The Washington Post is out with a report today from NYU saying that Russian disinformation on Twitter probably had very little impact on the 2016 Election. The basic finding is that the tweets probably didn’t reach nearly a big or broad enough audience to really make a difference. The report notes that Facebook posts reached a much wider audience, and “hack and dump” operations against the DNC likely did reach the broader public, based on other studies. In the end it’s nearly impossible to see exactly how much Russian operations were because of missing variables.
Setting aside the issue that Twitter has more of a “political influencer” crowd on it, there’s not a lot to argue against from the report. As the years have passed since 2016, I have not for one second doubted that Russia was messing around in our elections, or that Trump was okay with it. I’ve had two basic problems with the whole narrative though. First, “collusion” is not the crime, conspiracy would be, and that would require a direct agreement of some kind, which hasn’t been totally laid out to us. Second, I spent most of 2016 in Northeast Pennsylvania and Eastern North Carolina- do I really think all the Trump voters I saw needed Russia to convince them? Sure, bad people tried to do bad things, but is that really why Trump won?
It’s an uncomfortable conversation for a lot of liberal-leaning Americans, because I don’t think we like the implications, but Donald Trump did win the 2016 Election. Sure, he lost the popular vote, but that isn’t our system. So much of the conversation about Russian interference in our elections has been an attempt to discredit the result, rather than secure the future, and that is probably energy poorly spent. In 2012, the swing states broke mostly as a group towards Barack Obama, while the rest of the country voted along red and blue lines. In 2020, the swing states broke narrowly towards Joe Biden, while the rest of the country voted along their partisan lines. In 2016 they broke the opposite way. Typically the winner of the election is the candidate who does best where the paid communications are happening, which is to say the swing states. In 2016 that happened to be the Republican nominee.
Part of the reason the Russian interference narrative is a comforting way to explain 2016 is that it avoids saying that nearly half the country actually agrees with what Trump is saying. The truth is, they do though. It wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t a fluke. Joe Biden needed north of 81 million votes to narrowly beat him four years later. To treat Trump’s win as though it didn’t really happen is to comfort one’s self in a reality that never really existed.
It was funny, maybe the first five times. Then it became pathetic. Then it made me mad. Finally it ended, when I was asleep no less, and Kevin McCarthy finally was Speaker. The House was sworn in, and honestly that was it. They lacked the votes to get any rules passed. So the House went home, patting themselves on the back. After almost a week of work, they managed to put someone in charge and swear themselves in. They will spend the next two years being this unproductive. This was the easy part.
There are 435 House members and 100 Senators in a country of 330 million people, and they used that power for this performative bullshit. To be clear, the Senate is not nearly as bad as the new House, but both will largely spend their time in session trying to “message” to the country on the issues they want to talk about for the next two years. Neither will pass much actual law. We’ll be very lucky if the House can even raise the debt ceiling or fund the government at all, let alone pass any helpful laws.
It sort of amazes me that people want to be elected to Congress to go there and hold oversight hearings, stage sit-ins, and make TikToks, instead of writing bills, appropriating money, and passing legislation. You have members (in both parties) who served multiple terms in the Majority and the biggest legislative achievements they have are Post Office names. Getting clicks for performance art brings in small dollar donations, gets coverage, and raises name ID much more than real legislative work though. The incentive structure is all messed up, and Congress is full of people for whom the point is getting on camera- it’s literally why they are there.
The use of oversight committee hearings to get on television goes back to at least McCarthyism in the 1950’s, and just has been progressively worse since. We probably should have understood this during the baseball steroid hearings or the Benghazi hearings, but an increasing point of this stuff isn’t producing legislation or even legislative reports, they’re there to get on TV. Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert just spent a week using the election of a House Speaker to get on TV, with no substantive goal or demand, just basically to impress some activists somewhere that they showed their leader who is the boss. Nothing was achieved for the country. Just fame for them.
There are people who will argue it’s good that we just watched Congress debate their leader in the public sphere. Sure, maybe for two, three, or even five rounds. These folks spent at least twelve rounds voting the exact same, over and over. To foreign powers, it’s dysfunctional. To the domestic audience, it was clownery. To those in the know? These people aren’t capable of the job of serving in Congress. They literally won a seat in the most powerful legislature in the world just to impress strangers on the internet.
Don't be the next contestant on that Summer Jam screen Because you know who (who) did you know what (what) With you know who (yeah) but just keep that between me and you for now.
Those prophetic words from the great Jay-Z could easily have been written about the three men pictured above who the Republican Party tapped as the faces of their opposition to a young President Barack Obama. The funny thing about it is, in 2009 and 2010 it looked like they were doing pretty well. Now it’s 2022, and Obama’s Vice-President is now the President, and at any time now the last of them could be laid waste to by his party. They have been summarily humiliated, defeated, and vanquished from the GOP.
It would be very easy to sit here and talk about the political failings of each of them individually, or laugh at how foolish it was to think these guys could take on the coolest American politician of his generation. One could spend time making this a demographic case study, and try to make the argument that the “arch of time” is against the House GOP, but that would ignore that the GOP has won or gained seats in every House election since that book cover, save for one. My hypothesis in the end though is quite different than that- none of the “young guns” individual flaws ended up mattering nearly as much as the entire miscalculation of creating the “young guns” at all.
The retired lady in North Dakota, the angry Kari Lake voter in Arizona, the young guy in Johnstown, PA, or the random retiree in The Villages of Florida all may have been seeking an alternative to Barack Obama in 2009, but the last 14 years have shown us that what they were not looking for was policy alternatives packaged in Washington, DC. Paul Ryan’s budget was not the response to Obama’s America they were asking for. The truth is that the whole “young guns” idea was something out of Bush’s Washington, and that Republican Party and America were simply dead when Obama came to town. It was a total misread of the Tea Party moment, and an even worse misread of where American conservatism was by the time 2015 arrived and John Boehner was being forced to vacate the Speaker’s Office to go sell marijuana. After Eric Cantor’s loss the GOP should have never thought Paul Ryan or Kevin McCarthy were going to be able to pacify what the GOP base had become. The last seven years that culminated in Kevin McCarthy’s utter humiliation on the House floor yesterday should have been predictable.
After Obama’s election, anyone who wanted to organize the GOP around an organized policy platform has come to be viewed as a moderate. To be a true conservative of the post-2008 world, one had to be willing to make a cultural argument directly against the America of Barack Obama. To be clear, allow this to clear up the dissonance of how some people voted for Obama himself and became Trumpers- it really wasn’t about Obama or even Bill Clinton’s job performances, it was more about the changes in America that were allowed to go on during their tenures. It was more about the people perceived to be getting preference in that vision of America, and that those people were getting those advantages while the new Republican base was being left to rot. This is why Romney failed to capture this base’s hopes and dreams, but Trump became their hero, his rhetoric reached them. It’s why the Republican “young guns” of 2009, in their suits, armed with their white papers on tax policy failed. The post-2008 GOP base didn’t give a damn about your policy talk, they wanted to know you would fight like hell. The more so you showed them, the more they loved you.
Let’s face it, nobody thinks Kevin McCarthy is a fighter. Or Paul Ryan. Or Eric Cantor. In fact, one by one they’ve been exposed as more willing to deliver for the rich donors than the GOP base, and it eventually catches up to them. Not one of the 20 Republicans who bucked McCarthy yesterday will be angering their own primary voters, just the DC based GOP crowd that the real base doesn’t think delivers for them anyway. The pulse of their party is fine with this.
The truth is the official, DC, mainstream GOP response to “Obamaism” was an attempt to put forward a polished policy alternative, and that bet was all wrong. The folks who wanted an alternative to the world Obama was putting forward wanted a visceral, confrontational opposition. Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan, and Eric Cantor didn’t provide that. Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush didn’t provide that. Eventually the base of the GOP figures that out and disposed of them. For McCarthy, whether that really happened yesterday or a year from now, his time is coming. He and his fellow”young guns” made their bet, and they failed. We have reached the point where that is becoming pretty clear.
A lot has been written about Nancy Pelosi’s 22 years in the House Democratic Leadership, her eight years as Speaker of the United States House, and 36 years to date in the House. I really don’t have much to add there. She’s simply the most effective, best Congressional leader of my 39 year life. One could argue she’s the best ever. I really don’t have much to add.
I have one thing to add though- watch today. Today the GOP will take control of the House with 222 seats, the same number Nancy Pelosi had in her last term as Speaker. In 2021, Nancy Pelosi secured her 218 votes to be Speaker with little drama or fanfare. Even at times when she was Minority Leader, and there was real talk about replacing her, Pelosi kept her post with little drama or fanfare. Nancy Pelosi always knew her vote count, whether it was on a leadership vote, or passing any of the massive pieces of legislation she passed as Speaker. Nancy Pelosi was consistent and steady. With her exit as Speaker today, that era is gone for America.
Today you’ll watch Kevin McCarthy humiliate himself to attempt to be Speaker. He might succeed, he might not. It matters very little. No one that replaces Speaker Pelosi has one-tenth of her abilities to lead. The next two years will turn her former office into a prison, where the leader will be forced to acquiesce to lunatics, grifters, and liars. Kevin McCarthy is walking into chaos.
You’re going to miss Nancy Pelosi. The woman is good at her job.
Back in 2019, my theory was that Joe Biden would win the Democratic nomination, and ultimately the Presidency, basically because he was unlike anything else running in the Democratic field, and that was going to be good with the general electorate. While all the other candidates came out for pet slogans and causes of the activist and leftist wings of the party (Green New Deal, Defund the Police, reparations, “bold” change), Biden simply did not. He didn’t do things like defend Castro’s Cuba. Joe Biden said he was “not the guy” for voters who wanted that, and bet that more voters would back him. It worked. He won the nomination. He then won the Presidential Election, despite his party’s mixed results at other levels (particularly the House, but also to a lesser extent the Senate). Basically, my bet at the time was that the public would embrace a somewhat “normy” liberal at the ballot box, and valued competency more than it valued ideological purity, or frankly even personal charisma (Biden’s approval has mostly been below that of recent Democratic Presidents, both running and in office). I figured he would get elected, go do the job lower key than his predecessors of recent time, and move the Democratic Party as a result.
When I was first thinking about writing this, I was going to say that Joe Biden hadn’t quite done what I expected. As I got to actually considering his performance, he absolutely has though, and the party has benefitted handsomely as a result. I’ll preface this by saying that Biden has been more progressive than probably every Democrat in office since LBJ, but that’s not a super high bar. With that said, Joe Biden also probably just finished the two best performing years of any Democratic President, again since Johnson. His most “progressive” acts include executive action to attempt to wipe away billions in student load debt, which while controversial to some, is really just trying to fix the harmful impacts of a straight up predatory system. He passed the largest infrastructure bill since Eisenhower, one that will create millions of jobs and improve life in this country for generations. His eventual “Build Back Better” legislation may not have been as large as the original, but it took the most substantial action against climate change in our history. He put a highly qualified judge on the Supreme Court, and she happens to have shattered a wall in front of Black women in law through our entire history. He passed a huge stimulus early in his term and got millions of vaccines into arms (and yes, this was a good thing). He did a ton of things in his first two years, and I’m not even getting into all of them here. He did some “traditional” stuff too, like strengthen NATO and confront an expansionist Russian dictator, but that’s for another time. Basically, Joe Biden did go to Washington and govern as the “competent,” boring guy I thought he’d be. He got stuff done. He got elected that way, he governed that way. As expected.
The Democratic Party benefitted from Biden’s pathway, even if it never really made sense that they did. Biden’s personal approval has not been overly high for an early Presidency. His approval wasn’t super high through most of the primaries, and considering who he was succeeding, he didn’t enter office very high. Let’s be honest, Joe Biden doesn’t appeal to the base instincts of the masses. He does not have the charm or charisma of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, or the bravado of George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. Unlike Donald Trump, his appeal is not a double down on his base, Biden is not leading a cult like following. He’s probably most like George H.W. Bush of the modern times, who by the way, lost his re-election. His appeal was literally that he did the #2 job in the Administration pretty competently for eight years, and now he’s just asking to get the promotion. It is not traditionally how we pick Presidents in America. We normally want big personalities like JFK, Teddy Roosevelt, or Reagan. In Biden, we didn’t go that way. This isn’t to say he’s the “class nerd,” but “Uncle Joe” isn’t Clinton or Obama, and well, that worked out pretty well for 2022 Democrats. The GOP picked up just nine House seats, their worst performance against a first term Democratic President in a midterm since before cell phones, color TV’s, or America Online existed. Worse yet for the GOP, they lost a Senate seat. The net effect of course is that Biden will continue appointing judges at a record pace for the next two years, and the House GOP’s “suicide caucus” won’t be able to pass any of their priorities- probably not even through the House. They will send a neutered Kevin McCarthy up to try and capture the Speaker’s gavel tomorrow in the House, and people are openly wondering if he will be able to do anything even if he wins. Joe Biden may not be beloved with the public, but his lower key Presidency has helped the Democrats run circles around a GOP that is completely broken right now.
I guess the only part I am fretting over is whether Biden has changed the Democratic Party as it’s leader, and that question is less obvious to me. To be fair, first off he didn’t promise to. Second off, if you look at the staff world around him, many more of the lead figures in his White House are people who came to him from other major Democratic politicians of the last generation, at least if you’re comparing it to the Obama or Clinton White Houses. Finally, sometimes you can’t really stop a party from being what it is, especially if there’s only maybe 5-6% of the electorate out there to be moved. Biden was never going to cut into Trump’s base and “bring them home” or something, in fact it’s phenomenal that he brought the tiny sliver of “swing” vote his way, considering how they feel about his party as a whole. I think it’s totally fair to say that Biden didn’t attempt to stop some of the trends within the party, or that he didn’t try to change it’s Washington message or culture, but then it’s also totally fair to say he never felt the need to, or probably the ability. He signed up to run the government right, not change an entire movement.
And so here we are. Biden is the center of the Democratic Party, and frankly if Democrats want to win in 2024, they need to follow his lead. Deliver. Run a competent government. Do good things. It might not be absolutely everything we wanted back in 2019, but maybe it’ll end up being everything we need.
The passage of a year, or even ten years, is an insignificant event on a planet that is millions (sorry Sunday School teachers of my past ☹️) of years old. Sure, it’s fun to have parties and mark the passing of another year, but we make more of it than it is. You won’t be a different person tomorrow, most likely, and the world around you is unlikely to be much different either. Don’t put off the changes you want to make over the passage of an artificial construct. It’s just another calendar date changing.
Some years are different than others though, and sometimes it’s worth noting the way the entire past year changed you. This past year, I lived. I experienced new things and places I never had before, and I found new likes. For the first time in my life I went west of Lincoln, NE. I spent a couple months in Las Vegas, Easter in LA, went to California for the first time, crossed the Rockies, went to Hoover Dam, and saw Death Valley. In the west I found how much I actually enjoy nature (I know, odd living in Vegas) and our national parks. The mountains, the deserts, even the Pacific Ocean, it’s all just different out West. That first time I flew over the Rockies was basically a religious experience for me. I definitely caught the bug. 🏜
It wasn’t just the West though that I found this year. I went to Memphis and experienced Beale Street, the home of the blues. I had barbecue in Kansas City. I saw the arch in St. Louis. For the first time in 18 years (and second time in my life), I went to Boston. I saw a lot of new places this year, and my appreciation for America grew a lot.
One place I have to say surprised with how cool it was? Tennessee. I had the least expectations for the “Volunteer state” of all the places I visited, and it was awesome. All the music history in that state, they not only are the capitol of country and the blues, they really helped create rock there. They’ve preserved it in both Nashville and Memphis, but Memphis really caught my mind. That’s one great River town.
2022 was also a very retro year for me though. For the first time in 14 years, and third and fourth time in my life, I was at a Phillies World Series game. It was like Californication in 1999 again when I saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the Meadowlands. Seeing Aerosmith was commonplace in my teen years, until it wasn’t, then this year I’m sitting in Fenway watching their 50th anniversary show. All that was old was new again. I still like what I like.
One thing about experiencing things from your past later on in life is that you appreciate them more. You take it in more. And it makes you value those past experiences more. I appreciate more of what I’ve seen, because of what I saw now.
I don’t want to pretend everything about 2022 was great though, that nothing was wrong. Some people came, some people and things left. I grappled with aging, as I’ll exit my 30’s early next year. I left my college’s alumni board, as I finished my last term. There were times I felt old, and I don’t mean that physically. I mean in my mind. Like maybe the best days we’re behind me. Maybe there’s no new heights to reach. Maybe the last 20 years or so of adulthood weren’t worth it. I’ve had depression in the past, and it flared up at times again. Like I said, there were struggles. It really was a great year overall, but it had its moments too.
I’ve spent my entire adult life in politics, I think politics is very important. Voting and being an informed citizen is important. Serving in any capacity is important. As important as it is, my relationship to politics is changing. I’m coming to believe our politics may be fundamentally broken. I’m actually pleasantly happy with President Biden on the policy and governance side, I think he’s got a lot of good things done. I will vote for him again. Unfortunately his election has not ended the polarization the way I had hoped, in part because no one really wants to end it. I struggled until lunch on Election Day to fill my vote-by-mail ballot in, basically because I was disgusted by the vote I had to cast for one particular office. I thought our candidate was entirely inappropriate to serve, but their candidate was such a particularly terrible person that I had to vote against them. I find myself siding against the people advocating for maximum free speech, which feels dirty to me, but they want to amplify hate speech, conspiracy theories, and junk science, without consequence. Our politics is now infested with grifters seeking riches, idiots that want to be powerful, self-important people, people armed with only ignorant opinions they just arrived at, and angry people that know very little about governance, but walk in the door with a set of demands, because they are going to change the world. The political industry in which I have spent my life, is pulling us towards an algorithmic existence where we think 50% of the population are evil and stupid, but our 50% can do no wrong. A few of us are experienced and involved enough to know better, but many won’t admit how broken it all is. We’re two years removed from an attempted coup in America, but I’m not sure we’re better off.
We have one group of activists obsessed with guns, calling their opponents pedos, conspiracy nonsense, and the two trans athletes they can name that were good at their sports, while worshipping a fat, stupid, corrupt ignoramus as their God. On the opposite side, you have a mish-mash of cancel culture, sensitivity police, do-nothing Socialists, and each and every pet cause you can think of. Then you have everyone else, who hate all of this, but select a side because they know it’s important. It is important. Who governs matters a lot to billions of lives. Right now, only one political party is fit to govern, but let’s not pretend that party is in a great place.
Politics was good to me again though. I ran some projects doing registration, turnout, and petitions for ballot initiatives, mostly in new places. I also wrote mail for the first time, which is different than anything I’ve ever done before. It was good to get different experiences, and I look forward to doing more with that in the new year, with my own new LLC’s in place. I guess, may we prosper?
In 2023, much of the work out there will be local elections, maybe the most directly consequential kind of elections. I like working on these races because they are the furthest removed from the nonsense the national folks put you through. You just try to get good people elected. It’s more pure. I feel better about it. Frankly it’s not a big racket.
It was tough saying goodbye to my 15 year old dog, Sweetpea this past September. She had a long, good life, and a fighting spirit to the very bitter end. I’ve had three dogs, and I’m now down to one. I’m reminded that while there with us only part of their life, we’re there with them for their whole life. If you do it right, they’re part of the family.
It was a good year to be a Philadelphia sports fan. The Phillies won the pennant and the Eagles have the best record in football. Sure, there were playoff losses for the Eagles and Sixers this year, but it was a good one overall. Beggars can’t be choosers. This coming year should be better.
The year in sports on the whole was pretty fun to watch. Let’s be honest, the Super Bowl was rigged, but the halftime show was fire, so that’s cool. Aaron Judge made history with 62 homers, the American League record. Thank God Golden State spared us from ESPN’s Boston love fest. And thank you UNC for sparing us from weeks of Duke tributes. Georgia beat ‘Bama for the 2021 title in 2022, and I’ll give you quick glimpse of the future- they’re going to do it again. They should just put all SEC teams in the playoffs.
One of the cool things about what I do is the people I meet and the places I go. I’m blessed by it. I have a job that constantly makes me think and consider points of view that aren’t mine. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. To the many people I spent time with, or met randomly this year, thank you. My world is a little bigger, and I’m a little better, because of you. To my closest friends, the ones I drive all over creation to see, and those in Easton, thank you for being a part of my life. I couldn’t do it without you.
I’m not really looking forward to 2023. I actually enjoyed most of 2022. I’m happy. I feel fit and ready to go. I’m hoping for good things. By the same token, there are storm clouds on the horizon though, and I’m preparing for some things in life that won’t be easy. I’m just hoping I’m ready to face them when it’s time.
We are coming to the end of the global social media age. I don’t think it will die, but it’s going to change. What started as a great way to connect and bring people together has now become a world of megalomaniacs spouting off nonsense, and a place for people who have bad ideas to connect. We are a world at war, living in disinformation, being radicalized, and becoming more polarized. I hope for our leaders to show wisdom in leading us through dangerous times.
Back in 2016, after the election, I told some friends in a DC bar that I thought we were entering the most chaotic, dangerous 20 years possibly in modern history. I absolutely believe that. The good news is, we’re one year closer to getting through it.
God bless you all. Here’s some more pictures from this year. See you on the other side of the night.
Who the f**k is George Santos? To be fair, I do this every time a new Congress comes to town. I don’t have the bandwidth to know or care who all 435 members of the U.S. Congress are, especially the ones I don’t care for much. Santos was going to be an irrelevant nobody that helped elect the worst Speaker in U.S. history this coming January, but now he’s getting lots of recognition, for all the wrong reasons.
Basically, George Santos life looks to be fraudulent. His business life, education, and past behavior is all in question, because you can’t substantiate that he did any of it. I will spare you the details, the guy is a weirdo and appears to be a fraud. When he surprisingly won his race in November, that wasn’t a good thing. Now we’re finding out the details and wondering what Long Island was drinking before they voted. You get your mea culpa in 2024.
The real question is how did this happen? The media wanted to dunk on the Democrats for ineptitude, Democrats wanted to dunk on the media for not investigating him. Welcome to the weird world of opposition research, one of the only areas of campaigning I never did before, so I asked some actual experts. A Congressional manager from a DCCC targeted race this cycle, an opposition research professional, and a former DCCC staffer made it make sense for me.
First off, you can criticize Robert Zimmerman for losing this race, but literally all three of them agreed that his campaign isn’t really at fault for this. Targeted DCCC and NRCC campaigns generally get their research book on the opponent from the campaign committee, usually. For instance, the bombshells that destroyed the Republican opponents of Rep. Craig and Rep. Kaptur were likely done by DCCC staff. The way it sets up is that the committee has a national director leading the department and a series of regional “desks” overseeing several states underneath them. Under them they will either hire junior level staffers or an outside firm to go do the research on both the opposition candidates and their own nominees, in the most competitive districts. They can’t do every candidate in every district, so they have a basic template they send staffers out with to start with in each district, based on what issues polling suggests are on voters minds, and the obvious things like looking to see if your opponent killed someone, or something else nuts. So, for instance in 2022, DCCC researchers likely were starting out by looking for documented evidence of extremism on abortion or guns, ties to January 6th, and ties to bad foreign governments, like say, Russia. In this case, they found some very real hits from this bunch, and some of the stuff now alleged in the New York Times piece. Santos managed to avoid most of the scrutiny, and won this district by a massive margin, considering how blue it was. With that said, I think you could fairly question what the DCCC sent their staff looking for (Long Island voters were clearly fine with this guy hanging out with domestic terrorists on Jan. 6th), but not the process as a whole- they found a lot of what they looked for, they couldn’t imagine all of this nonsense, or go looking for everything.
So then the obvious question is, if they had a good chunk of this stuff, and we’re fairly certain Democratic press staff was pitching it to reporters, why did the article come out a week before Christmas? How did Santos essentially make up his life, and get away with it? I give the media a little more charitable read than Democratic activists here- it’s not their job to print whatever smut the parties tell them to. Maybe the reporter didn’t find the pitch credible. Maybe Democrats couldn’t quite substantiate everything. To be fair, egregious hatchet jobs are unfair. If Democrats had all of this, and reporters wouldn’t print it, they always had the option of putting it out through paid comms (TV, digital, mail). They didn’t.
Santos is a national disgrace, and he should leave Congress before it starts, but he won’t. A lowlife who fabricated the majority of his story to get here isn’t going to feel shame now. The moral of this story is there ain’t such things as halfway crooks. If you’re going to be terrible and still run for office, I guess you do better by going to a level so far bad that no one even believes the story. It worked for Santos.