The “Rat Race,” 20 Years Into Adulthood

On Friday I attended my 20th year reunion from Easton Area High School (class of 2002). I tried to talk to a lot of people and hear about their lives, after all I hadn’t seen some of them in closer to two decades. Obviously there was a range of answers. Some are finishing doctorates, others served the country, some did time in jail (and are doing well now, so we’re proud of them too), many are parents, a good chunk married, and of course there’s me. Twenty years after graduating from a large public high school, the range of experiences is really broad and the conversations took some turns down some fascinating rabbit holes.

It didn’t matter where anyone lived, where they were married or not, if they had kids, or what their career- almost every single conversation took on some version of “I’m always busy and just trying to make it.” In some cases it turns into a conversation of burnout from work, in some cases it’s a discussion of rising costs of living, lamenting the work-life imbalance, or just how difficult it is to make it as an adult in our world.

I suppose if you were born a billionaire (or most millionaires) this conversation might seem silly, but it’s worth stating that American adulthood is way too serious and not enough fun. You could attack the ills of “adulting” statistically and talk about how many millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, but in this case it was a realtime focus group of “early millennials” in a room telling you how it actually feels to be almost 40 and “responsible” in America. It’s also worth noting this was the portion of nearly 600 people that are both still alive and could/wanted to attend. If we could have extracted the responses of the majority of our peers, I’m guessing the answers may have become more pronounced.

When we were teenagers, “The Matrix” attempted a fictional life at how our society truly is just a system, and to be fair I now think that movie did more to foment conspiracy theories and crazy than good, but I could not help but consider the message again as I had my Saturday morning coffee. Do we really just raise children to inherit a pile of debts and build their lives around their work that pays them? Are we long past time to consider if our entire way of life is organized wrong, and limits our pleasure in life? Is this really the best we can all hope for in this world?

Anyway, I really live my classmates and enjoyed hearing about their marriages, kids, and achievements over the past two decades. For all the lamenting about growing into adulthood and the challenges we face each day, most of them are healthy, happy, and finding ways to enjoy life as we enter a new decade, now separated by a bit more space. People asked me about my career and life travels, usually saying they saw me in ___ city on social media at some point in the past 15 years. I almost felt bad in a few of the conversations. I’m fortunate life has went the way it has for me so far, and I’m glad it’s going well for them. I guess I’m also wondering if there’s anything else to this life, now that it’s statistically over.

No, “Corporate Communism” is not a Thing.

You know, there’s nothing worse than having to explain “oxymorons” to the world when the example comes from the social media post of an actual moron- because even some modestly smart people are going to get confused. Hence, this is life in the world of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s political reality. We’re supposed to treat posts about “Corporate Communism” like they have some sort of merit and are good faith, thoughtful political positions. In reality, they definitely are not.

Let’s start from a basic college political science or economics class lesson- in communism there are no corporations. Period. I can’t believe a member of Congress doesn’t get that, but having an even low-average IQ is not a requirement to enter Congress. What MTG might have meant here is “corporate censorship” is bad, and it is, but it’s highly questionable that this is an example of that. The main point here is that this person is a member of our governing body, but is this stupid.

Perhaps more troubling is that her supporters will think she’s right. Folks, corporations have one reason to exist- making money. If they are refusing to advertise on an outlet, or are aligning with political positions, it is because that’s what the market wants. They don’t take political positions to feel good, that is almost always a mistake. They decide to not align with outlets and personalities because they are bad for the bottom line. In this case that MTG is complaining about, it is clear that corporations are choosing to avoid Elon’s Twitter because they believe (correct or not) that his decision to allow “objectionable” figures and speech on Twitter is bad for their business. This is literally how decisions are supposed to be made in free market capitalism. If they’re wrong in six months, they’ll run back to him, guaranteed, and then you’ll hear liberal whining. Calling this “communism” though, when it is textbook capitalism, is dumb. Being one of the human turnips that agrees with that statement is probably worse though.

Tribalism Made Simple

My grandmother is 94 and the stories I could tell you are amazing. She was a Depression baby and it would be accurate to say that has made her “tight” with her money (her word, not mine). They learned some very different lessons about money in those days than us 1980’s babies did. That’s not the point of this post though.

My grandmother’s frugality can be summed up in this- her electric bill for most of my adult life has come in under $20, sometimes as low as $12. Even for an essential utility, she will live as cheap as she can. This afternoon I called her up and said I was stopping by, and she told me to grab us some Taco Bell to eat (this is pretty common for us). I got about $15 of food and brought it over and ate with her. She usually either pays or tries to, but she forgot to offer me money today. I was getting gas on the way home, and she called me up, upset she had not paid me back for the meal. She clearly wanted to give me a month’s electric bill for us to eat fast food tacos.

My grandmother is not some particularly parochial type, not a hardcore tribalist compared to most of society. With that said, she wanted to pay me money out of her pocket for a trivial matter, but lives her life to make sure her electric bill is $15. She doesn’t mind giving her money and resources to her own, but will go without to avoid giving her money away. In many ways, her behavior can explain a lot about American politics.

Americans, generally, don’t love living collectively. We’re happy to give, but only if provided that we trust whatever it is we’re giving to. It’s fine to give money towards the education system in our town, but higher state taxes to fund all the schools will result in waste. We want to leave as much of our estate as possible to our heirs, but even the mention of a “death tax” to the state makes people of even modest means recoil. Other people want to make a Buck off of us to satisfy their greed, but we’ll give whatever our family and friends need. It’s not that people are actually miserly and lacking in generosity, we just don’t trust that most others deserve money from us.

A three hour visit is worth not turning the lights on until the kitchen is dark I guess. Keep the money in the family.

The Midterms

The dust has mostly settled. In just about two weeks this election will come to it’s end, with the Georgia runoff. We already know enough to write it’s obituary.

Bill Clinton lost over 40 seats in his first midterm, Barack Obama lost over 60. Joe Biden will gain a Senate seat with a win in Georgia, and lose less than 10 House seats, all told. He will do this despite spending the better part of 15 months with an approval between 35% and the low-40’s. He will do so while having a historically good legislative term, and while making history with the selection of his running mate and first Supreme Court pick. Joe Biden’s two years in office have been a rousing political success, in spite of the economy, crime, a few moderate Senators, Covid, and the ghost of Donald Trump hovering over Washington.

It’s important to be clear though, the midterm was not a victory for Democrats. Republicans won the House popular vote (a better indicator than the Senate, because it is nationwide). Republicans also took the House, giving the Speaker’s gavel, committee chairmanships, and subpoena power to them. Given how utterly unstable they are normally, it’s easy to worry that they’ll spend all their time on Quixotic investigations and fail to do things like appropriate funds and raise the debt ceiling. Not everything went well. Even in the Senate, the Democrats really could have used another win or two, both to deal with the filibuster and to survive the 2024 cycle where there are few to no pick up opportunities. Worse yet, the midterm confirmed the fall of Florida, Ohio, and Iowa as swing states, and again showed Texas isn’t that close to being on the board.

Even so, Democrats should probably take all of the bad news I just packed into that last paragraph and smile- it wasn’t that bad. Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota all look damn close to unwinnable for the GOP. Democrats won basically all the competitive Arizona statewide races, while they swept the competitive Congressional races and the Senate race in Nevada, all in a bad cycle. I suppose right now you could believe a Republican (non-Trump) could flip back Georgia in 2024, but it’s not clear they can get there. The swing state map narrowed significantly for the GOP, and the successes they achieved in some of them (Wisconsin and North Carolina) are undercut by other results in the state. Setting aside Senate and Presidential politics for a moment, even their House majority is puny and pathetic. It may be smaller than the one the Democrats had going into this election, and more of their seats are in seats President Biden won easily. In other words, Kevin McCarthy better enjoy his two year rental.

To listen to a lot of folks on the interwebs, this was about young voters and the Dobbs decision. There’s some major problems with that narrative though. First, while young voters did vote solidly blue, they made up just 12% of the electorate, and was still only at 27% turnout. Those are improved numbers, but most of the people crowing about “Gen Z saving us” are people for whom that narrative is central to their political existence. These were good numbers, but not the game changers some would say.

What about the Dobbs decision and the role of women in saving Democrats? If you had asked me last Spring how this election would go, I would have told you it was a Democratic disaster. Then Dobbs happened, and well, here we are. The act of ripping rights away from women by unelected judges cost the GOP their landslide, full stop. Did it win the election for Democrats though? My answer is no. First off, Democrats didn’t win. Worse yet, they underperformed and lost seats in some of the most blue states in the country. If Dobbs were driving the bus alone in this midterm, it certainly would have in the most base Democratic states, like New York and California. It also would not have caused a small jump in the final results for Democrats that wasn’t visible in the (good) polls, six months after the decision. So what happened?

Notice that the few Republican moderates on the ballot didn’t really suffer. Extremists like Dr. Oz, Doug Mastriano, Tudor Dixon, Kari Lake, Lauren Boebert, and other Q Nuts/MAGA GOP candidates lost and underperformed. Did Dobbs hurt them? Yes. But it didn’t cost the Brian Kemp, Tom Kean, or Joe Lombardo type of Republicans- elected office holders who had a reputation as at least semi-normal people. Dobbs was a key ingredient in a narrative that killed GOP candidates perceived as extreme. Voters were done with crazy. Talk of abortion bans, criminalizing women, and banning contraception fit rather nicely with election denial, extreme gun positions, and ending Social Security and Medicare. Too nuts was in fact too nuts. Sarah Palin won’t be a member of the U.S. House next year, but her state will end up sending Lisa Murkowski back to the Senate. Very specific Republicans paid a price- the type that howl at the moon.

In short, the Trump GOP finally jumped the shark this year, and it cost them dearly. Some are hypothesizing that it’s Trump’s fault and he’s dead in the GOP. I think they’ll end up being wrong, in part because it wasn’t core Republicans that jumped ship on him. More importantly it’s worth noting some of these lunatics pre-date him. In short, he’s a symptom, not their disease. I’m betting they still won’t treat the disease.

A Letter to my Republican friends

I hope my Republican friends reflect a bit on the state of their party. America needs two functional political parties to work, and we don’t have that right now. Exit polls showed Joe Biden’s approval in the low to mid 40’s, depending on the state. Republicans should have been able to turn that into a victory, but couldn’t. That is a commentary on the GOP. Doug Mastriano and Dr. Oz aren’t acceptable people, let alone candidates. Herschel Walker is a national embarrassment. People don’t want to put Marjorie Taylor Green or Jim Jordan in charge of a bingo game, let alone a house of Congress. And the Dobbs decision, let alone talk of banning contraception or marriage equality, is simply unacceptable to a majority of Americans. People probably would have liked a plan on gas prices beyond “drill, drill, drill,” but you never put that forward. You’ll probably narrowly get the House for two years, but that’s gone in two years when a Presidential electorate votes in New York, so enjoy it, and you’re not getting the Senate next year. There’s room for a Conservative party in America certainly, but I think the point is the freak show needs to end.

Have a great day, and Merry Christmas and Happy Thanksgiving,


Happy Midterm Day

First off, the good news- it’ll all be over in a few hours. The ads, the mail, the calls, the door knocks- all done. Never mind that the 2024 Presidential race is all but underway, enjoy the week of quiet while it lasts. It’s all you’re getting.

Sometime tonight we will find out the results of a weird midterm that has seen Cheney family members backing Democrats, Republicans on offense in New York, and super competitive races for Governor in Kansas and Oklahoma. Will inflation carry the day, or abortion rights? Maybe something else? We’ll know soon.

Last week I predicted a GOP House by a 229-206 margin, and a 50-50 Senate. Most of the “election Twitter” crowd has moved it a bit worse. They could be right. The fundamentals of this election suggest a bad night for Democrats. The President is unpopular. Inflation and crime are both bad and real concerns for Democrats. If you told me to pick between a Democratic surprise wave from Dobbs and a Democratic wipeout being more likely tonight, I’d say the wipeout. I’m not fully predicting either, but of the choices it’s clear to me what’s more likely.

In the Senate, the tipping point is Pennsylvania/Nevada. If the Democrats take one of them, I’d say they’re likely to end up holding Arizona and Georgia, and hence the Senate. If Republicans win both, they very well could take more and move on to a red wave. We can sit here and talk about races like Wisconsin or Washington, and I think both will be competitive, but either flipping would just be icing on the winning party’s cake. So, with that, here’s my predictions/spreads for the major Senate races tonight:

  • Nevada- Cortez Masto by .8%
  • Pennsylvania- Oz by .5%
  • Arizona- Kelly by 1.5%
  • Ohio- Vance by 2%
  • Georgia- Neither hits 50% and it goes to a runoff, Warnock by .5%
  • North Carolina- Budd by 4.5%
  • New Hampshire- Hassan by 3%
  • Wisconsin- Johnson by 5%
  • Colorado- Bennet by 5%
  • Iowa- Grassley by 4%
  • Washington- Murray by 3%
  • Florida- Rubio by 7%
  • Utah- Lee by 7%
  • Alaska- Murkowski by 6%

The net result of that spread is a 50-49 GOP spread, with the Georgia race going to a runoff for the majority. Folks, that’s tight. In reality I’m saying the first four are basically jump balls and could go either way, and Georgia literally won’t have a result tonight. I would be very surprised if Democrats ran the table in those five, less so if the GOP did. I’m not really picking either to do it though.

It’s important to start any look at the U.S. House from the standpoint that the GOP starts the night structurally with a majority. The current partisan divide (including the last electoral results in vacant seats) is 222-213 for the Democrats. Thanks to redistricting though, Republicans are conservatively at +7 to begin the night, so it’s 220-215 them at the opening bell. Looking at it that way, and taking into account history, the real barometer here is how high the GOP gets beyond that. If Democrats can hold them under 235 seats, they begin next cycle with a real chance to re-take the chamber. If they go much lower, it starts getting harder. History says we should give the GOP +12 to start the night, as the challengers. That’s 225. So what’s flipping where?

  • Dem seats going red- WI-3, TX-15, TN-5, OR-5, OR-6, AZ-2, AZ-6, MI-10, FL-13
  • Dem seats leaning red- VA-2, TX-28, RI-2, PA-17, NV-3, ME-2, IN-1, CT-5, NJ-7, IA-3
  • Dem jump balls– CA-47, IL-17, PA-7, CA-13, NY-19, OH-13, NY-3, NY-4, NH-1, MI-7, CA-49, NV-1, WA-8, AK-AL
  • Dem narrow holds- PA-8, NV-4, VA-7, NY-17, NY-18, MN-2 IL-14, MI-8, OH-9, CA-9, CA-26, IL-6, PA-12, KS-03, PA-6
  • GOP narrow holds- CO-8, NE-2, NM-2, TX-34
  • GOP jump balls- AZ-1, CA-22, CA-27, NC-13, OH-1, NY-22,
  • GOP seats leaning blue- NONE
  • GOP seats going blue- IL-13, MI-3

Just based on the eye test, that’s… lopsided. Democrats lose 19 to start, gain back 2, and then have to defend 29 more tough seats to 10 GOP seats. Based on that, I have the GOP gaining 27 seats, putting them at 240-195. Obviously Democrats are hoping my 229 number last week is more accurate. There’s just a lot of seats on the board for the Democrats at this point, and a number of them are in states that the top of the ticket is competitive or worse. That’s not ideal.

Of course there are a lot of Governor races on the board today, and they will be pretty important moving forward. This is the one area Democrats shouldn’t feel as bad. Open seats in Maryland and Massachusetts provide fertile territory for them to gain. An open seat in Arizona, as well as competitive races in Oklahoma, Georgia, and possibly Texas or Florida give them opportunities. The defense of Pennsylvania seems safer than maybe expected before, although you could say the same for them in Florida and Texas. The tougher parts of the night for Democrats come in an interesting variety of purple, red, and even blue states- New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, New Mexico, Nevada, and Oregon. My gut instinct right now is Dems winning Maryland and Massachusetts, while the GOP grabs Wisconsin and Nevada, so the night breaks even.

Local to me, the only seat in my native Lehigh Valley I see flipping at the state legislative level is State Senate District 14 (GOP Open). I think PA-137 is close, but the GOP hangs on by a slim margin. Hopefully the night goes a bit better for Democrats than I’m seeing.