‘Democracy for Realists’

Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government,” by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels, two political scientists, bursts the idealists’ dream of democracy as well-informed citizens thoughtfully “steering the ship of state from the voting booth.”

They demonstrate that voters–even those who are well informed and politically engaged–mostly choose parties and candidates on the basis of social identities and partisan loyalties, not political issues. They also show that voters adjust their policy views and even their perceptions of basic matters of fact to match those loyalties. When parties are roughly evenly matched, elections often turn on irrelevant or misleading considerations such as economic spurts or downturns beyond the incumbents’ control; the outcomes are essentially random.

Voters are not necessarily rational, and they don’t necessarily give politicians mandates. Most voters are ignorant of issues and party positions on issues. They don’t know right from left. The tend to decide on a gut-level basis which candidate to support, and then adopt the candidate’s positions as their own. Voters choose political parties strongly because of parents’ preferences, as well as symbols, and peer groups, especially by emotionally-grounded feelings of group identification.

The concept of “loyal opposition” — that citizens can oppose incumbent rulers and remain loyal to the nation — only developed gradually in the US and UK during the 19th Century. Many countries still haven’t accepted that concept.

Conversation with a Trump Supporter Who Voted for Obama in 2008

A long-time friend, who voted for Obama in 2008, is considering voting for Donald Trump. While she doesn’t believe Obama is a Kenyan Muslim, and never bought into the birther hoax, she does believe Hillary started the birther movement. She thinks Trump will be a deal-maker who gets things done “like Lyndon Johnson.” She likes his position on immigration — he won’t increase the number of Syrian refugees by 500 percent, as Hillary Clinton has proposed. He doesn’t think every act of violence is the result of lack of gun control legislation, as Hillary seems to believe. And he’ll reduce corruption — “drive the money-lenders out of the temple,” while Hillary wants to keep them there.

My responses are below. I doubt her mind will be changed, but I gave it my best shot, at the risk of overwhelming her.

1. It is indisputable that Hillary Clinton had NOTHING to do with the “birther” charge and there is NO evidence that anyone connected with her campaign “brought up Obama’s birth as a possible campaign issue for her to exploit.” 

2. Newt Gingrich’s claim that Hillary wants to increase the number of Syrian refugees in this country by 500 percent is a gross distortion of the issue, and Republican claims that Syrian refugees are “unvetted” is absolutely false and fear-mongering. The US currently admits only 10,000 Syrian refugees during the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. He failed to mention that refugees to the US go through YEARS of vetting by the State Department and FBI. Hillary says the US could take in about 65,000 refugees. That is still a drop in bucket considering the 65 million refugees in 2015,  or one out of every 113 people on Earth, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The number represents a 5.8 million increase on the year before.
If the US does nothing, it really loses its international reputation for being a generous country. 
During and after the Holocaust, 70 percent of Americans polled didn’t want dirty Jews entering the US. Fortunately, Presidents Roosevelt and Truman defied public opinion and favored generous immigration of Jewish refugees. 
This is an area where Hillary Clinton shows moral courage while Donald Trump and his crowd are cowards who appeal to religious bigotry. 
3. “Every violent act in this country being blamed on lack of gun control.” Who says that?  At best, only the most modest gun legislation could pass Congress, and at best it might prevent some violent acts. Of course it’s hard to measure violence that didn’t occur as a result of new laws. No proponent asserts that gun control legislation will eliminate all gun-related violence. That’s silly.
FactCheck.org: Trump Distorts Clinton’s Gun Stance
Hillary has outlined a mental health policy, promoting early diagnosis and intervention, more training for law enforcement officers, etc.
Trump’s website lists no mental health policies other than bland generalities. 
How Donald Trump Gets It Wrong on Mental Illness Every Time: His rhetoric isn’t just stigmatizing, it’s factually incorrect
4. Trump the deal-maker? 
Hillary is a much better deal-maker than Trump, who tries to bully and humiliate rivals
5. Which candidate is most corrupt?
The case against Hillary Clinton is that her administration might be corrupted around the margins…The case against Trump is qualitatively different. Trump is flamboyantly corrupt in ways that run to the very core of his identity and prospective governing choices.”
Case in point: Hillary has released all of her tax returns since 2001, showing she paid a lot of taxes and gave a lot to charity. Trump has refused to release a single year of tax returns, breaking with a 40 year tradition of both nominees releasing their tax returns.
6. Which candidate’s statements are more likely to be truthful and which one routinely lies?
Hillary is far more truthful by a long shot
7. Trump is plain dangerous.

And all warned Donald Trump would be a dangerous commander in chief. The event …

The Danger of Trump and Putin’s Relationship

The Atlantic‎ – 2 days ago
Never thought an American presidential candidate would express admiration for vicious dictators like Putin, Mussolini, and Saddam Hussein

‘Deplorable’ Trump Supporters

Was Hillary Clinton wrong to put half of Trump supporters in “a basket of deplorables“? She later amended her statement that she shouldn’t say “half,” but stood by the general thrust of her remark.

The (UK) Economist, generally even-handed, points out that 58% of Trump supporters score high in racial resentment; 51.8% of Mr Trump’s partisans support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.  http://www.economist.com/…/graphi…/2016/09/daily-chart-8

Two thirds of Trump supporters believe Obama is a Muslim, 59% say he wasn’t born in the US, 40% of Trump supporters believed that blacks were more “lazy” than whites and nearly 50% believed blacks were more “violent” than whites; one-third of Trump supporters believe the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, was a good idea; one-third of Trump supporters support banning homosexuals from the US; 16 percent of Trump supporters admitted they believed that “whites are a superior race,” while an additional 14 percent said they were “not sure.” Shockingly, 20 percent of Trump supporters disagreed with Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed southern slaves. https://thinkprogress.org/is-hillary-clinton-right-about…

On Deplorables and the Alt-Right Badge of Honor:

“The same culture warriors who are now calling for their fainting couch over “basket of deplorables” and weeping about how “people are not deplorable, actions are *sob*” were, just a couple of years ago, calling Fr. Beck a moral idiot.” http://www.patheos.com/…/on-deplorables-as-the-new-alt…

Discussion on Facebook.


Bring Back the Lawyers and Politicians

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” Dick the Butcher declares in Shakespeare’s Henry VI.

I am a journalist, not a lawyer by training, and have had my differences with lawyers who tend to make communication with the public too complicated, who parse the meaning of every word in a statement, and use their knowledge of the law for self-serving ends. And yet in 2016, I’m learning a new appreciation for lawyers and politicians.

Almost all politicians are lawyers and many lawyers are politicians. In 2016, there has been an almost violent reaction against politicians and politics as usual. But maybe by the end of the year, we will wish for more politicians who are lawyers. Learning about the law, studying fact patterns, learning how to engage in reasoned debate, to develop arguments and sharpen them, teaches people how to think.

Donald Trump is not a lawyer, and it shows. His over-generalizations, vague statements, his refusal to tell us what he really means, suggest he is not a very disciplined thinker. His twists and turns on immigration reform indicate that he really hasn’t thought through the details of his positions at this very late date. Is he for or against mass deportation? What would that entail? Rounding up Hispanics? He doesn’t say.

And his ad hominem attacks — constant personal insults against people rather than explaining legitimate differences of opinion — are uncivil, bordering on the irrational.

My lawyer friend Bruce Johnson explains that “ad hominem  arguments are inherently the weakest. When Trump refuses to debate the merits of critiques and instead dismisses them as originating from the ‘liberal media’ (or from ‘crooked Hillary’; ‘lyin’ Ted Cruz; or ‘low energy’ Jeb Bush), he abandons rational argument in favor of an ‘I’m right because I’m me and you’re wrong because you’re you’ approach.”

It’s scary — something that’s done in authoritarian societies where leaders can’t be challenged by reasoned argument and the opposition is demonized.

I never understood the so-called compliment, “he’s not a politician.” As soon as a person enters the political arena, he’s a politician. It’s a role he has chosen to play. He’s trying to get elected. For Trump to claim he’s not a politician is fraudulent.

The demonization of “politicians” is simply a rejection of our shadow selves. It’s not like politicians breathe different air or drink different water than the rest of us. They are representatives of us, our worst and best selves. We and they are all part of the same system. As Pogo warned, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Trump is proving to be a divisive, incompetent politician who chooses not to understand the weight of his words as a presidential nominee. Or worse, maybe he does understand the weight of his words, and is deliberately spewing venom,  stirring up prejudice and hatred, in a cynical strategy to “divide and conquer” the American people.

This strategy was successful in the Republican primaries. In a crowded field, he divided and conquered a plurality of Republican primaries and delegates.

And it could work in the general election, if enough voters are so disgusted that they sit out the election or vote for third party libertarian or fourth party Greens.

America is supposed to be a nation of laws, “not simply of men.” Trump would make the US a nation where men — or one white man — decides what the law is. “L’Etat, c’est moi. I am the State,” declared King Louis XIV of France in 1655. Donald Trump seems to want to take us back to that time. “Only I can fix” the problems America faces, he insists.

Old fashioned lawyers and politicians are far preferable to this despot in the making.

I Might Be a Conservative in Britain

My conservative friends in America who rant against “liberalism” around the world do not seem well-informed. They don’t seem to realize how isolated or narrow American conservatism appears to conservatives in, say, Britain. American conservatism tends to exalt individual autonomy over responsibility for others, complaining bitterly of the tax burden on those making more than $200,000 a year, and resentful of the 47% they brand “takers,” who don’t pay much in federal income tax because they have low-wage jobs, are on social security, disability or qualify for the earned income tax credit.

If I were a British citizen, I might well vote Conservative (Tory). Almost none of my British Tory friends would support Donald Trump. With his anti-immigrant pitch, he would fall well within the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

The leadership of the (UK) Labour Party currently seems to have gone off the deep end, dominated by Trotskyites. I certainly don’t have much confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, the radical left-wing Labour leader.

Britain’s One-Party State: Labour’s implosion leaves Britain without a functioning opposition. That is more dangerous than many realise. The Economist:

The story of how one of the most reliable vote-winning machines in the West drifted into irrelevance is a warning to parties everywhere (see Briefing)…Experience, from Mexico to Japan, suggests the long-term absence of serious political opposition leads to bad government…Labour’s crisis will therefore probably translate not into the birth of a bold new opposition movement but simply a Conservative landslide. Until Labour comes to its senses, those who oppose the government—particularly centrists and the 48% who voted to stay in the EU—will be poorly represented. Disaffection with the political process will fester.

Corbyn opposed Brexit. He “backed Remain only half-heartedly, contributed to the dismal result and exposes him for the conservative he is: a left-wing Little Englander, an abrasively nostalgic memorabilia junkie, the left’s answer to the Duke of Edinburgh,” observed The Economist. His opponent for Labour leader, Owen Smith, has sensibly called for a second referendum on Brexit, and may lead a split in the Labour Party.

WSJ: How a U.K. Labour Party Meltdown Could Play Out in Wake of Brexit Vote

Related: A British Tory is an American Democrat, by Andrew Sullivan:

Here’s an indication of just how far to the right the American political discourse is, compared with Britain – the developed country most in tune with American neo-liberalism:


That’s why David Cameron and Barack Obama have long had such an easy relationship. Either one could fit easily into the other’s cabinet. And maybe it does help explain why I still consider myself a conservative. I am, as a Brit.

Andrew Sullivan | Nov 7 2014 @ 3:38pm at 3.38pm | Categories: The Dish | URL:http://wp.me/p33JF9-18H8

Trust Hillary and Other Politicians? Not An American Tradition

A friend worries that Hillary Clinton could lose the election because she is currently trusted by only a third of voters: 67 percent of voters have doubts about her trustworthiness, according to the NYT. Maybe this is a problem, or maybe it isn’t.

Politicians historically are not trusted, nor should they be, as their job is basically to give you the illusion that they are your friend or ally while balancing your agenda against opposing or contradictory agendas within their coalition. A successful politician delivers at least some of your agenda, and earns the loyalty of disparate groups. An unsuccessful politician gives his or her supporters a feeling of betrayal because he is unable to deliver on their agenda. It’s a transactional relationship.

Perceptions of trust of politicians blow with the wind. In 2013 and 2014, a full majority deemed Barack Obama untrustworthy, according to Gallup. The same was true in 2015, according to Fox News. Yet today his “trustworthiness” is well over 50 percent, as is his job approval rating.

Was Nixon trusted in 1972? Hell no. The front-runner to oppose him from November 1970 until the winter of 1972 was Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine, who launched a campaign based on his personal integrity, with buttons declaring that you can “Believe Muskie.” I have some of those “Believe Muskie” buttons stashed away in my attic. So how far did this campaign based on trusting a politician take Muskie? No where. His front-runner status fell apart in the snows of New Hampshire in 1972, and totally collapsed in the sunshine state of Florida.

Hunter Thompson wrote about this in his classic book, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, 1972.

Nixon, who nobody trusted, went on to win a historic landslide against George McGovern, a man trusted by his supporters but deemed clueless about the world by a majority of Americans. The reason? Nixon articulated where middle American were on the issues of the day. In retrospect, Nixon looked like the last of the liberal Republican presidents.

A lesson many Americans have internalized is that when they trust politicians, they are sure to be disappointed. “Question authority” was a watchword of the generation growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, after the Vietnam debacle and during the Watergate scandal, and Americans of all generations have surely internalized that sentiment.

Even those who trusted Obama and thought he was going to be the second coming have been disappointed. A certain degree of skepticism of politicians is healthy. Do I fully trust Hillary? No. Yet I would consider myself a strong supporter this year. I wouldn’t fully trust FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ, Carter or Clinton either.

And yet when it comes to specific issues, knowledge, especially if they have a track record and a strong constituency, a politician can be trusted. Huffington Post notes that voters overwhelmingly trust Hillary Clinton on the key issues that matter most to them:

Trump trails Clinton in voter trust on each of the issues that typically rank highest in people’s minds when evaluating a presidential candidate ― the economy, immigration, terrorism, national security, foreign policy, social issues and criminal justice, according to a HuffPost aggregation of polling data. Clinton even leads on the topics that Republicans have historically been perceived as better-equipped to handle.

Donald Trump is a pathological liar about most everything. What’s most disturbing is not that he lies from time to time — most presidents do — but that he has so little regard for well-established facts, and seems to be out of touch with reality, knows not and cares so little for the substance of policy.

Clinton’s Fibs Vs. Trump’s Huge Lies, by Nicholas Kristof

In 2013, Hillary was at 60% job approval rating.
Remembering that George H.W. Bush was at 90% approval in 1991 after he “successfully” launched the Gulf War, and that his approval rating then plunged to less that a third of voters at the time of the 1992 election, these things blow with the wind.
Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, by the accounts of those who knew them best, were quite untrustworthy, but still managed to win landslides, and to be credible presidents with high approval ratings for several years, before the lies caught up with them.
Jimmy Carter banked his campaign and his presidency on honesty, integrity and trustworthiness, promising “I’ll never lie to you.” It didn’t see him through one term. I still remember Steven Brill’s disturbing expose from the 1976 campaign, “Jimmy Carter’s pathetic lies.”
The Atlantic Monthly recalls that “from Washington to FDR to Nixon, president have always lied.” Honesty does not necessarily make for an effective president.
The NYT has a podcast on Hillary’s trust problem. Mark Landler, a White House correspondent for The Times, points out that Hillary was strongly trusted by foreign leaders when she was Secretary of State, and was well-trusted by constituents when she was senator from New York. It is when she is a presidential candidate that “trust” becomes more of an issue because she tends to be self-protective on the campaign trail.