My Republican friends are all torn up inside over what terrible choices 2016 has left them. Next post will address the absolute insanity in pretending Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are somehow comparably dangerous. But first, some reflection for my Republican friends.
See, here’s the thing. Trump supporters *are* the meteor, the Krakken, SkyNet. You, dear GOP, are living “Little Shop of Horrors“. In fact, I think Little Shop of Horrors is the perfect metaphor for the Trump wing of your Party. Here you are, wringing your hands over what to do with your monster, born from Nixon’s Southern Strategy and lovingly nurtured from birth on a diet of mild xenophobia; white, male entitlement and post-truth “news”. When they lost their jobs and their retirement, you told poor white people it was the fault of the black President and his brown supporters. You couldn’t tell them the truth–that capitalism has victims and that a healthy society has to make provisions to care for them–because, well, “I’m not paying for health care for no unemployed freeloader!” So, instead, you made stuff up.
You had lots of chances to step in and say, “Gee. I wonder if we’ll ever regret creating an entire TV channel and blogosphere where true/false is a minor, secondary concern compared with pro/anti-Obama.”
“You know he’s not a Muslim, right? Shall we correct that?”
“Are you kidding? Look at the ratings!?”
“Apologizer-in-chief? Doesn’t that seem a little overstated. I mean, we did just bomb, then invade a country for what turned out to be two completely fabricated reasons.”
“Whose side are you on? It’s like you want higher taxes. I’m telling Grover!”
“He just said Reagan never negotiated with terrorists. Are we going to correct that?”
“Well, but doesn’t it FEEL like Reagan never negotiated with terrorists though?”
And then came the Trump. You couldn’t shut up the Trump when he came with his birther nonsense. Your base’s ability to process a pro-Obama truth had atrophied way too far. By then, you no longer had control of the narrative. You had a microphone, but you sure weren’t going to be caught defending Obama with only truth as your defense!
So, here we are. The years you might have spent creating a platform, you squandered on a Benghazi investigation–then 6 more. You’ve brought up half your party unable to distinguish a misogynist, racist, dangerously unhinged narcissist who wants nuclear weapons for the world, state-controlled press, the intentional targeting of civilians and who won’t commit to being bound by the results of an election; from a woman who used the wrong email. Just like you taught them. For a while, pandering to the basest aspects of your Party won you two houses of Congress, state houses and governorships. But now, Audrey II needs you to chop up what’s left of your responsible economic platform, your family values and your respect for anyone different from yourself and feed it to the beast you’ve nurtured. Tough choices. What would Seymour do?
The knives have come out. George Will has exposed the dark secrets we knew had to be lurking in Bernie Sanders’ closet. Here’s his attack piece in National Review. As an hoers d’ouevre, Will accuses Bernie of caucusing with Democrats (gasp!). And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s apparently not even a good enough socialist for Comrade Will. Socialism, says Will, used to mean “government ownership of the means of production.” Over time, according to Will, this idea was diluted to mean simply taxing rich people more than poor people and providing programs that benefit poor people more than rich people. So, it turns out Bernie Sanders is not a Socialist in the comic conservative propaganda sense. He’s just a reasonable guy who has less faith than many people on the Right in the magical incantations whereby letting rich people keep all their money makes poor people richer.
This mealy-mouthed Socialism lite doesn’t work for Michele Malkin either, who can’t tell the difference between Hugo Chavez and Comrade Bernie. For Michele, policies like free college education can’t have any other motivation than “punishing” and “shaming” the “wealth-creators,” peace be upon them. Bernie’s moderate Euro-socialism is clearly not comfortable for conservatives. If word gets out that socialism just means taxing rich people to provide basic necessities to poor people, the fanged Jabberwock that drives conservatives to the polls will turn out to be sorta sensible, if slightly idealistic, policy. And so, Malkin reminds us in National Review that there’s but a razor thin distinction, hardly even worth mentioning, between breaking up the big banks and impaling hedge-fund managers on stakes.
Confronted by new and perplexing ideas, the impulse of the Stupid (and, if fact, all of us) is to retreat to the safety of simplistic categories and pithy platitudes. Ambiguity is not for the faint of heart. But therein lies safety and prosperity.
I’m With Stupid
HeyStupid is a socialist in the vein of Bernie Sanders and this might be a good opportunity to lay out my case for redistribution. Because I’m not running for any office, I can say what Democratic politicians (except Bernie Sanders) can’t: The current distribution of wealth is, to a large degree, not based on merit and therefore preserving it is not inherently moral. Let me rephrase. I reject the conservative notion that income is strongly correlated with superior character or work ethic.
That doesn’t seem to bother some conservatives. I’ve asked a few of my friends to evaluate the following scenario. Imagine that your paycheck, and in fact, everyone’s paycheck, was based, either partially or entirely, on a dice roll. You could change jobs if you want, but the result of this dice roll would follow you. In that scenario, I ask my conservative friends, would explicit wealth redistribution still be immoral. Imagine that fifty percent of your salary were determined this way. In that case, would you support taxing the very richest people at 50%? Most of them agree with me on this point. Then the question becomes, how much of peoples’ income can we reasonable attribute to their talent and work ethic? Even Greg Mankiw, reliable defender of the 1%, couldn’t see his way clear to assigning more than 22% of income variation to genetics. The rest was upbringing, family connections and plain, dumb luck. I don’t disagree with them that taking money from people that earned it by their efforts is bad. I just have a lower estimate of the fraction of wealth that is actually distributed according to merit.
I’d like to clarify that I don’t hate the rich. I don’t fault them for winning the socioeconomic lottery or for playing the game the very best they can. But I don’t like the game and I think it should be changed.
Now, some of my friends have no moral objection to redistribution. They have more practical concerns with redistribution. Mostly, they complain that high tax rates demotivate the wealthy. Why, after all, would they get out of bed and go to work at their very hard jobs if they didn’t make a whole lot of money? But this is trivial. The wealthy don’t go to work to make money. They go to work to make more money than someone else. Sure, you might initially have a few people that decide to hang it up and sail around the world rather than work for a paltry $2.4 million/year after taxes. But before long, no one would notice they had less than before because they’d be too busy worrying about having less than someone else. And off they’d go again.
In redistributing wealth, we are bound to, in some cases, take money from deserving, hard-working people, and give it to undeserving, lazy people. It’s time we came to grips with this. However, since our starting point is monumentally unfair, I feel quite confident our new distribution could scarcely be worse than the one that exists now.
The Republicans are in the middle of an orgy of self-congratulation having just elected the first ever female Black Republican to Congress. Mia Love, newly elected representative of Utah’s 4th district, narrowly defeated Doug Owens on Tuesday. In that race, she outspent her opponent 7 to 1, having garnered millions of dollars’ worth of support from the New York investment bankers, the Kochs and Utah’s thriving multi-level marketing industry. This was important to the GOP. And so, on Wednesday the media took to the interwebs and airwaves to hail this important leap forward for America.
Now, ThisWeekInStupid would be over the moon if the Republican Party started addressing real problems with race in America, and we hope Representative Love will bring an important perspective. However, we thought it appropriate to point out that the GOP is about 40 years behind. The first Black Congresswoman was Shirley Chisholm, elected in 1968 by New York’s 12th district. She served there until 1983 and even sought the Democratic nomination for President in 1972. Since that time, the Democrats have elected 26 Black Congresswomen and one female Black Senator. Take a minute and let that sink in. That’s forty-six years. Babies became grandmothers in that length of time. The Beatles were still together then. There’s been a flag on the moon for a shorter amount of time than the time in which Black women in Congress only belonged to one Party.
So, congratulations, GOP. I do hope you’ll listen to Ms. Love and her perspective. But something tells me if you were really interested in being a part of progress in America toward racial and gender equality, you’d already be over here.
Peggy Noonan took pen in hand on the pages of the Wall Street Journal to tell us we should think like 11-year-olds in combating Ebola and impose a travel ban. Peggy doesn’t trust people with degrees in public health or medicine. People with degree in law and business should know how to combat infectious diseases.
That got me thinking about what other policy decisions we could leave up to children. If you have an 11-year-old, please give them this brief survey and mail it to Ms. Noonan.
1. What should we do with foreigners brought here as children?
a. criminalize and shun them (but tax them)
b. hug them
2. Which of these parties do you think will best represent Americans?
3. Do you think giving housing, food, and medical care to poor families:
a. Makes them get less done; or
b. Helps them get more done
4. What should we do with children whose parents don’t provide health insurance?
a. Give them health insurance
b. Not give them health insurance
5. To reduce gun violence does America need
a. More guns
b. Fewer guns
5. Our country has a lot of debt. What shall we do to pay it off?
a. Tax the wealthiest people
b. Take it from old people’s retirement
6. Which is worse?
a. Secretly selling weapons to a militant dictatorship (Iran); or
b. Asking for too much paperwork from charities with “Tea Party” in their name
7. Which do you think is the best use of our money?
Today’s GOP manages to capture all of the ignorance of children without any of their compassion.
Today, we’re indulging a conservative fantasy. Let’s examine what it would take to swing the 2012 election with fraudulent votes. The vote in Florida came down to 78,000 votes–a fairly narrow margin. If I were the Obama campaign looking to steal the election, that’s the easiest state to flip. Now, the problem is that penalties for voter fraud are severe–3 1/2 years in jail and a $10,000 fine. But, depending on how I do it, it can be hard to detect. The best way might be to find people who are dead or moved away, but not removed from voter roles, then impersonate them. It wouldn’t be reasonable to get away with it all 78,000 times. You should probably pad that by at least 20%. Let’s say you make 100,000 attempts.
Now, imagine you could find people willing to do this 100,000 times and could identify the correct names. It could be the same person several times, but not several thousand times. Probably, you need 10,000 people. Easy enough to find 10,000 true believers to each make 10 attempts.
With 100,000 attempts, you’d be wise to assume some of these will be not only thwarted, but reported to the elections commission.
If you catch 1 in 100 at $10k/count that’s $7.8M, or 84% of all Obama campaign spending in Florida. So, if you’re going to use voter fraud to flip an election, you’d better have legions of people willing to go to jail for you and either a mound of cash or a willingness to cancel all your ad buys, signage and get-out-the-vote efforts and go whole hog for voter fraud! Good luck!
Allen West recently read “with a heavy heart” Hank Aaron’s comparison of the Republican Party to the KKK and offered him a history lesson. Other of my conservative friends have offered me the same lesson, pointing out that, for much of American history, opponents of civil rights voted with the Democratic Party, while the Republican Party is the “party of Lincoln.” I wanted to share what I’ve learned about how the Democrats largely lost the support of American racists. In doing so, I’m fearful of offending my Southern friends. I’d like to clarify from the start that not all or even most residents of the Deep South are racists. But, these states do tend to have a non-negligible block of voters who are, in no uncertain terms, racists.
Before that, I’d like to point out what a ridiculous idea this really is. The people who doubt the historic interpretation I’m about to relate would rather believe that the men and women who marched with Martin Luther King like John Lewis and Jesse Jackson suddenly became racists and joined the Democratic Party. Every week the right-wing media reaffirms the Right’s commitment to last century’s ideas on race in their coverage of Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, immigration and anything related to Islam. So, here’s the history.
Beginning at the end of Reconstruction through 1948, the Deep South had voted for the Democratic Party. The 1928 elections were a bright spot for Republicans. (I’m going to use examples from Presidential politics because there’s less data to parse and I’m more familiar with it.) Herbert Hoover defeated his opponent, Alfred Smith even in his home state of New York. Hoover even won in the Democratic strongholds of Texas and Florida. And yet Smith, a Democrat, still carried the states of the Deep South, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, as had every Democratic Presidential candidate since 1880. These states would continue to vote for Democrats in every Presidential election until 1948.
Race and Politics
In that year, Harry Truman, a Democrat, split the Democratic party by supporting desegregation of the military and a civil rights bill. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina led the State’s Rights Democratic Party (the Dixiecrats) and ran for President against Truman, but lost. Thurmond would later switch to the Republican Party and serve in the Senate until 2003. After this, the Southern states returned to the Democratic Party for a few cycles until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When it was passed, the Civil Rights Act had more support in the Republican Party than in the Democratic Party. Democratic President Lyndon Johnson supported it with some reluctance fearing it would damage his Party in the South.
In that same year, 1964, Barry Goldwater, a conservative Republican for the ages, challenged Johnson for the Presidency. In the short run, Goldwater’s bid was quite unsuccessful. He won only his home state of Arizona and five Southern states protesting Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act. Goldwater, like Ron Paul, had opposed the Civil Rights Act on the grounds that the federal government should not interfere in such State matters and the economic and social forces would desegregate society in the long run. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other civil rights leaders were not so sanguine and strongly encouraged voters to support Johnson. The comparison of the electoral map in 1956 and 1964 shows just what a radical change 1964 was. Thanks to 270towin.com for the maps.
This “states rights” theme has become an integral part of the modern Republican platform, with its members arguing for a narrowing of the authority of the federal government. Democrats often argue that some issues, civil rights included, are compelling enough that the federal government should intervene to protect the rights of individuals against the tyranny of local state majorities.
Nixon’s Southern Strategy
In 1968, the civil rights debate was still roiling. Richard Nixon followed Goldwater’s lead and emphasized state’s rights over federal authority. Segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace (a fascinating historical figure and complicated man), ran an independent campaign and won electoral votes from the Deep South. Nixon won the remaining Southern States except Texas, and the election.
Not long after this election, a Nixon political strategist, Kevin Phillips, signaled his intention to abandon the black vote altogether. He even went so far as to say that the presence of blacks in the Democratic Party would drive racist whites to the Republican Party:
From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that…but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.
The South did return to the Democratic Party to elect Jimmy Carter of Georgia to a single term, and Southerners Carter and Bill Clinton won their home states in their Presidential bids, but from this point, the South moved inexorably toward the Republican Party. Reagan and George H. W. Bush continued to emphasize minimal federal intervention in State issues. The overt racist appeals were gone, although accusations of implicit or “dog-whistle” racial appeals have been levied.
Ann Coulter has some alternate theories about this switch. It is that the South moved Right with the emergence of a wealthy suburban class who signed on to the Reagan revolution with it’s promises of a less intrusive federal government. Meanwhile, Strom Thurmond and KKK grand wizard and Republican state representative David Duke misunderstood or overlooked the racially progressive Republican agenda and signed on. At the same time, 88% of African-Americans were fooled into signing on to the Democrats’ new and subtler racial oppression via social programs. The reader may judge for herself between these two theories.
Today’s Grand Old Party
Now, I don’t go in for the accusations that the GOP membership are predominantly racists. I know a lot of Republicans and that’s not my experience at all. The important difference where race is concerned is that Democrats believe racism exists. The Republicans do not, which puts them in a quandary. Minorities, including and especially African-Americans, clearly achieve, on average, less than whites in this country and Republicans are caught scrambling for an explanation for this.
Thomas Sowell thinks it’s the welfare state itself that holds African-Americans back. He often points out that unemployment for blacks was lower than for whites in 1930 (although just in that isolated year). According to Sowell, the change was a result of the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which established the first federal minimum wage. This ignores the mountains of progress toward racial equality of all kinds through the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s, even as the welfare state was growing. Further, the data do not suggest that States with lower minimum wage have a smaller racial wage gap.
Others fare much worse than Dr. Sowell. When Mitt Romney talks about “cultural differences” explaining the differential success of Palestinians and Israelis, he’s trying to convince you that, while he doesn’t attribute the Palestinians comparatively worse situation to racism, he’s also not like those racists who would say the Palestinians are genetically inferior. You’re not genetically inferior, you’re culturally inferior. See? Don’t you feel better?
And then, of course, the proof is in the pudding. If the Democratic Party were full of closet racists, their policies would be repugnant to minorities. Instead, racial minorities, both those that underachieve and those that overachieve, support the Democrats. Those poor ignorant minorities–snookered by those schemin’ Democrats again.
We at thisweekinstupid mostly try to lay off of the truly and tragically stupid in favor of ideas that have at least some learned advocates. Today’s topic is almost one we’d leave alone. I see it repeated (and repeated and repeated) by people who can scarcely distinguish tyranny from democracy, but they think this phrase alone makes them some Constitutional scholar. However, it seems to me that a phrase so ubiquitous and so consistently misused deserves addressing.
The idea, which is a real one, is that a government that gives the majority whatever they want, whenever they want, can find the majority imposing really bad ideas either in some fit of irrational passion or simply because they can’t be trusted to make good decisions en masse. To guard against this, the American founders took a page from David Hume and Edmund Burke to establish “tiers of virtue” within government. Local groups of people each elect a representative. A group of these representatives then elect a single representative (or set of representatives) to govern or represent the whole group. On this principle, the US Senators from states were originally elected not by the people directly, but by a vote of the elected state Senators in that state. The 17th amendment changed the amended the Constitution to require direct election of Senators.
I have no quarrel with Edmund Burke on this point. But recently, I hear this phrase repeated to imply that our system, with its filibusters, its electoral college, lobbyists, gerrymandering, and so on, protects us from the unmitigated wrath of a self-seeking majority, or more explicitly from the tyranny of brown-skinned welfare queens persecuting a poor minority of investment bankers.
It’s no end of peculiar to hear this from conservatives who are all about tyranny of the majority. As Jon Stewart reminded us, there’s only one of the 10 Amendments in the Bill of Rights that conservatives respect and it’s the one most favored by lynch mobs. They rail against the ACLU and advocate tort reform to limit awards, shorten statutes of limitation and otherwise weaken the ability of the people to seek a redress of grievances from private companies (only the government can oppress people, right?). They complain of “judicial tyranny” when judges act to strike down laws which are supported by majorities but which encroach on protected individual rights. They cast aside due process and support stop-and-frisk on the utilitarian grounds that protecting the property of the many outweighs the right of the few to be free from unwarranted search by police.
In their other life, your conservative friends direct their hatred mostly at institutions best suited, and in fact designed, to protecting against tyranny of the majority. The Supreme Court, that constant source of Libertarian frustration, is designed as the last line of defense against tyranny of the majority and is specifically tasked with making sure individual rights are not infringed even at the behest of a majority. The House of Representatives, the last fragile thread of Republican power in today’s federal government, is, in fact, the institution most vulnerable to mob rule. It members are most frequently elected and by a direct vote of the people based strictly on population. It’s this branch that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson feared the most. The other institutions–the Senate, Presidential veto, the courts–are assigned the role of keeping the House in check. The good news, I suppose, is that recently, gerrymandering (the redrawing of districts to improve your Party’s chances) has lately blunted the House’s ability to transmit the will of the people. Republican-controlled state governments have redrawn district boundaries to such an extent that, after the 2012 elections, Republicans enjoyed a strong majority in the House despite getting fewer votes than Democrats in House races. Here, at least, we can take comfort that the will of the people is being sufficiently thwarted.
But, for me, the most surreal part of this story is that a Party consisting mostly of white, middle-class, native-born people has come to so fear “the majority.” If there were real danger of a majority imposing their will at the expense of important rights of minorities, wouldn’t you expect to hear it loudest from some identifiable minority? Wouldn’t groups who had experienced Jim Crow and the Trail of Tears be remarkably sensitive to this? And, wouldn’t you expect the racial and religious majorities to be best equipped to defend themselves? But the Right has constructed in their minds a tyrannical majority coalition of unionized teachers, Latinos, Blacks, atheists, college professors, gays, Hollywood and Holocaust survivors out to take what rightfully belongs to them. Perhaps it’s appropriate to call them a minority of stupid.