An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Sunday, November 13, 2022
Speaking of Which
PS: I started to write a plug for this post in Monday's Music Week post, and it got a bit out of hand. As it makes more sense here, I'm adding it to the end of this post, as well as burying it at the end of the Music Week post. I'm not updating the notebook to reflect these changes.
The following section was started on Wednesday, mostly finished by Thursday, although I've added occasional bits. This intro was written Sunday afternoon. The Arizona and Nevada Senate races were finally called for the Democrats, giving them 50 seats, plus a chance to pick up one more in the Georgia runoff, As I understand it, the extra seat will save them from some procedural hassles, so would be a big plus. Plus one seat still means that Manchin and Sinema can veto legislation, and perhaps most importantly any change to the filibuster rule, but it will take both of them instead of either/or. Still may not matter much if the House goes to the Republicans, as seems likely.
Democrats have bravely claimed their showing as some kind of win, at least a victory over expectations, which seem to have been set by a combination of Republican arrogance and Democratic self-doubt. I haven't dug into the results nearly as much as in previous years, so have very little to say about specific races. Some of the articles below are helpful (especially the interviews), but none are anywhere near definitive.
Still, I'm not very happy with this election. I've felt all along that Democrats should be able to do better. I'm particularly saddened at not picking up the Senate seat in Wisconsin -- I seriously doubt anyone has ever won three Senate terms by slimmer margins than Ron Johnson (although Russ Feingold was close on track with his first two wins, before Johnson beat him). Also in Ohio, which is a state I've always felt Democrats should be winning, and Iowa and Missouri, which should be more competitive. (North Carolina was actually a bit closer, but always seems to fall short, as do the big hopes centrist Democrats hold for Florida and Texas.)
In Kansas, Democratic governor Laura Kelly won a very close race against one of the most loathsome Republicans I've encountered in a long time, but didn't have enough coattails to carry an Attorney General race where Republicans nominated the wretched Kris Kobach, let alone her former Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers, who ran for Treasurer. The State Supreme Court justices Republicans were keen to purge for ruling that abortion is a constitutional right were easily retained, and the House gerrymander failed to get rid of Kansas' one Democratic Representative. I also think it's significant that Sen. Jerry Moran, who is a reliable Republican foot-soldier but far from the worst, only barely managed 60% of the vote, despite outspending Democrat Mark Holland by 6.6-to-1 (felt more like 30-to-1, which was about what happened six years ago, when Moran again was capped at 60%). Despite its bloody-red reputation, Kansas reliably has a close to 40% Democratic base no matter now little they campaign. Shouldn't we be able to build on that?
Americans voted for a new Congress, many Governors, and lots of lower offices. I ventured last week and the week before that the relentless drumroll of media stories touting Republican polling gains, even in publications like Vox that supposedly lean left, amounted to gaslighting. As the actual votes got counted, the New York Times (as usual, one of the worst offenders) immediately spun by asking their pundits: How did Democrats escape a rout?. A better question is why did a party that had nothing to offer America except more corruption, a diminished economy, less equality, more injustice, more guns and violence, fewer rights and an increasingly tattered security, with such contempt for the people that they spent the last two years scheming ways to steal elections and sabotage popular efforts when they lost anyway: why did this Republican Party still managed to get anywhere close to half of the votes? I suspect that the real effect of the gaslighting was less, as I mentioned last week, to set up another round of election-stealing charges, than to simply legitimize a Party that deserves nothing less than total dismissal.
I opened this file Wednesday afternoon because I wanted to start with this tweet from Rick Perlstein:
I only half approve of this tweet. The slam on the Republicans is succinct but fundamentally right. What's missing is not just extra charges, of which there are many, but appreciation of how effective Republicans are at campaigning with such obvious faults. Without considering how Republicans tap into deep-seated psychic traits, it's impossible to tell whether a tie is a sign of Democratic weakness or heroism. One can argue either case, but let's start by nothing that unlike the midterm fiascos of 1994 and 2010, Democrats held their own this year. This was certainly not because Republicans got lazy and/or missed tricks. Their relentless demonization of Biden drove approval polls toward 40% over a year ago, and their media manipulation far exceeded anything in my memory. They had tons of money, which helped them select emotional hot buttons, forcing Democrats to back-peddle and depend on reason.
Yet still, voters resisted. Biden's argument that democracy was at stake may have seemed too abstract, but it became much more palpable when the Republican-packed Supreme Court stripped Americans of their constitutional right to reproductive choice. Granted, Democrats should have done a better job of illuminating the much broader threat that Republicans poised to our freedoms, to our well-being, to society as a whole. Or alternatively, they could have tried harder to get people to fear and loathe Republicans, as Republicans have done to liberals and ultimately all Democrats over the last 40-50 years. But that's an uphill battle, and isn't necessarily in their nature (or necessarily a good thing). The Democratic Party is diverse and divided, intent on representing and servicing everyone -- which puts it at a severe disadvantage when facing such a single-minded adversary.
Scanning further down in the Perlstein thread, I see he writes more [other comments in brackets; mine are TH]:
A couple more comments from the thread:
I don't think we can stress too much the role of the mainstream media in conditioning (and legitimating) expectations for the election. One piece you should read is from Steve M.'s invaluable No More Mister Nice Blog: [11-09] Democrats hold off the red wave -- and The New York Times. The bulk of the piece is a day-by-day roll call of articles predicting doom for the Democrats. Nore was the Times alone in drinking Republican Kool-Aid: he includes similar pieces from The New Yorker, CNN, Bloomberg, Politico, Axios, and Washington Post. Millions of Americans depend on these outlets for relief from the non-stop propaganda spewed out by Fox and kin, so when the "reality-based" world gets snowed, it's hard for most people not to think they might have some kind of point. In this case they were wrong.
M. also wrote an earlier [11-05] piece on one specific New Yorker writer: Benjamin Wallace-Wells is a well-worked ref:
PS: Dean Baker has another example of how the New York Times spread misinformation in the runup to the election: [11/03] It's Five Days Before the Election and the NYT Has Another Bad News About the Economy Story that Contradicts Government Data.
Another tweet on party mentality, from Josh Marshall:
Not a propos of the election, but another tweet caught my eye:
True enough, but it's not the same intolerance problem.
Here are a few post-election links/comments that caught my eye:
Isaac Chotiner: [11-11] Nate Cohn explains why this year's midterms broke the mold: Interview with "The [New York] Times' polling guru." Chotiner also wrote: [11-10] The accurate election polls that no one believed.
Matthew Cooper: [11-11] Why Did Democrats Do So Well in the Midterms? I'd probably be more tempted to write a "Why did Democrats do so poorly" piece, since my default position is that Republicans are so bad, and that Democrats are objectively so much better, that if everyone gave the question serious thought the results would have been much more favorable. Still, this makes the case that some Democratic arguments -- especially on abortion and democracy -- resonated with enough voters to stay close even given the Republican snow job.
James Fallows: [11-09] The Political Press Needs a Time Out: "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future. How about if we waste less time trying." More examples of misleading analysis, especially from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Judd Legum has more: [11-10] Political media is broken.
Benjamin Hart: [11-12] Donald Trump's Gift to Democrats. Interview with Amy Walter, of Cook Political Report. Trump has been in the news literally every day since he left office, which has made him much harder to forgive than, say, GW Bush, who became a hermit after 2008, and was totally forgotten by 2010 (even though his administration could be blamed for virtually everything had gone wrong in Obama's first two years). No doubt Trump motivated more Democrats to vote than would have without his constant irritation, but he also motivated his followers, and gave them renewed confidence even if based on lies. Hart's title isn't meant that way, but Republican elites who have no problem with Trump as long as he's winning will point to this disappointment as proof that he's not worth the drama, and should be dumped ASAP. Godspeed, sure, but Trump is still able to do one thing no other Republican can: suck all the oxygen out of a room, so it becomes impossible to rationally debate issues. Given the irrationality of Republican stances on virtually all issues, his removal may not work out as well as they think.
Molly Hennessy-Fiske/Paul Kane: [11-12] Democrats surged to flip state legislatures, defying past GOP gains.
Ellen Ioanes: [11-13] Democrats kept the Senate. But Georgia is still important.
Robert Kuttner: [11-11] Did We Just Save Democracy? Maybe, sort of, aside from the fact that democracy wasn't in very good shape in the first place. Kuttner refers to a review of his book Going Big: FDR's Legacy, Biden's New Deal, and the Struggle to Save Democracy: [11-07] Steps in the Left Direction.
Eric Levitz: [11-10] David Shor's (Premature) Autopsy of the 2020 Midterm Elections. Midterms basically turn on which party comes out to vote, and which stays home. So the interesting point Shor makes here is: Republicans were up by about 2% relative to Democrats. Still, Democrats did better in battleground states, and seem to have gotten lazy in states they thought they had locked up (e.g., New York, California).
Maurice Mitchell: [11-11] How the Democrats Won and Lost and 2022 Midterms. "Tuesday's results are a reprieve, but we still have mountains to move."
Will Norris: [11-10] The Beginning of the End of the Subminimum Wage: "D.C. voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to force restaurants to pay employees the full minimum wage. The rest of the nation is likely to follow."
Charles P Pierce: [11-10] No One Can Pretend that Wisconsin Is a Republic: Wisconsin has the most grotesque partisan gerrymandering of any state. It's so bad that when Democrats got 51 percent of the vote statewide, they only won 30 percent of the seats in the state legislature.
Nathan J Robinson: [11-09] The Majority of Americans Do Not Support Right-Wing Extremism.
Bill Scher: [11-09] America Does Care About Democracy and Abortion Rights. Some curious poll numbers here: 52 percent say the Republican Party is "too extreme," but 51% say the same about the Democratic Party (huh?); 56 percent believe Republicans want to pass a national abortion ban, but 53% believe Democrats want to cut police funding (as recently as 2021, Democrats actually voted to increase police funding). Part of this can be blamed on Democrats having poor messaging skills, but there's some deep psychology here that Republicans have learned to exploit but which leaves Democrats awkwardly clueless.
Jeffrey St Clair: [11-11] Roaming Charges: The Searh for Intelligent Life in American Politics: He's proudly outside of the two-party system ("I don't think a candidate I've actively supported has ever won elective office"), but that gives him some perspective: "The fact that Democrats are relieved at the narrowness of their loss and Republicans outraged by the thinness of their win speaks to the different psychologies of the two parties. One lives in fear, unsure (with reason) about its own beliefs. The other perpetually angry that not everyone bends to their will." This is followed by the illustration for "a blue surge is coming for Florida, sooner rather than later." On the other hand, he quotes Ted Cruz on why Democrats did better than expected: "Because for two years they have governed as liberals. They've governed as whacked out lefty nut jobs. You know what that did? That excited their base. That excited a bunch of young voters." Maybe they should do more of that? Many other subjects, as usual. E.g.: "I don't understand fleeing Twitter when you can watch one of the most grotesque people on the planet be shredded day after day in his very own safe space, in front of the people whose admiration he craves."
Paul Street: [11-11] Twelve Takes on the Mid-Terms: I had doubts about linking here (he uses the "F-word" much more than necessary, as in "Republi-fascists," and nicknames Joe Biden "Burn Pit"), but couldn't deny you the dig at David ("statistically illiterate moron") Brooks.
Tessa Stuart: [11-09] It Was a Huge Night for Abortion Rights -- Even in Kentucky.
And here are few more items (mostly) beyond the election:
Dean Baker: [11-11] The Crushing Health Care Cost Burden that Never Came: Dredges up the ominous 1990s warnings of billionaire Scrooge Peter Peterson to make a couple points. One is that the cost growth projected back then wasn't really in Social Security and Medicare but in a profit-hungry health care system, that Medicare was actually doing a better job of controlling than private heath insurance was. Another is that cost growth basically went flat after the Affordable Care Act kicked in around 2015 (aside from a blip up with the pandemic in 2020, and a slide down as the pandemic abated). None of this suggests that Medicare-for-All wouldn't fare even better than Obamacare, but it does show that we'd be in much worse shape had Democrats not passed the ACA. And had Trump managed to repeal ACA, today's gas prices would just be a rounding error (even if most of the extra costs were paid for in service quality).
Jonathan Chait: [11-01] Progressive America Needs a Glasnost: "Stop being afraid to speak out against the madness." What he seems to mean is that Progressives should purge their ranks of hysterics and fringe eccentrics, but he starts with the example of the unnamed staff at the New York Times who persuaded the editorial board to not give air to an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton calling for martial law to crush Black Lives Matter protesters. The rejection didn't prevent Cotton from airing his noxious views, and may have given him a publicity boost. There's no really good solution to issues like this. Chait has a few more examples, which are mostly things the right rails against as "cancel culture" and "political correctness." I certainly see a need to handle those cases better, but they rarely bother me, at least where the people being chastised have little power of their own. And I still have a bad taste from 1992, when Bill Clinton went out of his way to attack a minor rapper dba Sister Souljah.
Kate Conger/Mike Isaac/Ryan Mac/Tiffany Hsu: [11-11] Two Weeks of Chaos: Inside Elon Musk's Takeover of Twitter. I'm not sure why you should care, but if you're curious this is the basic story. Also:
Kelly Denton-Borhaug: [11-10] What an American Addiction to War Means to Veterans. Author has a book: And Then Your Soul Is Gone: Moral Injury and US War-Culture. Last week was Veterans Day, the only American holiday date (aside from Christmas, New Year's Day, and the 4th of July) considered so sacrosanct that it hasn't been gerrymandered into a long weekend. The date was originally fixed at the end of what was then called the Great War, making it a celebration of peace, but as the "war to end all war" in fact spawned more wars (David Fromkin wound up writing a book on the postwar settlement called The Peace to End All Peace), the holiday got taken over as a tribute to the martyrs, and eventually a celebration of American militarism. Every year, it's a holiday that makes me sick to my stomach.
I remember back when I was drafted in 1969, the greatest fear I felt wasn't what the "enemy" might do to me -- my life wasn't worth much as the time, which is part of the reason they looked on me as ideal draft bait -- but what the Army would certainly do to me to try to turn me into a killer. (Not that I didn't know well enough what was going on in Vietnam. My next door neighbor was sent there and came back in small bits.) So when the author talks about "moral injury," I recognize something deeper than the better known PTSD that affects so many veterans. "War damages all who wage it" is fairly profound, but even there the net isn't cast wide enough. War damages the politicians who vote for it, the writers who cheer it on, and many bystanders, who matter how innocent they think they are. If I've learned one thing important in my 72 years, it's that.
Connor Echols: [11-11] Diplomacy Watch: Could US-Russia nuke negotiations help set the stage for talks? Not a lot to report, but there is a report that Biden and Putin will be talking about extending the START treaty that limits some nuclear weapons. As Churchill once said, "jaw jaw is better than war war." Echols also wrote: [11-07] New White House reports suggest diplomacy isn't a four-letter word after all.
Also on Ukraine:
John Hudson: [11-12] US intelligence report says key gulf ally meddled in American politics: "The United Arab Emirates steered US foreign policy in its favor through a series of legal and illegal exploits." Given that what happens in US politics has profound impacts on the rest of the world, I'm not surprised when foreign countries try to affect US elections -- especially given that the US has a long record of trying to influence foreign elections. So most of what this proves is that it's not just Russia (and Israel, which is much more aggressive, given their proxies -- speaking of which, see Michael Arria: [11-09] AIPAC spent over $4 million trying to stop Summer Lee but she's headed to Congress).
Paul Krugman: [11-08] Is Divided Government Good? Don't Take Elon's Word for It. Refers to a Musk tweet, endorsing Republicans for Congress to lean against the Democrat in the White House. But the US has had divided government -- a President from one party and control of one or both Congressional bodies by the other -- with startling regularity (from memory so I may be off a bit: 2/8 years Truman, 6/8 Eisenhower, 0/8 Kennedy/Johnson, 8/8 Nixon/Ford, 0/4 Carter, 6/8 Reagan, 4/4 Bush I, 6/8 Clinton, 2/8 Bush II, 6/8 Obama, 2/4 Trump). In some cases that can lead to constructive compromises (although offhand, the examples that come to mind involve R Presidents working with D Congresses, and most of them are dated (like under Eisenhower and Nixon). But mostly it leads to obstruction and sabotage, which was most explicit after 2010, and would probably be even worse now (as of this writing, the Senate has 50 Democrats + a chance for one more in Georgia, but the House is leaning Republican, and that would be enough to torpedo any legislative efforts, and to hold even essential spending hostage). That might be OK if, like most contemporary Republicans, you believe problems (like pandemic and climate change) to be scams, and government to be intrinsically incompetent if not downright evil. On the other hand, if you think that we are facing real problems (even ones Republicans campaigned hard on, like inflation and crime) you should want a functioning political system, which these days means Democrats in charge. The only plus I see to divided government over the next two years is that it will make it easier to blame Republicans for inaction and obstruction in 2024. Still, it means two more years wasted so arrogant twits like Musk can get off easy. One last thing to note here is that the argument works best in the mid-terms, when the presidency is already fixed. You never find people arguing for divided government during a presidential election, because they always want to win both. So why credit it as an idea at all?
Jill Lepore: [11-07] The case against the Twitter apology: "Our twenty-first century culture of performed remorse has become a sorry spectacle."
Anatol Lieven: [11-09] Grim outlook on global warming emerges from UN conference: "Necessary carbon reduction targets will not be met; the US and China will have to work together to prevent further damage." Not much news (as least that I noticed) from the UN's COP27 climate conference in Egypt.
Ian Millhiser: [11-11] The legal fight that could kill Biden's student debt relief plan, explained: "The program is almost certainly legal, but that fact is unlikely to persuade a judiciary dominated by his partisan foes." One of whom, a Trump judge in Texas, has already ruled against the program.
Timothy Noah: [11-10] Inflation Is Dwindling (Just Like I Said It Was). He further suggests "there's even a growing possibility we can avoid a recession." But won't that require the Fed to stop its interest rate hikes when prices stabilize, instead of waiting until they get the unemployment rate they seem to be looking for?
Jonathan Ofir: [11-11] Meet the new kingmakers of Israeli politics: "The racist, homophobic, ultra-nationalist Religious Zionism list was the big winner in Israel's most recent election. It is also a perfect reflection of where Israel is heading." This trajectory is hardly surprising, given that Israel has maintained domestic repression (an apartheid state) and militarism ever since 1948, with no interest in mitigating injustice or reconciling with worldwide norms. One can imagine the US, following 9/11, sinking ever deeper into the same mental rut -- indeed, that appears to have been the aspirations of the neocons who ran Bush's war machine and their apocalyptic allies in the fundamentalist churches -- but most Americans turned out to not have the stomach for perpetual war. Also:
Barnett R Rubin: [11-05] 14 months later: Five conclusions on Afghanistan withdrawal. During the Bush years, Rubin was one of the few experts on Afghanistan who could be counted on to offer sober analysis of the war there. Then, he went to work for Obama, and disappeared from pubic view. So good to hear from him again. The main conclusion is that US sanctions only serve to make a bad situation worse. The most interesting point is that China, Russia, and Iran haven't shown any desire to join with the Taliban in thumbimg noses at the US. I read this as suggesting an opportunity for a joint engagement, which could mitigate some of the Taliban's worst characteristics, and also reduce friction between the the US and its supposed nemeses.
Alex Shephard: [11-11] The Attempt to Annoint Ron DeSantis as Trump's Heir Will Fail. I'm not so sure. Trump's command over the GOP Establishment was almost completely based on his reputation as a winner, established in the 2016 election and reinforced by virtually nothing since -- not that he hasn't tried to keep up appearances, rather remarkably keeping much of his base in line after wrongfooting such supposedly savvy Washington insiders as McConnell, Graham, and McCarthy.
More on Trump:
Washington Post Editorial Board: [11-12] Here's how Congress can make the lame-duck session a mighty one: In recent years, when Democrats won governorships in North Carolina and Wisconsin, Republicans in those states (including the lame duck governors) moved quickly to pass laws to undermine established powers of their governors. That's seemed like bad taste, but but there are things that the old Democratic majorities can still do that would make the next two years more bearable. Most important is to get rid of the unnecessary law that requires Congress to vote on raising the federal debt limit -- something that Republicans have often used to try to extort concessions from Democratic administrations. They raise a few more issues. (I'm skeptical about "fight Russian aggression," especially given that money for arms for Ukraine has had overwhelming bipartisan support so far.) I doubt that much can (or should) be done, especially on measures that have floundered for two years (mostly due to the filibuster, which is especially unlikely to be changed in a lame duck session), but I'd be open to ideas. Related:
Alex Thomas: [11-10] Democrats Have Two Months to Trump-Proof the Presidency: "With the party likely to cede the House -- if not the Senate -- to the GOP, meaningful steps to limit some of the executive branch's power must be taken during the lame-duck session." One problem here is that in a divided government, the only way to get many things done is through executive orders -- which you may not want to deny Biden just on the chance that Trump (or some equally malevolent Republican) might win in 2024.
David Yaffe-Bellany: [11-11] Embattled Crypto Exchange FTX Files for Bankruptcy: "The speed of FTX's downfall has left crypto insiders stunned." At one point, FTX was "valued" at $32 billion. Also:
Bonus tweet from Zachary D Carter:
PS: I wrote the following on Monday, November 14. It started as a reference to this Speaking of Which post, but kept growing until I got complaints about hijacking my Music Week post for politics. So I thought it might be more at home here: