Checking in with politics here in the Golden State, the basic situation for next year’s governor’s race is that Jerry Brown is going to ice whoever Republicans manage to scare up to oppose him. Not only has the state become impossible territory for a Republican (due to some extent to a variation of heighten-the-contradictions that the state GOP played with Ahnuld, which clearly worked out for them), but Brown has been a genuinely good manager and has a number of solid accomplishments to his name. Ideologically suspect as always, but damn if he hasn’t been effective. I don’t know if you could say he “fixed” the state, but he has engineered a pretty remarkable turnaround, and he’ll win in a landslide in 2014. And should wind up being the longest-serving governor ever in CA history, a record that can no longer even be challenged.
The GOP’s sacrificial lamb might well be one Abel Maldonado, former Lt. Governor, failed candidate for Congress and my state senator once upon a time. I’ve often called Marco Rubio an overrated commodity, someone without the brains to govern effectively and probably without the guts to do it either, and almost certainly lacking the mythical minority-converting Republican Jesus powers that his party desperately hopes he has. But Rubio, at least, is able to play politics at a national level, cultivating an image and taking on some responsibility for passing immigration reform. This is vastly more than one can say for another heavily hyped Hispanic GOP politician, who seems to think that the best way of winning California in 2013 is to play to white conservatives’ ancient fears:
Former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, the Republican running to challenge incumbent 3-term Democratic Gov.Jerry Brown in 2014, filed papers Wednesday to form a committee in support of a ballot measure to end prison realignment. [...]
The issue of realignment and early prison release has been a hot button for Brown since a federal court order was issued mandating the move to alleviate state prison overcrowding.
The order demanded California reduce its prison population to 110,000 inmates by the end of 2013. The order cited needed improvements in treatment of sick and mentally ill inmates in the state’s 33 prisons for adult inmates.
Putting aside the politics for a second, let’s get real about this. California has a huge prison problem. Too many prisons, which cost a lot of money, is the gist of it. And all those prisons are crowded to the max, to the extent that the state was sued in federal court over it and lost. That money has been siphoned off from schools to a large extent, godawful symbolism to be sure. Jerry Brown won my vote with his strong, perceptive attacks on this very trend, and if you read my prior posts on him, I’ve noted how he’s paid close attention to this problem, stopping a billion-dollar prison project in the state. He cares about education a lot, has identified this specific problem, and he’s taken steps to fix the problem.
So, essentially, it’s deeply irresponsible for Maldonado, often referred to as one of the brighter bulbs in the state’s GOP (heh), to attack Brown for trying to comply with a court order and fix a very real, costly problem. What’s especially interesting is the timing. Maldonado’s attack would have been par for the course in the 1980s or early 1990s, back when Deukmeijian and Pete Wilson (an alleged moderate) decided it would be just swell to lock up as many people as possible for as long as possible. (Shocking that another of California’s intractable problems is due to something the GOP did back in the day, huh?) But the state’s politics have changed since it voted for George H. W. Bush in 1988, and so have the politics of the GOP. One of the very few positive developments in the Republican Party in recent years has been a much deeper skepticism toward old “tough on crime” policies, reflecting a decreased crime rate and spending that is wasted by definition (if necessary to some extent). And in this state, the public has shown a greater understanding of the problems wrought by overincarceration. Last year the electorate defanged the Three Strikes Law here, and very nearly repealed capital punishment outright. The electorate in this state gets that this is a problem, as the media has covered the crisis well. There is little indication that Brown has jumped too far in front of the public on these issues, and it’s unlikely he will do so since it was exactly that which caused such problems for his 1982 Senate race, and allowed the GOP to take his seat in Sacramento as well. He’s cautious but deliberate on this. It’s not really a weakness.
Essentially, Maldonado is working against two trends here, both within his party and within the state’s electorate. And it makes Maldonado’s candidacy for governor ironic. I basically assumed that the idea was something concocted by GOP consultants so that way they could run another minority for high office, as the guy wasn’t even able to win an election for Lt. Governor against Gavin Newsom (and had severe difficulties fundraising in that race as well). He has no base, his ideology is too moderate for the state’s GOP, and the Marco Rubio argument seems utterly hilarious in light of this announcement. Minority voters are unlikely to be won over by a “tough on crime” politician regardless of a skin color, as they bear the brunt of these unsuccessful policies. It makes me think that he’s a very silly, unperceptive person with poor political instincts and little awareness of the state. Of course, this makes him pretty much like every candidate the GOP has run for governor since Pete Wilson, so it’s not a shocker.
The gist of why this keeps popping up has little to do with Obama actually. I think it’s more just the basic mentality of activists. There’s no long-run substitute for victory in keeping the morale of your activists up, but short of that, aggressive rhetoric (and action, where possible) can shore it up for a while. It makes people feel better to hear an authority figure slam the other side hard. This is a problem for the White House inasmuch as aggressive rhetoric would likely be counterproductive in the context of a gun debate, and victory is extraordinarily difficult to achieve in the current context.
So, with respect to guns, I do feel some sympathy for Obama, since he’s clearly damned either way. Victory ain’t up to him, and indulging activists’ feelings isn’t really feasible either.
I’ve been getting progressively more alarmed at all of the shameful stories coming out lately on the spread of high-stakes testing into so much of our public school system. The simplistic argument underlying it smells exactly like most of the other simplistic bullshit Republicans incessantly excrete*:
The Bible for opponents of high-stakes testing is a 2010 book called The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, by Diane Ravitch, perhaps the nation’s preeminent education historian. Ravitch, who grew up in Texas and attended Houston public schools, was once an advocate of both high-stakes testing and charter schools. She served as the assistant secretary of education under President George H. W. Bush and was later appointed by President Bill Clinton to head the National Assessment Governing Board. [...]
“Like everyone else,” she told me during a stop in Austin in February, “I was drawn to the idea that schools might benefit from a business sensibility, that we should set goals and then reward high performers and punish low performers.”
Throw our children into the cutthroat world of private enterprise and profit maximization? What could go wrong?
One of the key things that pisses me off when I read yet another story about the harm all of this is causing is that it seems to be the millionth recent example of trying to treat the symptoms without dealing with the underlying disease:
“The number one determinant of how well kids will do in school is socioeconomic background,” Ravitch told me. “It’s not how good your teacher is or which school you go to.” Ravitch makes a convincing case that those pining for a lost golden era of American education are misremembering. Sixty years ago, black and Hispanic kids weren’t allowed to attend public schools—or at least, not real ones—and most didn’t even go to high school. Kids with disabilities were excluded as well, and there were far fewer recent immigrants enrolled. Comparing that system with the one we have today makes no sense.
Why would we want to throw any additional money at alleviating poverty or child hunger, when we can just throw countless $billions at dubious, unproven band-aids that probably aren’t doing much of anything to cure just one of the dozens of symptoms of poverty and child hunger?
Read the whole article from which I took the quotes above. It will make you angrier than anything you’ve read recently.
* And yes, Democrats (the “Me too!” party) have, true to form, signed onto the same bullshit.
There appears to be a new rash of arguments out there about how we’d all be better off if Barack Obama had just read his Robert Caro a little more closely. The broader arguments have already been made elsewhere. I’m sure I’ve probably made such arguments myself in moments of high emotion too. But the more I think about it, I just see this particular theory–that with some combination of cajoling, bullying, and pleading, Obama could pass his agenda over a stone-crazy GOP House and a filibuster-prone Senate–as not that compelling. So I’d advise proponents of it to make a more sophisticated argument: that Obama has already failed to be LBJ. Specifically, that the decisions he made in 2009-2010 ensured that Democrats would lose Congress and that he’d thus lose the ability to pass big, important legislation. I think this is actually a plausible argument, though I don’t fully believe it. Johnson had been a Washington legislator for over two decades when he became president, while Obama had really only done the job of a day-to-day U.S. Senator for two years upon getting into the White House. It’s been exhaustively documented that Obama cared much more about policy than politics and was insistent about bipartisan outreach, leading to a situation where he led the banks out of crisis by taking extensive political damage, and taking over a year to pass health care while the economy was pushed to the back-burner. The public got fatigued by the debate, the Tea Party made a stronger narrative about the ACA than the White House did, and so on, which led to Scott Brown and the rest of it. This is a plausible argument and I could go either way on it depending on the weather and so forth, but it’s not exactly ironclad when one remembers just how hapless those large Democratic majorities were, and even a second stimulus wouldn’t probably have staved off significant losses in 2010. But you could make more of an argument there.
For my money, the only moment where Obama needed to show that mythical LBJ/FDR spine of steel and didn’t was the first time the debt ceiling was threatened. Sequestration is turning out to be a policy disaster for the liberal project and a political disaster for Obama, the original sin from which (nearly) all others entered our world. He damned himself by not putting himself and his presidency on the line to shut down this disaster, and given that the Republicans folded like a 2-7 hand in Texas Hold ‘Em in March when it came up again, there’s even less reason to assume that Obama made the right call back then. Frankly, it almost doesn’t matter what he does now since that decision set the environment perfectly for austerian Republicans to turn the tables on him. It was one of those defining moments you hear about, and Obama flat-out flunked the test. Since then there’s been little opportunity to reverse that catastrophic decision, so complaining that Obama isn’t being tough enough now is beside the point.
An anti-labor hotel heiress for the Department of Commerce and a Robert Rubin intimate who recommended Jamie Dimon and Jon Corzine for Treasury Secretary as the U.S. Trade Rep. Admittedly, this was before Corzine lost billions of his clients’ money and couldn’t find it, a stunning trait for a would-be finance chief, but after losing the Democrats a bunch of seats in 2004 and becoming a horribly unpopular Governor of New Jersey. I remember in 2008, one of the big knocks against Hillary Clinton was that she gave jobs to people based on loyalty and friendship, as opposed to stodgy old-fashioned standards like suitability, character and ability to perform the job. Good thing we never had to go through that.
In retrospect, how was the 2008 primary contest not a big farce? I supported Obama because I cared much more about energy/climate issues than healthcare (and he had stronger proposals and gave more emphasis to them), because Obama was much more critical of hawks and had a better record on such issues, and because of Clinton’s bad judgment when it came to certain staffers (such as, you know, Mark Penn). Given that the administration we got was uninterested in the former, delegated foreign policy to Hillary Clinton for the most part, and now apparently is just picking obnoxious people for cabinet posts because Obama is friends with them, I sort of wonder what the point of going through all this was in the first place. If anything, the intervening years have mostly proven Clinton’s circa-2008 perspective on Republicans indisputably correct, while Obama’s still fervent outreach increasingly smacks of an inability to change his opinions when confronted with facts not congenial to them.
Interesting (and not at all unexpected) finding to come out of a study probing the correlation between political predisposition and openness to energy efficiency:
All participants were asked a bit about their demographic information and their political leanings. Then, one set was asked a series of questions about energy efficiency, which gauged how much the participants valued things like energy independence, limiting carbon emissions, or simply saving money on energy.
In the initial analysis, each of these factors appeared to be a negative for the conservatives, which didn’t make a lot of sense—who actually devalues saving money on energy? But the lack of enthusiasm for curbing carbon emissions among the conservatives was rather dramatic, so the authors separated that out. When it was controlled for, it turns out that the conservatives in the study actually valued energy independence and saving money more than the more liberal study participants. It’s just that they disliked the thought of avoiding carbon emissions so much that it overwhelmed these tendencies.
Anything to fuck those dirty hippies. (via)
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