611 Comments
May 29Liked by Ben Krauss

I think that, to some degree, Matthew's journey also reflects that he was and is highly focused on policy, while both left and right have increasingly downplayed policy in favor of culture war.

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May 29·edited May 29Author

Also an important part of this is just sheer politics, as Matt mentioned in the article, the left has become increasingly divorced from political realities, and it’s hard to want to fight for the team that keeps shooting itself in the foot.

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May 29·edited May 29

The whole "vote uncommitted" movement in the Democratic Primary is the perfect example of this - the Left would rather punish Joe Biden, who is inarguably better for Palestinians than help him defeat his opponent would doesn't care if Palestinians live or die. I can't comprehend this type of thinking.

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I’m voting uncommitted in the NJ primary and for Biden in the general.

I don’t think it’s inarguable that voting uncommitted helps Palestinians, but, in general, indicating priorities and preferences to politicians who depend on your support is more likely to increase than to decrease the likelihood of those priorities/preferences being realized, don’t you think?

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In theory, I agree but unfortunately we have two choices in this election under our system. Voting “uncommitted” just hurts the guy is inarguably more sympathetic to Palestinians (Biden).

I too disagree with Biden’s policy towards Israel, for entirely different and likely opposite reasons than you do and I won’t be voting “uncommitted” in the Florida Democratic Party because I don’t want to help generate bad news for Biden.

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Fair enough.

But i have to ask. Are there actually any voters who will choose not to vote for Biden in November because some people voted uncommitted in the primary? What kind of voters are they? Pro-Palestinians who are unsure about Biden and see the level of uncommitted support as confirmation that Biden is undeserving of their general election vote?

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In a literal sense you’re right, nobody is going to vote for Trump bc some people in New Jersey voted uncommitted in the primary. But, by doing so you’re making an issue that is bad for Biden more salient by drawing more attention so it and are contributing to an overall negative media environment with respect to Biden. I’m fairly certain a constant negative stream of news about Biden doesn’t help push swing voters his way and can only hurt.

Personally, I’d rather push positive vibes towards Biden since I want him to win even though I disagree with him on this issue.

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Most of the “pro-Palestine” left couldn’t care less about the Palestinians, and are instead interested only in feeling morally righteous. Realism about politics makes it harder to feel morally righteous.

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There is no chance that October 7th would have happened under Trump. Hamas would simply understand that the entire tactic of gaining sympathy through the use of human shields is irrelevant with him. So perhaps Biden is indeed worse for the Palestinians.

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The timing of October 7th had more to do with Israeli relations with its immediate Arab neighbors (improving to the detriment of Palestinians) than who happened to be the American president at that particular time.

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This is a deeply ridiculous claim.

If you want to engage in that kind of wish-casting, then you have to reckon with the fact that Hamas pretty clearly wanted to disrupt the process of Israeli-Saudi reconciliation that the Trump team put so much effort into supporting. So I guess it's Trump's fault?

Of course, Hamas is funded by a deal worked out by the Netanyahu government to channel money through the Arab states, since the Israelis didn't want to be seen managing Hamas funding with direct transfers of tax revenue, as they do with the Palestinian Authority. So I guess October 7 wouldn't have happened if not for Netanyahu.

Or something.

Or maybe it is simply the case that the world is complicated, and people do things for lots of reasons with the timing set by lots of factors.

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They also want to shoot anyone in the foot who they see as a traitor to the cause too.

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Synthesis: they're trying to a shoot traitors, but hitting their own feet instead.

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Yes, that's why Hilary Clinton cruised to an easy victory in 2016 - the center-right politics she exemplified were so effective

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If you think Hillary Clinton exemplified "center-right" politics, you perspective of left and right is wildly out of sync with the American public.

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Yeah. She flipped culturally way left, probably not so much economically

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First time meeting Freddie?

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I'm late, but the comment you're responding to is a perfect example of 'degraded epistemics' mentioned in the article.

I do not know of a clear-eyed political analysis that gets you 'Hillary Clinton is center-right.'

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And European.

Or any existing political system.

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I mean, yes?

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Always worth noting she did actually receive the most votes. But the polling afterwards showing where she lost Obama voters to Trump was him being nominally less right than the Republican orthodoxy and her having moved culturally left compared to Obama, her husband, and even her own previous positions.

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How can anyone take you seriously when you debase yourself with such Overton Window silliness.

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Hilary was unlikeable and didn’t believe in Democracy or free speech. She was profoundly un-American. I said so at the time, and the voters mostly agreed with me. She lost because she would have been a worse President, and after she lost suggested that her political opposition should be put in re-education camps.

I think Trump’s policies were mostly okay, his rambling speeches were cringeworthy and the reaction of the hideous Left has been to style, not substance.

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It was a "cuckoo's nest" election between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy -- with Nurse Ratched's fan club characterizing McMurphy as the "authoritarian"!

Trump is to be despised for his lying and his gratuitous cruelty, but (in his willingness to flout decorum) one can still deeply understand the nature of his appeal.

As for Ms. Clinton, the final word goes to Barack Obama, with his wry observation (damning with faint praise): "You're likeable enough, Hillary."

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When they first came on to the scene, they looked very much like they were setting up a foot-gun factory.

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Which, while not a good thing in and of itself, is indicative of good things.

If your polity is arguing about a handful of transwomen playing sports, then clearly solved the major material concerns.

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I suspect these nonmaterial issues are sometimes deployed as distractions from material ones.

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That's a silly conspiracy

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Not a conspiracy. It's something Republican strategists perceive and exploit: they can get more votes through cultural issue than by emphasizing their longtime (less popular than in prior decades) economic policies. https://americancompass.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/GOP-Voter-Survey_Sept-2023_Final.pdf

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The linked document indicates that GOP voters actually care about those issues more than material concerns, so it's hard to see how they're "distractions", which implies that the elites are trying to fool voters.

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I think it's a feedback loop. The elites are responding to voters and also shaping voters' priorities. I don't think that rules out "trying to fool voters" as part of what's going on. If you're at a right-wing think tank or magazine, and you have any thoughts that say tax cuts won't benefit numerous Republican voters, but will benefit your wealthy donors, you might be very happy to talk about transgender athletes.

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Republicans don't have a monopoly on using "culture war" issues as a distraction.

In the age of DEI, try asking for a raise (or a job), only to be told, "Check your privilege." We pick each other to pieces over "pronouns" and "privilege" while the oligarchs keep laughing all the way to the bank.

And (Take my word as a gay male!) the Democrats are happy to inflame these issues (i.e., by foregrounding "trans") to enhance the protection racket they're running.

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I actually do not think we've solved all major material concerns.

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For example, if your hand gets mashed in an accident, or your eye gets poked out, you still can't get a good replacement, whether you're Bill Gates or homeless, any more than a king in centuries past could get penicillin. Even the richest of us are practically primitive peasants!

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We've solved the major material concerns for the wealthy people who dominate our discourse. Internet echo chambers make it possible to be a progressive & be totally oblivious to the suffering of the poor.

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During 2009-2010 the polity was arguing over whether Obama was born in Kenya, and his comments that that cop in Cambridge acted stupidly, and we clearly hadn’t solved material problems then.

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I think the most defensible form of "we've solved material problems" is that the statement applies to large majorities of voters rather than all citizens, in which case it conceivably covers the entire post-WW2 period of US history.

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This whole post is culture war AGAINST THE LEFT!

Do you honestly think your definition of "policy" is ideologically neutral?

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It’s pretty wild how much you hate Matt tbh. Maybe you should write a response in post form because your comments are not leaving a good impression.

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The paywall is supposed to keep the haters away, but I guess it doesn't work on professionals.

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Yes, specifically the part of Leftist culture with bad epistemology. There's massive space between "partisan hackwork" and "ideological neutral," and I am confident that Ken and MY's definition of policy is more towards the neutral/objective end than the "average" academic or journalist's is (partly that's to flatter my own preferences, but mostly it's just to acknowledge the selection effects of people interested in this kind of content).

I think you know better than anyone how "Progressive's" poor epistemology on education has led to policies that are not only misguided but sometimes actively harmful.

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"This whole post is culture war against the left!" [emphasis removed]

So? Just because culture war is, in general, a waste of time, does not mean that a particular culture-war conclusion is incorrect.

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Policy is, in fact, when the government does stuff!

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Seems like the reverse is true. The most important change in 1st world politics post 2008 has been an elevation of a policy debate (over immigration) that had previously been suppressed by both parties

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Except that the immigration "policy" debate is framed almost exclusively in culture war terms. Outside of Matt, only a handful of other commentators talk about immigration in actual policy terms.

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That's an interesting idea, maybe even has some truth to it in that anti-immigration sentiment has been ignored at times. On other hand, Gallup data shows that percent of public wanting immigration to be lowered peaked in mid-1990s. https://news.gallup.com/poll/1660/immigration.aspx

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Yeah my (and Matt's) preferred immigration policy used to be legalize-heroin unpopular and was (partially) implemented through completely ignoring the voters. That was super awesome (and massively benefitted America) but unfortunately broke down across the developed world

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The charge of epistemic inadequacy seems correct, but too vague. So they are getting things wrong. But why are they getting things wrong? Which mechanisms are failing? Is it flawed fact-finding, inept statistical analysis, confirmation bias, what?

I feel like you’re pulling your punches here, in a way that you did not do when you attacked Kendi and the DEI industry.

So, identify the particular epistemic methods that are to blame: Kantian rationalism? Affirming the consequent? Frequentist probability theory? Name names!

“Progressive epistemology “ is right there in your subhed, but you never say what it is or what is distinctive about it.

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I’m not sure if I’m reading into Matt’s words or not, but I think it’s left vague because the errors are just… really dumb. Like what principled philosophical headline does the error “believe that you can get to a Nordic welfare state without raising middle class taxes” fall under? Certainly not Kantian rationalism. More like “refusal to consider that 2+2≠5”.

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I agree with this. I guess to diagnose the problem in general terms it’s that there is a rising premium of coalitional solidarity and avoiding infighting among Democratic Party elites that leads to all kinds of ideas just being under-scrutinized

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How about this?

There is a lack of rigorous analysis on the Left currently. They fail to look at the mechanisms of policy and government with the eye of a watchmaker, to identify cause and effect and determine the best (or perhaps merely least bad) option and proceed rationally.

In short, they have abandoned technocratic thinking - I suspect because they disliked the incrementalism and overall stability of technocratic thinking.

Radicalism and idealism are currently in the driver's seat for the Left. "What do we want in our dreams?" holds more rhetorical power than "what is possible at this time?"

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May 29·edited May 29

For me this is the fundamental frustration with them. I'm the same age as Matt, and in our formative years the right were ideological (and specifically religious) purists who ignored data and rational thinking. But now the left has joined them, leaving the rest of us scrambling for an island in a rising tide of stupid.

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I think age has a lot to do with it.

I’m older, and the Carter years were filled with wildly irrational and ungrounded political ideas from Democrats so that the racists who were the core of the blue-dog Democrats could sit in coalition with the AFL-CIO folks who fundamentally wanted to earn economic rents for just existing. Carter talked about malaise; Reagan appointed Paul Volker, we got our medicine, had a rough three years and ended up much better off for it.

Democrats have subsequently always looked like a coalition of thieves, racists and racketeers, with short term decision making driving bad ideas - and I feel like I’ve come to the center because Republicans have started to join them.

But I think that’s a function of starting point bias. If I’d started thinking when Nixon was President, I might have a different view.

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Carter appointed Volker. The three rough years started on his watch and helped tank his reelection. They ended on Reagan's watch and he got credit for morning in America. Carter also did most of the deregulation.

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Your entire analysis here is "people like me are smart, people who disagree with me are dumb"

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LOL he literally just wrote: "there is a rising premium of coalitional solidarity and avoiding infighting among Democratic Party elites that leads to all kinds of ideas just being under-scrutinized" which is something totally different (and goes a long way to explain why so many smart people jumped on the "defund the police bandwagon", they wanted to be Good Allies at what seems like a moment of crisis and so went along and didn't ask any questions).

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I admit that I chuckled at this, but let me try a defense:

If someone does an analysis that reaches different conclusions from my own, I try to consider their work and determine if my analysis needs to be revised.

But we are having that discussion in terms of rational analysis. I guess I am a bit stubborn that this is the only correct way to engage with policy.

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Well, I think having a coherent model of why policy/position X will have beneficial effect Y should be considered the bare minimum for any position taking. If someone disagrees with that, then yes, I think they're dumb. I suspect both of you would agree this is currently a much bigger problem on the Right than the Left anyway.

But I suspect "rigorous" is the load-bearing word between Miles' conceptions and your critique. Nobody can accuse the Left of paying too little attention to Academia, but if you think the average epistemic standards of entire fields are so poor that most studies/statistics/theories they generate are worthless...then it becomes incredibly difficult to even have productive disagreement. The idea of tradeoffs in particular is hugely neglected on both sides, and I do basically agree that people who don't acknowledge that are "dumb."

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It's really not. You can tell if someone has thought things through because you can follow their argument and see if there a big logical leaps or internal contradictions. If you're having an actual discussion you can then ask them about these things and see if they respond.

E.g. if someone says "We can get rid of crime by getting rid of police" it's quite simple to identify the flaws. The same for "We can deport all illegal immigrants and that will not lead to inflation".

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Specific policy decisions would help. Yglesias pushed back against Biden's Natural Gas policy, but does he think ARPA was a good spending bill? Is Biden's DHS, or Dept. of Education, or HHS, or EPA, or so on making good policies on net? Perhaps on net; but which parts are below GOP replacement? What about the IRA's spending on upper-middle class EV car consumption as Dem politicians conspire in broad daylight to make used cars unaffordable in a few years? What about the party's 2020 platform; is this going to change a lot in August? Probably not. But if you could strike three sentences, which would they be?

Wanting to avoid infighting is a great goal. I would like Republicans to nominate better candidates, such as for the presidency, which I believe they'll narrowly lose the 2024 race for. But I need a specific theory of the case if I wanted a better option in 2024. Trump appears to have solved a couple coalition problems Republicans worried about, and so they decided to not rock the boat and go with their own Hillary Clinton the party can agree on. He aggressively sets the party's media agenda at a time when the party feels deeply alienated from non-right media sources.

Similarly, I think if you want to critically hit the Left or the non-profits, "the groups", etc, you have to name the reasons it remains more influential in the Democratic party and which coalition problems it is solving for people. Saying, "they have abandoned technocratic thinking" makes little sense when I meet left-wingers with enormous ideas about what government should do. Technocracy is not the same as stability; it means rule of technical experts. If said technical experts believe large changes are in order, they will pursue them.

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Perhaps the Left is trying to appeal to the majority of voters that respond to populism and no-tradeoffs rhetoric. It's worked quite well for the Right. One could argue that it may even be immoral to be more honest and technocratic and give up these votes to the populist Right, considering what's at stake.

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founding

There’s a difference between how you talk to the public and how you reason about what means will help with reaching your ends. You don’t want to talk about tradeoffs too publicly all the time, but you do need to think about them.

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I agree with this. I do hope the leaders on the Left are having these rational discussions internally.

Reminds me of the Hillary Clinton quote that you need a public and a private position (not that she is commonly seen as part of the Left).

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I think there's something to this.

The main narrative we get from the left is that they're simply frustrated with the lack of progress. OK, that checks, because yeah, Congress is basically paralyzed by the filibuster and it took Joe Biden's deep Senate knowledge to temporarily laxate the first spate of major bipartisan turds out of the goose in my entire adult life.

However, I think some of the left's dysfunction is indeed a reaction to Fox News. It's the sense that, "THEY get away with lying to the voters' faces, why the heck can't WE?".

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^ Comment of the day IMHO.

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But why is this happening? One theory is large parts of the Democratic Party still want to see and think of it as the scrappy populist party of the masses rather than an establishment party of the comfortable and the elite, when in fact there's another party that is becoming the populist party of the masses. And that's creating tension and an impulse to paper over these tensions by more forced solidarity and avoidance of examining whose views and interests the Democratic Party really represents anymore.

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I am indeed shocked by how how many on the far Left hold a Marxist class-based view that predicts the workers will align with their socialist agenda, despite the overwhelming evidence that those workers prefer something that at least winks toward white nationalist fascism.

This leads to some very bad thinking about toppling the elites. The elites hold this ragtag band of misfits together! They should study how the Iranian liberals supported the Ayatollahs to overthrow the Shah, and were then surprised they did not get a liberal paradise. Common problem.

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"I am indeed shocked by how how many on the far Left hold a Marxist class-based view that predicts the workers will align with their socialist agenda,"

But, the world would be better if workers believed in Social Democracy instead of Fascism and politicians of the left believed in Social Democracy and New New Dealism and succeeded at it better than a combo of neoliberal economics and identitarian politcs.

This is a case of the electeds and New Deal or labor liberal nostalgics, with whom Matt Yglesias shares some features in common, unfortunately being a better set of human being than the freaking electorate, especially the online parts that keep bucking from their goddamn proper lanes.

For all peoples complaints about problems with leadership over the last several decades I think we've seen about as great a crisis in political followership and grassroots political stupidship and triviaship.

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“…we've seen about as great a crisis in political followership…”

Hear, hear! We the People should listen to our betters!

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Ryan Grim’s piece on turmoil in progressive organizations was validation for me that I can be a Democrat and not buy into the DEI industry

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I think it's fundamentally different. There was a period where there genuinely were $20 bills lying around on the ground to be picked up and that makes fiscal policy easy: you can raise spending without raising taxes and without having to worry about competing with other spending priorities because the underlying economic problem is just a shortage of demand.

And then came inflation.

I think a lot of the left analysts are people who grew up in a world where "pay-fors" were completely unnecessary and the correct political argument was "how do we spend the billions we should be spending to restimulate the post-GFC economy?", because the money could be borrowed without paying an economic price.

And they just are having trouble adapting to the world where there are real economic constraints. MMT is a classic example: it's not nonsense, but if you follow its formal prescriptions they are to increase taxes to restrain inflation - not quite the same thing as a "pay-for", but, in political (as opposed to technical) terms, it amounts to the same thing. But for 15 years, MMT's prescription was "spend, spend, spend" without worrying about where the money is coming from.

If you're 25-35, then you don't really have the memory of the pre-2008 world where fiscal constraints really mattered, and it's not surprising that a lot of people of that age (which is the age-group of a lot of the analysts working for The Groups) are struggling to adapt and are essentially stamping their feet and demanding that the world stops changing under them.

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The advantage of this way of thinking is that instead of saying "people who agree with me are smart, people who disagree with me are stupid", it's saying that analysts are fighting the last war. The centrists who were concerned about fiscal constraints and deficits in 2008-2010 were just as wrong and had missed fundamental changes to the fiscal/monetary policy regime in exactly the same way as the current progressive analysts.

It's worth saying that for many of the causes that these analysts work for, there are solutions that are fiscally tight and ones that are fiscally loose - you can work on carbon by subsidising investments or by a carbon tax. Both work, the choice of the appropriate one is a question of the fiscal/monetary environment, not a question of how effective they are at achieving environmental goals (because the answer there is that either will work).

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Thanks, MY!

So, wishful thinking exacerbated by conflict-aversion, some of which in turn is exacerbated by the need to hold together a big coalition.

So, maybe not primarily a failure of epistemology per se?

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Plus that word "solidarity" has a long Left pedigree.

Think of how unions view scabs. Indeed just think of the word "scab", or the famous Jack London caricature of one, and think about who a scab is and whether he was actually responsible for the situation. But scabs were often held in even lower esteem than capitalists, because scabs broke "solidarity". The proletariat must always have solidarity.

I think as Lefty thought has permeated Democrats and The Groups, this concept of "solidarity", which ALWAYS had some problems, has gotten worse. It has become "nobody oppose or criticize or even identify the trade-offs of anything anyone in the coalition is doing". Which just destroys any commitment to the truth.

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Matt (I think) is making a version of Ezra's now famous "Everything Bagel" opinion piece; there's an attempt to see all problems as interrelated which means bills or policy ends up trying to solve 10 different problems at once and ends up solving..none. So something like congestion pricing can't just be about reducing traffic and increasing public transit use. It has to also find away of being "equitable" and designed in a way that benefits various POC. Which also means, you create a lot more veto points that lead to policies being delayed or never enacted. So in the congestion pricing example, various politicians can oppose congestion pricing by saying it hasn't properly been studied for its racial impact when the real banal reason is the particular politician is getting pressure from people who like driving to work (or himself likes driving to work). Think the most famous example of this is abuse of CEQA in California. It's basically a cudgel for mostly wealthier property owners to block development and not some deep seated belief about the environment.

Think in non-profit world, it leads to stuff like the Sunrise Movement putting out statements on Israel/Palestine or abortion rights. Like lets say your statements are right on the merits. You're an environmental non-profit. Why are you putting out these statements? All that time and energy is just a waste considering the mission statement of your organization.

Interestingly enough, I think Harvard's statement yesterday may be a "canary in the coal mine" here for basically the reasons laid out; there's just no way to please everyone and putting out statements that don't relate to core functions of the University end up becoming a fool's errand.. https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2024/5/28/harvard-institutional-neutrality-report/

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I think this is just the principal agent problem. The Sunrise staffer putting out the statement on Palestine isn’t advancing Sunrise’s objectives, but is advancing hers- because she can put that on her resume and use it when interviewing at her next job at a Palestinian advocacy non profit. It doesn’t even have to be that mercenary - the staffer probably genuinely does care about Palestine, and just wants to “do something” and sees that she can take advantage of Sunrise’s platform. Problem is it doesn’t help Sunrise and probably actively hurts it to the extent the pro-Palestinian message alienates potential climate allies who don’t agree with your Palestine view.

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I was thinking of the same EK article. Democrats need to focus on fewer concrete policies that will materially help most people and be sustainable.

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Yes, "solidarity" or "being a good ally" in today's parlance means not rocking the boat, asking questions, pushing back on ideas you think are questionable which isn't a great way to conduct politics in the real world.

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It’s not conflict-aversion, it’s foxhole mentality. We must close ranks to defeat the Constant Omnicrisis!

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Otoh, the reagan tax cuts passed with a lot of Democratic votes. Isn’t it good that couldn’t happen any more?

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Those Dems stayed in control of the House for 4 decades and helped pass a ton of liberal programs.

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Indexing tax brackets to inflation is good.

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I think it's bad those tax cuts passed. I'm not sure that the hyper-partisanship and party purity that would prevent it today is a good tradeoff. People wanted what Reagan was selling. I think it was mostly snake oil but that's a different discussion. Today's win it all or die election atmosphere has made actual governing nearly impossible. A time where you could cobble together bipartisan legislation seems better, because even when it does a dumb thing like those tax cuts there exists the possibility that you can correct course with a slightly different but still bipartisan collection of votes.

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founding

It’s hard to say exactly - are we better off with a Democratic faction that can win southern seats and often collaborates with conservatives, or without such a faction?

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I would say definitely better off *with*. Some stuff you want > less stuff you want but more ideological uniformity. Bigger tents are better!

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Within reason, sure

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Take your central issue housing. There is a real tension between zero-growth advocates who carry a lot of weight in CA/NYC/other liberal hotbeds and people interested in housing affordability.

Democrats try to solve the issue by vacancy control/airbnb bans but at the end of the day you can't provide housing for everyone if there aren't enough housing units.

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May 29·edited May 29

I think it boils down to laziness and a desire to feel validated. “We support good thing, therefore we are good. Those bad people oppose good thing and are bad.”

Adherents don’t need to consider the implications of their beliefs or how they are implemented because material change is not the end goal of those beliefs.

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Social media has probably drastically incentivized this dynamic.

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And it constantly shows how "bad" the other side is. If the people most against a policy happen to "all" be odious people, you're going to assume the policy must be Good.

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We could, indeed, fund a nordic welfare state without major tax increases if we 1) were ruthlessly efficient and 2) were willing to tolerate 5-6% inflation. None of the nordics piss away money on health care like we do.

People forget how much stimulus it took to generate the 2022 inflation.

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“ 1) were ruthlessly efficient and 2) were willing to tolerate 5-6% inflation.”

You’re forgetting

3) surprise, and

4) fear.

Surprise, fear, ruthless efficiency, and a fanatical devotion to the Nordic model.

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You keep saying that it would only require inflation of 5-6%, but remain wildly shortsighted on what costs that would impose on government. Once again, if inflation hit 6%, government bonds are probably over 8% and could potentially hit 10% again. That would melt the most government budgets in the US (federal, state and local).

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every 1% of inflation knocks $320 billion off the real value of the debt.

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Every 1% increase in interest rates cost 320 billion dollars A YEAR!

Inflation decreases the real value of the debt, but increases the real costs of maintaining the debt because debt holders are NOT just going to buy more debt and suffer real losses. If the US wasn't issuing new debt or was planning on paying most it off, then inflation would be great. But the US is adding large amounts of new debt (1+ trillion a year) and needs to rollover the bulk of existing debt every couple of years. Increasing interest rates from current rates to 5% would likely cost over 700 billion dollars more in interest A YEAR. Take interest rates up to 10% and we're spending more money on interest than the entire discretionary budget.

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Which really makes it tragic that we didn't issue more long-term debt when we could have.

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Did stimulus generate the 2022 inflation? Seems like inflation happened everywhere in the world, was it because of stimulus everywhere?

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Ours was worse

Also, yes, a lot of the rest of the world had stimulus, too

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In point of fact, our inflation was not worse. I am not sure why this zombie talking point still stumbles about the discourse. I would like it to stop.

https://www.cfr.org/tracker/global-inflation-tracker

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No, the US had a very different inflation trajectory than the rest of the world, particularly Europe. Notably, US core inflation rose in spring/summer 2021, well before inflation was seen elsewhere. [1] Inflation didn’t become a concern in Europe until the massive European energy price spike following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in Feb 2022.

Jason Furman has a great Twitter thread from Jun 2022 comparing inflation in the US vs Europe, demonstrating that European inflation was driven more by energy, whereas US inflation resulted from excess demand as attributed to fiscal/monetary stimulus. https://twitter.com/jasonfurman/status/1534174026259734528

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-08-10/us-inflation-decelerates-more-than-forecast-on-gas-price-drop

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Reported inflation numbers are bullshit.

They are heavily massaged to make it look like inflation is lower than it actually is

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It produced some inflation. Best estimates I have seen have shown that without the ARP, pandemic-induced inflation would have topped out at 5%. Instead we got 8-9% inflation.

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Incredible to read a bunch of people who think that they're perfectly rational but are completely closed off to the possibility that the people they're complaining about are sometimes right.

Brother: you are the person you're mocking.

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Incredible to see you think that you're perfectly rational but are completely closed off to the possibility that the people they're complaining about are sometimes right.

Brother: you are the person you're mocking.

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author

Freddie in the comment section!

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Welp that’s it folks. Show’s over! Big boy Freddie’s in the comments and he says we’re wrong, so we gotta pack it up. No evidence needed, just vibes

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I am wrong all the time.

It’s the dog’s fault.

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One way to avoid similar errors to “2+2=5” is to not make stuff up - unless you want to point out where I claimed to be perfectly rational or that progressive are never wrong?

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If only you could send them all to Siberia...

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Progressives are unable to fix stupid ideas when they have them because they see criticism of progressive ideas as not just wrong, but actually evil. In rooms where everybody is progressive, nobody can point out the emperor has no clothes.

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Yeah it’s the wrong enemy. Republicans are the ones that are actually evil.

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My take is that the pipeline to elite influence and power has gotten way too weird.

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I’d put the shift much more on trump scrambling everyone’s brains. Then covid coming along and scrambling everyone’s brains even more. My guess is that it’ll be course corrected by a trump victory or just the realization that there is no path towards a congressional majority without moderation.

Hopeful! But I don't think out of the question given the grand arc of change that American political parties regularly go through.

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One of my true hot take predictions is that once Trump finally leaves the stage (god willing after November, 2024), the GOP is going to shift more rapidly than we realize to pretending Trump never happened. It's been very clear to me from the beginning that GOP has always just hoped he would flame out/go to jail/alienate enough swing voters without needing to fully confront him. And to be frank, to echo Brian Buetler, way too many Democrats and left of center orgs/pundits appear to believe the same thing.

And thing is, I suspect they may be correct. Look at how badly the Trumpiest candidates did in 2022 (considering where inflation was). We really underestimate sui generis Trump is. Honestly, how many other real estate moguls do you know or could have ended up becoming a Page Six staple who also hosted Mike Tyson championship bouts. Like all stuff way before he was in politics. Point being, it's going to be very difficult for anybody to replicate the Trump formula fully.

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True. A really important part of Trump's political value is that he just turns on a lot of apolitical voters, hence his success in presidential years vs midterms. He of course has a rabid fan base, but just like the hard left, those are generally just reliable party voters. So if I were a GOP strategist, I wouldn't be that worried about satisfying those people. I'd be worried that someone like Hawley is going to come across as a boring guy who won't turn out the less engaged voters on election day.

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I *want* this to be correct -- it's whatever the political equivalent of a wet dream would be, for Nikki to simply seize the post-Trump reins.

However, I think Trump has done too much damage to the party. You remember that mini-trend during the Trump years when white Trumpy HS kids would do racist chants to minority visiting teams? My friend, those kids have all graduated COLLEGE now, and they're making their way through the CPAC circuit into the professional party.

My personal less-scalding take is that if Trump dies between now and 2028, it'll be a free-for-all -- if you know your history, a microcosm of the anocratic chaos that consumed prewar Japan, but in a political sense (as opposed to militaristic).

To wit, the elite Haley wing is disempowered, but they also still control much of the money and many of the formal organs of the party. Likewise, without Trump to constantly pull them back onto his side, Fox News would happily memory-hole TRUE Trumpism while retaining a lot of MAGA branding and simply astroturfing the next big agenda under its brand.

But on the other end, you have the Vance, Hawley, and Gaetz wing. And there's also the Trumps themselves -- Don Jr. sees himself as the big heir, but don't count out Ivanka and Eric once daddy's out of the picture. FFS, even Barron could hypothetically test the waters, since his record is relatively untarnished by his father's toxicity. And don't forget the hangers-on-of-color like Kanye and Candace!

Between all these different factions, I don't think any one of them can achieve a mandate or party consensus. They all genuinely hate each other from a solid decade of internal backstabbing under their Orange God-King. And they all THINK that if they can just get the party united under themselves, they can win a bigger national majority than he ever could.

Which makes it also resemble a microcosm of the current national dynamic, where because of negative polarization converging to a 50/50 split, neither party can achieve a strong enough victory over the other to force the other to undergo a major rethink. Likewise, the different GOP factions will refuse to fall in line like they did in the pre-Trump party, since their enemies can't *make* them fall in line like Trump could.

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> My personal less-scalding take is that if Trump dies between now and 2028, it'll be a free-for-all -- if you know your history, a microcosm of the anocratic chaos that consumed prewar Japan, but in a political sense (as opposed to militaristic).

Then the obvious solution is making Republicans be kamikaze bombers of Russia/China (with autopilot). Solves two problems!

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Lmao. Nikki “Generalplan Ost” Haley would be a trip in the Oval Office. First woman President, with the legacy of a nuclear crater in Central Park. Whatever polity arose after the war would have no thought of the 19th Amendment.

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This comment is why I have notifications from you turned off.

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I hope you are correct, but I don't think so. The more fundamental problem with the Republican party is the extreme disdain the base has for anything establishment. Each generation of revolutionaries has to be more extreme to prove they are not part of the establishment.

Beyond any specific policy issue, they will struggle to maintain a functioning government because the next generation is ready and waiting to destroy them for any compromise or possible failure and any success is immediately written off as insufficient.

The left as Matt highlights struggles with this, but it has not taken over the Democratic part in the way that is has the Republican party.

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Which is why I think the party essentially implodes after Trump. Barring any major turning points -- like a shooting war with China changing every single political fundamental -- they'll spend a decade or so in the wilderness bitterly fighting each other while Democrats do their best to squander a golden opportunity.

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I remember thinking this exact thing after Romney lost. Literally every part of the GOP platform was horribly unpopular with almost everyone, so how could they possibly recover?

Sadly, I then learned that a party can die (and indeed, Romney-style GOP arguably has) but the voters still exist and something is always there to fill the void. What kind of political philosophy would attract post-Trump Republicans is not clear at all, but I seriously doubt that they would settle on a clone of the GOP old guard that they basically rejected already.

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I wish you were right but the Civil War didn't kill the Democrats. Nor did Vietnam kill the Democrats. Nor did Watergate/Dubya Train wreck kill the GOP.

Only real exception I can think of is the great depression. US political system just makes it easy for parties to revive.

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I agree with you. Attempts at Trumpism without Trump have flopped both intellectually and politically. It seems clear that the MAGA moment is a cult of personality and will end with Trump.

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The main factors that aided Trump's rise in 2015 were near universal name rec and ability to attract earned media, along with some ability to self-fund, all of which allowed him to circumvent the traditional GOP donor class which would have expected certain things about how he'd campaign, issue positions, etc.

Who else has that combination?

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Truly hate to say it but nowadays it would be Elon Musk. Guest appearance on “The Big Bang Theory” (once americas highest rated show and also a show more likely to have been watched my “normies”), guest host of SNL, once non-political if vaguely left of center and now right wing. Now deeply immersed in right wing culture war red meat loved by talk radio/Newsmax/reddit addict. Literally owns a social media platform very influential with media.

Like the formula is clearly there.

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But since he is not a "natural born citizen" under Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution, he is not eligible for the office of President.

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Perhaps so. At minimum I think you're right about the brain frying aspect of Trump, and that an extraordinary amount of our current politics stem from all corners of the political establishment badly misreading what happened in 2016.

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Of course, the problem with a Trump victory is that he may end up destroying the entire ship before the course can be corrected.

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“It’s a pipeline problem” — yeah, that’s something that Matt coulda said. It’s at least a definite charge we could confirm or disconfirm.

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May 29·edited May 29

Moreover, it's not clear whether the progressive tendencies he references are actually about some genuine form of epistemology.

The obvious competing hypothesis is that progressive elites' concerns are mostly post-material at this point, so they're fine pushing incorrect ideas that will nevertheless elevate their prestige. And they demand politicians who will do the same. There's nothing irrational about this.

We see lots of instances where progressives' beliefs seem insincere -- they stridently come out against some plausible idea (e.g., lab leak), and when evidence mounts for the plausible idea, the initial reaction is memory-holed.

A thought experiment: if God descended from heaven to whisper into every progressive's ear "violence interruption won't work," would progressives really stop spouting stupid ideas about policing? I suspect that deep down inside, they'd never bet money on those ideas.

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That is a great point. The violence interruption is a great example. As we started implementing a lot of crime control strategies pushed by progressives (and homicides exploded), it was painful to watch groups like the Brennan Center twist themselves on knots to deny the failure of their preferred policies (I say painful because I really like the Brennan Center).

They would repeatedly point to how programs, such as violence interruption, that had little or no evidence base were impeded, but wish away the obvious impact of 2020 (Covid and protests) on proactive policing (the area where the strongest evidence for the impact of police exist). As someone who considered themselves left leaning as a police professional but still dedicated to actually using science, the process was horrific to watch.

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It's the limits of human knowledge and understanding generally -- any kind of social epistemology, not just "progressive epistemology", that it's important remember is all tentative, contingent, and at any given time, probably more wrong than right. But the humility of being able to hold that always in mind, while also not giving up on the goal of creating a "more perfect" anything is hard.

Two examples from recent books:

How Life Works: A User's Guide to the New Biology, by Philip Ball, opens with a description of how reified and detached the common of conception of DNA as a "blueprint for life" has become from ground-level research showing that isn't necessarily so, not just among the general public but in the rest of science generally.

Chasing the Intact Mind: How the Severely Autistic and Intellectually Disabled Were Excluded from the Debates that Affect them Most, by Amy Lutz, opens with an account of the last century or so succession of wrong and abandoned ideas about disability. Not surprising in itself, but what is striking is the supreme confidence and dripping condescension of the establishment at each stage for those who dissented from the latest theory.

And do we really think that unlike what came before, finally now, today, we have the one true understanding? And whereas in the past it was mostly the blind leading the blind, today it's different?

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Perhaps the better way to model the problem is that the reward and incentive structure tends towards having a soldier mindset (in the sense of scout vs soldier mindset from Julia Galef) and excessively focusing on legible, but largely symbolic actions (e.g., the mansion tax)? Improving individual and specific epistemic failures would seem to have a low probability of improving the failures that Matt points to if individual actors in the progressive ecosystem are required to pay a high non-conformity tax. I guess if the entire apparatus shifted to reward good epistemics there would be no tax, but then the movement would be so different as render the earlier left vs right model that earlier pieces in this series talked about outmoded. Basically, I don’t see evidence that political ideological thinking (either left or right) is a good model to use to diagnose, formulate, implement, and evaluate policy changes that either progress positive changes or conserve positive current equilibriums.

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May 29·edited May 29

How much of this comes down to what I said in my comment yesterday? People hate tradeoffs, and they want all the benefits without any costs. They want the government to magically provide great services with low taxes, a dynamic economy with NIMBYism, etc.

When you start with the mistaken premise of "we can have all the good things and none of the bad things or unintended consequences," you're going to get a lot of the downstream things wrong.

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IDK the technical term, but the answer is: educated liberals know how to read/write but don't know how anything actually works.

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Nice to see you again, but where are the jokes?

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May 29Liked by Ben Krauss

Can I suggest that the rise of Bernie Sanders plays a larger role in your (honestly all things considered fairly minor) shift from being on the “Left” to “center left”?

I think you accurately point out that Bernie’s surprising performance in the 2016 primary was in part due to a general sense that Obama’s presidency was not the transformational moment we thought it would be and was instead a reasonably successful administration that could have done a number of things better.

But I think we underrate the ways Bernie himself is a cause of a lot of the problems you have with the far left and leftist institutions. And I say this as someone who like you had at least sympathies with a pre-2020 Bernie even if for a variety of reasons I didn’t vote for him in the Democratic primary in 2016 (and definitely not in 2020). I thought he helped bring much to the forefront a lot of real criticisms of the 90s-2016 neoliberal consensus. And is simple and not overly academic way of criticizing this consensus I think was refreshing.

But there are two related angles in which Bernie I think has been damaging. One, it seems he’s a pretty terrible hiring manager. And possibly just bad judge of character. People like David Sirota, Briahna Joy Gray and Nina Turner just shouldn’t have been this prominent with a campaign that had a real chance to be a major party nominee. Which leads to the related perhaps most important Bernie impact.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Bernie deliberately calls himself of a Democratic Socialist. He has some profound differences with the Democratic Party that he doesn’t want to be labeled “Democrat” but he caucuses with Dems and as Matt has repeatedly pointed out, is willing to compromise more than his rhetoric lets on. But his disagreements with Democrats meant he elevated people who literally supported and supposedly voted for Jill Stein in 2016 which should have been disqualifying (especially with Stein’s Putin ties). To that point if I didn’t know better, I’d swear that Joy was a Russian or GOP plant to undermine the Democratic Party. Which is the real crux; Bernie helped really advance an idea that Democratic Party isn’t just something to be reformed but in fact the enemy that is defeating the Progressive dream*. I think we’re seeing the downstream consequences of this thinking with what Matt has seen in progressive non-profit tactics and the Gaza protests. And I really think it’s a big part of the story of why Matt is more hated than one might expect by leftist commentators.

*I don’t think it can be forgotten how much the story of 2020 from the Bernie side is that the Dem establishment “stole” the nomination from Bernie in 2020 by rallying around Biden. Following David Roth on Twitter from March, 2016 to August, 2020 was an interesting experience I’ll just say. And I like David Roth as writer.

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author

I'd put the onus less on Bernie (he represented some ideas that had a lot of cache in democratic politics) and more on the tactical decision of Biden to bring in so many people from the Warren or Bernie into his policymaking. It very likely will cost him his reelection.

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May 29Liked by Ben Krauss

"Cachet" rather than "cache" (sorry to be nitpicky, but I see this a lot and as someone who speaks French, it kills me).

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author

Lol, I'm on a piece right now and I use the word cache. Thanks for the flag.

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You're welcome!

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Also people pronouncing "cache" like "cachet"(when they mean 'cache') gets me and I don't speak French.

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My computer is messing up I should probably clear my cachet

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Especially as it's not even right in French. C'est « cache » . Ce n'est pas « caché ».

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Considering how successful Biden's policymaking has actually been, I actually will disagree and where I disagree with Matt the most on Biden's presidency. IRA, Afghan withdrawal, scrapping of "junk" fees and student debt relief to name a few. Whatever bad ideas former Warren staffers may have, it doesn't seem to have impacted nuts and bolts governing from what I can see.

I bring up that last one (student debt relief) deliberately to kind of push back; Biden really has done a lot to help with student debt and his reward from the left is vitriol.

I'd also note the single biggest variable that will impact this election is whether there is one rate cut between now and November. I do actually kind of agree with Will Stancil and Brian Buetler that public opinion on the economy is being affected by some absurdly over the top negative coverage from media (New York Times basically admitting it's putting it's thumb on the scale because Biden won't do an interview was really revealing to me). But I think Will and Brian really underestimate how much the public hates, hates, hates inflation. I think Matt even alluded to this once noting conversations he had with old hands in the Democratic party who remember the 70s and why they were hesitant to push for more aggressive measures under Obama in 2009. And high interest rates of course mean the two most expensive purchases in most people's lives (house and car) are WILDLY more expensive than 2 years ago. I really don't think we fully comprehend what a psychological (and secondarily practical) impact one rate cut may have.

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I agree with your point about inflation, but will note that the fact that student debt relief is a leftish issue is wild to me. It is a MASSIVELY regressive giveaway to the many of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country.

*to be clear, it didn't have to be, but the specific way that Biden formulated the programs have made it that way.

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I think college should be free at the point of entry, and I support things to get to that point, even things that aren't perfect, though claims about how regressive they actually are in reality are highly overstated.

But, I understand there are a lot of people here who don't actually want a large public welfare state, and think a perfect world is a bunch of means tested centrist programs that are politically unstable because they can be seen as welfare to those people.

You know what is in many ways a regressive giveaway? Fire departments. Public schools. Libraries. Wouldn't a means tested subscription to Amazon Kindle work better than letting rich people take out books for free? The inefficiencies, my God!

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Are means-tested programs more politically unstable than universal programs? Separate from whether we should means-test or not, I am curious about this claim altogether. Our universal military defense has largely been slashed as a fraction of our economy beginning after Korea. Our universal spending on highways in Eisenhower's day does not appear to have prevented the use of tolls for maintenance and new construction.

Medicaid and Medicare have significantly grown, but one is focused on those without the means to pay for healthcare and the other is a kind of universal program for the elderly. Which programs are the best to use to test this claim? I assume welfare reform in the '90s would be the strongest example in favor of this claim, although it's not clear SNAP is shrinking, for example (and generally for good reason, imo.) Curious for your thoughts!

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I mean, the job of the DOD is still to defend every American, we've just figured out ways to do it while not having 500,000 soldiers like the Chinese do. It's not like we've said, 'sorry, New Mexico, you're on your own' or anything like that.

If we started spending 11% of GDP on health care like Switzerland, but it covered everybody, almost no leftists would think of that as less desirable because less was being spent.

I think highway tolls is just a case of a relatively low salience issue - if you did a plebiscite, I think a vast majority of people would prefer general funding for roads. Plus, roads are a more abstract thing than say, if we privatized police forces or something that is currently more obviously universal.

Plus, I actually think Medicaid/Medicare is actually a good example - even most Republican's are loathe to actually say they'll cut Medicare, and attack Democratic plans like the ACA that ended up spending less on Medicare for good reasons (ie. limiting rent seeking by providers) while they didn't say a word about the same cuts to Medicaid. Because Medicaid is welfare, while Medicare is an entitlement.

I think it's not so much positive support for something that proves that universal programs are better politically, as reluctance to call for cuts.

I do think in general though, in the short term, universal vs. means tested doesn't really matter, but in the long term, something that can be argued as a giveaway as a specific class of people is easier than something given to everybody.

Hell, even on schooling, conservatives understand even most right-leaning people support public schools even if they prefer to send their kids somewhere else, and understand calling directly for cuts would be bad politically so they use vouchers as a way to push spending away from public schooling, in a way only people paying attention understand, and is easy to argue for.

Now, this shows it's not impossible politically, especially with some Culture War kindle to help things along, but yes, I think the vast majority of conservative policy types would in their perfect world, would just prefer to vastly cut spending on public education, and let the middle and upper middle class use the tax savings to pay for private schools, but they can't really do that politically, even in a very red state, as Sam Brownback learned.

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My theory is that this wasn't intended as a giveaway to dem voters as much as a giveaway/payoff to political insiders, especially media people, folks working for "the groups" and hill staffers, etc.

I basically see it as an effort by Biden to purchase some good will by providing people who might help him (or hate him less) with something of value.

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Agree, if you're a truly committed leftist, not sure why student debt relief should be one of your primary causes (have mixed feelings about this policy which I elaborated on in one of Matt's previous posts).

However, I'm not sure this is a "leftist" issue per se; motivated reasoning is an issue for all people. Matt is fond of noting that rich people who support Trump do so purely from the standpoint of wanting lower taxes. And that their motivation is just purely, they want more money. This is probably too simple and I suspect Matt would agree if you pressed him on it. Like any other group, individual rich people can have a variety of reasons they vote the way they do. Pretty sure Dick Uihlein is a pretty big "true believer" social conservative for example. And in the current most famous example, Elon seems to have really gone off the reactionary rabbit hole deep end (we can debate reasons why).

But as a general point, Matt is probably right; the thing that unites the GOP donor class is just a general "I'm very rich and yet I want even more money in my pocket". But I suspect Matt underestimates how many of these same people genuinely believe some version of "Greed is good" and will very earnestly explain why supply side tax cuts that benefit primarily the 1% is actually the best possible thing Trump could do in a 2nd term to help the economy. Motivated reasoning is a powerful drug.

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"I bring up that last one (student debt relief) deliberately to kind of push back; Biden really has done a lot to help with student debt and his reward from the left is vitriol."

But if the argument is about reelection, I think the student debt relief is really bad for his reelection. (I don't think this is pundit's fallacy - I happen to think student debt relief is mostly a bad idea on the merits as well, so that will bias how I think it affects him politically, but I think it legitimately _is_ bad politically)

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I think that income-based student debt relief is a good idea, but it should be funded by income-based student payment, rather than by the taxpayer.

Basically: income-based payments should be the default option and it should be a percentage of income over a period of time: the percentage and the period should be determined by the amount of the loan (ie, go to a cheap public college and pay in-state tuition, and you pay a smaller fraction of your income for fewer years). But the total amount you have paid should not be compared to the actual loan-size; some people will pay many times what they borrowed, because that's how all loans have to work: some pay more to cover for the fact that some pay less than what they borrowed.

A temporary relief from the taxpayer to transition from one mechanism to the other (because well-paid graduates under the traditional system can't be forced into an income-based payment for a loan they have paid off, where future ones can be offered the loan on those terms) would be appropriate - there is clearly a problem where some people have borrowed an amount that they cannot ever repay but they are not entitled to bankruptcy relief (there are good reasons why much student debt is non-dischargeable in bankruptcy, but it does fall very severely on graduates who don't earn a typical graduate income for whatever reason). An income-based system would solve this, but such a system can't be self-funding until high-income graduates are signed up for it, and that can only happen if they signed up for it before studying.

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Federal student loans should just be no interest

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That doesn’t solve all the problems. Some people take out a lot of student debt on a reasonable basis: they can reasonably expect to be able to service that debt and pay it off on the income that a typical graduate of their course gets. And then it doesn’t work out: they get sick, or disabled, or a parent gets sick or disabled, or they have a kid, or they just don’t get the job offers that you’d expect. Or they do fine academically and then find they can’t perform professionally.

And other people are in the “should have known better but didn’t” situation like Humanities PhDs who can’t get a tenure-track job. Or the “entire economic basis of the profession changed” situation like Class of 2005 J-school graduates.

They’re never going to earn enough to pay off the capital. Either let them declare bankruptcy, or have some sort of income-based scheme and let them write it off at the end of that scheme. But either way, you have to put in some money from somewhere to cover the unpaid debts: which is why I propose getting that from the high-earning graduate who currently easily pays their student loans off in the first five years of working as a financial analyst or a BigLaw associate or a FAANG software engineer. Make them pay 10% for 20 years, even though that means paying many times the principal.

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I think if we had 2% inflation, student debt would still have the same polling, and still matter about the same. Polling consistently shows the specific student debt Biden tried to do as broadly popular, even among non-college educated people.

Yes, among a group of center-to-center-right UMC people, it's unpopular and those people have a higher purchase in punditry than their actual political power.

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Do you have a link to the polling because this surprises me.

Would be curious to see - esp. among non-college educated.

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Unfortunately, finding crosstabs related to specific polling on this is hard, but here's a DFP poll - https://www.dataforprogress.org/blog/2023/7/5/a-majority-of-voters-support-student-loan-debt-relief-through-the-higher-education-act

Even if you don't believe the top line numbers, the college vs non-college support numbers only differ by a few percentage points, which is what I remember, even in polling that showed less overall support, because there are a lot of college educated people, like the commenters here, who don't really like college students, or at least, don't like the college students with large debt loads so don't care and it turns out there are a lot on non-college educated people, who have college-educated friends with student loans, and so on.

Or you know, maybe some non-college educated people aren't all reactionaries, as this comment section likes to believe at times.

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May 29·edited May 29

He’s made a lot of terrible agency appointments that have resulted in a ton of regulatory overreach which is very bad governance, but I don’t know that the normies care.

Powell was a great pick though (which he fought against the left for) so I guess you take the good with the bad.

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Bernie lost. To Clinton. But he wouldn't accept the idea that the majority of Democrats rejected his positions.

But he kept at it. Forcing Clinton to capitulate on ideas in order to get his support---making Clinton look weak.

That, plus the fact that a number of Sanders voters ended up voting for Trump in protest ended up getting us a generation of Trumpists and MAGAS.

Progressives, like Sanders, have set the country back....maybe irreparably so. All because they all thought they were oh-so-right that their love of their opinions mattered more than actual people who have been harmed by Trump and will be even more harmed by Trump.

.....and then to see Biden turn into a Progressive himself.

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In Republican eyes, and in their campaigning, any and all Democratic administrations will be filled with wild-eyed radical socialists. How Biden staffed his administration is not driving that view and will not cost him reelection.

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A lot of people voted Biden and got Warren and are miffed about this. It's a bigger problem for Biden than anything going on with the left and Gaza.

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I completely agree…many voters, who voted for Biden because of his promise to be moderate and a caretaker, felt betrayed when all the talk of being the next FDR started to take off.

I don’t think this was Biden but was instead the establishment he surrounded himself with. Unfortunately his refusal to reject these ideas came across as a bait and switch to many independents. Some portion of these now have flipped to Trump and it is costing him…particularly in battleground states and with no engaged voters.

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founding

Hard agree with everything you say, Colin.

Bernie's hiring decisions are wholly consistent with who he has always been. He is a Socialist, in the old-fashioned 1960's style. He has adopted the Democratic name solely to be able to have a more powerful position. He was a supporter of the Soviet Union and Cuba. Not in every respect, of course, but in the ideology for sure.

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Yeah, worth pointing out his Cuba and Soviet Union past. I mean honeymooning in Soviet Union? Yeesh. Matt likes to I think (somewhat) troll* and say Bernie would have won in 2016 but I feel like he's underestimating the extent the GOP (if not Trump who I still believe was not actually running for President, but using it as a launching pad for other money making endeavors, but I digress) would have just hammered Bernie with the Cuba and Soviet Union stuff. He wasn't even on the ballot in 2020 and yet Bernie's strong primary performance seems to have been enough to help GOP formulate a strategy to shift Cuban and Venezuelan voters in FL back to the right.

*Feels like a good future substack post for Matt. Flesh out the argument Bernie would have won. I alluded to this in my post but my defense of Bernie is stuff that I learned from Matt; he has been way more pragmatic than we realize on a practical basis. For example, as mayor of Burlington he actually worked with and allied with the police union! Talk about a different time.

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Yeah, every sentence out of Trump's mouth would have contained the word "socialism" if Bernie had been the nominee. He would have lost more badly than Hillary did. Though an alternate history of "what if Bernie beat Hillary but lost to Trump in 2016" would be interesting

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Right, in the hypothetical world where Bernie is the nominee he would've been boat raced by Trump. I've never voted for a Republican presidential nominee in my life and I'm not sure I wouldn't have voted for Trump in 2016 if Sanders were the nominee.

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Bernie would not have won in 2016. But Matt is correct that Martin O'Malley would have won. Same for Jim Webb.

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Florida would have been a bloodbath.

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I agree that I think the GOP would have defeated Bernie in 2016 but in retrospect I wish he had been the nominee because we lost anyway and at least we could have settled the question of whether a socialist can be elected president

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Yes, this is actually quite underrated by Matt's reply to the top comment. If you want to expand the role of the state dramatically, you're going to hire lots of people with nutty theories of how the status quo is profoundly unjust. It's not a recruitment problem, it's how that type of politics works. Look up Henry Wallace's views on mysticism and the Soviet Union circa 1946; that guy was a VP under FDR! It's not a new problem nor a "we accidentally hired the dumb left instead of the smart left" problem. It's entirely consistent as you said.

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I give Bernie credit for being a strong supporter of the Biden administration. Warren too. I would love to see them as emissaries telling The Groups that the only way to the future nirvana is to defeat Republicans now so can the kneejerk opposition to Biden and get on board.

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"People like David Sirota, Briahna Joy Gray and Nina Turner just shouldn’t have been this prominent with a campaign that had a real chance to be a major party nominee."

One thing I think people don't get is the reason insurgent campaigns often have bad staffers is because part of the way parties impose discipline and clear fields is by hampering the careers of staffers who work for campaigns the Party doesn't like. Bernie Sanders was NEVER going to be able to hire a full staff of respectable Dem types because so many of those folks were afraid that Clinton and all her friends would never hire them again and working for Sanders would be a career killer.

So if you really want insurgent campaigns to be well staffed, the onus is on folks in the position of Hillary Clinton to put the word out that staffers can work for their opponents and not be blackballed. And it is hard to imagine them ever doing that.

(P.S.: a similar point can be made about third party candidates' staffing, veep nominees, etc.)

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I get your point..to a degree. But I think with Bernie, I suspect (only Bernie with some truth serum could tell us for sure) the story is because Bernie stylized himself as literally opposed to the Democratic Party he ended up choosing people who themselves very deliberately as opposed to the Democratic Party. I think we need to differentiate Bernie's "insurgent" campaign from people like Obama, McCain or Kennedy. Point being there are plenty of examples of "insurgent" campaigns that were fully in the big party tent. Meaning their staffing was made up of "normal" party apparatchiks.

For Bernie, I think he deliberately wanted people not at all part of the Democratic Party. But I don't think he thought through that if you a political operative of any real importance and you're voting for Jill Stein in 2016, you're probably a crank.

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Even that goes back to "why was the main challenger to Hillary not a Democrat?", to which the answer, was, in part, because "Hillary had a lot of leverage within the party that she was willing to use to punish any Democrat who challenged her".

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May 29·edited May 29

Good! Political parties are clubs. Leadership of the club needs to lead the club. Strong nominees (Hillary Clinton was deeply flawed, but undeniably a strong nominee) clear or at least narrow their fields. A healthy GOP would never in one thousand million billion years have nominated Donald Trump in 2016.

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I agree with this basically, but what’s your take on 2008? Though I also have the same question for Dilan: if challengers to the presumptive nominee can’t hire good staff, how did Obama?

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Obama was a sitting US senator and former Illinois state representative. Point I was trying to make above; we need to distinguish intraparty insurgencies that are still fully within the big tent of the Party and true "outsider" ones like Bernie, Perot and Trump (who very clearly couldn't (and still doesn't) actually give a rats ass about the GOP outside of whether the party can help personally and no one else).

So while Obama was "insurgent" it was within sort of normal party primary bounds. Trump on the other hand couldn't get any real GOP old hands to help his campaign so he ends up with actual traitors like Paul Manafort (post for another day the particulars of why Manafort was running Trump's campaigns; talk about a rabbit hole). The big difference between Bernie, Perot and Trump is that Trump won so GOP officials had to make a choice if they wanted to further their political careers.

Also, I'd note that Obama very explicitly ran as the uniter who said there isn't a "blue" or "red" America. Post 2004 it was integral to his brand to be seen as the one reaching out to perceived political enemies. It made sense for him to reach out to Hilary to be Sec. of State. It also meant that McConnell's strategy of amping up use of the filibuster and corralling his caucus to not break ranks on any bills so damaging. It wasn't just that McConnell (or someone on his staff) realized that cross-partisan bills basically only help the President's approval. It's that it was especially damaging to Obama's base case for being President.

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Matt points the difference out in his piece-- the early support from Pelosi and Reid made Obama less toxic.

Now note, I did not say NON-toxic. Indeed, Obama actually had some difficulty staffing his campaign until it became very clear that he was going to be the winner of the primaries, and there were disputes between Obama's early staffers (who took real gambles to back him) and those who came on later (and were seen as bandwagon-jumpers). This is part of the backstory behind Obama's choice of Hillary as Secretary of State-- there were real divisions within the party created by Obama's victory and Obama wanted to send the message that everyone was going to need to get along now that he was running the country.

EDIT: I just remembered something more specific, which is that when Obama was still short of respectable staffers, Hillary's campaign actually attacked Obama on this exact point, telling media types that he didn't have any respectable policy wonks working for him. This got picked up and repeated on a bunch of talking heads TV shows. (They would later make this same attack on Sanders eight years later.) I was, of course, infuriated by this both times around.

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I thought about including an Obama caveat in my grandparent comment. Of course it's easy and fun to throw out every counter-factual data point for X, Y, and Z reasons, but I don't really think of 2008 Obama as an insurgent candidate. He was challenging the presumptive nominee, so in that sense he was absolutely an insurgent. But he was also the 2004 DNC keynote--he was clearly a rising star of and within the Democratic Party apparatus. There might have been specific bitterness that he was beating you and yours, but in a vacuum nobody was unhappy that he was ascendant in a general sense.

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Obama was competent

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If you want to argue for strong parties, that's fine, but in that case you need to think about the power that certain people have within those parties. I.e., it isn't actually a "strong party" when nobody can stand up to the Clintons.

A strong party would actually mean picking the most electable people to run as the "face", not having a family become a power center within the party to advance its own interests. That's what a lot of parliamentary democracies do (although some fail at this). It's why you see so many young women prime ministers in wealthy countries. A lot of powerful older politicians had to be shunted to the side for those young women, something that would be unthinkable here. The closest we got was Obama beating Clinton and that required a huge fight.

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The Clintons, rightly or wrongly, were particularly known for being vindictive.

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I take your point, but I think insurgent campaigns in a small-d-democratic system are deeply and irrevocably and fundamentally dumb; and I don't want Bernie Sanders to have good presidential campaign staffers, because I think many of his ideas are dumb and I think he would be a terrible president.

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I mean, I have a Hot Take that whichever party junks primaries and goes to a process designed to select the optimal general election candidate will obtain a massive advantage in politics. Primaries are really bad.

But we have them and if we are going to have them, the attempts by parties to clear fields have serious downstream consequences.

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There aren't a lot of other, better options. Any system where the decision is made by other power-brokers suffers from the fact that the leading power-brokers (e.g. the Clintons in 2016, Obama in 2020) have far more influence there than they do in a primary.

Many other systems involve selecting a candidate earlier (e.g. in the current, 4 July 2024, UK election, Keir Starmer was chosen as the Labour candidate for Prime Minister in 2020; in the previous one, Corbyn was chosen in 2015 for both the June 2017 and December 2019 elections), which isn't necessarily any better.

That is: "a process designed to select the optimal general election candidate" is a difficult process-design problem and not one to which there is an obvious solution, because if there was, then one of the hundreds of democratic political parties in the world would have adopted it.

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How about using artificial intelligence and analytics to select candidates?

Again, the party that did this would win a ton of elections. And party insiders LOVE winning elections. That means jobs as well as power.

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Don't many states require primaries? Like this Ohio ballot situation for Biden, because Dems didn't do the correct primary procedures or something?

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The First Amendment does not permit a state to literally require a party primary. We've had this discussion with Michigan and Florida in 2008, and California's "open primary" was struck down by SCOTUS. If the Democrats ever had the guts to punish New Hampshire for what they are doing, they absolutely could and could select the state's delegation anyway the party wanted to.

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The Ohio thing is that its ballot deadline is before the Democratic convention, so Biden wouldn't be officially nominated by then. Now I guess the Democrats are going to do a "virtual roll call" ahead of time to get around this issue.

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This may have been true in 2016, but this wasn't a real issue for Sanders in 2020 and he still went and hired the craziest people he could find.

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Not true. The institutional Democratic Party hated Sanders in 2020 as well. You saw this clearly when Obama engineered all the dropouts that gave Biden the nomination.

Establishment Dems were absolutely always afraid of working for a Sanders campaign, in 2016 or 2020.

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Not to mention: who thought that was going to be an important campaign in 2016? Didn’t most people think Hillary was going to wipe the floor with the socialist? Even Bernie thought it was basically a protest campaign.

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Sure. There's a lot of moving parts here. But basically staffers are careerists-- they are always worried where the next job is going to come from. So you always want to bet on either (1) a winner or (2) a losing campaign that won't be seen as disreputable by the winner. And very few establishment Dem staffers/experts/strategists/consultants/brains would ever place a bet on Sanders given that.

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In addition, the politicians who were inspired by Bernie keep on committing unforced errors. AOC bringing more attention to the Sunrise Movement focused a lot of the media's attention when covering climate issues to the question of whether a previously obscure NGO was getting enough deferential treatment, instead of asking which climate policies would be most effective in combatting climate change or which ones have the best chance of passing Congress. The antiwar movement on Gaza has no plan for making their ideas workable. Defund the Police was a disaster. For a movement that was hoping to be a major working class movement, it's been a boutique movement that can only get elected in specific metro areas and has its base in people with coll