I’ll just repost my open letter to the GOP. Obviously this is tongue in cheek, but I don’t think any of it is actually wrong.

Hello Republicans,

I wish I could say otherwise, but I’m afraid to say that there’s really no way you can afford not to vote for the new American Health Care Act. The bill is a humanitarian travesty that would deprive millions of hard-won health care and further enrich the wealthy, but I assume these are features and not bugs to you, so let’s table that. To those of you uncomfortable with voting for it, just remember this: there is literally nothing your party can fuck up that won’t be rapidly forgotten. Nothing. So don’t be so frightened! You might as well vote for the AHCA knowing full well that it will fuck up American healthcare. The political consequences of this will likely be short-term and may be more manageable than you think. The long run consequences will be much worse, but as your sometimes bugaboo Keynes said, in the long run, we’re all dead (admittedly, an uncomfortably poignant term to use now, but nevertheless).

Let’s look at this objectively. During the early 2000s, you ran the whole government. You started a pointless war of choice in Iraq that has in all likelihood only begun to destabilize and wreck the entire Middle East. You directed the apparatus of the state to torture essentially because a fictional character did it. You also fell into the endless trap of bloated empires in trying to create an Afghan state, which in case you forgot is a conflict that we are still actively fighting. You enacted huge tax cuts that (along with Alan Greenspan’s monetary policy and Dubya’s homeowner policy) helped to inflate the real estate bubble. When it popped, quite a lot of people lost everything, though thanks to the credit card industry-giveaway bankruptcy rollback you implemented a few years earlier it was even worse on people than it would otherwise have been. You responded to that with calls for austerity, based on a crock academic study that you never really believed anyway, but which made the recovery even worse. In a halfway-sane country, your party and the your movement would have been out of power for a generation after compiling that record, untouchable, radioactive.

But this isn’t even a halfway-sane country.

Sure, passing the AHCA would be a disaster on par with the ones I mentioned before. But the funny thing is, with just a little bit of facile rebranding, the Republican Party bounced back faster than Alan Partridge. The media ate it up, inexplicably finding garden-variety Bush-era Republican Paul Ryan to be some kind of redemptive figure. You won the House back in 2010, and only a few years later you had the whole enchilada again. In fact, thanks to our broken media, your own fuckups have become advantages in a twisted way. Rather than emphasizing the obvious chain between the vacuum left by the Iraq War that ISIS filled, the media chose to bring back its Iraq War shtick, going full scaremonger a few months before the 2014 elections. Then there was the whole Donald Trump nonsense about the Iraq War that I don’t want to get into, but suffice it to say, while Hillary Clinton deserved tremendous blame for her Iraq War vote and her generally shitty record on foreign policy in general, it is utter insanity that she somehow wound up shouldering the entirety of the blame for the war, while the party that still reveres its architects has effectively escaped blame. Thanks to the media’s indefensible “both sides” policy, Republican fuckups must be matched with Democratic fuckups in order to keep balance. Its why Hillary Clinton’s emails got so much coverage: she clearly made a mistake, but the notion that this one mistake rated anywhere near Donald Trump’s top twenty is silly. The public, though, rewarded this malpractice with record donations and subscriptions. My point being that if you fuck up health care, they’ll need to compensate by seizing onto some Democratic failing or other, lessening the impact. And then you can use that momentum to blame it all on them. This is, sadly, a complete inevitability from our courageous media truth-tellers.

So why not pass the AHCA? You managed to evade blame among some parts of the public for the housing crisis by blaming it on black people and poor people generally rather than stupid rich bankers who didn’t even understand what they were holding, so surely the jackals of FOX News and talk radio are up to the task again with healthcare. Admittedly, the short-term losses are bound to be rough. The 2018 and 2020 elections could be as bad as 2006 and 2008 were, though probably not given gerrymander maps enacted since then. But even if they’re that bad, let’s face facts. Your rapid rebound last time provides an easy blueprint for the next time, too. The liberal resistance to Trump upped the ante from what the Tea Party did to Obama, so you can blame liberals when you up the ante even more. I know you like to do that. Most likely, the democratic nominee in 2020 isn’t going to be Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, but more likely some mediocre “safe” choice like Andrew Cuomo, who would be more than happy to work with you. I can already see it now: after all, we’re going to need all that money Andrew can raise to compete with the Koch Bros? (Never mind how that turned out in 2016, or 2004 for that matter.) Even if it’s not and Democrats get someone halfway decent like Kirsten Gillibrand or Sherrod Brown, you can simply obstruct them all the way again. That is what you do best, after all. You can count on Ross Douthat to write columns on how Donald Trump was such a reasonable compromiser by comparison to whoever his successor would be and why can’t a good man like Herbert Hoover be back in the White House again, David Brooks will inveigh against their agenda as being in violation of medieval values, cynical types like Mitch McConnell can talk about what a nice, reasonable man Barack Obama was in comparison to the new person, or whatever. You get the picture. Most importantly, no Democratic president will touch healthcare for another generation, and when they do, history tells us that the proposal will be even more modest than the one that came before. From Truman’s opening bid of single-payer insurance through ClintonCare and then the ACA, it keeps getting less ambitious, less generous. It’s pretty difficult to imagine something more modest than the ACA that could still be technically considered universal health care, but perhaps we’ll find out. At any rate, the backlash to a new Democratic president, the implications for future health reform, the off-the-charts amnesia of the public coupled with a broken media and your own propaganda machine, make this a pretty easy sell.

Admittedly, in the long run, this may not work out so great for you. The collapse of private insurance could well pave the way for single payer, since a major obstacle to that is loss aversion. Admittedly other obstacles remain (they’re called “doctors” I think, I’ve heard they like to make lots of money and don’t like making less money), but if there isn’t anything to lose, then “Medicare for All” becomes pretty damn appealing. And, ironically, the death of ObamaCare would be an absolute calamity to Trump’s white working class supporters, killing off many of the people who are willing to wage your class war against themselves because black people. That wouldn’t be so good for your electoral prospects, though given partisanship trends, one wonders just how many would actually turn against Trump over this. Then again, even if you lose some of those folks, at some point you’ll suddenly discover that a key minority is “truly American” in the same way that Irish and Italians weren’t a century ago, and that Eastern Europeans weren’t half a century ago, but now are. Pretty magical how quickly a group goes from being suspect and un-American to being humdrum as soon as Republicans court their votes. But in the end, the prospect of electoral losses, long-term brand decline, and, oh right, a humanitarian catastrophe–what does that compare to FREEDOM! And if there’s anything that spells freedom more than The Health Care Status Quo Ante of 2008, I don’t know what does.

–Lev

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Giant Meteor

Visual: Bret Stephens’s column and its effects on the New York Times’s reputation

Judging from the way they’ve reacted to the Bret Stephens fiasco, I’m not really sure how I could argue any answer besides “yes” although anything is possible. The easiest solution would be for the Times, the Post, and other such outlets to simply get rid of op-eds entirely if they wanted to continue in the hallowed both-sides model. It wouldn’t solve the problem of the coverage of 2016, but it would be doubling-down on factual coverage and avoiding these specific problems of whether someone speaks for the paper or doesn’t, and if you want to find opinions, the internet is an endless well. Plus, it would mean a bunch of high-status mediocrities would be out on their asses, crying in the green room of Meet The Press (would they still qualify to go on?), which would be fun to watch. But that would mean tossing a lot of social capital since quite a lot of media people covet those gigs and it would eliminate a critical way in which MSM elites can reward people in their own social circles, so that won’t happen. The other way would be to simply adopt a point of view and opinionated reporting a la The Guardian but I honestly can’t even picture that, it’s almost like science fiction. The institutional culture of the MSM is so wedded to the superiority of both sides that they don’t seem to think any other way of doing things is morally permissible. And almost everything offensive that they’ve done over the past generation has been connected to a desperate (and failed) desire to make the MSM safe for conservatives, from running with Clinton scandals to “Al Gore invented the internet” to pumping the Iraq War to 2016 and beyond. Now MSNBC, which carved out some modest success as a sorta-liberal brand, now wants to toss that out because both sides, in a decision that surely isn’t going to tank their ratings after liberals abandon the network. On an emotional level, I don’t think MSM decisionmakers can deal with being the news source for half the public, even though half is unrealistically generous.

The most likely circumstance is that they keep doing the same bullshit they’ve been doing for the past two and a half decades while liberals continue flee their product in favor of other sources that don’t secretly/openly despise them. Certainly there would be something lost in that transition, but a media world that more comes to resemble TPM and The Guardian seems infinitely preferable to me than the contemporary MSM. At least you don’t have to continuously interrogate their motives for publishing a piece, agree with it or not.

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Pictured: A comprehensive set of things Donald Trump knows nothing about.

You still sometimes get people saying that Trump is totally using his tweets to distract from all the nefarious stuff he plans to do to X. It’s a weird inversion of the “Obama’s playing 12-dimensional chess” meme from way back when. It’s like conspiracy theorism-light. There’s this secret knowledge out there, you see! You all don’t get it but I do! Except that the actual person distracted here (Trump) got nothing he wanted out of the funding battle, and Democrats (despite having no majorities anywhere) got pretty much everything. Winning! No doubt Trump lost interest after his big, splashy spending cut announcements. Of course, this outcome was unsurprising given that those moderate Democrats he was looking for don’t actually exist (killed off by Republican hands, ironically, in 2010) and once Schumer and Pelosi necessarily got into the picture there wasn’t going to be any defunding of Planned Parenthood or any of that shit. While there are no doubt some downsides of having a president who both knows nothing and is utterly useless at doing anything, in general, if it’s a Republican it beats the alternative.

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My basic view on canceling a Times subscription over the idiocy of hiring a climate denier as an op-ed contributor (among other reasons, such as the one pictured) is that, if they can afford to pay him and the other mostly hacks who write columns at rates of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year they’re clearly not at the finding money in the sofa cushions stage that a lot of local media is. (Support them instead! Just a thought.) Probably more revealing is the sight of “straight” reporters trying to smack down normal people on social media who disapprove of legitimizing lies in such a manner, which shows just how much they despise their exclusively liberal readership. Reading it, they really do seem to hate the fact that conservatives don’t read their paper as well, which is likely why they hired Bret Stephens, which will draw a grand total of zero conservatives to read their paper. The conservative media is a multibillion dollar business premised upon outlets like the Times being hopelessly biased, meaning that there’s a strong business interest in stoking that belief. You’d figure that after a generation of trying this strategy and failing they’d just give up and embrace being a liberal paper, but if anything the opposite seems to be happening. Sad!

Still, it really is bizarre that in 2017, op-ed pages are still a thing. It’s trivially easy to find excellent commentary on the internet these days, particularly on national events. I find it hard to believe that any of the op-ed people actually earn their keep (except perhaps Paul Krugman), and most of the writers seem to continue because they have connections or small fan clubs with elite memberships. The MSM model precludes any opinion in reporting, which means that op-ed pages need to find a spectrum of opinions to avoid any bias accusations, only those choices leave them open to criticism based on who they let in the door. In the Times‘s case it’s extremely well deserved. The most rational thing the Times could do would be to simply end their op-ed page on the grounds that it’s interfering with their core mission of reporting the news. Not much chance of it, I’m afraid, but the whole idea is a dumb anachronism whose time has long since passed.

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I’ve had two false starts on writing this post because I feel like the issue of the propriety of Barack Obama accepting speaking fees to give speeches to Wall Street is low stakes and I can’t summon up the urge to write about it. Why? Because Obama isn’t going to be much of a factor at all in US politics going forward–certainly not in any decision-making capacity–and that’s probably a good thing. I do think he was a good president but let’s be honest, political strategy was not his forte and aside from when he was running for office, he didn’t seem to give much of a shit about it. He let his grassroots following wither at the outset, did nothing to build the party, and in no small part botched the 2014 and 2010 midterm elections because he didn’t care. Democrats were going to suffer losses in both most likely but the catastrophic losses both times suggest utterly failed political strategies. The various entreaties for him to lead the resistance struck me as fairly insane a few months ago and still do: could anyone be less suited to such a task? The namer of Merrick Garland, who one time almost wrecked his presidency for a debt deal we didn’t need while much of the country had yet to recover from the recession, the inveterate obsessive over nonachievable bipartisanship? The fact remains that almost all of Obama’s “big idea” political thoughts were wrong, sometimes painfully so. I could see him using his fame to call attention to issues every once in a while but at this point the grassroots is leading, not Obama, and that’s for the best.

Still, when I see the reaction to this, it just makes me realize how clueless so much of the center-left can be. Markos Moulitsas treating the entire subject as a bad joke on Twitter, others saying, “Well, why wouldn’t he take hundreds of thousands of dollars if they offered it to him?” after they said much the same about Hillary Clinton, still others making some sort of racial point that this is part of the “twice as good” paradox. This is all nonsense, and frankly shows a crisis of values on the left when it comes to money (and perhaps also when it comes to hero worship). Either money in politics is a bad thing or it isn’t. It it’s not, then please kindly stop sending me emails to the effect of THIS IS A GAME-CHANGER: BERNIE INTRODUCES AMENDMENT TO END CITIZENS UNITED. (Actually, regardless, just never send me any emails about constitutional amendments ever again, thanks.) But if it is, then it has to be a problem when people you admire do it too. Taking money to deliver platitudes to bankers so soon after leaving office is inevitably inviting harsh scrutiny of past actions. In Obama’s case, the lack of any punitive action towards bankers after the crash and the weakening of Dodd-Frank by administration representatives, among other things, combine with getting paid to weave into a narrative which may or may not be true, but which certainly adds to the general cynicism of politicians and politics that he so painstakingly wanted to avoid. This may not sway Obama’s committed fans. But you’d think after 2016 that they’d stop trying to do the general public’s thinking for them on these sorts of matters.

This, admittedly, is a very small issue, but it speaks to the fact that the left seems to lack any real alternative to the caustic American obsession with money as a barometer of all success and well-being. If you wonder why these income inequality debates never seem to go anywhere, well, this is part of the reason why. Yes, it’s a threat to our democracy and all that, but if you can’t make the argument that it’s fundamentally immoral for one person to collect that sort of cash while millions go hungry, then you’re never going to get that gut level reaction that you need to move forward on these issues. Democrats used to make these sorts of arguments pre-Clinton, and it just goes to show that many of the people who hate the Clintons and their neoliberalism still cling to many of its precepts. Most of the people whatevering this thing probably scratch their heads about why people aren’t outraged by income inequality, as though their own confusion on these issues is any different from the rest of the public’s.

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I think I get this phenomenon. Mainstream media articles to the effect of, “Trump voters sure love Trump!” is essentially these institutions saying, “We don’t get these people, but we acknowledge that they exist!” It’s not really news so much as it is partly an overreaction to miscovering Trump for the entire election, partly blue staters gawking at red staters a la J.D. Vance or whatever the fuck his name is, partly the eternal delusion that this sort of thing will get them to listen to the MSM again. I don’t really think there was a “good” reason to vote for Trump but I know why people did. It’s really not like trying to figure out the ending to the movie Enemy.

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I actually agree with this, but it misunderstands both Trump and his supporters. Trump has abandoned essentially all of the populist positions he once espoused and his voters still embrace him. That’s not where their hearts were. It probably would have been better for his overall approval numbers to start with infrastructure but there’s a reason they led with nativism and why they’re sticking with it. And then there’s the problem that passing complex, large legislation is complicated and requires patience and resilience. Being a DISRUPTOR doesn’t. That blends nicely with golf weekends.

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I guess we’re arguing whether Hillary Clinton was the worst candidate in history or not again. I’m sort of bored by the topic but here goes. Clinton won 48%, pretty much exactly what John Kerry won in 2004. Trump won 46%, just slightly better than John McCain did in 2008. Both candidates more or less replicated (in percentages) the worst result their party achieved this century. It makes sense considering that both were very unpopular candidates. Which is why this Pierce piece strikes me as asinine. “Trump was actually pretty great” is something that will make Clinton supporters feel a bit better about having backed a candidate who twice lost elections deemed to be unloseable, but it just doesn’t add up. Trump won the nomination because the other major contenders were either tainted or had flaws that made them unpalatable. He managed a whopping 39% of the vote there. Trump’s general election win was largely dumb luck to such an extent that he didn’t even think would happen, Comey plus a fluke of the electoral system. It undoubtedly makes people feel better to build Trump up to argue that Clinton was actually a great candidate who just got beaten by a better one, but in actuality she and Trump were both pretty bad. The real difference is that Republican elites largely kept their distance from Trump until the election while Democratic elites nearly unanimously supported Clinton. That she failed twice makes them look bad. So it’s no surprise this sort of revisionism would appear.

In retrospect, Pierce was more right about Clinton a year ago than he is now. It’s a fair assessment that has aged well and got at what the problems would become. At any rate, Clinton isn’t the worst candidate in history or even the worst that Democrats have ever nominated (James Cox, Harding’s opponent, is my pick for the worst ever). But a large part of the party–including regular voters–deluded themselves about her abilities, which did not really include communication skills, media skills or particularly storytelling skills. No particular problem with a senator but fatal in a presidential candidate or president. I don’t blame Dem leaders to the extent that I blame Republican elites for not abandoning Trump out of patriotic motives (which they clearly didn’t possess), or media elites for jumping through Jason Chaffetz’s hoops and clinging to “both sides” bullshit, but their share is not zero. What does it mean going forward? Probably nothing. I doubt Chelsea Clinton ever runs for president. Still, while I might be willing to buy “Obama was a once in a lifetime event” as an excuse for her 2008 loss, I’ll be damned if I accept “Trump was a once in a lifetime event” for her 2016 loss. That’s one too many lifetimes for me, unless we’re arguing that Hillary Clinton is, in actuality, a cat.

 

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