The Reactive American Government

When a child is diagnosed with a developmental disability, the education system is expected to draw up a detailed plan for how it is we expect them to learn (no comment here on how I think they do at that task). By contrast, the American health care system essentially waits to treat illness until there is a diagnosed illness, rather than proactively drawing up a plan to usher the patient to success. In a way, you could invert these two examples to say that special education is reactive to a negative diagnosis and American medicine is proactive to avoid death. Either way, if comparing American governance to these systems, our government is much less proactive to reactive. We do not really try to create the reality that we seek, we just react to the problems we come across.

What is the outcome we are seeking on health care, or maximum employment, or a functional criminal justice system? Like hell if I know. We pass crime bills after a decade of violent drug trade in America, and we pass criminal justice reform when we realize we have over crowded prisons and millions of convicted felons that we destroyed in the prison system. We’re going to react to climate change, while failing to set the energy and environmental policies that get us to where we want to be. Infrastructure? We’re arguing over whether we should fix crumbling highways and bridges, decades after having the foresight to build the interstate highway system. We’re not forward thinking. We react to sickness in our public sphere. It limits the range of our reactions, and frankly our ability to have a unified, shared system of goals.

When we think about American success stories, those that were true American exceptionalism, we find they were only partially reactive, if they were reactive at all. The creation of the interstate highway system was more visionary than reactive. So was going to the Moon. Sure, both were reactive to some extent towards the Cold War, but they were more aspirational in that we set out with a national goal for what we wanted to be. The same can be said for Social Security and Medicaid, programs inspired perhaps by the Great Depression, but frankly forward thinking beyond the current crisis. LBJ’s “Great Society” was visionary of what we wanted to be, and it delivered us Medicare. In all these instances, we set goals based on values, and we pursued them based on aspiration, not illness.

Trumpism is simply a public reaction to what they perceive that we’ve become. Even though Barack Obama was a great President, the perception was that he spent a lot of time fixing the societal ailments, but less time “progressing.” Was perception right? No, but it’s reality. Sure, Obamacare was aspirational in what we want to be, but it also felt like only solving the problem of people without health care, treating a failure instead of building a future.

There is certainly an importance in fixing failure. It’s an important government function. When that’s all that we can do though, the public looses a measure of faith in the ability of government to improve their lives. That leads to the rise of frauds, strong men, and populist screwballs. We’re seeing that in America. We’re seeing that across the western world.

Cops, the Legal System, and America

Read the above tweet. If your reaction is anything short of shock and anger, you’re messed up. Anyone getting shot is terrible. I don’t care if they’re white or black. Legal or illegally here. Cop or criminal. You or someone else. Violent harm to other people isn’t a joke.

Before you go looking up the tweet and attacking the young woman-of-color who sent it though, step back and face reality. If a white cop shot an alleged criminal of color, one side of our politics would defend it, and the other would protest in the streets. If a black criminal shoots (presumably, but based on nothing) white cops, the roles reverse. Make the cop black and the criminal white and you just get mass confusion. The truth? It’s really messed up that we react to gun violence against another human being through political and racial lenses.

I tend to view this all through the politically confused lense of a politically left person that viewed Ferguson in horror, but whose father worked in law enforcement. I can support the statement “black lives matter,” and yet still find offense in anti-cop sentiment that angers the “blue lives matter” crowd. I’m admittedly conflicted here.

There’s something completely screwed up about a country where everyone isn’t able to be mad at both police shootings and excessive force shootings by police against minorities. Let’s be honest though, white and non-white people have different relationships to law enforcement. “To serve and protect” means different things to different people, largely based on demographics. Who is being “served and protected?” White suburbanites like myself think it’s us. African-Americans largely agree. How you feel about that, and whether you feel you benefit at all, tends to shade your views about what that all means.

We really don’t even live in the same country, and that becomes very clear in our views of law enforcement, and police shootings- both of cops and by them. It’s also clear in our views on race, gun violence, and government. White people want race to “go away” as an issue, while non-white people view it as defining. White people view gun violence as a problem of bad people that requires enforcement, while non-white people view it as a pandemic caused by access to illegal fire arms. White people view government as an enemy, coming to take resources from them, while non-white people increasingly view government as insensitive and uncaring to their problems, inadequate in it’s actions.

Six cops were shot in Philadelphia yesterday, something that deeply disturbs me. What disturbs me more is the gap in our reactions. I guess that’s to be expected in a country that doesn’t even share a common vantage point though. Don’t hate on someone who lays that bare for you. Try to learn from it though.

All’s Well That Ends Well?

John Mallee is gone. Charlie Manuel is back! If you wanted to brighten the day of like 80% of the Phillies fanbase, you’d do what the Phillies did Tuesday. By ridding themselves of an unpopular scapegoat, and bringing back a “conquering hero” to their fanbase, the Phillies temporarily pleased their market audience, Philadelphia baseball fans, and in the process maybe did something to correct the course of their season.

I am neither a fan of the McPhail-Klentak-Kapler regime, or of the ideas they have implemented up to this point. I’m also not terribly stupid. Almost all of baseball at this point operates on analytics, and guys are hitting the baseball pretty well. On the flip side, a hitting coach doesn’t go up in the box and hit for the players on the team. I probably would not teach little leaguers to go to the plate and try to pull every pitch and always try to hit home runs. Honestly, it’s just ugly baseball. On the other hand, baseball is breaking records for offense- and seemingly not gaining fans like it expected. The modern version of the game is what it is, and so is the reaction of the public. Launch angle is producing home runs. Seats still lack rear-ends in them. The two things are not directly linked. They’re not unrelated entirely, either. John Mallee can’t shoulder the entirety of the blame for the whole Phillies line-up under-performing, a bad farm system, and an atrocious pitching staff. On the other hand, he’s a hitting coach for a team that can’t hit- he really shouldn’t keep his job. That’s made even worse by the expectation that this team would hit the ball.

I really shouldn’t be that excited that Charlie Manuel is now the Phillies hitting coach- it’s not like he’s going to go to the plate and hit for the players. But I’m excited anyway. Maybe it’s because Charlie was the hitting coach in Cleveland developing Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Albert Belle. Maybe it’s because he was manager of the best offensive teams in Phillies history, and managed the 2008 World Champions. Maybe it’s just because it’s a change to a boring, terrible product that I hated to watch. Most of all it’s because of the picture above- a sad ending to a happy time for Phillies fans, being rectified by our hero coming home to fix a mess. Does it really matter why? I’m just happy about my baseball team again.

But really though, does this move matter? I mean, we act like hitting a baseball has been reinvented in the past five years, as though great teachers of hitting a baseball twenty years ago were clearly backward hicks, incapable of teaching the game. Charlie’s teams in Cleveland hit lots of home runs, and so did his teams in Philadelphia. Because he didn’t call it “launch angle,” do we think he wasn’t teaching Jim Thome and Ryan Howard to hit for power? I have no doubt that he’ll tell hitters to hit to all fields, instead of just pulling the ball, and that he’ll tone down the emphasis on upper-cutting the ball, and that he’ll try to get hitters back to their comfort zones, instead of teaching a rigid theory, but is Charlie really a massive change? I suppose if the Phillies make the playoffs, we’ll all believe yes. I guess what I’m saying is that the answer may be more “gray area” than we all want to believe.

In the end though, who cares? Baseball is entertainment, and entertainment should make you happy. Charlie Manuel returning makes me happy. I’m just happy the sad picture of him walking away with a Wawa bag after the Phillies fired him isn’t the last chapter. If he happens to be the savior of an eventual championship season, great, but at least the fans are chanting his name again at Citizens Bank Park. Do I think he’ll save these Phillies? You can probably guess my answer. You can also probably guess that I don’t give a shit, because my team made me happy, and being happy is what matters in life.

What 2020 Might Look Like

Everybody has an opinion, and it usually matches their politics. Will Donald Trump be re-elected? No way, say the resisters. Of course, say the “red hats.” Not if Bernie is nominated, say the Socialists. And the moderate Democrats and #NeverTrump Republicans keep cautioning Democrats to stop moving left. But what do the numbers say?

Above is what I call the consensus concession map. The states in blue and red are the states that almost no one is arguing will change. The Democratic nominee starts at 175. Trump starts at 103. Under virtually any scenario where either side loses states they have above, the election was simply a national consensus landslide against both the losing party and nominee.

How likely is that to happen? It’s not going to happen. The Democrats almost can’t get beaten any worse than this, as Donald Trump is an unpopular incumbent President. I see no scenario where Trump falls below this either- his approval is higher today than it was on Election Day of 2016, when it was just 38%. He got 46% of the vote that day. With over 90% approval among Republicans, Trump basically can’t lose these dark red states. His current approval on Real Clear Politics is 43.2%.

So where do we begin? Let’s start here, a fair approximation of what is truly possible as a battleground. All of the Obama-Trump states in play, all of the states Trump was close in are in play, and the Democrats hopes in some Southern and Southwestern states remain in play. From here, we begin at 188-125.

Here’s some cold water on everyone though- not all of those states are in play. If either party ended up winning all of these states, it’s a historic blowout. Just for fun, here’s what those maps would look like.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of our systems, understand that those scenarios are really unlikely unless one side or the other dramatically changes it’s mind about itself. Since that won’t happen, here’s my realist battleground map:

Behold a map where the Democratic nominee starts out with every Hillary state but Nevada, while Trump is defending the “Obama” states he picked up, plus Arizona and North Carolina. In other words, it’s 2016 and 2012’s battlegrounds, plus Arizona. What do we know about this? The Democrats only need to be a little better than they were in 2016, but these things usually run in one-sided trends at the end. Trump had to win all the swing voters in 2016 to squeak out a win, but he did. Barack Obama won nearly every swing state in 2008 and 2012 as well.

What might a Democratic victory look like? Here’s a few possibilities:

This is the “momentum” Democratic map, where the swing voters all break Democrats way at the end, and Democratic turnout is high.

This is the scenario where Democrats squeak out a win by flipping the PA/MI/WI states from last time, plus North Carolina, where they had a good midterm, but states like Iowa and Ohio just don’t budge, Trump hangs on in Arizona, and Florida continues trending badly. This map is essentially one where both messages work at reaching their sides, but Democrats win.

Here’s a possible narrow victory through the Rust Belt.

Here’s a scenario through North Carolina.

Ok, so enough with the fun stuff- how does Donald Trump win? You said it couldn’t happen last time, but it did. So let’s start with scenario A, 2016. He gets back to 46% and wins.

Not much imagination in that. So let’s go with a scenario B- where Trump builds off of 2016. He surges in some of the predominantly white states he lost last time, and gets this:

Minnesota, Maine, and New Hampshire flip, and Trump wins on the back of over 60% of the white vote.

One more scenario here, which is just a straight Trump sweep of what he won last time, the three states above, and the more diverse, but highly competitive Nevada, Colorado, and Virginia.

Could there be chaos? Yes. Ties are possible. Very possible. I came up with two plausible pathways there.

Who knows who controls Congress under this scenario, but things get chaotic. I doubt either side accepts the results. Things are bad.

How do Democrats most insure defeat in 2020- embrace a “base only” strategy and completely eschew persuading anyone that’s not neatly in their demographic camp. While the “emerging” electoral coalition that includes minorities and millennials largely is out there, the reality is that it is not ready to insure electoral college victories. This is where a “screw the Rust Belt strategy” begins 2020:

It’s not as dreamy as some people make it sound on the internet or on TV. Not at all.

So where do I have 2020 right now? Here’s my current prediction map:

I do not take into account the nominee or VP- yet. I might give Joe Biden more Rust Belt states, or Kamala Harris a shot at Georgia, or a ticket with Castro on it Arizona or Texas, but for now I can’t. I just give these states based on generic opinions. I might give Trump more states against a Bernie Sanders or other more lefty candidates too. But, without the benefit of particulars, I’m here right now.

Ranking the top QB’s in the NFL

One of the big fights in recent weeks on Philadelphia talk radio has been where Carson Wentz ranks among the elite of the NFL’s starting quarterbacks. Some hosts have pointed to some rankings putting him in the #10-15 range to work fans up over him not being considered “elite.” Some callers point to his 2017 second-team All-Pro and MVP runner-up performance and say he’s absolutely elite.

I’m not so much interested in a fight about Wentz as I am about figuring out the super elite. There are some guys who really aren’t arguable in their elite status. Nobody is questioning Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, or Ben Roethlisberger, based on their career resumes and recent seasons. To a lesser degree, guys like Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, Phillip Rivers, and Andrew Luck fit this bill as well. Cam Newton and Eli Manning have elite resumes, but could use a bounce back season that re-solidifies them here. And then there’s the young studs- Pat Mahomes, Jared Goff, Wentz, Dak Prescott, DeShaun Watson, and Baker Mayfield to name a few- that are just another MVP, or a Super Bowl, from being elite. And what does one make of an enigma like Nick Foles?

I did my best to come up with a ranking not just based on last year’s accountings, but not putting too much stock in five years ago either. Giving proper weight to the past and present, and not trying too hard to predict the future either, here’s what I would start the year with:

  1. Tom Brady
  2. Drew Brees
  3. Pat Mahomes
  4. Russell Wilson
  5. Aaron Rodgers
  6. Andrew Luck
  7. Phillip Rivers
  8. Ben Roethlisberger
  9. Carson Wentz
  10. Jared Goff
  11. Dak Prescott
  12. Matt Ryan
  13. DeShaun Watson
  14. Nick Foles
  15. Cam Newton

Now the obvious disclaimer- this order will be subject to change about four weeks into the season. Nine to thirteen is a crapshoot. Baker Mayfield and other newcomers could very well crash the party. Some of these guys are an injury from a steep fall (like my guy Wentz). Some of these guys near the top may begin to see decline. And most importantly, this order is a lot different than it would have been 365 days ago. This is a more subjective, gut reaction list, rather than all analytics. Its opinion, so as to give some wiggle room when the facts and the numbers disagree.

The crazy piece of this is the degree to which any team with one of these guys can go into this season with higher aspirations. The guy at number twelve on my list won the MVP and lost the Super Bowl three seasons ago. Things are very interchangeable here. Carson Wentz could be a healthy season from being number one, or an injury from being off the list altogether. It’s hard to rule either out.

That’s why they’ll play 16 games this year.

The Presidential Race, Through Two Debates

Two debates, and their post-debate spin, are over. Two quarters of fundraising are over. The polls are somewhat stable. We’re reaching the point where we can start to make some assumptions about this race. There is starting to be some “tiering” of the field. Here’s mine:

  • The front-runners- Joe Biden stands out here on his own. The former Vice-President still leads the polls, and he raised the most money per day in his first partial quarter. His first debate not withstanding, he’s done well so far. Despite a drop in the polls, Bernie Sanders remains here too, as his fundraising and polling still stands out. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris are also clearly in here too. Based on money and media coverage, Pete Buttigieg is also clearly in this group. In a field of 25, these five are clearly the elite.
  • Viable and Alive, But Disappointing- I really like most of the candidates in this group, but polls and/or fundraising suggest they are failing to meet expectations. Cory Booker remains serious, but he seems unable to connect with voters or donors so far. Amy Klobuchar has a great track record of winning a swing state, but she’s been almost silent on the debate stage, which is translating to her (lack of) traction. How many of you remembered that Michael Bennet, a great Senator that also wins a swing seat, was still in the race? Kirsten Gillibrand has been, and this is charitable, bad at this, so far. Jay Inslee is an awesome Governor, and everyone agrees with him on climate change, but no one seems to think he’s going to win this thing. John Hickenlooper does a great job at smacking Bernie, but it isn’t translating into anything other than calls for him to run for the Senate. Steve Bullock is a red state Governor, the mother of electability arguments, and he’s trapped in single digits too. Literally everyone loves Julian Castro, and many want him on the ticket, but yet he can’t raise any money. His fellow Texan, Beto O’Rourke, is a former front-runner that now has struggled to do much but define who he sees as racist for the rest of us. I still think any of these candidates could break out and become a front-runner, but they’ve all come up short so far.
  • It’s not Gonna Happen, Bro- Bill de Blasio is the Mayor of the largest city in the country, but he’s been reduced to “tax the hell dot com” for attention. Tim Ryan and Seth Moulton are actual Congressmen, not that it’s helping them much. John Delaney was a Congressman, not that it’s helping him much either. None of these folks are going to win, even though I like some of them.
  • Wtf- Who thought letting a pro-Kremlin, pro-Assad stooge on the debate stage was a good idea? Please come pick up Tulsi Gabbard for us. Tom Steyer is going to spend millions of dollars to tell us why he’s more progressive than everyone else, and he still won’t be President. Andrew Yang has a position on circumcising guys. Joe Sestak has lost two PA Senate races. Mike Gravel has teenagers running his twitter account, so there’s that. Ever heard of Wayne Messam? I know you saw Marianne Williamson, and know all about the “dark, psychic forces” she’ll defeat as President. Why are these people running?

So by my count, there are 25 total candidates, but only 14 with an actual chance. Of those 14, I would be happy with about ten of them being nominated. I’d be excited by maybe six of them. So at this point, that’s my state of the race.