A political thought exercise

My training today was a nightmare, but not for any fault of any of the people involved. For whatever reason I couldn’t get to sleep last night– I was awake and mindlessly scrolling through TikTok at 1:30 in the morning– and I’m pretty sure I didn’t actually get to sleep until after 2 AM, only to be back up at 7:30. Somehow I managed to get to the training without getting any actual caffeine in my body, which … what? That shouldn’t have even been possible, as I’m generally less likely to leave the house in the morning without some form of caffeine consumption than I am to leave without my pants, but it happened.

And then the training was in this tiny, windowless, concrete-block shitbox of a classroom with no moving air and not a whole Goddamn lot of air conditioning, and on top of that the room featured those horrible one-piece desks that I am, at this point, simply too fucking fat to sit in comfortably. I eventually got up and commandeered one of the two teacher chairs in the room, pulling it up to an empty desk, because fuck it, I’m not going to be in pain for three hours, but between the lack of sleep and the temperature and everything else, staying awake was a nightmare, but not in any way that I blame the presenter for. He did fine, and the actual new textbook adoption seems initially pretty solid, although I’ll need to look more carefully at it later.

I actually took a nap when I got home, and slept so hard that I woke up three hours later convinced it was the next morning, and it took several moments of genuine confusion about why it was so bright in the room before I realized I’d only slept for a few hours. I think the boy’s still alive. I should go check on him after this post is done.

Oh, and when I checked the mail I had another jury summons, my second of 2022 so far. I will, I’m sure, still not make it into an actual trial.

Anyway. That thought experiment.

Let’s imagine that we’re a member of a political party. For the purposes of this conversation it genuinely doesn’t matter which one, and while I’m framing this as part of America’s two-party system, I don’t even really know that a two-party framework is necessary. Let’s further imagine that whichever direction on the spectrum our party generally leans, we are personally somewhat further in that direction than the average party member. So if you’re a Republican, you’re more conservative than most, and if you’re a Democrat, you’re more left-leaning(*) than most.

So here’s the question: your party is not a monolith, as I’ve said, and you’re more , I’ll say polarized, than most. Which of these two scenarios is better?

  • Your party has a slim majority, where the loss of more than one or two members of your party means your legislation isn’t going to get passed, but nearly all members of your party are generally reliable votes for your party’s legislation;
  • Your party has a considerable majority, but includes a significant centrist wing, so legislation from your party is more or less going to get passed, but virtually everything is going to require getting through that more centrist wing and therefore will require inter-party negotiation and, more than likely, watering down of the priorities that the people at the longer end of the tail– you, in other words– are going to want.

There’s been a lot of talk since the Dobbs decision about how Obama had a supermajority in 2008 and should have codified Roe into federal law while he had the chance. I am going to ignore most of the details of this argument and look specifically at one thing: that Obama did have said majority, for a few months at least, but that said majority included at least a dozen Senators who were considerably further to the right than any current Democratic Senator other than the oft-maligned Mr. Manchin, and I’m sure a couple of them– Joe Lieberman, anyone?– would have ended up to Manchin’s right if compared carefully. Nearly all of those people are no longer in the Senate. Why?

Well, most of them were replaced with Republicans. And it is very difficult to imagine that once Sen. Manchin retires he will be replaced with anything other than a Republican, and a considerably more conservative Republican at that. I remind all of you that I live in Indiana, and have counted among my Senators both Evan Bayh and Joe Donnelly during my lifetime. Neither were especially reliable Democrats, but they were Democrats, and their current replacements, Mike Braun and Todd Young, are not improvements over either of them.

The Democratic Party as a whole and particularly the Democratic Senators are considerably to the left of where the party was in 2008. Not to the degree that the Republicans have moved to the right; not even close, I don’t think, but the movement is undeniable, and at least part of the reason is that we’ve effectively pruned the right wing of our party during the last fourteen years. And as a result we have 48 more-or-less reliable Democratic votes, or at least reliable Democratic-caucusing votes, since I’m counting Bernie Sanders in that mix, and we have Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. I feel like Arizona could do better than Sinema; West Virginia will not be improving on Manchin.

So, again, your question: Are we better off? Why or why not?

(*) Left-leaning people currently being in a little bit of a civil war about nomenclature, I’m going to choose for the purposes of this post to stay agnostic about it.

On disenfranchisement and third parties


There’s been a politics post percolating for a while now, and at various points it has been a much angrier politics post than I suspect I’m about to write.  To be very, very brief, I think the last ten days or so flipped Bernie Sanders from I’ll happily vote for him if he’s the nominee to okay, fuck that guy in the heads of a lot of Clinton supporters.  That said, Tuesday basically clinched the nomination for Clinton, and a couple of days later I’m no longer especially interested in shitting on Bernie any more.  There’s no money in it.  I indulged in retweeting a handful of snarky GIFs on Tuesday night– mostly because I thought they were hilarious and not purely to crow– and I think that’s probably as far as I care to go at this point.

That said, let’s talk about political parties for a minute, and primaries, and disenfranchisement.

I have no doubt whatsoever that in any large election (and running a statewide election, much less a statewide election that contains a city larger than forty of the fifty states certainly counts) there are going to be some people who, for one reason or another, are disqualified from voting who should be able to vote.  I had to file a provisional ballot myself in Chicago once; it happens.  Is it regrettable?  Of course it is.  It’s also effectively unavoidable, in that people are people and shit happens.

Supposedly 120,000 people in New York City were “purged” from the voting rolls prior to the election and thus were unable to vote.  Sounds bad, doesn’t it?  Unfortunately:

Of the 126,000 Democratic voters taken off from the rolls in Brooklyn, Ryan said 12,000 had moved out of borough, while 44,000 more had been placed in an inactive file after mailings to their homes bounced back. An additional 70,000 were already inactive and, having failed to vote in two successive federal elections or respond to cancel notices, were removed.

Are there some people who were removed who shouldn’t have been?  Yeah, probably.  But maybe, guys, if you’re planning on voting in an upcoming election, you should check to make sure your registration is up to date a couple of months in advance of the election.  One way to make sure you don’t get purged is to vote in every election– yes, the ones that aren’t terribly exciting, too– and to change your registration when you move.  I don’t actually have any sympathy for the vast majority of these people.

Also, not being able to vote in the Democratic party primary because you aren’t actually a Democrat is not something I’m going to shed tears about.  I do feel like the primary voting process needs to be streamlined and standardized, and we can have conversations about that; it seems ridiculous to me that the process can vary so much from state to state, and I don’t like caucuses at all (and, for the record, didn’t like them in 2008 when my guy was winning them, either).  There’s room to discuss that.  But there’s not a whole lot to talk about when you insist that not being able to participate in the primary election process of a party you don’t belong to is the same as disenfranchisement.  Otherwise, you’ll have to explain why Canadians don’t get to vote in our elections.

They’re not American?  Oh.  Give that some thought, will you?

I get that maybe six months ago you hadn’t decided who to vote for, and I’m sympathetic to the idea that declaring party affiliation six months in advance is a bit on the long side.  I didn’t know who I was voting for six months ago.  But you didn’t know you were a Democrat six months ago?  Get the fuckouttahere.  Go ahead, be an independent; more power to you.  But don’t expect America’s two-party system to accommodate you.

Slight change of subject here: lots of people are going to see that last sentence and go OOH ARGLE BARGLE TWO PARTY SYSTEM GRR HRAAGH THIRD PARTY. 


You are welcome to be dumb and vote for a third-party candidate.  You’re wasting your time and your vote; the real political parties don’t look at that and go ooh, moving to the <direction> will help us get that voter!, they assume you’re more interested in preening than governance and stop thinking about you.  There’s not a single thing preventing a third party from taking hold in America other than the fact that historically most third parties are run by dumbasses.  How do I know?  The Green Party and the Libertarians, in particular, have existed in this country for decades and haven’t figured out to stop running for President yet.  I’m pretty sure that if either party wanted to get some seats in Congress they could find some appropriate districts and start building a power base.  There’s got to be somewhere where a concerted push by a Green or a Libertarian could end up with a seat.  Go find those places!  Start running for school boards and for mayors and for state governments!  Running for President as a third party does nothing other than massage egos, waste a lot of money, and pull votes from some closer established party that has a chance of getting their agendas enacted.  Jill Stein is never going to be President.  But I bet she could be a Congressperson if the Green Party took the money they were setting on fire for her to run for President and put it into a more local race.  Perhaps start in Vermont?  One way or another Bernie’s not going to be their Senator forever.

I don’t give a shit about your conscience, by the way.

If there’s an overarching point to this, here it is: we have to be grown-ups about the process of governing.  Part of that means recognizing that we’re not always going to get (we are never going to get) 100% of what we want in a political party or a political candidate.  So you vote for the person who has the greatest chance of getting the largest share of what you want enacted.  That means sometimes passing up voting for someone who agrees with you more in favor of someone who you don’t align with as closely but has the ability to govern and get some of the things you want done.  I can remember talking with some Nader evangelists in 2008 when I was at UIC; they rambled a bit about his positions and had absolutely no answer for me when I asked a simple question: How will he govern?  With no allies in Congress and no power base of any kind, how will this man get any part of his agenda enacted?

He won’t, that’s how.  You want to start a movement?  Fine, start a movement.  But you start a movement from the bottom up, by either taking over an existing political party or building one from the grassroots, with local offices, not with a vanity moonshot for the Presidency.  And you do it by voting, and by paying attention to the rules where you live and making sure that your shit is correct.

Lecture ends.  Go forth.  And make sure you’re fuckin’ registered to vote for November, goddammit.