Friday, July 23, 2021

In Which Jim Banks Accidentally Has an Almost Good Idea

The other day Kevin Kruse gave Greg Sargent the perfect analogy for appointing Jordan and Banks to the January 6 committee: it was like “appointing Strom Thurmond to the Kerner Commission.” Kruse expanded on this point on Twitter: It seems like an obvious point (too obvious for people like Chris Cillizza, apparently), but it has to be made: you don't appoint people to a project who oppose the project itself.

Banks signaled his opposition to the January 6 investigation with a statement to the effect that the committee should join OJ on a hunt for the real killers:
If Democrats were serious about investigating political violence, this committee would be studying not only the January 6 riot at the Capitol, but also the hundreds of violent political riots last summer when many more innocent Americans and law-enforcement officers were attacked.
This has become a standard talking point for Republicans opposed to any January 6 investigation, and part of a broader campaign to bothsides January 6. (See also today's Washington Examiner, reporting on a Rasmussen poll sponsored by a pro-cop organization.)

The crazy thing about this is that on its own merits, a committee to investigate last year's unrest--entirely separate from the January 6 investigation--isn't a bad idea. In an ideal world, a Kerner Commission style inquiry into the George Floyd protests (with, one hopes, better follow-through) would be a valuable exercise.

Let's look into the underlying causes--not just the precipitating events but the longstanding systemic abuses that got people into the streets.

Let's look at the overall record, and hear testimony from witnesses at the peaceful marches--the overwhelming majority--to provide context for the sensationalized depictions in right-wing media.

Let's look at the violence that did occur, and examine who committed it and why. Provide a full accounting of every single case of bodily harm, regardless of the responsible parties.

Let's look at the police response to these protests. Investigate the instances where police overreaction turned peaceful demonstrations violent, or where police inaction may have abetted the actions of provocateurs.

And let's not stop at the end of the summer. Let's look at how officials reacted. Let's examine legislation that criminalizes the right to peaceable assembly, or encourages violence against people exercising that right.

None of this is going to happen, of course, because this isn't an ideal world. It isn't even the less-than-ideal '60s, for that matter.

But as long as the right insists on its distorted narrative of burning cities and leftist mayhem, it would be worthwhile for our leaders to try to get at the real story--with whatever tools and whatever processes are possible--and push back against the lies.

[Updated to add link I had missed]

Snowflake Syndrome

I don't have the stomach to respond to the latest idiotic be-nice-to-Trump-voters horseshit, but happily Greg Sargent has more intestinal fortitude than I do. Intro:
To hear some pundits and Republicans tell it, millions of people across the country who voted for Donald Trump are suffering from an affliction that you might call “Snowflake Syndrome.”

On numerous fronts in our politics — from voting rights to covid-19 to the legacy of Jan. 6 — we’re being told these voters are afflicted with a deeply fragile belief system that must be carefully ministered to and humored to an extraordinary degree.

We must pass voting restrictions everywhere to assuage these voters’ “belief” that the 2020 election was highly dubious or fraudulent. We must not argue too aggressively for coronavirus vaccines, lest they feel shamed and retreat into their anti-vax epistemological shells.

And we must allow Republicans to appoint some of the most deranged promoters of the stolen election myth to a committee examining the insurrection so they’ll feel like its findings are credible.
Read, as they say, the whole thing.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

For the Record: Debt Ceiling

The original debt ceiling crisis of 2011, as captured by cartoonist Jen Sorensen.

Did you all realize that the US debt ceiling actually doesn't exist, and hasn't existed for the past eight years? Though it will return, like a zombie, at the end of the month if Congress doesn't manage to stop it.

I did know, without realizing I did until our friend Dr. Volts asked:

But I think the coin idea is too gimmicky, and misleading to the public, which will always think it ought to be spent, which is the one thing that absolutely shouldn't be done with it. For raising money, as I've been saying, taxation is the thing, especially when there's $68 trillion out there in the hands of people with so much money that they are literally unable to spend it.

You may wonder how I, a notorious non-economist, found out about all this stuff, so I'll tell you something about it, briefly—it goes back to my crazed crusade against Modern Monetary Theory of last spring, when one particularly astute commenter told me I wasn't doing economics at all, but accounting, and I realized it was true. Accounting is actually better than economics, in my view. It's much more in touch with human social reality, and can't get snaggled by high-class metaphysical witticisms like MMT. Anyway, since then, when I get annoyed by something like the debt ceiling, I read about it in the understanding that it's not economics, merely accounting, and that makes it totally comprehensible.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names



James Gillray, 1791, "The Hopes of the Party Before July 14", showing the Whig leader Charles James Fox as ready to chop off the head of George III, while Queen Charlotte and the Tory leader William Pitt the Younger, upper right, have already been executed. That's what I call partisanship! British Museum, via Nynorsk Wikiwand (they had the best resolution). 

Nice piece wondering about the way we fetishize "bipartisanship", by the historian Nicole Hemmer at CNN's website, localizes the moment we're nostalgic for, when bipartisanship was apparently good in its own right:

For much of US history, bipartisanship was not lionized. It was only in the mid-20th century that bipartisan compromise began to confer a golden sheen on legislation. That's in part because it was more attainable, and because at times, the results were profoundly beneficial. The two major parties had become a mishmash of ideologies: there were liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, and on the major issues of the day, bipartisanship made life-changing legislation possible. The Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights ActMedicare, Medicaid — all bipartisan.
    In the 1940s and 1950s, with the threat of totalitarianism looming large in the American imagination, there was something particularly beneficial to politicians about championing bipartisanship. It showed voters (along with foreign leaders and allies abroad) that American lawmakers followed a standard higher than simple party interests. Compromise elevated them to the ranks of technocratic statesmen (they were nearly all men) who were unencumbered by devotion to party, who were instead dedicated to higher ideals and first principles.

    I think that may be understating how weird that time was historically, and not quite healthy, and how much the very tenuousness of some of those accomplishments is related to the peculiarity of the situation.

    I've written a lot in the past about the evolution of the Democratic party from the end of the Civil War to the New Deal Coalition, which took place on two tracks, basically: on the one hand dominating the South as Jim Crow restricted the electorate to white people, as a conservative party looking back longingly on the power they wielded in the era of Jackson and Calhoun, and yet representing a rural and underdeveloped population in constant need of economic aid; and on the other hand thriving in the urban Northeast among the newer immigrant communities, a party above all of labor, and ready to be radical in alliance with radical intellectuals. 

    The Republicans, as the victors in the war, followed a kind of mirror image evolution into a similar incoherence: in the Northeast, abandoning their radicalism with the end of Reconstruction, leaving the business establishment as the main ideological engine, while in the rural Midwest, homesteading veterans of the war struggling to make a living found themselves susceptible to a different kind of radicalism, the prairie populist type, and for a short time a progressive coalition bringing them together with a certain type of elite represented by Theodore Roosevelt in opposition to business monopolies; but in the far West and Southwest, a different kind of rural existence—a landowner class dominating workers who mostly had no political rights, and fighting to control the water supply, developed a different kind of conservatism, a rejection of the concept of the commons. 

    Wednesday, July 21, 2021

    If Chris Ran the Circus


    The Spotted Atrocious.

    The Most Chris Cillizza Thing Ever:

    If you ever held any hope that the House select committee on the January 6 US Capitol riot might produce a report that would help us understand what happened in the lead-up to that day and, in so doing, provide us avenues to keeping it from happening again, you should give up on those hopes now.

    The reason? Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision Wednesday to reject two of the five nominees -- Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana -- put forward by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to serve on the panel.

    Absolutely! How could we possibly come to understand what happened in the lead-up to January 6 without Gym Jordan flapping his arms, barking like a dog, and running back and forth on the tabletops? We completely depend on Gym Jordan and Jim Banks for our ability to understand virtually anything!

    Wait, who is Jim Banks? He's somebody who's gone from backing the Mueller investigation during his first term

    “I don’t work for the president,” Banks told [Molly Ball/Atlantic in June 2017]. “Where were we, Paul, last week, when I was lambasted on that subject of whether or not I was going to blindly follow the president?”

    to joining Mo Brooks and 18 other democracy haters this year in demanding congressional hearings on election fraud to further the claim that state legislatures are constitutionally allowed to overturn elections

    In a tweet on Friday, Banks said he signed the letter because "the Constitution says state legislatures set the time, place and manner of the elections. There are countless examples of state legislatures being circumvented in the 2020 election."

    At the invitation of Donald Trump, Indiana Rep. Jim Banks recently led a small group of House Republicans to the former president’s New Jersey golf club, where they dined on beef tenderloin, posed for photos and briefed him on strategy for the 2022 midterm elections.

    In four short years, in other words, from humble Indiana conservative to Gym Jordan wannabe, another Spotted Atrocious, with no feigned outrage too foolish to adopt under the fear of being primaried at his back. 

    And an aspiring attack dog who has responded to the rejection by explaining, inadvertently, what a terrible member of the committee he was hoping to be, refusing to deal with the matters the committee is tasked with investigating and badgering witnesses with irrelevant questions about imaginary burning cities and the "real insurrectionists". Unlike that obedient lapdog Rep. Cheney:

    As Cillizza knows perfectly well, and he even says so:

    And it's beyond debate that McCarthy's choices -- especially Banks and Jordan -- were aimed at turning the committee into something of a circus. Both men would have, at every turn, sought to turn the tables on Democrats -- using the platform provided by the committee to push debunked claims about Antifa's involvement in the Capitol riot, questioning Democratic leadership's readiness for just such an attack and trying to broaden the committee's mandate to cover the Black Lives Matter protests of summer 2020.

    But the other way (Minority Leader McCarthy has responded by withdrawing all of his nominations, and vowing that if he can't have Gym gish-galloping all the witnesses he'd rather have nobody at all) won't be "bipartisan", and that, to Cillizza, means it really won't be anything at all, just a waste of everybody's time, because once upon a time you could get decent members from both parties (let's just forget that leadership could, and did, weed out all the conservative time-wasters then too).

    Honestly, it's going to be a good thing in some respects, as Quinta Jurecic points out at Lawfare:

    the fact that the select committee is a second-best option supported almost entirely by Democrats may actually be a point in its favor. Cheney and the Democratic majority on the committee won’t necessarily need to soft-pedal their investigation or negotiate compromises in order to appeal to pro-Trump Republicans. They can—if they want—aggressively pursue, with far fewer political constraints, the truth of what happened on Jan. 6. 

    And they will have a great deal more time to do so than the independent commission, as outlined in the House-passed bill, would have enjoyed.

    (because the independent commission proposal had an end date, and the House select committee won't). And, dirty little secret, the people who won't learn anything because they're put off by the absence of Gym and Jim weren't going to learn anything anyway.

    Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names. And don't miss Tom's terrific piece posted while I was writing this.

    Active Evil, Passive Press

    So, to recap: yesterday McCarthy named Jim Jordan and Jim Banks to the Select Committee on the January 6 insurrection, along with three less offensive GOP apparatchiks; Jordan and Banks both promptly signaled their intent to sabotage the investigation; this morning Speaker Pelosi accepted the three less offensive guys, and vetoed Jordan and Banks; and McCarthy threw a carefully staged hissy fit in which he withdrew all five and condemned the comittee as a partisan "sham process".

    Cue the shitty beltway journalist takes. Among the first of the worst was, unsurprisingly, someone from Politico: It's "definitely going to look partisan and political". Extraordinary how this perception materializes with no involvement or culpability on the part of the people whose job it is to inform us about politics.

    Also unsurprisingly, along comes Chris Cillizza and asks Rachel Bade to hold his beer, delivering a piece headlined Nancy Pelosi just doomed the already tiny chances of the 1/6 committee actually mattering:
    If you ever held any hope that the House select committee on the January 6 US Capitol riot might produce a report that would help us understand what happened in the lead-up to that day and, in so doing, provide us avenues to keeping it from happening again, you should give up on those hopes now.

    The reason? Speaker Nancy Pelosi's decision Wednesday to reject two of the five nominees -- Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana -- put forward by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to serve on the panel.
    The amount of nonsense in these two short passages is staggering, from the bizarre claim that an investigation without Jordan & Banks can't possibly arrive at the truth to the laughable notion that Nancy Pelosi is to blame for it. What's worse is that Cillizza knows this latter is bullshit:
    [I]t's beyond debate that McCarthy's choices -- especially Banks and Jordan -- were aimed at turning the committee into something of a circus. Both men would have, at every turn, sought to turn the tables on Democrats -- using the platform provided by the committee to push debunked claims about Antifa's involvement in the Capitol riot, questioning Democratic leadership's readiness for just such an attack and trying to broaden the committee's mandate to cover the Black Lives Matter protests of summer 2020....

    You can be sure every Republican will use Pelosi's rejection of their nominees as evidence that she doesn't want the, uh, truth to come out.

    This isn't true, of course. There's zero evidence that suggests Pelosi or Democrats did anything wrong in advance of or during the January 6 riot, which was incited by former President Donald Trump. [emphasis added]
    And yet despite the transparent falsehood of the Republican line,
    Pelosi has handed Republicans a golden issue to rev up their base in advance of the 2022 midterms -- and you can bet they will use it.
    So, to sum up: Jordan and Banks signaled their intent to sabotage the investigation. (Jordan is also a potential witness, which should be disqualifying in itself.) Pelosi's rejection of the two is substantively correct. She accepted 3 of the 5 nominees; it's indisputably McCarthy who decided that, as a result, no Republicans would serve on the committee.

    But whatever the substantive results the committee will come to naught because of some perception of partisanship, which is all Nancy Pelosi's fault. And this perception, once again, simply materializes. It is utterly beyond the power of someone like Chris Cillizza to counter this perception, which he knows to be entirely false.

    There's so much that's maddening in both of these--the obsession with optics and surface narratives, the slavish devotion to a bipartisanship they know cannot exist--but the most maddening may be the self-enforced faux passivity. Passivity in their unquestioning transmission of Republican talking points; faux in the pretense of their inability to do otherwise. In a nation where one party is waging war against democracy, it's the Chris Cillizzas and Rachel Bades who may well doom[] the already tiny chances of the 1/6 committee actually mattering.

    ETA: Rachael Bade's name didn't ring any bells for me. Fortunately there are people out there who know more than I do, or at least different things than I do. A little googling got me to a Townhall story called Gowdy Names Reporters Who Helped Peddle Schiff Leaks During Russia Investigation. Talking about reporters he thinks were unfair, Gowdy says
    “Let’s just start with Politico and anyone not named Rachael Bade,” Gowdy said. “She was the only reporter that I dealt with that was fair.” [emphasis added]
    Well, there you are.

    Monday, July 19, 2021

    Class War Comix

    Class War Comix 1, by Skip Williamson, ca. 1970

    Eric Levitz at New York informs us:

    In a 2019 report, the consulting firm Cerulli Associates projected that, over the next quarter century, roughly 45 million U.S. households will collectively bequeath $68.4 trillion to their heirs. This transfer will constitute the largest redistribution of wealth in human history. Generation X stands to inherit 57 percent of that $68.4 trillion; millennials will collect the bulk of the rest.

    Millennials, in other words, are one day going to be a lot richer (or at least, some millennials are). In the coming years, that reality is likely to heighten the generation’s class contradictions – and just might redraw the dividing lines in American politics.

    How many millennials, exactly? Not too many, apparently. Levitz calls it about 10% who will be getting all that money, while the other 90% will continue being "one of the the poorest generations ever", crippled by debt and largely unable to build wealth, unstable in employment, often deprived by employers (in the gig economy) of benefits, and delayed in starting families. The typical Millennial holds 41% less wealth than an adult of similar age did in 1989, according to one report in 2019, and these meager holdings are very unequally distributed, especially on ethnic-racial lines:

    The most recent wealth data from the Federal Reserve shows that the average wealth holdings of the typical Black Millennial are approximately $5,700, compared to $26,100 for White Millennials, while the typical Hispanic Millennial had a net worth of $14,690. And while there are disparities in the distribution of both income and wealth according to race and ethnicity, the wealth gap is wider. Among Black and White Millennials, wealth inequality was 2.6 times greater than income inequality, according to the most recent data; among Hispanic and White Millennials it was 1.5 times greater. 
    And it's going to be much more unequal as that tenth of the cohort who are inheriting the $30 trillion, overwhelmingly white, start collecting it. Because although a lot of estates will go to relatively less wealthy young households, those will be smaller than the ones who go to the richer ones; the gap in estate size is also getting a lot bigger, as represented by the chart below (where the green line represents the typical, median inheritance, and the purple one the mean, illustrating how much higher the higher ones are getting):
    Via Capital One Investing.

    Then it's going to be harder for most of them to prosper by working, as wages remain stagnant and capital holds on to productivity gains from automation, and as climate change exacerbates inequality by displacing people when more places become less habitable (Levitz adds that wealthy Millennials will profit off water shortages, as their mutual funds continue become more heavily invested in water shortage products).

    It's enough to turn a whole generation socialist, it is, and guess what: Millennials are certainly a lot more Democratic than the over-40s, and the Democrats among them a lot more "left" in orientation, toward Senator Sanders and Representative Ocasio-Cortez, than their seniors like your correspondent here. Levitz points out that Millennials without college degrees were more likely to vote Republican than those with, but it's worth nothing that his source is from the 2016 election, and the 2020 results suggest that the young blue collar worker has been getting a lot more Democrat-curious, according to—wait for it—Eric Levitz, in a New York piece from last month:

    Sunday, July 18, 2021

    Vaccine Skeptics


    Pyrrho of Elis, founder of the Skeptical School, holds rigorously to principle. Existential Comics.

    Predictably, it turns out that liberals are to blame for vaccine hesitancy—Murc's Law again—because we're "condescending" and that hurts the feelings of people who might otherwise go for it. We're treating them as mulish when they're in fact skeptical, Michael Brendan Dougherty opines at National Review:

    Proponents of the vaccine are unwilling or unable to understand the thinking of vaccine skeptics — or even admit that skeptics may be thinking at all. Their attempts to answer skepticism or understand it end up poisoned by condescension, and end up reinforcing it.

    Skeptics! So we should be persuading them with sweet reason, not treating them as idiots, as, according to Michael Brendan Doughterty, we are all doing, as when Senator Cornyn says the doubts are "based on conspiracy theories" or Senator Romney calls it "moronic":

    Saturday, July 17, 2021


    I'm on vacation starting today. I'll be gone a week or so, but I'm leaving you in the capable hands of the relief crew, so stop by. See you on the 26th.

    Friday, July 16, 2021


    Is it possible for our side to persuade right-wing resisters that they should get the coronavirus vaccine? Probably not -- but maybe this would work:

    President Biden announces that because we appear to have vaccinated everyone in America who's willing to get the shot, in the next 72 hours he's recalling every dose of vaccine in America. They're all being redirected to other countries in order to fight the global COVID crisis. Specifically, the doses will go to:
    * Latin America, with a special emphasis on distribution to Mexico, Cuba, and Venezuela
    * sub-Saharan Africa
    * the Palestinian territories
    The president should announce that all doses of the vaccine made in America or scheduled to be delivered to America in the future will also be redirected to these locations. Starting three days hence, no coronavrus vaccine will be available to any American citizen.

    Democratic politicians and important liberal figures should express support for the president's decision. They should say that Americans have had their chance to be vaccinated, and now it's the developing world's turn.

    Many rank-and-file right-wingers will say, "Good -- let those filthy bastards die from the incredibly dangerous vaccines." Some Republican politicians will say this, too. But other Republican politcians -- particularly governors who know that vaccination is necessary -- will say, "How dare the president give away these vaccines! They're ours! He's giving them away to these countries because he hates America and loves our enemies and Third World nations! He wants them to thrive while America declines! We can't allow him to do this!"

    Maybe some Republican states will sue. Maybe some will even send National Guard troops to prevent the jackbooted thug in the Oval Office from taking their jabs by force.

    And maybe, just maybe, some True Patriot American right-wing heartlanders will decide that they're not going to let some swarthy foreigner from a shithole country take their vaccines -- they're going to get those shots before the foreigners can ... to own the libs.

    Maybe a few will even run vaccine drives in non-white American neighborhoods, places where many people work multiple jobs and have transportation difficulties, and thus might not have been vaccinated despite their best intentions. Maybe they'll commandeer doses labeled for overseas shipments and distribute them in these neighborhoods just to prove that liberals are the real racists.

    If all that happens? Mission accomplished.

    The president should then go on national television and say that he's heard the voices of angry Americans, and he understands what they're saying. But he won't abandon the original plan -- he's just suspending it for a month. In a month's time, he'll revisit the plan, and it's quite possible he'll do what he proposed to do originally.

    And maybe, just maybe, there'll be another uproar in a month -- and the president can postpone the redistribution again, because angry conservatives have defiantly seized the jabs and gotten themselves and others vaccinated in order to own the libs once again.

    Repeat until herd immunity.

    I don't know if it would work, but I can't imagine anything else that would.


    Amanda Marcotte thinks it's no surprise that Republicans appear to be encouraging the spread of COVID-19, which is now generally worse in their own states. She reminds us that Republicans have long opposed public health measures involving sex.
    For decades, Republicans have done everything they can to discourage preventive sexual health care, including cutting off access to birth control and condoms and lying about the usefulness of various methods. The claim was that this was all justified to promote "abstinence," but the result, time and again, was just more disease and unwanted child-bearing.

    Megan Carpentier at Dame Magazine took a deep dive on Wednesday on the Republican war on a vaccine for HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that causes many kinds of cancer, most notably cervical cancer....

    It's the same story with all other sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV, which conservatives have long exploited to stigmatize LGBTQ people. And the same story with unwanted pregnancy and childbirth, which is useful to conservatives who want to demagogue about how girls today are a bunch of sluts and feminism is the reason.
    Marcotte is right about conservatives' cold-bloodedness when human suffering can advance their cause. But when what they consider immoral behavior leads to unwanted pregnancies or possibly lethal STDs, they portray the suffers as morally deficient people who brought their problems on themselves. With COVID, it's different. They're not blaming the victims. They're not saying that people who test positive brought it on themselves through sinful conduct. (What could they say? That the infected should have worn masks? They can't say that. They hate masks.)

    Instead, they simply disappear the infected. Last year, when the COVID death toll in the U.S. was more than 150,000, they pushed a distorted reading of CDC data to claim that the real death toll form the disease was less than 10,000. Recently, Tucker Carlson expressed opposition to a Biden administration vaccination campaign by arguing that COVID deaths effectively don't count, because in many places the average age of coronavirus dead exceeds local life expectancy.

    They can get away with this because although the death toll from COVID is very high, it's still only 0.2% of the population in America. As long as most of the target audience for this propaganda is mostly either uninfected or recovered -- and especially because COVID clusters have often centered on urban areas, particularly in the early days of the pandemic -- they can dismiss COVID as the "Wu Flu" and treat reports of the suffering as disinformation. (Remember when they were passing around highly misleading videos supposedly showing empty hospitals in hot zones?)

    They're fine with suffering if the suffering helps the Cause. But in this case, they've made the sufferers all but invisible.

    Thursday, July 15, 2021


    Not that it matters -- does anyone still read Time magazine, in any form? -- but this Time profile of Tucker Carlson by Charlotte Alter gets nearly everything wrong. And I'm sure it's deliberate -- Carlson is a right-wing hatemonger but also a mainstream star, therefore Alter can't position herself an inch to the left of Love him or hate him, you have to admit he knows how to push America's buttons.

    So we start with an appropriate question and learn that Alter has an okay serve but no volley.
    On a Thursday afternoon in June, five months after Inauguration Day, I asked Tucker Carlson whether Joe Biden was the legitimately elected President of the United States.

    This was halfway through a meandering phone conversation—me in my apartment in New York, he at his home in Maine—in which I spent most of the time trying to get a word in edgewise. Carlson paused. “What do you mean by ‘legitimately elected’?”

    Did Biden win the election? I asked again.

    “He did win the election,” Carlson said, his voice rising. “Do I think the election was fair? Obviously it wasn’t.”
    Right there, Alter should have said, "Then you think he wasn't legitimately elected. You agree with Trump." She apparently says nothing.
    He ticked off a bunch of reasons he believed this: media bias, tech censorship of right-wing outlets, a shortage of voter-ID laws.
    If you bring up "a shortage of voter-ID laws," it sure sounds as if you think there was fraud.
    I asked whether any of this resulted in determinative changes in vote counts, knowing that Donald Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security and Attorney General found no evidence of widespread fraud.

    “Oh, I have no idea,” Carlson said, in an aw-shucks kind of way. “I’ve never said that. No one’s ever proved that. I don’t know if it’s provable.” But that was incidental to what seemed to be his larger point: “This weird insistence on pretending the election was fair when everyone knows that it wasn’t, even people who are happy about the outcome, is part of a much larger ritual that makes me very uncomfortable,” he said. “You’re required to say things that everyone knows aren’t true, but you’re punished if you don’t say them. It’s like a religious ritual.”
    So there's no way of knowing whether there was fraud, but "everyone knows" there was fraud. I would have told him, "All right, I'm putting that down as a yes -- you think the election was rigged." I'd also point out that he's been "punished" for saying such things with acsuccessful cable television career and talk about a possible presidential run.

    But this is the kind of piece in which, after some harrumphing, the author concludes that the interviewee's ability to run circles around her is a sign of his greatness.
    By this point, my head was spinning. This is Tuckerism in miniature: he sanitizes and legitimizes right-wing conspiratorial thinking, dodges when you try to nail him down on the specifics, then wraps it all in an argument about censorship and free speech. He has a way of talking about culture and politics that is rooted in defiance: defiance of elites, defiance of the federal government, defiance of scientific consensus. And it has won him the loyalty of millions of Americans who are already suspicious of everything he questions.
    Alter then gushes about Carlson's ratings, and about his ability to move product. (“Our Tucker stuff is actually selling more than our Trump stuff,” one purveyor of right-wing merchandise says.) She says,
    Right now, Carlson may be the most powerful conservative in America. “No one carries more weight in Republican and conservative politics—no one—than Tucker Carlson,” said Jeff Roe, a Republican strategist who managed Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign. “He doesn’t react to the agenda, he drives the agenda. He’s the gold standard for Republican philosophy.”
    Then she tells people who worry about Carlson, Don't fret -- it's probably all theater.
    That “philosophy” is less of an ideology and more of a posture. Carlson has mastered the Trumpian mathematics of outrage—the more outlandish his rhetoric, the more vehement the backlash, the more formidable he becomes.
    And it's no big deal because Republicans are struggling.
    He has strengthened his hold on the conservative mind at a moment when most of the right’s elected leaders have been dethroned. The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, has lost the GOP majority there, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is fumbling to corral a fragmented caucus, and Trump has lost both the White House and his social media megaphone.
    (Try telling Black voters in Georgia or Texas that the GOP is in decline. Try telling women in Texas whose abortions might soon prompt lawsuits from people they've never met. And this is before a midterm cycle in which the GOP is likely to take the House and possibly the Senate, while the 2024 presidential election could be handed to the Republican candidate regardless of how voters voted.)
    Culture has supplanted policy as the central organizing principle of American conservatism, and Carlson has emerged as the leader of that oppositional force.
    Actually, culture is the smokescreen Republicans are using to regain power so they can have a stranglehold on policy, particularly as policy affects their wealthy donors.
    What Carlson seems to believe is that anytime the “ruling class” agrees on something—that racism creates unfairness in American life, that masks and vaccines stop the spread of COVID-19, that Jan. 6 was an attempt to subvert the democratic process—you should suspect the opposite. To Carlson, objectivity is conformity, and conformity is cowardice. The more authoritative the facts, the more skeptical he becomes.
    But it's not just the "ruling class" that believes these things. When Carlson says this, it turns everyone who believes objective reality into a member of the "ruling class" or a collaborator. If you got a vaccine or mourned George Floyd, you're a tool of The Man.
    His rants sometimes have a grain of truth to them—more often than his critics would like to admit.
    Oh, for fuck's sake.
    Or, more specifically: there are kernels of fact within the miasma of misdirection. He does sometimes tell outright falsehoods—like his bizarre claim that “FBI operatives were organizing the attack on the Capitol”— but Carlson is often more careful than other right-wing hosts to avoid assertions that are factually disprovable, instead sticking to innuendo.
    That's how low the bar is: Because Carlson occasionally doesn't lie outright, he's more of a truth-teller "than his critics would like to admit."
    Near the end of our call, I asked Carlson if he’d been vaccinated against COVID-19. He paused. “Because I’m a polite person, I’m not going to ask you any supervulgar personal questions like that.”

    I told him he was welcome to ask me whatever he wanted.

    “That’s like saying, ‘Do you have HIV?’” he said. “How about ‘None of your business’?” He broke into a cackle, like a hyena let loose in Brooks Brothers. “I mean, are you serious? What’s your favorite sexual position and when did you last engage in it?” (This has apparently become his go-to line when asked whether he’s been vaccinated; Carlson offered the same retort to Ben Smith of the New York Times.)
    The next time he throws out that "What’s your favorite sexual position and when did you last engage in it?" line, I hope someone just says, "Reverse cowgirl, last night. Now it's your turn: Answer the question."

    But it's better not to play his game. Don't interview a slippery bastard like this unless you can throw him off his game; don't profile a hatemonger when your assignment is to ask the question "hero or devil?" and leave the answer ambiguous at the end. Traditional journalism is an inadequate tool for dealing with the likes of Tucker Carlson. It's like fighting a 21st-century war with horse cavalry.


    Yesterday, Josh Kovensky of Talking Points Memo published a story titled "The Deeply Racist Dimensions To Ashli Babbitt’s Martyrdom." It reports that right-wingers, who have been demanding that officials publicly identify the Capitol Police officer who killed Babbitt during the January 6 riot, "think they already know" who the officer is. "He happens to be a black man."

    When this piece appeared, a couple of people congratulated me on Twitter because I had the story last week. Kovensky's report is more detailed than mine. He quotes podcast commentary by Dinesh D'Souza and talk on several high-profile Telegram channels, including one run by Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys. Kovensky paints a much fuller picture than I did of how far this story has spread.

    But the alleged unmasking of the cop's identity hasn't been a secret. I discovered it from a Gateway Pundit post, and I found a post at an obscure site published in April that included the name and photographs of the alleged shooter.

    Before that April post turned up in a Google search, I'd never heard of the site where it appears, Non Veni Pacem. But Gateway Pundit isn't obscure. The Web traffic company SimilarWeb found that Gateway Pundit had 309.8 million visits in 2020. This may not be literally true, but it's close to the truth:

    What right-wingers really believe isn't hard to find, but most reporters don't look. The mainstream press is particularly bad. There are a few mainstream reporters who specialize in QAnon and conspiratorialism, and who spend their days in the corners of the Internet where those matters are discussed. Media Matters tracks right-wing radio and cable news, as do a few other journalists. But the average mainstream reporter doesn't even know what's being discussed day to day at Gateway Pundit and Breitbart and the Epoch Times, or on the Rush Limbaugh-wannabe radio shows that still dominate the airwaves in much of America. So not only are manstream journalists surprised when an issue or scandal (or fake scandal) bubbles up from the right seemingly out of nowhere, or when an extreme belief manifests itself, they continue to assume that the well-behaved, sober-sounding members of Congress who appear on Sunday morning talk shows are representative of the Republican Party and conservatism.

    I'm just a part-time amateur blogger. I'm working in a medium that hasn't been relevant for more than a decade. But I've known from the beginning that the core of conservatism could be found at Free Republic, not at National Review.

    The extremism of the American right is one of the most important stories of our time, and it's still not being reported in sufficient detail. Right-wingers tell us who they are every day. We need to pay attention to what they're saying.

    Wednesday, July 14, 2021


    First an audience cheered at CPAC over the weekend when anti-vaxx pseudo-journalist Alex Berenson announced that the Biden administration's COVID vaccination goal hadn't been met. Then we learned about this:
    The Tennessee Department of Health will halt all adolescent vaccine outreach – not just for coronavirus, but all diseases – amid pressure from Republican state lawmakers....

    ... Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Jones ... told staff they should conduct "no proactive outreach regarding routine vaccines" and "no outreach whatsoever regarding the HPV vaccine."

    Staff were also told not to do any "pre-planning" for flu shots events at schools.
    Do Republicans actually want members of their own tribe to get sick and die? Do they want their children to get sick?

    I occasionally think about a monstrous act described by Marlon Brando in the 1979 Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now. Brando, in the role of the mad Special Forces colonel Walter Kurtz, recalls learning about the atrocity.

    I remember when I was with Special Forces. Seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate the children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for Polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn’t see. We went back there and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember... I... I... I cried. I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it. I never want to forget. And then I realized... like I was shot... like I was shot with a diamond... a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought: My God... the genius of that. The genius. The will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we. Because they could stand that these were not monsters. These were men... trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love... but they had the strength... the strength... to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral... and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling... without passion... without judgment... without judgment. Because it’s judgment that defeats us.
    This is essentially indistinguishable from the Republicans approach to the pandemic and vaccines. The brutality is not as extreme, but the thinking is the same: Even suffering or death is a necessary cost of absolute non-cooperation with the enemy.

    Democrats, of course, are the enemy.

    We're used to this in war. People accept that their loved ones may be sent to die in a war, and accept that as a necessary sacrifice. Republicans think they're in a permanent war with us.

    There's no evidence that the incident Brando describes ever took place in the real Vietnam, as a writer on the war noted:
    When an American journalist wrote to the screenwriter, John Milius, asking where the children's severed arms story had originated, her letter was returned by Milius with the US Special Forces death's head drawn on it, together with these words:
    We must burn them,
    We must incinerate them,
    Press after press,
    Pen after pen,
    Pencil after pencil,
    - No dialogue with communist criminals
    Milius, a former NRA board member who has sometimes referred to himself as a "zen fascist," would go on to direct one of the American right's favorite movies, the original Red Dawn.

    It's all about total war.


    In The Washington Post today, Michael Kranish looks into Tucker Carlson's past and notes that the racism on display in Carlson's TV show was in plain sight for years as he made a career in both right-wing and mainstream journalism. Kranish quotes from a story Carlson wrote for Esquire in 2003 after he had accompanied a group of Black civil rights leaders on a trip to Africa. In Ghana, the group saw a holding pen for furure American slaves.
    The civil rights leaders prayed, cried and sang “We Shall Overcome.” They peered toward the sea from the Door of No Return. But Carlson seemed strangely detached, according to two of the civil rights leaders who were present.

    “When we got to the castle and the dungeon, it had an emotional impact on all of us, as Africans in America,” said the Rev. Albert Sampson, a former associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Then there was what he called “the tragedy of Carlson.”

    “He did not cry,” Sampson told The Washington Post in his first interview about the encounter. “He did not have any intellectual response. He didn’t give any verbal response. It was a total detachment from the reality of the event.”

    When Carlson wrote an account of the trip several months later, he sounded derisive, describing how he thought a teary-eyed Sampson “was going to bite me” but instead put his arms on Carlson and said with a smile, “I love you, man.”

    “Sampson was trying to make me feel guilty,” Carlson wrote in an account for Esquire. “It wasn’t obvious to me at the time. The idea that I’d be responsible for the sins (or, for that matter, share in the glory of the accomplishments) of dead people who happened to share my skin tone has always confused me. Racial solidarity wasn’t a working concept in my southern-California hometown.”
    It's what you'd expect from Carlson. But why did Esquire want Carlson to write this story? The subtitle of the piece makes clear that "snarky racist goes to Africa" was exactly what Esquire wanted from him:
    Recently, an eminent, varied, large, and unlikely delegation of Americans, led by the Reverend Al Sharpton, went to Africa to heal a wounded continent. They took the whitest man in America with them.
    In the 1990s, Carlson begann building a career in the mainstream media as well as at right-wing outlets. He wrote for The Weekly Standard but also The New York Times Magazine, New York, Talk (the magazine Tina Brown started after leaving The New Yorker), and Slate. Why was it so easy for him to get work in the mainstream press?

    You have to remember that Carlson's rise started in a decade marked by a lot of liberal and left-centrist backtracking on race and social justice. White liberals were expected to regard 1960s and 1970s rhetoric on race as naive and dangerous, and the programs of those eras as catastrophic failures. We were supposed to see marginalized young Black men as potential "superpredators." Typical of the era was a Joe Klein review of a book by the Black sociologist William Julius Wilson, which was published in the "liberal" New Republic in 1996:
    Klein writes that talking about structural economic problems is “a tired idea,” when more emphasis should be placed on the “social pathologies” of black America. To Klein, “the phenomenon of underclass poverty is not entirely, or even predominantly, an economic phenomenon.” It is a problem of culture. He writes:
    Wilson spends hundreds of pages filleting statistical minutiae about the poor without ever mentioning the single most striking domestic detail about inner-city households: The living rooms of even the poorest, most fractured single-parent families are dominated by a single piece of furniture–the color television. (And often an imposing console model.)
    ... And Klein dismisses the idea that a jobs program would much help: “The cultural forces pulling in the opposite direction are simply too powerful.... The problem is not the absence of jobs. It is the absence of restraint.”
    If you're wondering, that was published a few months after Andrew Sullivan left his job as TNR's editor. But that was acceptable rhetoric at many mainstream publications in that era. If you objected, you were a fossil, desperately clinging to failed attitudes and policies of the past. If you agreed, you were a realist.

    In that climate, of course Tucker Carlson could become a successful mainstream journalist, while also laying the groundwork for a career as a white nationalist demagogue.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2021


    Michael Wolff's new book about Donald Trump is called Landslide. The new Trump book by Michael Bender of The Wall Street Journal is called "Frankly, We Did Win This Election." A Trump book that will be published next week, by Carol Loennig and Philip Rucker of The Washington Post, is titled I Alone Can Fix It.

    Based on the excerpts we've read, these books aren't particularly flattering to Trump. The subtitles of the books make clear that the titles are ironic. (The subtitle of "Frankly, We Did Win This Election" is The Inside Story of How Trump Lost. Wolff's subtitle is The Final Days of the Trump Presidency; Loennig and Rucker's is Donald J. Trump's Catastrophic Final Year.)

    But the fact that so many of these books are titled after Trump boasts suggests that the boasts got into the writers' heads and became the baseline for their assessment of Trump. It's as if we have to start any discussion of Trump by first refuting the proposition that he is, say, a very stable genius (the title of Loennig and Rucker's previous Trump book).

    You probably think I'm reading too much into this -- and, of course, not every Trump book has a title based on a boast. (The new Trump book by The Washington Post's Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta is fociused on the coronavirus pandemic and is called Nightmare Scenario.)

    Trump was an awful president and is an awful person, a man with no redeeeming features. When we talk about him we should start there, not with his chest-thumping egomania, which is key to his brand, and which too much of the country regards as not hyperbolic at all.


    Despite the fact that it was never fully on board with Donald Trump's attempted election theft, Fox remains the #1 cable news channel. If your right-wing relatives have forgotten how angry they were at Fox starting on Election Night when Fox called Arizona early ("Fuck him," Rupert Murdoch said of Donald Trump when he approved the decision), show them this story, which reads like a press release:
    Cheney fundraising surge continues, as Wyoming congresswoman sets second straight record

    EXCLUSIVE – Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the most high-profile of the 10 House Republicans who voted in January to impeach then-President Donald Trump, set a second straight quarterly fundraising record.

    Cheney's 2022 reelection campaign hauled in $1.88 million in the April-June second quarter of fundraising, an increase from the record-setting $1.5 million Cheney brought in during the first three months of the year. Cheney for Wyoming shared the fundraising figures first with Fox News on Tuesday morning.

    The nearly $3.5 million Wyoming's three-term at large member of the House has raised so far this year surpasses the $3 million Cheney brought in during the entire 2020 cycle for her successful reelection.

    The campaign also highlighted that the congresswoman, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, has $2.85 million cash on hand as of the end of June, double the $1.43 million she had in her campaign coffers three months ago. Her money in the bank gives Cheney a significant fundraising advantage over any of the primary challengers seeking to oust her in 2022.
    National Journal Josh Kraushaar, a Trump-skeptical right-winger, notes this detail in the Fox story:

    Is that really a big fundraising gap, especially given Cheney's much more famous name? Also, Cheney has had a huge target painted on her back by Donald Trump, while the biggest risk for Stefanik is that she might have a tougher reelection fight after state-level redistricting in New York State, which will be controlled by Democrats. (Since they're Democrats, they're not sure whether they'll manage to redistrict her out of a seat. Can you imagine Republicans not making a top priority of that if they were in a similar situation?)

    Michael Wolff, author three books on the Trump presidency as well as a biography of Rupert Murdoch, tells Spiegel International that Murdoch loathes Trump:
    Rupert Murdoch cannot stand Donald Trump, indeed. Even when I wrote my Murdoch biography ("The Man Who Owns the News," 2008), he would talk about Trump with enormous contempt. Trump just made his skin crawl. But then, partly because of Fox News, Trump became the president of the United States, and Murdoch was forced to essentially suck up to him. That was incredibly painful to Murdoch.
    Tell your right-wing relatives they should punish this heretic by not watching Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Maria Bartiromo! If they don't boycott Fox, they're just enabling the witch hunters!

    Monday, July 12, 2021


    New York magazine's Sarah Jones thinks the GOP's vaccine extremism is Donald Trump's fault.
    The COVID-19 vaccines are saving lives, but watch Newsmax, and you’d never be able to tell. “I’m not a doctor,” host Rob Schmitt recently warned, before adding, “I feel like a vaccination in a weird way is just generally kind of going against nature.” Perhaps “there’s just an ebb and flow to life where something’s supposed to wipe out a certain amount of people, and that’s just kind of the way evolution goes. Vaccines kind of stand in the way of that.”

    ... COVID ... has become an intensely partisan affair, with the pandemic doubling as a referendum on the Trump presidency. On the right, listening to Joe Biden and Anthony Fauci on vaccines means rejecting Donald Trump, which is heresy.

    ... The GOP wants to own the libs to death — who dies doesn’t matter. The priority is fealty to Trump above all.
    I don't give Donald Trump credit for much, but this isn't really his fault. In the Republican war on vaccines, as in previous wars, Trump is a noncombatant.

    Here's the only reference to vaccines in the speech Trump gave yesterday at CPAC:
    When the plague came in from China, I dragged the slow and complacent bureaucrats from the FDA, and the CDC into the Oval Office. I pushed them like they have never been pushed before, and thanks to the relentless efforts of my administration and me, we got miraculous therapeutics straight to patients with historic speed, and we produced three vaccines to end the pandemic in record time. Would have never happened. Would have never happened. We did it in less than nine months. They said a minimum of three years, probably five years, and sir, it probably won’t happen at all. If we didn’t have that, we would be in a position like perhaps over a 100 years ago, right? 1917. Over 100 people, I hear different number. But perhaps as many as 100 million people died.
    Most of this is utter nonsense, of course -- but note that Trump talks about the vaccines as if they're a personal triumph. His mostly unvaxxed supporters inexplicably accept that.

    In his rally speech in Ohio on June 27, there was a similar riff, as well as this:
    The first vaccine was known to be effective before the election.

    Remember when they wouldn’t report that the vaccine was effective before the election? Right after the election, oh, the big vaccine story, it was the greatest thing ever. But before, they wouldn’t report it, they wouldn’t report it.
    Maybe his fans accept it because he never talks about the vaccines as if they're vaccines. It's all about Trump being the fastest, Trump performing miracles, Trump staving off a cataclysm (even though the fans have never believed that the pandemic is a cataclysm and worry much more about the vaccines) ... and, of course, Trump getting shafted by the Deep State, which delayed approval of his glorious vaccines just so he'd lose the election.

    But in any case, he's not part of this particular pile-on. Anti-vaxx Republicanism is post-Trump nihilism. It's the party trying to rouse the rabble to Trumpians heights of rage without Trump's help or unique talent for grievance-wallowing.

    In an alternate universe, President Jeb Bush was much more supportive of anti-COVID public health measures starting in early 2020, and he got reelected handily ... and now the small pockets of resistance to the vaccines are the subject of saturation coverage on Fox News, all of it blamed on liberalism and the "left-wing culture of death"; it's identified with edgy upper-middle-class elitists, and also with poor people (who are said on Fox to be exclusively non-white). In this alternate universe, Republicans are talking about withholding public assistance to the unvaccinated, or maybe even the right to vote. Only the level of Republican self-righteousness is unchanged.


    Don't call it a comeback ...
    Former President Donald Trump easily won the 2024 GOP presidential nomination poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) gathering this weekend in Texas.

    Trump, who’s repeatedly flirted with making another presidential run in 2024 to try and return to the White House, captured 70% of ballots cast in the anonymous straw poll, according to results announced by CPAC on Sunday afternoon.

    That's a boost from the 55% support he won in the hypothetical 2024 Republican primary matchup straw poll at CPAC Orlando in late February.
    What happened between February and now? One thing that happened is that the Manhattan DA's office indicted the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer on tax fraud charges.

    And Trump is more popular on the right.

    Also, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the formation of a select committee to investigate the January 6 pro-Trump riot at the Capitol. This follows scores of arrests and a great deal of news coverage of the riots.

    And Trump is more popular on the right.

    Also, Facebook announced that it wouldn't allow Trump back on the platform for two years, while Twitter and YouTube bans on Trump remained in force.

    And Trump is more popular on the right.

    Everything is a witch hunt. Everything bad that happens to Trump makes the base that they're being persecuted, and makes them love him more.

    I'd love to see Trump sent to prison, though I'm certain it will never happen -- but I think the arrest, trial, and conviction of Trump would rally his supporters even more. I think he could win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination from a cell.

    Sunday, July 11, 2021


    I think Jeff Greenfield, alas, is right: It's hard to expect an FDR or LBJ level of transformative change from President Biden when Biden has neither the congressional majorities those presidents had nor the support of key Republicans (or any Republicans, for that matter).
    In 1933, FDR had won a huge popular and electoral landslide, after which he had a three-to-one Democratic majority in the House and a 59-vote majority in the Senate. Similarly, LBJ in 1964 had won a massive popular and electoral vote landslide, along with a Senate with 69 Democrats and a House with 295....

    Further, both Roosevelt and Johnson had crucial Republican allies. In the 1930’s, GOP Senators Robert LaFollette and Frank Norris were ardent advocates for organized labor. In the ‘60s, Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen gave LBJ crucial help in getting his civil rights agenda passed. When Medicare became law in 1965, it passed with 70 Republican votes in the House and 13 GOP votes in the Senate. In today’s Washington, Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell have been successfully working to keep Republican support for Biden’ policies at precisely zero.
    There's opposition even among some Democrats in Congress to Supreme Court expansion or big electoral reforms. There's opposition to filibuster reforms.

    Greenfield says the long-term solution for Democrats is:
    Just win more.

    ... The only plausible road to winning their major policy goals is ... to win by winning. This means politics, not re-engineering. They need to find ways to take down their opponents, and then be smarter about using that power while they have it.
    He says Democrats have a story to tell voters:
    They certainly have issues to campaign on. In the few weeks, we have learned that some of America’s wealthiest people have paid only minimal or no federal income tax at all. (Jeff Bezos even got a $4,000 child tax credit.) ... the jaw-dropping nature of the report—followed by a New York Times piece about the impotence of the IRS to deal with the tax evasions of private equity royalty—confirmed the folk wisdom of countless bars, diners, and union halls: the wealthy get away with murder.

    For a Democratic Party whose core theme is to bring more fairness into American economic life, these reports represent a huge cache of political ammunition. They underscore why Biden wants tougher tax enforcement, a global minimum corporate tax, and an end to some of the most egregious (and perfectly legal) tax outrages. It is—or should be—an unrelenting theme part of the Democrats’ arguments. So should a near-daily reminder, in cities and towns across the county, about the businesses and homes the massive Covid relief package has saved, and about the totally unified Republican opposition to that plan. That message—along with specific accounts of what a major infrastructure program would do—needs to be delivered at a granular level from now until November 2022.
    But Greenfield writes:
    Of course this is a whole lot easier said than done. A political climate where inflation, crime and immigration are dominant issues has the potential to override good economic news. And 2020 already showed what can happen when a relative handful of voices calling for “defunding the police” can drown out the broader usage of economic fairness. (It’s one key reason why Trump gained among Black and brown voters, and why Democrats lost 13 House seats.)
    But Greenfield writes as if the fact that "inflation, crime and immigration are dominant issues" is something that just ... happened. It didn't. It happened because right-wingers shouted in unison about these issues until the mainstream media declared them to be "dominant issues," which made a lot of mainstream voters believe they are "dominant issues." And the same is true with "defunding the police," which remains a top issue primarily because right-wingers won't stop talking about it and because the mainstream media continues to hang it around the necks of all Democrats, even the ones who don't advocate it.

    In other words, the right forces issues onto the agenda much more effectively than mainstream Democrats do. Which leads me to a short piece by The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik in which President Biden is praised for not being a rabble-rousing trash-talker like his predecessor.
    The Brooklyn-reared boxing trainer Charley Goldman, who crafted Rocky Marciano, the undefeated heavyweight champ of the nineteen-fifties, once made a wise statement: “Never play a guy at his own game; nobody makes up a game in order to get beat at it.” He meant that there was no point getting into a slugging match with a slugger or a bob-and-weave match with a bob-and-weaver. Instead, do what you do well. Damon Runyon, another New York character of that same wise vintage, said something similar about a different activity: if someone wants to bet you that, if you open a sealed deck of cards, the jack of spades will come out and squirt cider in your ear, don’t take the bet, however tempting the odds. The deck, you can be sure, is gaffed on the other gambler’s behalf....

    An instinctive understanding of this principle was part of the brilliance of Joe Biden’s Presidential campaign.... Donald Trump invented a game: of bullying, lying, sociopathic selfishness, treachery, and outright gangsterism, doing and saying things that no democratic politician had ever done or even thought of doing, and he did it all in broad daylight....

    Biden, by contrast, insisted that the way to win was not to play....

    It looked at the time dangerously passive; it turned out to be patiently wise....
    Biden won and remains fairly popular; he got a big COVID relief package through -- but now he seems stuck. Maybe it's good if he's presidential (in the pre-Trump sense of the word) and above the fray. But should every Democrat act that way? Haven't previous presidents benefited from aggressive messaging by other members of their party, while they remained statesmanlike?

    Can't somebody in the Democratic Party work harder on Democratic (and anti-Republican) messaging? And aren't there ways of being aggressive without being ignorant or thuggish in the manner of Trump?

    I don't know what the right style would be. But Democrats can't "just win more" doing only what they're doing now.

    Saturday, July 10, 2021


    After Democrats regained control of the White House and Congress, liberals started to feel hope ... but now the usual cycle is repeating.
    A pro-Biden super PAC has issued a dire warning to Democrats: Voters are largely clueless about the big policy measures they’ve passed and on which their 2022 electoral hopes rest.

    The message, delivered in a late June strategy memo by Unite the Country, advised Democrats that they could face midterm losses unless they took a more aggressive approach in touting the president’s $2 trillion Covid-relief bill and defining his infrastructure proposal.

    “Unfortunately, the [American Rescue Plan] and these other proposals remain worryingly undefined in the public consciousness and voters are primed with misinformation that helps Republican justify their opposition,” the memo reads. “Democrats must communicate much more aggressively to define success for the ARP and to explain why it is important to pass the American Jobs Act and the American Families Plan.”

    The memo, obtained by POLITICO, was based off of a series of focus groups conducted in battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
    Democratic ideas -- as usual -- are popular, whether or not people know they're Democratic ideas.
    The United the Country memo had some welcome findings for Biden in addition to the warnings. Their focus groups found strong support for cutting taxes by expanding the child tax credit, with the PAC describing the policy as “a home run even among the most hard-core” Trump supporters. Those queried also supported corporate tax hikes and were concerned that corporations didn’t pay their fair share — a point that Biden has made time and again and a proposal he is likely to incorporate in a Democrat-only spending plan to come alongside the bipartisan infrastructure proposal.
    But Democrats aren't saying, as loud as possible, that they're the party of these ideas, so instead they're being defined this way:
    A growing number of Democrats are ringing the alarm that their party sounds — and acts — too judgmental, too sensitive, too "woke" to large swaths of America.

    Why it matters: These Democrats warn that by jamming politically correct terms or new norms down the throats of voters, they risk exacerbating the cultural wars — and inadvertently helping Trumpian candidates.

    ... Moderate and swing-district lawmakers and aides tell Axios' Margaret Talev and Alayna Treene that the party could suffer massive losses in next year's midterms if Democrats run like Sen. Elizabeth Warren is president.
    (In 2020, Warren rejected the slogan "Defund the Police," but never mind.)

    Digby is right to argue that one of our major parties should fret about being seen as extreme, and it isn't the Democrats:

    But many voters can't "see the real threat" because Democrats won't campaign on the message "Republicans are the real threat." Brian Beutler is right about the GOP's assumption that it can get away with backing sedition (and other unpopular ideas, like sabotaging the president's vaccination campaign):
    ... Republicans think they’re unlikely to face a penalty for their ghastly behavior today.... they expect that Democrats will try to make [the election] about policy, and that they’ll be able to swamp policy appeals with critical race theory or whatever the culture-war flavor of the month happens to be next October.

    But what if they did pay a penalty?

    I’d wager that the January 6 insurrection polls terribly basically everywhere and that discouraging young people from getting their COVID-19 shots is only popular in the fringiest of communities.

    For Republicans to suffer politically for embracing these things, though, Democrats have to make them. To treat these liabilities less as side shows than as the actual thematic center of the election. To stop hiding from the culture wars and actually win them.

    It would take a little creative thinking, and a modest tolerance for getting down in the mud; but the goal should be to make Republicans pay a price for venturing down the road to cultishness and political violence directly, rather than through a parallel referendum on health care or the minimum wage.
    For instance:
    President Biden could award the cop who was left no choice but to shoot Ashlii Babbitt the medal of freedom. He could even invite Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell to the ceremony. (... Biden could ... bestow the award in absentia and anonymously. “This hero unfortunately can’t be here, as a deranged, un-American element has credibly threatened violence, but we can’t let the brave conduct we witnessed go uncelebrated blah blah blah.”)
    I know this seems to contradict my earlier argument that hearings on January 6 are an exercise in futility -- but that's because the hearings will be conducted in the hope that a Perry Mason moment will arrive and we'll learn something about the riot that we don't already know, something that will lead to a reckoning for a culprit or culprits who are evading justice now. That's highly unlikely. Republicans will use the hearings to lie, obfuscate, stonewall, and distract. Justice won't prevail.

    We already know what we need to know about January 6: Republicans did it and Republicans are glad they did it. We should take those facts and weaponize them. We're not going to get more than that, and we don't need more.

    So Democrats are bad at selling their policy differences with Republicans, and Democrats also allow Republicans to portray them as extreme when Republicans actually are extreme, a message Democrats won't campaign on. That's going to have terrible consequences in the 2022 midterms.