Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

29 June 2019

The Dems Shoot Themselves in their Feet


For suggestions on how to improve multi-candidate debates, click here. For a general discussion of how to improve debates, click here. For a review of the first Democratic Debate, click here. For seven reasons not to make war on Iran, click here. For a discussion of Warren’s ability to defend science, click here. For comment on the value of Elizabeth Warren’s intelligence, click here. For an essay on her qualifications for the presidency, click here. For brief descriptions of and links to recent posts, click here. For an inverse-chronological list with links to all posts after January 23, 2017, click here. For a subject-matter index to posts before that date, click here.

It’s been over 24 hours since the second televised Democratic debate, and I haven’t posted anything. There are personal reasons for the delay: I just returned home after an absence and have lots of chores to do and home-self-improvement projects to finish. But there are substantive reasons, too. I just haven’t had the enthusiasm that usually propels me to my keyboard.

This evening, conservative pundit David Brooks named the reason for me. [Set the timer at 00:39] The Dems are strong on goals and enthusiasm and weak on strategy. (I don’t agree with Brooks that moving leftward is the problem; that’s what Dems do. The problem is failing to think strategically and go for every vote.) So weak are the Dems now that there’s a good chance our nation may have to suffer another four years of Trump—a catastrophe beyond measure.

Let’s briefly review the reasons for my despond. First, let’s look at the “front-runner,” Joe Biden.

What appalled me most about him was something nobody, to my knowledge, has yet pointed out. He’s inarticulate. He sounds like Dubya. He can’t put a coherent sentence together, especially when he’s excited. Not having heard him “live” for decades, I was horrified. Is this what a president sounds like?

Maybe Biden is a “nice guy,” with whom non-college educated workers can identify. But so was Dubya. I shouldn’t have to remind Democrats that Dubya presided over the Crash of 2008, bailed out the bankers, brought us two—count ‘em, two—unnecessary “forever” wars (both of which are still going on), and, together with McConnell, established the precedent of “hazing” Obama for doing good things like broadening health insurance.

With that kind of precedent, we don’t need “good guys” in the White House. We need smart and honest people, who could be women or minorities.

The second depressing thing about Biden also touches Harris, who challenged Biden for once opposing busing for the purpose of integrating schools. Biden can’t lie like Trump; he has too much residual honesty. So while Biden was tying himself up in knots trying to prove his bona fides on busing decades ago, Harris was busy recounting, passionately, how she had been bused to school in California.

Harris is good at pulling the heartstrings. I’ll give her that. But think about strategy. I don’t think Harris did.

Harris’ invidious comparison could have only one effect: discouraging black and perhaps other minority voters from voting for Biden, and perhaps for any other old white man who might get nominated, like Bernie. In fact, I think that was her purpose: to disqualify Biden and, by comparison, improve Harris’ own look, in the eyes of younger, modern minorities who can see the prize more clearly now because they stand on the shoulders of giants, namely, King, Marshall and Johnson. But these men didn’t win because they were passionate. They won because they were experienced, strategic and wicked smart.

But the issue is not credit; it’s effect. The only way we win this thing against Trump with a truly progressive candidate is by putting together a new and durable coalition of minorities, progressives, soccer moms who are fed up (with pols trying to control their bodies and practicing atrocities on families at the border), and college-educated voters, including old white guys like me.

Minorities are essential to this effort. In fact, in the South they are the linchpin. If the Dems can get enough blacks and Hispanics to vote for their candidate in just three states—Florida, Georgia and North Carolina—they need never worry about the upper Midwest again. But to do that, they can’t lose a single minority vote.

Harris risked losing many just to differentiate herself in the primary. That kind of thinking was Hillary’s trick, and that’s a major reason why she ultimately lost. Every Dem running should be thinking of the general election right now, and not just about her or his role in it. Sure, it’s hard, but that’s what you have to do to win. Obama won twice because he was and is capable of playing that kind of three-dimensional chess.

Yet the most appalling self-inflicted strategic wound was made by the most progressive candidates, Sanders and Warren. Both of them confess to supporting “Medicare for All,” which means wiping out the private health insurance that a majority of voters already has. That’s not even necessary: private insurance will mostly wipe out by itself when patients and employers find out how much simpler, fairer and cheaper federally administered insurance is. And every one of last night’s candidates (if not Warren, who was not present) raised her or his hand in support of giving undocumented immigrants some sort of health coverage.

Can’t you just see it, day after day on Fox? The lupine, half-witted pundit will sneer and ask, “Did you know the Dems want to take away your private health insurance and give coverage to illegal immigrants?” And in asking that question he won’t be lying; he won’t even be misleading very much.

Then there’s the transgender issue. Did any Dem candidate ever think what it sounds like to a guy who lost his job and home in the Crash, and his wife and his town when his factory went to China, when he hears that Dems want to provide federal money for sex-change operations?

Yes, equality is our national value. Yes, nondiscrimination is proper. But can’t the Dems keep this stuff off the front pages until they’ve won? You would be hard pressed to find any minority in America less numerous than transgender folk, and Fox and the right wing will demagogue any support for them, every time. Can the Dems be smart, as well as good?

I know, I know. The moderators brought the LGBTQ issue up. That’s just one of many reasons why the Dems should jettison professional newscasters as debate moderators. But some Dems salted their words with the issue without being asked. The only good reason to do that is to practice being true to your values without spooking every religious, high-school-educated skilled worker in the land.

Was the whole second debate depressing for abysmal strategy? Not entirely. Mayor Pete Buttigieg distinguished himself with his consistently clear, polished and articulate speech and his candor. When asked about the recent racial troubles in his city he leads, he confessed he has not been able to solve them but is still trying hard.

What refreshing honesty! If all our pols would take responsibility like that, we might even have a Congress that could protect its own constitutional power and begin impeachment proceedings against Trump.

Buttigieg was also the only candidate who had ever served our nation in combat. Remember when that used to be the norm, before Clinton, Obama and “bone spurs” Trump, and before Dubya, who sat out the Vietnam War in the Texas Air National Guard? Buttigieg is absolutely right that we need a president who knows the cost of war, if only because we’re still involved in the two longest in our history and we’re thinking about starting another with Iran.

Apart from Buttigieg, there were some ringing words about climate change and (from Gillibrand) on women’s rights. But I’m sorry. This is not a single-issue campaign. It was never going to be one. We Americans are accelerating downhill in almost every dimension that can be conceived or measured. So our next president has to be a generalist, if only because there are plenty of talented experts, even among the twenty candidates in the first two debates, to form a superb Cabinet.

So I hate to say it, but Day 2 of the First Dem Debates was mostly amateur night. It was so from the speeches and policies formulated without regard to how they would “play” to the electorate, to the professional author’s closing peroration that love would conquer all. (What were Williamson and Yang doing there, anyway? Filling out the career “rainbow”?) And the one candidate who is least of all an amateur—Biden—put his age and the sources of his many gaffes on clear display.

So it was not a good night for Democrats. What was missing was strategic thinking, without which the Dems can’t win. How in Hell can pols who don’t think in advance about the effects of their words and their policies on all voters win against a crooked man who thinks only of his “base” and keeps it in his pocket with clever lies?

Links to Popular Recent Posts

For suggestions on how to improve multi-candidate debates, click here.
For a more general discussion of how to improve debates, click here.
For a review of the first Democratic Debate, click here.
For a third, simpler look at why Trump won in 2016, click here.
For seven reasons not to make war on Iran, click here.
For discussion of Warren’s ability to defend science, and why it matters, click here.
For comment on the quality of Elizabeth Warren’s mind and its relevance to our current circumstances, click here.
For analysis of the disastrous effect of our leaders’ failure to take personal responsibility, click here.
For brief comment on China’s Tiananmen Square Massacre and its significance for our species, click here.
For reasons why the Democratic House should pass a big infrastructure bill ASAP, click here.
For an analysis why Nancy Pelosi is right on impeachment, click here.
For an explanation how demagoguing the issue of abortion has ruined our national politics and brought us our two worst presidents, and how we could recover, click here.
For analysis of the Huawei Tech Block and its necessity for maintaining our innovative infrastructure, click here.
For ten reasons, besides global warming, to dump oil as a fuel for ground transportation, click here.
For discussion why we must cooperate with China and how we can compete successfully with China, click here.
For reasons why Trump’s haphazard trade war will not win the competition with China, click here.
For a deeper discussion of how badly we Americans have failed to plan our future, click here.
For an essay on Elizabeth Warren’s qualifications for the presidency, click here.
For comment on how not doing our jobs has brought us Americans low, click here.
To see how modern politics has come to resemble the Game of Thrones, click here.
For a discussion of the waste of energy and fossil fuels caused by unneeded long-range batteries in electric cars, click here.
For a discussion why Democrats should embrace the long campaign season and make no premature moves, click here.
For a discussion how Trump and Brexit have put the tree world into free fall, click here.
For a review of how our own American acts help create our president’s claimed “invasion” of Central American migrants, click here.
For a review of basic facts that must inform any type of universal health insurance, click here.
For a discussion of how the West’s fall and China’s rise affect the chances of our species’ survival, click here.
For a discussion of what the Mueller Report is and how its release could affect American politics, click here.
For a note on the Mueller Report as the beginning of a process, click here.
For comment on the special candidacies of Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg, click here.
For reasons why the twin 737 Max 8 disasters should inspire skepticism and caution with regard to potentially lethal uses of software and AI, click here.
For my message to Southwest Airlines on grounding the 737 Maxes, click here.
For an example of even the New York Times spewing propaganda, click here.
For means by which high-school teachers could help save American democracy, click here.
For a modern team of rivals that might comprise a dream Cabinet in 2021, click here.
For an analysis of the global decline of rules-based civilization, click here. For a brief note on avoiding health lobbying Armageddon, click here.
For analysis of how to save real news and America’s ability to see straight, click here.
For an update on how Zuckerberg scams advertisers, click here.
For analysis of how Facebook scams voters and society, click here.
For the consequences of Trump’s manufactured border emergency, click here.
For a brief note on Colin Kaepernick’s good work and settlement with the NFL, click here.
For an outline of universal health insurance without coercion, disruption of satisfactory private insurance, or a trace of “socialism,” click here.
For analysis of the Virginia blackface debacle, click here. For an update on how Twitter subverts politics, click here.
For analysis of women’s chances to take the presidency in 2020, click here.
For brief comment on Trump’s State of the Union Speech and Stacey Abrams’ response for the Dems, click here.
For reasons why the Huawei affair requires diplomacy, not criminal prosecution, click here. For how Speaker Pelosi has become a new sheriff in town, click here.
For how Trump’s misrule could kill your kids, click here.
For comment on MLK Day 2019 and the structural legacies of slavery, click here.
For reasons why the partial government shutdown helps Dems the longer it lasts, click here.
For a discussion of how our national openness hurts us and what we really need from China, click here.
For a brief explanation of how badly both Trump and his opposition are failing at “the art of the deal,” click here.
For a deep dive into how Apple tries to thwart Google’s capture of the web-browser market, click here.
For a review of Speaker Pelosi’s superb qualifications to lead the Democratic Party, click here.
For reasons why natural-gas and electric cars are essential to national security, click here.
For additional reasons, click here.
For the source of Facebook’s discontents and how to save democracy from it, click here.
For Democrats’ core values, click here.
The Last Adult is Leaving the White House. Who will Shut Off the Lights?
For how our two parties lost their souls, click here.
For the dire portent of Putin’s high-fiving the Saudi Crown Prince, click here.
For updated advice on how to drive on the Sun’s power alone, or without fossil fuels, click here.
For a 2018 Thanksgiving Message, click here.

Links to Posts since January 23, 2017

permalink to this post

27 June 2019

Why Current Multi-Candidate “Debates” Suck


For a more general discussion of how to improve debates, click here. For a review of the first Democratic Debate, click here. For seven reasons not to make war on Iran, click here. For a discussion of Warren’s ability to defend science, click here. For comment on the value of Elizabeth Warren’s intelligence, click here. For an essay on her qualifications for the presidency, click here. For brief descriptions of and links to recent posts, click here. For an inverse-chronological list with links to all posts after January 23, 2017, click here. For a subject-matter index to posts before that date, click here.

Over the years I’ve reviewed more than a dozen candidate “debates” on this blog. (For a list of some, search for “Brooklyn” in this list.) My general impression is that they offer little help in deciding for whom to vote, except sometimes when limited to two competing candidates. This essay explains why. (For detailed analysis of the first Democratic primary debate of 2019, click here.)

The most striking reason why most multi-candidate “debates” are worthless is that, as currently conceived, they are not debates at all. Instead, they are a perversion of group interviews. Too much depends upon the will and skill of the moderators, and too little on the candidates’ will and skill.

We all know how goes a classic debate—for example, in high school or college. Virtually nothing depends on the will or skill or the moderator(s). The debate revolves around a single proposition, expressed in a single, short and clear declarative sentence. Everything else depends on what the debaters do with it. The focus is entirely on the debaters, not the person(s) posing the question(s) or moderating the responses and enforcing the rules.

For example, a hypothetical current debate might begin with the proposition: “Resolved: the United States should make war on Iran.” Each debater could address this question in innumerable ways. He could discuss the theory of “just war.” She could point out the danger of Iran going nuclear and becoming another North Korea. He could note the scale of likely casualties and the inevitable unintended consequences and human misery. She could discuss the results of similar wars throughout history. And so on.

In choosing what to say about a broad, open-ended question, debaters reveal how they think, what’s important to them, and what they value. They expose their skills and their souls.

In responding to others’ arguments, a debater also reveals her or his ability to detect flaws in logic, inconsistencies in values, and possible unintended outcomes. In other words, a real debate tests each candidate’s values and skill as a strategic thinker and a leader. It also tests candidates’ ability to put their best feet forward in a comparative way, as all have to address the same open question.

Current multi-candidate debates are nothing like this. In them, everything depends upon the knowledge and skill of the questioners, and the fortuity of the questioners “having something” on each individual candidate.

Under this format, a candidate who’s a great thinker and negotiator might “lose” a debate because a questioner highlights a past gaffe that he or she committed or a past mistake that he or she made. The gaffe or mistake might be trivial in the grand scheme of things. But the fact of its emphasis in “debate” might gravely wound an otherwise worthy candidate simply because the moderators found no such dirt on the others.

This happens far more often than it should. This sort of result is an inevitable consequence of a “debate” format that puts the investigative skill of the moderators on display as much or more than the candidates’ strategic campaigning and governing skills.

In debates among primary candidates, as at present, there’s another whole class of reasons why moderator-centric debates are undesirable. Candidates from the same party may have reasons to cooperate, as well as reasons to distinguish themselves. They may have strong reasons to work together to differentiate their party from the absent opposition party, even at the cost of weakening or foregoing their own individual differentiation.

For example, consider health insurance. Democratic candidates have every incentive to distinguish themselves en masse from the Trump Administration, which has done its best to rip health insurance from millions of citizens with no visible backup. Each candidate has an incentive to “best” the others by making his or her derogation of Trump’s record clearer and more cogent. (Some might see no plausible reason for the all the ripping besides Obama’s having made fun of Trump at the correspondents’ dinner.)

All this would be good and fair politics. At the end of the day, a Democratic primary debate is the Democrats’ show.

But what can happen when the moderators rule? They can focus viewers’ attention on differences that they find important, thereby taking control of the public impression away from the party that sponsored the “debate” and the candidates participating in it.

This actually happened during last night’s Democratic primary debate. The moderators brought up the distinction between Elizabeth Warren’s plan for “Medicare for All,” which would wipe out private insurance, and those of some other candidates, which would not. That’s a big, important distinction, which I have emphasized myself. (See this post and this one.)

But whose prerogative is it to emphasize it? Even the candidates who had other plans seemed to downplay the distinction. They mentioned the advantage of leaving existing, satisfactory insurance arrangements undisturbed, but they did not highlight the drawbacks of killing private insurance all at once. The reason, I think, was that all candidates wanted to emphasize the bigger picture: the vast difference between any kind of truly universal health insurance and having millions with no insurance at all. In this respect, all candidates seemed to want to support their party. (In addition to objections on the ground of impracticability, a version of Medicare that wipes out private insurance is also vulnerable to demagoguery as “socialism”—a point that no Democrat should stoop to make.)

The point here is simple. This very first Democratic primary debate was the first chance for the public to see the Democratic candidates for president in 2020 in action. All candidates were self-evidently conscious of the opportunities and responsibilities that come with that chance. Perhaps uncharacteristically for Democrats, they were also conscious of their duty to their party and their fellow candidates, and the overriding need to oppose and resist Trump.

That approach was entirely sound and appropriate. It ought to suffuse all the Dems’ intracameral “debates.” But if the moderators control the substance of questioning, it can’t. The party loses control of its “show” and the ability to adjust the delicate balance between cooperation and competition among its candidates.

For these reasons, I think the Dems, if not both parties, should get rid of “professional” news people as moderators. They should prepare short, simple open questions beforehand and let the candidates’ see them several days in advance. Then the answers should be open-ended, entirely up to each candidate, with chances for each candidate to ask others further questions and make short rebuttal answers.

The party should not dictate the balance between cooperation and competition, which should be up to each candidate. It, too, can reveal their souls.

This summer’s so-called “debates” are the very beginning of what promises to be the most arduous primary and general campaign in our nation’s history. These primary “debates” are crucial for introducing the candidates and their party to portions of the public that many know nothing about them. What the candidates say—and how each makes the delicate balance between self-distinction and party—should be up to each candidate. Those crucial decisions should not depend on moderators with other motives, let alone personal ambition or commercial greed, both of which can prompt sensationalism.

For a review of the first Democratic Debate, click here.
For a more general discussion of how to improve debates, click here.

Links to Popular Recent Posts

For a more general discussion of how to improve debates, click here.
For a review of the first Democratic Debate, click here.
For a third, simpler look at why Trump won in 2016, click here.
For seven reasons not to make war on Iran, click here.
For discussion of Warren’s ability to defend science, and why it matters, click here.
For comment on the quality of Elizabeth Warren’s mind and its relevance to our current circumstances, click here.
For analysis of the disastrous effect of our leaders’ failure to take personal responsibility, click here.
For brief comment on China’s Tiananmen Square Massacre and its significance for our species, click here.
For reasons why the Democratic House should pass a big infrastructure bill ASAP, click here.
For an analysis why Nancy Pelosi is right on impeachment, click here.
For an explanation how demagoguing the issue of abortion has ruined our national politics and brought us our two worst presidents, and how we could recover, click here.
For analysis of the Huawei Tech Block and its necessity for maintaining our innovative infrastructure, click here.
For ten reasons, besides global warming, to dump oil as a fuel for ground transportation, click here.
For discussion why we must cooperate with China and how we can compete successfully with China, click here.
For reasons why Trump’s haphazard trade war will not win the competition with China, click here.
For a deeper discussion of how badly we Americans have failed to plan our future, click here.
For an essay on Elizabeth Warren’s qualifications for the presidency, click here.
For comment on how not doing our jobs has brought us Americans low, click here.
To see how modern politics has come to resemble the Game of Thrones, click here.
For a discussion of the waste of energy and fossil fuels caused by unneeded long-range batteries in electric cars, click here.
For a discussion why Democrats should embrace the long campaign season and make no premature moves, click here.
For a discussion how Trump and Brexit have put the tree world into free fall, click here.
For a review of how our own American acts help create our president’s claimed “invasion” of Central American migrants, click here.
For a review of basic facts that must inform any type of universal health insurance, click here.
For a discussion of how the West’s fall and China’s rise affect the chances of our species’ survival, click here.
For a discussion of what the Mueller Report is and how its release could affect American politics, click here.
For a note on the Mueller Report as the beginning of a process, click here.
For comment on the special candidacies of Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg, click here.
For reasons why the twin 737 Max 8 disasters should inspire skepticism and caution with regard to potentially lethal uses of software and AI, click here.
For my message to Southwest Airlines on grounding the 737 Maxes, click here.
For an example of even the New York Times spewing propaganda, click here.
For means by which high-school teachers could help save American democracy, click here.
For a modern team of rivals that might comprise a dream Cabinet in 2021, click here.
For an analysis of the global decline of rules-based civilization, click here. For a brief note on avoiding health lobbying Armageddon, click here.
For analysis of how to save real news and America’s ability to see straight, click here.
For an update on how Zuckerberg scams advertisers, click here.
For analysis of how Facebook scams voters and society, click here.
For the consequences of Trump’s manufactured border emergency, click here.
For a brief note on Colin Kaepernick’s good work and settlement with the NFL, click here.
For an outline of universal health insurance without coercion, disruption of satisfactory private insurance, or a trace of “socialism,” click here.
For analysis of the Virginia blackface debacle, click here. For an update on how Twitter subverts politics, click here.
For analysis of women’s chances to take the presidency in 2020, click here.
For brief comment on Trump’s State of the Union Speech and Stacey Abrams’ response for the Dems, click here.
For reasons why the Huawei affair requires diplomacy, not criminal prosecution, click here. For how Speaker Pelosi has become a new sheriff in town, click here.
For how Trump’s misrule could kill your kids, click here.
For comment on MLK Day 2019 and the structural legacies of slavery, click here.
For reasons why the partial government shutdown helps Dems the longer it lasts, click here.
For a discussion of how our national openness hurts us and what we really need from China, click here.
For a brief explanation of how badly both Trump and his opposition are failing at “the art of the deal,” click here.
For a deep dive into how Apple tries to thwart Google’s capture of the web-browser market, click here.
For a review of Speaker Pelosi’s superb qualifications to lead the Democratic Party, click here.
For reasons why natural-gas and electric cars are essential to national security, click here.
For additional reasons, click here.
For the source of Facebook’s discontents and how to save democracy from it, click here.
For Democrats’ core values, click here.
The Last Adult is Leaving the White House. Who will Shut Off the Lights?
For how our two parties lost their souls, click here.
For the dire portent of Putin’s high-fiving the Saudi Crown Prince, click here.
For updated advice on how to drive on the Sun’s power alone, or without fossil fuels, click here.
For a 2018 Thanksgiving Message, click here.

Links to Posts since January 23, 2017

permalink to this post

26 June 2019

Third-Guessing 2016

For a review of the first Democratic Debate, click here. I’m posting it as an insert to this substantive post because the Debate, in my view, was barely worth the time to watch it. If you want to do your duty as a citizen and a voter, relying on corporate video media to inform you is far from the best way. The post appended below explains why.

For seven reasons not to make war on Iran, click here. For a discussion of Warren’s ability to defend science, click here. For comment on the value of Elizabeth Warren’s intelligence, click here. For an essay on her qualifications for the presidency, click here. For brief descriptions of and links to recent posts, click here. For an inverse-chronological list with links to all posts after January 23, 2017, click here. For a subject-matter index to posts before that date, click here.

    “Hindsight is better than foresight by a damn sight.” —Old Folk Saying
Way back in 2013, three years before Trump’s astonishing win, I wrote an essay analyzing Hillary Clinton’s inevitable candidacy. I assessed her likely rivals in both parties. Then I predicted she would win because she would be the best candidate.

After Trump’s unforeseen 2015 entry into the race, Hillary remained the best candidate. By then, it wasn’t much of a contest.

But she lost. She lost to a man with no relevant experience—a man addicted to casual lies, casual hate, casual nastiness, and ultra-casual decision making. The $64 trillion question (after inflation) is why.

Undone by Trump’s “impossible” win, some pundits seemed to lose their intellectual bearings. They saw some kind of magic in his glaring incompetence and character flaws. I myself fell into that trap twice: I called him a “magician” in this post and this one. But politics is not magic, and neither Trump nor any other real person is the Dark Lord. There are only us chickens, who tend to vote our interests as we see them.

So let’s try to explain Trump’s win on that simple basis. Let’s see if Occam’s Razor shaves as clean as usual.

If we look at voters’ interests, three facts jump out at us. First, millions of Americans and hundreds of small towns had lost big during the previous decade. The elites said that “globalization” and “automation” caused the losses. In so saying, they fudged and they lied.

It wasn’t “globalization” that caused the losses. It was much more specific than that. By itself, free trade never hurt anyone, as long as it didn’t kill jobs. The problem was our oligarchs selling our manufacturing jobs and technology—our industrial base—to China in exchange for market access and lower-cost labor. Wall Street was instrumental in this sale.

As for automation, it’s coming. But it’s not here yet, at least not on a scale that could have caused our middle class’ pain. (I’ve debunked this notion in another essay and won’t repeat the analysis here.) Vastly more jobs went to China than automation eliminated. Anyway, our oligarchs didn’t go to China to install robots; they went to hire cheaper labor and access a 2.6 billion armpit market.

The second fact that jumps out about the middle class’ pain is something we oft forget: the Crash of 2008. We think it’s over because Obama managed it well and eventually dug us out of the ditch—a recovery for which the GOP and Trump routinely steal credit. But the recovery was well under way, indeed nearly complete, by the time Trump took office.

For the elite (including the bailed-out bankers) and the upper middle class, the Crash is now over. But there are millions of people for whom it’s not over and never will be. They are the ones who lost homes, careers, marriages, family, towns, and children who went to the Coasts or to Texas. They are the ones whose lives the Crash destroyed before our economy rebounded. The only ones in this tranche for whom it’s truly over are those who sought Nepenthe in opiods and overdosed.

The final salient fact is still ongoing. The elite have never recognized, let alone apologized, for what they did. Far from it. They think their theories of politics and the economy are right and have been all along. They sincerely believe that “globalization,” aka selling American jobs and technology to China, makes everybody better off. They credit their own “righteousness” in serving their own personal interests, and they do so with the fervor of evangelists.

It’s extraordinary, when you think about it. The “Bible” of this group is the English weekly The Economist. For nearly two centuries, it has spread the gospel of a “liberal economic order.” What this coded phrase means is mostly free trade, low taxes, and diplomacy instead of war. But there’s also something more sinister. These folks believe as gospel that everything will be better, and everyone will be better off, if government just doesn’t interfere with business, or interferes as little as possible.

As I’ve analyzed in another essay, this is not science. It’s a form of religion. Like most religions in human history, it just happens to advance the interests of the people promoting it, i.e., the oligarchs and the ruling class.

Somehow, its promoters have passed this theory off as based on science, specifically economics. But no hypothesis so broad can be part of science, because no hypothesis so broad is capable of proof by observation or experiment. The theory is much more like the notion of the “best of all possible worlds” that the French Aristocracy promoted, and that Voltaire ridiculed in his classic satire Candide. The French Revolution followed.

So now let’s take Occam’s Razor and shave. The sale of jobs and tech to China was beating our middle class up in a long-term pummel. Then the Crash of 2008 hit it especially hard. A large part of the middle class that works mostly with their hands never recovered. The elite who had been responsible for all this, including the bankers who got bailed out, never acknowledged responsibility and never paid in any way. Instead, they prescribed more of the same and told the sufferers, in effect, “Suck it up; it’s good for you.” Many are still doing so.

Do you think all this might have made the sufferers a little angry?

There’s more. Through no particular fault of her own, Hillary Clinton was as totally immersed in our American elite as Marie Antoinette was in the French Aristocracy in her day. Hillary made millions giving speeches to Wall Street, which she tried to keep secret. She and Bill somehow acquired a reported net worth of $250 million from careers in “public service.” (In contrast, the Obamas had acquired only single-digit millions, mostly from royalties on Barack’s books, before he became president.)

If Hillary ever had a leading original idea of policy (other than her failed 1993 health-insurance plan), I’m not aware of it. She voted for war in Iraq without reading the National Intelligence Estimate, dissents in which debunked the reasons for war. She proposed fixing the economy by controlling interest rates by decree. When challenged on using a private e-mail server for ultra-sensitive government business, she said, in essence, “Colin Powell did it, too.”

I say this not to disparage Hillary, but to place her in our political universe. She was not a leader but a follower. She proposed no bold new solutions. She stuck with the “mainstream” Democratic platform and, like Bill, tried to “triangulate.” That is, she and Bill tried to “compromise” with a GOP shifting rightward at the speed of light.

There’s still more. Because of her going along to get along, Hillary was not left undisturbed in her coronal march toward the presidency. She had to fend off yet another disrupter: Bernie Sanders.

Unlike Hillary, Bernie was a leader and not part of the elite. He told voters what they wanted and needed to hear: that the system had been rigged against them, so only fundamental change would serve their interests.

Bernie had and has his faults. He’s far too prone to fighting the last century’s battles over tribes and terminology. Who cares who or what is a “democratic socialist”? Tell me what you’re going to do and how it’s going to make my life better.

Bernie also has an education deficit. Most of his Democratic opponents, at least those I’ve analyzed separately, have a graduate degree in law or some other field. Bernie has none. He’s a very smart and articulate man. But in a world where a college degree is the last century’s high-school diploma, and where you need a graduate degree to distinguish yourself, he’s an anachronism.

But this essay is not about Bernie. It’s about what happened to the millions of sufferers and their ultimately vain hopes. Their hopes got dashed, and by the elite, when Hillary’s control over the Democratic Party’s apparatus made her winning the Democratic nomination inevitable. The very system that had made so many suffer, and that Bernie had so patiently explained to them, forced them to accept a candidate who seemed just one more cog in a system rigged against them.

So in the end, it wasn’t Hillary’s gender. It wasn’t her and Bill’s real but not-so-terrible defects in character. It was the simple fact that Hillary never “got” the depth of the sufferers’ travails or the reasons for them. Maybe she had burrowed so deep into the system that she was constitutionally incapable of seeing.

Whatever the reason, who can say the sufferers erred? If Bernie had won the nomination, maybe the result in the general election might have been different. But a now-noted professor anomalously predicted Trump’s 2016 win just by analyzing thirteen factors, in several of which public desire for a change of regime played a role.

We’ll never know the precise extent to which a desire for real change helped Trump win. But can anyone say with confidence that the Trumpets voted against their own interests?

Trump promised them love and succor. Hillary promised them the same kind of economic orthodoxy that had caused their suffering in the first place. Trump seemed as angry and resentful as they felt and claimed repeatedly to be on their side. Hillary called them “deplorables.”

If Trump had given them good, skilled, non-outsourceable jobs with a huge infrastructure bill, instead of squandering the nation’s substance on unneeded tax cuts, he might have had them in his pocket forever. But he lied and failed them. He also proved himself erratic, hateful and incompetent and, for immigrant children, mean.

So there’s an opening: the “Magician” is vulnerable. But what’s he vulnerable to?

Is a return to economic orthodoxy going to win the day? Is a return to the “center,” which amounts to the same thing? Are Trumpets going to vote for anyone who still tells them that globalization is good for them and that they should go back to school and learn to compete with robots and artificial intelligence? Or are they going to hold out for a candidate who tells them the truth for a change, who tells them how the oligarchs have shafted them (by negligence, if not design) and proposes new, practical solutions to repair the damage?

If this analysis is correct, it has one value only. It tells us whom the Dems should pick to win.

“Moderates” and “centrists” like Biden and Klobuchar are risky because they are the very ones that Trumpets see as their betrayers. The Dems must pick someone who will level with them about the causes of their suffering and offer real, new solutions, not more of the same.

The Trumpets don’t need or want “socialism,” or anything else the elite can demagogue to death with name-calling and yet more tribalism. They need practical solutions that work. They need a real leader, not a follower, let alone of last-century ideology.

No one fits that bill like Warren. She led in establishing the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, so much so that Wall Street insisted on keeping her from heading it. She led in calling for the breakup of the big banks—by far the best way to make sure they don’t again grow “too big to fail.” She led in calling for Facebook’s breakup, which just might, by creating competitive social networks, help save our democracy. She led in calling for forgiving some of the massive education debt that is and has been eating our young.

Nothing about Warren reflects someone else’s orthodoxy, let alone the elite’s that caused this mess. Warren is a courageous and original thinker.

Trump says, “I love you,” but he lies. He loves only himself. Warren says “I love you” with the truth, and with bold, original solutions that follow from the truth.

The last candidate like that was Barack Obama. So many fretted about his race. But he won decisively because he was brilliant and had a plan. He won twice.

Elizabeth Warren is much the same. The Dems can fret about her gender and her high-pitched voice until they have a collective nervous breakdown. Or they can pick a leader who can level with those who suffer and propose common-sense plans that can make their lives better.

More of the same is not going to cut it in the Age of Trump. He won and still has a huge loyal following despite, not because of, his glaring flaws. Nor, as Bernie already has proved, will the Dems win by returning to the last century’s ideological and terminological wars.

Real change is coming, one way or the other. Let’s make sure it doesn’t come with a losing incumbent who refuses to step down. The only way to do that is to make sure he loses big. And the only way to do that is to point out the suffering that lies behind Trump’s presidency and to do something real about it, or at least to make good, new proposals.

Footnote: I had entirely forgotten this essay until a hit on it, reported by Google, reminded me. It analyzed why Hillary’s victory was “inevitable” two years before Trump entered the race.

The First Democratic Debate

It was all unintentional, I’m sure. But the first Democratic debate of 2019 graphically demonstrated three dismal realities of our time: (1) the superficiality of most video news; (2) the utter incompetence of our video media, as distinguished from our print media; and (3) the general dysfunction of our big corporations.

My own notes, jotted beforehand, predicted the superficiality. How could it be otherwise? My own clocking tallied 1 hour forty minutes of ten candidates talking. That’s an average of ten minutes apiece.

How could any of the lesser-known candidates possibly introduce himself or herself in that time? MSNBC didn’t seem to care. It scored the media prestige of exclusive coverage and the consequent millions from advertisers. It reaped the two shiniest coins of our realm today: celebrity and profit. Aren’t they what made Trump president?

All that you could expect. What I didn’t expect was total incompetence from one of the nation’s leading private media.

I didn’t foresee losing four minutes (later recovered from commercials) to a microphone screwup that you might expect at a high-school assembly. I didn’t foresee moderators talking over each other and letting candidates talk over each other for many seconds, rather than cutting off microphones as needed. I didn’t expect a few moderators asking short, open questions—as appropriate for such an event—while others made speeches or asked long, involved questions that seemed to spiral around some ever-elusive point.

Apparently some moderators never took aboard Shakespeare’s advice that “brevity is the soul of wit.” (That’s especially true when you’re asking questions of the real subjects of the discussion and are not supposed to stand out.) In other words, I never expected a leading non-propaganda (i.e., non-Fox) news medium to demonstrate such spectacular incompetence.

Fortunately for the Democratic Party and our nation, the Democratic candidates demonstrated far greater discipline, competence and coherence. With a few exceptions, they stuck together on the general thrust of their progressive plans, each preferring to tout their own unique achievements rather than contrast their views with each other. Several of them landed solid punches on the absent Trump, to strong applause.

With few exceptions, the candidates refrained from attacking each other. Perhaps the most striking exception was Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D., Haw.) noting a gaffe by Congressman Tim Ryan (D. Ohio), who confused the Taliban with Al Qaeda as the author of 9/11. Yet generally speaking, the candidates’ comparisons among themselves were along the lines of “I did more or better,” not “you screwed up.” That’s an absolutely essential approach for the Dems to follow throughout their primary campaigns, lest they leave the eventual nominee—or the party as a whole—a wounded gladiator in the final death-match with Trump.

If the Dems can maintain this positive-campaigning discipline through October of next year, they will increase their chances of winning the general election. They might even refute Will Rogers’ famous quip: “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

On the other hand, if you were looking for assistance in winnowing the field, the Debate would have disappointed you. Ryan probably disqualified himself with his factual gaffe, despite some ringing claims to represent our forgotten working class. Former Congressman John Delaney (D., Md.) was similar: he named no particular plan, approach or achievement that stood out, just a propensity to work with others and to support the working class.

Two candidates sported whole sentences of Spanish (which Booker also spoke a bit). But they seemed to have little else going for them besides attractive histories. Julián Castro, former Mayor of San Antonio and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama, and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D., Tex.) spoke most passionately about the current mistreatment of migrants. But that’s not really a key Democratic issue, not this time. Instead, it’s a core GOP and Trump issue. Dem voters for whom it matters most have no place else to go, and other candidates spoke just as passionately about correcting the mistreatment. These two men ought to be angling for positions in a Democratic Cabinet, where they can build their résumés and do some good. Perhaps they were.

Beyond this, the debate did little to winnow the candidates. A few even managed to make marks of distinction. Senator Cory Booker (D., N.J.) noted his hard work on the “First Step” act to reduce our incarcerated population; he also gave a ringing description of what it’s like to live in a neighborhood where people die regularly from gun violence. Mayor Bill De Blasio (D., New York City) scored with his efforts to reduce off-the-charts economic inequality in New York City. He also gave a moving description of having “the talk” with his black son about how to avoid police violence.

With an air of gravitas unusual for a woman, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D., Haw.) made a good case for having a president who knows the “cost of war,” as she does from her own extensive military service, including combat. She did not remind us that all three of our most recent presidents never served in combat. (Dubya served, during the Vietnam War, in the Texas Air National Guard.)

Governor and former congressman Jay Inslee (D., Wash.) summarized the economic equalizers he helped enact in his home state and made an impassioned plea for treating climate change as the existential challenge of our time. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) distinguished herself with her work (with Booker) on the First Step Act, her simultaneous support for progressive legislation and cross-aisle cooperation, and her calm, friendly and confident demeanor.

The “winner,” if there was one, was the same coming out as going in: Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.). She had the clearest and most comprehensive answers to questions of policy. No one else (perhaps by design) touched her, except in questioning the wisdom of phasing out private insurance with her version of “Medicare for All.” Her “win,” if you can call it that, was in part a product of her getting the vast majority of attention and “air time,” as perhaps behooved the “front runner” of this group of candidates going in.

There are things that Warren, if not voters, could learn from this debate. First, both Klobuchar (with her calm and smiling demeanor) and Gabbard (with her gravitas) eclipsed Warren in style, if not substance. Warren stood hunched over and seemed tense, if not nervous. The best things she could learn from this first joust is to take some media training and find some way (maybe hard exercise?) to relax.

But for voters this first televised debate did little to dispel darkness or doubt. It was badly planned, badly organized and abysmally executed by its corporate purveyor. There were too many candidates and too many subjects to draw meaningful, let alone memorable, distinctions.

Voters who want to do their duty as citizens and inform themselves before voting could learn only two things by watching this Debate. First, watching televised debates is a poor way to do that duty. Second, print media and candidates’ websites offer far better means of distinguishing candidates than relying on our sensationalist, dysfunctional and ultimately careless corporate video media. If all else fails, go to a rally and see your favorite candidate or candidates in the flesh.

This time, the choice matters greatly. We have only one chance to retire Trump, our very own Nero or Caligula. Imagine how different ancient Roman and human history might be if the Roman Senate had had, and had taken, that chance.

Toward Better Debates

Over the years this blog has reviewed two badly botched debates: the Philadelphia Obama-Hillary debate of 2008, and the first New Hampshire GOP debate of 2012. Last night’s first Dem debate of 2019 may not have been as bad as either of those two. But it revealed similar basic flaws: letting for-profit corporate news anchors moderate and run a presidential debate is not the best way to advance democracy or fairness.

Running fair and incisive debates is just not what commercial news anchors generally do. They can, as in last night’s case, either grandstand or not take their jobs seriously. And despite their high pay, they seem to have consistent trouble enforcing simple, fair rules on powerful political candidates.

Last night, for example, the gross variation in the length, depth and cogency of the questions suggested that no one was in charge. Not a single editor apparently enforced any discipline (let alone brevity) on the questioners. And discipline on the candidates’ answers was utterly inconsistent, depending on who was asking the questions and who was violating the time limits.

Getting this stuff right is hardly rocket science. The political parties could, for example, have professors or think-tankers prepare the questions, perhaps letting each candidate nominate the people or institutions to question his or her rivals. Then the parties could hire neutral observers, perhaps English professors or newspaper editors, to edit the questions for length, depth, brevity and cogency. Low-level technicians or automated equipment could shut off the relevant microphone ten or fifteen seconds after a “time’s up” warning, and shut off the microphones of candidates talking over each other, after a warning.

Preparing questions and running a debate should not be left to commercial anchors who have little experience in running debates, no real incentive to do a good job and every incentive to grandstand. Commercial corporations should be restricted to providing the technical means to get the questions and answers into the ether and onto the Internet, nothing more.

The commercial channels would still have a profit motive to transmit the debates, i.e., the advertising revenue and whatever price they charge the political parties. Preparing the questions should be the province of people selected for their knowledge, interest, and expertise. Those who edit them should be chosen for their language skills and impartiality. Running the actual debate and enforcing its rules should be left to people who or equipment which can carry out orders impartially and implacably. Then maybe the channels’ staff could focus on what they do best: preventing technical gaffes like the microphone screw-up last night, under financial penalties in the contract for each such gaffe.

One other point: the political parties ought to reconsider the priority they assign to keeping the questions secret before their debates. The issues that pols have to deal with in real life are hardly ever snap quizzes.

The issue of universal health insurance, for example, has been rattling around for over a century. Even emergent issues, such as the present contretemps with Iran, are the subject of days or hours of discussion and debate in executive offices and the Situation Room. The notion that you can learn something useful about a pol’s effectiveness from his or her ability to compose a sixty-second answer to a snap question with seconds to think is, in Mark Twain’s words, greatly exaggerated.

Debates would be more useful if candidates knew the questions they would have to answer in advance. Then they would be able to consider all counter-arguments and ramifications, including what they might be asked in follow-up questions by moderators or rivals.

Testing pols’ ability to compose sixty-second answers to snap quizzes makes sense only in a world governed by Twitter. We all know how that’s working out!

Links to Popular Recent Posts

For seven reasons not to make war on Iran, click here.
For discussion of Warren’s ability to defend science, and why it matters, click here.
For comment on the quality of Elizabeth Warren’s mind and its relevance to our current circumstances, click here.
For analysis of the disastrous effect of our leaders’ failure to take personal responsibility, click here.
For brief comment on China’s Tiananmen Square Massacre and its significance for our species, click here.
For reasons why the Democratic House should pass a big infrastructure bill ASAP, click here.
For an analysis why Nancy Pelosi is right on impeachment, click here.
For an explanation how demagoguing the issue of abortion has ruined our national politics and brought us our two worst presidents, and how we could recover, click here.
For analysis of the Huawei Tech Block and its necessity for maintaining our innovative infrastructure, click here.
For ten reasons, besides global warming, to dump oil as a fuel for ground transportation, click here.
For discussion why we must cooperate with China and how we can compete successfully with China, click here.
For reasons why Trump’s haphazard trade war will not win the competition with China, click here.
For a deeper discussion of how badly we Americans have failed to plan our future, click here.
For an essay on Elizabeth Warren’s qualifications for the presidency, click here.
For comment on how not doing our jobs has brought us Americans low, click here.
To see how modern politics has come to resemble the Game of Thrones, click here.
For a discussion of the waste of energy and fossil fuels caused by unneeded long-range batteries in electric cars, click here.
For a discussion why Democrats should embrace the long campaign season and make no premature moves, click here.
For a discussion how Trump and Brexit have put the tree world into free fall, click here.
For a review of how our own American acts help create our president’s claimed “invasion” of Central American migrants, click here.
For a review of basic facts that must inform any type of universal health insurance, click here.
For a discussion of how the West’s fall and China’s rise affect the chances of our species’ survival, click here.
For a discussion of what the Mueller Report is and how its release could affect American politics, click here.
For a note on the Mueller Report as the beginning of a process, click here.
For comment on the special candidacies of Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg, click here.
For reasons why the twin 737 Max 8 disasters should inspire skepticism and caution with regard to potentially lethal uses of software and AI, click here.
For my message to Southwest Airlines on grounding the 737 Maxes, click here.
For an example of even the New York Times spewing propaganda, click here.
For means by which high-school teachers could help save American democracy, click here.
For a modern team of rivals that might comprise a dream Cabinet in 2021, click here.
For an analysis of the global decline of rules-based civilization, click here. For a brief note on avoiding health lobbying Armageddon, click here.
For analysis of how to save real news and America’s ability to see straight, click here.
For an update on how Zuckerberg scams advertisers, click here.
For analysis of how Facebook scams voters and society, click here.
For the consequences of Trump’s manufactured border emergency, click here.
For a brief note on Colin Kaepernick’s good work and settlement with the NFL, click here.
For an outline of universal health insurance without coercion, disruption of satisfactory private insurance, or a trace of “socialism,” click here.
For analysis of the Virginia blackface debacle, click here. For an update on how Twitter subverts politics, click here.
For analysis of women’s chances to take the presidency in 2020, click here.
For brief comment on Trump’s State of the Union Speech and Stacey Abrams’ response for the Dems, click here.
For reasons why the Huawei affair requires diplomacy, not criminal prosecution, click here. For how Speaker Pelosi has become a new sheriff in town, click here.
For how Trump’s misrule could kill your kids, click here.
For comment on MLK Day 2019 and the structural legacies of slavery, click here.
For reasons why the partial government shutdown helps Dems the longer it lasts, click here.
For a discussion of how our national openness hurts us and what we really need from China, click here.
For a brief explanation of how badly both Trump and his opposition are failing at “the art of the deal,” click here.
For a deep dive into how Apple tries to thwart Google’s capture of the web-browser market, click here.
For a review of Speaker Pelosi’s superb qualifications to lead the Democratic Party, click here.
For reasons why natural-gas and electric cars are essential to national security, click here.
For additional reasons, click here.
For the source of Facebook’s discontents and how to save democracy from it, click here.
For Democrats’ core values, click here.
The Last Adult is Leaving the White House. Who will Shut Off the Lights?
For how our two parties lost their souls, click here.
For the dire portent of Putin’s high-fiving the Saudi Crown Prince, click here.
For updated advice on how to drive on the Sun’s power alone, or without fossil fuels, click here.
For a 2018 Thanksgiving Message, click here.

Links to Posts since January 23, 2017

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