Taking the Electoral College to school

My man James Madison explained in 1787 why we’ve got an Electoral College:

The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.

In twentieth century English, Madison meant to say that to counter the majority of Northern votes the South had to count its slaves as part of its total population, hence the origin of the Constitution’s Three-Fifths Blight, er, Clause.

Scott Lemieux joins the growing list of intellectuals (I remember Hendrik Hertzberg as a loud partisan) who over the years have called for an amendment that eliminates the Electoral College and leaves the popular vote count as the only legitimate means of tabulating winners in presidential elections. “There is a certain dark irony to the fact that a system designed to prevent the people from choosing an unqualified demagogue has resulted in the election of an unqualified demagogue not chosen by the people,” Lemieux writes. The trouble is, since 2000 the Democrats have lost two of the last five electoral counts; it would take a GOP defeat for any serious discussion about reform to start, let alone to propose any constitutional amendment. I’ve cooled off on the grumbling at friends who hang on to Hillary Clinton’s considerable popular vote lead as a, ahem, mandate to oppose Trumpism. This presidential election was no “referendum” on liberalism; forty-five percent of voters said in exit polls that they wanted the next president to be as or more liberal than Barack Obama. The election is a hockey stick across the face of complacent Democratic leaders who have had no interest in shoring up candidates at the state level.

Lemieux again:

In the meantime, the Democrats need to emphasize that Donald Trump was not the people’s choice. Paul Ryan has already claimed a mandate for a radical and deeply unpopular policy agenda. More people voted for Clinton’s agenda, which should be a good reason for Democrats to unite in opposition to put pressure on wavering Republicans in the Senate. The Democratic Party cannot normalize the Trump administration.

I trust Chuck Schumer like I do myself around Hendrick’s Gin, but yesterday he sounded like had some fight in him. Here’s how I know the next four years will be difficult: I have to keep my own party in line.

Hillary Clinton will court the GOP at her peril


Last week I wondered whether Donald Trump represents a Unique Threat or a Culmination. I tend to think both, an answer that isn’t a contradiction. But the short term goals of expanding Hillary Clinton’s electoral chances will come at the price of a governing coalition. A historian who has written three masterful books about the rise of conservatism since 1960, Rick Perlstein is more adept than most at placing the Clinton campaign’s folly in historical context:

Large numbers of supporters of only glancing or provisional commitment to your governing agenda, shoehorned into your tent in time for Election Day, can become quite the liability for effectuating that agenda when it comes time to govern.

Championing a revision to the tax code, President Jimmy Carter watched as the bill behind which he threw executive support was eviscerated by the very Democrats elected in 1974 and 1976 as part of the national disgust over Watergate and other Nixon-era abuses (the same class of which Joseph Biden, Jr. of Delaware was a member). Perlstein again:

In October 1978, a Congress with more than two-to-one Democratic representation voted for the first time in history to make the tax code more regressive. In each of the progressive measures that was defeated, the deciding votes came from first- or second-term Democratic congressmen. The reason for this poor fortune for the New Deal legacy, paradoxically, was precisely what was understood to be the good fortune of the Democratic Party: habitual Republicans disgusted with their party after Watergate were voting for Democrats for the first time. Many of the Watergate Babies represented traditionally Republican suburbs. They went to Washington and voted their constituencies. It was one of the reasons—though there were many—that Jimmy Carter geared up to run for his second term with the albatross of a failed presidency around his neck.

(Walter Karp’s Liberty Under Siege is the classic guide; please buy it). In the heady days of December 2006 — a decade ago! — when Rahm Emmanuel proclaimed his Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee a model for the future the party had been demoralized for so long that it wanted to win.

In hindsight it reminds me of the Republican Party in 1952, banished from public life since Hoover’s defeat twenty (!) years earlier. Whom did it run? Not “Mr. Republican” Robert Taft but the war hero with the terrifying smile and no political experience other than the formidable task of leading the Allied armies against Hitler. Dwight Eisenhower won in a landslide; the GOP, campaigning on change, won the House and Senate for the first time since 1946. But Eisenhower was a shrewder pol than anyone realized, which is to say, he cared about his survival more than his party’s. The New Deal remained not just popular but a fact of American public life (“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history,” he wrote his brother Milton). So starved was the GOP for victory that it abdicated any notions of conservatism. It became a consumptive brother of the Democrats with lunatic fringes dismissed by Lionel Trilling’s liberal consensus. The results? In 1954 the Republicans lost the House and Senate again, out of reach for forty years — the longest exile in America political history. 1958 was another huge rebuke. Ike regarded Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson as a better governing partner than William Knowland.

History is cunning. Without those majorities in 2006 and 2008 my unemployed friends wouldn’t have Obamacare, but without those Blue Dog Dems we would have had sturdier progressive legislation — not perfect, but perhaps less market-driven. Clinton won’t flip the House. Hell, she may not even flip the Senate. But she’s already signaling how the rest of us might write the epitaphs in 2020.

The Williard Hotel standard of journalism


While he waited for his generals in chief to get off their blue asses and chase the Confederate armies, Abraham Lincoln had his own battles. Too much of his time as presidency was taken by federal office seekers. For hours they’d hang out in the White House corridors, reminding him that a cousin Harold had contributed to Lincoln’s minority 1860 victory. Secretary of State William Seward handled them too — indeed, every Cabinet officer did.

Fifteen years later, when presidents could still take an evening stroll with a cigar down Pennsylvania Avenue, Ulysses Grant would hang out in the lobby of the Willard Hotel. Although “lobbyist” had been in use since the 1830s — I’ve seen it in Trollope novels written decades later — Grant popularized its use in America. During the Gilded Era, senators like Roscoe Conkling insisted on controlling patronage for their states. It took popular revulsion at the murder of James Garfield to spook Congress into passing (and former on-the-take expert Chester Arthur to sign) the Pendleton Act, which took steps towards creating a non-partisan civil service class immune from political pressure. One way of getting around it for years was appointing a campaign manager to postmaster general, in charge of federal patronage. Think of Jim Farley, the FDR apparatchik whom the president conned into thinking he was going to endorse him for president in 1940.

So about the Clinton Foundation and those meetings. I assume meetings and exchanges of favors, explicit and implicit, happen. If this is corruption, it’s of the venal kind. I’m not fond of Matthew Yglesias, but his essay casts a cold eye on what the AP’s purportedly meticulous reporting, reliant on passive voice constructions and assumptions presented as facts. Here is his bit on Mohammed Yunus, the Nobel laureate named in the story:

I have no particular knowledge of Yunus, Grameen Bank, or the general prospects of microcredit as a philanthropic venture. I can tell you, however, that Yunus not only won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize but has also been honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Congressional Gold Medal. In 2008 he was No. 2 on Foreign Policy’s list of the “top 100 global thinkers,” and Ted Turner put him on the board of the UN Foundation. He’s received the World Food Prize, the International Simon Bolivar Prize, and the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord.

In other words, he’s a renowned and beloved figure throughout the West, not some moneybags getting help from the State Department in exchange for cash. On the level of pure politics, of course, this is exactly the problem with the Clinton Foundation. Its existence turns the banal into a potential conflict of interest, and shutting it down is the right call. But the fact remains that this is a fantastically banal anecdote.

I suspect “Clinton Foundation” will join “Benghazi,” “Vince Foster,” and “Whitewater” as a bat signal to conservatives who nod their heads knowingly and Ny-Quil for the rest of us.

Nada mas: the story of Cubans and the GOP

My grandmother retired twenty-five years ago from an American career in Health and Human Services. Recruited to work for the Cuban Refugee Program on emigrating to Miami in 1961, she parlayed her administrative skills into the food stamps program. For the next quarter century, through transfers to Homestead and North Miami, surviving a mugging on the I-95 entrance on Northwest Seventy-Ninth Street, she must have distributed a few million dollars in aid. JFK and LBJ signed the Cuban Refugee Program and Cuban Adjustment Act into law; I suspect President Goldwater would have eschewed his principles and signed them too.

I mention these facts because I get asked why Cubans are the only powerful Hispanic group in the United States that has voted for the GOP with redoubtable consistency since the sixties. To mention Kennedy’s “betrayal” — accepting the Cuban flag from Bay of Pigs veterans of Brigade 2506 while Jackie Kennedy charmed the screaming crowd with dinner table Spanish — is to give too facile a reading. As a general rule Cubans like winners. They relish intrigue. To a Cuban winning and intrigue are inseparable. What Virgilio R. Gonzales and Eugenio R. Martinez were doing breaking into the Watergate Hotel in June 1972 was inspired by a farcical notion of patriotism: if we break a few laws, maybe the president himself will give the Cuba problem another look. After all his best friend, insofar as Nixon had friends instead of toadies, was Bebe Rebozo, the son of Cuban immigrants. Nixon’s valet? Manolo Sanchez – Cuban.

It’s important to remember that between LBJ and Bill Clinton we Americans had elected only one Democrat to the White House, and in the eyes of many Cubans the man from Plains, Georgia did not conduct himself in a manner becoming an occupant of the Lincoln Bedroom; he didn’t comport himself like one of his immediate predecessors who, in a froth, ordered the defoliation of a sovereign country and whose lackeys burgled the psychiatrist as a result of a minor political threat. Jimmy Carter wore cardigans. He raised the thermostat. He looked miserable. He let his daughter roller skate in the Oval Office. The Mariel boat lift inspires a fascinating congeries of impressions: grateful to see relatives again, the first wave of Cubans regard the release of thousands of Cubans into Florida Bay in 1980 as the kind of embarrassment that inspires stammers and changes of subject; their relatives came with riff-raff, their relatives were riff-raff.

Because Jimmy Carter didn’t posture as convincingly as his presidential colleagues, Cubans who were citizens voted for Ronald Wilson Reagan — “I became a Republican thanks to Ronald Reagan,” my grandmother said not long ago. The man who made her a Republican sought in his first term to eviscerate the programs she had worked twenty years to build. South Florida’s biggest local legend Claude Pepper fought back. The Reagan administration reeled. My grandmother drove my sister and me to Aventura Mall. Meanwhile the reelection of Reagan increased the patriotic tumult. Joan Didion’s Miami, published in the mid ’80s, captures the city as the combination of drug money, paramilitary operatives, and local personalities with NSA and White House connections. Perhaps now something was going happen.

In the nineties Cubans could still pick winners and comers. Jose Mas Canosa, the scion of the exile movement’s political wing, gave Bill Clinton his blessing. Events took their course: more people fleeing the island nation in 1994, Cuban planes shooting down Brothers to the Rescue pilots, the modification to the Cuban Adjustment Act known as “wet foot, dry foot.” The worst act of betrayal in Cuban American eyes, however, occurred in April 2000 when federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez after the government ran out of patience. It’s at this point that I realized our national image. When Americans in Portland or Dubuque watched national news, they’d see Gloria Estefan and Andy Garcia holding hands around the domicile where Elian lived temporarily. Although not the first time my parents and I differed on Cuban politics, I never felt so isolated. Choosing where to make a last stand creates its own momentum. The consequences were long foreseen: Elian would be reunited with his father, Al Gore would pay a heavy price.

The last gasp of the exile elite occurred during the Bush years. Otto Reich, responsible for “disinformation” and psy ops in Central America during the Reagan years, earned a government salary again.Bloggers got invited to the White House. Meanwhile American citizens like my father, a Miami resident since he was a boy of 10 in 1961, realized that the last fifty years had been an elaborate con. “Fun and games, man, fun and games,” Joe Pesci’s David Ferrie barks in the most trenchant line Oliver Stone wrote in JFK. In the minds of successive presidential administrations Fidel Castro was a person of vague awfulness and Cubans could turn out the vote, beneficiaries of the most compassionate and encompassing immigration and naturalization policy in U.S. history. “We were products of the Cold War,” he has said more than once without sadness.

Now, products of memory. Cubans can’t forget the broken promises. They can’t let go of the hate, and Cubans hate deeply and inexorably. Bill Clinton they hate, therefore his wife must not be elected. They may dismiss Donald Trump as el imbecil but he’s not Hillary Clinton. Nothing speaks to the success of the Cuban emigration and subsequent integration than the degree to which their views and a political party dating back to 1860’s have become indistinguishable

Reading roundup

Paul Mariani — The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens

To pass from Hart Crane to this vice president of Hartford Accident and Indemnity is like going from a brothel to a storage closet. Paul Mariani, Crane’s biographer, surely knew he had accepted the hardest commission of his career. The “life of Wallace Stevens” is the life of his poetry. Few surprises emerge. There’s this one, an incident in his college years: “in a restaurant on Harvard Square he announced to everyone that he was going to rape a waitress.” But Mariani is an expert street cleaner: “In any event he was ready to forget all that and move on.” For thirty years Stevens worked with inexorable self-discipline, never leaving his abode in the surety claims department without clearing his desk. After a rather feverish courtship of Elsie Viola Kachel, he realized she was a bore and never dealt with her again. If she was a bore, he was a boor after a couple of the dry martinis he loved to drink at the Canoe Club. Their daughter Holly, later executrix of his estate, married in Stevens’ charming phrase “a Polack” to get out of the house (it took a divorce to reconcile them). Except for a couple of jaunts to Cuba he stayed in the United States. He maintained a voluminous correspondence with global admirers; his letters deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Keats’ or Virginia Woolf’s journals. Only pedants still wonder how this Hoover Republican wrote the twentieth century’s quietest, strangest, and often saddest poetry, composed on his two-mile walks to the Hartford. As the life turned greyer those familiar tercets and infinitive phrases attained a suppleness that ranked with Emily Dickinson’s mastery of the dash, Marianne Moore’s ductile polysyllabics, and Wordsworth’s blank verse. The life ebbed, absorbed into the poetry. He spent his final years writing unofficial elegies like this:

There it was, word for word,
The poem that took the place of a mountain.

He breathed its oxygen,
Even when the book lay turned in the dust of his table.

It reminded him how he had needed
A place to go to in his own direction,

How he had recomposed the pines,
Shifted the rocks and picked his way among clouds,

For the outlook that would be right,
Where he would be complete in an unexplained completion…

Randall E. Woods — Prisoners of Hope

Relieved that scholars have shucked off the reflexive suspicion of the Great Society, in part because it was twinned with Vietnam, this author of an LBJ biography is one of the better informed analyses of the extraordinary legislative energy demonstrated by the Eighty-Ninth Congress. Medicare and Medicaid, the Voting Rights and Civil Rights acts we know (Nick Kotz’s redoubtable 2005 Judgment Days covered the latter); less well understood are congressional commitments to clean water, conservation, the testing of medicines for safety, refurbished libraries and public squares, fair housing, and arts funding. Turning John F. Kennedy into a martyr helped: the tax cut that JFK proposed and LBJ passed paid for the Great Society (Republicans since 1980 by contrast want tax and social services cuts). Thanks to Ronald Reagan and liberal fealty to the Kennedys that has at last started to wane, the impact of the Economic Opportunity Act, through which millions of Americans could take literacy courses and vocational training, has been undersold. LBJ, Woods writes, disliked the dole; whenever possible, he chose options that put citizens to work or gave them the tools with which to return to work — what Woods calls Johnson’s preference for “political and educational empowerment of the poor and disadvantaged so that they could better compete.” Johnson’s was a conception of rights as positive not negative; he was as reluctant to sever helping the poor from civil rights as he was severing his prodigious charm from his malice. Woods devotes a chapter to how early twentieth century Progressivism reinforced Jim Crow in the South and separatism in the North; and how the early New Deal, assuming that the foundations of American capitalism and its relation to labor remained unassailable, gave citizens some measure of economic security and stopped there. During the nadir of the Vietnam War and white backlash, LBJ’s legacy was secure: “Fiscal year 1969 ended with a $3.2 billion surplus and with most of the Great Society programs intact.” Through cynicism and indifference, the Nixon administration built on those achievements.

Kingsley Amis – Stanley and His Women

I can see the day when I’ll have no Kingsley Amis left to read. This 1984 novel triggered controversy because of the swinish things that the title character and his confreres say about women and the mentally ill. Combine this fact with Amis’ Thatcherism (as much an exercise in sensual imagination) and the success of 1986’s Booker Prize winner The Old Devils and it’s easy to understand why Stanley and His Women suffers from malign neglect. It’s no worse than One Fat Englishman or Difficulty With Girls — those late novels depicting sextagerian men and women luxuriating in smoke-filled pubs; the malice has a tranquilizing effect. Readers who giggle at the following excerpt are advised to roll up their skinny jeans and wade in:

I remember Cliff Wainwright saying once that women were like the Russians — if you did exactly what they wanted all the time you were being realistic and constructive and promoting the cause of peace, and if you ever stood up to them you were resorting to cold war tactics and pursuing imperialistic designs and interfering in their internal affairs. And by the way of course peace was more peaceful, but if you went on promoting its cause long enough you ended up Finlandized at best.

Imagine Kingsley slapping his knee as he followed this gnarled conceit to its gruesome end.

Anthony Trollope – The Prime Minister

In which Plantagenet Palliser becomes prime minister and forms a coalition government without a platform, to the frustration of wife Lady Glencora. Meanwhile a young cad of Portuguese and possibly Jewish descent named Ferdinand Lopez casts an appraiser’s eye on Emily Wharton, daughter of a sour and miserly lawyer. The two threads intersect when Lopez stands for a seat in Parliament and loses. At a formidable seven hundred pages, The Prime Minister makes for breathless reading; I finished it in five days. But I understand why Henry James demurred on the novelist’s ultimate worth. Although the reader never doubts Lopez is a scoundrel, Trollope won’t plumb his shallows. Emily remains a stock figure of tremulous femininity, infatuated by father, cowed by husband. As for the politics, every time the novel looks like it’s going to offer trenchant insights into the vacuity of ambition, it cuts away. Can You Forgive Her? and Phineas Finn fused the private and public spheres with fewer seams.

‘Weiner’ offers nothing new about disgraced congressman

As the representative for the Ninth Congressional District, Anthony Weiner was the quintessential new century Democrat. An advocate for expanding Medicare and a protector of abortion rights, Weiner also voted for the Iraq war resolution and to bar the Palestinian delegation from the UN. But his effrontery distinguished him from the pack. During the nadir of the Democrats as a moral force, Weiner wasn’t afraid to insult GOP colleagues, often in monologues distinguished by their vituperative eloquence. The gaunt Weiner couldn’t “do” ingratiation, for sweetness; he had the teeth of a guard dog growling on a front porch. Audiences beyond Brooklyn saw more of Weiner after the Democrats took control of the House in 2007 and especially during the 2009 health care debates. Marrying Hillary Clinton’s top aide Huma Abedin the same year (Bill Clinton officiated) solidified the Weiners as party elites.

Then Weiner started living up to his birth name. In 2011 Weiner sexted pictures of himself to a woman on Twitter, triggering a chain reaction of dogged and implausible denials until he admitted the truth at a gruesome press conference where he once again demonstrated he had no talent for contrition. Although he resigned months later, New Yorkers were themselves in a contrite mood and for a while entertained the idea of electing him mayor in 2014 – electing Weiner, that is, not Carlos Danger, the unfortunate moniker under which Weiner sent more dirty talk and pics to an Indianan named, are you ready, Sydney Leathers, who had first approached him as a concerned citizen disgusted by the first sexting incident but not by the former congressman’s choice of a name redolent of a departed Interpol bassist.

“This is the worst: doing a documentary on my scandal,” Weiner shares at the beginning of Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman’s eponymous film, which opens in South Florida after wowing’em at Sundance. I spent two paragraphs recounting the congressman’s disgrace to show how Weiner, which was shot as the scandal broke and boasts no talking heads, has nowhere to go once it puts the audience through the familiar paces. If it “raises questions,” to use the twaddle of political talk show guests, it’s in revealing the implicit collusion of legislators and the news-entertainment complex. A transactional arrangement, say: Weiner got more coverage for a mayoral race he knew he was going to lose while Colbert got material for penile puns.

If any figure emerges from Weiner with a crumb of sympathy, it’s Huma Abedin, complicit in the fate of the husband to whom she pledged in public to stand beside. Steinberg and Kriegman’s setups don’t extend the sympathy, though: with her crossed arms, set jaw, and implacable expression, Abedin is every smart woman who’s had to eat crow for the sake of an imbecile (that Abedin’s former boss was in the same quandary is a painful quirk of fate). After the first texting incident, Steinberg and Kriegman show her dutifully calling donors with the enthusiasm of a halfback at a ballet recital. “How was the engagement? Gimme all the details!” she chirps at a possibility (I don’t doubt one of Weiner’s own aides supplied Abedin with the biographical detritus of whoever is on the other end of the phone). When she served Clinton as her indispensable aide, Abedin never had to deal with the public; as the scandal hits it’s clear she and Weiner are in a race to see who is worst at soliciting anything from anybody. In almost as bad a pickle are Weiner campaign employees, one of whom confronts the boss at a heart-to-heart with, “I’m not in a good place,” which no person over the age of sixteen should be expected to bear.

Wearing its conventional cinéma vérité drag, Weiner doesn’t address whether Weiner owed his constituents something for asking his constituents’ forgiveness. When he resigned in 2011, recall, the seat went to a Republican in a special election. Whether Weiner would’ve run for mayor at all had he controlled himself is an obvious point. In a town hall meeting at which he thinks he can persuade voters to pay attention to the inequities of the tax code, a man disabuses Weiner of the idea that the mayoral candidate could expect to act as if nothing had ever happened. And there’s something to Weiner’s assertions, which meshed with his cutting instincts and well-cultivated sense of martyrdom, that the sexting concerned no one but him and his wife – and “my god” as he was wont to add during sententious moments. To accuse voters of caring unduly about a situation he started and to triumph anyway proved too dexterous a contortion feat for Weiner. No doubt he studied the career of Abedin’s former employer’s husband.

Reliant on the un-charm of its anti-hero, Weiner asks viewers to identify with the man’s outrage over the media’s obsession with banalities. An excerpt from Weiner’s interview with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell ends with the candidate reducing the gasbag into guitar picks, thanks to O’Donnell’s imagining that he holds degrees in psychiatry and psychology (‘What’s wrong with you?” is the first question). Yet Steinberg and Kriegman only followed Weiner and Abedin around in the first place because of the sexting nonsense; they show no interest in public policy. This was the other reason for my mentioning Weiner’s political positions in the first paragraph. Reducing Anthony David Weiner’s profile to serial texter of naughty images might be the job of Wikipedia lead writers, but watching Weiner it’s unclear if that was its makers’ intention.

The LGBTQ-liberal dilemma

I suppose it’s dandy that corporate interests and LGBTQ rights align in 2016, for which I’m grateful, but what it portends for the future of the future of grass roots activism is hard to say. Certainly the number of corporations that have threatened to pull out of North Carolina and Georgia after they passed versions of “religious freedom” laws wouldn’t have done so if they hadn’t sensed that their bottom lines weren’t threatened.

Months ago I wrote a post based on Fredrick deBoer’s reluctance to applaud the trend of using bureaucratic channels to address university grievances:

Defining, roughly, corporatism as a system that exists to protect itself, deBoer calls for an activism that recognizes the danger of the institutions which the activists think need reforming. And his conclusions echo the shrewder critics of the American social compact. Ellen Willis was reminding her leftist readers in the late nineties that every right enjoyed by Americans since the nineteenth century came as a result of radical social movements: labor, the New Left, black and feminist liberation movements, gay pride. The role of the state since the heyday of the New Deal, Willis writes, was “to manage potentially destabilizing social conflict by offering carefully limited concessions to the troublemakers.” Hence the Nixon administration’s use of affirmative action to encourage social mobility instead of fixing the endemic racism. Which is not to dismiss the achievements wrought by this compact between the state and social movements; but Willis and deBoer remind us that investing too much energy in the institutions that once guaranteed these concessions results in skepticism if not hostility when the institutions err.

The last sentence is important because creating skepticism if not hostility towards institutions has been the GOP plan for twenty-five years. I don’t see a way through the dilemma. Embracing federal and state institutions when trust in them is so low that a political party is about to stick a samurai sword in its gut is its own (mild) kind of suicide. And Hillary Clinton doesn’t strike me as the establishment figure around whom liberals can rally to preserve these tenets; the Clinton have done their bit to undermine those tenets too, recall.

But a report by Victory Fund shows a correlation between anti-queer legislation and the number of queer state legislators:

“Nearly all of the states facing anti-transgender bills have only 1 or no openly LGBT people serving in their state legislatures,” the report notes.

“One of the reasons the LGBT movement has seen such rapid progress is because our allies have really stepped up. But allies aren’t enough. When LGBT people are serving in public office, and especially in state legislatures, they directly change the conversation,” Aisha Moodie-Mills, president and CEO of Victory Fund and Institute. told me. “Their visibility and their relationships with their colleagues mean the discussion quickly becomes about a real person with a real family. It’s not just political grandstanding on one side and allies pleading their case on the other. Representation matters. Our voices make a huge difference when we’re in those rooms.”

The first “but” is crucial. Representation is a crucial first step.

‘Naïve cynicism remains obdurate in the face of varied events’

You’ll search my published writing in vain for “cynical” and its noun form. I dislike them. The rare times I’ve used them I’m afraid I’ll get misinterpreted.

A cynic is often confused for a realist. Cynics often confuse themselves with realists. In fact, cynicism is the opposite of realism. The latter, having studied facts, makes a forceful conclusion that draws upon the best of his abilities and knowledge up to that moment; the former, a romantic gone to seed, has drawn conclusions before studying the facts. So afraid of being fooled (again) is the cynic that he will dismiss entreaties to look at information that will foil his predetermined conclusions.

Another definition of cynicism: the flouting of one’s own principles for the sake of short term victory (e.g. Reagan pulling Marines out of Beirut days after implying Tip O’Neill was a coward for making the same suggestion; Mitt Romney denouncing the Affordable Care Act for a federal-level mimicking of his health care plan for Massachusetts).

In an essay explaining how Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter have been defined as failures, Rebecca Solnit explains cynicism in a way that coincides with my definitions:

Cynicism is first of all a style of presenting oneself, and it takes pride more than anything in not being fooled and not being foolish. But in the forms in which I encounter it, cynicism is frequently both these things. That the attitude that prides itself on world-weary experience is often so naïve says much about the triumph of style over substance, attitude over analysis…

…If you set purity and perfection as your goals, you have an almost foolproof system according to which everything will necessarily fall short. But expecting perfection is naïve; failing to perceive value by using an impossible standard of measure is even more so. Cynics are often disappointed idealists and upholders of unrealistic standards. They are uncomfortable with victories, because victories are almost always temporary, incomplete, and compromised — but also because the openness of hope is dangerous, and in war, self-defense comes first. Naïve cynicism is absolutist; its practitioners assume that anything you don’t deplore you wholeheartedly endorse. But denouncing anything less than perfection as morally compromising means pursuing aggrandizement of the self, not engagement with a place or system or community, as the highest priority.

I’ve said disparaging things about OWS myself, based on my brief experience at a Miami gathering. But the way in which the Democratic Party and to a far lesser extent the GOP has absorbed its platform impresses me — and shames me. To say that consequences aren’t immediately apparent is a banality. Barack Obama, in another display of his curiosity and understanding of dialectics, spoke at length about it to the NYT’s Andrew Ross Sorkin:

When you’re talking about inversions,” Obama said, referring to the practice whereby American companies effectively move overseas, “or you’re talking about C.E.O. perks or the gap between what the assembly-line worker is making compared to what the C.E.O. is making, all those things used to be constrained by the fact that you live in the city, you’re going to church in that city, your kids might be going to the same school as the guy who is working on the assembly line because public schools actually were invested in,” Obama said. “And all those constraining factors have been greatly reduced or, in some cases, eliminated entirely. And that contributes to the trends toward inequality. That contributes to, I think, a divergence between how the people who run these companies and economic elites think about their responsibilities and the policies that they promote with political leaders. And that’s had, I think, a damaging effect on the economy overall.”

Rejecting policy ideas for the sake of the lower middle class that also help the plutocrats strikes me as a cynical gesture.

Hillary Clinton has often been wrong and even dangerous. A president Trump or Cruz would be more wrong and even more dangerous. The cynic would counsel the hell with the three of them.

Dennis Hastert’s ‘inability to abide by the law’

Well into 1998, Newton Leroy Gingrich expected Americans to ratify his vision of himself as the United States’ prime minister, the head of an opposition government ready to clear the legislature of the Roundheads who accepted William Jefferson Clinton’s legitimacy as president. Then the midterm elections delivered the most stunning rebuke to a majority party since 1934. But the impeachment farrago took other casualties: Gingrich himself, of course, and wannabe replacement Bob Livingston, who admitted to his own pass behind the cricket pavilion and the bicycle shed. The beneficiary was the odious Tom DeLay, responsible for presenting a hulking nobody named Dennis Hastert to the House GOP caucus as its speaker. For the next six years, Hastert reigned as a benign non-entity, content to let people remind him that he was second in line for the presidency, a phenomenon that acquired an unexpected resonance after the 9-11 attacks.

At the height of impeachment fever, though, Representative Hastert delivered the following speech:

Mr. Speaker, I am saddened that there is clear and convincing evidence that the president lied under oath, obstructed justice and abused the powers of his office in an attempt to cover up his wrongdoing. I regret that the president’s behavior puts me in the position of having to vote in favor of articles of impeachment and pass this matter on to the U.S. Senate for final judgment. In facing this solemn duty, I looked to the wisdom of our founding fathers.

According to Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 65, impeachment concerns offenses with proceed from the misconduct of public men — or in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. The evidence in President Clinton’s case is overwhelming, that he has abused and violated the public trust. In this nation, all men are created equal. Simply put, the president in our representative democracy is not a sovereign who is above the law.

Tomorrow, I shall cast a difficult vote. The president’s inability to abide by the law, the Constitution and my conscience have all led me to the solemn conclusion that impeachment articles must be passed.

Here’s a truth that Hastert’s beloved Hamilton knew and was wise to its consequences: those most obsessed with persecuting sex feel the most self-loathing.

(h/t Digby)

Austerity and public sector jobs

A little discussed consequence of our national obsession with austerity is the depletion of the government work force. When Rick Scott cuts state jobs, he’s trimming fat, but when two thousand people find private sector jobs in Naples he can promote himself as the jobs governor. Good on them! But here’s a startling fact: once unemployed, black women were “the least likely to find private-sector employment and the most likely to make a full exit from the labor force.”

A New York Times Magazine article explains how for millions of black Americans public sector jobs represented the best hope of a middle class job.

The public sector has long been home to the sorts of jobs that lift people into the middle class and keep them there. These are jobs that have predictable hours, stable pay and protection from arbitrary layoffs, particularly for those without college or graduate degrees. They’re also more likely to be unionized; less than 7 percent of private-sector workers are represented by a union, while more than a third of those in the public sector are. In other words, they look like the blue-collar jobs our middle class was built on during the postwar years.

Then Bobby Jindal came. Then Scott Walker. Meanwhile Sam Brownback won’t stop cutting services until he can drive from Topeka to Wichita on the bodies of the poor.

‘Exploit the fear factor’


Question: from which Richard Nixon speech will you find the following line?

“Do it with very muscular language—there is no market for nuance in the terror debate.”

Give up? I asked a trick question. The origin of this drool is Jim VandeHei, editor of the nation’s premier source for campaign pornography and for learning the lurid imaginings of our farouche ruling elite. I saw VandeHei on Morning Joe today. He has the mien of a tenure aspirant at a university poli sci department: solicitous, sure, but use up his copy card budget and he’ll write passive aggressive emails. “I have spent the past two decades in the Washington, D.C., bubble—the heart of Establishment America—covering politics and building a company, Politico, focused solely on politics,” the first sentence announces, and I haven’t read a more honest admission of myopia in years. VandeHei is the sort of person immune to irony; he would use “bubble” like a boy showing off a new watch. Not for a second would it occur to him, after two decades “focused solely on politics” to find gainful employment elsewhere: as a substitute teacher, Kaplan tutor, or FedEx Office Center manager.

Here’s the gem:

Exploit the fear factor. The candidate should be from the military or immediately announce someone with modern-warfare expertise or experience as running mate. People are scared. Terrorism is today’s World War and Americans want a theory for dealing with it. President Obama has established an intriguing precedent of using drone technology and intelligence to assassinate terrorists before they strike. A third-party candidate could build on death-by-drones by outlying [sic] the type of modern weapons, troops and war powers needed to keep America safe. And make plain when he or she will use said power.

Delicious. Macaulay would nod. After almost eight years of at best maladroit interventions in Libya and Syria, and the targeting with drones of an American citizen without due process, the American electorate demands a candidate who can be tough and alliterative — an impossible trick. I especially like the graciousness he extends to a possible female president with the “he or she” pronoun agreement.

I think “House of Cards” showed this scenario in a ghoulish recent episode. But not even that show’s producers suggested the recruitment of VandeHei’s boy. The world isn’t ready for a President Mark Zuckerberg.

The education reform racket

The story of No Child Left Behind and Arne Duncan’s own “reform” efforts is a depressing nexus of good intentions and neoliberalist experiments in for-profit schools. Diane Ravitch, reform scourge, published a history in the form of reviews of two books examining the phenomena. At the center of the national politics of education reform is Cory Booker, former mayor of Newark and junior senator from New Jersey, to me one of the more untrustworthy rising stars; he would’ve been a model Democratic Leadership Council candidate in 2002. I find his smile sinister and his manner oleaginous. Ravitch:

Booker had been raised in the nearly all-white suburb of Harrington Park, New Jersey, and had graduated from Stanford, Oxford, and Yale. He was a frequent guest on national television shows, and he moved easily among the rich, the powerful, and the famous. Russakoff describes a ride that Booker took with Governor-Elect Christie through Newark one night in December 2009, when they agreed to create a plan for a radical transformation of the Newark public schools. The confidential draft of the plan that Booker sent to Christie proposed turning Newark into “the charter school capital of the nation,” weakening seniority and tenure, recruiting new teachers and principals from outside Newark, and building “sophisticated data and accountability systems.”

In July 2010, Booker attended an invitation-only meeting in Sun Valley, where he mingled with fabulously wealthy hedge fund managers and high-tech entrepreneurs. There he met Mark Zuckerberg. Booker knew that venture philanthropists were looking for a “proof point,” a city where they could demonstrate the success of their business-style school reforms. He persuaded Zuckerberg that Newark was that city. Booker believed that a great education would set every child on the road out of poverty, and he also believed that it would be impossible to do this in the Newark public schools because of their bureaucracy and systems of tenure and seniority. That’s why he wanted to spend money turning the city into an all-charter district, without unions, where like-minded reformers could impose the correct reforms, like judging teachers by test scores, firing teachers at will, and hiring whomever they wanted.

That September, Zuckerberg, Booker, and Christie announced the gift of $100 million on The Oprah Winfrey Show, to tumultuous applause. When Winfrey asked Zuckerberg why Newark, he responded, “I believe in these guys…. We’re setting up a $100 million challenge grant so that Mayor Booker and Governor Christie can have the flexibility they need to…turn Newark into a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation.”

As readers might expect, I haven’t made my mind up about charter schools. My oldest niece attends one of the county’s best, and she’s reading and writing and doing multiplication tables at a rate that would have astonished five-year-old me. Teachers are held to ruthless standards of excellence. I’m myself a product of private and private Catholic education. But the idea of for-profit education smacks of undermining public confidence in a taxpayer-funded system. So does the testing racket. Intended to ascertain whether children and adolescents are learning at the same rate according to metrics, the tests also brutalize children and rob them, in my experience, of independent thinking (watching college students squirm during tests without multiple choice is grueling, I assure you). Teachers are no less pressured to forgo creativity (and Florida’s recent decision to tie high test grades to test performance has become a racket too). Parents resent “teaching to the test; they wish they could pull their children out of these public schools and stick them in private ones. And I tend to think that’s what Governor Jeb bush wanted all along.