There You Go Again, Joe

money bags

Paul Waldman, Biden’s comments about segregationists and the rich are deeply problematic

Jonathan Chait, Joe Biden’s Segregationist Nostalgia Is Even More Ignorant Than It Sounds

This afternoon, the talking heads are talking about Joe Biden’s eyebrow-raising comments to a bunch of rich supporters in New York. There are many things that might be said—see, for example, the two sources cited above—but let me just make two quick points.

How to Pitch the Rich

Waldman remarks,

Biden knows his audience. His pitch to them is not that we must reduce inequality because it’s a fundamental wrong, but because if we don’t, the masses will rise up in anger and you never know what might happen then.

My observation: it’s true that inequality has gotten way out of hand, and if it isn’t reduced, the poor are likely to rise up at some point and make things very uncomfortable for the rich. In other words, narrow, amoral economic self-interest on the part of the plutocracy would dictate that the plutocracy do something to let the pressure cooker vent, before it’s too late.

Biden was advocating that some rich people should give him some money. When you’re advocating, you don’t make the argument that is the best and most noble. You make the (true) argument that is most likely to appeal to your audience.

Biden is not to be faulted for telling his audience something that is true and is likely to appeal to them, rather than telling them something else that is also true, but will have less appeal. At least that’s my opinion.

But Biden’s viewpoint suffers, in my view, from quite a different, and very fundamental, defect.

Failing the Sunzi Test

Know yourself, know your enemy, hundred battles, hundred victories. Hillary Clinton lost for many reasons, but among the most important was her failure to understand what political currents she was dealing with. I very much fear that Joe Biden suffers from the same mental defect: you can make nice all you want with Mitch McConnell and his ilk, but they are not going to make nice with you.

If you do not understand whether the battlefield is hilly or level, you are likely to make big mistakes. I am very much afraid Biden does not understand where he is. And, lacking an understanding of the most fundamental facts about the current political environment, any success he may have will largely come as a matter of accident.

I do not like to depend just on dumb luck. An appropriate strategy, along with well-chosen and skillfully implemented tactics, are much to be preferred.

A Lunchtime Discussion

Today, I had the privilege of eating lunch with a person whom I greatly admire—one who has walked with princes and presidents, whose wisdom has been sought by foreign heads of state, but who has remained grounded through it all.

As we finished our lunch, my friend allowed as how Elizabeth Warren is looking better and better. I agree.

I’m still concerned that she told the Texas Bar Association that she was an Indian. I’m tempted to say that we have all done some squirrely things in our time, but, to tell the truth, I really can’t think of anything comparable that I might have done.

Still, nobody’s perfect.

Joe Biden as Rorschach Test

rorschachI haven’t reached a fully considered opinion about Joe Biden as a presidential candidate. But here are two people who have done so—and come out in very different ways:

Paul Waldman, Why Joe Biden can’t escape controversies over his past

David Brooks, Your Average American Joe

But as a start toward a more fully considered opinion, I recall to mind a fundamental axiom from 35 years as a professional advocate: Don’t Tell ‘Em. Show ‘Em.

Biden has begun his current presidential quest by telling people to vote for him because he is not Donald Trump.

I, for one, find that quite a compelling argument. And so, apparently, does David Brooks.

But I surely to shit would not rely on that argument to carry me over the finish line. Because I think my fellow Mericans, as a whole, care a great deal more about health care and inequality than they care about Donald Trump’s many failings.


Greetings to readers today in India, Italy, and the United States. I feel your pain at the political dysfunction in your countries, and hope you feel mine.


A Message from My Daughter, Pollyanna Aardvark

Hayley Mills Pollyanna

Yeah, I know lots of y’all are deeply pessimistic, and God knows you have a right to be. But I have to say that, on  the available evidence, Paul Waldman has it right: President Trump is dragging Republicans down with him. Waldman writes,

Trump’s aides have decided that this is the issue that will guarantee the president’s reelection:

President Trump and his political team plan to make his years-long quest for a border wall one of the driving themes of his reelection effort — attempting to turn his failure to build such a project into a combative sales pitch that pits him against the political establishment on immigration.

In other words, Trump will try to repeat the extraordinary success he achieved last fall, when he did everything in his power to make the midterm election about supposedly terrifying caravans of asylum seekers and the need for walls to keep them away. The result, you may recall, was an enormous victory for Democrats. …

Multiple Republicans there have gone on record about the declaration, saying “I would have my doubts” (Sen. Ron Johnson) or “I’m not enthusiastic about it” (Sen. Pat Toomey) or “I have some concerns” (Sen. Roy Blunt), or even “I wish he wouldn’t have done it” (Sen. Chuck Grassley). They think that presidential power has expanded too far, and they worry about setting a precedent that the next Democratic president will use in ways they abhor. But are they actually going to vote with Democrats against Trump? …

Trump may be quite happy to have [a bill disapproving his emergency declaration] pass and then veto it, so he can say he’s bravely standing up to the “establishment.” He’ll be running a scorched-earth, maximally divisive campaign in 2020, counting on fear and hatred to once again carry him to victory. If he thinks it’s to his benefit to turn on his own party to do it, and attack Republicans in Congress as a bunch of lily-livered wimps whose loathing of immigrants is insufficiently pure, that’s what he’ll do.

And as we reach November 2020, we could see a repeat of 2018, with Trump insisting that political victory will be his if only he tells a few more lurid stories of immigrant crime and holds a few more rallies so that his rabid supporters can chant “Build that wall!” (or “Finish that wall!” or “Paint that wall!” or whatever he decides the latest slogan should be), despite all evidence pointing toward defeat. Should that happen, Republicans whose own necks are on the line will wonder whether they might have done anything to prevent being taken down with him. But by then it will be too late. In fact, it probably already is.

Aardvark’s Animadversion

First, for the record, let me reiterate the view that by November, 2020, Trump may be wearing an orange jumpsuit. If that’s right, then when we speak of Trump’s reelection campaign, we are writing about a hypothetical, contrary to fact. But, to put that thought aside …

Republican politicians’ self-interest—indeed, their hope of political salvation—lies in getting Trump off the stage quickly, one way or the other.

If logic suggests that a thing must be happening—like a Republican conspiracy against Trump—then, very probably, that thing is in fact happening.

Stay tuned.

No Exit


This morning the Washington Post’s editorial board informs us that The way out of the shutdown has been obvious for weeks.

Oh, really? And what way out would that be?

Why, simplicity itself, declares the board. Trump gets his wall and the Dreamers get legal protection.

Don’t think so. The wingnuts vetoed that deal a long time ago, and they would sure as hell veto it again.

At the same time, Post op-ed writer Paul Waldman takes another pass: The best way to force Trump’s hand? Ignore him.

In other words, Mitch and Chuck and Nancy should just reach a deal among themselves, pass it, and dare Trump to veto it—which, according to Waldman, he would be too cowardly to do.

Won’t work. Trump is a coward, all right, but his cowardice is trumped by his terror at the prospect of the death of the Cult of Trump.

Maybe Mitch and Chuck and Nancy will do what Waldman advises them to do. I have no ideal about that.

But logic tells me it ain’t gonna work.

We are conditioned to think that every crisis has a solution. But that is not necessarily the case. Sometimes, we just do the same stupid thing over and over again.

charlie brown


Outrage and Obamacare: Two Highly Recommended Reads

rise again

Professor Joanne Freeman provides highly cogent perspective on the historical context of Trumpian outrage politics. Paul Waldman elucidates the popularity of Obamacare.

This is the choice that progressives are offering to Republican voters:

Would you rather vote to affirm your racism, even though the politicians you support are robbing you and then killing you? As you lie on your deathbed, expiring from your preexisting condition, impoverished by trying to pay your medical bills, will you take solace by thinking, “At least I owned those liberals”?

Or would you rather keep your racism, but vote for the people who aren’t trying to kill you?

Morning Read Number One

Joanne Freeman, Professor of History and American Studies, Yale University, America Descends Into the Politics of Rage: Trump and other practitioners may reap short-term gains, but history suggests they will provoke a fearsome backlash:

For a time, [the politics of anger] attracts followers and cements loyalties, breeding a spiraling mass of dangerous passions, inspiring some Americans to cast their opponents as a dangerous “other,” dividing the nation, and linking manhood with authority in rhetoric as well as fact.

But bullying powerholders often pay a price, fueling a backlash through the contagion of rage. It happened in the 1850s. And recent weeks have suggested much the same. Kavanaugh’s howling outrage enraged women. Even before his hearing, they were running for office in remarkably high numbers, driven by their anger over the current direction of national politics and their hope to accomplish something better. Now, their impulse is fast becoming more of a cause. Trump’s threats against the press have had a similar impact, inspiring outrage from his opposition and heightened calls to action.

Republican outrage is enraging and empowering resistance. But it’s important to note: resistance and violence aren’t one and the same. Channeled properly and put to purpose, outrage can prove formative, inspiring civic engagement, political involvement, and organized protest, and thereby leading to reform and change. And in a democratic politics, it is assertive, heartfelt, organized resistance—not brute violence—that best brings positive outcomes.

Morning Read Number Two

Paul Waldman, Obamacare has finally won:

First, polls over the past year or so have shown the law to be consistently popular — more so than, for instance, the tax cut Republicans thought would be the key to a midterm election victory. When even Fox News polls show the law getting more support than ever, the world is obviously not as Republicans would like it to be.

Second, instead of demanding that the ACA be torn from its foundations and set ablaze, the public seems more inclined to entrench its protections and expand its coverage. As the Associated Press reports, in the four conservative states where voters got initiatives on the ballot to accept the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid and insure thousands more people, the conservative lawmakers who refused to do so for years have been shocked by the popularity of the measures, with polls showing them with a good likelihood of winning.

Evening Thoughts

final straw

From Paul Waldman:

Why Trump may actually want Kavanaugh to go down in flames:

Trump has watched as a backlash against him, especially among women, has pulled down his approval ratings and taken us to the brink of a historic Democratic midterm victory. But now he sees his chance to create a backlash to that backlash. So he’s riding the twin vehicles of anger and fear: anger at women like Christine Blasey Ford who have the gall to accuse a man like Brett Kavanaugh, and fear that now every man is a potential victim of some screeching harpy who makes a false claim against him.

From Adam Serwer:

The Cruelty Is the Point: President Trump and his supporters find community by rejoicing in the suffering of those they hate and fear.

Trump’s only true skill is the con, his only fundamental belief is that the United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men, and his only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright. The president’s ability to execute that cruelty through word and deed makes them euphoric. It makes them feel good, it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united. And as long as he makes them feel that way, they will let him get away with anything, no matter what it costs them.

From Aardvark

There is much wisdom in both pieces, I think. That would be the reason why I call them to your attention. But let me add this.

While others practice the politics of addition, Trump does the politics of subtraction.

As you keep on subtracting and subtracting, there comes a point when you don’t have enough supporters left to win any elections.

Now Trump wants to read out of the Republican Party anyone who thinks sexual assault is an important issue. That would be 28 percent of Republican men and 41 percent of Republican women. Just keep on subtractin, big guy. Keep on subtractin’.

gender study