A Relatively Sane Election, But Likely Insanity Ahead

It looks like women and voters under 30 saved the day. Pro-insurrection Republicans mostly lost. Forced birth was rejected in several states. Democrats have added two governors so far.

Depending on results still to come in Arizona, Nevada and Georgia, the Democrats will end up with 49 senators (giving control to the Republicans), 50 (keeping the relative control Democrats have now) or 51 (meaning Manchin and Sinema won’t be as important, since they’ll have to vote together in order to make trouble).

As predicted, Republicans will apparently take control of the House of Representatives. But it appears they’ll have a tiny majority. That means trouble ahead. Author Brynn Tannehill explains:

[The Republicans are] probably going to end up with between 218 and 220 seats in the House. This means only a 1, 3, or 5-seat advantage… Whoever the Speaker of the House is, they’re going to have a pretty unmanageable situation. The right wing of House [Republicans] is detached from reality, intransigent, incapable of compromise, will make insane demands, and is large enough to derail EVERYTHING.

There will be crazies in key positions on all the plum committees. Wall to wall nutso hearings on Fauci putting 5G in vaccines and other nonsense, actual legislation won’t happen. Which is a problem. Because you still have to pass budgets and raise the debt ceiling.

So, whoever is Speaker is going to face a dilemma: (a) Cut deals with Democrats to get critical bills through or (b) go with the crazy and accept government shut downs [and] debt default….

Given how the crazies ran off [the previous Republican Speakers of the House] John Boehner and Paul Ryan, … the Speaker will more or less hand over the agenda to [the crazies] because it’s the path of least resistance….

But wait, it gets even more unstable… On average, in any given Congress about 3 members die. Others retire for whatever reason (such as getting caught with a sex worker), or go to the pokey for white collar crime. All of which result in special elections. Given the age, hypocrisy, and lack of real morals on the part of Republican politicians, they’re disproportionately likely to be the ones who leave office and cause a special election. Which means control of the House may be up for a vote several times in the next two years….

A [Republican] House is going to propose a lot of legislation that’s going nowhere [and make sure Democratic legislation goes nowhere too]. 

[We can expect] the next two years to be unpredictable, chaotic, radical and illogical as the House goes far to the right in order to keep the crazies placated, and the government gets shut down for long periods.

While they still control the agenda in Congress, Democrats need to do something about the debt limit. Republicans are already threatening to vote against honoring the government’s debts as a bargaining chip. A federal government default would lead to a global financial panic. It would be a good idea, therefore, to contact your representatives in the House and Senate, as well as President Biden, and demand that they address this problem before it’s too late, meaning before the end of the year. (Last year’s explanations still apply since nothing has been done since then.)

As we wait for further developments, it’s worth noting that pre-election coverage in this country is practically worthless. From Judd Legum of Popular Info:

Political media is broken Major outlets spent weeks PREDICTING there would be a “red wave” and EXPLAINING its causes It was all based on polls, which are unreliable This kind of coverage is not just pointless, it’s harmful.

“Democrats’ Feared Red October Has Arrived” — @nytimes, 10/19/22

“Democrats, on Defense in Blue States, Brace for a Red Wave in the House” — @nytimes, 10/25/22

Red tsunami watch” — @axios, 10/24/22

“Why the midterms are going to be great for Dxxxx Txxxx” — @CNN, 10/26/22

All of these forecasts, and many similar predictions published in other outlets, turned out to be wrong. But even if media predictions were correct, they represent a style of political reporting that is dysfunctional. Prediction-based coverage comes at a high cost because it crowds out the coverage that voters actually need. To make an informed decision, voters need to know the practical impact of voting for each candidate.

While outlets ran story after story about the [Republican] red wave, [their] pledge to use the threat of a global economic collapse to try to force benefit cuts to Social Security and Medicare went virtually ignored.

The political media has substituted polling analysis, which is something only people managing campaigns really need, for substantive analysis of the positions of the candidates, something that voters need.

You and I don’t control what the “experts” say about upcoming elections, but we can try to ignore the polls and speculation next time.

The End of Democracy: A Reading List

Articles calling attention to the perilous state of America’s politics have proliferated this week in light of Tuesday’s election. The New York Times has a list of books to read in order to understand the disheartening big picture. The article contains brief summaries and links to review of the books. This is its beginning and end, along with the list:

Autocratic demagogues. The erosion of the rule of law. Growing inequality. The upending of elections. Normalization of violence. These are all symptoms of what the scholar Larry Diamond has called “democratic recession” — and we are seeing them not just in America, but around the world. Over the last 16 years, according to Freedom House, a nonprofit that researches and promotes global democracy, more nations have moved away from democratic principles than strengthened their embrace of them. The list includes the United States. What’s new is that this trend is happening in modern, prosperous, liberal democracies.

At the same time — and, of course, because of it — there has been a miniboom in books about the decline of democracy. These range from works that diagnose the causes of democratic unraveling or seek to put it in historical context to those that forecast the grim consequences. Despite different points of view, these books all have a few core ideas in common: that democracies are fragile; that democratic norms are necessary but crumbling; that authoritarianism is seductive; that while America is one of the world’s oldest surviving democracies, it is not immune to the forces that have abraded our form of government elsewhere….

It has become cliché in publishing that no matter how pessimistic your book title, you have to add a clause to the subtitle along the lines of: “and what we can do about it.” The problem in this case is that what we can do about democratic decline is not very clear; the diagnosis has been much more extensively analyzed than the potential cures. All the books on this list call for less inequality, more fairness, less social media, more facts. Easier said than done.

But the potential end of our democracy is an urgent matter. Remember, modern democracies vote themselves out of existence, and the midterms are around the corner. Though the authors of these books have different views of our current political situation, they would probably agree on this: If you have one party in a two-party democracy that does not accept election results, you don’t really have a democracy anymore. The question is no longer: Can it happen here? (The answer to that is yes.) The question is now: Will it happen here?

I’ll add a highly relevant book the Times didn’t mention:

Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government, Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels (2017)

From the publisher:

Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels deploy a wealth of social-scientific evidence … to show that the familiar ideal of thoughtful citizens steering the ship of state from the voting booth is fundamentally misguided. They demonstrate that voters—even those who are well informed and politically engaged—mostly choose parties and candidates on the basis of social identities and partisan loyalties, not political issues. They also show that voters adjust their policy views and even their perceptions of basic matters of fact to match those loyalties. When parties are roughly evenly matched, elections often turn on irrelevant or misleading considerations such as economic spurts or downturns beyond the incumbents’ control; the outcomes are essentially random….

Achen and Bartels argue that democratic theory needs to be founded on identity groups and political parties, not on the preferences of individual voters…. Democracy for Realists provides a powerful challenge to conventional thinking, pointing the way toward a fundamentally different understanding of the realities and potential of democratic government.

Let’s wish ourselves and the American experiment luck this Tuesday and the days thereafter.

Columnists Are Deeply Concerned About the Election

I’m still avoiding “news” about Tuesday’s election, but many people who write for a living are expressing these two points:

  • Republican politicians no longer even pretend to care about morality.
  • The election will be a choice between democracy and autocracy.

They don’t need to mention that democracy may lose.

From “The New Nihilists” by Sarah Longwell for Persuasion:

These midterms are proving how deep the GOP rot runs.

The crop of Republican candidates running in the midterms has taken immorality to a whole new level. [She then cites scandalous behavior by three of their Senate candidates, Lake, Oz and Walker.]

What was the response from GOP leaders and media figures? In essence: “LOL, nothing matters”. 

It’s a baffling turn for those of us who grew up in an era where the Republican Party built its public brand around morality and character….Until a few years ago, the GOP still defended virtue rhetorically, even when it fell short and engaged in double standards….

In 2022, by contrast, the GOP ignores or perverts virtue altogether. [Their leader] has spawned hundreds of GOP candidates who ape his lies about the 2020 election, his corruption, and his combative style. Candidates of low character—like Lake, Oz, and Walker—are the rule in the GOP, rather than the exception. According to the old saying, hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue—and Republicans have resolved their hypocrisy in favor of vice.   

From “Well, America, You Were a Good Idea While You Lasted” by Charles Pierce for Esquire:

The GOP have finally abandoned the last shreds of common decency, the rule of law and other American ideals.

It was this weekend that I finally gave up. I have watched the steady descent of American conservatism—and its primary public vehicle, the Republican Party—into the terminal depths of the prion disease it acquired when Ronald Reagan, Richard Viguerie and Jerry Falwell first fed it the monkey-brains back in the late 1970s….

I mocked it and inveighed against it. Better people than I … have spent four decades warning us what was coming unless the prion disease was kept in check….

The public episodes are now too numerous to mention…. They are beyond anyone’s reach. They are beyond logic and reason. They left democratic norms and customs far behind decades ago. They are beyond political compromise. They are beyond checks and balances, and they have drifted off into the void of a space far beyond the Constitution.

From “We Need to Be Clear About Who Pushed Us to the Breaking Point” by Jamelle Bouie for The New York Times:

The Democratic Party is, at this moment, the only viable political party with a serious commitment to free and fair elections. And in a country where power alternates between two major parties, this means American democracy is in real trouble….

It is simply the truth of the matter. If you oppose the effort to nullify Democratic election victories and create systems of minority rule (the Republican running for governor of Wisconsin said, for example, that “Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I’m elected governor”), then there’s only one real choice on the ballot….

Democrats did not make democracy a partisan issue. Republicans did. They did when they stood with Donald Trump in the wake of Jan. 6; they did when they embraced “Stop the steal” and election-denying candidates; they did when they made light of the threats against Nancy Pelosi and the assault on her husband.

There is nothing stopping Republican candidates and Republican voters and Republican leaders from pursuing their partisan and ideological goals while keeping their commitment to free and fair elections. There is nothing stopping them from rejecting antidemocracy extremists in their midst and affirming the vital principles of popular sovereignty, rule of law and political equality. There is nothing stopping them, in other words, from making a different set of choices about the kind of political party they wish to be part of.

It’s not Democrats who left the voting public with only one choice if they want to protect democracy as they know it….

Bouie adds that this kind of politics appeals to some:

When politicians and other political leaders … drop the pretense of virtue and embrace a politics of cruelty and malice, in which nothing matters but the will to power — voters act accordingly. Some may recoil, but just as many will embrace the chance to live vicariously through leaders who celebrate vice and hold virtue in contempt.

Others have other things on their mind (by Michael de Adder for The Washington Post):

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A Note to Readers

When I make a serious mistake in something I’ve written here — which happens often — and I notice it — which happens less often — I try to fix the post. But that doesn’t generate a new email for those who get posts that way. So if you see something badly wrong in an emailed post it’s may be corrected on the blog (although, as in most things, there’s no guarantee).

Thus, today, this went out:

Maybe [Biden] actually believes it’s just those extreme MAGA Republicans we have to worry about, not the 5% or so who actually respect democracy and the rule of law.

It now says:

Maybe he actually believes it’s just those extreme MAGA Republicans we have to worry about, not the average ones who are lukewarm on democracy and the rule of law.

Please pardon this interruption in your daily affairs.

President Biden Speaks to the Nation Again, but Ignores a Big Part of the Story

Last night, President Biden gave a televised speech about the right-wing attack on democracy. But he didn’t express the obvious truth that most Republican politicians are in on it. Maybe he actually believes it’s just those extreme MAGA Republicans we have to worry about, not the average ones who are lukewarm on democracy and the rule of law. Anyway, here’s most of what he said:

Just a few days ago, a little before 2:30 a.m. in the morning, a man smashed the back windows and broke into the home of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the third-highest-ranking official in America. He carried in his backpack zip ties, duct tape, rope and a hammer.

As he told the police, he had come looking for Nancy Pelosi to take her hostage, to interrogate her, to threaten to break her kneecaps. But she wasn’t there. Her husband … was home alone. The assailant tried to take Paul hostage….

The assailant entered the home asking: “Where’s Nancy? Where’s Nancy?” Those are the very same words used by the mob when they stormed the United States Capitol on January 6th, when they broke windows, kicked in the doors, brutally attacked law enforcement, roamed the corridors hunting for officials and erected gallows….

It was an enraged mob that had been whipped up into a frenzy by a president repeating over and over again the Big Lie, that the election of 2020 had been stolen. It’s a lie that’s fueled the dangerous rise in political violence and voter intimidation over the past two years.

Even before January 6th, we saw election officials and election workers in a number of states subjected to menacing calls, physical threats, even threats to their lives…. 

This intimidation, this violence against Democrats, Republicans and nonpartisan officials just doing their jobs, are the consequence of lies told for power and profit, lies of conspiracy and malice, lies repeated over and over to generate a cycle of anger, hate, vitriol and even violence.

In this moment, we have to confront those lies with the truth. The very future of our nation depends on it. My fellow Americans, we’re facing a defining moment, an inflection point. We must with one overwhelming unified voice speak as a country and say there’s no place, no place for voter intimidation or political violence in America. Whether it’s directed at Democrats or Republicans. No place, period. No place ever.

I speak today near Capitol Hill, near the U.S. Capitol, the citadel of our democracy. I know there’s a lot at stake in these midterm elections, from our economy, to the safety of our streets, to our personal freedoms, to the future of health care and Social Security, Medicare. It’s all important. But we’ll have our differences, we’ll have our difference of opinion. And that’s what it’s supposed to be.

But there’s something else at stake, democracy itself. I’m not the only one who sees it. Recent polls have shown an overwhelming majority of Americans believe our democracy is at risk, that our democracy is under threat. They too see that democracy is on the ballot this year, and they’re deeply concerned about it. [Note: The president failed to point out that Democrats are worried about a real threat to democracy, while Republicans are worried about an imaginary one premised on the Big Lie. Voting by mail? Truckloads of counterfeit ballots?]

So today, I appeal to all Americans, regardless of party, to meet this moment of national and generational importance. We must vote knowing what’s at stake and not just the policy of the moment. Institutions that have held us together as we’ve sought a more perfect union are also at stake. We must vote knowing who we have been, what we’re at risk of becoming.

Look, my fellow Americans, the old expression, “Freedom is not free,” it requires constant vigilance. From the very beginning, nothing has been guaranteed about democracy in America. Every generation has had to defend it, protect it, preserve it, choose it. For that’s what democracy is. It’s a choice, a decision of the people, by the people and for the people. The issue couldn’t be clearer, in my view.

We the people must decide whether we will have fair and free elections, and every vote counts. We the people must decide whether we’re going to sustain a republic, where reality’s accepted, the law is obeyed and your vote is truly sacred.

We the people must decide whether the rule of law will prevail or whether we will allow the dark forces and thirst for power put ahead of the principles that have long guided us.

You know, American democracy is under attack because the defeated former president of the United States refused to accept the results of the 2020 election. If he refuses to accept the will of the people, if he refuses to accept the fact that he lost, he’s abused his power and put the loyalty to himself before loyalty to the Constitution. And he’s made a big lie an article of faith in the MAGA Republican Party, the minority of that party [Unfortunately, recent polls say up to 60% of Republicans accept the lie.]

The great irony about the 2020 election is that it’s the most attacked election in our history. And, yet, there’s no election in our history that we can be more certain of its results. Every legal challenge that could have been brought was brought. Every recount that could have been undertaken was undertaken. Every recount confirmed the results. Wherever fact or evidence had been demanded, the Big Lie has been proven to be just that, a big lie. Every single time.

Yet now extreme MAGA Republicans aim to question not only the legitimacy of past elections, but elections being held now and into the future. The extreme MAGA element of the Republican Party [is] its driving force. It’s trying to succeed where they failed in 2020, to suppress the right of voters and subvert the electoral system itself. That means denying your right to vote and deciding whether your vote even counts.

Instead of waiting until an election is over, they’re starting well before it. They’re starting now. They’ve emboldened violence and intimidation of voters and election officials. It’s estimated that there are more than 300 election deniers on the ballot all across America this year. We can’t ignore the impact this is having on our country. It’s damaging, it’s corrosive and it’s destructive.

And I want to be very clear, this is not about me, it’s about all of us…. It’s about the durability of our democracy. For democracies are more than a form of government. They’re a way of being, a way of seeing the world, a way that defines who we are, what we believe, why we do what we do. Democracy is simply that fundamental.

We must, in this moment, dig deep within ourselves and recognize that we can’t take democracy for granted any longer. With democracy on the ballot, we have to remember these first principles. Democracy means the rule of the people, not the rule of monarchs or the moneyed, but the rule of the people.

Autocracy is the opposite of democracy. It means the rule of one, one person, one interest, one ideology, one party. To state the obvious, the lives of billions of people, from antiquity till now, have been shaped by the battle between these competing forces, between the aspirations of the many and the greed and power of the few, between the people’s right for self-determination, and the self-seeking autocrat, between the dreams of a democracy and the appetites of an autocracy.

What we’re doing now is going to determine whether democracy will long endure and, in my view, it is the biggest of questions, whether the American system that prizes the individual bends toward justice and depends on the rule of law, whether that system will prevail. This is the struggle we’re now in….

There’s been anger before in America. There’s been division before in America. But we’ve never given up on the American experiment. And we can’t do that now.… We have to face this problem. We can’t turn away from it. We can’t pretend it’s just going to solve itself.

There’s an alarming rise in the number of our people in this country condoning political violence, or simply remaining silent, because silence is complicity. To the disturbing rise of voter intimidation, the pernicious tendency to excuse political violence or at least, at least trying to explain it away. We can’t allow this sentiment to grow. We must confront it head on now. It has to stop now….

Look, even as I speak here tonight, 27 million people have already cast their ballot in the midterm elections. Millions more will cast their ballots in the final days leading up to November the 9th — 8th, excuse me…. Once again we’re seeing record turnout all over the country. And that’s good. We want Americans to vote. We want every American’s voice to be heard. Now we have to move the process forward. We know that more and more ballots are cast in early voting or by mail in America. We know that many states don’t start counting those ballots till after the polls close on Nov. 8.

That means in some cases we won’t know the winner of the election for a few days — until a few days after the election. It takes time to count all legitimate ballots in a legal and orderly manner. It’s always been important for citizens in the democracy to be informed and engaged. Now it’s important for a citizen to be patient as well. That’s how this is supposed to work.

This is the first election since the events of January 6th, 2021….I wish I could say the assault on our democracy ended that day, but I cannot.

As I stand here today, there are candidates running for every level of office in America — for governor, Congress, attorney general, secretary of state — who won’t commit, that will not commit to accepting the results of the election that they’re running in. This is a path to chaos in America. It’s unprecedented. It’s unlawful, and it’s un-American.

… So I ask you to think long and hard about the moment we’re in. In a typical year, we’re not faced with questions of whether the vote we cast will preserve democracy or put us at risk. But this year we are. This year I hope you’ll make the future of our democracy an important part of your decision to vote and how you vote….You have the power, it’s your choice, it’s your decision, the fate of the nation, the fate of the soul of America lies where it always does, with the people, in your hands, in your heart, in your ballot….