Thursday, January 11, 2018

President Oprah Is A Terrible Idea

In case you've missed it while living on the Moon for the past week, or like me don't watch Hollywood awards shows, the hot new idea for how to fix American politics is the having Oprah Winfrey, yes the one and only, become president.

My general position on this as a liberal Democrat and someone who wants to see American politics "work" is this: please for the love of God no.

Don't get me wrong, if the Age Of Trump has taught us one thing it's that anyone who secures the nomination of a major political party has a chance of winning a general election, so yes Oprah could win.

Moreover while the Democratic Party seems to have a better grip on its presidential nomination than the Republicans who lost it to Trump due to a combination of media coverage, party dysfunction, "resentment", and bad luck, Oprah still could win the nomination as she shares with Trump many, but not all, of his key strengths as a candidate. She has sky high name recognition and approval, she could spend an almost unlimited amount of her own money. And as political scientist Matt Dickinson pointed out about Trump, the likely resulting media circus with overwhelming coverage of her while her opponents are ignored could be a major asset too.

So she could win the nomination and become the 46th president. But while some people are quite enthusiastic about the idea on the internet that doesn't change the fact that it's still terrible.

Jonathan Bernstein summed up why pretty bluntly on Monday morning:
The truth is the same as always: The presidency is a real job, and a damn hard one. The easily visible parts -- the speeches and the interviews, even the moral leadership -- are a relatively small part of the responsibilities of the office. There's simply no substitute for a good grasp of public policy and government affairs.

There's also no substitute for political skills, which require training and experience, and are simply different from business skills, or cultural mastery, or the ability to perform. 
I think that's exactly right.

In other words Oprah has many admirable qualities. For example, unlike Trump she is actually a self-made billionaire overseeing a vast business empire. But that's not really that helpful when it comes to running the government. In her business role Oprah deals with staff members she can hire and fire, celebrities eager to court her favor, or vendors and corporations who'd like to strike deals with her. But she can't work that way as president because that's neither the people she'll be dealing with nor how presidents do business.

Cabinet members can't just be hired, they have to be confirmed by the Senate. Likewise bureaucrats are protected by civil service laws and their ability to thwart presidents is the stuff of Washington legend. Federal judges have lifetime appointments and can have been on the bench for decades before a new administration arrives in Washington. And members of Congress are ultimately only beholden to their own constituents and caucuses; they can tell the president to go pound sand if they want to (and frequently have throughout history). I doubt Oprah's TV show or magazines were run that way.

Good presidents are usually able to compensate for this by having lengthy experience of working in, well, politics. That is being members legislative bodies. Or finding the levers of power and influence in bureaucracies. Or learning how to turn a political opponent into an ally or when an ally ultimately is more trouble than they're worth. Oprah has a lot of experience in life but as far as I can tell little in this vein.

Likewise there's not a whole lot of evidence that Oprah knows much, or is interested much, in the finer aspects of public policy. I don't mean this as a putdown, few people do know this stuff, but it's really important for a president to know it to be able to do things like bargain or oversee a White House able to craft politically and practically viable ways for tackling problems.

I mean honestly, what does Oprah (or anyone) really know about foreign trade, tax policy, climate change projections, the power grid, solar energy, driver-less cars, fracking, early childhood education, decommissioning nuclear plants, monetary policy, agriculture, changes in health care cost inflation, changes in workforce participation, mass transit, the 2020 Census, charter schools, the Social Security Trust Fund, student loan debt, waste water treatment, disaster management, an aging federal workforce, court reform, cloud computing, flood prevention, treaties with Native American Tribes, potential earthquakes, deforestation, or any other number of domestic non-military policy issues?

Now Oprah is by all accounts an intelligent and driven woman so she can (hopefully) learn this stuff especially with the help of good advisors, but one thing that should be clear to everyone over the last 12 months is the presidency is "no place for amateurs" as a smart people have long said, and on the job training has some very real downsides. And that's not mentioning her unfortunate tendencies to promote quacks, at least when it comes to health care "policy" as it were, which is something the president has to deal with as well.

Moreover there's not a whole lot of evidence she's that interested in foreign affairs or how to be a good commander in chief, which is fine for a celebrity. Most people and many politicians don't know about these things, but this is also huge parts of the job as well. It's one thing to interview the nicest man on the planet his Holiness the Dahlia Lama, it's another to deal with the Syrian Civil War.

All of which isn't to say I don't understand Oprah's appeal. It would be nice to have a president who isn't a horrible person like Donald Trump and does something to empathize charity, honesty, and empathy in public life. These are good things. But I'm fairly confident that candidate or president Oprah wouldn't be a very good vessel for transmitting these ideal across American society, because she wouldn't be "Oprah" anymore, she'd be another politician. In other words, Oprah right now is a popular celebrity, but once upon a time the Hillary Clinton who had left politics had approval ratings of 65% or so. Things changed once she ran for president, and the those same powerful forces could change Oprah's standing relatively quickly as well.

It's important to note that I could be wrong, I was dead wrong about Trump winning the Republican nomination after all, and Oprah might be able to rise above these challenges and be a good president. But it's a crazy gamble to take in my opinion. A politician who's spent a career seeking the White House has strong institutional incentives to do the things necessary to win the nomination and lead a functional administration (at least in theory) to craft a politics that "works" at least to some degree. With Oprah (or Ric Flair, or Ross Perot, or Waka Flocka Flame) there's no institutional reason to believe this at all, and if Democrats are going to just trust "their gut" or whatever they might as well just select nominees by lot.

The good news is the Democratic Party doesn't suffer from the same level of dysfunction as the GOP. Their party's groups and actors care a lot about creating viable policy and I suspect (hope?) are as skeptical of choosing a celebrity and political amateur as me. Likewise while the foolish progressive push to reduce the number of superdelegates is going forward there still will be some (and hopefully the DNC will just junk the idea of reducing them due to the threat of Oprah) to help coordinate party support and act as an important backstop if necessary. Likewise the Democrats have state-wide proportional representation rules in their delegate allocation which means Oprah would have to win a majority of votes to win a majority of delegates. Not the plurality of votes that gave Trump a majority of delegates due to GOP winner take all and winner take most rules. Add in the fact that it seems highly unlikely Oprah would want to subject herself to the awfulness that is running for president in order get the most demanding and stressful job in the world, and I'm pretty confident we'll be okay.

But sadly I'm a lot less confident than I would have been a week ago that the Democrats would emulate the Republicans and go with a inexperience celebrity candidate in 2020 rather than Harris, Booker, Warren, O'Malley, Kaine, Gillibrand, Patrick or any number of other qualified nominees who'd make fine presidents in my eyes. Especially due to the enthusiasm many progressive figures seem to have towards the whole idea.

And I think this says something damning about where the progressive movement is. The political media has strong economic and normative incentives to support crazy celebrity candidacies for the presidency. Trump may be hated by most journalists but he's been a boon for newspapers. But it's quite unsettling to see many people who purport to care about things like health care reform or climate change policy get interested in someone who'd be poorly equipped to persue change in these  areas if they did get in the White House for reasons as yet unexplained.

Thomas Chatterton Williams put it recently in an aptly titled column, "Oprah, Don't Do It":
In a way, the conversation of the left (and the anti-Trump right) around Ms. Winfrey is more troubling than the emotional immaturity and anti-intellectualism pulsing out of the red states that elected Mr. Trump. Those voters have long defined themselves in opposition to the intellectual seriousness Democrats purport to personify...

The idea that the presidency should become just another prize for celebrities--even the ones with whose politics we imagine we agree--is dangerous in the extreme. If the first year of the Trump administration has made anything clear, it's that experience, knowledge, education, and political wisdom matter tremendously...The presidency is not a reality show, or for that matter, a talk show.
I get that people, especially progressives, are angry. I get that people distrust institutions. I get that people hate politics these days. But while Oprah is the answer to many things, she is not the answer to your political prayers.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Ambition In Politics Is Good: Kirsten Gillibrand Edition

While most of the political media is currently going bananas over Michael Wolff's new tell all book about Trump's first year, a columnist named Ciro Scotti at The Daily Beast decided to mix things up and write about possible 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Kirsten Gillibrand instead.

This is a good idea, at least on paper. After all the Democratic Party seems to still control it's presidential nomination (well at least in theory) and so the crucial "invisible primary" stage of the process has been underway about 5 am November 9th, 2016. And a lot has already happened! Obscure but important changes have happened to the delegate selection process with some states switching to primaries and California moving the date of theirs up. Likewise a number of behind the scenes political battles have already been fought. With the "progressive/Sanders" (or whatever you want to call them) wing winning in their foolish quest to reduce the number of "superdelegates" while losing the larger war to the "establishment/regular/not-Bernie" (or whatever you want to call it) wing when it comes to more radical changes  to the nominations process and control of the formal Democratic National Committee itself.

Likewise some candidates, like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, or Martin O'Malley are obviously doing the sorts of thing you do when you are signaling to the "expanded party network" that you are running while not formally declaring.

So it makes sense to talk about Kirsten Gillibrand and 2020. She's in the spotlight more and more after the Franken Fiasco and she hasn't given a Shermanesque refusal, so as far as I can tell she's in the hunt for 2020, which of course doesn't mean she'll be running in 2020. 

Unfortunately instead of saying something interesting about Gillibrand, we got, well this sort of dreck:
The larger question about Gillibrand, though, is whether she is too transparently opportunistic to be a viable candidate after the rejection of another New York politician criticized for basing her positions on supposedly canny calculations rather than on from-the-gut convictions.
For Gillibrand, nearly every move seems to be a self-serving playing of the angles. While it’s not surprising to see a politician behave this way, Gillibrand seems to be an especially egregious practitioner of the finger-in-the-wind politics that so many voters can no longer abide. 
This is of course the sort of sexist double standard that often gets applied to women in politics. The  state senator with the funny name using his chance to address the Democratic Convention back in 2004 as a way to introduce himself to the nation and showcase himself to his party as a man to watch in case John Kerry couldn't pull it off wasn't being "transparently opportunistic." No, no, no. Likewise FDR wasn't being "transparently opportunistic" when he used his nomination speech for Al Smith at the 1924 Democratic Convention to re-enter political life and set himself up for replacing Smith as governor four years later. And Abraham Lincoln wasn't being "opportunistic" when he auditioned for the position of "guy other than Seward" to a bunch of anti-Seward party bosses by giving his famous speech at Cooper Union. Likewise his whirlwind speaking tour of New England afterwards was not part of "opportunistic" strategy of winning delegates for the upcoming convention in Chicago.

I apologize for the sarcasm, but the claim that "she's not qualified because she wants the job" is pretty frustrating after years of seeing it over and over again with Hillary Clinton's run for the White House in particular or the ongoing push to silence her since.

Moreover it gets how our political system works exactly backwards. Our political system is one that is based on the idea that politicians are going to be "opportunistic" in that they'll be driven by ambition, and so we might as well harness that ambition to serve both as a check on other politicians, as well as a way to drive politics forward. As Jonathan Bernstein put it back in the day:
You remember what Madison says in Federalist 51: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” The constitution, with its separated institutions sharing powers and federalism, depends on the self-interest of politicians to work. If our politicians were altruists, we’d really be in trouble; they’d be eaten alive, either by the remaining ambitious ones, or by the various and many self-interested folks outside of government. So we expect, and probably need, politicians who have a more-than-normally-healthy amount of drive, self-interest, and ambition.
(See also here and here).

Don't get me wrong. There are political systems where ambition can be a real problem (which is why K'mpec makes Picard Arbiter of Succession!) and there is a very real human cost to our ambition focused political system, but then again it's the system we're kind of stuck with. Gillibrand's "opportunistic" ambition will serve her well if she makes it to Iowa, and the ambitious pursuit of being a successful president would serve her well in the White House as well.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Neoliberalism: Still An Unhelpful Word

Recently Ta-Nehisi Coates decided to delete his Twitter account after his fellow big time public intellectual Cornell West denounced him as a "neoliberal" in a angry rant published by The Guardian. I'll leave blogging about this whole kerfuffle for a latter date, but it did spark up some discussion about one of my own favorite hobbyhorses. That is how the term "neoliberalism" isn't a very helpful political descriptor.

The problem in my mind isn't so much Jonathan Chait's view that "neoliberalism" has been become a catchall insult for people on "the left" who get annoyed at conventional liberals like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, although it certainly is used that way an awful lot these days. Rather it's that the term itself has so many different meanings it's just not a helpful thing to say.

Illustrating the problem recently was a long post by The Roosevelt Institution's Mike Konczal, updated to reflect the whole Coates vs West fight, arguing that "Neoliberalism isn't an empty epithet. It's a real, powerful set of ideas." To begin with I think Konczal kind of reinforces my point about the word being hopelessly vague due to its plethora of meanings when he tells us that it means three pretty different things. He breaks these definitions down as:
  • "In political circles, it’s most commonly used to refer to a successful attempt to move the Democratic Party to the center in the aftermath of conservative victories in the 1980s."
  • "In economic circles, however, “neoliberalism” is most identified with an elite response to the economic crises of the 1970s...These policies included reduction of top marginal tax rates, the liberalization of trade, privatization of government services, and deregulation.
  • "The third meaning of “neoliberalism,” most often used in academic circles, encompasses market supremacy — or the extension of markets or market-like logic to more and more spheres of life." 
The third point here strikes me as being totally unrelated to the first two and personally I think we already have a good term for talking about this in academic circles. The second point may be right about the so called "Washington Consensus", at least in terms of policy prescriptions written by foreign policy types in Washington for Latin America in the last three decades of the 20th Century, but it's not very relevant now as most governments in Latin America abandoned it a while ago and embarked on a path of what you might call "leftist populism". Some of which has kind of worked, some of which hasn't.

As Jonathan Chait pointed on on twitter though the second point hardly describes the politics of so called "neoliberals" like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. After all both Obama and Clinton presided over tax rates going up on the rich not down. Bill Clinton did support some deregulation of Wall Street yes, but Obama made tightening regulation of the finance industry a major focus on his presidency. People like Konczal might argue he didn't go far enough, but the Dodd-Frank act was a real thing and certainly no "deregulation." I'm not aware of any major "privatization of government services" going on under either administration either. And sorry but "free trade" has been the mainstream Democratic position for a pretty long time indeed.

So what about the first point? To be blunt the evidence Konczal rolls out to back up the idea that there was, "...a successful attempt to move the Democratic Party to the center in the aftermath of conservative victories in the 1980s" is pretty weak. He cities a number of books and articles by various public intellectuals who wrote about Democratic politics in that era, but there's little evidence theses sorts of articles-takes as we'd call them today-drove policy in the Clinton White House or the 101st Congress. Public intellectuals love to exaggerate the role of their fellow public intellectuals in politics, but someone like Sam Nunn was probably more important to politcs in the early Clinton years than anything Charlie Peters ever wrote. 

Likewise Konczal constantly goes back to changes to the 1992 Democratic Party Platform as an example of this "move to the center". But this is pretty weak evidence too. Back when political conventions where actual deliberative events where parties made choices, platforms were an important way for party factions to fight out differences, cut deals, and arrive at consensus. But for a long time now conventions have basically been just four day long infomercials where parties showcase themselves and their nominees to voters. This is why celebrities keep popping up in them, not forge a new policy on international trade or health care reform, but to try and keep things interesting between the boring politicians who want to yammer on about those things.

Moreover if you take a broader look at American politics than one focused on the Clinton White House, obscure articles in policy journals, and convention platforms you see a very different picture. Let's just focus on 1988, a year Knoczal seems to think is key to this "move to the center." In the House you have the Democrats led by Speaker Jim Wright, who was something of a moderate. By year's end he has to resign as is replaced by his more liberal deputy Tom Foley. The Democrats go into the minority after their 1994 shellacking and pick noted longtime friend of organized labor Dick Gephardt as their leader (here's Dick on free trade when he ran president back in 1988, he doesn't sound very "neoliberal" to me) and he's ultimately replaced by Nancy Pelosi, probably the most liberal Speaker in history. That's not a "shift to the center" at all, it's pretty clearly march "to the left" ie a more liberal Democratic Party.

Does Wright represent the crucial shift to "the center" then? Well he was more of a moderate than his predecessor Tip O'Neill, but then again he came to congress in 1955 and his politics were heavily linked to the New Deal. Likewise his tenure as Speaker of the 100th Congress was largely defined by passing big infrastructure bills over Reagan's veto, fending off attempts to cut the non-defense parts of the Federal budget, and working to end some of the Reagan Administration's proxy wars in Central America. That doesn't sound like what Knoczal calls "neoliberalism" at all.

And O'Neill didn't exactly come from a long line of committed liberals either. O'Neill's predecessor was Carl Albert who championed Medicare in Congress, but was something of a moderate who also chaired the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, (which had a platform that did have a plank about full employment in it but also wasn't exactly something liberals look back fondly on). His predecessor as Speaker was John McCormick who was a big fan of the Great Society yes, but was basically forced into retirement by liberals furious at his refusal to confront Johnson over the war in Vietnam and who once killed a bill to provide more Federal aide to schools by demanding it include funding for Catholic schools as well, that doesn't sound that liberal these days. If you want to go back further you get Sam Rayburn who's a good guy in a lot of ways but not exactly high on the list of liberal political heroes today either.

How about the Senate? Well in 1988 you have Mr. Blue Dog Democrat himself in the form of Robert Byrd as majority leader, who replaced by George Mitchell in 1989 in no small part because he was too conservative in the eyes of his more liberal caucus. Mitchell is followed Tom Daschle who is followed by Harry Reid who is in turn followed by Chuck Schumer, all of which are pretty conventional liberals.

And if anything the changes among the Democratic membership in Congress were even bigger than the leadership changes over the years. Reagan was able to get his tax cuts through in no small part because of conservative Democratic representatives from the South who styled themselves as Boll Weevils getting on board, there's pretty much no comparison to them in this day and age. Likewise in the Senate conservative Democrats like Richard Shelby and Ben Nighthorse Campbell quite literally switched parties in the 90's and became Republicans. Sounds like a more liberal Democratic Party to me.

The thing here to remember is that this is about a lot more than Mike Konczal being wrong about the history of the Democratic Party (although I think he pretty much is). Or the the fact that some people on the internet come up with a multitude of definitions for a word and then throw it around as an epithet (although people clearly do that with "neoliberalism"). It's about where the "the left" is going to go during this Age of Trump we are in. A "Unified Theory of the Democratic Party" based on made up never was history and the idea that some liberals (oftentimes it seems like basically all liberals) must be denounced for betrayals that never happened doesn't strike me as a firm foundation to build a functional and effective "left" political movement.

Let's put this another way. Imagine the alternative history where Bill Clinton imploded after the Jennifer Flowers presser in the fall of 1991 (seems to be a scenario folks like Konczal would have liked). Bob Kerrey becomes the Democratic nominee and thus president due to the 1991-92 recession. In this universe does anyone really think the profound forces of global capitalism and technological change that have driven the things Konczal talks about have been abated? Or would Jacobin Magazine on Earth Two be cranking out articles about how Bob Kerrey betrayed liberalism forever after he negotiated a welfare reform package with Newt Gingrich rather than do nothing and risk a bipartisan veto override of a bill he'd had no influence in crafting? If the 1992 Democratic Platform under Kerrey had included a sentence on why full employment is good how different would our political economy really be?

Basically I see two sort of "lefts" when the charges of "neoliberalism" start getting thrown about. One is the "left" of Konczal that might be wrong about things in my view, but at least realizes there's probably a better way to talk about this stuff. As he puts it in his piece, "Whenever I find myself reaching for “neoliberalism,” I look for a different phrase, simply because it will better communicate what I’m trying to convey." This is the "left" that has something valuable to say and might be even be able to offer some constructive criticism for us liberals or the Democratic Party at large.

But there's the other "left" I see when charges of "neoliberalism" start flying. This is the left that tells us there is "no difference" between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, that declares a nomination contest "rigged" every time people disagree with them, that seems to have already written off a possible Kamala Harris presidency, that screams bloody murder when a politician behaves in a political manner, that blames everything bad in politics on liberals, that will never ever take yes for an answer and will always find a reason to justify their own self-destructive actions.

In other words the left politics that take the form of a bitter old man who's own left-wing anti-Obama intellectual allies think jumped the shark a while ago bellowing that once Ta-Nehisi Coates has been destroyed, the road to socialism will be open.

I would prefer the former "left", but when I see charges of "neoliberalism" thrown around I feel like I see a lot of the later. Either way it's not a very helpful term.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Thoughts On The Franken Fiasco

Well that just happened.

I'll start by saying I'm coming at this whole thing from a different angle than a lot of the progressives who have been writing about it both here in Minnesota and the rest of the country.

I actually was never a really big Franken fan.

Back in the good ole days of 2008 I actually worked on this guy's campaign who ran against him. I did so under the theory that while Franken was a funny comedian and wrote some fun political books his background (he'd said a lot of offensive stuff over the years, he hadn't lived in the state for several decades etc)  as well as the nature of Minnesotan culture (see here for a good explanation of what "Minnesota Nice" is) meant he would be a weak candidate in a general election. I also thought that he didn't have the skill set to be a good Senator. And really needed a job, so off we went!

It didn't work. The Ciresi campaign was a bit of it's own mini-fiasco, while Franken ran a great  campaign headed by some serious political talent, the backing of major national money, and an army of progressive volunteers in support. Wisely the Franken camp had a multi-year long major wooing effort with Democratic-Farmer-Labor (the state Democratic Party in Minnesota) activists and other party actors to lock up their support long before I got involved. And since Minnesota has a caucus/convention process with an endorsement that still means a lot in the spring before the August primary, me and my clipboard just wasn't enough to turn back the Franken tide.

But even if I was stupid to try and stop him back then, on my first point I was obviously correct. Despite spending a eye-popping amount of money Franken only won by the narrowest of margins during one of the biggest Democratic banner years in recent times. In other words he was a weak candidate. On the second point up until a few weeks ago I'd say I was somewhat wrong. Franken is no Hubert Humphrey or Howard Baker but he did get a few good amendments in on some important issues over the years.  See Ian Millhser for the most optimistic read of Franken's legislative record, as well as a more pessimistic read on his ultimate legacy. But then again the last three weeks are...uh...kind of important so I guess I was right on those lines too. Good for me!

If I had to pick an Senatorial analogy for Franken I'd go with Gary Hart, that is a campaign showhorse who drew a lot of media attention over the years but didn't have that big an impact when it comes to legislating and ultimately blew himself up in a truly epic fashion.

But he did cast some crucial votes over the years for things I care about, and I grew to find he had a sort of quirky charm so it's not all bad, I guess. Anyway your mileage may vary.

Personally I'm not that interested in discussing the things he's have alleged to have done. It's not that I don't have opinions, I do, it's just I'd prefer to leave it to others to talk about that. I'd rather talk about the politics, especially since I think there's a major flaw in a lot of discussion surrounding the Democrats' response to this. So let's do that.

I personally think the Democrats did the right thing here morally and in some ways practically, there's really no way he could do the job of representing Minnesota considering the position he had placed himself in. Moreover it's pretty clear that his caucus in the Senate wanted to get rid of him, he didn't want to go quietly, and so he had to be shoved. You might think that was right or wrong, but it's seems to be what happened. In other words the Democrats decided to "Take A Stand", especially considering the cultural moment we are in.

And it's this "Stand Taking" that I want to talk about. Because while I agree Democrats are doing the right thing here, I think a lot of pundits, journalists, and other people are dead wrong arguing that is the "smart move politically."

Nate Silver gave a great example of this line of thought during a recent chat with folks at his 538 digs:
micah [Cohen]: Wait, so imagine a world where Democrats have forced out both Franken and Conyers. Is the party better off in that world?
I’m trying to get at whether the moral high ground is important politically? Whether message coherence matters, basically.
harry [Enten]: I don’t think they’re worse off.
natesilver: I think Democrats made a political mistake, yes.
micah: Nate, you’re not explaining how the mistake hurts them.
natesilver: Because they look like fucking hypocrites, that’s how.
Silver later elaborates his point this way.
natesilver: For one thing, Micah, the Democrats are supposed to be the “woke” party on treatment of women (and good for them). So they look more hypocritical if one of their members abuses or harasses women, in somewhat the same way that an anti-gay-marriage Republican would look more hypocritical than a liberal (ostensibly straight) Democrat if they had a gay affair.
I personally think hypocrisy is a pretty overrated political sin. And to be fair Nate wrote a follow up piece after Franken resigned arguing this will pay off for the Democrats as they no longer look like "fucking hypocrites Micah", and who knows, maybe he's right! But his "too little, too late" tone shows that it will be pretty easy for Republicans to make that argument, or "what about Bill Clinton!" as a effective defense as well.

Or just shrug or shout "You are fake news!" when asked questions about these sorts of things. Seemed to work for Trump around the Access Hollywood tape after all.

Likewise at Vox Dara Lind updated a post she wrote slamming the Democrats for not organizing their plan to make Franken resign and avoid a potential Shirley Sherrod type set up quicker (well she doesn't phrase it like that) to argue that now that now that they have done the right thing, Democrats will be handsomely rewarded. As she puts it:
It’s easy to see this as an act of shortsighted martyrdom: losing power by adhering to your ideals, winning a moral victory while losing the war. But that’s not actually how it works.

The Democratic Party isn’t just attracted to the idea of “the resistance” out of idealism. It’s attracted because that ideal — and the backlash against serial harassers in the post-Weinstein era (to the extent that the two are even different from each other to begin with) — reflects a new energy among certain groups of people (especially middle-aged suburban women of all races) that can be channeled into Democratic politics.
Don't get me wrong, I really hope Silver and Lind are right here. But the bitter reality of my experience is that the political gods don't in fact punish the wicked and reward the righteous. After all just two days after Nate assured us the Democrats where making the right call politically his own website published an article about how it's quite possible the Democrats will lose Franken's seat in the special election that will happen next fall. Sure 2018 is looking to be a good year for Democrats overall, but there will probably be a contested endorsement process (with lots of angry party activists who were the key to Franken winning back in 2008 just looking for someone to take it out on) or maybe even a bitter fight all summer long before the August primary. Add in that in terms of statewide politics Minnesota basically a purple state and Tim Pawlenty the popular former governor could be the GOP pick and, yeah, I'm still waiting for that handsome reward from Nate.

Likewise while I hope Lind's theory that an army of suburban women materializes to come save us here in Minnesota now that we are facing a pretty crazy election next year is right, I have my doubts. I mean, I'll look for them at the environmental event I'm going to tomorrow in the suburbs (yes I am actually going to an event), and maybe they will show up! But then again maybe not. Or maybe they'll start fighting with each other about who the next Senator should be.

But it's not just the fact that Silver, Lind, and others of the "chutes and ladders" school of "Taking A Stand" are wrong about political costs, although I think they are, in my opinion it's unfortunately actually worse than this. In a way they are, whatever their good intentions, peddling a bit of a con. It reminds me a bit of dieters who try some new fad diet for a few weeks, get frustrated when it doesn't work, and just give up. They end up in a worse spot because now they think there's no possible way they'll ever be able to lose weight (I tried the diet! It didn't work!) and might as well just not bother trying. The truth is that they'd have been much better off if they went in with both eyes open, and admitted it would be a long and at times difficult process, but ultimately worth it because they would be glad for any number of reasons down the line.

In other words, Roy Moore might win, the Democrats might lose Franken's seat, Ruth Bader Ginsberg might get replaced by a conservative, and Donald Trump like most modern presidents might win reelection. After all returning Harvey Weinstein's money, as many progressive writers assured us the Democrats simply had to do or they'd never win another election again, was rewarded by the RNC getting back into the Alabama race. While Ralph Northam's decision to take wishy-washy position on issues important to progressives like immigration, which lots of progressive writers assured us would mean he'd lose, resulted in the punishment of wining in a landslide.  Likewise the decision to dump John Conyers, while the right call in my book, was rewarded by the Republican Governor of Michigan deciding that much of Detroit just doesn't get to be represented in the House until next November.

It's not that crazy to imagine a Democratic Party that after a few years of constantly being told they will be richly rewarded for "doing the right thing" and instead getting things like Senators Moore and Pawlenty voting to privatize Medicare, getting so frustrated they decide like the GOP in 2016 that winning is more important than any precious moral principles and acting accordingly. I think something similar happened in the 90s where liberals and Democrats got so fed up with the never ending stream of made up "scandals", the double standards, and lost elections a lot of them decided they just didn't care what happened when a legitimate scandal rolled around. I was just a kid but I sure didn't, and quite frankly I'm pretty "meh" about it to this day. Or feel free to ask James Carville about what's really at stake.

Doing the right thing is often times not the easiest thing in the world of politics, especially when the other side decides to turn that into yet another way to put you at an institutional disadvantage, after all if it was easy I'd be out of a job because nobody would be screwing up the environment in the first place! And despite claims otherwise doing the right thing can have real costs associated with it, (see noted political theorist Jimmy McNulty for more on this). Trying to wish these these hard truths away in the end doesn't really help anyone. I think (hope?) that doing the right thing now will pay off in the long term, maybe not at the ballot box but in functional political party that can get things done when it gets back in power. But this might not be true. Either way we'd be better off if people who thought Democrats should make real sacrifices on issues they care about like choice, health care, the environment, or taxes because establishing new norms around sexual harassment is worth it just came out and said that. At least then we could have an honest debate about trade offs and where lines should be drawn. And to be blunt ignoring these hard truths is making things worse.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Superdelegates Are Super

So in light of a lot of crazy things going on in national and Minnesota politics these days how about a more obscure topic to chew over (sorry) this Thanksgiving weekend? I am of course talking how Tim Kaine destroyed the Republic by foolishly choosing to endorse ending unpledged "superdelgates" in the Democratic presidential nomination process.

Superdelegates were a pretty controversial thing during the 2016 cycle, with all sorts of progressives and Sanders supporters writing and sometimes shouting (yes I was at a Senate District convention where people started shouting) about why they are bad. The arguments are numerous but they largely boil down to the idea that unpledged delegates for the national party convention are "undemocratic" and "corrupt" and that the key to winning future elections is to embrace political "reforms" because that's what voters really want. See Bernie himself for the full argument.

My view is that this is total hogwash. Superdelegates fulfill an important roll and getting rid of them would be bad for the Democratic Party for a number of reasons while yielding few if any tangible benefits.

Let's start with the history. Superdelegates such as they are are a relatively new concept in Democratic politics. They were only introduced in 1984 in an attempt to solve very real problems that had emerged after the presidential nomination system was "reformed" under the McGovern-Fraser Commission's reforms in the run up to the 1972 presidential cycle.

The general view of Democrats by 1984 was these reforms, whatever their good intentions, had led to some major problems emerging when it came time for the party to select presidential nominees. In 1972 the party had been stuck with a unpopular liberal nominee, George McGovern, who presided of a very contentious and bizarre convention and then went on to lose in one of the biggest landslides in American history. To make matters worse the "reformed" system in 1976 produced a nominee whose dysfunctional relationship with his own party was the stuff of legends and led to another inter-party brawl in 1980 that helped pave the way for Ronald Reagan's triumph at the polls and all the legacies that flowed from that.

In other words superdelegates didn't begin as some nefarious plot to "rig" the nominations process against Bernie Sanders, but rather as a sensible reform to make sure that pushes for what the late great political scientist Nelson Polsby liked to call "factional candidates", be that an ideologically liberal factional candidate like McGovern or a candidate like Jimmy Carter's whose backing was largely based on his own personality and personal relationships, could be tempered by party actors who would want candidates more interested in coalition building and be able to appeal to broader swathes of the electorate that committed liberal activists.

But that was a long time ago right? Well yes but the whole point of superdelegates remains very real, even if Jimmy Carter isn't a powerful political force anymore. Jonathan Bernstein summed this up pretty well recently this way:
Supers have several practical functions. Their votes for the winner of the primaries and caucuses extends the delegate lead, adding both legitimacy and certainty to the nominee. That's something they've done in close contests, such as the 2008 cycle. But they're also a fail-safe if something goes wrong. The proportional system of delegate allocation makes it possible that the winning candidate will fall just short of a delegate majority if one or more spoiler candidates hang on and accumulate delegates even after they no longer have a chance to win. Supers, if that happens, would presumably put the plurality winner over the top, avoiding an ugly and counterproductive deadlocked convention.
In other words Supers don't just act as a way to bind the nominee and the party together, but as also a way to pick a winner in a more functional way overall, and especially to avoid a convention meltdown. Don't get me wrong, journalists and political junkies would love something like that, but political parties have strong incentives to write rules that will prevent another one of these from happening.

Moreover supers exist as an important backstop, even if the Democrats have never had to use it. Again Bernstein:
More controversially, it is possible to imagine the supers as the last line of defense against a Trump-like candidate -- one who is a true party outsider, had won with a factional campaign that alienated everyone else in the party, and who party actors believe would make a weak candidate and a terrible president. Supers will not be eager to act in such a case, in large part because the supers are almost all either directly or indirectly chosen by party voters. That's why they wouldn't normally overturn the results of the primaries and caucuses. But in an extreme case, a Trump-like case, they might.
This isn't an abstract danger. There's good evidence Mark Zuckerberg is looking at running for president for example and it's easy to imagine him using the Trump play book to stage a "hostile takeover" of the Democratic Party in the 2020 cycle. The media coverage of him could easily follow the "Missing Airplane" genre of Trump coverage in 2015-16 where the story becomes Trump, not the actual race. As political scientist Matthew Dickinson pointed out in the summer of 2016, there's good evidence that just getting lots of coverage, of any kind, is a winning strategy when it comes to presidential primaries.

I can imagine it now. It's the fall of 2019 and things are heating up. Kamala Harris is giving a series of speeches about her campaign's new white paper on how to close the achievement gap in primary education. Meanwhile Kirsten Gillibrand is working on key union endorsements and barnstorming New Hampshire about increasing middle class wages. While Cory Booker is cramming food into his mouth at a never ending series of coil boils in Iowa....and reporters just don't care because Mark Zuckerberg is going to do an insane media event with lots of giant screens where he will say crazy nonsense ("Why have a Congress? Let's just all vote for laws by liking or angry facing things on Facebook...disruption!")

Journalists and some of the public would probably love such a race, just as Trump, while hated by most reporters, is a pretty great news story and seems to be driving a lot of people to subscribe to newspapers again. But for parties? Well for the GOP Trump is already something between a disaster and an epic disaster, just as I think Zuckerberg or Oprah would be for the Democrats. I can assure you, Democratic party actors would much rather have a nominee with a grasp of the issues and proven political skills, things that come out in a contested presidential nominations contest, than someone who is great at hogging the media spotlight.

Whenever I raise these points on Twitter or in comments threads I still hang out on (yes I still do that) I often get a number of arguments pushing back. Let's go through them bullet point style.
  • "Superdelegates are undemocratic." This is a pretty common argument but I think it's thinking about these things the wrong way. To begin with lots of supers are themselves elected officials and thus obviously are "democratically elected" in a way. But more importantly this is just a weird bar to raise. Most people can't be bothered to cast a ballot in presidential primaries, so whatever system you use it's not going to represent "the people" but rather those most motivated people who turn out. Moreover in a system of sequential primaries the first ones are much more important than later ones. So the system is going to be "undemocratic" any way you slice it. To paraphrase political scientist Hans Noel giving power to party actors with strong incentives to winnow the field and settle on a nominee that can win and will act in accordance with the party's wishes strikes me as being a lot better than relying on eccentric gazillionaires or news directors at CNN to do the winnowing.
  • "Okay but that just shows we need a national primary." This is a common response to points about how the "undemocratic" arguments don't hold up when you're talk about low participation in a sequential process. We could do this, but a low turn out national primary to determine the nominees would probably make all the problems out outlined above worse. My view is if we are going to do this we might as well just have it in April of the election year as a reality TV show (we could get Blake Shelton the "The Sexist Man Alive" to host) and just all vote via text message after everyone does a sing...uh...speech/debate competition. Trump was inflected on us in no small part because the GOP treated their nominations process in the 2016 cycle as a sort episode of The Voice and I think that's bad. But your millage may vary.
  • "But superdelegates can rig the process against the will of the people!" I find this argument curious. After all members of "the expanded party network" that is elected officials, campaign and governing professionals, party aligned interested groups, activists, and hangers on like me are already working hard behind the scenes to try and advantage their chosen candidates. Bernie Sanders is clearly trying to pitch himself to the same "insiders" who "rigged" the process last time after all. In other words party actors and candidates will work hard to line up support for very real reasons, ending superdelegates won't change this, but will end the positive outcomes they are responsible for.
  • "If superdelegates did overturn the choice of most voters there would be a [insert bad thing here]!" Don't get me wrong, this would be an extreme step and it hasn't happened before, but it's not clear that the party would die or whatever at all. After all the Democratic Party didn't end after the 1968 or 1924 fiascos. No more than the GOP would have "ended" if they had superdelegates and they stopped Trump at the convention. In fact in someways Democratic style rules, that is proportional representation for delegates and supers, might very well have stoped Trump either during the primaries or at the convention! Marco Rubio or whoever might very well have rallied the party in the aftermath of such a convention and won anyway (Hubert Humphrey came very close to winning after the 1968 debacle after all). I'm no fan of "Lil' Marco" but I think he'd make a better president that Trump. Certainly he wouldn't be Tweeting about starting World War III every other week. The big point is the GOP would probably be fine in the long run in this scenario and would be focusing on 2018 and 2020. In the universe we live in the GOP sticking to the "choice of the people" has raised some very real short and long term problems for them. Problems that will probably only get worse.
  • "You're just a smug party hack opposed to democracy aren't you?" I'll cop to the first two points, but I think this is a narrow and limited version of what "democracy" is to begin with. In other words I follow the Achen/Bartles theory of "democracy" when it comes to these sorts of questions, and find the "folk theory" of democracy to be wrong in a lot of ways. For more see noted political theorist "Super Hans" from the great British comedy Peep Show.  
Bernstein closes his argument with this:
Eliminating them entirely, however, would eliminate something that's worked pretty well for over 30 years. It would eliminate some of the fail-safes built into the system and leave the overall process more vulnerable to catastrophic errors. In the short term, it would be destabilizing -- parties thrive on stable rules and processes.
I think that's exactly right. Supers have done a good job of staving off disaster for 30 years and getting rid of them poses short term destabilization and a more long term threat that a "long tails" disaster type scenario could play out. I get that some people are still mad at Hilary and think Bernie Sanders was morally entitled to the nomination, but lots of people think that about their candidates. You may think the key to winning elections is for the Democratic Party to embrace your policy preferences and favorite style of politics, but there's no reason to think you're anymore correct than Martin O'Malley dead enders.

Process reform because process reform because process reform may sound like a good strategy but it has real costs in terms of long term political outcomes (see Carter, James Earl) and saps energy that could be used for something else more productive.

In other words Superdelegates are, well, super.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Post On Single Payer

I'll confess I am something of a politics junkie (in case you hadn't puzzled that one out already!) but keeping up with this week's insane Trumpapalooza has been a bit much for me. I honestly started to tune it out and had to read Matt Ygleisas's "Voxsplainer" on the Niger-Ambush-Gold Star-Phone Call-Kelly-Tape Affair (or whatever we are going to call it) matter Friday afternoon.

So let's talk about something other than Trump or the likely upcoming LA vs NYC World Series that will probably suck.

Recently Ed Kilgore wrote a nice piece about the politics of converting our healthcare system to some sort of single payer model. Here's how he sums up the political reality of what single payer advocates are asking for:
Yes, Medicare for All would almost certainly improve insurance for all but a small minority of Americans, and, yes, the tax increases might be more than offset by the abolition of premium payments and big out-of-pocket expenses. But these are arguments, not instantly appreciated facts, and any serious push for single payer will face the largest and most expensive campaign of conservative and insurance industry pushback in the history of public policy. A political calamity not just for health-care policy but for Democrats is a distinct possibility.
If anything I think that's a bit of an understatement. Remember 150 million Americans get their health care coverage through their own or a family member's employment. Market surveys of these people generally show their approval of their plans in the mid to high 60's, which is lower than Medicare enrollees'  satisfaction. But those numbers tend to be in the low to mid 70s so while Medicare-for-All (or whatever) might be more popular than "Obamacare", I really doubt "you lose your nice healthcare plan and existing medical networks for an vaguely government program" would poll that high.

To put it another way, the Obama Administration caught holy hell for presiding over the cancellation of a few million shitty health care plans that didn't cover much of anything for years. Canceling 150 million employer provided plans that most people like would be YUGE political problem. Even if you promise on scouts honor the new government program is going to be wonderful.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to a single payer in the least. I think having such a program could have a lot of advantages over our strange jerry-rigged health care system we have now. But I think it's a lot more helpful to think about political efforts in tangible and practical ways, rather than vague platitudes about making something a "right".

Long time health care researcher and writer Harold Pollock put it this way in an excellent article entitled "Single Payer Is Not A Principle":
Single payer is not, in itself, a principle. It is one way to organize health-care financing. A regulated patchwork of private insurers undergirded by public subsidies and the individual mandate is another. In other words, these arrangements are means to an end, not ends themselves. After all, most American progressives would be thrilled to see the Dutch or German health-care systems enacted here, though neither of these is actually single payer in the sense that Medicare is.
Now normally when someone like me whines about the vagueness of slogans like "single payer" or "health care is a right", or reads the laundry list of massive political hurdles that would have to be overcome to enact a Medicare for All system (the fact the Roberts Court would probably rule such a law unconstitutional is my favorite) there is a typical response that goes like this: Most ideas about positive social change begins as a crazy harebrained idea! Be that the idea of a "March of Washington" or letting gay people get married! And yes whinny white liberals like you Longwalk often come up with reasons for why "now not the right time!"

These are fair points, but as I see it this back and forth just sort of shows that there are two possible scenarios for the outcome of what will happen when it comes to the politics of single payer health care. The "optimistic" or "Longwalk is a idiot" school of thought would say that the recent rather impressive move among Democratic elected officials towards embracing Bernie Sanders recent Medicare for All bill is, well, a great first step! Like gay marriage or women being allowed to vote it once seemed crazy, but is now becoming more normal, and liberals like me should embrace this new path or get out of the way.

But as much as I'd actually like this to be true (yes I want to be seen as an idiot on this occasion) I am also growing concerned that single payer is becoming a sort "identity politics" for lots of liberals and more "left" people, even as it remains as devoid of substance as it's ever been. In other words I worry about a "pessimistic" or "Longwalk is a cynical genius" possibility where people keep going on about about "single payer" as an abstract ideal that they demand politicians adhere to, and become cynical and jaded when the "sausage making" of crafting actual legislation fails to live up to these ideals.

In this is "pessimistic" account single payer dreams are becoming something a bit like Trump's famous wall. That is a sort of absurd promise that supporters none the less believe in and become quite jaded when they learn it was a "metaphor" or something.

And we're seeing this all over Republican politics these days. Its' not just that there won't be a wall and Hillary also won't be going to jail. It's also that coal jobs aren't coming back. Culture will keep becoming more liberal. And Trump's "winning" seems have been reduced to shouting at various professional athletes on Twitter.

Political scientist David Hopkins's summed up the price of this style of politics for the Republican Party pretty well back in the summer. As he put it:
...a party that rewards skill at stoking such sentiments rather than policy fluency or governing competence is asking for trouble—and now the trouble is here. Democrats, of course, find nothing to celebrate in Trump's record so far. But Republicans who prioritize the implementation of sound conservative policy are also being primed for disappointment. The GOP is in such a state that it cannot, by its own admission, be counted upon to avoid a government shutdown or a possible default on the national debt this year—much less to develop and enact successful initiatives on health care, taxes, financial regulation, and other topics.

After just four months, a remarkable despondency has set in within Republican ranks about the prospect of a legislatively productive 115th Congress. Despite holding unified control of government, the party is simply unequipped for serious policy-making—a deficiency for which Trump is both cause and symptom.
Does anyone think things have gotten better for the Republican Party since early June when Hopkins wrote that?

One of the stranger and seemingly easiest tasks a political party that's out of power has in our system of democracy is to, well not get all crazy. The Republican Party clearly failed on that part when it came to the Obama years, and thus when the cyclical nature of elections returned them to power the result was the insane Reality TV show that is the Trump White House and a do-nothing Congress that could very well shutdown the government over Christmas.

In other words I hope that I'm an idiot, but I'm growing increasingly concerned that far to many liberal and "left" people are emulating some of the same political pathologies that have made the GOP incapable of functioning nationally.

The last thing we need is outraged liberals screaming about how Sanders betrayed them after he realized on January 22nd 2021 that ending all union negotiated health care plans overnight would be less than ideal. This may seem crazy, but then again lots of people seemed to really have believed, or said they believed, that there would be a giant wall come 2018 that Mexico would pay for.

One dysfunctional political party has already brought the Republic to it's knees, we don't need another.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Clay Davis Was Right

Recently political scientist Scott Lemiuex had a nice rejoinder to a piece written by Libby Nelson at The Splinter about the fact that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee received political contributions from already former Hollywood kingpin and allegedly monstrously evil person Harvey Weinstein.

I will leave it to others to discuss the life and acts of Harvey Weinstein, but I was struck by Lemiuex's title that "Unilateral Disarmament Is Not A Great Plan" when it comes to how Democrats ought to approach raising money.

Lemiuex quoted the meat of Nelson's argument as follows:
But finding the thousands of dollars Weinstein donated over the many years he has spent as a major Democratic donor, and dutifully Doing Something with it, does not solve The Harvey Problem. The problem does not go away along with his money. Instead, the Weinstein story—and the collateral damage it has caused Democrats—should provoke a moment of reflection: As long as they keep taking money from the super-rich—as long as sustaining the party depends on huge sums of money from people like Harvey Weinstein—things like this will happen. It’s not that every super-rich guy is a predator, though wow, a ton of them are; it’s that when you run your campaigns largely on the donations of rich people, you tie yourselves to them, whether you like it or not, whether you mean to or not.
I'll give credit to Nelson, she points out the ridiculousness nature of some Republicans trying to turn this into some sort of Hillary Clinton "scandal." In addition, she points out some of the very real problems that having a politics dependent on raising large amounts of campaign cash cause in a more sophisticated way than complaining for the umpteenth time we need to "get big money out of politics" because it's "corrupt." And she has the honestly to admit she has no idea (okay she implies she has no idea) about how a "better" way of winning elections could be created. As she puts it at the end of the piece, "If Democrats want to avoid the stink of abusers and untouchable criminals following them to Washington, they’ve got to find a way to get there without their rancid cash."

So there were some fair points, but I have to agree with Lemiuex's response to the implied argument that what the Democratic Party needs to do to win elections is "unilaterally disarm" when it comes to raising money from rich people As he puts it:
I’ve mentioned before how a lot of online lefty discourse — and this tendency, ironically, is particularly strong among people who define themselves as non- or anti- liberal — takes a liberal individualist approach to what are primarily structural problems. The idea that the Democratic Party is just making an unfettered choice to be reliant on rich donors to be competitive is problematic, to say the least. Because of Buckley v. Valeo and its progeny, there will be tons of money in American politics whatever the Democratic Party does. Bernie (and to a lesser extent Obama) may have shown that you can run a presidential campaign relying mostly or exclusively on small donors — but it just doesn’t scale down. There just aren’t enough small donors to competitively fund every marginal congressional and state or local race. And it’s not just venal Democrats who are vulnerable to this money — Russ Feingold can be drowned by PAC money just like Evan Bayh. 
While I think Lemiuex is dead on about this weird tendency in some lefty discourse, if anything I think that he doesn't go far enough. The "collateral damage" Nelson refers to is probably zero when it comes to any upcoming election. And how do I know that? Well because the fact that Donald Trump boasted about doing similar things to what Weinstein is accused of doing on a tape that was then broadcasted on national television over and over again didn't stop him from becoming president!

And Lemiuex is certainly correct that the number of people who can run Bernie style campaigns based on a gazillion small donors is incredibly small, especially considering we live in a polity with literally thousands of elected positions of some importance.

Oh sure there's a moral question about who it's okay to take money from when it comes to legal campaign contributions and who should be refused. A panel of ethicists and philosophers could conduct a very interesting seminar on what constitutes a "deal breaker" when it comes to political donations.

But on a practical level Senator Clay Davis' vulgar maxim about who it's okay to take money from is how campaigns tend to operate.

In a earlier, more simple political time (ie 2012) Lemiuex once wrote a nice post on Garry Wills' review of Robert Caro's classic second book on LBJ Means of Ascent. Lemiuex is a fan of Caro and the book series as a whole, but, well really didn't like that one. There are several reasons for this, but a big one seems to be that Caro spends lots of time talking about Johnson's vulgarity and...uh...questionable campaign tactics, while ignoring what the Good Ol'e Boy LBJ was running against named Coke Stevenson was all about.

In other words LBJ's vulgarity becomes less important when you think of him as a New Dealer who'd be instrumental in helping to bring about the downfall of legal segregation. While Stevenson's "honesty" and anecdotes about his ole timey battered coffee pot and cowboys saluting him as he rode past seem different when one thinks of him as the staunch segregationist and man ideologically opposed to any sort of federal spending on the welfare state that he was as Governor of Texas.

Wills' sums up the problem with this approach to political biography beautifully:
Caro has touched on a serious matter, the problem of maintaining human values in the scramble for power. Seneca faced this challenge in its most acute form, as the court adviser to a corrupt emperor. Addressing it in his dialogue on the tranquil mind, he admitted that honorable men cannot serve in some foul regimes. But even then, he argues, the virtuous man should “disengage with a dragging foot, retiring the standards with a military discipline retained.” It is too easy to conclude, prematurely, that the only “way to save oneself is to bury oneself.” 
In other words while it's true morality has a place in politics, it's not enough for that to be the be all and end all. In fact:
Seneca would judge that a politician who refuses to answer questions has barely been engaged in the first place. Those who decide they are too good for politics may be right, but they are often the least qualified judges, either of their own virtue or the system’s viciousness.
For better or worse money is very important in our political system. You could work to try and change than, but that just means you'll have to find a way to win elections in the "corrupt system" if only to create a new and better system. A system in which say relationships and information would be the driving force, because obviously there's no way for an elite few to monopolize those scarce resources.

Oh wait, that's kind of how Hollywood works?

Nelson may be correct that our current campaign finance system is gross and taints the Democrats in ways that can't be redeemed. But she's probably not that qualified to judge. Unlike Hillary Clinton, who made her choice on the compromises associated with choosing to live a political public life long ago.