Friday, August 14, 2015

Why I'm (Sort Of) On The Hillary Train

I got asked a question on Facebook the other day about why I've been rather dismissive of Bernie Sanders and basically have gotten on the Hillary bandwagon. I've done this for two big reasons. First of all I think that the whole nominations battle at this point is really a moot point, Hillary has already almost certainly won the nomination. Simply put I really subscribe to the idea about presidential nominations laid out by several political scientists in their book "The Party Decides" (which is the distillation of a whole lot of research done by a branch of the so called "Americanist" tradition of political science) which basically argues that nominations are chosen not by voters and caucus goers, but by the parties themselves and all their actors aligning around a largely consensus nominee. How does this work? Well basically a party's expanded network of interest groups, donors, elected officials, campaign and governing professionals, activists, and elder statesmen (and women) coordinate resources by doing things like raising money, endorsing candidates, and signaling to the rest of the network who to support

The end result is that voters and caucus goers only really come into play at the end stage of this process and oftentimes just winnow candidates out until one consensus nominee remains. So from contemporary news accounts the 2000 race on the Republican was this harrowing battle where Bush took Iowa, the McCain stormed back in New Hampshire, and Bush was only able to win due to Karl Roves diabolical dirty tricks. The party decides account of that race (which I follow) is totally different. Basically Bush had things sown up after all those Republican governors started endorsing him back in the summer of 99', the rest was just New Hampshire voters being ornery.

Now I know, this whole idea about how presidential nominations are decided is totally contrary to how the media covers races and how we liberal/progressive types are generally taught to think about politics. It's "the people" who should decide races, not those dreaded "special interests." There's some wisdom in that when it comes to other primary fights, but the nomination for the presidency is probably the most important decisions our two great political parties collectively make. And it's in every party's actor interests to get an electable candidate that will carry out the party's agenda once in office. So since the stakes are so high party actors have strong incentives to do what it takes to make sure they coalesce around a nominee that can win and will follow through with the party's wishes if they get elected.

This process basically evolved after the post 1968 nominations reforms. During the 70's it didn't really work because party actors hadn't figured out how to coordinate outside of literally being inside a smoke filled room, but by the 80's it was up and running. Does 2008 disprove it? Not really, then you basically had a party deadlocked between Hillary and Obama (no consensus nominee!) as so then things like wining delegates did matter (voters play a roll at the end of the process!) but that was a special case and unlikely to repeat itself. Remember there were a host of other qualified candidates that cycle and they were winnowed out pretty quickly.

Which brings me to Hillary. I think the it's pretty clear that the Democratic Party has already decided on Hillary as the 2016 nominee but let's run through the evidence:
  • Endorsements: Check out out FiveThiryEight's fun endorsement tracker. Hillary has literally dozens of of endorsements from governors, House members, and senators. Bernie Sanders has none (he has been endorsed by the Vermont State Auditor of Accounts however). Martin O'Malley is in second place in the endorsement hunt with one House member on his side.
  • Staff: Hillary has a really broad based staff composed of Hillary loyalists from 2008 and beyond; a lot of people from Team Obama; and other folks. Basically it's a party wide staff, not just a Hillary staff. Sanders does not have this at all.
  • Money: Hillary has a lot of it, Bernie has raced an impressive amount via small dollar donations, but still has much less. Martin O'Malley even less so.
Put another way Hillary is father ahead in terms of "the party deciding" at this point than any other Democrat since the modern system emerged. The only comparison would be Al Gore in 2000, and he won every single primary and caucus. And don't get me started on the fact that Bernie is not actually a Democrat.

So long story short, I am a liberal and progressive (although I'm increasingly not sure what that word even means anymore) but I'm also a party hack (indeed in my own small way I guess I am sort of a party actor) and my party has decided on Hillary already. So I guess it's time for me to get on board the Hillary Train.

To be sure there is some greater than zero chance that Hillary won't be the nominee. But basically she'd have to get hit by a meteor, become terminally ill, or have some career destroying scandal emerge. I don't think any of these things will happen, but yes if there was some earth shattering scandal I suppose I would reconsider. Or I guess this whole theory could be wrong, but again the evidence for it is very strong and I don't see that happening.

As for Bernie Sanders (and my second reason) I don't really have anything against the guy. I actually kind of like his gruff but compassionate demeanor as well as his passion. The last of the Jewish socialists! Well maybe not the last...

But honestly he's not going to win and yes I think his views are so out of the mainstream of the American electorate that they would hurt him in a general elections, much like McGovern or Goldwater.

And he's not a member of my party and I'm a party hack so...feel free to finish this line with the epithets of your own choice.

I actually like Sander's focus on income inequality and his big meaty policy proposals to try and deal with it. But (and I know I sound like a heretic) I really don't agree with his "good government" reforms around money in politics (yes I know). And to be sure inside the world of liberal Democratic politics Hillary is a bit of a hawk on foreign military adventures and a bit of a dove when it comes to education reform. I'm basically the flip of that.

But even so if she's already won, well then there's really nothing left to talk about.

Now I know a lot of other liberal/progressive types really disagree with this worldview and my stances on some or all of these issues, fair enough. But this is basically where I'm at right now. So yes it makes a lot of sense for me to get on the Hillary Train. Hopefully our engineer won't crash it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The New New New New Republic

Pyonter had a nice run down about the new face of the (new) New Republic and some of changes that have gone down since last December when most of employees quit/were laid off after it was bought out by Facebook zillionare Chris Hughes. The fallout from the whole affair showed the political media at it's worst in my opinion. TNR loyalists like Jonathan Chait were morally outraged that such an important media institution was being destroyed (meanwhile local papers seem to be downsized or fold every week), while long time critics like Ta-Nehisi Coates basically did a "ding dong the witch is dead" dance and cited Buzzfeed as a better model for the future.

Media people are weird...

Either way it showed the political media's tendency to always assume whatever is happening in their industry is the most important thing in the world. Personally I never read the old magazine that much, other than Chait that is, and it kind of makes sense that it would have to change. There just isn't much room for a liberal magazine with politics largely devoted to hawkish foreign policy and critiques of traditional liberal policy prescriptions. Maybe that made sense in the 70's and 80's when arguably liberalism and the Democratic Party really did need to make some changes, but by the age of Obama the country was clearly facing problems far removed from the single mothers on welfare and Soviet aggression of old.

What Hughes has come up with though is so far removed from what the New Republic was as to make a claim to any continuum outside of a brand name and a few old hands pretty silly to a non-media person. Don't get me wrong, I like the new New Republic, it has a number of writers I enjoy reading and following on twitter, but the Hughes apple as fallen pretty far from the "in flight magazine of Air Force One" tree. Just take it's new mission statement, “The New Republic is a mission-driven media organization. We promote novel solutions for today’s most critical issues.” Here I thought I was going to read a magazine about politics, but I guess we are more interested in novel solutions to mass species extinction or something instead. Actually that brings up a substantive point, their coverage of climate change is pretty thin gruel so far, so I guess we don't have solutions for all of "today's most critical issues" yet, but hopefully they'll get around to it at some point.

Hughes has pumped a mind boggling amount of money into his new venture and considering the economic state of the news media these days he's really doing the Lord's work. But coming from tech world has resulted in some pretty jarring changes. Basically his higher ups talk in a hip pseudo-modern tech jargon that no one outside of silicone valley understands (for example the new mission statement is "a crystallizing force"), a lot like the Stewart Pearson character from the great British comedy The Thick Of It. Again this couldn't be further removed from the late night dorm room bull sessions or Marty Peretz meltdowns of TNR's past. This of course doesn't make the new style necessarily bad, it's certainly better than "The Great Comma Debate" it's just hard to see what connects the new TNR to the old one other than a brand name.

When it comes to political writing the break is even bigger. Old TNR would hire smart young white guys from the Ivy League to explain what liberals (and some times racial minorities) were doing wrong (too much welfare, not enough Contra aid) the new TNR hires people like Jamil Smith who used to work on Melissa Harris-Perry's TV show to write about what liberals are doing wrong. For example, Martin O'Malley has great policies but is "too imperfect a messenger" so boo to him! In addition he hosts podcasts on the nebulous feminist concept known as "intersectionality" and writes posts saying Black Lives Matter protestors are right to disrupt Bernie Sander's events (old TNR would probably have hated Bernie Sanders too, so hey common ground!) In addition you have folks like Canadian left-wing journalist Jeet Heer who is great on Twitter, or Elizabeth Stoker-Bruenig who writes about public policy issues from a Christian feminist standpoint (yeah that's really not what TNR used to be like).

Anyway the new New Republic is a nice site and totally deserves to exist, but it doesn't seem to make much sense to my why its named after a magazine whose record it seems to reject and entire ethos it seems to not so much throw out the window as jettison into the sun.

Which I guess is a long way of saying that media conventions are pretty strange, and I'm sort of glad I don't work in that industry.