Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Media Does Not Get To Blame Hillary Clinton for their Own Choices of Coverage

Last night, I tweeted out the following as an "unpopular opinion":

It turned out to be ... rather popular (for me at least).

Now here's the thing. There is an entirely valid post-mortem critique of the Clinton campaign vis-à-vis the media. It would go something like this:
In our current media climate, what matters is who can get the attention of the cameras. Donald Trump was a master at ginning up free publicity for himself by being outrageous and outlandish. Hillary Clinton -- too dry, too boring, too establishment, too wonky, too policy oriented -- was incapable of adequately countering this strategy. One can moan about how unfair that is, but politics is the art of winning, and Clinton didn't win. So in that essential respect, she, her team, and the Party that picked her failed.
If a member of the media wanted to level that critique, I'd respect that. I'd view it as a rather sad commentary on democracy, but I'd respect the sort of hard-headed realism of it. I'd even accept the claim that the "media climate" reflects nothing more than what the people want, and so the media can't be blamed for not indulging in the delusion that what the people want is neatly laid out agendas for American policy reform.

But for the media -- whose political coverage never left the pendulum swing of "look at this KEE-razy thing Trump said" and "EMAILZ!" -- to now turn around and say that the problem was that Clinton didn't forward a positive agenda for America ... that takes serious chutzpah. Yes, she ran plenty of negative ads. But I saw plenty of positive ads too. And listening to her at the debates or at her DNC speech, the vast majority of her statements were about explaining, calmly and seriously, her plan for how to keep America safe, how to improve the lives of working Americans, how to bring about justice for the full panoply of our diverse population, and so on. The problem was not that this analysis wasn't there. It was, if anything, the centerpiece of her campaign! To say that she tried to run a campaign on nothing more than "I'm not Trump" is ludicrous.

The problem was not that Hillary Clinton ran as "the one who isn't Trump." She didn't. It was the media who chose to treat her as "the boring one who's only relevant as the one who isn't Trump. And who had an email server." And again, if we're saying it's her responsibility to deal with the media we have and the electorate we actually have, not the one deliberative democrats fantasize we have, that's one thing. But it's another thing entirely to blame Hillary Clinton for not presenting a positive policy agenda that she tried desperately to frontload in the face of months of media apathy.

UPDATE: Scott Lemieux: The Media Refuses Accountability For Its Own Malpractice.

Things People Blame the Jews For, Volume XXXI: Electing Donald Trump

In 2008, when Barack Obama won election with 78% of the Jewish vote. a Greek newspaper heralded the outcome as "the end of Jewish domination." So now in 2016, with Donald Trump surging to victory while only carrying 24% of the Jewish vote, who's the driving force behind his victory? Oh, you know who:
Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, has reportedly suggested that Donald Trump won the US election because of support from “the Jews.”
Zakharova made the comments over the weekend on a nationally televised talk show, saying that it was Jewish money that tipped the election for Trump, Radio Free Europe reported.
“If you want to know what will happen in America, who do you have to talk to? You have to talk to the Jews, naturally. But of course,” Zakharova said while on Sunday Evening, a show hosted by pro-Kremlin television personality Vladimir Solovyov, the report said.
Zakharova then reportedly adopted “a cartoonish Jewish accent” while impersonating her alleged interlocutor.
Honestly, the question was less "would people blame the Jews for this" and more "who would be the first to blame the Jews for this." Although, given that this is a Russian governmental official talking about Trump winning the presidency, we might more accurately title this one "Things People Credit the Jews For."

Friday, November 18, 2016

Mike Huckabee Doubles Down on Jewish "False Flag" Allegations

A few days ago, I encountered a story on some far right websites alleging that left-wing Jewish students at Northwestern had fabricated an incident of bigotry -- spray painting a church with swastikas and other hateful images, along with the word "Trump" -- in order to further the narrative of right-wing prejudice following Donald Trump's election (it's been scrubbed or "updated" from many of these websites, but this one at least gives you a sense of how they initially reported the story). Basically, they suggested that this (and by implication, other) alleged hate crimes that occurred after the election were really false flag operations to frame the right for sins they were not, in fact, committed. Among the proponents of the story was Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (it's gone from his Facebook page, but I checked a cached version and he absolutely endorsed the allegation that left-wing Jews -- and he specifically mentioned Jews -- were behind the vandalism incident).

The story was entirely false -- for starters, because the incident occurred this past March (not post-election day), but more importantly because there was no evidence that the perpetrators were (a) leftist, (b) Jewish, or (c) anything other than earnest (albeit probably drunk) in their hateful acts. And this matters, because the claim that Jews fabricate anti-Semitic incidents in order to generate public sympathy and discredit their supposed adversaries is among the most prominent forms of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorizing extant today. It was, for example, central to the anti-Semitic musings of just-fired Oberlin professor Joy Karega (she alleged that Israel secretly was behind the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and ISIS in order to discredit pro-Palestinian advocates).

I had seen that Huckabee had scrubbed the story from his Facebook page, and today I read in JTA that he had apologized for the initial post. The JTA article does not link to Huckabee's actual note of apology [UPDATE: The link is now in the story], and perhaps for good reason. Because in his "apology", it turns out that Huckabee is not apologizing at all. He very explicitly, and very openly, doubles down on the core allegation that the incident in question was a false flag operation done by left-wing and (potentially -- he hedges here) Jewish students to discredit conservatives. Here's the key segment:
[Critics] accused me of spreading false information and hatred, and demanded an apology. And they’re right, I do owe readers an apology. Due to a posting error, the story was actually from last March, but it appeared to be a new story. I didn’t remember the original story and assumed it was new. For that mistake, I sincerely apologize. But the facts of the story were otherwise accurate.
Read that passage again -- it's clear as day. Huckabee concedes only that the incident occurred in March, not this past week. Other than that, he maintains that "the facts of the story" -- in other words, the claim that the swastikas and vandalism was a hoax perpetrated by left-wing Jews to tar conservatives -- is "otherwise accurate."

Need more proof? Here's Huckabee's very next paragraph:
As for the rest of the paper’s attacks on me, which included a disputed report that the vandals were Jewish, that was part of the original story and was certainly not intended as any sort of slur on Jews. It was considered relevant only because the hateful graffiti included a swastika, obviously intended to make it falsely appear that the vandalism was committed by anti-Jewish Trump supporters.
Again, other than the slight hedging on whether the vandals were Jewish (and, to reiterate, there is precisely zero evidence that they were -- that was not part of the "original story" and was apparently made up out of whole cloth), Huckabee stands entirely behind the core narrative. The act of vandalism was a hoax. It was a false flag.

That is not an apology. That's a double-down. And it's very important that he be called to account for it, because the claim that Jews (or any minority group) engages in false flag attacks on its own community in order to discredit adversaries is incredibly serious, and flagrantly bigoted in its own right. It is not something minor, and it is not something that can be overlooked -- especially when he appears to be the front-runner for Ambassador to Israel.

In presenting Huckabee as apologizing for his false flag allegations, the JTA story is spectacularly misleading, and gives Huckabee a pass on an issue which frankly should end his career. It needs an update, and it needs an update stat.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Last Temptation of Jewish Groups

The Jewish community is facing a difficult challenge when it comes to the Donald Trump administration: "Condemn or court?" It has come to a particular head given the appointment of Steve Bannon -- head of the far-right Breitbart News, the notorious clearinghouse for every brand of White nationalist hatred imaginable -- to a high-level advisory position. Some groups, like the ADL, have stood by their principles and condemned the appointment. Others have been more, shall we say, cowardly on the question of bigotry in the Trump campaign and in his appointments.

The American Jewish Committee just released its big post-election statement. Would they be brave, or would they cower in mealy-mouthed apologias? Alas:
Campaigns frequently generate rhetoric that sounds appealing to some voters, but, in reality, are little more than unexamined sound bites and crowd pleasers. History has shown that not all pledges made in the heat of a tight race turn into policy. This has been true of both Democratic and Republican winners. We need, therefore, to understand how a successful candidate plans to govern before making sweeping judgments based largely, or even exclusively, on the language of the primary and electoral periods.
Indeed, who among us cannot relate to -- in the heat of electoral passion -- calling Mexicans rapists or demanding that innocent Black people be executed?  Have we not all sometimes been tempted to insist on a ban on all Muslims entering the country? And surely all of us can understand how, at the end of a long electoral season, one might end up cutting a campaign ad that functionally reboots The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It's quite the crowd-pleaser, after all.

I hope the AJC recognizes the peril they're putting themselves in with the community for which they claim to speak. I am not the only one has entirely lost patience with this craven approach of coddling bigotry, and I am not the only one taking note of which Jewish organizations are showing a backbone and which ones are falling over themselves to knuckle under. If the AJC wants to dishonor itself, that's its prerogative. But if it wants to claim to be a representative of the Jewish community, it needs to look at exactly where that community is, and what message we want to send. Because right now, it is a shanda.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Who's Afraid of Right-Wing Anti-Semitism?

I just published a column in Ha'aretz about how Jews have given mainstream right-wing anti-Semitism a free pass, and how it needs to stop. While I submitted it to them under the title "Who's Afraid of Right-Wing Anti-Semitism", they published it as "Who’ll Have the Guts to Stand Up to Trump’s Powerful anti-Semitic Predators?" But you can get a fair sense of the tenor of the piece by its original working title: "The Republican Jewish Coalition is chickenshit."

And that was before they (and the even-more risible ZOA) decided to defend Steve Bannon.

Ha'aretz, alas, has a paywall (and a notoriously cantankerous website). But if you're having trouble accessing the article, I've found that going through google and selecting the cached version usually works.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Who Benefits from a National Popular Vote?

Hillary Clinton will win the national popular vote.

This is a lot less relevant than it seems. Legally, of course, it's entirely irrelevant: we elect our President through the electoral college system, not the popular vote. And even as a talking point, its bark is worth more than its bite. Just because Hillary Clinton won the popular vote under  the system we have (where the popular vote isn't the prize) doesn't mean she would have won had a popular vote plurality been the deciding factor. Both candidates' strategy would have been very different had the popular vote been the deciding factor; perhaps if Trump had an incentive to focus on ginning up more votes in, say, Los Angeles, the numbers would work out differently. It's not implausible that Clinton would have won the popular vote anyway, but it's a hypothesis supported by moderate -- not overwhelming -- evidence.

Nonetheless, the fact that we've now had two elections in 16 years where the popular vote winner was the electoral college loser has put our status quo system under unprecedented scrutiny. My inclination is to support reform: it's hard to justify the electoral college (particularly since it is about to fail at one of its original justifications -- ensuring that a wave of populist demagoguery doesn't put a manifestly unqualified hack in the oval office).

Perhaps the only plausible contemporary justification for the electoral college I've seen is that it forces candidates to appeal to a wide range of Americans, instead of just concentrating on big cities. Who would spend time in rural states like Iowa or New Hampshire were it not for the electoral college incentive? The claim is that, if we only decided things by the popular vote, our presidential election campaigns would be fought out only in our biggest cities, leaving many Americans on the outside looking in.

I don't find this objection compelling for two reasons. First, the electoral college also very obviously causes large swaths of America to be overlooked. "Safe states" like California or Texas (or Delaware or Wyoming) are entirely ignored. And if certain regions have to be ignored in a democratic system, in a democracy it seems like "having fewer people" is a pretty decent metric for allocating our attention.

But second, I'm actually unconvinced that we'd see widespread neglect of rural America in a popular vote model. The way actual presidential campaigns operate in swing states is illustrative. In Wisconsin, for example, it's not like Democrats and Republicans spend all their time fighting for votes in Milwaukee and Madison, and ignore the rest of the state entirely. Rather, there is plenty of attention paid to the outlying regions -- particularly by Republicans, who try to drum up support from many smaller counties to counteract huge Democratic margins in the cities. This seems to be pretty standard across most contested states. So why wouldn't we see the same dynamic play out nationwide: Republicans rallying many small-population regions to try to overcome large Democratic margins in cities?

And this brings me to my final observation. I support a national popular vote model because it seems more democratic than our status quo. But I think people are being mislead in thinking that it necessarily benefits the Democratic Party. Many large urban centers are in blue states that are not currently contested. Many rural areas, by contrast, are in purple states which are absolutely contested. In other words, our political system right now has Democrats and Republicans nip-and-tuck in a situation where Democrats do try to appeal to rural and exurban voters, and Republicans basically don't try to appeal to urban voters. It seems like the GOP has a lot more room to grow if, as it'd have an incentive to do in a popular vote system, it starts making a serious play for city votes (it's also true that in doing so it may have an incentive to moderate itself by appealing to a more diverse constituency that it currently ignores).

Again, my small-d democratic preferences aren't based on what helps the large-D Democratic Party. But this is a note of caution about thinking that a popular vote model will necessarily be a boon for progressives. It may well help the GOP more (though it also might help the GOP break out of its increasingly radical shell).

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Independent Republican Conference

The Independent Democratic Conference is a group of six renegade Democrats who effectively let the GOP control the New York State Senate, despite its nominal Democratic majority.

I do not expect there to be an Independent Republican Conference in the U.S. Senate. It will be a 52-48 Republican majority (barring something truly shocking in Louisiana's runoff) -- a two-seat Democratic gain (pickups in Illinois and New Hampshire).

But what is plausible -- maybe -- is that a cohort of Senate Republicans might be willing to break from the past eight years policy of absolute, resolute, kneejerk party line voting and join with Democrats to insure there will be some actual oversight of the Trump administration.

Who are the likely candidates to take up that mantle?

The leader almost certainly would have to be Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE). He was one of the earliest, most consistent, and most outspoken critics of Trump from within the GOP (here's his column on Trump's victory, tealeaf it yourself). That's one -- not because it's guaranteed, but because if he doesn't take the lead I can't imagine any caucus forming. Who else?

The supposedly moderate Susan Collins (ME) is an obvious possibility, but she's never exactly been renowned for her backbone. It'd be a major change for her to start bucking her party on a regular basis. But if ever there was a time for her to grow an actual spine, it'd be now.

Lindsey Graham (SC) could be a possibility. He's likewise been pretty critical of Trump, and has some personal grudges against Trump's wing of the party. His colleague Tim Scott (SC), as the only Black Republican in the Senate, is a complete wild card on this -- I wouldn't normally slot him in unless Trump goes so avowedly White supremacist that he can't not say something.

John McCain (AZ) ... well, who knows what he's thinking these days. I don't have a lot of faith. Jeff Flake might actually be a more realistic shot from this rapidly purpling state.

Marco Rubio (FL) and Ted Cruz (TX)? Don't make me laugh. Both have raced to snuggle up to Trump after getting blown apart by him in the primaries.

Chuck Grassley (IA), Orrin Hatch (UT), and maybe Pat Roberts (KS) might be old enough to do the whole "elder statesmen" thing. None of them will suffer any repercussions if they don't, though.

Dean Heller (NV) might look at Joe Heck's defeat and feel the need to avoid a similar fate. Or he might think that Heck was undone by his late wince away from Trump.

The Democratic Party is in a routed state right now. It will recover, but it will take time. In the meantime, it'll be up to congressional Republicans to decide if they want to put brakes on Trump or let him run wild. Democrats are, for the short-term at least, out of the equation: the last eight years have shown that a unified Republican majority can completely, utterly, entirely shut out the Democratic minority if they want to.

The ball is in your court, Sasse.