Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Buses & IDs: A Different Strategy for Democrats in 2018

I tend to believe the idea of Democrats as weak, disorganized, unstructured, plagued with infighting, etc., is an idea that comes more from how we cover the horse race of politics and how successful Republicans are at framing discourse than any actual weakness, disorganization, infighting, etc., that exists within the party. To put this another way, respect for nuanced debate and difference of opinion within a shared goal or identity can look like all of those things when compared to an authoritarian party that sets much of the public conversation through ruthless repetition of bullshit while pundits, journalists, other media professionals, and many other Americans try to find a different answer for the success of terrible Republican policies besides “America is racist.” Which is not to say that the Democrats are perfect or always have good strategies. I, for one, attribute an amount of Obama's success in 2008, and specifically the success of his coattails in bringing other Democrats along with him to Howard Dean's fifty-state strategy and that the hyper focus on specific districts was part of why Democrats lost Obama voters to Trump in 2016.

I think the Democrat strategy for 2018 is still very much taking shape and it is still early to have fully synthesized the results of this recent round of special elections into a coherent strategy, but I have one idea that I haven't seen floating anywhere else that I think will help them break gerrymandered districts, mitigate the impact of voter suppression, and at least flip the House and perhaps even take the Senate.

That idea: Charter buses and shuttles to run from college campuses and minority community centers to the correct polling locations on election day and assume the costs of getting whatever ID is required to vote in whatever state for those who cannot afford it. Elections, it seems, have become a turnout a game one way to get likely Democrat voters to turn out is get them registered and drive them to the polls.

There is some argument that Democrats should continue to reach out to moderate Republican voters, that there is something active Democrats can do that will pull back voters who switched from Obama to Trump or capture centrists and moderates who sat out 2016, that a series of measured and moderate policies and messages will capture those moderate Republicans who are put off by some of what's happening in their party. It's an idea that sounds reasonable. That said, if Trump admitting to serial sexual assault, flaunting the norms around conflict of interest, golfing every fucking weekend, pathologically lying about everything, inadvertently or intentionally leaking state secrets and intelligence, all while being under investigation for what would be the single greatest political crime in our nation's history won't convince a “moderate” Republican to defect for an election cycle or two, what “centrist” policy would? Trump is doing damage that will take decades to undo if it can ever be undone. Why would we have to make any other argument to convince someone to abandon the Republican party at this point?

And it's not like Congressional Republicans have acted much better. For reasons I still don't understand, they have rushed and rubber-stamped every single one of Trump's atrocious nominees for cabinet positions, while dragging their feet (at best) on the Russia investigation. They are also, again for reasons I simply cannot understand, rushing to pass objectively disastrous and historically unpopular legislation. If the Senate bill manages to pass and Trumpcare becomes law, sure, you'll probably want to run a bunch of ads in every district about it, but, again, if the past sixish months haven't convinced Republicans to defect, some kind of middle ground economic policy isn't going to do it.

The lesson from Georgia is simple: All that matters to a critical mass of Republicans is that they vote Republican. In Georgia-6, Republicans had a significant registration advantage, one created intentionally to guarantee a Republican victory, and, despite everything else, Republicans showed up and voted for the Republican. Maybe I'm must being cynical, but I suspect, unless actual collusion between Putin and the Trump campaign is proved at a criminal court level and Republican Congressional complicity is proved at a criminal court level (and even then), Republicans will show up in 2018 and vote Republican. And when they do, the current gerrymandered, small state preferring, and voter suppressed system will deliver them victories.

And so, instead of spending money on ads that attempt to reach out to disaffected Republican voters, instead of developing a platform that tries to lure them into the Democrat fold for a cycle or two, Democrats, at a national party level, should leverage their Super PAC money, partner with existing voter rights organizations or build their own, and foot the bill for driving college students and minority voters back and forth to the polls while helping people surmount the barriers to voting tactically built by Republicans to suppress likely Democratic voters. (I'm a bit of a radical, but I'd go so far as to say if someone has the desire and means to move from a safe blue district to a swing district for a year, these organizations should help them sort out their registration and transportation as well.)

One might argue that Republicans would turn around and accuse Democrats of packing the polls, of voter fraud, of all sorts of electoral malfeasance. Which is true. Republicans would lose their minds over this. They'd try and pass legislation to stop it. They might even file lawsuits. They'd spend hundreds of hours on Fox News talking about how George Soros is stealing the election. My response: THEY ALREADY FUCKING DO THAT SHIT. FUCK 'EM. Republicans already accuse Democrats of everything they can think of and all without any proof whatsoever, all so they can pass legislation that gives then a major turnout advantage. Remember those thousands of voters who were supposedly bused into New Hampshire from Massachusetts? Of course not, because they don't exist. Frankly, (and this is probably why the Democratic National Committee isn't going to hire me any time soon) I don't give a fuck what Republican party leaders, pundits, and members of Congress say or think about anything because (and this is a fact I haven't seen discussed enough) they sure as shit don't give a fuck what anybody else thinks. They lied about WMDs in Iraq, they lied about Obamacare (and Republican leadership didn't do a whole lot to quell the birther nonsense), they lied and continue to lie about voter fraud, they broke the Senate and then lied about breaking the Senate, and if the Democrats do bus likely Democrat voters to the polls and do defray the cost of Republican voter suppression tactics Republicans will lie about that too, and if Democrats don't do anything to increase their turnout in 2018 the Republicans will lie about that too, because, and I can't stress this enough, at the party level Republicans don't give a fuck about anything other than electing Republicans.

I, like many Americans, believe our nation is stronger when there is political debate, when we discuss the actual policies affecting Americans, when all sides of the debate share the common goal of making America a better place, and when voters can switch allegiance from time to time as the political landscape changes, and I, like many Americans, also know there aren't any angels in politics, that at best we have people with good intentions trying to solve impossible problems, that Democrats make mistakes, that Democrats listen to their donors, that good policy can come from compromise, and that it is important to find some level of consensus for major policy changes, but Democrats didn't spew shit about death panels, Democrats didn't clog up the Senate with filibusters, Democrats didn't steal a Supreme Court seat for a serial sexual assaulter who publicly mocked a disabled journalist, and Democrats aren't covering up America's greatest scandal, so if we can't have debate, then I believe our nation is stronger when it is not run by white supremacist kleptocrats. And I think one way to boot Trump out of power is to bus college students and minority voters to the polls and pay for otherwise prohibitive voter IDs.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Reading is Resistance: Bloomsday

As Bloomsday approaches, and as our reality continues to resemble the first draft of a Pynchon novel, and as the torrent of events coming from the Trump administration establishes a permanent colony in my brain so that it's nearly impossible to go through a day without some half-yelling conversation with my partner about these fucking guys, I've started thinking about the nature of politics in Ulysses. Like just about every topic in Ulysses, the more one begins to think about it, the more one finds. There is, of course, The Citizen spouting off, and rumblings of potential city council or mayoral elections. Characters revisit one of the great political scandals in Irish history and the viceregal cavalcade winds through the streets of Dublin and through the events in the book as a reminder of the constant presence of a distant power. There's also plenty of identity politics as well, as Leopold Bloom, a non-practicing Jew, navigates his relationship with the Irish nation.

And, like all great books, if you put effort into the project you can find a way to make the politics in Ulysses relevant to our experience today. Though, there is no election or slide from democracy to fascism happening in the book, it is clear we are also watching a long standing (and undecided) conversation about what kind of nation Ireland should be, not just in terms of home rule or British rule, but also, like us, about what it means to be Irish, what it means to live in Ireland, and what it means to consider yourself a citizen of Ireland.

But when I think about politics and Ulysses through the lens of resistance and our personal relationship to resistance, I think less of the grander architectures and political landscapes of the book and more about one character: Leopold Bloom. Some of Bloom's political moments are overt, as when he debates The Citizen about what it means to be a member of a nation, while others are more policy specific as when he proposes a tram to move cattle so herds no longer disrupt traffic and when he recommends the government put a small amount of money in the bank for every child so that, as interest accrues on that deposit, every person has a financial safety net, while still others, like his acceptance and support of Molly's sexuality, we would see as overtly political even though Bloom (and perhaps Joyce) would not. Finally, other events and scenes in the book illuminate two other traits that seem to drive Bloom's political opinions; his curiosity and his imagination. Often, the reforms he offers in the course of his day start with him asking a question, and follow from him imagining an answer.

It isn't terribly original to describe Bloom as a reformer. Both the specific policies mentioned above Bloom offered in response to encountering a specific problem, I've talked about his drive to reform elsewhere and, though my memory is failing me at this point, he or another character might describe him as such. But our political moment is one of resistance, not reform. It is an existential struggle for a particular type of American nation, and it is a conflict with massive repercussions both in the short term and in the long term. But we can still draw from the core of Bloom's (and perhaps Joyce's) political beliefs and his motivations for reform.

Even in his wildest fantasies, in Circe, when he is able to enact a kind of hallucinatory wish-fulfillment, he doesn't imagine conquering other nations or accruing vast amounts of wealth or wielding god-like ultimately powers, but, essentially, of becoming a kind of uber-Robert Moses minus the malignant elitism that stained Moses' achievements, instituting vast social, technological, and economic reforms that would greatly improve the living conditions and lives of all those under his purview. Sure, it's foolish, filled with impossible technology, short on meaningful details, and, well, in a scene with gender swapping, S&M, and talking furniture, but ultimately it expresses a deep and profound desire, one that is (well I wanted to say “shockingly” but what shocks us anymore, so...) distressingly rejected by significant currents in our contemporary politics; to help every human being as much as possible. For Bloom, the goal of, well, everything, including government, isn't the preservation and elevation of a nation or nationality or even an ideal, but the preservation and elevation of people.

Furthermore, Bloom does two other things that illuminate his values. First, he checks on Mina Purefoy at the hospital because he heard she is going through a particularly difficult birth. Second, he follows Stephen, who is visibly drunk, into Night Town. These two big events, along with a series of smaller moments throughout the book, display Bloom's compassion. He is not a saint, he is not perfect, he has his flaws, and he makes his mistakes, but ultimately, Bloom is sensitive to the lives of those around him. He wants to ease the suffering of those who suffer and improve the lives of everyone.

What brings all of this together, what defines Bloom both as a human being and as a political actor, what makes him heroic and what makes him a role model for our own times and our own resistance, is the combination of three fundamental principles; curiosity, imagination, and compassion. For a famously difficult, confusing, and oblique book, Ulysses seems pretty direct in terms of how it thinks we should interact with our politics; a set of values that can easily be transferred from the politics of reform, to the politics of resistance. Perhaps that is universal and the distance between those two political acts is not nearly as far as I first thought. But it also could be specific to our political moment; there is a way to understand Bloom's values beyond politics, as core attitudes, or behaviors for being a decent human being and when the regime in power is so virulently anti-humanist, being a decent human being is an act of resistance in itself.

So, what does Bloom the reformer teach us in the resistance: Seek to know more than you know now, look beyond what has been done to discover what can be done, and do what you can to make the lives of others better.

Want to here me blathering some more about Ulysses? I'll be at Sherman's in Portland on Bloomsday.