Something Encouraging For a Change

In today’s news, Senator Turtle Face (formally known as Addison Mitchell McConnell, Jr., Republican of Kentucky) delayed the vote on the “Less Money for Health Insurance Equals More Money for Rich People” bill. Presumably, he didn’t have enough Yes votes to pass legislation that nobody (except him and a few rich people?) likes.

This will either give the Republicans a few days to find the necessary Yes votes, or it will give opponents of the bill (of which there are many) the chance to create more No votes. Since the Senate Majority Leader had planned a quick vote on a bill he tried to keep as secret as possible, the postponement appears on balance to be a welcome development.

Proving again that he is indeed the Master Negotiator, the President put on a show at the White House today with Republican Senators, at which he announced:

This will be great if we get it done. And if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like, and that’s OK, and I understand that very well.

As far as we know, the President has not yet demonstrated in a single case whatsoever that he has any understanding at all of the the American healthcare system, the Affordable Care Act, or the Republican effort to repeal or replace it. Clearly, he is a Big Picture guy.

Consistent with the possibility that this is not Hell, some observers think the Republicans’ struggles are a sign of better things to come. Paul Waldman of The Washington Post writes:

The Republican health-care bill is not dead yet, but it’s in rough shape. Whether it passes or not, it has been an utter debacle for the GOP, making the Affordable Care Act they’re trying to undo more popular than ever, energizing the Democratic base, complicating the relationship between President [DT] and Congress and sowing justified distrust of Republican motives among the broader public.

It has also done something else: moved the debate on health care in America to the left and made single payer much more likely.

Even if the Senate bill fails, Republicans give up and move on to tax reform, and the status quo remains in place, this debate will have had profound effects on our politics. While the Democratic Party may have been moving to the left on health care anyway, its momentum in that direction may now be unstoppable. And the entire country will be more receptive than ever to the arguments Democrats will make. This, by the way, will also be the case if the GOP repeal effort succeeds, because it will make so much that people hate about our health-care system a lot worse.

Let me point to one politician as an illustration. For years, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s position on single payer has essentially been “Maybe someday” — not opposed to it, but focused in the short term on the more urgent priority of defending and enhancing the ACA. But in an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, we learn that she is now ready to take that plunge:

“President Obama tried to move us forward with health-care coverage by using a conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by a Republican governor in Massachusetts,” she said during an interview in her Senate office last week. “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.”

Warren is not going to be the last Democrat to take this step. In fact, any Democrat who runs for president in 2020 — and there will be a lot of them — will have a hard time explaining to the primary electorate why they don’t want single payer, and most or all of them will probably say they do.

We can make an analogy with what happened in the GOP after the failure of comprehensive immigration reform [in 2013]…. The situations aren’t exactly the same, but … a dramatic political failure — whether it’s yours or the other party’s — can have profound effects on the choices politicians make about how to approach the electorate. And it’s important to understand that while there are some Democratic politicians who emphatically favor single payer and would be unsatisfied with anything less, most of them would be willing to advocate for a range of policy options, depending on what looks politically achievable and what their base demands at a particular moment.

All the ups and downs of the past eight years, from the beginning of the debate on the ACA to the end of the debate on Republican repeal plans, hold many lessons for Democrats who are still eager to address the problems in the American health-care system. Among other things, we know that voters are risk-averse, that they’re extremely sensitive to out-of-pocket costs, that they want security and that arguments about the glories of the free market aren’t going to be persuasive to them. After seeing how desperately unpopular this Republican plan is, Democrats are going to be much less afraid to defend government health care and advocate its expansion.

And they know that whatever they propose next has to be simple and understandable. We can debate whether the ACA had to be as complex as it was, but next time around, no Democrat is going to believe that you can take on President Trump with a technocratic approach to health care. Saying “Here are the 10 tweaks I’d make to the ACA” isn’t going to cut it.

That isn’t to say that whatever plans they propose won’t be fully fleshed out under the hood, but they’ll have to be presented in a way that is easy for voters to understand. And, yes, Republicans will cry about “Washington bureaucrats making decisions for you,” but Democrats are less likely to be intimidated. Ask your parents or grandparents on Medicare how they feel about their coverage — Medicare is the most popular health insurance program we have, and it’s run by Washington bureaucrats.

It’s important to keep in mind that “single payer” isn’t one thing — if you look around the world at highly developed countries, there is a spectrum of health systems with various levels of public and private involvement. But what they have in common is that they achieve universal coverage while working better and costing less than ours. We could well have 15 Democratic presidential candidates proposing 15 different kinds of single payer. Some may be highly socialized systems — what Bernie Sanders would likely advocate if he runs again — but the ones that are most appealing could be hybrid systems of the kind that have been successful in countries such as France. The way it works is that there’s a government plan that covers everyone’s basic needs, but you can also buy supplemental private insurance to get as many more benefits as you want.

Among the advantages of a hybrid system is that one can actually see a path from where we are now to there. That path runs through Medicaid, which now covers nearly 75 million Americans. What if we auto-enrolled everyone under 65 in Medicaid — it’s there if you need it, but if you have different insurance you’d prefer, go ahead and use that instead. No one would be without coverage. Private insurance would evolve into something you buy to fill in the gaps and get perks that Medicaid wouldn’t provide. Instead of covering all your health care, employers could provide the supplemental private insurance.

As a political matter, you could sell this as something that we could transition to over an extended period, and as a system that satisfies the goals of both liberals and conservatives. Liberals get the universal coverage and security they want, and conservatives get the freedom they want — if you’re rich enough to buy a supplemental plan that includes deliveries of Dom Perignon during any hospitalization, go right ahead.

That isn’t to say that Republicans wouldn’t resist and there won’t be more intense arguments about health care, because they would and there will be. But by handling this debate so terribly and proposing something so monstrous, Republicans have opened up the space for Democrats to go much further than they’ve been willing to before. It’s not impossible to foresee Democrats winning the House in 2018, then taking the presidency and the Senate in 2020 — and then taking the first steps toward making single-payer health care in America a reality. 

End quote.

In Reaction to the Reactionary-in-Chief’s Latest Offense

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has only had seven Directors (as opposed to acting Directors) in its 82-year history. From what I can gather, none of the seven have been Democrats or liberals. Even Democratic Presidents have selected conservative Republicans for the job. There have only been three Democratic Presidents who had the chance to select an FBI Director and Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were all known for their “bipartisan” tendencies. No doubt the three of them also wanted to appear “tough on crime”.

So it’s unlikely that our Republican President will nominate a Democrat to lead the law enforcement agency that’s looking into his Russian connection. But he could pick a respected Democrat. It would make the President look less like the criminal that he is.

I can’t think of anything else to say about this crisis that’s not already being said. For instance:

John Cassidy, The New Yorker:

Ever since [DT] took office, many people have worried about his commitment to democratic norms, the Constitution, and the rule of law. From the hasty promulgation of his anti-Muslim travel ban onward, he has done little to salve these concerns. Now he has acted like one of the authoritarian leaders he so admires—a Putin, an Erdoğan, or an El-Sisi.

Congress must restrain him and reassert the principles of American democracy by appointing an independent special prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation. If the legislature won’t act unprompted—and the initial signs are that most of the G.O.P. intends to yield to the President’s abuse of his power—it will be incumbent on the American people to register their protests forcefully, and to put pressure on their elected officials. [DT] is a menace. He must be stopped.

David Cole, The New York Review of Books:

Current investigations in both the House and the Senate are controlled by Republicans, and as House Intelligence chair Devin Nunes has shown, party loyalty can all too easily compromise a meaningful inquiry. In early April, Nunes was forced to step down from his committee’s investigation… That’s why Comey was such a threat to [DT]. He was the only official independent of the administration and its party reviewing the campaign’s ties to Russia….

The vitality of the rule of law in the United States will depend on whether the American people are willing to hold the Trump administration accountable. As Archibald Cox said, shortly after Richard Nixon fired him as Watergate special prosecutor: “Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people.” We remain a democracy, at least for the time being, and if we the people insist on an independent investigation, we will get one. But only if we insist—including by demanding that our elected representatives take full responsibility for addressing this crisis with every power at their disposal. As Ben Franklin reportedly warned some 240 years ago, the Framers gave us “a republic, if you can keep it.” [DT]’s latest action puts that question once again to the test.

So far, Congressional Republicans are either supporting the President’s obstruction of justice or expressing “concerns”. (If he were to murder a nun in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, the most thoughtful Republicans might be moved to express “deep concerns”.)

It’s not clear, therefore, that putting pressure on Republicans will make much of a difference. If you want to see what members of Congress are saying, however, The New York Times is keeping track.

As of 3:40 p.m. today

138 Democrats (or independents) have called for a special prosecutor 

84 Democrats (etc.) and 5 Republicans have called for an independent investigation.

41 Republicans and 9 Democrats have questions or concerns (the Democrats have deep concerns)

96 Republicans are neutral or support the President’s action

146 Republicans and 12 comatose Democrats haven’t said a thing 

Zero members of Congress have called for the President’s immediate impeachment (I added this category myself. It doesn’t hurt to mention it.)

If There Was Any Doubt

Polls indicate that Americans are evenly split regarding DT’s cruise missile attack on the Syrian airfield last week. A Washington Post poll found 51% in favor, which corresponds to results from Gallup (50%) and YouGov (51%). CBS found 57% in favor, but their poll didn’t mention the unpopular DT by name. We can conclude that the Washington Post poll was reasonably accurate.

Here’s the interesting thing:

In 2013, when Barack Obama was president, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that only 22 percent of Republicans supported the U.S. launching missile strikes against Syria in response to Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against civilians.

[The] new Post-ABC poll finds that 86 percent of Republicans support [DT’s] decision to launch strikes on Syria for the same reason. Only 11 percent are opposed.

Republican support for attacking Syria went from 22% to 86% when a Republican replaced a Democrat in the White House!

You might say that’s how people are. The Democrats probably switched sides just like the Republicans.

You would be wrong:

For context, 37 percent of Democrats back Trump’s missile strikes. In 2013, 38 percent of Democrats supported Obama’s plan.

In other words, changing Presidents didn’t matter to the Democrats at all (a 1% difference is well within the margin of error).

Do you get the feeling that our Republican friends belong to a tribe in which group loyalty is a paramount virtue? And that other values play a secondary role? For that matter, that facts aren’t as important to them as group loyalty?

Some of the explanation for their astounding fickleness is, no doubt, that the right-wing propaganda they swallowed in 2013 was anti-missile attack, while the right-wing propaganda only four years later was pro-missile-attack. But being this easy to manipulate is just as bad as putting tribal loyalty above everything else. It’s all part of the same sad and dangerous phenomenon. Millions of right-wing Americans care more about group loyalty than reality or morality. If there was any doubt.

America Isn’t a Democracy? Not Really, But It’s Suffering

Having finally finished the previous post, I was deleting bookmarks when I came upon an article I’d forgotten to read: “America’s Not a Democracy, and That’s Bad News for Democrats”. It’s by Ed Kilgore of New York Magazine. He’s a professional writer who makes some of the points I made, but in a more professional manner.

The least significant part of his article is captured by that eye-catching phrase “America’s Not a Democracy”. The distinction he’s drawing is that between a democracy and a republic. But what’s a republic? Here’s a standard definition from The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (3rd edition). A “republic” is: 

A form of government in which power is explicitly vested in the people, who in turn exercise their power through elected representatives.

But the dictionary goes on to explain that:

Today, the terms “republic” and “democracy” are virtually interchangeable, but historically the two differed. Democracy implied direct rule by the people, all of whom were equal, whereas republic implied a system of government in which the will of the people was mediated by representatives, who might be wiser and better educated than the average person. In the early American republic, for example, the requirement that voters own property and the establishment of institutions such as the Electoral College were intended to cushion the government from the direct expression of the popular will.

Well, we can certainly agree that the Electoral College is on its way to cushioning the government from the popular will this year, since it appears that Hillary Clinton (now leading the monster by almost 2.5 million votes) will be spending January 20th at home in Chappaqua – or maybe somewhere nice and warm where English is a foreign language.

Anyway, we now use the phrase “representative democracy” to say what America is. It means that we average citizens have a big role in choosing other citizens to run big parts of the government. 

The more significant part of the article is a recitation of the various ways in which “the … imbalance between the party that keeps winning the presidential popular vote and the party that keeps winning everything else is entirely the product of a system that systematically violates the supposedly sacrosanct principle of voter equality”. In other words, One Person, One Vote is a nice sentiment but that’s about it. Mr. Kilgore concludes, therefore:

For all of these interlocking reasons, the half-or-so of the American citizenry that is prone to support the Democratic Party and its more-or-less progressive agenda and ideology is and may continue to be underrepresented at the federal level to the point of powerlessness, and confined at the state and even local levels to enclaves that contain an awful lot of people but exert limited clout. And all this is totally aside from the extrinsic factors that place a thumb on the scale for Republicans, such as their support from business and financial interests and our currently uncontrolled system of campaign financing.

He then lists some ways Democrats might improve the situation. My favorite is “to win majorities in more states”. Unfortunately for our representative democracy, he doesn’t explain how that can be done. 

An Open Letter to the Leading Democrat in the House

As foreign diplomats and business people begin funneling cash to the President-Elect by taking rooms and scheduling events at T—p’s new Washington hotel (see “kleptocracy”), someone shared the following letter with me. It’s addressed to Nancy Pelosi, the current leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives.

I am writing to you on the assumption that you will continue to be leader of the Democratic members of the House of Representatives, and am urging you and the Democratic Caucus to immediately start drafting Articles of Impeachment for our presumptive President, Vice President, and other executive positions subject to impeachment.

Like many Americans, I am deeply troubled by the results of the November election. Assuming the lobbying of the Electoral College comes to naught and we do end up with this amazingly unqualified individual as President, my feeling is that everyone should do whatever they can to minimize damage to the country during his tenure.

Impeachment of executive branch officials, both elected and appointed, is the domain of the House of Representatives. There is surely zero chance that Articles of Impeachment drafted by the Democratic Caucus would pass the Judiciary Committee. But I do believe a steady stream of draft impeachment documents presented to the committee would help keep the incompetence of the Executive Branch and its appointments in the public eye. Even if the majority party does not allow draft Articles of Impeachment to come under committee consideration, their existence and content can still be publicized.

When considering the President and Vice President, and the people who are being named for other positions subject to impeachment, there is no doubt in my mind that it would be no trouble to create a steadily growing list of impeachable offenses for several years to come.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Meanwhile, a few Republicans in the Electoral College can still interfere with the monster’s journey to the White House. 

We’re at the Brink, So We Need to Get Serious

If you’re familiar with American politics and mass media, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that, between January 1st and October 24th of this year, the nightly news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC devoted three times as much coverage to Hillary Clinton’s emails than to all issues of government policy combined (from the Tyndall Report):

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It’s safe to say this imbalance has grown even larger since October 28th. That’s when the Republican FBI Director Robert Comey sent Congress his cryptic letter regarding Anthony Weiner’s laptop. As Comey should have realized (and no doubt did), releasing that letter eleven days before the election led to an explosion of speculation and related discussion, none of which has revealed relevant facts about anything at all except that Trump and his supporters will use any excuse to paint Clinton as corrupt.

The incessant email stories on the broadcast networks and cable news and in leading newspapers has had a bizarre result. From the Gallup polling company:

We found that “email” was by far the most frequently used word when we asked Americans what they had read or heard about Clinton back in August 2015.…As [we] put it then: “When Gallup recently asked Americans to say what they recall reading or hearing about her, one word — ’email’ — drowned out everything else.”

Now we are asking Americans every day the same basic question — what they have read, seen or heard about Clinton — and once again, “email” dominates. For interviews conducted Oct. 28-31, “email” drowns out everything else, particularly anything relating to policy or substance. Indeed, the second-, third- and fourth-most-frequently used words associated with Clinton also relate to emails: “FBI,” “investigation” and “scandal.”

Believe it or not, 46% of voters in a recent poll said that Trump, the most obvious con man ever to run for the Presidency, is more trustworthy than Clinton (only 38% gave her higher marks). When people are asked to explain why they don’t trust Clinton, the most frequent response is, of course, “emails”.

As a minuscule corrective to the mountain of email nonsense that the media, Wikileaks (assisted by Russia, of course) and the FBI (officially and via politically-motivated leaks) have disseminated, here are an article and a video worth considering. You might also share them with friends, acquaintances, antagonists and random citizens before the voting ends on Tuesday.

First, Matthew Yglesias of Vox analyzes the Clinton email story with the aptly titled: “The Real Clinton Email Scandal Is That a Bullshit Story Has Dominated the Campaign”. He explains what Clinton did and shows why we shouldn’t care. An excerpt:

Clinton broke no laws according to the FBI itself. Her setup gave her no power to evade federal transparency laws beyond what anyone who has a personal email account of any kind has. Her stated explanation for her conduct is entirely believable, fits the facts perfectly, and is entirely plausible to anyone who doesn’t simply start with the assumption that she’s guilty of something.

Given [Secretary Colin] Powell’s conduct, Clinton wasn’t even breaking with an informal precedent. The very worst you can say is that, faced with an annoying government IT policy, she used her stature to find a personal workaround rather than a systemic fix that would work for everyone. To spend so much time on such a trivial matter would be absurd in a city council race, much less a presidential election. To do so in circumstances when it advances the electoral prospects of a rival who has shattered all precedents in terms of lacking transparency or basic honesty is infinitely more scandalous than anything related to the server itself.

And here is an eight-minute video uploaded today by Humanity for Hillary. It features Daveed Diggs and is called “Clinton vs. Trump on the Issues”:

Finally, a few words from Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine

However low my opinion of the Republican Party, it was not low enough….This is not a joke. This is one of the moments in history when the republic is at the brink.

Republican voters chose Trump. Republican donors have supported Trump. Republican politicians, even those who condemned him as a charlatan totally unfit to be President, have endorsed Trump. Others have remained silent. There are no excuses for what they’ve done. But now we have the chance to teach them a lesson. We need to vote for Democrats up and down the ballot. Only an historic, stinging defeat for the Republican Party will protect America and the world from getting this close to the brink the next time someone as dangerously abnormal as Trump wants the ability to launch nuclear missiles.

We Are Stronger Together, But Let’s Get to Work!

You’ve probably heard variations on a well-known slogan this year. Two I’ve heard are “Make America White Again” and “Make America Great for White People Again”.

It’s unlikely, however, that you’ve heard variations on Hillary Clinton’s slogan or even know what her slogan is. She never wears a silly hat that has it plastered on the front.

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Yes, that’s it: “Stronger Together”.

I agree with the sentiment, of course, since we are stronger as a nation when we work together. But “Stronger Together” hasn’t caught on, certainly not as much as “Make America As Great As It Was For White Men In 1955”.

In fact, there were at least two articles this week that said Hillary needs a better slogan, something that would express an overarching theme, something you could put on a t-shirt or a stupid hat. The Guardian actually called their editorial “Hillary Needs a Slogan to Sum Up What She Stands For”:

Mrs. Clinton seems to have a hundred carefully costed policies but not one eye-catching slogan. She radiates a sensible incrementalism. She campaigns in prose, leaving poetry to her predecessor. This is a mistake. She needs to focus on what is driving discontent in America: an economic system that no longer defuses high levels of inequality with opportunities for all….Mrs. Clinton needs to find a resonant theme to sum up her policies: a Marshall Plan for the middle classes would not be a bad idea. Monday is her chance to show she is motivated by the common good. Mrs. Clinton should seize it.

I’m not sure many Americans could identify the Marshall Plan today, but you get their drift. A columnist for Bloomberg View contributed “Clinton Needs a Better Slogan” the very same day:

The Democratic nominee does have 40 bullet-point programs on everything from child care to mental health to the Middle East. But she has no memorable rallying cry to capture her candidacy and rationale to be president.

To test that, simply ask a bunch of Clinton supporters to summarize in a sentence or two what her candidacy is about. You usually get multiple paragraphs in response.

This is more a political than a substantive issue. Slogans are no substitute for governing policies….Still, a catchphrase can be a powerful and moving expression of a candidate’s authentic ambitions.

Yes, a simple catchphrase could finally help undecided voters make up their minds between two candidates as different as Hillary and Voldemort.

So I got to thinking. What might be better than “Stronger Together”?

First, it occurred to me that Hillary has said her primary goal as President will be to get the economy working for all of us, partly by improving the labor market in a number of ways.

Second, Hillary is known as a hard worker. Even Republican politicians agree that she has a remarkably strong work ethic. Indeed, people often suggest she works too hard and needs to lighten up (all those position papers, for example).

So I came up with this:

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I like “Let’s Get To Work” for several reasons.

It summarizes Hillary’s primary goal as President, an improved economy for all of us, not just those at the economic top.

It reminds people that she’s a hard worker who has lots of ideas and the energy and temperament to get things done, even to get things done with the Republicans in Congress, as she did when she was First Lady and a Senator.

It brings to mind the backlog of work to be done in Washington, all the projects and initiatives that have gone nowhere because of Republican opposition (increased infrastructure spending, a higher minimum wage, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, etc. etc.).

For older voters, it might even evoke memories of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal or, more recently, the growing economy we enjoyed during Bill Clinton’s administration. And there could hardly be a more welcome promise to the unemployed and underemployed than “Let’s Get To Work”.

I believe it’s positive, inclusive and relatively specific. Plus, it sounds less like a reaction to her opponent’s campaign of bigotry and exclusion than “Stronger Together”.

Since we’re living in the era of electronic sharing, I submitted my proposed slogan to Hillary and her campaign and also sent it soaring into the Twitter-verse. I’ve also shared it with a few live human beings of my acquaintance.

Of course, I know it’s late to fully adopt a new slogan, and so far all I’ve got back from the Clinton campaign is a form letter thanking me and encouraging me to volunteer.

But hope springs eternal! Perhaps, when Hillary offers her closing remarks on Monday night before an audience of 100 million or so people (minus me), she’ll wind up her two or three minutes with a ringing call to action: 

Let’s get to work!

Hey, maybe she’ll even cite a guy from New Jersey as the source of this new, exciting summation of her candidacy. Stranger things have happened!

And if you doubt me, consider this editorial in The New York Times from tomorrow’s paper: “Hillary Clinton for President: Our endorsement is rooted in respect for her intellect, experience and courage”. The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s the last paragraph:

Through war and recession, Americans born since 9/11 have had to grow up fast, and they deserve a grown-up president. A lifetime’s commitment to solving problems in the real world qualifies Hillary Clinton for this job, and the country should put her to work.

You can thank me after the election.