Friday, April 26, 2019

Texas Anti-BDS Law Struck Down

This is an extremely methodical and well-reasoned opinion that I suspect will become the touchstone for future courts examining this issue. And not to pat myself on the back too hard, but it pretty much represents a line-by-line validation of my essay laying out the faults in anti-BDS laws and how they might be avoided.
1) The court makes much of the fact that the law applies to sole proprietorships who have no independent existence from their "owner", meaning that the anti-boycott provisions seemingly apply to their personal, individual choices. I suggested that anti-BDS laws should probably exempt sole proprietorships for this reason (Texas is already gearing up to amend the law along these lines, which is likely to moot the proceedings since I don't think any of the plaintiffs are large enough or do enough business with the state to qualify under the new law); 
2) The court notes that the law does not clearly limit itself to forbidding boycott activity that occurs in the course of fulfilling the contractor's work with the state; I suggested that implementing such a limitation would more clearly link the law to the state's interest in managing its contractors' work performance. 
3) While Texas tried to defend its law as a protection against national origin discrimination, the court observed that the law as written is both massively under- and over-inclusive along that score. I suggested that, if a state wants to write a national origin discrimination ban, just do that instead of trying to gerrymander an Israel-only one-off.
So yes, the moral of the story continues to be that these laws are massive own-goals by the pro-Israel movement and they're reaping what they've sown by allowing sloppy, politically-motivated legislation to become the face of the anti-BDS cause and then blow up in their faces. The other moral of the story is to listen my legal analysis.

What To Make Of Sanders' Appeals to Conservative White Men?

It was an interesting fact of the 2016 primary that Bernie Sanders performed best among two sorts of voters: those who thought Barack Obama was too conservative, and those who thought he was too liberal. The first makes intuitive sense -- Sanders was running to the left, and so it stands to reason that he would be appealing to voters who wished Obama was more left than he was. The second seems strange and contradictory to the first (but it explains Sanders' big wins in states like West Virginia). What gives?

One way of telling the story is that Sanders' narrative of unapologetic economic populism and uncompromising attacks on establishment power brokers -- including those in the Democratic Party itself -- speak a language that can turn (White) working class voters into progressives. This is an appealing narrative particularly for Sanders' more Marxist-oriented backers, for whom it remains a nettlesome embarrassment that the White working class doesn't seem that interested in backing progressive candidates. The idea that the problem was just that "we haven't tried it yet" obviously has its allure.

Another way of telling the story, however, is that Sanders' approach attracts conservative White men not because it compels them to abandon their conservatism, but rather qua their conservatism. The anti-establishment tenor simply meshes well with their conservative priors, which includes a deep belief that "the system" is out to get them and is stacked against them. It is of a kind with, not disassociated from, racial resentment and misogynist backlash -- they are very willing to believe that women and minorities are part of the big bad power structure that's intruding on their turf and responsible for their ongoing misery.

Part of this boils down to what I think is an intuitive-but-mistaken understanding of how political coalitions form. If we think of voters on a continuum from most liberal to most conservative, then political campaigns have two plausible routes to increasing their vote share: they can seek to pick off the marginal voter (i.e., Democrats should target the most liberal voters who voted Republican in the last cycle -- which is to say, centrist swing voters) or they can boost turnout among their partisans (i.e., the "mobilize women of color" approach). It would be weird to think of building a coalition of "liberals and a chunk of reactionary right-wingers", skipping over moderates entirely. But in reality, most citizens' political identities are fragmented, and so there is plenty of room for "reactionary right-wingers" to back unconventional progressives (or vice versa) if they organize their campaigns along the right axis -- anti-establishment populism being a very good candidate for that axis. "Horseshoe theory" is a version of this, though I think it oversimplifies -- but it is no accident the continued affiliations we see between, e.g., Melenchon and Le Pen backers, most recently in the "Yellow Vest" protests. Melenchon and Le Pen backers see something in common with each other and each other's politics (see also: Corbyn's obvious preference for Brexit). That means that either one probably could do better at attracting the voters of the other than their more "moderate" peers -- but when they do so, it isn't because Le Pen voters are really closet socialists if only given the chance to express it.

The thing is, I think Sanders backers are right to both think it is plausible that Sanders can uniquely appeal to a class of voters that Democrats have long written off as unwinnable, and that his ability to do that can rightly be viewed as a major asset in a game where the goal is to win as many votes as possible (the question is whether his gains amongst that cadre will be offset by losses among "centrists", but I think it is plausible that he'll come out ahead). But I also think they are too optimistic in thinking that the reason he'd win those votes is because these voters are attracted to a "progressive" vision as they probably understand it. In reality, a Sanders-led progressive coalition would almost certainly include a significant reactionary strain -- a contingent of voters for whom Sanders is attractive because the "establishment" they take him to be tackling is one that includes uppity women and overbearing people of color and snotty intellectuals and, yes, liberal academics.

Democracy,  one might say, is about uncomfortable coalitions sometimes, and certainly the "standard" Democratic coalition also entails its share of unsavory compromises. So I don't think this should be viewed as some unforgivable flaw in his electoral organizing. But I do think it's important to be clear-eyed about it.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Importance of Being Earnest (About Impeachment)

Maybe I'm naive, but I think Democrats have gotten baited into the wrong set of questions regarding impeachment. The debate terms seem to be "Trump is awful, and it's imperative to remove him" on the one side, versus "Republicans control the Senate, and they'll never go for it" on the other.

It should go without saying that, in a functioning democratic system, these would not be the questions. On the one hand, impeachment is not a remedy for generically awful people, it's a remedy for high crimes and misdemeanors. It shouldn't be a tool for exacting political vengeance. On the other hand, precisely because impeachment should ideally be about rule of law, not political vengeance, it should be equally appalling the prejudged confidence by Republicans that of course they'd never impeach their own President. That's simply them closing ranks around a political compatriot -- it represents an obvious abdication of democratic duty.

So the right move, for Democrats, is not to promise impeachment. It's to be very earnest about impeachment. Impeachment is not about politics. It's about rule of law, wherever that takes us. The Mueller Report (among other sources) plausibly raises some very worrisome acts of misconduct by the President, which Congress should investigate. If that investigation leads to the discovery of an impeachable offense, then Congress should impeach. If it doesn't, then it shouldn't.

Any time a media figure tries to pivot the conversation back to "but Republicans in the Senate won't ever convict", be aghast -- not because they won't convict, but because they've prejudged the investigation. How could they say, in advance, that they won't convict the President unless they were admitting that partisan motives would take precedence over the outcome of the investigation?

The thing is -- this isn't just me being a starry-eyed idealist. This is a strategic thing, albeit strategic as a poor substitute for the ideal thing (where there was a chance in hell that Republicans cared about actual oversight).

If we learned anything from Benghazi and email-gate and all the rest, it's really that the outcome of the investigation doesn't matter. The constant, steady, drip-drip-drip of scandal is what matters. It helps if you've got something real to go on -- and in Trump's case, we clearly do -- and it really helps if it isn't seen as a mere political stunt (though, as Benghazi and email-gate also teach us, neither of those are really necessary either). Be earnest about impeachment -- not as a prejudged gambit in a political chess match, but as a procedural step in an investigative process. Then bleed the man dry.

From a strategic standpoint, it doesn't really matter whether the investigation ends in impeachment (let along conviction) or not. What matters is the cloud. And the longer it can be dragged out, the more consecutive days "Trump" and "corruption/obstruction/Russia" are in headlines next to each other, the better.


Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Passover Primary

Greetings all!

I just returned from the Schraub family Passover in Florida. This is an annual gathering of my dad's side of the family, but one that I've missed for the past few years because getting to Florida from California is a bear of a trip. This year, it entailed a red eye flight Thursday night (which landed at noon Friday), a lot of random napping, and then a more reasonable flight back this morning. I can't even fathom what my body thinks its sleep schedule is right now.

While I would hate to make Passover political, politics did come up (as it is wont to do in 2019 when the holiday is centered primarily around the command "not to oppress the stranger, for you were a stranger in the land of Egypt"). The extended Schraub family is pretty much all Democrats (with one #NeverTrump Republican thrown in for spice), ranging from "lifelong Democrat who became radicalized after Trump's election" (my mom) to "I have no philosophical objection to the GOP; it's genuinely unfortunate that the party is currently entirely controlled by lunatics" (my brother). Jill and I probably sit towards the leftward edge of the family.

I do not claim they are representative of Democrats or even Jews more broadly, but I thought their patterns might be of interest, since there was actually a fair amount of consistency in their likes and dislikes regarding the Democratic primary candidates. I'm also excluding myself and Jill from the pack.

Tier 1 (universal praise): Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg. Man, my family is pro-Joe. My dad was even one of the apparently 33 people who voted for him in '88. But it's not just generational: he was my younger brother's favorite as well. They weren't bothered by the handsiness for the most part -- viewing him as "of a time". In terms of the present time, people really had come away impressed by Buttigieg -- viewing him as a uniquely unifying figure. I was surprised how many people weren't worried about him being too green.

Tier 1.5: Kamala Harris. Also universally well-liked; the only difference between her and the tip-top set was that her name was less likely to come up unprompted. That is, the answer to the question "who do you like best" was usually "Biden or Buttigieg", it took asking "what do you think about Harris" to yield "oh, I like her too." Stacey Abrams also would fall into this category if she were running -- the one concern on her is that it was seen as dangerous to nominate anyone who lost their last election (even if it was in a red state).

Tier 2 (mixed-to-positive): Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar. Booker was mostly liked, though clearly being a bit overlooked. The "baby bond" idea got a split reception between those who thought it was a creative way to address inequality and those who thought handing 18 year olds a check for $50,000 on their birthday was a recipe for disaster. Klobuchar was also viewed generally positively -- the "monster boss" thing didn't seem to be a problem -- but didn't generate much enthusiasm.

Tier 3 (mixed-to-negative): Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren. Some thought Gillibrand was  phony, others were against her for her supposed role taking out Al Franken. Warren was generally viewed as Sanders-esque, and that apparently was not to her credit (see below).

Tier 4 (negative): Beto O'Rourke. They just think he's weird.

Tier 5 (loathed): Bernie Sanders. I was a bit surprised at just how intensely he was disliked across the board. I'm "fine" with Sanders, and that made me by far his biggest fan around the table. Most of the rest of the family viewed him as basically akin to pond scum.

Oh, and if Bibi Netanyahu was an American politician, he'd be down here too (obviously, Donald Trump is in whatever hell lies beneath this cellar).

Overall, it's pretty clear my family is pretty classic "establishment" Democrats. But even though they were broadly at least "okay" with the great majority of candidates, they were also convinced that the Democratic primary would be a bloodbath and that we were going to rip ourselves apart and blow our shot at 2020. It wasn't the most optimistic group.

So that's one holiday snapshot. What does it mean? Almost certainly nothing!