235 Comments

Kind of related, but I am strangely comforted by the gains the GOP/Trump made with non-college non-whites. I think conservative gains in those groups serves two functions - 1, it defangs some of the progressive anti-racism narrative which I think is unproductive, and 2, I think it genuinely leads to a dash more racial empathy in conservative circles.

If I had to pick which divide is most existentially dangerous to a democracy, race or education, I'd pick race. If we were hopelessly polarized around race, I could see things really flying apart, but if we see a decrease in racial polarization, I think the parties can re-align in a way that's less existentially bad to the American experiment.

Expand full comment

Interesting point, though I somewhat disagree. Educational polarization is quite bad because educated voters are the ones who are more concerned with process issues. If you have a completely educationally polarized electorate, you greatly reduce the electoral penalty for delegitimizing the opposition and basically cheating to stay in power.

Expand full comment

If I could wave a wand and eliminate racial polarization in exchange for education polarization, I would. I don’t think that describes current trends, though. There has been a small decrease in racial polarization, but not enough to fundamentally alter the narrative on either side. Anecdotally, white conservatives I know are still very angry about BLM and the summer 2020 protests. And the non-white people who have shifted to the GOP seem fine with a harsh criminal justice system and quasi-authoritarian politics as long as they don’t come with explicitly racist rhetoric. On the flip side, few ordinary “SJW”-leaning people I know seem to have done any reconsideration of their views in response to Trump’s gains with non-whites.

Right now, education polarization makes our political situation more perilous. Less educated people of all races are more sympathetic to authoritarianism and anti-intellectualism, so the GOP has moved in that direction. At the same time, we’re still racially polarized. So you get the toxic mix of anti-intellectual authoritarianism and culture war.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

"[GOP] can try to recapture suburban college Whites by unloading more of its "ballast" of issues like Trump did with Social Security - abandoning the anti-LGBTQ fight, embracing Medicare/Medicaid expansions, etc."

Why are these the things that will drive suburban voters away and why would abandoning them would draw suburban voters back into the arms of the GOP? Urban voters maybe, though I think for the GOP to have major pull on urban areas you would have to see a major policy realignment between the parties, or more likely for crime to become THE issue in cities. But why would you say these are the big issues for suburban voters?

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

That's an interesting perspective. My takeaway is that you think that the Democrats max out at 53-55% of the vote and would be very unlikely/unable to get above that. Republican's at currently 45-47% of the vote can countermove to get back up to and above 50%. Do you think they can go further than Democrats can or is the playing field just very small right now?

Expand full comment

Semi-relatedly, the inverse of the above — the piling in of university-educated voters under the Democratic Party banner — may begin to help the party in its midterm struggles, in that education attainment correlates with propensity to vote. Perhaps we'll see a test of this next year. (One of the people interviewed in the E. Klein article mentioned this possibility; not sure if we saw evidence of this in 2018 or not).

Expand full comment

Wasn't 18 a blue wave, albeit a minor one? Seems like that's as good a piece of evidence as we're likekly to get. I guess it could have been read as an anti-Trump wave, but Trump himself was on the ballot in 2016 and 2020 and fared better both times.

My best guess for 2022 is it's somewhere between 2018 and 2020 with the direction of the economy being the biggest currently unknown X factor.

Expand full comment

Its hard to say since there are a lot of confounding variables and not a lot of midterm elections, but Democrats actually won the house popular vote by more in 2018 than Republicans won by in 2010 or 2014 (and an even larger margin than 2006 which was considered a huge bloodbath at the time and preceded Obama's '08 landslide). So I think 2018 is at least suggestive that Democrats will have less of a midterm handicap. That said incumbent party in a midterm is a huge disadvantage, much bigger than any turnout gains Democrats might have made through educational polarization.

Expand full comment

It was certainly a good election for Democrats. Capturing legislative chambers doesn't happen too often. As to whether in 2018 we saw a "less turnout volatility for Democrats flowing from their increased popularity with college grads" effect, I haven't looked into it. The idea raised by the person in question in the Klein piece (some pollster, name escapes me, but he's a colleague of Shor's in the field) was part of a counterargument to Shor-ism. The dude was suggesting that Shor's take on the state of the Dems' political fortunes might be off a bit, precisely because of this issue. IOW some of the weakness flowing from the party's increasing reliance on college grads (still a minority of the electorate, after all, and one that is distributed inefficiently for their purposes) may be counterbalanced by the fact (if it is indeed a fact) that this cohort shows up to vote in midterms pretty reliably.

Expand full comment

Agree, educational, aka class, polarization does have a rational correspondence to actual material differences in interests - what politics is legitimately about - whereas racial polarization is just irrational and poisonous, with no redeeming value.

It may have been racial backlash in the decades after the Civil Rights movement that caused non college educated whites to leave the Democratic Party, but in the process the Democratic Party became the party of educated elites, which even in a non racially polarized post-Civil Rights world is a sufficient and independent reason to repel less educated whites from returning. The question now is whether the Republican Party can sufficiently put its Southern strategy days behind it to induce less educated nonwhites also to leave the Democratic party.

Expand full comment

I would think that the best progressive argument against popularism is that there's a lot of popular support, across the political spectrum, for "throwing progressives from helicopters".

Expand full comment

One takeaway from minimum wage and Medicaid expansion ballot measures running so far ahead of Democrats in the last few elections is that progressive ideas are a lot more more popular than progressives themselves, and perhaps that should prompt some soul-searching.

Expand full comment

I think this is where people get mixed up a bit. Progressives advance a number of different ideas. I think some are very popular and some are very unpopular. So you can have some states passing medicaid expansion and minimum wage increases while shooting down tax increases and affirmative action initiatives.

The challenge for most partisans is they confuse popularity for a few things with popularity for the entire agenda. They also tend to take something that is mildly popular and think its very popular - especially when using issue polls done before any significant opposition.

Expand full comment

Further compounding the last point is that they take positive polling for general policy ideas as indicating that there will be similar levels of support for every technocratic detail of whatever plan is developed for how to get to the policy.

Expand full comment
founding

If there are three progressive policies, and for each of them, two thirds of the public finds it pretty appealing, while one third of the public hates it, then you could easily have a situation where each of these issues polls very strongly popular, while the public will strongly vote for the person who promises none of them over the person who promises all three.

Expand full comment

This is a good point, and it definitely works out like this sometimes, but I think it's more often that progressive economic policy is more popular in general than progressive cosmopolitan social views.

Expand full comment

That's more of an argument against electoralism. Not so much an argument against popularism that accepts electoralism as a necessity. Which could be an interesting topic for another article.

Expand full comment

"electoralism"? Haven't heard that one before. Help me out?

Expand full comment

"Electoralism" basically means democracy. There are some leftists who use "electoralism" as a somewhat derisive term to describe people who think power must be obtained and policy made via elections, rather than non-electoral means.

Expand full comment

It’s Monday, and I’m am sick, chilling in a Hotel in Argentina, so here is a rambling by Rory. Probably completely off-topic.

The other day, Noah Smith put up a tweet asking what are the top five things about America. Then I think he also put up another tweet asking who is the most innovative conservative thinkers today?

Ever since then, I’ve had this question in my head.. Is America exceptional? By exceptional, I mean that are there things that the US can do better than anyone else. Things like entering World War II and turning the tide of the war against Germany and Japan. Things like sending a rocket to the moon. Things like giving birth to Tesla and Google and Apple.

Then, if you agree that America is exceptional, What is it about America that makes it exceptional?

I’ve been thinking about this. Is Americas inequality, and relative lack of social support system a key? Is there something about inequality that makes the culture more competitive than other places?

Sure, America is one of the leading western nations in the world. We are also a nation with untamed wilderness. We still have people in Alaska homesteading. We have people in the northwest living off grid, hunting for their food. And it’s not even that rare.

I was raised in New Zealand till I was 10 years old. My brother and I were fascinated by American Cowboys. We had these embossed books about the American west. We dressed up like cowboys and Indians all the time. To us, America was Cowboys. And, I this view is shared by many in the world. Why is it so many immigrants want to move to the United States even though the progressives like to point out that we’re shit at healthcare and welfare and all these other things. It’s my thinking, that these immigrants want the adventure and risk that America represents.

So let me circle around to the point. When Matt talks about the thermostatic theory of politics. Isn’t he just talking about conservatism. Conservatism is basically you don’t want things to change. We would like things to get marginally better, but we also don’t want any great disruption. When I say we here, I mean us sort of moderates in the middle.

I’ve actually had the same political theory myself. When Democrats were talking that they were going to dominate because of demographics, I just rolled my eyes. The problem is once you take control of the government,you are responsible for the government. And sooner or later shit is going to go bad. You’re gonna have a recession. There’s going to be a war, no matter who is in power. And who are people going to blame. They’re going to blame the party in power. It doesn’t even matter if the Democrats made life better by improving healthcare. Whenever things get better, people just reestablish a new norm. So that when something gets less better, its viewed as worse. For example, last year’s surge in violence. The murder rate is not nearly as bad as it was in the early 90s, but people feel like it is. There is no permanent winning in politics. History is too random and unforgiving.

I remember when the labor party was in charge of the UK. I remember reading articles about how labor was going to dominate, and the conservative Torres had no chance in the future. Now look where we are at.

Now I know the above paragraphs might make me sound pretty conservative. I don’t think I am. I do want things to be better. I am 100% in support of the child tax credit. I would like a minimum level of national healthcare. My gut feeling is somethings like a national health insurance policy to compete against the private insurance industry. But at the same time, I don’t want the United States to be like Scandinavia or Germany. I love those countries. I lived in Europe for 12 years. Great place. But you’re not going to convince me that these semi socialist European countries are exceptional.

Anyway, I know I’m probably way off target. But he starts of been bouncing in my head for a couple of days so I just wanted to put them out there.

Once again, forgive any grammatical errors. I literally dictate this shit on my iPhone. Also, I fully acknowledge that at least 90% of you are way smarter than I am. Go easy on me.

Expand full comment

Let's run down a tangent on Germany real quick ...

I was there just ~ 2 years so I'm very much operating at the surface level but one of my hot takes is their super strong worker protections are absolutely crippling for long term career growth. I think the inability to churn your workforce makes hiring SO impossibly risk averse. The program I was in with Siemens took months of interviews including independent behavioral assessments. It was treated very much like an interview would for a lifetime of employment. The time and cost of interviewing dampens voluntary turnover and limits career potential. All these just normal jobs become deep groove tracks. IMO, one of the main reasons you don't see a vibrant start-up scene there.

Don't get me started on the idea of tracking children's educational path at 10-12 years old! That is absolute fucking nonsense.

Expand full comment

That’s so ironic, since I work with Siemens Energy now (USA)… And we go through a lot of employee churn. But between you and me, there’s a big cultural difference between Siemens USA and Siemens Germany.

Expand full comment

Yeap. I'm talking here more the corporate headquarter Siemens AG jobs in Munich. Totally agree that Siemens USA operates differently. I have a hilarious story about needing to write detailed work instructions to the transfer the rail propulsion production assembly from Nuremberg to the US and the German Ops. team LOST THEIR MINDS that I was writing what they called "IKEA instructions". Took them some time to understand our factory production teams operates with <4 years of tenure and we constantly need to train new employees while their production team can read electrical schematics and has like 18 years on average of experience.

Expand full comment

Lol. Yep. You need the USA for creativity, and then the Germans to implement everything. Just don’t expect them to work overtime to do it, or do anything that appears to be multitasking

Expand full comment

Super funny you say that Rory, both this comment and your response to David Rye.

I work for Henkel USA, and your description of the differences between Siemens US and Germany are identical at Henkel. I would say the Germans never seem...rushed. They will always, always, always take their time. We Americans light our hair on fire and run like madmen, but the Germans....they definitely "work" fewer hours, but they're so steady it's golem-like. We Americans are much more subject to conflating "busy" and "productive". Both definitely have pros and cons.

Expand full comment

So... with the acknowledgement that we love our German overlords and fellow employees (I'm working with three super talented German machinists here in Argentina)

Do your German friends take the opportunity to point out how only they do it the "right" right way?

Expand full comment

Do you have some evidence that the tracking gets it wrong to a significant degree? When it gets it right do the kids who aren’t college material do better than their counterparts in the US?

Expand full comment

So here is conflicting thoughts. I actually like the German system of tracking, or apprentice ship/technical trade that starts early in life.

Also, many many Germans who work in skilled technical trades are college material. I’m here in Argentina working with three Machinists they’re all easily bright enough to have gone to college and gone into some other career. Germany just doesn’t have the you have to go to college mentality.

However, at the same time it does make me wonder if the German system loses out a bit with its safety system, and does it discourage the hyper competitiveness we see in the United States. And is this what contributes to American exceptionalism.

Expand full comment

I think it gets it wrong - only to the degree the entire system must operate within a space constraints. As Rory mentioned - those three machinists would have gone through college in the US ... for better (e.g., maybe a more flexible career path with higher upside) and worse (e.g., debt, more uncertainty).

Their vocational programs are the best in the world. They're skill-sets are so impressive. I just couldn't shake the sense that there was a lot more potential. That the entire system put a glass-ceiling on their economy. But with a much higher floor.

Expand full comment

How does this explain Germany becoming a pretty decent startup hub in tech. Berlin in particular?

Seimens probably did that because they have a ton of free cash flow and are likely around for a lifetime. Otoh, if you loaf at a seed stage startup, you might drive it out of business… causing you to lose all your colleagues jobs too!

Expand full comment

A decent start up hub for a nation like Germany is actually a disappointment. I suspect Berlin’s success has more to do with it being a hip city. And start ups don’t equal exceptionalism. In every large country you’re going to have some success and some failure. But I just can’t think of any German start ups that have had the same impact as Google or Apple or Tesla.

Expand full comment

Yeah, not a ton of German Unicorns, much less larger exits at the 500M+ scale. Being a hub for them is relative to even less activity across the rest of EU

Expand full comment

Just a terminology note, a unicorn would mean a 1B+ exit.

Expand full comment

Yes. As my own seed investors are not shy of reminding me 😂

Expand full comment

I would explain it just with your word "decent". That's a disappointment for such an industrial powerhouse. It's been a minute since I benchmarked it but their early stage scene was best characterized as a look-alike model (e.g., the Groupon clone CityDeal).

Expand full comment

I would totally concur that for a place with extraordinary tech talent, they've underperformed their potential.

I've heard some folks in that market talk about the valuations being so low compared to comparable US companies that they often get acquired by US companies before you've ever heard of them. That + copycat copies of similar US startups in cases where (e.g. payroll) there is enough country specific nuances where the company probably has to be domestic.

Expand full comment

The dark side of American Exceptionalism

Expand full comment

Let me add this. The progressive ideas I support are the ones that make competition more fair. I like the child tax credit because I want all children to have a basic level of support from which to be successful. I want a basic level of healthcare, because I feel like that could encourage more risk taking. No I want to get rid of legacy admissions for all schools and get federal money, because fuck nepotism. I want schools to be funded equally across the nation, because you never know when the next cowboy or genius is going to come from. I guess I’m in the equality of opportunity not equality of outcome camp.

Expand full comment

“There is no permanent winning in politics. History is too random and unforgiving.”

+1. This summarizes everything I have learned about politics from decades of being an engaged person who votes in every election.

Expand full comment

I always love your comments Linda. Anyone who thinks they’re going to permanently hold power is diluting themselves.

Expand full comment

Perhaps also deluding themselves. ;)

Expand full comment

I was going to make this correction earlier but I didn't want to be accused of watering down the discussion.

Expand full comment

If you take it on yourself to correct every typo you see, you'll soon be spread too thin.

Expand full comment

Especially if you read my comments

Expand full comment

The secret to making the correction is to make it into a joke like Michael Sullivan did up there. Lol

I think everyone who reads my comments realizes that I’m not the most educated person in the comments.

Expand full comment

Oh I believe in making jokes when correcting! Read my comment again. :)

Expand full comment

Every time I read one of these comments from you Rory, I can't help but recall the "I'm just a simple caveman lawyer" sketch / "I'm just a simple country lawyer" trope.

You're clearly selling yourself short.

Expand full comment

I wish they had an edit button. I actually saw that I wrote that, and then left it because perhaps there deluding themselves as well. Lol

Expand full comment

Though perhaps we are biased by the last few decades. Going further into history there really are long stretches of party dominance.

Expand full comment

True! But this is what I meant by "learned."

I don't mean that in a snotty way; it took me a while (longer than it should have). I remember even in college (a LONG TIME AGO) leftists confidently predicting that after the next election, the demographic tide would turn their way. This despite what I considered to be a remarkable level of pro-Reagan/Bush sentiment in Ann Arbor (!), even after various scandals etc.

Then, every time something unexpected happens (say, the 1994 House elections), there's this "end of history" assumption to accompany it. DLC/Clintonism. Compassionate conservatism. Mission accomplished. Post-racial coalition. For a longer time than I'd like to admit, I fell into the "end of history" trap myself, especially when "my side" was down (I always have been and still am a registered D, although I dislike much about the party today). I still do it sometimes, especially when I make the mistake of wallowing in Twitter/the news.

But then I remember what came of all the previous "realignments" and "paradigm shifts." When I'm thinking clearly, I take everything--political prognostications, predictions about The Future of Work, whatever--with a whole shaker of salt. And I think much more clearly when I just avoid most or all of it and wait to see what actually happens.

Expand full comment

I don’t think modern media, or mass media makes that possible. No matter how successful someone was doing, CNN and Fox News is still going to blow up whatever bad news there is.

Expand full comment

I think American dynamism and exceptionalism comes from 1) being a nation built by successive generations of immigrants and 2) extraordinary natural resources. The sort of people who leave their own country to start a new life are also the types of people who start new companies and work hard and the US is filled with those people for generations. Combine that with the fertile plains, oil, and coal and you get a 20th century superpower. I think the idea that a bad social net helps drive forward this dynamism is wrong (though it’s possible there is a causal relationship in the other direction). After all, it’s pretty straightforward to imagine how starting a company in a country with guaranteed health insurance feels a lot less risky than a country where leaving your job could endanger your child’s health.

Expand full comment

I don’t disagree with you. Obviously, I think you’re absolutely right that the United States historically has been a place where adventurous immigrants come. If you look at my clarifying comments below I acknowledge that I think a certain level of safety net is helpful.

But to be a devils advocate. Perhaps the comfort of knowing that you have a safety net might make some people less likely to risk it all. Does comfort make people less likely to dream big.

Expand full comment

One of the arguments for Obamacare was that by so closely linking healthcare to your job, it would discourage people from striking out on their own. The availability of (subsidized) healthcare on the exchanges was supposed to lessen that death grip.

It would be interesting to know if anyone has studied this and might shed light on the ACA's impact on startup creation and voluntary quits.

Expand full comment

I can actually see that. I’ve had a couple of friends that I’ve worked with who say that they would quit if it wasn’t for their healthcare. But at the same time, I don’t want nationalized healthcare

Expand full comment

For an entrepreneur, the safety net is exactly what what enables them to take big risks. It’s no coincidence that many famous entrepreneurs come from wealthy families who can bail them out of trouble. But our lack of social programs probably does help encourage a culture of hard work among lower income brackets. So if we really want to play devils advocate, maybe Amazon wouldn’t be as big a success without its hard working warehouse laborers who wouldn’t be working so hard if their life didn’t depend on it.

Expand full comment

But there’s a difference between enabling and incentivizing. Just because somethings easier, doesn’t mean that more people are actually going to try and do it. End it is possible, that people might give up easier. I know that there’s probably people who would argue differently.

Expand full comment

Maybe the difference is that safety nets enable dynamic risk taking behavior like creating companies, switching careers, moving to new places etc but they also give people less incentive to work hard in whatever situation they currently are in. I can risk making it big when I know there’s a net to catch me but if I don’t care about making it big maybe I’ll lounge in that net instead. Just like how current children of rich folks are given opportunity to do crazy impressive stuff or just mooch off their parents money.

Expand full comment

Now you’re showing off. Basically took my jumbled thoughts and put them into a succinct paragraph that explains exactly my thoughts.

If I could, I would steal your paragraph, and paste it into my initial comment.

It occurs to me that parents have the same dilemma with their children.

And you could basically summarize the political divide between where people fall on the spectrum on this issue.

Expand full comment

I can't speak for others, but the idea of starting my own business has always been in the back of my mind. However, I have a couple medical conditions, so the risk of abandoning a cushy big-business medical plan is just too high. If healthcare were decoupled from employment, I'm pretty sure I would have taken a stab at starting a business. Would I have been successful? Who knows. At least I would have been a datapoint fighting back against the decline of American entrepreneurship.

Expand full comment

Yes, but a overly generous safety net surely is a disincentive to work. Given the option of sitting around playing video games and getting high, surely a portion of the population will choose that option.

Expand full comment

“Conservatism is basically you don’t want things to change.“

That is a fundamental misunderstanding of what conservatism is, particularly for American conservatism.

Among the aspects of American conservative philosophy are,

- The tenets of classical liberalism and natural law

- Moral universalism

- A republican form of government

- Federalism and subsidiarity

- That political freedom is inherently tied to economic freedom

- Adherence to the Constitution

And for many American conservatives,

- Judeo-Christian morality

An American conservative looking at the state of the country today would want a great number of things to change. That is to say that conservatism is *not* merely resistance to change.

Expand full comment

I’m talking about simple middle America conservatism. The sort of conservatism where people don’t like when prices change, or a new process is put in place. Sort of the fear of to rapid change conservatism. Which is ironic coming from me, since I consider myself like that, but I’ve also led a pretty adventurous life.

Expand full comment

That’s senior citizen conservatism. You probably won’t get over it.

Expand full comment

Not to quibble semantics, but calling that "conservatism" is misnomer. According to the dictionary at least.

Expand full comment

"American conservativism" has been noticeably different from "classical conservativism" (and really is more a form of classical liberalism with a religious edge) for over a century and arguably since the country's founding (at least outside of the South).

Expand full comment

That is why I called it “American conservatism.”

Expand full comment

Adjective modifies noun, and it's still the wrong noun. :)

Expand full comment

Hint: He’s trying to avoid the word “reaction”.

Expand full comment

What’s the definition you are using?

Expand full comment

I needed to be five seconds faster on hitting "Post."

Expand full comment

I'd say that's true of High Church Conservatism of the sort you'll find in the Federalist Society but not the rank and file of movement conservative politics

Expand full comment

"Conservatism is basically you don’t want things to change. We would like things to get marginally better, but we also don’t want any great disruption. When I say we here, I mean us sort of moderates in the middle."

I think that what people want most as they age, even progressive people, is change in the direction they favor, but at a speed that is predictable or manageable. Even if you're the sort of person who is amenable to radical changes in the structure of society (defunding police, universal healthcare, etc), once you have kids you want to have some measure of confidence that the world you are preparing them for is going to partially resemble what you imagine it will.

Expand full comment

That is a very good point. So I have a few old are very radical progressive relatives. Most of them don’t have kids. The one exception is my mom, who is a hard-core left-wing liberal progressive type.

Expand full comment

WRT if the USA has (or at least had) some special mojo, I think that it does, and at least some of it is due to self selection: the majority of Americans are descended from people who voluntarily uprooted themselves and moved far away to seek opportunity. That's not an easy thing to do!

I interact with a fair number of immigrants, and in particular, watching European immigrants interact with friends/family/colleagues in their home countries is fascinating. Those who immigrated often find those who didn't immigrate to be painfully slow and indecisive. That generally jives with my observation --- that Americans tend to have more hustle than Europeans.

Interestingly, I think you can even see this in the cuisine. In the USA, there's so much food that's enclosed in bread: hamburgers and sandwiches put meals between two pieces of bread; burritos wrap a meal inside a piece of flatbread; pizza puts a meal on top of a piece of bread, etc. The reason food in the USA is so bread-encrusted is because it's faster to eat, which is useful if you have shit to do. (It's also arguably unhealthy. That's a separate issue.) I've heard many Europeans question why Americans eat so many bread-encrusted things instead of sitting down and having a proper meal. Well, you get less done if you sit around eating meals.

(That's not to say that I endorse the get-shit-done-at-all-costs-even-if-it-ruins-your-health approach. I'm just saying that it's a thing.)

Expand full comment

I’m in Argentina and there is a lot of bread drive cuisine here. The breakfast alone is carb city.

Expand full comment

>>I mean that are there things that the US can do better than anyone else. Things like entering World War II and turning the tide of the war against Germany and Japan.<<

I'm in the middle of reading Vasily Grossman's incredible duology on the battle of Stalingrad ("Stalingrad" and "Life and Fate") so on behalf of all the people from the then-Soviet Union who broke the back of the Nazi army, let me say "tsk tsk."

Otherwise, great post!

Expand full comment

But is there a difference between fighting on your own soil when you’re back is against the wall, compared to the United States flying hundreds of thousands of troops thousands of miles away from home to effect effectively two different wars simultaneously on opposite sides of the globe?

It’s not that I don’t admire what the Russians did, but did they have the capability to preemptively achieve the same global response that the United States did. Via soldiers and technology and manufacturing (The unglamorous war on the homefront).

Expand full comment

Oh true, but to be literal, the battle for Stalingrad turned the tide of the war.

Expand full comment

This is a bit of a hobby of mine, so I'll haggle a bit on that topic.

The ability of the American industrial engine to simultaneously produce tonnage equivalent to four IJNs, armored units and artillery equivalent to two Wehrmachts, the entire sea- and landborne logistics chain for the British Army, Red Army, US Army, and Marines, and enough food to feed half the USSR and Britain for three years was crucial to the ultimate victory.

Without that production, damned near freely given, the USSR is unable to simultaneously feed, arm, and fuel itself to sustain high-intensity mechanized warfare. They can and would beat the Germans to a standstill, but come May of 1945 they're still wading towards Kiev and Minsk the old-fashioned way amidst a sea of infantry blood, and the entire generation born from 1919 to 1929 is dead in the sea of blood they expended on the way there.

Of course, the corollary of that... Absent the Red Army in the East tying down 70% of the Wehrmacht's combat power, the only way the US and UK are breaking into the Continent at all is atop a carpet of incinerated German cities and 15 million people reduced to ash in a mass atomic offensive in May 1947.

To say nothing of the fact that such a "atomic surprise" strategy requires strangling the Japanese Home Islands the hard way, starving at least 15 million Japanese people. Primarily their children, as is always the outcome of such horrors.

None of the Big Four were dispensable. Absent any one of them, the others (at best) win a Pyrrhic victory and inherit a bled-out, shattered husk of a global society.

Every denizen of the modern world should thank whatever god they believe in that we all got it mostly right, the one damned time it counted most.

Expand full comment

Until about a year ago, my understanding on the Eastern Front was still stuck in "human wave tactics". It was really eye-opening to read about just how innovative the Red Army really was.

Expand full comment

There's a great scene in Grossman's "Stalingrad" early in the German attack on the city when Stalin issues his "not one step back" order, with anyone retreating to be shot. The head of artillery in the fight goes to the Front commander and says he needs to pull all his artillery out of the city to the east bank of the Volga where it will be safer and much more easily target the German attacks (while also demanding that the artillery commanders stay in the city in order to direct the attacks). The Front commander says "No way! Not one step back!" He goes ahead and pulls the artillery out; it does exactly what he thought it would in thwarting German thrusts, after which the Front commander calls him into his office and says "Good thinking!"

Expand full comment

Thanks for writing this about Grossman. This is finally going to nudge his book to the top of my list.

Expand full comment

Now you guys are gonna make me add something more to my reading list. I feel a little guilty lately… I was on a nonfiction kick, but lately I’ve been in to Sci Fi.

Expand full comment

I read the first one and am starting on the second. Spoiler alert: the two combined are two thousand pages.

Grossman, who was a reporter for Red Star during the war, was *everywhere* the Soviet army was fighting, including Stalingrad. He writes that the only thing he could read for the four years of the war was "War and Peace" which he read through multiple times. As is obvious, he set out to write a War and Peace for WWII, and models his story accordingly.

Expand full comment

get well soon Rory..btw, you said a few comments ago now one of your kids was sick, hope your fam is all well. Always enjoy your thoughts.

Expand full comment

Oh thanks for remembering John. She had the sniffles for a couple of days, did her quarantine, and return to school. The weirdest thing is her sister who she hangs all over and shares a room with never tested positive and never got sick.

Expand full comment

I think well functioning societies need both a conservative impulse, and a progressive one.

More specifically as it relates to America, yes there are things that could be changed for the better. But in general we've got a pretty good system (hence the millions of people wanting to immigrate here each year).

You want a generally free market system to provide dynamism. It's good to have a safety net for when bad things happen, but it shouldn't allow people to slack off.

And while we do need regulation, it should be limited and targeted as much as possible. And it should be reviewed periodically because red tape has a tendency to grow way beyond what is useful.

Expand full comment

Nunzio had a great reply up above to all ne of my comments that describes this dilemma.

Expand full comment

Elizabeth Holmes’s trial has gotten me thinking about how much of the success of Silicon Valley is due to a tolerance for bending the rules. Theranos’s idea was never going to work because among other things, blood from a finger stick isn’t the same as blood from a venous draw and tests on small volumes just aren’t reliable. And if they hadn’t endangered patients it’s possible that the government would have passed on prosecuting Holmes and Balwani.

And some of the companies we think of as important do have shady histories or their founders have engaged in shady behavior in the past. It makes me wonder if tolerating the “fake it till you make it” behavior might be part of why the US is so dynamic and innovative. And it probably is a net benefit. If so, I have no idea where we should draw the line on acceptable faking it. That’s for smarter people than me to figure out.

Expand full comment

Instead of a cause, I wonder if it’s a result. Perhaps Americans expect so much exceptionalism, that when people come up with these harebrained ideas, We are more likely to believe him because we think… Hey were Americans… Of course we can do that shit.

Expand full comment

It’s odd: the people in my life who talk about fascism regularly aren’t progressives, they’re previously centrist MSNBC viewers.

The progressives themselves aren’t hurting us as much as the media and everyone else on the left being afraid of raising their ire. Look at why Shor got fired. Look at how the post-Floyd protests/riots were covered. Absolutely everyone became captive to the progressives’ messaging, whether from sympathy, fear or some combination of the two.

It makes it look like every institution, every liberal-adjacent group, is sold on defund the police, for example, because the people who had misgivings wouldn’t speak up (or had to go start a Substack). People on our side need to speak up when they think these things are crazy or even just a little overboard, but there has been a real fear, often justified, of doing so.

People think that nutty progressives are the left, because almost no one says otherwise and anyone who did got exiled or abused.

Expand full comment

This seems to me to be the flip side of the “Progressive Mobilization Delusion” piece.

Progressives genuinely believe that if they keep “pushing”, they can alter the fundamentals.

Unfortunately, they’re right, just not in the way they expect or want.

They *want* to make certain policies so non-controversial that they can’t help but be enacted. This is delusional.

They’re *succeeding* at raising the salience of a series of unpopular positions and getting them treated as litmus tests in and out of politics, and thus provoking a reaction from the 80-90% of the electorate that doesn’t like the stupid positions in the first place.

They’re basically setting up a situation in which the “fundamental” paradigm is increasingly hostile to them.

Well done, we’ve changed the fundamentals…?

Expand full comment

This is the latest piece I've seen from our host that doesn't seem too concerned about a Trump/fascism connection. I guess I'm quite a bit more worried than MY about us losing our democratic system of government:

1. We have one really specific failure point, our ridiculous Electoral College/certification system, where Trumpy Republican governors or legislators could not 'certify' that Democrat has won their state

2. I doubt we'd get a full-on fascist takeover because Americans would be extremely not resigned to it, but I could see escalating protests, violence, repression and then more protests & violence kind of cycles in response to a rigged election. Where that ends up is anyone's guess

3. I know not being concerned about stuff is an important part of looking one of the Cool Kids, but our government collapsing is a tail risk, and worrying about extremely bad things with a 10-15% probability seems prudent?

Expand full comment

I guess the counterpoint is 2020 was THE stress test for this systemic risk and we passed. So some - I think Ezra Klein even laid the arguments out well, even if he doesn't agree completely - would place the risk more like 1%. Whether you think it's prudent or not to focus on likely just depends on your probability assessment. I personally find the concerns hyperbolically overblown but I've probably listened to too much Pod Save America.

Expand full comment

I'm not an engineer but I don't think that's how a stress test works. It reminds me of Feynman's analogy of a bridge rated for 3000 pounds that cracks when a 1000-pound truck drives over it: the bridge doesn't have a safety factor of 3 (as NASA said about the Challenger O-rings), but of 0, because the bridge just isn't supposed to crack. Our democracy is not supposed to depend on a quick-thinking security guard leading rioters up a certain staircase, or on the Vice President getting honest, prudent advice from Dan Quayle. We're just supposed to keep humming along, not crack in that fashion.

Expand full comment

I'm not sure that's what saved our democracy...

If the protestors break into the chambers or the VP refuses to certify, do we think that Trump is declared president?

Expand full comment

No, but "Trump is declared president despite losing the election" is only one of several outcomes that we might consider the end of American democracy. Let's run with the Pence hypothetical. Say he tried the Eastman maneuver, declaring that there wasn't a unified slate of electors from 7 states and therefore Trump had won. Is it overwhelmingly likely that we end up with what we have now, with Biden president of a functioning, if restive, democracy? Because I think Pence taking that action would have greatly expanded the range of possible outcomes. And Pence was looking for ways he could follow the Eastman plan! So we came very close to things going crazy in unpredictable but clearly bad ways.

Expand full comment

What system doesn't at some point have to rely on people carrying out their duties in good faith?

Yes, it's kind of weird here, and we would probably prefer it was a bit more on autopilot than it is now. But on the flip side, executing this requires multiple states, congressmen, the VP, and probably the Supreme Court at some point to all go along with it.

Expand full comment

It’s because the system relies on people carrying out their duties that we should be very alarmed when that stops being automatic! Put it another way, the list of people and institutions you gave is what’s required to have Trump on the big stage on January 20 with the band playing Hail to the Chief. But more chaotic outcomes don’t take as much coordination as that.

Expand full comment

Even if the rioters had gotten Pence, do you really think Trump would still be in office?

This wasn't a real insurrection. There was no plan, much less ability to actually take over.

Expand full comment

Well, I’ll just repeat what I said in another comment, which is that there are more bad things in the world than Trump being sworn back in for a second term, and a mob seizing the Vice President could have led to many of them.

Expand full comment

"I know not being concerned about stuff is an important part of looking one of the Cool Kids"

As far as I can tell, the people who would actually be anywhere near the definition of "Cool Kids" are overwhelmingly the ones shrieking about how Trump is a fascist. There's no plausible case for Matt being a "Cool Kid" (no offense, Matt!).

Expand full comment

Saying the fundamentals matter most is of course true, but it's just a description of the conditions on the ground, the winds a party is riding or facing. It doesn't address how, all else equal, a party might improve its election performance. Why do Republicans win in the areas or constituencies where they are strong, and what might the Democratic Party do to expand into that territory, all else equal? Popularism does try to answer that, and it seems like to make the case against popularism you need to take on why its answer to that question is wrong or limited.

Expand full comment

Good question. I surmise that issues matter relatively little because swing voters have eclectic issue preferences. If most swing voters took moderate views on most issues, a party could just adopt poll tested platforms and win a couple cycles. But a “moderate” voter might want universal healthcare, worry that Dems are too hawkish on climate, think that campus culture at elite universities is comically naive, want the US to withdraw from Nato, believe illegitimate births are a social catastrophe, worry about China invading Taiwan, want diplomacy to “fix” our problems with China, hate masks and love vaccines.

Expand full comment

As one of the swing voters, I’m gonna have to agree. I am ashamed to admit how much of my swing voting is based on gut trivial issues.

What turned me against Trump, not that I was for Trump, I always disliked him, but what really made me go against him was when he abandoned the Kurds. I was in the military for 22 years, and spent an inordinate amount of my time deployed to the Middle East supporting in helping the Kurds. It was a little bit personal.

Expand full comment

I think this is true, but there really are consensus issues. SS being popular for example. I think Progressives have realized that and aim to make more of their objectives consensus issues, the problem is that until they reach consensus, they are divisive and actually a negative for the progressive cause. That's how Bush could run on gay marriage in 2004 and use it to win while running against it today as a major issue would be an anchor. The challenge is that its actually really hard to make something a consensus issue and if it actually costs the public anything, its almost impossible.

Expand full comment

My first thought while reading through this is that Yglesias is treating internal Democratic coalition politics as a minor detail, which is not true given the entire thesis of popularism essentially comes down to "elect Democrats to get good policy and also avoid democratic backsliding".

A lot of ink has been spilled in the popularism debate about what if anything the Hillary Clinton campaign could have done differently in 2016 to stop Donald Trump. Without getting into the specifics about policy and messaging changes (which have been debated to death), I'll offer this: the single best thing for Clinton in 2016 would have been avoiding the brutal primary campaign. We might forget how damaging it was given the 2020 Democratic primary campaign seemed spirited (and Bernie was back!), but it was nothing close to 2016. The way to avoid this is to bring the left into the Democratic tent.

Yglesias and others were very correct in criticizing the 2020 Democratic candidates for adopting fantastically left wing policies and spending the bulk of their debates attacking each other for not being liberal enough. However, it is wrong to criticize the House for passing bills that don't have a chance in the Senate. Yes, they might get some play on Fox News. They will also get play in Democratic friendly media outlets. But they will broadly miss non-partisans and not hurt Democrats with the hypothetical median voter.

What passing House bills *will* do is help forge a broad consensus across the Democratic caucus about what its purpose is. This is very critical given how diverse the caucus is. And people like AOC and other progressives are very influential with young progressive voters. Proving to them that the Democratic party is not just a bunch of corporate hacks and liars who will sell their constituents out at a moments notice will yield *tremendous* political dividends over the next couple of decades. You can already see this in the reconciliation debate. Bernie backing Biden against Manchin is tremendously useful, both in the immediate sense of helping the bill pass, but also for signaling to the left that Biden isn't a wimpy sellout! Plenty of these people are inclined to believe that Biden is secretly glad to see Sinema and Manchin tank his agenda. We'll need their votes in 2022 and beyond, and I can't think of anything more helpful in getting them than people like Sanders and Jayapal distinguishing between Biden as an ally and Manchin as an obstructionist.

In other words, Yglesias and the popularism crew are absolutely correct that every action taken during a presidential campaign should be in service of winning the presidency. However, it is also *not* true that every political action everywhere should be in service of winning the presidency. In fact, the opposite might be true. Forging political consensus now might help settle debates that then don't need to get ironed out during presidential primaries. Likewise, if AOC and other progressives trust the Democratic establishment that they are taking policing reform seriously, it might lead them to avoid adopting unproductive activist messaging points.

Expand full comment

Young progressive voters are like 10% of just Democrat voters. They're vastly outnumbered even in even-numbered-year Democratic primaries. Proving something to them about Joe Biden now feels very unlikely to make a predictable difference to how they vote in 2028.

Expand full comment

You're getting caught up in a purely electoral calculation. Many popularists and similar types argue that (for example), "defund the police" is a bad policy idea. I agree! My point is that forging a consensus across the Democratic electorate in which AOC and progressives are bought in will make it less likely for policies like "defund the police" to gain traction, which will lead to less raucous primary campaigns, which will lead to more Democrats getting elected.

Expand full comment

How do you "forge a consensus" between Bernie Sanders, Joe Manchin, Ilhan Omar and Jared Golden that removes "defund the police" from BLM and its supporters?

Expand full comment

Hard work. The bills that have passed the House already are a good place to start, hence my point. Also, there is a big difference between consensus and unanimity. Jared Golden and Manchin are outliers on the respective issues. But it doesn't change the fact that the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed with 220 votes and that essentially every Democrat in Congress except two senators would have voted for a much more expansive reconciliation bill than whatever is going to pass. It sets the example for AOC, Bernie, and other progressives that it is much better to work with the larger Democratic caucus to get their policy interests passed. This will hopefully lead to less adoption of activist messaging if they begin to trust leadership more.

On the specific case of "defund the police" and BLM, positions might be dug in too much now. The movement began when Democrats had little power to pass their agenda, leading to more mainstreaming of radical policies.

Expand full comment

I think this misreads what happens. Defeat breeds restraint and moderation in order to win (Biden being the choice after losing narrowly to Trump). Victory breeds excess. Passing the ACA didn't lead to Progressives mitigating their asks, they came back and started asking for Medicare for All. If the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passes, it makes activists think that more is possible, not less!

Expand full comment

Progressives were never happy with the ACA from its very proposal. This often got distilled down to the single point of wanting to add a public option, but their issues were really much deeper, derived from its continued reliance on private insurance.

The ACA exchanges and subsidies didn't become operational until October 2013, and Sanders launched his first presidential campaign in April 2015 (though of course it took awhile to take off with progressive activists), so it's not like we're talking about a huge amount of time for it to sink in. That also means there were over three years between the ACA passage and major benefits being administered in which Democrats were talking about this great thing that they did that wasn't actually having a dramatic impact yet. Meanwhile health care costs were rising. I don't consider it that surprising the activist left wasn't thrilled at the time.

My take on health care is that passing the reconciliation health care provisions (essentially expansions of the three major public health care programs, Medicaid, ACA subsidies, and Medicare) will patch up significant holes and bring health care system to a more broadly acceptable level. Will progressives abandon single payer at that point? Probably not. Why should they? Single payer is not a radical idea in objective terms (many liberal democracies have it and their citizens seem fine with it) and has been intermittently proposed by mainstream Democrats since the New Deal.

But would substantial but incremental changes to the health care system get us to a place that more aggressive policies become less salient? Would that prevent single payer from becoming a litmus test in presidential primaries? Would it prevent progressives winning primaries in marginal districts over more acceptable moderate candidates? That's the difference and what I mean when I talk about consensus. I don't expect people to disregard their deeply held beliefs, but can you get them to see good faith compromises that help people as viable alternatives?

Expand full comment

“Defund the police” came from an exogenous event (George Floyd’s murder) and was exacerbated by Trump going all Tiananmen Square trying to suppress dissent. It’s impossible to know in advance what kind of shocks might come along that create a new slogan.

Expand full comment

Agreed.

I can't think of a single bill that the House passed (and which died in the Senate) that would hurt the Democrats. There's nothing like the (successful) passing of the ACA in 2010 or the (unsuccessful) vote to repeal it in 2018.

Expand full comment

Shor: "Police Unions are Fascist Terror Organizations". Anyone want to try defending that?

I just read yet another news piece on some Republican (it happened to be Hall of Fame running back Herschel Walker) being "cancelled" because his fundraiser used a swastika in its logo. ( It's absolutely critical to note that the swastika was intended to compare HW political opponents to Nazis / fascists ).

It just seems sloppy and hypocritical for progressives to loosely throw around the term fascist when the same intentions are so beyond the pale when used by non-progressives. If comparing something or someone to Hitler is beyond the pale because it trivializes the Holocaust then maybe people on the left should be cautious about using it, too.

FWIW it does strike me that Yglesias was using the word fascist in a more meaningful way and not just using it as sloppy name calling.

Expand full comment

I don't think progressives or anyone on the left can "cancel" Herschel Walker. That's up to the Republicans.

Expand full comment

I don't know if HW got more pressure from the Left or Right to cancel his fundraiser. If it was more from the Left it means they can cancel him. If it was from the Right maybe the Right is actually better at self-policing certain types of stupid speech than they are given credit for.

in any case, the other example I had in mind was Gina Carano who was fired, at least in part, for saying something that boiled down to "the Democrats are acting like Nazis". That might be ridiculous, but people like Shor are saying some version of "the right are fascists" pretty regularly.

My main complaint here is the Left has developed some fairly hypocritical standards when it comes from self-policing stupid speech. Shor got fired for tweeting research (from a Black Princeton professor) that looked at the impact of any violence associated with racial justice protests, but there's no pushback when he calls police organizations "Fascist Terrorist Organizations".

Expand full comment

This may be more of a distinction without a difference, but while all fascism is bad, all fascism is not genocidal Nazism.

Mussolini was garden-variety dictator bad, and I think David Shor is referring to that type of endpoint, not Auschwitz Redux and World War III

Expand full comment

Appreciate the response as this has become one of my own personal peeves.

So that's where I think it gets very sloppy. Noone's clarifying what they mean. To the most man on the street who could barely tell you Mussolini was, fascism == Hitler. To the student of history fascism might be a specific political movement that all but died out in the 40s. My interpretation is it's most often used to mean "right wing person who I fear could become a dictator", in which case they should say that more clearly instead of softly implying that we're at risk of gencide.

Expand full comment

I agree with you, fascism is a specific ideology that has essentially been dead since WWII with no signs of revival.

Fascism as shorthand for not actually fascist right-wing dictatorship (for example: Brazil in the 70s) isn't wholly offensive to me, but it's also not wholly accurate.

Expand full comment

What if Trump is a fascist who will throw progressives out of helicopters, and global warming will incinerate us unless we decarbonize now and the dominant phallicentric paradigm is so awful that life isn’t worth living? Is it nobler to heighten the contradictions in hopes of being thrown out of a helicopter or just to drink oneself to death? Asking for some of my FB friends.

Expand full comment

They may throw us out of helicopters, but they'll never take OUR FREEDOM!

Expand full comment

Phallicentric paradigm! I love it!

Expand full comment

Matt, it wasn't so long ago that you were critical of the Obama admin for preemptively compromising and then being shocked when it turned out that conservatives were going to oppose everything anyway. It now seems like you're criticizing House Dems for having learned that lesson.

Expand full comment

Well yes. Obama preemptively compromised and then wouldn't go any further - which is not really negotiating. House Progressives are making bold claims about how absolutely terrible Trump was/is but are then pushing hard on moderates in their own party to fall in line for "sweeping legislation."

Expand full comment

Not sure there's an inconsistency there. One is about intragovernment negotiations between parties that each control part of the government, and the other is about campaigning and winning elections.

Expand full comment

Wait, which one is which? Obama proposing moderate legislation is governing or campaigning? And House Dems proposing more liberal legislation now is the other one?

Expand full comment
founding

He’s not telling democrats to avoid proposing liberal legislation - he’s telling them to avoid proposing *unpopular* legislation. You might notice his article from a week or so ago pointing out that Kyrsten Sienna is doing the worst on this, by supporting unpopular “moderate” policy over popular progressive policy.

Expand full comment

MY repeatedly calls out the term "sweeping" in this post, which implies scope, not popularity. And most of them are pretty popular based on polling.

For what it's worth, I'm in the "policy outcomes don't matter very much to political outcomes" camp. As you may have seen may say before, a big reason I have come to believe this is that Obama achieved excellent policy outcomes. The conservative answer was 1) lie about those outcomes and 2) appeal to racism/nativism/general bigotry.

This conservative strategy was extremely successful despite policy outcomes that were both popular and moderate, and it seems extremely likely that conservatives will use the same strategy again regardless of our next set of policy outcomes.

Expand full comment

One way I've explained a similar critique of popularism: If Democrats had nominated Ted Cruz for President in 2020, we would have won all 50 states. A great political outcome, but in my opinion, not worth the resulting policies. So we're all drawing lines in the sand somewhere and saying that it's not worth it to support someone you fundamentally disagree with just to gain a few points and win a few more states.

I think what people misinterpret about Shor is that he really isn't telling people where to draw their own lines, he's just pointing out that where you draw the line affects your chances of success.

Expand full comment

I'm extremely confused as to why you believe your first sentence. I think it's more likely for Ted Cruz to have lost all 50 states than won them.

Expand full comment

I'm assuming that if Democrats were asked to choose between Cruz and Trump, they would all nearly all choose Cruz.

Expand full comment

I think that:

1) that isn't true. I certainly would not choose Cruz for sure. He has also shown a willingness to screw up our institutions for his own personal gain (see: 2013 shutdown)

2) there would absolutely be a third-party candidate, who would likely outperform Cruz by quite a bit, turning it into a Green-Republican or Indy-Republican race, or what have you

Expand full comment

I like Shor a lot, but I'm always puzzled by how people keep talking about his "theory of politics". I've never seen much of actual theory in what he says, much less a theory of his own. And it's not really his job to do it, he's an empiricist! It's just that a "theory" it's not just a collection of empirical findings.

As for the progressives' intransigence, even though I imagine most of them defend Proportional Representation, they are really taking advantage of the winner takes all nature of the American electoral system. Making the system a little more proportional, with at least one more party becoming competitive, would free those factions to pursue their agenda while at the same time making them face more political consequences for their intransigence.

Expand full comment

The word "theory" is misleading. I think "advice to win" is more accurate. Pretty much everything he publishes basically says "Talk about things most voters like, don't talk about things most voters don't like."

Expand full comment

Yeah, I get that people often use "theory" broadly, that's fine, but when you talk about the "theory of politics" or "unified theory of politics", like in that New York Magazine article, it brings it much closer to the strict meaning.

Expand full comment

I dunno. Seems to me Shor espouses a fairly comprehensible, internally logical and coherent set of principles describing the US politics of 2021. (Though sure, if we were to see significant demographic or sociological shifts leading to different voter behavior, no no doubt his "theory" as it exists now would no longer be tenable.)

Expand full comment

I know it might feel like too subtle a distinction, but it's one thing for Shor to be theory-informed and have some internal consistency (which makes him a better analyst), and another for him the be providing theory out of his empirical analysis. This might feel too academic, but it makes a difference that can prove quite substantial when pundits are analyzing slightly complex issues.

Expand full comment

"This might feel too academic, but it makes a difference that can prove quite substantial when pundits are analyzing slightly complex issues."

How so?

Expand full comment

The conversation around the overall effect of any particular political tactics, especially political positions, is somewhat hamstrung by the actual restriction of range of actual candidates. If Biden had embraced Defund the Police, i am confident that he would have lost.

If some Republicans actually campaigned on legit ending Social Security, they would lose dramatically. Kansas has a Democratic governor because Brownback drank the cool aid and gutted their budget.

Expand full comment

I also disagree with David Shor, but for a different reason. Here is what I said on my podcast last week: https://mindkiller.substack.com/p/episode-41-social-studies-69a

Ezra Klein’s column this week was about David Shor and his advice for the Democratic Party. Link in show notes. Trigger warning for New York Times. Both Klein and Shor agree that polarization based on education level is just a proxy for polarization by class, where the upper classes are voting democrat and the working class is voting Republican. This tends to screw over the Democrats because upper classes are more concentrated in cities, leading to disadvantages in the House, Sentate, and Electoral College. In fact, Shor predicts that if the Democrats win 51% of the vote, they’ll lose the Senate, and a four-point margin of victory only gives them a 50/50 shot of holding it.

Shor’s advice to appeal to more rural voters is this: “Democrats should do a lot of polling to figure out which of their views are popular and which are not popular, and then they should talk about the popular stuff and shut up about the unpopular stuff.” Talk about popular ideas like allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Don’t talk about unpopular stuff like immigration.

I think this is wrong. Shor is a data scientist, so it’s not surprising that his advice is “do data science.” And I think he’s on the right track, but he’s wrong about what animates voters - especially conservative ones. They don’t care about policy. Most Trump supporters probably couldn’t do better than chance if asked what policies Trump supports. Knowing and caring about policy is already an upper-class thing. The people who know and care about policy already mostly vote Democrat.

If Democrats really want to capture more rural voters, they need to side with them on culture war issues. New Jersey Democrats can be very culturally liberal, but if you want to be competitive in Tennessee, you’ve got to nominate people - especially for Senate races - who support democratic policies but who identify as conservatives culturally. Yes, this means abortion, but most people actually support the right to abortion in the first trimester, so you can have a squishy position on that so long as you make sad faces about it and say that the real solution is for people to be more responsible when it comes to premarital sex. What you really need to do is hate the people conservatives hate - the coastal elites who look down on rural living as backward, stupid, and deplorable. You need someone who thinks being called a racist is worse than being a racist, that white men are the most disadvantaged demographic, and that #metoo has gone too far. Someone who thinks critical race theory is the biggest problem with our educational system. Someone who worries that kids are being pressured to change their gender and that none of them go to church enough. That you’re safer with a gun than without one, and that illegal Mexicans are takin our jerrrbs. Agree with them on that stuff loudly and often and they won’t care about your tax policy. They might even enthusiastically support your plan to tax the rich to give them free healthcare so long as you are very loudly against “socialism.” Conservatives didn’t love Trump because he supported tax cuts and opposed entitlement spending. They loved him because he was obviously and unapologetically anti-blue tribe. The hatred radiated from him. He didn’t speak in euphemisms, he said “the Mexicans are sending us their rapists.” If Democrats want to win in red states, they need people who can do the same thing while still agreeing with Democrats on the actual important policy questions. It means you might lose their vote on a few especially salient issues, but you still have a reliable vote on everything that’s not super culturally important, which - news flash - is almost everything the Federal government does. At the very least, you’ll be able to confirm your judges.

It also won’t work if it’s insincere. You can’t get someone to just say the right things. You need someone who actually speaks the language and actually shares the feelings of marginalization. But don’t call it marginalization, that’s a blue tribe word. But that shouldn’t be too hard because surveys consistently show that the most popular political quadrant is fiscally liberal but socially conservative. Outside of politics and media, almost everyone hates the far left and their holier-than-thou bullshit. These people are everywhere, and the Democrats should be finding them and encouraging them to run for office.

To win rural votes, nominate people who share rural values but also care about good governance. It’s not fair that our system puts a thumb on the scale in favor of rural votes, but it does, and if the Democrats want to win elections, they’re going to need to deal with that. Since they won’t change the rules, they’re going to have to find a way to appeal to more rural voters, and they won’t do that by switching policy positions. They’ll do it by nominating actual red tribe members.

Expand full comment

Rural America is a big place and probably more diverse in its cultural views than I think you're giving it credit for here.

Also - to some extent the kind of candidates you're describing are the kinds of candidates Dems do run in rural states and regions, right? They might not be as loud on cultural grievance issues as you recommend, and maybe that's the key difference you're proposing. But the ones I've seen are as authentic to the place they are running in as typical republicans are.

Expand full comment

This reads like a decent analysis, except that it’s based on a very narrow caricature of rural voters.

Expand full comment

Maybe? It wasn't who they ran in any of the high-profile senate races. And I'm somewhat skeptical that a person like this could make it through a primary in the current environment

Expand full comment
founding

After the post 2020 election behavior of Trump and his continued support by the republican party, what matters most is Trump or a Trump surrogate not being elected in 2024. So I hope that is the lane that Biden swerves back to.

Expand full comment

Since the parties are so even electorally, we can't be surprised when power swings back and forth. If the Democrats pass a good reconciliation bill and then lose the House in 2022, that's not the worst thing in the world. They'll have banked some great progressive policy changes and the Republicans won't be able to tear them down. What's crucial is to hold the Senate next year, especially in order to be able to still get appointments through (definitely including the Supreme Court) and -- above all -- to have a very good year in 2024.

Expand full comment