Negative Political Ads

Chris Matthews hit Bernie Sanders pretty hard the other night on Hardball for his new Goldman Sachs ad, which points out that the firm recently paid fines for banking law violations that helped damage the economy in 2008.  The ad goes on to remind Americans that none of the people responsible faced criminal prosecution – though actual humans acted to break the law. These individual Wall Street bankers, the ad notes, get away with this because they contribute to political campaigns and pay huge speaking fees to politicians.  The ad does not mention Hillary Clinton at all – but because Clinton has a relationship with Goldman Sachs that includes both campaign contributions and speaking fees, Matthews characterized this as a slam on the Secretary.

Sanders has a reputation as a clean campaigner and has said several times that he won’t go negative in his race against Hillary Clinton.  After showing several clips of Sanders saying he’s never used a negative ad and won’t start now Mathews showed the spot and then spent several minutes making a claim that Sanders has changed strategy and “gone negative.”  Continue reading

Moron Labe the First

This morning I threatened to start a new series – Moron Labe – pointing out idiots who carry guns but haven’t a clue about how to handle them and because of their stupidity hurt themselves or others.  This is a riff on the gun rights slogan Molon Labe, from the Greek (μολὼν λαβέ) for “come and take them.”  See this post at American Thinker (a source of true nuttiness, by the way) for context.

Anyway, I guess I can kick off the series with the story of Maciej Gorecki, who went to visit a pal so he could show off his gun.  While doing this he shot his friend – and killed him – with a gun he thought was not loaded.

Moron Labe – come and get this moron.

Sunday Morning Coffee, Snowed In Edition

National Review stood across Donald Trump’s path to the Republican nomination shouting stop! this week with a series of essays by a who’s-who of the right-wing movement. Their argument amounts to “Trump is no Conservative” and it’s pretty rich coming as it does from the folks who basically created this monster.  Do yourself a favor and click that second link – Jeb Lund has a funny take and writes well in the Matt Taibbi mold.

One way the conservative movement has paved the way for a demagogue like Trump: consolidation of power through ignorance.  People are more likely to believe we can actually build a wall along the Mexican border when they’ve been trained to reject critical thinking in favor of conspiracy theory while distrusting our most basic institutions.  You can find a lot of good writing at Hullaballoo these days, by the way.

Democrats apparently also go after each other with “bile and bullshit.”   Corey Robin documents much of the atrocity of Clinton attacks on Bernie Sanders at Crooked Timber.  Note number 10, where Robin points out that the term “Socialist” may not carry the negative weight some people think.  I highly recommend Robin’s book, The Reactionary Mind, by the way.

Speaking of books, a couple I’d like to read once I’ve finished Robert Reich’s book Saving Capitalism.  Kevin Kruse’s book connecting corporate attacks on the New Deal with the rise of religiosity in America, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, looks like an important read if this review accurately captures it.  And Jane Mayer writes to broaden our understanding of how the wealthy use their resources to influence public policy in her new book, Dark Money.  Alan Ehrenhalt reviews it for The New York Times here.

Finally this morning another armed moron has an accident with his firearm.  This one is especially rich – he felt like he needed a gun for self-protection in church.  Maybe God is trying to tell him something.  And maybe I need to start a new series: Moron Labe.


Elections as Popularity Contests

I just read this post at Bearing Drift and posted a comment.  The author, Brian Shoeneman, is a Virginia GOP activist who has run for local office on old-school conservative policies.  He comes across to me as an establishment conservative who reveres the past and finds himself annoyed that Donald Trump, Tea Party activists, and other extremists have hijacked his Republican Party.  In the old joke about how many Virginians it takes to change a light bulb, Brian Shoeneman is the one holding the ladder and waxing eloquently about how great the old light bulb was.

Here Shoeneman complains that elections come down to popularity contests, and rational voters, who “make decisions based on things like policy, ideology, and electability” don’t exist.  As examples he uses Trump of course, but also Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  To be sure, he has named three popular politicians (though I would say that Trump appeals to a much more limited constituency), but he says nothing about the reason why people like them so much.  Charisma matters, but I point out in my comment that policy matters as well.

Since the comment is rather long and makes what I think is an important point about why some Americans seem to like Donald Trump so much I thought I would repost my comment here:

This is an interesting, but in my view rather superficial, take on the election campaigns so far. A couple of thoughts.

First, let me challenge your assertion that voters don’t “make decisions based on things like policy, ideology, and electability.” For starters, the chief hermeneutic voters use to select a candidate is party identification. Those without the free time to spend conducting detailed research start by assuming that Republicans and Democrats differ in certain fundamental ways. This is why the core attack made on Trump is that he’s not really a Republican, and he’s not a “conservative.” His opponents try to tell voters not to apply this hermeneutic to Donald Trump. So yes, ideology makes a lot of difference.

I would also respectfully suggest that your Clinton and Obama examples do not support your claim. Bill Clinton won the Presidency on some very specific policy proposals – raise taxes on the wealthy to fix the budget and health care system, energy conservation and environmental protection to name two – against a very popular incumbent President. Barack Obama also ran on a specific policy platform that included higher taxes on the wealthy to pay for economic stimulus and ensuring better access to health care and ending needless war in the Middle East, among other ideas. To the extent these elections were “popularity contests” it’s because the policies these candidates proposed made them…popular.

Donald Trump is popular for another reason: he has tapped into residual white (especially male) anger at changes in American society that threaten their power. He appeals to the Warmac9999s of the world by suggesting that American is no longer great because we’ve let in too many brown people and given to much voice to women. These people are pissed because they can no longer express racist, bigoted, and sexist opinions without someone calling them out. This explains the emphasis on “political correctness” and the fact that evangelicals support Trump – note that a key reason his supporters like him is that he “speaks the truth.”

Conservatives have spent the last 45 years demonizing government and any effort to create an egalitarian society. They did this mostly in the service of corporations by enlisting religious leaders and disaffected white men using dog-whistle messages (e.g., “welfare queens”). As wealth inequality has grown, women assert themselves more, and the country becomes demographically more diverse these disaffected white men seek a hero. Donald Trump is popular with this constituency not because he’s famous. He’s popular with them because the believe he agrees with them that Mexicans cause their economic woes, Muslims cause their security fears, and no one can say the truth about this because “political correctness.” Warmac9999 and his ilk like Trump because they think he’ll “make American great again” by giving them the specific policies they want: a wall to keep Mexicans out, deportation of Muslims, and government support for rhetoric that accepts racist and sexist attacks on people they don’t like. He’s not popular because he’s famous and on television a lot. He’s popular because he gives angry white Americans license to express their racism and bigotry openly.

Bernie Sanders and the Art of the Possible

Ta-Nehisi Coates hit Bernie Sanders pretty hard this week for rejecting the idea of paying “reparations for slavery.”  He didn’t like Sanders’ response – that Congress would never agree to such payments, the discussion would prove divisive, and we should instead invest in rebuilding cities and creating new jobs.  I’m sympathetic to the reparations argument – given that much American wealth and capitalism depends in no small measure on slavery it makes sense to compensate those who worked in slave labor camps to help build it.  But as a practical matter the chances of developing an effective reparations policy and getting it through Congress do in fact look pretty dim.

Sanders also took a hit from the Clintons, who sent daughter Chelsea out to make the somewhat misleading claim that he would “dismantle ObamaCare,” not to mention Medicare and private health insurance.  To be sure, Sanders’ idea for an American Health Security Trust Fund (AHSTF), or single-payer universal health care, would replace the Affordable Care Act eventually.  It would do so by expanding Medicare to every American, so I’m not sure how this “dismantles” that program.  And it’s also not clear that this would mean the end of private health insurance firms.  Even a universal health care system would have room for private sector supplements to whatever benefits the public sector provided.  But part of the critique is that AHSTF is a political pipe dream that could never pass in the existing political climate.  “I am not interested in ideas that sound good on paper but will never make it in real life,” Clinton said.

Finally, Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns and Money fires a similar shot across Sanders’ bow.  Asking “So What Would Happen if Bernie Sanders Won,” Loomis expresses two concerns: that Sanders would not be prepared to quickly appoint judges and executive officers, and that his base would abandon him within a year, dooming his presidency. Continue reading

Incumbent Protection

A couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune to hear Brian Cannon, Executive Director of One Virginia 2021, talk about redistricting in Virginia at the monthly meeting of the Hanover Democratic Committee.  His presentation had relevance – it came on the day we heard about the likely shift of Hanover County from the 7th to the 1st Congressional District.

But Mr. Cannon spoke more generally about the issue.  In the end, allowing legislators to draw their own electoral districts allows them to choose the voters – and often their opponents.  It amounts to an excellent system for incumbent protection.  Continue reading

Gun Control Means…Hitting the Target?

For a good example of why it makes no sense to let just any yahoo walk the streets with loaded weapons, see this article at Talking Points Memo.

That’s right.  Some “law abiding  citizen” carrying a firearm around for self protection accidentally shot someone because he couldn’t properly handle the weapon.  Then he leaves the scene and drops the thing again in a restaurant.  It fortunately didn’t discharge the second time fumble fingers lost control.  But it does suggest that armed citizens walking around town are more likely to hurt others or someone else that use it for self-protection.

This is also a good example of why we should require gun owners to have liability insurance, by the way.  I hope the victim here sues this dumbass for every thing he owns.

Sunday Morning Coffee

A few links I read this morning over coffee:

The Believer,” a short essay on how Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi became leader of the Islamic State.  Lots of insight here, but I”d like to highlight this passage:

Many of the ex-Baathists at Bucca, some of whom Baghdadi befriended, would later rise with him through the ranks of the Islamic State. “If there was no American prison in Iraq, there would be no [Islamic State] now,” recalled the inmate interviewed by TheGuardian. “Bucca was a factory. It made us all. It built our ideology.” The prisoners dubbed the camp “The Academy,” and during his ten months in residence, Baghdadi was one of its faculty members.

It appears that the US invasion of Iraq not only created the power vacuum that helped create the conditions for the rise of ISIS, our treatment of civilians radicalized some and provided the schoolhouse prison that helped them prepare their leadership.  Another data point suggesting that George W. Bush, a Republican and neoconservative, made the US less safe.

Speaking of W., this Salon article about the 2000 election reminds that in fact Americans almost certainly elected Al Gore President that year though the Electoral College did not reflect this intent.  Though we have no way to know how differently events might have unfolded under President Gore, it’s a good bet that his administration would have paid more attention to the Bin Laden threat in 2001, and would not have responded to a terrorist attack by invading Iraq. Whether or not this would mean a world without ISIS…

A recent New Yorker article, “The Siege of Miami,” highlights another issue President Gore might have formulated a policy to address: climate change.  I”m not a scientist, but it seems straightforward enough to me that venting all manner of pollutants and other crap into Earth’s atmosphere and water has to have some effect.  In any event, the scientific consensus    seems pretty solid that human activity has at least helped to warm the planet.  Perhaps we can innovate our way out of this mess, but we won’t if our political leaders keep sticking their fingers in their ears singing “la, la, la, I can’t hear you.”

Last night’s Democratic Primary debate of course touched on terrorism, and once again the Democratic candidates provided a much more nuanced discussion than what we’ve heard from the GOP field.  Bernie Sanders, for example, in a poke at Donald Trump’s bigotry, hinted that conservatives wish to inspire fear of terrorism in voters as a way to distract them from corporate threats to US economic health and the Middle Class.

The tone this campaign has taken fascinates me.  Republicans repeatedly argue that the US is going to hell in a hand basket – debased culture, corrupt government, feminized men – in a way that makes me wonder why they hate America.  In today’s conservative world, Americans – except wealthy ones – get nothing right.  How in the world does this resonate with voters?


Sunday Morning Coffee

Still working on posting more often…in the meantime, more Sunday links:

Damon Linker wants to know “Why Aren’t Conservative Intellectuals Disgusted with the GOP?”  Good question, and it begs the “what is a conservative intellectual” follow up.  Whoever it is, I think they’re wondering what to do now that they’ve constructed an electoral coalition on racism, nativism and a reactionary theological/cultural movement based on imagined existential threats to American society.  They’ve painted themselves into an ideological corner and handed extremists the brush.  To the extent any conservative intellectuals exist, I suspect they do feel disgust for today’s GOP.  They just lack the moral courage to say so.

Googling around for background on Linker lead me to this post from over a year ago by Rod Dreher.  Quoting a Linker piece about “…why its not right for same-sex marriage proponents — as he is — to say that Christians who oppose SSM are on the same footing as racists,” Dreher argues in effect that it’s impossible to “…reconcile normative Christianity with sanctioning gay relationships, without doing serious violence to Christian teaching.”  Since this teaching so permeates the very essence of Christianity and its moral teachings, it justifies discrimination against homosexuals in a way it failed to justify racial discrimination.   In the end it still comes down to using religion to justify discrimination.

Al Mohler responds to folks who wonder why evangelical Christians can’t just get with the program: “Now, at least some people seem genuinely perplexed that conservative Christians will not just go along with the program to redefine Christian morality, marriage, and doctrine.”  I would respond to Mr. Mohler, and to Dreher as well, that no one wants them to change their views on morality, marriage, or doctrine.  They and their churches can and should continue to apply their values as they see fit within these institutions.  What they cannot do is use the machinery of the State to discriminate against those who don’t share them.


Sunday Morning Coffee

In no particular order, a few links:

Take a look at this very interesting article at Bacon’s Rebellion about the tension between conservation easements in Virginia and corporate efforts to push through pipeline and transmission line projects over the objections of landowners.  One key point here is that these easements may mean less than landowners think.  If so, we’ll see fewer of them.

Was Ohio’s Marijuana Vote Stolen?  Hard to believe, but note the screenshots that show the “Yes” vote going down from almost a million votes with 39% of precincts reporting to a bit over 600 thousand with 45% in.  This might be nothing more than mistaken labeling, but it bears watching given the importance of Ohio as a swing state in Presidential contests.  If an anti-voting-rights Secretary of State is willing to fix a corporate pot referendum he’s certain to make sure his party wins Ohio’s electoral votes.

I’ve written about the silliness of the “Pick-Up Artist” community before, but this is just too much. This guy is a very special kind of…uninformed.  H/T Lawyers, Guns and Money and We Hunted the Mammoth.

At The Federalist (America’s Most Poorly Named Web Magazine), G. W. Thielman tells conservatives how to fix their “Single Woman Problem.”  His recommendations?  Help single mothers through charities and tell them stories about villainous government authorities.  Or, conservatives could stop calling them sluts because they want reproductive health care.