204 Comments
May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

Thanks for presenting what we all know and feel so clearly. The change on race is particularly well demonstrated and shocking in how radical it truly is. From a party consistently committed to equality since the aftermath of WWII, to a party wishing to import to the States an India/South Africa style cast-based system where public resources are *officially* allotted to groups based on racial hierarchies. Chilling. I do hope the fever breaks soon.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

I think this underrates how much the current fever is a result of Democrats' insufficient commitment to equality. Sure, it's always been there in the rhetoric, but after LBJ Democrats have never advanced the sort of redistributive agenda that would be necessary to achieve something like material equality, and they certainly never advocated the sort of anti-discrimination measures that would be necessary to secure formal equality under the law.

I don't like race-conscious policy any more than the next Slow Boring subscriber, but after half a century of Democrats saying they support equality but doing little to actually achieve it, it's not surprising that the new vogue is rejecting equality itself. (For clarity, my sense of the causal chain is: Dems say they want equality but don't actually advance the policies necessary to achieve it > People hear Dems touting equality but see that material conditions are not improving > Some people ascribe the failure to improve material conditions to Dems' commitment to equality > Ta-Nehisi Coates writes long articles about why a rising tide does not lift all boats.)

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Equality of opportunity is great. Equality of outcomes is tyranny

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I hear the Democrat's 2080 platform will call for the creation of the Office of the Handicapper General.

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>they certainly never advocated the sort of anti-discrimination measures that would be necessary to secure formal equality under the law.

What additional anti-discrimination measures should Democrats support?

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I work in housing, so the two I had in mind were banning discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders (which is legal in most places) and suing municipalities that practice exclusionary zoning. It's also quite well-known in my world that HUD's fair housing division is drastically underfunded, so there's not nearly enough fair housing testing going on. I'm sure there's myriad examples in other policy areas.

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Speaking from experience, if you want people who rent properties out to stop discriminating against Section 8, stop making the processes behind it sclerotic and bureaucratic to the point where they're unworkable.

I tell people who are interested in renting a property with a section 8 voucher that it would take me 6 months to get approved to rent with them. That is completely accurate; it is not possible, no matter how well-maintained a property, to turn the paperwork and training around in anything less.

There is no reason, in my rental market, to contemplate dealing with that at all for market-ish rents with mediocre-to-bad tenants.

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One idea that's intriguing me more and more is the idea that housing segregation causes racism as least as much as racism causes housing segregation.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

Ah, okay. I understood your comment to refer to race-based discrimination, which was addressed in the comment above.

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Well, I do think that there's insufficient enforcement of race-based discrimination (that's what HUD's Fair Housing Division does), but the issue there is more that existing laws aren't being enforced.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

Perhaps, but that makes no sense. They failed to live up to their ideals ergo ditch the *ideals*? Either ditch them or else their strategy (e.g. what original Bernie and Warren tried to do). But how does it make sense to (rightly!) complain that they haven’t advanced equality enough and therefore decide to consciously give up on equality altogether and actively undermine it ?

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I think the mistake being made is that woke people assume the status quo is the outcome of a commitment to equality (rather than the result of an insufficient commitment to equality), and so they decide that equality must be the problem. The narrative is: "The Classical Civil Rights Movement preached equality, and the Democrats adopted that into their platform. But look at the status quo! That shows that equality doesn't work." Obviously I agree with you that that's an error, but it's not surprising that many people find it compelling, especially when it's combined with the quasi-religious elements of wokism.

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In your estimation, what are the “policies necessary to achieve it”?

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"Thanks for presenting what we all know and feel so clearly."

Begging for it: 'Who's we, white man?'

"From a party consistently committed to equality since the aftermath of WWII"

Don't see how that's changed.

"to a party wishing to import to the States an India/South Africa style cast-based system where public resources are *officially* allotted to groups based on racial hierarchies."

The United States had (and has) a racial caste system based on white guys on top. That's what Jim Crow WAS. The notion that reducing the effects of said racial caste system represents the imposition of apartheid-style policies is hilarious case of massive projection.

"Chilling. I do hope the fever breaks soon."

Maybe stop watching Tucker Carlson.

elm

this is impressive display of complete lunacy

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I think OP was referring to post-Apartheid reparatory policies, not Apartheid itself.

The U.S. certainly does have a caste system, but I have yet to see it demonstrated why the best way to combat a caste system is to codify the reverse of that system into law.

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"I think OP was referring to post-Apartheid reparatory policies, not Apartheid itself."

I don't, since he pairs it with a reference to India, and he does not use 'post-Apartheid/post-caste'. In the case of South Africa, apartheid ended and it turned out that a country where ~75% of the population is African tended to result in a heavily African government. (In the US, where the population was above 75% white, that tended to result in government officials being heavily white.) In India, where the caste system still exists, the big changes in law were to strip out discriminatory laws.

Post-apartheid South Africa/post-caste system India and post-Jim Crow America do not have a system of legal caste that favors the minority, full stop.

Separately it's very bold to complain about an 'India/South Africa-style' caste-based system on a post written by a Hispanic Jewish white guy and another guy going by 'Milan Singh'.

"The U.S. certainly does have a caste system"

A de facto caste system, yes it does.

"but I have yet to see it demonstrated why the best way to combat a caste system is to codify the reverse of that system into law."

I haven't seen anybody arguing for implementing a caste system in the United States, I have not supported such a system and I haven't supported anybody that does, nor am I aware of anybody in the Democratic party doing.

I HAVE read a lot of right-wing opinion arguing (explicitly or implicitly) that overturning say, apartheid, or Jim Crow or, for that matter electing a black president would effectively mark the beginning of the implementation of a racial caste system in which white people would be savagely opposed based on their skin color. I also haven't seen that happen, because those are bullshit racist opinions promulgated by white dudes wallowing in racial panic.

Certainly Tucker Carlson is big practitioner of such rhetoric, maybe the main one right now, and how nice for him. Why would I treat that stuff as anything other that propagandistic garbage?

elm

is having a hispanic jewish white guy and a guy named milan singh author a post on substack the imposition of a racial caste system that oppresses white people?

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"I haven't seen anybody arguing for implementing a caste system in the United States"

What I'm (inelegantly) referring to is the sort of thing Matt argued against in "Clean air doesn't need explicit racial targeting" (https://www.slowboring.com/p/clean-air-doesnt-need-explicit-racial?s=r). There's a huge appetite on the left these days to use racial targeting with the goal of dismantling systemic racism, and to entrench racial categorization in law through things like targeting to socially disadvantaged groups. I think that's misguided (though I apologize for conflating it with a caste system; that was unintentionally hyperbolic). You might support those sorts of policies, and we can disagree about that, but don't tell me it's not happening.

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you clearly completely and utterly misunderstood my comment. The reference to both SA and India are to what they are today (i.e. their affirmative action policies in hiring, boards etc.), and the complaint about the Democratic party regards its turn into "antiracist" thinking and moreover policy making, which is *entirely* new, however much you protest that it isn't. If you don't know what I'm talking about, educate yourself. MY wrote multiple posts about this, that could be a good place to start. It's rather surprising to me to find a SB subscriber confusing this line of critique with fox-news Trumpism (unless, of course, you are trolling, which would be dull and pointless).

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Do you know of any articles on the Indian/South African use of these policies? I have a vague sense that they exist (which is why I was pretty sure you weren’t comparing woke demands to Apartheid), but I’d like to learn more about how they work and whether they’ve made a difference.

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author

There was something good on affirmative action policies in India in The Economist recently: https://www.economist.com/asia/2021/09/11/indias-caste-system-remains-entrenched-75-years-after-independence

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

With the risk of feeding the trolls, may I venture to ask if you think that that the US civil rights movement actually achieved anything considering that you believe that the US “had (and has) a racial caste system based on white guys on top.”? Do you at all consider it important whether or not legal and official systems of discrimination are in place in a society ? And are you even aware of the systems of state based affirmative action in South Africa and India to which I was alluding ?

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Yeah lol, I can say pretty confidently that Americans really do not want India's affirmative action system. It's already highly controversial in India, so an application to the US would probably tear the country apart.

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No, the Democratic party is not advocating for a caste or Apartheid system. Enough already.

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The policy changes have their pros and cons but you could debate how much of it is really a move left versus evolving with society. I think the absolute biggest changes have been rhetorical. Fewer Democrats speak like normal people and pepper their language with university buzz words that, frankly, can be really loaded and alienating for anyone not on the far end of the progressive spectrum. I think that change is much more important to perceptions than any shift left in policy preferences, not that those don't exist.

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Yeah, I think the buried lede here is about how the Democratic platform got longer and more verbose. (Even as Republicans didn't bother to update theirs for 2020!)

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It would be interesting to know the backgrounds of the folks who did the major drafting of both the 2012 and 2020 platforms.

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Most parsimonious answer: They graduated from college in the interim.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

I disagree. When the federal government as a matter of official government policy, tried to give priority in certain COVID relief allocations to people purely based on the color of their skin (or rather whether or not they fall under the “non Hispanic white” census category) that’s far more than rhetoric. That’s radical change, and unconstitutional at that (as noted by federal courts that struck it down). Though not the Dems calls, one should note many states health establishments recent decisions (or attempts) to likewise allocate lifesaving COVID medicine based on skin color, often over and and above actual medical criteria (e.g. vaccination, age, obesity). This too comes from the same well. This is not “rhetoric”. This is people’s life and welfare that’s at stake, and the very constitutional underpinnings of society (equal protection).

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The fact that the 2020 platform is at a higher reading level is part of this.

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Both a higher reading level but also less comprehensible. For example, you could call the change on something like the TPP a move left, but it's also on balance probably good politics. As much as I hate to use another buzz word 'neoliberalism' has taken a hit over the last 15 years for understandable reasons. It's no longer the consensus it once was.

But why talk about that sort of thing in lofty but hard to grasp terms like ' economic justice' instead of a fair deal for American workers? And why force in a bunch of university inspired pop intersectionality language into everything? It's totally tone deaf and self-defeating at the margins where American politics are won and lost.

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Yeah, absolutely on "both higher and less". I have a PhD and I write for a living, and I can't make heads or tails of that gobbledygook. I don't have the latest edition of the Groups Discourse Decoder Ring.

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The Democrats need to bring in more people from the private sector, where we have developed a lot of expertise in ignoring mission statements and random buzzwords.

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founding

A platform isn’t a document that is written for the public to read. It’s written for the activists to say to each other what they would like.

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True, but it is written to give members of the party common talking points. It makes sense to me that you’d want to keep it at a 12/13-grade reading level as a way to set expectations about how to talk about issues.

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founding

If you want usable talking points, you need to keep it below 9 on the Flesch-Kincaid scale. (I don’t think it’s appropriate to use the “grade reading level” as the unit, but rather to just think of this as an abstract index based on syllables and sentence length.)

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I think that’s become an aspect of our politics generally and one not confined to Democrats. It’s basically ideological virtue signaling and drawing stark lines between in-groups and out-groups. There is a lot more of that then there used to be which results in less focus on getting things done. And it promotes uncompromising positions where 3/4 of a loaf is rejected because it’s not a full loaf.

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"you could debate how much of it is really a move left versus evolving with society. I think the absolute biggest changes have been rhetorical."

I disagree. The Democratic party base has moved in significant real ways not just rhetorically - and that in itself has changed society! There is significant literature saying that on many policy issues, most people have very loose beliefs - especially when it doesn't affect them. By major groups in the political sphere pushing hard on their agenda items, partisanship drags a lot of people to believe/support something they otherwise wouldn't think about. Progressive groups by their very nature are more likely to push a change than conservative groups, so they will push change on society. And that change may start with rhetoric, but it usually progresses to action as you see in Matt's article - drug decriminalization, banning fossil fuel production on federal lands, allocating resources based on a community disadvantage, etc.

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Fair point and probably poor phrasing on my part. What I meant isn't that there has been no move left, just that assessing how much requires accounting for new facts and political realities.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

I simultaneously think that the proposal in your last paragraph has a lot of merit but also that the Democrats really can't credibly commit to virtually any limiting principle short of "no pedophilia" (I have moderate confidence they can hold the line on that one.) Not only are we deep into the "fool me once," territory on gender norms but I think that ultimately what you propose having formulated is something like a first-order version of the harm principle -- but this, in my view runs into two issues:

(1) It's actually very hard to invoke the harm principle as a limit on at least one of even your two proposed red lines -- bestiality. In particular if we're talking about a male animal and a female human, it's not clear that, even assuming concepts like "consent" map onto the animal world, that they would be violated. Presumably sexual activity of this type has the male animal as a willing participant, so all we're left with is the argument from visceral revulsion, but that's exactly the same barrier that Progressives have been smashing to pieces (and calling its adherents various forms of bigots) since *at least* the Civil Rights movement.

Note that this doesn't make the commitment to the harm principle as a form of policy guidance ethically wrong, but it basically means that the Dems have very, very few red lines they can credibly draw in the Culture Wars short of nonconsensual physical violence being verboten.

(2) The more thoughtful conservative critique of this kind of harm-principle thinking (the kind you'd see from Douthat et al.) is usually not that it's a bad ethical framework intrinsically (well, excepting where Douthat lets his religious convictions dictate some commitments that seem to come out of left field), but that the commitment to first-order harm principle invocations leads to second-order effects that actually create a lot of utility loss, and that could conceivably even overwhelm the first order effects of increasing expressive freedom.

A good example might be women in the workplace: while I wouldn't make the case that this has been net utility-negative, my understanding is that the central thrust of Elizabeth Warren's "The Two Income Trap" is all about how a lot of the purely economic aspects of this were actually kind of terrible for all sorts of people and just forced them into a Red Queen's race for positional goods like school district residence where couples now find themselves in the position of being at a concert where everyone's standing: everyone would be better off if they agreed to sit, but once some people stand you have to do so as well in order to see the stage, even though everyone would be better off (more comfortable) just sitting down. Now that everyone needs two incomes instead of one to compete for houses in good school districts, two people instead one are *obligated* to work outside the home (and spend many of those dollars on daycare while forgoing time with their own children) instead of only one. In this particular example, women's workforce participation can still be on net a utiliarian win but the magnitude of that win may end up being a *lot* lower than what goes into the calculus of the Progressive torchbearers.

I think it's possible some trans issues may be coming up against this utilitarian frontier due to things like the numbers being so overwhelmingly lopsided (the proverbial kajillion dust motes versus a single murder issue) as well as the whole Jesse Singal angle. I would also argue that plural marriage and polyamory carry some of these risks in the sense that their competition for what comprises the societal default expectations is more or less zero-sum, and Scott Alexander has among others made a really compelling case that default societal norms are actually genuinely something people really do care about and may be reasonable to fight over.

In short, I think this is a good angle to consider, but I think the Dems just cannot credibly commit to the issue in a way that's intellectually honest--nor, given the concerns with (2), even necessarily utility-maximizing.

While the first-order harm principle sure *looks* a lot more sympathetic as a deontological commitment than lowering taxes on the wealthy and abolishing regulations, I think that it plausibly runs up against the argument that in some ways it's part of the same class of unreflective heuristic that may not serve the best interests of society at large, even if a case could be made that it's a much *better* heuristic than whatever the Republicans are offering.

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I'll be honest, I don't have a lot confidence in the Left holding the line into the future against pedophilia. Many of the mid-20th century philosophers, especially French ones, who incubated and developed many of the ideas about "subjectivity" and other similar philosophies that much of the Left holds, were pro-pedophilia (or at least pro-pederasty, although I am not sure what the substantive difference is). I am not saying that any current major figures on the Left, the Democratic Party, or anyone on this blog are pro-pedophilia, because they are not. But I don't think it is correct to say that none of the mid-20th century ideas about pedophilia will never come back among the Left, broadly defined.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

I would retain cautious optimism re: the Left holding the line based on:

(1) Such proposals remaining radioactive even amidst other Culture war convulsions,

(2) Seemingly having a genuinely meaningful Left-endorsed principle behind it compatible with the harm principle (viz., consent)

(3) -- This is going to sound dismissive but I'm not sure how else to phrase it -- the fact that the tradition you reference is French. Utiliarianism seems like it comes much more from the Analytic tradition than the Continental one, and while it's *probably* unfair and reductive to characterize Analytic philosophy as "philosophy" and Continental Philosophy as "obscurantist bullshit propounded by narcissists," it's kind of hard for me not to mentally compartmentalize them that way and, more importantly, I think the Analytic intellectual tradition at large has always either implicitly or explicitly held the Continental tradition in some degree of contempt.

More concretely, I guess I would say that French ideas on sexuality seem like they're kind of far from the intellectual and cultural context and pedigree of utilitarianism and, given the jaundiced eye with which they're viewed in the Anglosphere, at a minimum probably wouldn't be incorporated into the same intellectual basis as the harm principle comes from.

That isn't to say that there couldn't be some weird popularist incorporation of such ideas into the mainstream left in the future in the same way that a lot of Continental-adjacent ideas seem to have gained currency in other leftist discourse (e.g., there's a lot of essentialism of various stripes that gets tossed around pretty often these days). But I don't think that such hypothetical incorporation would necessarily be through the front door, as it were, of trying to lay out a consistent set of ethical principles that the Dems stand for and committing to that as David proposed.

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Re 2) - Isn't there a big gap in it already? If a 12 y/o can be trans and consent/subject to "affirmative care", why is sexual consent different?

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There are a billion things wrong with this argument, ranging from the conflation of "sexual activity with internal gender identity" (also are you arguing teens can't be gay), to the fact that we *do* implicitly allow teens to consent to sexual gratification as long as no adults are involved (when 2 minors are caught in bed together society generally disapproves, but we don't send either of the minors to jail, assuming both are teens) to the fact that we allow 6th graders to get a vaccine for a disease that is almost entirely spread by sexual activity because its medically recommended for that age group.

Now that we know the real rate of actual gender dysphoric teens desisting is 2%ish, we can cease these bad faith arguments about how minors getting evidence backed medical care will lead to pedo acceptance.

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I don't really see the failure to set limits to our principles as the problem.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

I think you nailed it in your opening sentence that we disagree regarding the salience and speed of how your proposal would operate, and I think we might also have a somewhat deeper disagreement about whether the harm principle makes more sense to adopt solely on an instrumental basis or as something that normatively should be the explicit (rather than historically implicit) lodestar of party policy. So I respect your thoughtful reply (and original post!) even if we probably don't see eye on predictions (or even goals).

I do think that by the time the plural marriage issue matures on your proposed timeline (can't say I have a strong sense of whether the Zoomers are going to force the issue or not, or on what timetable if they do) the party's institutional capacity to rebuke or otherwise stand athwart history and say "stop!" is going to be hopelessly compromised in a repeat of many of the dynamics we've seen dominate the party lately.

(Admittedly, I also think climate will have become so dominant a consideration by then that it's sort of moot. California's drought will not have abated, India's habitability will continue to decrease, and heavier shit will be hitting the fan.)

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I think this analysis is almost entirely spot on, except that I don’t think most people would be receptive to a full exploration... most ideas, really. People who are into that sort of thing are the ones who study philosophy in undergrad and are into sci-fi (Matt, myself, a significant minority of this comment section), or who get really into theories of how to celebrate queer identities once we achieve Marx’s vision. And while this personality gap is a significant problem, it’s not the major one.

As you get further and further from modern reality, ideas get weird. But that doesn’t mean you can just ignore the debates. If you’re somewhat utilitarian, thinking about the repugnant conclusion (it would be worth it to have, e.g. 100,000,000 people living in agony if it meant 3^^^3 people lived barely-worth-living lives. If you disagree, just increase the second number until you agree) is actually really important! Or for an example that you raise, that’s much closer to today’s issues, the “love between consenting adults” standard that justifies gay marriage also justifies polygamy– but most people are uncomfortable with polygamy. Would gay marriage be legal today if we also had to fight (on excellent philosophical grounds!) for plural marriage? I doubt it, and note also that because the argument extends so well, we might be on our way to plural marriage anyway. Taking ideas to their logical conclusions forces groups to argue out and then commit to increasingly fringe beliefs, which is exactly the problem most of Matt’s readers have with today’s left.

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Scott Alexander had an article that I thought well described how taking logical arguments to their extreme leads to bad results.

"There’s a potentially impossible conceptual problem here, of figuring out what to do with the fact that any moral rule followed to infinity will diverge from large parts of what we mean by morality."

https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/09/25/the-tails-coming-apart-as-metaphor-for-life/

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I was thinking about that exact article as I wrote my comment!

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

I think most folks, if forced to take on the “full exploration,” would conclude that utilitarianism is a morally bankrupt philosophy, and not worthy of their attention.

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founding

I’m not sure that “final limits” makes sense. Society keeps changing and values will change in light of that. The French Revolution didn’t have communism or same sex marriage as part of their vision, but they are very natural extensions of the vision that came about as society adopted some of the goals of the revolution. I don’t know if there’s any descendant of the Revolution that actually adopted both, and I don’t know that there was any way to predict which factions would adopt one or the other.

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Your critique of my comment is absolutely correct, but that just makes the problem I am/we are getting at worse, not better!

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The thing is that social progressivism is a natural outgrowth of Enlightenment thinking and liberal democracy, even though some of the means of said progressive change run counter to it. Which is why the only real way to roll it back is fascism, and the Right had finally realized this.

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post-modernism goes straight agaist enlightenment.

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We have a choice between woke fash and non-woke fash, it seems to be.

That's certainly what the wokeists seem to want the electorate to think.

It's going poorly for them.

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"essentially lying" means that we know what progressive positions and priorities will look like 10, 20, or 40 years later. I just don't see how that can be the case any more than progressives, liberals or conservatives in 2000 would accurately assess their respective positions and priorities in 2020. There is certainly an internal logic to any ideological outlook, but there is too much contingency coming from life to be all that confident what our outlook will be a few decades later.

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An ideology does not need to be "forward looking" to be subject to slippery-slope arguments. Dems have been making them about repealing Roe for decades too ("after Roe they will go after the right to contraception, etc."). Most Conservatives are going to say "of course we are not going there" and most of them probably sincerely do not want to go there. But there are some that do (witness the Gov. of Miss Reeves dropping a juicy "I'm sure there will be conversations around America regarding [birth control] it's not something that we've spent a lot of time focused on." If Roe is overturned, maybe conservatives will push to roll back Griswald 20 years from now; maybe they will not. If they do, then the Reeves quote will constitute "what they really wanted to do all along." If not, he will be seen as an outlier.

There is almost always a diversity of opinion about "the next steps" in any kind of large movement, and whatever happens next can always be traced back to something that was being said before, but it's usually difficult to be super-confident which of the current diversity of opinion will be dominant decades later.

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"Modern Democrats seem to think that the only two options are (A) to lie and say "We will NEVER endorse plural marriage [with the quiet part being: 'at least not until our activists talk it up enough that it starts polling positively in blue states']" or (B) to go Full Activist and say "I support plural marriage because marriage equality demands it!""

I don't see why it's necessary to say either. I personally do not know how high a marginal tax rate I would support. I don't know exactly how many more highly skilled immigrants I'd admit. I don't know the exact kinds of restrictions of guns I consider "common sense." I don't know exactly how to balance greater freedom of trade with trade restrictions to pressure other countries on human rights and "national security." I don't know how to reform policing to give better protection both from criminals and from the police itself. I don't know how much by which to reduce the deficit. And I don't see why a platform statement need to take a position on what these are; people, especially people in the future, will disagree.

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Well is there a causal connection between Obergefell (or the legalization in many states before that) and changes to gender norms? I think one could argue that the same changes in attitudes and behaviors which drove public opinion around marriage equality have also changed attitudes re. gender identity, but the causal link of "if you let secretary mayor pete get married, then he will put Euphoria on television" I think is weak.

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Nothing says "If you vote for us, we will improve your family's life in immediate, specific, identifiable, concrete ways" like "land acknowledgement", a concept I would wager 90% of American voters have not heard of.

It probably just hasn't been "centered" enough.

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So if "land acknowledgements" were a thing in the UK, would they be about the Normans taking land from the Saxons, the Saxons taking land from the Romano-Britons, or the Romans taking land from the Celts?

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I think we should just open meetings with a complete chain of custody, followed by an allotted period of time for groups to contest the assertions made (“we Eloi didn’t steal the land from the Morlocks, they left for Tulsa because their shaman told them that crops would flourish there!”)

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I *told* you! We're an anarcho-syndicalist commune! We're taking turns to act as a sort of executive-officer-for-the-week--

But all the decisions *of* that officer 'ave to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting--

By a simple majority, in the case of purely internal affairs--

But by a two-thirds majority, in the case of more major--

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Land acknowledgments always make me think of the scene from The Simpsons Movie where EPA chief Russ Cargill says he took the job because he's a rich man who wants "to give something back. Not the money, but something."

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At least the acknowledgment is that the land was “stewarded” by ancestral tribes, and not “stolen” from them?? I suspect this was heavily debated behind the scenes…

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Agree, but my guess would be more than 90%...

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founding

That seems like a weird criticism. How does a land acknowledgement in any way interfere with the things that you are asking for? You might as well criticize the founding documents for talking about abstract concepts like “inalienable rights”.

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The founding docs proceeded from abstract concepts to concrete action (independence, structure of government) within a few words. This is just performative crap that nobody asked for, benefits nobody, and has led to the accomplishment of exactly nothing.

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If only--it benefits Republicans who have an additional piece of ammunition if they want to argue that Democrats care more about standing around preening at each other rather than actually passing legislation and helping you, Joe and Jane, Regular Voters.

(these are generally bad-faith arguments, but if they're made more effective, then does that matter?)

The Democratic Party needs *constant* reminding that it is a political party that should be designed first and foremost to do politics, and that it is not an advocacy group.

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founding

It seems to me that land acknowledgments are the sort of thing that should absolutely be kept, while the kinds of things that make controversial claims about schools or policing or whatever are what people need to fix in the name of popularism.

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The sanctimony and righteousness ARE unpopular. At best, this stuff is meaningless. At worst, it makes everyone hate us. “Preachy, judgmental, and obsessed with niche cultural issues” is our current brand. We need to fight it, not double down.

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founding

I guess I think of sanctimony as when you demand people to do things your way. Not when you lead by example. It doesn't seem sanctimonious when a world leader apologizes for past wrongs done by their nation, though it does seem sanctimonious for people to *demand* leaders to apologize.

While people associate land acknowledgments with the actual harmful demands of various groups, the fact that they *aren't* demands seems to me like they're the kind of thing we should seek more of, even as we eliminate the criticisms and calls for funding/defunding/whatever.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

You are right there is not any demand being made, but people see sanctimony in other people making land acknowledgement statements because they appear to be doing it as a call to attention of their righteousness compared to everyone else, and the statements are yet another shibboleth of belonging to the in-group of professional class progressives, like "Latinx" or "birthing person."

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Why would you want to keep the land acknowledgments? They are entirely symbolic and don't change anything.

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founding

I mean, that's what you want in an apology, right?

I think it's important to get rid of things with bad symbolism, and *especially* important to get rid of things that cause bad changes. But if something doesn't actually advocate bad changes, and has good symbolism, isn't that the sort of thing we would want?

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Is it actually good symbolism, or do people think it makes the Democrats and the broader left look silly? “We’re so sorry we took all of your land! Also we’re not doing to do anything about it!”

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deletedMay 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022
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founding

I think the point of a land acknowledgment is to *acknowledge* that messiness. The ones I've liked don't claim that the land inherently belongs to someone or other - they just acknowledge certain other people using the land before the present people using the land, and remain neutral on whether anything is to be done about that fact. That's precisely how they *resist* the sanctimony of calls for very specific concrete actions that are deeply problematic in their own way.

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The number of comments saying "Republicans are worse" is concerning. Two wrongs don't make a right! If your opponent becomes extreme, you should take the opportunity to hoover up swing voters and win, not abandon the centre yourself.

This goes double in the US system with all its veto points, and triple for Dems given US malapportionment works against them.

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May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022

I see this attitude on Twitter a lot. The idea seems to be that Democrats can simply use the general craziness of Republicans as leverage to force swing voters to sign onto whatever progressives want.

Spoiler alert: this is not gonna work. All Republicans have to do is give off the faintest signal of sanity/moderation (like in the VA Governor's race) and that leverage evaporates.

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Cynically thinking....this logic kind of goes against the best interest for those on the far left (and right). From the left perspective, hoovering up centrists moves the relative center of the party to the right and towards the middle. It moderates the party. As a result, it's weirdly in the extremes' interest to run to the extreme when the other party has. It gives them the best chance to get their policies enacted earlier...at the risk of losing to the other extreme group. But many of the people on the extreme left (and right) are privileged and not people who will be personally victimized if the extreme right wins; we see this with the moderation of the black and non-college educated vote in the primary. So this game is win or wait for the next round of the game for the extreme groups when the other side is also extreme.

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I think the fact that the white collar base of the party is busying itself making an organ of mass politics into an inaccessible, elitist morass tells us all we need to know.

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founding

When has a party platform ever been an organ of mass politics?

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The *party* is supposed to be an organ of mass politics. And party platforms in the US have historically been reasonably accessible and intelligible to the mass of voters.

They're meant to serve as the basis for the more charismatic and personality-driven approaches that individual politicians take to win elections. Candidates should not have to run away from or disavow them.

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author

Right, the idea isn't that you expect everyone to read the platform — most people probably won't even hear about it — but in 2012 they wrote it so that a swing voter who happened to pick up a copy could find some areas of agreement. In 2020 they just went all in on "well nobody's probably going to read this so why not go full activist?"

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founding

Hmm, I had been under the impression that platforms have always had lots of weird niche ideas and unfamiliar phrasings, precisely because they *weren't* looked at by the mass of voters. We would have to look in greater detail at past platforms to see how accurate either of these impressions is.

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May 11, 2022Liked by Milan Singh

Running some data analytics on all previous platforms really would be interesting. Anyone know a poly-sci/data undergraduate looking for a project?

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I don't think anyone disagrees with the thesis, but it's worth pointing out that some of the movement by Democrats is in response to conservative wins. For example, raising corporate taxes in 2020 vs. closing loopholes in 2012 is partially a result of the 2017 GOP tax cuts. The Dems moved left on the VRA and voter ID laws, but that follows the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder (2013) and proliferation of state-level voting restrictions. Puerto Rico has held three statehood referenda since 2012, all of which statehood won; prior to 2012, the last referendum was in 1998, which statehood lost. Point being, some of the changes are obviously solely attributable to philosophical movement, but others are equally, or more, influenced by historical developments rendering past positions moot.

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I haven’t seen many people arguing that the Ds haven’t shifted left. I have seen two main critiques of the meme. First, the meme should include a histogram-like distribution of people. As younger people have replaced older people, the absolute position of the Democratic Party has shifted more than its position relative to older people. A person opposed to same-sex marriage in 2022 would be out of step with society in a way they wouldn’t have been in 2002, despite not having moved themselves (ditto for someone opposing interracial marriage in 2022 versus 1962). Values change, but so do the best available evidence and analyses—so we should expect (and want!) to see changes. Second, believing that the Republican Party hasn’t changed in some meaningful way does indeed “imagining things” and ignoring other things. Sure, Republicans have courted anti-democratic racially conservative Whites since Goldwater went “hunting where the ducks [were],” but the anti-democratic, anti-empirical, anti-pluralist element of the coalition (which has long been there) has taken control of the party to a greater extent than ever before.

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I dug up the source of the conservative/moderate/liberal chart here: https://news.gallup.com/poll/388988/political-ideology-steady-conservatives-moderates-tie.aspx

The share of Democrats who are conservative is declining, but 12% still far exceeds the share of Republicans who call themselves liberal (4%).

Among independent voters, conservatives outnumber liberals 30% to 20%. Nationwide, conservatives outnumber liberals 37% to 25%.

Assuming conservative Democrats are low-hanging fruit to be brought over to the Republican side, while liberal Republicans are low-hanging fruit to be brought over to the Democratic side, Democrats are in big trouble, because the former group far outnumbers the latter.

Looking at racial breakdowns in the 2021 Gallup poll, things get even more telling. Simply treating all conservatives as Republicans, all liberals as Democrats, and moderates split 50/50 between two parties, we can use the liberal/moderate/conservative stats to crudely estimate how each racial group splits between the two parties. For white voters, it produces a 59/41 split in favor of Republicans, almost exactly matching the results of recent elections. Among Hispanic voters, this calculation produces a 50/50 split, right down the middle. Among blacks voters, the calculation favors Democrats, but only by 55/45, not the 88/12 margins among them Democrats are used to.

In other words, Democrat's ability to have a majority at all lies on the backs, not of liberal voters, but of conservative nonwhite voters siding with Democrats because of their race, even if they disagree with their politics. Recent trends have started to show a shift of black and Hispanic voters towards the GOP. If these trends are the result of people voting their ideology, rather than their race (as election data show white voters have been doing all along), the long term future for Democrats is losing white voters 60/40, breaking even 50/50 among Hispanic voters, and winning black voters by just 55/45. Even if blacks and Hispanics make up an increasingly larger percentage of the electorate going forward, these numbers still point to a large Republican majority looming in the future.

Without either increasing the number of liberals in this country to match conservatives, or winning a large supermajority of the moderate votes, Democrats simply cannot win (long term) even the popular vote, let alone institutions such as the Senate or electorate college, which have further Republican biases due to population distribution.

And, all this should be scaring Democratic operatives stiff.

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Wasn't one of the olive branches Biden extended to Sanders to let Bernie people have major roles in writing the platform? Might explain a lot of the tone and content of the document.

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Sure, but I don't think the party platforms are the best evidence here. For one thing, ideological sorting means there are fewer conservative party delegates showing up to the conventions arguing for conservative language in the platform. So in theory you could end up with a further-left Democratic platform without the society-wide Overton window having shifted (even though I don't think that's what's happened). For another thing, even given a society-wide shift: as other people have pointed out, the Colin Wright meme kind of implies a moderate person standing around not changing their views over time as liberals zoom left, but Democrats' leftward motion doesn't itself prove they're further from the median voter than before. You could make a strong case they are, but the median voter has also moved left on a lot of issues – not just gay rights, but also whether the Iraq War was a good idea, whether it's the government's responsibility to ensure everyone has access to healthcare, whether police violence is a major problem.

I'm splitting hairs relative to the thesis of this essay, I guess, but not relative to the Colin Wright meme. The meme suggests a one-time epochal shift relative to the median voter, but the evolution in the party's platform is consistent with the thesis that the Democrats are just America's left-of-center major party, and the center has shifted. If the meme resonates with a lot of people in this moment, that may be because there are a lot of Republicans and midterm elections always go badly for the incumbent president's party.

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Yes. In addition, the Republican Party didn’t even update their platform for 2020. It was just, essentially, “more Donald!” So you all couldn’t even do the analysis above for the Republicans. Or it would suggest exactly zero movement.

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This is evidence that Republicans have moderated on policy since 2016. It doesn't necessarily mean "more Donald", but that their vision is more defensive and status quo oriented.

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founding

Although part of the problem is that in 2020 the Republicans wanted to hold their convention indoors without masks, and the city of Houston wouldn’t let them do it, so they said “no convention, and therefore no platform update”, while the democrats had their convention over Zoom.

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Has the center actually shifted on the issues of highest salience? It’s true that several issues from the early 2000s have seen a shift leftward (Iraq), but nobody votes on that anymore. I’d argue that we simply look like a flatter version of a bell curve, and even if public opinion on specific issues has shifted left, the Democrats have either shifted incommensurately farther or adopted ideological messaging that SOUNDS like we have.

A recent DCCC report showed that most voters find the Dems preachy, judgmental, and obsessed with niche cultural issues. We are whistling past the graveyard.

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You should add to your dot plot that use of the word "equity" and its variants went from a rate of 0.19 per 1000 words in 2012 to 1.0 per 1000 in 2020... Use of variants of the word "equal" went up too, but not as much: 0.87 to 1.26 per thousand words.

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Milan should have used a logarithmic scale. It would better show the quintupling of terms like "equity" as being much more dramatic than the less than 50% increase in "equal"

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author

I generally don’t do log scales because I find them less intuitive to interpret and I figure most readers do too

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Today it says Matt and Milan. Did Milan do all the work and Matt put his name on it to take credit for it?

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author
May 11, 2022·edited May 11, 2022Author

I did the reading and the factual writeup of the content of the platforms, Matt added some context/analysis about BBB, progressives praising Biden for moving left, and Elon Musk.

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May 11, 2022Liked by Milan Singh

The side by side platform comparison was really great. It's nice to bring facts to bear in this kind of debate.

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Doing away with individual credit as we shift inevitably toward communism.

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I don’t recall you having ever gotten a doctorate, how did you figure out how it works?

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Maybe Matt thought we'd go easier on Milan that we usually do if he co-signed.

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I refrained from giving him crap about the typo.

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I would assume it is as said - Milan did the research and Matt did the write-up.

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Great article, my only thought is that some of this has to do with the Dems misread of the 2020 electoral environment somewhat based on flawed polling. I think if you could of given the party the 2020 election results in advance that is certainly not the platform they would of run on.

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I wish I thought this were true!

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Might be wishful thinking lol

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Great point. There was a lot of wishful thinking based on bad polling.

However, I am grateful that the polling was so off in predicting a comfortable Biden win. Had the polls shown how close the race was throughout the fall, I would have had several heart attacks with a couple aneurysms thrown in. Being misled was great for my physical and emotional health.

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The polling was fine when the platform was written.

What wasn't fine was all the torched neighborhoods by people widely seen to be associated with liberals, for a cause seen as associated with liberalism.

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How do we know the polling was fine during the summer? It seems the only way to tell if polling is accurate is to actually vote.

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"The fact that DW-NOMINATE scores don’t pick up on it is a limitation of that metric — not to say that it’s wrong, but just that analysis of roll call votes only tells you so much."

Sure, the votes don't tell you everything about where a party is.

But they tell you a hell of a lot more than the platform does.

The platform is just the talk. The votes are the walk. The votes are when you put your money where your mouth is -- or don't.

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author

Sure, but Democrats did in fact try to pass a bolder, more left-wing policy agenda in the form of BBB

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Thanks, Milan.

But isn't that captured in the voting record?

So, this would not be a case in which the platform would give us *better* info than the voting record, just a case in which they (attempted to) walk the talk.

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My understanding of DW-NOMINATE is it just tells you how the politicians vote relative to one another, not how liberal or conservative the actual legislation is. So DW-NOMINATE doesn't inform us about how ambitious the actual failed BBB bill was (which was significantly more ambitious than anything the Democrats tried to pass during Obama's presidency!)

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author

This is my understanding as well, but if that’s not how it works please correct me

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No it doesn't. DW-Nominate is about how individual members place onto the scale within that particular congress, it does not measure whether congress itself is drifting to the right or left. What it means to be a conservative under DW-Nominate in 1920 is very different to what it would be mean today, but you wouldn't be able to see that with the measure.

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founding

Of course the relative positioning is all that the original meme was about.

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The platform is the brand - the large letters on the can. The votes are the ingredients in small print

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Either:

1) more moderate liberals were already primed to quickly become more radical on a lot of these issues, or...

2) more 'moderate' liberals weren't really moderate in the first place, but we're just pretending to be for political advantage.

Whichever the case, a lot of conservatives were lampooned for making (supposedly foolish) slippery-slope arguments on these issues over the last decade or so, and...in many cases, they were probably right.

Admittedly, this could be a 'broken clock right two times a day' situation, because we are always making slippery slope arguments.

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I don’t think moderate liberals have moved all that much. I think they’re “reading the room” and keeping things to themselves. That’s ending, as more people speak up and it seems safer, but there were a lot of incentives for people who considered themselves to be good liberals to keep the moderate part to themselves over the last few years.

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That's fair. I shouldn't have phrased it to apply to all moderate liberals.

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oh Dear Lord, they really do start the 2020 platform with a land acknowledgement. It's a good thing no one reads or remembers these things, or they'd be doing that much more to alienate the median voter. <smh>

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