An Open Letter To the Rest of You

I don’t care how you swing politically. Liberal, conservative, anarcho-syndaclist, socialst, communist, capitalist, Republican, Democrat. I just don’t care. I’m talking to you.

Our politics have gotten quite corrosive and infuriating lately. I am tired of it.

america_kind

I had a conversation on this Facebook thread with a Republican yesterday. And basically we’re in the same boat. We both feel as though we aren’t represented in any meaningful way at present and we both feel as though we can agree on three general goals and work together to achieve them.

Here is what we want:

  1.  A return to a rising standard of living for the general population of the U.S.
  2.  More and better opportunities for young people of all races, genders, sexual orientations, and economic conditions.
  3.  A rational foreign policy.

If you want these things, I don’t give a damn where you fall on the political spectrum.These are only general agreements and we will have profound disagreements about how this stuff gets done. I understand and accept that.

I am willing to negotiate in good faith, and I think the way these things get done is through negotiation.

Meme discovered at Eco-Style Life Beau Monde

Meme discovered at Eco-Style Life Beau Monde

If you are a beleaguered Republican moderate watching your party implode before your very eyes, I am sorry this is happening to you. All I want, in the simplest terms, is these three things. And I am totally willing to negotiate when it comes to how they get done.

I am extending my southern leftist hand to you, Republican moderates. You kinda want to take my hand. This is the best offer you’re getting this election cycle.

Done.

Advertisements

On Polling and Primaries

My friend Luther wrote a post “On Michigan” at InfiniteFreeTime last week. I agree with all of it, and it set me thinking. Luther and I have compared notes on this election a bit.

I’ve learned some things from him, and he’s proven himself smarter than me about several of the electoral dynamics. If I’ve been making sense to you with these political posts, you should be reading Infinite Free Time. Luther dosen’t always write about politics but when he does, he makes sense, and he’s far more entertaining than me. I’m gonna try and elaborate today on some of what he said about Michigan.

MichiganFlag

On the Polling

(If you aren’t interested in polling, just scroll down to the next subhead. I’ll tell you how I think this Democratic primary season ends.)

Bernie Sanders’ win in Michigan was an upset. No one, including the candidates, saw it coming. Here’s a post and a discussion at fivethirtyeight.com that might shed some light. Tl;dr version of Carl Bialik’s explanation, which is the first comment on the thread: Polling organizations stopped contacting Michigan voters on Sunday, and that’s too early to stop polling in an election this fluid, so the polls missed too many late deciders.

Michigan could be a fluke. Or it could mean Sanders will be competitive in Ohio, Missouri, and (maybe) Illinois tomorrow. The reason I put IL in the “maybe” column is because Clinton has deep connections and a strong organization in that state. She was as much as 37 points ahead of Sanders there in some polls last time I looked, but given that the polling has been inaccurate in two Midwestern states now, I’m willing to consider there might be something off with the way these surveys are being conducted.

All this caused me to do some digging, because I want to know how trustworthy the polling is going forward. After doing my reading, I’ve come to the conclusion that the predictive survey data in this election might be less reliable than it’s been in 30 or 40 years. Here’s Rutgers professor Cliff Zukin explaining a few of the problems which might apply in the New York Times. I’ve also seen articles from Nate Silver at 538 and a former provost of Georgetown University which concur. I’ll break it down for you.

flagvote

  1. For a survey to have any value for predicting the behavior of voters, you need a fairly large sample, and you need it to be representative of the general population.
  2. Historically, the way this has been done is by taking huge lists of land line telephone numbers and building random samples for telephone polls. The participation rate is so low for these surveys, it’s necessary to make tens of thousands of phone calls to find even 1,000 qualified participants. Sometimes numbers have been disconnected, sometimes people just hang up, and sometimes kids answer the phone.
  3. We’ve reached the point where so many people have dumped their land lines in favor of cellphones, it’s no longer possible to use probability sampling to build a representative sample without adding more data, so the way to do it these days is to also build a sample of cellphone numbers, survey those separately, and then aggregate the landline and cellphone data.
  4. The FCC restricts the use of autodialers for cellphone surveys, so interviewers have to actually dial the numbers themselves and in some instances, polling organizations need to compensate respondents for their wireless usage. Which doesn’t seem like a big deal until you think of it from the perspective of the paid-hourly interviewer with a list of 2500 numbers they have to dial manually, or the cost of paying $5K for every individual cellphone sample of 500 likely voters for an entire election cycle.
  5. Since only the biggest and best-funded organizations can afford big, reliable phone samples that actually represent the population at this point, and the internet is so well-developed, a lot of small organizations and newcomers are using internet polls. But the demographics of internet use are skewed. So skewed, in fact, the professionals have yet to figure out how to build a representative sample using only internet data.

The result: Lots more noise in the polls than we’re accustomed to and less reliable predictions. I’ve read so much about this in the last week, I just don’t trust the polls in this election any more. So I’ll tell you where I think this Democratic primary season is going based solely on my understanding of the demographics of various states and the trends so far.

On The Primary

Clinton has a 200-delgate lead among pledged delegates, which are won based on primary outcomes. She has overwhelming support from the superdelegates who have publicly weighed in. Superdelegates can change their minds, but they’ll only do that if Sanders closes the gap and convinces them he’s the choice of the people.

clinton-sanders

Even then, he won’t get all, or even most of them. Superdelegates are hardcore party loyalists — mostly former long-serving elected officials who REALLY understand how these politics work — and they have questions about Bernie’s viability on account of he’s an unapologetic socialist (not a bad thing, in my mind, but a huge vulnerability for a general election contender) and is also untested in a national election (kind of a big deal to me, given the stakes this time around).

There is no such thing as a winner-take-all Democratic primary in the U.S. Pledged delegates are apportioned based on popular vote percentages. If you want to win all or most of the delegates in a state, you need a landslide victory. A 51/49 win results in an almost even delegate split.

This is one of the few things we’re doing right with our elections. If we weren’t staring down the barrel of a long series of winner-take-all Republican primaries in which GOP voters have to choose between a racist con man and a certifiably insane Tea Party guy, Trump wouldn’t be as strong a candidate as he is.

The Democratic Party’s primary system would be perfect if they’d dump the superdelegate idea and go to an all-primary system. (Caucuses make the process too opaque and introduce an unacceptable level of moral hazard into the nomination process, IMHO.)

So here’s what I see happening next. Tomorrow, five big, significant states will vote: Ohio, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, and Missouri.

These states have a lot of delegates. Bernie’s performance in Michigan makes me think he might compete in the Midwest states and at least win half the delegates in Ohio. But I expect North Carolina to go big for Clinton and I expect her to at least break even in Illinois. Missouri is an unknown quantity to me, especially given the problems we’ve seen with polling in the Midwest.

I was loathe to even talk about Florida when I started this. Having lived close to Florida and been there many, many times in my life, I’ll tell you this about it. Once you get below the panhandle, it’s different from either the Deep South or the Mid-Atlantic. Central and South Florida are a region unto themselves. I think Clinton was the favorite in Florida before last week’s debate even started, and I think Bernie’s answers on the socialism questions, as much as I appreciated his effort, probably sunk him there.

floridaflag

After North Carolina and Florida vote tomorrow, the South is done until November. Clinton’s advantage among black southerners has accomplished all it can accomplish, but she’s blown Bernie out down here because he did not compete. I understand that decision — I called the southern primaries for Clinton, and decisively, months ago. But now he has to not only beat her, but beat her by wide margins in big states, to have a chance of catching up.

We’re running out of pledged delegates, and the best he’s done so far in big, diverse states is beat her by a percentage point in Michigan. Even if Michigan means something and he competes in the other states, his margin of victory there makes me think he’s just about finished.

That said, he’s done our country an important service. He’s forced Hillary to the left on a few issues, he’s energized a lot of young people, and he’s taken the first baby steps toward making it cool to be a real lefty again. So god bless him. I hope the Democratic Party has the political sense to keep him campaigning and offer him an executive branch job once Hillary clinches the nomination.

I had some things to add here about protest voting and why we shouldn’t do it this time around, but I can’t believe anyone wants to read 3,000 words from me all at one go, so I’ll save that part for another day.

Make America Sensible Again

Last weekend, a Facebook friend of mine explained the Trump situation as the outcome of a Faustian bargain GOP elites made with racists and anti-intellectuals some decades ago. He was riffing on this WaPo editorial which asks “Where Were Republican Moderates 20 Years Ago.?” In the article Fareed Zakaria criticizes the Republican leaders who are now scrambling to fend off Donald Trump for allowing the situation to develop in the first place.

trump1

The Trumpster himself.

It’s a fairly stinging critique. Fareed argues that by failing to restrain the right wing of their party from using the virulent rhetoric and vicious tactics that have become a commonplace in U.S.politics — and in some cases actively encouraging it — the Republican leadership fostered the environment in which Trump is now flourishing. The money quote:

Here is a much simpler explanation for Donald Trump: Republicans have fed the country ideas about decline, betrayal and treason. They have encouraged the forces of anti-intellectualism, obstructionism and populism. They have flirted with bigotry and racism. Trump merely chose to unashamedly embrace all of it, saying plainly what they were hinting at for years. In doing so, he hit a jackpot.

I buy this. It tracks with what I said in my last #WeekendCoffeeShare post about why I consider Trump dangerous even if he loses.

When Presidential candidates say racist things to whip up political support, that sends a message to their followers that it’s ok say and do racist things in public. Which makes people who actually have racist attitudes a little more comfortable with spreading bigotry and hate.

Zakaria locates the Republicans’ turn toward toxic rhetoric in the Gingrich era. My own experience agrees with his assessment. When I Iook at how we arrived at this pass as a social/historical process, I can trace it back to the racist backlash against the Voting Rights Act with ease. The now-infamous Southern Strategy and Barry Goldwater’s run for President in 1964 are pieces of this puzzle.

goldwater_poster

A Goldwater poster and an early example of what we now understand as Political Dogwhistling.

That said, Zakaria has a point. I remember a fair amount of virulent political speech during the Reagan and Bush I eras. And keep in mind, I was 8 years old in 1980, so my memory is a bit fuzzy. “Welfare Queens” and a lot of homophobic things that were said during the AIDS crisis spring immediately to mind. But during the 1990s, the right wing of the Republican Party went absolutely bananas. There was a notable change in the things they were willing to do and say to win elections and policy debates.

The far right hated Bill Clinton and they expressed their hatred in the mass media. Even after the Obama birther madness and all the racism I’ve seen directed at our current President, I still don’t believe I’ve ever seen the level of vitriol spewed at a government official that was directed at Clinton. Maybe the Clinton era made a larger impression because I was younger and hadn’t been desensitized to it yet, but I am not sure.

Rush

Rush going all gangster.

We had Rush Limbaugh on television framing the Clinton Presidency as “America Under Siege” and counting the days. There were all manner of conspiracy theories accusing the Clintons of everything from cocaine smuggling to plotting with China to make the U.S. a vassal state of the PRC. The right exploited the Waco and Ruby Ridge catastrophes to score political points by whipping up anti-government sentiment, which ended up fueling the militia movement.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the government deserves criticism for both of these incidents. But criticism should be productive, and the right went too far. I’ll also point out that Ruby Ridge happened in August of 1992. Bill Clinton wasn’t sworn in until January of the next year, so it didn’t even happen on his watch. You’d be surprised how many people don’t know that.

I’ll be honest in the interest of full disclosure. I not only supported Bill Clinton, I liked him. After 12 years of grandfatherly Presidents who smiled and said they cared about everyone while they happily went about the business of punishing poor people for being poor, Clinton was a breath of fresh air. He was dynamic. He was talented. When he said he cared about the rest of us, I believed him. He gave me hope for the future.

bill-clinton-saxophone

Bill Clinton convinced us he had more faith in the American people than any other politician of his generation. And he was a decent sax player. We had no choice but to love him.

Some of the most heated conversations I’ve ever had were during his impeachment trial. I thought at the time he shouldn’t have been impeached because Ronald Reagan wasn’t impeached for Iran-Contra despite the fact that the hearings revealed him to be either criminally culpable or so incompetent as to be unfit for office. I thought the whole sorry impeachment affair was orchestrated by opportunists who wanted to damage the Democratic Party so badly the country would go along with the GOP running the government forever.

I maintain to this day that if the circumstances had been the same, but Clinton had been a Republican, there would have been no trial. Heck, there probably never would have even been a Whitewater investigation. No one will ever convince me otherwise.

The right wing during the Clinton era went way beyond personal attacks and saying bigoted things to score points. They operated, from day one, from a position of contempt for the executive branch itself. These people didn’t want to govern. They wanted to rule.

So yeah, during the 90’s the extreme right escalated the bigotry and hate. The centrist wing of the GOP allowed it to happen by not stepping on it and in some cases, condoning it to win elections. The extremists pulled them to the right and forced them into a position which required them to “go nuclear or go home” any time they had even a slight disagreement with the Dems.

By the end of the decade we had a separatist problem and a militia problem because (almost exclusively white) people were joining what amounted to private paramilitary organizations out of fear that the Clinton administration was scheming to take away their guns or use the military against the population or some such. We’d seen a federal building in a major city bombed. I was never sure why so many people bought all that, given our well-established tradition of leaving problems in the hands of the civil authorities unless things break down to the point that they threaten public safety in a big way or the authorities plead for help.

second amendment

There’s a hard #truth here, and it is a big part of our problem.

We had people being abused and in some cases murdered for not being heterosexual and an uptick in violence against abortion providers. In my neck of the woods, people were using the label “Democrat” as a not-so-sly racial slur. Unless you were a thick-skinned, assertive person in the South, you thought twice about identifying as liberal or feminist. It took a LOT of courage, even at that late date, to be open about your sexual orientation unless you were a hetero, cisgendered person.

It’s tricky to identify causal relationships in these matters. But note the obvious way the escalation on the part of far right people in government seems to have enabled the bad behavior of average citizens who agreed with them. Note how it encouraged even more extreme elements of society to organize and collaborate. I believe this is a real thing I’m looking at.

There’s a relationship here between what our politicians say and how our citizens treat one another. I’m ready for our public discourse to start running in the direction of tolerance and respect. I’ll happily organize with anyone who convinces me they want the same.

Postscript

I started writing this post almost a week ago. Since then, we’ve seen a Trump rally in Chicago canceled because confrontations between his supporters and protesters became too violent for the event to go forward. Now he and his surrogates are claiming the protesters violated his First Amendment rights. I can’t publish this without saying a few words about all that.

trump_supporter

A Trump supporter who has since said she was just doing this because the other side were comparing her candidate to Hitler, and this was her way of thumbing her nose at them.

I’ll condemn violence no matter which end of the political spectrum it comes from. Violence is violence, period. But it’s a huge mistake to allow Trump to put this all on the protesters. The only reason people are protesting his rallies is because for months, he’s been spewing racism and encouraging his supporters to abuse people who object to what he’s saying.

In some cases, people who weren’t being disruptive in any way have been removed from his rallies because they were wearing other candidates’ messaging on their clothing or because they were black. And that IS a violation of the First Amendment, because those people were removed by police and/or Secret Service.

Trump has had every opportunity to dial back his rhetoric and to encourage restraint from the podium. He has not done that. The Republican Party has done very little to call him out for it, and what they have done has been too little, too late.

TrumpMeme

More #truth, and a more urgent part of our problem.

As Saturday Night Live pointed out in the Weekend Update this week in a much more pithy way than I am. Given the character and history of Chicago, is it any wonder a rally for an openly racist Presidential candidate who regularly incites his supporters to abuse people attracted a large protest and things got ugly? Is it any wonder at all?

Far as the First Amendment argument goes. Freedom of speech protects political speech from government censorship in public spaces. It doesn’t protect political candidates from being heckled by protesters.

Removing protesters from political rallies for disrupting the event to the point it can’t continue, or for threatening the safety of others, is totally legal. Removing people for standing silently with signs or listening attentively while wearing t-shirts supporting other candidates is illegal. One of the reasons Trump is encouraging his supporters to abuse any and all protesters whether they’re being disruptive or not is to create an environment in which those people aren’t safe so the police have an excuse to escort them out.

When you hear someone bemoaning the infringement of Donald Trump’s First Amendment rights, it is appropriate to call bullshit on that. Also appropriate to point out that it’s a classic case of projection. And here’s the funny thing about Trump hiding behind freedom of speech. This may be the only funny thing I’ve seen since he started his campaign.

I know quite a bit about trolling. I sometimes engage in discussions that attract the trolling-folk. I’ve written about their behavior. Donald Trump is using their tactics.

Sometimes I see people obviously trolling a thread with the intent to disrupt the conversation and I tell them to cut it out or step off. One of the most common responses I get when I do that is a rant about freedom of speech. At that point, I usually block the person so they can’t respond any more, and then explain to them that I’m not the government, and that even though blogs are publicly accessible, they are not public property, which means the First Amendment does not apply.

Donald Trump and his enablers are trolling us, y’all. It’s too bad we can’t all disengage and stop feeding him. But people are going to keep showing up at his rallies, and he’s not going to dial back his rhetoric. Even if he did at this point, I don’t think he could restrain the crowds. Trump is not holding these people in the palm of his hand the way he was even a month ago. He’s lost control of his own followers and he’s unleashed a thing.

We can’t accuse Donald Trump of directly inciting what happened in Chicago because he wasn’t even there. But I say no matter who threw the first punch, he bears more responsibility for that incident than any single person — on either side — who was in that crowd. Because if the things he’s been saying for these last few weeks aren’t incitement, I don’t know what that word means.

So let’s hope he somehow inexplicably loses big on Tuesday. But even if he does, be mindful of the fact that his following isn’t going to evaporate. Most will support Cruz if it comes to that. And we don’t want Trumpism to take hold the way the Obama Birthers’ ideas took hold. Because that strengthened the Tea Party and made governing harder for Obama than it had to be.

So, how do we handle this, since we can’t stop feeding the trolls in this case? I say we stay engaged with this election and see it through to November. And we assert our own views at every opportunity.

I’m not saying you have to let it take over your social media the way it’s taken over mine or berate your friends offline. That sort of incessant chatter isn’t for everyone. I know a lot of us are depressed, disgusted, and exhausted already and November is months away.

If it gets to be too much, step away from it for a few days and spend your internet time looking at pet photos and baby pictures. I’ve come to enjoy those over the last year or so and to see them as valuable as anything else we do on the social media. Because they make people smile and they foster positive relationships. We could do with a heap more of both right now.

All I’m saying is we can’t afford to burn out, or to just tune it all out in disgust. If someone asks you for your opinion on the election, give them a polite, honest answer and be firm if you receive conservative jackassery in return for your trouble. And if someone starts blithely extolling the virtues of Donald Trump to you, ask them what they think this country will look like if we elect a guy who has people escorted out of his rallies just for being black whether they are actually protesting or not and who incites his followers to violence.

And have a little faith in the American people, even though that’s getting harder by the day. We don’t always do the right thing, but it is my sincere hope that in this case, we will. I have to believe that even though I’m an unapologetic leftist and my views do not represent the mainstream in any way, most Americans want what I want in this election. I’m running entirely on faith and hope at this point.

We don’t want to make America great again because even though we’re at a low point and we are in a precarious position, we haven’t lost our greatness yet. We just want to make America sensible again.

america_kind

Let’s all get together and do this, plz!

ed.- I need to acknowledge a few people here because this is a different post than I’ve ever written, and a few people helped me get here, even though they might not realize it.

If not for the many conversations with my sister Diana, who runs the blog Part Time Monster, and our friend Gretchen Kelly of Drifting Through My Open Mind, over the last three years, I would not have found the heart to put a thing like this on the internet.

My friend Luther M. Siler of Infinite Free Time has taught me a lot about blogging, and interpreting statistics, and the dynamics of this election just by sharing his opinions with me these last couple of years and commenting on my threads. Luther is an author and he blogs about a lot of stuff other than politics, but you only need to spend two minutes scrolling through is archives to see he’s one of the good guys. Thank you, Luther, for your kindness, patience, and generosity.

I religiously follow the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation on Facebook. I am not affiliated with them, but they always answer my communications and they post a lot of good stuff. I think of them as friends.

If you care about these things I’ve written about in this post, please give all these nice folks a look, and if you see why what they’re doing is valuable, give them a follow and some likes.

More to come.