Quotes of the Day: Jimmy Kimmel & Stephen Colbert On The Shutdown

Jimmy Kimmel On The Shutdown:

In Washington, Democrats and Republicans reached a deal. Kind of a deal, to reopen the government for, well, at least three weeks. The Democrats agreed to fund the government through February 8 in exchange for a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that they would have a debate and a vote on DACA. In other words, for nothing.

Schumer said negotiating with the president was like trying to negotiate with Jell-O, specifically the orange Jell-O.

Trump was completely removed from the negotiations. It’s funny, he always claimed to be the best negotiator. This was his big selling point, “I’m the dealmaker.” At this point it seems pretty clear he couldn’t even negotiate 20% off at Bed Bath & Beyond with the coupon.

Bonus Quote From Stephen Colbert:

To avoid another shutdown, all that needs to happen is Congress has to agree on how to fix our entire immigration system in 17 days. And once they do that, the pigs that fly will solve world hunger.

Historian Analyzes The Many Problems With The Russiagate Narrative And Democratic Support For Interventionism

Many partisan Democrats have believed Clinton’s claims that she lost as a consequence of Russian interference in the election, as opposed to her own mistakes, despite the lack of evidence for such claims. Many of those viewing the matter more seriously have expressed skepticism, seeing the current hysteria as reminiscent of claims of WMD in Iraq. Jackson Lears, Professor of History at Rutgers University, has an essay on this at the London Review of Books. He looked at subjects including the lack of evidence that Russia was responsible for the DNC hack, along with how this narrative distracts from the evidence of corruption in the DNC which was revealed in their email. He noted, as I also provided examples of recently, that many of the claims in the media have been quickly shown to be incorrect. He also discussed how the Democratic Party’s fixation on Russiagate has led to them ignoring other issues, including the need to take a stand against the military interventionism advocated by Clinton. While I would recommend reading his full article, here are some excerpts:

American politics have rarely presented a more disheartening spectacle. The repellent and dangerous antics of Donald Trump are troubling enough, but so is the Democratic Party leadership’s failure to take in the significance of the 2016 election campaign. Bernie Sanders’s challenge to Hillary Clinton, combined with Trump’s triumph, revealed the breadth of popular anger at politics as usual – the blend of neoliberal domestic policy and interventionist foreign policy that constitutes consensus in Washington…

A story that had circulated during the campaign without much effect resurfaced: it involved the charge that Russian operatives had hacked into the servers of the Democratic National Committee, revealing embarrassing emails that damaged Clinton’s chances. With stunning speed, a new centrist-liberal orthodoxy came into being, enveloping the major media and the bipartisan Washington establishment. This secular religion has attracted hordes of converts in the first year of the Trump presidency. In its capacity to exclude dissent, it is like no other formation of mass opinion in my adult life, though it recalls a few dim childhood memories of anti-communist hysteria during the early 1950s.

The centrepiece of the faith, based on the hacking charge, is the belief that Vladimir Putin orchestrated an attack on American democracy by ordering his minions to interfere in the election on behalf of Trump. The story became gospel with breathtaking suddenness and completeness. Doubters are perceived as heretics and as apologists for Trump and Putin, the evil twins and co-conspirators behind this attack on American democracy. Responsibility for the absence of debate lies in large part with the major media outlets. Their uncritical embrace and endless repetition of the Russian hack story have made it seem a fait accompli in the public mind. It is hard to estimate popular belief in this new orthodoxy, but it does not seem to be merely a creed of Washington insiders. If you question the received narrative in casual conversations, you run the risk of provoking blank stares or overt hostility – even from old friends. This has all been baffling and troubling to me; there have been moments when pop-culture fantasies (body snatchers, Kool-Aid) have come to mind.

Like any orthodoxy worth its salt, the religion of the Russian hack depends not on evidence but on ex cathedra pronouncements on the part of authoritative institutions and their overlords. Its scriptural foundation is a confused and largely fact-free ‘assessment’ produced last January by a small number of ‘hand-picked’ analysts – as James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, described them – from the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. The claims of the last were made with only ‘moderate’ confidence. The label Intelligence Community Assessment creates a misleading impression of unanimity, given that only three of the 16 US intelligence agencies contributed to the report. And indeed the assessment itself contained this crucial admission: ‘Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation and precedents.’ Yet the assessment has passed into the media imagination as if it were unassailable fact, allowing journalists to assume what has yet to be proved. In doing so they serve as mouthpieces for the intelligence agencies, or at least for those ‘hand-picked’ analysts.

It is not the first time the intelligence agencies have played this role. When I hear the Intelligence Community Assessment cited as a reliable source, I always recall the part played by the New York Times in legitimating CIA reports of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s putative weapons of mass destruction, not to mention the long history of disinformation (a.k.a. ‘fake news’) as a tactic for advancing one administration or another’s political agenda. Once again, the established press is legitimating pronouncements made by the Church Fathers of the national security state. Clapper is among the most vigorous of these. He perjured himself before Congress in 2013, when he denied that the NSA had ‘wittingly’ spied on Americans – a lie for which he has never been held to account. In May 2017, he told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the Russians were highly likely to have colluded with Trump’s campaign because they are ‘almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favour, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique’. The current orthodoxy exempts the Church Fathers from standards imposed on ordinary people, and condemns Russians – above all Putin – as uniquely, ‘almost genetically’ diabolical…

Meanwhile, there has been a blizzard of ancillary accusations, including much broader and vaguer charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. It remains possible that Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who has been appointed to investigate these allegations, may turn up some compelling evidence of contacts between Trump’s people and various Russians. It would be surprising if an experienced prosecutor empowered to cast a dragnet came up empty-handed, and the arrests have already begun. But what is striking about them is that the charges have nothing to do with Russian interference in the election. There has been much talk about the possibility that the accused may provide damaging evidence against Trump in exchange for lighter sentences, but this is merely speculation. Paul Manafort, at one point Trump’s campaign manager, has pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to register his public relations firm as a foreign agent for the Ukrainian government and concealing his millions of dollars in fees. But all this occurred before the 2016 campaign. George Papadopolous, a foreign policy adviser, has pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI about his bungling efforts to arrange a meeting between Trump’s people and the Russian government – an opportunity the Trump campaign declined. Mueller’s most recent arrestee, Michael Flynn, the unhinged Islamophobe who was briefly Trump’s national security adviser, has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI about meeting the Russian ambassador in December – weeks after the election. This is the sort of backchannel diplomacy that routinely occurs during the interim between one administration and the next. It is not a sign of collusion.

So far, after months of ‘bombshells’ that turn out to be duds, there is still no actual evidence for the claim that the Kremlin ordered interference in the American election. Meanwhile serious doubts have surfaced about the technical basis for the hacking claims. Independent observers have argued it is more likely that the emails were leaked from inside, not hacked from outside. On this front, the most persuasive case was made by a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, former employees of the US intelligence agencies who distinguished themselves in 2003 by debunking Colin Powell’s claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, hours after Powell had presented his pseudo-evidence at the UN. (There are members of VIPS who dissent from the VIPS report’s conclusions, but their arguments are in turn contested by the authors of the report.) The VIPS findings received no attention in major media outlets, except Fox News – which from the centre-left perspective is worse than no attention at all. Mainstream media have dismissed the VIPS report as a conspiracy theory (apparently the Russian hacking story does not count as one). The crucial issue here and elsewhere is the exclusion from public discussion of any critical perspectives on the orthodox narrative, even the perspectives of people with professional credentials and a solid track record.

Both the DNC hacking story and the one involving the emails of John Podesta, a Clinton campaign operative, involve a shadowy bunch of putatively Russian hackers called Fancy Bear – also known among the technically inclined as APT28. The name Fancy Bear was introduced by Dimitri Alperovitch, the chief technology officer of Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity firm hired by the DNC to investigate the theft of their emails. Alperovitch is also a fellow at the Atlantic Council, an anti-Russian Washington think tank. In its report Crowdstrike puts forward close to zero evidence for its claim that those responsible were Russian, let alone for its assertion that they were affiliated with Russian military intelligence. And yet, from this point on, the assumption that this was a Russian cyber operation was unquestioned. When the FBI arrived on the scene, the Bureau either did not request or was refused access to the DNC servers; instead it depended entirely on the Crowdstrike analysis. Crowdstrike, meanwhile, was being forced to retract another claim, that the Russians had successfully hacked the guidance systems of the Ukrainian artillery. The Ukrainian military and the British International Institute for Strategic Studies both contradicted this claim, and Crowdstrike backed down. But its DNC analysis was allowed to stand and even become the basis for the January Intelligence Community Assessment…

Sceptical voices, such as those of the VIPS, have been drowned out by a din of disinformation. Flagrantly false stories, like the Washington Post report that the Russians had hacked into the Vermont electrical grid, are published, then retracted 24 hours later. Sometimes – like the stories about Russian interference in the French and German elections – they are not retracted even after they have been discredited. These stories have been thoroughly debunked by French and German intelligence services but continue to hover, poisoning the atmosphere, confusing debate. The claim that the Russians hacked local and state voting systems in the US was refuted by California and Wisconsin election officials, but their comments generated a mere whisper compared with the uproar created by the original story. The rush to publish without sufficient attention to accuracy has become the new normal in journalism. Retraction or correction is almost beside the point: the false accusation has done its work.

The most immediate consequence is that, by finding foreign demons who can be blamed for Trump’s ascendancy, the Democratic leadership have shifted the blame for their defeat away from their own policies without questioning any of their core assumptions. Amid the general recoil from Trump, they can even style themselves dissenters – ‘#the resistance’ was the label Clintonites appropriated within a few days of the election. Mainstream Democrats have begun to use the word ‘progressive’ to apply to a platform that amounts to little more than preserving Obamacare, gesturing towards greater income equality and protecting minorities. This agenda is timid. It has nothing to say about challenging the influence of concentrated capital on policy, reducing the inflated defence budget or withdrawing from overextended foreign commitments; yet without those initiatives, even the mildest egalitarian policies face insuperable obstacles. More genuine insurgencies are in the making, which confront corporate power and connect domestic with foreign policy, but they face an uphill battle against the entrenched money and power of the Democratic leadership – the likes of Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, the Clintons and the DNC. Russiagate offers Democratic elites a way to promote party unity against Trump-Putin, while the DNC purges Sanders’s supporters.

For the DNC, the great value of the Russian hack story is that it focuses attention away from what was actually in their emails. The documents revealed a deeply corrupt organisation, whose pose of impartiality was a sham. Even the reliably pro-Clinton Washington Post has admitted that ‘many of the most damaging emails suggest the committee was actively trying to undermine Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign.’ Further evidence of collusion between the Clinton machine and the DNC surfaced recently in a memoir by Donna Brazile, who became interim chair of the DNC after Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned in the wake of the email revelations. Brazile describes discovering an agreement dated 26 August 2015, which specified (she writes)

that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics and mailings.

Before the primaries had even begun, the supposedly neutral DNC – which had been close to insolvency – had been bought by the Clinton campaign…

Francis Shen of the University of Minnesota and Douglas Kriner of Boston University analysed election results in three key states – Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan – and found that ‘even controlling in a statistical model for many other alternative explanations, we find that there is a significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump.’ Clinton’s record of uncritical commitment to military intervention allowed Trump to have it both ways, playing to jingoist resentment while posing as an opponent of protracted and pointless war. Kriner and Shen conclude that Democrats may want to ‘re-examine their foreign policy posture if they hope to erase Trump’s electoral gains among constituencies exhausted and alienated by 15 years of war’. If the insurgent movements within the Democratic Party begin to formulate an intelligent foreign policy critique, a re-examination may finally occur. And the world may come into sharper focus as a place where American power, like American virtue, is limited. For this Democrat, that is an outcome devoutly to be wished. It’s a long shot, but there is something happening out there.

Andrew Sullivan: Democrats In A Political Coma, Failing The Resistance

If you only look at the headlines, one would think that the Democrats should be having some success. The Trump administration is engaged in rampant kleptocracy. Republicans are pushing a tax plan which many are calling political suicide. Republicans appear to be terrified by Mueller’s investigation, especially following the recent indictments.

Despite all of these apparent advantages, Andrew Sullivan points out that the Democrats are “failing the resistance.” He concentrated on how close the Virginia Governor’s race is, noting that the Republicans have a real shot of winning. Sullivan wrote, “That it could win in the state where actual white supremacists marched this past summer and when the president is 20 points underwater is a sobering reminder of the actual state of play in our politics.” He continued:

I can only hope it’s a wake-up call to the Dems. In 2017, they are either useless or actively counterproductive in the struggle to resist right-authoritarianism. They have learned nothing from 2016. Their intelligentsia seems determined to ensure that no midwestern whites ever vote for the party again. Their public faces are still Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi. They still believe that something other than electoral politics — the courts, the press, the special counsel — will propel them back to power. They can’t seem to grasp the nettle of left-populism. And they remain obsessed with a Russia scandal that most swing voters don’t give a damn about.They think they are “woke.”

They are, in fact, in a political coma.

What Sullivan left out is that the Democrats’ “political coma” includes failure to realize that they cannot be a meaningful resistance when their last presidential candidate represents what we are resisting, including her support for perpetual warfare, the surveillance state, and influence peddling. They cannot beat right-authoritarianism when the Democrats are embracing right-authoritarianism themselves, including rigging their nomination for one.

Trump Called Schumer To Work On Health Care

Donald Trump lacks long term ties to the Republican Party, and has started to figure out that his best shot of passing legislation might be to work with the Democrats. If he can bring along part of the Republican Party he might have a better chance of passing legislation by working with the Democrats than by trying to pass legislation with Republican votes alone. With the inability of Republicans to repeal Obamacare, Trump has upset many Republicans by calling Chuck Schumer to seek a path forward on healthcare.

Trump previously worked with the Democratic leadership on three-month government funding measure, debt limit hike, and hurricane aid. He has also spoken with them about  Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), with no agreement reached yet.

Trump has verified that he called Schumer on Twitter but so far Schumer has not seen a path for the two to work together. The Hill reports:

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Saturday he told President Trump that Democrats would be open to stabilizing the health-care system, but that another push to repeal and replace ObamaCare was “off the table.”

“The president wanted to make another run at repeal and replace and I told the president that’s off the table,” Schumer said in a statement on his call with Trump on Friday, news of which the president confirmed in a tweet.

“If he wants to work together to improve the existing health care system, we Democrats are open to his suggestions. A good place to start might be the Alexander-Murray negotiations that would stabilize the system and lower costs,” Schumer added.

This could be just the opening round as there is reason for Democrats to work with Trump if Trump is willing to agree to a satisfactory plan to stabilize Obamacare, as opposed to continuing to undermine the markets. Even without having the votes to repeal Obamacare, Trump can do considerable harm to the success of the Affordable Care Act. So far Trump has greatly cut funding for outreach to promote signing up for the plan and his actions are causing an increase in health insurance premiums. This week his administration has also acted to cut back on the mandate to cover birth control.

If Democrats do work with Trump, they will have to make sure that they are not just enabling him to further reduce health care coverage. On the other hand, if Trump is really willing to diverge from Republican orthodoxy, rather than demanding preservation of the Affordable Care Act the better course would be to promote a single payer plan as proposed by Bernie Sanders. While unlikely to happen, Donald Trump just might go for the idea of going down in history for delivering such a great accomplishment while president.

Clinton Plans On Doubling Down On Blaming Others For Her Loss In Upcoming Book

Republicans who hope to keep control of the House have received great news. They will still have Hillary Clinton to kick around. The Hill reports that Clinton is doubling down on her claims that she lost due to James Comey, Russia, and sexism rather than being  a terrible candidate who ran a terrible campaign:

Hillary Clinton’s new memoir will blame her 2016 presidential election loss on Russian interference and former FBI Director James Comey’s announcement that he was reopening the investigation into her emails.

Sources familiar with the memoir told the Hill that Clinton made the two scenarios cornerstones of her book, which will be released in September.

“She really believes that’s why she lost,” said a longtime Clinton ally. “She wants the whole story out there from her own perspective. I think a lot of people are going to be really surprised by how much she reveals.”

…While the book will zero in on Russia and Comey — which Clinton has said are the two biggest contributing factors to her loss — it will also examine other factors she blames for a role in her defeat, including sexism and misogyny.

Hillary Clinton’s upcoming book will double down on Russia’s interference and James Comey’s involvement in her stunning election defeat, according to sources familiar with the memoir.

Earlier this week I cited the opinion from FiveThirtyEight that having Clinton on the ballot hurt the Democrats in down ticket races. FiveThirtyEight expressed the view that not having Clinton on the ballot will  help Democrats in 2018. On the other hand, having her on a speaking tour promoting her book and her excuses for losing could be harmful to Democrats running. Clinton’s popularity has fallen even more than Trump’s since the election, and I suspect that Clinton’s blame tour to date has been part of the reason.

Some Democratic leaders are recognizing the problem:

Some Democrats are worried that their party’s goal of rebuilding and rebranding itself will be undermined by Clinton’s book.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) has publicly stated that Clinton should not blame anyone but herself and lack of messaging.

“When you lose to somebody who has 40 percent popularity, you don’t blame other things—Comey, Russia—you blame yourself,” Schumer told the Washington Post. “So what did we do wrong? People didn’t know what we stood for, just that we were against Trump. And still believe that.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden has also criticized Clinton for her campaign.

“I never thought she was a great candidate. I thought I was a great candidate,” he said in May.

“What happened was that this was the first campaign that I can recall where my party did not talk about what it always stood for—and that was how to maintain a burgeoning middle class,” Biden said in March.

“You didn’t hear a single solitary sentence in the last campaign about the guy working on the assembly line making $60,000 a year and a wife making $32,000 as a hostess,” he said.

Of course pushing Clinton’s candidacy on the country, which ultimately led to the election of Donald Trump, was the last stray in destroying the credibility of the Democratic establishment. As an op-ed in The New York Times notes, the real civil war in the Democratic party is “is between those willing to trust the existing establishment and those who want entirely new leadership.” (While Lee Drutman’s op-ed does make some good points here, he does underestimate how great an ideological gap also exists.)

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign both shows many of the mistakes on Clinton’s fault which accounted for her loss, along with how she decided within the first twenty-four hours upon the strategy of blaming others

Clinton’s excuses are all very weak. In blaming James Comey, Clinton ignores the fact that James Comey would not have been investigating her in the first place if she had not grossly violated the rules regarding email and  hadn’t handled classified information in a careless manner. The investigation further hurt Clinton as Comey’s report demonstrated that she had repeatedly lied in her public statements about the matter. This gave further credence to her reputation of both seeing herself above the  law and of being dishonest. She further hurt herself when she repeatedly lied about what James Comey had reported.  Clinton’s violation of the rules regarding her use of the private server was confirmed to be in violation of the rules in effect in 2009 by the Obama administration State Department Inspector General Report. Fact checkers repeatedly showed that Clinton was lying about the email and Foundation scandals. Clinton’s credibility was also seriously harmed by the manner in which she grossly violated the ethics agreements she entered into before being confirmed as Secretary of State.

Placing the blame on Russia does not hold up either. The evidence released so far has shown that Russia was not able to hack into the voting machines or change a single vote. There remains questions as to whether the claims from the intelligence community that Russia is responsible for the Wikileaks release of email are any more valid than the claims of Saddam having WMD before the invasion of Iraq. Even if we accept the view that Russia was responsible for the hacked email, nobody has seriously questioned the accuracy of the information released by Wikileaks. The Wikileaks releases of hacked email hurt because it verified criticism that the DNC had violated its own rules in rigging the nomination for Clinton, and in showing Clinton’s dishonesty. Again it comes down to Clinton losing due to her own major flaws.

Some of those who blame Russia have moved on to claims that Clinton was hurt by fake news spread from Russia. This ignores the vast amount of criticism of Clinton going back for years–including both factually accurate criticism along with bogus criticism from the right wing. The left has opposed the policies of the Clintons and DLC since the 1990’s. Views of Clinton were already set well before her nomination, and if any fake news did come from Russia, it would have been lost in the vast amount of noise already present on the internet.

While some undoubtedly would not vote for Clinton due to misogyny, these were primarily people who would never vote for any Democrat. Clinton was probably helped more than hurt by her gender among Democratic-leaning voters. A male candidate with Clinton’s repeated failures during her career, along with holding views more conservative than the Democratic base, would probably have only been a third-tier candidate with no chance of winning the nomination. Far too many Democrats overlooked Clinton’s serious flaws because of her gender.

The Democratic Leadership Has Failed To Give A Good Reason Why Their Party Should Continue To Exist

In followup of yesterday’s post on the struggle of the Democratic leadership to revamp their party by coming up with a new slogan, Chuck Schumer has an op-ed in The New York Times on The Better Deal. As I quoted Nancy Pelosi in saying yesterday, this “is not a course correction, but it’s a presentation correction.” Democrats who turned out to willingly vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 will be pleased, but only a major course direction will satisfy those of us who did not. This offers little to win back the votes of those of us who did not vote Democratic in 2016. That includes those of us who voted third party, and the even larger numbers who crossed over and voted for Trump over Clinton or stayed home.

These proposals leave the Democrats as a party which stands for nothing. At least they didn’t mention Russia. Unfortunately this also didn’t really discuss  health care. It is like trying to steal Bernie Sanders’ agenda while ignoring Medicare-for-all or actually getting big money influence out of politics.

Beyond this, the problem comes down to thinking they can substitute a new slogan for real policies or ideas. They hardly inspire confidence when the principles of one election, to the limited degree they express any, are ignored in the next. Running on social issues alone was not enough (especially when led by a socially conservative presidential candidate), but that does not mean they should ignore liberal social issues now.

Those of us who voted Democratic because of outrage over policies of George W. Bush are hardly going to be enthusiastic about a party which nominated a candidate who supported the worst abuses under Bush–neoconservative interventionism, restrictions on civil liberties, and increased government secrecy.  Nor is there any offer to reform the undemocratic nomination rules which make the mockery out of the primary process, making it little different than picking the nominee in the old smoked filled rooms.

The new slogan has been received with considerable derision. Jonathan Allen compares the new Democratic slogan, “A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages” to the pitch from Papa John’s, “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.” Except the Democrats failed to add better ingredients.

First Read has a more serious but equally devastating criticism of Schumer and Pelosi in asking, “Can Democrats promise a ‘Better Deal’ with the same leaders in charge?”

The one thing that Democrats do have going for them in 2018 is that Donald Trump will (probably) be sitting in the White House, and Hillary Clinton will not be on the ballot. Hillary Clinton’s popularity has fallen even more than Donald Trump’s. FiveThirtyEight showed how the nomination of Hillary Clinton cost the Democrats not only the White House, but Congress:

Clinton’s unpopularity turned out to be a key factor in 2016 congressional races. Unsurprisingly, people who had a favorable view of Clinton primarily voted for Democrats in House races, while people with a favorable view of Trump primarily voted for Republican candidates. But among the 19 percent of voters who had an unfavorable view of both presidential candidates, House Republican candidates won by a margin of 30 percentage points. (Some voters may have cast a ballot for a Republican House candidate in the belief that a House controlled by the GOP would balance Clinton’s power after what most Americans thought would be a Clinton win.)

Not having Clinton on the ballot should help Democrats pick up seats in 2018, but it is likely to be a dead cat bounce, and perhaps more limited than Democrats hope, if the Democrats do not come up with more of a reason to attract voters than opposing Trump. It might be best if the Democrats could get out of the way and allow a new party to take over as a the true opposition and resistance.

The Democrats Are Hopelessly Lost

After terrible showings in the 2010, 2014, and 2016 elections, the Democratic establishment is looking for a solution. The Washington Post reports that they are going to announce a new slogan:

Completely sapped of power in Washington, top leaders of the Democratic Party now believe that the best way to fight a president who penned “The Art of the Deal” is with an economic agenda that they plan to call “A Better Deal.”

The campaign-style motto, panned by some liberal activists as details began to trickle out ahead of the Monday rollout, is designed to revive a party desperate to win back at least some control next year. The push comes months earlier than most campaign-year sales pitches begin — an acknowledgment of the need to shore up public opinion of the Democratic Party in the faster pace of modern politics.

Nancy Pelosi remains one of the captains of the sinking ship, saying this “is not a course correction, but it’s a presentation correction.” No, the Democrats need a full fledged course correction. The Democratic Party’s answer for the Titanic would be to find a better way to talk about the iceberg before hitting it.

At least there was one bit of sense in the article:

“When you lose to somebody who has 40 percent popularity, you don’t blame other things — Comey, Russia — you blame yourself,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in an interview previewing the new plan. “So what did we do wrong? People didn’t know what we stood for, just that we were against Trump. And still believe that.”

Unfortunately the new slogan still sounds like they are against Trump but otherwise stand for nothing. As Mahablog says, “The Democratic Party is like your unhip parents trying to be cool, and failing.”

The Democrats took the wrong lesson out of their loss. The conventional wisdom is that they lost because they concentrated on social issues as opposed to economics, but that is a misreading of their problem. They compromised so much on social issues with a socially conservative candidate such as Hillary Clinton that they had no chance to build a winning coalition on social issues. That does not mean that they should abandon liberal social issues entirely.

Just as they now look to abandoning social issues, they gave up on opposing neocon interventionism and support for civil liberties in 2016 with a candidate who was far right wing on both, throwing out their previous advantages over the agenda of George W. Bush. Democrats need to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. Instead they focus on one voter group while giving others no reason to support them, and don’t even do a good job with the group they are focusing on.

The new slogan sounds like a watered-down copy of Bernie Sanders’ agenda. The Hill points out that Bernie Sanders is keeping the door open for 2020. Unfortunately the article points out that establishment Democrats oppose him, both because of Sanders being an independent, and as he is on their long list of people to blame for Hillary Clinton losing an election she should have been able to win. Establishment Democrats complain that Bernie Sanders is an independent and not a Democrat. In contrast, Sanders supporters complain about far more consequential matters, such as the Democratic establishment picking their nominees with an undemocratic process, the Democratic establishment choosing a neocon warmonger as their last nominee, and the Democratic establishment being in the pocket of corporate money.

Update:  The Democratic Leadership Has Failed To Give A Good Reason Why Their Party Should Continue To Exist

Centrist Democrats Lose Again In Georgia Special Election

Yesterday’s loss by Jon Ossoff has Democrats now wondering if opposition to Donald Trump is enough to enable them to retake control of the House. It remains to be seen if special elections in traditionally safe Republican seats provide a meaningful indicator, but Democrats did more poorly than expected in the Georgia race. This is causing some to question the strategy and messaging utilized by the Democrats.

Molly Ball has a rather boring description of Ossoff and his campaign:

Just as Handel aspired to be as generic a Republican as possible, Ossoff hoped be, as much as possible, a blank slate, a nice young man in whom disgruntled voters of all stripes could see the alternative they wanted. His campaign slogan proclaimed him “Humble. Kind. Ready to Fight”—a positionless vessel of 2017’s cross-cutting political angst. It was a decision many would second-guess after the results were in. For this district, at least, Ossoff believed it was the only way he could possibly win.

David Adkins thinks Democrats are making a mistake in trying to attract Romney voters:

In July of 2016, Senator Chuck Schumer made a statement that will go down as one of the greatest political miscalculations in modern history: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.

This strategy undergirded every decision of the doomed Clinton campaign, from ignoring the white working class in her Rust Belt firewall, to chasing suburban Republican women in Missouri and the South. It is a strategy that establishment Democratic operatives continue to pursue to this day…

In GA-06, Jon Ossoff ran a deliberately anti-ideological campaign. Centrist think tank Third Way bragged that Ossoff used a “centrist message aimed at attracting disillusioned Republican voters.” South Carolina’s Parnell, despite his Goldman Sachs background, ran a much more hard-charging campaign of Democratic values

In the end, Steve Kornacki told the tale, referencing not only Parnell’s surprisingly strong showing, but also the strong performances of other populist Democrats around the country: In specials so far, Dems have seen double-digit improvement in HRC’s ’16 # in KS-4, MT and now SC-5. In GA-6, Ossoff may not improve at all.

The lesson of the special elections around the country is clear: Democratic House candidates can dramatically outperform Clinton in deep red rural areas by running ideological, populist campaigns rooted in progressive areas. Poorer working class voters who pulled the lever for Trump can be swayed back to the left in surprisingly large numbers—perhaps not enough to win in places like Kansas, Montana and South Carolina, but certainly in other more welcoming climes. Nor is there a need to subvert Democratic principles of social justice in order to accomplish this: none of the Democrats who overperformed Clinton’s numbers in these districts curried favor with bigots in order to accomplish it.

But candidates like Clinton and Ossoff who try to run inoffensive and anti-ideological campaigns in an attempt to win over supposedly sensible, wealthier, bourgeois suburban David-Brooks-reading Republican Romney voters will find that they lose by surprisingly wide margins. There is no Democrat so seemingly non-partisan that Romney Republicans will be tempted to cross the aisle in enough numbers to make a difference.

The way forward for Democrats lies to the left, and with the working classes. It lies with a firm ideological commitment to progressive values, and in winning back the Obama voters Democrats lost to Trump in 2016 without giving ground on commitments to social justice. It does not lie in the wealthy suburbs that voted for Romney over Obama in 2012, or in ideological self-effacement on core economic concerns.

I agree that centrism doesn’t work, but the need for a message extends beyond economics. Shaun King had a better analysis last week when looking at the Virginia primaries, and tying it to the presidential election:

The Democratic Party has shifted to the right. It’s not anti-war. It’s not strong on the environment. It’s not strong on civil and human rights. It’s not for universal health care. It’s not strong on cracking down on Wall Street and big banks or corporate fraud. Ralph Northam was and is weak on all of those core principles of the progressive left, but we’re expected to get behind him, and candidates like him, as if we’re just a few small details away from seeing eye to eye with him. We aren’t. He’s not a progressive. He’s not a liberal. He’s hardly even a Democrat.

Millions of us who ultimately voted for Hillary Clinton felt the very same way about her. On issues ranging from war, to corporate fraud, to campaign finance, to universal health care, and so much more, her positions were not discernibly different from the most basic Republican talking points.

Was she better than Trump? Of course she was. But I’d literally rather have a Kardashian sister or Curious George be President of the United States over Trump. Someone being better than Trump cannot be our key metric for choosing candidates.

I’m hearing more and more of my progressive friends talk seriously about the need for us to form our own political party. I get it. At the very best we are slightly tolerated guests in the Democratic Party. We are as different from establishment Democrats as those establishment Democrats are from everyday Republicans.

Being begrudgingly tolerated is a terrible feeling. We are an enthusiastic, organized bunch, but I certainly don’t feel welcomed.

MSNBC’s Joy Reid all but confirmed as much in a widely shared tweet earlier this week in which she said, “Bernie and his followers are like that college friend who stays at your place for weeks, pays $0, eats your food & trashes your aesthetic.”

That Reid, who makes a living as a political commentator, came to this conclusion about Bernie Sanders and his millions of followers was deeply disappointing, but revealing. Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America. He has done far more for the Democratic Party than it has for him.

When the new head of the Democratic Party, Tom Perez, went on a speaking tour recently with Bernie, the enthusiastic crowds of thousands didn’t show up at every single venue to hear Tom — they were there for Bernie. Tom didn’t do Bernie a favor, Bernie did Tom a favor. Bernie got behind Hillary Clinton and campaigned for her all over the country and asked his supporters to follow his lead.

I was one of those people who did just that. I’ve been a Democrat all of my life and have campaigned for and donated to so many Democratic candidates across the years. That the millions of us who support Bernie and his values have been reduced to bad guests who don’t pay our way, eat up all the food, and trash the place, is a terrible insult rooted in something other than reality.

Democrats lost the House, the Senate, the presidency, the Supreme Court, and the strong majority of state houses and governorships across the country. I agree that it sure does look like somebody trashed the place, but it damn sure wasn’t Bernie and his followers. Anybody saying that is delusional.

King accurately describes how many on the left feel about the Democratic Party–including both those who held their nose and voted for Clinton, along with others who would not do this out of principle. These days it seems like the major difference between the parties is that the Republicans pander to fear of Muslims while Democrats spread hysteria about Russia. The great paradox of American politics is that we have hyperpartisanship in Washington, yet both parties promote essentially the same policies. Both parties support similar economic policies and continuation of the warfare/surveillance state.

When Republicans lost in a landslide in 1964 under Barry Goldwater, conservatives did not give up. It takes time to spread a message and build a party around it. Democrats mistakenly thought they had a winning strategy when Bill Clinton won, but his success was probably more due to his personal charisma than overly conservative policies. They squandered what could have been an advantage with the unpopularity of George W. Bush by moving to the right and ultimately adopting much of his agenda.

Do The Democrats Have A Death Wish?

The Democratic Party not only lost the fight over who would fill Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat, but they might also be conceding defeat for the future. Talking Points Memo quotes Senator Ed Markey:

“When the Democrats return to the majority and capture the presidency, which we will, that day is going to arrive, we will restore the 60-vote margin,” Markey told MSNBC’s Katy Tur. “We will ensure that, for the Supreme Court, there is that special margin that any candidate has to reach because that is essential to ensuring that our country has a confidence in those people that are nominated, rather than just someone who just passes a litmus test.”

Do Democrats secretly wish to lose?

Assuming that he isn’t saying this for political posturing without any intent to do so, and that his views are representative of the party, this makes no sense. Why allow the Republicans to confirm Justices with only 51 votes, but then go back to requiring 60 votes to confirm liberal Justices to undo the harm caused by the Republicans?

Maybe Markey wants to stand up for principle, but if so there are far more fundamental liberal principles which the Democratic Party has repeatedly compromised on than the view that a Supreme Court Justice should require sixty votes for confirmation. Maybe this could be reconsidered at some future point should the Republican Party return to sanity, but this is not the time to make such a decision. In the meantime, perhaps the Democrats should stick to principles on matters such as defending civil liberties and reversing the surveillance state. Perhaps they should fight to avoid repeating the mistakes of the Bush years in intervening in the middle east. Instead we have Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer supporting Trump’s airstrikes in Syria, and other Democratic leaders including Howard Dean attacking Tulsi Gabbard who has been promoting peace.

Of course we should not be surprised, considering how the Democratic establishment rigged the 2016 nomination for Hillary Clinton, who both was to the right of Antonin Scalia on civil liberties, and favored far more extensive, and dangerous, intervention in Syria than the attack by Donald Trump. Of course that was also another example of the Democrats showing an inability to win, in nominating the worst possible candidate to run against Donald Trump. If you are going to rig a party’s nomination, at least do so for a candidate who can win–unless you have a death wish.

AMA Warns Of Risks Of Gutting Health Care Reform

With Republicans appearing to make abolishing Obamacare a top priority (following their failure to gut ethics oversight of Congress), the American Medical Association has weighed in with this letter (emphasis mine) stressing the importance of making coverage more affordable, providing greater choice, and increasing the number insured:

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi:

On behalf of the physician and medical student members of the American Medical Association (AMA), I am writing regarding our ongoing commitment to reform of the health care system and potential legislative actions during the first months of the 115th Congress.

The AMA has long advocated for health insurance coverage for all Americans, as well as pluralism, freedom of choice, freedom of practice, and universal access for patients. These policy positions are guided by the actions of the AMA House of Delegates, composed of representatives of more than 190 state and national specialty medical associations, and they form the basis for AMA consideration of reforms to our health care system.

Health system reform is an ongoing quest for improvement. The AMA supported passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because it was a significant improvement on the status quo at that time. We continue to embrace the primary goal of that law—to make high quality, affordable health care coverage accessible to all Americans. We also recognize that the ACA is imperfect and there a number of issues that need to be addressed. As such, we welcome proposals, consistent with the policies of our House of Delegates, to make coverage more affordable, provide greater choice, and increase the number of those insured.

In considering opportunities to make coverage more affordable and accessible to all Americans, it is essential that gains in the number of Americans with health insurance coverage be maintained.

Consistent with this core principle, we believe that before any action is taken through reconciliation or other means that would potentially alter coverage, policymakers should lay out for the American people, in reasonable detail, what will replace current policies. Patients and other stakeholders should be able to clearly compare current policy to new proposals so they can make informed decisions about whether it represents a step forward in the ongoing process of health reform.

We stand ready to work with you to continue the process of improving our health care system and ensuring that all Americans have access to high quality, affordable health care coverage.

Sincerely,
James L. Madara, MD

Medical groups and physicians have been conflicted regarding expected health care policy under Donald Trump. There was some early support for Tom Price to head Health and Human Services in the hope that he will work to reduce the regulatory burden, but many doctors have come out in opposition to him out of concern for reductions in coverage for many Americans.

While health care policy could likely a major impact of the all-Republican government, it received very little attention during the presidential campaign. This is partially due to the media’s preference to cover the horse race and scandal, Donald Trump making more noise on matters such as the Wall, and an extraordinarily poor campaign by Hillary Clinton which concentrated on stressing Trump’s negatives and avoiding issues. Democrats are now starting to speak out on health care. Chuck Schumer is trying to turn Trump’s slogan against him, warning that Republicans will “Make America Sick Again.” Hopefully they can provide a resistance beyond coming up with a slogan.

Democrats were successful in blocking George Bush when he attempted to partially privatize Social Security in his second term, and similarly have a chance of receiving public support in opposing Republican attempts to reduce health care coverage, including cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. Republicans are also getting jittery about health care legislation. They could safely please their constituents by voting to abolish Obamacare when Barack Obama was in office and they knew he would veto their efforts if it made it past a filibuster. Many now realize they will be held accountable for what happens, including if people lose coverage, and insurance costs continue to rise rapidly. The Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget, typically conservative on government  spending,  has outline the costs of repealing Obamacare, giving further reasons for Republicans to be cautious.

Donald Trump remains a huge wild care, having both promised to abolish Obamacare and to provide a plan to cover all Americans. So far he has given no meaningful specifics, talking primarily about health savings accounts and allowing insurance companies to sell insurance over state lines. Neither is a real plan. One point to Trump’s credit is that, while his major appointees have been from a very narrow group (primarily wealthy conservatives), he has spoken to a wider range of people. Zeke Emanuel, the architect of the Affordable Care Act, came out of a meeting with Trump expressing optimism, as reported by NPR. He believes Trump might seek to have a bipartisan bill after Republicans have complained about how Obamacare was passed by only Democrats. He also pointed out that some conservatives are pushing for “repeal and replace” as opposed to the currently discussed tactic of “repeal and delay” and discussed how legislation might be handled after an initial resolution (even if along party lines) to abolish the ACA utilizing budget reconciliation:

And so that you really do need to repeal and replace, and you need to do it in one bill. Otherwise, you’re really going to disrupt the individual insurance market in a very bad way, and you’ll be responsible for millions of people losing their coverage but also health insurance premiums going up. And I think that is not a scenario that a lot of Republicans really want…

So one possibility is that they pass a resolution saying that they will then come back and pass a bill that will repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act and at the same time have a replacement for those parts of the Affordable Care Act…

The resolution can be party lines, but the bill would then have to construct both the repeal part but simultaneously the replacement part. And I think if you do it that way, you could begin to negotiate with Democrats. If you just have a repeal and we’ll be back in three years and tell you how we’re going to fix it, then the Democrats are simply going to walk away. Chuck Schumer has made that clear.

And they should walk away because then it’s all – it’s the old pottery barn principle that Colin Powell made famous, which is, you break it; you have to fix it, and you take responsibility. And the Democrats will not want their fingerprints anywhere near the breaking of Obamacare and the disruption of the insurance industry in the United States…

The question is, what is the shape of that bill? Is it just a repeal bill, or is it a repeal with replacement? And that negotiation about that bill could take several months. My own estimate is if both sides come with good faith, they could probably hammer this out in about six months. It’s not a small item. I mean health care reform is big.

The question is, what are the gives and takes? I do think – again, one of the reasons I’m optimistic is that when you look at conservative and liberal health policy experts, there’s about 70 or 80 percent overlap between the two groups about the shape of the future and what you would need. And I think that’s, again, why I’m optimistic – because there aren’t that many ways of doing health care reform. They’re really limited.

Of course counting on the sanity of Republicans is a very risky bet.