was mobbed with customers, his example may not be universal but is probably not too far from the norm.

The truth is that people are afraid, and with good cause. They are afraid of unnecessary risk. They're willing to go to the grocery store because, well, food is a necessity. But they're very far from being willing to roll the dice on going to the ballgame or the bar or the bowling alley or the diner. Nobody, perhaps not even most Trumpers, believe the Trump party line about how things are under control and this is no big deal. Yeah there are dead-enders who absolutely believe the virus is fake or whatever, but…at least in Georgia, the data suggest that they didn't go charging out their front door to have a shopping spree as soon as the Governor gave the word.

The other reality that is becoming all too clear is that the "slow drain" theory of capitalism and consumer spending is delusional. That is, demand and consumption haven't been pent up for 8 weeks and once the clog is cleared, it will come bursting forth in torrents. That's not what is happening. The lack of spending isn't a function of the stay-home orders. People are still free to shop online, to order takeout food, and so on. The lack of spending is from tens of millions of people losing their jobs, having their hours reduced, or being in fear of losing their jobs in the near future. It's from the blinking red signs indicating that we are entering an economic downturn that will rival the Great Depression before this is over. Nobody is going to run out and buy a new car when the bottom is about to drop out of the economy, whether the Governor tells them they can or can't.

In short, some of our elites managed to convince themselves that 1) people are barely able to contain their enthusiasm to "get back to work" and 2) once restrictions are lifted, everything will immediately return to normal. Both are complete delusions. The vast majority of people don't want to go anywhere. They don't feel like risking their lives or anyone else's to go to Cracker Barrel.

This isn't complicated. People don't have money. People are trying to save what money they have to cover bare necessities. People can see that a long, hard recession is coming. And most of all, people don't believe a word of what they're hearing from their titular leaders. Some of them may say they believe it, but that lie doesn't travel well. When the restrictions are lifted, their behavior tells you what they actually believe.

PATTERNS

Many years ago when I made the transition from adolescent / young adult male metabolism (the golden "No matter how much and how badly I eat, I never seem to gain weight!" years) to adult metabolism ("I gain weight when I look at food now") I found myself trying, for the first time in my life, to change my diet in a systematic way. And I had a realization that stuck with me: changing your habits isn't hard. Keeping them changed is.

People who struggle to quit smoking say this all the time. I can quit anytime I want! Check back in 2-3 days to see if I'm still "quit." Because that's the real challenge, to stay committed to a change in habits once they start to nag at you.

When Question Cathy and I bought and moved into our new home last Fall, one of the biggest changes for both of us was how little we interacted with our neighbors. In my previous case, I lived in a Chicago six-flat where every time one of my neighbors coughed or turned on the TV we all heard it. We saw each other every time we stepped outside. In QC's case, she lived in a Texas neighborhood of small houses where neighbors occasionally, I am not even kidding, yelled to each other through mutually open windows. They got each other's mail. They had keys to each other's houses. That kind of thing.

In our new place it was…well, if one thing about moving here disappointed us it's the feeling of distance and disinterest in the immediate neighborhood. No one said hi. No one was receptive to us reaching out, even on Facebook / Nextdoor etc. Six months in, I don't know any of their names. Several of them I have not even seen. It turns out it's an area populated mostly by older people who are beyond the point of caring about meeting new neighbors.

I still try to ride my bike every day, and Cathy tries to walk 3 miles every day. We're outside a lot. And for months after moving here we kept talking about how rarely we saw anyone else. Maybe one or two people walking the dog here or there. Maybe one guy passing the house on a bike every couple of days. It wasn't a big deal, but it was definitely weird. The whole area isn't like that, but our immediate surroundings definitely had that "Where is everybody?" feeling.

Then along came the 'Rona. This state was one of the first to mandate shelter-in-place. I believe that was about 7 weeks ago at this point; I can't be certain, as time no longer has any meaning.

Like so many people, we are fighting the feeling of being cooped up by going for long walks every day. And here's the thing: suddenly there are people everywhere. In late afternoon every day it's like everyone is propelled out their front door. Some of these people have even acknowledged our presence. A few of them even said hi. Some of us are achieving mutual recognition ("Hey it's Runs in Vests Guy! Look here comes Baby and Golden Retriever Couple!"). Everybody forces their kids to play outside every day. One day we found a street that was, I shit you not, covered over at least 1/4 mile with chalk decorations and games. One household writes new riddles and trivia questions on the sidewalk every day, rainouts excluded.

Of course the underlying motivation behind it is dark; everybody is stuck at home with nowhere to go. The options for indoor entertainment, especially where kids are concerned, were maxed out weeks ago. "Go play outside with chalk" is probably a desperate attempt by some stressed out parent to get 3 minutes of quiet. But here's the thing: it's still pretty great. When the end of stay-at-home and Shelter in Place happens – no doubt earlier than it should, since the stock market clearly is more important than anyone's life – I wonder how long it will take to go back to the way it was before. My guess is, people will try to keep up the new habits that have been forced upon them. More than a few will say "Hey I like taking walks every day, let's keep doing it!" and mean it. Good intentions or not, I wonder how many will still be going outside regularly in two months. Some people probably will. The rest will celebrate the "re-opening" by going back inside and never venturing outdoors again except to get in the car and go to Chipotle.

There is a part of me that never stops looking for silver linings, even if it's not the part that is oriented toward the world most regularly. When I feel overwhelmed by the amount of panic-inducing and ominous things happening around me, I withdraw a little. The world gets smaller. That's one reason I think, talk, and write about Trump so little these days – I see what is happening here, I feel like the country is committed to riding this one all the way to the bottom, and I'm trying to shift my focus to the things I can control in light of events I cannot.

There's nothing legitimately Good about any of what is happening in this country right now, and I have a feeling that things will continue to get worse before they get any better. Maybe I'm grasping at straws to find something about this reality that I like, but I find it low-key exciting to see people…well, I was going to finish that sentence with a list of activities but I just realized that "seeing people" is enough. It's nice just to see people. I certainly wasn't before this all started. To do that I had to get in my car and drive somewhere that other people had also driven to for the purpose of being around other humans.

Maybe the new habits will stick a little. I can't be the only one enjoying the change. But I understand how strong is the appeal of going back to Normal, even when it's pretty obvious that Normal was inferior in a lot of ways.

THE TIME

So, not surprisingly, Sanders is out (yes, I know that technically all of the candidates "suspend" their campaigns to hedge bets against some future scenario where reactivating it could lead to nomination). His campaign has been largely inactive and in "winding down" mode, doing things like canceling ad buys, since Michigan. As I said on the bonus podcast (via Patreon) after Michigan, the math for winning the nomination simply was not there anymore.

Way back in January I laid out a path to the nomination for him based on a gaggle of other Democrats splitting the remaining vote. Once most of the candidates bailed and the Not Sanders vote coalesced around Biden, there was no real chance short of Biden exploding into a cloud of glitter that Sanders could win. So, from that perspective, the timing of exiting the race makes as much sense now as it would have in a month or whatever. I've read arguments that there was no reason for him to quit – his cash situation is strong – but that's the flipside of the argument that there's no reason for him to continue. It's difficult to prove either proposition correct there.

There has been some discussion of the value of staying in long enough to collect 25% of all available delegates, which would earn the campaign a spot on the DNC Rules and Platform committees. This would give it some minority input on rules for future nomination contests, as well as the ability to propose things that the whole convention would get to vote on. I guess that could be useful in theory, but it's a stretch. It's hard to see any serious Sanders-proposed changes being adopted by the convention or party as a whole, so perhaps I'm being cynical but it seems mostly like it would be an opportunity to make a lot of noise. Maybe I'm overlooking something more useful.

I don't get the sense that the campaign or anyone supporting it is really interested in establishing some kind of Victory Narrative; explaining how a defeat was actually some kind of victory is one of the things that faction likes least about the Democratic Party. Politics is about power and moral victories are for losers. The way I see it, there is no "victory" but it is impossible to overstate how much impact this guy has had on the rhetoric and ideological window that defines Democratic politics now. Mainstream candidates aren't talking about – at varying levels of sincerity, obviously – universal healthcare and debt relief because Hillary Clinton inspired them to or because they read about it in some white paper. A guy ran on what used to be the mainstream liberal platform, which now counts as the Far Left because the window has shifted so far to the right. Other candidates saw that he gained support with it and they moved in the same direction. No, I don't really think any of the other candidates have a real strong commitment to like, Medicare for All. I think they're just talking about it. As sad as it is, that's a big improvement over where we've been for most of my lifetime.

It's difficult to see how this will play out moving forward, but down ballot I think it's crucial for challengers on the left to press mainstream Democrats. They'll have a hard (but not impossible) time winning, but it's absolutely essential to have some kind of counterweight to the reflexive tendency to keep moving to the right to appeal to "moderates and Republicans" which, for the ten thousandth time, doesn't even work.

Other than organizing and demanding concessions in return for support, there really is nothing else to do. The next step after that fails is lobbing Molotovs.

As for Biden, all I can say is the Democratic Party better be right about his "electability." If they lose to this fucking clown a second time with a hand-picked party insider at the top of the ticket there will be no saving them.

DOUBLE BACK

The Republican and Democratic parties have a similar problem with the tension between maximizing long- and short-term prospects for success. Long-term strategy and planning are difficult, if not impossible, in political parties unless they happen to be the beneficiaries of a one-party system (as in China). Competitive parties are always forced to subsume the long-term to the short, given the logical reality that if they don't hold power in the short-term any strategies intended to play out over time will be difficult to implement. Beyond that, parties are composed of political actors with ambition, few (if any) of whom are going to sacrifice their own short-term interests for something that might benefit someone else down the line.

In the GOP, as I've written about many times in the past, some people seem to realize that the party base of older, white, and largely rural voters is rapidly shrinking in comparison to more diverse and urbanized America. They are forever coming up with some new strategy to broaden the party's appeal, the kind of thing that 20 years ago would have been called "minority outreach" without causing widespread cringing. The problem, of course, is that the party's best short-term strategy for maximizing its success is to double down on white nationalism, something they've done with increasing regularity since 1980. Each election cycle someone in the Party says "Ok this time let's try to appeal to Hispanics, it's important!" and then when it doesn't work immediately, and when they sense that it's not going to gain them anywhere near as many votes as the usual dog-whistle (or plain old whistle) stuff, they go back to what they know.

The Democrats have a similar, although fundamentally less loathsome, dilemma. For years they have known that they need to increase their appeal among what used to be their core constituency, pre-1990: what we generically call "The Working Class." As Republicans rely increasingly on elderly white conservatives, the Democrats have become heavily reliant on highly-educated, largely white professionals. The Democratic base also includes African-Americans, Latinx, LGBTQ+, the young, and other important demographic groups, but the more policy preferences are bent to the desires of better-off middle-or-upper class Democrats, the less appeal it has to those other groups. So the Democrats too find themselves torn in a way this nomination process has demonstrated quite well: try harder to appeal to younger, more diverse, economically distressed people who constitute a huge pool of potential voters who don't tend to show up and vote, or simply max out on the people you can be confident will vote (and, not incidentally, write contribution checks, which are also important)?

Super Tuesday and the reaction to it underscored some of that tension. There were loud cries even on Tuesday evening that the increase in youth turnout Sanders predicted he would produce did not materialize – in short, evidence that while everyone theoretically understands the need to appeal to those voters for long-term success, in the short term the only logical strategy is to give people over 55 what they want: a Biden campaign promising not to change anything too much and to get things back the way they like.

It's not illogical, it's just counterproductive in the long term. Every time the GOP doubles back to "Let's be really racist" it makes even harder the task of, uh, broadening its appeal with people of color in the future. Similarly, every redouble to "This system works well, it just needs some tweaks and better people in charge" alienates more younger voters who very much do not believe that. You can argue, correctly, that "They're not voting now, they're not going to help us win, we can't afford to direct our efforts at them." Any electoral strategy based on young people showing up to vote is risky, to put it mildly. But at the same time, it's hard to shake the depressing realization that each election, each legislative session, each major battle in which the Democrats default to "Look, this is what our loudest and most committed supporters want" makes expanding that base in the future a little bit harder.

THE WORST YARD SIGN EVER, EXPLAINED

For the past few weeks I've seen a handful of this particular yard sign around town in advance of the upcoming primaries – I already early voted, don't worry – and it has been driving me crazy. It's like one of those flyers that violates every rule of typography and graphic design. EVERYTHING about it is wrong. It's not just bad, it's bad comprehensively.

I had reservations about shitting all over it, since the candidate was presumably some schmoe who didn't know better and meant no harm. Then I finally remembered to google him and it turns out he's some F-list right wing radio personality running in the GOP primary proudly boasting that he's the only candidate who was "with President Trump from Day One!" So, that took care of any reservations I might have had. Fuck this guy.

Here's the sign.

A couple problems. In fact, it's all problems.

1. What in the fuck is "U.S. House #4"??? Do you think there is a single voter in the country who thinks of their member of Congress as "U.S. House" and then knows the number of the district? How about you do like every other candidate on the planet and describe yourself as "for Congress." Because textbook pedantry aside, it's pretty common to simply refer to the House of Representatives as "Congress," and we avoid the confusion of the fact that there is both a State and Federal "House" in many states that way too. I guess you could add the district number, although it's not like this city is divided into multiple districts or anything really confusing. But why not write "4th District" if you felt that need? "U.S. House #4" reads like an alien or an AI wrote it.

2. The color scheme is terrible. Just terrible. There's a good reason 99% of signs use a solid dark background (navy blue, for example) with white font. It's much easier to read, with white background / dark letters a close second. "Do two bright colors" is pretty far down the list. I guess it's unique, but. It's also bad.

3. Mention that it's the GOP primary, or that you're a Republican? The incumbent Democrat won this district with 75% of the vote in 2018. The GOP challengers are essentially running a vanity campaign against a Rep who is all but unopposed. It's unclear what benefit, under those circumstances, derives from not stating party affiliation.

4. "Dr. Nasir" is two irrelevant pieces of information. For down-ballot races you want people to get one single piece of information about you – your last name. I doubt there are a lot of Shaikhs on the ballot. Get people to remember that. I guess if you feel like people will be impressed that you're some kind of Doctor, add a small Dr. to Shaikh. The first name is just totally superfluous here, a waste of space.

5. You can tell so much about what kind of guy this candidate is by the fact that he cheaped out and bought the tiny signs. "Sure it's half as effective as the full-sized sign, but we save like 10%!" Never, never, NEVER cheap out like that. If you're spending $2000 on a minimum order of yard signs, you can spend a few hundred dollars more to get the regular sized ones. This tiny sign is not just harder to see – it looks cheap, amateurish, and screaming "crazy guy who is not a serious candidate" when you see it in a field of 20-30 other full-sized signs. What did you save by downsizing to these tiny things? If money is so tight (Doctor?) that you can't spend the pennies-per-sign it costs to get a normal size, what are we supposed to conclude about your campaign?

6. The font is bad. Bold it. Fill up the space with the limited information you're trying to convey: Shaikh. Congress.

I suppose someone will one-up this with an example of even worse graphic design, but for some reason this thing raises my blood pressure every time I see it. I know for a fact that if you visit any website that sells these things, they have dozens of canned design templates available for novices. Every single one of them is better than this sign. They're templates for a reason. So this guy didn't just design a bad sign, he designed a bad sign and then went out of his way to ignore the readily available, much better options.

In conclusion, fuck this guy and his cut-rate signs and his Trump bootlicking.

STATE OF BLISS

I went and did early voting on Saturday. As I was waiting around for Question Cathy to finish, an old woman came in to vote. Her presence brought the total number of voters in the giant empty strip mall retail space to three, including me and QC. The woman was very obviously unclear about what she was doing. First she was informed that there were multiple ballots (Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, etc). Then she was informed that, as a registered Democrat, she was legally obligated in this state to take the Democratic ballot or the odd sock drawer "other" ballot.

"Why am I registered as a Democrat?" Well ma'am, you have been registered as a Democrat since 1972.

"Is Trump on the ballot?" No ma'am, Trump is running in the Republican primary.

"What am I voting for if Trump isn't on the ballot?" This is the primary election, ma'am. There is a list of candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination to run against Trump, if Trump is the winner of the Republican nomination (the volunteer poll judge was, after all, extremely By the Book)

"I thought they were all running against Trump." Ma'am they are all competing to be the Democrat who opposes the Republican nominee in the general election this November.

"I thought that's what I was voting in now." No ma'am, you cannot vote in the November election in February. This is the primary election. First there is the primary and then later in the year the general election. Your voting history shows that you have voted in the primary election many times before.

"I thought I was voting for president. I want to vote for president." Ma'am….

On it went like this until we left. For all I know she is still standing there, with three extraordinarily patient volunteer election judges explaining it.

Later in the week QC and I socialized with two people I like immensely, probably the best people we've met in the short time we have lived here. They are both extremely intelligent. As always when I socialize, eventually someone brings up the election. I try to keep politics to an absolute minimum in social settings. After maybe three minutes we managed to move on to something else. My impression, from the brief discussion, was that the three other people at the table broadly knew who most of the Democratic candidates for president are. Someone asked who won Iowa and New Hampshire, not because the media coverage or the Iowa Democratic Party caucus confused them, but because Iowa and New Hampshire are not really a thing to 99% of us.

Combined these were useful reminders, and reminders I will attempt to remember, that the subset of Americans paying really close attention to the day-to-day of politics is extremely small. You might not previously have considered yourself some kind of well-informed political elite by being able to explain, even in general terms, what M4A is and where some of the major candidates stand on health care, but congratulations; you are. And despite the enormous amount of time, money, and energy that will be spent on this election cycle, many people (even some people who will take the time to participate) have no real idea what is going on. I'm not picking on the old lady, who for all I know might have been in some kind of state of cognitive decline that left her confused on Saturday morning. All I am saying is that it would not be unusual at all for someone to have no clear conception of what a primary is – even if he or she was about to vote in it.

It's sobering but important to remember how little most of what is happening registers.

LONG SHOT

With the Democrats in Iowa now promising to release "50% of the results by 5pm EST" – which sounds exactly like something you say to a teacher or editor when you're working on a deadline you will not meet – it is becoming clear that the dominant memory from this will not be who won but simply of what a mess it was.

Someone suggested to me that declaring victory with 0% results in was a smart thing for Buttigieg to do. My initial reaction was, that is ridiculous. The winner of the caucus will *eventually* be known, and declaring yourself the winner of something you might turn out not to win would be, if not instantly fatal to a campaign, at the very least a source of continuing embarrassment. It would go down with things like Dukakis in the tank or the "Dean Scream" in the annals of ways candidates have managed to humiliate themselves.

The more I think about it, though, there might be some defensible logic to it.

Buttigieg has bet *everything* on Iowa. Everything. He isn't polling well nationally and he isn't polling well in New Hampshire or South Carolina. He isn't making an especially strong showing anywhere except in his fund raising numbers, which are good albeit not stellar, and Iowa. So, the campaign's strategy has to boil down to: win Iowa and then use 'I won Iowa!' as a springboard to get some momentum going into the next few races. Maybe improve how well you do in NH and SC even if you don't win them (it's likely, in the view of the campaigns themselves, that Sanders and Biden have NH and SC, respectively, pretty well sewn up).

What does he really have to lose? Short of winning Iowa – again, a state he threw everything into – his campaign is kinda dead in the water anyway. So I guess the bold play is to use partial data that shows him in a narrow lead to declare victory and…hope it sticks, I guess? I mean it's not a brilliant strategy, but I'm not sure what a brilliant strategy would be given the position he's in. He's not doing particularly well overall – that is, aside from Iowa. And he has statistically zero support among black voters, which is not a real good omen for a Democratic candidate.

So, in short, I think if he ends up losing (finishing anything but first) he will be a laughingstock but so what? If he finishes anything but first his campaign's strategy didn't work and he's probably toast anyway. It's some crazy shit, but why not try some crazy shit when you probably won't improve your odds to win by behaving well and sticking to the traditional script.

"Bold move, let's see if it pays off for him."