Friday, July 29, 2016

God is in the Details

Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, and I couldn't be happier. Her speech was quite good, even though it is tough for her to compete with legendary orators like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. On that note, my sentiments were summed up perfectly by one of my law firm friends:
Look, Hillary does do the service part better than the public part.... But that's part of why I love her. Too many of our politicians do the reverse.
Where it matters, Hillary Clinton gets it done.

The fact is, politics isn't about the sweeping arc or the soaring speech. It is often "a victory of a hundred thousand inches"; the strong and sole boring through hard boards. It isn't always sexy, or high-profile, or headline-worthy. It isn't always even lovable. But each one of those inches matters to someone, and we should never sell short the commitment it takes to keep on shouldering that ball a little forward, day in and day out.

So if I was to pick the line in Clinton's speech that stuck with me -- the reason I'll pull the lever for Hillary Clinton not as the best of bad options, not because she's what we're stuck with, but with pride, optimism, and enthusiasm -- it's
Because it's not just a detail if it's your kid.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Jill Stein: The Ultimate Ideological Compromise

Last week, I explored the issue of whether leftists "should" vote for Jill Stein. Many people on the left frame the choice as being between ideological purity -- the candidate whose positions are closer to their ideal candidate -- and realism about who can get elected. My argument was that (a) part of the preference calculation for picking one candidate over another should include the realistic effects of that choice (here, making it more likely Trump comes into office), and (b) while one can decide that said effects are less important than avoiding the moral compromise of voting Clinton, that decision is substantively awful and is condemnation-worthy in itself.

But while I still agree with that analysis, I also think it gives Stein way too much credit, in that it accepts the basic suggestion that Stein is a non-compromised, purely progressive choice hampered only by the fact that she stands no chance of victory.* In reality, many of Stein's positions range from the objectively terrible to the merely incoherent. The "realism" argument isn't just about political realism but policy realism -- Jill Stein swaps out actual progressive reforms in favor of vague fulminations about how the "system" is all that stands between us and our hearts' desires. It's the revenge of the Green Lantern Theory of Politics. To the extent that progressives have an ideological commitment to, say, basic precepts of science, it is not an uncompromised position to punch the ballot for a candidate who plays footsie with anti-Vaxxers and rejects the scientific consensus on GMOs.

To take one example near to my heart, Jill Stein's energy platform calls for moving completely to clean power sources by 2030. That sounds great; I'm all for aggressive efforts to promote clean power. But in this call she excludes nuclear power and (if we take the Green Party platform seriously) hydroelectric as well, without which the move to clean power is essentially impossible (unlike, say, wind or solar, nuclear power and hydroelectric power are "dispatchable" sources of power -- they can run at any time as needed, as opposed to only when the sun shines or the wind blows. This attribute is absolutely essential for grid stability, which is why we couldn't just build a lot more solar plants to replace our fossil fuel generators). This isn't a more ideologically pure energy package that suffers from being a political non-starter; it's an ideologically blinkered energy package that suffers from being utterly unmoored from any understanding of how the electricity grid works, much less how to leverage it in favor of our environmental goals.

To put it another way, the choice isn't between a flawed progressive who can get elected and a great progressive who can't. It's between a flawed progressive who can get elected and an even more flawed progressive who can't. Voting for Jill Stein is a massive ideological compromise for anyone who thinks of themselves progressive. And one gets the sense that it only feels like a "pure" choice because Stein stands no chance of being elected; the vote isn't even "for Stein" as much as it is "against the system."

And that logic hammers home another reality: The basis of Jill Stein's appeal is more or less the same as that which pulls people to Donald Trump. Both are seeking to harness an inchoate anti-establishmentarian rage that need not (and in many ways prefers not) tie itself to the world of facts and data. Everything from workable policy agendas to a basic consonance with the factual world can be dismissed as a sort of establishment-gotcha. It is to the great credit of the American left that Stein looks like she'll only muster support from the left-most 2% of the electorate or so, while Trump will capture the votes of at least the right-most 46%.

I doubt that most left-wingers are going to end up voting for Jill Stein. And it strikes me as equally unlikely that they will be the ones to tilt the election over to Donald Trump (though the spectre of Nader continues to linger). But regardless of whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins come November, if you're a Jill Stein supporter you don't get the consolation prize of knowing you kept your ideological purity intact. You compromised your integrity just as much as anyone else did.

* Some might object and argue that Stein, while not perfect, is on net a better progressive than Hillary Clinton. I'm not sure I'd even cede that, but I'll also stand my ground on the argument as presented. If voting Jill Stein is conceded to be an ideological compromise, it isn't clear how the argument against voting for Hillary Clinton on the grounds that one is tired of "compromising" sustains itself. At most it could be an argument of degree -- I'll concede up to Jill Stein, but not further -- but that's rarely how it is presented and lacks quite a bit of the self-righteous purity that normally drives the claim.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Why Must All the Candidates Be So Fucking Neoliberal?

[To the tune of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”]

Clinton voted for the war
And Timothy Kaine is such a bore.
Cory Booker loves Wall Street
And VP Warren spells defeat.
None of them’s acceptable
For my precious vote electoral
Why must all the candidates be so fucking neoliberal?

I think we’ve had enough of the White House
being a Whitehouse
And Tom Perez as Labor’s top
Didn’t restore the union shop
Tom Vilsack is in the sack for
Big Agricultural
Why must all the candidates be so fucking neoliberal?

O’Malley’s a coastal technocrat
Another pawn of the fat cats
Schumer opposed the Iran Deal.
Castro’s young—is he for real?
Of Biden I’ve had my fill
Since he wrote the ’94 Crime Bill
Why must all the candidates be so fucking neoliberal?
Cummings seemed to think
Black Lives Mattered more than TPP
And Becarra didn’t swear
I’d go to Yale tuition-free.
As Congressmen I think they’re swell
But if they’re picked it’s “betrayal!”
Why must all the candidates be so fucking neoliberal?

I was for Bernie until I learned he’d
Endorsed the dreaded Hillary
Now I see that he’s sold out
Of that there is no doubt.
Could the problem be with me?
My vain demands of purity?


Why must all the candidates be so fucking neoliberal!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Who We Thought They Were

The post convention bump has pushed Donald Trump into the lead in the presidential race. While it's worth taking that news with a grain of salt -- polls bounce around tremendously around convention time, before settling back into place -- it is also a fair moment to think a bit about what a Trump victory would tell us about America.

The Republican primary caused several GOP loyalists to admit that Trump's victory essentially "proves that every bad thing Democrats have ever said about GOP is basically true." Democrats had long alleged that the core of the Republican Party's base was built on simmering white resentment, bigotry, xenophobia, intolerance, and a thirst to get at a diverse range of "thems" who didn't count as real Americans (gays, religious minorities, people of color, women ... the list goes on). Republican elites had viewed this charge as basically a political smear, right up until the monster that they had created through baiting the Tea Party and playing birther-curious broke free of their constraints and ran away the nomination.

But a primary is just a primary. What happens if Trump wins the whole thing? Well, in that case it may well "prove every bad thing leftists have ever said about America is basically true." The left narrative about America, after all, is precisely that the organizing feature of American politics is racism and white supremacy, and that we're deluding ourselves if we think that it did anything but go into a minor hibernation for the last fifty years or so. What does it say about our national trajectory if we can easily turn back George Wallace in 1968 but can't keep Donald Trump out of office in 2016? What retort would we have to the simple statement that racism and xenophobia, as electoral rallying cries, really are what gets folks to "stomp the floor"?

Yet we wouldn't only be learning something about the right, or even America as a whole. If Trump -- a historically bad candidate, with historically low approvals, open in his bigotry and contempt for large swaths of the American public -- wins the election, it would also "prove every bad thing centrists have ever said about the left is basically true." What's been the core of the center's charge? That the left isn't politically serious, that it prefers its own sanctimony to the much scarier work of getting things done, that it is more seduced by the thought of rebellion than the staid and square work of slowly mining in the hard rock. If the left -- too besot with its own "purity" or inchoate resentment against "the establishment" -- can't coalesce to beat back this candidate, it would verify once again its complete and utter impotence as a meaningful force for improving the nation or the world. We have, after all, gone through this dance time and again: Walking away from universal health care in the Nixon administration because it wasn't single-payer and then waiting 40 years to claw our way back to the same basic deal; letting the Freedom of Choice Act fall to interleft squabbling in the 1990s and never getting it near passage since; watching the Occupy movement put economic justice on the political agenda for the first time in a generation and then seeing it promptly collapses in on itself because of an ingrained aversion to sullying itself with actual making a political demand (and let's not even get started on Ralph Nader in 2000). And now we're set to go through it all again.

Finally, we can also draw one lesson if Clinton wins. It would "prove" (not that we'd need proof) "every good thing that the center and left has said about minority groups in America". For it is almost assured that, win or lose, Trump will gain a majority of the white vote. And at that point, it might be worth dusting off William J. Wilson's 1860 essay What Shall We Do With the White People?, asking "are they fit for self-government?" If democracy "is the theory that the people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard," straight white Christian men want Trump; with all the implications that entails for their commitment to (what we've told ourselves are) the basic tenets of the American creed. If Clinton wins, it will be due to passion and commitment of non-white voters going to bat for her in the general election. Given the stakes of this election, it'd be no exaggeration to say that it will have been the American Others -- African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, Arabs, Jews, Muslims, and more -- who will have ultimately saved the American experiment.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume XXIX: Plummeting Caviar Stocks

Rich people, as a rule, love caviar. And Jews, as any good anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist knows, are all rich. But the really woke anti-Semites know that Jews don't eat caviar (it's not kosher). And with caviar-producing sturgeon facing threats from invasive species -- well, it's not hard to put the pieces together (particularly if every puzzle has the same answer):

“Introduced species can disturb the ecosystem of an area,” Seyyed Jafar Mousavi[], the Deputy Head of Intelligence and Operation Department at the Biological Headquarters of Civil Defence Organization, said in an interview with Mehr News Agency, as translated by IFP. 
Some species can do more harm than good to an ecosystem, he noted. 
He noted that Caspian seal, Kilka and Sevruga fish belong to the Caspian Sea; however, comb jellies are alien species that have come from the Atlantic Ocean. 
“We firmly believe that the Zionist regime [Israel] is behind the conspiracy of nuisance species as they had sworn to do so,” Mousavi added.
Good catch (get it? "Catch"? Because fish)! The goyim will fall to their knees if the Zionist cabal can deprive their leaders of their precious caviar!