My, My, My…

I’m actually really glad this is happening. We desperately need John Fetterman to beat Dr. Oz from New Jersey. Campaigns need money to run, it’s not inherently corrupt. With that said, yeah, I had to point this out, because the contrast is amazing.

Seriously, Why?

Senator Joe Manchin signed off on the biggest prescription drug price control bill in at least a couple of decades AND two more years of increased Obamacare subsidies. That’s it. That’s the headline. That’s the bill. That’s what Democrats can pass through reconciliation. And you know what? That’s an enormously big deal for literally tens of millions of people that live in our country and need help badly right now. This should sit next to the infrastructure bill, the gun safety bill, and the Covid rescue bill Joe Biden has literally signed into law, with bare minimum majorities in both houses of Congress in his first two years, in a trophy case of legislative efficiency that Biden, Speaker Pelosi, and yes, even Majority Leader Schumer deserve enormous praise for getting done with no margin of error. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both had seriously stronger majorities than Biden, and neither had nearly as much legislative success. The first 18 months of Biden’s Presidency, as a legislative matter, take a back seat to literally no one since LBJ, and very few even who came before.

That’s not the story though, like Obama and Clinton’s relatively successful first two years weren’t for them either. Joe Biden is literally getting politically curb-stomped for fist-bumping a foreign leader he visited and not passing a climate agenda that had zero chance of passing from day one. In fact the lead story of the political week is a tight race between his “losses” on fictional climate actions he never had, a federal district judge nominee in Kentucky (where neither senator was ever letting him nominate anybody) for a seat that wasn’t even open, and polling that shows a lot of Democrats don’t want to re-nominate him, even as both he and his running mate beat both Trump AND DeSantis in many public polls this week. At a minimum, the current White House has two viable candidates, despite high gas prices and inflation. You wouldn’t know that from the news. You’d think this guy is a buffoon who did nothing the last 18 months, not a Democratic President who just signed a gun safety bill AND seated the first Black woman ever on the high court, since Memorial Day.

Look, I get that the press sucks and refuses to cover any real substance. I also 1,000% agree with Kate Bedingfield that the President should not appease out-of-touch activists, even as they are pulling him down from his left in polls. Entrenched pro-Trump voters, too-far left activists, and “gotcha” reporters might be damaging Biden unfairly, but are we really doing this again? Every Democratic President from FDR forward has taken a massive ass whipping in at least one midterm as President, even as they achieve historic things. President Biden may cap a super successful two years, as I stated above, by passing the biggest pharmaceutical price control bill in my 39 year lifetime with an approval rating of less than one third of the public. How are our communications pros so bad that a bill that lowers insulin prices is being greeted as a loss? I had to explain to my own father (who votes every single year) that the reconciliation bill hadn’t failed yet, but in fact was close to being agreed on to do things that are really good. Biden’s approval really might drop from a piece of legislation that massively improves the lives of upwards of 100 million people. Consider that for a moment, and you’ll understand why Democrats have only controlled the White House and both houses of Congress together for ten of the last 50 years, while running against a party supporting clearly minority political positions.

Drink an extra coffee this morning, I’m sure you think this is as sad as I do.

Political Gravity

America has a two party system. I don’t think there is much disagreement there. Most Americans are pretty entrenched in one of the parties. Every Democratic nominee for President from Bill Clinton’s 1996 campaign through Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign (seven elections) has received a minimum of 48% of the popular vote. Every Republican nominee for President from George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign through Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign (six elections) has received a minimum of 46% of the popular vote. Not every nominee from each party is a perfect match with every other, but one can probably venture 85-90% of the voting population has stuck with their party every time they’ve voted for President in this century. A very small sliver, single digits apparently, are up for grabs in any given election.

It would take a relative idiot to assume though that either party is a monolithic block. The last two Presidents have both polled below those 48-46% starting points in their terms, despite not underperforming in general elections. There is a clear separation in 2022 public polling between Joe Biden’s approval in swing states and the polling numbers of Democratic Senate and Governor nominees in those states. Donald Trump consistently polled below his ultimate outcome in both of his Presidential runs. There are clearly partisans in both camps unhappy with what their parties are giving them to vote for, but unwilling to vote for the alternative party.

The easiest way to understand the current Democratic Party’s divides is through the 2016 and 2020 primary battles between Hillary or Biden and Bernie Sanders. In 2016, Hillary Clinton beat Sanders 55.2-43.1%, or by 12.1%. Joe Biden beat Sanders 51.8-26.3%, or by 25.5%. If you awarded the “Sanders wing” the additional votes received by Elizabeth Warren and Tulsi Gabbard they get about 34.7% of the vote. If the “Biden wing” also gets the votes of Bloomberg, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar, they get 62.5%. For easy argument’s sake, the split averages out to 58.9-38.9%. The party is split 60-40 towards the more “establishment” wing of the party’s voters, which is why Joe Biden was able to be nominated with a more moderate, long voting record, while rejecting the “Green New Deal” and “Defund the Police.” The “bold progressive” wing of the Democratic Party that wants to change America is substantial, has the “activist energy,” and has a loud voice in the party, but they do not represent a majority within the party at this time, so they don’t win.

The best way to understand the Republican Party in 2022 is through the depths of the polling on Donald Trump. If you go through polling on the 45th President, his causes, and the issues associated with him, you find a floor of around 30-35% of the country. If you look back to his 2016 primary win, when his movement was in it’s infancy, Trump received only 44.9% of the vote. However if you combine his vote with that of fellow conservative firebrand Ted Cruz (25.1%), you get 70% of the vote. Trump/Cruz beat Rubio/Kasich by just over 2:1 in that process. Even when Trump and his issues and causes are at their weakest in polls, he keeps about two-thirds of the Republican 46% base in every Presidential race this century. The Trump base of the Republican Party is about 2/3 of the Republican Party. This is why their portion of the GOP tends to win Republican primaries against more “moderate,” “electable” Republicans that tend to be less “offensive.”

It’s very important to understand first and foremost that “Sanders wing Democrats” and “moderate Republicans” both overwhelmingly came home to vote for their party’s nominee in 2016 and 2020, hence why neither party underperformed in the results. Secondly, it’s important to remember that whatever small slice of left-wing Democrats Biden lost in 2020, or “respectability” Republicans bailed on Trump in either race, they both made up on the other end of their party by pulling in party skeptic voters. Third, it’s important to understand the Republican divide as mostly about style and stage craft (Was there huge differences on policy between Trump and Bush besides war?), and the Democratic divide as mostly being about how far the two wings want to go in implementing their ideals- Bernie and Biden both want to give more access to health care to the uninsured, they have different ways of “how.”

For a while, Joe Biden seemed to be able to float above the political divides. Before he ran for President in 2020 he seemed to have some good will from the “respectability” Republican wing. Despite running a primary campaign largely in opposition to stereotypes of the post-Obama Democratic Party, Biden never suffered the levels of scorn from “the left” that Hillary did. As President, that is all done. He was absolutely the only candidate who could have beaten Trump in 2020, and possibly in 2016 too. Today he is nearly universally hated by the Republican Party. The largest reason his approval is over 20% below his 2020 vote share is erosion in Democratic support. It’s more complicated than purely a run of Bernie voters rejecting Biden’s more “procedural” brand of politics, some of it is more “normy” Dems mad about gas prices and inflation too, but the mix is probably more the former.

In the Republican Party you simply cannot win most national and statewide primaries without at least sizable support from the more conservative activist base types. In the Democratic Party, you certainly can, but an antagonistic relationship with the progressive left base can sink you in a general election, just ask Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately for Joe Biden, he doesn’t get the only say on the matter. Whether he can actually do the things that Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren call on him to do or not is clearly less important than the fact that they call on him for it. While Sanders has actually been a pretty decent team player in the Biden era, the fact remains that a third to two-fifths of the Democratic Party didn’t want Joe Biden, and they are blaming him and his style for everything they perceive as going wrong. In short, gravity remains a thing.

Midway, the Phillies are Alive and Not More

Tonight, the Phillies will play their 81st game, marking the halfway point in their season. They have a 42-38 record right now, meaning they’re on a 85-77 pace for the season, their best record since 2011. They are 1 game out of the Wild Card and 8 games back in the division. They just finished their best month since the glory days of 2010. Last year the 6th best team in the NL finished with 83 wins, meaning the Phillies are on pace to be good enough to make the playoffs. Indeed they just went 6-4 against three contenders in the NL.

The ballclub has done this in spite of serious challenges. The best player is hurt and out until at least mid-August. Last year’s best two starting pitchers started slow after late starts. Their second most consistent hitter is out until September. They haven’t yet identified a lockdown closer. Their $20 million plus catcher and right fielder haven’t had great first halves. They fired their manager and people like me said they were done.

While I conclude they’re a healthier contender than I thought a month ago, I still don’t really love the Phillies playoff odds. There are six spots in the field, but obviously they can’t win the NL West or Central, so there are only four actually available (NL East and three Wild Cards). Their odds of making up 8 games over the final 82 on the Mets, even if they’re significantly better than the club from Queens, aren’t great. Making up 4.5 games over the Braves in that time, for my money the best team in the NL aren’t so great either. That leaves two spots to be split between the Phillies, Padres and Giants out West, and whoever is second in the Central between St. Louis and Milwaukee. San Diego is up 4 on us now, St. Louis up 1, and the Giants back 1. Not only do those divisions have more bad teams, and the West Coast teams more pitching depth, but the Phillies still have a few division games left, which have plagued them this year. Even one cold streak from an offense without Harper, and this could end. Especially with a 5th starting pitcher by committee situation right now with a Ranger Suarez injured.

Even with the odds being long in my eyes, the Phillies should buy and try to make the playoffs. Their top two starters (Wheeler and Nola) are more than capable of getting hot and carrying the team in the playoffs. Harper and Segura will return and provide a boost later on. A hot streak from Schwarber or Hoskins could carry the team in October. Maybe most importantly, Realmuto and Castellanos would almost have to play better to make it.

So what to add? They definitely quality and depth in the bullpen. An 8th or 9th inning arm should be part of the plan. They could trade for two relievers, or get a reliever and starting pitcher, then slide Suarez back into the bullpen for the stretch run. The offense doesn’t need a ton, but if they could get anything, a center fielder wouldn’t hurt.

Before the season, I predicted a Wild Card berth for the Phillies. My head says that’s highly unlikely, particularly with the roster as is. I do think they’ll win 84-86 games though and remain a factor. In the interest of sticking by my convictions I’ll predict a surprising finish that defies the odds and gets them in. Best I stick by my guns.

Still the Best Deal Out There, Happy Birthday America

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’ve wondered out loud in the recent past whether I’ll meet my demise from a right-wing radical or a left-wing lunatic (I’ve received threats from both before). It’s been easy lately to watch the Supreme Court issue insane rulings, then watch people issue pretty ignorant (but not equal) responses, and let my mind wonder what this country will divide up into 15 years from now. Even amidst this negativity, I’m reminded of a truth that remains self-evident:

This is still the best deal in the world.

Yes, I get it. From the Colonial times until 70+ years into our life as a country, we had slavery. Much of the next century was Jim Crow, then a cruel war on drugs. We exterminated Native Americans with horrible events like the Trail of Tears. The Iraq War was lived as a lie and destroyed a nation, and the Afghanistan War ceased being about principle or 9/11 a good 15 years before it ended. Women have only had the right to vote for about 100 years, just lost bodily autonomy after only having it for 50 years, and saw their only nominee for President in our history defeated by a corrupt misogynist over using the wrong email address. We overthrew the elected leader of Iran and installed a corrupt Shah, and that wasn’t all that odd for us at that time. Vietnam was bloody, and basically to defend our ideology. There were plots to overthrow FDR and Truman because they weren’t crony-capitalist enough. Cops kill unarmed black men far too often. Gay sex has only been legal for about 20 years, gay marriage for about ten. Our babies get slaughtered by armed losers with AR-15’s. Iran-Contra was allowed to go unpunished, and many fear January 6th will too. Black Wall Street was burned to the ground. Enron happened here, just a couple of years before Wall Street nearly burned our economy to the ground. Nixon never faced prosecution for Watergate. Eisenhower told us the military industrial complex would consume us, then it did. We interned Japanese-Americans in prison camps during a war. Ellis Island was closed because the wrong kind of immigrants were coming to our country. Lincoln and Kennedy were murdered for daring to offer a different path. MLK and RFK were killed for not giving up. We didn’t exactly charge into Europe to stop the Nazis until we had to. Basically if you’re not a white, straight, Christian male, this country has definitely failed you at some point, maybe in the past two weeks. There is so much evil and failing in our society that I can’t say it’s totally ridiculous that many people want to give up.

It’s usually not Americans that remind me we’re still a place people want to be. Oh sure, sometimes you see Barack Obama give a speech, or some World War II vet get honored, and you feel patriotism. My reminders usually come from foreign folks though. The best thing my sort-of-large social media following did for me was bring me in contact with people from Southeast Asia, parts of the Middle East, South America, Eastern Europe, and Africa, all of whom tell me they want to come here. In the same way my great-grandparents got on board in Europe and left Czechoslovakia and Poland, people I now call friends of Russian, Persian, Vietnamese, and other descents all tell me it would be a dream to come here- after even reading my political posts that I would have thought deterred them. It doesn’t. This is still the dream for many. As bad as it is, it’s worth remembering that most of the people coming here, hundreds of thousands seeking asylum, come here because life is better than it is wherever the hell they are leaving. It seems crazy to me, but I can’t be right and all of them be wrong.

I try to remind myself that most of the people, damn near all of the people, can’t be as rotten scum as the shooter in Highland Park, IL today. My life experience demands I believe that most people are not the disgusting trash we see on the news. I’m reminded of the rooms full of engaged citizens I met in Democratic Party County meetings across Iowa in my campaign life. I’m reminded of my Republican friend that collects toys to give to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia patients every year at Christmas. I think about my friends who gave limbs and minds in Iraq and Afghanistan for their country, of all political stripes. I think about the several local Muslim Association candidate dinners I’ve attended over the years, where full rooms (many of them first generation) came out to both hear candidates for public office and introduce the candidates to their community. I try to keep in mind the good union members I worked nights in a supermarket with in college and the good working people of labor I’ve sat at dinners with on political campaigns across the country. I just think about the 39 years of people I’ve met in life, and I realize I could count the true monsters on one hand. Like our country, many were flawed. Almost all were not nearly as rotten as their worst moments could frame them. In way more moments of their lives than not, their moral compass turned them towards good. They represent our nation far more than the narratives on our televisions.

Most of what we hate today is a false narrative of division and rage. An algorithm feeding us outrage and despair on Facebook and Twitter. An algorithm feeding us ads that feeds on our insecurities to get us to buy things. An algorithm that dumbs down our entertainment choices and makes sports, movies, and art less satisfying for us. An algorithm that tells us our politics have to be the most divisive version of ourselves possible. On one level, it is us, because the data driving these algorithms is based on our behavior. On the other hand, we’re not here because that’s the world any of us want.

In the adult lifetime of most “older” millennials, we’ve already lived through at least three massive crisis periods. I suspect we’ll see another three or more before reaching retirement age. No doubt it’s been tough and maybe the outcomes haven’t all went the way I and others wanted. With that said, I go back to my foreign friends: they would trade places tomorrow. As flawed as our democratic republic is, it’s still worth fighting for as long as we’re having an election this November. We’re the country that put a man on the Moon, liberated millions of Europeans and Chinese people in World War II, built the interstate highway system, defeated the Confederates, defeated the Soviet Union, elected Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy, gave the world jazz, the blues, Elvis, Notorious B.I.G., Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, and Snoop Dogg. Hollywood is the entertainment Capitol of Western Civilization. New York is the cultural and economic Capitol of the West. Countries around the world quote the words of Thomas Jefferson in our Declaration of Independence to this day, with all of his flaws and all. It’s Jimmy Carter, not some communist leader, that the world asked to monitor elections for fairness. Flight was invented in North Carolina, the light bulb in New Jersey. For the many faults of our Covid response, it took our labs months to find safe vaccines, while most of the world either bought from us or sought our help. The things this country achieved, from it’s very founding to today, are as startlingly impressive as the bad things I mentioned earlier were bad.

It’s certainly true that we have major problems. It’s also true that I want us leading the way into the future a lot more than the alternatives in this world. Even as I watch more bad news cross my TV screen, I’d rather live here than anywhere else. So I’ll say it again- happy birthday America, you’re still the best deal out there.