The Play on the Scalia Replacement: Remember the Lame Duck

Within minutes after the public announcement of Antonin Scalia’s death, Senator Mike Lee’s flack Conn Carroll started predicting Obama would have zero chance of successfully naming a successor. After Carroll, one after another actual Senator followed that sentiment, including Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell, both of whom would have the ability to stall any Obama nominee. From that point, the GOP was pretty much committed, they said, to preventing any Obama nominee from being confirmed.

That led to a bunch of bad comparisons — between judges like Robert Bork who was rejected and Miguel Estrada who never got a vote — and simply going a year without acting on a President’s nominee. Even the comparison with Anthony Kennedy (who was nominated in November after two other nominees, including Bork, failed) is inapt, as he was nominated earlier than any Obama pick would be (though in a sense that fetishizes the year that would pass without a nominee).

I, like bmaz, believe Obama will pick someone fairly centrist, probably someone who has been recently confirmed by big margins.  I agree the most likely nominee will be Sri Srinivasan, who in 2013 was confirmed to the DC Circuit with a 97-0 vote — though I’m also mindful of the wisdom (given the GOP unanimity about obstructing this nominee) of picking someone who drive Democratic turnout — an African-American woman, for example. Though I highly doubt Obama will nominate Loretta Lynch, as some have suggested, not least because the fight over releasing data on HSBC’s continued money laundering will draw more attention as it moves toward appeal, which might focus attention on her role in administering the wrist slap in the face of egregious drug cartel and terrorist supporting money laundering.

After some reflection, some conservatives have suggested that the GOP would have been better served if they had simply not managed to pass Obama’s nominee, rather than making such a big stink about it.

I think that ignores how much both parties look forward to using this nominee to drive turnout — and regardless of who the respective nominees are, the GOP have a much bigger challenge in getting enough voters to turn out to elect a GOP president in November, so I’m sure they’re quite happy to have an issue that (they presumably hope) might flip some conservative Latino votes — though one likely outcome of an extended 8-member court is that the Fifth Circuit’s ruling staying Obama’s immigration orders will be upheld after a 4-4 tie on the court, which might have the opposite effect.

Furthermore, I think it ignores one other factor. Srinivasan has been predicted to be Obama’s most likely SCOTUS appointment for almost 3 years (few people consider how such predictions might have influenced Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s decision not to retire). The Republicans probably presume he’s the most likely candidate as well.

The presumption Srinivasan — or someone similar — would be the nominee easily justifies the GOP’s immediate promise they won’t confirm a nominee. That’s because they need to explain why someone they just overwhelmingly confirmed, someone who faced more opposition from the left than the right, suddenly became unacceptable.

More importantly, I presume the GOP wants to keep open the possibility of confirming Srinivasan or whatever centrist Obama appoints during the Lame Duck. Here’s why:

Barring any replay of Bush v. Gore, both sides will know on November 9 who would get to pick Scalia’s replacement if Obama’s pick failed. Both sides will also know the makeup of the Senate. Because of the demographic issues I mentioned earlier, the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, is most likely to win. That’s not to say I think she’s necessarily the strongest candidate — even ignoring the potential the email scandal will taint close advisors like Huma Abedin or Jake Sullivan, I think it likely the economy will be crashing by November in a way that would favor Trump if he were the GOP nominee facing Hillary. But I think electoral demographics suggest the GOP will have a harder time winning this year, particularly after a year of Trump branding the GOP with bigotry.

Plus (ignoring my suspicion the economy will be crashing by November), we’re likely to have a more Democratic Senate after November. Harry Reid is the only retiring Democrat where the replacement race is currently perceived to be toss-up, whereas Marco Rubio, Mark Kirk, Kelly Ayotte, and Ron Johnson are all deemed to be likely toss-ups, if not Dem-favorable. It’s still most likely the GOP will have a slight majority, but a smaller one, in the Senate, one where people like Susan Collins could make more of a difference. But it is likely to be more Democratic.

If Hillary wins (the most likely outcome) and Democrats win the Senate (unlikely, but feasible), then the Republicans will have good reason to want to confirm an Obama nominee perceived to be centrist. Whereas Srinivasan looks far worse than Scalia to the Republicans, he would all of a sudden look far preferable to a Hillary choice with the time to wait out the Senate. The GOP would have time between November 9 and the Christmas break to confirm whatever Obama nominee has been languishing.

In other words, I think the GOP have provided a way to stall someone (like Srinivasan) they have recently confirmed, while leaving the possibility of confirming that person if November makes it likely the next nominee will be more liberal.

One more thing: Commentary on this process has presumed that McConnell and Grassley (and Obama) learned of Scalia’s death when we all did. I would hope that Obama, at least, got word well before that, particularly given the involvement of at least the US Marshals and according to some reports the FBI. But I also wouldn’t leave out the possibility that one of the 39 other still unidentified guests at the ranch this weekend gave the Republican leadership a heads up as soon as a hearse showed up. So it’s possible that what looked like quick knee-jerk response on the part of Republican leadership was instead more considered, along the lines I’ve just laid out.

Biased Pluralism and the Defense of “Reality” in the Democratic Primary

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Last week, I pointed to a problem with Jonathan Chait’s defense of Hillary Clinton’s “pluralistic” approach to governance, noting that in an era of weak labor organization, such an approach leaves out the views of the great majority of working people, precisely the kinds of people Bernie Sanders is attracting.

I didn’t think of it at the time, but since got reminded of an important paper by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, released in 2014. It used a dataset matching polling data to policy outcomes to test four theories for how our political system works: Majoritarian Democracy (meaning policies adopted reflect what most people want), Dominance by Economic Elites (meaning the rich get what they want), Majoritarian Pluralism (meaning interest groups, including those that represent the non-wealthy, get what they want), and Biased Pluralism (meaning interest groups that represent the views of the economic elite get what they want).

Ultimately, the paper showed that our system provides what interest groups want, not what the majority want. Importantly, it also noted that the interest groups that have influence don’t actually represent the preferences of the average citizen (which is defined to be policies supported by a median income voter).

But net interest-group stands are not substantially correlated with the preferences of average citizens. Taking all interest groups together, the index of net interest-group alignment correlates only a non-significant .04 with average citizens’ preferences!

It explains this, in part, because there are so many more interest groups (which include corporations) representing the interests of the economic elite that ultimately they’ll guide policy even when including those interest groups representing the interests of the non-elite.

As a result, majoritarian views — what most Americans want — have almost no influence on policy.

The estimated impact of average citizens’ preferences drops precipitously, to a non-significant, near-zero level. Clearly the median citizen or “median voter” at the heart of theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy does not do well when put up against economic elites and organized interest groups. The chief predictions of pure theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy can be decisively rejected. Not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all.

When the majority gets what they want, it is because the elite interest groups favor the same policy, not because anyone is responding to the interests of the average voter.

Finally, the paper further shows that that is even more true when the majority wants change.

A final point: Even in a bivariate, descriptive sense, our evidence indicates that the responsiveness of the U.S. political system when the general public wants government action is severely limited. Because of the impediments to majority rule that were deliberately built into the U.S. political system—federalism, separation of powers, bicameralism—together with further impediments due to anti-majoritarian congressional rules and procedures, the system has a substantial status quo bias. Thus when popular majorities favor the status quo, opposing a given policy change, they are likely to get their way; but when a majority—even a very large majority—of the public favors change, it is not likely to get what it wants.

So it’s one thing if the majority wants things to remain the same, when they might get what they want, but another thing if they’d like to change the status quo, when they almost never will.

I raise all this because it provides an important reminder for this year’s bizarre presidential election. At least on the Democratic side, the findings totally reinforce both candidates. Bernie Sanders is absolutely right that the system is rigged, that the government’s policies don’t reflect the interests of average Americans. But Hillary Clinton is right, too, that the way to get things done in DC — or at least the way that things have gotten done in DC — is to negotiate compromises within the existing interest group structure (which includes a nearly impotent labor movement and overly powerful corporations). She’s even probably right that in the current system you need to co-opt a certain number of economic elite interest groups (that is, largely, corporate groups) to be able to acquire the critical mass of support from interest groups to get a policy adopted. You’ve got to make enough Goldman Sachs speeches to get them to the table, Hillary might excuse her boondoggle speeches.

But that also has certain implications for the policy debate going on. One problem Hillary is having is in needing to champion — to legitimize — the compromises made within that system: notably, Dodd-Frank and Obama’s insurance reform. She’s doing that by suggesting, with the help of wonk-boys like Chait, that the compromises made in those legislative processes were all that were possible at the time. As I hope to lay out, not only the record — but specific actions by those who remain a part of the Hillary entourage — disprove that claim, at least in theory: 2009 was the rare year when that might not have been true. In addition, Hillary’s choice to function within the existing pluralist system also all presumes that the existing set of interest groups, with the nearly impotent labor movement and overly powerful corporations, are a fixed set.

Which brings us back to Bernie’s call for a revolution, which we might think of as providing average people some means of being an interest group again. Whatever else it is, it could become (unlike the Dean organization that became the 50 state strategy and Obama for America that became a messaging organization within a neutered DNC) a resilient interest group. In many ways, it is a more institutionalized and better funded reincarnation of some recent protest groups, with a very strong overlap with Occupy Wall Street, and as such might have staying power, regardless of what happens with the primary.

But that brings us back to the other problem Hillary (as well as the institutional candidates on the Republican side) is having: voters aren’t dummies.

While you can defend the claim that Obama’s insurance reform was all that was possible, that doesn’t mean — even with the many benefits it has brought about — that it was a sound compromise, much less policy that served the interest of the majority or the country as a whole. Similarly, while you can claim (even more dubiously) that foaming the runway to give the banks a soft landing was necessary, real Americans know we all would be better off with Lloyd Blankfein in prison. That is, you can claim that interest group policies are all we can get, but at that same time that means that interest group policies don’t self-evidently serve the interests of Americans. Hillary can’t admit that, but that’s the truth confirmed in Gilens and Page. It’s also the reason why the wonk-boys are working so hard to claim that these policies serve the good of most people, to try to refute the obvious ways they don’t.

Hillary may well win (the primary, at least) based on truthfully claiming she represents the continuation of Obama’s policies, as Greg Sargent argued yesterday.

Beyond this, the big picture here is that Sanders has gotten as far as he has by offering up a serious, if partial, indictment of the Obama years. He is arguing that Obama era reforms — Dodd-Frank, Obamacare, his climate agenda — ended up being woefully inadequate to the scale of our challenges, because he failed to sufficiently rally the grassroots against the power of the oligarchy and because the Democratic establishment still remains in thrall to oligarchic money. Clinton full-throatedly defends Obama’s accomplishments as very much worth preserving, rejects the Sanders-promulgated notion that Obama could have gotten a whole lot more than he did, and vows to build on those achievements.

The bigger, more diverse, more moderate electorates in the contests to come might be more receptive to Clinton’s arguments along these lines. And one thing to watch will be whether Sanders tries to find a way to temper the criticism of the Obama years that is laced through the story he is telling.

I’d temper that and note that Bernie is probably closer to the real foreign policy successes of Obama’s post-Hillary term, including opening relations with Iran and Cuba and demanding that the Saudis actually start fighting ISIL. But on the Obama policies that are most obviously the result of letting interest groups, from the impotent labor movement to the overly powerful corporations, direct policy, Hillary is the inheritor of a historically fairly popular legacy. That’s true, and it may well be enough, barring any unforeseen economic reversals, though economic reversals are actually looking pretty likely, in which case that legacy may be of far less value.

The problem with being in that very advantageous position is that, especially this year, voters are all too aware that those policies didn’t necessarily serve their needs.  And that, it seems, explains the disjuncture between Hillary’s claim (true or not) to best be able to negotiate the interest groups of DC and the fact that that hasn’t been enough to convince voters.

Hillary’s Flint Gambit

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As I’ve noted repeatedly, when independent tests first publicized that decisions made by Governor Snyder’s hand-picked Emergency Manager were poisoning Flint’s children last October, he made a show of response, but it wasn’t until the Task Force he appointed laid into his Department of Environmental Quality and Detroit’s US Attorney revealed it was investigating the problem that Snyder ratcheted up his effort to appear to be responding.

But his actions since then have largely been an attempt to stall for time, presumably a hope that anti-corrosives in Flint’s pipes will bring lead levels down so that we can all move on and forget about it. True, he did get the state legislature to cough up $28 million, which will go to ramping up state agency involvement. He has asked for $30 million to alleviate some, but not all, of Flint residents’ water bills so they’re not paying for water they can’t use, but it’s not clear the legislature will fund it (and it’s just partial relief in any case).

But at the same time, he has asked for bigger funding chunks from the Federal government: $96 million under disaster funding for things including replacing a fraction of the lead pipes in the city, and the expansion of funding for WIC funding for Flint’s children until they’re 10 (which would have improved nutritional support for kids at risk of lead poisoning). The Feds denied both those requests. Snyder and the Republicans are now blaming Obama for denying these requests. Understand: Obama’s administration could only had approved them by violating the terms of these programs set by Congress. Snyder asked for something that, under the law, Obama could not give, and now Snyder is using that denial to try to pawn off responsibility onto Obama, rather than the appointed managers who created this mess and ignored it for over a year.

That leaves the lead pipes in the ground, still leaching toxic levels of lead four months after anti-corrosives were first added to the water to try to reverse the corrosion. Some houses in Flint still have so much lead in the water that filters cannot be trusted to remove the poison.

Michigan’s Senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, tried to get $600 million added to a bipartisan energy bill to start the work of actually replacing those pipes. But even revising that request down to $200 million didn’t work, so Democrats filibustered the bill.

That was Thursday.

Hours later, during the debate, Hillary announced she’d do an appearance in Flint today, which ended a few hours ago.

I will be in Flint at the Mayor’s invitation on Sunday to get an in depth briefing about what is, and is not happening.

This is an emergency. Everyday that goes by that these people, particularly the children, are not tested so we can know what steps must be taken to try to remediate the effects of the poisoning that they have been living with is a day lost in a child’s life. I know from the work that I’ve done over so many years, lead, the toxic nature of lead can affect you brain development, your body development, your behavior.

I absolutely believe that what is being done is not sufficient. We need to be absolutely clear about everything that should be done from today to tomorrow, into the future to try to remedy the terrible burden that the people of Flint are bearing. That includes fixing their pipes, it includes guaranteeing whatever healthcare and educational embellishments they may need going forward, and I think the federal government has way where it can bill the state of Michigan. If Michigan won’t do it, there have to be ways that we can begin to move, and then make them pay for it, and hold them accountable.

Her appearance (which drew no national coverage) had some strong points: She reminded she had worked on lead (paint) issues in New York, she noted that many other cities are suffering from similar problems, she called to get Flint people working to replace the pipes.

She brought up the $200 million Democratic Senators are currently demanding.

Therein lies the rub.

I’m completely agnostic about whether this particular trip will hurt or help (it’s very clear that Hillary’s focus on Flint two debates ago helped draw attention, though of course that came months after the lead poisoning was first revealed in October).

It could be that next week Democrats in the Senate will be able to get Republicans to relent to their demand for Flint funding. But it could also be that Republicans will dig in, given that denying Flint funding becomes a way to deprive the presumptive Democratic nominee a win. That’s true, especially since John Cornyn already accused Democrats of trying to embarrass Republicans on this issue.

Republican Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas called the Democrats’ sudden rejection of what had been bipartisan support for the energy bill “gamesmanship” and an effort to “embarrass Republicans” by making it seem they did not care about Flint.

He said state officials are trying to figure out how much a full infrastructure repair program in the city might cost — an estimate is expected next week — and to authorize full funding before that was “putting the cart before the horse.”

“The State of Michigan and the City of Flint don’t know what they need to do to fix the problem or how much it will cost,” Cornyn said. “The senators form Michigan come in here and say we don’t need to know … we want cash.”

It seems Republicans are stalling, hoping this will fade from view before some Republican legislature — either Federal or state — ends up funding a needed infrastructure program which will not only fix the water problem, but provide a Keynesian boost to a city Republicans would like to cure with more austerity. As months go on, this year’s Presidential and next year’s gubernatorial election will exert pressure of some sort. It may well be that Hillary can use her focus on Flint to showcase a call for more infrastructure funding that will tip some elections. It may also be that the prospect of Hillary on the ballot in November exerts pressure downticket on Republicans.

But for the moment, this seems like uncertain political gamesmanship that could leave Flint residents drinking from plastic bottles for months to come.

Update: I meant to include this quote from a Flint resident, which encapsulates my concern.

“It’s bad news to me,” said Arthur Woodson, a 46-year-old Army veteran who runs New Beginnings, a Flint-based nonprofit aimed at helping soldiers return to the community. “She’s turning it into a political football. The GOP won’t ever do anything now. They’re going to turn it into a partisan thing.”

“This is a water issue,” he continued. “It’s not a political issue. We got kids who are suffering. We don’t have time for this partisan stuff.”

Update: MI Republican Chair and Mitt Romney niece Ronna Romney McDaniel is out complaining about this “calculated campaign tactic.”

Families and residents in Flint deserve better than being used as political pawns by a Presidential candidate. This visit is not an act of benevolence; it is a calculated campaign tactic – an attempt to grab headlines by a struggling campaign.

It is time to focus on solutions. As a candidate who proclaimed that the enemies she is most proud of are Republicans, I doubt that Hillary Clinton is here to contribute to the bipartisan effort to fix this crisis. The families in Flint deserve solutions, not a stunt that does nothing to help the city or the people who call it home.

On Pluralism, Bernie Sanders, and the Fight for 15

In one of the hot-take pieces on the Democratic primary many people are talking about today, Jonathan Chait — fresh off being certified as a wonk by Paul Krugman — distinguishes between what he calls Hillary Clinton’s “pluralist” approach and Bernie Sanders’ “statist” vision.

Sanders did not so much dispute the efficacy of Dodd-Frank as to broaden the question. His fixation with Wall Street is not systemic risk — i.e., the chance that another crash will trigger an economic meltdown. He frames Wall Street as a problem of political economy, not economy. Wall Street is so big and rich that it is inherently dangerous, and will by its nature corrupt the political system.

Clinton does not believe that. Her political ideal is what some political scientists have called “pluralism.” A pluralist politics venerates the careful balancing of competing interests. It is okay to bring business to the bargaining table as long as there is also a place for labor, environmentalists, consumer advocates, and other countervailing interests. Clinton’s Democratic Party, and Obama’s, is one in which pluralist agreements struck important progress not only in financial reform but also health care, public investment, green energy, and other priorities.

Sanders does not completely reject the products of these pluralist compromises. (He grudgingly accepts them as worthwhile, piecemeal steps.) What he rejects is the political model that treats pluralism as the normal model of political action. Sanders believes the interest of the public is not divided, it is united, and only the corrupt influence of big business has thwarted it. He consequently vows to smash its power through a combination of a mass upsurge in political activism and campaign-finance reform.

[snip]

A Democratic Party as monolithically statist as the modern Republican Party is anti-government — one in which any defense of free markets or business is dismissed — would look very different than anything within American historical experience. After decades of this being taken for granted, it has finally become necessary to defend moderation as a governing creed.

Let’s ignore how Chait caricatures Sanders for the moment, warning of an awful “statist” Democratic party in which “any defense of free markets or business is dismissed,” and take his view of Hillary’s pluralism on its face.

In Hillary’s Democratic party, citizens exercise their influence through various interest groups. There’s business (presented here as a monolith), and there there’s “labor, environmentalists, consumer advocates, and other countervailing interests,” and together they compromise on incrementalist policy about which everyone gets a say.

That is, in fact, how the mainstream Democratic party organizes itself, and Hillary’s endorsement by virtually all of the organizations deemed to represent one of these players reflects it. She does have support from business, but she also has support from League of Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood, Human Rights Campaign, and other big organizations. (There’s a breathtaking list of her endorsements here — you have to scroll down quite a way to get to the institutional endorsements.) This is what that “establishment organization” hubbub was about: that Hillary has the support of the groups deemed to represent the various pluralities of the Democratic party.

On that list are most of the national labor unions. That’s not surprising. Hillary is (still) a favorite to win nomination and after that the general election, and all these organizations are ensuring they’ll have a seat at that pluralist table Hillary sets (though it’s not clear what the unions that backed Obama early in 2008 really got out of the deal; he certainly didn’t deliver the Employee Free Choice Act, as he had suggested he’d try to do). Union leaders endorse early because it ensures they’ll have the ear of the presumptive president.

Even there, as some have noted, a few unions that let members decide who to endorse endorsed Bernie.

But here’s the thing. Just 11.1% of workers were in a union last year. And to the extent that the Democratic party’s pluralism is mediated through these national organizations, it means the views of workers as such are largely represented by organizations they don’t have any stake in, organizations whose workers make 26% more than non-union workers. And we wonder why so few of these workers show up to vote for Democrats?

I asked Chait on Twitter where these more marginalized workers would get their seat at the pluralist table and thus far haven’t gotten an answer.

This question is probably most pressing with regards to the most exciting labor organizing in recent years: the SEIU-backed Fight for 15, which has found a model that works for franchises, and which has also notched a number of key local wins for a higher minimum wage. Importantly, where it succeeds in raising wages for an entire city, people within and outside of the movement structure will do better. But a lot of workers who would be incorporated at the pluralist table by a push for a living minimum wage are not and would not be SEIU members.

Fight for 15 is an issue where there’s a clear policy difference between Hillary, who favors raising the minimum wage to $12 (which is not a living wage in many areas of this country) and Bernie, who enthusiastically supports the $15 goal.

Nevertheless, SEIU endorsed Hillary. Jacobin explained the logic shortly after the endorsement.

If Clinton is going to win — because she has to win — then delaying a primary endorsement has no upside. The union would simply jeopardize its spot on Clinton’s crowded list of favors to return.

But the access argument is also unpersuasive. In 2007 the union was divided internally over whether to back John Edwards or Obama. In the end the national union allowed its state affiliates to go their separate ways, only uniting behind Obama after Edwards had dropped out after the first round of primaries. Opting not to come out early for Obama didn’t prevent the union from mobilizing members and resources for the general election. Similarly, SEIU will be indispensable to the Democratic nominee’s chances in November, so it is hard to argue that Clinton could shut the union out.

[snip]

Comments from SEIU’s largest local suggest the union is perfectly happy to see Sanders pressing Clinton to take more left-leaning positions. But the labor movement still sees the election solely through the prism of its outcome — not in terms of what Sanders’s candidacy represents, or makes possible.

That narrow electoralism could end up harming Fight for 15 — not just the union’s most important campaign, but arguably the most important labor battle happening today. SEIU’s decision to provide the financial largesse for Fight for 15 comes from the indisputably correct observation that unless the labor movement can bring millions of low-wage workers into its fold, organized labor is scheduled for expiry.

Yet before the endorsement announcement, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry toldAl Jazeera that though the union is expecting “candidates up and down the ticket who are willing to get in the streets and champion this demand,” support for a $15 minimum wage is not a “litmus test” but an “aspirational demand.”

Over the last three years, SEIU has spent tens of millions of dollars and galvanized the labor movement around an inspiring fight. It has justified this enormous expenditure to its members by correctly arguing that they won’t be able to protect and improve their own standards unless something is done to boost the wages of the worst paid workers.

But if the union actually believed it could win on this issue — if it believed it could lead — then a litmus test is exactly what it would be. Clinton would just have to get in line. Members and non-members have shown that they are willing to fight for $15 and a union. What does it say to them if they now are asked to knock on doors calling for $12 and a Clinton?

That is, Hillary’s pluralist table, which leaves little space for the overwhelming majority of workers who aren’t represented by a union, had already dealt away the key policy platform the key voice pulling up to that table has pursued.

Partly that’s a testament to the desperation of unions — that they’re willing to trade their key issues even to get a seat at the table, and partly that’s a testament to the lack of representation for most workers who might sit there.

But having set the table like that, there’s little prospect the large numbers of workers who haven’t been as active in Democratic politics of late will have much sway in face of the powerful banks who don’t appear to have traded away key issues for their time with Hillary.

Notably: these lower income voters, along with the more widely noted younger voters, are precisely those whom Bernie is winning (though as the primary moves to more racially diverse states, that is expected to change).

There’s a key failing in the pluralist vision painted by Chait (even taking it on its face): even to win a seat at the table, labor — and really just that fraction of workers who enjoy union representation — had already started compromising, well before the bankers even sat down for their scotch.

And no matter how this primary ends up, that’s not something that’s sustainable, particularly not in the wake of the financial disaster that pushed so many people closer to the edge. If Clinton is going to win with a pluralist table, there needs to be, for both electoral and social justice reasons, a seat, a lot of seats, for all the workers who have fallen by the electoral wayside in recent years. Bernie has gotten their attention. What does Hillary plan to do to keep it?

The Virgin Birth of Obama’s Wonk Core

There’s a telling paragraph in this post from Ezra Klein, one of a series of posts written lately by self-described “wonks” defending the electoral and political approach Hillary Clinton embraces.

It’s a vision that is intuitively plausible to many liberals because it resonates with their own experience. They remember being excited by the promise of Obama’s agenda and then disappointed by the compromises he made, the fights he backed away from, the deals he cut with industry. They remember being organized in 2008 and demoralized in 2010. They remember feeling like they could accomplish anything, only to be told they needed to stop hoping for so much.

The argument is that something about the first years of Obama’s Administration led people to be more realistic in their political expectations. It comes after two more paragraphs characterizing Sanders’ vision of his own break with Obama: mobilization of voters.

“The major political, strategic difference I have with Obama,” Sanders told Vox’s Andrew Prokop in 2014, “is it’s too late to do anything inside the Beltway. You gotta take your case to the American people, mobilize them, and organize them at the grassroots level in a way that we have never done before.”

This is the vision Sanders is selling in Iowa. It’s a vision that is hopeful both in its diagnosis of the problems in American politics and in its prescription. It’s a vision that says liberals were right all along, and the American people have always been with them, and it’s the corrosive influence of corporate donors that has snapped that bond and confused the country.

But Ezra then turns that vision of mobilization into something with a very short history: just back to 2008, when Obama mobilized voters to get elected but then disappointed them in 2010.

Curiously, Ezra doesn’t describe what demoralized liberals in 2010 — I’m not actually sure whether he means the final shape of the health insurance reform or the electoral losses that year (the size of which were exacerbated by the politics of the health insurance reform). That, of  course, is critical to any consideration of the efficacy of pragmatism, because if making pragmatic choices ends up losing historic majorities in Congress, pragmatism will always be a loser for liberals.

But it’s the assumptions Ezra makes in the paragraph that really strike me (they seem, in part, to be based on a story Norm Scheiber wrote in 2014 about former Obama precinct captains from Iowa, which is crazy in that the story and Ezra’s interview based on it were entirely premised on Hillary being unstoppable this time around): that something about Obama’s campaign was uniquely exciting, uniquely promising to liberals and therefore his compromises in office were newly disappointing. That assumption that Obama’s campaign was uniquely exciting really puzzles me. After all, presidential candidates have been exciting voters, including newly active voters, since at least JFK (or, in Hillary’s case, Goldwater). And while those inspired by Kennedy are unique (in that he didn’t live long enough to disappoint them), for all others, there’s always a hangover, after which people take many different paths: disillusionment, integration within the larger party, or excitement by some other candidate in some future race. So why would Obama be different (aside from the fact he’s black, which is important, but certainly not the main thing that inspired even black voters)?

I was so puzzled I actually double checked Ezra’s age because it seemed like something someone who had never voted before 2008 might say, but (as I vaguely recall), even Young Ezra was not only old enough, but quite active, in the 2004 campaign, where a guy named Howard Dean lost in Iowa, but went on to dedicate four years to mobilizing Democratic voters across the country, until Obama replaced the man whose efforts helped to get him elected.

Those years that came before are critically important, too, because they represent a period when the decline of unions — the Democrats’ former method of mass mobilization and still very much a crutch for the party — and the rise of the mobilized Christian right made Republicans newly competitive in presidential elections. And while Hillary’s husband definitely inspired his own share of newly excited voters, the response to the decline of Democrats’ natural mobilized base led to a new kind of Democratic politics, reliant on big donations and lots of TV. We needed Dean to refocus on organizing because the Democratic party had led local organizing to atrophy, which was all the more devastating given the rise of ALEC and with it a machine to help conservatives dominate legislative elections at the state level.

Which brings me to the other curious admission in Ezra’s piece: that even as Hillary-favoring “wonks” beat up on Bernie supporters for their foolish idealism, Hillary herself doesn’t have a plan to challenge Republican dominance.

The problem for Clinton is that the immediate future looks grim for the progressive agenda, and she knows it. Republicans are likely to hold both the House and the Senate. They have a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court and, at least for the moment, huge majorities in governorships and state legislatures. Americans are, if anything, growing more divided. Money is an ever more powerful force in American politics. The fact that voters don’t want a fight doesn’t mean they’re not going to have one.

Clinton doesn’t have an easy answer for any of this, and, perhaps to her credit, she’s refused to pretend otherwise. Democrats were bitterly disappointed by the compromises Obama made when he had huge Democratic majorities. The compromises the next Democratic president will have to make, given the likely Republican dominance of Congress, are going to be even more brutal for liberals — and if they’re not, it will likely be because nothing of importance gets done in the first place.

Let me clear: there’s not an easy answer to reverse the work Republicans have been doing since Reagan “changed the rules.” There’s definitely not a quick answer. But if liberals don’t start doing the work now, the apparent blind faith among some in the Democratic party that 2020’s census will magically reverse the political order will fail (if the country doesn’t fail worse before then). Though, as I note, Trump’s candidacy is itself changing the rules, in ways Democrats could well capitalize on if they stopped ignoring it.

The thing is, it’s no secret how to change things: it does remain organizing, and outside of some pre-existing institution of civil society (whether that be unions or evangelical churches), that organizing is going to require both inspiration and a commitment to issues that will benefit the masses of ordinary people.

Pessimism about how much the current Congress will get done may be realistic, but it is no more realistic than the assessment that mobilizing the people who’ve gotten screwed by Republican policies is a necessary antidote.

Wonks and Trump

Back in July, I wrote that if and when Republicans, having worked their way through the 5 stages of Trump grief, came to accept him as their party’s standard bearer, I hoped that “they may well recognize that their ideological celebration of the rich and of demagoguery have delivered them precisely the candidate they’ve asked for.”

Republicans have worked their way through their grief — especially in the face of even more destabilizing Cruz grief, seem to be coming to grips with that their party seems poised to do.

The pundits who said it would never happen, however, are having a bit more difficult time.

Nate Cohn, still imagining a Marco Rubio (and not John Kasich, who’s the best polling non-nut right now) resurgence, is shocked that Republican leaders have helped Trump shore up his IA advantage, and with it chances he’ll get the nomination.

There’s still a lot of time before the caucuses on Feb. 1. The debate on Thursday could change things, as could the belated airing of attacks on Mr. Trump from Mr. Cruz’s allies. Mr. Cruz is also thought to have a considerable organizational advantage over Mr. Trump, who may be dependent on low-turnout voters.

But the increasing possibility that Mr. Trump will win the state — in no small part because of an improbable alliance with the party’s establishment — makes Mr. Trump’s path to the nomination far more plausible than ever before.

[snip]

Astonishingly, Mr. Trump’s attacks were successful in part because they were amplified by some of the G.O.P.’s most prominent leaders, like John McCain and Mitch McConnell. The chorus of opposition to Mr. Cruz didn’t end there; Terry Branstad, the six-term Iowa governor, said he wantedMr. Cruz “defeated,” and the former presidential nominee Bob Dole said he preferred Mr. Trump.

[snip]

A Trump win in Iowa could make it more difficult for a mainstream candidate, like Marco Rubio, to mount a comeback later in the season — even if the establishment does intend to fight Mr. Trump after dispatching Mr. Cruz.

Cohn points to Nate Silver for his judgment (including on whether the book The Party Decides has been disproven by Trump) that the GOP party is not so much backing Trump yet as it is working first to defeat

[I]t may be that Republicans think of Cruz as the more immediate threat, and then plan to turn around and attack Trump later. But that’s a high-degree-of-difficulty caper to pull off. For one thing, Trump, who’s in a much better position in the polls than Cruz in states after Iowa, could rack up several wins in a row if he takes the Hawkeye State.

[snip]

Things are lining up better for Trump than I would have imagined, however. It’s not his continued presence in the race that surprises me so much as the lack of a concerted effort to stop him.

And Jonathan Chait piles on, arguing with the others that his past predictions that Trump would go nowhere was based on the assumption that, “I didn’t think the GOP was suicidal.”

All three of these pundits are still missing the key part however (which carries over into Chait’s other badly wrong punditry). The reason Trump is winning this year (and the reason Bernie is competitive) is because the promises of the elite have gone undelivered for so long. It may be that the GOP is trying to accommodate to themselves to this, or still have plans to get save Rubio’s campaign. But ultimately, the GOP has no choice, because Trump proved immune (partly because of all the free press he has gotten, not to mention his own wealth) from their controlling mechanisms, but to let a man who exploited their own demagoguery exploit it one last time, because the master the GOP has been serving in its name — unrestrained capitalism — is not helping the high school educated white voters who make up the key part of Trump’s success. And yet, Trump’s voters like his authoritarianism, something else the GOP has encouraged more and more since 9/11.

The pundits are still looking at sacred fundamentals for their analysis, without considering that underneath them all are actual human beings who were bound, one day, to revolt over the undelivered promises.

The elite pundits are still operating — on the election itself, but also on health care and economic policy — on the assumption that no one will or is holding them responsible for their undelivered promises.

Update: I hope (well, actually, may reluctantly after much procrastination) return to this issue, but this great post hits at a lot of what I would also hit at on the pundits’ lack of awareness about the revolt over unfulfilled promises.

Compare Hillary’s 5 Phishing Emails with DOD’s 602 Million Spam and Phishing Emails a Month

As usually happens, more journalists are examining the latest tranche of Hillary emails for gotchas than for interesting policy discussions. The latest is AP’s report that Hillary received 5 emails from Russian linked hackers attempting to phish her.

Russia-linked hackers tried at least five times to pry into Hillary Rodham Clinton’s private email account while she was secretary of state, emails released Wednesday show. It is unclear if she clicked on any attachments and exposed her account.

Clinton received the infected emails, disguised as speeding tickets from New York, over four hours early the morning of Aug. 3, 2011. The emails instructed recipients to print the attached tickets. Opening an attachment would have allowed hackers to take over control of a victim’s computer.

BREAKING! Out of almost 20,000 emails released thus far, 5 were phishing attempts.

Compare that to this report on DOD’s spam and phishing woes from earlier this week.

You could be one of the 1.6 million users on Pentagon email systems where only one in seven of the more than half a billion monthly emails received are actually legitimate.

The rest are a mixture of malicious password phishing attempts, chock full of viruses, or the bane of modern humanity’s existence: spam.

“Out of 700 million emails we’ll get in a month, only about 98 million are actually good emails,” said Lt. Gen. Alan Lynn, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, speaking at a Washington, D.C., area event Wednesday hosted by Defense Systems.

“The rest,” he said, “are spam and worm attacks.”

According to General Lynn, DOD gets 602 million spam and phishing emails a month, with just 14% of their mail actually being real email. Granted, that’s across 1.6 million users. Still that says every user averages 376 junk emails a month.

I’d say Hillary’s 5 phishing emails so far don’t look so bad by comparison.

In Political Press, Hillary Clinton Gets Subjected to the Thomas Drake and Jeffrey Sterling Standard

clintonpodium_600_1[First posted at ExposeFacts.org]

The political press is abuzz with news that the State Department (State IG) and Intelligence Community Inspectors General (ICIG) have asked the Department of Justice to review whether the Department’s handling of the personal email from Hillary Clinton was proper. The story was first reported in sensational fashion by the New York Times, revised somewhat overnight, and then reported in more measured form — making it clear that Clinton herself is not being investigated — by the Associated Press this morning.

The report has put the practice of retroactive classification of information — of the type that convicted Jeffrey Sterling and DOJ tried to use to convict Thomas Drake — at the forefront of presidential politics.

The referral to DOJ arises out of State IG’s review of the use of private emails and the response to Freedom of Information Act requests for Clinton’s email. After consulting with the ICIG, State IG reported that a number of the emails reviewed so far, including one released to the public, included classified information. The ICIG criticized State for using retired foreign service officers with extensive FOIA experience to review Clinton’s email before release, rather than conducting an interagency process (though according to a response from Patrick Kennedy, the CIA and ODNI had already approved the arrangement).

The referral pertains to State’s actions, not Clinton’s. “[T]he referral doesn’t suggest wrongdoing by Clinton herself,” AP noted. None of the emails in question were marked as classified when she sent them and one of them — pertaining to the FBI’s investigation of the Benghazi attack — was not classified at time she received it. Nevertheless, this news has led to a flurry of stories implicating Clinton in a potential DOJ investigation.

Clinton supporters are dismissing this as election year frenzy. The former DOJ Director of Public Affairs, Matt Miller, even tweeted, “If you examined the entire email [account] of any senior official, someone in [government] would later argue something was classified. Absurd standard.”

But Clinton is not the first this has happened to. After all, DOJ attempted to use five retroactively classified documents to convict Thomas Drake on Espionage charges; once DOJ had to admit that fact, their case against Drake fell apart.

And the only hard evidence DOJ presented that Jeffrey Sterling had improperly handled classified information were documents seized from his home that had nothing to do with the nuclear program he was accused of leaking. When the government introduced three of those documents under a silent witness rule limiting what Sterling’s lawyers could ask about them, CIA’s top classification official admitted they had not been classified as secret at first.

“When originally classified were these documents properly classified as secret,” the prosecution asked of the three documents.

“They weren’t,” [CIA Chief of Litigation Support Martha] Lutz responded.

“But they are now properly classified secret?”

“Yes,” Lutz answered.

The defense team made statements revealing that these documents offered instructions on how to dial rotary phones to call into CIA headquarters, hardly a cutting edge secret. Nevertheless, those documents were a key piece of evidence used to send Sterling to prison for 42 months.

Clinton deserves a good deal of criticism for using personal email that has made it more difficult to access via FOIAs. But retroactively classified information should no more be used to prosecute her — in reality or in the press — than Drake and Sterling.

When asked about the double standard via email, Drake did not join the frenzy. Rather, he described “having really bad flashbacks” given the calls to criminally investigate the former Secretary of State because release of the emails put “unauthorized classified information … in adversaries’ hands.”

Perhaps there’s room for agreement here. Via email, Miller noted, “the entire classification system is a mess: overly complex, riddled with ambiguity, and used at times for inappropriate reasons. And because of that you get perverse outcomes.”

Secretary Clinton surely should have made her emails more secure and accessible, via the formal FOIA process, by using official email. But that doesn’t mean retroactively classified information should be used against her anymore than it should be used against Drake and Sterling.

Beautiful Equality Comes To Marriages In America

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 8.10.49 AMLove will find a way, and it finally has. There are many, many friends I am thinking of right now, and they all know exactly who they are. Congratulations, and it was far too long coming. Here is the opinion.

EQUALITY

There is so much to say, that it is hard to know what to actually say. There are many quotes like this one, but it is indicative of the decision:

“laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter.”

What I don’t find in the majority decision, as wonderful as it is, is discussion of heightened scrutiny, strict scrutiny, or other clear cut, across the board protection for the status of sexual identity. And that is disappointing. Also why I cried bit when SCOTUS, two years ago to this very day, callously refused to take the incredibly wonderful tee shot that Vaughn Walker gave them in the Proposition 8 case previously.

I guess the handwriting was on the wall when even the old liberal lion Steve Reinhardt, a man I have met, and a judge I truly love and revere, pulled up short and did not have the balls to take the root concept of sexual identity “equality” where it naturally flowed when he had the pen in his wise hand. But he didn’t then, and his old friend Tony Kennedy has not today.

So, while there is so much to cheer right this moment, we, and this country, are still far from where we need to be with regard to inclusion of all our citizens in the concept of equality. It is more than black and white, it is straight, gay and trans too. We are all on this patch of earth together, and we all are equal, and that needs to be admitted legally by the highest court in the land and understood by all the people it serves.

So, there are still miles to be traveled. Let the four, count them four, spittle laced, bigoted, backwards, and disgusting dissents in the Obergefell decision speak for themselves. Honestly, they make me want to puke. For all that were celebrating the enlightened liberal thought of Chief Justice John G. Roberts yesterday, today is a rough reminder of who and what he really is. And you really have to read Scalia and Alito to understand the fucked up pathology of the dissenters. Wow.

The Coming Trump Legacy On Immigration

donald-trump-bad-hairHere is a bloody secret about blogging: The best ideas you express often come from others, even if you value add on to them. Welp, there will be no value adding on here, this post is 100% the work of our longtime friend at both Emptywheel and FDL, the one and only Peterr:

I had this vision of Donald Trump taking down the Statue of Liberty, replacing it with an even larger figure of himself, with a new poem inscribed on the base befitting his views on immigrants.

The New New Colossus

Not like the New Colossus, French-built bile
With calling torch and open arms so grand;
Now on this isle a Grander One shall stand:
A mighty huckster with a scam, whose smile
is a racist, hateful sneer, with his pile
of ego-sculpted hair. From his grasping hand
comes a devil’s contract; his beady eyes demand
payment ‘ere any travel one more mile.

“Keep, foreign lands, your homeless poor,” cries he
with flapping lips. “Give me your greedy, your rich,
Your coddled wealthy yearning to pay me,
the grasping powers drawn here by my pitch.
Send these, the makers, ready with my fee;
I snuff the lamp of Liberty, that bitch.”

I leave it to your imagination to envision the figure of The Donald standing astride New York harbor for yourself.

Okay, Peter is a long time friend, and his take totally merited publication. But Lady Liberty takes some attending to. You have to want the freedom of this country, you have to want it bad, and you have to be willing to fight for it, even when that freedom makes your blood curl (props to Sorkin’s American President). But wanting the American ethos is easy for an apparently gerbil topped pretender like Donald Trump. Trump wants the limelight, wants all the glory, and never wants to answer for the hell of stupidity, bankruptcy, loss of jobs and ignorance that he really stands for. Troll on Donald.

So many have given their lives for the right of a hollow shill to troll the American electorate. So many have died for that. So many just to give a blowhard clownshow jackhole the right to parade around like he is diddly shit other than the court jester and a sideshow amusement huckster.

The American people can propagate and tolerate an enormous amount of stupid, but not enough to let a pompous, bankruptcy generated, pompous jackass like Donald Trump through the door. Just an opinion, and a sincere hope.

Nope. George Bush was one thing, Trump is a bridge too far.

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