My Real Beef With Radical Leftists

Liberal, conservative, moderate? I mostly reject those terms. “Progressive” is now a popular term for people on the left who want to underscore just how more to the left they are than “liberals.” If you go issue by issue though, you find the distinction doesn’t mean much. They’re almost all the same on the issues, and you can find issues where supposed progressives are less to the left than their “centrist” opponents- usually social issues.

All of this is a silly game of optics, a way for people out of power to try and replace those in- with themselves. Yes, there are “Democratic Socialists,” a further left-leaning camp of Democrats of anti-capitalist Democrats, but even there, there’s not a lot of policy difference. An overwhelming majority of all Democrats agree on expanding Medicare to achieve universal coverage, raising the minimum wage (whether it be to $12 or $15 an hour), investing in our nation’s infrastructure, opposing tax cuts for the rich, fighting climate change, investing in public schools, equal pay for women, supporting collective bargaining, protecting social security, supporting Civil Rights, preventing gun violence, protecting our environment, investing in renewables, and any other platform issue you can think of. I know that I do- as do most of the “radical” leftists that I end up arguing with, even the radical wacko from California that put a fatwah on me on Twitter this weekend. Sure, there are some elected officials who have modest or singular differences with party orthodoxy, but for the most part, Democrats are unified on policy. So, why do we fight?

For some people on the left, the difference is defined by whether you supported Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders in 2016- no, really. For the radical, fringe left, supporting Hillary makes you a neoliberal, a corporatist, a Republican, or any other number of negative terms. The minute you attack them for Bernie’s vote against immigration reform, voting with the NRA on protecting gun manufacturers, voting for almost every war resolution in his career, or any other sin of his though, you’re either lying or divisive. The whole discussion is tiresome, and pointless- Hillary Clinton is very, very unlikely to run for anything, ever again (her husband definitively won’t be running again). While I don’t like those votes from Bernie that I just mentioned, I don’t oppose him on those policy grounds, really. I think Bernie should get the same slack for voting his constituents’ views as Cory Booker should for voting his.

So why do I oppose these people?

The first reason is that I do not want the Democrats to become an ideologically rigid party, like the Republicans. I don’t want a left-wing Tea Party. Parties like that are limited in the people and places that they can represent, as not every place is Arkansas or Manhattan. Rigid ideology ends the concept of national parties.

The second reason I oppose them is their willingness to shoot at people in their “own tent.” I’m perfectly fine with Joe Manchin being a socially conservative Democrat in a West Virginia- that’s who West Virginia is. I’m also fine with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders being economic leftists in New England- that’s who they are. People in Brooklyn or DC shouldn’t pick Congressional candidates in Southwestern Pennsylvania. We should not attack representatives who are representing their district. This is why we have representative government, and not a national election for our legislature. We shouldn’t make it harder for Democrats to win general elections in the pursuit of utopia.

The third reason I oppose them is their opposition to compromise. Despite the passions of activists, they are not where governing happens. Building majorities around “pure” liberalism or conservatism is impossible- and maybe worse for Democrats. We are a coalition party, and trying to make it all “one thing” is pointless and actually destructive. Legislation passes on compromise, good government is realizing you can’t get 100% of what you want. Our more radical folks disagree.

The fourth reason I oppose the radical left is the black and white way in which they see the world. No, not all bankers are evil. No, being rich is not necessarily evil. Private business does some bad things, but it also employs most of America’s working class. Crushing capital would not work well for us. Should we regulate them? Of course. Should we govern towards the many, not the few? Sure. Should we crush capital and wealth? I think that’s a bad idea.

My fifth and final problem with radical leftists? Their insistence on the centering of their issues. Again, the Democratic Party is a coalition, and coalitions have to work together and compromise to govern. No, women’s issues shouldn’t take a back seat to free college. No, Civil Rights should not take a back seat to Medicare-for-All. It’s a coalition. You can’t center yourself above all others, all the time.

Now there are specific things I hate about the radical left- defending Russia and Wikileaks, peddling in conspiracy theory, inviting grifters to their tent, and attacking “identity politics” specifically. I particularly hate Bernie Sanders for spending his career doing these things. Even so, it’s not like I have big policy differences with them, on the whole. My opposition to them is mostly on their rigid ideology, and unwillingness to be adults and compromise. Otherwise, I think this divide is a big joke.

In #PA18, Democrats Moved At Least as Much as the Voters

The results of the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District last night were astounding. Donald Trump carried this district by 20%, Mitt Romney did so by 17%, and no one even ran against former Congressman Tim Murphy in 2014 or 2016. Yes, this district was heavily Democratic as late as Bill Clinton’s victories in the 1990’s, but it’s been red this entire century- by a lot.

Donald Trump was absolutely rebuked last night, but it’s my guess that he would still beat Hillary there by at least 10% (but not 20%). The House Republicans *should* be terrified, because there are over 100 better seats for Democrats to take in November, but they aren’t entirely wrong in pointing out the candidate strengths here. In fact, if I’m being honest, the Democrats won this race by getting out of our own way.

Conor Lamb was a perfect candidate- a Marine, a federal prosecutor, a social moderate, pro-union, young guy. He fit the district, but is not the kind of candidate many Democratic activists would normally pick. If there had been a primary, he may not have had much support from national liberal groups. The Democratic Party of 2016 almost certainly would have lost this race. Fortunately, it’s not 2016, and this candidate was not a national Democrat. Democrats ran a candidate who fits this conservative leaning district. They won.

Democrats moves at least as much as the voters of Southwestern Pennsylvania did. They nominated a guy who’s profile gave him a shot with the voters of his district. His positions on guns, trade, abortion, and energy all were somewhat negotiable. The race was contested on very different messaging than the 2016 race. The voters of Pennsylvania’s 18th district saw enough they liked to register their frustrations with Donald Trump and the Republicans in Washington. Don’t mistake yourself though- the movement was not one-sided.

Democrats and Losing Choices


Republicans control the United States House. Republicans control the United States Senate. Republicans control most of the Governorships in America. Republicans control most of the State Legislatures in America. There are more Republican-appointed Judges on the U.S. Supreme Court than Democrat. Republicans control the White House.

Now that we’ve identified what’s wrong with the Democratic Party, let’s review why it’s so.

For some, Democrats don’t win elections because they are not “liberal” or “progressive” enough. This means different things to different people though. For the “Bernie Left,” Democrats are not progressive enough on policy issues, and if we’d just talk class warfare more, we’d win back some of the white voters who abandoned us for Donald Trump. For others, we are not “embracing our base” enough, and we’re losing because we’re chasing the “white working class” instead of trying to grow the “emerging electorate.” This fight has stoked passions, but I don’t think it has much to do with getting the Democrats back to winning elections.

The Democrats probably currently hold all of the seats in Congress that they should be able to hold by following either of these playbooks. How many seats in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Atlanta, or any other major metropolitan areas of the country are held by the Republicans? A small, small number. How many Republican seats are majority-minority? How many seats are held by Republicans that support higher taxes? Hillary Clinton, for her faults, won poor voters, including white, poor voters. Hillary won white voters who said the economy was their top concern too. Democrats did not, and have not, had a problem winning over minority voters in recent elections- they currently are winning 90% plus of African-Americans, 70% plus of Latino voters, clean majorities of women, the LGBTQ community, Asian-Americans, and Millennials. In other words, the Democratic Party is already winning over most of the people who would find either the Sanders or Clinton wings of the party’s message to be appealing. There aren’t many seats to gain in Manhattan or Austin. Perhaps, Democrats are very good at what they do already- and perhaps it’s not good enough.

The seats Democrats lost in 2010 and 2014, and probably need to win back to build majorities, don’t fit either side of the debate. The 23 “Clinton Republican” seats from 2016 are neither socialist or “identity politics” seats. They didn’t vote out Democrats in 2010 or 2014 because they weren’t “Democrat” enough. They voted them out because they didn’t feel the Democrats offered them anything they wanted.

There is an argument that the rising American electorate is going to give Democrats an advantage in Presidential elections moving forward, though there is an equally compelling argument that the Electoral College will claw that advantage away from us. Even if that is the case, Democrats won’t be able to do much with that advantage if our activists and primary voters insist on playing by the playbook of either side of the inner-party battle- neither side leads to a sustainable Congressional majority. It is arguable that Democrats are simply screwed by the self-sorting nature of society, and that our voters are all packed into small geographic areas. If that’s the case though, than perhaps our activists need to realize that nominating our ideal members of Congress in seats we don’t have right now probably will lead us to defeat. That seems to be make sense when you consider where we have to win.

Fear the Chaos


Donald Trump is an embarrassing President. He says racist, sexist things regularly. He enacts regressive policies. He insults foreign allies. He leaves key jobs vacant. His West Wing is a revolving door. I can’t think of much good to say, other than that his ineptitude has prevented him from melting down the American economy or starting a new war.

As bad as that all is though, all of those matters ultimately can and should be viewed through your personal opinion. How you feel about his Stormy Daniels affair is up to you. What should terrify everyone, beyond any partisan argument, is Donald Trump’s impulsive behavior. His erratic process for making decisions is terrifying.

Donald Trump is a man-child. He is instituting tariffs on foreign steel, over objections from his National Economic Council Chair, Congressional leadership, the Pentagon, and big business. He decided to start a trade war all of a sudden, because he was mad at his Chief-of-Staff, and apparently upset his son-in-law was under attack in the press. This is not mature policy making. This is not how any White House works. This random act of chaos tanked the stock market for days. That may be the best part of this. Wait until foreign markets retaliate.

A lot of Democrats want to attack Trump for being a bad guy. They want to attack him for disagreeing on policy. These things are minor by comparison. The Republic has survived inept and bad Presidents. We have not survived impulsive man-children. What happens when he’s mad at a foreign enemy or rival- will he start a war? Will he cause a global military crisis? Could this happen just because someone says something not nice about his daughter?

Fear the chaos. It’s what could kill us.

What if the Stuff You Think Matters in Elections, Doesn’t.

We political people like to assume the things we do are actually important. The problem is that this isn’t true. The chief problem with political operatives and activists, and our judgment, is that we have little to nothing in common with the vast majority of the people voting, let alone society at-large. The things we value in candidates have nothing to do with what the rest of the country values in candidates. We make up a tiny percentage of the country, and we’re quite different than everybody else. This is true of both conservatives and liberals. The biggest rallies and marches struggle to represent 1% of America.

A mistake that many candidates for public office make is that they don’t realize that. They spend lots of time talking to the most passionate, the most engaged people, and not worrying about how they are going to talk to everyone else. Elections are decided among the rest of the public. They are who you need to talk to.

Elections come down to paid communications and ground game. Can you mass communicate, and can you mass mobilize? Do you have the money to reach out to the general public and reach them on issues they care about?

The least important part of an election is the “activist” primary. That’s not where you win elections. Politicos spend a lot of time worrying about it, but in the end, that’s energy not being spent on the important stuff.

Janus the Jerk

I grew up in a union household, and thank God I did. My father was a PBA member, a correction’s officer in New Jersey, and the effectiveness of that union made our lives better. My parents were able to buy their first home, and their second, go on vacations with us, send my sister and I to college, put food on the table, and generally live a comfortable life.

My father was a public sector worker, who paid union dues, and worked hard every day for 25 years in a tough job. The return for that was a comfortable, middle-class earning, negotiated by his union under collective bargaining. There was no special secret about it. We lived decent because my father had a union.

Of course, that has to be under attack too. A man named Mark Janus, who benefits from his collectively bargained, union contract, thinks he should not have to pay into the union that represents him. He wants to strike down the dues that allow his union to function. Aside from the self-harm aspect of this story, Mark Janus is a jerk. He’s been glad to live the benefits of the union, but thinks he should get that for free. If people like Mark Janus had their way, I’d have grown up poor.

The Sad Truth About Pawlowski’s Fall in Allentown


Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski was not my favorite guy. I was never a part of his inner circle, and I was on the receiving end of his political consultant’s wrath a few times. Ed is not a sympathetic, warm and fuzzy character either. At best, he’s an acquired taste. There’s another side to it though- he really wasn’t a bad Mayor. The re-development of Downtown Allentown that he undertook has improved that city. His political sense, to bring the rising Latino and Syrian communities into the political process, will make the city better for decades to come. Good things have been happening in a city that was not going in a good direction when he got elected. Remember, his predecessor left office very unpopular, while Ed was re-elected pretty convincingly last Fall.

To be clear though, the jury believed the government’s case, that Ed Pawlowski was a liar, corrupt, and had defrauded the public of honest public services. They believed he undertook a vast conspiracy, to use his office’s power to raise money for runs for higher offices, while in the process not doing what is right for the people. Essentially, they believed he was a lying crook. In truth, the recordings were devastating. The government’s cross-examination of Pawlowski, in which they forced him to admit he was a liar, sealed his fate and sent him to jail, probably for the next decade. It’s hard to argue with the juries findings, given the evidence that was put forward. Once Ed admitted he lied about some things, why would they believe he wasn’t guilty of everything?

So one has to ask how this happens? I have no evidence that Pawlowski, an ex-preacher, is somehow particularly evil. While it may not be okay for a Mayor to take football tickets or dinners from vendors, let’s not pretend this guy was Congressman Bill Jefferson (D-LA), with $50,000 in his freezer. It appears that this guy became blind with ambition, and his need for political benefactors drove him to do things that he probably didn’t expect to do when he ran in 2005. It also appears that his political consultant became blind with greed, and the ability to make money from politicians, unions, developers, and anyone else who had a checkbook. The whole thing is kind of sad, and frankly very cautionary. Here was a city that was making some positive progress, and now we see that it was all built on lies. That’s a damn shame.

I think the honest truth here is that campaigns cost too damn much money. This is why Pennsylvania legislators were using state staff to run campaigns in exchange for bonuses a decade ago, and it’s why we’re watching Allentown’s positive story unravel now. It costs too much money to run 1,000 points of television, or to send a mail piece to a state house district, or to pay for a couple of field organizers. Obviously this doesn’t lead most elected officials to corruption- out of the tens of thousands of candidates for office every year, only a small percentage are even ever investigated, let alone charged, let alone convicted. We should treat this as a particularly appalling case. While fundraising, one should never even discuss promises of public policy outcomes, and everyone in politics knows that, while only a few violate it. Even so, it’s hard to finance a campaign at any level, at least if you want to win.

Here’s the truth about campaigns- you can’t make them free. Mail has to cost postage. Television commercials cost money to produce, let alone buy air-time to show. Campaign staff have to be paid in order to be able to work for a candidate. Printers have to be paid for printing literature. Campaign offices have to cost rent. You can’t force people to provide these goods and services for free.

There’s a second truth too- you can’t stop interested people from donating to campaigns. Who are most interested? Those involved in the governing process. You cannot limit the ability of anyone in our society to speak out on political matters- this is what the First Amendment expressly protects. When you limit the ability of people to donate directly to candidates, they end up creating their own dark money groups and independent expenditures- which ends up leading to confused voters, shady messaging, and elections bought by the billionaires and oligarchs.

None of this should be accepted as normal or okay. No matter how hard it is to finance your political ambitions, you cannot sell public policy for campaign donations. You cannot rig bids to help campaign donors. You should not be sweeping your office for wires and phone taps. You cannot lie to the FBI when they launch an investigation into your work. The jury found Mayor Pawlowski guilty of that.

No one won in the case of Ed Pawlowski. He will go to jail, which is obviously terrible for his family and friends. The city was making progress, and becoming a better place to live, which now falls under question. The taxpayers were denied honest services by the entire conspiracy. The whole situation is sad. We shouldn’t treat it as normal.

Dear @MLB: Impeach Rob Manfred for his “Pace of Play” Initiatives


I don’t go to baseball games to see how fast they can be finished. No one does, really. I spend thousands of dollars going to 40 some professional games a year, and I do so because I enjoy it. I enjoy being outside. I enjoy the thinking aspect of the game. I enjoy the game itself. Yes, a game lasts three hours. It’s not a game that lends itself to instant gratification. It’s a game that takes time, requires thought, and generally lends itself to the strategically inclined. It’s a game of inches, adjustments, and patience. Baseball fans like all of this stuff. They also enjoy kicking back in their seat, with a cold beer in their hand, and watching the game. It’s what we pay for.

Apparently Commissioner Rob Manfred doesn’t think that’s the case, or more likely, takes us for granted. In his efforts to bring more marginal fans into the stadiums and watching the TV’s, Manfred is hellbent of making baseball more timely. He thinks baseball needs to improve it’s pace of play to be more interesting. He thinks that baseball can somehow emulate the pace of play in other sports, sports like the NBA that are basically built for constant action. What he thinks is basically incorrect.

Manfred’s latest brilliant idea, limiting the number of mound visits a catcher can make, is idiotic. He has floated equally silly ideas about how many pitching changes a team can make in an inning, and putting a base-runner at second base to start innings during extra-inning games. The goal? Less stoppages. More action. A faster game. He thinks this will bring more fans to the sport in 2018. He essentially is saying society is too ADHD for baseball.

The NFL would serve as a good model for why Manfred’s plans are doomed from the start. The NFL’s best efforts to appeal to the casual fan in recent years have left them with egg on their face. From their attempts to have it both ways on national anthem kneeling, to their attempts to “get tough” on off field behavior, to their feeble attempts at addressing head injuries, to their completely inept inability to define what a catch is, the NFL’s attempts at change have left them actually with lower ratings than ever before. Is this because their efforts to protect their players and combat domestic violence were wrong? Of course not. It’s because these attempts at doing the right thing, at changing a league’s identity, are not going to bring new people into the game, by and large. You do that through enhancing the experience for fans in attendance, and creating more compelling television for the fan watching at home. One could simply look at the NBA’s recent success with these things and see that.

People who don’t watch baseball now are not likely to start watching baseball because you speed up the game. People who find baseball boring aren’t going to come over because of rule changes. They’re going to come over because the game is compelling TV. You have a game that is going global, who has compelling stars like Jose Altuve, Clayton Kershaw, and Giancarlo Stanton, and an in-game experience for the fans at the game that is enjoyable and relaxing. Changing the identity of the game to chase people who don’t like baseball now is going to leave Rob Manfred every bit as unpopular with the fans as Roger Goodell is with NFL fans. It’s also not going to work- kind of like the NFL’s recent decisions haven’t. Market what we love, don’t chase people who don’t. That’s the formula for success, and Manfred should understand that or get lost.

How Democrats Can Win Back Pennsylvania in 2018.

Pennsylvania had possibly the worst gerrymandered Congressional map in the country. Fortunately, it also had a Supreme Court ready to act. They struck down the gerrymander and put into place a fair map.

The emphasis needs to be on fair.

Here’s the brutal reality of Pennsylvania- while it’s a very narrowly divided swing-state, it’s a politically segregated state. Most of the Democrats live close to Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. The areas around the state’s smaller cities are “purple,” or competitive. The rest of the state, the overwhelming bulk of the land, are dark red Republican. Those “red” areas are demographically white, Christian, and rural. There’s just not any fair, constitutional way to draw a map that favors Democrats overwhelmingly. The Court did not try to.

Democrats will almost certainly pick up seats on this map. Districts 2, 3, 4, 5, and 18 are solidly in the Dem column. Districts 1, 6, 7, 8, 10, and 17 are all toss-ups on a normal year. Districts 9 and 16 can be in play, with the right candidate, but normally are Republican. Districts 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 are Republican. If I were a betting man, I’d say the state will go 9-9 this year, even though it should be a Democratic year. I would bet seven or eight seats decided by the margin of error though.

If Democratic activists want to maximize their gains this year, they’d be smart to realize they are not the median voter. Most of Pennsylvania is not Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. The people who will decide our 2018 gains have to be persuaded to vote for us- even if they don’t like Donald Trump, who they very well may have voted for in 2016. There are a lot more Northamptons, Hazletons, Kittanings, and Beaver Falls in the swing districts than there are Allentowns and Scrantons. These people aren’t looking for movement liberalism and societal change as much as they are looking for someone to solve their problems. It is important to speak to our base, but these districts will not be won there. They’ll be won in the places where Hillary lost 2016, among people who we have struggled to speak to for a while. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court did not win us back the U.S. House with their new map- they simply gave us a fighting chance to go out and fix our problems. Will we take it?

The Democratic Party Wasn’t More Progressive in the Time You Glorify

I was recently watching a special about President Woodrow Wilson and World War I and was struck by something awful- Wilson was a bigot and sexist. I knew this, but didn’t appreciate that quite enough until I watched this PBS Special. He did not want to give women the right to vote, and his feelings towards Jim Crow were regressive at best. It’s sad to hear how negative he was on the most pressing social causes of his day, because I generally regard Wilson as a good President, and he was overall, for his day. Remember, we mainly compare him to Taft and Coolidge, who were not so good.

There’s a real white-washing that we do towards American history, especially towards our Presidents and political figures. We tend to long for our heroes of times past, and often times we do so at the expense of some really important lessons we should learn from their experiences. This is obviously true among nationalists, who tend to see the world in “good vs. bad” terms. It’s also true on the progressive left.

It is true that FDR was the progressive of his time. You could also say that Harry Truman was more progressive in his time than most. You could argue that from 1930-1980, the Democratic Party dominated American politics, and that it was more economically progressive than the Republicans. The important word is economically though. Until 1964, the Democratic Party was socially a regressive political party. Only beginning in 1948 did the Democrats begin to take on the Dixiecrats, and no nominee made any real strong overtures to African-American voters until JFK in 1960. No real policy action on Civil Rights happened until LBJ. Democrats didn’t really take on the cause of abortion rights until after Republicans started beating them up on the issue in the late 1970’s. Democrats didn’t put a woman on the Supreme Court until the 1990’s. Democrats were better on LGBTQ rights as early as the 1970’s, at least compared to the GOP, but didn’t embrace marriage equality as a party until 2012. While Democrats have long fought for Latino rights and causes, we remain conflicted and confused on the immigration issue even today. We have long been an evolving political party, one moving towards social progress for quite some time, but we remain a work in progress, trying to strike the right balance between inclusion and becoming too narrowly based to govern.

It is true that Democrats have been the more progressive political party for over a century now, but that does not mean we have been truly progressive. When President Taft purged the GOP of the Teddy Roosevelt wing of the party, the carefully constructed alliance of northern capitalists and progressives in the party ended. The Republicans became the party of market capitalists, the wealthy, and Democrats embraced the working class. Candidates like Al Smith carried their banner, and lost, until the market crashed in 1929, giving rise to FDR’s New Deal. We consider FDR and Truman progressive for their time, but the only real politics of those times were economic. Women and African-Americans were very tiny parts of the electorate, and all you needed to do to be a progressive in those times was to be a populist. The Democrats became dominant in the union halls and work sites across the country, and mostly won. That stayed true until the 1960’s, when JFK embraced Martin Luther King Jr. in the closing days of a close election to boost his share of the African-American vote. LBJ carried that cause forward in signing Civil Rights legislation and picking long time Civil Rights advocate Hubert Humphrey as his Vice-President, and the Democratic Party’s share of the African-American vote began to jump in the Reagan era. President Clinton and President Obama enjoyed giant margins among African-American voters, decades later, but many of us forget that this trend is only about 50 years old.

Were FDR and Truman really that progressive though? Remember, they governed in a pre-Civil Rights era, before Roe v. Wade, before the Stonewall riots or the murder of Harvey Milk, when women and Latinos were a tiny minority of the electorate. Truman openly questioned JFK’s ability to govern as a Catholic. FDR had the internment camps for Japanese Americans. Truman dropped the atomic bombs (arguably worth it) and got us mixed up in the Korean War. FDR turned a blind eye on Jim Crow. Both men certainly had their faults. One could argue that President Eisenhower was more socially progressive than either of them.

None of this is meant to condemn either of their of their Presidencies in their entirety, as I think Monday morning quarterbacking former Presidents’ balancing of the constant struggle between social progress and a resistant public isn’t useful. My point is simple- no, the Democratic Party was not more progressive in 1945 than it is today. Not if you were a woman, gay, African-American, or a religious minority. The party is actually much more progressive today than it was then. Is it less so on economics? That’s not really true either, though it’s more arguable.

It is true that Democrats have won less and less since 1964, particularly Congressionally. That is to be expected for a party embracing minority group rights. There are structural disadvantages to being this party. That’s a choice Democrats have made. It’s a choice that makes them a more progressive party today than we were in 1933.