Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Broader Shade of Blue

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States of America and the current Republican majorities in the House of Representatives, Senate, Governorships and many state legislatures (not all of them Red States) has placed the Democratic Party in a position somewhat similar to the one that the Republican Party was in after the 2012 election cycle - out in the political wilderness, wondering how they got there, at a loss for a concrete plan to find their way back and looking for one of their own to take the fall for it.

Enter the Dean-Moulton Line of Demarcation. It's a term that NPR's Domenico Montanaro pretty much made up on the spot, but it's a useful one, so let's run with it a bit. The central debate of Dean-Moulton is this: in order to get more votes especially in redder areas than their normal stomping grounds, Democrats have to shift their party platform. So, do they shift towards a more Progressive platform, to put more daylight between themselves and the Republicans - the Jim Dean position? Or, do they prepare themselves to run to the center when required - the Congressman Seth Moulton position?

The answer, I suspect, lies in what one thinks of how the electorate works, and what it wants. The Dean position says, in effect, that there are more votes to be had by running harder to the Left. From my layman's perch, this says a couple of things to me, both of which I've heard from people who would strike me as being in the Dean camp. 1) That there is a relatively large number of disaffected voters to be picked up, who are currently to the Left of the Democratic Party as a whole. These are people who are highly unlikely to ever vote for Republican candidates, and the reason that they don't turn out for Democrats is, when it comes down to it, from that far to the Left, the center and the Right are pretty much indistinguishable, to the degree that many "moderates" are, as far as they're concerned, simply Republicans who may or may not have actively pledged allegiance. 2) That most reliably Democratic voters are reliable to the point of being givens. Their brand loyalty means that wherever the party platform goes, left, right or awkward, they'll still be reliable votes. To be pejorative about it, they're sheeple, unthinking drones who'd vote for Satan or a ham sandwich, as long at they ran on a Democratic ticket. So those votes don't need to be contested for. So moving to the left to pick up the disaffected progressives has little, if any downside.

The Moulton position says that a move Right towards the center, or at least the flexibility to do so, is a more likely winning strategy. Again, my layperson's analysis of the calculus involved tells me that the thinking is that most of the votes that have been left on the table are in the space between the Republicans and the Democrats, and that many people who don't vote, and thus are available to be wooed, feel that both parties have moved too far away from their positions to be worth chasing down. I suspect that it also postulates that people do make the switch from one party to another, depending on which is closer to their own interests. Generally speaking, to be politically active without it being more or less a waste of time requires that one line up with one of the Big Two political parties. Smaller groups, like the Libertarians and the Greens, are seen as something between protest votes and markers of mental illness, and so are taken at all seriously in the political scheme of things. The centrist position strikes me as less self-assured than the alternative; their pitch to those on the leftmost edge of the spectrum is less "Who else are you going to vote for?" than "Half a loaf is better then none, and while we won't go as far as you'd like, it's certainly farther than you'd get otherwise." I'm not sure that I see the wisdom in appealing to the pragmatism of the edges, but then again, I'm not in politics, either.

Whether or not the Dean-Moulton Line of Demarcation takes into account the current ground truth is, for me, an unknown. My own analysis of the election in November tells me that there simply wasn't enough enthusiasm for the Obama years left to carry a Democrat into the White House and give the party control of Congress, regardless of whether that was Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. And so, like the recriminations of the Republicans before it, the issue may simply be solved when the population tires of the brand of government that President Trump and the Republican Congress have brought with them. For those people who felt that the Obama Administration had adopted a policy that lay somewhere between ignoring them and throwing them under the bus, I'm uncertain of either Mrs. Clinton or Senator Sanders represented enough of a change to gain their votes. But when the nation sours on the Republicans, it's also unlikely to matter whether or not Dean or Moulton have won the argument. Bigger events will likely have been the deciding factor.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Way With Words

After last Wednesday's shooting at Republican practice for the annual Congressional charity baseball game in Alexandria, Virginia, one of the targets for blame was "overheated political rhetoric." And one of the phrases that came back into the public consciousness was "words have consequences."

One of the interesting things about public anger at politics and with politicians is that people tend to see it as genuine emotion when it comes from people the agree with, and the result of cynical emotional manipulation when it doesn't.

Three guesses which side of the political spectrum "NewsBlaze" comes down on...
There seems to be an understanding that co-partisans can be legitimately upset with policies enacted by the other side, to the point of anger or even literal outrage. But people on the other side are often seen as passively accepting of the world around them, unless someone takes action, either deliberate or careless, to "rile them up." Part of it is simple political blind spots. It's easy to understand how policy choices that one doesn't like, either because of the policies themselves or the people who enacted them, are simply bad. And it makes sense that people would be angry at wrongheaded, perverse or treacherous policy choices. It seems to be more difficult for Americans to understand that the policy choices they support might create losers, or people who honestly perceive themselves as possible losers, and that those people would have a genuine (if perhaps premature or misplaced) grievance with those policies and their supporters.

And once you've convinced yourself that the only reason why someone could be roused to violence over what is obviously sound policy is that they are weak-willed, ignorant and easily- mislead, it's only a short step to pointing out the strongest voices that one disagrees with as engaging in incitement. Which is not to say that incitement doesn't happen - but it rarely, if ever, directly comes from the highest halls of power. Open calls for violence tend to erode the support that politicians depend on. It's the rare office holder who could, as then-candidate Donald Trump bragged, shoot a man in the street and not lose any support. And so people hear dog whistles everyone (despite the fact that the whole point behind a dog whistle is that it's not universally audible).

While far from the worst place in the world for political violence, the United States is always going to have an undercurrent of it because we tend to view violence as a way of solving problems. Even when the problem is politics.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Wait For It...

A great blue heron, on the lookout for a meal.

Thursday, June 15, 2017


At a press conference from the scene, Virginia governor and Democrat Terry McAuliffe was the first to raise the spectre of gun control. "There are too many guns on the street," he said, before remarking that it wasn't the day for that debate. "If it's not the day for it why are you bringing it up?" replied a reporter.
Virginia shooting raises spectre, but not likelihood, of gun control
This, perhaps, is illustrative of the problem that we have with the "gun control debate" here in the United States. The focus appears to be more on being seen to be on the same side of the issue as particular constituent groups than it is on advancing any particular policies. Perhaps because the general consensus is that the status quo will remain inviolate, at least for the foreseeable future, posturing and virtue-signalling are the only remaining avenues for action. Just as it's conventional wisdom that Republican lawmakers have the National Rifle Association and firearms manufacturers pulling their strings, that same convention holds that Democratic lawmakers are beholden to the more activist wings of their voter base. Why being responsive to voters (regardless of whether one thinks those voters are wrongheaded, un-American or spot on) should be considered as bad as being dictated to by a trade organization is a mystery to me, but I suppose that few have ever decried American politics for an over-reliance on rationality.

In any event, both sides of the debate see the "thought leaders" and legislators on the other side as captured, and doing what cynical others bid them to do.


And the other point I would make - and my oldest son is a police officer, not a detective. The point he makes - and I agree with him - is, this area has pretty strong gun control laws, had no impact whatsoever on this gentleman. The reality is the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun because in my opinion, gun control laws simply limit citizens, limit law-abiding citizens.
Paul Mitchell - (R - Michigan)
Freshman Lawmakers React To Virginia Shooting
On the one hand, you have to give the Republican's credit for their message discipline. But on the other, sometimes, you'd think that someone would say: "Maybe this isn't a good time for this particular talking point." Most people in the country are familiar enough with the partisan positions on this issue to understand that a shooting, even one of other members of Congress, is unlikely to change their stance on gun control. But this seemed sort of shoehorned into the conversation - no mention of gun control had been made, and so as much as I dislike partisan sniping around the topic, Representative Val Demings' (D - Florida) comment that Mr. Mitchell was parroting an NRA statement rang true. Even though Mr. Mitchell attributed the sentiment to a police officer son, it came across as if Wayne LaPierre had put a hand up his butt to make him talk.

Republicans tend to use the idea of "with a gun" as a stand-in for "ready, willing and able to commit violence." And these really aren't the same concept. And even though they should have an understanding of what the genuine conflation of the two should look like, they speak as though they don't, and the simple presence of more guns in the hands of "good guys" (because, you know, you can tell them on sight) is going to solve a much deeper problem.