The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Category: 2018 American Elections

Are Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Harbingers of the Turning of the Tide

Ilhan Omar

The two most media-savvy new House members from the last election were undoubtedly Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). AOC has single-handedly made the Green New Deal a topic of discussion, and Omar has broken the Washington consensus that one can’t say bad things about Israel without being destroyed by the Israeli lobby as an anti-semite.

Along the way, they’ve also shifted–or started shifting–the Overton window on topics like Reagan being a racist (AOC) and on Obama being a mass murderer (Omar).

They’re a bit less radical than they seem: Omar, for example, is for the two-state solution in Palestine, but compared to what was allowed to be said previously, what was allowed to be supported previously, they are radical.

Meanwhile, the Democratic presidential field has as its norm support for Medicare for All, breaking up the big tech monopolies, and so on.

What it’s possible to talk about and espouse has changed.

On the other side of the ledger, the simple fact is that most of the new Democratic house members who were elected in 2018 are “moderates” and they have also received, overall, better committee assignments than the left-wingers.

Nancy Pelosi, who’s in charge of House Democrats, openly mocked the idea of the Green New Deal.

The Democratic Party establishment is still run by moderates; and those moderates still respect the right and despise the left.

Nor have Omar and AOCs’ voting records been as radical as their rhetoric.

So, are they, and the Presidential candidates, the harbingers of the turning of the tide?

Yes. But not that it will definitely be as left-wing as we might like. There is a demographic turn that is certain. Pelosi and other baby boomers are old. This is the end for them. They have another four to eight years at most, and then most of them will be replaced. The Millenials (who are no longer young) are coming of political age. Unlike GenX, which was not numerous enough to replace the Boomers wholesale, they will be the new majority in politics.

How radical they will be remains to be seen. The trends are optimistic, but Millenials have an authoritarian streak as well as a radical one. Certainly we can expect them to take climate change, for example, more seriously: They will have to live with the results, while the Boomers always knew they’d be dead before it really mattered.

We will know by the end of 2024 approximately how this is going to play out. That’s when the demographic edge will simply require that Millenials take over.

That’s not long from now. To put into perspective, it’s only three house elections away.

If the future is to be better, we will, in the old and tired blogosphere saw, need better democrats than the ones we are electing now. AOC and Omar are outliers, even among their own generation, within Congress.

I’m actually somewhat optimistic. I think that as the Overton window turns, and given just how much pain both the young and the old are in America (with soaring suicide rates, drug addiction, and declining life spans among key constituencies) that there’s a good chance of positive change.

There remains a strong chance of negative change as well. In 2010, I stated that the next President after Obama would be a right-wing populist or authoritarian. It was obvious, because Obama was fucking up and had decided to favor the rich and screw the middle class and poor.

When people are in pain they will choose the disruptive alternative. In 2016, that disruptive alternative was Trump (if Sanders had been the Presidential candidate for the Democrats, I agree with the polling that says he would have won, as he was also disruptive and, unlike Trump, not clearly a cruel lunatic).

So we have cycles: The Democrats get their chance. The Republicans get their chance.

When one of them actually succeeds and makes enough Americans clearly better off in ways that Americans can feel, they’ll lock down politics for the next 30 years or so, in the same way that FDR did and that Reagan and Thatcher did.

If they fail, they will simply pass the ball to the other party.

So far Democrats have been satisfied–more than satisfied–with just passing the ball back and forth. They liked Republicans, basically agreed with neoliberalism and wealth concentration (why not, Democratic leaders personally benefited), and didn’t want to upset the status quo.

AOC, and in particular Omar, are not okay with the status quo. Neither are most of the serious Democratic candidates for President.

If these candidates actually go on to govern in ways change the status quo in a way that is win for a clear voting majority of Americans (and non-voters can become voters), then they will succeed at turning the tide. If they don’t, they won’t.

What individuals do often does matter. It goes against the grain of our society with its “wisdom of crowds” consensus to admit this. A few individuals, chosen by large numbers of people, will likely decide if the US has a turn for another Golden (or more likely, Silver) Age, or not.

Choose wisely.

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Dems Take the House: What It Means

Nancy Pelosi

Ok, this is good news–


back in 2006, the Democrats took the House under an unpopular Republican President.

The Democratic leader was, as today, Nancy Pelosi.

She did very very little.

Some things did not get passed that would have if Republicans held the House. She did not go after Bush or try to block him in any significant way.

This is what, I expect, she will do this time. This is who she is and what she believes in. She has already said she will not go after Republicans the way they went after Democrats.

So, good news, but please don’t expect very much. Pelosi is a centrist, leading a centrist party, who finds Trump’s policies distasteful, but finds vigorous opposition even more distasteful. She does not believe in fighting right-wingers.

Unrequited good news: The re-enfranchisement of Florida felons. That will likely put Florida solidly Dem in the next election.

(Also, in popular vote terms, this was a wave election, but gerrymandering and the “great sort” mean the seats don’t translate.)

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The Mid-Terms

So, the polls suggest the Democrats stand a good chance of winning the House and a small chance of winning the Senate.

Let us hope they win at least one of the two, as a divided government, in the face of Trump, will be a good thing. Trump’s been doing a lot of mean, stupid things, the latest of which are his imposing sanctions on Iran, even though Iran has kept up their end of the nuclear deal, for which sanctions were removed.

I didn’t support Clinton in 2016 because of her anti-Russian hawkism and insane Syria policy (and didn’t support Trump either because he’s an evil douchebag). But Trump is moving towards war with Iran, which would be insanity. Even if war doesn’t happen, the sanctions will hurt and kill a lot of Iranians, are actually hurting their relatively moderate current government, and strengthening Iran’s more conservative forces.

Trump’s a very effective guy in certain ways, but he’s also a moron in a lot of other ways, and a cruel and rather petty man.

Let’s hope Americans put a brake on him.

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Is Ocasio-Cortez the Start of a Movement?

Most of you have, probably, by now, heard of Ocasio-Cortez, the insurgent Democratic Socialist candidate who defeated incumbent Joseph Crowley in a New York House Primary–and by a large margin.

Ocasio-Cortez is, for the US, quite radical: free tuition, true universal health care, re-instating Glass-Steagall and he out-and-out called Israelis shooting Palestinians a massacre when it was, in fact, a massacre.

Ocasio-Cortez is not the only such candidate to win in this cycle, but she is the most visible and Crowley was touted by many as Nancy Pelosi’s likely heir in the House Leadership. The New York Times barely even covered her, they just assumed Crowley would win.

Now it has been observed by many that the reason the Republicans are very right-wing is that they are scared of their base: An incumbent is more likely to lose in a primary than a general.

The Netroots movement that ran from about 2003 to 2010 had as its goal “more and better Democrats,” and tried repeatedly to take down Democrats from the left. By and large it failed and so the Democrats continued to be what they’ve always been; a party which agrees with 80 percent of what Republicans do, but wants to be a little nicer about it.

What matters about Ocasio-Cortez and her small cohort is whether they are precursors of a larger change. Will Democrats challenging from the left win, and win often? Will incumbent Democrats have to move left to try and hold their seats? (Crowley tried, but he wasn’t credible.)

I have long agreed with my friend Stirling Newberry that 2020-24 is the change-point in the US. It is at the point where, simply due to age, Boomer politicians will have to give up power, and younger politicians (Millenials and GenZ or whatever we call it now) will take over. A few leaders may come from GenX, but not many, because we are too few, and anyway, as a generation, we have awful politics.

If this first wave turns out to have what it takes, and have a decent ideology they stick to, then the US stands a chance at a sharp turn towards becoming a kinder, more equal nation which is better to live in. (And Ocasio-Cortez’s plan for environmental change is stunningly good: a massive green build-out which many have suggested for decades.)

I am simultaneously optimistic and pessimistic. While Millenials overall have fairly good politics according to polls, the generation after that is more questionable. Further, as with Boomers, it may not be those with good politics who win most (no, the hippies did not storm Congress in the 70s.)

But this is the early movement of the hinge. The door opens fully between 2020 to 2024 and that will determine the future of the US.

If you wish to see a precursor, watch Corbyn in Britain. Just as Britain preceded the US into neoliberalism with Thatcher, it may precede the US during this turn of the hegemonic sub-ideology.

(Oh, and Ocasio-Cortez? She uses the phrase “For the many, not the few,” which is Labour’s motto under Corbyn.)

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Mueller’s Russian Indictments

So, Mueller has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three entities. Let’s look at this a bit closer.

In an indictment announced Friday in Washington, Mueller describes a years-long, multimillion-dollar conspiracy by hundreds of Russians aimed at criticizing Hillary Clinton and supporting Senator Bernie Sanders and Trump.

More accurately, I suspect, would be to say that Putin wanted someone who wasn’t as anti-Russian and anti-Putin. Clinton and Putin have a long-time adversarial relationship, and Clinton has been very antagonistic to Russia. In particular she wanted a no-fly zone in Syria after the Russians were there, and Putin sees her as lying to him about Libya: Reassuring him that the no-fly zone there was not about regime change.

This “information warfare” by the Russians didn’t affect the outcome of the presidential election, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told reporters. Trump and his Republican supporters have repeatedly denounced the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt” and have denied any collusion. The indictment cites no instances of Russians coordinating directly with the Trump campaign.

The election was so close that I don’t see how it can be said that the Russian interference didn’t effect the outcome. Though, it is precisely because it was so close that the outcome can be “blamed” on everything, from Clinton not campaigning in key Rust Belt states, to Republican voter suppression. (The latter is probably most significant, but Clinton racked up a lot of votes where she didn’t need them and didn’t put much in the way of resources into some marginal states which mattered.)

The Internet Research Agency, a Russian organization, and the defendants began working in 2014 to interfere in U.S. elections, according to the indictment. They used false personas and social media while also staging political rallies and communicating with “unwitting individuals” associated with the Trump campaign, it said.
In a Feb. 10, 2016 planning memo, the Russians were instructed to “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump — we support them).”

The operations also denigrated candidates including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Trump’s rivals in the 2016 Republican primary, the indictment said.

The 2014 date indicates plans were in place long before Trump or Sanders could have been expected to run. That Trump was the chosen candidate on the Republican side makes sense; he was consistently Russia- and Putin-friendly. As for the Democratic side, it was Clinton or Sanders, and Sanders, while not a Russia booster, was certainly better for Russia than Clinton.

I don’t see a great deal here to be excited about. The US routinely interferes in foreign elections to a much greater extent than this. The best solution would be an agreement to stop interfering in foreign elections on both sides.

I assume Mueller will continue and indict some more Americans (one American is indicted here on minor charges).

Oh, and…

They spent thousands of dollars a month to buy advertisements on social media groups, while carefully tracking the size of U.S. audiences they reached, according to the indictment. (emphasis added)

Thousands of dollars? Not millions? Or even “hundreds of thousands”? It is hard to take that very seriously.

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US Electoral Predictions for 2018 and Beyond

Back in 2009/10 I said that Obama would be replaced by a right-wing populist. I thought it would take four years, but it took eight, because the losses were concentrated down-ballot, and Obama hung on.

Similar to Matt Stoller, I have a fairly simple heuristic: People expect government to noticeably make their lives better, and when it doesn’t, they toss the bums out.

So, Bush Jr. was a disaster, and in ’06 a wave election put Pelosi in charge of the House. She did nothing with it: She didn’t oppose Bush in any meaningful way. In ’08, in the midst of the financial collapse, Obama got in, and, yeah, he didn’t help Americans for squat, instead concentrating his efforts on immunizing executives from fraud charges and helping banks defraud home-owners (see Chain of Title, by David Dayen if you think this is in any way an exaggeration).

So after his eight years, voters switched parties again. Yeah, it was close, yada yada, but as the field stood, Trump won, despite having the highest negatives of any Presidential candidate in history.

No, Trump didn’t win with racism alone; the margin of victory was given by people who had been willing to vote for Obama. Those people might be racists, but they were willing to put that aside if they believed in a candidate.

Trump had a very populist economic plan in many ways, and has implemented virtually none of it beyond some minor moves on the trade front.

And so the pendulum swings back, and in ’18 the Democrats will take the House and possibly the Senate. Will they do anything with it that really matters to help ordinary Americans in ways that are really noticed? If Trump loses in 2020 (or Pence), will the next Dem President do what matters?

The first party to do what matters will be in a position to sew up the country for 40 years, as FDR did after ’32 and Reagan after ’80.

And, as I have pointed out frequently, and Matt points out today, we dodged a bullet with Trump because he is incompetent. A competent right-wing ideologue who actually made the economy better (and it can be done), can change the US and own it–in a perverse reversal of FDR.

It is not enough to be for civility and decorum. Democrats must also truly be against Republican policies and for positive policies of their own which are radical enough to turn the United States away from its current economic trajectory towards further and further oligarchy. Policies which create and spread wealth, and which end monopolies and oligopolies, and break corruption.

These policies are well known and understood: high marginal tax rates, breaking up large companies and real universal health care, along with effective stimulus and investment. What is lacking isn’t knowledge of how to implement them, what is lacking is will: The Democrats don’t want such policies any more than Republicans do. What they want is kinder, gentler neoliberalism. A slow descent into oligarchy, with a few more cushions for the homeless.

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