Thursday Reads: Alternate Facts Rule Republican Surreality

Huile sur bois, 1984-85,Didier Mazuru

Happy Thursday Sky Dancers!

BB has doctors’ appointments today so you get me a day early!  She’s doing the Friday and Saturday spots this week!  I’m really hoping she can get both her booster and flu shot today!  I’m still in search of my flu shot.

There was a discussion on Heather Cox Richardson’s page yesterday on if we should stop using the terms liberal and illiberal democracy because every time Right-wingers see the words liberal or some word rooted in democrat they flip out.  This type of twisting word meanings to mean something pejorative rather than the dictionary and theoretical use of the term drives me nuts.  This was a discussion with regards to this Bulwark editoral; “An Open Letter in Defense of Democracy. The future of democracy in the United States is in danger.”  It’s evidently triggering Republicans.

Some of us are Democrats and others Republicans. Some identify with the left, some with the right, and some with neither. We have disagreed in the past, and we hope to be able to disagree, productively, for years to come. Because we believe in the pluralism that is at the heart of democracy.

But right now we agree on a fundamental point: We need to join together to defend liberal democracy.

Because liberal democracy itself is in serious danger. Liberal democracy depends on free and fair elections, respect for the rights of others, the rule of law, a commitment to truth and tolerance in our public discourse. All of these are now in serious danger.

The primary source of this danger is one of our two major national parties, the Republican Party, which remains under the sway of Donald Trump and Trumpist authoritarianism. Unimpeded by Trump’s defeat in 2020 and unfazed by the January 6 insurrection, Trump and his supporters actively work to exploit anxieties and prejudices, to promote reckless hostility to the truth and to Americans who disagree with them, and to discredit the very practice of free and fair elections in which winners and losers respect the peaceful transfer of power.

Every time I hear someone call themselves “conservative” I’m pretty sure that’s not the case.  The right-wing has completely co-opted that word because reactionary or autocratic or fascist is not what their overlords want themselves called.  I also always laugh when they throw the world liberal at me like that should deeply offend me.  I’d only be insulted if they called me illiberal.  That means I am into restricting the thoughts and behaviors of others which I generally am not at all interested in doing. You should only control the behaviors of others when they are a danger to others.  It’s the all your rights end where mine begin quip.

Here’s Heather describing the Senate Hearing yesterday on the latest lie to distract from the big lie.  Critical race theory is a thing for  Law Schools not any kind of primary or secondary education.

At a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Republican senators accused Attorney General Merrick Garland of “siccing” the FBI on parents who are simply concerned about their child’s education.
The backstory is that there has been a coordinated effort across the country to whip up protests at school board meetings over mask mandates and opposition to teaching Critical Race Theory in K–12 schools (where it is not taught), and they have gotten heated enough that protesters have threatened the lives of school board members, teachers, administrators, and school staff.
In response, the National School Board Association (NSBA) wrote to the administration asking for federal help in addressing the increasing threats. Garland issued a memo calling for federal law enforcement to work with local law enforcement as necessary to protect school board members.
Under pressure from Republican state representatives, the NSBA apologized for some of the language it had used in its initial letter—it suggested the protesters were engaging in domestic terrorism, for example—and today senators tried to get Garland, too, to apologize for his memo.
He refused. “I wish if senators were concerned about this that they would quote my words,” he said. “This memorandum is not about parents being able to object in their school boards. They are protected by the First Amendment as long as there are no threats of violence, they are completely protected.”
It was painfully obvious that the Republicans, especially Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), were trying to create sound bites for right-wing media, and perhaps to undermine Garland’s credibility should the Department of Justice bring charges against high-ranking lawmakers over the events of January 6. They portrayed Garland as part of a conspiracy to crush American liberty and demanded his resignation.
It appears to be the new conspiracy theory of the Trump Republicans to say that the administration is hunting them: Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson is advertising an upcoming special that appears to suggest that the Democratic-controlled government is launching a war on right-wing Americans.

Chess Mask On Sea, Salvador Dali

The recent use of the label progressive is in response to that Republican rebranding pogrom and all it’s done is collect attention as a radical left-wing movement when at best it’s a catching up to the rest of the world set of policies.  I really don’t think responding to Republican efforts to rewrite what a word means and wrap it up in completely manufactured misinformation is helpful to modern discourse on policy or politics.

This has been going on since the Reagan years where signaling became an art form and has now progressed to a point where you have to accept the color of grass as “just an opinion” or an “alternative fact”. It’s basically turned shifting to the Overton window into a toxic reality which isn’t so much of a shift but a complete dash to a wrong conclusion.

Almost all of the so-called cultural issues that weren’t even political issues to Nixon Republicans are now hard-core Republican third rails. Both Nixon and Ford supported the ERA. I remember attending an event with First Lady Barbara Bush who told the room that abortion wasn’t a political issue in 1992.  Yet here we are in a place where we’re being told that Democratic Policy needs to be more moderate and culture issues should represent “middle-ground” when poll after poll shows these policies are wildly popular with voters. How could the press and the Republicans be so firmly against a consensus?  How could they not seek to provide a real explanation about the extreme right wing’s current boogie man misrepresented term or totally made-up thing?

So, there’s this new thing now telling the democrats to just move to the middle and ignore the polls. It’s being pushed at The Bulwark that argues that we have to go along with the idea the Critical Race Theory should be banned from schools to get burbie votes. This is the same kind of false reality that got us laws banning a non-existent surgical procedure called “partial-birth abortion.”  This is from The New Republic: “Doing Popular Things Won’t Save the Democratic Party. Proponents of “popularism” believe they have a plan to rescue the party’s electoral hopes, but they may have arrived too late.”  We’re being constantly pushed to a middle that doesn’t exist anywhere but the beltway. It’s written by Osita Nwanevu

Democrats have heard a lot, in recent weeks, about what they don’t want to hear. Earlier this month, The New York Times’ Ezra Klein ran a piece about the data analyst David Shor, the principal advocate of what’s being called popularism. Shor’s been everywhere over the past year—including in the pages of The New Republic. ⁠And Politico reported recently that he’s found a ready “audience with the White House.” “Some aides in the White House pay close attention to Shor’s analysis and have talked with him about his data, according to two sources familiar with the matter,” Playbook’s authors wrote. “He’s advised Democrats to stand against ‘defund the police,’ not talk too much about immigration, assume that Twitter is not real life, and talk about things that already have approval instead of trying to make unpopular things popular.”

Unsurprisingly, popularism has itself gotten fairly popular among center-left pundits and has earned the ire of progressive journalists and activists. The debates between the two camps have been heated, but there’s a good chance we might remember them fondly before long—these were the debates we could have with one another, we might say to ourselves in a decade, when it was still possible to believe the Democratic Party had a future to win. It’s not at all obvious that the party does; popularism, in its pat simplicity and similarity to age-old Democratic nostrums, will not build it one.

In full, Shor’s argument goes something like this: Democrats are in deep trouble. While the party managed to take full control of government in 2020, Republicans are poised to return to power in Washington soon—beyond the losses that incumbent parties tend to suffer in midterm elections, Democrats are further endangered by the Electoral College’s current skew and the Senate’s worsening malapportionment. In his interview with Klein, Shor gave the Senate math special attention: According to his model, Senate Democrats will have to win the midterm vote by more than four percentage points to have a better than even chance of keeping the chamber, and a bare 51 percent majority of the two-party vote in 2024 would result in a loss of seven seats.

There’s no real long-term fix for this situation beyond structural reforms, such as the addition of new states, a project Democrats aren’t yet serious about. But Shor and his fellow popularists are also recommending another complementary remedy: Democrats should take issue polls more seriously and fully commit themselves to doing and saying popular things. If Democratic candidates avoid fanning the flames of the culture wars and support modest reforms on sensitive issues like policing and immigration, the party will have an easier time making up ground among the white working-class voters and wavering moderate-to-conservative voters of color who moved right under Trump.

Additionally, the theory goes, the Democrats would do well to avoid running on or attempting sweeping policy changes when moderate alternatives are more readily available, more plausible, and more popular—means-testing their expansion of the Child Tax Credit, for instance, or passing prescription drug pricing reform rather than attempting another major and massive health care reform bill. The public, after all, can be fickle when it comes to big policy swings: Research suggests public opinion is “thermostatic,” with voters supporting spending and bigger government when government is small, cuts and smaller government after government gets bigger.

Let me put this into the framework of The Bulwark’s Mona Charon.  “Will Critical Race Theory Sink McAuliffe?  Democrats need to tack to the middle on cultural issues.”

In fairness to McAuliffe, Virginia has a countercyclical history. It likes to choose governors of the party opposite the denizen of the Oval Office.

McAuliffe would have you believe that his troubles are traceable to his party’s dysfunction across the river in D.C. He hasn’t been subtle about it. “We’re tired of the chitty-chat up in D.C.,” he told CNN. He has publicly pleaded with his party to pass the infrastructure deal, and acknowledged that Biden’s falling approval numbers have created “headwinds” for him in Virginia.

Ironically, the one time in recent history that Virginia has not gone countercyclical was McAuliffe’s election in 2013. In that year, it was the Republicans in Washington, D.C. who were creating dysfunction with the Ted Cruz-led government shutdown. Currently, the perceived gridlock is entirely the work of McAuliffe’s party.

Polls are showing that Republicans are more motivated this year than Democrats. An October Monmouth poll showed that 49 percent of Republicans are “enthusiastic” about voting in November, compared with only 26 percent of Democrats. And independents have moved from favoring McAuliffe to Youngkin. Just as significant is the shift in women voters. In September, McAuliffe enjoyed a 14-point lead among women. That dropped to a four-point advantage in October.

In a close race, a third-party candidate is also a factor. This year, a progressive named Princess Blanding is running on the Liberation party ticket. She is unlikely to pull votes from Youngkin.

And while polls are all we have until election day, it would be foolish to imagine that pollsters have completely fixed the problem of the non-responsive Trump voter. If there’s an error in the polling, it’s more likely to underpredict Republican strength.

McAuliffe has worked hard to link Youngkin to Trump, even mocking him as “Glenn Trumpkin,” but it hasn’t stuck, partly because voters are too forgiving, but also because Youngkin’s affect—mild, non-combative—is so disarming.

Youngkin has also run a good campaign, hitting upon Democratic weaknesses. Biden may have promised not to raise taxes on anyone earning less than $400,000, but inflation is a tax. It makes everyone’s money less valuable and thereby hits the poor and working class harder than the comfortable. In one of his TV ads, Youngkin uses the backdrop of a supermarket to stress the rising price of groceries and promises to repeal the grocery tax. Are the Democrats responsible for inflation? It’s hard to say, but when it’s happening on your watch and when you are planning to pump even more money into the economy, it’s hard to escape responsibility.

Youngkin also highlights rising crime (clearly not the Democrats’ fault since it began under Trump). Using a tactic that worked well for Republicans in 2020 and will doubtless dog Democrats in 2022, Youngkin links McAuliffe to the “defund the police” crowd, and features a montage of police officers asking voters to keep Virginia safe.

But the issue that has arguably done the most harm to McAuliffe is education. Remember those independent and female voters who have moved so strongly toward Youngkin? That has coincided with the rise of education as a campaign issue. Women usually rank education as more important than men do. Between September and October, the number of Virginians listing education as a priority rose from 31 to 41 percent. And the issue that has drawn large crowds to school board meetings is critical race theory.

Youngkin has seized on it. At a campaign rally in July, he said that critical race theory has “moved into all of our schools in Virginia.” In an August FoxNews interview, he warned that “critical race theory has moved into our school system and we have to remove it.”

McAuliffe was flat-footed in response. During a debate, he stepped on a rake by declaring that “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” He dismissed concerns about CRT as manufactured—a “racist dog whistle.” It isn’t taught in Virginia schools, he said. “That’s another right-wing conspiracy. This is totally made up by Donald Trump and Glenn Youngkin.”

Well, it’s not that simple. While it’s true that CRT is not listed on the Virginia Standards of Learning (the content all Virginia students are tested on) and several county school boards have issued statements affirming that they do not teach CRT, some CRT-adjacent lessons have been entertained by the Virginia Department of Education. Among other steps, they’ve recommended books about CRT to teachers, and tout Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be Anti-Racist on their website.

Part of the problem is that no one knows exactly what is meant by CRT. Some parents, influenced by rumors and media stories, believe that CRT amounts to teaching kids that all whites are oppressors and all African Americans are victims. Others believe that CRT is the mere teaching of America’s racial history including slavery and civil rights. Nationally, 63 percent believe that students should be taught the “ongoing effects of slavery and discrimination” but only 49 percent support teaching CRT.

Salvador Dali’s ‘Trilogy of the Desert: Mirage’ (1946)

The press take is that American voters are too stupid to not be taken in by Republican propaganda so just put the fire out by looking more Republican.  Don’t worry that all this insults your base!  No wonder enthusiasm is off.  This is the Ezra Klein Op-Ed. at the NYT from earlier this month.  “David Shor Is Telling Democrats What They Don’t Want to Hear.”  Just so you know who were dealing with check that tweet out.

But here’s the truly frightening thought for frustrated Democrats: This might be the high-water mark of power they’ll have for the next decade.

Democrats are on the precipice of an era without any hope of a governing majority. The coming year, while they still control the House, the Senate and the White House, is their last, best chance to alter course. To pass a package of democracy reforms that makes voting fairer and easier. To offer statehood to Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. To overhaul how the party talks and acts and thinks to win back the working-class voters — white and nonwhite — who have left them behind the electoral eight ball. If they fail, they will not get another chance. Not anytime soon.

That, at least, is what David Shor thinks. Shor started modeling elections in 2008, when he was a 16-year-old blogger, and he proved good at it. By 2012, he was deep inside President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, putting together the fabled “Golden Report,” which modeled the election daily. The forecast proved spookily accurate: It ultimately predicted every swing state but Ohio within a percentage point and called the national popular vote within one-tenth of a percentage point. Math-geek data analysts became a hot item for Democratic Party campaigns, and Shor was one of the field’s young stars, pioneering ways to survey huge numbers of Americans and experimentally test their reactions to messages and ads.

That, at least, is what David Shor thinks. Shor started modeling elections in 2008, when he was a 16-year-old blogger, and he proved good at it. By 2012, he was deep inside President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, putting together the fabled “Golden Report,” which modeled the election daily. The forecast proved spookily accurate: It ultimately predicted every swing state but Ohio within a percentage point and called the national popular vote within one-tenth of a percentage point. Math-geek data analysts became a hot item for Democratic Party campaigns, and Shor was one of the field’s young stars, pioneering ways to survey huge numbers of Americans and experimentally test their reactions to messages and ads.

But it was a tweet that changed his career. During the protests after the killing of George Floyd, Shor, who had few followers at the time, tweeted, “Post-MLK-assassination race riots reduced Democratic vote share in surrounding counties by 2 percent, which was enough to tip the 1968 election to Nixon.” Nonviolent protests, he noted, tended to help Democrats electorally. The numbers came from Omar Wasow, a political scientist who now teaches at Pomona College. But online activists responded with fury to Shor’s interjection of electoral strategy into a moment of grief and rage, and he was summarily fired by his employer, Civis Analytics, a progressive data science firm.

For Shor, cancellation, traumatic though it was, turned him into a star. His personal story became proof of his political theory: The Democratic Party was trapped in an echo chamber of Twitter activists and woke staff members. It had lost touch with the working-class voters of all races that it needs to win elections, and even progressive institutions dedicated to data analysis were refusing to face the hard facts of public opinion and electoral geography.

Frankly, our democracy is on fire.  Republicans are doing everything locally that they can to ensure they win votes based on gerrymandering and voter suppression. They’re already passing laws that return us to levels of discrimination and religion-based behavior control that we haven’t seen in decades.  Frankly, my hair is on fire too.  This has to be the discussion if we have any hope come the next election cycle.   Otherwise, we will be fooled again and our lives and our children’s lives will be confined to an end-times ash heap.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?