The Many Absurdities of 2020

Pennsylvania is one of 8 states that chooses its Supreme Court justices by election. Both the Democrats and Republicans nominate candidates; third party nominees are occasionally on the ballot as well. Election winners are placed on the Court for an initial 10 year term. In 2015 Democrats won 3 open seats and flipped the partisan make-up of the Court. 

One year ago the Pennsylvania state legislature passed and Democratic Governor Tom Wolfe signed an election bill specifying that mail-in ballots must be received by 8:00 PM on election day. The State Supreme Court apparently had other ideas. On Thursday, despite the clear language of the law, they extended the deadline for the return of ballots to the following Friday—which is after the election has already happened. In other cases they ruled that mail-in ballots could be returned to drop boxes (apparently obviating the need for post marks) and knocked the Green candidate off the ballot this November. 

This is obviously a recipe for chaos. And it is clearly designed to assist Democrats in what is widely expected to be a close contest in a critical state. Democrats who keep complaining about the Trump Administration’s contempt for the rule of law have remained remarkably quiet about the Court’s partisan attack on just that. 

Freudian Slips

Meanwhile on the campaign trail Kamala Harris referred to a “Harris Administration”. The nominal head of the ticket, Joe Biden, referred to a Harris / Biden Administration. So for all those who think that Biden is both “moderate” and in control…Dream on.  

Kamala Harris
Joe Biden

Political Accountability

We hear a lot these days about how the Trump Administration is violating the independence of executive agencies and in the process threatening “our democracy”. Of course everything that leftists don’t like threatens “our democracy”. And it remains the case that in what is left of our Constitutional system, the executive agencies and their officers are subordinate to the elected President, derive their powers from him and report to him. It is called political accountability. 

So let’s conduct a thought experiment on political accountability by asking a question. When are Mayors of big American cities going to announce that going forward, their police departments are going to be independent and not answerable to elected officials? 

A Final Thought

Q. What is the proper course of action when the two major political parties nominate repulsive candidates?

A. Vote for a third party. 

JFB


Biden Against Violence. Sort Of.

Former Vice-President Joe Biden is about to unleash a huge ad buy  decrying violence in general, but not in particular. The reason is obvious.  Polling indicates that he is being hurt in swing states where support for Black Lives Matter has plummeted as a result of months of violence BLM unleashed. Further, despite heroic efforts of the mainstream media to obfuscate the facts,  the violence is largely a left wing affair, aided and abetted by Progressive Mayors. Up until this point the Mayors have refused to enforce laws designed to protect people and property from just the sort of violence that has become a daily occurrence in some American cities. 

Conveniently enough, the Biden campaign, along with its media allies, has pivoted to blaming the violence on Trump and white racists. “Without evidence” as CNN is fond of saying. Well, take a look at the video below of “protesters” below chanting “Death to America” Iranian style and count the MAGA hat wearers among them. It won’t take long because there aren’t any. 

Critics of the Mayors’ response (or lack of it) to the chaos have correctly pointed out that the cities engulfed in violence have been governed overwhelmingly by Democrats for generations. Hilariously enough, the New York Times has rushed into the battle with a front page story saying, well yes, it is true enough that the cities have been run by Democrats but…Mayors, unlike the President, don’t have sufficient power to prevent the violence and in any event Republicans abandoned the cities ages ago. 

Where to begin. 

Let’s start with this. Law enforcement is essentially a local affair. Mayors have the responsibility to direct police priorities. Some actually are directly in charge of police departments. To insure political accountability, most of them appoint the senior management (e.g.— like the Police Commissioner). And as for power, New York City has over 35,000 uniformed officers, making it larger than the standing Armies of most countries. But by and large the Mayors, including New York’s de Blasio, have ordered the police to stand down. In addition plenty of the Mayors have rejected federal law enforcement aid. Nancy Pelosi went so far as to refer to federal law enforcement officers as “storm troopers”. The idea that Mayors in the United States lack sufficient authority or resources to prevent the violence is simply ludicrous on its face. 

Then there is the charge that the problem is that the Republicans have abandoned the nation’s urban areas. Or as the Times notes with a straight face

“…if cities have become synonymous with Democratic politics today, that is true in part because Republicans have largely given up on them. Over the course of decades, Republicans ceased competing seriously for urban voters in presidential elections and representing them in Congress.

“Republican big-city mayors became rare. And along the way, the Republican Party nationally has grown muted on possible solutions to violence, inequality, poverty and segregation in cities.”

It takes a level of duplicity that is simply astounding for the Times to complain that there are few, if any, big city Republican Mayors. The very prospect of an actual Republican Mayor, particularly in New York, is enough to send the paper’s editorial board into periodic convulsions of fear and loathing. True enough the Times endorsed Michael Bloomberg in 2005, a nominal Republican. But the party label was a mere convenience for Mr. Bloomberg, evidenced by the fact that he abandoned the Republican Party after a few years and went on the run for the Democratic Presidential nomination.   

The Times did endorse Republican Rudy Giuliani for a second term, basically because his rival Ruth Messinger displayed breathtaking incompetence; not because they agreed with his policy stances. You have to go all the way back to 1965 to find another Republican Mayoral endorsement. That would be John Vliet Lindsay, who like Bloomberg, eventually abandoned ship and ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Presidential nomination in the 1968 cycle. 

The Times isn’t really interested in Republican policy proposals for cities, unless they have all of a sudden decided they are in favor of, say, school choice. What they really want is for the occasional nominal Republican to run as long as said Republican advances the policy objectives of the Democratic Party. 

Let’s be clear about what is going on here. The Democrats are caught in a vise. The radical left that increasingly controls the party’s agenda is sympathetic to the rioters. But the people who used to be rank and file Democrats, “the deplorables” as Hillary Clinton called them, are so unenlightened that they don’t relish having their houses and businesses burned down in the name of social justice. So Biden is trying to square the circle by decrying violence in general, while pointing at right wing racists, in a delicate effort to assuage all elements of his coalition by carefully avoiding saying anything of substance. 

Will it work? Who knows? It could. It is certainly a cynical enough strategy.

JFB

Truthful Lies

Sometimes lies tell the truth, however inadvertently. 

Ever since May when George Floyd was killed while in police custody there have been waves of protest in America’s cities, often spilling into violence. The violence has not been random and sporadic. It has typically been orchestrated by professional agitators, often by ANTIFA and the more radical members of Black Lives Matter (BLM).  

Up until just recently, Mayors of cities under siege have displayed a remarkable tolerance for the violence, arson and anarchy unleashed in the cities they nominally govern. The political calculus driving this has two prongs. First, the chaos would likely redound to the benefit of Joe Biden thereby making the task of beating demon Trump all that much easier come November.  Second, the Mayors, Progressives all, were (and are) sympathetic to the protesters who are becoming increasingly hard to differentiate from the rioters. 

The whole while, Progressive politicians who kept insisting on the importance of the rule of law, refused to enforce basic laws on the books designed to protect citizens and their property. The truth, made manifest by their behavior, exposed the lie of their devotion to the rule of law. 

Some polls have begun to suggest that the public has had enough. One recent poll, taken shortly after the Republican convention, shows Biden a mere 2 points ahead of Trump, well within the margin of error. In addition, the Trafalger Group (an outlier) who called key races in 2016 and 2018 correctly when others got it wrong, says that Trump is only a half-point behind Biden in Minnesota and slightly ahead in Michigan and Wisconsin. 

In the meantime the mainstream press studiously avoided the violence for months, insisting that there was “nothing to see here” and that the  demonstrations were “mostly peaceful”. Now they have changed the script. It turns out that there is a problem with violence after all, and that it is all the fault of—Donald Trump. Of course, Trump’s narcissistic insistence that everything is all about him, all the time, makes the job that much easier. 

Then there is the matter of the apparent murder of a Trump supporter in Portland, Oregon during another night of “non-violent” protest. The apparent shooter is a man named Michael Forest Reinoehl, a self-identified “anti-fascist”.  Among other things he wrote: 

“I am 100 % ANTIFA all the way! I am willing to fight for my brothers and sisters! … We do not want violence but we will not run from it either! … Today’s protesters and antifa are my brothers in arms.”

Shooting in Portland

So about those lies that tell the truth. The lie that tells the truth is that the Democratic Party is run by moderates who wish to return to normalcy. That is manifestly not so. If that were actually true they would have taken action long ago to confront the rioters and restore order. Maintaining order is, after all, a local responsibility and the Mayors of America’s large cities are overwhelmingly Democratic. Actions speak louder than words. 

Now that the violence is being directed against them, some of Mayors seem to be having second thoughts—kind of like Robespierre most have had on his trip to the guillotine. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler can not have been happy last night when the rioters set an occupied apartment building on fire, apparently because they thought he lived there. 

The Democratic Party, now in the process of being taken over by Jacobins, has no institutional desire to return to normalcy. That is merely a cover and a transparent one at that. These modern day Jacobins mean to transform America and its liberal institutions in the service of a radically illiberal and utopian left-wing ideology. The Democratic Party has simply become an empty vessel waiting to be filled by Progressives so they can get on with the transformation. The truth is that these radical Progressives are so full of hatred for freedom that they are willing to tolerate, if not celebrate violence so long as it serves a tactical purpose in the quest for power.    

The final truth embedded in the lies may be revealed by the difference between real votes and those cast by ballot. An individual ballot, despite all the hysterical rhetoric, has virtually no practical significance. But voting with your feet has very real significance for the voter / mover.  Moving to a new locale is probably a much better indicator of what someone really thinks. 

By all reports there has been a torrent of wealthy and upper middle class migration out of the major cities and into the suburbs and smaller secondary cities. Undoubtedly some of this has to do with COVID-19 and the widespread adoption of working from home. But at least some is attributable to the unrest and increased incivility of the big cities. That could presage a much larger change than the results of this November’s elections. 

JFB 

Competing Nightmares

We live in a strange political times. One of the strangest things of all is that winning candidates get elected because of who they are not. Donald Trump got elected in 2016 because he was not Hillary Clinton. If Joe Biden gets elected in 2020 it will be because he is not Donald Trump. If Donald Trump manages to get re-elected it won’t be because of his sterling personality. It will be because Biden’s habit of playing footsie with his party’s increasingly assertive radicals is a bridge too far. Or because his obvious problems with cognitive decline have become too obvious to ignore for suburban voters who decide he is not worth the risk. The devil you know and all that. 

Consider the theme that Michelle Obama rolled out on the first night of the convention: Empathy. Joe Biden is empathetic; he is one of us; he knows what you are going through and he is here to help. As a matter of electoral strategy this is probably a pretty smart move, especially when it’s part of a larger bait-and-switch effort. After all, it’s a lot easier getting people who like you to vote for you. Especially when you consider that President Trump, during his tenure, has displayed about as much likability, decency and empathy as say, Ted Bundy. (Apologies to Ted.)

The problem is that all the empathy and flag waving doesn’t cover up the stark reality of the situation, which is that the Democratic Party is increasingly driven by its most radical members. Those members have graduated from being frustrated junior-high hall monitors to legislators. And they include Kamala Harris, the imaginary centrist whose voting record in the Senate is a bit to the left of Bernie Sanders. As a result the values of the party’s leadership and the party’s members are increasingly at odds. Consequently, the party has chosen to emphasize “moderation” in its messaging, but its policy preferences are actually those championed by its radicals. 

The truth is, if Biden is elected and the Democrats take the Senate and hold the House, the U.S. is in for a ride on the wild side. The Democratic Party has promised massive increases in taxing, spending and borrowing. They have promised to include in the Fed’s mandate a requirement for the central bank to seek racial equity. For those unfamiliar with the code, “equity” refers to equal outcomes, not equal opportunity. They have proposed lowering the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 60 even though the program is already insolvent.  The party seeks to increase payments and eligibility for Social Security by increasing taxes on “the rich”.

The Party has announced that it will seek to eliminate the Senate filibuster “if necessary”.  The Party has threatened to pack the Supreme Court and to eliminate the Electoral College. And don’t be surprised to see the party seek the imposition of a wealth tax. 

Yes, Joe Biden is not Donald Trump. And he is not a psychopath. But that hardly justifies the enthusiastic embrace of economic illiteracy. Which is an accurate description of the policy prescriptions of Joe Biden and the party of which he is nominally in charge.

JFB

A Time for Choosing

It’s finally here. After what seems like years of primary campaigning, Iowa Democrats are finally about to have their say in the matter via the Iowa caucuses.  The field has narrowed considerably from the original 2 dozen or so contestants and polls suggest that soon the battle for the Democratic nomination may be a 2 man contest between former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.  That prospect already has the leadership of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) looking not so furtively at the panic button. They have, for instance, already changed the debate rules in a way that gives Michael Bloomberg a chance to appear on stage. 

Joe Biden

In analyzing elections and the strategies the Parties and candidates use to win, it is important to make a distinction between the Party professionals on the one hand, and the candidates and their coalitions on the other. Political parties are organized around winning elections. Period. Candidates organize their campaigns around issues designed to win a sufficient number of delegates to capture the nomination and then win the general election. 

Bernie Sanders

The issues that the candidates choose to organize around and then galvanize a campaign may be ideological, but need not be. Sometimes interests are sectional with ideological overlaps. Both the Civil War and the struggle over civil rights were partly driven by sectional clashes. The clash over slavery that ultimately led to the Civil War represented a clash between the Republican North and the Democratic South. But the civil rights struggles of the 1960s saw an alliance of moderate to liberal Northern Republicans and Democrats, while opposition was mostly an alliance of Southern Democrats irrespective of ideology and Northern conservatives from both parties. 

In fact there are many instances where differences in regional interests and ideological interests have shifted back and forth and the Parties have reconfigured themselves accordingly. In the late 19th century the Republican Party was the party of tariffs designed to protect Northeast manufacturing, while the Democratic Party represented farmers that wanted free trade. But by 1980 the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan was a strong proponent of free trade and the Democrats increasingly promoted trade restrictions to protect manufacturing and union jobs in the Midwest. Now the Republican Party of Donald Trump promotes managed trade pretty much like the Democrats have been doing since the 1980s.   

All this is not to suggest that the Republican and Democratic policy preferences have begun to converge. They have not. What has transpired is enormous demographic, generational and cultural shifts in the respective Party constituencies that are not fully reflected in the Party hierarchies. The Republican Party has to a large degree been Trumpified; the question here is whether this reconfiguration is temporary and tactical or permanent. The results of the general election in November may provide some clues. But the result will importantly depend on who the Democratic nominee is. 

The case of the Democratic Party is in some respects much more interesting. It is clear that the Party has taken a very sharp turn to the left. Not only that, younger, more affluent Party members seem to be positioned far more to the left than older and less white constituents.  Those with college degrees are more prone to head left. 

Given the state of play there are two  questions facing Iowa caucus goers. The first set of questions is obvious: Should the Democratic Party go with a “safe” nominee like Joe Biden who appears on paper to be best positioned to defeat Donald Trump, and perhaps help the Party keep the House and win the Senate? Or should the Party go all in and nominate a very left wing candidate (like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren) who promises to transform the structure of American life using the force of the state? The results in Iowa will hinge on that calculus. 

The second set of questions address an issue that is very important and more than a little disquieting. Namely, is there a truly substantive difference between the candidacies of the moderates e.g, — Biden, Klobuchar and the truly radical candidates like Sanders and Warren? The nominating process may provide an answer to that question as well. 

It was only 4 years ago that had Debbie Wassermann Schultz tripping all over herself while attempting to argue that there is a real difference between socialism—in whatever form—and the liberalism that the Democratic Party claimed to represent. And now 4 years later, Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, is a leading candidate for the Party’s Presidential nomination. 

There is every reason to believe that Bernie Sanders, who isn’t even a registered Democrat, will win the Party’s nomination and go on to face Trump in the general election. If that happens it will mean that the Democratic Party has made a decisive turn to the left with the aim of transforming the structure of American life from that of a Liberal market democracy into an Administrative State where citizens are transformed into subjects.   

Such an election would likely bring an end to decades of electoral stalemate where the results are separated by a few percentage points and the game is mostly played inside the 40 yard lines. Of the many possible outcomes, there are 2 that are the most interesting. On the one hand, there is the possibility of a contest that looks like the 1972 race between George McGovern and Richard Nixon in which McGovern’s liberalism was soundly rejected; in the process McGovern went on to lose 49 states, carrying only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, which has never voted for a Republican. 

On the other hand, the race could just as easily look like the one in 1980. In that case Democrats were initially encouraged by the Republican’s selection of Ronald Reagan as the Party’s standard bearer, the reasoning being that the public would never vote for a candidate as extreme as Reagan. In the event, Reagan went on to defeat incumbent Jimmy Carter in a landslide. Reagan carried 44 states and won with 50.7% of the vote against Carter’s 41% of the vote, while third-party candidate John Anderson’s got 6.6% of the vote. 

An election contest between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump is one that could settle a lot. It would provide a much needed clarification of what the electorate thinks is desirable and achievable. An election contest between Sanders and Trump would force the electorate to consider that fundamental issue with eyes wide open. 

Let’s face it: on a personal level, Donald Trump is as severely flawed as it gets. With respect to policy, he is hardly a conservative as traditionally understood, much less a libertarian. His authoritarian tendencies are beyond dispute. He is as narcissistic as they come, which is saying a lot by Washington standards. Not only is he easily the most ignorant man to assume the Presidency in at least a century, he is incapable of recognizing the truth much less telling it. 

Which is not to suggest that Bernie Sanders is just swell. He is a misfit; a leftist crank who is incapable of seeing the world as it is. He is willfully blind in that he sees only what he wants to see. His “no enemies to the left” mindset does not permit him to utter an unkind word about any of the world’s brutal left wing dictatorships, including Venezuela’s Madura. Sanders does not simply have policy proposals—he means to fundamentally transform America’s Liberal market democracy into a socialist state. Were Sanders to get his way, America as we know it, would cease to exist. In that regard it is disgraceful that the mainstream press, in its loathing of all things Trump, treats Sanders as if he were a normal candidate, which he manifestly is not. 

Bernie Sanders is doing to the Democratic Party what Donald Trump did to the Republicans. The nominating process will allow us to see if the Democratic Party yields to Sanders and his supporters just as the Republicans did with Trump. If they do, we will know what constitutes the modern Democratic Party, just as we now know what constitutes the modern Republican Party. 

And so we have two political processes in play that could come to define America in 2020.  In the first instance, the Democratic Party will either choose to become a hard left socialist party with the aim of transforming American life using the police power of the state, or it will remain a center left mainstream party. In the second instance, if Sanders is the nominee, the body politic will face a choice between a narcissistic incumbent whose incompetence is only exceeded by his ignorance, and a socialist candidate who promises to wage a perpetual class war in a never ending search for nirvana. It is not exactly an appetizing choice; in fact it is nauseating. But it is clarifying. 

It is possible that a moderate Democrat, as currently defined, will win the nomination, in which case we will likely muddle along for a bit longer, and neither of the above scenarios would necessarily comes to pass. But I wouldn’t count on it. 

JFB

The Moderate Mr. Biden

A lot of Democratic Party primary voters are desperately looking for a “moderate” who can beat Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in the contest for the nomination, and then go on to beat Donald Trump in the general election. The current “moderate” in favor seems to be former VP Joe Biden.

Mr. Biden is so moderate that he wants to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in short order (a pipe dream if ever there was one). He complains that the U.S. has been deforested, but neglects to mention that (1) the majority of U.S. deforestation occurred prior to 1910 and (2) that forest resources in the U.S. have remained essentially unchanged in the 20th century. (See Wikipedia on this).

Most fascinating of all, the moderate Mr. Biden wants to toss energy executives who disagree with him in jail. How do we know? He said so. (See the You Tube Video below). He wants to make energy executives “liable” for what they have done. Naturally enough the “what they have done” bit is left undefined.

Joe Biden Town Hall in Peterborough, NH

To be fair, even though he plagiarized his way through law school, it isn’t likely that Biden is so dense that he actually believes that he can just have people summarily carted off to jail without having violated some statute. On the other hand, mouthing this type of nonsense does demonstrate a certain contempt for the audience. In this respect it is worth noting that the audience enthusiastically applauded the riff about putting people in jail. Kind of like Trump’s ‘Lock her up” routine.

With apologies to The Washington Post, Democracy does not die in darkness. It does so with the lights turned on while demagogues speak and audiences cheer.

JFB