Don’t Fall for the Electability Trap

Joe BidenIt’s back! Less Than Half in US Would Vote for a Socialist for President. And this is the kind of thinking that will make Joe Biden the Democratic nominee before any other candidate gets to make their case.

This is not a defense of Sanders (or even Warren, who I’m actively supporting). For one thing, he doesn’t need defending. He calls himself a socialist but he doesn’t qualify by my definition. He’s a New Deal Democrat. It’s sad that politics in the US is so far off the rails that someone with such middle-of-the-road opinions as Sanders can get away with calling himself a socialist.

(I suppose it is more accurate to call Sanders a Social Democrat. But Americans don’t usually know what that is. Or what Democratic Socialist is. Or basically anything at all. That’s why simplistic slogans is the way of the day: “Capitalism good! Socialism bad!”)

The Pathetic Logic of “Electable” Candidates

It is a fool’s game to try to figure out which candidate is more electable. I know in 2004, everyone thought John Kerry was the most electable. He lost.

In fact, based upon Lynn Vavreck’s The Message Matters, it is now clear the Democrats’ best chance to win the presidency in 2004 was by nominating Howard Dean and running an anti-war campaign. But that’s not the kind of insight that falls out of people’s common sense.

People aren’t interested in political science. In fact, mostly, they have no idea what it even is. So instead of engaging with what the data show us, they try to read other people’s minds. And it just doesn’t work.

The Racist Neighbor

There’s actually some sociological research on how people think this way. People always assume that their neighbors are more racist than they actually are. And when it comes to Democrats, they always assume the world is more conservative than it actually is.

An important aspect of this is that it means we automatically dismiss women and people of color. “We must defeat Donald Trump” easily breaks down to “We must nominate a white man!” Indeed, I’ve even heard liberals I know speculate that maybe we shouldn’t nominate a woman — as though Hillary Clinton didn’t win 3 million more votes than Trump in 2016!

I remember last year, PM Carpenter wrote, Why This Democratic Socialist Opposes Bernie Sanders. His entire argument was that he didn’t think the nation was ready for a socialist candidate.

But how did he know?! Even at the time, I thought this was nonsense. But after Donald Trump, how does anyone claim to know who others will vote for?

Voters Don’t Care If They Like a Candidate

I always go back to 1988 and the Dukakis campaign. It was really painful to watch it transpire.

There was the tank photo op that Bush turned into a commercial:

Then there was the rape of Kitty debate question:

And, of course, the Willie Horton ad:

All of that seemed to matter a great deal. But it didn’t. These things stuck because the economy was roaring along and Bush’s party was in the White House.

Similarly, the misreporting of Bush and the grocery scanner was a big thing in 1992 because the economy was tanking and Bush’s party was still in the White House.

People used to marvel at how nothing ever stuck to Ronald Reagan. We called him the Teflon President. But it was because the economy was doing well. Nothing really sticks when things are going well for the president and non-issues do stick when things are going badly.

You Don’t Know Who Is Electable

I know I’m a broken record on this stuff, but it’s important. And I don’t think polling tells us a lot. How would people have answered this question in 2015: “Would you vote for a corrupt, crude, childish sexual assaulter who plays a rich man on TV and stiffs hardworking small business owners?” I don’t think so. In fact, most people didn’t think he would become president until moments before he did.

If Sanders can win the Democratic nomination, he can win the general election. The only thing that would stop him is if there really is something behind the repugnant #NeverBernie movement.

And if that’s true of Sanders, it is even more true of Elizabeth Warren.

People should just vote for who they want. As long as it isn’t Joe Biden — because no one wants him. His appeal is entirely that he is “electable.” I might listen to an argument based on political science that he is more electable than Harris or Warren. But this idea that he is the guy who conservatives will vote for is just nonsense based on what liberals and moderates think others want.

Similarly, let Sanders run and see how he does. This freak-out among Democrats is pathetic. And if it succeeds in anything, it will be saddling us with Joe “Waist Rub” Biden.

Vote for who you want because you don’t know anything about what other people want.

Don’t Give Ben Shapiro Credit for Admitting Defeat

Ben ShapiroBen Shapiro went on the BBC show Politics Live to talk about his new book The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral Purpose Made the West Great where he complains that as a society we must be tolerant of each other.[1]

The host of the show, conservative journalist Andrew Neil, asked him to explain how Shapiro’s own career wasn’t contrary to this idea. Instead of answering, Shapiro complained about how unfair the whole thing was.

Shapiro ended the interview shortly after proclaiming (I’m not making this up), “I’m popular and no one has ever heard of you.”

Ben Shapiro Tweets

After the interview, Shapiro tweeted out something that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention:

In this tweet, he is apologizing because he called a conservative a leftist. Everything else was fine. And implicit in this is that somehow his childish behavior would have been okay if Neil had been a leftist? I don’t get it.

But later, he twitter out a face-saving statement:

This is the tweet that far too many liberals are misinterpreting as saying something good about Shapiro. For example, on The Young Turks, Cenk Uygur said, “That’s a good tweet to end it there. There’s a little self-abasement.”

Thankfully, Dan Evans was there to shoot this down. He noted that this was just a standard Shapiro tactic. But the fact is that Uygur’s reaction is what most liberals will have. And that’s why Shapiro uses it. It makes Shapiro look reasonable.

Tweet Doesn’t Mean What It Appears To

Note a couple of things. First, it took Ben Shapiro a full day to come up with that tweet. It came 22 hours after the first “sorry, not sorry” tweet that showed him to be as angry as he was on Politics Live.

More important: what other move did Shapiro have? The video was out. Even assuming that the interview was done by someone like Mehdi Hasan who he would just dismiss, Shapiro still looked like a spoiled child who had never been questioned before. In situations like this, you admit defeat and pretend to be the Big Man. Shapiro is not brilliant and is nothing like what the media portray, but he is relatively smart. He understands how you deal with situations like this.

And look at the tweet itself. There is nothing about acting childishly. His error was just that he didn’t prepare properly!

How would that have changed anything? It might have made him react even worse given that he would have thought he was going into a friendly interview. The only thing that would have changed is that he wouldn’t have made the wildly embarrassing mistake of calling Andrew Neil a leftist.

And that means that Ben Shapiro’s second tweet is really just a more artful version of the first. “I was wrong about Andrew Neil being a leftist but he was still really mean to me!”

Conservative Privilege and Ignorance

This sounds a lot like Megham McCain. For all the complaining about liberal snowflakes, when it comes to celebrities, I see almost exclusively conservatives. They do nothing but whine when the aren’t provided safe-spaces where they are never challenged about their vulgar beliefs.

What’s most amazing about the whole thing is that Ben Shapiro didn’t realize that the media in other countries is different than it is here in the US. Andrew Neil wasn’t asking gotcha questions; he was asking questions. Shapiro had every opportunity to answer them and even contest their assumptions. But instead, he complained about the questions and tried to dismiss them as nothing but a leftist hit job.

The question this raises is how someone like Ben Shapiro could get so much media attention in the US without constantly running into this kind of questioning. He’s supposedly the facts guy. Yet the US media treat him with kid gloves.

But I know the answer to this. Bernie Sanders gets hard questions all the time. Anyone pushing leftist policies does. But American media has been so cowed from five decades of conservative accusations of “liberal bias,” that it just lets all but the most extreme conservative nonsense go back without comment. (And this has led to what is acceptable just getting more and more radical.)

Ben Shapiro Must Be Stopped

People like Ben Shapiro need to be shut down. Their celebrity is heightened be claiming that they are somehow reasonable. Ben Shaprio acts like a petulant child on television and the takeaway is “at least he’s self-aware”? No! He’s a conservative grifter, making money by harming our society and the most vulnerable among us. He is toxic. I don’t care that he’s nice to his dog; we shouldn’t be talking about what is good about Ben Shapiro because none of that has anything to do with his work.

He’s an evil man and he must be stopped. His admitting defeat is part of his work. It is nothing to be even grudgingly positive about.


[1] To be fair, Shapiro isn’t saying that we should all get along. His argument is finely tuned to complain about liberals and to let off conservatives. It’s fine to call liberals fools but wrong to call conservatives racists because of course they never are.

Home Repair and the Joys of Marriage

Flooded BasementSo a month ago, I went downstairs to grab a beer, and there was water in the basement.

I should explain — I live in Minnesota. We have snow, if you haven’t heard. And it usually melts gradually. This crap melted all at once.

Twenty standing inches of it.

And I only moved in a few years ago. (I’ve always lived in apartments.)

I went upstairs to drink my beer, hoping when I was done, the basement water would have gone away. Maybe house spiders would have drunk it or something. As is usual when avoiding problems, when I went back, the basement water was worse.

Contacting the Wife

I called Mrs James at one of her three jobs. “I fucking think the goddamn fucking basement is flooding like fucking shit.”

No response to that voicemail.

I called again. “We have water downstairs. I cannot scoop it up fast enough.”

I was bailing it out with the drip tray from a toaster oven, that’s all I could think of.

Her response? “I just left work; I’ll be there in 15 minutes.”

I seem to have a reverse polarity with cussing, where I swear so constantly, people who know me take me seriously when I stop swearing. Go figure.

Recruiting the Wife

Anyhoo, as it turned out, the house vacuum does double duty. Remove the dirt filter and that machine can slurp up floodwater. Problem is, it doesn’t do it fast as the water comes in, so you gotta run and empty it constantly for about 12 hours. You do this in shifts. One person grabs an hour or two of couch sleep, then the other takes over, etc.

A day later, we were both still sleep-deprived, and got into an argument over some meaningless thing. So I ran out of the room to kick a hole in some drywall. (While I have never struck a living being in anger, I have been known to attack inanimate objects.)

Wisdom of a Wall

If walls could talk, this one would have said, “You dumbass! You wanted the movie version of when some couple comes together to save the family from a flood, or volcano, or alien monster attack, and at the end, they’re closer than ever for all eternity. In fact, even dealing with a leaky basement for hours on end is stressful and exhausting. At the end, all you saved was thousands of dollars in basement repair you can’t afford right now.”

I would have nodded and admitted, “Yeah, right.”

“Well, haha! Now you’re going to have to fix me! Who’s the supposedly self-aware collection of atoms now? At least I didn’t mrmuph glurn nmmble…”

Because, if walls could talk, that’s when I would have taped newspaper over the drywall hole to shut it up.

They can’t, but in fact, I did. Since I don’t know how to fix drywall. But I’ll get around to it later.

Elizabeth Warren’s Farm Plan

ScottyElizabeth Warren has a solid plan to help the US farming industry. But before I get to that, let’s talk about Star Trek.

In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Scotty meets with a material scientist to barter some knowledge in exchange for a whale container. Scotty, being from the future, talks to the Mac, which doesn’t respond. The scientist says, “Just use the keyboard.” Scotty then begins typing at an amazing speed and before long, the formula for transparent aluminum is displayed on the screen. It’s a fun scene in a fun movie. But it isn’t the way the world is.

If a modern American were sent back to a neolithic city, they wouldn’t know anything. In my experience, most people don’t even know what causes the phases of the Moon — or why the seasons change.

We Need a Diverse Farming Industry

It’s because of this that I think any group of people needs to hang on to their most fundamental skills. A society of only genius computer programmers would be one economic shock away from disaster.

We need a strong farming industry. And that means a diverse farming industry. The history of farming over the last century has been one of consolidation and increased homogeneity. And this is not the result of mysterious global economic forces that no one can do anything about. Instead, it’s the result of government policy — specifically the encouragement of mergers.

The Problem With Modern Farming

Warren lays out the problem, which is mostly consolidation (as it is in so many other industries). For example, a handful of companies control the most important aspects of food production:

Sector Companies Market Share
Meat Processing 4 53%
Chicken Distribution 3 90%
Corn Seeds 2 71%

As a country, we’ve gotten way too focused on the strict definition of “monopoly.” The main reason anyone cares about a monopoly is that it leads to uncompetitive markets. It doesn’t matter if there are a thousand companies in a market; if the market doesn’t work, we need to do something about it.

That’s what Warren proposes to do.

Plan to Save Farm Diversity

There are a number of parts to Warren’s plan, but attacking consolidation is the most important.

As discussed before, this is the key problem. Companies do not merge so that they can provide cheaper products to consumers. They merge because they can increase profits. Even if this does result in cheaper products (and that is hardly assured), it has negative effects on the country. We see it in the overuse of corn. But more to the point, we see it in the elimination of small farms.

Warren notes:

Mergers mean that farmers have fewer and fewer choices for buying and selling, while vertical integration has meant that big agribusinesses face less competition throughout the chain and thus capture more and more of the profits.”

Other Ways to Help Farmers

The rest of Warren’s plan discusses some examples of things she’d like to change. One is an issue that is coming for all of us but which has greatly affected farmers: technology that users can’t repair. This is all part of our out-of-control intellectual property laws. It’s like with DVDs. You may think you own them but you are actually just licensing them.

So farmers can’t fix or upgrade their own machinery. That would be violating the manufacturer’s intellectual property. It’s an outrage and it is great to see Elizabeth Warren acknowledging it.

There’s one part of her plan that I’m less sanguine about. Warren wants to limit foreign ownership of active farmland. I’m an internationalist and I don’t like this idea on that level. On the other hand, the world is the way it is. And just as we shouldn’t allow multinational corporations to control our access to food, we should be concerned about foreign interests doing it.

Ultimately, I don’t think we need to worry about this if we can reverse the consolidation in the farming industry. Foreigners are interested in farming for the same reasons that these corporations are. If we limit the size of farming concerns, we will automatically limit foreign interests.

Good Politics

This is yet another important policy proposal from Elizabeth Warren. It is also great politics. This issue is important in Iowa. It could well be the difference between Warren winning and losing the state.

Coming from many politicians, this wouldn’t matter so much to me. But Warren has shown herself to be far more interested in policy than politics. And her spat with Trump over her Native American blood didn’t speak well of her political sense either. But this is smart. And it’s good to see.