Thinking Past November

Over the past three decades, for how many years have Democrats held the White House and both houses of Congress? The answer is four. Those would be the first two years of the Bill Clinton administration and the first two years of the Barack Obama administration. This is a big reason we can’t have nice things.

The 1994 midterm elections are still spoken of as the “Republican Revolution,” or sometimes the “Gingrich Revolution.” The GOP picked up 54 seats in the House and 8 in the Senate, which flipped both houses. Democrats briefly took the Senate back in 2001, when Senator James Jeffords of Vermont switched from the Republican to the Democratic party, giving the Dems 50 seats. In October 2002 Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota died in a plane crash, and an independent was appointed to replace him. Then a special election in November flipped another Senate seat, and the Republicans had the majority again.

The 2006 midterms were a triumph for Democrats, who took back both the House and the Senate for George W. Bush’s final two years. (The Senate actually had a 49 to 49 seat tie, but the two independent senators, Lieberman and Sanders, caucused with Democrats.)  But after Obama was elected, Republicans took back the House in the 2010 midterms and the Senate in 2014.

It’s true that most of the time the executive and legislative branches are at least partly divided between the two parties. But Congress was solidly Republican for five years of George W. Bush’s tenure and for the first two years of Trump’s occupation of the White House, giving Republicans a much freer hand in wrecking the country.

Another set of numbers that I bring up from time to time: During the Obama Administration the Democratic Party lost a net total of 13 governorships and a whopping 816 state legislative seats, along with 12 and 64 seats in the U.S. Senate and House, respectively. Although there is much nostalgia for the Obama years, those numbers ought to tell us there was trouble a-brewin’ then.

I bring this up because, along with defeating Trump, we absolutely must also break the Dems’ congressional curse. That means taking both houses of Congress in November and keeping them through the 2022 midterms and beyond.

Paul Starr writes in WaPo:

This is the core problem for the party today: finding the leadership and policies that not only win in 2020 but also increase support instead of dampening it and igniting the opposition.

“Big, structural reforms,” to use Elizabeth Warren’s phrase, require sustained power. The federal government is riddled with “veto points” — opportunities for blocking change in Congress, the courts and the states that create a bias in favor of the status quo. The life tenure of Supreme Court justices and slow turnover of the Senate also put a brake on change.

Large-scale change requires Democrats to do what they did in the 1930s and 1960s and have been unable to do since — win a series of elections, build both popular and judicial majorities, and fundamentally alter not just individual policies but also the basic understanding of government’s role.

If Democrats want to effectively address income inequality, climate change, voter suppression, and other critical issues, they will need to do more than defeat Trump. They will need to control both houses of Congress also, and they will need to keep that control through the 2022 midterms and beyond. They will need more than two years to get sustainable programs and policies up and running.

Paul Glastris wrote in Washington Monthly awhile back,

As Democrats think and argue about how to win back power, and what policies to implement when they do, one crucial fact is missing from the conversation: it will take something very special—some very new thinking—to avoid the fate that always befalls Democrats, namely, losing control of government after two years.

There was a time when divided government didn’t have to mean bad government. That time has passed. If the Obama years showed anything, it is that, when in opposition, the modern Republican Party has no goal beyond blocking the Democratic agenda, whatever that may be, and will transgress hitherto undisputed democratic norms to do so. Operationally, the GOP’s governing objectives have devolved to two base goals: transferring wealth upward, and staying in power. Because the former goal is unpopular, achieving the latter increasingly requires the party to rely on anti-democratic means: voter ID laws and voter roll purges designed to suppress minority and youth turnout; hyper-partisan gerrymandering; filling the federal judiciary with ideological conservatives committed to weakening the power of unions and enhancing that of corporations; and so on. (That’s all on top of constitutional features, like the Electoral College and the Senate, that give the GOP representation that is out of proportion to its votes.)

One of the reasons I support the more progressive candidates is that I believe they will push harder to do something in those critical first two years of the next Democratic administration. And I hope also that next Democratic president will put a lot of effort into explaining to the people what the administration is doing.

It’s true that Barack Obama got the Affordable Care Act passed in his first two years, after a hard fight. But one of his failures — and this is a bit hard to understand, given his considerable talents as a speaker — is that he allowed news media and the Republican opposition to frame and explain the ACA and use it against him in the 2010 midterms.  And then he was boxed in for the rest of his tenure in office.

A significant cause of the midterm loss in 2010 was that young voters failed to turn up at the polls. John Nichols wrote in The Nation:

In 2008, polls showed that young people were overwhelmingly supportive of Obama and the Democrats. And they turned out in droves. According to the research group CIRCLE—The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement—which tracks civic engagement among young voters, 51 percent of 18- to-19-year-olds voted that year.

In 2010, polls showed that young people were still supportive of Obama and the Democrats. But only 20.9 percent of them bothered to vote.

It’s worth reading what Nichols wrote back in 2010 about why the young folks stayed home. In brief, the Dems either did not address issues of concern to younger people, or when they did make some progress on those issues, they failed to communicate what had been accomplished.

And, as I remember, the DCCC and DSCC did a bang-up job running white-bread centrists in 2010 who provided little contrast with Republicans for too many offices. “About two dozen moderate to conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives were defeated this week, leaving a more liberal party in Washington,” McClatchy reported. Naturally, this persuaded the Democrats to keep doubling down on centrists in the next election cycles.

Oh, and did I mention that during the Obama Administration the Democratic Party lost a net total of 13 governorships and a whopping 816 state legislative seats, along with 12 and 64 seats in the U.S. Senate and House, respectively? I believe I did.

Democrats will need to control government for a sustained amount of time to undo the damage Republicans have done and to show America that they can make government work for the people and not the powerful. Plus a few years out in the wildnerness would be a powerful incentive to Republicans to kick out the whackjobs and start behaving like a responsible political party in a representative democracy again.

My fear is that even if we defeat Trump in November, if we don’t control both houses of Congress we’ll face bigger defeats in the midterms. And if we don’t show some real progress to the American people, the next Republican president and Congress could be even more despotic and corrupt than what we have now. They’ve been going from bad to worse, you might have noticed.

I have some quibbles with Paul Starr’s column, as he seems still too cautious to me, favoring “incremental moderates” over “transformational progressives.” “Incremental” to me has become a code word for “invisible to everyone outside the Beltway.” If we achieve a takeover in 2020, it will not be time to play it safe. Dems will have two years to show people what they can do. It had better be good.

This Is No Way to Nominate a Candidate, Part 2

More reflections on how the nomination process is terminally screwy. Molly Jong-Fast writes at WaPo, about Joe Biden:

To run on electability, one should demonstrate the ability to be elected. And that’s shown by — stick with me here — winning elections. …

…Biden has distorted the whole 2020 primary cycle: He sat on top of the polls as the default front-runner for months, and in the process he sucked up endorsements (five senators, more than two dozen House members, state-level elected officials all over the place) and cash (though perhaps not enough of it) that could have gone to other candidates who, instead, had to drop out for lack of money and establishment support. And then he lost the first two elections. It’s only since his front-runner status started to slip that other centrist candidates have had much of a chance. … Biden took up the space that could have been occupied by an Amy Klobuchar or a Pete Buttigieg or a Cory Booker or a Kamala D. Harris.

And of course, Joe Biden sat at the top of the polls because of name recognition. People knew who he was. Most people who are not politics nerds had barely heard of Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Booker, or Harris. Any sensible person looking at those polls should have known that. Sensible people would not have attached a great deal of importance to polls taken weeks and even months before serious campaigning had begun. But media needed stuff to report on, so Much Was Made of Mighty Joe, the Front Runner.

I go back to what Paul Waldman wrote last week:

After a year or so of campaigning without any actual voting, we in the media are desperate for something concrete we can report on. And we want to write a story that changes, with a narrative momentum to it. That’s why we wind up getting influenced by how one or another candidate has performed relative to expectations, which when you think about it is utterly ludicrous.

Whose expectations are we talking about, after all? Those of journalists and pundits themselves. If someone exceeded expectations or fell short of expectations, it just means we inaccurately predicted how well they’d do in one state. And why should our mistaken assessment mean that in any objective way they did well or poorly?

News media on the whole have been irresponsible in their reporting on the nomination process. (I am calling it the “nomination process” because, of course, there is a lot more to it than just primaries.) Perhaps they don’t consciously intend to — or maybe they do — but media really do shape how people understand the candidates and make their choices, and not in a good way.

Instead of providing background on candidates and issues to help us understand them, we get the horse race. We get endless yammering about who is “electable.” Who is up or down in the polls. We get debates in which candidates are not allowed to discuss anything in depth but instead are goaded into attacking each other or being tripped into saying something controversial.

So we get told over and over again that Joe Biden is the front runner, so a lot of people decide on Biden because, you know, he’s supposed to be the front runner. And he’s a nice man, and we know who he is. His debate performances may have been tepid, and he hasn’t been making as many public and media appearances as other candidates. And he has trouble raising money. But those polls!

But it’s not just news media. There has been more reporting on the Iowa debacle that paints both the state Democratic party and the DNC to be remarkably clueless and cavalier about problems with the Iowa Caucus.

… the episode has called into question the broader credibility of a process whose importance in determining American presidents has taken on epic significance since assuming the first-in-the-nation status in 1972. Multiple people with years-long involvement in the caucuses said the mathematical irregularities exposed by new transparency rules point to problems that have often been present but quietly glossed over by party leaders before final results were announced.

Exactly what is it that the DNC does? The state party tried to get some assistance from the national group as it planned to make the caucus more transparent. The DNC, which should have had the technical expertise to steer the state Dems, instead appears to have given them only cursory attention until a few hours before the caucuses began. And after that its primary focus was to be sure the state party got the blame for the screwup.

We’ve got another caucus coming up in Nevada. There are already news stories about another meltdown:

Anxiety is rising over the possibility of another tech-induced meltdown at the Nevada Democratic caucuses on Saturday.

In interviews, three caucus volunteers described serious concerns about rushed preparations for the Feb. 22 election, including insufficient training for a newly-adopted electronic vote-tally system and confusing instructions on how to administer the caucuses. There are also unanswered questions about the security of Internet connections at some 2,000 precinct sites that will transmit results to a central “war room” set up by the Nevada Democratic Party.

We may need divine intevention.

George Caleb Bingham, Stump Speaking, ca. 1953-54. Oil on canvas. St. Louis Art Museum.

Ends and Odds

Yesterday I wrote that I hadn’t been following the Andrew McCabe prosecution all that closely, and it wasn’t clear to me what had happened. Rachel Maddow had an excellent segment on it last night that clarified it quite a bit for me. However, that segment isn’t included in the latest videos on her webpage. This is frustrating, because I didn’t take notes. The transcript should be available some time next week. In the meantime, Vox has a pretty good rundown on all the Justice Department developments that happened yesterday.

Russia Russia Russia

This is fishy:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a security conference in Munich on Friday that the State Department did not publicly disclose before nor after the fact.

Politico reported that the two diplomats met in Lavrov’s meeting room at the hotel in which the conference took place.

Maria Zakharova, Lavrov’s spokesperson, posted about the meeting on Facebook and included a photo of Pompeo in the hotel hallway with Lavrov and others. …

…The State Department did not list the meeting in its official schedule of Pompeo’s travels from February 13-22 and did not provide a readout for it.


Trump’s Wall

Trump has gone from claiming that Mexico would pay for his wall to claiming that “redemption money” from illegal immigrants is paying for his wall. This is flat-out nonsense, of course.

Democrats Should Read This and Take It Seriously.

Eduardo Porter, How the G.O.P. Became the Party of the Left Behind. This very much reflects what I have observed here in the Midwest, over many years.

Is This Constitutional?

Peter Wade, Rollling Stone, Trump Is Sending Elite Border Patrol Units to Make Arrests in Sanctuary Cities






Trump Claims Legal Right to Intervene in Criminal Cases

Today’s development in the Roger Stone case:

A day after Attorney General William P. Barr publicly warned President Trump not to tweet about the Justice Department, Trump did just that, declaring that he has the “legal right” to ask his top law enforcement official to get involved in a criminal case.

Back story, which should be subtitled “Bill Barr Is a Lying Sack of Shit”:

Barr’s story of how he decided to intervene in Roger Stone’s sentencing makes no sense. Lawrence O’Donnell walks us through the essential screwiness of Barr’s claims.

See also Greg Sargent.

On ABC, Barr offered his first detailed account of the mess involving Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering to obstruct investigations into Russian subversion of the 2016 election for Trump.

Barr recounted that a top deputy — apparently Timothy Shea, a longtime Barr adviser just installed as U.S. attorney in Washington — had grown concerned that sentencing guidelines would dictate too draconian a punishment.

Stone’s prosecutors wanted to recommend the stiff sentence. But Barr wanted the judge to make the determination without any affirmative department recommendation.

Barr claimed he thought this was the approach all agreed would be followed, but that the prosecutors submitted the stiffer recommendation, which “surprised” him. He claimed he then started the process to undo this — before Trump tweeted his rage at 2 a.m. the next day.

Later the next morning, Barr was already preparing to implement the change when he was notified about Trump’s tweet — meaning Trump’s rage didn’t influence him. Barr claimed Trump’s tweet boxed him in — reversing the sentence would now smack of carrying out Trump’s bidding.

This account is actually very damning. The most charitable interpretation here is that Trump has openly sought to corrupt the process. By Barr’s own implicit admission, Trump’s rage could only be construed as an effort to manipulate law enforcement — after all, this is precisely what, by Barr’s account, boxed him in.

And, frankly, today hardly anyone believes that Barr decided to intervene on his own, and not on orders from Trump. The ABC interview and Trump’s subsequent tweets saying he hadn’t talked to Barr are obviously contrived.

I suspect that, even as I keyboard, legal experts are composing op eds on the limitations of the president’s powers in criminal cases, and as soon as that happens I’ll post some links. Seems to me he’s coloring outside the lines again.

And then there is today’s decision to drop the prosecution of Andrew McCabe:

Andrew G. McCabe, the former deputy F.B.I. director and a frequent target of President Trump, will not face charges in an investigation into whether he lied to investigators about a media leak, his defense team said on Friday.

The decision by prosecutors in Washington ends a case that had left Mr. McCabe in legal limbo for nearly two years. It also appears to be a sign that Attorney General William P. Barr wants to show that the Justice Department is independent from Mr. Trump: The notification came a day after Mr. Barr publicly challenged the president to stop attacking law enforcement officials on Twitter and said the criticisms were making his job more difficult.

I haven’t been following the McCabe prosecution all that closely, but I noticed this tweet today from a national security correspondent for Politico:

There is more to this backstory than I understand yet, but I’ll watch for better explanations.

Barr has also ordered a review of the Michael Flynn case. That bears watching, at the very least. Tierney Sneed and Matt Shuham at TPM that this is part of Barr’s “investigate the investigators” crusade.

Attorney General Bill Barr has brought in outside prosecutors to review the decisions made by the DOJ attorneys who have been handling the Michael Flynn case and other politically sensitive matters — some publicly known, some not — coming from within the U.S. Attorneys office in D.C, the New York Times and NBC News reported Friday.

See also Eugene Robinson, America, the banana republic.

What Theodore Roosevelt Said

I found this quote in an old Mahablog post from 2007. It’s fitting for right now.

The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole.

Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.  T. Roosevelt, May 1918

Teddy wrote this in an editorial for the Kansas City Star in 1918. He was opposing the Sedition Act of 1918, which criminalized the publication of “disloyal” statements about the U.S. government.

This Is No Way to Nominate a Candidate

If you need any more proof that the people steering the national Democratic party are a pack of inept, out-of-touch losers, just take a good look at the absurd Rube Goldberg nomination process we continue to be stuck with. In a recent column, Paul Waldman pointed out only some of the problems:

Consider the absurd amount of importance we’ve invested in the two tiny states of Iowa and New Hampshire, to the point that we’re acting as though the race is half over because they’ve rendered their judgment, despite the fact that 48 states have yet to vote.

To take just one example: I’m hardly a fan of Joe Biden’s candidacy, but when you read an op-ed begging him to drop out after these two states have voted, you have to admit that there’s something very odd going on here.

That’s not to mention the long list of appealing candidates who dropped out before anyone had a chance to vote for them, including Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Julián Castro. I’m surely not the only one thinking that the race might be more compelling if they were still around.

A big part of the problem, Waldman continues, is that news media need somethng to report for several months before the voting starts. And, inadvertently, the way the pre-primary nomination race is reported in media distorts it quite a bit.

After a year or so of campaigning without any actual voting, we in the media are desperate for something concrete we can report on. And we want to write a story that changes, with a narrative momentum to it. That’s why we wind up getting influenced by how one or another candidate has performed relative to expectations, which when you think about it is utterly ludicrous.

Whose expectations are we talking about, after all? Those of journalists and pundits themselves. If someone exceeded expectations or fell short of expectations, it just means we inaccurately predicted how well they’d do in one state. And why should our mistaken assessment mean that in any objective way they did well or poorly?

It shouldn’t take a genius to understand that Joe Biden’s early lead in national polling had more to do with name recognition than anything else. Polls taken months before an election are not just unreliable; they are fantasies. People don’t form real opinions until they choose to focus on the race and pay attention, and for most that doesn’t happen until it’s close to time to vote. But in part because of an overwrought process in news media that jerked around our expectations, a lot of good people dropped out before anyone could vote for them.

The way the DNC decided who could be in the debates is another issue. I’m not sure what the answer is, but it seems weird that having a lot of money should qualify someone over years of government service.

Also: throughout these debates, with few exceptions, moderators’ questions were more about pushing candidates into controversy than illuminating their positions on issues. Many just repeated Republican talking points rather than ask honest questions that reflected they had a clue about the actual substance of issues. CNN was, IMO, far and away the worst of these, and the Dems should refuse to allow them to moderate debates in 2024. But between now and then serious thought needs to be given to how the debate format can best be designed to let the candidates present themselves to the American people. And then the hosts and moderators must agree to that format, or they don’t get the gig. Why this hasn’t been done already is, frankly, baffling.

And then there is the order of the primaries, which makes no sense. There has been no end of justifiable criticism of the outsize role played by Iowa and New Hampshire, for example. I think the old schedule needs to be entirely scrapped in favor of primaries that are grouped by regions, and Paul Waldman seems to have had a similar idea.

So what do we do about this? The longer-term answer is to change how we select nominees; a system of rotating regional primaries, in which all the voting would take place on four or five days, is one possibility.

My idea is to schedule primaries in groups of a few contiguous states, so that the candidates can focus on a region at a time. Instead of just Iowa, for example, candidates would focus on an upper midwest region that would include Illinois (arguably the most demographically representative state in the nation) and Wisconsin, Nebraska, maybe one or two more states. These states would have their primaries on the same day or at least within a week or so of each other.

This would reduce travel cost and media costs, since media markets often overlap state lines, as well as allow for a more representative demographic mix. Allow for some time in between each region so that candidates can spend some meaningful time there. As it is, candidates practically live in Iowa and New Hampshire for months while the rest of the nation gets only fleeting glimpses of them.

In 2017 I wrote a post about making the nomination process fairer. In that I was open to the idea of eliminating the caucuses, although not completely sold. Okay, now I’m sold. No more caucuses.

Another proposal was to allow anyone except registered Republicans to vote in Democratic primaries. That’s done in some states but not in other states. Allowing independents — whose votes we’ll need to win the general election — a say in choosing the nominee seems only sensible to me.

And, finally, just bleeping get rid of the superdelegates. This year the superdelegates won’t be allowed to vote on the first ballot, but they haven’t been eliminated altogether. I fear what mischief might be done at the convention if there is no clear winner.

But at least this year they aren’t reporting primary results with the superdelegate votes added in, the way they did in 2016. That was infuriating. In 2016 the vote gap between Clinton and Sanders was a lot closer than people realized, but because the vote totals that were reported always included the Clinton superdelegates, it looked as if Clinton was much further ahead in votes than she actually was.

Franklin Roosevelt won the nomination on the fourth ballot in the 1932 Democratic National Convention.

Stupid, Corrupt, and Out of Control

This just happened:

Attorney General William Barr has accepted an invitation to testify to the House Judiciary Committee on March 31, ending a year-long standoff that began when the panel first demanded his testimony in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

The arrangement comes as Democrats have demanded answers about Barr’s apparent intervention in the sentencing of President Donald Trump’s longtime ally Roger Stone, who was convicted last year on charges that he lied to congressional investigators and threatened a witness.

Greg Sargent:

With the Justice Department in turmoil over the decision by higher-ups to downscale a sentencing recommendation for longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, Trump tweeted:

Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought. Evidence now clearly shows that the Mueller Scam was improperly brought & tainted. Even Bob Mueller lied to Congress!

This is a straight-up celebration of the fact that in intervening for Stone — who was convicted of obstructing Congress and witness tampering in connection with investigations into Russian subversion of our election — Barr is doing the president’s political bidding.

Even better, Trump has moved on to judge intimidation.

It has been obvious all along that Trump believes the proper role of an attorney general is to act as a political operative for the administration and use the power of his office to stop whatever the president doesn’t like. The AG is also supposed to enable whatever is in the president’s personal interests.

See also If Trump Is Allowed to Turn the Justice Department Into a Political Weapon, No One Is Safe.

DALLAS, TX – SEPTEMBER 14: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the American Airlines Center on September 14, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. More than 20,000 tickets have been distributed for the event. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)


I Hate Election Years

I have been looking for news on the turnout in New Hampshire but not finding it. And the FiveThirtyEight final forecast for New Hampshire is confusing and, I suspect, two or three days behind trends. This is a dynamic election; I suspect people are changing their minds by the minute. The only interesting news is that Joe Biden isn’t waiting around for results and has moved on to South Carolina.already. His internal poll numbers must be worse than the public polls.

So this just happened:

Two career prosecutors who handled the case against Roger Stone, a confidant of President Trump, resigned their posts Tuesday after the Justice Department signaled it planned to reduce their sentencing recommendation for the commander-in-chief’s friend.

Jonathan Kravis, one of the prosecutors, wrote in a court filing he had resigned as an assistant U.S. attorney, leaving government entirely. Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, a former member of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team, said he was formally quitting his special assignment to the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute Stone, though a spokeswoman said he will remain an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore. Neither provided a reason for their decisions.

The resignations come just hours after a senior Justice Department official told reporters that the agency’s leadership had been “shocked” by the seven-to-nine-year penalty prosecutors, including Zelinsky, asked a judge to impose on Stone and intended to ask for a lesser penalty.

Another day, another example of corruption in the Trump Administration. It never ends.

There’s an audio clip of Mike Bloomberg saying nasty, racist things making the rounds. This could stop his momentum (fingers crossed).

Trump held a rally in New Hampshire last night just to keep Democrats from moving around. See Ratfu–ery in NH: Trump Camp Hoped Secret Service Lockdown Would Screw Dems.

If you read nothing else today, see Dana Milkbank:

Recall his [Trump’s] repeated promises not to “touch” Social Security and Medicare? Even as the elderly population swells, his budget calls for removing half a trillion dollars of funding from the Medicare program over 10 years, including $135 billion from Medicare prescription drugs, and tens of billions from the Social Security program.

Do read the whole thing.




The Republican War Against Public Schools Is a War Against the “Heartland”

The right-wing war against public education has taken various forms over the years. Indeed, some American conservatives have been hostile to public education going back to the colonial period. The modern-era war was kicked off in the 1950s and 1960s by court-ordered desegregation, which inspired a stampede of white kids into private, purportedly “Christian” schools.

Since then the Right has generated tons of propaganda about how public schools are failing. However, the righties argue, investing more tax money in them is pointless; just throwing good money after bad. And, of course, teachers unions are the work of the devil and must be broken up. The result has been something of a self-fulfilling prophecy — American public education on the whole isn’t as good as it could be if we invested more money in it. And the more Republicans can bleed public schools of tax money, the worse they get, and the more reason (Republicans say) we should put our tax money elsewhere. Preferably where their campaign donors can get their cut.

See also: Americans Have Given Up on Public Schools. That’s a Mistake. and The War on Public Schools.

The brilliant “solution” the Right came up with to this is to funnel taxpayer dollars into various kinds of privately run schools, through charters or voucher programs. Charters started out sounding like a good idea but quickly morphed into a means for unscrupulous people to get their hands on tax dollars (see also). Unlike public schools, private schools can deny admittance to special needs students. Charter schools are not supposed to discriminate, but they’ve been known to deny admittance to students they consider undesirable.

Both voucher schools and charter schools have been around long enough that we should hold them to their claims of providing superior education. How are they doing?

Charter schools on average do not get higher test scores than public schools, and in some states—like Ohio and Nevada—charters dominate the state’s list of the lowest performing schools. Some charter schools get high test scores, but they usually get high scores by excluding students with disabilities and English learners or by high attrition rates.

Voucher studies in Louisiana, Ohio, Indiana, and the District of Columbia found that students in voucher schools actually lost ground compared to their peers in public schools. This is not surprising since some voucher schools have uncertified teachers and are free to teach a curriculum that mixes facts and religious stories.

Milwaukee has had vouchers for religious schools for two decades and charters for three decades. All three sectors get the same poor results. Milwaukee is one of the lowest performing districts in the nation.

New Orleans is the only all-charter school district in the nation. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a white Republican legislature imposed an experiment on a majority African American city. School enrollment declined from 65,000 before the storm to 48,000 a dozen years later. The latest state scores rated 49% of the city’s charter schools as D or F, based on their academic performance. The New Orleans district scores are below the state average, and Louisiana is one of the lowest performing states in the nation.

So the “school choice” sales point is a scam. We’d be much better off putting the money wasted on charters and vouchers into improving our public schools. But we’ll have to get Republicans out of the way to do that.

Note also that the Supreme Court appears about to lift limits on state aid to public schools.  If they do, public schools in states governed by Republican majorities will be bled dry in record time.

There is one other point I’d like to make about public versus private schools, which is that in small-town and rural America public schools are essential to maintaining a sense of community. You’d have to be from a small town to appreciate that, I suppose, but it so happens I am.

Even in a small town there may be several different churches, many of which don’t speak to each other. People are usually too spread out to meet in any kind of town square or in the village pub. About the only place everybody goes is the WalMart.

But, by golly, everybody or nearly everbody went to the public school and sends their kids to the public school. Crowds still turn out for the high school homecoming parades down Main Streets in these parts. People cheer the football and basketball teams even if they don’t have kids on the roster. Folks from many parts of the community who wouldn’t otherwise meet get involved in school programs. More than anything else, the public schools provide communities with identity and shared focus that, literally, nothing else offers.

Often the first bit of information strangers, even elderly people, exchange around here is Did you go to Local School? When did you graduate? Did you know so-and-so? He might have been in your class. And then he married that girl who was in my class. Before long, there’s a taxonomy of shared acquaintances worked out. But it nearly always starts with Where did you go to school?

When I see people like Donald Trump or Betsy DeVos running down public schools and pushing private ones, I see people who are utterly out of touch with life in rural and small town America. That is true even as they blather on about the greatness of the “heartland,” a term that gives me the willies, frankly.

Of course, another irony is that small town folks often don’t connect political propaganda to their real-world lives. They don’t make the connection that the campaign to destroy the public school system might mean destroying their public school system. Just some other public school system. Makes me crazy. So they might be sold on the idea of charter schools in the abstract but would probably revolt, eventually, if the local public school districts were gutted out to make room for them. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

My great-uncle Lloyd Thomas and his students by their log-cabin school in southern Missouri, ca. 1910.

Unifying the Dems

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Elise Amendola/AP/Shutterstock (10551224k)
Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, embraces Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., during a Democratic presidential primary debate, hosted by ABC News, Apple News, and WMUR-TV at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H
Election 2020 Debate, Manchester, USA – 07 Feb 2020

The Democratic Party seems roughly evenly split between the “establishment” and the “progressives.” Or, right now, that would be the “Biden/Buttigieg” faction and the “Sanders/Warren” faction.

The divisions and rancor are worrisome. It would be lovely if the Democratic Party were more united around a single standard bearer. However, I think the rise of Trump and the fragmentation in the Democratic Party speak to a massive political realignment that’s just beginning. The old establishments of both parties may see themselves replaced sooner rather than later. Whether the big shots like it or not, it is imperative that the people be given a say in choosing the nominee. In 2016 the establishment pre-selected the nominee for us. That didn’t work.

The Democratic establishment is nearly frantic to stop Sanders, but so far they’ve done a piss poor job of it. At Vox, Matt Yglesias has an analysis I mostly agree with, with some quibbles. In The Democratic establishment is doing a really bad job of stopping Bernie Sanders, Yglesias writes that the only way to beat Sanders for the nomination is to unite behind an alternative candidate. Yet they can’t seem to do it. Even though the message I was seeing from the establishment is “Joe Biden owns the nomination,” Yglesias says that’s an illusion.

Obama hasn’t endorsed his own VP pick, even though “Obama likes me” is central to Biden’s pitch. Clinton, who clearly has a problem with Sanders, hasn’t endorsed his biggest rival either, even though she could help shore up support with college-educated women currently backing Elizabeth Warren. Chuck Schumer and Pelosi haven’t endorsed. Nor has former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or Gore himself. John Kerry is backing Biden but then was overheard seemingly musing his own run, undermining the Biden effort.

Solid backing for Biden from high-profile Democrats wouldn’t make Sanders’s factional support dry up. But it would deliver a clear and unambiguous signal to Democrats to rally behind Biden instead of fracturing across three or four candidates.

A lot of the traditional bundlers, fundraisers, and donors were moving to Pete Buttigieg even before Iowa. “But as a coordination point for a party elite that’s supposedly trying to close ranks and stop a socialist insurgent, he’s a frankly bizarre choice, starting with his thin résumé and his issue gaining support from black voters,” Yglesias writes.

“One possible interpretation of all this is that top Democrats have profound doubts about Biden,” Yglesias continues. Yet for some reason, no one said this out loud, allowing Biden to assume the role of establishment standard-bearer until he stumbled in Iowa.

Another possible interpretation is that the old Democratic Party that coalesced around the Clintons in the 1990s and appears to have assimilated Barack Obama when he prevailed over Hillary Clinton in 2008 is just plain out of gas. Or else, that the people who run the DNC and donate the big bucks were so fixated on making Hillary Clinton president for so long they don’t know what to do without her. They’ve lost all direction and are flailing around waiting for orders from somebody that never come.

I personally would be happier if the establishment rallied around the much less irritating Amy Klobuchar rather than Pete Buttigieg. I believe Bittigieg and Klobuchar are very close in their positions on issues, and in the last couple of debates Klobuchar has been outstanding. It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of centrist voters really like Klobuchar but are holding back because they worry a woman can’t beat Trump. I say the same people who wouldn’t vote for a woman wouldn’t vote for a gay man, either. Just go for it, people. Vote for the candidate you like the most.

Complicating the picture are the two billionaires, Steyer and Bloomberg. Bloomberg has moved ahead of Buttigieg in the RCP polling average, although he’s still behind Biden, Sanders, and Warren. It has to be said that Bloomberg’s ad campaign is terrific, even if it inflates Bloomberg’s accomplishments quite a bit. But if Bloomberg intended to get in the race to stop Sanders, as is rumored, he’s botching it also, since he appears to be taking more votes from Biden than from Sanders.

Can the Democrats unify when all is said and done? What about the Bernie or busters and the equally pernicious Never Bernies? I see at least as many comments like this than I see people swearing they’ll vote for no one but Bernie in November. Maybe more.

It may be that the greatest unifying force for the Dems will be Trump himself. It’s very possible that this past week will have been the high point of Trump’s presidency, and that for him it will be all downhill from here. More evidence of his violations of the Constitution will emerge. Likely there will be new scandals we don’t even know about yet. And do not forget the Supreme Court decisions scheduled to be handed down before the election. Nancy LeTourneau

As I wrote previously, they will rule on three cases a few months before the election that will consume both the media and the voting public.

* Whether the Trump administration can end DACA
* A case that could end Roe v. Wade as we know it
* Whether Donald Trump must release his tax returns and finances

On the first item, ICE Director Matt Albence recently made it clear that if the Court rules in Trump’s favor, they are already prepared to begin deporting DACA recipients immediately. …

… What we don’t know right now is how the Supreme Court will rule in these cases. But especially on the one affecting Roe v. Wade, all signs point to its demise. If that happens, it will overwhelm any other issue on the table at that time. On the other hand, if the Court rules that Trump must release his taxes, pouring over those documents will consume the media and their reporting. If what we expect turns out to be true, Trump could be toast.

This is another reason why we shouldn’t be so fixated on who can beat Trump. Events may do that job for us.