449 Comments

The more general point is that Democrats should tack to the center rhetorically and on certain policy issues (in order of importance: immigration, law and order, the culture war) and stop listening to the uber-wokes and fringe-leftists. It would be a dominant party if it did.

(In the same vein the Republicans would be a dominant party if they got rid of their crazy US-hating fascist wing and moderated on most issues, but in particular abortion, taxes and the culture war)

There is a large majority waiting for the party that first turns its back on the loonier elements within.

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I have said before that there is a really strange 'who wants it less' aspect to the current partisan moment. Personally I blame the internet.

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I think the nature of primary elections drives some of this. But also the fact that moderation and political involvement are inversely proportional.

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Money tends to be found among the fringes, where engagement and conviction are highest. Important for fundraising.

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I think that second one is especially huge.

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Yes, and small donors who are particularly ideological

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I'd add non-proportional first-past-the-post elections leading to entrenched two party governance. The national parties are just trying to cover way too large a portion of the political spectrum. If we could have an actual Green party with seats in Congress in addition to center-left Democrats, and same with Rs it would be much easier for parties to strategize how to do well without worrying about intra-party fights. Not that this would fix everything- see Europe.

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How would primaries work with a multi-party system? Would we hold primaries for all parties, or would the smaller ones get to choose their candidates? Or would a multi party process mean the end of primaries (which would probably be a good thing)

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I think it’s the primary system.

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Feb 13Liked by Ben Krauss

This ignores tons of evidence in terms of elite Democratic communication AND actual policy and legislation. Look at administration policy on Gaza. China. Wall-building (Biden has green lit this). Even immigration (talk to immigration lawyers; they think the Biden administration is barely an improvement over Trump). Sure, the center is not going to win EVERY single battle (gas exports). But much/most of the excess lefitism/wokeism stuff that MAGA is running on is driven not by actual Democratic politicians or even political operatives but various third parties such as university administrators, students, and issue activists. And these folks typically have very different incentives from those trying to win elections for and as Democrats. Indeed, the former often do better financially when Democrats lose and Republicans win. And many are overtly contemptuous of the Democratic Party (which they view as sellouts).

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author

I generally agree with this point. But the key distinction that Matt's piece makes is that it is the communication from the White House that is failing Biden. You're right that his policies are not in lockstep with the leftist wing of the Democratic party. But it's time for his campaign and comms team to embrace that more fully.

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Yep. Sister Souljah, our party turns its lonely eyes to you...

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Again, Matt and Ben would not argue against your point on policy.

Matt is arguing the White House is not making the adequate effort to harvest the political benefit (policy merit/demerit aside) of the politically moderate or triangulated policy.

You can turn Sister Souljah into a parody of a Simon & Garfunkel lyric but I'd prefer a more substantively engaged response, like your astute initial observation.

In the absence, I would offer a point about the diminishing to limited *political* returns of Sister Souljah'ing or Obama's equivalent (Reverend Wright Repudiation?). It did well for Clinton and Obama's personal elections and reelections and their approval ratings but did nothing to lift their *parties* or improve their parties' national brands. Now what could Matt, or Brian or Milan say to that? Meanwhile the Presidential electoral humiliations of Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, all pre-Sister Souljah-ing and Hippie-punching, didn't see the Congressional Democratic Party and State Democratic Parties as weakened as their 1990s and 21st century versions.

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>>>Again, Matt and Ben would not argue against your point on policy. Matt is arguing the White House is not making the adequate effort to harvest the political benefit<<<

I understand that. My comment was directed at Joachim, not Yglesias, though, given this commenting software, it's always tought to tell who is addressing whom.

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And I can't respond to you Charles since you have seemed to have blocked me... It's unfortunate since I agree with you 90% of the time. Whenever I try to like a post of yours I can't.

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Blocking people on Substack seems like a rather stupid feature, especially here where we have active moderators. Quite different on Twitter. There's one commenter here who has blocked me and I find the whole thing very childish.

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Man after seeing his speech the other day it’s obvious he’s frail af we just need to nominate Mark Kelly at the convention bc he’s the shit and he would win

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I'd really like to see evidence of this. The KJP clip does not provide any support for the claim and there's nothing else in the post that adds any more.

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I think this is a situation of where (regardless of what the Dems actially do) the discourse is overrun with advocacy/non-profit groups who say very leftwing stuff and have convinced the "median voter" that they speak for everyone to the left of Joe Manchin.

So when Biden/the administration says/does something centrist people are generally convinced that it's a scam.

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I literally couldn't agree with this more. You've seen this from 2020 onward where Dems were artificially attached to "Defund the Police" even though virtually no high profile elected Dems supported it. Marching in a protest and chanting "Black Lives Matter!" somehow became support for BLM the organization and defunding the police. Look, this is a thems the breaks type of thing but it genuinely sucks and it's going to take a long time of Dems adopting MY's advice to get them unattached to "the groups" BS.

If you ask BLM (the org) and other groups like it what their take on Dems are they probably hate them, but the "median voter" sees them as one in the same. I realize that Dems aren't completely blameless in this and they could have pushed back harder but a lot of this stuff just takes on a life of its own. I live in Waukesha county in WI and people look at me like I am crazy when I patiently try to explain that Biden doesn't support "Defund the Police" and he didn't support rioting in 2020. It like just doesn't compute.

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It does make it kinda hard when you picked a VP who very explicitly supported rioting in 2020.

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OK. I should just let this go, but that's not true. She did not support rioting. I am not a fan of Kamala Harris so I have no problem criticizing her record at all, but this doesn't pass the smell test. I'm guessing the genesis of this belief is the bail fund she promoted back in 2020:

https://www.newsweek.com/fact-check-did-kamala-harris-back-bail-fund-murderers-rapists-1754314

Look this article makes clear that she should have had a better idea of what she was promoting but this does not mean she supported rioting. I will absolutely cede to you that this was poor judgement on her part but she never endorsed rioting especially not "explicitly" so. I know the GOP and a lot of the Persuasion/Quillette types think that all 2020 protests were riots but that's simply not the case. Supporting protests does not mean that you endorsed riots that may have spun out of those by individuals participating in the protests. If you have additional evidence where she explicitly endorsed rioting I will consider it but until then, as they said on the old Monday Night Football segment, "Come on man!"

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Feb 14·edited Feb 14

It there's a question about whether she was supporting protests or the small percentage of rioters I'm pretty sure promoting a fund to bail out the small percentage of people who got themselves arrested at those protests clearly answers the question.

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I've said this all the time.

People need some serious civics and media education about "signal" versus "noise"

And sorting "relevant" information versus "irrelevant" information

Mainstream "politics" reporting and "analysis" with its horse-race focus and meta-frames about campaigns and slices of the electorate, is completely unhelpful in this regard.

In a republic with a healthy fourth estate and better information hygiene, "political" journalism would not really exist as a discipline, government/governance journalism would stand in its place, and all this cultural vibe crap would be off to the side, except to the point it was a matter of an elected or appointed government officials; legislation or regulation.

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For a really long time, a significant fraction of liberals were upset with the fact that non-political experts, such as academics, lawyers, and mainstream journalists, took the nutjob anti-taxes white protestant people party (Republicans) seriously.

Now they got their wish. Each of those three groups are significantly more instinctively distrusting of Republicans than they were 30 years ago. Nobody is happy with the results, and it turns out this has zero effect on preventing Republicans from regularly competing and winning popular elections half the time, because we live in a democracy and those three groups are tiny overall.

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I think this has to do with the fact that the Republicans have built their own giant media bubble which is increasingly detached from reality, and ended up with a voting coalition of low IQ, low trust and low info voters prone to believe in conspiracy theories and disbelieve anything claimed by "experts".

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The median voter's IQ hasn't changed. The median voter's civic knowledge hasn't changed. People still get "How many branches of government are there?" wrong at roughly the same rate they did in the 1950s since we started asking.

I agree it takes two to tango of course, and Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc are real developments that played with this. I do not believe there was like, a progressive Pope who declared "do not platform racists" at the 1996 DNC and then liberals all took marching orders from there. It was more complicated. My point is Democrats and Republicans are getting their wishes trying to work the refs and how the public views those refs, and they're finding out it doesn't suddenly make them win the election. It also isn't making them happier.

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While the median voter’s IQ and knowledge of government hasn’t changed, the median Republican’s has certainly decreased and the median Democrat’s has increased as better educated voters shifted against Republicans over the past few election cycles.

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Since elections are decided by the median voter, this wouldn't change my assessment.

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Feb 13·edited Feb 13

I think that this is both true and wildly overstated as a cause. The Democratic party's most popular figure ran on a campaign in 2008 that would be completely unacceptable to the party now. That's a dramatic change on a number of issues! And that change creates significant pushback that generates support for any party (Republican) that opposes it.

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Super Like.

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Biden needs to say that himself.

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Biden has always found the center of the Democratic party, so you can say he governs from the center. But I think that undersells just how significantly to the left the center of the Democratic party is now relative to where it was. Obama was a more progressive candidate in the party when he was elected relative to Biden was when Biden was elected. But the Biden administration is significantly to the left of Obama. Is there any issue where Biden's administration is to the right of Obama?

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Israel is generally considered to be the only issue, I think?

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Actually I think Republicans need at least some of the culture war stuff, the old GOP line of letting “the free market” solve all our problems died in the Great Recession.

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A mild counterpoint and weird historical detail.

With the tea party movement, at least in terms of their reported stands and emphasized positions articulated and shown in mainstream media from 2009 through 2013, despite the great recession, they did *not* double down on social conservatism and the anti-gay stuff in those years, nor national security hawkishness, nor anti-immigration. They actually doubled-down on the anarcho-capitalist-libertarian talking points of small government, low debt, no govt mandates.

I think in that environment of those years, the anti-gay marriage and religious right themes which served so well in 2004 had played out and felt tired. So "leave-me-alone-ism" don't tread on me flags became the new flavor". With two cluster-eff wars in Iraq and Afghanistan foreign policy hawkishness was not a bragging point either.

So the GOP rode back to power in 2010 on disappointment that Obama didn't bring kingdom come happy times and Republican proclaimed pure angry "leave-me-alone-ism". Stated talking points were all about that, not cultural conservatism or race or foreign policy. But it seemed, based on who adopted anarcho-capitalist libertarian ideas, and their fervor - often working-class rural whites, like economics had somehow become a proxy sublimated identity politics issue.

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To me it felt at the time that the Tea Party movement's libertarianism was primarily about outrage over having of a Black man in the Oval Office. Racism masquerading as fiscal conservatism, with Sarah Palin as their hero. They dropped the fiscal conservatism part pretty soon thereafter, and now it's all about resentment and white identity politics.

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Well, isn't that an awfully convenient or self-flattering way for an educated Democratic, liberal or progressive person to interpret it?

Of course it is.

But it might also be true.

But Obama did win twice, popularly and electorally, before Trump won once, electorally.

[of course participation in the electorate is fluid, in addition to the same voters changing their minds]

I think one thing not to be underestimated is that beyond resentment of blacks and other minorities or independent women, people who hold such resentments hold equal, or possibly *even more* resentments against the type of white people/white men seen to be solicitous of non white men's interests, ie, liberals.

.....and "the heartland", "middle America", "real America", diner Safari-land has been this way for a long, long time, just differently mediated and watered down by local color and some material interests like union towns. See this example from 1988, that I remember watching from that campaign:

https://www.reddit.com/r/funny/comments/7as3dv/matthew_modine_is_the_liberal_saturday_night_live/?rdt=49624

MAGA-land and red-state America still feels condescended to by the coasts and cosmopolitan America, and resents public displays of intellect by people in politics, and in policy and politics, has blue state America in its sites. Blue state America ridicules, and yes, resents, back, but doesn't match the hate back with the same determination and combativeness.

I grew up in the northeast but with family in the south and border states. As a teen interested in politics I preferred southern Democrats over northern because I liked their centrist positions on national security, crime and non-whininess about American society.

But during the 90 and 2000s, actions by pols with southern accents among the Dems (Clinton), and Republicans (Newt, Lott, Helms, DeLay, Thurmond, Falwell, Dubya) basically made "southern accent coming out of his mouth" and "BS coming out of his mouth" seem synonymous.

That was a factor attracting me to vote in the GOP primary for a change in 2000 for McCain, as an opportunity to blunt the southernization of American conservatism and the Republican Party. When he got shot down by the party in South Carolina, it doubled down my loyalty to the Dems.

Then we had to listen to Dubya for 8 years. In my Virginia, my adulthood home, George Allen looked to be the next rising good ol' boy to have a beer with, and I was so glad to have the use of Jim Webb to dispatch his rise to national politics.

It was so *refreshing* when Obama won to have a non-southern, no-kidding *urban* President in the White House for the first time in my life and since Kennedy, for the first time giving that geographic sector a little respect.

I admit under-estimating Trump's badness and even after his nomination and into his Presidency honestly still felt like he was not as bad as or was at least more intriguing and less predictably bad than most of his GOP rivals, above all Ted Cruz. I still believe Trump didn't surpass Dubya as a national civic danger until he started poisoning the well of the 2020 election. The New York accent probably made him less annoying to me I admit. But his enjoyment of ignorance was obvious and grating to me as well. And enough to get him liked in red America, despite him being the furthest thing from "folksy". To red America, you don't need to be folksy anymore, just an a***hole.

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One point on the "outrage over having a black man in the oval office" thing, and my point about cultural reactionaries hating minority-loving whites worse than they hate minorities.

At least with Obama, a black man, as candidate, the Dems got mass black turnout. Which reduced when he wasn't on top of the ticket (although midterm slumps aren't unusual).

Without a black man on top of the ticket, the Dems don't get the turn-out boost, but still get the drag of being identified with black/non-white interests.

Hillary 2016 obviously did not create a *favorable* version of the gender gap. And she was trying to make one. This sample of one seems to indicate low female solidarity [it's always been low, especially for married women, when you're married you don't need the govt]. Or more tersely, "brothers stick together, sisters don't"

Based on each sample of one, by 2020, and even by 2016 really, my thought was that the Dems should be running a black man pretty much every time for POTUS. Possibly a Hispanic man, if the person is an otherwise good candidate from a group represented in a strong cluster like Cuban or Mexican (PR or another small nationality wouldn't help).

Now to be fair to possible future female candidates, HRC was a sample of one, and was a decades-long hate object for the right. But it was basically as the focus of sexism, so I couldn't guarantee it would not happen to any female candidate.

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So I sort of agree. But I think one of the problems is too much media basically became stenographers for people claiming to speak for self described Tea Partiers (think Americans for Prosperity). But reality is this Libertarian moment never really existed and most Tea Parties were basically proto Trumpists before that became a thing. Claiming the Tea Party was about Libertarianism was extremely convenient for elites in GOP and GOP aligned orgs who as Matt points out all the time are more committed to tax cuts for the wealthy over above anything else. https://www.texastribune.org/2014/03/13/does-tea-party-really-want-limit-government/

I had a chance to see this first hand. I've mentioned before, but I did field organizing in Maine in 2009 trying to drum up support for ACA*. And over and over again I would meet people who were on the more conservative side of the spectrum say to me how Wall Street is corrupt and full of liars who need to be cut down to size and then also not just be extremely against ACA but against any new regulations or DoddFrank or CFPB. I didn't know how to square the circle until 2016, when it hit me that this was cultural war stuff. It was about "big bad" New York. And yes, one thing that I realized in 2015-2016 that was stupidly naïve about in 2009 was that a lot of it really was just flat out antisemiticism.

*Attempt was to try to get Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe on board. Didn't work. Honestly, my real introduction that Susan Collins is not really the moderate says she is. More, on a few select (but high profile) issues she'll display her supposed centrism so as to gain favorable press coverage. Smart politics though.

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Completely agree having watched all that unfold very closely in the immediate post-Obama election/post-2009 crash. I think there was a very real moment that the wealthy Republican donors realized they were about to lose the years of effort into instilling into not just the Republican base, but in "moderate/median" Americans and so many institutions the supposed validity of "markets know best" and de-regulation is the primary job of the government to "get out of the way" of this "wisdom" and the ideals of supply-side economics, so much so that really the opposition party as well had mostly absorbed these truths into its own policies, but the 2009 crash set all of that on its head.

This coincided with the Obama election, which did also upset the apple cart on the right, which had been very cocky about its GWB era visions of "permanent majorities" (how easily both parties, honestly, get sucked into that mirage from just winning a few cycles!) and ascendant culturally conservative dominance as well as political dominance, now all of a sudden there's this "new" "Obama coalition" that absolutely dominated the 2008 election across the board, now hailed as the new "permanent majority", let alone as a cultural force.

The Republican base was in chaos with all of this conflicting data and had also been sowed with the seeds of the prototype to Trumpian-style "populism" via Sara Palin and was expressing its disarray in that vision. Big wealthy GOP interests were panicking about their loss of control and the potential that this new Democratic super-majority, supposedly headed by the "most liberal Democrat of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party" was going to smack them all down with a New Deal 2 that would usher in another 50 years of Democratic dominance and a permanent realignment of American voter interests and support for more liberal policies as what occurred in the post New Deal/WWII years. And that the Palin-esque GOP base being much less restrained about a lot of the racist roots to its anti-Obama sentiment would be of no use in a resistance effort for the "optics" of, let alone of now being viewed as an ineffectual minority as well. So, for a *short time*, a lot of C-Suite panicking was happening ; P

But the cooler heads at the various heads of the "Kochtopus" figured out that they could harness the Palin-esque "populism" of the base if they could simply redirect it in a less toxic (at least on the surface) manner, present it not as a partisan "anti-Obama"/Republican movement but as a movement of "Independents and non-partisans Concerned About Spending And Deficits and Constitutional Government limits", while also simultaneously harnessing the anti-Wall Street sentiments by rewriting the 2009 crash and lead up to it not as a failure of "markets", but of Big Government and Regulations that Forced The Good Banks To Lend Money To Bad Borrowers, who were really the cause of the crisis and crash, and the genius here was that the "dog whistling" around the racist portion of the GOP base got put to good use here because those that heard this knew exactly who the "Bad Borrowers" were, and on whose side the Big Government, led by their "leader" Obama, was in the tank for, and there you have the Tea Party and the GOP's "re-brand" in a nutshell - a reworking of righteous populist anger about the nature of the Crash to position a hyper-libertarian ideology against the "causes" of the crisis/crash that "just so happened" to benefit the actual bankers and wealthy that would be most impacted by reforms, who were now being propped as the heroes/victims "Job Creators". If Big Government caused it, the antidote would of course be "small government", which the Tea Party branded itself entirely around desiring, let alone if Big Government caused the crash, then it would be unfair and unethical to punish its "victims" (the banks and the financial firms that were driven to these bad ends by the government and its enforced bad lending regulations) with punitive taxes and reforms, let alone risk another crisis with *more* regulations.

And grafted on top of the simmering anti-Obama resentment to reposition itself as hey, we're not against "Obama" but against his "policies" and by branding itself as the "Tea Party" movement it could ostensibly fly as not being "Republican" or partisan in nature (as well as "encouraging" many of its early adapters to claim they are "independents" when interviewed by the media, where the word "independent" does a lot of work for being a vague identity that a lot of voters who nonetheless vote straight Republican/conservative tickets can assume). It also had the benefit of claiming to be "grassroots" because it did harness the real energies and emerging "populism" of the Republican base and "regular voters" but it was simultaneously still a carefully crafted message and action directed "movement" from a web of organizations acting in concert along with heavy promotion from Fox News and the actual GOP (and as was revealed along, most of the local "leaders" of local Tea Parties just so happened to also be active members of the GOP all along).

The health care reform debates of 2009-2010 also put further juice into this "movement", now here comes the Big Bad Government after it screwed up the banks to come screw up your health care, with the added bonus of it being painted as a "reparations" action to redistribute health care resources to minorities from older, wealthier whites. And of course, the renewed "deficit and spending" stuff that got packaged into this "libertarian" movement etc to push for steep social spending cuts (but of course no tax increases!) to solve as an immediate crisis requiring (culminating in the first dance on the brink with the debt ceiling in 2011, something I think caused the Kochtopus to let off the gas a bit on the rhetoric, let alone this was the beginning of the end of the viability of the "Tea Party" brand).

The only "through line" through all of this is how consistent the GOP has been, including through Trump, at maintaining its core agenda (tax cuts for the rich and de-regulatory policies against corporations and finance) *even* when the base believes it's saying something else or acting against those interests (as they have become to believe in the Trumpian iteration of the GOP), and how adaptable the wealthy top of the GOP has been at navigating the heaves of their base without letting up for an instant on the actual agenda despite.

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Gotcha - Your experiences do not surprise me. Big government is government that gives things to the undeserving. "Those people". And the bad "Wall Street" is "those people".

So, my comment to Joachim sort of goes to your point as well.

Speaking of CPFB. It reminds me of Elizabeth Warren. Of course, her priorities are things like this and economic fairness and issues theoretically in favor of the working-class. But, some of the pieces about some of the more woke or younger more "groups" attentive staff coming from unity and fusion with former Warren staff (and Sanders staff) is telling. Warren probably ended up with this type of staff because of mutual cultural tolerability, even if her policy pitch was never socioculturally focused. Basically, working class men, probably of all races, and probably most working-class women, do not want to slow down to listen to what Warren is actually saying and what it means for them because they look at how she talks, looks, and dresses and think upper middle-class white women or like my schoolteacher, somebody I hated and don't have to listen to anymore. So probably mainly woke and cosmopolitan people gave her time of day and sought to work for her, and she's absorbed and reflected some of their views.

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And yet despite the fact that “everyone wants these candidates” actual candidates who try to promote these allegedly-appealing centrist views cannot win majority support within their individual parties.

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Yes, because the parties have lost control over the nomination process to the 10% ideologues/radicals on each fringe (arguably the radical fringe now constitutes the majority in the Republican party full stop) who are motivated to vote in primaries. This is way more true for Republicans than for Democrats obviously. Biden is a good candidate, he just need to be true to his own center-left self and not hand off messaging to the radicals. I don't know how Republicans can reform. 30% of US voters - i.e. the MAGA coalition - have lost their mind and needs to be brought back to reality, but there seems to be no way to reach them anymore.

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"he just need to be true to his own center-left self and not hand off messaging to the radicals."

Is this what is happening? Sometimes I feel like I'm living on an alternate timeline because I'm not seeing any of this.

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I don’t think the primary polls and totals for Trump 2024 or Biden 2020 represent 10% of either party. Even if only 10% show up to vote, the polls indicate that both politicians have much broader popularity than many of their competitors.

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10% of the total electorate. But again, I think the Dems have managed to avoid this when it comes to candidate selection. It shows up in the messaging instead.

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Joe won the presidential primary precisely because he did that.

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It's actually infuriating. Biden could easily boat race the election if his staff wasn't comprised of blue haired Brooklyn bloggers.

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author

Chill out on the "blue haired Brooklyn bloggers" rhetoric. This isn't Daily Wire.

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Seriously? I didn't take a personal shot at a specific commenter.

I thought this was a safe space to Hippie Punch.

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author

You didn't get a warning or anything. Just seemed like a needlessly derisive comment. I actually have a friend who lives in Flatbush, has green hair, and used to work for a pretty centrist think tank in DC.

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Feb 13Liked by Ben Krauss

Apologies to all the blue haired centrists out there!

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Removed (Banned)Feb 13
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author

Lol, I'm so dialed in on fake Spiky accounts now.

Banned!

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Feb 13·edited Feb 13

Lol Wut?

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Everyone says this impulsive hippy-punching stuff, but they never ask, why does the Democratic party continue to be led and staffed by people with highly socially progressive and secular worldviews? At some point you have to look at the political party's coalition and how it differs from the Republicans to inform their policy agenda instead of telling young women to stop dying their hair or the guys to get a haircut.

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Let me try and give a helpful example from the other side:

I know some people in Republican Senate and House offices. I've regularly talked to them over dinner parties, I understand some hold conservative Catholic religious beliefs, others have attended a liberal arts school with the usual problems that in turn inform their understanding of the moral stakes of politics and why Republicans support Donald Trump against woke excesses. And some others knew the guy who knows the car dealership the state politician runs, or spend a lot of time looking at tax policy and regulatory design. They're all over the place. I really like hanging around these people and talk to them a lot because I share many concerns and interests in politics if not always their exact ones.

If I wanted to explain to a large fraction of them that there is very little appetite for big industrial policy moves because Republican voters by and large vote GOP to keep their taxes down and strongly suspect the GOP will sell them out/cannot slow the changing social views of Americans, I would meet them where they are. I would not open by saying, "listen you Latin Mass/anti-woke freak, quit telling me about how Francis is a bad pope/progressives are actively doing woke McCarthyism in major institutions and look at this polling number for once in your life", because I want to address and complement their concerns.

But unlike Matt, I would also spend time actually learning their social views and how they differ from the older GOP staffers and the context those guys grew up in. I would show some respect for their views and clarify *why* I'm still in that same big tent with them. Because otherwise, you're just going to be constantly baffled by why this keeps on happening. And then they're reasonably going to ask, why the hell are you in our coalition if you're just here to disagree with us on everything morally and worship the latest polling numbers?

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One more story. One of my college roommates was this guy who worked for NARAL deeply cared about LGBT rights. He was a gay guy from a Trump country town in Massachusetts. (It was a shock to him when he found out his county voted against Reagan twice.) But his father was the kind of right-wing local grocery chain owner who thinks the GOP is weak and often votes for a third party to the right of them. He was a Warren fan from the outset of the 2020 primary and happily carried an "Abolish the Police" sign in the summertime marches. He passed away from an unexpected brain hemorrhage, and to this day I deeply regret I couldn't make it to a pre-funeral gathering with his family in DC.

You have to actually ask yourself, if I'm trying to talk to this guy in my apartment about why Biden needs to keep the Hyde amendment in the fall of 2019, what am I going to say? If you open with polling numbers, he's going to say who gives a shit, everyone at my office agrees this is about a woman's right to choose. If you talk about Biden's Catholic beliefs, he's going to bring up a list of moral positions he finds intolerable and actively harmful from the Vatican. He's going to explain why he thinks Biden's continued association with this church as a nice good old moral institution is troubling to some of his friends.

But I don't see Matt taking any of those moral questions seriously. I get that, Democrats traditionally have like ten different types of guy and don't typically discuss their party in terms of moral issues so much as economic populism. But worse yet, he doesn't seem to understand why these people staffing his party believe what they believe. When he writes about younger Democratic staffers, his tone shifts from a peppy positive-sum policy guy to one of exhaustion and defeat. Please, just let me share a poll number with you, he writes. It'll clear this all up. Why can't we go back to how Obama talked in 2012?

They don't really care about that. That's not why they work in politics. Sooner or later, it's worth taking that seriously rather than literally. Otherwise you're stuck writing the same essay over and over again.

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author

Really appreciate your insightful commenting here, and sorry to hear about your friend.

I also have a good amount of friends working in progressive politics, some of them on campaigns and some in the Congress. And before Slow Boring, I also worked on comms for some Democratic campaigns. So I get what you're talking about here and I'm very familiar with the staffers you're talking about. But what I feel like I learned in campaigns (and this is kinda what drove me to ultimately want to leave them) is that it is a job. Your political opinions should not shape the candidate and they shouldn't change the messaging from the campaign. I've worked for candidates and organizations that were a little more moderate than me on some policy issues, but I continued on because it was a) that was the client that my comms firm worked for and b) they were vastly superior to the other option running in the race.

I understand that working in politics is an emotionally charged profession and I know that these more lefty staffers have a good-faith desire to achieve their desired policy outcomes. But I don't think reckoning with their political motivations (even though I share probably 95% of their motivations) is an important/necessary journalism project. The fact of the matter is that they just aren't that close to the median voter that swings elections. And winning elections is good, it's why a lot of them got into politics in the first place!

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Feb 13·edited Feb 13Liked by Ben Krauss

I agree with you that what I'm describing is not for NYT or CNN to run tomorrow. Conservative media reporters already do some digging into it and report on the most controversial stuff for obvious reasons. And I think I'm with you on the "it's a job" argument in some cases; people can't be protesting their boss and then going back to work for their boss. That's not how Congress works. If you sincerely find the Democratic party's position on Israel's war in Gaza completely morally intolerable, you should resign. Some have done this and written or been reported about it, more power to them.

But Matt's newsletter is more of a boutique product, aiming at a very specific sort of audience and argumentation. I think the reason he has written this essay five times before is simply, there's an upper bound to the messaging argument. Everybody in the Democratic party agrees Joe Biden should beat Donald Trump. And since I work in polling, I've learned there are some real limits to what can be argued with it. ARPA 2021 polled great. If you believe it has demand-side inflationary effects that aggravated existing inflation, asking people "what did you think of Biden handing checks in Spring 2021" won't really matter. Likewise for student loan IDR, which as far as I can tell, polls even or somewhat positive with voters when you ask them upfront. Republicans poll great on the economy issue. They poll wonderfully when we ask voters on taxes. But that doesn't mean their 2025 TCJA renewals are some sort of political slam dunk.

Matt's greatest writing is on how suburbs are simply the privatizing insurance policy on the order people desire in major cities. It's when he digs into a policy dynamic alongside relevant actors' sincere motivations without much care for the local poll numbers on upzoning in a specific neighborhood. That's why the "woke staffers" theme is limited. But it's also why he wisely marshaled specific evidence on what they incorrectly believed about the effects of policing. There's only so much you can do to change people's day-to-day job or local city council participation (which they believe they're doing very well) without addressing their deeper motivations.

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In violent agreement again!

I think you’re actually helping Matt identify one of his blindspots here.

He correctly identifies poll-based and tactical, strategic arguments for why certain policies or outward-facing proclamations don’t do well politically, but he is not showing enough moral and emotional empathy to people whose policy preferences, or even tactical presentation should be moved.

If he doesn’t discuss the fundamental moral priors of the woke and agree, disagree respectfully on instances of application, fewer people will regard him as a good faith actor.

I think this makes him less powerful in the Democratic coalition, less influential, and less broadly prosperous from wider subscriber appeal than he could otherwise be.

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Having come to an impasse in our discussion, here I find we are “violent agreement”.

I’ve stated in wordier, less clear terms that the socially progressive impact can’t be escaped nor wished away.

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Venting and griping is all well and good, but every now and then it's useful to say things tied to reality. This is not an accurate description of the White House staff nor his campaign staff.

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I'm euphemistically describing his staffers who are anonymously calling for a cease fire or referring to him as "Genocide Joe." Those people (blue haired or not) should be strapped to a rocket and launched to the moon. Sorry if my description offended you.

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I think they should be fired to.

The fact that they're complaining anonymously highlights the scope of their impact on policy and the reelection campaign however. Which is to say, none.

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You don't think the President's staff publicly undermining him impacts his reelection campaign? Could you imagine the same happening on Trump's side?

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I think what they're doing is terrible, they were bad hires, and they should be fired. It's a bad look. But the flip side is that they stand for the *opposite* of what the White House and the campaign stand for.

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The White House staff who publicly embarrassed their boss by staging a noisy walkout protest in favor of markedly left position on I/P?

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You're not wrong... I think the age thing matters to some extent, but if he had taken control of the border issue and stood up for his many accomplishments I can't see how Trump would stand a chance. It's not a lot that is needed.

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I think Matt’s general strategy recommendation tends to be a little less “tack to the center” and a little more “learn to bury the lede.” For example it is totally fine to want a VERY progressive law on abortion, he is not necessarily advocating one moderate on that just pointing out that u have to kind of slide that behind some rhetoric on how you aren’t all that crazy about abortion. Or that u support safe legal and rare with this bill (that makes things safe and legal and doesn’t force them to be rare).

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I don't think Biden is "listening to the uber-wokes and fring-leftists." Evidence?

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Read the article.

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Damn, why didn't I think of that. Oh wait, I just remembered. I did read the article.

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Did you? Cause you must have a leakier memory than Biden if you did. Reading the headline doesn't count you know.

"But then he won the primary, and right as he was wrapping it up, he fired his campaign manager and replaced him with Beto O’Rourke’s campaign manager. The new regime then launched a party unity process with Bernie Sanders that involved pivoting to the left for the general election campaign, which is not the typical way to run. He also selected as his VP someone who spent the whole primary attacking him from the left and who’s not from a swing state."

There's more in the article, which you obviously read.

Trying to argue against the central thesis of an article that provides evidence for that thesis by demanding evidence that was provided is a pretty stupid way of making an argument. Just say you disagree.

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Hmm, he unified the party after a contentious primary campaign. Then (after the BBB project, which was admittedly too far to the left) he has performed consistently as a center-left President, with his proudest achievements being the bipartisan legislation passed with Republicans.

I think the evidence presented in the article (like the KJP clip) are *very* weak beer, which is my original point.

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I mean, Democrats have rejected the loony elements. They nominated Joe Biden. But in the current social media environment, it doesn’t really matter because people will just keep associating the party with its fringe.

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Even if Biden did that, and there's an argument he has, the loudness of the online voices will drown out the policy since Dems can't exercise message control in the age of the internet and so people won't believe they're serious.

When you have even sane heads like Matty here saying, "We should pander on these issues even if we don't mean it," you can't really blame voters for thinking, "They're just pandering on this issue and don't mean it."

Trump has shown the only way to control a party's message in this day and age is to be even more online and willing to savage your own and take the bully part of "bully pulpit" quite literally.

If early on Biden had threatened to support primary challenges against Dems who weren't on board with his brand (or even developed a coherent brand) he might have had a shot at controlling the messaging, but the Squad has defined the Dem the platform in the national mind at this point.

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I would argue that It's largely republican views on the culture war (except abortion) that are why Republicans are so popular

Cause they aren't democrats

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I think they are too extreme. Someone who was pro-gay marriage, pro-abortion rights up until 15 weeks or so with some exceptions thereafter, skeptical of transgender surgery for kids (instead adopt the Scandinavian policies on this issue), skeptical of trans-women participating in women sports, anti-discrimination/racism but also skeptical of claims that racism is everywhere and defines America, pro-helping poor people but against reparations, pro more and better (less racist) policing etc would be in line with a rather large majority. Republicans aren't there, centrist Democrats are the closest to this position.

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Then why are Democrats to the left of those views basically the entirety of the party?

Again, John Bel Edwards is to the left of you on the trans issue and he won reelection in Lousiana.

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If Democrats win in 2024, it’s going to be Republicans, and I’m going to die laughing when it happens.

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What is the path for Republicans to move from full on conspirational up-is-down MAGA-fascism to center right politics? It sounds difficult to accomplish that turn in four years.

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Probably just Trump dying. Nobody has successfully done Trumpism-without-Trump outside of extremely safe red states or districts, and those that do generally underperform. Cornyn and McConnell are afraid of Trump, but they aren't afraid of Boebert or Vance.

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Feb 13·edited Feb 13

The Groups in the UK loath Starmer and all he's got to show for it is a 22-point poll lead. Their all-time #1 enemy was the most electorally successful leader in Labour's history, created the UK minimum wage, tripled spending on the health service, and cut child poverty by a third.

Their favourite leader also led Labour to its worst result in a century in the last election...

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“Lose, lose, lose, lose, Blair, Blair, Blair, lose, lose, lose.”

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If the British Tories are what winning looks like, I think they might have had too much winning?

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The Tories are the most successful political party in the history of global liberal democracy. But they too can let winning go to their heads.

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The most successful in the history of global liberal democracy? No, I think that title belongs to America's oldest mass party.

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Yes, yes they have.

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So you think Labour will continue to lose? I grew up in the decades when the Republicans owned the White House and we never thought that would end. It did.

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AIUI the polls currently show the Tories on course for something between a shellacking and a total wipeout, and all their MPs seem to be acting like their doom is assured and jockeying for position after the inevitable post-election purge. But Starmer is acting weirdly paranoid, like the election is on a knife-edge, so maybe he knows something I don't.

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I don't follow British politics, but I do recall Andy Grove, an incredibly successful businessman, saying "Only the paranoid survive." It's often smart not to measure the drapes before the votes are counted.

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Kier Starmer is PM-elect in all but name.

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Tony Blair is one of the most underrated post-cold war politicians. One mistake, honest as it seems, defines his legacy rather than all the great things he accomplished while in and out of office. Not to mention that the Third Way manifesto for successful center-left politics is still essentially correct (e.g. "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime").

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I largely agree with you, but man…. that “one mistake” was quite a doozy!

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Analogous to LBJ and Vietnam.

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Eh, kind of. Involvement in Iraq was less deadly, but dramatically stupider, particularly for the UK.

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Feb 13·edited Feb 13

Well sure. Nothing's ever perfectly the same (hence my use of "analogous" rather than, erm, identical!). But just to steelman Blair a bit: I think there's an argument to be made that his "stupidity" wasn't any greater than LBJ's, and maybe quite a bit less. Consider:

1) It was widely accepted that the Saddam Hussein regime was ugly and brutal, and that there was significant internal opposition to the same. So it stood to reason that a decisive military blow from the outside would easily topple the dictator.

2) The most recent large-scale Western military operation in that region (1990-1991) seemed to abundantly demonstrate that Iraq's forces were no match for the former's.

3) This was in marked contrast to Vietnam in, say, 1964: the most recent large-scale Western interventions on the continent of Asia had been those of France in the Indochina war (which ended disastrously for the Western power in question) and Korea (which ended in stalemate for the Western powers in question).

IOW maybe, just maybe, LBJ should have known better than to get involved in a large-scale conflict on the Asian mainland, and was in fact being stupid to send his nation to war in Vietnam; and perhaps Tony Blair's supposed "stupidity" is, much more so than LBJ's, a matter of 20/20 hindsight.

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"LBJ should have known better than to get involved in a large-scale conflict on the Asian mainland"

You mean, "never get involved in a land war in Asia"?

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Strong disagree. The US had actual interests in the context of the Cold War to support the South Vietnam against North Vietnam from the outset. The mistake was in continuing to be involved and escalating the US presence even after it became clear that the South Vietnamese government was unlikely to ever gain popular support and democratize. Whether Saddam Hussein remained in charge of Iraq post-2003 or not was inconsequential for UK national interests and apparent from the outset even if you credulously believed everything the US was putting out about supposed WMDs.

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Democrats don’t make mistakes

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Feb 13·edited Feb 13

To be fair, though, the uk electorate still has the wisdom to swing massively and punish both their main parties in a way the American electorate hasn’t for a long time. In the very last elections Labour got the worst result since 1935. That shock made them ditch Corbyn and all the scum he represented, and emboldens Starmer to make a serious fix. Also- there are important differences in the electoral system (Starmer has the power to basically vet future mps and purge much of the party from radicals, us politics by contrast is at the hand of the radical-friendly primaries…)

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Worth noting that it was when Labour decided to implement something like a primary that they ended up with Corbyn.

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No, that isn't right. Party leadership elections already existed before 2015.

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The conventional wisdom is that Corbyn won thanks to a rule-change allowing members of the public to vote as "registered supporters" for £3, but apparently that wasn't decisive: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labour_Party_leadership_of_Jeremy_Corbyn#Leadership_election

It was still a bloody stupid idea, though. Entryism is a time-honoured activist tactic.

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As an American- wanted to be sure I understood who you were talking about: the most electorally successful leader is Tony Blair and the worst one is Jeremy Corbyn, right?

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Yes

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I'm just surprised the UK didn't have a minimum wage before 1998 -- I assumed it must have been about a lifetime before that.

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The minimum wage is "neoliberal," i.e. it's something center left governments enact to regulate labor markets where unions aren't important in wage setting. The traditional social democratic approach is sectoral bargaining. It's a good example of Blair accepting a lot of the post-Thatcher system while reforming it in a more humane direction.

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I hadn't heard this take. Sounds plausible enough, but, aren't there countries that have both sectoral bargaining AND minimum wages?

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Probably, but I bet they also legislated it pretty recently.

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If what you're saying here is 'centrism is more popular', you can persuasively make that case. But I don't think 'The Groups' (in the way Yglesias uses the term) is a relevant concept in British politics.

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Maybe not, but left-wing activists seem to hate Starmer.

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Left-wing people on Twitter hate Starmer, but they are not 'The Groups', they have literally no institutional form or sway. Don't confuse noise for power.

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Eh, a warmed over piece of toast could have a 20 point lead against the current Tories, and current Labour is what people on Twitter think the current national Democratic Party is - moving right on things for no real reason.

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I wish I could vote for Starmer.

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founding

In medieval days, it was not allowed to criticize the King, as doing so often led to being beheaded. So people would criticize the King's advisors instead. The more things change...

Biden is responsible for his staff, his messages and his public appearances. If he is capable of doing what Matt suggests, then he should do so. And he should -- Matt is right! But if he is not, he should not be running for re-election.

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Exactly. The problem with Biden's age is indirect -- someone in their mid-80s is inherently going to delegate more. I like Biden, but I'm not crazy about the highly ideological staffers who will be actually running things.

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But these crazy staffers seem to have no policy influence anyway? Biden's policy legacy so far is close to flawless (it's what he hasn't been able to do that is a concern, but that is due to Republican opposition).

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Banning LNG exports and supporting BBB spending when inflation and deficits are super high is not flawless.

He's been great on foreign policy though.

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Given US economic performance, I’m increasingly convinced that BBB was not a mistake. To repeat something that’s been noted a number of times, inflation is a pretty worldwide phenomenon in 2021 through 2023. BBB is not nearly impactful enough to have that much of a second order effect. If anything China’s Covid policy and the collapse of its real estate sector is much more impactful and would have deflationary effects.

Inflation seems to me be mostly a) supply chain and b) second order effect of the Ukraine war.

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Feb 13Liked by Ben Krauss

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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Feb 13·edited Feb 13

I'm continually surprised by this inflation gaslighting. Low-end used car prices *exploded* two weeks after the initial unemployment insurance checks went out and by July the entire available supply of older used vehicles was gone. Days Inventory Outstanding or Days of Supply (same metric) dropped to < one week and vehicles were being sold in transport from the wholesale auction before they hit the retail lots. At that point the demand signal started rippling upstream to higher price point vehicles. In Feb. 2021 after the ARP checks went out ... the entire used vehicle supply was purchased. This all before the chip shortage started constraining the new vehicle supply.

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Definitely a communication problem for the administration when pausing LNG permitting gets translated as banning LNG exports.

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_Close to_ flawless. Not sure inflation had anything to do with IRA or would have been impacted by BBB. Agree about LNG exports, that was a dud.

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IRA was fine (thanks Joe Manchin). BBB would have had some adverse effects if it had passed, but to be fair it was originally drafted before inflation began. LNG is bad but it's honestly pretty small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. This is all pretty weak tea - Obama made more policy mistakes than this. It's a very strong record.

I totally agree that Biden needs to impose himself more on the *political* side of the operation, but that is easier said than done. He does actually need to work with the groups sometimes. He also has to fish out of the pool of talent that actually exists. It's not like he's the first president who's felt like he had to make compromises within his own team and coalition.

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I think lowering LNG prices for Americans (by cutting exports) is actually a good thing. Smart politics.

Next, empty out the SPR in the summer!

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This is the upside of bad polling numbers, it gives him more of a mandate to stop listening to the ideologues and tack to the center (which is his natural habitat anyway) on messaging and policy (border control in particular).

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Could someone explain to me why the American people will be outraged by the LNG export pause? I must be missing something.

If it works, it means greater supply for Americans, and thus lower prices. And this is a bad thing?

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That is pausing future LNG terminals, not any that have already approved or are currently functioning. It cost jobs over the next couple of years for terminals that might be constructed. Any impact on more gas for Americans and lower prices this decision would impact are years away.

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I assume it's not great for people working in the industry to cut off a majority of their potential customers.

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I would question that. Biden’s heart is in the right place but the hesitancy of execution in US support of both Israel and Ukraine reeks of committee behavior. Makes me wonder who is actually being the president at this point.

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OK, let's say that the LNG export "ban" (it's a pause on new LNG terminals) is a thing. The consequence of that will be that LNG firms will be forced to sell only to American customers, increasing supply against a flat demand. That means lower prices for Americans, versus lower profits for the exporters.

And this was a political own goal? Help me, because this line of criticism just got me totally confused.

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Exactly...After a rapid rise in LNG exports following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. leads the world in LNG. A pause on new permitting is no catastrophe for the industry, and even if it were, that industry is composed of 95% Republican voters. I suppose it's possible there are a few dudes in Pennsylvania who are switching their votes, but Biden is certainly not losing any swing states over this. Probably not winning any either, but the move serves as a sort of balm for climate activists and helps keep them motivated to work for the campaign.

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It's entirely likely that LNG producers simply produce less until they can sell at a higher price. Demand is not going to rise, because that would have to mean switching physical systems from one fuel source to another rivalrous source. So why continue to incur the cost of higher production when you can leave it in the ground or store it as a reserve for when the export pause goes away?

Nobody is looking to give their product away. You just stop making as much, or find more customers for existing supply. It's not going to be a fire sale on LNG.

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I think if they can sell it at a profit they will do so.

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Feb 13·edited Feb 13

My read of performance has been way more mixed. Like Allan, I've been so impressed with how Biden has handled Ukraine and I love that he finally ripped the bandaid off Afghanistan. I think his team seriously misdiagnosed the economy with the ARP stimulus, came out *way* too hot on the boarder with his day one action / proclamation, and continues to push massively regressive student loan relief.

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I thought his student loan relief was somewhat regressive (since most people don't have debt) but within the population with student loans, it was actually progressive.

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I only gave money to the poorest bankers!

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Delegation is great! He just chose the wrong people to delegate to.

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Who were those wrong people? Any ones in particular you have in mind?

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I'm not into the personalities of the Administration but

a) whoever designed ARA without including enough people to hear asylum claims

b) whoever decided to subsidize investment in reducing CO2 emissions instead of subsidizing reducing CO2 emissions and to do so w/o raising new revenue to pay for it.

c) whoever decided to "pause" LNG projects

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(A) Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't recall spiking asylum claims being a huge issue at the time the ARA was being drafted.

Your (b) is a fantasy. People knowledgeable about how to fight climate change (e.g., Jesse Jenkins) were over the moon with the IRA.

(c) is super trivial and is as likely to be a boon politically (by reducing prices Americans pay for natural gas) as a negative.

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As to (c), do you really think there will be any impact on the price of natural gas before November? Seems doubtful, since these project take years to complete.

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Delegation is great. Delegation without oversight is not, and it seems like that's part of the problem. Even the "right" people need oversight.

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Which highly ideological staffers have particularly drawn your ire? Can you provide some names?

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I would but they signed their names anonymously

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Funny.

That's the point. Whatever leftist staffers he has are so lacking influence that all they can do is whine anonymously in public.

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Hey! He’s only in his early 80s

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I suspect it’s his tried and true method of staying at the center of the party. As polarization worsens it gets in more and more tension with the tried and true instinct of centrism to get elected…

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>If he is capable of doing what Matt suggests, then he should do so....But if he is not, he should not be running for re-election.<

I doubt Biden is incapable of doing as Matt suggests. I'd guess much more likely is that Joe simply believes the kids are right, and know what they're doing. Maybe he doesn't have time to look at polls?

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founding

You'd have more success searching for a unicorn than finding a politician who "doesn't have time to look at polls."

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He's run as a bipartisan, pass legislation with Republicans President. The BBB was a mistake, but that's way in the rearview mirror now.

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I do not mean to imply by this that Biden is _not_ responsible for his own administration, only to point at mechanism.

But...if you told me that the social system of democratic politicians, operatives, pollsters, academics, whatever that soup of humans is in DC that you pull from to make an administration has a current that drifts a certain way and therefore there's _just a ton of friction_ for a president that would like it to go another way...I'd buy that.

I think we saw just such a thing publicly displayed during Trump's term.

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You nailed it

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Joe doesn't have a single good surrogate out there making the case for him.

To pick just one issue: the files found by Joe's Corvette. I keep hearing people say "He and Trump did exactly the same thing", and it drives me crazy that nobody corrects them. I heard this multiple times on the weekend shows, and it wasn't corrected by either host of (lefty) guest.

Why can't Joe find a single person who can give a quick, clear, compelling explanation of how Joe offered up files when he discovered them, while Trump did mob-boss-level obstruction of justice?

Calling his staff at Mar-a-Lago and asking them to destroy evidence after it was under subpoena? This is insane.

Meanwhile, Biden's low-skilled surrogates were giving interviews and making ridiculous claims about Joe having the quickest and most nimble mind. This was 3rd-world-dictator-level transparent bullshit.

Is there nobody competent in the administration at this?

Where the hell is Mayor Pete?

Let someone else tighten the screws on the planes and get him the hell out there.

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I'm glad you mentioned Mayor Pete at the end - because that's the first person that popped into my head when I thought of a surrogate for the Biden admin. He is excellent in his media and Congressional appearances. And he seems to be more visible than other members of the cabinet - which makes sense given that his 2016 run relied a lot on generating favorable press coverage. He also relates better to swing state constituencies given his background and his more moderate reputation.

I hope we see more of Mayor Pete in the coming months.

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Exactly. As much as I loathe Trump, if he had returned the files promptly I would have joined the chorus "nothing to see here"*. And I felt that way _before_ the same thing happened with Biden - who _did_ return the files promptly.

*at least criminally/legally. It lowers my opinion of Biden slightly - my opinion of Trump could hardly get lower.

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I like it. They need a War-Room manager a la Carville. Pete's just the guy.

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It's honestly infuriating. On one side, Republicans (including their media apparatus, elected officials and all the way down to voters) easily coalesce around Trump, whereas the tent of Democrats would rather bash Joe for being too old, not left enough or too boring. The media's part in this is especially egregious - I'm thinking of the NYT recently who ran 17 stories about Biden's age and barely covered the fact that Trump is literally willing to hand NATO to Russia on a silver plate.

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Inability to run a message machine (which involves POTUS saying the same stuff as surrogates) is related to his age. It takes time, energy, and disciplined repetition to do this, and very old people have less energy and their minds/speech wander.

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RemovedFeb 13
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I think Biden's problem is that yes, the job is too difficult for someone with the issues that 81 year olds (let alone 86 year olds) often have. Just like we have an age cap on airline pilots because the job is too difficult in general for older Americans.

And surrogates don't change that. I am all in favor of Biden having surrogates. But the way surrogates work is they repeat what the boss says, thereby reinforcing it. If the boss isn't out there saying it, the message isn't as effective, because the media pays less attention to the surrogates. So do donors and everyone else in the political world. You need the boss setting the tone.

So if Joe can't message discipline himself, he's not going to be able to impose message discipline on a team of surrogates.

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Moving from "safe, legal, and rare" to "shout your abortion" is a great way for Dems and progressives to lose their upper hand on this issue.

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…and to potentially alienate a lot of voters. I’m pro-choice, but framing it as NBD strikes me personally as deeply wrong.

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I agree. My personal/moral views on abortion got more complicated after I actually had a (wanted) pregnancy. I’m pro-choice and I vote about it, but I find the line that there’s no moral issue at all just kind of weird and sad.

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I feel the same way. I've occasionally seen pro-abortion (not pro-choice) bumper stickers/yard signs and it always strikes me as a bizarrely glib approach to a complex issue.

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They think they're "moving the Overton window" though. They want to "speak truth to power." They want to "make good trouble."

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I think they also obsess about stigma, and stigma is highly overrated on the left. Obviously I am glad we live in the world where harmless stuff that was stigmatized in the 1950's isn't stigmatized anymore, but e.g., it's far more important that abortion stay legal than that nobody ever think that someone's abortion was immoral.

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Even though you ultimately end up in the right place, I don't like how you got there, is a classic case of perfect being the enemy of good.

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Sounds like our choice is between a group of anonymous young activist staffers playing weekend at bernie's and donald trump.

It was only 12 years ago that our choice was between Obama and Romney. We've fallen so far since then.

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If the anonymous young activist staffers are the ones pushing through the IRA and advocating for Ukraine aid I’m not sure that I actually have a problem voting for them.

(This is my private retort to allegations regarding Biden’s age: ultimately, I care about what the Biden *administration* is accomplishing rather than just who the guy in the Oval Office is, and I think they’re doing a good job. Even if it were all Weekend at Bernie’s, hell, so be it.)

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Bingo, it's an effing team sport. If the string-pullers at workday at Joey's are doing a better sustained job than Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman, 4 more years for 'em!

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I think the response to that is your here, so likely are a progressive Democrat. Biden's administration doing what a Warren administration would do thrill's most progressive activists. But there's a reason that Warren isn't that popular under performs in elections. The majority of the electorate is to her right.

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"I think the response to that is your here, so likely are a progressive Democrat"

I question at least in this comment section, half of which is seemingly to the right of our blog host on many issues.

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I think that may be true for commenters but that then begs the question of where Matt is relative to the median Democrat. I think Matt is to the left of the median Democrat. Not left of young, white, college educated progressives in the party. But then polling shows they are on the far left of the party, and definitely not the median Democrat.

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I understand that you love to say that and that it probably makes you feel good somehow, but if you're going to keep repeating it you should back it up. There's definitely a bunch of folks here that are to the right of Matty, but "half" seems like a big claim.

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Maybe not paying subscribers or commenters, but comments per article I'd put it around as that being to the right of Matt, which is interesting that there's probably more McCain/Romney voters in these comments section than say median Democratic college-educated voters under 40.

Again, I'm not acting like a victim - it's fine, but I just like to point it out to re-center where the actual Biden coalition, as opposed to it being 2003 forever on social issues, like so many here seem to want.

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Per Can's request ... I've voted democrat in every election I've ever been eligible for (2000 Gore over Bush). Campaigned for Obama in 2007. I would vote for Romney tomorrow over both Biden and Trump if he ran third party in 2024.

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I wonder if this is based on the discrepancy between people's values vs. the messaging they support? Maybe we should poll people who they voted for/would have voted for. I'd be surprised to get more than a handful of McCain/Romney voters.

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I've never voted for a Republican (but I'm pretty sure I'm not who Jesse has in mind!)

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Also per Can's request: I have never voted for a Republican in a federal election.

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I thought our choice was between Biden and Trump.

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Matt gives the best explanation I’ve heard for why Biden is lying low despite being fit to govern. however, it’s not convincing. Biden has served in national politics for 50 years and won a Presidential election. Any lucid, energetic man in his position would trust his political instincts more than those of unelected staffers. He would know that swing voters don’t think like 28 year olds from fancy colleges. He would push anyone who tried to muzzle him out of the way.

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Feb 13·edited Feb 13

Yeah, the natural follow-up question to Matt’s theory is: why is Biden letting his staffers make these obviously terrible decisions? He’s the boss after all, and I’m sure he knows how to read polls

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Because he is too old to push back effectively....

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It amazes me that Matt didn’t address this obvious link in his pie.

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“Piece” obviously

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There's an "edit" button under the "..." menu.

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Apparently, it's not possible to edit in the Substack app. (Browser users FTW!)

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Well said.

I have to say I'm getting pretty sick of the freak out among all the Biden "supporters." Most definitely including most of the commenters weighing in today. At some point, the complaining actually becomes a negative drag on the Democrats' chances as they convince themselves that Biden and the Democrats have screwed the pooch.*

I'm sure people think this kind of thing is helpful (and it small doses it may be) but at the levels I'm seeing it tends toward being neurotic. Get over it and let's focus on how to keep the democracy-destroying madman out of the White House.

*(E.g., is Biden too old? Maybe. So what? He's the nominee and harping on it will only convince fence sitters that if Biden supporters are so worried about it, maybe I shouldn't vote for him.)

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Yep. That Biden's inmates run so much of the asylum doesn't actually make the case that he's not too old, it's some other mechanism. :-(

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I started work in electoral politics over two decades ago, and I've been involved in public policy debates for my entire career as a now elder millennial. When Biden made his comment on his religious views and abortion I immediately understood it as something Catholic Democrats have long said. It brought me back to the difficulties of the Stupak Amendment during the ACA debate.

I understand when a young Zoomer may have the political memory of a goldfish because they didn't live through these events, but I am a little shocked when an actual staffer seems to show no knowledge of an issue's history. Any experienced campaign hand should recognize the superiority of Biden's messaging, so what's explaining all these experienced staffers not having that view?

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I think Matt explains it. The staffers are just filled with radicals. I posted this in the last thread on abortion but their *new* post-Roe messaging is "Abortion Is About Freedom". It's unbelievable nonsense, yet here we are.

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/20/us/politics/biden-harris-roe-abortion.html

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But *why* are radical fools there? That’s the key question, and no, it’s not because who could literally find no moderates in politics under 50.

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This is what I'm trying to figure out. Clearly there is a generational divide, and it's easy to say "social media" and leave it at that.

For my experience, I knew about not just the blowout Democratic defeats of say an 1984, but also the close on paper but turned into a defeat through poor strategy like 1988. This really did instill an assumption that my personal politics aside, the politics of the 1990s or 2000s still rested on swing voters and appealing to the middle. Even as polarization has challenged that, it hasn't replaced it with the idea that the base is all that matters.

I recognize 2012 and its poor analysis of exit polling contributed to the idea that Democrats didn't need to follow the politics of triangulation anymore. But I'd think that 2016 and 2020 would at least challenge people who think moderation is unnecessary?

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I don't really like this arm chair psychoanalyzing younger activists as if they are the first generation to be focused on their ideology. Bill Clinton started off working for George McGovern in 1972. People respond to incentives and if you're saying that the progressive orthodoxy is so fixed that losing will not cause people to change their incentive structure, it's a pretty alien description of the world.

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The same reason FDR's white house was staffed by more Ivy League WASPs with eccentric policy ideas than basically anyone before him. A very heterogenous party coalition is going to get you some really interesting people at the top. Now that's true in general, since people who care a lot about politics and work in it are weird. But center-right parties, almost by definition, do not face the same pressure to *synthesize* many disparate policy/patronage asks. You cut taxes to reign in the state, cut regulation to allow economic freedom, wave the flag, and call the opponents a bunch of radicals. It sure doesn't hurt if some of them are!

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Well ... that's just a question of leadership. The buck stops with Biden.

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