The Journey to the White House Does Not Begin with Baby Steps

Your move, Democrats.

Your move, Democrats.

During the Democratic primary, I was very much influenced by the thoughts and arguments of Robert Cruickshank—a senior campaign manager at Democracy for America. Cruickshank was a Bernie supporter, while I backed Clinton, yet we both agreed that the Democratic Party must advance bold and dramatic policies that helped all Americans in order to be successful electorally.

I supported Hillary Clinton because I thought she had the best chance to win. That said, I was very concerned with her penchant for gradual progressivism; particularly her inability to view higher education as a fundamental right and not a market commodity.

I worried that Clinton’s messaging was too narrow and specialized. Instead of altering the narrative behind why key policy choices should be pursued, Clinton was busy coming up with complex ideas that were viewed as bipartisan. It seemed as if she was petrified of rocking the boat in a moment where the boat was taking on water.

In May, I warned against such tactics:

By resting on their incrementalist laurels…Democrats could make an electoral mistake. If they preach gradual progressivism, then they could give Republicans an opening to become the party which offers the American people a transformative vision. Just today, the New York Times editorial board warned that Democrats must address how they have “strayed at times from [their] more aspirational path.” Merely throwing lean bones to the dramatic-change camp will not cut it for Democrats going forward. Eventually they will have to address the “broad vein of discontent” that pulses through America today and calls for an overhaul.

The American people wanted an overhaul and the Democrats gave them maintenance.

It is easy to see why Hillary Clinton’s campaign took comfort in doing so. They analyzed the success of the 2012 Obama campaign which regressed from “hope” and “change” to “hold the line.” Barack and co were victorious in the end because 1) the Republican nominee wasn’t a change-heavy candidate and 2) we were only four years removed from the financial crisis, so people cut Obama a little bit of slack.

Those two conditions completely switched in 2016—this time around the Republicans nominated a dramatic-change candidate and the Democrats had a more difficult time blaming the financial crisis for the lack of economic progress. Moreover, it forced Clinton into a defensive posture, or what Matt Carp calls “fortress liberalism” which “rallies around that leader’s personal qualifications, while defending past achievement and stressing the value of party loyalty.”

At some point, Democrats are going to have to learn that they can’t win back-to-back presidencies by stressing incremental progress. Perhaps this hypothesis borders on oversimplification, but I think recent history backs up the claim:

1992: Bill Clinton wins (change candidate) against George HW Bush (incrementalist candidate)

1996: Bill Clinton wins (incrementalist candidate) against Bob Dole (incrementalist candidate)

2000: George W Bush wins (change candidate) against Al Gore (incrementalist candidate)

2004: George W Bush (incrementalist candidate) wins against John Kerry (incrementalist candidate)

2008: Barack Obama wins (change candidate) against John McCain (incrementalist candidate)

2012: Barack Obama wins (incrementalist candidate) against Mitt Romney (incrementalist candidate)

2016: Donald Trump wins (change candidate) against Hillary Clinton (incrementalist candidate)

In my lifetime, no party has been able to win two elections in a row by arguing for piecemeal development. That is essentially what Hillary Clinton attempted to do in 2016. Viewed from this vantage point (which I did not have access to during the actual election—bloody hindsight), it becomes a little clearer as to why Clinton’s messaging felt sort of…off.

It’s also important to note that incrementalist candidates, from either party, only ever won when they were the incumbent and weren’t facing a change candidate.

Therefore, if Democrats are to win in 2020 it will be imperative that we choose a candidate who doesn’t concern themselves or their messaging with the nitty gritty details of policy, but who advances broader questions that challenge long-held American assumptions about health care, university, financial systems, and labor rights.

Will Donald Trump still be in the change camp come 2020 or will he be stuck arguing for the status quo? If recent history is any guide, the latter seems more plausible—though who can say for sure with Donald Trump? Such a reality means he will be susceptible to a candidate who produces political force “by multiplying mass and acceleration.” Otherwise, we could be looking at another four years of President Trump.

Daily Clips: November 17, 2016

There’s a reason Republicans have voted to repeal Obamacare scores of times but have not in six-and-a-half years devised a coherent replacement: it’s tough substantively, and treacherous politically.

Trump can’t federalize local police departments, and it’s a stretch to imagine he would send in the national guard or the army to lock up whole communities and then sift through them to identify those without papers. What he can do is diminish or cut off federal funding to cities that retain their sanctuary status.

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A time for questions


The day before the election, the Seattle Review of Books published a piece of mine which examined Against Democracy—a contrarian treatise written by Jason Brennan. The author’s arguments essentially boiled down to two deficiencies related to collective rule:

1) people are susceptible to supporting positions and politicians that do not serve their best interests


2) public discourse tends to the lowest common denominator of society.

Where myself and Brennan disagreed was whether or not these two very real issues were insurmountable. He ultimately views democratic citizens as irredeemable, while I consider my fellow citizens as reformable.

As the reality of Hillary Clinton’s loss began to sink in last Tuesday night, I turned to Paul Constant (the co-founder of the Seattle Review of Books) and asked him if I could add an addendum to my piece: “Ignore all of the arguments I have hitherto made. Democracy is a terrible form of government.”

In all seriousness, Americans should take the result of November 8th, 2016 as an opportunity to reflect on our responsibilities as civic participants. Is our government structured in the best way possible? If not, how could we improve it? Will building the wall help give identity to our people? Will registering Muslims make us safer?

Now is a time for questions, not answers.

Daily Clips: November 16, 2016

Thomas Piketty believes “Trump’s victory is primarily due to the explosion in economic and geographic inequality in the United states ovver several decades and the inability of successive governments to deal with this.”

Read about Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the Texas Republican “who wants to overhaul financial regulation” and “is under consideration to be Donald Trump’s Treasury secretary.”

This is how it begins.

While this is good news, it’s infuriating to see Schumer giving senior roles to “centrists” like Joe Manchin (D-WV). Have they learned nothing from this election?

Capitalism for the win. All must be right in America.

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Daily Clips: November 15th, 2016

I remember watching the PBS News Hour with my grandparents and parents at a very young age. I remember being amazed at how sophisticated the conversation seemed. I remember really liking Jim Lehrer and his monotone drawls. I remember loving Gwen Ifill. She was a soft-spoken, yet critical reporter. I will miss her.

Andrew Sullivan…take a bow. A sobering read that simultaneously inspires and dampens the spirits of those against Trump.

Horrifying. It’s only going to get worse.

Here’s the likelier explanation for Trump’s overall underperformance: the Puget Sound is doing pretty well economically right now. A poll earlier this year by Strategies360 showed that King County residents say, by an over two-to-one margin, that they’re happy with the direction of Washington State. Compare that to recent national polls that show Americans think the country is on the wrong track by the same margin.

Robert Reich and Thomas Frank have been banging this drum for awhile. Their arguments are sound and convincing.

It is cities that can, perhaps, find a way to allow black and white to join in opposition to monopoly power rather than, by setting them against one another, assure its consolidation. It is in cities where Martin Luther King, at the end of his life, devoted himself to the pursuit of racial justice for both blacks and whites in his Operation Breadbasket. That must be the model.

Daily Clips: November 14th, 2016

After last week’s disastrous federal results, I failed to publish any clips. In truth, I failed to do anything of consequence all week. He Who Must Not Be Named is now my president. That stings. Consequently, I will do everything in my power to not link to stories about him or his alt-right buddies. It’s just too painful for me at this point in time.

Excellent discussion over at the political blog, Crooked Timber. The author takes issue with the claim that “liberal progressivism” has held a hegemonic grip on society for thirty years. He even throws in some Rawlsian terms, which got me excited.

No. What a terrible hot take.

Contract talks remain deadlocked over health-care benefits. Another example of greedy workers ruining capitalism!

But electing individual progressives does little to change the broad dynamics of American politics or American capitalism. In fact, it can create a kind of placebo effect: sustaining the illusion of forward motion while obscuring the fact that neither party is structurally built to reflect working-class interests.

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Daily Clips: November 8th, 2016

And so it ends.

Tweets of the (big) day:

Daily Clips: November 7, 2016

Racism and sexism are extremely bad for the economy: Hamilton Nolan is now writing at Deadspin, and he is already providing excellent economic analysis to his new outlet.

Dems are likelier than not to win the Senate majority: Democrats need to pick up four seats to win the Senate.

Wall St. soars as FBI clears Clinton ahead of Election Day: Investors probably just love her populism.

Obama’s plan to destroy America has failed miserably: 

Republicans’ eagerness to exploit and encourage that kind of stupidity is what makes it so difficult to resolve ordinary political differences. Because in order to resolve them, both sides have to accept that they are in fact ordinary, that the world is not going to end if one side prevails, and that somebody who has a substantive disagreement with you about policy isn’t necessarily a demon bent on ripping you open and feasting on your entrails.

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