Strangely Content Free

Even by State of the Union standards, that was a colossal waste of time. High on purple prose and racist dog-whistling, low on content.

Without hyperbole, there are 3 proposals in this State of the Union.


  1. $1.5T dollars in infrastructure spending
  2. A very detailed immigration plan
  3. End the “defense sequester”

Now, I have thoughts about each of these, but what is striking is that I caught no other policy proposals. To count as a policy proposal, I had to know either 1) its magnitude in monetary terms or 2) what the implementation would look like. The thing about directing his people to work on a plan to decrease drug costs? Not a policy. The thing about foreign assistance was marginal; but there was not enough meat for me to comment on so I didn’t list it. Standing tall for the flag was just pathos.

I didn’t go back and count Obama’s policy proposals, but I recall those speeches being full of them. It was a point of criticism for me, actually, that they were often divorced from what his Congress was willing or able to do. There was even a recurring joke that the proposal for better rail was for Joe Biden and, let’s be real, it was as true as it was a joke. The fact that this was mostly just dog-whistling, asserting America’s strength and touting a strong economy would be weird for another presidency. Its only not weird for this one because it we’ve come to expect so little of Trump.

This isn’t to say other things didn’t matter. The lines about standing for the flag foresage more hostility towards African Americans; hardly shocking, but worth making note of. And if this speech was an insight into how this Administration is weighing North Korea, in terms of its moral failings rather than the very real consequences for South Korea if we start a war, then Seoul is in peril. And the things he didn’t say—Russia, rising hate crimes, the scourge of murders with guns—matter too. But this was a speech largely without content.

As for his three proposals? Unsurprisingly, I am largely against.

$1.5T for infrastructure is badly timed. Trump was largely correct that the economy is doing well, though, that has little to do with Trump or Obama. Regardless, this is exactly when the government should be cutting spending to keep the assets market from overheating. A good way to do this? Keep taxes the same and bring down the debt. The economic policy being pursued is exactly opposite the standard macroeconomic recommendation. (Though, if the tepid applause is anything to go by, Congress will not pursue it.)

I am largely punting on the immigration plan. There will be higher quality analysis than I can do right now by other people, but suffice it to say I am unimpressed. Let me pick at a detail instead. “Protecting the nuclear family from the threat of chain migration” is an incredible sentence. Stripped of jargon, it says protecting mothers and fathers from their parents living in the same country as them. It is, I am given to understand, the greatest threat against the family since homosexuality was decriminalized in the 90s. Grandparents. Threat to the family.

The defense sequester was maligned in 2011 as a possible threat to readiness, but the evidence on that is scant. We could rehearse the statistics about the size of the military post-sequester; larger than the next 10, full of waste and unwanted programs, creaking under its own bureaucracy. We could demand an independent audit of the ways that has hurt readiness, though its hard to imagine it has. We could point out that there is literally no threat to our interests from a non-nuclear power that current spending levels doesn’t address and that conventional military readiness is probably somewhat secondary to our interests. But half the country really likes funding the military, so, sure, applause line.

For all that Trump is terrifying—and putting someone so racist and shortsighted at the bully pulpit should give anyone decent pause—he has very little to back up his rhetoric. He is all racism, pathos, and cheap TV stunts. The State of the Union Address as a format has always rewarded grandstanding, even for those who laid the ground for real policy discussions, but just as Trump is the hollow shell of a man, this was a hollow shell of a State of the Union Address. The State of the Union, no thanks to Trump is strong.

The state of his presidency is weak behind all the fronting.


Thoughts and Prayers

I don’t believe in God. I cannot offer you any justification to this; I have no deep theological insights or clever thought experiments. Only simply that when confronted with the question of, “Can you take a leap of faith?” the answer in my heart is No.

But I have learned to sit with my thoughts and hopes in ways that are not only in some ways like prayer, but explicitly come to me from exposure to people and writings of faith. Buddhist meditation is many things within a single tradition, never mind the width, breadth, and disagreement of the many Buddhist traditions. But two strains emerge in many: the deep contemplation of the inevitability of loss and grief and a radical, non-judgmental openness of mind. (Complicating matters, I believe a theme in Buddhist writings is that this is one strain.) Learning to feel my grief about national tragedies and accept that I have it, while perhaps of no particular Buddhist origin, comes to me through Buddhist writings.

At the same time, my Christian friends who are guided by their faith view prayer are a radical, reflective exercise. “What Would Jesus Do?” has been reduced to a cliché, but I’ve seen it become a guiding light for some people—though, they tend to avoid those four words. The Bible is a rich, often apparently contradictory text that offers complex questions and equally complex answers about justice and right conduct. For me, the text of the Bible has never been “alive” they way it seems to be for those friends, but prayer is both a reflection and a request to find a wise, just path forward in the words of Christ and the Prophets. Though I never look to God and rarely to the Bible (I have a few passages I think are very wise), I do try to search myself for all the wisdom I have when confronted with injustice. Though there is a vast difference in faith, I like to think I have learned something from my friends who take the time to ask for guidance and grace.

I am deeply saddened by the tragedy in Las Vegas. As is often the case following these mass shootings, I am at a loss for words. All I have is this heaviness in my chest and weariness in my mind when I think about it. I simply cannot write coherently about it. This tangent about thoughts and prayers is what I have the words for, and so that is what I am offering.

The reflexive scorn for “thoughts and prayers” is something I feel a lot of sympathy for. When Marco Rubio posts Bible quotes to his Twitter as a substitute for doing something, when conservative politicians suggest prayer is a replacement for action on gun policy, and when obviously unrepentant politicians say they are “prayerfully” reformed, I feel a knot of disgust and anger in my stomach.

It is hard to remember that my rage is not because they are prayerful, but rather because they are not. It is hard to imagine that those in Congress beholden to the NRA are taking the time to sit with the awesome power they wield and how to wield it. These don’t feel like disagreements of faith to me. Would Christ not have acted when kindergartners were gunned down at Sandy Hook? Is the wisdom handed down to us from the Bible that Christ would have stood outside Pulse and said, “Once again, the downside to American freedom is on gruesome display“? Does the Bible condone tweeting in public but doing nothing in Congress? Does any of this seem like the consequence of “thoughts and prayers”.

As I struggle to sit with my thoughts about the wider tragedy, I share the disgust with those who have run out of patience for “thoughts and prayers”. But now is the time to help each other sit with our feelings of rage and helplessness; Buddhism offers some perspective there. And for those with the power to do works and those of us with the power to influence them, demanding we sit with questions of justice in ways that are not self-serving is the only path forward. I should think the teachings of a political dissident brutally murdered at the hands of the most powerful government on Earth can offer US Senators some guidance if they sit with that uncomfortable contradiction.

I am quite certain it is not thoughts and prayers that I am angry with; I am certain that it is that they are hollow gestures.

Clinton Deserves a Real Rebuttal

So much of the discussion of Clinton’s memoir and the promotion around it has been about whether or not it should even exist. This has in turn lead to a frustrating, circular debate where people point out the inherent double-standard in Clinton’s coverage and then other people point out that’s the only defense ever made in Clinton’s favor. While that’s false, I do think we’ve fallen into a vicious cycle of taking the least charitable view of Clinton’s statements, having the conversation about how that’s symptomatic of sexism and poor journalism, and then never getting back to her real points. Case and point:

So, she did say this. But this quote has a lot more to offer when put back in its original context, which is an hour interview. Both how Clinton immediately defends this point here and her wider ideas about what the center even is are different from what most people are reading in. Consider to start the full answer:

Clinton: If you’re running a raucus, diverse, pluralistic democracy where there are literally millions of different voices, you are going to hear from all kinds of voices. I was a Senator for eight years—but the vast majority of people who came through the doors of my Senate offices to talk to me to advocate, whatever they were doing, were not political donors, or certainly not political donors to me; they were constituents, they were citizens, they had something to say. So part of what—we’ve shrunk the political process to such a narrow set of questions—and that’s in the interest of the far right and the far left—both of whom want to blow up the system and undermine it and the rest of the stuff they talk about. I think we ultimately work best between center left and center right because that’s where, at least up until recently—maybe it’s changed now—that’s where most Americans were. Look, they didn’t get up every day obsessed with what the government and politics was going to do. They wanted to know what the results were and if this was going to make a difference in their life.

This is a messy answer, whatever you may parse out of it. Even if the content were less divisive, no one would think school children would one day recite this as an example of great American oratory. But her most immediate claim here, which I’ve bolded, is that both the far left and the far right are making undemocratic demands that she abandon the middle. It’s been wearying to point this out, but Sanders lost to Clinton by 3.8 million votes; Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million. Clinton may not be populist, but all evidence suggests she’s actually quite popular*. The answer that she could have won the popular vote by adopting more of Sander’s positions is both unfalsifiably speculative and premised on the idea that Sanders voters deserved more weight than equal after the primary. Clinton’s comments about how we’re debating a narrow set of deeply divisive issues are meant to convey that Washington has been hijacked by an undemocratic agenda—it turns a point Sanders and Trump like to make back around on them with the force of popular election soundly behind her. She’s also crediting Sanders less than you might think, as when questions about the agenda came up she focused in on the radical right and their ascendance since Reagan.

If her claim were merely that centrism works best because it is popular, she’d be arguing that she is right because she was popular. However, there’s a second prong that she sharpens before these comments and that informs her comments here. By this point in the interview, she’d repeatedly argued that she was popular because she was right. To get a sense of the argument, look at what she identifies as voter priorities at the end of the quoted passage! Voters wanted to know the bottom line, the end result. She is putting forward that voters didn’t put a lot of weight on ideological grudge matches; they put more weight on their pocketbook and the protections government offered them.

This is how Clinton conceives of the middle. She doesn’t see it as a tepid, incrementalism—though she does say that can be the practical form it takes. She says voters are passionately, intensely interested in results. Bipartisanship isn’t a virtue because it gives Clinton fuzzy feelings (see: Obama). It’s a virtue because it can be built on finding common ground in the outcome, in the humility of putting voters before ideology.

She gets specific in the interview. Clinton impatiently dismisses several of Sanders’ proposals along similar grounds. On both health care and tuition-free college, she expresses frustration that Sanders couldn’t answer basic, important questions about broad funding and cost-control. In Clinton’s view, what makes Sanders a radical is not that he wants tuition-free college; she seems to want that too. Its that he’s willing to propose it without answering basic questions about how we’re going to make sure the offer is sustainable.

Sanders’ supporters are liable to feel slighted by this; I think many passionately believe Sanders has feasible proposals. On tuition-free college, many have pointed me to how it did work in Germany. And while that is superficially true, Germany made it work by ruthlessly cutting access. They send a full 40% fewer people as a percent of population to university. It has worked out to be a massive subsidy for the middle class and shut many poor people out of university. This is more tolerable in the German context because trade jobs are plentiful and primary and secondary schools do a better job engendering class mobility. But Sanders’ plan doesn’t even acknowledge the German restrictions, instead throwing the national coffers wide open to universities.

When I’ve pointed this out, people have either accused me of holding values I do not or fallen back on parroting Sanders’ grandstanding. “There is a problem—and it must be solved.” Even if the latter part is true, even if we must solve the problem, it doesn’t negate practical trade offs in implementing solutions. Proving we need to have a solution doesn’t prove your proposal is actually a one of them. Clinton implicitly argues throughout the interview that a political extremist is someone who places ideological faith—in the market, in government subsidy—ahead of empirical proof. She is saying that Sanders’ has offered no solutions, merely empty promises. She is doing it with detail and specifics. Here is her disgust with Sanders on health care:

Well, I don’t know what the particulars are. As you might remember, during the campaign he introduced a single-payer bill every year he was in Congress—and when somebody finally read it, he couldn’t explain it and couldn’t really tell people how much it was going to cost.

This is followed by four paragraphs of cogent examples and analysis of the problems America faces in trying to get this policy. For Clinton, Sanders greatest sin was that he didn’t have a firm grasp on his own proposals. Repeatedly Sanders put forward aspirational proposals, but when people asked for the evidence, he blustered. She argues, and I don’t think it should be controversial, that she deserved to have her details covered, and he deserved to have his non-answers flagged as such. Instead, Sanders remarkable spell was a self-perpetuating story, and her campaigning was left strangely untouched.

Her notion of being better near the center isn’t that we’re better for being tepid. It is a notion that government works best when public servants can prove they are doing the best work that can be done. In the first quote above, she shows herself as working for voters, people with concrete problems that government can craft solutions for. She casts Sanders and Cruz as out of touch, putting abstract ideology ahead of the real people policy is intended to serve. It is, at its core, the assertion that risky, unproven policy based on wishful thinking can do more damage than the problem well-intentioned politicians seek to fix. She does not define extremism in terms of the results, but in rather in terms of the risk.

This argument is harder to attack than the screenshot makes it seem. (Who could have predicted that Hillary Clinton would be subject to a strawman argument???) If Clinton is wrong in the particulars, Sanders and his supporters could reckon in detail with the trade-offs inherent in his proposals. In Clinton’s framing, that is moving to the center and acquiescing to her long-held methods. Anticipating extremist responses to Clinton would take more space than I have and, besides, they can speak for themselves. But ultimately they all require at some point asking the audience if they believe that modern science is frequently, irrevocably in error and to greater degree than ideological reasoning. Are economics, social psychology, environmental science, finance, and the whole host of other disciplines stateswomen like Clinton draw on so truly beyond redemption that we should trust the musings of Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders?

Some will say yes, no doubt. But speaking for myself, I’ll take Clinton’s proof. And at any rate, we’ve truly heard little on her real arguments and we’d all benefit from a detailed response.

*”But the polling about likability!” Seems like at the ballot box voters set that aside more than not, right? This is truly a good question that deserves more time, but it ultimately doesn’t establish that Clinton didn’t get both the primary and general popular mandate over her respective opponents.

A Modest Proposal Concerning the Preservation of Southern Heritage


The talk of our great commonwealth is dreadful affair in Virginia and its implications for our people as a whole. After some of our nation’s more unsavory elements besieged, torches and all, a statue of a divisive general of our civil war, the nation is reconsidering the centrality of such monuments in society. It has pitted neighbor against neighbor, family against family, as we decide the fates of these metal simulcrons of Southern culture. The crux of the issue is that these monuments represent a period of our history many would not like to venerate, but that for others they are part of an important heritage. To some it seems there is no good resolution to this tension.

After lengthy consideration, however, I believe I have arrived at a solution which may benefit all parties to the controversy. However, for the consideration of the reader, I will briefly present three proposals I have rejected as inadequate.

It may at first seem that we should overrule the objections of those in the South who wish to leave these sculptures and engravings intact and in place. Yet, the source of the present discord is readily evident to even the most casual reader of the nation’s august periodicals. Southerners cannot abide by Yankees telling them what to do—indeed, this is quite probably the clearest heritage they have received from their ancestors, moreso than even the discordant memorials to the various Confederate military men. To be a Southerner is to vociferously oppose the influence of the North on all matters political, moral, and religious. In light of this pride, we must readily concede that the recommendations of liberal, Northeast publications will be stillborn as soon as it is delivered and, rather to the contrary, is likely to inflame the passions of the South beyond what we have so far endured. Such obstinance does not benefit our great commonwealth, so it seems we are at an impasse. As a result, we cannot simply remove the memorials by will of the North, no matter how morally pressing we may feel it is.

It is further tempting to allow the South to form its own country so as to better carry on its legacy. After all, much of the present strife is derived from denying The Confederacy the opportunity to carry on its experiment. I would agree with those enthusiastic supporters of the once but not quite future confederation of American states who say this would solve the question of the monuments. However, there are numerous defects to this plan. The economic fates of Atlanta and Chicago, for instance, are bound too tightly to initiate customs and duties between the two. The State Governments require funds in excess of many billions of American dollars from Washington to carry on their business and the interruption of such services would be a regional catastrophe. The question alone of what to do with those citizens who would wish to find themselves on the other side of Mason-Dixon line would be a greater one than the problem this essay endeavors to solve! It would be as a man who finds his house has mice then choosing to fill it with rattlesnakes; it would solve the original problem, but create problems for those who do not entirely approve of the Gadsden flag. Astute reader, I hope you shall reject this plan as more trouble than it is worth.

With so much trouble in the previous two options, the reader would be forgiven if he considered leaving them in place a tolerable option. However, for many Southerners, not to mention the rest of the Union, they are in fact morally odious blights that truly ought to come down. The crimes of the South and the Confederacy are far too numerous to list at length, so I beg you to allow an overview of slavery to suffice. There were two main ways for unfortunate human beings to find themselves as chattel slaves, either born that way by chance or kidnapped from their nation of birth. In the latter case, they endured the traumas of separation from their families and a harrowing, crowded passage to the New World. In the former, they were denied education and forced to work from a young age. They lived on meager rations, lacked freedom to marry who they will, could be murdered for actions you and I enjoy as unquestionable rights, and had no recourse to the cruelty of their masters. Confederate icons were unambiguous about their intention to preserve slavery as a motivating factor in founding their new nation, and so we cannot ignore that and allow them to stand.

It might appear that we are at an impasse—with no way to remove these monuments but no way to tolerate them either. Fear not, dear reader, as I believe I have a solution to the problem. If you will permit me to be immodest, it has the benefits of getting the outcome so many of us desire while placing Southern tradition at the forefront. I shall, in due course, deal with any objection the reader may have, and so both rid us of these unsightly statues while reinvigorating southern culture.

We shall put the question of these monuments to a poll.

If that sounds preposterous, I would hazard to guess that is because the reader is a Yankee and untrained in the refined culture of the South. The democratic tradition in the Southern states has features which, though they from time to time make their appearances at higher latitudes, have never been raised to unspoken moral code in the North. It would be a mistake to believe that a democratic vote in the old Confederacy should serve to determine what the majority want, but rather we should seek to reach a predetermined conclusion by limiting who may vote. I am, therefore, proposing that we bar white people in the South from participating in this poll.

Southerners may object that such a thing is racist, but that is of course not in keeping with Southern culture. Whenever I or other interloping Northerners have raised the question of racism in this sort of practice, we are met with detailed remonstrations informing us that such practices were not indeed racist! I do not anticipate any true supporter of Southern culture to raise the issue, and would entreat them to help me convince the impostors that their heritage dictates they should support my plan.

But what if they are unwilling to oblige? Southern culture has an answer for this as well. Eligible voters shall form a secret society to prevent white Southerners from attempting to sway the outcome of the poll. By day, these will be respectable members of the community, but by night they will cover their faces and do what is necessary to preserve Southern heritage and pressure white voters to give up enfranchisement on pain of death. Yes, to the Yankee it will probably seem barbaric to burn a cross on their lawn, tar and feather them, or even lynch them—but again, the Yankee cannot be expected to understand the refinement of Southern culture when his only exposure comes from the moving picture Gone with the Wind. Contrary to that idyllic vision of the South, white Dixie has never shied from visiting violence on those who would oppose the greater good. The time has come for them to do their part and be on the receiving end.

Another objection is that this ingenious solution could be thwarted by white people in state governments. However, this problem has already been solved. Any true defender of that most reified Southern culture would resign immediately so as not to be tempted to allow their biases to change the outcome; they insisted that no black members of their commonwealths serve for many years under the same cultural paradigm. And if they still stubbornly cling to their power even when it is clear that it is their moral duty to abdicate? Why, the aforementioned secret society can insist in the night that they do. Indeed, this complication is quite trivial upon closer consideration.

I realize that I myself am a Yankee, but I have made considerable study of the arguments that white Southerners make in favor of their culture and I am certain they will find my proposal conforms to all the important ones. Unless they are willing to abandon their culture because they find this arrangement inadequate—and I do not believe such a proud people will—it seems that they must immediately allow a government with no white people and hold this poll with no white people. Having satisfied both the desires of Northerners to rid this nation of Confederate monuments and upheld the South’s most loudly expressed cultural values, we can put this most unsettling conflict behind us. I look forward to a Swift change in government South of the Mason-Dixon line.

Guest Post: No, This Really is Us

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by friend Kelly. Her visceral reaction to the events in Charlottesville is worth sharing.

I want to say something about Charlottesville. I don’t know what, exactly, because my thoughts are all swirling and falling over themselves in a mess of cynicism and disbelief.

Of course this happened in Trump’s America.

How could this happen in 2017?

The remarkable thing is that it’s taken as long as 8 months.

I thought racists and homophobes at least had the decency to know that they’re the bad guys, like in that Mitchell and Webb bit.

A literal-torch-bearing-mob of white men and women descended on Charlottesville because of some controversy regarding the removal of a statue of Robert E Lee, one of the most famous traitors in American history. As a Confederate general, he actively fought against the United States, which is treason. And yet, there was controversy over removing his statue. Mississippi still incorporates the Confederate battle flag, the Stars and Bars, into its own state flag as a proud symbol of its treason, and is only the last of several states to remove it. Any attempt to remove a symbol of the Confederacy from literally anything has been met with intense opposition. Again, it is a symbol of treason. I know of no other nation that does so much to coddle the feelings of treasonous rebels than the US has done for what remains of the Confederacy. Other white supremacist fucks in Charlottesville and elsewhere put on swastika armbands and flew Nazi flags. The swastika, in addition to being a symbol of hate and murder, was the emblem of a hostile foreign power. The fact that the people who fly a confederate flag, admire Lee, and wear swastikas consider themselves true patriots is just fucking mind-boggling. The irony of a bunch of Stars-and-Bars-wielding assholes shouting, “You lost! Get over it!” at anyone is both delicious and revolting. But I digress.

The divisions in this country run so much deeper than I ever realized or wanted to admit. I got to live this delusion because I’m white and grew up in a nice boring suburb. I imagine that a lot of the white supremacist fucks in Charlottesville and elsewhere grew up in the same kinds of places I did. Hell, some of those fucks might be people I knew in high school, or from the church I grew up in, or my dentist or optometrist or orthodontist or neighbors or kids I babysat. This is a fact I have to reckon with: as abhorrent, disgusting, and inhumane as I believe these people are, I have to own up to them. Hashtags like “this is not us” are not helpful, because it distances us from our responsibility as white people to actively resist white supremacy. We can’t do that if we comfort ourselves by saying that those fucks are just “that other, bad kind of white person.” I feel shame and guilt every time I see one of those fucks on the news, but shame and guilt are useless if they’re not followed by action. It’s hard, it’s exhausting, and too many times, it’s fruitless, but at least I have the privilege of getting to take a break once in a while. Well, kind of, I’m still a woman and a Jew, so sometimes these white supremacist fucks hate me too, but people of color, transfolk, women who wear hijabs, and so many more don’t just get hate sometimes and don’t ever get to take a break.

Donald Trump pandered to white supremacist fucks all the way into the White House. No shit he didn’t condemn them*. He’s been employing them. If anyone thought he was going to speak out against the group that is most devoted to him, they haven’t been paying attention. Frankly, it doesn’t matter if Donald Trump believes in all the shit white supremacist fucks say or if he’s just using them to stay in office for now. To paraphrase Kanye, Donald Trump doesn’t care about black people. Or liberal people. Or female people. Or brown, or Muslim, or queer, or Jewish** people. Donald Trump doesn’t care about anyone except himself and the people who love him. Those are the people who make him feel important and powerful and yes, loved, and he only cares about being important, powerful, and loved. He doesn’t give a shit who’s chanting his name in worship, so long as he gets to hear it. Anyone who doesn’t buy into his cult of personality does not get his consideration. I haven’t been a big fan of the “not my president” chant because yes, unfortunately, he is, but today, I think I can finally embrace it. Donald Trump is not my president because he doesn’t want to be.

But her emails, though.

*Since writing this, Donald Trump has released a statement condemning the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and other white supremacist fucks. On Monday. The president of the United States waited two days before issuing a statement in opposition to white supremacy. The man takes to twitter within moments of being the butt of a joke, but it took nearly 48 hours for him to specifically tell the nation he thinks Nazis are bad. And not to split hairs here, but I notice that his statement lacked the passion he had in railing against Nordstrom for dropping Ivanka’s clothing line, or against Congressional Republicans for failing to repeal Obamacare.

However sincerely Donald Trump may have meant his statement Monday morning, it’s far too little much too late. His campaign and sick excuse for a presidency have been spurring American white nationalism for a year and a half. All the forthright condemnations in the world won’t undo the damage his dog-whistling has already done. The Daily Stormer already posted their certainty that Trump still loves them because of his failure to condemn them right away. I would bet all I owe in student loans that they are still just as sure now as they ever were.

**Trump cares about Jared, Ivanka, their kids, and Bibi. They are six individual Jewish people. He, along with the rest of the right, has fetishized Israel, but that is not the same as caring about Jews. By endorsing white supremacist fucks with his failure to condemn them, he has made life for American Jews more dangerous. This was one of the posters used to advertise the event ( ⚠️ because duh). I don’t want to hear anyone say a fucking thing to suggest Trump cares about Jews.

Because this news cycle has been BATSHIT CRAZYCAKES, I have to include the following: since writing that addendum, Trump has held one of the most chaotic, disturbing, nonsensical press conferences in US, possibly world, history. In short, all suspicion that his previous condemnation of white supremacist/nationalist/Nazi fucks was utterly insincere is confirmed. He undid any possible hint of good that could, maybe, with generous interpretations, have come from his statement on Monday morning. The transcript is linked because it must be seen to be believed.

Thoughts on Trumpcare’s Demise and John McCain

I have thoughts about the final (final?) healthcare vote.


  • I said McCain was a hypocrite for not voting to send this back to committee. I still think that was his most principled course of actions, and woe be it to the rest of them who didn’t even help kill this monstrosity.
  • That said, having watched it play out, McCain just humiliated the Majority Leader on live television in a monumental spectacle after calling for regular order. It is not clear to me that he could have made a better case for regular order than making it apparent that McConnell’s process was a sham designed to bully McCain and then calling McConnell’s bluff. When McCain demands the next issue is addressed by committing the bill to committee, he has good standing in the caucus to do that. So, I feel like I was right to defend McCain and that he weakly met the spirit of my defense, but not the letter of my analysis?
  • I’m not trying to save face here. I feel good about defending McCain broadly, because I didn’t game the last minutes of McConnell’s pressure cooker plan out right. Nonetheless, I think there was a higher road to be taken. I was kind of wrong? I was kind of right?
  • There’s a larger lesson here. McConnell would not have gone to the floor if he’d seen this coming. McCain kills A LOT of bills, but normally he has the decency to pull this stunt in a back room. McCain is known as a maverick because when he doesn’t like a bill, he puts in the hard, important work of finding a few others and negotiating with whichever party is in charge. Outlets like FiveThiryEight (who, granted, have him parting ways with Trump more often than almost anyone else in his party) are stuck counting only those bills that make it to the floor. McCain is such a powerhouse because he keeps things off the floor that can never be counted, or gets large concessions that make it easier for him to swallow the bad parts. He’s not a Democrat, and you shouldn’t expect him to torpedo GOP legislation because you don’t like it. But McCain privately shapes legislation in profound ways.
  • Murkowski and Collins displayed much more consistency through this process and good on them.
  • McConnell should resign. He won’t. But he should.
  • Paul Ryan’s big plan for Tax Reform hinged on billions of dollars of savings from this bill. So, the next legislative set piece for the House is in bad shape. They will figure something out and it will be a mess. Get ready to fight.
  • What, precisely, is protecting Trump now? The antics of his Interior Secretary likely pushed Murkowski away. He’s a giant electoral and international liability, the Trump/Russia affair stinks of illegal activity, and now he’s without a legislative agenda to offset that. Expect more Republican Senators to really warm to the idea of getting to the bottom of this. They won’t say the words “President Pence seems better” while cameras are running, but they are saying it to each other.
  • Even set off from quotes, I feel dirty typing the words “President Pence”. *shudder*
  • Both McConnell and Schumer got tears in their eyes during their post-vote speeches. Not enough men cry in the public sphere, so, I’m all here for Schumer getting misty eyed because activism helped kill this bill. However, McConnell looked about ready to cry because his plan to deny treatment that would save tens of thousands of American lives per year failed in a humiliating way after he tried to cheat his way through the process. I do not kid: I was ready to drink them.
  • There is talk of repealing the 17th Amendment so that Senators cannot scuttle legislation. Two things. First, that means the likes of Mike Huckabee are getting the lesson that they did not play enough dirty tricks. That’s super gross and a window into why the GOP needs to be removed from the majority ASAP. Second, the idea that Portman would have defied his governor if he was counting on his support for reappointment is bonkers. The whole point of having states appoint Senators (as was originally done) was that they would have to think about what their state government wanted, while Representatives would have to think about what their constituents directly wanted. Ohio, West Virginia, and Arizona would have killed this more decisively!

There’s a lot more to be said, especially parsing McCain’s principles here. But this was not only a victory for those who think protecting healthcare access in this country is important, but also for those who believe that long, boring committee meetings are the only way they are going to improve it.

The True Test of Hypocrisy for McCain is Coming Today

Charges of hypocrisy are easy. But proving them is harder.

McCain found himself in a complicated vote yesterday with three competing values. First of all, McCain broadly supports Obamacare repeal, so moving onto debate and getting the legislative process underway suits those interests. (Liberals who feel like that’s unprincipled need to square themselves with the fact that principles they don’t like are still principles.) Debating that is in his interest and I take him at his word when he says he believes it in the nation’s interest.

Second, McCain opposes using procedural votes as proxies for final votes—in fact, he generally opposes Motions to Proceed. McCain has been in the Senate long enough to remember when they skipped that Motion by unanimously voting to debate. The principle here is to err on the side of debate rather than hiding behind the process. McConnell changed all that to make it harder for the Democrats to operate. McCain opposed the change, though, to be clear, he was inconsistent in actually voting against Motions to Proceed. It’s less hypocritical when you consider that in those cases, he usually had a clear principle against whatever was being advanced. This is the classic rock and a hard place.

Third, McCain supports regular order in committee. I can’t explain this better than the pure column of justified rage that was Claire McCaskill:

Traditionally this committee would have had not held just a hearing, but multiple hearings. McCain has publicly joined these concerns—though, he has not yelled at a committee chair with cameras on. The vote on the Motion to Proceed restored regular order, but skipped this step. McCaskill and McCain differed on their final judgment in ways that benefit their hope for a final outcome. It is a complicated trade off. Do you accept half of regular order? Or is it all or nothing? How do you weigh your legislative goals in these calculations? Its easy to say McCain should have voted the way you want. But that doesn’t mean the principles here are easy or clear.

Fortunately, Minority Leader Schumer is going to make this easy!

The motion to send back to committee is a chance for Senators calling for regular order to get it. Having asked around, the consensus I got is that this this will take 60 votes to overcome the procedural filibuster and then 51 to pass. Every person, however, said some variation of they’re not sure, so take this with a grain of salt.

Republican Senators on Record Supporting a return to regular order:

If these 8 of these 9 band together and vote with the Democrats, they can overrule McConnell’s unusual process that trashes Senate norms. I am sure a few other others should be on this list. At any rate, 7 of them have explicitly said they would like to see a return to the committee process, while Cassidy and Capito have spoken more about a vague “open process”. They are arranged on the list above in roughly descending order of commitment, though its a very subjective order.

Am I predicting that they will send this back to committee? No. Apart from the logistical hurdle of making that deal in the next few hours, I suspect that some of them supported it when it was cheap and are just full of hot air. Paul, Cassidy, and Moran strike me as especially likely to fold given anything resembling a deal; Capito and Cassidy haven’t even explicitly committed to the plan.

But for the 7 who have offered unqualified support for the committee process, this is a good test of how genuine that support is. For those who attacked McCain last night, he can prove you wrong or he can prove you early by voting to head back to committee.

This, more than the final vote, is the measure of hypocrisy.