Blueprint for Republican Reform: Donors

The morning starts early with a run along the shore. Breakfast is on the patio overlooking the ocean where he scans through the morning’s news on his iPad. It’s small, three-bedroom house, but the sea view and the Marin County address took years to achieve.

After breakfast he wakes his partner. They are not married, at least not in some formal manner. They shared a commitment ceremony once on a trip to Cabo with a few close friends.

They each have a child from another relationship. Neither of them are retired, so to speak, but neither of them has a job, so to speak. At middle age they have earned all the money they’ll ever really need in a series of tech jobs in San Francisco. Now they each do some freelance work along with occasional venture investments. He doesn’t own a necktie.

Both of them were Republicans twenty years ago when they came to California, though the party’s rhetoric long ago drove them away. Neither of them has any great love for the Democrats, but they feel stuck. Democrats are dismissive of the business interests so critical to their lives, but Republicans are downright frightening.

They are not among the elite “tech geeks” of Silicon Valley. The serious engineering geniuses likely own a vineyard or an island at this point in their lives. He finished a business major at Ohio State and his partner was a journalism student at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. They gravitated along separate paths to the Bay Area where they built moderately successful careers in software companies.

If Republicans get serious about rebuilding the party for the 21st century, they will need to attract financial support from new quarters. Donors tend to be old, with a set of interests and biases rooted in past conditions. In a slower world this may not have been such a pressing difficulty. It is a serious problem now.

The good news is that America is minting new, relatively young millionaires at a breakneck pace and vast numbers of them are politically uncommitted. The bad news is that most of them are earning their fortunes in geographies and demographics which the Republican Party, as presently configured, is systemically incapable of reaching.

If the Republican Party still exists in twenty years, the couple described above will be among its core donors. That is a promise wrapped in a threat. Survival hinges on our outreach to this emerging class of newly wealthy, but they are deeply hostile to the bigotry that infects the party today.

Bringing them into Republican politics starts by presenting an alternate policy platform. It continues by offering them a vision for how they could fuel a modernist insurgency in the GOP. They will probably only be brought into the party as elements of a dissident wave. They will not walk in the front door. We need to give them a channel through which to confront the Republican Party’s worst impulses from the inside.

At the core of this challenge is a strange social and cultural distortion. From the viewpoint of a Ted Cruz or Mike Huckabee, the very successful, happy couple in our scenario is living in a post-apocalyptic hell-scape lifted from their darkest, dystopian nightmares. This generation of successful young people is the living, breathing proof that most of what today’s Republicans believe about the world is bullshit.

Through the standard Republican lens the couple in our example is a broken family, unmoored from religion, blighted by immoral choices, and unemployed. They live under a suffocating nanny state burdened by staggeringly high taxes which supposedly makes economic growth impossible. Yet, in that environment, with these personal moral choices, they and millions like them are, over the course of a few decades, becoming fantastically wealthy, healthy, and happy.

If anything Fox News tells us is true then this couple’s lives, and the lives of all their neighbors, are impossible. Yet here they are, sharing kale smoothies and an ocean view from the patio of their million-dollar home.

As the party’s center has drifted south this disconnect has grown into a yawning chasm. There is very little newness in the donor base coming of age in the red states. For the most part it’s only a younger generation of heirs to the same fortunes in the same industries. The South has grown wealthier, but that wealth has been generated predominantly by the kind of resource extraction that feeds a rentier class. Almost all of the best features of our emerging global marketplace threaten their interests.

A fresh donor base with wealth derived from modern knowledge capitalism is going to be relentlessly at odds with the existing pool of Republican donors. It will be impossible to reach one without at least challenging the other.

New wealth rising from the global knowledge revolution is, by and large, politically uncommitted. The first mass wave of them is coming of age politically (in other words, hitting their late ‘40s) right now. That is very bad news for Republicans. As much as these voters appreciate markets and dread government regulation, their deepest loathing is reserved for bigots. A Republican Party dominated by Southern fried Neo-Confederates is a non-starter for them.

We claim to be America’s business-friendly party, but that claim grows more absurd by the day. Republicans would do well to acknowledge some stark realities about where and how mass wealth is being created in the modern world. Its source is not oil or agriculture. Red state economies create very little of it. And for a large number of the people generating this new wealth, the only “Jesus” who has touched their lives is that guy they know on the development team. His name is pronounced ‘hey-zeus.’ He works miracles – with python scripts.

In blatant defiance of Republican orthodoxy, the global engine of modern capitalism is the San Francisco Bay Area and it has been for twenty years. Trailing behind San Francisco, at a great distance, is Boston, New York, Chicago and the rest of the West Coast. Measured in terms of annual capital investment, the first city in a red state to even show up in a ranking is Austin at number twelve, where it has been losing ground as the rest of the country recovers from the financial collapse. Atlanta is at 14. Houston is at 18. North Carolina’s research triangle is at 24.

San Francisco alone generates over 15 times more venture capital investment than the entire state of Texas. Boston, in the heart of deep-blue Massachusetts, attracts six times more investment than Austin. Notice there is no mention here of the rural countryside. Global capitalism is emptying rural areas, spreading festering pockets of poverty across the small towns and farm areas once home to our “real Americans.” New capital is being minted in America’s big cities.

That capital is fueling not just a wealth revolution, but vital advances in the way we do everything from treating diseases to commuting. Having abandoned urban areas a generation ago, Republicans have no meaningful political influence in the places where the future of American commerce is being built. That has to change quickly or some other political institution will replace us.

So how can we attract these largely unattached potential donors who so deeply loathe the party’s fearful, bigoted rhetoric? Perhaps we could start by wrestling with one frustrating question. Why is the focal point of global capitalism a big, socially liberal, largely irreligious, American city with Democratic government at every level?

By confronting some of the awkward answers that might emerge from that exercise, we could begin to piece together the kind of agenda that could win support among the Bay Area’s new elite. An agenda that might emerge from that exercise would also likely unlock access to voters and donors in other parts of the country that have turned terminally blue. Win California, win America.

What would that agenda look like? For starters, it would reflect a willingness to look at the world in realistic terms, stripped of the blinders of ideology and open to the Four Inescapable Realities. It would replace a focus on white cultural fears with an emphasis on markets, fiscal responsibility, and effective, rather than merely smaller, government.

Most importantly, that agenda would be designed to organize an insurgency. Instead of trying to synthesize a sane, commercially focused agenda with the party’s bizarre culture of denial and paranoia, this effort would be organized from the beginning as an open challenge to the party’s status quo.

The existing institutional core of the Republican Party will not be transformed through conference calls and persuasion. Otherwise, the results of the 2012 Election would have led to immigration reform, a new tax plan, and an end to culture war posturing. This effort to build an updated agenda that can rally new donors will have to come from the outside, drawing these new donors to a campaign of internal resistance. Assemble that combination of characteristics in a nascent organization and it would be possible to begin recruiting in places Republicans have ignored for more than a decade.

A generation of millionaires is coming of age deep in the deepest blue states. Those people are open to a new political direction and willing to share their wealth to achieve it. It is time for Republicans to wake up and smell the fresh-ground, single-origin, fair trade organic coffee.

If we can crack open our minds to consider some of the realities emerging around us, we can compete for this new base of support. We don’t have a lot of time, but seizing this window will open access to new resources critical for building the next piece of a Republican future – a new stable of candidates who can win behind the Blue Wall.

Posted in Blueprint for Republican Reform, Republican Party, Uncategorized

Blueprint for Republican Reform: Pundits

Deep in the mists of history there was a time when Glenn Beck was a lowly radio DJ, Michelle Malkin was a teenage anchor baby, and Bill O’Reilly was an actual journalist. Off in an obscure corner of the media universe the right wing political entertainment complex roared into existence. On a radio station in central California, a blowhard named Morton Downey, Jr. blazed a trail of high-volume, bigoted disinformation that would balloon into a powerful political entertainment genre.

He was fired from his AM radio show on Sacramento’s KFBK in 1984 after a racist outburst against an Asian-American local political figure. Station management decided to replace his dark, mean-spirited antics with a more playful personality. Downey went on to build a brief, but stunningly successful television career.

And what happened to the sunny youngster who took his place? Into Downey’s clown-shoes stepped a man born to fill them, Rush Limbaugh.

A previous post outlined six elements of the Republican coalition that must be realigned to restore the party’s national relevance. Communication and coordination among different silos will be important. However, it is probably among the punditry that the first visible signs of a Republican realignment will emerge. Looking back on how a previous generation of pundits drove the GOP into a ditch could offer insights on how a new generation might tow the party back out.

Downey, Coulter, Limbaugh and others emerged to stardom at a pivotal moment. Channeling the insecurities of a generation frightened by the loss of their supremacy, they helped white racial angst complete the drift from its longtime home in the Democratic right to its present place in the Republican center. Step-by-step they reinterpreted an older Republican policy template centered on commercial and professional interests to fit the needs of white voters desperate to protect their culture from assimilation. Talk radio developed a sort of parallel language that allowed white political figures to continue to leverage race as a tool without using the discredited rhetoric of the previous generation.

Pundits matter. They matter more now, in a world of ubiquitous information and disinformation, than they did nearly a century ago when Father Coughlin was extolling Fascism on his popular radio show. We often think of them as the people who appear on TV to reduce some complex subject to a three-sentence sound bite, but that role is the tip of the rhetorical iceberg. What crude pundit-entertainers like Ann Coulter did to the Republican Party could also be used as a force for reform.

Before Fox News and the political entertainment complex emerged, pundits were mostly researchers and journalists. Many worked in Washington “think tanks,” organizations funded to provide expertise and credible research for political figures. That infrastructure still exists, but it has been stripped of independence, leading to a massive, sustained brain-drain. There was a time when this collection of institutions was a particular Republican strength. Those days are behind us.

Pundits deliver two primary services. First, they act as the sheep dogs of acceptable partisan discourse, defining the range of legitimate opinion among the various tribes on the recognized political spectrum. Their other function is to act as mediators, evaluating policy options and translating them to the general public. In this role they often overlap with think tanks. In fact, many of the most prominent pundits all over the spectrum draw their income from think tanks, or did at some point in their careers.

Downey’s heirs fit nowhere in this neat picture. Few remember, but there was a time when it mattered whether a pundit was right. Winning an argument on the McLaughlin Group by inventing your own facts could seriously dent a career. That now-quaint ethical boundary made sense in an era in which pundits were almost all journalists, former political figures, or academics. They belonged to a kind of loose, Northeastern fraternity capable of exercising some accountability on its members. Such constraints start to make less sense when the purpose of punditry shifts. If pundits exist less to mediate ideas than to activate a political base or deliver a good show, then accuracy becomes secondary (or perhaps irrelevant).

Republicans, and to a lesser extent Democrats as well, are trapped inside a model of political information processing spawned by Downey and honed by his mutant descendants. Many if not most of the pundits who remain in the older GOP infrastructure are solid, rational figures that take seriously the public service dimension of their role. Nevertheless, they are captives to that entertainment-driven model and to the characters who earn seven-figures incomes from exploiting it. Whenever they resist that system, their influence and viability are undermined.

As the political climate for Republicans has grown more toxic, pundits have faced pressure to line up behind a policy agenda that ranges from merely impractical to absurd and occasionally catastrophic. Even the brightest, most insightful human beings can struggle to maintain their hold on reality when their income depends on their ability to demonstrate loyalty to absurd ideological positions.

Pundits find themselves compelled to explain and defend any idea emerging from the farthest corners of the Republican right no matter how dumb, delusional or demonstrably false it may be. An absence of independence among pundits has left Republican voters and officeholders locked in a rhetorical cocoon. The damage goes beyond a lack of criticism or feedback. Pressure toward group-think has robbed Republicans of a vital source for new policy ideas and research.

Think tanks once provided a hedge, a place for pundits to do their work with some degree of insulation from partisan witch-hunts. That reserve has been gutted in recent years. Nearly every institution in the Republican thinkosphere has been bought out by a few wealthy, ideologically motivated donors and pushed toward partisan orthodoxy. Thirty years ago it was the conservative Heritage Foundation that built the policy framework for the Affordable Care Act. Today Heritage is run by the hyper-partisan former Sen. Jim DeMint who earns a seven-figure salary from the organization. Such a bold academic exercise would be absolutely impossible to pursue inside today’s Republican think tanks.

This environment is ripe for a pundit in the mold of John Stewart to emerge from the center-right. A voice as sharp and insistent as the right wing bomb-throwers, yet armed with an attachment to reality and willing to attack the far right – that could be a winning formula. Our problem is that there’s no ecosystem from which someone in that mold could emerge. Republican media is a scorched-earth wasteland of ever-narrowing ideological consistency in which there is “no enemy on the right.”

Breaking this cycle will require more than just vocal dissent from a few prominent pundits. It will require a level of coordination with leaders in other areas, like donors and think tanks, organized and motivated by a new policy template. That template, as explained in a previous piece, will probably have to emerge from outside the party’s sanctioned support structure – a considerable hurdle. Recent history demonstrates why coordination will be so important.

Ask David Frum or Bruce Bartlett what happens when a conservative thinker steps out of line. Each lost their jobs for openly acknowledging some politically uncomfortable realities. Over the decade or so since their demotion, the ideological lock on the profession has tightened.

Republican pundits are now cloistered like medieval nuns, carefully hidden from the kind of cognitive dissonance on which any reliable decision-making depends. There has never been a wealth of demand for Political Science majors. With an always-tentative livelihood in a very expensive city riding on their commitment to orthodoxy, they have learned to shut out ideologically inconvenient realities. Our pundits do less and less thinking as they learn to rely on the safety of talking points issued by Republican brand leaders.

Conditions have grown too severe for Republicans to sit back and wait for a “strong candidate” or an opportunistic news cycle to reverse the party’s fortunes. Decades of dependence on a narrowing racial appeal has walled us inside our own fortress. Building an ecosystem of opinion-makers that can restore some sanity to Republican politics will require parallel action on some other dimensions of this problem, in particular, among the donor base. That means finding new donors who are not committed to the status quo.

Fortunately, the same economic forces that have unleashed The Politics of Crazy have also produced a potential solution to this problem. There is a brand new donor base waiting to be activated, a group of people deeply interested in the country’s future, open to innovative ideas, disenchanted by the current political establishment, and as of yet unconnected to any core ideology or network that could bring them into political relevance.

It may be possible to build an infrastructure of pundits more influential than the Downey generation and a network more powerful than Fox News. It starts with a new template of ideas filtering into a fresh donor base. Win Silicon Valley, own the 21st Century. More on that to come.

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Posted in Blueprint for Republican Reform, Republican Party

A study in why ‘Black Lives Matter’

On Friday a white Sheriff’s deputy named Darren Goforth was ambushed and murdered by a black suspect in Houston. We still know nothing about the killer’s motives, but spokesmen from the police and prosecutor’s office immediately leveraged the incident to criticize groups that have protested police violence.

Rhetoric emerging from right-wing disinformation networks has been far worse. The usual suspects at Breitbart, never troubled by an absence of facts to support their narrative, have been insisting for weeks that protestors clamoring for justice in the death of Sandra Bland are tied to mysterious black militant groups. Those groups, they claim, have been calling for violence against police. The baseless claim has been sitting there, waiting for some fragment of an incident to fuel a racist backlash. Now they have what they need.

It is clear now that regardless what we learn about the murder, Deputy Goforth’s terrible death will be used to push back against efforts to make justice available to everyone. That isn’t necessary. As this case plays out, it will also offer a living demonstration of what ‘Black Lives Matter’ protesters have been saying. Our justice system does not value all its citizens’ lives equally.

Nothing will restore what Deputy Goforth’s family and friends have lost. There is no justification or sense in his death. He risked his life to serve his community and a member of that community responded by murdering him. This incident is a horrifying outrage. The community must respond.

Those who suffer from Deputy Goforth’s death can expect one critical consolation that has eluded many black victims of police violence. They will have access to justice. There will be no riots in the streets over his death, no tense protests. There will be no need for the President to speak on the matter. Why? Because in the Goforth case, the system will do what it ought to do for everyone.

Prosecutors filed charges against Goforth’s alleged killer the day after his murder. On the day of the killing, every major law enforcement official in the area spoke out forcefully about the incident.

No one from the police union or the prosecutor’s office will smear Deputy Goforth or his family. No will one will claim that his parents should share responsibility for his death. His killer will not be defended or praised by public officials. Police officers will not be out on patrol wearing symbols of support for his killer. There will never be any reason to doubt whether public servants will exercise their rightful authority in seeking justice for Deputy Goforth’s murder.

Thanks to decades of forceful effort against massive, well-organized resistance, African-Americans and other minorities can now count on police and other public servants to administer justice equally most of the time. That’s progress, but that lingering gap leaves black Americans constantly on edge in their interactions with our justice system. ‘Black Lives Matter’ is an effort to make the rest of the country aware of the work that remains to be done.

Someday, when black lives really do matter equally to our justice system and to the general public, then that slogan will lose its relevance. Until then, saying that “all lives matter,” or “police lives matter” is an ugly, spiteful irony. Anyone who doubts that police lives matter need only read the paper. Anyone that believes “all lives matter” to our system is living in purposeful denial, standing in the way of justice.

“All lives matter” is meaningful as an aspiration. Stated as a claim about present conditions, it is a lie that carries dark political implications. Until we live in a country where the lives of Americans like Tamir Rice and John Crawford and Eric Garner actually matter as much to the justice system as the life of Darren Goforth, then “all lives matter” will continue to be a couched insult, an obstacle to our aspiration of ensuring justice for all.

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Posted in Civil Rights

Summary of GOPLifer predictions

We all have to make predictions to get through the day. Which route to work will have better traffic. What should I do with my retirement money. Which of these restaurants will make a better sandwich.

Generally speaking, it’s a great idea to avoid making predictions if you can avoid it. Ignoring that sound reasoning, I’ve been making a lot of predictions lately. So that everyone can learn from my mistakes, let’s see how they look so far, starting with some of the oldest ones:

Prediction: The 2016 GOP nominee will be a stark raving loon who can’t possibly win the General Election
Date: September, 2011
How does it look: So far, so good

Prediction: Republicans are locked out of the White House for the foreseeable future (Blue Wall)
Date: November, 2014
How does it look: So far, so good

Prediction: Cruz is most likely to win the nomination
Date: December, 2014
How does it look: Pretty iffy, though, if Trump slips, Cruz should be next in line

Prediction: Wendy Davis will cause serious headaches for the Texas GOP
Date: January, 2014
How does it look: Dead wrong

Prediction: Jeb! campaign will flame out
Date: January, 2015
How does it look: So far, so good

Prediction: Falling oil prices could trigger a wider crash in commodities derivatives
Date: March, 2015
How does it look: Dead wrong

Prediction: Democrats will retake the Senate in 2016, but not gain a super-majority
Date: August, 2015
How does it look: Too early to tell

A few interesting things stand out. First, as the prediction about Cruz demonstrates, the world is full of unpredictable events that can ruin the most well-considered prognostications. I still like Cruz’s chances. In fact, I think he’s still the most likely guy to take the nomination if it doesn’t go to Trump. That said, Trump’s campaign demonstrates the power of a black swan to make a monkey out of the smartest prognosticator. That’s why smart people don’t make predictions if they don’t have to.

The oil price post demonstrates why it’s so tough to outsmart a market. If you don’t have a deep insiders view into the machinery behind a particular market, you probably won’t be able to piece it together from press releases. I remain fascinated and baffled by the behavior we are all witnessing in that market. That said, if there was going to be some dramatic, disruptive event emerging from the collapse in oil prices it seems like it should have emerged by now.

Predictions in that list that remain most viable are the ones that were very general and based on matters I know extremely well. And they still might go south on me. We’ll see.

Posted in Uncategorized

Blueprint for Republican Reform: Ideology

When dissident Democrats decided to work together, outside the official structure of their party, to launch an energetic, modern response to Reagan’s sweeping victories their first step was to build a statement of beliefs. Although that statement was starkly at odds with many elements of contemporary Democratic politics, it was firmly rooted the party’s older traditions. A few years later, those reformers who had been pushed to the fringes of their party found themselves staffing the White House.

A previous post made the claim that the GOP as presently constituted is becoming a victim of entropy. Over the next eight years it will either be reorganized or replaced. Most Republicans would still regard that prediction as ludicrous, but by the end of next year consensus is likely to shift. Regardless, this is an ideal moment for a party trapped inside an ideological template shaped by the Cold War to begin imagining policy positions more relevant to the nation’s future.

For the small but increasingly worried segment of the Republican polity that recognizes the party’s straits, disaster offers opportunity. A fresh, relevant policy template in tune with reality and with the party’s powerful history would give us the initiative in painful debates that will follow the 2016 election.

The bad news is the good news – almost no one in the party is working on this question in a serious manner. To put it another way, we face no internal competition in the race to construct a 21st century Republican agenda. Build it, and they will come.

The Politics of Crazy outlines a wide range of fairly detailed policies that could form the center of a new Republican coalition. This could be helpful as Republicans begin the effort to imagine new approaches to problem solving, but what is needed most at this point is something less specific and more fundamental.

Step one should be an effort to recall the party’s roots. A new model should be constructed on the party’s foundations, which are well-worth preserving. This statement of the party’s origins, expressed in a previous post, could offer a useful guide:

Republicans were the traders, innovators, investors, and industrialists who built our urban landscapes and brought us our modern economy. Republicans were Progressives, Conservatives and Moderates united by their faith in the power of well-maintained markets to fuel prosperity, innovation, and freedom. Republicans understood that, for better or worse, business is the engine that powers everything else we value.

The Republican Party was not so much about less government or more government. The Republican Party was about making things work.

That commercial, largely urban history could provide a vital pivot point as we confront a sparklingly diverse culture and ever more rooted in cities. Only fifteen years ago half of America’s ten largest cities were governed by Republicans. Now we serve just two of the top twenty.

Based on those foundations, we can turn our attention to the largest challenges facing our society. Half a century ago our politics were defined by a dangerous and seemingly endless rivalry with Communism. Now our challenge is to build the most prosperous, humane and free culture possible in a world of global capitalism. It is a privilege to face this challenge, a privilege delivered to us by great sacrifices from our forebears. Now we must prove worthy of their efforts.

That starts by recognizing the new problems spawned from our victory. Capitalism is not perfect. While far better than any alternative ever initiated, this new global order presents us with troubling challenges. Again, from a previous post:

The creative power of Capitalism hinges on the freedom to visit wholesale destruction on anything which fails to compete in this race toward efficiency. Capitalism is an agent of what economists call “creative destruction.”

Creative destruction is not limited to businesses. Markets will tend over time to destroy aristocracies, racial preferences, tradition-based values, religious assumptions, and shared or public resources. It does not matter how valuable something may be in collective or intangible terms. If it cannot hold its own in a commercial transaction between a free, self-interested buyer and seller, it will be devalued, weakened and eventually swept away.

This is where Capitalism finds itself at tension with Conservatism. It is also where Capitalism faces its own internal inconsistencies. This problem has a name: Externalities.

Republicans are uniquely positioned, should we rise to the challenge, of forming an economic order that could contain the dangerous externalities of capitalism without killing the ‘golden goose.’ From climate change to inequality to racial injustice to international chaos, our society remains burdened by problems that could tarnish our global victory. Recognizing the nature of the difficulties we face, Republicans could form a coherent response rooted in reality and inspired by optimism.

Our first obstacle is the systematic denial that has gripped Republicans. Any new policy template must be founded on a commitment to squarely face facts. Coming to terms with the Four Inescapable Realities will be essential to any new appeal.

With those realities in mind we might recognize the central challenge facing government in an era of accelerating economic dynamism: An older, people-heavy bureaucratic model cannot keep pace with emerging demands. To remain relevant and effective, government must be smarter, smaller, and more nimble.

Informed by its heritage in commerce and by an ideology rooted in individual rights and duties, it seems clear that Republicans should build a response to modern challenges rooted in markets. To make such an appeal work, we need to develop a smarter understanding of what a market is and how to use it. Today, when a Republican speaks of “markets” they are describing the delusion that almost any problem will resolve itself so long as government does nothing.

Effective markets are based on rules. Building markets that address our problems means writing rules that will price-in externalities. Carefully constructed markets can, for example, incorporate the cost of carbon pollution into the price of oil, thereby leveraging the creative power of individuals and business to address climate change.

We can build markets that will price-in the costs of gun violence, illegal immigration, and pollution. Markets will not solve every problem, but a new emphasis on the challenges that they can address would provide an opportunity. Armed with relevant, credible responses to problems that matter to a wide spectrum of Americans, Republicans could a construct a brighter, more optimistic platform, independent of the fear-based appeals that have driven us into a ditch.

Defining a central challenge of our world, the challenge posed to 20th bureaucracy by rising economic dynamism, and establishing a template for our response, carefully constructed markets, we could accomplish three critical goals. We could unmoor the Republican Party from fifty years of focus on white cultural fears, deliver an attractive, optimistic vision for the future rooted in the party’s traditions, and still retain flexibility to pivot on specific policy planks.

Nothing in that formulation dictates particular legislation on abortion or terrorism or tax reform. It merely provides a launching point for more intelligent, more constructive debate – A debate capable of involving a far broader slice of the electorate than the Republican Party attracts today.

A simple, coherent, reality-based policy statement can be the pole around which Republican reformers begin to organize. Like the Democrats who organized the Democratic Leadership Council in the 1980’s, Republicans can respond to the unique conditions we face today with a hopeful vision for the future. This may be a long journey, but it starts with a small group of people identifying, in policy terms, the place we want to go.

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Posted in blue wall, Blueprint for Republican Reform, Election 2016

Gun control is easy

After witnessing yet another pointless mass horror, this is the point in the process where we reflect on how impossible it is to limit gun violence in America. If we are ever going to break this miserable cycle of violence, this is the point in that loop that most deserves our attention.PoliticsOfCrazy_YLW2

We have found straightforward ways to manage all kinds of lethal products and substances, from plutonium to whiskey. And we already have a very successful, comprehensive regulatory scheme to manage the mass ownership of a terribly dangerous tool – the automobile.

Even as our roads grow more crowded, automotive deaths have been in a long, steady decline. There have been no mass confiscations, no scarcity, no nationalization. Every car owner and every vehicle is registered.

Owners are economically liable for damage inflicted with their cars. Insurance requirements have forced tougher schemes to keep dangerous drivers off the roads. Those insurance companies have also used political pressure to impose safety restrictions on manufacturers. It works for cars and with a few minor adjustments it would work for guns.

A national insurance requirement for gun ownership is outlined in the Politics of Crazy, but it is also described in this previous blog post, excerpted here from the original, Gun Control in the Ownership Society:

“First, regarding choice, loosen most of the explicit Federal curbs related to functionality, shape, and other characteristics of guns. They sound good, but they do not accomplish their goals and they needlessly entangle responsible gun owners.

In the interests of accountability and transparency, establish a formal, national gun registry with owner’s names and weapons’ serial numbers. That registry should have roughly the same privacy protections we give to medical records and would be accessible by law enforcement and insurers. Building and maintaining the registry would be expensive. It would be funded by a sales tax on ammunition. Owning an unregistered weapon would be a Federal crime, punishable by imprisonment. Owners would also be accountable for those weapons, possessing a duty to notify authorities within a fixed time, perhaps seven days, of any theft or loss.

Gun owners would be responsible financially for their choices. No weapon could be registered or remain registered without proof of liability insurance provided annually. Lapsed insurance would be a crime which could be remedied by surrendering the uninsured weapons, paying a bond (self-insurance) or facing penalties for unlicensed possession.

Owners would bear civil liability for crimes or injuries resulting from the use of weapons registered to them. Gun ownership would cease to be a casual choice like buying a fishing pole, but it would still be available to those who handle the right responsibly. A significant percentage of the annual royalties from Cat Scratch Fever would be diverted toward insuring Ted Nugent’s arsenal, but as long as he could afford the duties of responsible ownership, The Nuge could keep whatever guns he wants.

The registration and insurance requirements would make it very difficult for irresponsible or unstable owners to maintain a large hoard of weapons. A gun owner who was falling apart mentally or failing to take reasonable safety precautions would probably start getting attention from the authorities long before they, or someone with access to their weapons, shot up a movie theater.

State and local governments might enact additional requirements, within the bounds of a general right to gun ownership, or they might not. It would probably be much harder to carry a weapon in Manhattan than in Wyoming. That is entirely appropriate. That’s Federalism.

The choice to own almost any type of gun would remain, but it would be bounded by responsibilities. That is what liberty looks like to a traditional conservative.”

And for those who insist against all reason, logic, law and history that they possess some God-derived right to create a nation swimming in loose guns, there is this argument:

“As for my untrammeled right to own any weapon I want with no accountability or regulation, that does not exist and has never existed. As for my right to hold weapons as a method of “defending” myself from my elected government, that does not exist and has never existed. It is not in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights and never has been found under any Constitutional interpretation we have ever used. Pack the Supreme Court with nine Scalia’s and you still won’t have those rights.

Such claims run counter to the any conservative notion of liberty. Where we are free, we are accountable. Freedom, as we like to say, is not free.

In more practical terms, if you actually believe that you’re going to defend yourself from Obama with your cache of AR-15’s and a cellar full of canned goods, there’s little to discuss here. No weapon ever developed can shoot down the black helicopters that hover silently over your dreams. Private arsenals do not guarantee our freedom. The wise use of our political power and the protection of our basic institutions preserves liberty for ourselves and our children.”

We own this country. The tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths we experience every year as a consequence of stupid policies on firearms are on our collective heads. Apathy is not an option. Simple, solutions that protect basic rights while properly imposing responsibility are available to us. We have a duty to make our country as great as it can be.

Posted in Gun Rights, Politics of Crazy

Blueprint for Republican Reform

How does a political party end up with seventeen candidates for the Presidential nomination, not one of whom has a credible path to the White House? This happens when the core of an organization has collapsed into a starburst of colorful antics and strange characters. Our lack of any coherent or minimally electable leadership signals the triumph of entropy.

This is the end, which is the perfect time to plan the beginning.

No matter what happens next year we have reached the end of a long era in Republican politics marked by the rise of Southern conservatives to dominance. Over the next eight years the Republican Party as we have come to know it will either be reorganized under new leadership and fresh rhetoric, or it will be dissolved and replaced. The Republican Party is too weak to continue to hold its constituent parts together under present alignments.

Running on a combination of policies, candidates, and donors that coalesced forty years ago around problems the country faced sixty years ago, we now find ourselves trapped in a cul de sac. It is now impossible for the party to win the White House absent some epic collapse by the opposing party.

Thanks to the influx of a generation of terrified white Southerners, obsessed with the very real loss of their former cultural, political and economic dominance, the Party of Lincoln has devolved into the primary political expression of white nationalism. Needless to say, white nationalism in this era is a narrow base on which to build a national political party in America.

With its viability compromised, organizational dynamics are going to force the party into an evolutionary break. Many if not most Republicans in positions of authority inside the party are content to utterly dominate politics in the Jim Crow Belt while writing off the rest of the country. That strategy is doomed because it opens up a massive political vacuum, an opportunity too big to ignore, (see Trump, Donald)

In time, that opportunity will be exploited by opponents of the current party infrastructure, either in a successful internal challenge or through a successful challenge from outside the party. A national political party cannot hold itself together on its regional strength in a shrinking geography.

Every credible route back to relevance involves a major reorganization of the party’s core institutions. That will not be easy and it might be impossible. No one can centrally engineer such a change. It will have to develop out of a collection of initiatives rising from many different quarters. In order to succeed, it will have to produce results in each of these six areas:

Ideology – Democrats have demonstrated for decades that a political party can succeed without a unified ideological basis. Republicans have been more rigidly focused on ideology than is probably healthy. That said, there must be some general philosophical lodestar around which a coalition can coalesce. Republicans are operating under a policy template that was growing dated thirty years ago. An update will be critical. This is one of the areas that The Politics of Crazy was written to address.

Pundits – Imagine for a moment that the issue most discussed in Republican policy circles was the regulatory response to Uber and Airbnb rather than “anchor babies.” In that atmosphere, how would the odds of a Republican victory differ from what we currently see? A pundit class with the barest awareness of urban issues and some minimal openness to minority concerns could open up the Republican policy template.

Think Tanks – It is very difficult to build credible policy absent the influence of smart people who work out the details. Our infrastructure of policy institutes and researchers has been utterly perverted until it is impossible for Republicans to find sound, reality-based advice on policy matters. Candidates who want help building sound legislation are trapped between lobby groups and ideologically blindered “think tanks” with no concern for real-world outcomes.

Donors – It is very unlikely that a fresh wave of relevant Republican leadership is going to emerge from a wave of small donations. Just as the Koch brothers have dedicated half their lives and a chunk of their fortunes to foster the spread of disastrous public policy, new donors will have to step forward to bankroll efforts to build a more credible Republican infrastructure. Those donors are probably sitting in their Napa Valley vineyard right now reading the New York Time (on their iPad) in disgust. They are out there. Someone needs to get them connected.

Candidates – All across the country’s north and west there are young Republicans in mayor’s offices and state legislatures growing increasingly frustrated with the party’s direction. Stepping up in open dissent looks like a career-limiting move, but they are weary of pretending to care about same-sex marriage and abortion. Too many of them are just quitting rather than launching seemingly impossible internal fights.

New Voters – Needless to say, the most obvious way to solve the problems caused by a narrowing political base is to attract new voters. The country’s largest unclaimed voter pool is the vast mass of urban voters trapped under stale Democratic leadership that takes them for granted. Many of them are black and Hispanic and Asian. At best, Republicans treat them mascots, giving them highly visible spots and favors so long as they refrain from expressing any opinions of their own. At worst, we alienate them with efforts to legislate that Olde Tyme Religion. We have to open the party to their authentic, full participation.

There are moves afoot to address the party’s weaknesses in each of these areas. Unfortunately, those efforts are at a nascent stage and there is no institutional force knitting them together. It is very difficult to bring efforts in any of these categories to critical mass without the help of existing networks. The party itself could provide that institutional support, but the opposite is occurring.

That refusal to sponsor a reform effort is creating a dangerous dynamic for the party. If these reform efforts do reach critical mass without formal Republican sponsorship they may develop as a rival entity rather than a wing of the Republican Party. This has happened to the GOP before and it isn’t pretty.

The next wave of energy on the right may emerge from outside the Republican Party’s institutional framework. Reality-based Republican dissidents will have to start communicating with one another in a manner similar what we’ve seen from the Tea Party. We will have to speak out publicly and take more pointed stances at odds with party orthodoxy. Most of all we need to build new networks through which to coordinate.

This is the end, which is the perfect time to plan the beginning. The end of an era can be upsetting, but it presents opportunities. With a bit of planning and coordination, the best days of the Republican Party may still be ahead of us.

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Posted in Blueprint for Republican Reform, Republican Party

Why Trump is winning on the religious right

What if I had told you two years ago that the initial front-runner in the race for the 2016 GOP nomination would be a New Jersey Casino mogul who had been divorced three times, bankrupted four times, and had avidly defended single-payer health care, abortion rights, and Planned Parenthood? And what if I had told you that he received enthusiastic support from religious fundamentalists?

Though no one anticipated it, the situation we find ourselves in isn’t as illogical as it sounds. Trump has built his polling lead on a single pressing issue – ‘Murica for ‘Muricans. That’s it. Nevermind abortion or gay marriage, among a large bloc of fundamentalists, that simple Trumpian formula is a perfect distillation of their most deeply-held views.

So far, polling indicates that Trump is the leading candidate among Republicans who consider themselves evangelicals. That popularity is reflected among fundamentalist activists and pundits. As a commentator on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network explained, “Donald Trump and evangelicals are breaking bread together because there is this common bond.”

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council has described Trump as a “breath of fresh air.” David Lane, the activist who helped organize the massive political prayer rally that launched Rick Perry’s 2012 campaign, issued this bizarre statement without a hint of irony, “America is starving for moral, principled leadership. I hope that Donald Trump brings that.”

Bob Van der Plaats whose fundamentalist outfit acts as a kingmaker in Iowa, described Trump this way, “I do believe Iowans and Americans are sending a clear message through Mr. Trump. That message is this: heartfelt, non-scripted leadership that is bold and courageous is what we want.” And Phyllis Schlafly, the pearl-clutching prude who wrote the book on modern fundamentalist activism, gushed with praise at the “plainspoken truth” of Trump’s “refreshing” immigration platform.

Some of the same people who expressed concern that maybe Obama isn’t authentically Christian are fawning over a guy who claims that he hasn’t “sought forgiveness” because he hasn’t done anything wrong. He has described communion as “when I drink my little wine and have my cracker.” Just last week he forcefully defended Planned Parenthood, explaining that “we have to look at the positives.”

Phyllis Schlafly is sufficiently undiplomatic to lay bare the ugly logic of the religious right. While flattering Donald Trump for his courageous stand against immigrants, she explains her main objection to Sen. Marco Rubio:

“Rubio’s statement [on immigration reform] was made in Spanish on the Spanish-language network Univision, which is reason enough to eliminate him from serious consideration. When somebody is running for president of the United States, why should we have to get somebody to translate his remarks into English?”

Take a look at her quote and identify what was “reason enough to eliminate him.” It was not his alleged softness on abortion or prayer or evolution or any other apparently religious matter. Schlafly and others like her are being moved by the culture war issue that looms above all others – preserving a culture of white supremacy.

In case any ambiguity remains, Ann Coulter, the Andy Kaufman of politics, repeats out loud what the nasty voices in Republicans’ heads are whispering. Coulter was riffing on the exciting possibility of becoming Trump’s Homeland Security Director when she dropped this gem:

“There will be no celebration of Cinco de Mayo, there will be no Ramadan, in fact there won’t even be a Feast of the Immaculate Conception – we are an Anglo-Protestant country, and you will learn about the Battle of Valley Forge.”

For a significant block of fundamentalists, the real meaning of social conservatism can be reduced to Coulter’s formula: We are an Anglo-Protestant country. That’s the only context in which the Tea Party’s ‘take back America’ chant makes sense. Christian nationalism and white supremacy overlap to an extent that few people inside or outside the fundamentalist movement are willing to openly acknowledge.

There are prominent social conservatives who are deeply hostile to Trump’s campaign. Almost all of them object to Trump solely on the basis on their prior commitments to other, more orthodox fundamentalist candidates. Very few have expressed the slightest discomfort with Trump’s racist blather, limiting their criticism to his religious bona fides.

In fact the main fundamentalist candidates in the race, Cruz, Carson, and Huckabee, have all been cheerfully friendly to Trump. They are each jockeying to win the votes turned loose when and if his campaign implodes.

There is some principled opposition emerging from elite Catholic conservatives and the thin intellectual tier of the evangelical movement. Unfortunately, these two groups are small and mostly distant from grassroots political activism. In advance of the first Presidential debate, New York’s Cardinal Dolan issued a blistering criticism of Trump’s “nativist” policies, equating them with anti-Catholic bigotry from the mid-19th century. His comments earned heated scorn from Catholic conservatives.

Trump may be an Easter Sunday Christian with scant reverence for his little wine and cracker, but he nonetheless fits squarely in the center of America’s fundamentalist tradition. At the heart of religious fundamentalism, whether the believer is Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, or Jedi, are these two ideas:

1) The culture I have inherited comes from sacred, revealed truth and is the only way to live righteously.

2) Nothing I discover, learn or observe about the world must be allowed to modify the assumptions of that culture in any manner.

In other words, the central defining feature of religious fundamentalism is bigotry endorsed by God. Nothing in that formula could be remotely friendly to cultural outsiders. Those two foundational beliefs have put religious conservatives consistently on the wrong side of every movement for Civil Rights in the nation’s history. In that context, Trump’s manner, methods, and policies are a perfect fit for today’s religious right.

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Posted in Election 2016

How important is Bennett’s win in Georgia?

A strange thing happened in Georgia last week. In the kind of low-turnout election that Democrats are generally expected to lose, a Democratic candidate won a runoff election for a seat in the General Assembly in a traditionally Republican District. Democrat, Taylor Bennett, is a former Georgia Tech quarterback who ran on his opposition to Georgia’s proposed new anti-gay rights law. His opponent comes from a prominent local political family with deep Republican roots.

This outcome cuts against normal expectations in a lot of ways, but how meaningful is it? Here are a few details of Georgia’s State House District 80.

The district is anchored by the newly incorporated town of Brookhaven. It’s an affluent, close-in suburb of Atlanta, better regarded as inter-urban rather than classically suburban. The core of the district is roughly ten minutes from Emory University and twenty minutes from downtown Atlanta. Brookhaven is white, but not overwhelmingly so. The district, which includes a stretch of neighboring Sandy Springs, is a little less thirty percent Hispanic or black. Importantly, Asians now make up 7% of the district’s voters and rising.

Brookhaven was organized about a century ago as a wealthy retreat with a fine country club. It gradually became urbanized, though until a few years ago it resisted incorporation. Now it has ready access to Atlanta’s new rail system with a prominent new station.

From a quick look back at historical election results, Brookhaven is an old-school Republican enclave, a rare haven for Republicans during the years of smothering Democratic dominance in the South. In other words, unlike the rest of the South, it has a local Republican tradition older than the Dixiecrats.

Parts of it have often been represented by Democrats during the Dixiecrat era. This State House seat was previously represented by a Dixiecrat who had changed parties. But it also has a rare tradition of electing Republicans, including the father of Mr. Bennett’s opponent in this election.

An examination of the election results at the precinct level shows the same kind of eroding support for Republicans at the top of the ticket that we see in urban and suburban areas all over the country. Republican vote share in the most heavily Republican precincts in District 80 dropped by roughly 10% just between the ’12 and ’14 elections, down from a historic peak a decade ago.

With his deep local ties and relatively moderate politics, Bennett’s opponent, J Max Davis outperformed both Romney and Perdue in the district’s Republican anchor precincts and he still lost. The growing hostility to the Republican brand outside the party’s core demographic was just too much to overcome.

A few months ago I described Georgia as a state in the GOP’s critical deep-red category that might become competitive soon at the national level. Here’s the factor I identified as critical to the state’s partisan political future:

Georgia’s future political direction will most likely be determined by the outcome of races in Atlanta and its near suburbs that are too local and obscure to draw the attention of outsiders. To an ever increasing extent, Georgia = Atlanta. Metro Atlanta already accounts for half of the state’s electorate. That figure is guaranteed to climb for the foreseeable future.
Georgia’s future hinges on a factor separate from race and ethnicity – urbanization. Of the four questions that hang over Georgia’s political future, Republican’s ability to hold Atlanta’s suburbs is the most decisive.

How significant is the outcome in this year’s race for Georgia’s 80th House District? It depends on whether that assessment of Georgia’s future is accurate. If inner-suburban or inter-urban areas like Brookhaven hold the key to the GOP’s future, then this outcome is about as dire a warning as you can get.

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Posted in blue wall

Link Roundup, 8/18/15

  • Efforts at satire from the right usually suck, see Miller, Dennis. For the most part, conservatism just isn’t funny. An exception has finally emerged. Let me present to you the Edgy White Liberal, available on Facebook and Twitter. Here’s a sample:


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