Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

What explains the vicious left?

April 20, 2016

images-2I recently wrote about a talk by scientist David Gelernter, at the state university. A student got up to ask about an article he’d written – “What Explains the Vicious Left?” The student said he’s politically moderate, and a pervasive, aggressive campus left-wing atmosphere makes him feel under attack.

I too have written about the poisoning of American politics by those who believe people with opposing views are not just wrong but wicked. And that, while both left and right are guilty, the left is far the bigger culprit.* imagesThis is especially true on campuses, where the left totally dominates, and seeks to disallow dissent. This is the “political correctness” that is so vile.

Its latest manifestation is to “protect” students from words or ideas that might make them “uncomfortable.” We hear much about verbal “micro-aggressions” having that effect, especially on minority students. Ethnic and gender minorities, that is. images-3But what about the minority that is truly persecuted – non-leftist students – like the questioner at Gelernter’s talk? Where is the concern about their being made uncomfortable, by efforts to browbeat them into silence?

I’m reminded of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dred Scott case that blacks have “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” On campuses today, conservatives have no rights a leftist is bound to respect. “The left seems to have lost its taste for democracy,” Gelernter’s article said.

Responding to the questioner, he noted that at Yale, where he teaches, conservative students have come to his office in tears because of the left’s “frantic fervor” and bullying. Gelernter suggested the phenomenon has to do with the fact that campus leftists are almost exclusively atheist/agnostic, whereas conservatives are frequently religious.

UnknownThe latter, he said, are cocooned in a strongly held moralistic belief system, satisfying a fairly universal psychological need. And with that box checked off, they don’t infuse their political views with a similar moral fervor. For them, politics is just politics. Atheist leftists, on the other hand, have only their politics to fill this psychological need, which is why they become so fierce. “Politics is their faith, in default of any other; it is the basis of their moral life.”

And naturally they are very protective of that faith, responding ferociously to any challenge; unwilling even to let opposing ideas be heard. (Just like some religious faiths, even today – apostasy is punished with death in some Muslim lands.)

More generally, politics is becoming very tribal, “us against them,” and for many it’s their core identity – virtually their ethnicity. As for why this is more true on the left, Gelernter’s religion-based theory may be at least a partial explanation. But there’s much in his article I find problematic. He’s evidently religious himself, and argues that the problem could only be cured with a religious revival — “a miracle.” Yet he seems to think it possible – ignoring why religious belief is declining — its sheer implausibility. (Though implausible ideas aren’t hampering certain presidential contenders.)

In googling Gelernter’s article, I found comments from left-wingers that were . . . surprise . . . absolutely vicious. Exemplifying the very syndrome he discusses. (Somewhat ironic, with leftists also full of talk about kindness, compassion, non-judgmentalism, and so forth.)

images-4At one time, the kind of moralistic fervor Gelernter discusses drove people to burn dissenters alive. At least we haven’t reached that stage in politics.


*Journalism professor Rosemary Armao, frequently on local radio discussion shows, supporting Hillary, has remarked upon the viciousness of messages she’s received from Bernie backers. (But none from Republicans.)

Trumpelstiltskin and the yahoo vote

April 10, 2016

UnknownI will vote for Kasich, reason, and decency, in the New York primary. But this may be the first state giving Trump over 50%. Shame on New York.

He says Kasich should quit the race. That would help Trump . . . how? Does he think Kasich voters would switch to him? That he’d do better in a two-man race? Polls show over half of Republicans, nationwide, despise him.

For all his ostensible success, Trump actually has no political sense. As in his recent comment about punishing women who have abortions. Columnist Michael Gerson has suggested that what Trump is trying to do is to say things he imagines hard-right voters like. Yet Trump has not been politically engaged enough to know what conservatives actually think. His playbook is a caricature of conservatism (one largely created by its critics).

Unknown-1Of course he isn’t getting the conservative vote. He’s getting the yahoo vote. His campaign is not brilliant. Yahoos are a minority.

Insulting people isn’t normally my style. But, as The Economist quoted one observer, Trump voters “have dirt for brains.” Wanting an outsider, a savvy entrepreneur, who tells the truth, and would shake up the system, is fine. I’d vote for her. But Trump is a crass ass who does not tell it like it is, he is a compulsive serial liar; his business history is a string of scams and failures; he has no serious program; what he advocates is un-American and based on big lies too; and he enflames people’s worst instincts. He is unfit to be the leader of a great nation. His supporters disgrace their citizenship. (That means you, Christie, and Giuliani. I’m taking names.)

It remains unclear that Trump will get the delegates needed for nomination. The winner-take-all California primary will likely be decisive. Meantime we hear the trope that whoever has the most delegates, even if not a majority, should be nominated. F**k that.

images-2In fact, even if Trump does secure the 1,237 delegates, there are whispers of a GOP Plan B. The convention (to be chaired by Paul Ryan) could vote to change the rules, to require a supermajority on the first ballot.*

And here’s a key detail: winning a state’s delegates doesn’t mean a candidate gets to name them. Many are picked by state party organizations. UnknownSo a lot of delegates bound to Trump on the first ballot actually don’t like him. They could vote for the rules change. And on a second ballot Trump’s majority would melt away like a snowman in Spring.

Trump and his yahoos will scream bloody murder. But winning all these primaries with 35-40% of the vote does not entitle Trump to the nomination. A majority of primary voters (bar New York) are rejecting him. Honoring their will would be legitimate.

Would Republicans have the balls for this? It would save the party. Not only would Trump suffer a monumental November defeat, he is wrecking the Republican brand with his toxic caricature of what the party stands for.

Unknown-2And if we have an open convention, who would wind up nominated? Delegates might pull a rabbit out of a hat (like Garfield in 1880, who began with one vote). Paul Ryan would be great.

Could a fresh candidate like that win? Yes. Bernie will not be nominated, but his strength spotlights Hillary’s weakness. In November, voters will choose between two candidates, and how one got nominated won’t matter much.

I am sick to death of Trump and his vileness. I don’t want to see his vile face, hear his vile voice, or have to talk about this any more. I want it to be over.

*Not unprecedented: until 1936, Democrats required a two-thirds majority.

Splitting the GOP

March 20, 2016

images-1I’ve been writing a lot about politics lately. Every four years we’re told “this election is critical;” it’s a cliché. But this time really is different – reshaping our political landscape.

For a long time, the Republican party prospered as a marriage between a principled segment – supporting limited government, free market economics, fiscal and personal responsibility, free trade, and global engagement – and a working class segment actuated by cultural primitivism, nativism, xenophobia, and bigotry. The former milked the latter for votes without actually delivering much for them. Now they’re rebelling and the marriage is coming apart.

Much punditry says we should understand Trump supporters as moved by legitimate economic concerns. That’s part of it, but not the main thing. The economy could be better but is not in crisis. a-holesThis is more about attitude than economics. It’s people feeling personally alienated from what the American mainstream is becoming; disconnected from the ruling elite. In America 2.0, they’re still stuck in America 1.0. They embrace Trump not in spite of his crudeness, but proudly because of it, which embodies their own. For all his billions, he’s the first presidential candidate with whom they culturally identify. This is not a revolt of the lower class, but of the no-class. That’s why attacking Trump for his various transgressions doesn’t dissuade his voters.

Trump claims he’s uniting the GOP. Yeah, right. Orthodox Republicans, the “establishment,” are freaking out. I’ve heard radio commentary saying it’s because they can’t “control” Trump. That just plays to his appeal. No — Republicans still compos mentis see Trump as turning the party into a grotesquerie, headed for electoral obliteration.

Yet a party schism does not really seem to be happening either. At the February 29 GOP debate, three candidates vilified the fourth as unfit to be president, yet all said they’d support the eventual nominee. That reluctance to break a political taboo is understandable, but it makes it harder for other Republicans to repudiate Trump, and indeed, very few so far have done so. Instead, most seem likely to fall into line behind him because they lack the political imagination to do otherwise.

Unknown-2As a lifelong Republican, if Trump is nominated, I would like to see a party split – as in 1860, 1912 or 1948 – with a rump of delegates walking out to hold their own convention, naming a “True Republican” candidate on a platform of the party’s traditional values.* Yes, that would assure Hillary’s election. But she’s likely to crush the white trash candidate anyway. At least some integrity would be preserved, as a basis for reconstituting, from the wreckage, a Republican party worthy of support.

However, this might also be seen as destroying our two-party system, leaving us with a 1-1/2 party system. Maybe at least that might break the 50-50 partisan gridlock that has paralyzed Washington. But such a settlement could not be lasting, since half the nation (me included) would still be in deep disaffection.

Politics is very tribal; the us-versus-them mentality explains a lot of the partisan bitterness we’ve seen. But this election is exposing the nation’s real division not between two tribes, but more like three (at least) – the Democratic party, increasingly left-wing, in coalition with minorities, unions, and other interest groups – the traditionally conservative, market-economics Republicans – and the disaffected primitivists who really have no ideological affinity with true conservativism. If that three-way split congeals, the first tribe will always outvote the other two.

Trump’s nomination is far from certain. He still needs to win over half the delegates in the remaining primaries; though it’s very possible, most being (stupidly, unlike on the Dem side) winner-take-all (including California, likely to be make-or-break). But Trump is nobody’s second choice; a majority of Republicans still find him repellent. And Cruz is very much the sort of candidate who appeals to the GOP’s traditional base – a quasi-outsider, with religion on his sleeve and a purist right-wing ideology.** So we may well have an open convention, no candidate going in with a majority. What happens then? Who knows?

imagesTrump says there’ll be riots if he’s not nominated. So go riot. America is governed by voting, not rioting. The party is not obliged to nominate a candidate rejected by a majority of primary voters.

Finally, if you think campaigns have been nasty before, just wait for this fall. The attacks will be savage. UnknownSadly, a lot will be justified. Hillary should win, but then we’ll have four more years of bitter partisan divisiveness.

Well, we’re used to that. At least we won’t have an American Putin.

*Actually, to get on the ballot in most states, this would have to be organized much sooner.

**Lindsey Graham once said the choice of Cruz or Trump is like being poisoned or shot. But now he says he’s ready to take the poison.

Supreme Court nomination – the stupid party again

March 18, 2016

images-2Republicans control the Senate. They could have simply gone through the motions of considering President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, holding hearings, but letting him dangle in the wind without a vote. Or, ultimately, just vote him down. They have the votes.

But no. Instead they insist on making themselves look terrible, partisan, and obstructionist, by refusing to even allow the process to occur.

Mitch McConnell’s speech, after the nomination announcement, made no sense. With a straight face, he accused the president of politicizing the matter, just by submitting a name. But the Constitution says that’s what the president shall do. It isn’t an arguable point.

These Republicans act as though they’re confident of winning the presidency and then naming Scalia’s replacement. images-3What planet are they living on? Have they noticed who their likely presidential nominee is? An ideological wild card, whom they detest? Whose own supreme court pick they might also detest? Who will likely lose the election anyway, and may even lose them control of the Senate besides?

Then Hillary picks Scalia’s replacement. Meantime, Obama has offered a relatively moderate nominee, who is 63 and thus would not be on the court forever. Republicans should grab that deal while they can.

I consider myself a Republican; I expect Republican senators to be partisan. But not stupidly suicidal.

The blame for Trumpism

March 13, 2016

I’ve written that the Trump phenomenon is a dive to a lower, baser level of civic discourse. Who can we blame?

UnknownOf course there’s a lot involved. But I’ve long argued that demonization of opponents has been poisoning our politics: thinking the other guy is not merely wrong but wicked, actuated by bad motives. And left-leaners do it the most.

I often criticize their politics but believe they sincerely aim for human betterment. Unfortunately that’s not reciprocated. Typical is one blog commenter repeatedly labeling me a heartless ignorant bigot. A local columnist spews strings of vile epithets about those he disagrees with. One “progressive” I know loves calling others “regressives.” Unknown-2And Alan Chartock, ubiquitous head of WAMC, the local NPR station*, constantly calls people “bad.” After Justice Scalia’s death, Chartock made a point of labeling him a “bad man.”

How does this relate to Trump? As I’ve said, such hate speech has poisoned our politics – and a toxic candidate is a natural result. Trump’s shtick plays to a loss of confidence in our governing institutions and the officials comprising them. And if you keep talking about bad people with bad motives, pretty soon voters will believe it, feeding the idea that all politicians are rotten scoundrels. With Chartock repeatedly insisting even Supreme Court Justices (well, those who decide “wrong”) act corruptly and are “bought and paid for” – should he be surprised by the popularity of a candidate who assaults our governing institutions?

Unknown-1True, government hasn’t been performing well lately, and it’s not crazy to seek some break-out. But here again, a key reason for government dysfunction is our hyper-partisan scorched earth politics. When the other guys are demonized as bad people, how can you compromise and work with them?

Many voters feel betrayed by promises not kept. But can we blame the politicians who told them what they wanted to hear? Or the voters who wanted to hear it, and continually rewarded impossible promises with their votes? We have continually voted for expanding government profligacy, awarding ourselves a shower of goodies, with nary a thought of paying for it. That’s why the promises really cannot be kept. And it will only get worse as the fiscal imbalance ineluctably widens.

So we do need to break out of this paradigm. But unfortunately electing an ignoramus blowhard is not the way.

But meantime, even if he doesn’t win in November, Trump is showing how successful tearing up the old rule book can be. And meantime Hillary personifies all the political divisiveness I’ve written about; her presidency will just be more dysfunctional scorched earth political combat. imagesAnd after four more years of that unproductive dismalness, the next Trump-like candidate may make Trump look like an angel.

* Chartock also constantly trumpets his support for Sanders. He insists that doesn’t constitute an endorsement by WAMC. But WAMC is thoroughly Chartock’s creature; and such open political partisanship is completely inappropriate for a “public” radio station receiving taxpayer funding. (Click here.)

Campaign finance: government hands off!

February 29, 2016

imagesHillary loves pointing out that the notorious Citizens United case was about her: an anti-Hillary film that ran afoul of federal regulation. But the Supreme Court ruled that, under the First Amendment, the government can’t stop anyone from producing and distributing a political film. I think that was right.

Critics complain this opened the door to unrestrained campaign spending, allowing elections to be bought. UnknownYet repeatedly big spenders lose elections. If they could be bought, Jeb Bush, who raised the most money, would be the GOP nominee.

Were the spending all one sided, that would be a problem. But it can never happen in this big diverse country. By and large the two parties are fairly matched in fund-raising ability; and a candidate with substantial public support can always raise the sums needed to be competitive (as Bernie Sanders has done).

But our political spending regime is an opaque mess, dominated by unaccountable “Super PACs” (“political action committees’). The problem is not Citizens United but, rather, the whole Federal Elections schema set up by Congress (in the 2002 McCain-Feingold law) to regulate campaign spending. Jeb Bush himself called it “ridiculous.”

images-1Specifically, while one can spend unlimited amounts on one’s own campaign, others are limited to contributing $2700. That causes larger sums to route instead through PACs, which theoretically are not allowed to coordinate with candidates.

This is the system Bush criticized. Instead, he said, there should be no restrictions on spending for political advocacy – and it should be allowed to go directly to candidates, who’d be accountable for it – with full disclosure required (which is not true for PACs).

Now, can you imagine if Congress furthermore made it illegal for an advocacy organization to run ads criticizing a legislator within 60 days of an election? In America? Maybe in Russia. Yet Congress did exactly that, as part of the aforementioned federal election regime. It’s a blatant incumbent protection scheme that strikes the First Amendment in its gut.

Unknown-1Corruption is a real concern – public officials beholden to special interests that finance their costly campaigns. It’s bribery in all but name. However, I don’t think the answer is to restrict political participation but, rather, to broaden it. I have long advocated a tax credit for political contributions (up to a limit). A credit (not deduction) would mean the money effectively comes from the Treasury rather than the donor’s pocket. Thus it would be a form of public campaign finance, but far preferable to existing systems, because individual citizens would determine which candidates get what. And it would inspire such an outpouring of citizen-directed donations that politicians would no longer be reliant on special interest money.

In a free, democratic country, I think government has no business regulating, at all, the landscape of political advocacy. Government itself is not disinterested, and certainly the elected officials who run it are not. This is a power inviting abuse. Remember the Alien and Sedition laws, that made it a crime to criticize the government?

In a democracy, all interests, that have a legitimate concern with what government does, should have an unrestricted right to advocate for their viewpoints in the forum of public opinion. That includes TV ads. And it includes corporations. They too are legitimate parts of our society and should have the right to make their voices heard in public debate. Unknown-2You may not like them – but surely you don’t believe in silencing those you dislike or disagree with?*

Democracy is threatened far less by free campaign spending than by government measures to suppress it.


* Well – left wingers tend to believe exactly that.

Make America great again? Or degraded?

February 25, 2016

UnknownJohn Zogby, who’s very smart, suggests Rubio make Kasich his running mate now. It’s an intriguing gambit that could give Rubio a desperately needed boost. Or could be seen as a desperation move. But something needs to be done, and fast.

Meantime, Kasich has actually been running negative ads against Rubio. And nobody has run ads against Trump.

Unknown-1I’d been supposing that 33% primary pluralities would not give Trump a delegate majority, especially since the super-delegates (party officials and office-holders, 7% of the total) wouldn’t support him. But then I saw his South Carolina 33% gave him all that state’s delegates. So I researched the delegate apportionment rules.

Among Democrats it is largely proportional to primary votes; that’s why the 2008 Obama-Clinton battle was so prolonged. But the GOP powers-that-be wanted to avoid that, so they rigged the game to favor an early front-runner, requiring largely winner-take-all primaries. Never imagining the beneficiary would be a candidate like Trump.

What a disastrous blunder. A bunch more 33% wins in next week’s “Super Tuesday” will make Trump’s nomination virtually unstoppable.

He’ll be crushed by Hillary in November. But the nomination will disgrace not only my Republican party but the country I love. This is a quantum downward cultural shift. imagesOur population has always had a percentage of uncouth lowbrow loser assholes. That’s natural, and they have a right to exist and maybe even sympathy. Yet despite their existence our civic life has always been conducted on a somewhat higher plane of seriousness. Now it’s diving down to the lowest common denominator.

Let me be specific, once and for all.

“Political correctness” disallows saying certain things, out of intolerance toward differing views. It’s not political correctness Trump is offending against but, rather, common decency. Denigrating John McCain’s war heroism, and various women for their looks, etc., Mexicans as rapists, and mocking the disabled, is not “politically incorrect,” but simply offensive, stupid, and vile. images-1And of course he has a difficult relationship with truth, as in saying Muslim Americans celebrated 9/11 – not merely false, but incendiary.

His policy stances – if one can so dignify them – are an incoherent farrago. Can a billionaire businessman really be so ignorant about fundamental economic realities? With no understanding of global trade? He proposes huge tax cuts in the face of rising future deficits that already threaten fiscal ruin; his promises of unspecified but likewise massive spending cuts are empty nonsense.

But none of that is intended seriously anyway, he’s not appealing to policy wonks. Central to his campaign are the plans for a border wall, deporting millions of undocumented residents, banning Muslims from America, and forcing Muslim citizens to register. Crazy, sickeningly ugly, and divisive.

Unknown-2My GOP used to be a principled party of sensible policies aimed at a better world for everyone, including limited government, fiscal responsibility, a free competitive economy, and free trade. A Trump-led Republican party would instead be a nasty racialist vehicle of xenophobia, resentment, and bile. A party of people voting with their middle fingers.

images-2Yet few Republicans say they won’t support Trump if nominated, instead being ready to fall into line (and over the cliff). I am heartsick at this national degradation.

Make America great again? It’s dragging America into the gutter.

Bye bye Bush; thank you, Nikki Haley

February 21, 2016

imagesSo, last we spoke, I said I’d watched Rubio blow the presidency in that pre-New Hampshire debate. Well, that was a bit hasty; he seems to have recovered from that disaster (showing his mettle), to finish second in South Carolina.

Nikki Haley helped a lot. She’s the state’s Indian-American governor, and strongly backed Rubio. Such endorsements ordinarily mean little. But Haley had already established herself as an Olympian personage – increasingly rare on today’s political stage – with her powerful response to the Charleston shootings, and leading her state to finally retire the Confederate flag.

Nikki Haley

Nikki Haley

Then, in her speech answering the State-of-the-Union, she really showed her chops by calling out her own party’s unfortunate nativist fetish.

Haley’s pulling Rubio up in South Carolina may turn out to be decisive in ultimately unhorsing Trump. With Bush out and Kasich in single digits, it’s now down to one plausible candidate and two disastrous ones. Kasich is a good guy (I liked him for president 20 years ago as a young congressman), but he really should quit to help Rubio save the party from Trump.

UnknownHere’s the rock-scissors-paper schema: Rubio beats Hillary, Hillary beats Trump, Trump beats Sanders. Assuming a Sanders nomination, Trump supporters might have imagined him winning the presidency (yelling “socialist, socialist, socialist”). Had Hillary lost Nevada, she’d have been in real trouble; but her winning there now makes a Sanders nomination pretty improbable. And between Hillary and Trump, the electorate, for all its disaffection, would surely choose the “safe pair of hands.”

On that rational calculation, Republicans should now turn away from Trump. But of course rational calculation doesn’t enter the picture. And two-thirds of Republicans have rejected Trump from the outset. The problem has been to unite them behind a single candidate, to stop Trump’s carrying the day with a string of 33% wins.

Unknown-1I hope Rubio can do it. He’s shown an unfortunate impulse to flatter the same voters Trump and Cruz are getting. Instead Rubio should let them batter each other competing for the Duck Dynasty vote, while differentiating himself from them, stressing what is really his strength: his positive, genuinely progressive and inclusive vision, contrasted against their negativity and divisiveness.*

He should also talk a little slower. And pick Nikki Haley for V.P.

* I get campaign e-mails from Rubio, and after writing the above, was glad to see one with exactly that message.

Political ad

February 19, 2016














Presidential politics: Republicans heading toward the abyss

February 10, 2016

UnknownWhat was supposed to happen was that Marco Rubio, surging with momentum out of Iowa, would do very well in New Hampshire, conceivably even winning; Bush, Christie and Kasich fall away so Rubio consolidates the backing of the sensible wing; while Trump and Cruz divide the wing-nut vote; Rubio gets the nomination; and defeats Hillary with all her baggage; making my November 12 prediction prescient.

Well, as Aristotle said, there’s many a slip between cup and lip. And on Saturday night I watched Marco Rubio blow the presidency in ten minutes. I sat there dumbfounded at maybe the worst debate performance I’d ever witnessed. I was frankly bitterly disappointed because I had a high opinion of Rubio, and really hoped after Iowa things would play out nicely as I described above.

imagesSo what we have now is Donald and the Seven Dwarves, more or less. We’ve already had the ridiculous spectacle of the gaggle of lower-polling candidates attacking and even running negative ads against each other, all struggling for the right to be the non-Trump, while Trump himself gets a free pass on the vilest candidacy in memory. It’s now altogether possible that Trump walks off with the nomination without winning more than about 35% of the vote in any primary.

Despite her predictable loss in New Hampshire, at the end of the day it still seems likely that Hillary will wind up as Democratic nominee. And so we could have a race between Hillary and Trump – incredibly, the two figures on the political scene with the highest negative poll ratings. Oy oy oy.

Unknown-1How could this happen? Well, democracy is messy. And there are no inevitabilities in history; contingency reigns supreme. It didn’t have to be this way. What people do matters and changes events. As Marco Rubio unfortunately demonstrated Saturday night.


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