Why Obamacare Repeal Failed, or The Dangers of Believing Your Own Sales Pitch.

“… government had always been big for people like us [whites], and we were fine with that. But beginning in the 1960s, as people of color began to gain access to the benefits for which we had always been eligible, suddenly we discovered our inner libertarian and decided that government intervention was bad …”
Tim Wise, Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority

For four decades, the story of American politics has been the story of the triumph of conservative ideology in government. From the rise of Reagan to the impeachment of Clinton and the triumph of Trump, conservative messaging has driven political debate in the United States. Even at their lowest point in 2006-9, the conservative-dominated Republican Party was able to push back against liberals and moderates in both Federal and Sate government. The high point of Democratic legislative power, the Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act of 2010, was based on conservative ideas, took the form of a giveaway to private industry, and was explicitly modeled after Gov. Romney’s popular health care reform in Massachusetts. The “public option” idea for the legislation was removed to get conservative Democratic support in the Senate.

In broader strokes, public higher education, which was once almost free in much of the country, is now increasingly unaffordable for families without substantial savings, placing education and opportunity out of reach for a large and growing share of America’s youth. The top tenth of one percent of income earners, deriving most of their revenue from investments, pay a fraction of the tax rate of those they employ. Financial services represent the largest sector of the economy. Business regulation has been largely dismantled, permitting multi-billion dollar companies to operate with illegal business models. Education and health care are increasingly influenced by politicized Christian radicals.

With all this success, it was natural for GOP leaders to assume that the broader public supported their anti-government, pro-business views for the same ideological reasons they did, thumbing through well-worn copies of Von Mises, Hayek, or Rand. With the ascension of Donald Trump and the collapse of Paul Ryan’s American Health Care Act under the weight of angry town halls across the nation and a 17% approval rate, that assumption has earned some scrutiny. The question remains, however: If middle-aged white voters didn’t share the minarchist ideas of the House GOP caucus, why did they keep returning them to office?

One answer that suggests itself is that the pro-police, pro-military, theocratic, anti-government platform of the Republican Party appeals to people with, ahem, ethnonationalist, views.

You start out in 1954 by saying, “N*gger, n*gger, n*gger.” By 1968 you can’t say “n*gger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N*gger, n*gger.”

  • Lee Atwater, 1981

The roots of the modern War On Drugs are to be found during the Presidency of Richard Nixon, whose chief domestic policy advisor told Harper’s writer Dan Baum:

“You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

If the public has been absorbing this ‘dog whistle‘ message for two generations, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that they got the message loud and clear, or when the Lieutenant-Governor of South Carolina opposed providing free school lunches to poor children because, as with stray animals, it encourages them to breed. Nor should we be shocked when former Speaker of the House and all-around great guy Newt Gingrich calls Barack Obama the Food Stamp President.

Nor should be be completely blind-sided when, decades into this process of racialized radicalization, some of the those the Party manipulated this way become the Party’s leaders and the dog whistle becomes a megaphone:

Racial Anxiety‘ or ‘Racial Resentment‘ have become the largest drivers of support for Republicans and their policies. For a crucial margin of white voters, feelings of white victimhood are their conservatism. Far from laissez faire, they’re closer to the ideology of Herrenvolk Democracy, in which democratic participation and the benefits of the State should be reserved for members of the majority culture.

Enter Paul Ryan, from youth a believer in Austrian and monetarist economics and in Ayn Rand, the novelist and pop philosopher who viewed the wealthy as the possessors of all moral merit. Ryan probably believes that refraining from taxing the wealthy would produce more wealth overall, but supports it regardless as a moral value. He may be tactically pragmatic, but has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to shrinking the role of the State as a moral and ideological crusade, which is what he has in common with the ideological leadership of the Tea Party and the members of the House Freedom Caucus. Unlike Lee Atwater and John Ehrlichman, they no longer see law-and-order and anti-tax policies as racial code. The grifters fooled their successors.

So, when Caucus members and Republican “mainstream” congresspersons,  who are ideologically identical, ran into a buzzsaw at town halls from red-state crowds dependent on Obamacare, they had a conceptual as well as tactical problem. They had made the mistake of taking the sales pitch for the product because they are the generational inheritors of the modern conservative movement, not its architects. They either will not acknowledge or don’t realize the role of white racial resentment in forming conservative allegiance in the general population.

For a decisive minority of white people in the nation’s interior, the consequences of deindustrialization can naturally be blamed on trade, aid, the rising minority share of the population, and immigration, even if the facts do not support that conclusion. Neither do they see any conflict between that view and the other tenets of modern American conservatism. Unlike the ideologues in the conservative media and on the Hill, they see no conflict between interventionist, protectionist Herrenvolk Democracy and “religious freedom” laws, the Drug War, and “tax reform.” This explains why, despite the protestations of pundits, the vast majority of Republican voters had no trouble touching Trump on their voting screens. Paul Ryan may have forgotten he was talking in code, but the voters didn’t. They wanted the benefits of the State, as manifested in the ACA, at the same time as they wanted the racially-specific “undeserving” excluded from such benefits. That’s why the House GOP’s American Health Care Act, which would have penalized exactly the modest-income middle-aged whites who were Donald Trump’s margin of victory in the Rust Belt, had a 17% approval rate even though it was what the GOP had been promising for years.

Ultimately, American Conservatism is in a crisis because its leaders don’t know what movement they’re leading.

None Of This Is Donald Trump’s Fault

President Trump responded to Friday’s withdrawal of the American Health Care Act by claiming/threatening that the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare will fail, forcing Democrats to come to the table with the GOP. On Thursday, he gave a bizarre interview where, among other crimes against truth, he claimed that his bullshit claim that President Obama wiretapped him had been vindicated when it had not. Of course, these were just the latest in a bewilderingly lengthy series of bizarre, unnecessary, and counter-productive falsehoods that have helped to make the Trump Administration feel like it’s in it’s second term instead of its first quarter.


President Trump’s lies, are, despite being diverse and profound, not the worst thing about his administration. When he keeps his word, the results can be even worse. He has ripped families apart and moved ahead with his absurd Potemkin Wall. His travel ban makes no sense and causes needless hardships for innocent people. He has proposed taking food from the mouths of some of the poorest and most helpless people in America for the sake of his ridiculous “hard power” budget. He acts like he doesn’t see other people, particularly those who lack wealth and power, as being authentically human. This well-documented tendency has helped fuel speculation that Donald Trump suffers from a serious personality disorder. All these tendencies seem to come to the fore when he can’t get his way.

Despite all of that, I don’t think it makes any sense to blame Donald Trump. In the final analysis, it’s not his fault that he doesn’t know how to relate to the world, or even to objective reality. Projecting childish fantasy and treating the middle class and the poor with contemptuous disregard has worked well for him throughout his life, keeping him in business decades after he should have been driven to the poorhouse. He sells crappy wine and steak, signs up students to a fraudulent “university,” cheats workers and contractors out of what he agreed to pay them over and over again, commits serious acts of violence as a boy against teachers and fellow students, and no real consequences ever materialize. Seven decades of privilege have built a wall between Donald Trump and the objective universe, Affluenza Boy writ large. What did we think was going to happen? Donald Trump as President is a living symbol of the price we pay for our decision to give impunity to the rich. He is our national comeuppance.


It is our responsibility as citizens to demand that the rich do not enjoy undue privilege. It’s on us to punish politicians who strip legal services for the poor so that only the rich enjoy due process while the poor are forced to plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit. It’s our job to throw prosecutors out of office who let the rich get away, quite literally, with murder.

We must vote out elected officials who dole out favors for cash, who take outright bribes or whose family members take well-paid jobs for which they don’t have to show up. We have to punish legislators who vote to exempt “investment” income from taxation while soaking workers by hiking their payroll taxes and denying them the benefits they have earned. We have to make it hurt to be a Janissary for the rentier class. We have failed, not Donald Trump.

When we demand that citizens who run for office tell us what we want to hear instead of the often unpleasant truth, we are begging to be lied to. When we demand to be entertained all the time, we are agreeing to be manipulated. When we insist that the governance of a nation of 320 million people (in a world of seven and a half billion) never confront us with complexity or hard choices, we are voting for narcissistic, empty-headed used car salespeople. That’s why Donald Trump is uniquely qualified to be President in Twenty-First Century America. In a very real sense, he is the ultimate contemporary American.

So, the next time you hear of some absurd lie or horrible misdeed emanating from the White House, don’t blame Republicans on the Hill. Don’t point your finger at the media or decry right-wing radio. Don’t look to the Klan or the Nazis. No, instead take a long, hard, look in the mirror. Donald Trump is not some alien monster, installed by shadowy foreign forces. He is us. He is you and he is me.

The Price of Screwing Workers


The only economic program centrist politicians had to offer in the Western world over the last 30 years was the continuation of globalization, offset with redistribution to compensate the “losers.” Whenever fiscal constraints appeared, those redistributive measures were the first to go, even if they weakened government accounts. Thus were low-wage workers sold out.

The victory of the Leave campaign in the UK and the Republican nomination of Donald Trump in the United States represent a revolt of working-class voters against the mainstream politicians who mortgaged their futures. Only time will tell what the long-term results will be, but the chances of a trans-Atlantic recession in the short-term just got a whole lot better.

The only possible bright side is that this marks the first time in contemporary economic history that the wealthy have paid a direct, tangible price for screwing over working people. This might change the political and economic calculus of class warfare. In the meantime, of course, the poor will suffer the worse. What else is new?

Why 2016 Is A Shitshow

The triumph of a thrice-married reality TV star in one party and the surprising success of a 74-year old “Socialist” curmudgeon from Vermont in the other has had American political pundits flinging mea culpas like an alcoholic the day after a family wedding. We had all gotten used to the predictable structure of American national politics and 2016 has been a shock in terms of what has happened. The apparent reasons it happened, however, aren’t particularly surprising.

For two generations, the parties have campaigned on platforms of improving the material lives of their electoral bases while carefully, deliberately, impoverishing them and their progeny. By allowing business to crush unions, outsource jobs, dodge taxes, poison workers and citizens with impunity, systematically defraud the public, and force employees to individually negotiate their pay, American government has decisively shifted the balance of power away from workers, consumers, and the public toward shareholders and corporate managers. The inevitable result has been a stagnation and decline of real purchasing power for average Americans even as necessities like housing, education, and healthcare have become dramatically more expensive in a way that undercuts all the happy talk about the benefits of technological change. What has been clear this year is that voters have noticed.

Although the rhetoric is different, what Trump and Sanders have in common is that they connect with the anger of ordinary Americans about the loss of their economic power and firmly associate it with political malpractice. Both Sanders and Trump have accused our political leaders many times of corruption. The bleating of mainstream pundits about this “extreme” rhetoric does nothing to obscure the fact that this charge is obviously true. The fact that those who write the laws that define bribery are the same ones who benefit from the cozy exchange of “access” for the endless quantities of money needed to buy thousands of 30-second TV advertisements to bludgeon the public subconscious into submission does nothing to change this fact.

What this year’s craziness tells us is, I think, that a plurality of the public has finally gotten the word about what’s been done to them; and that the magic of the 30-second TV ad has died. The only “establishment” candidate to achieve any success in this cycle’s nomination contests has been a virtual former co-President, as well as a retired Senator and cabinet secretary of senior rank. Even Hillary Clinton, however, still hasn’t clinched her nomination against an idiosyncratic misfit who wasn’t even a Democrat 18 months ago. Bernie Sanders started his quixotic quest for the nomination polling at three percent.

Meanwhile, the scion of the Bush Dynasty blew $150 million to go exactly nowhere in the family business. Political heavyweights (sorry) like Chris Christie, John Kasich, Lindsay Graham, and Marco Rubio disappeared like coffee at a twelve-step meeting. Everywhere, the conventional approach to campaigning has failed in unpredictable contests against strategies built around mobilizing rage.

It is in this context that Sanders’ favorable poll performance against Trump makes sense. It’s why I’m skeptical about Clinton’s prospects against the orange menace. It was, after all, during her husband’s administration that some of the most damaging trends accelerated or originated. In any case, it’s time to take conventional wisdom out behind the barn and put it out of its misery.

Transphobia Is a Sham

As a parade of “bathroom bills” traipses across the landscape, every mainstream media outlet takes care to stipulate that the scary scenario of men pretending to be trans women in order to rape little girls in public restrooms is “not supported by the facts,” journo-speak for utter bullshit. As usual, the mainstream media doesn’t go far enough. Not only is the bathroom menace nonsense, the whole idea of seeing trans people as a threat is phony.

In most states, it’s legal to discriminate against trans people in employment and housing, and the recent state laws have broadened the permissible discrimination to public accommodations and even health care! In most of the US, trans people have little or no legal protections and are the most-murdered people in America. Despite the frankly bizarre assertions of a weirdly out-of-touch Southern governor, there is no group in America more maligned, victimized, marginalized, and isolated than the trans community. Not only are they not a physical threat, they are not even a cultural threat because they are such a tiny minority, most of whom live in secret.

The real reason professional activists are writing and lobbying for these laws is as ballot bait: to get gullible conservatives to the polls in an attempt to change the unfavorable demographics in the 2016 Presidential election. Now, with Donald Trump as the apparent nominee, even the Senate is up for grabs, and the rhetoric and legislation take on a particularly shrill and desperate character. There’s a reason why North Carolina has ratcheted up the severity of its voter suppression and anti-LGBT lawmaking: it was known to be a swing state in the Presidential race this year, but now the whole ballot is under Democratic threat.

So, the next time you hear someone defend anti-trans discrimination, recognize that it’s just a cheap attempt to exploit ignorant fear for political gain. It’s not an argument, or indeed a view, you need to respect. Transphobia is a sham.

#BernieOrBust Is Stupid.

#BernieOrBust, the movement/idea to boycott the Presidential election if Bernie Sanders doesn’t get the nomination, is a really dumb idea. I put all the obvious, probably insulting, reasons why it’s dumb at the end so I could point out what should be obvious, but somehow isn’t:

Don’t leave the Democratic Party, take it over.

Google “[Your County Name] Democratic Executive Committee,” show up at the next meeting, and apply to be an appointed, then an elected, precinct committee member. County DECs elect State Committees, who elect the Democratic National Committee. Bernie supporters are,on average, younger and more passionate than the average DEC member. Use that. It’s your Party, take it. The next Progressive firebrand who runs for President would be the Establishment candidate, not an insurgent outsider.

The obvious, probably insulting, reasons why it’s dumb not to vote for President:

The immediate result will be to dramatically increase the odds of electing a far-right nutjob as President who will, with a Republican Congress, undo the modest progress of the last eight years. We will lose the Affordable Care Act, and up to a hundred thousand Americans will receive a death sentence. The dramatic progress made in solar power and electric cars will be destroyed by industry lobbyists, and we will dramatically blow through our carbon targets. The progress made on equal pay, access to contraception, protections for victims of sexual assault and Domestic violence is viewed as unamerican by the Republicans. Kiss civil liberties goodbye. If you thought Obama was bad on deportation, privacy, encryption, whistleblowers, racial justice, drug policy reform, criminal justice, etc.; the GOP all think he’s too soft on all of the above and want to crush individual liberty. Since there will be at least two vacancies on a 4-4 Supreme Court for them to fill without the need for compromise, their agenda would become essentially permanent public policy in the US. You’d be handing them the keys to the kingdom. It very well might be one person, one vote, one time.

If you thought Obama was a warmonger, oh, boy, you ain’t seen nothing yet. I live a few miles from Central Command Headquarters. I have a personal stake in avoiding the consequences of a right-wing President’s miscalculation of Vladimir Putin. Every one of the GOP candidates wants a tougher, more violent foreign policy, and Republicans in Congress all agree with them. I have never heard any Republican elected official or their advisers mention the risks of more aggressive foreign policy. Have you?

Colonies are unAmerican

Puerto Rico’s debt crisis has finally reached the public consciousness thanks to Jon Oliver:

Setting aside for the moment the absurdity of public policy in the world’s most powerful country being dictated by late night comedy and variety shows, I’d like to focus instead on the absurdity of a country, founded in a revolutionary war against a colonial empire, that maintains colonies over a large part of the world.

In 1901, in a series of frankly racist majority opinions, the Supreme Court ruled that the residents of conquered and subverted lands could be denied basic protections of citizenship because they were inferior and incapable of self-government. It was one thing to accept the unacceptable when racism was a respectable and majority view. It’s quite another to assert stare decisis when you can be fired from virtually any job for spouting such odious nonsense.

The bizarre and byzantine series of statuses held by residents of different American territories is best explained by:

and, again, by Jon Oliver:

While the text contains a hole big enough to drive a truck full of Federalist Society nutjobs to a book burning, the gist of the Fourteenth Amendment is pretty clear:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

It’s also pretty clear that a country established as an Enlightenment-era political experiment in liberty is inviting some pretty serious political legitimacy questions by maintaining empire and demi-citizenship.
It produces legal and political precedents for all kinds of assaults on human rights, whether economically or politically motivated. It makes no difference whether these abuses take place overseas or in the District of Columbia. There can be no half-citizens. Every liberal and progressive should be committed to the principle of In or Out: Every place subject to American law must be part of a state whose residents have full representation both in Congress and the Executive or it must be all or part of an independent country. After all, our first rallying cry was:


The Party of Women

In the last 40 years, the Democratic Party, long the political home of Southern segregationists and Northern labor unionists, has been searching for a constituency. Ham-handed attempts to appeal to Black voters are no substitute for a ballot with Barack Obama at the top. Our appeal to Hispanics can be summed up as: “those other guys really hate you.” As for youth outreach, well:

The less said, the better. Hillary with the stars of “Broad City.”

If only the GOP would embark on a program to find brilliant new ways to piss off 51 percent of the American population. Hmmmm ….

How about, when asked for ways to prevent campus rape, the “moderate” Republican candidate for President were to advise staying away from parties? No? OK, Well for parents trying to balance work and kids, you can take your babies to work, right? Well, at least working women can earn money to raise those kids. OK, no kids, focus on work. Well, it’s not like all those Republicans elected in the States in 2010 pulled some bait and switch after promising jobs and spent their time trying to ban abortion instead, right? No, obviously not.

See, none of this is fair. Surely the top two Republican politicians in the US have a disciplined, professional attitude toward the majority of Americans. I’ll bet the GOP’s Presidential front-runner has a genius for pandering to women voters. No? Well, then, there’s always his responsible opponent.

The Democratic record on measures strengthening families’ health and pocketbooks could be a useful electoral counterpoint. I don’t think there’s any reason to be coy about it. If there’s one way Democrats, warts and all, could shatter the GOP’s governing coalition, this is it.

The Power of Simple


In the 2016 Presidential election, one of the greatest sources of amusement has been experienced political pundits and journalists struggling to understand why political technocrats with long resumes and impressive accomplishments have fought long, sometimes losing, struggles against also-rans like Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.

For me, this confusion signals the power and longevity of one of the most powerful myths in American politics: the idea that rational thought is important in voters’ decision-making. The logic of our constitution, with its protection of political speech, creating a “marketplace of ideas;” our belief in the meaning of debates; the roots of our philosophy of minimal government in the Scottish Enlightenment; etc. all embody this belief. The idea that, given the available information, people will make the decision best for them is so pervasive in American life that it’s impossible to give a complete account of its reach and consequence.

The truth is that, while humans are capable of using logic and reason after rigorous discipline and training, we can never be free of the biological nature of our brains. Ideas have power when they support our emotional attachments. When you ask people to do things like write checks, knock doors and drag our monkey asses to the polling place, you have to motivate us. You have to flatter us and insult our enemies because that territorial baboon never goes away. Narrow technocratic appeals ain’t gonna cut it, folks. Ask Jeb Bush or Lindsey Graham, or oh, you can’t, `cause they’re politically dead. Why hasn’t Hillary Clinton, whose power and presence scared almost every major Democrat out of the race this cycle, clinched the nomination in late April? The reason is that people need enemies and they need hope. Yeah, I hear your “tssk” of disapproval from here. You ain’t any different, and neither am I.

Like it or not, we’re tribal creatures with utopian leanings. When Trump promises that “We’re gonna win so much, your head will spin,” or Bernie promises “a political revolution,” it fires up millions of people. When they promise to make China or billionaires pay for their programs, their rallies fill up and voters stream to the polls. Supporters make heroes of political neophytes or obscure legislators, making art or dressing themselves or their children in their likeness, and generally making fools of themselves in their presence or in their name. This kind of irrational frenzy has political power because emotion impels action, and politics is not about getting people to think something. It’s about getting them to do something.

That the downside to emotional appeals in politics is, well, apocalyptic, doesn’t change the facts. Humans need simple, comprehensible emotional appeals to motivate them. Our responsibility as campaigners and activists is to understand and use the emotional character of the human mind to influence voters. If we want to drag America, kicking and screaming, into the Twenty-First Century, we gotta do it by the short-and-curlies. The Right gets that. We’d better start.

Why Bernie Sanders Matters

Although the Vermont senator’s path to the nomination is almost entirely closed, his popularity with key Democratic demographics tells us how to win national power. The key to Sanders’ success was his message of economic empowerment, amplified by a lifetime devoted to economic democracy. The reason for Democratic weakness is that our rhetoric of economic, cultural, and social pluralism is not paired with a consistent record of pursuing it.

Bernie Sanders

Without a lifetime of loyalty to the Democratic Party, young voters vote for Sanders, seeing authenticity in his consistency and longevity. The decrepit party Hillary and Bill Clinton inherited, hollowed out by the backlash to civil rights legislation and its own abandonment of the labor movement, lacks such ideological cohesion and, for lack of a better word, a brand. Without that identity, the general public, without activists’ loyalty to party, has no way of knowing what we stand for and no reason to turn out to vote for down-ballot races that lack the personalities of the national campaigns. The transactional, inches-every-down style that the Clintons and their inheritors favor merely deepens the problem.

The results of this lack of broad appeal could not be clearer. When you leave the cities and the coasts, Democratic power in America disappears. The GOP controls 23 state trifectas (governor and both houses of the legislature), the Democrats 7. Almost all the government that affects most people in this country is run by the most extreme conservatives to hold power in America in three-quarters of a century. This has been enough to threaten women’s right to chooseeffectively disenfranchise millions of Americans, and deny millions of Americans access to healthcare out of spite. The Democratic Party’s failure to turn out younger, poorer, non-white, and low-information voters in down-ballot elections is directly related to our lack of a consistent and appealing brand that could mobilize those voters. A strong economic populist appeal could be the key to that brand.

Sanders’ huge success with younger and independent voters shows there is a constituency for his populist brand of politics, and that the party cannot count on the loyalty of those left-leaning outsiders. Their loyalty must be earned. If the party were to adopt a Sanders or Warren-style populist message consistently enough to make it our brand, we could turn out an expanded electorate in Congressional and state races, instead of just the top of the ballot, enabling us to truly contest Republican power where they hold a decisive advantage.

Although Sanders’ political career may be coming to an end, his ability to raise enough money and inspire enough support to build a campaign completely outside the party make it inevitable that a younger and more appealing candidate will repeat his success to greater effect in a future cycle. It has also brought millions of new left-wing Democrats into the party at a time when aging county committees are crying out for new blood. I hope they are our future, because without them, we may not have one.