Senator Jones

The next Senator from Alabama is Democrat Doug Jones. Who’d have thunk it?

There are a number of ways to “slice and dice” Jones’ victory in the Alabama special election. Gratifying as that win was–and it really, really was!–Roy Moore was a uniquely flawed candidate, and Alabama still came uncomfortably close to preferring a bigoted child molester and scofflaw to a principled and attractive Democrat.

On the other hand, a Democrat won a statewide race in Alabama–by several metrics, the Reddest state in the country.

There were dozens of excellent columns and opinion pieces yesterday morning parsing the implications of Jones’ victory. One of those, a column by David Von Drehle in the Washington Post, included a couple of important observations. Von Drehle noted that Jones had run a  campaign that honored the old adage “When your opponent is digging his own grave, don’t grab the shovel.”

What really caught my eye, however, was this:

The Jones victory is about a rising tide of Americans who won’t swallow the bilge President Trump is pushing. Make no mistake: If Trump and his would-be Pygmalion, Stephen K. Bannon, can’t sell their mix of cultural resentment and paranoia in Alabama, they will be hard-pressed to sell it anywhere.

In my opinion, that is one of two important “take aways” from Tuesday’s election.

Yes, Moore was an unusually revolting candidate, even for today’s GOP. Yes, a majority of white voters–primarily but not exclusively rural–stuck with him anyway. (Had it not been for the African-American voters who turned out despite the numerous voter suppression tactics aimed at keeping them home, Roy Moore would be a United States Senator.)

But this is Alabama, and context is important. Although Donald Trump won Alabama by 28 points, exit polling showed his favorable rating at 47%–and his unfavorable rating at 48%. Radio ads for Moore in the final days of the campaign were unabashedly racist and anti-Semitic (Jones and George Soros are trying to start a race war…)–were appeals to what Von Drehle politely calls “cultural resentment.” Yet even in dark-red Alabama, where the urban/rural divide is deep and racism institutionalized, Trump, Bannon and the politics of white nationalism weren’t enough to drag Moore across the finish line.

So, “take away” number one: hatred as a political strategy has a limited shelf life.

However, in my opinion, take away number two is the most important. This election reaffirmed a reality to which all politicians give lip service, but too few make the focus of their campaign efforts: turnout is critical. 

Republicans haven’t won elections by winning the hearts and minds of voters; they’ve won by suppressing Democratic turnout–by gerrymandering, passing ridiculous Voter ID laws, limiting polling places and hours, and similar tactics. (In Alabama, after passing a stringent Voter ID law necessitating trips to the state’s BMV branches, they closed the branches in black neighborhoods.) Those tactics lead voters to believe the results of elections are foreordained–a conclusion that further suppresses the vote.

What I read over and over as I followed the Jones-Moore contest was that Democrats were excited–if astonished– because they saw that winning was possible. My vote could actually count!! That excitement prompted previously apathetic Democrats to turn out; it also prompted efforts by the NAACP and other organizations to overcome the structural barriers erected to discourage African-American participation.

Unusually high Democratic turnout can overcome gerrymandering in districts drawn to be safe for Republicans, because those district lines are based on turnout estimates and those turnout estimates are based upon prior voting patterns.

Of course, it helps a lot when non-crazy reliable Republican voters are faced with a choice between a whack-job child molester and a good guy…Even in Alabama.

 

 

When He’s Right, He’s Right

David Brooks can be a maddening columnist. He is often thoughtful and perceptive; obviously highly intelligent and unfailingly civil, he rarely comes across as doctrinaire. On the other hand, he often produces analyses that are surprisingly naive and occasionally even uninformed.

I read his columns regularly, because when he’s right, he’s really right. (And to be fair, even with his more off-base musings, there are usually nuggets worth considering.)

In his December 7th New York Times column, Brooks didn’t just hit it out of the park, he hit it out of the county.

Brooks is an old-fashioned Republican, conservative in the principled, Burkean sense of that term. I will readily admit that even in my most conservative days, I’ve never fallen into that particular category. Unlike the white nationalists and other morally repugnant political figures who have hijacked conservatism, however, Burkean conservatism was an entirely respectable approach. I’ve watched Brooks wrestle with that hijacking, and watched his efforts to give positions with which he clearly differed an (unearned) benefit of the doubt.

His lede describes that attitude, which he attributes to a generalized category of “good Republicans.”

A lot of good, honorable Republicans used to believe there was a safe middle ground. You didn’t have to tie yourself hip to hip with Donald Trump, but you didn’t have to go all the way to the other extreme and commit political suicide like the dissident Jeff Flake, either. You could sort of float along in the middle, and keep your head down until this whole Trump thing passed.

The column makes it pretty clear that Brooks has (finally!) turned a corner.

That’s the way these corrupt bargains always work. You think you’re only giving your tormentor a little piece of yourself, but he keeps asking and asking, and before long he owns your entire soul.

The Republican Party is doing harm to every cause it purports to serve. If Republicans accept Roy Moore as a United States senator, they may, for a couple years, have one more vote for a justice or a tax cut, but they will have made their party loathsome for an entire generation. The pro-life cause will be forever associated with moral hypocrisy on an epic scale. The word “evangelical” is already being discredited for an entire generation. Young people and people of color look at the Trump-Moore G.O.P. and they are repulsed, maybe forever.

In this week’s Times, Peter Wehner–once on the staff of the Reagan White House, and a proud conservative Evangelical–comes to much the same conclusion in a column titled “Why I Can No Longer Call Myself an Evangelical Republican.”

Brooks recognizes that the rot that now infects the entire GOP didn’t start with Trump.  With Sarah Palin and Fox News, the party traded a previous “ethos of excellence” for an “ethos of hucksterism.”

The Republican Party I grew up with admired excellence. It admired intellectual excellence (Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley), moral excellence (John Paul II, Natan Sharansky) and excellent leaders (James Baker, Jeane Kirkpatrick). Populism abandoned all that — and had to by its very nature. Excellence is hierarchical. Excellence requires work, time, experience and talent. Populism doesn’t believe in hierarchy. Populism doesn’t demand the effort required to understand the best that has been thought and said. Populism celebrates the quick slogan, the impulsive slash, the easy ignorant assertion. Populism is blind to mastery and embraces mediocrity.

Compare the tax cuts of the supply-side era with the tax cuts of today. There were three big cuts in the earlier era: the 1978 capital gains tax cut, the Kemp-Roth tax cut of 1981, and the 1986 tax reform. They were passed with bipartisan support, after a lengthy legislative process. All of them responded to the dominant problem of the moment, which was the stagflation and economic sclerosis. All rested on a body of serious intellectual work…

Today’s tax cuts have no bipartisan support. They have no intellectual grounding, no body of supporting evidence. They do not respond to the central crisis of our time. They have no vision of the common good, except that Republican donors should get more money and Democratic donors should have less.

The rot afflicting the G.O.P. is comprehensive — moral, intellectual, political and reputational. More and more former Republicans wake up every day and realize: “I’m homeless. I’m politically homeless.”

As readers of this blog know, I was a Republican for 35 years. In 2000, I left. I realized that the party  for which I’d worked so long no longer existed; I said then (and continue to maintain) that I hadn’t left the party, the party had left me.

Brooks is not engaging in hyperbole in that last line. Every day, I run into good, thoughtful people I used to work with–in party politics, in municipal government–who echo his lament. They no longer see the GOP as a traditional political party with a political philosophy based on a distinctive moral vision. They certainly don’t see anyone pursuing excellence.

They see what David Brooks finally sees: an immoral cult pursing its tribal interests to the detriment of the country.

Shamelessness And The Tax Bill

Jennifer Rubin is a conservative columnist. Like many of the pundits on the political Right–and unlike most GOP members of Congress– she is intellectually honest. (Here in Indiana, Paul Ogden falls into that category; I often disagree with his conclusions, but I have a high degree of respect for his intellectual integrity.)

Rubin doesn’t mince words about the GOP’s single legislative “accomplishment.”

Republicans will knock a giant hole in the budget with a tax cut of $1.5 trillion, most of which goes to the rich and corporations. Rather than acknowledge their hypocrisy on the debt, they choose to misrepresent the facts.

She then provides a couple of examples, one an exchange between George Stephanopolous and  Mitch McConnell, and one between Senator Susan Collins–ostensibly the Senate’s only GOP moderate–and Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. Forgive the length of this quote, but I think it is important not to summarize or characterize.

CHUCK TODD: Alright, if the debt is unsustainable at $14 trillion, how do you, how did you make yourself comfortable voting for something that’s going to increase the deficit? This tax bill we’re at 20.6 trillion now and the best estimates saying it’s going to even the best estimates of dynamic scoring that we could still find still add half a trillion dollars to the deficit.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Economic growth produces more revenue and that will help to offset this tax cut and actually lower the debt.

CHUCK TODD: Where’s the evidence? Where, explain to me. Find a, find a study that actually says what you’re claiming.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Let me–

CHUCK TODD: It doesn’t exist.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Let me do that. First of all if you take the C.B.O.’s formula and apply it four to four tenths of one percent increase in the GDP generates revenues of a trillion dollars, a trillion dollars. Even the joint committee on taxation has projected that the tax bill would stimulate the economy to produce hundreds of billions of additional revenue. I’ve talked four economists, including the Dean of the Columbia School of Business and former chairs of the councils of economic advisors and they believe that it will have this impact. So I think if we can stimulate the economy, create more jobs that that does generate more revenue.

CHUCK TODD: But why isn’t there a single study? I’m going to show you three studies that we have, sort of a liberal one, a centrist one, and a conservative one right up there. The most conservative one, the most pro-economic growth argument, still adds $516 billion to the deficit over ten years.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Well, talk to economists like Glenn Hubbard and Larry Lindsey and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who used to be head of the C.B.O. And they will tell you otherwise. So I think you will find that economists just don’t agree on this.

Jennifer Rubin then did what credible reporters do; she contacted the quoted economists, who told her that they had not made the statements Collins attributed to them. Both Hubbard and Holtz-Eakin said they’d told Collins that the measures would “offset but not eliminate the static budget loss.”

After confirming that even conservative Republican economists deny that the tax cuts will come close to paying for themselves, Rubin writes

This raises the question as to whether Collins and McConnell misunderstand the advice they get, choose to cherry-pick what they are given or simply don’t want to fess up that they’ve abandoned fiscal sanity in search of a political win and to soothe donors. The most generous interpretation is that they are operating with unsupportable optimism that these cuts will do something no other tax cuts have ever done– pay for themselves.

They didn’t “misunderstand.” They’re shameless and they’re lying. As Talking Points Memo reports, economists and former government officials all predict the bill will drive up the federal deficit, shrink and destabilize the health care market, make our already historic income inequality worse, and–worst of all–give Congress cover to do what Paul Ryan and his ilk have long wanted to do:  make deep cuts to the social safety net and government programs.

I’ve said it before: I don’t know how these people sleep at night.

 

 

 

Sabotaging Clean Energy

Every day, we learn something new and horrible about the GOP tax bill.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the bill is likely to derail the nation’s encouraging move to clean energy.

Both the measure passed by the House and the more recent Senate version deal what the organization calls “devastating blows” to America’s booming clean energy industry—while (I know this will absolutely shock you) retaining the billions of dollars of oil, gas and coal subsidies in the current code.

According to the “alert” sent out,

The Senate version that passed in a frenzied vote early Saturday morning includes a “poison pill” that essentially ends the tax benefits gained by investors in clean energy—killing what has been a primary driver of the industry’s growth for decades. And the House version takes aim at incentives that have catalyzed wind energy investments, meaning wind developers in the middle of projects and counting on those credits will have the rug pulled out from under them. They will have to pay the costs themselves or abandon their projects.

As Environment Florida reported,

The bill also continues massive incentives for fossil fuel production amounting to tens of billions of dollars over the next decade. Most insidiously, an obscure provision recently added to the Senate Tax bill would stifle development of solar and wind energy by hurting the financial viability of new projects. With no public debate or time for Americans to respond, the Senate is threatening one of the keys to a livable future for our children and grandchildren.

The House tax bill isn’t any better. It also continues subsidies for fossil fuels, eliminates incentives for electric vehicles and slashes wind energy credits by at least one-third.

Lest we attribute these analyses to over-reaction by environmental organization, an in-depth analysis from the New York Times confirms that the tax bill contains an all-out assault on renewable energy.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised by this; the Trump Administration is a collection of climate change deniers. Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke have longtime ties to fossil fuel interests, and neither has bothered to hide his contempt for environmentalists. Or, for that matter, science and scientists.

Mother Jones highlights yet another environmental assault, in “The Environmental Disaster Tucked Into the Tax Bill.” That measure would allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the crowned jewels of our public lands,” Ana Unruh Cohen, the director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council tells Mother Jones. “Drilling there would totally mar this beautiful place.”

Opening up the 1.5 million acres for drilling is estimated to generate $1.1 billion over the course of a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and would provide a big fiscal windfall for the state of Alaska. Environmentalists, however, are appalled: they point out that the site is a critical habitat for hundreds of animal species, including foxes, polar bears, and caribou, and those habitats need protection.

Drilling would also threaten sacred lands for the Native Alaskan Gwich’in tribe.

Just for good measure, environmental groups charge that other provisions in the bill will wipe out polar bears. I don’t know what Republicans have against polar bears.

For a bill that is supposed to be all about tax reform, we keep finding all sorts of unrelated assaults–on the environment, on women’s reproductive rights, on Church-State separation…this bill is a Christmas gift to the rich and the crazy, two constituencies with a considerable amount of overlap, and the rest of us will be paying for it.

So will our grandchildren.

Give Them Credit For Consistency….

Apparently, GOP lawmakers don’t have grandchildren.

It’s hard to say it more succinctly and accurately than a recent article in the Guardian:

The parallels between the Republican Party positions on taxes and climate change are striking. Both are morally appalling and reject the available evidence and expert opinion.

According to the article, 96% of economic experts who were asked about the GOP tax plan opined that it would not generate nearly enough economic growth to cover the shortfall in revenue it will cause. This same economic consensus has been reported by a number of other outlets, and the economists surveyed have included conservatives, moderates and liberals. There is 100% consensus that the tax package will grow the national debt.

Those numbers are quite similar to the 97% consensus among climate scientists that humans are driving global warming and the 95% consensus among economists that the US should cut its carbon pollution.

Oh, but what do “experts” know? (I wonder whether our intrepid Congress-critters take their chest pains to faith healers; they certainly substitute faith for knowledge in the policy arena.)

The author of the Guardian article– in an effort to figure out why Republicans passed the tax bill, and why they are unwilling to move environmental legislation–comes to the same conclusion: faith over fact.

The tax cut plan, which by design will increase the US national debt by $1.5tn, is also incompatible with Republican opposition to increased deficits. Just last year the Republican National Committee was warning of “an unsustainable path toward crippling debt.”

Again, the consistency with climate change denial is striking.

These Republican economic contradictions make no sense, but they’re familiar to those of us who follow climate change news. The only consistency in climate denial is in its contradictions – deniers claim global warming isn’t happening, but it’s a natural ocean cycle, and caused by the sun, and galactic cosmic rays, and Jupiter’s orbital cycles, and it’s really just a Chinese hoax, and in any case it’s not bad.

The author attributes the GOP’s faith-based approach to “intellectual rot,” and references an August 2017 Gallup poll, in which just 33% of Republicans expressed confidence in higher education, and the fact that the tax bill penalizes American graduate students. (Of course, it also wages war on public education overall. How it does that is a subject for yet another blog rant…Obviously, this tax bill will provide fodder for blog posts for the foreseeable future…)

Explanations of the intellectual vacuum that characterizes today’s GOP inevitably include  the influence of right-wing media.

A 2012 survey found that Americans who only watch Fox News are less informed than Americans who watch no news at all. At the time, 55% of Americans including 75% of Republicans reported watching Fox News. The network is powerful – a recent study found that Fox News might have enough influence to tip American elections – and on the whole it prioritizes ideological messaging over factual accuracy.

Trump’s attacks on the so-called “fake news” media have further eroded Republicans’ trust of news sources that lack a conservative bias. As David Roberts wrote for Vox:

The US is experiencing a deep epistemic breach, a split not just in what we value or want, but in who we trust, how we come to know things, and what we believe we know — what we believe exists, is true, has happened and is happening … the right has created its own parallel set of institutions, most notably its own media ecosystem … “conservative media is more partisan and more insular than the left.”

All true. All interesting to consider and discuss from a sociological perspective.

But I do have grandchildren, so my question is more urgent: what can rational people do? Voting these Neanderthals out is obvious, but we’ll still have to deal with that “epistemic breach,” if my grandchildren are going to inherit breathable air and a viable economy.