Tag Archives: votes

Playing The Culture-War Card

In 2004, when John Kerry was running against George W. Bush, my youngest son was a Kerry volunteer. On Election Day, he worked at polls in Ohio, having (quite reasonably) concluded that Indiana was a lost cause. I still remember his description of the turnout in the precinct to which he’d been assigned; the culture war that year had targeted LGBTQ folks, and Mitch McConnell’s GOP had made support for a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage a major Republican talking point.

My son said a number of voters came to the polls “dripping animus” and eager to “vote against the gays.”

Now, I have no idea where that polling place was, or how representative those voters were, but post-election analyses did suggest that anti-gay bigotry had driven increases in GOP turnout.

I thought about that election when I read a New York Times report to the effect that McConnell is going back to the culture war well in 2020

Senator Mitch McConnell is about to plunge the Senate into the nation’s culture wars with votes on bills to sharply restrict access to late-term abortions and threaten some doctors who perform them with criminal penalties, signaling that Republicans plan to make curbing a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy a central theme of their re-election campaigns this year.

After months of shunning legislative activity in favor of confirming President Trump’s judicial nominees — and a brief detour for the president’s impeachment trial — Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, is expected to bring the bills up for votes on Tuesday. Both lack the necessary 60-vote supermajority to advance, and the Senate has voted previously to reject them.

But by putting them on the floor again, Mr. McConnell hopes to energize the social conservatives who helped elect Mr. Trump and whose enthusiasm will be needed to help Republicans hold on to the Senate this year, while forcing vulnerable Democrats to take uncomfortable votes on bills that frame abortion as infanticide. The rhetoric around the measures is hot; Mr. Trump, for instance, has pointed to one of the bills to falsely assert that Democrats favor “executing babies AFTER birth.”

The bills are–surprise!–deeply dishonest. But the content is irrelevant–McConnell isn’t trying to pass them. He’s playing the political game that has characterized his entire career–a game in which “winning” has nothing to do with responsible governance or the common good, but is solely about gaining and retaining political power.

There are good reasons for dubbing McConnell “the most evil man in America”–or, as one magazine headline put it “The Man Who Broke America.”

Since the 2018 midterms, the House has passed hundreds of bills–many of them bipartisan–addressing climate change, voting rights, background checks, paycheck fairness, the minimum wage and numerous other issues that affect American citizens. McConnell has refused to even hear any of them. In fact, he has not allowed any Senate legislative activity other than hearings on Trump’s right-wing (and frequently incompetent) judicial nominees.

Some of those House bills would pass; others wouldn’t. Some may be well-thought-out, others may not be. The only way that citizens can evaluate their merits is if the Senate conducts reasoned debates leading to those determinations.

McConnell doesn’t care. His decision to hold hearings on bills that everyone knows won’t pass–and would do nothing to improve the lives of Americans if they did–is intended only as political theater that he believes will generate passion among the culture warriors and thus increase turnout by the far fringes of his increasingly toxic party.

It’s shameless, morally depraved, and entirely typical.

As much as I want to see Donald Trump perp-walked out of the White House, his manifest stupidity and incompetence makes him less dangerous than Mitch McConnell, who is, unfortunately, very smart.

And more despicable than words can convey.



The Dunning-Kruger Effect

What do Mike Pence and Donald Trump have in common? They both exhibit the Dunning-Kruger effect— a scientific theory establishing the truth of Mark Twain’s observation that “It ain’t what you don’t know that hurts you, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Or–in other formulations–it’s what you don’t know that you don’t know.

There are plenty of politicians in both parties who exhibit the Dunning-Kruger effect, but few do so with such stunning obliviousness as these two. Here in Indiana, voters have been treated to ample evidence of our Governor’s ideological rigidity in the face of inconvenient realities (it will be interesting to see how “gung-ho for vouchers” Pence responds to recent research showing that Hoosier children using those vouchers perform more poorly than children remaining in public schools).

But I must admit that even Pence’s delusions pale next to those displayed by “The Donald” he has endorsed.

Again, the key to the Dunning-Kruger Effect is not that unknowledgeable voters are uninformed; it is that they are often misinformed—their heads filled with false data, facts and theories that can lead to misguided conclusions held with tenacious confidence and extreme partisanship, perhaps some that make them nod in agreement with Trump at his rallies.


For example, in a CNBC interview, Trump suggested that the U.S. government debt could easily be reduced by asking federal bondholders to “take a haircut,” agreeing to receive a little less than the bond’s full face value if the U.S. economy ran into trouble. In a sense, this is a sensible idea commonly applied—at least in business, where companies commonly renegotiate the terms of their debt.

But stretching it to governmental finance strains reason beyond acceptability. And in his suggestion, Trump illustrated not knowing the horror show of consequences his seemingly modest proposal would produce. For the U.S. government, his suggestion would produce no less than an unprecedented earthquake in world finance. It would represent the de facto default of the U.S. on its debt—and the U.S. government has paid its debt in full since the time of Alexander Hamilton. The certainty and safety imbued in U.S. Treasury bonds is the bedrock upon which much of world finance rests.

Even suggesting that these bonds pay back less than 100 percent would be cause for future buyers to demand higher interest rates, thus costing the U.S. government, and taxpayer, untold millions of dollars, and risking the health of the American economy.

Those of us who teach public administration–whose academic mission is to give prospective government workers the specialized knowledge and tools they will need in order to perform adequately and in the public interest–get pretty disheartened when voters who would never ask a non-dentist to extract wisdom teeth, a non-electrician to wire their homes, or an auto mechanic to draft a lease, blithely assume that anyone with “business sense” (or in Indiana, the “right” religious beliefs) can therefore manage a nation or a state.

Too many voters think of their ballots as a form of symbolic speech, rather than as the act of making a real-world choice between inevitably imperfect alternatives.

The fact that our alternatives may all be flawed is not to suggest that all flaws are created equal.

In November, Indiana voters will have a choice between pretentious piety and managerial competence.

Nationally, voters will have a choice between the unthinkable, a Democratic candidate that many find unsatisfactory, and a smattering of minor-party candidates with absolutely no chance of winning the Presidency. If the electorate doesn’t know what it doesn’t know–if voters fail to understand the difference between less than ideal and dangerously, monumentally unfit, we’ll all suffer the consequences.


The Youth Vote

If demography is destiny, the handwriting is on the wall.

Many years ago, I had an enlightening conversation with friend active in Libertarian politics. He was trying to recruit candidates who would appeal to Republicans who were becoming disenchanted with the culture warriors who had seized control of the GOP. He saw a window of opportunity for the Libertarians–if they could moderate some of their positions just a little, they could take advantage of that window and substantially increase their share of the vote. The problem was, the party’s core–the absolutists–were unwilling to move even a little toward the middle, and keeping their pro-gun, pro-gold-standard, anti-public-schools base was critical to any electoral success. So the window closed.

Today’s GOP finds itself in an analogous position. The party has come to depend upon an aging, angry base that repels not only women, immigrants and minorities, but increasingly, younger Americans.  It’s caught between that same rock and hard place that has kept the Libertarians from achieving mainstream status.

The party’s establishment has now realized the problem, but solving it is going to be another thing entirely.