Saturday, June 29, 2019

Defeating Republican gerrymanders in 2020

Exactly one year after Anthony Kennedy submitted his letter of resignation from the Supreme Court, his replacement was part of a 5-4 majority decision to stop the Supreme Court from overturning partisan gerrymanders. Today we move further towards an America where most people support Democrats, but vote suppression, gerrymandering, the structure of the Senate, and the Electoral College together result in permanent Republican rule.

This probably would've happened whether Trump or some other Republican (Ted Cruz, say) was President. The force behind this decision came from Republicans as an institution. It keeps them in office and helps them achieve their ideological goals, so it's what they're going to do. When Mitch McConnell stole Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination, this is one of the things he was hoping for.

The best way forward now is simply to focus on winning in 2020 as much as possible. It's a redistricting election, so whoever controls state legislatures and governorships gets to decide how districts are drawn, without the Supreme Court getting involved. This Sam Wang tweetstorm has a bunch of good ideas.

State legislative races can be good entry-level offices to run for. Conventional wisdom is that you need $20,000 to be competitive as a candidate in Kansas, and $50,000 would be great. Obviously many people won't have that much money lying around, but it's within the means of people who have had some career success. This article has four profiles of first-time candidates, three of whom ran for state House.

Some states have public financing programs for state legislative campaigns. If you're not in a state with public financing, and you're interested in running, send me a message! I might have money for you.

If you're not cut out to be a candidate but you know someone who is, maybe talk to them about it. Encouraging your friend to run for state legislature might be the deed that prevents Republicans from strangling American democracy.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The illusion of Joe Biden's electability

The Vice President doesn't do much, so the office suited Joe Biden well. Our calm determined overachieving President needed a warm-hearted goofball sidekick, and Biden was a perfect fit for the role. Republicans didn't really care to attack him either -- much better to go after Obama. So his poll numbers rose, and pundits praised his electability.

Biden isn't nearly as good at being a Presidential candidate. He lost in 1988 despite having the most early money, and lost in 2008 when he was one of the more experienced Senators. Message discipline and generally avoiding sloppy campaign mistakes are not his strengths.

One aspect of electability is: how good is the candidate at running for President? It's one you can emphasize a little less in making decisions, because a candidate who's really bad at running will usually crash and burn before the voting even starts, and you won't have to think about them.

But it may help to explain why the two successful Democratic Presidential candidates I've seen were the young upstarts of their times. If Bill Clinton and Barack Obama weren't good at running, they wouldn't have made it through the primary. Al Gore, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton got their nominations more through institutional support than on the campaign trail -- and they lost general elections.

(I also wonder if it helps to fake out the right-wing media. National Republicans had been smearing Hillary for 15 years before the 2008 election, and they were all locked and loaded to do it again, and then... that's not Hillary! That's... some black guy? When you nominate someone they didn't expect and haven't propagandized against, they might not be able to get their work done in the few months they have.)

But this is all to say -- the idea of Biden as especially electable is probably an illusion. His numbers were inflated by being in a role that turned his weaknesses into strengths, and now they're going back to being weaknesses. Better to have someone who does things right during the election and moves upwards than the person who came in at the top.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Different parties

Under Hillary Clinton (or Bernie Sanders), we'd still have Obama's Iran deal. There's more disagreement here among Republicans. Under Ted Cruz, I'm pretty sure war would have begun. Donald Trump backed out of war at the last moment.

The old Republican establishment liked the far cruelty. Trump overthrew them, so now we get the near cruelty instead. One would blow people up far away, the other would tear children from their parents and throw them into dungeons here in America.

This is why it's easy for me to devote so much attention to partisan electoral politics. The consequences of Republican victory are that bad, and even if they're sometimes different across Republicans, they're always really bad. So it's worth discovering what you can about how to help Democrats beat them.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Warren could work out well

Apparently Democratic centrists are seeing Elizabeth Warren as an acceptable candidate. If "Warren as compromise nominee" is defeat for Bernie the candidate, it's a victory for Bernie the movement. He moves the Overton Window for her; she moves the party to him.

She's just better, in lots of ways. As has been noticed, the best at plans. And better at procedural reform.

She wants to get rid of the filibuster. Bernie doesn't -- a common position among the more senior Senators. This is vexing because it'll block his agenda. You won't get 60 Senators for Green New Deal and Medicare for All. You need to pass them with 50. The filibuster doesn't do much to impede Republicans, because they can just rip out the funding from our programs with 50 in the budget (which is immune to filibusters).

Some of my friends on the left side of the Democratic Party may dream of crushing their rivals on its right side in a primary. Having them compromise behind Warren is probably better. Having your intraparty rivals reconciled and falling in behind you makes it easier to defeat Republicans and enact policy.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Remembering Duke Cunningham's bribe menu

It might get topped by Trump Administration revelations in the near future. But before it does, I thought I might let tell you the wildest corruption story of my time following American politics.

Back in 2005, Duke Cunningham was a Republican Congressman from California. Mitchell Wade was a defense contractor who found every chance to bribe him. When Cunningham was selling his house, Wade bought it for $1.675 million. Shortly afterwards, Wade's firm started getting tens of millions of dollars in contracts. The house was back on the market for $975,000 months later. That amounts to a $700,000 bribe.

The smaller bribes were more garish. In DC, Cunningham lived on Wade's docked 42-foot yacht. Cunningham would shop for expensive stuff he liked (Persian rugs, a used Rolls-Royce), and Wade would pay for it. Prosecutors uncovering the corruption found a strange memo on Cunningham's office stationery, in his handwriting:
What is this? My friends, it's a bribe menu. To complete the bribe for $16 million in contracts, Wade gave Cunningham control of the boat, which cost $140,000. For each further million in contracts, Wade would have to bribe Cunningham $50K. But after getting to $20 million in contracts, Wade would have to pay only $25K for each million. If you didn't know that you could get volume discounts in bribing corrupt politicians, well, that's the sort of information I'm happy to provide.

The prosecutors' document described it as "malversation unprecedented in the long history of Congress" which is some pretty serious... malversation? I've never heard that word before. Anyway, Cunningham was sentenced to 8 years in prison. 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

But is he a blue whale or a right whale?

While it would be pretty neat if Trump were colluding with the Prince of Whales, I’ve never believed these deep state conspiracy theories.