Trump’s Battlefield of Choice

From the very start, Steve Bannon laid it out bare:

“I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

It fits with the Trump campaign’s 2016 strategy– sacrifice educated white votes from suburbia to pick up more plentiful (especially in swing states) lower middle class white voters. Trump wants to talk immigration, trade, and retracting the American global role, and he wants Democrats to talk racism, sexism, and things that generally don’t resonate with their voters, or swing voters. It works pretty well for them, or it at least did.

If you were going to pick a dream scenario for Trump, it would be a fight over racism with “the Squad”- AOC, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib. Just days after AOC called out Speaker Pelosi for “racism,” Trump could hardly resist injecting himself into this mess. Now he is in a fight with four women of color, two of which are Muslims, all of which are quite left, and at least two of which have a history of questioning Israel’s decency and legality. It’s a wet dream for him in motivating his base, and convincing the persuadable voters- the roughly 8% of the electorate who said they didn’t like Trump in 2016, but voted for him anyway- that Democrats don’t really care about people like them. Battling with AOC in particular, who isn’t popular nationally, or even in just New York, is perfect for Trump. Trump needs to keep almost all of these voters, and AOC is the opponent to help him do it.

One of the big fears Democrats in DC should have is that their base is certain Trump is unpopular, and just being bold and unapologetic is a winning strategy. It’s worth noting that Trump is currently polling his best on record. It’s also worth noting that this comes right after the first Democratic debate (perhaps it wasn’t a hit?). Many Democrats point to last year’s mid-terms, or Trump’s overall not impressive poll numbers as evidence he will be beaten in 2020. They point to Democratic advantages on issue polling, which also existed in 2016. They point to a perceived slew of new Democratic voters- even if registrations don’t back that up. It’s like 2016 didn’t happen- Democrats are sure the country feels like they do. Plenty of signs say otherwise though.

One of them is the debate we’re having- this is Trump’s favored battle field. Donald Trump wants the Democrats to focus their attacks on him on racism and sexism, and he wants AOC to be a big part of it. AOC and Ilhan Omar poll really poorly with the voters Trump swung in 2016, and he’d like them to be the face of the Democratic Party.

None of this is to excuse Trump’s tweets and general racism, but do consider it a call back to reality. Over the past three weeks, AOC has been a dominant figure in our political news. First, her Chief-of-Staff called moderate and new Democratic members today’s “Southern Democrats,” basically quasi-segregationists. Then Nancy Pelosi stepped in to defend them. Then AOC called her a racist. Then the House Democrats defended Sharice Davids against AOC’s Chief-of-Staff calling the Native-American, LGBT member part of a “racist system.” Then Trump tweeted racist things about “the Squad.” Now the House has rebuked him. It’s AOC, all the time. America doesn’t like it. They don’t like her.

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The Five Big Things- 5. Taming the Military Industrial Complex

It would be fair to say that Dwight Eisenhower both did more for the U.S. Army than anyone in the 20th Century, and that the Army did more for him too. The last five star General, Eisenhower defeated the Nazis in Europe. The fame of that victory catapulted him to the White House as our 34th President. No one would dare call Eisenhower an anti-war dove. That’s what makes it all the more remarkable that Eisenhower used his 1961 farewell address to warn about the dangers of the military industrial complex. He could not have been more spot on.

Few people really know what they’re talking about when they bloviate about the Pentagon Budget. You hear crazy statements about how we could “cut the Pentagon” and pay for new spending programs at home that cost trillions of dollars. The truth? The 2020 Budget request asks for $718.3 billion for the Department of Defense. The entire national security budget request is for $750 billion. The other side of that coin though? The U.S. is spending more in 2019 than Germany, The United Kingdom, France, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, and China combined on defense, and is asking for more next year.

The United States could drop nuclear bombs on virtually any country in the world that would put them out of existence. The U.S. Navy has no actual rival in the sea, nor does the Air Force through the air. American military capability is second to none, and would be so if it were substantially smaller than it is now. Is it necessary? Is this a good use of resources?

Let’s start by understanding the Defense Budget. Very little of it gets spent on salary, benefits, or housing for members. The share of it dedicated to bases and upkeep is also not high. Most of the money is dedicated to weapons contracts. The U.S. spends money on bombs, planes, aircraft carriers, and other weapons, mostly. Some of it is absolute waste, and Generals testify to such annually, but it stays in the budget every year because hawks in Congress want to keep producing it in their districts, and contractors want the payday. Among the non-waste weaponry, we’re often buying way more than we actually need. A reasonable group of ten educated members of the public could probably find $100 billion in cuts without harming our readiness to defend the country. A trained panel could do more.

Even that only partially explains our addiction to military spending though. As of 2017, the cost of the War in Afghanistan was roughly $2.4 trillion, all on borrowed money. As of 2013, the Iraq War has directly cost $1.7 trillion, with another $490 billion in costs owed to veterans of the war. These costs will continue to climb in coming decades as interest costs grow and veterans accumulate costs. In other words, the U.S. is probably approaching $5 trillion in costs for the two wars that came out of 9/11. Would that pay for “Medicare-for-All?” No. But by comparison, the Interior Department’s 2019 Budget was $11.7 billion, and one of the reasons co derivatives cite for selling off protected lands (Interior is in charge of that) is costs. You could protect all the land you want, end homelessness for Veterans, fix the Flint water crisis, repair all the deficient bridges, and do a lot of stuff with $5 trillion. Instead we’re paying interest on that money to invade foreign countries and occupy them for going on two decades.

Having a strong military is important and useful to being a global power, but it’s easy to question the judgment of how America has used it’s hard earned treasure since Eisenhower. While we argue about Medicare and Social Security’s solvencies, or fail to act on lowering prescription drug costs, or don’t protect our natural lands, or don’t fund our public schools, we’re spending more money than is needed to do those things on unnecessary military might and invasions. This is exactly what Eisenhower warned us of- an addiction to the war machine.

The argument is not on whether we should cut our military budget to the bone, but really whether we’re spending the people’s money right. While we can’t afford to do things our public need, we somehow have money to waste on war. Ending this addiction can solve many other problems and improve life for the people. It’s a necessary step to making life better in America.

Read big thing 4 here.

Read big thing 3 here.

Read big thing 2 here.

Read big thing 1 here.

Your Impeachment Unicorn is Stupid

There are two ways to view the impeachment debate- one is through a morality and justice lense, the other based on outcomes. If you think about the issue through the lense of justice, morality, and fairness, I basically agree with you that Donald Trump is a terrible guy. There are two main problems though- the first is what the actual charges would be, seeing as how the Mueller Report doesn’t specifically name charges like the Starr Report did against Bill Clinton (because the law has changed). The second problem is a problem of outcomes- absolutely nothing is going to happen to Donald Trump.

This is where the outcome based view on impeaching Trump comes in. Impeachment does not enjoy majority support nationally, in “red” states and districts, or with any group besides Democrats. It is not clear the votes are there, all 218 of them, to impeach Trump in the House. It is abundantly clear that the 67 votes to impeach Trump in the Senate don’t exist. Trump’s approval among Democrats and Independents is already at record lows, while his Republican approval is at a record high, so who is going to be moved by an impeachment that won’t result in a conviction? There’s a solid chance impeachment isn’t popular in the 40 districts Democrats picked up last year, since it’s not nationally. The politics are questionable at best, and likely to go south at worst for Democrats. The end result of the process is not in doubt though- Trump will not be impeached and convicted.

All of this leads to a very real question- what is the point of impeachment. Supporters believe the hearings will shed light on Trump’s crimes and turn more of the country against him, much like the House’s Watergate investigation did, leading to articles of impeachment clearing the Judiciary Committee in 1974, and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill telling Nixon they could no longer defend him from eventual removal. The question, of course, is why? Trump has historically low approval, and universal name identification. Somehow though, impeachment doesn’t achieve majority support now. It should at least beg the question, if the voters know and dislike Trump, why aren’t they for removal? What would change their minds? Children in cages? Him on tape talking about grabbing women “by the pussy?” Paying hush money to his mistresses? Praising foreign thugs and dictators? Criticizing our law enforcement and intelligence communities? Saying there are good people among Neo-Nazis? Thumbing his nose at Congressional investigators? Since none of that drove a majority to call for impeachment, what do you think will? Given that the public is partisanly divided on Trump now, why will a failed impeachment change minds?

Again though, that’s the question- what’s the point? Trump won’t be removed by impeachment, that’s clear. Beyond removal, there is no penalty to Trump. He loses no powers. He’s not thrown in jail. He doesn’t even get publicly rebuked like Charlie Rangel was when he was censored. The only penalty possible is political, and it’s not clear there’s much chance of that. Trump’s base knows who he is and doesn’t care. The rest of the voters have made up their minds on liking him or not. Most of the voters oppose impeachment. The idea that eventually acquitting him will galvanize opposition is grounded in the mistaken view that the press will cover the hearings as having “exposed” Trump, or that even most voters will even bother watching hearings when the final outcome is assured anyway. Outside of the Democratic base it’s likely more people will watch a Baltimore-Kansas City baseball game.

About his only chance of re-election in 2020 is the same as it was in 2016- people decide they hate Democrats more than him. He won a “lesser of two evils” election last time, and it’s his only hope again. His 46% election showing in 2016 would be a high water mark for his approval in office. What this shows us is that people will vote for Trump while disliking him. His approval is likely to be below his election number again next time. There’s not much further lower to drive his approval. Trump trails all of his main potential 2020 opponents now. Why risk changing that on something not broadly popular?

There’s some who argue there’s an alternative ending here. Perhaps the House could impeach, then hold their own trial- despite the constitution granting sole right to hear a trial to the Senate. Others say open an impeachment inquiry, but don’t put forward articles yet, which isn’t actually a thing (The House created a special investigation of Watergate that was not yet impeachment during Nixon’s saga). Still others argue that contempt proceedings against other figures right now could help build a case (I agree). To be clear though, the McConnell Senate would ultimately hear any attempt at impeachment and will acquit Trump of his crimes. There’s no alternative ending here. And again, unlike Nixon with Watergate or Hillary with Benghazi, Trump isn’t starting from 60%+ approval from which to fall.

Unless you can remove Donald Trump from office, impeachment has no teeth. There is no accountability in it. Let’s stop pretending here, the point is that impeachment makes you feel good. Impeachment makes you believe something happened. It let’s you yell at the TV like something was done about him. It doesn’t stop him from continuing as President. It doesn’t bother him. It doesn’t even make it less likely he gets re-elected. If anything, it gives him a plausible argument to the majority that oppose impeachment that the Democrats are even worse than him. But it makes you feel good.

Politics aren’t about your feelings though. Politics are about the results to real people. For the children he’d put in cages, the trans military members he will discharge, those suffering from his cuts to government programs, and all the other people being impacted by Trump’s actions in office, it’s about removing him. This is not to say that those supporting impeachment are wrong as a matter of morals and justice, they’re not. It’s not to say that a functional democracy wouldn’t impeach him, it would. He absolutely deserves it. But the net impact of impeachment is just making you, the activist Democrat feel better- and that has no value. If conditions on the ground change, and the politics of impeachment move to where it clearly helps remove him in 2020, I’m 100% with you. For now though, I’m with Speaker Pelosi- fruitless impeachment is not worth the 40 most vulnerable members of the House taking an unpopular vote on something we can’t deliver anyway. There is no constitutional obligation to impeach (ask Spiro Agnew). There is no requirement. It’s a judgment call, and we ain’t there yet.

When the Idiots Rise

Legislative work is hard. The people who work at the top levels, both leadership members and their senior staffs, are highly skilled operators. They can count votes with the best of them. They know the rules inside and out. They also know how to read a poll. They are, at their core, political beasts. They understand public sentiment, particularly in their endangered members’ districts. They understand how an appropriations bill can help a member, and how a tax bill can kill the same member. Not everything is about getting their absolute way, they consider politics at the core of their decision making, because they understand that when you are losing elections, you lose all political power, because you can’t govern.

Unfortunately, this isn’t true of everyone in the legislative or political processes. In fact, increasingly, most of the folks in the process are clueless to all of this. Restrictive campaign finance laws and self imposed campaign fundraising rules have empowered single-issue interest groups to do the heavy lifting of financing candidates for higher offices. Individual legislators represent increasingly homogeneous, “safe” districts where their chief concern is a primary challenger, so they wish to “represent their districts,” at the expense of party functionality and winning elections on the whole.

It’s out of this climate that most of the people working within the political process arise. Operatives who are increasingly just glorified activists, people living in their confirmation bias bubble. If something in the process gets in the way of their goals, they argue it’s time to blow up the process- regardless of the potential downfall. Some of these folks honestly believe they can have their cake and eat it too, that there’s a way to do whatever you want, and never have to live with the consequences of the other side doing it to them in the future. They have no sense of history, of why certain laws are the way they are. They think compromise is both bad and unnecessary. They think there’s a clear majority for their full ideological agenda. They believe persuadable voters aren’t worth the effort, and aren’t needed anyway. Some of these folks aren’t just low level, rookie organizers. Some are sitting in formerly important jobs, like chiefs-of-staff.

Gerrymandering and voter self-sorting, flawed campaign finance systems, significant barriers to working in the political system for “commoners,” and confirmation biased media are just a few of the poisonous factors destroying our politics. This “fantasy land” of politics has created a situation where some stone cold morons have risen in our system, and some very bad ideas have become the group think of the enlightened village of Washington, DC. Operatives who couldn’t survive five minutes in a swing district or a swing state read off of polls they don’t understand and pontificate about how the answer to electoral woes in those areas is to either ignore them or do more of the prescription they wanted to do in the first place. They talk of national trends in a nation with no national elections. They talk of what the base wants, when they can’t build a base that constitutes a majority in swing districts and swing states. They talk of issues that draw passionate responses at rallies, but can’t build a winning coalition out in the states. They’re, in a word, clueless.

What’s worse though? These voices find followings among the passionate activist class. You hear people say they really wish Nancy Pelosi, the most effective political leader in the Democratic Party right now, should be more like freshmen members of her caucus who haven’t passed a single major piece of legislation yet. You hear activists defend legislators who can’t pass legislation of any kind by attacking the process and “the establishment.” It’s like a cancer of ignorance is spreading on our politics.

Believe it or not, political gravity still exists. Most voters are not as ideological as those of us in the process are. In fact, the best rule a political operative should live by is a pretty straight-forward one: we are all weird. Those of us inside the process don’t represent a majority of anything. It’s why we so often fail to inspire the mass uprisings of the people we espouse wanting. I would argue right now that our politics simply don’t connect to most of the people. The result is a rising idiot class leading our politics right off of a cliff that will not be pretty for our future.

If I Were President Tomorrow…

If I woke up tomorrow in the White House, what would I do? Amidst all of the “big ideas” floating around the 2020 Presidential race, I have to be honest, I’m hearing a lot of hot air. They’re good ideas, but they’re not going to pass. It’s nice to discuss a world with more Supreme Court Judges, no electoral college, and a majority rule Senate, but all of those either aren’t happening or would be dangerous if they did. But what could happen? These are my “big” ideas.

  1. Overtime pay for all. With the stroke of his pen, President Obama tried to extend overtime pay to millions of Americans, but it has been rolled back since. If I were President, I would extend overtime pay to any American working over 40 hours a week. I’d try to get Congress to pass a law for it, rather than just do it through an executive order. If there’s more than 40 hours of work in a week, either pay up or hire more people. We need to restore the work-life balance, or at least get paid better for being squeezed dry of all productivity.
  2. Legalized marijuana. See how well Colorado and other states are doing? People want to smoke marijuana. Marijuana is better for them than most medicines or recreational substances they use instead. Locking people up for pot is basically a nuisance to most prosecutors and makes no sense. This industry is ready to take off, and have positive impacts on society. It can’t do that when the marijuana industry can’t use our banking system because marijuana is still considered a “schedule one” drug by the federal government.
  3. A payroll tax indexed to cover 90% of all wages, as it was intended. When Ronald Reagan signed tax reform in the 1980’s, the payroll tax covered 90% of all wages, and was easily able to fund Social Security. We could make that permanently so, and keep Congress from borrowing money from those programs with a simple act of Congress. Medicare and Social Security would be safely paid for, for the foreseeable future. It’s not a big ask to do this.
  4. No taxes paid below the poverty line. Americans hate taxes. Many people truly can’t afford any more. It’s time to shift the burden off of the middle class. No American should start paying income taxes until they’ve made it out of poverty for the year. In a perfect world I’d raise this threshold to a living wage, but one step at a time. Instead of shielding income at the top of the economy, do so at the bottom of the ladder.
  5. End all federal subsidies to the coal industry. This is not about saving money, it’s about getting out of the coal business. Yes, I know some people want their mines back, but at what cost? Should the rest of us breath in their pollution? Should we destroy our planet with their carbon emissions? I’m all for reinvesting in communities losing their main industry and helping the displaced workers, but we need to cut the chord with coal and shift the money towards renewables.
  6. Approve more nuclear power. Is nuclear energy scary? Yes. Is it overwhelmingly safe though? Yes. Is it clean? Extremely. I wouldn’t power the whole grid on nuclear, but I’d increase it’s share to get rid of dirty energy quicker.
  7. Mandatory background checks on all gun sales. Sure, Mitch McConnell wouldn’t let it get to a vote, right? Right now though, it would pass the House, and if it got a Senate vote, it would pass again. This would be a place to exert some political capital. There are 60 votes to pass this in the Senate. There’s no reason to have a loophole to allow people on the terror watch list and violent criminals to buy a gun. If we have to add language that the government can’t come confiscate guns from law abiding citizens or something to calm conspiracy theorists, so be it.
  8. A federal guarantee of the right to a funded public education. We know that the quality of your education is based on your zip code. We all know that’s unfair. A federally binding guarantee to fund the public education of every student makes sense.
  9. Enforce environmental and labor law portions of trade treaties. It makes me really nervous that the incompetent administration in Washington is re-negotiating trade deals. The main problem that most free trade deals had was their enforcement, not their text. The United States has often been relaxed in enforcing portions of trade deals that dealt with environmental rules, wages, and labor laws. If someone wants access to our market, we should make them play by our rules. We can, through administrative actions.
  10. Do infrastructure, do it big, do it now. The will is there, in a bipartisan way. Do the bridges. Do the roads. Do mass transit. Do ports. Really, do it all. Go big, go bold. Create the jobs. Rebuild the country.

This is what I would do if I woke up tomorrow in the White House. All of it is possible. None of it is an overreach.

Making Sense of Barr, Rosenstein, and Mueller

Donald Trump and his campaign will not be charged with conspiracy to collude with Russia to interfere in our 2016 Election. While the Mueller report makes no final recommendation on charging Trump with obstructing justice, Attorney General Barr will not charge him. Mueller and the Department of Justice have found that Russia did interfere in our election.

Those are the official legal findings as the Mueller investigation ends.

In pure legal terms, Mueller does not believe there was a legal conspiracy between Trump or his campaign, defined as a two-sided agreement, to interfere in our last election. He is not saying Russia didn’t interfere at all. He is rather saying the Trump campaign and candidate weren’t a part of that interference. This may seem odd, since Don Jr. met with Russians about Hillary dirt, and Paul Manafort shared polling data with Russians. Mueller seems to be saying neither had any actual part in the Russian interference though. Perhaps because they were inept, or perhaps because Russia never wanted their help, but they seem to be but a footnote in what he alleges happened.

There is the question of obstruction, which remains more murky and incomplete than it may seem right now. Mueller did not charge Donald Trump or exonerate him on this question, in part because Trump used legitimate Presidential powers to seemingly stonewall the investigation, as well as vague and not-so-vague attacks to intimidate witnesses. With the question left to Barr, who is both a believer in executive power and an appointee of the President. He was never going to charge him, if left with an open question. That’s not the end of the story though.

I tend to believe in and accept Bob Mueller’s findings. With that said, there are still some important questions. Why did Trump associates keep lying about Russia? Did Russian interference determine the outcome in 2016? Did finding out about Russian interference later change Trump’s behavior or policies towards Russia? These aren’t all Mueller’s questions to answer, but they still remain today.

A lot of people on the left seem despondent, and even willing to engage in crazy conspiracy theories over this. It’s important to understand that those conspiracy theories aren’t grounded in any reality. After indicting 37 people, Bob Mueller is certainly not going to cover for anyone. Rod Rosenstein put him in place and supervised him, and doesn’t seem to be a figure who would cover for the Administration. While there are questions about Attorney General Barr, it’s worth noting the obvious here- Congress can subpoena all of these men. Mueller can talk about his report. Barr won’t be afforded cover to lie to Congress. Neither would Rosenstein. The room for anybody to be lying right now is non-existent. The potential exposure is too great.

Which all leads back to where this began- Mueller was never going to indict Trump, nor would Trump’s Department of Justice allow it. The only body with legal oversight of the President’s activities is the Congress. The House Judiciary Committee should call all of these men in to testify about their findings. Mueller can tell us what he found in the first person. I suspect the real question here will be on the judgment of Mueller to not recommend either way on obstruction of justice, and of Barr to say he will not charge the President for it. If the House reaches a different conclusion, after hearing the evidence, then they should act. Even if crimes were found, that committee would have been charged with deciding this then.

Dividing Lines

The political order is breaking down right in front of us. While DC is immersed in ideological battles, we’re seeing traditional liberalism and conservatism morph right in our eyes, you have cultural liberals arguing for free trade, cultural conservatives railing against billionaires, and moderates on both sides picking and choosing amidst the carnage.

This is not to say there aren’t still more traditional left and right, or even extreme left and right. That still exists. The main point is that there are new politics emerging, like a spring blooming from the Earth. In the aftermath of 2016, there are new coalitions forming, some good, some bad.

Americans aren’t satisfied with their political choices. This is why 42% self-identify as independent. It’s why more radical voices are rising on the left and right. It’s why people who lack credibility (Trump, Bernie, AOC) are gaining followings. People want to hear what they want to hear, not what is “possible” or “electable.” It’s why talking about the cost of something, or Congressional viability, or details of a plan haven’t derailed some of the frauds and grifters who have risen in our politics. Nobody cares about what’s wrong with their lies.

The only way out of this hellscape is vision. Someone will have to put something real, appealing, and truly good for people’s lives on the table. Tax subsidies for Amazon to bring minimum wage jobs to Queens aren’t exciting, even if they’re an upgrade for people who need more income there. Activists will sabotage that every time, because there’s no real joy in it. People want their standard of living improved. They want opportunity. The only way to stop them from dumb ideas is to offer good ones.

A Bold, New World View, Part 11- Regionalism Still Matters

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

Read Part 4 here.

Read Part 5 here.

Read Part 6 here.

Read Part 7 here.

Read Part 8 here.

Read Part 9 here.

Read Part 10 here.

Who is the Democratic base? This has been the central debate between Hillary and Bernie supporters since 2016. Hillary supporters largely argued that women and African-Americans, and most specifically African-American women, as well as Latinos, made up the “base” of the Democratic Party. Bernie supporters argued that the base were the most feverish ideological leftists in the party. I think Hillary supporters were wrong only in being overly general. I think Bernie supporters are just wrong. The Hillary “base” is slightly too small, unequally distributed, and ignores regionalism. The Bernie coalition is just not a majority, and probably never will be.

I don’t believe either political party has what amounts to a national base. Different political issues animate different regions of the country, and the demographics change dramatically. Even within regions there can be dramatic shifts from places like North Philadelphia to suburban Willow Grove, just minutes into the suburbs. Democrats can’t “nationalize” the question of their base. To be fair, Republicans can’t either, even though their demographic of voter is mostly the same everywhere.

Hillary’s defined base worked well enough to win the nomination, largely because it worked in the South. Hillary had a lot of success in 2008 in the west by winning the Latino base there. Hillary walloped President Obama in the Rust Belt states because she won the “labor/working class” demographic, the same people she lost badly to both Bernie and Trump in 2016. Every region of the country has it’s own “base Democratic” voting block. There are overlapping issues of economic fairness and access to opportunity, but the animating issues change. Labor issues are huge in Wisconsin, but voting rights are huge in Georgia. I can’t imagine a Democratic nominee opposed to either one, but the fight at this point seems to be over which set of issues get to be center stage.

What about the Republican Party though? Right-wing populism dominates in Appalachia and the South, energy issues in Texas and much of the Plains and Southwest, while tax cuts in the North. Rather than fighting over whether the tax cuts for their Northeast donors should take precedence over union busting in Wisconsin, or a border wall for Arizona and Kentucky, they just say all of the above. If their Wyoming Congresswoman wants to talk guns and energy exploration while their Massachusetts Governor talks tax cuts, they’re fine. A national nominee from the GOP will be expected to cut taxes, appoint conservatives to the judiciary, spend on the military, protect gun rights, and be tough on immigration- even though these positions make no sense together at times.

Regionalism also does a lot to explain elected official behavior too. Bernie Sanders famously was less tough on gun manufacturers than Hillary fans wanted. Cory Booker is more pharma friendly than many Midwestern members of Congress, but many of them are friendly towards agribusiness in a way he doesn’t have to be. Members of Congress represent the people who elect them, in fact all elected officials do. For that reason, almost no one has a 100% partisanship score in Congress. It would be nice to be ideologically pure, but most American voters aren’t ideological.

It is a fun, but almost always overlooked fact that the United States has no national election. Even Presidential elections are really 50 individual state elections (plus DC), where you have to win the electoral college, not the popular vote. Inevitably, the concerns of your district or state will occasionally trump the ideological concerns of your party. If you want to stay in office very long, you’d be best to hear that warning.

Math Still Needs to Matter in Government

The moment that Bernie Sanders went from “harmless old man” to a problem for me happened in New York. It wasn’t primary day though. It was when he bombed the New York Daily News Editorial staff interview. It’s not a matter of his ideas, but rather that he really had no idea how he would do any of it. There was no substance in his plans. Just catchphrases. Bernie was pretty much exposing himself as unprepared to be President.

I’m not sure Democrats are in a better place with the left as we approach the three year mark. Last week I engaged with a Twitter follower who supported Bernie and loves AOC and noted the lack of a funding plan for many of their big ideas. Their response was chilling to me- that we need to stop holding political leaders to the standard of paying for their ideas, because “that leads to conservative outcomes.” In other words, will away the inconveniences of governing.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Tulsi Gabbard, and Ro Khanna voted against the House Rules package crafted by Nancy Pelosi on January 3rd, and their stated reason was opposition to a rule called “Pay Go,” a provision that requires you to find the revenue, through taxes, spending cuts, or spending shifts, to finance any new plans. The rule came about in her first tenure as Speaker, after George W. Bush has cut taxes, fought two wars, passed Medicare Part D, and done No Child Left Behind with no funding mechanism- all as debt. The United States was running trillion dollar debts in those days, as we are now, after the Trump-Ryan 2017 tax cut debacle.

It’s important to remember two key things about Pelosi’s “Pay Go” rule.

  1. She can lift it for major legislative priorities, and she pledged to do so. While “Pay Go” applies day-to-day, it is not a hard and fast rule. It is there to institute discipline on the average, but the Speaker can instruct the House Rules Committee to lift it on priority legislation, such as Medicare for All, if she chooses. She has pledged, as I said above, to do so when major priorities come up.
  2. We are projected to pay $364 billion in FY 2019 on debt services (interest). That’s what we’re paying just to finance our debt- not fix a single program. You could dramatically expand Medicaid or improve ACA subsidies with that, if you weren’t paying it to rich people for buying our debt. You could finance a major green jobs bill, an infrastructure bill, or any number of other major bills. We quite literally spending half the Pentagon budget to sell bonds to finance our debt. This is clearly a waste, to any sane person.

The fiscal behavior of Republicans, post Bush 41 raising taxes to deal with deficits, has been atrocious. They only worry about costs when money is being spent to help poor and middle class people, and otherwise are willing to bankrupt the country. The idea behind Pelosi’s rules package was simply to not be Paul Ryan– not block a national health care bill.

But back to the argument made at me on Twitter- screw paying for the things we want, just pass them. I get the moral equivalency argument, why should Democrats limit themselves when trying to do good things, Republicans just do the bad stuff they want. The difference though is that Democrats are the party that believes in using the government to solve problems, so they have a responsibility to make it work right. Running up more debt because math is hard is setting up the government for financial issues later. The price of debt (interest on bonds) is pretty much directly tied to the price buyers are willing to pay at auction, which is based on their confidence in the investment. It’s worth being responsible, if only to check that.

The real problem I have with the lefties that argue debt doesn’t matter, and we shouldn’t have to fully fund “good” programs is that they’re just lazy- there are actual questions to some of these questions, which people sometimes even get close to proposing. In AOC’s defense (I don’t do that often), proposing a 70% tax on income over $10 million, which she loosely suggested to fund her “Green New Deal” is popular, not overly radical, and has historical precedence. Elizabeth Warren’s suggestion for a windfall tax on wealth may be plausible. You could expand Medicare and Social Security massively if you raised the ceiling on payroll taxes to apply to 90% of earnings, as Ronald Reagan did in the 1990’s- and the majority of earners wouldn’t even pay a dime more. While you can’t realistically cut the Pentagon the way some on the left propose, a 10% cut of waste spending on weapons we don’t even use could finance a nationwide free community college and trade school program that would greatly alter the landscape on college tuition costs. There are actual ways to do their plans, and you don’t even have to be brilliant to figure them out. They’re just lazy, or willfully ignorant.

My guess is that some of these lefties know this, but still want to live in fiscal fantasy land for one reason- politics. Selling tax increases is hard. A national health care plan and climate change plan was incredibly popular in 2007 and 2008, but by 2010 it was contributing to Democrats losing the House. The devil is always in the details. Unless you don’t do the details, and just say we don’t have to pay for it. Then you can live in ignorant bliss forever, and propose any crazy idea you want, without consequence.

A Bold, New World View, Part 10- How Our Politics Have Shaped the Future

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

Read Part 4 here.

Read Part 5 here.

Read Part 6 here.

Read Part 7 here.

Read Part 8 here.

Read Part 9 here.

I think back to my earliest days as a voter, and the events that were shaping my politics at the time. I was 17 when the Supreme Court awarded George W. Bush the White House. I was 18 when 9/11 happened. Locally, I was 19 when Bethlehem Steel finally went under. I was about the same age when the Iraq War Resolution passed Congress. Enron was going under for corporate fraud. Then there was the ugly, bigoted 2003 and 2004 fight over marriage equality. It didn’t get better as I aged into my early-20’s. Hurricane Katrina, Abu Ghraib, the meltdown of the Iraq War, and finally, the economic collapse of 2008 all happened before I was 26. In the course of a decade, maybe my most formative decade, the American judiciary and our electoral system, foreign policy and the Pentagon, our whole government, institutional Christianity, and corporate America all were made to look foolish, incompetent, and evil. This was difficult to process, as it ran against so much that I grew up thinking, but process it I did, with millions of others my age. It should be no wonder millennials, and the “Gen-Z’ers” who followed, are more liberal than past generations.

It’s not just headlines though that have pushed “the kids” to the left. Looking at the results of those events, there has been a real world impact on us. Home ownership, marriage, even having kids has been a slower, more difficult process. Good luck finding a job with health care and a pension. Many 30-somethings that fought in Iraq and Afghanistan lost limbs or came home with PTSD. New Orleans may have permanently lost a huge chunk of it’s population. The opportunities that were a given for our less educated parents and grandparents aren’t there for us. Instead we have the gig economy, student loan debt, and a constant struggle to survive.

It almost should be no shock that there are young people who love Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other politicians like her on the left- they are promising something diametrically different. While her ideas aren’t totally fleshed our, who the hell cares? If the status quo appears to be an abject failure, and feels like an abject failure, then it is an abject failure. Given the political options young people see as available, they’re making the choice that seems to make sense to them.

What exactly are our political options in 2019 anyway? The Republican Party’s last act in control of both houses of Congress and the White House was to shut down the government to build a border wall to keep Latinos out. In other words, the Republican Party has given up on governing, and only really wishes to enhance corporate profit and appease elder bigotry. The Democratic Party has essentially split into two- on the one side are “establishment” Democrats that want to govern responsibly, on the other side are more leftist Democrats that want to oppose the status quo and Republicans at nearly all costs. It would stand to reason that if your current situation is awful, “responsibility” isn’t your main concern, right or not.

Of course, some of the upheaval of this moment has produced great things too. Our first African-American President, our first woman nominee for President, our first Muslim women in Congress, and our first Native Americans in Congress are all examples of barriers falling. The traditional paradigm of white men in public office is folding on the behalf of non-traditional candidates. Who can blame the young folks for voting for something new? Growing up in a world of corporate greed, religious bigotry, inept government, terrorism, and fraud will make you question the leaders you’ve had.

I do not join in the optimistic view many on the left have of the world that millennials and Gen-Z will create. I’m not a big believer in the diametric change that many of my fellow millennials do. I get why it’s happening though- our fathers and grandfathers showed us an inability to lead our society in a responsible, moral way. Telling those that bare the price to be responsible is a bitter pill to swallow. Our elders decision to elect Donald Trump May have made it completely unacceptable.