Tag Archives: presidential primary

The devil you know or the devil who understands

Tomorrow, Republican presidential primaries will be held in Ohio, and Florida. As states with large populations whose local Republican leaders have decided to hold winner-take all primaries, these blocs of delegates might secure current front runner Donald Trump a near guarantee on the nomination. Missouri, Illinois, and North Carolina will also hold primaries, and the Northern Mariana Islands will have their caucuses. Regardless of how well Trump monopolizes the delegates in tomorrow’s primaries and caucuses, the version of this map we will have Wednesday morning will be one of the most important images in the United States:

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Counties won by Donald Trump in dark blue, won by Marco Rubio in red, won by Ted Cruz in yellow, won by John Kasich in green, won by Ben Carson in pale green.

Already before those votes are held, however, this map confirms a few suspicions many have had about this race – namely that Marco Rubio’s and John Kasich’s support comes from a tightly limited demographic, of the few upwardly mobile suburban parts of the country (what people often describe as the base for the Republican “Establishment”). Many analysts quickly bind together in contrast with that the vast rest of Republicans, divided up between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump supporters, as “anti-Establishment” or “the Base.” The map we have today subtly hints at the flaws in that though.

There is a lot of noise in who wins what counties in presidential primaries, but a curious pattern emerges in the disparate parts of the country Donald Trump wins pluralities within. He loses Topeka and Tulsa, but wins Detroit and Las Vegas. He wins the suburbs of Corpus Cristi and smattering of counties along the Texas-Mexico border but loses Houston from its exurbs to city center. He wins every county in New Hampshire but only one in Maine. This isn’t some trivial matter, as others have quietly pointed out time and again, he’s winning large numbers of his delegates from disproportionately weighted parts of the country where the Republican Party stands virtually no chance in the general. Ted Cruz tends to win where the base is the population, but Trump generally wins where it isn’t as dominant.

This cuts to the very core of a lot of the statistical studies that have been conducted in this primary – that Trump’s supporters are more characterized by an authoritarian response to perceived threats and that they are more likely to agree with statements of White racial resentment. Ted Cruz’s supporters, compared to the general population, probably have more in common with Trump supporters than the mean, but Trump leads with people who perceive the world as not just filled with inferiors opposed to them, but who have somehow gained the upper hand politically, socially, and economically.

One of the few comparisons of authoritarian and anti-elite tendencies among their supporters suggests exactly that distinction – Ted Cruz’s supporters may come across as more authoritarian than Donald Trump’s in part because they trust those in power more, while Donald Trump’s supporters second-place authoritarianism has been tempered by a fear that that wrong people are in power.

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(From here.)

That’s why he so frequently works in references to the onerous burden of political correctness – he’s targeting the part of the Republican base that most frequently encounters people outside of it and suddenly finds itself on the defensive. It’s the faction of it that’s tired of not being able to dictate social expectations, and instead being expected to negotiate, or worse, listen. The type of Republicans who have those experiences, as opposed to living in more isolation from than conflict with other worldviews, tend to reside in more ethnically diverse parts of the country – in Detroit, in Las Vegas, along the Texas-Mexico border, and other places the Democrats tend to actually win.

Trump’s campaign has tapped into the fears of a specific part of the Republican base, which can deliver more people to the polls than the “Establishment” and often in places where their delegates carry the biggest impact. That is one of the stories on the 2016 election – how Donald Trump saw a winning electoral strategy distinct from the “Establishment” track or the typical approach of those rallying the “Base”, and then rode it into victory. The most important question tomorrow is whether Floridans and Ohioans will vote for Rubio’s and Kasich’s familiar faces or with what are likely common experiences they have in those purple states. In most of Texas, Cruz prevailed in the way they hope to, but he’s also not seen as aligned with the “Establishment” unlike either of them.

Illinois voters who are undoubtedly familiar with that same dynamic of living outside of the Red States. In addition, there’s no home town politician in the race to deflect attention from Trump. What little polling has been done in Illinois suggests that combined together that’s to Trump’s advantage. Wednesday morning we’ll have our answer about whether this dynamic of Trump wins among stealthier conservatives has continued, and whether it was a durable trend even in Rubio’s and Kasich’s backyards.

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Writing on the wall

Trigger warning: climate change, racism

On a number of issues, the writing showed up on the wall this week, portending a variety of impending conflicts.

With the news breaking that a longer term spending agreement couldn’t be reached, the US congress entered a second round of week-long spending negotiations on Wednesday. Chief among those popularly blamed for the failure to reach some consensus was Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin). While he was able to pass a bill today, his initial inability to break with the familiar patterns in prior Speaker John Boehner’s years at the helm suggests that the dysfunction in Washington isn’t entirely gone, and unlikely to easily resolve itself.

In the broader national scope, an interesting examination of where Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy draws strength from cast some ominous shadows. Trump’s supporters have long been identified as those acrimoniously done with US politics in general. Quoting a practically prophetic October analysis of Trump, it was noted that he has thrived on being distinctive, even at the cost of being offensive to some outside of his target audience.

What this speaks to is what others have discussed outside of the Trump phenomenon: the increasing polarization of political parties in the US and gradual emergence of the Republicans as more than just a political bloc but a cultural (and increasingly racially distinctive) faction. Taken together, the warning is clear – Trump has uniquely sought to capitalize on that process, encouraging politics that deliver on a certain portion of the country’s demands, rather than a consensus. Those are the politics that lead to undemocratic reigns or contentious civil conflicts.

climate_change_paris_ap_img(From here.)

Lastly, the world appears to be repeating familiar mistakes in responding to climate change. The agreements forged in Paris recently are impressive, arguably more so than many expected to come out of the process. But, identically to the Kyoto Protocols, they’re nonbinding promises. We’ve been down that road before, and hopefully can remember what exactly went wrong.

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Life, liberty, and the pursuit of chemical weapons

Trigger warning: Syrian civil war, war crimes

The Republican Presidential Primary has now seen five debates. Since the second one, at which former CEO Carly Fiorina made her national debut, there’s been few changes in the rhetoric and claims made by candidates in appearance after appearance.

One of the most interesting consistencies is Senator Rand Paul’s fierce insistence on a mildly pro-Assad stance. Part of the strangeness of this is that this puts him outside of the Assad-critical consensus which includes everyone from his competitors in the primary to President Obama. These aren’t just rare politics, however, but ones that speak to an intriguing contradiction at the heart of American libertarianism.

The still technically reigning president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, essentially inherited his position from his father after his brother, initially favored, died unexpectedly in a car accident. He has held a prominent national position since the mid-1990s, with only dubious democratic checks on his rule. Ignited by the international Arab Spring in 2012 and fueled by local droughts and famines, much of Syria has been engaged in open revolt against his regime for several years now. The remnants of al-Assad’s government have resorted to widespread use of chemical weapons, prompting the current US administration to categorically reject any involvement in Syria designed to shore up his rule.

The son of a charismatic leader thrust into protracted and toxic battles to retain territory, perhaps al-Assad reminds Senator Paul of himself. Whatever personal readings he has of the man, his libertarian ethos seems to take a backseat to a curiously pro-Assad policy plank without question. Paul stands with, intriguingly enough, a large chunk of the US and broader world in insisting that we can’t back Daesh and other islamist groups in the prolonged Syrian conflict. As he put it last night:

We had people coming to our Foreign Relations Committee and saying, ‘Oh, we need to arm the allies of Al Qaida.’ They are still saying this. It is a crazy notion. This is the biggest debate we should be having tonight is is regime change a good idea; has it been a good idea.

This uncontroversial carefulness when picking people to support in Syria (and the broader Islamic world), based on more than simply opposition to dictatorships, is woven into his larger, stranger political view of the Middle East, however. As he also explained in that debate:

“I think that by arming the allies of ISIS, the Islamic rebels against Assad, that we created a safe space or made that space bigger for ISIS to grow.”

This reduction down of the Syrian conflict into a binary choice between locally quite bloodthirsty secular dictatorship and theocracy with aspirations of terrorizing the globe seems politically useful, if you want people outside of Syria to ultimately accept al-Assad and his regime as a “lesser of two evils”. Unfortunately, it presumes a lot of not necessarily true facts: that someone has to be supported in the Syrian conflict, and that no alternatives to al-Assad’s government and Daesh exist (the Kurdish separatists, among others, are apparently not worth mentioning).

syria conflict map
Syrian military blocs’ holdings, as of his summer, from here.

What’s truly shocking, however, is to hear this acceptance of systemic violence and despotism as inherently how Syria and perhaps the broader Islamic world simply have to be coming out of the mouth of libertarian widely criticized for his idealism. The idealist rhetoric which permeates Senator Paul’s worldview, or at least political perspective within the US’s borders, melts away, leaving behind an undemocratic and even imperialistic skeleton.

An interesting implication of this is that all of the language favored by libertarians, or at least the ones who agree with Senator Paul, obscures something. It’s not possible that all human beings have inalienable rights to life and liberty, if Syrian’s lives and liberties can so coolly be considered and bartered away on the other side of the world.

It suggests that only some people are truly included in the loftiest defenses of all “human beings” or that “life and liberty” are so incoherently defined in practice that dictatorships like al-Assad’s can quite easily still fit into the definition of a government which provides them. Maybe it’s both – that liberty in (at least some forms of) libertarianism is a privilege reserved for a select few and one defined in a broken way designed to excuse and permit quite literal autocracy.

Something no one seems to be asking is for Senator Paul to explain himself on his, how someone who claims to center a universal human right to liberty in his politics can also be one of the leading figures calling for us to tacitly or even directly support one of the most violent regimes on the planet. I hope he we can hear his answer to gain some clarity on what’s happening here.

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The resurrection of anti-LGBT politics

Trigger warning: heterosexism, cissexism

The coming 2016 elections have struck many as a retread of the same issues that dominated the past couple presidential elections. Already, much of the national discussion has centered on the morality of restricting and ability to limit the social and economic options available to women and people of color. Most immediately, there has been a steady focus on the right to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, refugee status, and freedom from police violence, all familiar subjects particularly in 2012.

It’s interesting to see the ways that similar discussions around LGBT rights have been a less remarked on element. Rachel Maddow’s post-2012 recap, which highlighted issues like marriage equality and anti-LGBT hate crimes, almost sounds like a dispatch from another country.

Part of why the conversation has shifted so much is the huge shift on marriage – there aren’t fun maps about varying legal recognitions to circulate anymore – but also, that the anti-LGBT rhetoric has taken on a different tone. Republican movers and shakers have stayed more on course with the plan of avoiding this type of conversation about marginalized groups. It’s still a key topic in the primary, but one that’s less boldly discussed.

In the past couple of days, there’s been some indications that the comparative quiet within the GOP on LGBT rights may not last much longer. On Monday, the Heritage Foundation released a report throwing every argument in their arsenal at anti-discrimination laws. From tradition to the free market to a perceived insult to race-focused anti-discrimination measures, they pulled almost everything out.

Heritage is no longer the huge player that they once were in social conservative politics, but this still speaks loudly about the continuing anti-LGBT animus within the conservative movement. Spurred on by the defeat of the Houston area’s anti-discrimination measure and the Family Research Council’s recent libertarian-friendly arguments against anti-discrimination laws, it’s a pretty telling indication of how conservatives are mobilizing against LGBT rights. The FRC has been making noises during the past few weeks about federal work towards broader anti-discrimination laws.

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Kevin Swanson, from here.

So far, much of the Republican presidential field has competed to appeal to the conservative political base on the issues of abortion, counter-terrorism, and immigration. Ted Cruz’s brief but recurring interactions with anti-LGBT figures like Kevin Swanson hint that more uniquely LGBT-related issues might make a return. If the FRC, Heritage Foundation, and other major policy groups within the conservative movement continue to push for action against LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination laws, it’s likely that this could again resurface as a defining issue in the race, both in primaries and in the general election.

Marrying the visceral anti-LGBT language that remains common in some of those circles to the more libertarian-friendly and business-minded language the FRC and Heritage Foundation have been developing is an interesting strategy. The Supreme Court’s rulings against  anti-LGBT laws on personal conduct and marriage recognition have depended on the support of Justice Kennedy, a libertarian-ish Republican, not particularly moved by traditional, socially conservative arguments. Using this type of language to justify discriminatory practices might be an attempt to drum up support among economic conservatives, containing their periodic defections – whether in court or in the ballot box – on this issue.

That’s admittedly just one of the many arguments advanced against the various anti-discrimination policies. Only time will tell if Republican candidates pick it up with the hope of recreating the anti-LGBT lurch towards their party that many credit with their only win in the presidential popular vote in over two decades.

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A tale of two capitalisms

Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have kicked up quite the commotion within the Democratic Party in the past couple of weeks. I’ve mentioned before how Sanders’ presidential campaign has pushed fellow candidate Hillary Clinton into adopting more substantive promises to the liberal base, particularly when it comes to affordable access to education. More than a few observers have noted how this has stoked the less obvious competition within the Democratic Party over what economic policies the leaders of the party will advance.

That’s just what’s happening within the presidential primary, however, as Elizabeth Warren is similarly galvanizing the Democrats’ economic left in the Senate. Even while Sanders’ defense of reinstating Glass-Steagall regulations on banks has captured the media’s attention, it’s easy to see Warren’s less eye-catching work on those and other issues. In a traditional legislative dynamic, her criticisms and suggestions to the financial industry and the broader economic system both suggest she might block financial deregulation in the Senate and help inspire left-leaning Democrats in the House to directly oppose it.

Beyond opposing a conservative vision for the economy, Warren and like-minded congressional representatives have begun presenting the type of reforms that are anathema for Republicans and distasteful to the more corporate-friendly Democratic circles. She began a speech last week by deflating the calls for lowering corporate taxes, and from there moved to a progressive tax proposal arguing that “revenue generated from corporate taxes is far too low.”

As a part of that, she delivered deeply topical response to the economic conversations being had among both conservatives and centrist Democrats about lowering the taxes collected on international companies to encourage them to remain in or return to the US. As Warren explained, “Fortune500 companies proudly proclaim that they are making record-breaking profits, and then they hire armies of lawyers to make sure they don’t pay taxes on those record-breaking profits.” With Carl Icahn having openly done this, she seems to have a point. She wasn’t kidding about the armies, either, as she noted-

“In just the past ten years, the amount of untaxed, off-shore profit has increased nearly five-fold. In other words, one of the hottest investments in America in the past decade hasn’t been biotech or big oil, it’s been tax lawyers. The money sheltered overseas is now about the same as the combined total earnings of all US corporations in 2013.”

Big-short-inside-the-doomsday-machine

“The Big Short” is, according to Warren, actually the big siphon.

She points out that the push for lowering taxes in the US to be competitive is being driven by other country’s somewhat collective efforts to “shut down tax dodges”. The main companies keeping their money perpetually between countries to avoid taxes in either are looking for a deal competitive with their current set-up that can replace the looming risk of tax litigation.

Centrists like Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and business-centered Republicans like Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) have been happy to offer that kind of a deal, including deemed repatriation (one-time giveaways on sheltered companies that keeps them from paying the full cost of back taxes).

As I’ve noted before, one of the most salient differences between the parties in the coming election appears to be their distinct understandings of economics and capitalism. What Sanders and Warren seem to have done is created that, not only by pushing some centrists like Clinton further to the left, but also by making others like Schumer into obvious examples of the centrist wing, rather than just another Democrat.

It’s become common to argue that the two parties are essentially indistinguishable on economics. It’s true that they are both offering, for the most part, fundamentally modern capitalist economics. That said, the specific prescriptions within that type of economic thought have begun to notably diverge. Their common worldview isn’t as shared as one might suspect.

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Push and pull

There’s been a lot of strange back-and-forths in the news this week. Here’s a short list of some interesting forms of that which I saw crop up in the past couple days.

From Sanders to Clinton, yet again

I’ve written here before about one of the key dynamics in the current Democratic presidential primary being how further left critics of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have nudged her into adopting more liberal policy proposals. With Clinton largely holding her own on issues of social justice, the main part of that has been on economic policy. Most obviously, sitting Vermont Senator and fellow candidate Bernie Sanders has effectively pushed Clinton into adopting similar platforms to him on the availability of higher education.

That said, similar efforts to promote unionization and financial industry regulation haven’t (yet?) become shared policy ideas between Sanders and Clinton. On Tuesday, the Campaign for America’s Future asked if one of the most recent iterations of those economic politics from the Sanders-Warren wing of the Democratic Party might be picked up by Clinton. In this case, it’s a repeal of a “performance pay” tax exemption for larger companies in order to pay for cost of living adjustments for Social Security recipients. Fresh from having failed to assure a number of people that she wants to protect Social Security in the long term, Clinton might need to pick this battle, unless she wants to write off a large chunk of the Democratic primary vote.

The Keystone Pipeline is dead! Long live the Keystone Pipeline!

Recently, the proposal to build a new pipeline from Canada to shipping areas in the southern US was officially rejected by the Obama administration. The company that has been seeking the pipeline’s construction for years now thinks they might have another Clinton-economics-related shot at getting it done in spite of that though: NAFTA. As the Hill put it, they “could ask a tribunal to mandate compensation from the United States for rejecting the pipeline, or even require that the project be approved.” With the possibility of the Trans-Pacific Partnership looming in our future, it seems important to note how its smaller, weaker predecessor allows business interests to challenge and even overrule the decisions of a democratically-elected government.

Who will survive in America?

One of the criticisms of the Keystone Pipeline, is the displacement that it already has begun to cause within certain rural communities. Unfortunately, that upheaval is hardly unique to that specific part of the US, as artist and astrophysicist Nia Imara documented in her recent photography project about gentrification in Oakland. The East Bay Express published earlier this week a short but intriguing look into her process and relationship with the community while creating her work.

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Puzzles of the Orient: a random note on the Republican Debate

Last night’s debate didn’t strike me as something worth liveblogging on twitter or even commenting about as I posted in the middle of it. That anything much is going to be said that’s new or original is hopefully something no one came into the debate expecting. In passing, still, one strange entanglement of talking points caught my attention and seems to speak to something rather horrifying about the politics of not only the Republican Party, but the United States and even the broader world.

In the midst of the debate, Senator Marco Rubio argued that the supportive relationship between the US and Israel in contrast to the combative and hostile relationship the US has with almost every other country in the region made sense, saying:

“For goodness sake, there is only one pro-American free enterprise democracy in the Middle East. It is the state of Israel. And we have a president that treats the prime minister of Israel with less respect than what he gives the Ayatollah in Iran. And so our allies in the region don’t trust us. […] all those radical terrorist groups that, by the way, are not just in Syria and in Iraq, ISIS is now in Libya. They are a significant presence in Libya, and in Afghanistan, and a growing presence in Pakistan.

Soon they will be in Turkey. They will try Jordan. They will try Saudi Arabia. They are coming to us. They recruit Americans using social media. And they don’t hate us simply because we support Israel. They hate us because of our values. They hate us because our girls go to school. They hate us because women drive in the United States. Either they win or we win, and we had better take this risk seriously, it is not going away on its own.”

While his criticism of Arab or Islamic communities highlighted the sexism he perceived, the point seems deeply interconnected to other ideas about how societies should work. Not only should women be able to drive cars, they should be able to vote. It’s hard to imagine that kind of plea for “modern” women’s rights without accompanying ideas about “modern” political rights and other expectations (in Rubio’s mind that goes hand in hand with free enterprise, notably).

Mere minutes later, Ohio Governor John Kasich in his own words gave the audience “a little trip around the world”. He transitioned from describing a military strategy towards Russia to one in the Middle East, which in turn led him to saying this about the political culture of the region: “Saudi Arabia, cut off the funding for the radical clerics, the ones that preach against us. But they’re fundamentally our friends. Jordan, we want the king to reign for 1,000 years. Egypt, they have been our ally and a moderating force in the Middle East throughout their history.”

The limitations on free speech in Saudi Arabia are, of course, far more extreme than the limiting of funding for radical clerics. The regular and increasing use of the death penalty by the government there is primarily used on clerics critical of the Kingdom, especially those critical because of sectarian disagreements. Overwhelmingly, it’s the Shia minority clerics targeted with that and other state controls designed to limit their communities’ voices and shutdown opposition. They are also famously one of the governments in the region which most systemic restricts women’s rights – to drive, to go out in public, and to control their bodies and appearance. Those, in Kasich’s words, are “our friends” because of how they restrict their people and simultaneously, in Rubio’s view, someone we are locked in an existential struggle with… because of how they restrict their people.

Virtually no one – from Politico to the Seattle Globalist – pretends that the current government in Egypt is democratic. Politico’s coverage touches on a particularly interesting point, that sitting president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is a product of the military exchange programs run by and within the United States. In short, he was more than a little groomed for his current strongman role, with his wife beside him, notably in a hijab not in the more veiling niqab. When it comes to other women, however, his defense of the use of “virignity tests” to assess rape and harassment claims by women participating in the street democracy movements in Egypt speaks for itself. Much like Saudi Arabia, the same despotism that is woven into the fabric of how we decide that part of the world is categorically deserving of criticism, and yet oddly also, its saving grace.

Hopefully I don’t have to explain the irony in a debate where most of the Middle East is criticized as undemocratic where another person calls for the Hashimite dynasty in Jordan to rule for a thousand years. It’s worth noting that’s not just simply a millennium of rule, it’s another millennium.

It’s worth noting that even if Kasich and Rubio understood each other as disagreeing, they both continue to address the realities of political life in the Middle East with a common assumption. If you look at the autocratic and patriarchal aspects of life in that part of the world and judge it as exotic and foreign and Other to a US-backed alternative, at least one of the mistakes you’re making is overlooking the ways in which the US has encouraged these undemocratic and restrictive politics. If you look at the dictatorships and call them our friends, you’re insisting that popular rule in the region would inherently be incompatible with US interests and those are more important. Rubio looks at the region shaped by US and other foreign meddling and wonders how it got that way, while Kasich simply shrugs and notes we have to keep them in line. In either case, there’s a denial of the violence inherent in US policy, stretching back decades.

Whether you view this as a cultural war or a strategic conflict, the Republican debate last night offered only variations on viewing the average person in the Middle East as lesser, with no alternative to that.

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Wet, weird, and weirder

A number of interesting looks at well-covered situations have come out this week, so I think it’s important for everyone to give them a one-over, if nothing else, to enrich the conversation around them.

MinuteEarth, a YouTube channel that specializes in short science-focused videos that describe a given natural phenomenon, put out an intriguing piece on Tuesday. This is just one data point in the broader scatter plot, but it seems like the conversation around climate change and its far-reaching effects has not only become something of a regular topic for many people, but that the emphasis in it has shifted. While protests still happen, there’s been a changing tone, away from addressing carbon pollution and other causes of the globe’s warming and towards mitigating the impacts.

The clear perspective in the video – not only that climate change is a real issue and will have demonstrable negative effects, but that certain policies need to considered as soon as possible – is a sign of how much that change has happened. In a science-minded space like MinuteEarth, that shows how the assessment of what we can do about the problem has changed. On a popular venue like YouTube, it’s a sign of how the broader popular culture might change towards thinking and talking about the issue as well.

On Wednesday, Talking Points Matter turned their spotlight on Ben Carson. With holes appearing in his description of his professional past and a bizarre past statement surfacing about the “real” use of the pyramids as grain stores (as apparently biblically described), his presidential primary campaign has taken a dramatic turn for the surreal. Well, more surreal. TPM chose to highlight a part of his candidacy obscured by the somehow more fantastic elements (pyramids!) and more overtly disqualifying ones (lying!): his Bush-like subtle references dropped for certain evangelical circles and the John Birch Society to pick up while others stand around confused. As Ed Kilgore put it-

[T]he real key for understanding Carson (like Beck) is via the works of Cold War-era John Birch Society member and prolific pseudo-historian W. Cleon Skousen, who stipulated that America was under siege from the secret domestic agents of global Marxism who masqueraded as liberals. Carson has also clearly bought into the idea that these crypto-commies are systematically applying the deceptive tactics of Saul Alinsky in order to destroy the country from within—a theme to which he alluded in the famous National Prayer Breakfast speech that launched his political career and in the first Republican presidential candidates’ debate.

It’s not clear how many Carson supporters hear the dog whistles and understand what his constant references to “political correctness” connote (it’s his all-purpose term for the efforts of America’s secret enemies to mock or silence cognoscenti like himself, Beck and Skousen), but added with his other advantages, it fills out his coalition with depth as well as breadth.

Never fear though! The same day, 538 published a deliciously exhaustive look at the structure of the delegate system within the Republican presidential primary, and they couldn’t have been clearer in their findings. In a nutshell, the system is designed to keep the Republican Party a national party, with wide appeal. Delegates aren’t awarded evenly based on population, but they are more evenly distributed than Republican voters, particularly in the general election. While there are bonus delegate seats given to areas with more current Republican officeholders, those are swamped by the popular vote delegates which work like a kind of pre-run of the electoral college.

As I’ve noted before, one of the key problems with that part of our voting system is that turnout is irrelevant. An incredibly small group of people in heavily weighted districts can easily outvote much larger populations, because people don’t vote, districts, weighted by population and as a single bloc or with proportionate representation, do. A similar situation to the hypothetical situation I noted in that post has become a regular occurrence within the Republican presidential primary, at least according to 538. A small number of “blue state” Republican voters cast votes that stand-in for the much larger population they live among and who lean variously away from the Republican Party. Largely comparatively socially liberal and interested in the Republican Party because of economic policies, they’re often able to swing the party back from it’s more regionally popular candidates seemingly at the last minute.

Ben Carson may have the lasting power described by Talking Points Memo, but that’s all moot if he can’t bring himself into vogue with more moderate portions of the Republican Party, which actually have more sway that commonly realized.

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The more things change

If this year has seen a unifying story about homophobia, heterosexism, however we want to label that, then it’s been this: a desperate plea from many corners of the LGBT community to both fellow members and outsiders to not discount it as “over”. Within the US, marriage equality has not only become national policy but withstood most challenges so far, and increased rights for many students have gelled in particular. The only sometimes spoken fear is that this recent history of modest victories will lull people into a false sense of security. Maybe the only good thing about the National Religious Liberties Conference, to be held in Iowa this coming Friday and Saturday, is that if properly covered it might deflate those illusions about what progress has been made.

A shocking number of people to this day shrug off the statements from the conference’s head organizer on HIV/AIDS. Saying that the debilitating disease that disproportionately affects non-straight men and transgender women is essentially a divine retribution has become almost a cliché, sarcastic device. Well, Kevin Swanson, the organizer in question, brought it out seriously in a recent radio broadcast, in which he called HIV/AIDS “God’s retribution to their [LGBT people’s] sexual habit”. What’s more, he characterized any sort of government financing of research to treat, prevent, or cure HIV/AIDS “support for their homosexual activity” and  “accommodate their activity”.

hiv_aids_godA woman wearing a shirt reading “Thank God for AIDS,” from here.

He and his guest commentator agreed, “This is a politically protected disease” – and they didn’t mean that its spread and effects have been encouraged through and framed as just desserts for LGBT people. They meant that the status as someone slowly dying from a treatable infection that was historically underfunded and underexamined in part because of the marginalized classes it affected is privileged over them. This is fueled by and fuel for almost every modern heterosexist fire in America – that true persecution is a purely straight experience, that HIV/AIDS is comically over-addressed, that LGBT people in general are a shadowy conspiratorial class, and so on.

This might originate as a theological argument about sin, sexuality, and disease, but it has become a political argument in favor of societal resources not being structured in a way that accounts of the unique needs of LGBT people. Quite the opposite of changing society to make it more livable for LGBT people, this argument can only tolerate one form of organized collective social action towards LGBT people other than direct, unambiguous violence – neglect. For anything active and positive, Swanson is very clear on his perspective: “The solution is private charity”. The emphasis on private cannot be ignored, as he stresses it. In spite of that, he can’t even imagine private liberal churches or other organizations being able to stomach supporting people with HIV/AIDS. The argument against it being publicly addressed is both a way of denying HIV/AIDS research some of the most extensive resource pools and, it’s imagined, a way of ultimately making the problem one that society as a whole neglects.

The political dimensions of this aren’t something to be laughed away. The conference will only draw a small number of devoted attendees – by most estimates around 1,600 – but has confirmed three Republican Presidential candidates (Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, and Ted Cruz) will be among them, and Ben Carson might make an appearance as well. The conference is quite blatant about the point of the presidential involvement. Their website notes that in the Iowan caucuses “the Christian conservative element will have its largest impact at the outset of the race” and that “presidential candidates need to hear from us”. The Republican Party, for all of the 2012 promises to rise from their electoral ashes like a more tolerant phoenix has at least four presidential contenders with some involvement in this conference, predicated on spreading a virulently anti-LGBT agenda.

That is one of the major parties in the country, and this is the continuing political reality. One in which LGBT lives are uniquely disposable.

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What good does it do?

Rhetorically, there were a number of moments in last night’s debate that seem to have captured parts of the liberal imagination. Hillary Clinton appealed to a basic right to bodily autonomy and to make that right accessible with support for Planned Parenthood and related medical providers. Bernie Sanders unequivocally declared that Black Lives Matter. Martin O’Malley almost captured something similar by stating that bigotry had no room in the Democratic Party, but Jim Webb’s own comments throughout the night called that belief in such a categorical progressiveness into question. Even in that case, Webb’s presence highlighted his out-of-place status in the broader Democratic Party. As Jamelle Bouie put it:

In short, Webb being there only underscored the stated commitments to addressing racial, gendered, and other inequalities. There aren’t really any Dixiecrats anymore. This is what the Democratic Party has become.

So with a tight field of candidates largely competing to be a presidential nominee who could advance that sort of US self image at the highest level in the country, what’s not to love? The Democratic Party has won the popular vote five out of six times in the most recent elections (which translated into four uncontested wins). The Reagan Revolution seems to have been more of a momentary happenstance of White Flight from the Democratic Party that could make the White House an insurmountable Republican fortress.

While White people continue to be a majority of residents of the US, and disproportionately represented in electoral registration and participation, enough didn’t flee the Democratic Party that they and a growing number of voters of color can be a surprisingly effective electoral coalition. It’s tempered by all of the problems inherent in national coalitions – it’s slow-moving, continually renegotiated, and subject to limited radical action – yet it can at least promise to get a lot done and seemingly mean it.

Part of the implied problem there is that there are limits to what any political party can do. Almost by definition, they operate within a standard political process. The closest thing to an alternative are parties like Sinn Féin or historically India’s Congress Party, which are political branches of counter-state forces. The Democratic Party’s origins are rather different from that sort of an organization, and the type of imperial conditions that encourage those types of political parties haven’t existed in the US for several centuries. In the absence of that, a mainstream, gradualist policy-tinkering has become the order of the day.

Even that however is difficult for Democrats to enact on a national scale as the brief window in 2009-2011 showed. As a Party, they held the presidency and majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Healthcare reform debates choked out almost every other reform issue, leaving us with the current situation in which many hallmarks of the Bush era linger – most obviously widespread warfare, indefinite detention centers, and mass surveillance. Deportation actions increased, Guantánamo remains open, and we’re using drones more than ever. Weren’t the Democrats interested in ending all of that? Weren’t there great flowery statements in debates and elsewhere on the campaign trail against those exact things?

There’s a number of other, less intractable factors that could be blamed for that, from fickle Blue Dogs to Filibuster-enabling Joe Lieberman. As much as the Democrats can’t deliver on everything because of the political and electoral system they must work within, there’s also a question of what they can do with a presidency dependent on how well they do in Congress and the states. Tomorrow and later this week I’ll take a look at the prospects of the Democratic Party in down ticket races and what they could potentially make of 2016.

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Unalike in nature

If you don’t already give Podcast for America the periodic listen, allow me to recommend it. It’s exactly the biting, often satirical look at US politics from Mark Leibovich, Annie Lowrey, and Alex Wagner that you wish you could simply switch on the television or open a newspaper and read from them and others. Instead, if thrives in the wilds of soundcloud and iTunes where you little differences (like swearing) can add up to more than just a change of tone, but also a entirely different type of discussion.

Of course, like most media that I cover on here, there’s a criticism that I have. It’s a particular one that grows out of something Alex Wagner said in the most recent episode:

I actually was thinking as we were talking about Trump’s infrastructure how nobody has- Everyone questions the seriousness of Biden’s potential bid because there is like, ‘Does he have the money or does he have the support? Does he have the network?’ Nobody questions it when it’s Donald Trump! Certainly the money isn’t an issue for Trump, but you know, neither one- they basically have the same amount of campaign infrastructure at this point, which is to say, none at all. And yet, that seems to be a liability for Biden in a way that it is not at all for Trump.

The issue I have with this is that there’s an assumption that a presidential campaign is going to have the same relationship to traditional campaigning regardless of which major party is running it. Increasingly, people have recognized that there isn’t a “pivot” faction in US politics, or at least as much of one as most people believe there is. Voters for the most part don’t suddenly vote against the party they had favored two years before. Instead, there are two radically different electorates – one of which votes in most elections and broader one usually only mobilized in years with presidential contests. Voters are fairly consistent, it’s turnout that’s not.

The two major parties increasingly represent factions that skew towards one of those ends of the same spectrum of voting behavior. That leaves us with conditions where Democratic candidates have won the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections, but both the House and Senate are increasingly dominated by Republican elected officials. In both of those bodies, there’s a Democratic minority largely sustained by “coattails” that might be entirely their own earned votes, just only in the years when their types of voter turns out.

Of course, these diverging interests in what type of electorate votes impact policy as well. The Democrats have slowly but steadily come out in favor of increasing accessibility for voters transparency within the voting process, and seem poised in the coming years to question certain on-going forms of disenfranchisement – namely for convicted felons and the incarcerated. The Republicans have at the same time begun pushing tighter restrictions on voters to prevent voter fraud and sought to limit the number of hours in which votes can be cast. Both are seeking to make the elections that have a harder time winning more like the ones that they find easier, by broadening or shrinking voter turnout.

More than diverging takes on electoral regulation, there are also increasingly distinct approaches within campaigns themselves. Within both parties, large numbers of supporters are anxious over the potentially biasing effects of large political donations, now enabled by the Supreme Court. The Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, has emphasized that he doesn’t need those donations because he can fund himself, while surging Democratic contender Bernie Sanders has instead highlighted how many of his contributions come from smaller donors.

That perpetuates the same divide seen in 2012 between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – with smaller donations largely going to Obama and sizable ones largely to Romney. Those donations are made in a broader campaign context. Large donations come with capturing the attention of specific donors, usually in highly specialized events. Smaller donations come from more general appearances, often while delivering iconic stump speeches. Think of Obama’s rallies versus Romney’s behind-closed-doors meetings. A similar divide is already rearing its head in the primaries this year, as Sanders calls for more primary debates – highly public moments in which he can make his case to a large audience – while Trump for a significant amount of time was basically just doing phone interviews from his own apartment.

Joe Biden might not hit the same populist note as Sanders, if he does run, but he would need to compete with that type of a campaign, tailored to a general audience that needs to directly support you for you to succeed in the election. In short, as a Democrat, he would need a ground game, a popular campaign, and other hallmarks that are being asked of his (for now) hypothetical run. Alex Wagner goes on from the part I quoted to note that Trump’s front-runner status proves that at least for now he may not need the typical campaign apparatus, and that’s because of what the Republican Party has, permitted by the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act and ruling on Citizens United, evolved into an electoral entity that doesn’t seek out popular support, but the financial and political endorsement of a small minority.

To be fully fair to Wagner, I doubt that this is the reasoning behind asking different questions of Trump’s current and Biden’s possible campaign. Still, when it comes to the general election, there should be different standards applied to Biden because he would run an utterly different type of campaign from Trump or any other Republican.

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Stuff Happens

Trigger warning: gun violence, war, terrorism, islamophobia

By now, Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign has seemingly hit a stumbling block that while not necessarily disqualifying in the Republican Primary, is likely to capsize him in the general 2016 election if he becomes the Republican nominee. If you’re unaware, when asked for his thoughts on the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, he shrugged off the loss of life, saying, “Stuff happens.

At the risk of sounding as oblivious to the recent pain as him, he is technically right. Miseries happen. Tragedies happen. Violent events happen. The issue here though isn’t that though, it’s what he meant by saying that. “Stuff happens” is what people say not to recognize pain and problems but to dismiss them. His implicit argument is that nothing can be done about these types of mass shooting incidents, which happen in this country at nearly a rate of once a day. His calculated political decision not to care about this specific form of violence is disguised by the powerlessness that “stuff happens” implies. He’s making a choice not to care, and presenting it as all he can do.

That’s not how he himself has spoken in the Republican Primary on all forms of violence.

“I don’t know if you remember, Donald- Do you remember the rubble?”

Jeb Bush is entirely capable of caring about the loss of life and the experience of violence – and not just in a standard Republican tone in a hypocritical call for new restrictions on abortion. He can see events of extreme, pseudo-militaristic violence, and say this is unacceptable and demands an organized, society-wide response. What he does is chooses which tragedies speak to him in that way, an indirect way of selecting the type of society he thinks we should live in.

A tragedy that justifies invasions and colonialism-echoing occupations in majority Muslim countries calls for remembering, for recognizing, for sacralizing to achieve those ends. A tragedy like a shooting by an able-bodied, able-minded, straight, cisgender, White man within the US has no parallel usefulness to Jeb Bush within the Republican Primary. If anything, it’s a liability in a worldview that depends on finding the origins of violence (and hence, reasons to strike back) as coming from other groups and striking with different means. What “stuff happens” underscores is not just a callousness to those affected by this most recent incident of gun violence or one of the scores of similar tragedies in these recent years, but a dehumanizing way of approaching any such loss of life, whether disregarded as yet another lamentable thing in the world or hallowed.

“Stuff happens” out of the mouth of Jeb Bush or anyone else who has spoken about 9/11 and other tragedies in such mournful terms makes clear that the speaker asks themselves a question after every catastrophe: what can I gain from this? Their sorrow is not a fully authentic emotional response, but a carefully chosen one, selected because of what it could bring about in the world.

Credit to the featured image goes to here.

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Upcoming liveblog

The second debate in the Republican presidential primary will be held tomorrow, with a first round of less popular candidates at 3 pm Pacific and a second main debate at 5 pm Pacific. Like usual, you can follow along to see my reactions and thoughts on it on twitter, here.

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Nixon’s legacy

Trigger Warning: anti-Black racism, segregation, imperialism

While there are growing signs that Donald Trump’s front-runner status in the Republican Presidential Primary is vulnerable, he remains a formidable contender for the time being. The specific language he has turned to in the past few weeks has increasingly hinted at the archetypal modern Republican politics he has tapped into in order to catapult himself to the front of the pack in a crowded primary. Although powerful, for many what he said might sound like an innocuous phrase – “silent majority”.

Specifically, he has repeatedly stated that his popularity within the primary is a reaction on the part of that “silent majority” which is using him in part of a broader effort at “taking our country back.” He tweeted using that specific wording before heading to an event in New Hampshire, but there was a recurrent focus on that language and the concept of a “silent majority” in the midst of some sort of return when he appeared in Alabama and in South Carolina. There’s a uniquely Southern political reading of this buried deep within, but the true political legacy Trump has remixed is a non-regional one. The interplay between the particular Southern appeal but also a more general sense of loud reaction bursting out of a “silent majority” recalls one particular Republican candidate from long before the more typical models of Reagan and the Bushes.

nixon rockwellNorman Rockwell’s portrait of Richard Nixon, from here.

If Nixon seems particularly odd and out of place in modern Republican politics, it’s for good reason. This forgets that Reagan and other major conservative icons were in many important ways the heirs of a Republican-centered political movement. There’s the familiar appeals to Goldwater’s brash rejection of the New Deal and fear of the Grand Society, but what’s forgotten is how Nixon took those comparatively extreme, election-losing perspectives and repackaged them. Part of that was of course the Southern Strategy – the deliberate appealing to White voters motivated by anti-poverty programs but also racist sentiments – but it was also picking at the threads of moderate and centrist political discomfort with a changing political landscape in which many new voices were increasingly audible. Nixon himself didn’t even the phrase “silent majority” – but he plucked it from a labor organizer’s mouth, and both made it popular and augmented his popularity with it. In many ways, the “silent majority” is a concept used to validate those breaking their ties with progressive and left-populist coalitions in favor of a more conservative, less radical alternative.

Of course, for the people who lived that history or have studied it, it’s clear what politics were actually advanced by Nixon and his successfully supportive “silent majority”. His administration organized coups in countries that democratically elected socialists, sold arms in a way that sowed the seeds for the horrifyingly overmilitarized Middle East of modern day, and carved out the modern and geographically-rooted face of racial segregation in the US. The political promise that held together his cobbled political support base was to give them what they secretly, desperately, silently wanted. The political toxicity that continues to hang over his name shows how untrue that ultimately was. Still, in many ways that has remained the Republican national coalition – a number of groups united in feeling under siege by a specific process of changing standards of what’s acceptable. Trump is reinventing himself to better fit the part (if by nothing else, recasting himself as a deeply devout Christian), but from the costume he’s slipping into and the stage he’s acting on, there’s a political heritage that he’s manipulating here.

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Decoding dogwhistles

Trigger warning: racism, anti-immigrant violence, deportation, police violence, ethnic cleansing

On Tuesday, Donald Trump became frustrated at a press conference. To journalist and eight-time Emmy Award winner Jorge Ramos, Trump responded to a line of questioning about how on earth he was going to deport millions of undocumented people by saying, “Go back to Univision.” In case the thinly veiled language is able to pass you by undetected, one of Trump’s supporters confronted Ramos after he was expelled from the event and made it even more explicit.

“Get out of my country, get out.”

Donald Trump himself did say “Univision”, a Spanish language news network based in the United States, but the implications of it, that Ramos did not belong in the room, were heard loud and clear and seized on almost immediately by someone less able or willing to hide the nature of what was being discussed. That slipping of the curtain behind what Trump said and what others correctly heard him mean is not only a confirmation that “dogwhistling” – the use of subtle language to indicate support for unpopular and extremist groups – will continue to be a key part of the Republican presidential primary, but also a confirmation of what many had already suspected about the specifics of the anti-immigration animus currently propping up Donald Trump.

Jorge Ramos is a US citizen. While he was born in Mexico, he immigrated at the age of twenty-four with a legal student visa. The following thirty-three years of his life, he has lived in the United States first on that visa and later as a naturalized citizen. Whatever political stance you take on undocumented immigration isn’t a stance that at least personally implicates him, and yet, the language ultimately used to dismiss him is identical to that used against undocumented people. That’s because, for all the bluster about legality and criminality, Donald Trump’s campaign doesn’t care about documentation of immigration, they care about immigration, full stop.

In hindsight, this is obvious. In his announcement that he was running, Trump famously spoke with open hostility towards undocumented immigrants from Mexico, stating they were intrinsically criminal people guilty of not only failing to obey immigration laws but also habitually engage in various violent crimes. His description actually doesn’t connect what he sees as an anti-social nature among those immigrant communities to their undocumented status, but rather their national origin. “Mexico sends” them, is how he put it – technically including legally documented Latin@ immigrants like Ramos, who left his birth country after facing pushback for critical coverage of the Mexican government. While the focus is on what’s possible policy-wise to do towards the undocumented, the political desire clearly expressed targets all immigrants regardless of documentation status.

The anti-immigrant politics defining Trump’s campaign only become more obvious from there. The first of his rallies to attract the size of crowd first associated with Bernie Sander’s populist rhetoric was in Mobile, Alabama, where he appeared on stage with Senator Jeff Sessions. His host has previously used his weight in the Senate to upend proposals about legal immigration – essentially he’s opposed to immigration in any form. Trump has added him to his team specifically to design immigration policy for him. Tellingly, this is what the crowd that greeted the two of them in Alabama looked like:

trump in mobileFrom here.

Alabama is in many ways not just the type of place where Trump draws the largest support but also the kind of population that Trump wants to create with the policy of all undocumented people being “returned”. Years of anti-immigrant policies culminated in Alabama in 2011 with the passage of a strict profiling-encouraging law inspired by an Arizonan forerunner. As many news outlets noted at the time, one of the most immediate impacts on Alabama was that many neighborhoods were in essence ethnically cleansed. As the New York Times put it –

“By Monday afternoon, 123 students had withdrawn from the schools in [Albertville, Alabama], leaving behind teary and confused classmates. Scores more were absent. Statewide, 1,988 Hispanic students were absent on Friday, about 5 percent of the entire Hispanic population of the school system.

John Weathers, an Albertville businessman who rents and has sold houses to many Hispanic residents, said his occupancy had suddenly dropped by a quarter and might drop further, depending on what happens in the next week. Two people who had paid off their mortgages called him asking if they could sell back their homes

[…]

Rumors of raids and roadblocks are rampant, and though the new law has nothing to say about such things, distrust is primed by anecdotes, like one told by a local Hispanic pastor who said he was pulled over outside Birmingham on Wednesday, within hours of the ruling. His friend who was driving — and who is in the United States illegally — is now in jail on an unrelated misdemeanor charge, the pastor said, adding that while he was let go, a policeman told him he was no longer welcome in Alabama.

‘I am afraid to drive to church,’ a 54-year-old poultry plant worker named Candelaria said, adding, ‘The lady that gives me a ride to work said she is leaving. She said she felt like a prisoner.'”

For many this is perhaps a not terribly revealing moment, but this marks an opening in which the motivations behind policy are being revealed, making them visible for some for the first time. What Donald Trump is running is at its core an anti-immigrant campaign that is built to validate what was said to Jorge Ramos – that this is a White person’s country and not his. The basic idea that Trump’s campaign sells is that Ramos shouldn’t feel entitled to ask questions as a journalist, that Latin@ people shouldn’t feel entitled to drive or go to school otherwise exist in the US publicly, that Candelaria shouldn’t feel entitled to go to church. The targeting of the undocumented for deportation is just the most visibly violent part of the system he’s trying to set up.

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